From the Closed World to the Infinite Universe, by Alexander Koyré, , at sacred-texts.com
Why, indeed? Leibniz, who was much more interested in morals than in physics and in man than in the cosmos, could have answered that it was the only means to avoid making God responsible for the actual management, or mismanagement, of this our world. God just did not do what He wanted, or would like to do. There were laws, and rules, that He could neither change nor tamper with. Things had natures that He could not modify. He had made a perfect mechanism in the working of which He could not interfere. Could not and should not, as this world was the best of all the possible worlds that He could create. God, therefore, was blameless for the evils that He could not prevent or amend. After all, this world was only the best possible world, not a perfectly good one; that was not possible.
Leibniz might have said this in reply to Clarke. But he did not read Clarke's fifth reply. He died before he received it. Thus their fight, a fight in which both sides fought pro majore Dei gloria, ended as abruptly as it started. The outcome of the Homeric struggle was not conclusive; neither side, as we have seen, budged an inch. Yet, in the decades that followed, Newtonian science and
[paragraph continues] Newtonian philosophy gained more and more ground, gradually overcoming the resistance of the Cartesians and the Leibnizians who, though opposing each other on many points, made a common front against the common foe.
At the end of the century Newton's victory was complete. The Newtonian God reigned supreme in the infinite void of absolute space in which the force of universal attraction linked together the atomically structured bodies of the immense universe and made them move around in accordance with strict mathematical laws.
Yet it can be argued that this victory was a Pyrrhic one, and that the price paid for it was disastrously high. Thus, for instance, the force of attraction which, for Newton, was a proof of the insufficiency of pure mechanism, a demonstration of the existence of higher, non-mechanical powers, the manifestation of God's presence and action in the world, ceased to play this role, and became a purely natural force, a property of matter, that enriched mechanism instead of supplanting it. As Dr. Cheyne explained quite reasonably, attraction was assuredly not an essential property of body, but why should not God have endowed matter with unessential properties? Or, as Henry More and Roger Cotesand later, Voltairepointed out, since we possess no knowledge of the substances of things, and know nothing about the link that connects property with substance, even in the cases of hardness or impenetrability, we cannot deny that attraction belongs to matter just because we do not understand how it works.
As for the dimensions of the material universe which Newtonians at first had opposed to the actual infinity of absolute space, the relentless pressure of the principles
of plenitude and sufficient reason, by which Leibniz managed to infect his successful rivals, made it co-extensive with space itself. God, even the Newtonian one, could obviously not limit His creative action and treat a certain part of infinite homogeneous spacethough able to distinguish it from the restin a way so utterly different from the others. Thus the material universe, in spite of filling only an exceedingly small part of the infinite void, became just as infinite as this. The same reasoning which prevented God from limiting His creative action in respect to space could, just as well, be applied to time. An infinite, immutable and sempiternal God could not be conceived as behaving in a different manner at different times, and as limiting His creative action to a small stretch of it. Moreover, an infinite universe existing only for a limited duration seems illogical. Thus the created world became infinite both in Space and in Time. But an infinite and eternal world, as Clarke had so strongly objected to Leibniz, can hardly admit creation. It does not need it; it exists by virtue of this very infinity.
Furthermore, the gradual dissolution of traditional ontology under the impact of the new philosophy undermined the validity of the inference from the attribute to its supporting substance. Space, consequently, lost progressively its attributive or substantial character; from the ultimate stuff which the world was made of (the substantial space of Descartes) or the attribute of God, the frame of his presence and action (the space of Newton), it became more and more the void of the atomists, neither substance nor accident, the infinite, uncreated nothingness, the frame of the absence of all being; consequently also of God's.
Last but not least, the world-clock made by the Divine Artifex was much better than Newton had thought it to be. Every progress of Newtonian science brought new proofs for Leibniz's contention: the moving force of the universe, its vis viva, did not decrease; the world-clock needed neither rewinding, nor mending.
The Divine Artifex had therefore less and less to do in the world. He did not even need to conserve it, as the world, more and more, became able to dispense with this service.
Thus the mighty, energetic God of Newton who actually "ran" the universe according to His free will and decision, became, in quick succession, a conservative power, an intelligentia supra-mundana, a "Dieu fainéant."
Laplace who, a hundred years after Newton, brought the New Cosmology to its final perfection, told Napoleon, who asked him about the role of God in his System of the World: "Sire, je nai pas eu besoin de cette hypothèse." (I did not need this hypothesis) But it was not Laplace's System, it was the world described in it that no longer needed the hypothesis God.
The infinite Universe of the New Cosmology, infinite in Duration as well as in Extension, in which eternal matter in accordance with eternal and necessary laws moves endlessly and aimlessly in eternal space, inherited all the ontological attributes of Divinity. Yet only thoseall the others the departed God took away with Him.