Recycled Universe Theory

Clockwork universe theory

"World machine" redirects here. For the album by Level 42, see World Machine
The Clockwork Universe Theory is a theory, established by Isaac Newton, as to the origins of the universe.

A "clockwork universe" can be thought of as being a clock wound up by God and ticking along, as a perfect machine, with its gears governed by the laws of physics.

What sets this theory apart from others is the idea that God's only contribution to the universe was to set everything in motion, and from there the laws of science took hold and have governed every sequence of events since that time. This idea was very popular during the Enlightenment, when scientists realized that Newton's laws of motion, including the law of universal gravitation, could explain the behavior of the solar system.

A notable exclusion from this theory though is free will, since all things have already been set in motion and are just parts of a predictable machine. Newton feared that this notion of "everything is predetermined" would lead to atheism.

This theory was undermined by the second law of thermodynamics (the total entropy of any isolated thermodynamic system tends to increase over time, approaching a maximum value) and quantum physics with its unpredictable random behavior.


A similar concept goes back, at least, to John of Sacrobosco's early 13th century introduction to astronomy: On the Sphere. Sacrobosco spoke of the universe as the machina mundi, the machine of the world, suggesting that the reported eclipse of the Sun at the crucifixion of Jesus was a disturbance of the order of that machine.

Isaac Newton's conception of the universe was one huge, regulated and uniform machine that operated according to natural laws in absolute time, space, and motion. In this new world that Newton created, God was the master-builder, who created the perfect machine and let it run. God was the Prime Mover, who brought into being the world in its lawfulness, regularity, and beauty. This view of God as the creator, who stood aside from his work and didn’t get involved directly with humanity was called Deism (which predates Newton) and was accepted by many who supported the “new philosophy”

See also


  1. A Short Scheme of the True Religion, manuscript quoted in Memoirs of the Life, Writings and Discoveries of Sir Isaac Newton by Sir David Brewster, Edinburgh, 1850; cited in; ibid, p. 65.
  2. Webb, R.K. ed. Knud Haakonssen. "The emergence of Rational Dissent." Enlightenment and Religion: Rational Dissent in eighteenth-century Britain. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge: 1996. p19.
  3. Westfall, Richard S. Science and Religion in Seventeenth-Century England. p201

External links

  • The Clockwork Universe The Physical World Editors John Bolton, Alan Durrant, Robert Lambourne, Joy Manners, Andrew Norton.

Category : History of physics

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