By Steve Bishop
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Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646-1716) was born in Leipzig. He was a rationalist in that he thought that all knowledge was based on logic. As Herbert Breger in ‘God and Mathematics in Leibniz’s Thought’ in Mathematics and the Divine ed. Teun Koetsier and Luc Bergmans (Elsevier, 2005) puts it:
Leibniz believed in the God of Christianity and he also had an extraordinarily high esteem for reason and its capabilities.
Leibniz discovered calculus at the same time as Newton. This raises an interesting question: why did they discover it at the same time? where there any cultural influences that shaped their thoughts?
The notation we use for differential and integral calculus – dx and the elongated ‘s’ are Leibniz’s. He also gave us the terms ‘function’ and ‘coordinates’ as well as the symbols = for ‘equals’ and x for ‘product’.
Theology and Apologetics
He also devoted much time and energy to theology and apologetics.
In 1709 he attempted to improve the ontological argument for God and in 1710 His Theodicy, or “Vindication of the Justice of God“, was published. It attempted to justify the existence of God with the existence of evil.
Leibniz also attempted to provide a proof for God’s existence. He wrote, “The first question which should rightly be asked is this: why is there something rather than nothing?”
George MacDonald Ross in Leibniz Oxford University Press (Past Masters) 1984 writes:
Leibniz’s solution had two parts. The first was to admit that the universe was indeed imperfect, but to point out that its imperfection was logically necessary in order to preserve its distinctness from God, the only perfect being. God could not be blamed for failing to contravene the laws of logic. The other part of his answer was to say that, although the universe was not perfect, it was the best possible – it was as perfect as it could be without collapsing back into God himself. Consequently, to blame God for creating this universe as he did would be tantamount to saying that he should not have created anything at all.
His argument has been framed as follows:
- Every existing thing has an explanation of its existence, either in the necessity of its own nature or in an external cause.
- If the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is God.
- The universe exists.
- Therefore, the universe has an explanation of its existence (from 1, 3)
- Therefore, the explanation of the existence of the universe is God (from 2, 4)
He maintained that that if God did not exist, not only nothing else would exist, but there would be nothing possible either.
Resources for the study of Leiniz are available here http://www.philosophypages.com/ph/leib.html
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Steve Bishop is the compiler of A Bibliography for a Christian Approach to Mathematics and the author of several articles on the relationship between faith and math. Look for future posts from him in this series on Christian Mathematicians.