Religious explanations of gravity

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Religious explanations of gravity invoking the direct intervention of God span several hundred years: Isaac Newton suggested divine intervention to stabilize orbital motion, but in the mid 19th century Charles Darwin clearly felt that such an approach would not be countenanced by contemporary astronomers. In 1925 the Rev. William Asbury Williams proposed that gravity was "the power of God" as an argument against evolution.

Isaac Newton

In a letter to the Reverend Dr. Richard Bentley in 1692, Isaac Newton wrote: "To your second query I answer that the motions which the planets now have could not spring from any natural cause alone but were impressed by an intelligent agent." This statement is referenced by Intelligent Design advocate Stephen C. Meyer in The Scientific Status of Intelligent Design,[1] who refers to this statement as "Newton's famous postulation of special divine intervention to stabilize the orbital motion in the solar system" in developing his argument of the methodological equivalence of naturalistic and non-naturalistic (i.e. supernatural) theories.

Charles Darwin's response

Charles Darwin clearly opted for the opposite point of view. In 1842, Darwin wrote his "pencil sketch" of his theory[2] in which he set evidence of common descent against the doctrine of separate creation and asked:

What would the Astronomer say to the doctrine that the planets moved (not) according to the law of gravitation, but from the Creator having willed each separate planet to move in its particular orbit?[3]

Rev. William Asbury Williams

In 1925, Rev. William Asbury Williams, D.D. wrote, in a book titled The Evolution of Man Scientifically Disproved:[4]

The power of attraction, which we may call a property of matter, is really the power of God. The effects are the results of power and intelligence..... Gravitation requires the computation of countless millions of the most complex and difficult problems, every instant, by the divine mind.... These innumerable calculations prove that God is everywhere. We are continually in the immediate awesome presence of an Infinite God.

See also


  1. "An example of theological plausibility functioning to limit design hypotheses can be found by examining the reception of Newton's famous postulation of special divine intervention to stabilize the orbital motion in the solar system. Newton postulated the periodic and special intervention of God to correct for an apparently accumulating instability in the orbits of the outer planets (Jupiter and Saturn) within the solar system. While this episode is often cited to illustrate why divine action or design can never be considered as a scientific explanation, it actually illustrates a more subtle point: how such inferences were constrained by considerations of theological plausibility."
  2. Darwin Online: Sketches of 1842 and 1844
  3. Darwin, Francis ed. 1909. The foundations of The origin of species, a sketch written in 1842. Cambridge: University Press. p. 22
  4. Williams, Rev. William A. (1925 & 1928). The Evolution of Man Scientifically Disproved, In 50 Arguments. Gutenberg Etext