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Home > Dictionary of Science Quotations > Scientist Names Index A > Peter William Atkins Quotes

Peter William Atkins
(10 Aug 1940 - )

English physical chemist and writer who joined the faculty of the University of Oxford in 1965 and shortly afterwards began writing textbooks in his subject at high school, college and graduate levels and became Editor of Oxford Chemistry series. Later, he turned to topics accessible to the layman, including Creation Revisited (1992), The Periodic Kingdom(1995), Galileo's Finger (2003) and Four Laws That Drive the Universe (2007).

Science Quotes by Peter William Atkins (20 quotes)

A great deal of the universe does not need any explanation. Elephants, for instance. Once molecules have learnt to compete and to create other molecules in their own image, elephants, and things resembling elephants, will in due course be found roaming around the countryside ... Some of the things resembling elephants will be men.
— Peter William Atkins
The Creation (1981), 3.
Science quotes on:  |  Creation (211)  |  Man (345)  |  Molecule (125)

I have presented the periodic table as a kind of travel guide to an imaginary country, of which the elements are the various regions. This kingdom has a geography: the elements lie in particular juxtaposition to one another, and they are used to produce goods, much as a prairie produces wheat and a lake produces fish. It also has a history. Indeed, it has three kinds of history: the elements were discovered much as the lands of the world were discovered; the kingdom was mapped, just as the world was mapped, and the relative positions of the elements came to take on a great significance; and the elements have their own cosmic history, which can be traced back to the stars.
— Peter William Atkins
In The Periodic Kingdom: A Journey Into the Land of the Chemical Elements (1995), Preface, viii.
Science quotes on:  |  Cosmic (34)  |  Country (121)  |  Discover (115)  |  Element (129)  |  Fish (85)  |  Geography (25)  |  Goods (6)  |  Guide (46)  |  History (302)  |  Imaginary (10)  |  Juxtaposition (2)  |  Kingdom (34)  |  Lake (12)  |  Land (83)  |  Map (21)  |  Periodic Table (13)  |  Position (54)  |  Prairie (3)  |  Produce (63)  |  Region (26)  |  Relative (24)  |  Significance (60)  |  Star (251)  |  Trace (39)  |  Travel (40)  |  Various (25)  |  Wheat (8)  |  World (667)

It’s a vacuous answer … To say that “God made the world” is simply a more or less sophisticated way of saying that we don't understand how the universe originated. A god, in so far as it is anything, is an admission of ignorance.
— Peter William Atkins
From Speech, Annual Meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science. As quoted in 'Professor Says Science Rules Out Belief in God', The Telegraph (11 Sep 1996). As cited in John C. Weaver and John David Weaver, Christianity and Science (1973, 1984), 22.
Science quotes on:  |  Admission (10)  |  Answer (201)  |  Ignorance (190)  |  Originate (14)  |  Science And Religion (267)  |  Simply (34)  |  Sophisticated (11)  |  Understand (189)  |  Universe (563)  |  Vacuous (2)  |  World (667)

Many consider that the conflict of religion and science is a temporary phase, and that in due course the two mighty rivers of human understanding will merge into an even mightier Amazon of comprehension. I take the opposite view, that reconciliation is impossible. I consider that Science is mightier than the Word, and that the river of religion will (or, at least, should) atrophy and die.
— Peter William Atkins
In 'Religion - The Antithesis to Science', Chemistry & Industry (Feb 1997).
Science quotes on:  |  Amazon (6)  |  Atrophy (5)  |  Comprehension (51)  |  Conflict (49)  |  Die (46)  |  Human (445)  |  Impossible (68)  |  Merge (2)  |  Phase (14)  |  Reconciliation (9)  |  River (68)  |  Science And Religion (267)  |  Temporary (13)  |  Understanding (317)  |  Word (221)

My aim is to argue that the universe can come into existence without intervention, and that there is no need to invoke the idea of a Supreme Being in one of its numerous manifestations.
— Peter William Atkins
In The Creation (1981), Preface, vii. As quoted and cited in Karl W. Giberson and Donald A. Yerxa, Species of Origins: America's Search for a Creation Story (2002), 126 and footnote, 146.
Science quotes on:  |  Existence (254)  |  God (454)  |  Idea (440)  |  Intervention (8)  |  Invoke (2)  |  Need (211)  |  Science And Religion (267)  |  Universe (563)

