The Correspondence of Isaac Newton

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 The textbook addresses the concept of theory-based research. The authors state that, in order to produce an outstanding research study, researchers must conduct a review of the literature and formulate a research problem that will test a theory. Sir Isaac Newton, the famous physicist and mathematician, stated, “If I have seen farther than others, it is because I have stood on the shoulders of giants.” Newton’s scientific discoveries were based on the prior works of eminent men such as Galileo and Copernicus.

  • What do you think is meant by a gap in the literature, and how can Newton’s words guide you in finding a gap in the literature?

  • The Bible reminds us in Colossians 2:8 (NIV) not to let deceptive philosophy or theories take us captive. Do you think this verse apply to us as Christians when conducting theory-based research?

In The Correspondence of Isaac Newton, Newton states, “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.” This idea that what goes before relates directly to the building from the social to the individual is echoed in Vygotsky’s philosophy of social constructivism. So, for each of us, as developing educators in search of dissertation material, we need to find steps to the future based on the foundation of the past.

As we seek the future, and opportunities to learn and educate ourselves, we find openings within prior research from questions asked, or questions answered, or opportunities not defined. Gall (2007) advises five methods for determining research opportunities. New studies require validation. Validation needs to cross population barriers. Time can change circumstances that were current when the research was conducted. The use of different methodology can vary results of research. Intervention methods may be more effective of efficient from differing perspectives. These five methods allow for new developments that can fill the gap from prior research.

While we seek openings or gaps in prior research, and we learn from those who have come before us, we must, as Christians, be cautious in the people whose paths we follow. According to Colossians 2:8, “Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.” It is critical that we learn from those around us, but that we look with discernment at the research and those who have conducted with the eyes of the Lord, and not the eyes of man.

In the development of our research, the development of good research questions is critical. Lipowski (2008) has an excellent method for determining strong research questions. First, one must ask interesting questions -- questions that are intriguing and pithy and address a gap in the research. From a list of developed questions, the second step is to select the best question for research. Thirdly, the research question must be changed into a viable hypothesis that can be tested and replicated. “A research question is a narrow, challenging question addressing an issue, problem, or controversy that is answered with a conclusion based on the analysis and interpretation of evidence.” (Lipowski, 2008, p. 1667).

The research question is the base element of the dissertation itself. This parallels the way that the research is based on prior research and knowledge from other educators. While not all educators are giants in their field, with the discernment gifted from the Lord, educators can step up to the challenges lifted on the shoulders of prior research.


Gall, M. D., Gall, J. P., & Borg, W. R. (2003).  Educational research: An introduction (7th ed.).  Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.

Lipowski, E. (2008). Developing great research questions. American Journal Of Health-System Pharmacy, 65(17), 1667-1670. doi:10.2146/ajhp070276


To me, a gap in the literature involves research questions that have not yet been answered in sufficient detail by other researchers. Researchers themselves often identify possible gaps when they include avenues for future research at the end of their articles and reports (Gall, Gall, & Borg, 2006). It is impossible to identify a gap in the literature without actually reading the literature, so all researchers must begin by reading the work of those who have come before them and when possible, those who are currently working on the same or related research topics. This is what Newton was referring to - no one creates work all alone. We all make our discoveries and draw our conclusions only with some kind of support or foundational understanding that is conveyed to us through others. As doctoral students, we can “stand on the shoulders of giants” by reading the current literature and thinking critically about what we find. We can also read the reference lists and bibliographies of those works to find additional resources. For example, as I researched female leaders in faith-based higher education, I read many sources by Karen Longman. As I read her work and thought about her ideas, I found that she often cites Jill Dahlvig and Shawna Lafreniere, so I looked up those citations and found other sources that enhance my understanding. By reading the work of these and other researchers, I am not only learning from their work and theories, but also finding a specific gap in the literature.


I do think that Colossians 2:8 applies to us in that we need to be sure we view every theory we encounter, create, test, or examine through our Biblical worldview when determining its strength, validity, or research implications. We need to ensure that our research does not convey a sense of truth about a theory that does not fit well with our Christian beliefs, even though we know theories cannot be proved (Gall, Gall, & Borg, 2006). For example, examining leadership practices from an evolutionary standpoint (don’t laugh - there’s research on this!) might not be a wise idea for Christians to explore unless that research is balanced by other theories that we know to resonate with what we know is the truth. It would be easy if we could only evaluate or consider theories that agree completely with our Biblical worldview, but that is impossible in this broken world. Our task is to critically examine the theories we work with and ensure that our research endeavors are not geared towards leading anyone in an untruthful or dangerous direction.


