Voltaire (1694-1778) was an 18th century French author, philosopher and Deist, he did a great deal to fight oppression. He was a prolific writer, writing novels, plays, poetry, essays, letters, and historical and scientific works.
Voltaire was very critical of France's religious and political authorities, and his criticisms of them, even mild ones, got him jailed several times. He would sometimes state in his letters Écrasez l'infâme! (Erase the infamy!), referring to those authorities. After staying three years in England, he praised England's constitutional monarchy as superior to France's absolute monarchy.
Voltaire popularized Sir Isaac Newton's theories, notably about optics and gravity. He was the first to tell the story of Newton and the apple, which he reportedly learned from Newton's niece. However, he once debunked fossils, claiming that they were travelers' leftovers and the like. That was likely because they had seemed like great evidence of Noah's Flood (RE: Voltaire and fossils).
Like Thomas Paine and other deists of that time Voltaire did not know Charles Darwin, Evolution or Natural selection. It seems Voltaire thought the Universe needed a creator, perhaps that life needs a designer. Despite this Voltaire rightly saw that the Bible is no more reasonable than other Mythology.
Referring to one of his famous statements about God, he stated "Si Dieu n'existait pas, il faudrait l'inventer." Mais toute la nature nous crie qu'il existe; qu'il y a une intelligence suprême, un pouvoir immense, un ordre admirable, et tout nous instruit de notre dépendance. "If God did not exist, he would have to be invented." But all nature cries aloud that he does exist: that there is a supreme intelligence, an immense power, an admirable order, and everything teaches us our own dependence on it.
However, he also stated
- Si Dieu nous a faits à son image, nous le lui avons bien rendu. If God has made us in his image, we have returned him the favor.
- On dit que Dieu est toujours pour les gros bataillons. It is said that God is always on the side of the big battalions.
- Prier Dieu c'est se flatter qu'avec des paroles on changera toute la nature. To pray to God is to flatter oneself that with words one can alter nature.
- J'ai toujours fait une prière à Dieu, qui est fort courte. La voici: Mon Dieu, rendez nos ennemis bien ridicules! Dieu m'a exaucé. I always made one prayer to God, a very short one. Here it is: "O Lord, make our enemies quite ridiculous!" God granted it.
He also wrote a novel, Candide, in which he satirized metaphysical optimism, the theory that this is the best of all possible worlds. His character Dr. Pangloss ("All Talk"), a professor of "metaphysico-theologo-cosmolonigology" argued it:
"Observe that noses were made to wear spectacles; and so we have spectacles. Legs were visibly instituted to be breeched, and we have breeches. Stones were formed to be quarried and to build castles; and My Lord has a very noble castle; the greatest Baron in the province should have the best house; and as pigs were made to be eaten, we eat pork all year round; consequently, those who have asserted all is well talk nonsense; they ought to have said that all is for the best."
Thus giving the name Panglossianism to metaphysical optimism.