No other part of science has contributed as much to the liberation of the human spirit as the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Yet, at the same time, few other parts of science are held to be so recondite. Mention of the Second Law raises visions of lumbering steam engines, intricate mathematics, and infinitely incomprehensible entropy. Not many would pass C.P. Snow’s test of general literacy, in which not knowing the Second Law is equivalent to not having read a work of Shakespeare.
— Peter William Atkins
In The Second Law (1984), Preface, vii.
Science quotes on:  |  Contribution (49)  |  Entropy (40)  |  Human Spirit (8)  |  Incomprehensible (9)  |  Intricate (14)  |  Liberation (8)  |  Literacy (7)  |  Mathematics (587)  |  Obscure (19)  |  Read (83)  |  Science (1699)  |  Second Law Of Thermodynamics (13)  |  William Shakespeare (90)  |  Steam Engine (41)  |  Test (96)

Religion closes off the central questions of existence by attempting to dissuade us from further enquiry by asserting that we cannot ever hope to comprehend. We are, religion asserts, simply too puny.
— Peter William Atkins
Essay collected in John Cornwell (ed.), 'The Limitless Power of Science', Nature's Imagination: The Frontiers of Scientific Vision (1995), 125.
Science quotes on:  |  Assert (11)  |  Attempt (94)  |  Central (23)  |  Close (40)  |  Comprehend (19)  |  Enquiry (75)  |  Existence (254)  |  Hope (129)  |  Puny (5)  |  Question (315)  |  Science And Religion (267)  |  Simply (34)

Religion is the antithesis of science; science is competent to illuminate all the deep questions of existence, and does so in a manner that makes full use of, and respects the human intellect. I see neither need nor sign of any future reconciliation.
— Peter William Atkins
In 'Religion - The Antithesis to Science', Chemistry & Industry (Feb 1997).
Science quotes on:  |  Antithesis (5)  |  Competent (10)  |  Existence (254)  |  Future (229)  |  Human (445)  |  Illuminate (12)  |  Intellect (157)  |  Need (211)  |  Question (315)  |  Reconciliation (9)  |  Science And Religion (267)  |  See (197)  |  Sign (36)

Religion, in contrast to science, deploys the repugnant view that the world is too big for our understanding. Science, in contrast to religion, opens up the great questions of being to rational discussion, to discussion with the prospect of resolution and elucidation.
— Peter William Atkins
Essay collected in John Cornwell (ed.), 'The Limitless Power of Science', Nature's Imagination: The Frontiers of Scientific Vision (1995), 125.
Science quotes on:  |  Contrast (16)  |  Deploy (2)  |  Discussion (37)  |  Elucidation (6)  |  Prospect (19)  |  Question (315)  |  Rational (42)  |  Religion And Science (6)  |  Repugnant (4)  |  Resolution (16)  |  Understanding (317)  |  View (115)  |  World (667)

Science, above all, respects the power of the human intellect. Science is the apotheosis of the intellect and the consummation of the Renaissance. Science respects more deeply the potential of humanity than religion ever can.
— Peter William Atkins
Essay collected in John Cornwell (ed.), 'The Limitless Power of Science', Nature's Imagination: The Frontiers of Scientific Vision (1995), 125.
Science quotes on:  |  Apotheosis (2)  |  Consummation (4)  |  Human (445)  |  Humanity (104)  |  Intellect (157)  |  Potential (34)  |  Renaissance (8)  |  Science And Religion (267)

Someone with a fresh mind, one not conditioned by upbringing and environment, would doubtless look at science and the powerful reductionism that it inspires as overwhelmingly the better mode of understanding the world, and would doubtless scorn religion as sentimental wishful thinking.
— Peter William Atkins
Essay collected in John Cornwell (ed.), 'The Limitless Power of Science', Nature's Imagination: The Frontiers of Scientific Vision (1995), 123.
Science quotes on:  |  Fresh (21)  |  Mind (544)  |  Reductionism (4)  |  Religion (210)  |  Science (1699)  |  Science And Religion (267)  |  Scorn (6)  |  Sentimental (2)  |  Thinking (222)  |  Understanding (317)  |  Wishful (5)

