Chemical Elements and the Laws of Nature

Chemical Elements and the Natural Laws
We are amazed to realize that everything in the world around us is made up of fewer than 100 different chemical elements. Those elements are combined to form vast numbers of different compounds, and those compounds come together to make up everything including air, soil, plants, and our bodies.

Even more amazing is that those chemical elements are all made up of the same three particles called protons, electrons, and neutrons. The only difference between the elements is the quantity of each of the particles in their atoms. The periodic table gives an organized way to look at the elements based on the number of protons in the nucleus of each atom. It shows all of the natural elements plus more than 20 others that have been created in laboratories with particle accelerators–machines that smash atoms together.

The natural chemical elements range from hydrogen with only one proton to uranium which has 92. The periodic table, first conceived in the nineteenth century, shows which elements react similarly with other elements to form chemical compounds. The ability of the various elements to combine with other element makes possible every compound which makes up every substance on Earth.

Each atom of each element has protons in the center called a nucleus and electrons surrounding the nucleus in “shells.” The atoms of some elements also have neutrons in the nucleus. The strong interaction in the nucleus binds the protons and neutrons together. At the same time, the electrical or Coulomb force causes the protons to repel each other. As the number of protons approaches 100 or more, the repelling force overcomes the attracting force, and the atom becomes unstable. For that reason, the larger atoms only exist in the laboratory and only for very short times.

If you could add the mass of all of the protons, neutrons, and electrons in an atom, you would find that the total mass is more than the mass of the atom itself. That extra mass is found in the energy that binds the nucleus together. Einstein’s famous equation E=mc^2 indicates that matter and energy are different forms of the same thing. In other words, the extra mass has become the energy that binds the nucleus together.

Physics and chemistry are subject to laws which control all of the universe. Without those laws, the universe could not exist, and neither could science. Scientific experimentation is based on the consistency of the natural laws which came into existence when the universe was created. Science is unable by experiment to study what happened before the creation of those laws. Why do those laws exist? Why does anything exist? We believe the answer can be found in Genesis 1:1.
–Roland Earnst © 2018

Design of Snow Is Awesome

Design of Snow Is Awesome
As I write this, we are sitting here in Michigan after having experienced a record snowfall for one day. As we shovel and snow-blow our driveways and around our mailboxes, we hear a great deal of abusive language from our neighbors. Still, there is a great deal of good in every snowflake because of the design of snow.

It is not just the aesthetic value of snowflakes that makes them good, although that certainly is a wonderful thing to see under a hand lens or microscope. The snow has a variety of other positive attributes designed into its structure.

A snowflake is made of water which is a polar molecule meaning that it has a positive and a negative end. The reason ice forms and water expands as it freezes is that the positive end of one molecule is attracted to the negative end of the next molecule. This structure also allows the snowflake to attract particles in the atmosphere that have a polar makeup. Salt, for example, has a sodium atom which has a plus charge, attracted to chlorine which has a negative charge. A salt molecule in the atmosphere will be attracted to a snowflake. Even molecules such as carbon compounds, which do not generally have a polarity, are attracted to the snowflakes. Snow cleans the air, and many of us enjoy being outside when it is snowing because of the freshness and purity it gives the air.

Snow stores water in places where water shortages are a problem. The western United States gets heavy snow in the mountains in winter. Water has a high heat of fusion. What that means is that it takes extra energy to melt ice–80 calories per gram of ice to be exact. For that reason, snow stays in the solid state for a long time after the temperature has risen above freezing. That allows snow to melt slowly sending a constant supply of water to dry areas at lower elevations.

The design of snow is also friendly to animals, especially small animals. When the snow is finally off the ground here in Michigan, there will be small tunnels visible in the ground where mice, voles, squirrels, and other small animals have built passageways under the snow. The low temperatures of the air in winter are not a problem for these animals because the snow is a good insulator. Predators cannot easily get to the animals because the snow covers them from aerial attacks.

