The Necessity of Atomism
Published: February 15, 2009

As you know, a necessity is something that cannot be done without. One of the things that we humans cannot do without is a metaphysical view of reality and causality. To do so is to suffer the negative effect of living our lives in a state of ignorance about our place in the universe. An intelligent life cannot be lived without a correct metaphysical view of ultimate reality and causality. Realizing this fact, pre-Socratic Greek philosophers, among them Thales (624? – 546? B.C.), Anaximenes (fl.c. 545 B.C.), Anaximandes (fl.610 B.C.), Heraclitus (c. 500 B.C.), Empedocles (c. 490 -430 B.C.), Leucippus (fl. c. 450 B.C.), and Democritus (460? – 370? B.C.), studied the nature of ultimate reality and causality. They believed that ultimate reality and causality had to be the underlying stuff that makes up the visible universe. Thales held it to be Water; Anaximenes held it to be Air; Anaximander held it to be a non-perceptible substance called the Apeiron (Unlimited); Heraclitus held it to be Fire; Empedocles (c.493-c.433 B.C.) held it to be a mixture of Earth, Water, Air and Fire; Leccippus and Democritus held it to be atoms.

Leucippus and Democritus’s idea of the atoms were extremely influential in modern physics. It was said that all matter is made up of atoms, but modern physics distorted what atoms are. Leucippus and Democritus explained that atoms are the smallest division of matter. They said if matter is repeatedly cut up, the end result will be uncuttable particles of matter or atoms. The word atom comes from the Greek word atomos, meaning uncuttable. It is easy to see that matter can be divided into smaller parts that cannot be further divided – called "atoms".

Leucippus explained that nothing exists but atoms and empty space that he called kenon. He maintained that atoms and kenon are the only ultimate realities and causalities, and that the interaction of atoms, in kenon, ultimately causes all the different phenomena in nature.

Leucippus and Democritus called their belief in the existence of the atoms and kenon, and their belief that atoms and kenon are the only ultimate realities, Atomism. They often referred to Atomism as the Atomic Theory. They held that without knowledge of Atomism, humans would be unable to adjust their lives to reality and free themselves from all myths and superstitions. This proved the necessity of Atomism to them.

If you examine the basic principles of Atomism, you will see that they are indubitable principles of reality.

  • Nothing can be created out of nothing.
  • Nothing can be destroyed into nothing.
  • Matter exists in the form of invisible particles.
  • Matter cannot be created or destroyed into nothing, but only broken up into constituent atoms.
  • Atoms and kenon (empty space) are the only ultimate realities.
  • All other things are properties or accidents of atoms and kenon.
  • All matter is made up of atoms and kenon.

  • The atoms are absolutely solid, simple, and everlasting.
  • Being absolutely solid and simple, the atoms are indivisible.
  • The atoms cannot undergo change.
  • Although physically indivisible, the atoms have parts, which are the minima of extension and magnitude.
  • The interaction of atoms ultimately causes all the different phenomena in nature.
  • Nothing can come into existence without atoms.

It is important to understand that the basic principles of Atomism must serve as the foundational tenets of physics and as the criteria by which physicists must judge their accounts of the nature of the universe – what it is made of, how it works, and why it works the way it does. If an account given by a physicist violates a basic principle of Atomism, it is a false account.

Modern physics had no objective criteria by which its theories and accounts could be judged. In my opinion, this is further proof of the necessity of Atomism.

Readers who doubt or object to the position that I am taking about Atomism, keep this fact in mind: the universe and all the things in it are made of atoms and kenon. Nothing is conceivable aside from these two constituents of the universe.