Building an Atom Is Not Simple

Building an Atom Is Not Simple - The Standard Model

When I started teaching high school chemistry in 1959, scientists described the starting point for matter as the atom. They knew that atoms are composed of electrons orbiting a nucleus that contains protons and neutrons. Building an atom did not seem so complicated. Nobody thought to ask if the components of the atom were made up of still smaller particles. The theory was that protons, neutrons, and electrons are the starting point for all of chemistry.

Research in the 1950s raised some troubling questions. Particle accelerators smashing particles together at high energies revealed a wide variety of previously unknown subatomic constituents making building an atom more complex.

Since that time, scientists have organized three groups that give a coherent picture of the particles and forces God used in building an atom. One is the quark group. It contains six particles which, when combined, produce a variety of larger particles, including protons and neutrons. There are also six lightweight particles called leptons, which include electrons. The third group comprises force-carrying particles which hold quarks together and account for electromagnetism and the weak and strong nuclear forces. The four members of this group are photons, gluons, W bosons, and Z bosons.

This understanding is called “The Standard Model.” Why do we care about all of this? On a practical level, it has led to the whole field of nuclear science. The application of nuclear science can be destructive, as seen in the atomic bomb. It can also offer great uses as an energy source, and it provides a wide range of medical uses. On an apologetic level, this understanding shows the wisdom and design built into every corner of our existence. All of these particles can decay into other things. We still do not understand how gravity fits into this model, but the power and wisdom required to produce the building blocks of matter speak volumes of their Creator.

Several of these particles have antimatter partners. Science is discovering more and more evidence showing that the origin of quarks and leptons is rooted in dimensions beyond the three dimensions of space and time, which we know. When you observe the wisdom and design built into the way all of this is organized, you have a good picture of how God’s creative wisdom has resulted in the world in which we live.

We now know that ultimately all quarks, leptons, and force particles will dissolve into the energy from which they came. Second Peter 3:10-12 describes this process in vivid detail. Numerous passages like Proverbs 8:22-23 hint at the history of God’s power, energy, wisdom, and design in the creation of the physical cosmos. Building an atom is an incredibly complicated thing to do, and the very existence of matter speaks to the magnificence of God.

— John N. Clayton © 2021