Water is unique in many ways. Its freezing temperature and its boiling temperature are only 100 Celsius degrees apart. That allows water to exist on our planet as a solid, a liquid, and a gas. Each of those states of water allows some form of life to exist.

In Job 38:22 God questions Job, “Have you entered into the treasures of the snow? Or have you seen the treasures of ice which I have reserved against the time of trouble…” The Hebrew word translated “treasure” in this verse is atsar meaning “a thing laid up.” It is doubtful that Job knew anything about the water cycle or how he benefited from snow. But the God who designed snow and its role on Earth to benefit humans and all living things certainly knew all about the design of snow.
–John N. Clayton © 2018
Michigan also has “summer snow”

Natural Elements of the Periodic Table

Natural Elements of the Periodic Table
One of the things high-school chemistry students have to learn is how to use a periodic table of the elements. As we worked with the chart, I almost always had a student ask me how the natural elements of the periodic table came into existence. Our textbook simply said that the elements were produced by “the event that produced the universe.”

Dr. Timothy C. Beers is the chair of astrophysics in the College of Science at the University of Notre Dame. The Notre Dame Magazine for Autumn 2017 contains an interesting article about his efforts to understand the processes that formed the natural elements of the periodic table. Dr. Beers calls it “Galactic Archaelogy.”

Beers was the first scientist to identify “carbon-enhanced metal-poor stars.” These stars appear to have formed very early in the creation of the universe, and thus they give a window into the past. When the universe was created, only hydrogen and helium were present. Beers and his fellow researchers are working to understand what is called a rapid neutron-capture process. When neutrons bombard the lighter elements, some of those neutrons latch on and create heavier elements. As we watch that process taking place, we see that producing the elements heavier than hydrogen and helium requires a more complex process than anyone could imagine.

The Bible simply says, “In the beginning, God created the heavens (outer space) and the earth (elements that make up our planet).” God doesn’t tell us how He did it, but Genesis 2:3 tells us that God created (did a miraculous event that humans cannot do) and made (did an event that we can do and understand). The team that Dr. Beers leads is trying to understand how God did it.

Understanding how God created the stuff that makes up our bodies is a part of seeing the handiwork of God. Dr. Beers says, “I think human beings want to know the story,” and he says that his work will surely produce a religious response. The design of the natural elements of the periodic table is amazing. Learning how God formed them is a rich source of data about God’s design and creative wisdom.

In Proverbs 8:22-23 wisdom speaks of the creation, “The Lord possessed me in the beginning of His way, before His works of old. I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the Earth was.” Knowing how God did the marvelous creation we see around us includes the very large such as the Grand Canyon and the very small such as quarks. Understanding how He made the elements is one of the most astounding evidences of design we can see in the cosmos.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Constants in the Universe

Physics Formulas
Physics Formulas
A major component of the cosmological evidence for the existence of God is the value of constants that govern the universe. Over the centuries scientists have determined the value of these constants, and all of our knowledge of the cosmos is based on these values. These constants are also used to define the units in which we measure things like mass, length, current flow, temperature, time, and light intensity. You either have to believe that these precise numerical values are a product of chance, or that they have been consciously chosen by a Creator. It’s the precise values of these constants that allow the cosmos to exist and to remain stable. Here are only nine of the constants and their role in science and in defining the units used by scientists.

PLANCK CONSTANT- This constant is 6.626070040 x 10^-34 kg m^2/sec.
This constant denotes the scale of quantum mechanics and is used to define the kilogram, a standard unit of mass. It is used in many equations in physics.

SPEED OF LIGHT IN A VACUUM- The value is 299,792,458 m/sec. This is the maximum speed of any object in the universe and is used to define the meter. It is equal to the energy of a mass divided by the speed of light squared and is used in many equations in physics.

ELEMENTARY CHARGE- The value is 1.6021766208 x 10^-19 ampere seconds and is the value of the electrical charge on an electron or proton. It is used to define the ampere, the basic unit of electrical current.

