History of Atomism



            In order to understand this modern age, and all that is of this modern age, the knowledge, the science, the civilisation, the culture, the progress, the thought and all the moral, social, economic, religious, aesthetic, philosophical and psychological features, opinions, beliefs, attitudes and notions, its unique, universal, systematic and ever-progressive economic and industrial set up, and lastly and alas, in order to understand the extreme appropriateness of its tragic end in atomic bombs and nuclear radiations, it is essential to know and understand the theory, the philosophy and the history of atomism, since this modern age has grown on the basis of atom-ism, and all its basic ideas are derived from this very same theory, and all its distinctive features are the effects of the atomistic theory and philosophy. He only is best able to judge of the true reality of this modern age who has studied atomism in comparison to the philosophy of faith. It may appear strange but is a fact that could most easily be proved by a careful study of the Quran from this particular point of view. The Quran discusses and opposes the atomism in a manner as if atomism were to appear in future as a prospective and prominent adversary of faith and hence of the Quran itself, and a universal threat to mankind. The Quran discusses, describes, traces and confronts it to its ultimate end in the atomic hell and sounds a warning accordingly pointing out the causes of the emergence of the atomic bomb, a creation of atomism itself. It is not only in its particular prophecy that the Quran has treated the subject of atomism, nay, but the topic is dispersed throughout the Quran. The prophecy, however, is the essence of the whole subject just as the atomic bomb is fruit of the whole theme of atomism. In the light of the treatment of the subject of atomism by the Quran it appears as if the Quran had the entire course of future atomism in view and as if the Quran described the complete affair in a commentary like a keen, omniscient observer. Any one who has perceived this view, shall find no difficulty in the endorsement thereof and cursory glance at the writings of the Quran will reveal to him the truth in the clearest of colours, provided indeed that one possessed the real knowledge of atomism. The Quran after having condemned the worldly doctrines of atomism throughout has ultimately shown it to culminate in its logical end scientific end in the atomic bomb, though by pointing out the causes of the emergence of the atomic bomb it has shown a possibility of averting the dreadful doom. A study of the Quran from this particular point of view, that is in reference to atomism and consequently to this age of atomism is essential to a degree that could hardly be overstressed, for, it opens up an avenue of knowledge which is most needed in order to give the necessary directive to the movement of reform with the object of averting the all-consuming threat of atomic hell. A study of this kind will make manifest too the explicit and implicit potentialities of the Quran and the role of miraculous guidance which this scripture can ply in clearing the misunderstandings of this materialistic age and leading it out of all the most impending hazards ——that are the product of the erroneous philosophy of atomism onto the path of real peace, real prosperity and real progress as against the delusive peace, delusive prosperity, and delusive progress of atomism that tends toward the delusive utopia of a delusive bliss. The plausibility of the acceptance of the word of Quran by this age lay in the fact that while nothing but the verdict of science would be acceptable to this age of science, the Quran would fulfil this very condition and offer its argument on the basis of science itself. If scientific merit alone could find grace in the eyes of this age, the Quran will certainly prove its worth in this field—-but let only someone worthy of such an enterprise venture on so hazardous a work—–and if no appeals in the name of divinity and faith could be of any avail and only the scientific verities were acceptable to the mind of this age, the Quran would come out with the scientific verities in order to bring conviction. The Quran has been acclaimed as a standing miracle and it certainly will work miracles in an age which does not believe in miracles.

           The theory of atomism lay buried deep in the strata of history like an antiquated fossil, almost forgotten and far removed from any probability of a revival ever in this world  (7th century. A.D). when the Quran ventured at the prophecy about the atomic bomb, the ultimate fruit of atomism that was to appear twelve hundred years later in history. Atomic bomb, it is evident could never have appeared in the world without the revival of atomism (17th Century, A.D.), while the revival of atomism itself is one of the strangest events of history. The theory of atomism was revived as from a grave that was almost forgotten to the world, and then no sooner it was revived than it spread with a flurry that could only be likened to a wild fire in a petrol dump, and soon came to pervade the entire field of science and indeed every sphere of human life.  The prophecy of the Quran is:-

“Woe to every back-biter, defamer, who amasseth wealth of (this world) and storeth it (against the future). He thinketh  surely that his wealth will render him immortal. Nay, for, verily he shall be flung into Al-Hotama and what could teach thee what Al-Hotama is? It is Allah’s kindled fire, which leapeth up over the hearts. It is (a fire) closed in on them in outstretched columns”.

