Theology and the Stability Problem

To keep my thesis from being unduly long (i.e., to avoid having to pay for binding a second volume), I had to eliminate several aspects of the stability problem. Few of these would be missed by any rational person, except for one: how did the theology of the participants affect their views on planetary stability?

Briefly, both Newton and Euler, two of the important figures in the history of the stability problem, were devout Christians. Both of them felt that the long-term instability of the solar was, in some way, proof of the existence of God. For Newton, there was the possibility (an early anthropic argument?) that God had to intervene, from time to time, to keep the planets moving in their regular courses. For Euler, the ultimate destruction of the solar system was proof that the solar system could not have existed forever, and had to have been created at some point in time.

Finally, a topic that I was not able to research for the thesis (though it would make a fascinating subject for further work) is this: to Lagrange and his contemporaries, "long-term" meant thousands of years. It was only in 1779 that Comte de Buffon made a wild speculation that the Earth might have been as old as 75,000 years, and not until 1785, after the stability demonstrations of Lagrange and Laplace, does the Scottish geologist James Hutton sugest the Earth might be even older than that, perhaps millions of years older.

Return to Jeff's home page