Reviewer Lois C. Henderson: Lois is a freelance academic editor and back-of-book indexer, who spends most of her free time compiling word search puzzles for tourism and educative purposes. Her puzzles are available HERE and HERE Her Twitter account (@LoisCHenderson) mainly focusses on the toponymy of British place names. Please feel welcome to contact her with any feedback at LoisCourtenayHenderson@gmail.com.
Author: Mitch Stokes
Author: Mitch Stokes
One of a series of books on leading Christian figures, Christian Encounters: Isaac Newton discusses the philosophy, life and times of this eminent inventor, astronomer, physicist, and philosopher. In addition to exploring Newton’s extensive writings on faith, he also shows how Newton used his grasp on theology to explain the scientific world.
Stokes includes fairly extensive quotes from Newton’s leading biographers, William Stukeley and Frank Manuel, as well as excerpts from the philosopher’s own writing. Of particular interest to me, as a retired librarian, was Stokes’ description of the importance of Newton’s notebooks, which he kept throughout his life, and which revealed “an almost obsessive organizing tendency” (nowadays such a tendency might, quite likely, be regarded as leanings towards OCD).
Starting with a lively description of Newton’s childhood and background, Stokes goes on to explain how he narrowly escaped being forced to follow in his father’s footsteps as a gentleman farmer. Instead, albeit grudgingly, he was allowed to take up more academic pursuits at Trinity College in Cambridge. Stokes disputes the claims made by “Freudians and other sensationalists” that sexual frustration was the primary motivator of Newton’s intense study and contemplation, stating that “there’s little to support it”.
Stokes’ style, though informed and informative, is never dull and prosaic. Apart from the biography being rooted in academically sound research (as can be seen in the annotations to all 15 chapters), Stokes makes Newton’s life and times accessible and interesting to the contemporary reader. He is able to discuss the leading philosophical debates of the day in such terms that even those who know little of philosophy are easily able to understand the gist of his argument. The non-polemical narrative is straightforward and objective, taking into account Newton’s own Christian orientation, without assuming that the reader is necessarily of the same persuasion.
Stokes allows his own authorial voice to emerge in such pithy sayings as “Good metaphors can outstrip literal descriptions”, before explaining Francis Bacon’s metaphor of God having written two books, Scripture and Nature, with the study of either leading to His glorification. Stokes not only refers to the metaphors of others, but also, when the situation suits, constructs his own in order to explain a particular concept. For instance, in partial explanation of the problem that was experienced during Galileo’s time in explaining the phenomenon of motion, Stokes urges the reader: “Imagine a movie of an object flying through the air—a cat, perhaps. The more frames per second we have, the more of the cat’s moments we capture, the more data we have. But if we wanted information about the cat at a moment in between any two of the frames, we would be forced to guess or approximate based on the frames before and after the missing moment.”
Mitch Stokes, the author of Christian Encounters: Isaac Newton, is a Fellow of Philosophy at New St. Andrews College in Moscow, Idaho. After receiving his Ph.D. in philosophy from Notre Dame under the direction of Alvin Plantinga and Peter van Inwagen, Stokes also earned an M.A. in religion from Yale under the direction of Nicholas Wolterstorff.