                                    (The Quran-104-Al-Homaza)

            It is to Democritus of Abdera in Thrace, (Greece), 4th century B.C. a younger contemporary of Socrates, and nicknamed as “the laughing philosopher—-because he found in life matter only for laughter, as opposed to Heraclitus (about 500 B.C), whom the latter tradition called the weeping philosopher, because he always found in human life matter for tears—-that the theory of atomism is generally attributed, though in fact not he but Lucippus was the real originator thereof. Little is known about Lucippus, 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 the association of atheism with their name was not only responsible for the unpopularity of theory in their own time and later, but another fact which has not been clearly observed is that their theory was of the same dye with their atheism and that it was hardly possible to segregate the scientific part of the theory from the atheistic origin from which it had sprung. This fact has been proved by time.

            The pioneers of atomism in modern age had adopted atomism on the understanding that the scientific part of the theory could be separated from the atheistic implications and used in structural interpretation of the universe for the material progress of mankind. It was with this very view in mind that they had ventured to adopt this theory. But unfortunately their view eventually has proved as a mere delusion and the atheistic implications of the theory have one and all crept into the field and have occupied the human mind to the extent that today it is hard to induce a philosopher to study the influence of atomic theory on the faith of mankind, inspite of the fact that the theme is far more interesting and absorbing and indeed more essential than the evolution of Darwin which treats of the origin of mankind, while it is not the origin but the end in the shadow of the atomic bomb that is more worthy of man’s attention at present .If ever such a research is conducted, the results thereof would well be ceremoniously recited over the graves of those pioneers of atomism who were mistaken in their thinking that the atheistic element could be segregated from the scientific part of the theory. In fact the process was far more difficult than that of separating Uranium 235 from Uranium 238. Atomism was exclusively a theory of the world, and nothing but world and its wealth today occupies the mind of mankind. Following are the views of the early atomists :-

(1)        The atoms are indivisible and indestructible.

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

(3)        Atoms and space are all that exist.

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

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

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

Although both Democritus and Plato lived in the same world, yet the worlds of their minds were quite different from one another. 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 from 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.

            The great contemporary thinkers were apprehensive of the dangers with which atomism was fraught and therefore opposed its prevalence. The overbearing 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 also the greatest writing philosopher of ancient times, namely, Plato, was most vehement in his opposition to atomism. The two hundred years which followed the death of Aristotle, despite the fact that they were the great years of progress in mathematical and astronomical science, and 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 lever, of Hipparchus, who has been called he 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. The opposition of atomism is not restricted to the ancient thinkers alone. Bacon, the greatest, the ablest and the most eloquent advocate of atomism, in spite of his disagreement with Aristotle on many points stood in perfect agreement with him in condemning the blindness of atomism to the evidence of design in the world, afforded by the existence of the structures too elaborate ever to be explained satisfactorily by a fortuitous concourse of atoms. Bacon seemed to be keenly sensible of the danger which lay in attempts to start our investigations from a consideration of the purpose of nature of which we are about too likely to take a very short-sighted a view. In the presence of the disastrous situation of the world that has been brought about by the theory of atomism in these present times, and the atomic bomb, we too, the unfortunate denizens of this present age of atomism are likely to appreciate the apprehensions of the ancient antagonistic thinkers, as well as the fears of Bacon, the great modern protagonist of atomism regarding atomism, and mourn the tendency of the pioneers who ventured to adopt so dangerous a theory as atomism for material uplift, and of their followers who took the shortsighted view of the purpose of nature, exactly as Bacon had feared, and fatal to the immediate material gains with the result that the world ultimately has reached a stage where perfect misery and utter destruction billow forth from the horizons towards the mankind that stares in terror at the approaching catastrophe, in utter helplessness.

