Pierre-Simon Laplace (23 March 1749 - 5 March 1827) was a French scholar whose work was important to the development of engineering, mathematics, statistics, physics, astronomy, and philosophy. Wrote five-volume Celestial Mechanics (1799-1825). Laplace formulated Laplace's equation, Laplace's law for fluids, and pioneered the Laplace transform which appears in many branches of mathematical physics. The Laplacian differential operator, widely used in mathematics, is also named after him. He was one of the first scientists to postulate the existence of black holes and the notion of gravitational collapse.Laplace is remembered as one of the greatest scientists of all time. Sometimes referred to as the French Newton, he has been described as possessing a phenomenal natural mathematical faculty superior to that of any of his contemporaries. Laplace wiki|
Napoleon asked Laplace where God fit into his mathematical work, and Laplace famously replied "Sir, I have no need of that hypothesis."
Interesting comment on this by Lennox in "God's Undertaker", p44:
"a famous statement by the French mathematician Laplace is constantly misused to buttress atheism. On being asked by Napoleon where God fitted into his mathematical work, Laplace, quite correctly, replied: 'Sir, I have no need of that hypothesis.' Of course God did not appear in Laplace's mathematical description of how things work, just as Mr. Ford would not appear in a scientific description of the laws of internal combustion. But what does that prove? That Henry Ford did not exist? Clearly not. Neither does such an argument prove that God does not exist. Austin Farrer comments on the Laplace incident as follows:'Since God is not a rule built into the action of forces, nor is he a block of force; no sentence about God can play a part in physics or astronomy .. We may forgive Laplace - he was answering an amateur according to his ignorance, not to say a fool according to his folly. Considered as a serious observation, his remark could scarcely have been more misleading. Laplace and his colleagues had not learned to do without theology; they had merely learned to mind their own business'"
"Quite so. But suppose Napoleon had posed a somewhat different question to Laplace: 'Why is there a universe at all in which there is matter and gravity and in which projectiles composed of matter moving under gravity describe the orbits encapsulated in your mathematical equations? It would be harder to argue that the existence of God was irrelevant to that question. But then, that was not the question that Laplace was asked. So he did not answer it."
Cited in Meyer's "Return of the God Hypothesis", p59.
Reported but not historically confirmed dialogue: Napoleon: "They tell me you have written this large book on the system of the universe, and have never even mentioned it Creator." Laplace: "Sire, I had no need of that hypothesis."
Meyer gives a lot of credit to Laplace for the rise of scientific materialism contra Paley's natural theology.