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Religous Outcry Over Synthetic Elements

  1. Feb 22, 2007 #1
    Where is the religious outcry over the manufacture of synthetic elements?

    To be clear, I am talking about elements which have more protons in their nuclei then are in uranium nuclei. Although it is possible that some of these elements exist naturally somewhere in the universe as a result of super-energetic conditions, but most scientists agree that at least some of these elements (of which about 15 have been synthesized) must be created in a laboratory.

    Intelligent design is a big issue for religious folk, and the creation of synthetic elements is not. But doesn't this form of element synthesis, and in general all of artifice, depose God of his role as the creator?

    Here is an analogy: A primitive people discovers a huge Lego (stacking block toys) statue. Soon they have adopted a dogma that says: "God created everything that is (the blocks), and he assembled the statue (life, in the analogy)". Then what is the larger blaspheme, to claim that God did not assemble the statue or to create new blocks with shapes and colors that none of God's blocks have?

    The short answer is that most religious people do not understand chemistry well enough to be upset by these issues, but I am wondering if they should, in principle, be upsetting?
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  3. Feb 22, 2007 #2


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    They are emotionalists, with deficiencies in their logical equipment.
    Thus, they will only be outraged over something they FEEL matters, not over matters that, logically speaking, OUGHT matter equally much.
  4. Feb 22, 2007 #3
    I assume you are comparing the religious outcry over life and death issues (abortion, cloning, stem-cell research, etc.), to the lack of it over synthetic elements. If that is the case, I think that drawing the line at living things is not inconsistent. It seems that your question only has meaning if you think of a living thing as nothing more than its constituent particles.
  5. Feb 22, 2007 #4


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    There is no outcry because the logic is that god made humans and ( I suppose you could say "logically"), whatever humans make is made by god.

    Personally I see it like this: Synthetics are natural because they are an evolutionary product of the evolutionary product, homo sapien.

    There is no such thing as artifical, unless we consider ourselves and our actions separate from nature, which we/they are not. All heed nature or perish!:surprised
  6. Feb 22, 2007 #5


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    That would be only moving stuff around, not creating anything.
  7. Feb 22, 2007 #6
    Mmm that's true regardless of whether the OP is correct in saying that the topic should (logically speaking) matter.
  8. Feb 22, 2007 #7
    All good responses.
    God is purported to have many roles, and one of these is that he is the creator of all things. This is aside from living things, in fact I gather that the religious conception is that God created the universe a few days before he created living things.

    Agree or disagree: God is a creator first and foremost, and his creation of living things is secondary to his creation of the material world.

    Be careful, what is your conception of "stuff"? Are subatomic particles "stuff"? The Greeks used the word "atom" to refer to the indivisible building blocks of the material world. In a deep sense, I think quantum mechanics shows us that the limits of our world lie in the domain of chemistry, and so atoms are the basic building blocks of our world.

    In general I sense a lack of awe at the synthesis of elements; it is at least conceivable to me, although I do not believe it to be the case, that Human kind is the only intelligent life in the mega-verse and that we are the true originators of these atoms.
    This I would call a philosophical response. But Wittgenstein would say that this is not the sense in which we use the term "created", viz. it is not the case that my creation's creation is my creation. That is, the accomplishments of a child are not my said to be accomplishments of the parent.
  9. Feb 22, 2007 #8


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    This is the philosophy section!

    The whole god thing sounds pretty juvenile. I have a feeling that discussing the logistics of godliness with me is like trying to justify the actions of the tooth fairy to a 2 x 4.
    Last edited: Feb 23, 2007
  10. Feb 23, 2007 #9
    Phew. Before I clicked on this thread, I thought that there really was a religious outcry over transuranium elements. For a moment I was thinking "what have they done now!?"

    Not really. First of all, we really need to differentiate between the idea of intelligent design as it is currently understood, and the theological belief in a Creator God. The modern ID movement is essentially a friendlier repackaging of young earth creationism, and it rightly belongs in the same garbage pale as all other bunk science. You can't scientifically prove that God created the universe (at least not at the moment), and thus ID employs blatent lies in order to justify itself. However, there is also the legitimate theological belief that one or more gods are responsible for creating the universe, and this belief really has nothing to do with science. May I ask which of these we are discussing in specific?

    Well, there are also those of us who understand chemistry enough to know that we shouldn't be upset. The scriptures of most religions do not record their god(s) as creating houses, weapons of war, cooking utensils, etc., but record humans as doing this. None of these things are naturally occuring, yet no religion seems to condemn them. It seems to me that transuranium elements are an analogous issue. It just so happens that the building blocks are much smaller.
  11. Feb 23, 2007 #10
    Please explain to us how you can arbitrarily introduce God from nowhere and nothing, and having this deity create everything in existence. But having introduced your deity into the scene this also means that this being is included in the "everything" that supposedly is created.
    The error in your logic is that you introduce a new thing - this deity - but then you need to have a creator for that being also, and for that being, ad infinitum. Or beings that create themselves.
    Either way you end up with logical absurdities.
  12. Feb 23, 2007 #11
    Please tell me how there could be nowhere and nothing?

