How the Elements Were Crafted

How the Elements Were Crafted - Supernova 1987a
Supernova 1987a

One of the great mysteries of science has been the question of how the heavier elements came into existence. Physicists have produced a few heavy elements in particle accelerators, and they have observed them being made in stars. Understanding how the elements were crafted is a solid apologetic for God’s creative power and wisdom. Being able to duplicate in a laboratory what God has done in the vast outreaches of space increases our amazement at what God has done.

As we said yesterday, the ability to produce nuclear fusion may solve our energy needs, but the fact that God did it “in the beginning” has led to a greater appreciation of God’s power and His methods. We know that the nuclear fusion of hydrogen can produce helium. We can duplicate that process in the laboratory on a small scale and see it in operation in the Sun.

Hydrogen (1) was produced first, but forging elements, including carbon (6), nitrogen (7), and oxygen (8), required enormously high pressures and temperatures in the interior of stars. These elements are the four starting points for life—still heavier elements require even greater pressures and temperatures.

In 1987, astronomers watched a star explode, becoming supernova 1987a. After the explosion, astronomers detected neon (10) in the star, which was not there before. Direct and indirect observations of the nuclei of exploding stars has shown how the elements were crafted as God produced the following 28 elements in the periodic table. This group includes copper and phosphorus, which are present in our bodies and are essential to life.

As our cosmic tools have become capable of detecting gravitational waves, we have seen even heavier elements produced when neutron stars collide. For example, computer models have shown that those collisions can produce the elements gallium (31) through bismuth (83). In addition, the merger of two black holes can produce very heavy elements such as thorium (90) and uranium (92). The bottom line is that we can see how the elements were crafted by God. He made the universe and our bodies from elements produced in the core of ancient stars.

Obviously, the Bible doesn’t explain how the elements were crafted. However, it does tell us that God acted “in the beginning” to set the process in motion. As we observe the universe through new tools such as the Webb Telescope with the help of computers, we can see a vivid display of God’s power and wisdom in creating all that we see and are. For most of us, “In the beginning, God created” is all we need to know, but as science learns what it takes to create the building blocks of creation, we have a whole new appreciation of “the heavens declare the glory of God and the expanse proclaims the work of his hands” (Psalms 19:1 CSB).

— John N. Clayton © 2023

Reference: “Cosmic Alchemy” by Sanjana Curtis, Scientific American, January 2023, pages 31-37, and “Astronomy Picture of the Day” for January 8, 2023