“He is a mere scholar, he can never rule the people,” declared Napoleon Bonaparte as he signed the dismissal of Pierre-Simon Laplace as the Minister of Internal Affairs. “Six weeks in power and what has he contributed?” thundered the Emperor. “He sees subtleties everywhere, conceives problems instead of solutions and thinks in terms of infinity and infinitesimal.”
Laplace was happy to be out of power. He never wanted any political power in the first place. But the Emperor wanted the most intelligent people to be in the government. What has power got to do with intelligence? Laplace did not ask that however.
In the solitude and peace of powerlessness, Laplace perfected the Newtonian solar system. Mediocre people wish to become stars on the earth. Intelligent people wander among the stars in the heavens. Newton was one such star who lived among stars. But even he needed a divine hypothesis to answer certain problems in his scientific model. Laplace pushed God out of the scientific model.
The news reached Napoleon. The scientist was summoned.
“The Emperor wants to see the toys,” thought Laplace. By “toys” he meant the orrery, the mechanical model of the solar system, that he had made.
”Where’s God in the model?” demanded the Emperor as he watched it with some curiosity.
“This model does not require that hypothesis,” said Laplace.
“But God is the ultimate hypothesis that explains everything,” exclaimed the Emperor wondering how Laplace could dismiss such a valuable hypothesis so casually.
The cosmos does not require God, Laplace said to himself. But Emperors require Him. All those who seek to subjugate human beings in one form or another require Him. Science does not need God.
Yet when he reached home, he concluded the letter to his son by writing, “May God watch over your days. Let Him be always present to your mind.”
God is the eternal law, the law that governs the cosmos. The law of gravity is God. F = ma is God. These laws don’t play politics. They don’t hanker after power. They don’t subjugate anyone or anything. They liberate, in fact. It is only man and the man-made gods that subjugate.
“Ah! We chase after phantoms.” He murmured to himself many times.
Laplace allowed one such phantom to give him the last rites as he lay dying a few years later. The phantoms needed to prove that the scholar and the scientist was a believer in religion and God. The priest who gave the last sacrament to Laplace proclaimed the pulpit while delivering the Sunday sermon, “Laplace died uttering the words ‘We chase after phantoms’. My dear people of God, Laplace died denouncing science and its discoveries as phantoms....”
But Napoleon the Great knew better. While he awaited his end on the island of Saint Helena, Napoleon the Emperor-no-more said to General Gaspard Gourgaud, “I often asked Laplace what he thought of God. He owned that he was an atheist.”
The scholar died. His lifeless body was given all the ceremonies which the scholar would have found amusing had he been alive. Would he have protested, however? Could he? After all, what is a scholar vis-à-vis the Priest and the Politician?
PS. Only the telescoping of time is fiction in the above story. It's all history. And the history is repeating itself even today, especially in India.