One of the most extraordinary things about the equations that describe planetary motion is that they allow us to predict the positions of the planets in the future. We can forecast solar and lunar eclipses with great accuracy. Furthermore, small deviations from predictions allowed astronomers to guess the existence of the previously unknown planets Uranus and Neptune. This predictive power is very impressive – and therefore very, very beguiling. In a complex and messy world, we like being able to predict things.
As a consequence, as David Orrell describes in his book Apollo’s arrow, Newton’s great achievement has led modern western society and most of its practising scientists to believe that all other natural phenomena also can be described mathematically and, more importantly, accurately predicted.