Gall, M.D., Gall, J.P., & Borg, W.R. (2006). Educational research: An introduction (8th ed.). New York, NY: Allyn & Bacon.

Kate –

Jesus said, “Let not your hearts be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me” (John 14:1, KJV). Our Lord knew that the understanding of people where they have been is critical in understanding of where they are and plan to be. As an educator at the college freshman level, I have students that excel, and students that are challenged. Whatever their place, I have to meet them where they are and then aid them toward their goals.

Kinghorn and Nettles (2011) ask, “How can students of diverse backgrounds and levels of preparedness become full participants in engaged learning?” On answer they provide is an on-campus lab-based classroom for fundamentals where students work at their own paces to arrive at a common standard. They have a few other ideas and examples as well. The point is that students come to us with a base level of learning. We come to our next steps with a base level of learning.

Our prior education, training, and experience place each of us at our own base level. That base has been formed by those from whom we have learned and those who we have chosen to follow. We can pray that we remember and follow those who know also that “straight is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life . . .” (Matthew 7:14, KJV).


Kinghorn, J. K., & Nettles, E. e. (2011). Approaches to improved learning in foundational courses. AURCO Journal, (17), 71-80.


Literature Gap

According to the National Collaborating Centre for Methods and Tools (2012), a gap in literature is “defined as a topic or area for which missing or insufficient information limits the ability to reach a conclusion for a question.” A gap in literature may occur if the question has not been adequately addressed; the question has never been evaluated in peer-reviewed scholarship, or the question has been addressed and examined in peer-reviewed research, but the validity of the methods are questionable (Robinson, Saldanha, and Mckoy, 2011). For example, the missing element in quality education may be male teachers. This gap is the missing element in existing research, and it is the gap I would fill with my research.

Finding the Gap in Literature

Sir Isaac Newton’s words, “If I have seen farther than others, it is because I have stood on the shoulders of giants” expresses the importance of collaboration in knowledge. As researchers, we must identify gaps in the literature left behind by major philosophers and work in collaboration by using their research to make intellectual progress. The gaps are identified by recognizing empirical questions that can be investigated; linking research to theory; examining the questions; repeat existing experiments to determine the validity of the results; implement a chain of reasoning; and encourage other researchers to scrutinize the findings and identify other opportunities for continued research (Gall, Gall, and Borg, 2007).

Biblical Perspective

Colossians 2:8 states “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ” (New International Version). Keith Mathison (2012) states “all truth is God’s truth.” However, he contends this statement is a debatable concept. Critics questions the source of truth because they doubt the existence of objective truth. On the other end of the pendulum, critics question the existence of objective truth because it contradicts the Christian doctrine of the Bible. As Christian scholars, our purpose of research is not only to fill the gap, but to demonstrate the one source of all truth. Nonetheless, as Christians we believe His Word is sufficient (Psalm 119:16). We believe the Scripture cannot be refuted or broken (John 10:35). The concept behind Colossians 2:8 is two-fold. First, we must consider Christianity as the primary source of philosophy. Second, we must accept Scriptural facts that edify the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 8:1). Therefore, there is only source of truth for God’s children, and that is His Word. If we rest on His Word, we will not fall prey to deceptive philosophies and ideologies.






Gall, M. D., Gall, J. P., & Borg, W. R. (2007). Educational research: An introduction (8th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson/Allyn & Bacon.

Mathison, K. (2012). All truth is God’s truth: A reformed approach to science and scripture. Retrieved from

National Collaborating Centre for Methods and Tools (2012). Framework for identifying research gaps. Hamilton, ON: McMaster University. Retrieved from

Robinson, K. A., Saldanha, I. J., & Mckoy, N. A. (2011). Development of a framework to identify research gaps from systematic reviews. Journal of Clinical Epidemiology, 64(1), 1325-1330. doi:10.1016/j.jclinepi.2011.06.009
Zakk –

With him is an arm of flesh; but with us is the LORD our God to help us, and to fight our battles. And the people rested themselves upon the words of Hezekiah king of Judah” (2 Chronicles 32:8). When Varughese (2015) stated, “If we rest on His Word, we will not fall prey to deceptive philosophies and ideologies,” this verse from Second Chronicles sprang to mind. The people rested themselves in the words of Hezekiah, but Hezekiah rested in the Lord. So too must we rely upon those who come before us, but we must also check and recheck to ensure they are resting on a solid foundation themselves.

