Atomism and Quantum Mechanics

Lucretius (c.100-c.55BC), chief proponent of atomism, still offers the prevailing world view of reality. No less than twelve English translations of his poem "On the Nature of Things" are readily available in print, the most recent being published in 1995.

Lucretius admired Greek science and the hedonistic philosophy of Epicurus. All thinking men have a world view that includes some explanation of the physical world. In the 5th century B.C., some Greeks reasoned that matter cannot be infinitely divisible, and they called the smallest particles in nature "atoms.'' Modern science has found considerable evidence that the division of matter into smaller and smaller pieces has a limit. Many Greeks believed that atoms "existed from eternity, for they had not been created." Lucretius supposed, in like manner, that nothing is ever annihilated and that matter exists in the form of invisible atoms.

While matter was considered to be eternal, in the atomistic view, life itself was not: "The [atomists] supposed that life had developed out of a primeval slime, man as well as animals and plants. Man was a microcosm of the universe, for he contained every kind of atom." As this is the viewpoint of modern evolutionists, the reader may appreciate that Lucretius, not Darwin, has been the principal spokesman for evolution during the last two millennia.

No one should contend that a scientific theory of matter has no bearing on his religious and moral views. The implied purpose of "On the Nature of Things" was to combat what Lucretius perceived to be the bondage of religion. In the second stanza of his poem he claimed that "human life lay foul before men's eyes, crushed to the dust beneath religion's weight.'' The Greeks admired by Lucretius "used the atomic philosophy mainly to combat religion, not to extend man's understanding and control of nature."

Lucretius favored the atomistic worldview because he found in it a theory of matter to explain the origin of man's "free will'' and escape moral constraints. Although Democritus originally taught that the natural motion of atoms is straight downward, Epicurus reasoned that sometimes, by chance, atoms might deviate from their normal path. Such a deviation was "without the intervention of any outside force or guiding intelligence". This so-called "stroke of genius" by Epicurus was supposed to account for the observed variety of chemical compounds, animal life, and even "free-will" decisions of man through the laws of chance. Modern atomists also believe that elementary particles, such as electrons, spontaneously deviate from prescribed paths about the nucleus due to the random nature of the quantum wave function; they call this theory "quantum mechanics."

The atomistic view is not universally accepted, but is opposed by the Judeo-Christian worldview with its underlying assumptions, the chief of these being the Law of Cause and Effect. This law is rejected both by ancient and modern atomists who insist, wrongly, that elementary particles are subject to the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, that they emit light spontaneously and move randomly, that life arose by chance and evolved into its current forms by chance processes. At the turn of the century, new discoveries in physics came so fast that scientists were unable to explain the experimental data solely on the basis of classical physics and the established laws of physics. So, around 1920, when atomists were able to explain newly discovered characteristics of light and matter by the use of mathematical equations (instead of physical models consistent with proven laws), modern science adopted the atomistic world view.

A few examples illustrate the atomistic approach. Modern physicists assume the electron has no size; but, the point particle approximation commonly made for the electron is a figment of our imagination. A point cannot have a magnetic moment or angular momentum, though experiments show the electron to have both. Electron scattering experiments have shown that all the elementary particles have finite size. Atoms are said to have orbiting electrons, though proven laws of science require a charged orbiting particle to radiate energy and spiral into the nucleus. Atomists simply postulate that atoms with orbiting electrons are stable.

While the Standard Model postulates that electrons have inertial mass as an assumed or inherent property, the law of cause and effect requires an explanation that is consistent with proven laws. Common Sense Science and the Judeo-Christian world view are rational approaches with reasons for events such as particle motion and emission of light.

Atomism is incompatible with Judeo-Christian principles because atomism views matter as independent of God, either because it exists from eternity and denies creation by an Intelligent Designer, or because its motions and events are independent of control by a Sovereign Being.