calculations, according to Voltaire, was something quite different. In the vast-ness of the universe, he wrote, the earth was merely a point. This particular point had undergone a violent disturbance, 'the cause of which is hidden, the length almost unimaginable, but which seems to guarantee the human species a scarcely conceivable duration'. 'But', he continued, 'there is every likelihood that this will be a period of one million, nine hundred and forty-four thousand years'.29 Thus according to Voltaire, the infinity of space corresponded to the infinity of time - a problem that Newton, of course, had taken care to avoid. From this point on, both biblical chronology and sacred history more generally were relegated to the rank of a fable, the fruit of man's imagination about his origins. As for God, He presided from very far away and from a very great height over the movement of the planets He had previously created. It was in this way that 'Voltaire's religion' took shape - a religion which might best be described as a scientific deism.30
It was thus a veritable revolution in the history of thought, or more specifically in the history of modern Christianity, when Leibniz, far from warning against the dangers of infinitesimal calculus (which he invented at about the same time as Newton), saw it as a way to approach God and to convince oneself of the greatness of His work. 'Finally', he wrote in a 1694 article in Acta eruditorum, 'it is because our calculus is properly that part of general mathematics which deals with infinity, that we need it in applying mathematics to physics, since the nature of the infinite Author falls ordinarily into the workings of nature'.31 At the end of his life, during a debate in which he opposed Newton's spokesman, Samuel Clarke, Leibniz wrote, 'God made the world through calculations'.32 For him, theology was inseparable from mathematics, echoing in this the thinking of the greatest of Christian intellectuals, Saint Augustine. Similarly, he also challenged modern critics of the Bible and religion such as Pierre Bayle, Jean Le Clerc, and John Locke. 'Their problem', he wrote to Father Malebranche in 1711, 'was that with so little training in mathematics they were unable to fully understand the nature of the eternal verities'.33 Thus, far from opposing religion, science in the age of Newton and Leibniz was a road which led to God.
However, the road in question took different paths to attain its goal. Newtonians thought it was the vastness of the world and its remarkable organization which proved God's existence to man - a God who could also be envisioned as the supreme principle of the universe: in other words, an abstraction. Leibnizians, on the contrary, saw God as a living Person ('cum Deus calculat')
Was this article helpful?