            Amidst the general unpopularity of the atomism in ancient Greece, there was, however a philosophical school, which adopted atomism as a fundamental part of their system. Its attraction for this school was not its scientific utility, so much, as its apparent inconsistency with the doctrine of the divine Government of the world, which they regarded as the source of the worst evil that affected mankind, namely, the fear of death and of what may come after it. This school which adopted atomism as a remedy against the terrors of religion was the Epicurean school of thought. Epicurus, the founder of Epicurean school, and the chief rival of Zeno, the founder of the school of Stoicism, however, recommended the rational pursuit of pleasure. But his ideal was not followed, and the excess became the order of his followers. Although Epicurus did not preach that one should make the most of his life, eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die, and recommended refined pleasures, and moderation, yet the sensualists found a good chance in his teachings to claim for their lives the sanctions of the Epicurean principle, that “pleasure” is the chief good at which alone it is reasonable to aim, and thus the name of the Epicurean very early become a synonym for a sensualist, and a reproach. We mark that the ancient Epicureans who adopted the atheistic side of atomism and neglected its scientific side, failed. And we also mark that the modernists who had adopted the scientific side of atomism have failed too. The former due to the abuse of pleasure, and the latter due to the short-sighted view of the purpose of nature, and immediate material gain. Atomism thus in every form has brought failure and destruction.

            The Epicurean school was confronted from its cradle by the Stoic, a school of thought opposed to the theory of Epicureanism. Virtue against the pleasure of Epicureanism was the motto of the stoic, and a strict moral and religious code was to be adhered to as against the loose and lax life of the Epicurean. Although these two schools divided the allegiance of a majority of thoughtful men in the countries which at the beginning of the Christian era formed the heart of the Roman Empire, the Epicurean gradually lost the ground and the stoic prevailed. It will be remembered that the philosophers whom the Apostle Paul is related (Act XVII-18) to have encountered on his visit to Athens were representatives of Epicurean and Stoics. When they heard of the Resurrection of the dead from Apostle Paul, some mocked: and  others said; We will hear thee again of this matter. So Paul departed from among them. However certain men calve unto him, and believed; among them were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris. This visit of St. Paul, however, did not augur well for the cult of Epicureanism, and along with Epicureanism, for the atomism itself, for, with the advent of Christianity in those parts was ushered in an era which proved fatal  to both the Epicureanism and the atomism.

            It was not surprising that of all the Greek Schools, the Stoic was the one, which made itself at home among the Romans, who, in less than two centuries after the death of Zeno, the founder of that School had become the masters of the Greek speaking world. Love of knowledge and delight in beauty, the indulgence in subtle doubts and the cultivation of refined pleasures were all alike uncongenial to the Roman temper. This was inclined to charge their representatives among Greek professors of philosophy with a frivolity dangerous to the sense of discipline and public duty, which had been hitherto the ministry of the Roman state. But such suspicions were less aroused by the stoics than by any of their rivals. If the moral and religious temper of Stoicism thus won it a special welcome at Rome, there was also something in the temper of Roman people which was particularly congenial to the stoic philosophy. This was what has been called “The sense of Justice and Law”, which marked out the Roman people among the contemporary nations and which made the Roman legal system the basis on which the Roman Empire stood for centuries with remarkable stability. That the stoics rather than either the Epicureans or the sceptics exercised in the log run the widest influence in an age which was seeking for a religious faith is to be explained by their attitude of devout acquiescence in the predestined or providential order of the Universe.

            Epicurus, the fonder of Epicueanism, adopted atomism, not for its scientific merit, but because its materialism supported his denial of a spiritual life after death. Roman poet Lucretius was an eminent follower of Democritus. He did much by his poem “De Rerum Natura”, to make atomism known. Yet, although the founder seemed to the poet a worthy deliverer of man from the superstitious terrors: to a consistent Epicurean, the intellectual and scientific activity, except so far as it served to dissipate the superstitious dread, it could hardly be more than a refined pastime. It is not thus surprising to find, that the Epicureans contributed little to the advancement of scientific or philosophical inquiry. They adopted as their own the atomic theory of Democritus, but in their hands it was neither enabled to meet the objections which may be aided against it as theory of ultimate nature of reality, nor made to exhibit its great capacities as instrument of scientific description and discovery.

            Both the Stoicism and Christianity were at one against the Epicureanism in their exacting standards of conduct; and in their faith in the divine government of the world. Moreover the Epicureans saw in the course of nature an eternal play of atoms, without any predestined plot, the Stoics and Christians alike looked forward to a configuration in which the present frame of things would perish.

