More history of science nonsense

I saw this one on a poster discussing the "history" of science in a physics classroom: "[Marie Curie's discovery that elements undergo radioactive decay] shattered the belief inherited from the Greeks that the elements are immutable and their atoms indestructible."

The Greek atomists had said there are indivisible particles "at the bottom of things." They never said that what we moderns call atoms are indivisible! They had never discovered those things! What happened was that the originators of modern atomic theory misapplied the Greek word, because the first modern "atomists" thought they had found these indivisible substances. If one introduced a Greek atomist to modern sub-atomic theory, he would say something like, "Ah, the quark: that is what you should have named 'atom.'"  (See here: "I explained that our current theory makes the assumption, which has not been experimentally verified, that quarks are indivisible, point-like particles." The hypothesis of the Greek atomists would be disproved if it were discovered that there are no fundamental particles that can't be transformed into something else.)

And turning to the elements, for the Greeks, the "elements" were earth, air, water, and fire, and there were theories that held they were mutable. As far as the modern chemical elements are concerned, the Greeks had no comparable category which they could have held to be "immutable." So the quoted sentence is just a jumble of nonsense.

I note in poassing that the same poster also promotes the false, Whig history of the significance of the Michelson-Morley experiment.


  1. Link here: A Century Of Physics. Thanks American Physical Society! No Whig account there of Michelson-Morley unfortunately.


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