    Besides, I am not interested in defending God, I was merely stating one of is purported roles. As a side note, if any religious person doesn't like ID, they should abandon religion itself, because it suffers from all the same defects.

    This is stalling, bad rhetoric, because it does not matter whether I am discussing ID or religion, since both of these theories have God in the role of creator of all things.

    To those of you who say that the creation of transuranic elements is merely moving building blocks around, consider that protons and neutrons are not little spheres, they do not for example obey the ideal gas law. Subatomic particles are not the building blocks of our world, the world imagined in the minds of the originators of these ancient religions, atoms are the building blocks.
    Last edited: Feb 23, 2007
  13. Feb 23, 2007 #12
    I think that this is a legitimate delineation. ID claims to be a scientific theory, and as a scientific theory it fails in every respect. Religion, on the other hand, is an issue of theology rather than science. In academia, theology is recognized as a legitimate discipline. And since theology is not classified as a subset of science (therefore not being subject to scientific scrutiny), may I ask for an elaboration on your objection?

    Well actually, protons do obey predictable laws. In fact, plasma physicists could easily cite the specific laws that govern the behavior of proton gases. As for neutrons, the fact that they carry no net charge leads me to believe that they would likely obey the ideal gas law (ignoring the fact that the neutron has a lifespan on the order of a few minutes).

    But I think your point was that while atoms are the building blocks of all matter, atoms themselves have their own building blocks (namely baryons and leptons). So if I'm reading you correctly, you mean to suggest that for the sake of consistency, religious people should believe that their god or gods are opposed to artificial alteration of these building blocks. However, I disagree with your conclusion that atoms were the building blocks of nature envisioned by the creators of ancient religions. The Greeks, for example, believed that all matter consisted of earth, sky, water, and fire, and it turns out that they were wrong on all four counts. As for the Abrahamic faiths, I'm not aware of any Christian or Muslim scripture that even touches on the subject of the elemental nature of matter. Chemical theory as we know it is only a few centuries old. I doubt, for example, that Saint Paul or Mohammad would have considered aluminium or argon to be elements. So it is exceedingly difficult to use such ancient writings to formulate a theological position on the creation of new elements.

    For example, to my knowledge, xenon fluoride does not occur naturally (or if it does, it must be rare, since noble gases have an octet of electrons and do not form compounds easily). For all intents and purposes, xenon fluoride is not "naturally occuring," but can be produced artificially. So should there be any religious objection to this compound, despite the fact that it isn't made with any transuranium elements?

    Unfortunately, religions (as well as secular and political philosophies) can be and have been used to arbitarily label a lot of things as unacceptable. Anything from free market capitalism to women in slacks can be called unnatural, given the appropriate interpretation from some piece of writing. The question is: does the objection logically follow from the writing? Therefore I am compelled to ask, does it flow logically from some religious scripture (that you have in mind) that transuranium elements are objectionable?
  14. Feb 24, 2007 #13


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    You are requiring some kind of logical consistency out of interpretation of scripture.

    Well, did god create the elements? What were the elements according the OT - fire, air, earth, ether and water? Which of these did god create? Most OT scholars will point you to Genesis 1:1-2, where it supposedly says that air and water (and possibly the ether) existed before "creation". But nothing else is known of them. Earth and air were created by god.

    So what happens when we find out there there are not 5 elements (as the ancients thought) but a hundred? Well, how obscure an interpretation would you like?
  15. Feb 24, 2007 #14
    You make a very good point, and I see that I have to adress this issue to make my case.
    Based on this passage, can abraghamists accept modern chemistry and the periodic table including the transuranics? Or more simply, doesn't this passage suggest that the creation of elements is an act of God? Then clearly it is not a simple issue that we would exceed his feat.
  16. Feb 24, 2007 #15
    What we call atoms are different from what the Greeks meant by that word. Our atoms are indeed 'cutable'. Moreover, they considered water be be made of atoms, but we think it's molecules. They considered earth and air to be a collection of atoms all of the same kind, we think of the as molecules but not all of the same kind. Fire was an element for them, but a chemical reaction for us.

    Their meaning for atom was closer to what we today call a quantum. But there is a significant difference. They meant something that could not be cut ever. We mean something that can't be cut without changing it into something else. So a quantum of water is a molecule which can be cut, but then it wouldn't be water. A quantum of helium is an atom which can be cut, but then it wouldn't be helium.

    Perhaps philosophers today still cling to the idea that since we use the word atom, then atoms must be uncutable. Physicists (and chemists) abandoned that idea at the beginning of the 20th century when they started cutting the atom apart into yet more fundamental particles. For instance, chemistry now relies heavily on the idea that within the atom one finds electrons.

    Transuranium atoms are created by putting together the more fundamental particles electrons, protons and neutrons in a new configuration, not by the creation of new fundamental particles. That is what verty meant by 'only moving stuff around.'