            By the 5th Century. A.D, the Period of struggle among numerous competitors ended in complete victory of Christianity. Every candle except that of Christianity was by then extinguished. The whole of the Roman Empire along with the Emperor had embraced the faith of Christianity, and it became the state religion.  500 to 1000 B.C is a period known as dark ages of Europe. The original contribution of Western thought was essentially complete by about 100 .B.C. The decline of philosophy and art began long before this with the eclipse of Athens. The advent of Christianity meant an end to knowledge, Epicurianism, and atomism. The so-called dark ages of the West are known as dark ages because during the period in question intellectual activity for the acquirement of knowledge was missing throughout. It is strange to observe that the Quran should make the prophecy about the atomic bomb, the fruit of an atomism in the 7th century A.D. that is at the zenith of the dark ages of the West and at a time when not even a vestige of the theory of atomism was extant in the world. Indeed at the time like that an opinion about the probability of the revival of atomism in the world would have been attributed to lunacy, nay even an allusion to atomism, might have been incomprehensible to most. It was in 4th century B.C, that Aristotle had thrown the weight of his authority against the atomic theory in a general atmosphere of the world which was quite uncongenial to so worldly and atheistic a philosophy as atomism was, and when Galen, the celebrated physician of the 2nd century A.D. added his veto to that of Aristotle, atoms suffered an eclipse that was to last for about fourteen centuries. The end of atomism was brought about by the constant opposition of Stoicism first and then by both the Stoicism and Christianity in a manner that not so much as the name of atomism was left in the world long before the 7th century when the Quran ventured its prophecy about Al-Hotama and enumerated as the causes of the appearance of Al-Hotama the very same features that were exactly characteristic of the philosophy of atomism.

            The Eclipse of atoms, however, cleared at last about the 16th century A.D.  The philosophies of Aristotle and Plato, which had held the throne for centuries, had employed the faculties of ablest men in many successive ages, had worn many shapes, had mingled themselves with many creeds, had survived revolutions in which empires, religions, languages, races, had perished, were fated at last to fall before the new philosophy of fruit and utility as contemptibility barren and fruitless exercise of human mind. The same fate was met by the faith of Christianity. A faith which had for more than fifty generations occupied the mind and the soul of millions of its adherents, and had controlled their life-spans from their birth to their death and even thereafter, could not stand the irresistible urge of its followers for the feast which nature had spread before them. The doctrinal inconsistencies that had of late crept into the Christian religion and the excesses of the representatives of the hierarchies inspired in them the unquenchable hatred of faith. The precedent of the sumptuous feasts enjoyed by the ministers of the church of God further stimulated their desire of wealth and power, and thus the long-lost and forgotten theory of atomism had its day to the consequent distraction of both the church and its followers, not in one country, not in two, a three or four, but rather in every community, in every country and every part of the world.

            The knowledge of atomic theory after its long disappearance was eventually derived from a relic of the poem, “De Rerum Natura”, which Lucritius had composed in Ist Century B.C. and in which the earliest views of atomists were logically marshalled and brilliantly exposed. It was in the light of the information derived from a relevant piece of this poem that Pierre Gassandi (1592-1655), the provencal philosopher and Roman Catholic Priest, introduced the views of the Greek atomists. Gradually atomism was revived and it spread and soon gained the whole field of human activity, manual, mental, social, scientific, economic, domestic, communal national and international. After Perrie Gassandi, Francis Bacon rose as a most brilliant and most persuasive advocate of Atomism.

            Bacon’s design was, by means of inquiries some of which should be experimental like those of the Alchemists, but purged from all superstitious taint and directed not toward immediate gain, but toward thoroughgoing knowledge, vastly to increase in the long run the dominion of man over nature. To enjoy such a dominion was, he held, the original destiny of our race. But in vain and impious attempt (described in the Biblical story as “eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil”),  to make laws for himself by “ Moral philosophy”, instead of remaining content with the positive commands of God, man had turned aside from his proper business of pursuing “Natural Philosophy”, that is of studying and interpreting the works of God and raising in his own intelligence a true image of the universe; gaining, in other words, such a knowledge of nature’s inner workings as may make it  possible to emulate them. The failure of man hitherto to do this, and the depressing tradition that the processes of chemical combination were necessarily beyond the reach of human imitation, showed only that ancient theories of nature were merely superficial and had not penetrated her true secrets. But in the seat of his brow man may yet “eat his bread”, that is, through resolute and patient, persistence in discriminating observation and well devised experiment, he may wring these secrets from her and turn them to his our advantage. For this, however, a new method of approach is necessary; and this Bacon endeavoured to provide in his “Novum Organum”, that is “the new instrument” which was to take the place of the old organ, namely, the collection of Aristotle’s treatises, on logic, which were so called as constituting the proper instrument to be used in reasoning, whatever one was reasoning about.