Those whose research we rely upon relied upon someone else. We are told by “the Teacher, son of David, in the city of Jerusalem” that “there is no new thing under the sun” (Ecclesiates 1:1 and 1:9, KJV). Everything thing that is new has been there, undiscovered, since the beginning. Since we know that “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth” (Genesis 1:1, KJV), we know that He also created everything that was in it. Nothing is new. It is only undiscovered. That said, we will learn from those who came before as we discover new inroads into understanding the learning process and better ways to educate ourselves and others.


Varughese, Z. (2015), Discussion Board Post 1 in Liberty University Online Course 201520 Spring 2015, EDUC 815-B02, dated January 12, 2015.


The gap in the literature refers to information that is missing in the current literature.   Identification of the gaps in literature whether those are application of the research among a broader group, or  if the research was conducted in a way that might be discriminatory is crucial to finding topics for researcher to extend the current body of academic knowledge.  A gap in the literature is a question that continues to need to be answered.  When reflecting on Issac Newton’s words about “standing on the shoulders of giants”, the comment indicates a respect for the work and epistemology of other educational researchers who went before him.  According to Gall, Gall and Borg (2007), “research knowledge is cumulative (p.42).” This ideal as well as the words of Newton, speak to the same concept that research will expand and build on the thinking of others to make improvements to the educational field.   The gaps in learning may be identified in the dissention between research and/or the philosophy of the researcher.  Researchers work not in isolation but are accompanied in the study of educational thought by other researchers.   Therein, gaps can be identified by the close review of literature as educational researchers carefully consider the knowledge accumulated by others.

In general, it seems that people respect the written word oftentimes this may lead to the acceptance of a theory or idea simply because one has read an article on the topic.  Students and Christians alike should actively engage in reading research to not only assimilate information but also to articulate faulty reasoning within the study.  Colossians 2:8 (CEB) reads, “See to it that nobody enslaves you with philosophy and foolish deception, which conform to human traditions and the way the world thinks and acts rather than Christ.”  Scripture warns Christians to think about what others are saying and thinking so that they do not become a captive to philosophy.  Enslaved is a powerful concept because it brings to mind imprisonment and confinement and leaves one without hope.  Christians should approach theory-based research with a Christ focus to guard their thinking and hearts from enslavement.  When considering theory, the Christian should not reconcile a theory of man that is used to explain laws and constructs with the word of God.  An examination of theory-based research articulated through biblical knowledge, may also assist researchers in identification of gaps in the learning.  Ultimately as the scripture states, Christians should use caution to ensure they continue to think and act like Christ.

April –

It often seems that everyday folks think “It must be true, it’s on the Internet!” Of course, being posted on the internet does not make anything true. The internet is a powerful tool that can be addictive in many ways as can so many things. Many become enslaved to their Facebook® accounts. Many others become enslaved to a line of thought. The Lord God himself said, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3, KJV). When we allow our focus to be deterred from the path of the Lord, whether it be to family, to work, to education, or to ideology, we are putting another before the Lord, and allowing ourselves to be enslaved. This is human nature. From the moment we are born, we exercise our curious nature. This is how we learn.

Gagliardi (2011) noted, “interventions that had been tailored to address identified

barriers to change were more likely to improve professional practice” (p. 277). While the author was addressing change to protocols within the health care practice, the reality is that the same construct applies to change in any practice. Many suffer from kainotophobia whether they realize it or not. Facing change is hard, and it is important that, as educators, we ease into change from a firm foundation of fact. Not everything is truth, but we can stand by the truth of every word of the Lord.


Gagliardi, A. R. (2011). Tailoring interventions: Examining the evidence and identifying gaps. Journal Of Continuing Education In The Health Professions, 31(4), 276-282. doi:10.1002/chp.20141

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