Adventures In ACE XIV: God’s Special Snowflakes

When this series is over, I’m going to need that mind-zapper thingy from Men In Black. You’ll probably need it, too, so you’re welcome to borrow it when I’m done. If we don’t clear our minds of this crap, we’ll never be able to play in the snow again.

We had hints last time that the writers of ACE PACE 1087 suck mightily at understanding the science of the hydrosphere. But verily, I say unto you, that introduction gave us no warning at how spectacularly incompetent they are at the science of snowflakes. I know I always tell you to pad any surfaces around you before proceeding, but I really mean it this time. And don a helmet and a neck brace so that repeated headdesking won’t result in permanent injury. Also, if anyone in your household is sleeping, or there are persons or animals who get distressed by loud howls of derision, please take this opportunity to procure a gag, thick pillow, or some other device that will muffle your cries.

I’ll admit something: I don’t really understand why snowflakes are shaped the way they are. I’m kinda fuzzy on how they form and the temperatures and stuff involved. I still understand them better than the ACE people do. Their “Treasures of the Snow” box is full of stuff, but I promise you it ain’t treasure.

They begin by speculating why snowflakes are six-sided. First, they present us something that sounds like numerology:

Some Scientists have theorized that the electrons within a water molecule follow three orbital paths that are positioned at 60° angles to one another. Since a circle contains 360°, this electronic relationship causes the water molecule to have six “spokes” radiating from a hub (the nucleus).

Image is a water molecule diagram. It looks like a bouncy ball with two extra lumps. The oxygen molecule is red, with two hydrogen molecules in gray, stuck on like little stubby legs.
Behold the water molecule. Observe the complete absence of six spokes. Image courtesy Booyabazooka via Wikimedia Commons.

I… don’t think there’s six spokes there. And I can’t find any scientists saying anything of the sort about water molecules.

Next, they’re on about how snowflakes trap extra oxygen in air pockets between their spokes, and magnetism loving oxygen so much more than other gasses, therefore “a relationship exists between a snowflake’s attraction to oxygen and magnetism’s attraction to oxygen.” I don’t know, either. They say this is what scientists are saying about snowflakes, but I don’t think they’ve ever talked to an actual scientist. This is what a really-real scientist says about gaseous oxygen and its love affair with magnetism:

Yes, gaseous oxygen is paramagnetic too, for the same reason that liquid oxygen is – unpaired electrons. However, you will not be able to observe this paramagnetism at anything but the highest possible fields (I’m only guessing that the required magnetic field is even achievable…but I’ll have to do a calculation to make sure). The reason for this is that the kinetic energy of the gas molecules is so large that the effect of a magnetic field will be negligible in comparison.

You’ve read lot’s of ACE nonsense by now, and probably think you are prepared for any amount of bizarre biblical interpretation, but you ain’t seen nothing yet. This next bit actually caused me to put down this PACE for several months; I think it about broke my brain.

Job 38:22, 23 states, “Hast thou entered into the treasures of the snow? or hast thou seen the treasure of the hail, which I have reserved against the time of trouble, against the day of battle and war?” Considering this Scripture, some scientists believe that a tremendous power resides untapped within the water molecules from which snowflakes and hailstones are made.

Image is a white owl's head, yellow eyes staring and beak open. Caption says, "O Rly?"

I had no idea how on earth anyone would get to that conclusion from that verse. But then they went on,

How can this Scripture, along with these observations about snowflakes, show us a physical truth? Scientists at Virginia Tech have produced electricity more efficiently from permanent magnets, which have their lines of force related to each other at sixty-degree angles, than from previous methods of extracting electricity from magnetism.

Image shows a gray tabby cat with one ear crooked to the side and one eye narrowed, looking skeptical. Caption says, "Go on, give us another one."

Other research along this line may reveal a way to tap electric current directly from snow, eliminating the need for costly, heavy, and complex equipment now needed to generate electricity.

Right here is about where my brain went

Image shows a Siamese cat pressed up against a corner of a bathtub stall, face planted against the tiles, trying to avoid the bubble bath below. Caption says, "NOPE."

and ran away for several months. I returned, refreshed, and began googling for clues as to where these screwy ideas were coming from.

Are you ready for what I found? Are you sitting down? Have you swallowed any food or drink? Have you cleared your desk of sharp, fragile, or otherwise inconvenient objects that may interfere with desk-pounding or headdesking?

