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The article below (from "A Symposium on Creation" Vols. 1-6 @ is used by permission of Pacific Meridian Publishing Co., copyright ©1977.  All rights to these materials are reserved.  Materials are not to be distributed to other web locations for retrieval, published in other media, or mirrored at other sites without written permission from Pacific Meridian Publishing Co..

Catastrophism and Puritan
Thought:The Newton Era
by Charles McDowell

From: "A Symposium on Creation" (Vol. VI), pg 57-90
©1977 - Pacific Meridian Publishing Co.


Professor of history at the Western Campus of Cuyahoga Community College.  For ten years he was the department head but recently returned to full-time teaching, research and writing.  He is also a consultant-examiner for the North Central Association of Colleges.


The purpose of this study of the Newton era is very limited. This limited purpose is to determine what influence Newton had upon the system of thought called catastrophism. This Newtonian influence has not yet been particularly explored in any depth. Accordingly, I will not spend much time reviewing his life. My mission is not to explain in detail what has been fairly obvious about Newton but to determine his involvement in shaping catastrophism as a viable system by which one can explain the earth's past and future.

Newton, of course, is a pivotal figure in the roster of modern Cosmologists. Both catastrophist and uniformitarian Cosmologists must consider the Newtonian influence upon their general view of science or philosophy of the universe. Newton refined the concept of a universal force which governs the motions of the planets and stars. That force is gravity.

The idea that gravity governs planetary motion is said to have come to Newton while he was sipping tea in his mother's garden. By analogical reasoning it suddenly occurred to him when he saw an apple fall from a tree that the same force which pulled the apple to the ground also keeps the moon in orbit. From his studies he established two principles: (1) that this universal force of gravity is directly proportional to the masses of the bodies involved and (2) that it is inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them.

The Principia Mathematica

Newton, who was born in 1642, concluded his first studies on gravity as early as 1665-66, but failed to publish them at that time. His initial publication grew out of an inquiry by the English astronomer, Edmund Halley. Halley visited Newton in 1684 at Trinity College, Cambridge University, where Newton was professor of mathematics and where he lectured on geometry, astronomy, optics and mathematical problems. Halley found that Newton's proof of the law of gravity answered his question of why there is planetary motion around the sun. With Halley's encouragement (which included financial support and correction of his proofs), Newton published the first edition of Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica, which laid out his refined views on the laws of motions and theories of gravity. Thus, historians of science note that in 1687 the first book which offered a unified system of scientific principles to explain planetary motion was issued.

The publication of Principia catapulted Newton into public life. In 1689 he became the member of Parliament for Cambridge University; in 1696, the Warden of the Mint; and in 1699, the Master of the Mint, an office he held until he died. He had already been elected as a fellow of the Royal Society in 1672. In 1699 he was elevated to the council of the Society and became an associate of the French Academy. In 1701 he was again elected to Parliament and in that same year moved to London. Two years later he assumed the presidency of the Royal Society, and two years after that was knighted by Queen Anne.

This brief synopsis of his scientific career up to his knighting does not, however, say anything about his personality. His personality is, nonetheless, vital for an understanding of his career and his relationship to the topic of catastrophism. We must at the very least delve into his distaste for the scientific arguments against his discoveries.

Newton's Religion

No account of Isaac Newton can adequately interpret his personality without examining his religious outlook. It has been noted that when the Royal Society was formed in 1662, many in the nucleus group were Puritans. This was the century of the Puritans and Newton was part of the movement. Puritanism had psychological effects on Newton which were related to his scientific endeavor.

Newton was a Unitarian; yet until the day of his death he remained in the Anglican Church. To accommodate this theological contradiction, Newton had to practice secrecy which carried over into his studies. Indeed, his most intensive studies were carried on in theology and ancient history. Many of these endeavors were obscure and scarcely known during his lifetime.

In the history of science, however, much attention is paid to the symbiotic relationship between Puritanism and science.1 First of all the Puritan had the personal qualities that serve any scientist well, such as practicality, orderliness, discipline and scrupulosity. His powers of observation for surveying the Scriptures literally served equally well for surveying and describing nature. The Christian view that God established a world order which obeys His ordinances, decrees and laws was only a step away from asking whether these laws can be discovered by observing nature.

There is another aspect about the English Puritans that is equally important for understanding the Puritan Isaac Newton. The Puritans inherited a Calvinistic distaste for the papacy, and with Newton, part of this distaste manifests itself in his arguments with Jesuit writers. We should also keep in mind that the Jesuits were the main source of scientific and historical ideas which came out of China. Especially in the realm of Jesuit-assembled chronologies, Newton felt that the Chinese records erred seriously.2

Newton and Leibniz

Perhaps the European scholar most receptive to Chinese ideas in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries was Gottfried W. Leibniz of Hanover, Germany. Leibniz was open to any and all ideas which came out of China, including Chinese religious ideas. He examined the Chinese religious heritage for evidence of ideas contained in the Old Testament. Leibniz, along with various other European scholars, held that the first of the Chinese emperors, Fu Hsi by name, was none other than Noah. The Jesuits encouraged speculation that some of the Chinese religious notions bore traces of Old Testament theology.3 On this ground alone, Newton and Leibniz could find themselves in opposition to one another.

Actually the series of controversies that developed between Newton and Leibniz began on a very academic basis. Both Newton and Leibniz claimed to have invented calculus and over the years both wanted to be recognized as the original inventor. In due course fighting words were volleyed back and forth across the English Channel.
Newton believed that he had grounds to demonstrate that Leibniz had copied his mathematical invention. He had in 1676 communicated his system of calculus in Latin anagrams to Leibniz.4 Newton claimed that Leibniz deciphered the Latin anagrams and then claimed to have invented calculus earlier and independently.

The calculus controversy had religious significance to Newton. As the controversy grew more intense, Newton felt that Leibniz had more or less called him a thief and a liar, charges which (real or unreal) were deeply offensive to a Puritan, Ultimately, the controversy grew into a debate on the question of God's relationship to the universe. Leibniz charged that Newton "believes that the force of the universe diminishes, like that of a watch, and has to be reestablished by a special action of God, while I maintain that God made things from the beginning in such a way that its force would not be lost."5

Newton and Whiston

In his controversies with Leibniz, Newton had to sail his craft through some very dangerous reefs. Some of the most dangerous reefs turned out to be his own disciples. When Newton left the Lucasian chair of mathematics at Trinity College, he was succeeded by his disciple and deputy, Rev. William Whiston, a skillful mathematician and a man of great candor and honesty. He was moreover a Unitarian and knew that Newton held the same creed. At any rate, in 1696 when Whiston wrote his New Theory of the Earth, which he presented to Newton, he confirmed the Genesis narrative on Newtonian grounds. In the book was included the view that the universal Flood of Noah was caused by a passing comet. Moreover, Whiston held that in the future a general conflagration would consume the world system. More specifically he said, "The same causes which will set the world on fire, will also cause great and dreadful tides in the seas, and in the ocean; with no less agitations, concussions and earthquakes in the air and earth."6 To Whiston (and also to Newton who approved his ideas,) a comet of mass sufficient to cause the great and dreadful tides as well as earthquakes would sweep close to the earth and envelop the earth with gases so as to cause raging fire storms.

