PBS' “Cosmos” Series Distorts Facts About History of Science
Neil deGrasse Tyson is the host of a popular science series called Cosmos which is considered an updated version of the original documentary series featuring Carl Sagan. And, just as the original series promoted not only science, but also a worldview of materialism (i.e. atheism), so this series has sought to do the same. Given this agenda, it is unsurprising that numerous distortions of various facts have been presented. One example of this is the treatment of Isaac Newton. In episode 3, Tyson states:
Everyone looked at the perfection of the clockwork motions of the planets in the sky and could only understand it as the work of a master clock maker. How else to explain it? There was only one way such a thing could come about in their imagination; only one answer for them: God… Along came Newton… Newton’s laws of gravity and motion revealed how the Sun held distant worlds captive. His laws swept away the need for a master clock maker to explain the precision and beauty of the solar system.
This description is quite misleading because it implies that God played no role in Newton’s work, but historians of science recognize that God played a significant role in the physics of Newton. The “General Scholium,” found in the second edition of Newton’s Principia, is a key piece of evidence. The Newton Project Canada (based in the University of King’s College) points out this fact.
In [the General Scholium], Newton not only challenges the natural philosophy of Descartes… but he articulates the argument from design, [and] discusses the nature of God…
Dr. Stephen D. Snobelen, professor of the history of science, explains that God played a role in other areas of Newton's work as well. For example, natural theology was part of the 1706 scientific work called Opticks.
Already in the 1706 Latin edition of his Opticks, Newton had inserted four discussions of natural theology drawn out of his natural philosophy. And so it was that when he appended the General Scholium to the new edition of the Principia in 1713, Newton stated forcefully there that the solar system could only have proceeded "from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful being" and that the universe of stars "must be all subject to the dominion of One [i.e. God]."
“Newton’s General Scholium,” Newton Project Canada (blog), June 18, 2013, https://isaacnewton.ca/newtons-general-scholium/.
Stephen D. Snobelen, “‘God of Gods, and Lord of Lords’: The Theology of Isaac Newton’s General Scholium to the Principia,” Osiris 16 (January 2001): 174, https://doi.org/10.1086/649344.