On Being: A Scientist's Exploration of the Great Questions of Existence

On Being: A Scientist's Exploration of the Great Questions of Existence

by Peter Atkins


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Peter Atkins is the shining exception to the rule that scientists make poor writers. A Fellow at Oxford and a leading chemist, he has won admiration for his precise, lucid, and yet rigorous explanations of science. Now he turns his forensic mind to the greatest—and most controversial—questions of human existence: birth, death, the origin of reality, and its end.

In On Being, Atkins makes a provocative contribution to the great debate between religion and science. Atkins makes his position clear from the very first sentence: "The scientific method can shed light on every and any concept, even those that have troubled humans since the earliest stirrings of consciousness," he writes. He takes a materialist approach to the great questions of being that have inspired myth and religion, seeking to "dispel their mystery without diminishing their grandeur." In placing scientific knowledge in such cosmic perspective, he takes us on an often dizzying tour of existence. For example, he argues that "the substrate of existence is nothing at all." The total electrical charge of the universe, among other things, must be nothing—zero—he writes, or else the universe would have blasted itself apart. "Charge was not created at the creation: electrical Nothing separated into equal and opposite charges." He explores breathtaking questions—asking the purpose of the universe—with wit and learning, touching on Sanskrit scriptures and John Updike along the way.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780199660544
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Publication date: 11/08/2012
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 128
Sales rank: 812,869
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 7.70(h) x 0.50(d)

About the Author

Peter Atkins is Fellow of Lincoln College, University of Oxford. A leading chemist and writer of widely adopted textbooks, he is the author of Galileo's Finger and Four Laws, among other works.

Table of Contents

1. Creation
2. Evolution
3. Birth
4. Death
5. Ending

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On Being: A Scientist's Exploration of the Great Questions of Existence 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
the.ken.petersen on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Do you ever find your views being shaped by the unreasonableness of the argument being presented to you? I mean, someone arguing that all religious views are childish giving one a desire to consider creationism, or an overzealous liberal leading to a momentary questioning of the equality of coloured people, or women? If you answered, "Yes", you are beginning to know the effect that this book had upon me. Mr. Atkins presents his views as the hight of reasonableness and is careful not to insult other views. No, he does not insult, he patronises: science has theories, religion has myths. If I understand his views, he believes that a guiding hand to the creation of the universe is disproved by the scientific theory that everything tends to 'purposeless decay'. Everything, that is, except for the human mind (why is that different, apart from the fact that to argue such would mean that Mr Atkins mind and its products would also be purposeless). A lack of purpose indicates to me a random state. If the universe were random, then science could not exist. Science depends upon a rational cause and effect system.Mr. Atkins finally gives the game away in the final paragraph of this work, the opening words of which are, "My own faith, my scientific faith....". Voltaire famously said that if God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him. This is what much of science has done over recent years; it decries religion but insists upon the sacrosanct nature of its theories (not proven facts) - even when they contradict each other. I stand to be corrected, but I believe that gravity makes it impossible for the laws of quantum physics to work. Both are lynch pins to our current scientific knowledge so, we sweep this unfortunate fact under the table.You see, I knew what this book would achieve, I sound like some fundamentalist religious nutcase, threatening death to anyone who questions a word of my chosen Holy book: not a bit, I am a Christian, but I believe that evolution has some truth in it. I accept, without question, that the earth revolves around the sun, etc., etc.... Science (like religion) should get its own house in order. When Mr Atkins can prove that the world was created in a fashion that precludes God, then he may ridicule my views until then, he should take a scientific approach and not pre-judge the outcome.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I great start for anyone ready to understand why things are and why myth no longer answers the question of our existence.