            Moral philosophy of the past ages was condemned by Bacon as a vain and impious attempt. The knowledge of good and evil merely was a Biblical story that was misinterpreted and mistaken. The ancient theories of nature according to him were merely superficial, for they did not allow the imitation and emulation of the works of God. The real purpose of man’s existence on earth was natural philosophy that is the study and interpretation of the works of God, and raising in his own intelligence a true image of the universe, in other words affecting the emulation of the works of God through the knowledge of nature’s secret workings. Bacon interpreted the Biblical injunction, “But in the sweat of his brow may yet eat his bread”, a man’s right of obtaining dominion over nature and wringing the secrets of nature from her and turning them to his advantage through resolute and patient persistence in determining observation and well devised experimentation. All this happened to be the gist of the philosophy of atomism. There is not the least mention of any consideration of celestial or otherworldly directive, control, or guidance as regards the purpose of man or his material progress. This world alone is the object of all activity and the sole purpose of life. The object of the contemplation of the works of God is not in any way the glorification of the creator, or the reflections of the other world, and therefore the idea of eating up the works of God was soon adopted by the followers of Bacon.

            No obviously this design of Bacon is the best specimen of slander, and worldly love and wealth accumulation, and faith in the eternity of this world as the sole object of one’s life together with the belief in the endless and eternal progress of wealth through the increasing dominion of man over natural resources. Thus it can be seen how atomism is the basic source of the features as have been pointed out by the prophecy as the causes of the emergence of the atomic bomb. Bacon had openly expressed his apprehensions regarding the danger of man’s taking a short-sighted view and falling to the immediate gains leaving the vast Baconian design that of increasing man’s dominion over nature and raising in man’s own intelligence a true image of the universe, and Bacon’s fears only came too true and men soon fell to immediate gain, and, eating up the works of God instead of  contemplating them. Now a days, the atomic reactors and the processing plants that certainly constitute a source of the worst kind of a plague, are being purchased with inseparable eagerness and sold too, merely because the idea of attaining some material gain is associated with the atomic reactors, inspite of all the incident hazards that must follow the deal.

            Inspite of the implicit  belief at the commencement of the European Renaissance of the pioneers of atomism in the possibility of a segregation of the atheistic aspect of atomic theory, and their explicit belief in the necessity and desirability of such a segregation, and their determination to adopt the atomic theory purely in its capacity as the instrument of scientific description and discovery, the noxious and inevitable implications of the philosophy of atomism crept in, till in due course faith was gradually expelled from the field by the atheistic views of atomism which prevailed in every human sphere of mental and practical activity. This assertion may appear as strange in the presence of such overwhelming manifestations of religion that even today flourish in the world. This point is a topic in itself and would not admit of a fuller treatment in a few lines. Religion indeed exists even today in abundance, in various and multifarious forms and constitutes a powerful agency in the greater part of the world. There is no doubt about it. In some parts of the world it still fully occupies the minds and maintains its sovereignty. Yet the factual sway of faith has been reduced to almost a private affair. Even where religion is the main object, it is interpreted in a light favourable to the materialistic tendency of atomism. The exigencies of the present times have made it impossible to see the anti-naturalistic aspect of faith. When, however, the world neared its destruction by the scientific discoveries, nothing but faith could avert the danger and lead mankind out of the trouble. Faith has been oppressed by science but is not dead yet and may be invoked by the mankind in distress in face of the atomic ruin. The appearance of the atomic hell may open the eyes of mankind and there is possibility that they may revert to faith and be saved. In case it is suspected that corruption has crept into religion then not renunciation but reform ought to be the rule. It is hard to deny that wealth today generally figures as a deity in the world and has the practical hold on the minds, and where faith still has hold of the mind it appears as a lamp outdazzled by the light of love or necessity of wealth in an over bearingly materialistic atmosphere. If this world is destined yet to live, the reappearance of faith is an inevitability. The science left alone in the helm of the affairs will never fail to destroy the world. Indeed, if atomism had been universally adopted at the time of its emergence in the time of Democritus, its founder, mankind would have perished due to the evils of immortality and disbelief, the characteristics that are inherent in atomism. If, however, the scientific inquiry and progress had been commenced at the appearance of atomism in the time of Democritus, the atomic bomb would have appeared at its proper stage on the path of scientific discovery from atom to atomic bomb. Whereas in modern age the stage of atomic bomb arrived after about three centuries from the revival of atomism, in ancient times it probably might have taken a little longer, though its appearance was a certainty. The discovery of atom on the course of atomism certainly leads to atomic bomb. If, on the other hand the ancient world had adopted the atomic-energy-for-peace and had abstained from the atomic war, even then, mankind would have been long extinct on earth, and no modern age would have appeared. Thanks only to the reproached laxity of Epicureans in scientific investigation and the general uncogeniality of the atmosphere to the growth of atomism that the pre modern world was saved from the destruction by the atomic bombs, and atomic radiations.

