Science & Tech

Sir Isaac Newton calculated the precise date of when the world will end

Sir Isaac Newton calculated the precise date of when the world will end
Did You Know? Isaac Newton
Encyclopaedia Britannica / VideoElephant

Sir Isaac Newton may be one of the most influential geniuses of all time, but not all his theories were schoolbook-worthy.

Yes, the British polymath discovered gravity and revolutionised our understanding of the universe, but he was also pretty unorthodox in many of his pursuits.

Alongside his scientific and mathematical successes, Newton also put forward some less convincing theories. For example, as the bubonic plague tore through England in 1665, he recommended that sufferers try sucking on “lozenges” made of powdered toad mixed with the dead reptile’s own vomit.

Suffice it to say, that didn’t quite work.

He also harboured a decades-long fascination with alchemy (the aspirational science of turning base metals into gold) and with theology.

It was this – his strict Christian faith and adherence to the scriptures – that led him to predict that the world would end in 2060.

Newton is one of the most influential minds of all time(National Portrait Gallery London)

According to the Director of the Newton Project Canada, Stephen Snobelen, Newton firmly believed that “the holy prophecies” of the Bible were “histories of things to come”.

However, he also acknowledged that such texts were written in heavily symbolic language that required careful interpretation. And, naturally, he considered himself just the man for the job.

On a piece of scrap paper, Newton used a series of simple mathematical calculations to work out the date of the future apocalypse.

Key to this was to pinpoint a date when the so-called Great Apostasy began – when mainstream Christian Churches fell away from the original faith founded by Jesus.

Newton, a Protestant, believed that this was when the Catholic Church assumed power. And so, once he’d established that the “Pope’s supremacy” began in 800AD, the rest fell into place.

After poring over the scriptures – more specifically, the Book of Daniel – he concluded that the “corruption” of the Church would last 1,260 years.

Add 1,260 to 800 and what are you left with?

That’s right, 2060.

Nevertheless, although Newton believed there would be “wars and cataclysms” in the run-up to this great showdown, it wasn’t all doom and gloom.

“For Newton, 2060 A.D. would be more like a new beginning. It would be the end of an old age, and the beginning of a new era,” Snobelen explained.

The Last Judgment by Dutch painter Hieronymus Bosch, which pictures the end of days

In a detailed blog post, the professor noted that Newton believed that “sometime shortly after the fall of the corrupt [Catholic] Church, Christ would return and set up a 1000-year Kingdom of God on Earth.”

Which, if you were a believer like Newton, was a pretty exciting prospect.

“Citing the prophet Micah, Newton believed this Kingdom would usher in a time of peace and prosperity, a time when people would ‘beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks’ and when ‘nations shall not lift up a sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more’,” Snobelen added.

Still, the iconic natural philosopher was wary about placing too much emphasis on specific dates.

As Snobelen puts it: “He took seriously biblical passages that assert that no-one except God knows the time of the end.”

Furthermore, he was worried that if human predictions based on divine prophecy failed to pass, it would bring the Bible into disrepute.

And yet, more than 300 years after Newton made his prophetic calculations, that specific date looms heavy in the near distance.

After all, we now only have 36 years to wait to see if he was right.

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