Why We Need Academic Freedom to Question Newtonism

by PZ Myers

I'm writing this at an altitude of 37,000 feet, 7 miles up in the air. Now I'm not really afraid of flying — I am entirely confident that I'll be able to post this sometime after I land — but if you think about it, it's grounds for trepidation. This is insanely high, and I'm in this fragile tin can that is reliant on a constant stream of exploding jet fuel to keep from simply falling out of the sky ... an event which I and the other passengers would not survive. I don't want to dwell on it, of course, but I have put myself in a potentially lethal situation, and I have to do this regularly as part of my job. Why? Who is at fault for creating this culture of risk?

I blame Newton.

Newton was a wild-eyed lunatic, cruel and inconsiderate to his peers (actually, he was so arrogant he seems not to have regarded anyone as his peer), and he documented in excruciating, obsessive detail the behavior of falling objects, which includes the falling of living, breathing, caring people. He plotted mathematically and with complex formulae the rates that objects, including people, would fall, and the force with which they would strike the ground — it's hard not to imagine him cackling with glee like a psychopathic child pulling the wings off flies as he calculated the trajectories of objects, like people, flying through space. He was a horrible man.

Look back over the worst tragedies of the twentieth century, this period of time when Newtonists have run amuck. We've been lofting people into the sky for well over a hundred years, and quite often, they've fallen down. How many have died due to the tyranny of the gravity Newton put into the hands of conscienceless materialist scientists? Examine Hitler's record, for instance. He was an ardent Newtonist who put his Wehrmacht to evil purpose, building machines that used the wicked geometries of Newton to shatter Europe. Nazi artillery and tanks used Newton's tools to strike at his righteous opponents. Who can forget the V2 rockets lofting into the air on tongues of F=ma (another Newtonist "theory"!) to then fall along Newtonian trajectories, showering death on the good Christians of England. Hitler also dreamed of firing his evil Newtonist weapons on America, and if we'd given him enough time, he would have succeeded...thanks to Newton.

Perhaps you want to argue that Newton is not to blame, that someone would have said the same thing; or perhaps you want to make the claim that the world would have been the same without his work. But that neglects an important fact: Newton killed hope. Once, I might have thought that I could survive falling if I watched my diet and were as light as a feather, but no — Newton's cold equations dictate that no matter what I weigh, I'd fall just as fast, so in despair I have let myself go, just as, I can see, many of my fellow Midwesterners. We despair because of Newton, and seek forlorn solace in trying to increase our wind resistance.

And those equations! The force of gravity is described as g•M1•M2 / d2, and those little letters don't stand for God, motherhood, marriage (heterosexual), and devotion. There is no room in Newtonism for the reassuring idea that my airplane is being cradled in the loving, supportive hands of an intelligent anti-gravity agent. Just the idea of opposing gravity is anathema to the intelligentsiac — they think gravity is a great thing, and don't want to question it.

Try polling university physics departments sometime: you won't find the faculty questioning Newton at all. Gravity is over and done with those people, with nothing left to learn, and they won't tolerate even the slightest deviation from Newtonist dogma. An open-minded physicist who suggests even the tiniest revision to the "theory" — for instance, suggesting that maybe Newton got the exponent a little bit wrong, and gravity varies with the cube of the distance, and they laugh at you and refuse to give you tenure. Shouldn't these questions be discussed? Are they so intolerant that they will allow no dissent at all?

Don't be fooled. The catastrophic social consequences of falling demand that we question all of Newtonism.