Should The Scientific Community Accept Atomism As True?
Published: January 14, 2009

My answer to the question, “Should the scientific community accept Atomism as true?” is “yes”, if it is proved true, and “no” if it is proved false. Let’s examine Atomism to determine whether it is true or not.

My knowledge of Atomism comes from the study of it as a system of metaphysics and as a transphysical science that helps to bridge the gap between the physical world and reality that cannot be sensed. The word metaphysics means “after or beyond physics”. Physics is the branch of science that attempts to describe and explain everything that happens in the physical universe. Physicists, therefore, try to discover one or more “laws” (meaning invariable principles of nature at work) which will explain a large class of phenomena, such as Sir Isaac Newton’s Universal Law of Gravitation, to bridge the gap between the physical world and reality that cannot be sensed.

As an Atomist who teaches physics, I understand that any attempt to describe and explain the nature of the physical universe, will require investigation of it at two levels. One is the sensory world of appearances, which is always changing in relation to our sense organs. The other is the nonsensory world of reality, which is unchanging and intelligible through reason and logic. This is the world that underlies the sensory world and is investigated by metaphysics.

Metaphysics asks such questions as: What is the universe made of? How does it work? What makes it work the way it does? What are space and time? What is a thing and how does it differ from an idea? What is real? What is the distinction between appearance and reality? What are the most basic principles of reality that can be apprehended by reason?

During the second half of the 5th Century B.C., two Greek philosophers named Leucippus (c.450 B.C.) and Democritus (c.460 B.C.) developed a theory in metaphysics called Atomism. Atomism maintains that the ultimate, unchangeable reality and causality consist of atoms and kenon. It describes atoms as the smallest particles of matter that can exist: the ultimate and smallest division of matter. It describes kenon as the pure empty space that separates the atoms and in or through which they move.

Atomism explains that atoms and the kenon are discoverable by reason and logic. It says that if matter is repeatedly cut up, the end result will be uncuttable pieces of matter or “atoms”. The word atom comes from the Greek word atomos, meaning “uncuttable”. It is not conceivable that matter can be cut up into smaller and smaller pieces forever, or into nothingness.

In modern physics the word “atom” erroneously came to be applied to a particle of matter no longer conceived as indivisible.

The Atomists describe the atoms as possessing such fundamental properties as shape, size, solidity, varos (force of mass or weight), motion, gravity, position, arrangement, dynamis (power, force, strength), repellency, and invisibility. They deduced these fundamental properties of the atoms in a rational way from the visible objects that we perceive as content of the physical universe. They explain that these visible objects are “aggregates of atoms”, objects composed of atoms gathered together in sufficient numbers enough to be seen. They also explain that the atoms themselves do not possess such qualities as color, taste, smell, sound, or temperature. They assert that the arrangements and movements of atoms cause us to perceive them through all of our senses.

The Atomists maintain that nothing exists but atoms, aggregates of atoms, and the kenon. They explain that the kenon is pure empty space and, as such, possesses no qualities whatever, no powers, no potentiality, and no tangibility in any way. Atoms and kenon together make up the whole universe. Aggregates of atoms constitute the content of the physical universe we perceive – there is nothing else to observe.

Since it is impossible for atoms to come into existence out of nothing or to pass away into nothing, they are eternal and indestructible – that is, they have always existed and always will exist. They are the eternal particles from which nature forms, increases, and sustains all things, and into which it resolves them when their forms perish. They are countless in number, scattered through the infinite kenon of the universe, gravitating, colliding, and producing vortices that form celestial bodies, such as the planets. Innumerable atoms have come together by random chance to form our world (Milky Way Galaxy) and things in it as well as innumerable other worlds (planets and galaxies). The gravitational interaction of atoms ultimately causes all the different phenomena in nature. Thus, everything is to be explained in terms of the properties and motions of the atoms. Atomism, like all other metaphysical theories, consists of fundamental principles of reality:

  1. Nothing can be created out of nothing.
  2. Nothing can be destroyed into nothing.
  3. Matter exists in the form of invisible particles.
  4. Matter cannot be created or destroyed into nothing, but only broken up into constituent atoms.
  5. Atoms and kenon are the only ultimate realities and make up all matter.
  6. All other things are properties or accidents of atoms and kenon.
  7. The atoms are absolutely solid, simple, and everlasting.
  8. Being absolutely solid and simple, the atoms are indivisible.
  9. Individually, the atoms cannot undergo change.
  10. Although physically indivisible, the atoms have parts, which are the minima of extension and magnitude.

These indubitable principles of reality are the foundational tenets of Atomism. They serve as the Atomists’ criteria for determining whether a particular scientific theory of the nature of the universe is true or false.

By now, I am sure that you understand that Atomism is a theory of matter and kenon. In physics, matter is defined as anything that takes up, or occupies, space and has mass. Mass is defined as the amount of matter that makes up an object. Notice that the definition of matter does not tell us what matter is, only what it does or can do. As far as the definition of mass, it only tells us that mass is an attribute of anything that takes up, or occupies, space.

Our natural senses of sight, touch, hearing, taste, and smell provide us with evidence that matter exists in five forms – as solids, such as rocks; liquids, such as water; gases, such as air; plasmas, such as ions; and radiations, such as heat and light. In terms of perceptibility, matter ranges from the obvious (easy to see) to the subtle (hard to see) to the invisible (impossible to see). We observe that all matter is particulate – that is, made up of particles. We know that we can divide matter into smaller and smaller parts, right down to the limit of perceptibility. We know that far below this level there are particles that are too small to be seen through a microscope, such as electrons, protons, and neutrons. These submicroscopic particles, which are erroneously called subatomic particles, are reducible to invisible and indivisible atoms.

As you can see, I have shown that the sensory world is produced by the amassment of atoms, rising up from the world that lies below the reach of the senses. By doing this, I have shown how Atomism bridges the gap between the two worlds. Atomism explains that the ever-shifting atoms in the kenon are the ultimate reality and causality behind all appearances.

I began this essay with the question “Should the scientific community accept Atomism as true?” My answer to this question was “yes”, if Atomism is proved true. I proved that Atomism is true by showing that its assertion that all things are made up of tiny atoms that cannot be further divided is true.