Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Article excerpt

How Francis Crick, discoverer of the structure of DNA, must be enjoying himself in the Underworld! He had so much in common with the early Greek philosophers. These thinkers, who were natural scientists rather than philosophers, debated what the world was made of and how it came to be as it was. They established some basic rules of scientific debate - that the world was rationally constructed and could therefore be understood by the use of reason and argument from hypotheses, and that supernatural explanations for the phenomena under discussion were not allowed.

Crick would have thoroughly approved of all this, especially of the fact that some of these thinkers could be accused of being atheists (Crick had no time for religion). Likewise, in discovering the structure of DNA, Crick and Watson decided that experimentation was a waste of time, claimed to 'ignore data, which complicates life', and instead used the power of pure reason to construct a model demonstrating how DNA worked.

The most striking parallel example of pure Greek reasoning may well be the atomic theory invented by Democritus and Leucippus (late 5th century BC), that atoma ('uncuttables'), solid, invisible and undifferentiated except in shape, size and perhaps weight, were the basic universal matter, whose changing combinations produced the world around us. …

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