The catastrophic view of Whiston and the support Newton gave to this theory have to be seen against the backdrop of philosophic thought in the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Whiston utilized Newton's laws of nature to present mathematical and historical evidence that a comet would soon envelop the earth with its tail!7 Meanwhile, the scientific and philosophic community in Europe tended to follow the outlook of a youthful movement of "natural" religion called deism. Deism as a movement espoused a core of basic beliefs among which were the dogmas that while God is the Creator and Master of the universe He is an impersonal force who as the First Cause was the "clockwinder" of the universe, the custodian of the world machine, and who as the Designer had set the universe in motion with immutable laws. Only a generation later Voltaire would argue that catastrophes are impossible because to permit catastrophes, God would have to violate His immutable laws.

It is significant that the deists leaned heavily upon Newton's theories of universal gravitation to prove that God is an impersonal force behind a mechanistic universe which operates with mathematical precision. Whiston and Newton were nonconformists not only as Unitarians but also as exponents of the belief that God judges mankind through natural but planned catastrophes. The deists, of course, believed that mankind atoned for its own sins and had no responsibility to God. Thus Newton in backing Whiston's theory was setting himself in opposition to deistic thought in the scientific and philosophic community.

When Whiston began to publicly announce that the church had erroneously followed the doctrine of trinitarianism, Newton did not give any assistance to his disciple, who was then expelled from his position at Trinity College. (Newton may also have been annoyed by the fact that Whiston used Chinese documents to support his theories of catastrophism.) Leibniz lamented, "I pity the good Mr. Whiston who does himself harm with his excess of zeal."8 Meanwhile Newton remained silent. Years later when Edmond Halley and Sir Hans Sloane set about to nominate Whiston as a member of the Royal Society, Newton threatened to resign as its president.9 The situation had changed dramatically. Newton was by this time the hero of the deists and was readily recognized by Voltaire, who attended his funeral to pay respects to the man whose theories had done so much to destroy the concepts of a personal God.

To fully appreciate Newton's dilemma, one has to realize that at this time, namely 1720, Newton faced real difficulties in exposing his own leaning toward deistic philosophic thought. Even in the passage of the Toleration Act of 1689 he and other Unitarians had not been granted religious liberty.

For reasons which seem to be difficult to identify—perhaps the unity of God represented the epitome of abstraction to the Puritans—the Puritan branch of Calvinism somehow produced a surprisingly large number of Unitarians in England and in the American colonies. The Puritans, especially under Cromwell, pushed the idea of the theocratic state as they saw it manifest in the Old Testament. The Puritans were pro-Jewish to a degree which is also difficult to understand unless we recall the Puritan admiration for the Old Testament theocratic state. Here then is perhaps a second reason for Puritan Unitarianism. We can assume a pro-Jewish community would look favorably upon Jewish Unitarianism.

Among the seventeenth-century writers upon whom Puritans, including Newton, depended for a pro-Jewish attitude was Theophilus Gale. Gale, a nonconformist historian, wrote The Court of the Gentiles. Gale set about to prove that the superior cultural elements in antiquity, especially in Greece and Rome, could be traced back to original seed ideas which came from the Jews. Gale maintained that the pagan world corrupted these ideas and that the Catholic Church had indeed fallen heir to many distorted ideas. Gale examined the ideas of the Pythagoreans and Plato intensively. In his book he devoted 85 pages to Pythagoras and 109 pages to Plato but gave no systematic treatment of Aristotle.

To the historian of antiquity this emphasis on the Pythagoreans and Plato has great significance. The Pythagoreans were great abstractors and believed in a "puritan" communal existence apart from the main stream of humanity. Gale attributes these attitudes to a Jewish influence. Plato, who was greatly influenced by Pythagoras, was likewise a great abstractor and wrote his views on the ideal city or Utopia. This ideal city was tightly regulated in terms of Greek "puritanism."

It should be obvious that the Puritan Unitarian of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries was markedly different from the twentieth-century liberal Unitarian. The earlier Unitarians placed a high value upon the study of the Scriptures and regarded them with great reverence. Nevertheless, we are not basically concerned about the difference among Unitarians but with Newton's dilemma of being secretly associated with a movement which was perhaps more dangerous politically than theologically. His theology, if it were exposed, would identify him not only with heresy but with political ideas which the English people had generally repudiated. Therefore, as the Master of the Mint and president of the Royal Society, Newton very well may have felt that he was acting in the best interests of the English people in denying Whiston's access to the Royal Society. Thus his political ideas harmonized with his philosophic ideas as expressed through deism.

Whiston was not the first disciple to feel deserted by Newton. Nicolas Fatio de Duillier was an eager follower who had boundless enthusiasm for his mentor. He led a vigorous attack on Leibniz, charging him with plagiarism. But Fatio was swept up in a millennialist movement of the day and was brought to public disgrace. "French prophets" from Cévennes appeared in London, who, although they were interested in eschatological subjects, ranted in the streets and conducted wild seances during which frenzied men and women prophesied the imminent coming of "Judgment Day." For this sect, which believed in the intervention of a personal God, Fatio became a secretary, taking down their ravings verbatim. The prophets were brought to trial and Fatio suffered with them in the pillory. In 1708, Leibniz wrote from Hanover: "The affair of the Cévennes Prophets has ended in an unfortunate catastrophe and I am sorry for love of M. Fatio; I do not understand how so excellent a man in mathematics could have embarked on such an affair."10  Leibniz himself was also moving deeper into deistic thought and while he was kind to Fatio as a scholar, he lamented his theology.

These kind words from Leibniz were for the beloved disciple of Newton who had charged Leibniz with stealing Newton's invention of calculus. Clearly Leibniz held all scholars in high regard. All the while, Newton, the Unitarian, remained silent. But there were persistent rumors that Newton was also attracted to the prophets.11  The problem for Newton, it would seem, was that he could have been disgraced both in academic and political circles.

Of particular interest are Fatio's efforts by letter in September, 1714, to interest Hans Sloane in the impending millenarian state.12  Sloane was secretary to the Royal Society and, moreover, a personal physician to George I, the first of the Hanover kings. Sloane represents the prominent physicians in the Royal Society who could to a certain degree be independent of Newton because of their personal wealth and prestige. The Society was the source of funding for many projects and ordinarily Newton wielded financial control in the disbursement of funds.

Gulliver's Travels

At first glance Dr. Sloane seems to have been persuaded to withdraw from the position of secretary to a relatively obscure life of collecting natural curiosities and manuscripts. However, these collections are in fact regarded by this writer as being of great historical value. Frank E. Manuel, the distinguished biographer of Newton, says that Sloane's "eclipse from science was no great loss to science, since he was an old fashioned gatherer of nostrums and a purveyor of traditional remedies who stuffed the Philosophical Transactions of the Society with his questionable discoveries."13  This concise description is, as we shall see, a parallel to Jonathan Swift's Lemuel Gulliver in Gulliver's Travels of the same generation. To this writer that parallelism is not the product of accident. Cryptically, Sloane was Lemuel Gulliver, the gatherer of nostrums and questionable discoveries. However, I cannot press this point until I bring in additional data to illustrate the proposition.

