As general relativity and quantum mechanics become more accessible, is Newton going to become the new Aristotle, as the example of being wrong and misleading humanity for centuries? (as opposed to the currently popular idea that Newton came up with the right thing and got people out of the delusion created by Aristotle)

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    $\begingroup$ Totally non-sensical... With Newtonian mechanics we are able to compute with incredible precision the path to land on the Moon. This is not "to mislead humanity for centuries". $\endgroup$ Mar 24, 2019 at 17:45
  • $\begingroup$ I suggest to remove that "mislead" thing, so your question will be okay. $\endgroup$
    – peterh
    Mar 24, 2019 at 20:16
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    $\begingroup$ Aristotle was not misleading humanity for centuries, he laid the foundations of scientific inquiry that eventually led to Newtonian and modern physics, and other sciences. Of course, he postulated many things that turned out to be inaccurate, or outright wrong, but that always happens with pioneers. He certainly was not responsible for the dogmatic canonization of those mistakes during the middle ages. What separates Newton from Aristotle, aside from the fact that Newton had the benefit of prior work to build more accurate theories, is that Newton's work was not dogmatized. $\endgroup$
    – Conifold
    Mar 25, 2019 at 0:57
  • $\begingroup$ @Conifold Thank you for a very valid argument. Indeed the criticism of Aristotle might have come from more political and religious aspect than from scientific aspect as you suggest. $\endgroup$
    – cr001
    Mar 25, 2019 at 2:43

1 Answer 1


I suggest that the baseless suggestion offered in this question can best be answered by Einstein's own words about Newton, written in 1919.

The background was the now-well-known eclipse expedition of 1919, in which the amount of deflection of light from stars close to the sun's limb had been observed during the eclipse. The results gave a probable verification of the predictions of general relativity about the amount of gravitational light-bending -- differing from the amount predicted by classical physics.

The 'Times' newspaper carried in November 1919 a report of the event, and the headline to the article included the words "Newton overthrown".

Remarkably, Einstein himself, asked to comment, wrote back and disagreed. In his letter he gave some explanation, tailored to his audience, of the nature and basis of relativity theory and how it had had to correct Newtonian physics -- though with retention of Newtonian results in very close approximation, in very many situations. But Einstein also wrote:-

"No one must think that Newton's great creation can be overthrown in any real sense by this or by any other theory. His clear and wide ideas will for ever retain their significance as the foundation on which our modern conceptions of physics have been built."

Eisntein's letter to 'The Times' (of Nov. 28, 1919) was widely reproduced, and nearly the full text can now most easily be read in 'Science' (New Series, vol.LI, no.1305, Jan 2, 1920, at pp.8-10). (The only omission is of a personal wry joke in a closing paragraph.)

(The original German was also published in Einstein's 'Mein Weltbild' of 1934, where the paragraph quoted above reads: "Niemand aber soll denken, daß durch diese oder irgendeine andere Theorie Newtons große Schöpfung im eigentlichen Sinne verdrängt werden könne. Seine klaren und großen Ideen werden als Fundament unserer ganzen modernen Begriffsbildung auf dem Gebiet der Naturphilosophie ihre eminente Bedeutung in aller Zukunft behalten.")

This question repeats one of many myths about Newton, repeated uncritically by those who give little sign of wishing to enquire for the truth. One of the important reasons for regretting this proliferation of myth, based largely on fiction and gossip, is that it hinders more serious historical enquiry. Newton was a pioneer over a large field who did make some mistakes and did leave many matters still to be further developed: it could hardly be otherwise, seeing how the lines of investigation for which he set an agenda took centuries after him to be worked out and enriched by many independently ingenious discoverers. The presence of myth and fiction about the roots of Newtonian science, by creating false preconceptions, tends to spoil the subject for proper historical investigation. But unfortunately there is little hope of an end to such false debunking.


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