Sensorium of God

Sensorium of God

Sensorium of God is a phrase Isaac Newton (1643-1727) used in his discussion to describe his notion of space and time. Newton saw space and time intricately associated with God, thus he used science and religion to explain how the universe functioned.

Newton saw space and time as being absolute and independent of any physical object. He believed space extended without limit in any direc­tion and was immovable. He saw time as infinite both in the past and the future. He also noted that making measurements in absolute space would require using an object within absolute space, thus an absolutely stationary object. This is not possi­ble given the law of gravity, according to which every object, including stellar objects, is influenced by universal gravitational forces. Therefore, no stationary object exists so no such measurement can be made. Instead, objects must be measured relative to another object, both of which are moving.

The sensorium of God was Newton’s way of answering an old question in stellar physics: How do particles move? The assumptions of this theory are (1) all objects have substance and therefore have a place in space and (2) these objects are subject to time. Physicists of Newton’s time could not imagine another possibility. Newton believed stellar and planetary movement could be deter­mined and predicted using mathematics and mechanics based on Euclidean geometry and his theory of gravity. Building on the work of Galileo, Copernicus, and others, he developed a method of plotting an object in motion. His method uses a coordinate system to plot an object on the three spatial axes and one temporal axis. Thus, one can know the exact location of an object at a particu­lar instant in time. He believed space was geo­metrically ordered and that objects moved in a straight line unless otherwise influenced by gravity or centripetal force. Thus, Newton’s sensorium of God is connected to his famous three laws of motion and his law of universal gravity.

Newton was raised in the Protestant tradition, died a Roman Catholic, but held to a Unitarian belief system that was neither traditional nor orthodox. In his quest to unite knowledge and religious belief, Newton, being somewhat of a theologian as well as a scientist, connected this concept of absolute space with God. He saw God as not restricted to the physical universe; that is, God is both omnipresent (not limited to space) and eternal (beyond the bounds of time). Space and time serve as his sensorium, where God intimately and thoroughly perceives and understands objects and events. God is always present everywhere and is a part of every event. For Newton, God consti­tutes time and space, being equally present in all space and time.

Newton’s work on space and time was revolu­tionary, with his book Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica considered the most impor­tant work ever written in the field of science. Although his attempt to unite belief and science has been largely downplayed, his theories con­tinue to be foundational to the physical sciences.

Terry W. Eddinger

See also Design, Intelligent; Einstein and Newton; God and Time; Newton, Isaac; Newton and Leibniz; Space, Absolute; Time, Absolute

Further Readings

Barbour, J. B. (1989). Absolute or relative motion: The deep structure of general relativity: Vol. 1. The discovery of dynamics. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Hodgson, P. E. (2005). Theology and modern physics

(Ashgate Science and Religion Series). Burlington, VT: Ashgate.

Newton, I. (1999). The principia (I. B. Cohen & A.

Whitman, Trans.). Berkeley: University of California Press. (Original work published 1687)

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