Our plot for the developing story of Newton and catastrophism is enlarging and must be tied in with Gulliver's Travels. As a reader you may ask, How could Gulliver's Travels be related to the topic of catastrophism? The relationship is fundamental. In Gulliver's voyage to Laputa he encountered astronomers who were quite openly catastrophists. According to Gulliver, "Their apprehensions arise from several changes they dread in the celestial bodies." Indeed they had calculated that in just 130 years a massive comet would pass by the earth, set it on fire, and reduce it to ashes.14  In this we have shades of Whiston and the millenarian prophets who were predicting a forthcoming doom. No doubt Swift was caricaturing such European thinkers who were moving in a direction exactly opposite to what the deists proclaimed.

To appreciate the background of Gulliver's Travels and its relationship to the career and ideas of Isaac Newton, we must join Swift in his meetings in London with other English satirists who collaborated in exposing the flaws of what they considered unconventional learning. Swift met regularly with such well-known lampooners as Alexander Pope, John Arbuthnot, John Gay and Joseph Addison. These men formed a literary group called the Scriblerus Club. The name was derived from the character they were gradually creating, namely Martin Scriblerus. This Martin Scriblerus, a German by birth, was a Don Quixote of the intellectual world. He had dipped most injudiciously into every art and science.

As we have already seen, there was an intellectual giant from Germany who was the great competitor of Isaac Newton, namely, Leibniz. Therefore, we should be particularly interested in the fact that as president of the Royal Society, Newton had appointed Dr. John Arbuthnot, the personal physician of Queen Anne and member of the Scriblerus Club, to a committee which was responsible to resolve the claims and counterclaims of Newton and Leibniz in the matters of the invention of calculus and the understanding of cosmology.15

Gulliver was not Martin Scriblerus. Martin Scriblerus, as a literary figure, was dropped in 1714 when Queen Anne died and Elector George from Hanover succeeded her to the throne. With this turn of events, the club disbanded. Over the next twelve years Swift developed his new hero, Lemuel Gulliver.

Gulliver met Martin Scriblerus at the Academy of Lagado in Laputa where he was called the illustrious professor. This professor was the inventor of a mechanically operated computer which literally cranked out data to write books of philosophy, poetry, politics, law, mathematics and theology.16  If anyone was being caricatured in this description, it was Leibniz. Leibniz was working on a binary calculator based upon information he had received out of China. Earlier, however, he had been working on a "thinking" machine with revolving wheels which had been first conceptualized by Raymond Lull in the thirteenth century.17  Moreover, Leibniz, who has been called the master of all trades, was actively working in philosophy, politics, law, mathematics and theology.

Swift fairly well advised his readers as to the object of his satire. Gulliver told the professor of Lagado that he would make an effort, upon his return to his native England, to make certain that the professor was recognized as the "sole inventor" of the wonderful machine. Gulliver continued: "I told him although it were the Custom of our Learned in Europe to steal Inventions from each Other, who had thereby at least this Advantage, that it became a Controversy which was the right Owner; yet I would take such Caution that he should have the Honour entirely without Rival."18

There can be little doubt that Swift intended the reader of Gulliver's Travels to think about the Newton-Leibniz controversy over who was the inventor of calculus. Swift was poking fun at a dead man. But was Swift in effect telling us in 1726 that he, Jonathan Swift, or someone who was his agent, had stolen manuscripts from Leibniz' library so that Leibniz could be posthumously credited as the sole inventor of this thinking machine? I raise this question because the Hanoverian kings of England did not permit the library of Leibniz to be examined until 1840.19  Only at that time did the scope of Leibniz' work with calculator-computers become clear, including his intention to present a binary calculator to Khang Hsi, the Emperor of China.20  But we have evidence that before the Hanover kings sealed the library of Leibniz, his materials were examined and that some manuscripts were removed.

Several factors alerted this writer to the possibility that Swift had access to materials   in   Leibniz'   library   and   that   these materials were employed in Gulliver's Travels. First of all, Swift wrote in 1714 to John Gay that while he was to be in Hanover as the secretary of Lord Clarendon, who was negotiating the Hanover succession, he should carry on investigative research in manuscripts.21  At  this  time  Swift  was   interested   in   Leibniz documents  which  presented the rationale for the  Hanoverian succession. But these documents had been gathered and arranged personally by Leibniz.22  So we are really talking about Leibniz' library.

The next factor which alerted me to the possibility that Swift had access to Leibniz' materials was a letter in the Leibniz library which was written in English but originated from Puto Shan (see figure above) in the Chusan Islands off the coast of southeast China. The writer made references to views about China held by contemporary Jesuit scholars. Few readers would have understood and much less had access to such literary references. It seems safe to say that the readers would have been scholars in Chinese affairs. Leibniz would have easily understood the references. Nevertheless, copies of this letter showed up in England. How? Why? What English reader would have been keenly interested in Chinese affairs?

At least one English scholar in particular would have been keenly interested in part of the data which came from the Puto Shan correspondent. I refer to Hans Sloane. If the Puto Shan correspondent was one Dr. Cunningham,23 we know that Hans Sloane did indeed receive material from him, especially botanical collections which were originally sent to three English botanists, respectively Ray, Plukenet and Petiver. Petiver alone received over two hundred of Cunningham's plants which were incorporated in the Sloane Herbaria in the Natural History Museum in South Kensington.24

Cunningham and Sloane had kindred outlooks. Both were physicians and botanists and had traveled abroad. In 1687 Sloane had accompanied Christopher Monck, the new governor of Jamaica, as a personal physician. In Jamaica, Sloane studied the local flora and fauna and searched for new drugs. In 1707 he wrote a volume on his travels to the islands of Madeira, Barbados, Nieves, St. Christopher's and Jamaica, including a natural history of the last-mentioned island. Both Cunningham and Sloane have characteristics in common with Dr. Gulliver. Gulliver also was an English physician who traveled abroad, who studied local people, flora and fauna, and who wrote journals on what he observed.

Gulliver's first name was Lemuel, a name which appears as King Lemuel in Proverbs 31:1. The church traditionally had assigned the identity of King Lemuel to King Solomon, who was regarded as the wisest of Israel's kings (II Chron. 9:10-12; 21-24). Swift made the association, I believe, for another reason also. He wanted to associate Sloane with royalty but through a veiled identity. Sloane had been a personal physician of Queen Anne, and in 1716 King George I had conferred a baronetcy upon him. In 1719 he was elected president of the Royal College of Physicians. The government frequently consulted him about health matters concerning crews in the Royal Navy, inasmuch as he had also been to sea.25

Now there is another point about Sloane in relation to Gulliver's Travels which I wish to make before I discuss the Puto Shan letter. In such a limited essay as this brief treatment of Isaac Newton, I cannot include a discussion of how Jonathan Swift caricatured Peking by means of Gulliver's visit to Laputa. With much relish Swift was satirizing China in order to embarrass any European scholars such as Sloane and Leibniz who accepted data and ideas from the Chinese. Now for the sake of discussion, even though I am not presenting the necessary amount of supporting evidence for such an idea, let us assume that Swift satirized Sloane through Gulliver's Travels. Think then, first of all, of the irony that in 1726 Gulliver's Travels was released to the public, that in 1727 Newton died and that in the same year Gulliver-Sloane was elected president of the Royal Society to succeed Newton. Secondly, think of the irony that in 1753 when Gulliver-Sloane died, Parliament acted to purchase Sloane's personal collection of 50,000 books, 3,500 bound volumes of books and sundry collections, all of which later made up the principal core of the British Museum. Think of these honors in the light of Manuel's remarks about Sloane, which I have previously quoted, to the effect that when Sloane became temporarily sidetracked from the main activities of the Society, it was no great loss, because after all, his work was largely impractical and questionable.26

To return now to the Puto Shan letter in the Leibniz collection, dated November 22, 1701, an edited version is found in the British Museum under Cunningham's name, along with other materials he wrote from Chusan. The letter in the Leibniz collection is handwritten with no name on it and appears to be a portion of a journal which some correspondent had been preparing. Let us assume the identification of Cunningham as the correspondent is correct. Why then was only part of the journal found in Leibniz' library? Could it be that the whole of the original journal had at one time been in the Leibniz collection, but parts of it and other materials were removed to England after Leibniz died? Who could have carried them away? For what reasons would the materials have been removed? If we seek answers to these questions, diligent probing into the documents surrounding the lives of Newton and Swift seems to reward us.