            Both the scientific and the philosophic sides of atomism in modern age progressed side by side in complete mutual harmony and whereas the scientific side beginning with Dalton’s atomic hypothesis (1803) ended after innumerable intermediate stages in the appearance of the atomic bomb (1945), the philosophic influence of atomism has not only provided the necessary urge for the advancement of the scientific side but also has created the necessary atmosphere to ultimately bring about the catastrophic display of the atomic bomb. The logical and scientific consequences of atomism must inevitably appear. The ravenous material utility of the works of God in the plague of atomism spread throughout the world to the extent, and compelled every community to adopt materialism for survival and existence in the prevailing atmosphere to appoint that attempts through sporadic and meagre, have even been made by some to interpret the Quran in conformity to materialism after the Baconian interpretation of the Bible thinking that because the Quran had allowed the material utility of the works of God for the necessities of life, the material progress of this present age too was exactly in conformity to the view of the Quran. Time, however, and the experience be the judge to announce the error of such a view either under the hail of atomic bombs or in the invisible network of deadly atomic radiations when the reality of the materio-spiritual balance of the teachings of the Quran may appear in its true form, but then to what avail. The stock-piles then today exist in the world are enough to destroy this world  many times and there is little time left to judge the teachings of the Quran on this point and react accordingly. May be that the judgement is near at hand and this world will soon be, found on fire.

            There can be no doubt that the pioneers of modern atomism who happened to venture at adopting the long-lost theory, did so solely for its capacity as an instrument of scientific description and discovery in the field of material progress. They being aware of its atheistic aspects, did revive it with caution and with a belief that the associated factor of atheism could be and was to be segregated. This indeed was the view of Pierre Gassandi to whom goes the credit of introducing the theory of atomism in the modern age. This was the view also of Ralph Cudword who otherwise represented atomism as the best system on which to explain all processes not involving vital phenomena, and reiterated his belief that atomism could have no necessary connection with atheism. And this indeed was the belief of most of those pioneers who adopted the theory of atomism, Bacon the ablest and the most discriminating of all the advocates of atomism had a full realisation of some of the dangers of atomism. We understand this from his fears and apprehension. He expressed the shortcomings of the theory and the short-sightedness of his fellow-humans. Unfortunately once the humanity adopted the theory, it went into their brains like wine and caused them to forget every thing except this world and this life. The pioneers had expected faith to exercise as a balancing power against the purely material aspect of atomism, but their hopes proved false and religion lost its ground and the materialistic atomism prevailed throughout. Once the forces of atomism were let loose on earth, every thought of faith, resurrection, judgement, and life in heaven was expelled from human mind and human race turned into a race of wisdomized beasts, selfish and cruel to the possible extremes. All the dead of the past ignorant ages would rush out of their graves in panic at the site of a city in the flaming grip of an atomic explosion, while the home of this present generation has the heart to roast all this mankind alive in the atomic hell without so much as a wrinkle on his brow. Yet with the knowledge that his own destruction too was inevitable along with that of others.



          Newton and Boyle both believed that matter was atomic but the atomic theory was not systematically adopted in Chemistry until it was taken up by John Dalton (1766-1844). Dalton’s modernisation of the long neglected atomic theory, marked the end of the previous epoch which has begun with Copernicus, three centuries ago. Dalton’s chief contentions are as follows:-

(a)        Matter consists of atoms, which cannot be created or destroyed. Chemical change consists in the combination of atoms which were previously apart, or the separation of those which were combined. There is no change in the atoms themselves.

(b)        The atoms of a given element, are all exactly alike; and they differ, practically in weight, from those of any other elements. It has been necessary to extend and modify this original hypothesis; but in modern dress they still play a vital part in chemical theory.

