Of Atoms and Elements


  • Chemistry: The branch of science concerned with matter, its structures, properties and composition, the changes that matter undergoes.
    Almost everything in our world relates in some way to the science of chemistry. Everything that we see or touch is composed of elements, which are the basis of the science of chemistry.
  • Chemical change: Any change that results in the production of one or more substances that differ chemically from the original substances.
    Examples of chemical changes are the rusting of iron, the souring of milk, or the changing of the food we eat into energy to walk and work.
  • Matter: Any substance that has mass (weight) and occupies space.
  • Atom: The smallest part of an element.
  • Element: A substance that cannot be broken down by ordinary chemical means.
  • Molecule: The smallest part of a substance that can exist free and retain the properties of the substance.
  • Electron: a negative particle found in an atom.
  • Nucleus: the dense center part of an atom.
  • Neutron: A particle found in the nucleus of an atom, having a positive charge.
  • Compound: A substance made up of two or more elements chemically combined. Water is a compound; Sugar is a compound.

We are accustomed to attributing the marvels of space—where distance must be measured in light years and time is beyond fathoming—to the handiwork of God. But the other side of the universe, the microcosm, the world of molecules, atoms, protons and electrons, shows just as plainly the wonders of our Creator.

Part of this other side is the world of chemistry. In order to study this world, we must use powerful microscopes, just as we must use powerful telescopes to bring the macrocosm (the universe of stars and galaxies) into view. Although the contrast in the size of the two worlds is indeed extreme, many similarities exist.

When we think of chemistry, we think of a laboratory with test tubes, beakers, and very precise electronic instruments. The atmosphere seems cold, unfeeling, and far removed from anything sacred or Divine.

Actually, the very opposite is true. Nowhere in all the world can the wonders of God’s creation be observed any more distinctly—or impressively—than in the world of chemistry.

Every part of our lives is affected by chemistry. Our bodies are an exceedingly complex combination of chemicals. The medicines that we take when we are sick help us because they affect the chemistry of our bodies. The clothing we wear, the dishes in which we do our cooking, the furnaces that heat our homes, the vitamins and minerals that guard our health, along with such everyday simple products as toothpaste, soap, even water—all are products of the operation of chemistry.

Chemistry is a highly predictable science governed by law. And those laws were sharply defined and in place long before any human mind began to study them. In fact, scientists have studied and experimented many years just to discover what has been operating all the time. These laws are among the wonders of our Creator’s handiwork, and but for them, we would not be able to live. Said Thomas Edison, “No one can study chemistry and see the wonderful way in which certain elements combine with the nicety of the most delicate machine ever invented, and not come to the inevitable conclusion that there is a Big Engineer who is running this universe.”

Atoms Everywhere

Chemistry is the study of matter, and matter is anything that has mass (weight) and occupies space. Matter is anything we can feel or touch—the water we drink, the air we breathe, the car we drive, our chair, the floor, the wall—all is matter.

All matter is made up of billions and billions of tiny particles called atoms. The concept of the atom is an old one. The word was coined by the Greeks about 400 BC. But the idea of atomic structure did not begin to be understood until the early nineteenth century. Now, after years of research and study, substances are defined according to their atomic

An atom is a very, very small particle—it is hard to imagine how small. It would take more than 100 million average sized atoms, set edge to edge, to equal the thickness of a sheet of paper. Someone has calculated that on the curved surface of an ordinary pin are some 200 quadrillion nickel atoms.

But atoms are not hard, solid little balls. Atoms are made up of three smaller particles: protons, neutrons and electrons, plus a whole lot of empty space. In fact, the inside of an atom is mostly empty space!

In the center of each atom is a tiny nucleus, in which are a fixed number of neutrons and an equal number of protons. Outside the nucleus of the atom are an equal number of electrons, tiny particles whirling in orbits around the nucleus, just as the planets orbit the earth—and just as far apart, relatively speaking. A single atom may have as many as 100 electrons orbiting its nucleus. The rest of the inside of the atom—the most of it—is empty space. This means that the chair you sit on, or the floor you stand on, is mostly nothingness, held together by the force of electrons whirling so rapidly that they cannot be crushed, giving us an illusion of solidity and firmness. (Might this be one reason why the Bible says that the things which are seen are made out of things which do not appear?—Hebrews 11:3).

Now let’s think just a little more about what is inside the atom. The nucleus at the center of the atom is very, very small, even in relation to the atom. It would take a 100 thousand nuclei to reach across the diameter of an average-sized atom.

What does this mean in tangible terms? If an atom were the size of an auditorium, the nucleus of that atom would be the size of a housefly.

Protons, neutrons, electrons form the basic structure of everything around us—and who can think that they came about by chance, by accident? It is all a marvel of design far beyond our ability to fathom.

(And we cannot help but wonder: Does God see His human creation as it really is, stripped of all the empty space within the atoms? For truly, He knows our frame, “He remembers that we are dust.” Might this be among His reasons for looking at us as infinitesimal specks? —because we really are!)

With speeds so great and sizes so microscopic in every tiny atom, can we not marvel again with the Psalmist, “What is man that You are mindful of him, and the son of man that You visit him?” (Ps. 8:4).