Newton and Conti

To answer the question as to who could have removed documents from the library in Hanover, Germany, we must return to Isaac Newton and one of the most fascinating associations that he ever had with another person. That person was Abate Conti, a Venetian aristocrat, who traveled about the capitals of Europe and who, while sojourning in England, became a good friend of Isaac Newton. To Conti, who gained Newton's confidence to an incredible degree, Newton passed secret documents wherein Newton expressed his private views on science, philosophy, ancient history and cosmology. Conti visited Newton's home three times a week and apparently was genuinely impressed by Newton's knowledge of ancient history and the Bible.27

But Conti was no disciple of Newton and was hardly an expert in history or science. As an aristocrat he had a disdain for the scholar and was interested in making acquaintances in scholarly circles only for the sake of enhancing his social status. In Europe during this period rulers and aristocrats were often patrons of great scholars; while Conti did not sponsor any of these scholars, he managed to curry friendships with several of them. Consequently his name became associated with the activities of scholars in London, Paris, and Hanover.

Conti's significant achievement was a reviving and heightening of the Newton-Leibniz quarrel as to which one invented calculus. Both men were goaded on; in his communications with Leibniz and Newton, Conti apparently acted as double agent. Leibniz was initially more cautious than Newton about the intentions of Conti, but the fact is that he grew to look for recognition from this courier who carried charges between London and Hanover. Now it happened that Conti appeared in Hanover soon after the death of Leibniz in 1716.

On the pretext of serving Newton, whose anger had been deeply stirred by the controversy, Conti wrote to Newton, who was yet unsatisfied and perhaps fearful of Leibniz even though he was dead, that he had access to Leibniz' library and that he would watch for anything which was related to the quarrel.28  No doubt Conti did find suitable materials because Newton continued his attacks on Leibniz. In fact, some years later after Newton and Conti had permanently parted due to Conti's circulation of some of Newton's private (secret) manuscripts in Paris (which caused Newton to charge him with perfidy), Conti countered Newton's accusations by charging that Newton had published a letter by Leibniz which he (Conti) had shown him. The question must, therefore, be asked: How many of Leibniz' manuscripts were removed or copied by Conti? A letter from a Jesuit scholar in China is missing as are three letters from Leibniz to Swift.

There are additional reasons to suspect that Conti selectively removed or copied documents in the Leibniz collection. I am concerned not only about the duplication and fragmentary state of the journals of Dr. Cunningham appearing both in Hanover and in the British Museum, but also about the fact that Leibniz had worked out a code with Jesuits in Peking for transmitting information between Peking and Hanover. Up to now (1976) I have been unable to locate any use of that code which is as follows:

If the Jesuits had a significant amount of data to transmit, then it seems quite likely we should find extended sections in code in the manuscripts in Leibniz library.29

Then, too, Jonathan Swift stated that Leibniz had written to him three times, yet not one of these letters appears in any published collection.30  Add to these missing letters the coincidence (?) that in Gulliver's Travels Swift used a code system to disguise the names of the places that Gulliver visited. I do not imply that Swift directly used Leibniz' code nor that he worked out an intelligible, consistent code that could be cracked. But I suggest that when we read names such as Lilliput, Laputa, and Lagado in Gulliver's Travels, we should ponder whether or not Swift had access to Jesuit journals from China which included coded materials. Such coded materials may have been part of Swift's inspiration to use a parallel system in writing fictitious journals for Gulliver.

One event in particular makes me believe that some of the manuscripts from the Leibniz collection reached Newton. A few weeks before Newton died, John Conduitt and Samuel Crell witnessed Newton burning some of his manuscripts and possibly some correspondence.31  Which manuscripts troubled him to such a degree that he feared his posthumous reputation would be damaged? He left manuscripts on alchemy and theology. He also left manuscripts on history which had already been ridiculed in Paris. On what projects was he working secretly? Or could it be, at least in part, the manuscripts which he felt impelled to destroy were manuscripts which belonged to Leibniz? Nothing could have damaged Newton's reputation more seriously than to have been found in possession of manuscripts which had been removed from Leibniz' library!

Newton and Arbuthnot

At this point I wish to consider the implications of such a hypothetical situation in relation to Gulliver's Travels. Let us consider in more detail Newton's relationships with Dr. John Arbuthnot, who, as I have indicated, was the personal physician of Queen Anne and who was loyal to Newton in the affairs of the Royal Society, over which Newton ruled as an autocrat of English science. Newton had appointed Arbuthnot in 1711 to a committee in the Royal Society, the purpose of which was to examine charges which Leibniz made against Newton. With such a colleague, Newton might be expected to confide concerning the content of manuscripts which came from Leibniz' library. Arbuthnot was, after all, the great satirist of the English scientific circles and had already shown his disdain for Leibniz through his involvement in the Scriblerus Club. Indeed, in one letter to Arbuthnot, Swift had indicated that the good doctor alone would be able to write the details of Martin Scriblerus' involvement in scientific matters.

This letter from Swift to Arbuthnot should alert us to the possibility, actually I think the probability, that Arbuthnot wrote those sections of Gulliver's Travels which deal with scientific matters such as we find in Gulliver's voyage to Laputa. I suggest that Arbuthnot penned the voyage to Laputa and thereby Gulliver's statements that when he returned to England he would make certain that the professor at the Academy of Lagado would be credited as the "sole inventor" of his wonderful mechanical computer. As a member of the Royal Society committee to examine the dispute over the invention of calculus, it seems appropriate that Arbuthnot created the following words which Gulliver spoke to the professor, "I told him although it were the Custom of the Learned in Europe to steal Inventions from each Other, who had thereby at least this Advantage, that it became a Controversy which was the right Owner; yet I would take such Caution that he should have the Honour entirely without Rival."32

It is only one step further down the road to assume Arbuthnot wrote the section in the "Voyage to Laputa" which deals with the satellites of Mars; this may be one of the most puzzling passages in all English literature. In this passage, data are given about the two satellites of Mars even though they were not discovered by telescope until 1878 (by an American, Asaph Hall). Gulliver says, of course, that the Laputans were able to observe the Martian satellites because they had invented telescopes far superior to those in Europe. The largest Laputan telescopes were only three feet long and through these telescopes the Laputan astronomers had observed not only the satellites of Mars but also 10,000 fixed stars, which was 6,000 more than European astronomers had observed.

