Cornelius Hunter just posted a wonderful blog about the “debate” between Newton and Laplace about the origin of the solar system. Newton remained a committed
Deist theist to his dying day, believing that God created the planets in their orbits, but had to fix them occasionally to keep them in line. Laplace, on the other hand, “had no need for that hypothesis” and in the original “god-of-the-gaps” argument, reduced God’s job requirements by one.
No, make that two, because Laplace (1796) also formulated a “Nebular Hypothesis” explanation of the creation of the solar system, so God didn’t actually have to create the planets either. Immanuel Kant really liked that nebular hypothesis, and wrote quite a long treatise on it early in his career in 1755. No, it certainly wasn’t as famous as his later work, but you can see how this god-of-the-gaps thing converted people into atheists and rationalists.
Well the Nebular Hypothesis made it into physics books very early, and Newton got booted out of astronomy, though his theory of forces was de-deified and makes a big part of the introductory physics curriculum where it has been used to promote a materialist philosophy that we are nothing but atoms bouncing in the void. Clearly Laplace won that debate. But curiously, there haven’t been any experimental proofs of the Nebular Hypothesis.
Oh sure, we can set up a simulation of five million particles in a cloud and follow Newton’s laws of motion for a hundred thousand timesteps to watch this simulation crank out planets. And yes, it takes a very special condition to get the simulation to make planets. And yes, the arrangement of our solar system is an even stranger one than most, making it one of those “Anthropic Proofs”. But this isn’t science! It’s a simulation! (I know, I know, I’ve offended all those “computational physics” people out there, but look, would you believe a scientist who said “I can explain human behavior using a computer running millions of copies of “The Sims”?)
Where’s the experimental proof?