THE HISTORY OF ATOMISM

By

Muhammad Yousaf Gabriel

Oqasaorg@gmail.com

When we study and produce the brief history of Atomism, that is atom to atomic bomb, partly for the purpose of providing the reader with some idea of the paths which atom has traversed during its long journey in twenty five centuries towards its final destination, rather first stage of the destination, the Hiroshima, and partly to show that at the time when the warning about atom bomb was revealed, by the Quran, (Surah Homazah- 104 ) not a vestige of such a theory as "Atomism" remained anywhere in the world, not to speak of Arabia proper: The inhabitants where of being entirely ignorant then and innocent of any type of Greek Philosophy rather any Philosophy. This fact makes the prophecy indeed more remarkable. The theory of atomism in fact had breathed its last after a doubtful and controversial existence, before the overwhelming pressure of Stoicism (an antagonistic School of Thought) and the Christianity; a religion even more strongly antagonistic towards the atomism. In such circumstances, that is at a time when the theory of atomism did not even so much as exist, a prophecy about the atom bomb, would seem like an arrow shot in space, without any visible target. The arrow, however was shot, which travelled on its way to its target, out of sight, till in fourteenth century of its travel at last stuck its target in 1945, still remaining out of sight of mankind, till about sixteen years after its arrival at its destination, that is in 1961, when it was discovered by me, indeed by the Grace of Almighty Allah. The prophecy which the Quran made about the victory and prevalence of then completely vanquished Greeks against the decisively victorious Persians was a prophecy, according to Gibbon, (the famous author of "Decline and Fall of Roman Empire"), such that nothing could be more remote from its fulfillment at a time when it was ventured by the Quran; for the circumstances at that time were in a state, such as, there seemed not the least probability of Greeks fighting back to defeat the Persians. But the Greeks not only repulsed Persian forces and drove them out of the Greek territories but went further to the throne of the Persian Emperor and forced him to accept conditions of a treaty most disgraceful to him. And thus the prophecy of the Quran about an improbability was fulfilled. This was a prophecy which was fulfilled in a very short time but on the other side of the scale is the Prophecy of the Quran about the atom bomb which took more than thirteen centuries for its fulfillment. The theory of atomism lay buried since centuries, fathoms deep, in obscurity when the Quran made a prophecy about its fruits : the atomic bomb. Then centuries more elapsed in a state of humanity tending farther and farther away from the atmosphere which could be congenial to the revival of atomism. But the time arrived at last when the grave of atomism was discovered by some strange chance, and atomism was revived with a flurry that it gradually, came to pervade every branch of science, and eventually at a decisive stage took on unexpected turn and fell on a way : which ultimately and again quite unexpectedly led to the production of atomic bomb. Nay even the atomic bomb was something not quite surely predictable during all its consecutive stages of development and it was believed as a certainty only after it was tested finally. It however proved to be practicable, and proved also its real efficacy and efficiency in the smoke -ridden ruins of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and indeed, put the spirit of Christian mercy in the crucible. Was it not so? Ask Ronald Knox.

 

      The Author of atomism

      It is to Democritus of Abdera in Thrace (a younger contemporary of Socrates, and nicknamed, "the Laughing Philosopher", because he found human life matter for laughter: as against Heraclitus whom the later tradition called "weeping Philosopher", because he found in human life matter for tears) that the theory of Atomism is attributed though in fact not he but Leucippus was its originator. Little is known about Leucippus, except that he was a Milesian, and that he flourished about 440.B.C. Democritus received the credit because he was responsible for developing the system and making it known. Both Lucippus and Democritus were atheists and their atheism, due to the abhorrence it caused in the minds of the people was largely responsible for the rejection of their theory. It is remarkable to note that when in modern times this theory of atomism was discovered and adopted it was seen that this associated atheism be not revived along with it but somehow and very unfortunately of course, this atheism has found its way into the minds of the modern atom-ridden sceptics, although in a guise most astonishingly queer.

 

(3) The early views of the atomists:-

      Following are the views of the early atomists about atomism:-

 

  (a) The atoms are indivisible and indestructible.

  (b)They move about in all directions in a fortuitous  concourse in otherwise empty space.

  (c)Atoms and space are all that exist.

  (d)There're different kinds of atoms, distinguished by differences of shape, but individual atoms are too small to be noticed by the senses.

(e) The things we touch and see are made by the arrangement of atoms in groups. Change consists in nothing but their arrangements. There is no alteration  in the atoms themselves.

(f)The motion of an atom persists until checked -  presumably in collision with another atom since the theory itself denies any other cause.

