No, not THAT kind of goat!

Of course Isaac Newton isn’t/wasn’t an actual goat. But we’re not talking about farm animals here. We are talking about the Greatest Of All Time. Naturally, the answer will depend upon who you ask, though Newton nearly always ranks among the top 2-3 physicists of all time, the top 10 mathematicians, the top 5 alchemists, the top 1-2 masters of the Royal Mint, and on some long lists of inventors.


Fans of rigor will not be impressed–sorry. But here’s what I did. And it turned out to be a lot of fun for all involved.

  • I put out a public call for nominations on my personal Facebook page, receiving 62 entries. Rather than sit around and wait, I added Marvin Gaye and Mother Teresa to the field to get us to 64.
  • From there, I put together an NCAA Tournament-style bracket, with fields of 16 grouped more or less by epoch. For instance, the first grouping was people still alive today who continue to be relevant and great. Meanwhile, the last grouping was people who have been dead several hundred years or more.
  • Individual matchups then took place in the form of Facebook polls open for 24 hours. For instance, here was a Round 1 match-up from the Oldtimers division.


Results – Round 1

Newton’s first round match-up was against fellow scientist, Carl Linnaeus. Newton won the contest handily, taking in 75% of the vote. Commenters noted that this match-up felt like a 1 vs 16–

  • “This is like Muhammad Ali fighting Roberto Duran – both are all-time greats, but one of the guys is way out of his weight class.”
  • “No contest – anyone that had any role in creating the dog door has my vote: Newton all the way!”

Results – Round 2

Highlights of Round 2 included the Battle of the Obamas, a clash of Emancipators (Tubman vs. Lincoln), and a matchup between two Teen Titans (Malala Mousafzai vs. Emma Gonzalez). Newton’s second round match-up was far less hyped–the NCAA equivalent of being shown on the truTV Network– as he squared away against the Persian polymath, Avicenna. Though Avicenna was fresh off a trouncing of Michelangelo, Newton actually won this contest with 100% of the vote. It was beginning to look like no mere mortal could stand between him and the title.

Results – Round 3

Round 3 saw some of the most compelling matchups of the entire tournament. Just a few examples were–

  • MLK vs. Jackie Robinson
  • Mahatma Gandhi vs. Albert Einstein
  • Leonardo da Vinci vs. Gautama Buddha

However, the most epic battle of the third round involved Newton himself as he went to toe to toe against Jesus of Nazareth. In-game chatter was intense. Here is just a sampling of the trash talk back and forth–

  • “One could argue that Newton was the first man to actually speak in God’s language.”
  • “Or perhaps say the same of Jesus!”
  • “Newton was kind of a prick. Not mud slinging. Just true.”

This was a race that stayed pretty tight most of the way, but a great finish propelled Newton to a 64-36 victory. I made a bad joke that nobody got about Newton’s upset of Jesus being the greatest since the fig tree. Of course, as the final score hinted, not too many of my friends spend a ton of time with the Bible.

Results – Round 4

All that stood between Newton and a trip to the Final Four out of the Oldtimers regional was his contest with Gautama Buddha, who himself was fresh off a victory over Confucius. It was Enlightenment vs. Enlightenment and really just a question of what kind.

Meanwhile, along with Newton/Buddha and Barack Obama vs. Jimmy Carter, very tough draws were playing out in two of the other regions–

  • Martin Luther King vs. Nelson Mandela
  • Albert Einstein vs. Harriet Tubman

While Obama, King, and Einstein all moved forward, this is where the ball finally ended for Newton. While the GOAT battle was never intended to be a personality contest, yes, one voter went there–

  • “Newton was a scientific giant but a little weird as a person. Always working on the Bible, a virgin, a sadistic-ish money printer, undermining Leibniz about priority, etc. I used to be as much of an atheist as anyone, but I’d have to go with Buddha on this one.”
  • “Some good points, though I wouldn’t judge his supposed virginity as any negative. Whether he chose an asexual lifestyle or–as some clues suggest–was attracted to men but hesitant to act on it, these are both superior positions to exploiting or abusing women. As to other oddities, he more or less had to raise himself as his father died pre-birth and his mother abandoned him at age 3. Add to that his frequent experiments with lead and mercury!”

Final score: Buddha 67-Newton 33


If my friends are to be trusted, Newton is evidently not the GOAT, nor is he even the GOALTA (Greatest Of A Long Time Ago).  Doing battle at this very moment for humankind supremacy are Barack Obama, Martin Luther King, Albert Einstein, and Gautama Buddha. Though my personal bracket had Newton making the Final Four, perhaps a lesson for any others who might someday aspire to be the GOAT is that you have to be all kinds of awesome AND treat others well. Leo Durocher used to quip that nice guys finish last–but not here.