            The theory of atomism fell on its path to atom bomb unexpectedly. The atomic theory fell on the path of atom bomb with almost accidental discovery of rays in 1895 by the German Physicist Roentgen. These rays he named as X-rays. This initiated a period of unprecedented progress in physical science. In seeking a possible connection between phosphorescence and x-rays, the French Physicist Becquerel chose by a mere chance, Uranium Nitrate as the substance for investigation and was led unexpectedly in 1896; to the discovery of Radio-activity. This in its turn soon led to the discovery of Radium by Pierre and Madame Curie. In 1905 Einstein enunciated the theory of special relativity and as a consequence from it established the equivalence between mass and energy. The great work of Rutherford on radiations (named by him as Alpha, Beta, and Gamma rays) emitted from radio-active bodies eventually led to the concept of atom as made up of a central core, the nucleus  (that is the heart) with electrons revolving around it ; “a solar system in miniature”. Bohr incorporated the quantum hypothesis of plank and Einstein into the Rutherford’s atom modal and thus formulated his far reaching quantum theory of the atom. In 1919 Rutherford for the first time, achieved the disintegration of an element (Nitrogen) by bombarding it with Alpha particles. A cloud chamber photograph of the same process was soon provided by Blacket. Chadwick, working in Rutherford’s laboratories discovered the neutron in 1932. In the same year and in the same laboratory Crockcroft and Walten brought about the first artificial nuclear transmutation by bombarding lithium with protons accelerated to less than a million volts. New discoveries followed in rapid succession.           

            The phenomenon of Uranium fission was discovered by the German Physical Chemists Hahn and Strassman in 1938. The extraordinary significance of the discovery was soon realised and led to a period of intense activity in the study of atomic nuclei. By 1940 more than a hundred papers had appeared on this subject. Soon after the whole subject went underground, and no further reference appeared in open scientific literature till the end of the war.

            Although the basic discoveries leading to the realisation of the atomic energy came practically all from western Europe, it was not western Europe, but, the USA (soon followed by USSR) which with its colossal industrial and scientific resources, was the first to harness this basic knowledge to practical ends.

            On August 2, 1939, Albert Einstein wrote his now famous letter to President Roosevelt drawing his attention to the possibility as then indicated by some work of Fermi and Szillard of utilising the phenomenon of Uranium fission, for the construction of extremely powerful (weight for weight) bombs of a new type, a million times more powerful than conventional bombs  “Single bomb of this type carried by boat and exploded in a port, might very well destroy the whole port together with some of the surrounding territory”, said Einstein. The US Government decided to explore the possibility seriously. The first successful realisation of a (slow neutron) fission chain reaction in the graphite-pile built in a converted Suqash court of the University of Chicago’s stagg-field was achieved by Fermi on December 2, 1942. It is a landmark in the history of nuclear science. It led to the construction of a gigantic plant at Handord on the banks of the Columbia river for the production of Plutonium. Following the work of Uranium diffusion, a plant for the production of Uranium-235 from natural Uranium was built at Oakridge. Another plant at Oakridge produced Uranium-235 employing the principle of electro-magnetic separation. The designing of a workable atom bomb was entrusted to the New Loss Alamos Laboratory (New Mexico) working under the leadership of Oppenheimer. Three bombs were produced by the Middle of 1945. One made of Plutonium was tested on the ground at the Alamogordo sands on July 16, 1945. The other two were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 and 9, 1945. Fermi who had achieved first fission chain reaction successfully, failed to achieve a protection against the deleterious reaction of radiations he had played with, and soon succumbed to radiation sickness.