Schools of Catastrophism

However, apart from this eighteenth-century satire about European science, the twentieth-century catastrophist, Immanuel Velikovsky, first suggested that in antiquity Mars had orbital movements much closer to the Earth, indeed so close on some occasions that the Martian satellites could have been sighted by the naked eye. Now here we find ourselves in need of definitions for the terms catastrophism and uniformitarianism as used in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Beginning with Velikovsky, two new schools of catastrophism developed in the twentieth century. Velikovsky, in his works entitled Worlds in Collision and Earth in Upheaval, put forth historical, astronomical and geological evidence to show that in antiquity, that is, before 700 B.C., the Earth had some close encounters with the planets Venus and Mars, and that because of the effect of gravitational tides and electromagnetic interchanges, catastrophic results were experienced on the Earth. Velikovsky has attempted to develop what might be called neonaturalism. He is a thoroughgoing evolutionist but one who bases evolutionary development upon what he calls cataclysmic evolution.

A second school of catastrophism began with the writings of Donald W. Patten. In his works entitled The Biblical Flood and the Ice Epoch and The Long Day of Joshua and Six Other Catastrophes, Patten views catastrophism in antiquity as related to former orbital movements of Mercury and Mars but not Venus. Patten is dependent upon Velikovsky for much of his specific historical data. Nevertheless, Velikovsky and Patten are widely separated on many specifics and more importantly in ideology. Patten has a theological basis for his studies, is a creationist, is Biblically-oriented and might be regarded as the developer of the concept of ancient God-programmed interactions between the planets. Similar to Velikovsky, however, Patten believes that in ancient times Mars came so close to the Earth that its satellites were observed. In the latter work cited above, Patten devotes a whole chapter to the problem of Deimos and Phobos, the satellites of Mars. This work ought to be consulted by readers who are interested in modern attitudes towards the problem.

In contrast to the schools of neonaturalistic and God-programmed catastrophism, the majority of scientists cling tenaciously to the now-popular view of science, namely, uniformitarianism. The uniformitarian school has appropriated the label of orthodox science. It regards catastrophism as heresy. Uniformitarianism as a theory posits the idea that the present is the key both to the past and the future. According to this theory the planets have for billions of years been mechanically locked in their present orbits, leaving the solar system in celestial harmony and peace. Accordingly, the close passage of Mars past the Earth and the observation and recording of its satellites would be impossible. Uniformitarianism must posit the idea that any reference to the satellites of Mars before their modern discovery is coincidental.

Gulliver's Martian Moons

But the fact is that a reference to the satellites was made in Gulliver's Travels; and I am going to assume two things here: (1) that the satellites were seen by the naked eye in antiquity and (2) that the Chinese, who from ancient times recorded especially unusual astronomical events, recorded the movements of the two tiny Martian satellites.
I suggest that we may approach the data about the satellites of Mars in Gulliver's Travels in terms of an ancient Chinese system of recording time units, and by this frame of references make good sense out of the data. Let us then first of all examine the following passage from Gulliver's Travels:

They have made a Catalogue of ten thousand fixed Stars, whereas, the Largest of ours do not contain above one third Part of that Number. They have likewise discovered two lesser Stars or Satellites, which revolve about Mars; whereof the Innermost is distant from the Center of the primary Planet exactly three of his Diameters, and the outermost five; the former revolves in the Space of ten Hours, and the latter is twenty-one and a half so that the Squares of their periodical Times, are very near in the same Proportion with the Cubes of their Distance from the Center of Mars; which evidently shows them to be governed by the same Law of Gravitation, that influences the other heavenly Bodies.33

Having now Swift's basic data before us, let us chart out both his calculations and the modern calculations about the two Martian satellites which we call Phobos and Deimos.  (See Table 1 & Table 2, below.)


When a mathematical comparison is made between the orbital radii and the orbital periods which Swift provides, we find that the data do not fit together precisely. The diameters are too large for the orbital periods which he specified. If we are to make any sense out of the figures and resolve the problem, we cannot assume Swift by means of a lucky guess came uncannily close to the truth. If we assume that the Chinese made a historical, visual sighting of the satellites of Mars, then we are forced to conclude that there must be some factors about the data which we do not understand.

There is no evidence that the Chinese had telescopes to sight the satellites as Swift boldly purports the Laputans possessed. We are dealing with the need of a sighting by the naked eye in antiquity when Mars passed closely by the Earth. Leroy H. Hoffee of General Dynamics Corporation, Fort Worth, Texas, has calculated the optical requirements for such a sighting, noting the following:

The faintest star visible to the average person is of a magnitude + 6 and Deimos was probably brighter than this. Let us say that the magnitude of Deimos was +3 or 2.5 times fainter than Polaris. This would require that Deimos be 3981 times brighter in the past than now, and require a reduction in the distance of Deimos from Earth by a factor of 63.1. This would result in a separation distance of 771,400 miles. If Deimos appeared as magnitude +2, the separation distance would have had to have been less than 486,700 miles.35

Such a model of a Mars flyby is certainly needed also from the standpoint of the Earth and Mars being close enough for a long enough period to make a complete monitoring of the satellites of Mars. I would suggest even closer distances would be more appropriate. Accordingly, a more complete list of data calculated by Hoffee is given in Table 3 (below).

Chinese Time Units

While working with Chinese astronomical data, it occurred to me very early in my investigation that the reason Swift's time units do not fit the orbital radii of the two satellites may be that Swift and Arbuthnot did not understand the original values given to the time units. Over the ages, the Chinese used a number of time units. Among the various time units, three-hour blocks were used about A.D. 1300 during the Yuan (Mongol Dynasty). On the basis of preliminary estimate it appeared to me that this time unit might fit Swift's orbital radii described for the two satellites. However, in making closer mathematical calculations, Professor Lynn E. Rose, of New York State University at Buffalo, suggests that rather than three-hour units, time units of 2.4 hours may have been used. The suggestion seems to have great merit. He noted:

If the units of distance and time are kept the same, and if Mars has not changed appreciably in mass or in diameter, then the square of the period of any satellite of Mars, divided by the cube of the semimajor axis of the satellite, will be equal to the square of any other satellite's period divided by that other satellite's semimajor axis cubed.36

Table 1 gives us the data with which to work. The formulas to establish the two periods are as follows:

The period for Phobos:
      hours =   / (3 x 6648)3 x (.319 x 24)2  = 23.7365

The period for Deimos:
      hours =   / (5 x 6648)3 x (.319 x 24)2 = 51.0727

The results show that Phobos would have had an orbital period that is "very nearly 10 tenths of a day."  One tenth clearly defines Rose's 2.4 hour unit.

A historical examination of Chinese time units shows rather well the merit of Rose's time unit. Joseph Needham had observed the following about ancient Chinese time units:

1. Before about -1270 (early Shang) the day and night were divided unequally.

2. Six equal double-hours emerged after this date.

3. By the time of the Han Dynasty, 12 equal double-hours were common (Needham believes that the units probably go back to the Chou Dynasty).

4. A passage in the Tso Chuan under the date of -534 apparently shows that at that time only 10 double-hours were used. Two of these double-hours were four hours in length.37

We can make the assumption that sometime earlier during the Chou Dynasty these ten double-hour units were devised. The average length is 2.4 hours or one tenth of a day. We are also moving back very close to the period of great catastrophic events caused by the interaction of Mars and the Earth.