BOLTZMANN CONSTANT- The value is 1.38064852 x 10^-23 kg m^2/(s^2 kelvin). This constant is used to convert from energy to temperature and is used to define the Kelvin.

AVOGADRO CONSTANT- This chemical constant is 6.022140857 x 10^23/mole and indicates the number of particles in one mole of a substance. The mole is used with the Rydberg constant in defining the kilogram and is the basis of mass calculations in chemical reactions.

RYDBERG CONSTANT- The value is 10,973,731.568508/m and determines the wavelengths of light emitted from a hydrogen atom. In addition to its use with Avogadro in determining the kilogram, it is used in spectroscopy.

HYPERFINE SPLITTING OF CESIUM- The value is 9,192,631,770/sec and is the frequency of a cesium atomic clock used to accurately define the second.

LUMINOUS EFFICACY- The value is 683 candela steradian s^3/kg m^2 and is used in converting brightness to energy per unit of time. It is used by astronomers and physicists working with light intensities.

FINE-STRUCTURE CONSTANT- The value is 1/137.035999139 and is used to determine the strength of electromagnetic interactions between charged particles.

As you look at these constants and notice their precision, you can get a sense of the precision that was needed just to establish the basic components of our universe. This list is not exhaustive, and science students know that they as well as others are essential to understanding the basics of chemistry and physics.

Proverbs 8:22-23 takes on a whole new meaning if we understand that wisdom is speaking and says, “The Lord possessed me in the beginning of his way, before his works of old. I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was.” The frontiers of science today in quantum mechanics and cosmology are just beginning to understand the essential nature of the constants and the complex science needed to create time, space, and the beginnings of matter/energy. We can see even more clearly the statement of Romans 1:20 telling us that “we can know there is a God through the things he has made.”
Constant data from Science News, November 12, 2016, page 26.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

The Design of Basic Chemistry

Chemistry Class
Chemistry Class
I enjoyed teaching basic chemistry. Once we got over the fear factor that came from what other people had told them, young people became as enthralled as I am with the way chemistry works. Just the basic concept of acids, bases and salts was a revelation to most kids. They had visions of acids being stuff that could eat your arm off and had a hard time understanding that the salad dressing they put on their lunch was primarily an acid. When they saw that their soda pop would turn litmus red indicating it had acid in it, they were incredulous. Understanding that ascorbic acid was vitamin C and that there was acid in their stomach made kids realize that acids serve us in many benign ways.

The next revelation was that bases also have many important uses. Household ammonia, ammonium hydroxide, is a base. Sodium hydroxide is a strong base able to do amazing things to grease, making it a classic soap. Calcium hydroxide is lime, and some kids knew it was used on their lawns and gardens. The real surprise for kids was what a salt is. When I pulled out the salt shaker, I would ask them what kind of salt was in it? Most of them knew it was sodium chloride, but I had twenty salt shakers all of which were labeled “salt, ” and none of them contained sodium chloride. Some were potassium chloride, and some were calcium chloride. Some were different colors such as copper chloride, iron chloride, and cobalt chloride. It was interesting to watch them test the salts with litmus paper as they discovered that salts could be acidic or basic.

The next step was to make salts. We would take hydrochloric acid (a strong acid) and mix it with sodium hydroxide (a strong base) and get sodium chloride and water–two things you take into your body. If you mixed the hydrochloric acid with a weak base like aluminum hydroxide you would get aluminum chloride which would turn litmus paper red indicating an acidic nature. What do you put on your plants to make them grow? Some plants like an acidic soil. If you pour hydrochloric acid on the soil, you will kill the plants, but acid salt will make such plants flourish.

One day after doing all of these tests and writing all of this down, one of my students looked at the board and all the equations we had written and said, “Who thought all of this stuff up in the first place?” That question is always out there, in every science class, every experiment, and every view we make through a microscope or a telescope. Romans 1: 20 tells us that “we can know there is a God through the things He has made.” Science is knowledge, and the more we know of the creation, the closer we can get to the Creator.
–John N. Clayton © 2017