American Exceptionalism in 1687
Exactly three hundred and thirty years ago – roughly ten generations of parents and children ago – the French explorer La Salle, searching for the mouth of the Mississippi River, was murdered by his own men.
We were experiencing dysfunction among supposed team members.
In Virginia, a panicked Nicholas Spencer of Westmoreland County provides Virginia Governor Francis Howard with, “Intelligence of the Discovery of a Negro Plott for the Distroying and killing of his Majesty’s Subjects, with a designe of Carrying it through the whole Collony of Virginia…”
White people feared that people of another other race might overcome them.
Back home in England, King James II orders that his declaration of indulgence be read in English churches, a first step toward securing religious freedom in the British Isles. Then he disbands English parliament.
The person in charge of the mightiest nation on earth decided he didn’t need any help.
And the Royal Society is rocked by the publication of Isaac Newton’s Principia Mathematica.
According to author Edward Dolnick,* the Royal Society of 1687 was:
“a grab-bag collection of geniuses, misfits and eccentrics who lived precariously between two worlds, the medieval one they had grown up in and a new one they had only glimpsed. These were brilliant, ambitious, confused, conflicted men. They believed in angels and alchemy and the devil, and they believed that the universe followed precise, mathematical laws. In time they would fling open the gates to the modern world.”
I am intrigued by Dolnick’s description of the Royal Society because I can think of no better description of the cognoscenti of Wizard Academy than, “a grab-bag collection of geniuses, misfits and eccentrics.”
But then Dolnick rings the wrong bell. He contrasts a belief “in angels and alchemy and the devil,” with the belief that “the universe follows precise, mathematical laws,” as if those two beliefs are mutually exclusive.
I don’t believe in alchemy but I do believe in angels.
And I believe the universe follows precise, mathematical laws.
And I believe in miracles.
Let’s say that you and I are playing pool. Anyone with a knowledge of physics knows that a pool ball cleanly struck by the cue ball will continue to roll toward the hole where it’s headed: because the universe follows precise, mathematical laws. But what if, just as the ball is about to drop into the hole, an unnoticed bystander reaches down and lifts the ball off the table? Have the laws of physics been destroyed? Of course not.
We simply failed to take into consideration the intervention of the unnoticed bystander; that unseen stranger who occasionally works a miracle.
Roy H. Williams
* The Clockwork Universe: Isaac Newton, the Royal Society, and the Birth of the Modern World