The model of sighting which I am proposing has to be related to catastrophic situations. Under such conditions could the Earth have perturbed the satellites of Mars so that their orbital periods were somewhat lengthened? I am not attempting to explain why the satellites are in their present orbital configurations. Such a discussion would involve a series of ramifications related to Mars' interactions with the Earth and possibly Venus.

But let us keep in mind a margin of error that the ancient Chinese time units permit us. The error is especially relevant to the monitoring of the period of Deimos at 51+ hours. At what time of day would the monitoring of Deimos have begun? Under the Chinese scheme found in the Tso Chuan we are working with respectively 2- and 4-hour units. Depending upon when such a sighting began, we would have a variable number of each time unit.

For the lack of a better term, I also raise here the problem of what I would call an elastic orbit. I have already noted the optical requirement of keeping the satellites in view for a period long enough to complete the monitoring of their orbital periods. This means in terms of Hoffee's calculations that Deimos must stay within at least 771,400 miles for a period greater than two days. If we are dealing with magnitudes of visibility that range down to 2 and 1, then we are also faced with increased gravitational actions. These gravitational forces (which are inversely proportional to the square of the distance) would be more than four times as great at visibility magnitude 1 (307,100 miles) as at visibility magnitude 3 (771,400 miles). In such a tug-of-war between the two planets whereby the balance between gravitational forces constantly varies due to the changing distances between Earth and Mars, would there have been an elastic adjustment of the orbits of the two Martian satellites? Can the trajectories of the two planets be calculated from such elastic orbits of the two satellites, if indeed the orbits were essentially elastic?

We should now consider more closely the problem of the transmission of the data received by Swift and Arbuthnot. First of all, the question would have to be raised, Did the data come directly from an old manuscript or were they recopied many times by Chinese scribes? Were they preserved orally by some secret society in China?

By any method of preservation the data could have been easily confused or juggled by Chinese research scholars. During the Chou period, "one" was represented by both - and | ; later from 200 B.C. to A.D. 400 "one" was represented by and "ten" by | . These representations are also found within the system of counting rods. Interestingly, after the thirteenth century A.D. with late counting rod forms, "one" was represented by | and "ten" by

The evolution of the Chinese numerical symbols calls for a review of Chinese scholarly interests and orientations during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the age of Swift. Looking in retrospect at the early Ching period, Wang Chung (1744-1794) noted that the revival of ancient learning was begun by Ju Yen-wu (1613-1721) and that astronomy was perfected in the time of Mei Wen-ting (1632-1721).38

Mei was an extremely capable mathematician and immersed himself in Chinese mathematical learning. On the other hand, to return to this matter of the initial revival of ancient Chinese learning, Hang Shih-Chun said of Matteo Ricci:

Chinese scholars were too overwhelmed by him to be able to find time for a deep inquiry into the origin and development of Chinese mathematics.... Frequently they took the superficial works that had been handed down for generations to be the complete picture of the ancient Nine Chapters (i.e. mathematics), and thus depreciated the ancient system as unworthy of attention. On the other hand, there were some who obstinately guarded the old learning and rashly spurned Western works and explained them in Chinese terms with slight modifications. For instance, [subjects such as] trigonometry and ratio [?] were not originally included in the Chinese system, so he specifically clarified them. The ancient [Chinese] methods of making equations were not known in the Western system, so he wrote monographs on them to clarify ideas of the ancients.39

These remarks give us sufficient perspective to realize that in the very period in which Swift and his consultants were formulating their ideas about Laputan astronomy, the Chinese were arriving at a stage when they felt they could sufficiently comprehend the mathematical learning of antiquity.

In view of the fluid, changing state of Chinese numeral symbols over the long historical development, the possibility of a misinterpretation of data is strong, even if the values had been checked by Mei Wen-ting. The seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Chinese did study many ancient texts; but even so, too many of the texts were missing. There is also the possibility of errors in transmission, especially where thousands of years were involved. Moreover, the Chinese did not have the advantage of the more recent archaeological discoveries which include materials from the ancient Shang and Chou periods.

Ultimately, however, the interpretation of the time units would have been the responsibility of Dr. Arbuthnot, who was Swift's mathematics-science consultant in the Royal Society. Joseph Needham has pointed out that the Royal Society was studying Chinese calendars in this period, and it is known now that there were historically more than a hundred official Chinese calendars.40  The British Museum possesses a copy of a Chinese ephemeris which was thoroughly studied by several scholars of the Society during this critical period which we are examining. However, it is not known how the English scholars would have understood Chinese tables of the movements of the planets. It is quite conceivable that no general use was made of them due to confusion about their principles. On the other hand, this would have left Arbuthnot with a free hand to use his own time values. I prefer to think that he did just that in respect to an ancient Chinese report which monitored the movement of the two satellites of Mars.

Newton and Swift

Having proposed that the data on the Martian satellites in Gulliver's Travels could have been ancient Chinese data, we need now—in the light of these contentions that I have put forth—to return to further assessments of Isaac Newton which could link him to the transmission of the data to Swift.

In the last score of years in his life, Newton had been working on manuscripts which dealt with ancient history and Biblical studies. Much of his attention was concentrated upon the problem of ancient chronologies. He did his work secretly but, significantly, it was one of these manuscripts on ancient chronologies which he released to Conti. In 1724 Conti, in turn, circulated the manuscript to scholars in Paris, scholars who publicly attacked Newton's theories.

In 1725 just as Swift was completing Gulliver's Travels, the pirated edition of Newton's manuscript was published in France.41  Like a roaring lion, Newton charged Conti with piracy and with scheming the entire Leibniz-Newton debate in order to attack his law of universal gravitation.

But at this point Newton was trapped. In 1726, the year of publication of the immediately popular Gulliver's Travels, Father Souiciet in Paris published "an avalanche of astronomical, literary, and numismatic evidence with logical precision which did not leave a Newtonian date unassailed."42

Conti countercharged Newton with academic piracy. Newton had published one of Leibniz' letters which Conti had shown him.

Newton now had to cover his tracks. Gulliver's Travels in the "Voyage to Laputa" section satirized mathematicians and catastrophists. During his tenure at Cambridge University, Newton had endorsed Whiston's ideas of catastrophism. Newton himself was a prolific writer and it would not be too extreme to suppose that in this period he was incorporating ideas of catastrophism in some of his manuscripts. Since Newton was of kindred spirit with Whiston and interested similarly in Biblical ideas, it seems safe to assume that his writings (or at least notes) would have reflected programism in contrast to naturalism. These writings even may have justified indirectly the forthcoming catastrophe as proposed by Whiston.43  But future catastrophes were ridiculed in Gulliver's Travels. Thus it would have been important to Newton to purge his own manuscripts of those earlier interests.