Good. Then I can now tell you that the “scientists” are one (1, single, solitary) inventor of a perpetual motion machine, and the doofus who wrote the bafflegab to go with it. The paper they wrote is a monument to perpetual motion crackpottery. It explains so much about the astounding idiocy of this ACE PACE’s snowflake babble. It’s all there: the “spokes,” the Book of Job, the 60° magnet angles. The only thing missing is the “energy from snow” idea. Needless to say, the perpetual motion machine is pure BS. Howard R. Johnson may have gotten a patent for his nonsense machine, but that isn’t quite the vindication cranks and creationists think it is. As for their oddball interpretation of God’s bragging to Job, they seem to be ignoring the context. God’s clearly talking about snowball fights. Also, we know he loves smiting people with hail. He wasn’t talking about the incredible magnetic powers of snowflakes, considering they haven’t actually got any.

Now that I know just what they consider to be “some scientists,” I’ll never be able to stop laughing.

In the main text, we are given an insipid description of how snow forms (it’s cold, water droplets freeze, dry snow is flaky, wet snow packs easily, ZOMG SO SCIENCE!!). Ace’s dad, who’s giving us this *yawn* gripping information, waxes lyrical about how God “has designed each snowflake beautiful and unique.” Considering there are about 9.6×10ˆ31 snowflakes produced on earth each year, and each one is different from the other, we can see why God is too busy to do personal appearances in burning bushes these days.

Then Ace and his dad burble on for another two paragraphs about crimson or scarlet sins and getting these sins washed white as snow by God, which is mentioned in a bunch of verses.

And that, my lovelies, is the ACE version of the science of snowflakes. It’s certainly… unique.

Come back next time, when ACE will tell us the science of God hurling hail, freezes us with frost, and floods us out.


(For a good description of why snowflakes are six-sided, see this Double XX Science article on the subject. And do not miss Jonny Scaramanga’s scathing review of this ACE PACE! And, finally, have an incredibly special snowflake to scrub this PACE from your brain with.)

Image is a scanning electron micrograph of a snowflake that looks like a tie fighter. It's a hexagonal column topped at each end with hexagonal plates that look like they've been coated on the ends with shag carpeting.
“Rime frost on both ends of a capped column snowflake.” That’s an actual snowflake, photographed with an electron microscope. Mind. Blow. More info can be found here. Image courtesy Erbe, Pooley: USDA, ARS, EMU.
Adventures In ACE XIV: God’s Special Snowflakes
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10 thoughts on “Adventures In ACE XIV: God’s Special Snowflakes

  1. rq

    I stopped at ‘six spokes’. Because no, water molecules don’t have six spokes; it’s the angle between the atoms in the molecule that lets water molecules create hexagonally-based shapes in crystals like snowflakes… but six spokes?

    Okay, I’m going to go back later and try again to read the rest. (It’s not your writing, Dana, it’s the material. :) )

  2. 4

    Snowflakes get their hexagonal shape from the hexagonal symmetry of ice crystals. They get their detailed shapes from their histories in clouds. Water vapor condenses on them as they fall, and what temperatures and water-vapor amounts control where the water condenses. The different histories of different snowflakes give them different shapes.

    NOAA – How do snowflakes form?
    LiveScience – How Snowflakes Form: New Video Explains – How Do Snowflakes Form? — Why is Every Snowflake Different?
    How do snowflakes get their shape? | Earth | EarthSky

  3. 5

    Water molecules have shape H – O – H bent at the oxygen atom by about 104.5 degrees. Oxygen atoms attract electrons to themselves more than hydrogen atoms do, so the oxygen atom tends to be negatively charged and the hydrogen atoms positively charged. Each water molecule’s hydrogens tends to stick to the oxygens of neighboring water molecules. This is what produces the numerous solid phases of water (Ice – Wikipedia). They have a variety of crystal structures, including none (amorphous: like glass).

    Hexagonal — the most familiar form
    Cubic — low temperatures (<~ -100 C)
    Rhombohedral, tetragonal, orthorhombic, monoclinic — high pressures (~3000 atm)

  4. 6

    Are you ready for what I found? Are you sitting down?

    I was expecting you to say it was based on Aristotle. Because that’s science the creationists kinda sorta accept.

  5. 7

    [email protected]#4:
    Snowflakes get their hexagonal shape from the hexagonal symmetry of ice crystals. They get their detailed shapes from their histories in clouds. Water vapor condenses on them as they fall, and what temperatures and water-vapor amounts control where the water condenses. The different histories of different snowflakes give them different shapes.

    You mean, water has “memory”?


  6. 8

    Bathtub cat is adorable!

    I’ve been hearing the old “every snowflake is unique” thing since I was in first grade. My first thought then was “Who checked every one to verify that?”

  7. 9

    After reading the OP I felt a strange disturbance in the Force, as if millions of heads were smacking millions of desks.

    (Apologies to whoever I stole this from.)

  8. 10

    (Me) #4: The different histories of different snowflakes give them different shapes.

    Marcus Ranum #7: You mean, water has “memory”?

    Ice does, the way that solid objects do, by keeping its shape. Liquid water is another story, however, from it being liquid.

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