Adventures in Christianist Earth Science Education XXIII: Holy Chemistry, Kids!

Earth Science 4th Edition butchers geology in agonizing detail rather than bludgeoning it quickly and leaving it for the vultures. So, while we plod through that interminable mess until it’s caught up to Science of the Physical Creation’s next geology unit, we’ll go ahead and do up one of the things SPC has got that ES4 does not: a section on chemistry.

Now, you’re probably wondering how creationists will manage to fuck this one up. Oh, trust me, they’ll find ways. Let us discover them together.

We start with a rather opaque quote from Hebrews 11:3:

Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.


This appears to be their idea of Science! in the Bible! I guess they figure this quote references atoms or something. Like, we’re supposed to be all super-impressed by this vague maybe-sorta-obliquely-talking-about-invisible-stuff-making-visible-stuff verse, wow. Only, some form of atomic theory has been around since at least the 5th century BC, and this book of the Bible was written around AD 63 or 64. The idea of an atom would already be in the head of an educated Greek dude such as the one who penned Hebrews. And science isn’t a matter of faith, but of observation, experiment, and evidence. So I’m afraid this hasn’t got anything to do with science. I’d be much more impressed if God had explained how to see an atom using an electron microscope.

After that inauspicious beginning, you may be surprised to see a rather robustly rational opening paragraph. But they have got one. And the woo-meisters should definitely feel ashamed that creationists understand chemistry better than they do:

In a day of much controversy over pesticides, herbicides, chemical warfare, chemical spills, and “chemical” food additives, the science of chemistry is often misunderstood and misrepresented. While it is true that the science of chemistry may be used to harm or ruin lives, it may also be used to benefit mankind.


(That mic drop is slightly marred by the fact they believe God is good with any amount of damage we do to the earth, but it’s still a pretty great mic drop.)

They also do a good job promoting chemistry as “foundational to many other sciences,” which is pure-T Truth, and I’m glad to see it. Good on them for giving chemistry the recognition it deserves! They even properly understand the difference between “organic chemistry (they study of substances containing carbon) and inorganic chemistry (the study of all other substances).” And then they are clear on the fact that “Every area of our physical lives involves some aspect of chemistry.”

I’m pretty sure they’d be reluctant to admit that our non-physical lives are actually also firmly tied to chemistry. They can’t admit that stuff we used to think of as immaterial, such as thoughts and spirituality, all arise from the chemicals washing through our meat computers, and not some esoteric plane where angels and demons frolic.

They insert an obligatory paragraph about how it’s all cuz of God that we can nose around and figure out his spiffy material creations, and how chemistry makes us go Wow, God! You’re really awesome! It’s pretty bland sauce. Don’t worry. It’s about to get far more ridiculous.

After yet another paragraph explaining that chemistry is the “study of the composition of matter” and “the interactions of matter with matter,” plus a brief explanation of what chemists do, they dive into the history of chemistry. And there’s where it gets weird. So weird.

Although chemistry is often thought of as a modern science, men* have practiced practical chemistry, combining raw materials into useful substances, since before the Flood. The Bible describes a man named Tubal-cain as “an artificer of brass and iron,” a skill which requires a working knowledge of chemistry. After the Flood, men continued to apply their knowledge of chemistry to daily life.

That’s rather a bit of a stretch – I mean, by that definition, there’s no reason to exclude women from the roster of practical chemists, considering they’re the ones who do the lioness’s share of the cooking, which is also practical chemistry. And, of course, they’re talking about events and people for which there is utterly no evidence outside of the Bible. Way to science, there, SPC.

They go on to describe other aspects of applied chemistry. Alas, their “Parthian battery” is probably completely not a battery, but a method for storing sacred scrolls. Their information about Romans and concrete is accurate, though, as are their bits on Japanese swordsmiths and apothecaries using hands-on chemistry for their trades.

But then their train o’ history once again derails rather spectacularly:

Each of these developments reflected a working knowledge of chemistry, but it was not until the Reformation that a return to the Scriptures in Europe triggered a renewed curiosity about nature, leading men to wonder how and why certain materials combined to form other materials. Freed from the shackles of superstition and mysticism, chemistry began to steadily advance.

