Intelligent Design Philosophy Religion Science

Renowned chemist on why only science can answer the Big Questions

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Cover for Conjuring the Universe Peter Atkins, author of Atkins’ Physical Chemistry (11th edition, 2017) and Conjuring the Universe (2018), divides the Big Questions into two classes:

One class consists of invented questions that are often based on unwarranted extrapolations of human experience. They typically include questions of purpose and worries about the annihilation of the self, such as Why are we here? and What are the attributes of the soul? They are not real questions, because they are not based on evidence. Thus, as there is no evidence for the Universe having a purpose, there is no point in trying to establish its purpose or to explore the consequences of that purported purpose. As there is no evidence for the existence of a soul (except in a metaphorical sense), there is no point in spending time wondering what the properties of that soul might be should the concept ever be substantiated. Most questions of this class are a waste of time; and because they are not open to rational discourse, at worst they are resolved only by resort to the sword, the bomb or the flame.

The second class of big questions concerns features of the Universe for which there is evidence other than wish-fulfilling speculation and the stimulation provided by the study of sacred texts. They include investigations into the origin of the Universe, and specifically how it is that there is something rather than nothing, the details of the structure of the Universe (particularly the relative strengths of the fundamental forces and the existence of the fundamental particles), and the nature of consciousness. These are all real big questions and, in my view, are open to scientific elucidation … Of course, foothills have given way to mountains, and rapid progress cannot be expected in the final push.  Peter Atkins, “Why it’s only science that can answer all the big questions” at Aeon

So, having decided that only the questions that can be researched via the scientific method are important Big Questions, Atkins can safely conclude that all the important Big Questions are the ones that can be researched via the scientific method. It’s nice work if you can get it.

Why didn’t anyone think of this before?

See also: Where did the laws of nature come from?: Astrophysicist Hugh Ross vs chemist Peter Atkins

Oldie but goodie (1998): William Lane Craig vs. Peter Atkins

and

Debate between Alister McGrath and Peter Atkins

6 Replies to “Renowned chemist on why only science can answer the Big Questions

  1. 1
    kairosfocus says:

    News, Naturalism in action again through its handmaiden self-referentially incoherent scientism; with a hint or two of long dead zombie, namely the even more self-refuting logical positivism. Atkins — and hey I studied from that book (much earlier edn) — needs to ponder on warrant in science thus credibility of mindedness thence the challenge of GIGO-limited computation vs genuinely responsible, rational contemplation and what sort of being must exist to actually be able to do science. That reflection will bring to the fore all the questions he would sweep up and consign to the dustbin. KF

  2. 2

    Of course, foothills have given way to mountains, and rapid progress cannot be expected in the final push

    Ahh sweet. A little color to couch the hot air.

    I wonder if dear Peter knows how the semantic closure of the cell was dynamically described.

  3. 3
    mike1962 says:

    Science can answer all kinds of things.

    But not consciousness.

  4. 4
    bornagain77 says:

    Funny, he argues that science cannot answer questions about purpose and the existence of the soul but then goes on to claim that,

    “there is no evidence for the Universe having a purpose, there is no point in trying to establish its purpose or to explore the consequences of that purported purpose. As there is no evidence for the existence of a soul”

    … Apparently he thinks that science has answered those questions and the answers have, in his opinion, come back negative.

    He can’t have it both ways.

    Moreover, contrary to what he may believe, modern science has overwhelmingly revealed that our lives do indeed have real meaning, value and purpose. ,,, And has even revealed, via quantum biology, that we have a fundamental transcendent component to our being that is capable of living past the death of our material bodies, i.e. that we have a “soul”

    A few notes to that effect:

    Atheistic Materialism vs Meaning, Value, and Purpose in Our Lives – video
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aqUxBSbFhog

    Darwinian Materialism vs. Quantum Biology – video
    https://youtu.be/LHdD2Am1g5Y

    Of supplemental note:

    Copernican Principle, Agent Causality, and Jesus Christ as the “Theory of Everything”
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NziDraiPiOw

    Cosmic Microwave Background Proves Intelligent Design (disproves Copernican principle) (clip of “The Principle”) – video
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=htV8WTyo4rw

    Quantum Mechanics, Special Relativity, General Relativity and Christianity – video
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h4QDy1Soolo

    Verse:

    Colossians 1:15-20
    The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

  5. 5
    EugeneS says:

    Peter finds a spade in the garden and thinks that just because it consists of molecules he understands how it came to be.

  6. 6
    Dean_from_Ohio says:

    EugeneS @ 5,

    Peter finds a spade in the garden and thinks that just because it consists of molecules he understands how it came to be.

    He then takes the spade to the stables and fulfills his purpose in answer to the Tiny question, “Why am I here?”

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