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On Tuesday, July 24, John Gaskin, emeritus Professor of Philosophy in the University of Dublin, gave a talk on the ancient origins of atomic theory.
He pointed out that it did not begin in 17th century Europe, but in the Greek city states surrounding the Aegean.
The first move in the development of science, in about 550BC, was not a discovery, but a question: Could there be one thing or activity that explains everything?
By 400BC the answer offered by Democritus was yes, an infinite number of invisible and indestructible particles moving and combining in infinite space.
This answer was developed by Epicurus (341-270BC) into an account of the universe recognisably similar to what we think today.
But since everything is the movement of particles, so is life.
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Our lives just are the temporary combinations of the stuff of the universe, and when the combination breaks down, we are gone.
And the Epicureans followed this conclusion with a recommendation for happiness: live without fear of gods or death, in friendship and peace with your neighbour, and with simple needs easily satisfied.
“Nothing satisfies him for whom enough is too little.”
Repulsive to Christianity in its science and humanism, the Epicurean system was derided and all but destroyed until its rediscovery in the 17th century as the basis of modern science, but shorn of its consequences for religion.
The vote of thanks was proposed by Rotarian Peter Walton.