The first "atomic theorists" we have any record of were two fifth-century BC Greeks, Leucippus of Miletus and Democritus of Abdera. Their theories were naturally more philosophical than experimental in origin. The basic idea was that if you could look at matter on smaller and smaller scales ultimately you would see individual atoms - objects that could not be divided further. Everything was made up of these atoms, which moved around in a void. The different physical properties -- color, taste, and so on -- of materials came about because atoms in them had different shapes and/or arrangements and orientations with respect to each other.The recent brouhaha on this blog about atheism got me to thinking about this. We allow for evolution of scientific thought, but not always for theological thought. That is, we don't mock Niels Bohr for his misconceptions about the atom, but we sometimes make fun of Moses or the medieval popes for things they said and did which we now know to have been incorrect. Perhaps a better way to say this would be that we don't consult texts from 1850 when we want to understand chemistry, we pick up the latest textbooks we can find. It would seem reasonable to do the same for theology.
Monday, August 02, 2010
The Evolution of Atomic Theory
Over on the University of Virginia's website, there's a great page discussing the evolution of the theory of the atom. Here's the start.