    You might have a better case against physicists in the process called pair production. Here particles are indeed created. However they are not created out of nothing, they are created out of energy in the form of photons. The reverse process also occurs where particles disappear.
  17. Feb 24, 2007 #16
    Actually it is the wiser of the physicists and chemist who made the decision to continue using the word atom. I will not be able to argue this with you, because you are clearly appealing to an authority I dismiss, but I urge you to think deeply about whether or not our world is made of atoms, or subatomic particles.

    No one bothers to put electrons on these transuranic nuclei, they are too unstable. And yes, I understand where the "moving stuff around" is coming from, but I am trying to get you to question this dogma, protons are not hard sphere-like particles, what does it mean to say you move them around? All of these things are metaphors when applied to subatomic particles, but when we assemble atoms into a configuration we are not using a metaphor, we are doing a micro version of human assembly.

    Pair production occurs naturally, all over the universe, and so I don't see why it should be controversial. Also, remember that labeling excitations of the quantum field as "particles" and "photons" is just a metaphor, our verifiable physics does not ascribe this reality to these things.

    If the bible says that God was responsible for the creation of the elements, and then we go and create ones that he did not, isn't this similar to claiming that I can perform miracles and so is discouraged as it detracts from the awe of God?
  18. Feb 24, 2007 #17
    You've referred to a very specific case now (namely a passage of Christian Scripture). Perhaps it would help for us all to actually view the passage in question:

    In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.
    (Genesis 1:1-2)​

    Now I should answer your question about whether abraghamists can accept modern chemistry and the periodic table (incidentally, what is an abraghamist?). Anyone, regardless of their religious persuasion, had better accept all of modern chemistry. Anyone who does not would be rather foolish for ignoring the most basic of scientific facts. But I think you wish to know whether people who believe in the above Scripture can rightly reconcile that belief with modern chemistry. I think the best answer I can give is yes. We must keep in mind that the author of Genesis 1:1-2 did not have an elemental view of nature in mind. The thought likely did not cross his mind as to whether the water of the earth was an element, or a more complex form of matter. Besides that, no portion of the Bible suggests any knowledge of elements. So we cannot even logically deduce from this passage that the Bible teaches such a concept.

    There is still the issue of whether or not a religious person should be offended by man's creation of transuranium elements. I am not a professional scholar of religion, and so I can't comment on every religion in the world, but I am familiar with the major ones. Since you are discussing the Bible, I assume you wish to discuss Christianity specifically, so that's what I'll address. Since the Bible does not teach an elemental view of matter, we must draw an analogy from elsewhere. The closest analogy I can think of to transuranium elements is the construction of man-made tools not originally constructed by God. I would submit that of the many man-made tools the Bible records, not a single one was specifically created by God, save for the clothing that he gave to Adam and Eve. In fact, if you read the Torah further, you will find that rather than construct his own instruments of worship, God commanded Moses to construct the Tabernacle and its furnishings, the Ark of the Covenant, and even the two tablets of the Testimony on which God wrote the Ten Commandments. The New Testament book of Hebrews states that all of these items were constructed from a pattern of the Temple in heaven (see Hebrews 8:5). And we have not even taken into consideration the fact that the Bible records humans as building other devices (houses, chariots, etc.) that were not originally constructed by God. This would suggest that according to Christianity, there is nothing wrong with using matter to create things that God has not already created.

    That's the conclusion I draw from Christianity, anyway. Is there another religion you had in mind?

    Actually, to a Greek speaker the word might be somewhat misleading. The very word implies that the atom is indivisible, and this is extremely false. Indeed nuclear reactions depend on the fact that atoms can be divided and combined. If the atom were indivisible, then the Sun, as well as all life on earth, would not exist.

    Now as to whether the world is made of atoms or subatomic particles, the distinction is really artificial. Subatomic particles arranged in a particular fashion become atoms, and atoms are the building blocks of all other matter, either directly or (usually) in some molecular form. To say that subatomic particles are not the building blocks of matter is like saying that atoms are not the building blocks of water.

    Actually that's not the case. Plutonium is stable, and can occurs with an outer shell of electrons. Of course, plutonium technically does occur naturally in incredibly small quantities, so I'm not sure if you'd consider it to be "natural" or not.

    At such a small scale, I'm not sure what you mean by "hard sphere-like particles." After all, at a scale smaller than the wavelength of visible light, I'm not sure it makes sense to define a sphere. But for the purposes of the kinetic theory of gases, protons are treated as hard spherical objects. May I inquire as to why this distinction is important to your point?

    No, I don't think that would be the most logical reading of the Bible. Given that the Bible records humans as making many things that God did not originally create, I'm not sure that one could raise a valid Biblical objection to transuranium elements.
  19. Feb 24, 2007 #18
    Herein lies the real answer to your question "Why is there no religious outcry?" For whether they are clearheaded, or they are deluded by authorities you dismiss, most people accept the picture I drew.
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