Is Our World a Machine? Why Top Minds Supported the Clockwork Universe Theory

Inspired by Newton's discoveries, the Clockwork Universe Theory was popular among deists.

Is Our World a Machine? Why Top Minds Supported the Clockwork Universe Theory
Credit: Pixabay.

During the so-called Age of Enlightenment in the 18th century, European intellectuals came to believe strongly in the power of reason as the mechanism for controlling the world. The scientific method flourished. Ideals like liberty, progress, constitutional government and separation of church and state came to the forefront. At the onset of this time, Isaac Newton introduced his laws of motion, including the law of universal gravitation, which explained how the whole solar system operated. This set the stage for the concept of a clockwork universe, which became popular especially in deist circles.

The idea of the clockwork universe sees the world functioning like a mechanical clock wound up by God, ticking with precision, its gears controlled by the law of physics. This kind of well-oiled machine would be quite predictable. 

Imagining the universe working like clockwork was a thought that fit well within deism - a philosophical stance asserting that god doesn’t directly manage the affairs of the world, keeping a distance. While it rejects dogma, revelations and miracles, deism says that you can get to know the existence of the creator through reason and by observing the natural world.  

Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, the inventor of calculus and calculators, was a strong proponent of the clockwork universe theory. In a letter to Leibniz, the English philosopher Samuel Clarke described well, if perhaps with a bit of attitude, how the theory views God and man’s fate: 

"The Notion of the World's being a great Machine, going on without the Interposition of God, as a Clock continues to go without the Assistance of a Clockmaker; is the Notion of Materialism and Fate, and tends, (under pretence of making God a Supra-mundane Intelligence,) to exclude Providence and God's Government in reality out of the World."

Indeed, the clockwork universe theory has no place for free will and random behavior described by quantum physics. Still it’s not inconceivable to think that the world is some kind of machine - perhaps a simulation like Elon Musk proposes.

U.S. Navy controls inventions that claim to change "fabric of reality"

Inventions with revolutionary potential made by a mysterious aerospace engineer for the U.S. Navy come to light.

U.S. Navy ships

Credit: Getty Images
Surprising Science
  • U.S. Navy holds patents for enigmatic inventions by aerospace engineer Dr. Salvatore Pais.
  • Pais came up with technology that can "engineer" reality, devising an ultrafast craft, a fusion reactor, and more.
  • While mostly theoretical at this point, the inventions could transform energy, space, and military sectors.
Keep reading Show less

There never was a male fertility crisis

A new study suggests that reports of the impending infertility of the human male are greatly exaggerated.

Sex & Relationships
  • A new review of a famous study on declining sperm counts finds several flaws.
  • The old report makes unfounded assumptions, has faulty data, and tends toward panic.
  • The new report does not rule out that sperm counts are going down, only that this could be quite normal.
Keep reading Show less

Over 40% of workers are considering quitting their jobs

A year of disruptions to work has contributed to mass burnout.

Mark Wilson/Getty Images
Politics & Current Affairs
  • Junior members of the workforce, including Generation Z, are facing digital burnout.
  • 41 percent of workers globally are thinking about handing in their notice, according to a new Microsoft survey.
  • A hybrid blend of in-person and remote work could help maintain a sense of balance – but bosses need to do more.
Keep reading Show less