Tag Archives: Peter Atkins

Science as the best, possibly only, way to truth

Here’s a brief essay by Peter Atkins, formerly Professor of Chemistry at Lincoln College, Oxford. Titled Science as Truth, Atkins tells it like it is, without compromising.

Bound to upset some people?

Peter Atkins: Science as Truth

Thanks to The Call of Troythulu at Peter Atkins: “Science As Truth”

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From “Grand Design” to “On Being”

In recent months Stephen Hawking has been “fair game” for theologians, philosophers of religion and even some philosophers of science. Basically because of pre-publication publicity around his book (with co-author Leonard MlodinowThe Grand Design . I suggested this attention will soon switch to Peter Atkins when his new book On Being: A Scientist’s Exploration of the Great Questions of Existencebecomes available over the next few months (see On being philosophical about science). Like The Grand Design, Atkins’ book will be unpalatable to theologians and “philosophers of religion. It may also brush some philosophers up the wrong way.

To clear the decks, as it were, for the coming theological onslaught I am responding here to some of the criticisms made of The Grand Design, and Stephen Hawking. Actually, I am sure some of the future flack over Atkins’ book will concentrate on similar issues.

Overall, I think The Grand Design is a very readable book providing a brief overview of current ideas about the origin of the unvierse. It also gives a history of science and the philosophy of science. Don’t expect any details (it’s only 180 pages long) but it is certainly thought provoking. And, yeah, what an inappropriate title – presumably chosen for publicity reasons.

But what about the criticisms of the book? These are mainly around a few issues. Often really just around quotes from the book used for publicity purposes. Inevitably such criticisms lack context. Here are my comments on them:

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On being philosophical about science

Professor Peter Atkins

Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow stirred things up recently with the publication of their book “The Grand Design.” Apparently some of the theologically inclined were offended by the book title and the publicity where Hawking was quoted as saying “It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going.” He also upset some philosophers with his statement in the book “Philosophy has not kept up with modern developments in science, particularly physics. Scientists have become the bearers of the torch of discovery in our quest for knowledge.” (see The Grand Design – neither God nor 42 and An unnecessary being?).

Now it looks like Professor Peter Atkins will soon be the centre of a similar controversy. His new book On Being: A Scientist’s Exploration of the Great Questions of Existence in the next few months (17 March 2011 in the UK and May 1 in the USA).

The publishers say:

“In this short book Peter Atkins considers the universal questions to which religions have claimed answers. With economy, wit, and elegance, unswerving before awkward realities, Atkins presents what science has to say. While acknowledging the comfort some find in belief, he declares his own faith in science’s capacity to reveal the deepest truths.”

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The purpose of purpose

dawkins lectureMy previous post on Purpose seems, from the discussion, to have hit a raw spot with some people. Just to add fuel to the fire, have a look at this video of Richard Dawkin’s’ recent presentation during his March USA tour. Entitled “Purpose of Purpose” he discusses how the word is often used inappropriately. Along the lies of the theological “why” questions. Quoting Peter Atkins he points out that often “why” questions are just silly.

However, Dawkins does point out that humans are obsessed with purpose, and discusses why that may be so. He describes how purpose has evolved and why the human brain can derive humanitarian and religious purposes which are not necessarily seen as evolutionary adaptions.

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Scientific prejudice?

This was the last presentation at the recent Beyond Belief: Candles in the Dark conference.

Peter Atkins does upset some people. Although he is intentionally provocative (his presentation is entitled “Pride in Prejudice”), I think his science is sound.

Atkins was Professor of Chemistry at the University of Oxford from 1965 until his retirement in 2007. He is the author of over 60 books including Four Laws That Drive the Universe; Galileo’s Finger: The Ten Great Ideas of Science; and the world-renowned textbook Physical Chemistry. He is involved in a variety of international activities including chairing the Committee on Chemistry Education of the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry and organizing the Malta series of conferences.

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