Oh, you poor sheltered Xian gits. It wasn’t the Reformation and the Bible that did that. It was the Renaissance that gave European science a swift kick in the pants. Chemistry owes a lot to the Arab and Chinese scholars who diligently studied alchemy. And it was minecraft, not Scripture, that put Western chemistry on its feet and got it started down the scientific route. Scholars weren’t consulting the Bible – they were using ancient Greek, Roman, and Arabic texts as a goad to their curiosity. Doubtless a few or many were religious men and believed they were peering into the mind of God, but love, if the Bible was going to cause us to discover the fundamentals of chemistry, early Christians and later Catholic monks would’ve had that shit figured out by the Dark Ages.

But I’ll grant that the Reformation helped loosen the Church’s stranglehold a bit, although its power wouldn’t fade for many more centuries. Now the Catholics are better at science than fundamentalist Christians.

They make it sound like 19th century chemists were only in it for learning more about God. Well, the people who made chemistry into the science we know today seemed awfully interested in understanding the material world for practical rather than spiritual reasons.

After that rather egregious derailment, however, the SPC writers are back on track. They remind us that “chemistry affects every aspect of our lives.” They are clear about the fact that everything is made of chemicals, and our modern devices and textiles owe a lot to the science of chemistry. They point out that we’d starve without the high-yield agriculture that modern chemistry makes possible. And the concluding paragraph of this section will make any skeptic’s heart sing:

Although some have tried to paint anything “chemical” as “bad” and anything “natural” as “good,” there is no such distinction in the real world. Everything in nature is made of chemicals, and every science rests to a certain extent upon chemistry.

Bravo! This is the first creationist use of scare quotes I’ve ever been able to wholeheartedly endorse.

What a remarkable blend of sense and nonsense. It bodes interesting for the rest of the unit. We shall see which triumphs: religious fuckery, or reasonably sound science.

Image shows a white cat with black-rimmed glasses and a red bowtie, sitting up behind a desk with flasks, test tubes, and notes. Behind it is a chalkboard with some sciency drawings. Caption says, "Technically, alcohol is a solution."


*Never women, of course. That would be unbiblical!

Adventures in Christianist Earth Science Education XXIII: Holy Chemistry, Kids!

3 thoughts on “Adventures in Christianist Earth Science Education XXIII: Holy Chemistry, Kids!

  1. 1

    When I was in high school, way back in the 1980s, I took chemistry. Two of the oddest things our teacher said were:

    1. Water is necessary for all life. Water is one oxygen molecule and two hydrogen molecules — a trinity. Just as God is a trinity. This makes water the holy molecule.

    2. Life is based on carbon. Carbon has an atomic weight of 12 — you can remember that by thinking of the apostles. Carbon 14 is represents the false teachings — outside the apostolic teachings — and is thus dangerous, radioactive, and used to lie about the age of the earth.

    This was a public school. And yes, she credited the blossoming of chemistry in the renaissance to an abandonment of papist idolatry and a return to God.

    I really hated high school.

    And I really admire your ability to, at serious risk to yourself, wade through this dreck.

  2. 3

    From my own discussions with creationists years ago, alcohol is a good solution for a lot of things….

    But with my amateur historian of science hat on, I have to say that the link under “Chemistry owes a lot to the Arab and Chinese scholars” is pure mince and should be ignored totally. Anything that has a section headed “Science’s siesta: 8th – 15th century” has cleary been written by a moron with no familiarity with the last 40 years of research into history of science. Unfortunately, it sometimes seems that nobody actually does. For a useful introduction, see “The beginnings of WEstern Science” by David C. Lindberg. Or “The foundations of modern science in the Middle ages” by Edward Grant.
    Claiming that Roger Bacon was an untypical scholar and yet not mentioning the more important and influential Grosseteste, or all the other threads of enquiry that went into the scientific revolution is just bad. The author couldn’t even be bothered to read wikipedia.

    The link about the ‘Baghdad Battery’ is interesting.

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