That only Galileo’s physical finger is preserved but the descendants of his techniques thrive is also symbolic of the transitoriness of personal existence in contrast to the immortality of knowledge.
— Peter William Atkins
In Galileo's Finger: The Ten Great Ideas of Science (2003), 1.
Science quotes on:  |  Contrast (16)  |  Descendant (12)  |  Existence (254)  |  Finger (38)  |  Galileo Galilei (101)  |  Immortality (9)  |  Knowledge (1128)  |  Personal (49)  |  Preserve (38)  |  Symbol (35)  |  Technique (41)  |  Thrive (6)  |  Transitory (3)

The general disposition of the land [in the Periodic Kingdom] is one of metals in the west, giving way, as you travel eastward, to a varied landscape of nonmetals, which terminates in largely inert elements at the eastern shoreline. To the south of the mainland, there is an offshore island, which we shall call the Southern Island. It consists entirely of metals of subtly modulated personality. North of the mainland, situated rather like Iceland off the northwestern edge of Europe, lies a single, isolated region-hydrogen. This simple but gifted element is an essential outpost of the kingdom, for despite its simplicity it is rich in chemical personality. It is also the most abundant element in the universe and the fuel of the stars.
— Peter William Atkins
In The Periodic Kingdom: A Journey Into the Land of the Chemical Elements (1995), 9.
Science quotes on:  |  Abundant (3)  |  Chemical (72)  |  Element (129)  |  Essential (87)  |  Fuel (27)  |  Gifted (5)  |  Hydrogen (37)  |  Inert (9)  |  Island (17)  |  Kingdom (34)  |  Landscape (23)  |  Metal (38)  |  Outpost (2)  |  Periodic Table (13)  |  Personality (40)  |  Rich (48)  |  Simple (111)  |  Star (251)  |  Universe (563)  |  Varied (4)

The techniques and criteria of religion and science are so extraordinarily different. Science seeks simplicity publicly and encourages the overthrow of authority; religion accepts complexity privately and encourages deference to authority.
— Peter William Atkins
In 'Religion - The Antithesis to Science', Chemistry & Industry (Feb 1997).
Science quotes on:  |  Accept (37)  |  Authority (50)  |  Complexity (80)  |  Criterion (10)  |  Deference (2)  |  Different (110)  |  Encourage (16)  |  Extraordinary (32)  |  Overthrow (4)  |  Publicly (3)  |  Religion (210)  |  Science And Religion (267)  |  Seek (57)  |  Simplicity (126)  |  Technique (41)

There is an occasional glimmer of fertility [as compounds], the chemical equivalent of a blade of grass [in a desert]. So, gone … is the justification for “inert.” [Group 0 elements] are now known collectively as the noble gases, a name intended to imply a kind of chemical aloofness rather than a rigorous chastity.
— Peter William Atkins
In The Periodic Kingdom: A Journey Into the Land of the Chemical Elements (1995), 9.
Science quotes on:  |  Chastity (3)  |  Chemical (72)  |  Compound (53)  |  Desert (27)  |  Element (129)  |  Fertility (11)  |  Glimmer (4)  |  Grass (30)  |  Group (52)  |  Inert (9)  |  Justification (33)  |  Name (118)  |  Noble Gas (4)  |  Nomenclature (129)  |  Occasional (10)  |  Rigorous (10)