In covering his tracks—he lived only 145 days after Gulliver's Travels was released—Newton also would have had to purge all references in his personal library which might reveal that he was the recipient of manuscripts from Leibniz' library through Conti. It seems likely that he had passed on data to Arbuthnot and Swift about the satellites of Mars and that Arbuthnot knew that the information came from Leibniz' library, but Arbuthnot and Swift would have remained unaware of what Newton had written in his earlier years. They would have been unaware of anything which Newton had written about an inevitable future cataclysmic event during which the earth would be engulfed by fire, an event which would come as a result of the judgment of God upon the earth.44

In evaluating Newton's life one observes that he was a very cautious man who sought the endorsement of his friends and colleagues before he made any serious proposals in the way of new ideas. It seems equally apparent that he played things safe because of the lack of real academic and religious freedom in England. After he left the world of scholarly pursuits at Cambridge to enter government service at the Royal Mint, he no longer enjoyed the close association and fellowship of colleagues and disciples that he had at the university. But even at the university he needed support to forge ahead publicly. As I have noted earlier it was Halley's inquiries about his studies and subsequent support which brought to light his theories about universal gravitation.

In theology no one could adequately represent Newton in his heretical Unitarian view. And, indeed, inasmuch as he received pay from the state, he would not want to risk his career as did his disciple, William Whiston, who lost his post at Cambridge when he espoused this heresy. He was not politically free nor could he serve in a nonconformist parish as did William Whiston when he lost his university post.


It would seem that Newton was ahead of his times in many respects. He is universally admired for his theory of gravitational forces and recognized for his basic development of calculus. He was involved, however, in the initial formulation of the concept of global catastrophes, having given his endorsement to Whiston's

Newton was capable of advancing the theories of catastrophism, but it seems that after he entered government service and after Whiston and Fatio were publicly disgraced, he made the decision to disassociate himself from catastrophism and millen-nialism, which was closely associated with it.

The lesson for us in the -twentieth century seems plain enough. The pressures for scholars to disassociate themselves from catastrophism are just as great. In the place of deism we find the prevailing view of science is uniformitarianism. Its respectability extends from the secular university to the church university, and the scholars of these institutions influence government grants for research purposes and the publication of educational materials through the typical publishing houses.

There is another parallel between our age and Newton's. The scientific world is again engaged in basic exploration and formulation of ideas in cosmology. We seem to be at a major crossroad in history, a time when thoroughgoing reappraisal of astronomical data is needed. Uniformitarianism has more respectability than scientific validity. The problem is simple enough. Will catastrophists, especially those who believe in programism, allow opportunities to present a systematic rationale for creationism slip through their fingers? We need to abandon our fear of the pressures that come from the academic, political and ecclesiastical authorities and present our case logically and forthrightly, lest we with Newton spend our days covering our tracks for the sake of posthumous respectability.

Editor's Appendix

The following six citations from Gulliver's Travels are included for the benefit of the readers who do not have immediate access to this work.  (The following quotations from Gulliver's Travels are found on pages 137, 137, 134, 150, 174 and 132 in Jonathan Swift, Gulliver's Travels and Other Writings (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1960).)

I - Gulliver on Laputan Knowledge of Mars

This citation has been called by prominent (but we think naive) uniformitarians the luckiest guess in all literature, the anticipation in 1726 of the European discovery of two moons of Mars and the accuracy of the relation of the revolution of the inner satellite to the rotation of Mars.

This loadstone is under the care of certain astronomers, who from time to time give it such positions as the monarch directs. They spend the greatest part of their lives in observing the celestial bodies, which they do by the assistance of glasses far excelling ours in goodness. For although their largest telescopes do not exceed three feet, they magnify much more than those of a hundred with us, and at the same time show the stars with greater clearness. For this advantage hath enabled them to extend their discoveries much farther than our astronomers in Europe. They have made a catalogue of ten thousand fixed stars, whereas the largest of ours do not contain above one third of that number.

They have likewise discovered two lesser stars, or "satellites," which revolve around Mars, whereof the innermost is distant from the center of the primary planet exactly three of his diameters, and the outermost five; the former revolves in the space of ten hours, and the latter in twenty-one and an half; so that the squares of their periodical times are very near in the same proportion with the cubes of their distance from the center of Mars, which evidently shows them to be governed by the same law of gravitation, that influences the other heavenly bodies.

The surface features of Mars, scanned by recent Mariner space probes, reveal an intense amount of catastrophism, evidently recent in terms of erosion and timing. Dry river beds indicate Mars at one time had a hydrosphere, and perhaps a planetary flood, though not on the scale of the Flood on the Earth. Mars has uneroded craters in a vast variety of sizes comparable to the sizes of the asteroids. Mars has basaltic plateaus, a mammoth rift valley, and laminated ice plates in polar regions. Each laminated plate suggests a different historic location for the south pole.

Against these indications of catastrophism, uniformitarians and evolutionists speculate. Isaac Asimov, a modern popular science and science fiction writer, astoundedly reflects on Swift's Martian literature.

This is an amazing coincidence. Of course, Swift might have reasoned as follows: It was known that Earth had 1 moon, Jupiter 4 and Saturn 7 at the time he was writing his book. It was reasonable to suppose that Saturn might have an 8th moon hidden somewhere and, in that case, if Mars had 2 moons, there would be a nice list of numbers.

As one moved outward from the sun, beginning at Earth, the number of moons of each planet would be 1, 2, 4, 8. Then too, the moons of Mars would have to be small and close to the planet, or even Europeans with their "poor" telescopes would have discovered them.

So far, Swift's thinking can be followed. However, his guess that Phobos would rise in the west and set in the east because of its speed of revolution is uncanny. It is undoubtedly the luckiest guess in literature.45

Asimov casually ascribes to Swift that kind of reasoning which would conjure up number patterns. Asimov does not analyze the Deimos-Phobos problem in depth. Robert S. Richardson, a modern astronomer, plunges more deeply into the problem and faces issues, though with evolutionary assumptions and without solid conclusions.

Phobos and Deimos are the same size as many of the asteroids. On the face of it such a hypothesis [two chance evolutionary captures by Mars of an asteroid in its present orbit] sounds quite possible, but upon closer examination it does not stand up so well. A planet only one-tenth as massive as Earth could not easily effect a capture. Suppose that eight small satellites of Jupiter are captured asteroids. Then Mars, with a mass only 1/2950 that of Jupiter, has done extraordinarily well to have been able to latch onto two such bodies. The asteroids revolve in orbits that have no particular relationship to the orbit of Mars.

Suppose one of the satellites is a captured asteroid, captured in such a way that it revolves in a circular orbit in the plane of the planet's equator.... But it does seem incredible that Mars could have effected two such very special captures. Further speculation along this line is useless.46

II - Gulliver on Laputan Knowledge of Comets

They have observed ninety-three different comets, and settled their periods with great exactness. If this is true (and they affirm it with great confidence) it is much to be wished that their observations were made public, whereby the theory of comets, which at present is very lame and defective, might be brought to the same perfection with other parts of astronomy.

III - Gulliver on the Laputan Observatory

At the center of the island there is a chasm about fifty yards in diameter, from whence the astronomers descend into a large dome, which is therefore called Flandona Gagnole, or the Astronomer's Cave, situated at the depth of an hundred yards beneath the upper surface of the adamant. In this cave are twenty lamps continually burning, which from the reflections of the adamant cast a strong light into every part. The place is stored with great variety of sextants, quadrants, telescopes, astrolabes, and other astronomical instruments. But the greatest curiosity, upon which the fate of the island depends, is the loadstone of a prodigious size, in shape resembling a weaver's shuttle. It is in length six yards, and in the thickest part at least three yards over. This magnet is sustained by a very strong axle of adamant passing through its middle, upon which it plays, and is poised so exactly that the weakest hand can turn it. It is hooped round with an hollow cylinder of adamant, four foot deep, as many thick, and twelve yards in diameter, placed horizontally, and supported by eight adamantine feet, each six yards high. In the middle of the concave side there is a groove twelve inches deep, in which the extremities of the axle are lodged, and turned round as there is occasion.