            August 6, 1945, is an unforgettable date. It was on the early morning of this tragic day that the first atomic (U-235) bomb fell on Hiroshima, killing 78,000 men and injuring another 37,000. The second atomic bomb (PU-239) was dropped on Nagasaki on August 9, 1945. The number killed was 24,000 and injured 23,000. The two bombs were about the same power, equivalent to 20 kilotons of TNT, but due to the rather uneven terrain in Nagasaki casualties were less there. The bombs were exploded at about 2,000 feet above ground to obtain as nearly as possible, the maximum area of damage due to the blast of the explosion. The death rate was above 90 percent within half a mile of ground zero (the point on the ground immediately below the burst), above 50 percent between half a mile and one and a half miles. Structural damage was complete including collapse of earthquake resistant reinforced concrete buildings within half a mile from ground zero, and most of the houses within one and a half miles were destroyed. Houses up to two miles were badly damaged, and slightly damaged upto about three miles. The explosion because of the very high temperature produced, emitted intense heat radiation causing fatal burns (and almost instantaneous deaths, due to the intense heat and stock of the Heat-flash) to exposed persons within about three quarters of a mile of ground zero. Though in general most of Japanese atom bomb casualties were due to the combined effects of burns and mechanical injuries, it is estimated that about 60 percent of the deaths (and at least 75 percent of all casualties) were due to burning (heat-flash and fires), about 20 percent due to physical injuries from falling structures and flying debris (as a result of blast damage) and 20 percent due to other causes including nuclear radiation. The damages such as these indeed sounded terrible, and the figures imposing, but the later developments in nuclear weapons have dwarfed the Hiroshima Nagasaki bombs into mere toy bombs. The damages expected from the thermonuclear giant bombs are of a quite different calibre. They destroy, not cities but states.


The first Soviet atomic that is ordinary fission (like the Hiroshima bomb) explosion took place in August 1949. It was first announced on September 23, 1949, by President Truman, that US Government had incontrovertible proof that the Russians had detonated a fission device. The US Government immediately decided to go on in for the thermonuclear bomb (the so called H or Super bomb). And on January 31, 1950, Truman directed the atomic energy Commission (with David Lilienthal as Chairman), and it’s general advisory Committee (with Robert Oppenheimer as Chairman) where opinions on the speed and scale of the efforts to go on into the super had been sharply divided. The conscience of the scientists was perhaps put to severe test. After having seen the catastrophe in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, even the considerations of the national defence could with some difficulty induced some scientists to produce yet another even more terrific atomic bomb than the Hiroshima patterns. Conscience after all smites and its stings may be painful. Also there was another consideration, Namely, that producing more powerful atomic bombs was no remedy for the great wrong which had been done already by the production of nuclear weapons. The production of a more powerful atomic bomb no doubt meant to bring even greater destruction on their own people, for, a greater bomb would be retaliated by yet greater bomb. The plea of national defence however superseded every other consideration, and a very brilliant and indeed very enthusiastic atomist by the name of Edward Teller, successfully experimented a thermonuclear device at Marshall Islands on Ist November, 1952. On November 1,1952 the USA first tested at Marshal Islands in the Pacific Ocean, the thermonuclear device (Mike); Russia followed the suit. The first soviet thermonuclear explosion took place in August, 1953. The USA set off a powerful thermonuclear explosion at Bikini Atoll on March 1,1954. The energy of the explosion being equivalent to about 15 megatons of TNT. In November, 1955, the Russians has a thermonuclear explosion about as powerful as the USA test of March, 1954. Britain, France, China India and Israel came in the wake like the legendary all the five riders from Delhi.

            It was during the March 1954 explosion at Bikini Atoll in Pacific Ocean that a really grim fact dawned on the atomic powers to their horror, namely that the atomic bomb was a very treacherous slave. It could also rebound towards its own master who had unleashed it on his foe, and thus bring about the ruin of both, nay, even of other neutral peoples all over the globe. It so happened that a Japanese fishing boat with a crew of 23 was lying at distance of 90 miles from the testing site. The misfortune of this “Fortunate Dragon”,  that was the name of this boat,  appeared in the form of a powdery fallout of the explosion and began to settle on it to announce to the world that the thermonuclear bomb constituted a serious radiological hazard that could not be kept secret. The frightened crew of the boat rushed towards Japan, and sailing a distance of 2,000 miles in about 13 days reached the port, all sick with radiation. There, the radio-operator died after a few months, but the rest were saved eventually, it was however, proved beyond any doubt that no secrecy could be maintained about the thermonuclear explosion. The news about the potential hazard of radioactive fallout from thermonuclear weapons burst out of deep secrecy. Twenty three Japanese fishermen announced to the world the first fateful news about the lurking catastrophe that lay in wait for all of us. All the official secrecy proved inept, and the inscrutable providence of God, decided otherwise. And when the secret came out, through unexpected channels, the shock of the world opinion rivalled the blast of the Hydrogen bomb itself. It was also proved that no one on the entire earth was safe from the radiational hazards of the thermonuclear bomb explosion, for the air currents in the upper regions of atmosphere circulated the fallout of the thermonuclear bomb around the earth, the fallout gradually settling all over the globe.

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