Spiritual Lessons From Nuclear Physics

Last summer, I enrolled in a course that offered an overview of nuclear physics. Not only was I fascinated by what I learned, my faith in God was strengthened. Consider a few of the spiritual lessons I learned from studying nuclear physics.

Everything in the universe is made of the same stuff.

On the atomic level, there are protons, neutrons and electrons. These are basically just tiny particles that have different atomic weights and electrical charges, and it’s the different combinations of these particles that make up the elements of the Periodic Table.

For example, hydrogen consists of 1 proton and 1 electron. Carbon consists of 6 protons, 6 neutrons and 6 electrons. Gold has 79 protons, 118 neutrons and 79 electrons. The only thing that separates the element Gold from Mercury is one proton! Add two more protons to Mercury and you get Lead. Incredible, right?

So the combination of atomic particles make up the elements, and the combination of elements make up molecular compounds. We all know that H20 is water – 2 hydrogen atoms and 1 oxygen atom. Carbon Dioxide is CO2, which is a combination of 1 Carbon atom and 2 Oxygen atoms. Salt is Sodium Chloride, or NaCl.

Even our DNA can be broken down into protons, neutrons and electrons. DNA is made up of nucleotides, and each nucleotide is made up of a phosphate group, sugar group and nitrogen base. Each of these can be broken down into elements such as Oxygen, Phosphorus, Nitrogen, and many others, and again, each of these atoms can be further broken down into various unique combinations of protons, neutrons and electrons.

So everything from water to the sun, from table salt to human DNA, is made up of the same physical stuff – tiny molecules with different atomic weights and electrical charges – matter and energy. The only thing that separates us from dirt or even air is a greater complexity of atomic combinations.

God – the Master Artist!

Let’s compare nuclear physics and art for a moment…

A painter like Van Gogh uses three primary colors – red, blue and yellow – to make all the colors on his pallet. Green is a combination of blue and yellow. Orange is a combination of red and yellow. And so on. Then, using these three simple colors, he paints a vibrant masterpiece that inspires millions.

Is it remotely possible that the three primary colors could naturally mix on their own to form a masterpiece such as Van Gogh’s Starry Night? Of course not.

In the realm of nuclear physics, how did we get from three atomic particles – protons, neutrons and electrons – to the vast complexity that characterizes the universe today? To be more specific, how could Nitrogen, Oxygen, Phosphorus and other atoms combine to form the Genetic Language that is written on our DNA – which makes us human? Can a language develop on its own in the natural world?

The answer is simple. Just as it takes a skilled artist to mix the primary colors and make a beautiful painting, it takes some independent, higher intelligence to mix the protons, neutrons and electrons to form a universe that is infinitely more complex than a simple painting.

God is the master artist! The Bible says that the heavens are God’s handiwork (Psalm 19:1) and that we are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139). Genesis 1 tells us that God built the universe and wrote the genetic script for all living things!

 Humans are Different.

Even though everything in the universe can be broken down into protons, neutrons and electrons – physical stuff, in other words – the Scriptures teach us that God added something else to the assembly instructions for mankind.

Genesis 1:26-27 says that God made man in His image, and has given us dominion over the earth. What this means is that even though we are made of dust like everything else in the universe, we have been infused with something divine. In one way, we are unlike everything else and like God.

John 4:24 says that God is a spirit. He is not physical, but spiritual. His existence transcends the physical world of protons, neutrons and electrons. According to Scripture, we share in this essence. We, too, have an eternal spirit – a part of us that will transcend our physical existence. Ecclesiastes 3:11 affirms that God has placed eternity in our hearts. Man’s spiritual nature is seen throughout Scripture, and this is something that we understand and accept.

Why is it that we are so different? Why is it that we seek a greater purpose? Why is it that we concern ourselves with the “afterlife?” Why is it that we ponder philosophy and beauty, and seek to understand the workings of the universe? Because that is how God made us, and us alone.

The more that I study nuclear physics and science in general, the more I resist the argument that we (humans) are nothing more than “stardust.” Yes, it’s true that everything in the universe is physical and can be broken down very specifically into the same physical building blocks…but there is something intuitively different about humanity. We are not just protons, neutrons and electrons.

A parting thought…

Any deep study of science reveals the unquestionable fact that the world we live in – on both a micro and macro level – is incredibly complex and ordered. The math always works out. Even though many see science as a threat to religious faith, I see it as evidence of religious faith. This could not all have happened by chance. There is a spiritual reality that transcends the physical world, and our nature – our capacity for love – is proof of that.

Studying nuclear physics is like studying the primary colors and the vibrant combinations of colors on the pallet. Trying to understand how those colors are organized on a canvas to make a beautiful painting…well, that leads us to God – the master artist and Great Physicist.

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