IV - Gulliver on Scientific Credit in Laputa

He assured me, that this invention [a primitive computer] had employed all his thoughts from his youth, that he had emptied the whole vocabulary into its frame, and made the strictest computation of the general proportion there is in books between the number of particles, nouns, verbs, and other parts of speech.

I made my humblest acknowledgements to this illustrious person for his great communicativeness, and promised if ever I had the good fortune to return to my native country, that I would do him justice, as the sole inventor of this wonderful machine; the form and contrivance of which I desired leave to delineate upon paper as in the figure here annexed. I told him, although it were the custom of our learned in Europe to steal inventions from each other, who had thereby at least this advantage, that it became a controversy which was the right owner, yet I would take such caution, that he should have the honor entire without a rival.

V - Gulliver on the Struldbrugg Viewpoint

What wonderful discoveries should we make in astronomy, by outliving and confirming our own predictions, by observing the progress and returns of comets, with the changes of motion in the sun, moon and stars.

VI - Gulliver on Laputan Apprehensions

These people are under continual disquietudes, never enjoying a minute's peace of mind; and their disturbances proceed from causes which very little affect the rest of mortals. Their apprehensions arise from several changes they dread in the celestial bodies. For instance; that the earth, by the continual approaches of the sun towards it, must in course of time be absorbed or swallowed up. That the face of the sun will by degrees be encrusted with its own effluvia, and give no more light to the world. That the earth very narrowly escaped a brush from the tail of the last comet, which would have infallibly reduced it to ashes; and that the next, which they have calculated for one hundred and thirty years hence, will probably destroy us.

For, if in its perihelion it should approach within a certain degree of the sun (as by their calculations they have reason to dread), it will conceive a degree of heat ten thousand times more intense than that of a red-hot glowing iron; and in its absence from the sun, carry a blazing tail ten hundred thousand and fourteen miles long through which if the earth should pass at the distance of one hundred thousand miles from the nucleus or main body of the comet, it must in its passage be set on fire, and reduced to ashes. That the sun daily spending its rays without any nutriment to supply them, will at last be wholly consumed and annihilated; which must be attended with the destruction of this earth, and of all the planets that receive their light from it.

They are so perpetually alarmed with the apprehensions of these and the like impending dangers, that they can neither sleep quietly in their beds, nor have any relish for the common pleasures or amusements of life. When they meet an acquaintance in the morning, the first question is about the sun's health, how he looked at his setting and rising and what hopes they have to avoid the stroke of the approaching comet.


1. Frank E. Manuel, A Portrait of Isaac Newton (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 1968), p. 123.

2. Frank E. Manuel, Isaac Newton, Historian (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 1963), pp. 54, 136, 270-71.

3. In the year 1664, the German Jesuit Adam Schall was charged by the Chinese as being among those who were indoctrinating Chinese converts with false ideas about Chinese national origins; in particular the idea was being spread that man originated in Judea and that a branch of the human family had migrated to China under the leadership of Fu Hsi, the first emperor of China. This theory was expressed in pamphlet form by a Catholic convert, Li Tsu-po. The same theory linked Fu Hsi (Fohi in French documents) to Noah and continued among European Jesuits called the Figurists. From this time on the idea became widespread in France, Germany and England. However, similar ideas had appeared a century earlier in the writings of the Spanish Augustinian monk, Juan Gonzalez de Mendoza. Mendoza compiled ideas from early missionaries such as Martin de Rada who arrived in China in 1575. Mendoza reported that the Chinese were nephews of Noah (see Donald F. Loch, China in the Eyes Of Europe [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1965], p. 783).

4. Manuel, Portrait, p. 238.

5. Ibid., p. 333.

6. William Whiston, A New Theory of the Earth (London:  R. Roberts, Book II, p. 309.

7. Ibid., p. 210.

8. Manuel, Portrait, p. 210.

9. Ibid., p. 276.

10. Ibid., pp. 206-10.

11. Ibid., p. 210.

12. Ibid., p. 211.

13. Ibid., p. 271.

14. Jonathan Swift, Gulliver's Travels and Other Writings, ed. Ricardo Quintana (New York: The Modern Library, 1958), p. 129.

15. Manuel, Portrait, p. 411.

16. Swift, Gulliver's Travels, pp. 146-48.

17. Lull's machine was associated with astrology, a field in which Leibniz was interested for some time. The important thing is the mechanical analogies between the machines.

18. Swift, Gulliver's Travels, p. 148.

19. The first examinations of Leibniz' library were made by Erdmann and published in Opera Philosophica (Vol. 1, 1840).

20. Donald F. Lach, The Preface to Leibniz's NOVISSIMA SINICA (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1957), p. 35.

21. The Correspondence of Jonathan Swift, ed. Harold Williams (London: Oxford University Press, 1963), Volume II, pp. 33, 38.

22 Leibniz was Elector George's personal secretary and family historian. In his travels about Europe, Leibniz had copied and collected documents establishing the Hanoverian succession to the English throne.

23. Lach, Preface, pp. 61-62.

24. Dictionary of National Biography, Volume V, p. 312.

25. Dictionary of National Biography, Volume XIII, p. 379. Also see II Chronicles 9:10-12 and 21-24.

26. Manuel, Portrait, p. 271.

27. Ibid., p. 323.

28. Ibid., p. 324.

29. Under the editorship of C.I. Gerhardt the letters of Leibniz were published in seven volumes under the title, Philosophische Schriften von G.W. Leibniz (1875-90). Microfilm copies of the letters now housed in the library in Hanover are on file in the library of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. My analysis was based upon examination of those microfilms.

30. Manuel, Historian, p. 31. On the missing letter from the Jesuit Laureati, see Lach, Preface, p. 29. On the missing letters from Leibniz to Swift see The Prose Works of Jonathan Swift, ed. Herbert Davis et al., Volume II, p. 160.

31. Manuel, Portrait, p. 386.

32. Swift, Gulliver's Travels, p. 148.

33. Ibid., p. 134.

34. The data sources vary slightly on these figures. For the calculations in this essay, the results should not be appreciably affected.

35. In a private communication dated January 7, 1974.

36. In a private communication dated January 14, 1974.

37. Joseph   Needham,  Science and Civilization in China  (Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press, 1965), Volume III, p. 398.

38. Ch'i-Ch'ao, Intellectual Trends in the Ching Period, trans. Immanuel C.Y. Hsii (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1959), p. 32.

39. Ibid., pp. 42-43.

40. Needham, Science, Volume III, p. 391.

41. Manuel, Historian, p. 23.

42. Ibid., p. 33.

43. Manuel, Portrait, pp. 378-79.

44. Ibid.

45. Isaac Asimov, The Kingdom of the Sun (London: Abelard-Schuman, 1960), pp. 128-29.

46. Robert S.  Richardson, Mars (New York:   Harcourt, Brace and World,  Inc., 1964), p. 93.


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