My Debate with Atheist Peter Atkins

Of all the video-recorded debates I’ve done with atheist scientists, the one that’s been viewed the most is the one I did with former Oxford University chemistry professor Peter Atkins. As of August 26, 2022, more than 400,000 people had viewed the debate on various YouTube channels.

Atkins is a physical chemist. He’s the author or coauthor of nine undergraduate chemistry textbooks.1 My colleague Fazale Rana had Atkins’s books assigned for his chemistry classes. Atkins is one of Britain’s best-known atheists. In the British newspaper The Guardian, Atkins’s atheism was described as being “more hardline than Richard Dawkins.”2 When asked during the prep before our debate if there were any scientists, besides himself, that he respected, Atkins responded that there was only one—Richard Dawkins.

Atkins was the first senior member of the Oxford University Secular Society. He is a distinguished supporter of Humanists UK (formerly the British Humanist Association) and an honorary associate of the National Secular Society. He serves on the advisory board of The Reason Project, which presently is headed up by Sam Harris.

The debate took place in London on Premier’s Unbelievable? radio/television show on June 1, 2018. Atkins had just come out with his recent book, Conjuring the Universe: The Origins of the Laws of Nature. Hence, the topic of the debate was “Where Did the Laws of Nature Come From?” The moderator was Unbelievable?‘s Justin Brierley.

We covered many other topics in addition to the origin of the laws of physics. The predominant issues were whether or not the God of the Bible exists, the intellectual integrity of one’s beliefs, and the scientific testing of one’s beliefs. Towards the end of the debate, Brierley asked both of us if we could think of any possible evidence that would cause us to change our minds about the existence or the nonexistence of God. The debate then took a dramatic turn. However, there were many other equally dramatic moments throughout the debate.

There are several reviews of the debate from a Christian perspective. Physician and apologist Erik Strandness wrote one of the best for Patheos.2 I haven’t been able to find a written review from an atheistic perspective. However, Joshua Rasmussen of Worldview Design posted a 10-minute video commentary where he complimented Atkins for his courage in the debate and argued against the falsifiability criterion.3 While reading or watching reviews of the debate can give you a general idea of what was discussed, the best option, by far, is to watch the entire debate (1 hour and 4 minutes) in its unedited form. You can do so here: Hugh Ross vs. Peter Atkins: Debating the Origins of the Laws of Nature. I would encourage readers to share the video recording with friends and associates and to set up a group or forum to discuss the debate’s implications.

Endnotes

The most often used ones are Physical Chemistry, Shriver and Atkins’ Inorganic Chemistry, and Molecular Quantum Mechanics.Colin Tudge, “The Art of the Soluble,” The Guardian, London, Society section (December 8, 2007), theguardian.com/books/2007/dec/08/society.Erik Strandness, “When Atheism Becomes Unfalsifiable: Peter Atkins and the Problem of Evidence,” Patheos (November 6, 2020), patheos.com/blogs/unbelievable/2020/11/when-atheism-becomes-unfalsifiable-peter-atkins-and-the-problem-of-evidence/.Joshua L. Rasmussen, “How to Debate Courageously: A Note on Atkins vs. Ross,” Worldview Design (July 11, 2019), youtube.com/watch?v=lSsruU70Mnc&t=581s.

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