Atoms Make Up the Elements

All matter is made up of a relatively few basic elements, and each element has its own atomic structure, i.e., a fixed number of protons and neutrons, which give the element its properties, and therefore, its identity. At present, 109 elements are known to exist (oxygen, iron, copper, mercury are common examples).

How can so few elements make up our entire world, with its billions of different substances? Again we must look to our Creator’s masterful design. He has so arranged that two or more elements can combine chemically, in an exact proportion, and produce a wholly new substance (called a compound), having its own distinct (and different) properties (sugar, water, and salt are examples of chemical compounds). For example, two atoms of the gas hydrogen (H) combine chemically with one atom of the gas oxygen (O) and produces the water we drink (H2O). Calcium combines with carbon to produce the substance we call baking powder. Common table sugar is the result of the chemical joining of carbon, oxygen and hydrogen atoms in a specific pattern (all carbohydrates are various combinations of the same three elements). The chemical joining of iron and oxygen results in iron oxide—we call it rust.

The Wonder of the Elements

Now let’s look a little more closely at the elements that compose all matter. Are they hit-and-miss substances that came about by chance?

A little more than one hundred years ago, the Russian chemist Mendeleyev shocked the world of science with his statements about matter. The fourteenth child of a Siberian school teacher, he studied chemistry and related subjects at the Main Institute in St. Petersburg, graduated with honors, and continued in research and teaching. Dismayed that he could not find a suitable chemistry textbook for his students, he proceeded to write his own Principles of Chemistry (1868-71). In the process, he organized the known elements on a chart, and discovered a natural order among them that is no less than astounding.

In Mendeleyev’s opinion, there were more elements than had been discovered—he was sure of it because of the pattern and order he observed among the known elements. He was even prepared to give the exact description of the yet unknown elements. Many scientists scoffed, but Mendeleyev held to his premise, leaving blanks in his chart where an undiscovered element belonged. He even gave each of the undiscovered elements a pseudo name and filled in its exact properties.

Within a few years, all the missing elements had been discovered, and each one fit exactly where Mendeleyev had said it would. There was no longer any room for doubt. Suddenly Mendeleyev was a hero showered with honors.

About the Elements

What is the order among the elements? Look at the chart below. Start with the element hydrogen (represented by the “H” in the upper left-hand corner of the table). Hydrogen is the simplest element known to exist, because its atoms contain only one proton (and, of course, one neutron and one electron).

Now add one proton to it, and you have the next element on the chart: helium.

Add another proton, and you have another element: lithium. Add another proton, and you have beryllium.

And so on. When you have five protons, you have boron. Carbon has six protons, nitrogen has seven. Keep adding one proton at a time, and you will eventually form all of the 109 known elements, which are the basic building blocks of all matter.

Can anyone miss the pattern, the design, the orderliness of the structure of matter?

Every time you add a proton, you change the mass of the element—it becomes a bit heavier and a bit larger. So helium weighs more than hydrogen, and lithium weighs more than helium, and so on. This is how Mendeleyev could know that certain elements were missing when he was putting his chart together—it was as obvious as counting “1-2-3-4-6-9” and knowing that the numbers “5” and “7” and “8” were missing! And because of the orderliness of the elements, he could know exactly the characteristics of each missing element.

The Phenomena of Order

The orderliness of matter is one of the most powerful evidences of our Creator’s handiwork. For how can order come from disorder—automatically, without intelligent direction?

The answer is simple: It cannot. An All-wise, Omnipotent Creator designed and organized our world and all its elements.

Disorder is easy to understand. But order must have a mind behind it, an intelligent arranger. Toss a box full of papers into the air, and will they land in a perfect arrangement, in order by subject, all neatly stacked? You might toss them for a lifetime but they will never arrange themselves. Or dump a truckload of bricks. Do you expect it to look like a wall, a house—or anything other than a pile of bricks?

It takes intelligent thought to straighten out a desk of papers. It takes intelligent direction to arrange bricks to build a house. It also takes intelligent thought (the mind of God) to design the laws which govern the atoms to combine with each other in an orderly manner, to produce the billions of substances in our world.

We could study our whole lifetime and still only begin to understand the wonders of the world of chemistry. The most brilliant scientists today understand only a tiny fraction of what there is to know, so great are the wonders of our God!

But can we not see, even with a tiny glimpse, enough to marvel at the beauty, the order, and the design in our Creator’s workmanship? Who can say that such order “evolved” without intelligent direction?

If it takes human intelligence to put a stack of papers in order, or to build a house, or a piece of furniture, or a computer, is it not an insult to our Creator to even suggest that the building blocks of all matter—and the intricate laws that govern them—came about by happenstance?

Can we not bow our heads in reverence to the marvelous Creator who designed so orderly a world? Can anyone look upon such a wonder and not believe that all is the work of an All-powerful, All-wise Creator with awesome and incomprehensible knowledge?

What can we conclude, but that “the Hand that made them is divine”!

For Scientific Data in this Article we are Indebted to:

  • Chemistry, The Study of Matter, Fourth Edition, by Henry Dorin, Peter E Demnin and Dorothy L. Gabel, published by Prentice Hall, Inc., ©1992;
  • Chemistry: General, Organic, Biological, Second Edition, by Jacqueline I. Kroschwitz and Melvin Windkun, published by McGraw Hill, ©1990.