Napoleon, when hearing about Laplace's latest book, said, 'M. Laplace, they tell me you have written this large book on the system of the universe, and have never even mentioned its creator.' Laplace responds, 'Je n'avais pas besoin de cette hypothe¨se-le. (I had no need of that hypothesis.)
A mathematician of the first rank, Laplace quickly revealed himself as only a mediocre administrator; from his first work we saw that we had been deceived. Laplace saw no question from its true point of view; he sought subtleties everywhere; had only doubtful ideas, and finally carried the spirit of the infinitely small into administration.
The genius of Laplace was a perfect sledge hammer in bursting purely mathematical obstacles; but, like that useful instrument, it gave neither finish nor beauty to the results. In truth, in truism if the reader please, Laplace was neither Lagrange nor Euler, as every student is made to feel. The second is power and symmetry, the third power and simplicity; the first is power without either symmetry or simplicity. But, nevertheless, Laplace never attempted investigation of a subject without leaving upon it the marks of difficulties conquered: sometimes clumsily, sometimes indirectly, always without minuteness of design or arrangement of detail; but still, his end is obtained and the difficulty is conquered.
Augustus De Morgan
Biot, who assisted Laplace in revising it [The Mecanique Celeste] for the press, says that Laplace himself was frequently unable to recover the details in the chain of reasoning, and if satisfied that the conclusions were correct, he was content to insert the constantly recurring formula, 'Il est e ise avoir' [it is easy to see].
W.W. Rouse Ball
The great masters of modern analysis are Lagrange, Laplace, and Gauss, who were contemporaries. It is interesting to note the marked contrast in their styles. Lagrange is perfect both in form and matter, he is careful to explain his procedure, and though his arguments are general they are easy to follow. Laplace on the other hand explains nothing, is indifferent to style, and, if satisfied that his results are correct, is content to leave them either with no proof or with a faulty one. Gauss is as exact and elegant as Lagrange, but even more difficult to follow than Laplace, for he removes every trace of the analysis by which he reached his results, and studies to give a proof which while rigorous shall be as concise and synthetical as possible.
W.W. Rouse Ball
Unlike earlier thinkers, who had sought to improve their accuracy by getting rid of error, Laplace realized that you should try to get more error: aggregate enough flawed data, and you get a glimpse of the truth. "The genius of statistics, as Laplace defined it, was that it did not ignore errors; it quantified them," the writer Louis Menand observed. "...The right answer is, in a sense, a function of the mistakes.
Laplace considers astronomy a science of observation, because we can only observe the movements of the planets; we cannot reach them, indeed, to alter their course and to experiment with them. "On earth," said Laplace, "we make phenomena vary by experiments; in the sky, we carefully define all the phenomena presented to us by celestial motion." Certain physicians call medicine a science of observations, because they wrongly think that experimentation is inapplicable to it.
How did Biot arrive at the partial differential equation? [the heat conduction equation]... Perhaps Laplace gave Biot the equation and left him to sink or swim for a few years in trying to derive it. That would have been merely an instance of the way great mathematicians since the very beginnings of mathematical research have effortlessly maintained their superiority over ordinary mortals.
Clifford A. Truesdell
How did Biot arrive at the partial differential equation? [the heat conduction equation] . . . Perhaps Laplace gave Biot the equation and left him to sink or swim for a few years in trying to derive it. That would have been merely an instance of the way great mathematicians since the very beginnings of mathematical research have effortlessly maintained their superiority over ordinary mortals.
The influence of electricity in producing decompositions, although of inestimable value as an instrument of discovery in chemical inquiries, can hardly be said to have been applied to the practical purposes of life, until the same powerful genius [Davy] which detected the principle, applied it, by a singular felicity of reasoning, to arrest the corrosion of the copper-sheathing of vessels. ... this was regarded as by Laplace as the greatest of Sir Humphry's discoveries.
The scientist who recognizes God knows only the God of Newton. To him the God imagined by Laplace and Comte is wholly inadequate. He feels that God is in nature, that the orderly ways in which nature works are themselves the manifestations of God's will and purpose. Its laws are his orderly way of working.
The first effect of the mind growing cultivated is that processes once multiple get to be performed in a single act. Lazarus has called this the progressive 'condensation' of thought... Steps really sink from sight. An advanced thinker sees the relations of his topics is such masses and so instantaneously that when he comes to explain to younger minds it is often hard... Bowditch, who translated and annotated Laplace's Mechanique Celeste, said that whenever his author prefaced a proposition by the words 'it is evident, ' he knew that many hours of hard study lay before him.
If the people of Europe had known as much of astronomy and geology when the bible was introduced among them, as they do now, there never could have been one believer in the doctrine of inspiration. If the writers of the various parts of the bible had known as much about the sciences as is now known by every intelligent man, the book never could have been written. It was produced by ignorance, and has been believed and defended by its author. It has lost power in the proportion that man has gained knowledge. A few years ago, this book was appealed to in the settlement of all scientific questions; but now, even the clergy confess that in such matters, it has ceased to speak with the voice of authority. For the establishment of facts, the word of man is now considered far better than the word of God. In the world of science, Jehovah was superseded by Copernicus, Galileo, and Kepler. All that God told Moses, admitting the entire account to be true, is dust and ashes compared to the discoveries of Descartes, Laplace, and Humboldt. In matters of fact, the bible has ceased to be regarded as a standard. Science has succeeded in breaking the chains of theology. A few years ago, Science endeavored to show that it was not inconsistent with the bible. The tables have been turned, and now, Religion is endeavoring to prove that the bible is not inconsistent with Science. The standard has been changed.
Robert G. Ingersoll
I compared what was really known about the stars with the account of creation as told in Genesis. I found that the writer of the inspired book had no knowledge of astronomy - that he was as ignorant as a Choctaw chief - as an Eskimo driver of dogs. Does any one imagine that the author of Genesis knew anything about the sun - its size? that he was acquainted with Sirius, the North Star, with Capella, or that he knew anything of the clusters of stars so far away that their light, now visiting our eyes, has been traveling for two million years? If he had known these facts would he have said that Jehovah worked nearly six days to make this world, and only a part of the afternoon of the fourth day to make the sun and moon and all the stars? Yet millions of people insist that the writer of Genesis was inspired by the Creator of all worlds. Now, intelligent men, who are not frightened, whose brains have not been paralyzed by fear, know that the sacred story of creation was written by an ignorant savage. The story is inconsistent with all known facts, and every star shining in the heavens testifies that its author was an uninspired barbarian. I admit that this unknown writer was sincere, that he wrote what he believed to be true - that he did the best he could. He did not claim to be inspired - did not pretend that the story had been told to him by Jehovah. He simply stated the "facts" as he understood them. After I had learned a little about the stars I concluded that this writer, this "inspired" scribe, had been misled by myth and legend, and that he knew no more about creation than the average theologian of my day. In other words, that he knew absolutely nothing. And here, allow me to say that the ministers who are answering me are turning their guns in the wrong direction. These reverend gentlemen should attack the astronomers. They should malign and vilify Kepler, Copernicus, Newton, Herschel and Laplace. These men were the real destroyers of the sacred story. Then, after having disposed of them, they can wage a war against the stars, and against Jehovah himself for having furnished evidence against the truthfulness of his book.
Robert G. Ingersoll