Newton had left the world in a shambles and the cultural mandate was on. A respectable origins and end game were needed and a century later Pierre Laplace supplied both. His Nebular Hypothesis described a condensing cosmic cloud that evolved the solar system and the brilliant Frenchman solved Newton’s instability problem and showed the solar system to be stable after all. The planets would safely and steadily oscillate around their orbits until the end of time.
Theists could rest assured that God was, after all, the master designer, and skeptics such as Laplace could replace God with natural laws. When Napoleon wondered why the Creator was not mentioned Laplace could respond that he had no need of that hypothesis.
But while Laplace was one of the greatest mathematicians in the world, he wasn’t much of a metaphysician. Every freshman philosophy student knows that inserting natural laws doesn’t give one a theory of everything.
First there is that little problem that natural laws don’t actually explain what they’re supposed to explain (Laplace’s Nebular Hypothesis was bloated with unfounded speculation and the solar system stability problem ended up being far more complex than Laplace ever imagined. The problem is so difficult that we speak of probabilities of instability). In fact what we do know today is the incredible level of fine-tuning design built into the solar system. For instance the Earth-Moon system (EM) has profound and subtle effects on the solar system stability. As one paper from 1998 explained:
Evidence from self-consistent solar system n-body simulations is presented to argue that the Earth- Moon system (EM) plays an important dynamical role in the inner solar system, stabilizing the orbits of Venus and Mercury by suppressing a strong secular resonance of period 8.1 Myr near Venus’s heliocentric distance. The EM thus appears to play a kind of “gravitational keystone” role in the terrestrial precinct, for without it, the orbits of Venus and Mercury become immediately destabilized. … First, we find that EM is performing an essential dynamical role by suppressing or “damping out” a secular resonance driven by the giant planets near the Venusian heliocentric distance. The source of the resonance is a libration of the Jovian longitude of perihelion with the Venusian perihelion longitude.
This is just one example of the fine-tuning of the solar system’s design.
And second, even if there was a convincing naturalistic narrative, it wouldn’t mean one has “no need of God.” Rid yourself of God if you like, but don’t fool yourself that you have established some intellectual basis for your metaphysical priors.
This is an elementary mistake by those who desire materialism and reminds us of the cartoon showing two tiny insects on the back of a dog. As they walk through the forest of hairs the one insect says to the other, “Sometimes I wonder if there really is a dog.”
Unfortunately this reflects the level of thought not only with Laplace but in today’s atheism as well. In fact Laplace’s retort to Napoleon is one of their favorite slogans, as we were reminded this week when atheist-evolutionist Jerry Coyne wrote this gem in his naïve response to a challenger:
I have always argued that most scientists, including myself, take the absence of God as a provisional working hypothesis based on the history of science, for, like Laplace, we have never needed the assumption of God. I am, and have always been, willing to entertain evidence for the presence of a divine being. I just haven’t seen any.
There you have it. More cogent insights from the evolutionary camp. Their ignorance is exceeded only by volume level at which they proclaim it. As Paul warned Timothy, “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.”