This is the kingdom of the chemical elements, the substances from which everything tangible is made. It is not an extensive country, for it consists of only a hundred or so regions (as we shall often term the elements), yet it accounts for everything material in our actual world. From the hundred elements that are at the center of our story, all planets, rocks, vegetation, and animals are made. These elements are the basis of the air, the oceans, and the Earth itself. We stand on the elements, we eat the elements, we are the elements. Because our brains are made up of elements, even our opinions are, in a sense, properties of the elements and hence inhabitants of the kingdom.
— Peter William Atkins
In 'The Terrain', The Periodic Kingdom: A Journey Into the Land of the Chemical Elements (1995), 3.
Science quotes on:  |  Actual (34)  |  Air (151)  |  Animal (309)  |  Basis (60)  |  Brain (181)  |  Chemical (72)  |  Earth (487)  |  Eat (38)  |  Element (129)  |  Hundred (46)  |  Inhabitant (19)  |  Kingdom (34)  |  Material (124)  |  Ocean (115)  |  Opinion (146)  |  Planet (199)  |  Property (96)  |  Rock (107)  |  Sense (240)  |  Stand (60)  |  Story (58)  |  Substance (73)  |  Tangible (4)  |  Term (87)  |  Vegetation (16)  |  World (667)

Through fear of being shown to be vacuous, religion denies the awesome power of human comprehension. It seeks to thwart, by encouraging awe in things unseen, the disclosure of the emptiness of faith.
— Peter William Atkins
Essay collected in John Cornwell (ed.), 'The Limitless Power of Science', Nature's Imagination: The Frontiers of Scientific Vision (1995), 125.
Science quotes on:  |  Awe (24)  |  Awesome (8)  |  Comprehension (51)  |  Deny (29)  |  Disclosure (4)  |  Emptiness (6)  |  Encourage (16)  |  Faith (131)  |  Fear (113)  |  Human (445)  |  Power (273)  |  Science And Religion (267)  |  Show (55)  |  Unseen (7)  |  Vacuous (2)

To believe that the assertion that God is an explanation (of anything, let alone everything) is intellectually contemptible, for it amounts to an admission of ignorance packaged into the pretence of an explanation. To aver that “God did it” is worse than an admission of ignorance, for it shrouds ignorance in deceit.
— Peter William Atkins
In 'Religion - The Antithesis to Science', Chemistry & Industry (Feb 1997).
Science quotes on:  |  Admission (10)  |  Assertion (23)  |  Badly (9)  |  Belief (400)  |  Contemptible (7)  |  Deceit (2)  |  Explanation (161)  |  God (454)  |  Ignorance (190)  |  Intellectual (79)  |  Pretence (5)  |  Science And Religion (267)  |  Shroud (2)

War and the steam engine joined forces and forged what was to become one of the most delicate of concepts. Sadi Carnot … formed the opinion that one cause of France’s defeat had been her industrial inferiority. … Carnot saw steam power as a universal motor. … Carnot was a visionary and sharp analyst of what was needed to improve the steam engine. … Carnot’s work … laid the foundations of [thermodynamics].
— Peter William Atkins
In The Second Law (1984), 1-2.
Science quotes on:  |  Analyst (4)  |  Sadi Carnot (4)  |  Cause (231)  |  Defeat (13)  |  Foundation (75)  |  France (21)  |  Improve (39)  |  Industry (91)  |  Inferiority (7)  |  Motor (10)  |  Need (211)  |  Opinion (146)  |  Power (273)  |  Steam Engine (41)  |  Thermodynamics (27)  |  Universal (70)  |  Visionary (5)  |  War (144)

Would not [an] uncluttered mind also see the attempts to reconcile science and religion by disparaging the reduction of the complex to the simple as attempts guided by muddle-headed sentiment and intellectually dishonest emotion?
— Peter William Atkins
Essay collected in John Cornwell (ed.), 'The Limitless Power of Science', Nature's Imagination: The Frontiers of Scientific Vision (1995), 123.
Science quotes on:  |  Clutter (4)  |  Complex (78)  |  Dishonest (2)  |  Disparage (4)  |  Emotion (62)  |  Intellectual (79)  |  Mind (544)  |  Reconcile (10)  |  Reduction (35)  |  Science And Religion (267)  |  Sentiment (9)  |  Simple (111)


Carl Sagan Thumbnail In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) -- Carl Sagan
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- 90 -
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- 80 -
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- 70 -
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- 60 -
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- 50 -
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- 40 -
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