 

(4) This last is most significant of all the Atomists' ideas. It foreshadows the law of inertia, which states that motion needs no cause to preserve it. The cause is necessary only to produce changes of motion. If a thing is moving, it will continue to move, without change of speed or direction, until something forces it to slow down, accelerate, or deviate from its path. This notion upon which Newtonian mechanics is founded, is opposed to Aristotle's view, that a body comes to rest unless there is something to keep it going. Once the atoms have been given a start, say the atomists, their subsequent motions are determined by invariable mechanical laws. The state of the Universe depends only upon its pervious state. Its future is decided by its present. Here is the philosophy of Determinism in its extreme form. The moral implications arising from the necessary denial of free will are obvious and disturbing. Unfortunately, philosophies which are the product of human mind are mostly fragmentary in form and far too limited in scope; for, human knowledge itself is of a nature fragmentary, and human vision extremely limited. The philosophers see an elephant Just as the legendary ten blind men of Hindustan had once seen it. The interpretations therefore of the points of such philosophies are susceptible of many and diverse even opposite conclusions, generally in accordance with the predisposition of the mind of the interpreters themselves. Further such philosophies are the reflections of the disposition of the mind of their makers themselves. Aristotle's mind in order to prove the Omnipresence of the Creator and his design and order thought it essential to subject the atom to the controlling hand of the Creator in its motion, whereas Democritus in order to show the absence of the Creator, design and control imparted the qualities to the atom such as would prove fortuitous concourse of atoms in a designless world without any purpose. Neither Aristotle nor Democritus could see anything beyond this in the atom. In the presence of faith every thing seems  to one's mind as, converging towards the creator whereas in the absence thereof every thing seems to be running away from him. Many a raging storm is seen to be raised in a tea cup during discussions of these subtle philosophies. So short is Man's vision, that Darwin saw no harm to faith in all his philosophy as is apparent from his very genuine remonstrances. But was his philosophy as innocent as he thought it to be in the haze of his zeal for discovery of the truth. We could discuss this very interesting topic at length but we are, I am afraid deviating from our actual topic, the History of atomism. What pranks, that imagination has not played with human mind, and what part that the corrupt and selfish amongst the religious leaders have not played in driving the people away from faith and in creating disgust and hatred of religion in their hearts. And how often two men have said the same thing without understanding each other, and disputing all the same.

 

(5) The atoms of Democritus and the Ideas of Plato

      Like Plato, Democritus held the eternal and ultimate reality in the world to be the object not of senses but of the understanding. But he considered the nature of this reality very differently form Plato.  It consisted of atoms, that is of indivisible (and therefore indestructible) bodies of a size too small to be detected by our senses, differing from one another in shape (whence he could call them by the same name as Plato gave to his ultimate realities of ideas or forms) moving about in a vacuum or void, though the two worlds were different.

 

(6) The greatest contemporary thinkers condemn atomism

      The great influence of Aristotle was cast into the scale against the adoption of such a theory as atomism was. Not the influence of Aristotle alone, but the greatest writing philosopher of ancient time, the disciple of Socrates and master of Aristotle, namely Plato, was vehement in opposition of Atomism. The two hundred years which followed the death of Aristotle, despite the fact, that they were the years of great progress in mathematical and Astronomical science, and were made illustrious by such names as those of Euclid, whose "Elements" was the text book of Geometry for two thousand years, of, ERASTOTHENES, who first used the method by which the size of the earth is ascertained, of ARCHIMEDES, the discoverer of the principle of the lever, of HIPPARCHUS who has been called the true father of Astronomy, yet none of these great thinkers so much as condescended to take the name of Atomism, not to speak of any research or investigation or inquiry. Bacon himself, Bacon the trumpeter of the modern age, Bacon the greatest, ablest and most eloquent advocate of atomism, despite his disagreement with Aristotle on many points stood in perfect agreement with him condemning the blindness of atomism to the evidence of design in the world, as afforded by the existence of the structure too elaborate ever to be explained satisfactorily by a fortuitous concourse of atoms. Bacon was keenly sensible of the danger which lay in our attempts to start our investigations from a consideration of the purpose of nature of which we are but too likely to take very short-sighted views. The apprehensions of Bacon unfortunately proved only too true. The spiritual side of the affair was completely divorced in due course and whole attention having been fixed on immediate material gains so that the result was a world-wide discontent, the remedy for which was prescribed as the raining of atomic bombs, releasing ionizing radiations, plagues, poisonous gases and fires.