Newtonian Apocalypse

"The Vision of the Four Beasts" from the Book of Daniel, as envisioned by 19th-century artist Gustave Doré.

Image courtesy Felix Just, S.J.

Humans have always worried about the end of the world, but Isaac Newton wasn't the type of man to accept an apocalypse scare at face value. No, when fearmongers of the 1700s made biblical predictions about the end of times, he hit the books and did some fact-checking.

Newton was no slouch when it came to theology. Just as his obsessive, problem-solving nature led him to explore the mysteries of alchemy, so too did he venture into the riddles of biblical visions, such as those described in the cryptic Book of Daniel.

Newton believed wholeheartedly that the Bible contained an ancient and irrefutable wisdom, if only learned men could crack its codes. Still, 300-year-old documents indicate that his primary motivation in studying the Book of Daniel was to silence the fearmongers.

His projected date for the end of the world? The year 2060 -- possibly later, but absolutely no sooner. In other words, "Move along, folks, nothing to see here."

Or at least that's what he told his fellow denizens of the 18th century. You, on the other hand, might think differently on the matter.

Want to dive deeper into the mind of Newton? Then explore the links on the next page.