A Chemist Finds Powerful Evidence of Creation
By “Awake!” correspondent in Finland
Dmitri Ivanovitch Mendeleyev
A LITTLE over 100 years ago, Russian Chemist Dmitri Mendeleyeva sat pondering the inter-relationship of the elements. On the basis of his research, he came to the conclusion that certain elements were yet to be discovered. Was he right? If so, would this indicate that all matter came into existence just by blind chance? Or would it prove that the earth and the entire universe were designed by an intelligent Creator?
By the 1860’s, 63 of the 103 elements now known to man had been identified. Mendeleyev was studying the properties of these elements to find some order or pattern. From the relative atomic weight assigned to each one, he already knew their relationship by weight. Also, he had noted similarities between pairs or in families of elements. Many resemblances are familiar to us in everyday life. For example, for dietary reasons, some persons substitute potassium chloride for sodium chloride as table salt. Copper readily replaces gold or silver in coins or jewelry. Magnesium and calcium are so alike that they fit interchangeably in the mineral structure of dolomitic limestone. Mendeleyev wondered why some elements are so similar and others so different.
Mendeleyev set out the details of each element on a card and began pinning his cards to the wall. He arranged and rearranged them, endeavoring to get them in order by weight, at the same time taking their various properties and characteristics into consideration. Soon a pattern began to emerge. He found that if he put the first seven elements (with the exception of hydrogen, which is really in a class by itself) in order in a column and then listed the next seven beside them, there was a remarkable similarity between each pair of elements. Sodium fell beside lithium, these being two of the elements called alkali metals because they react with water to form strong alkalis. Chlorine was paired with fluorine, two gases called halogens because of their notable tendency to form salts. These were the first two “periods” in what became his periodic table.
Continuing in a third column, Mendeleyev found that potassium fell beside sodium, then calcium beside magnesium. So far, so good. But from there on, things became more complicated. After trying various arrangements of his cards, he found that he could place all the following elements up as far as iodine in two long periods, of 17 elements each. By dividing the short periods, as shown on the chart, he found two rows at the top of each period and three rows at the bottom that corresponded exactly to well-known families of chemical elements. In the middle of the long periods, he found the metallic elements, including those metals most familiar to us in daily experience.
However, in order to achieve this beautiful arrangement, Mendeleyev had to leave several gaps, three in the first long period and one in the second. These blank spaces did not deter him from publishing his table. So strong now was his confidence that the elements had been created in an orderly pattern that he boldly announced that elements as yet unknown would be discovered to fill the gaps. With presumptuous audacity, he went so far as to describe the properties of these missing elements. He predicted their atomic weights, densities and the types of chemical combinations that they would form. He gave them tentative names, “eka-boron,” “eka-aluminum” and “eka-silicon,” in line with their expected family characteristics.
His confidence in the orderliness of “nature” was not misplaced. Much sooner than anyone might have expected, his missing elements started turning up. Gallium (eka-aluminum) was discovered in France in 1876, scandium (eka-boron) in Sweden in 1879, and, in 1886, germanium (eka-silicon) was discovered in Germany. Astonishingly—to everyone but Mendeleyev—the physical properties and atomic weights of each element were almost precisely what he had predicted. Incidentally, germanium has found an indispensable place today in the production of transistors.
After these discoveries, scientists who at first had paid little attention to Mendeleyev’s table came to acclaim him internationally as a scientific genius. His periodic chart came to be an indispensable aid in chemical research and teaching, and is to this day found everywhere on the walls of chemistry classrooms and laboratories. No one doubted that the other elements needed to fill in the blanks in the table would ultimately come to light.
Room for an Unexpected Family
Later discoveries were destined to expand Mendeleyev’s table. In 1894 John Rayleigh and William Ramsay separated from atmospheric nitrogen a rare gas that they named argon because it would not combine with any other element. A year later, Ramsay found an even rarer inert gas in an ore of uranium; he identified it as helium, which had been seen in the sun’s spectrum during an eclipse in 1868, but was not then known to exist on earth. Where could these unexpected elements be fitted into the periodic table?
Mendeleyev followed up Ramsay’s speculation that perhaps the periodic table was not complete. He proposed to introduce the two elements as members of a new family, of inert gases, in a group ahead of the alkali metals. But this meant that three more inert gases would have to be found to fill up the new row in the table. Sure enough, within only three years, in Ramsay’s laboratory three more tiny constituents of the atmosphere were found—neon, krypton and xenon. Their atomic weights put them in exactly the right places in the periodic table.
Evidence of Creation?
Does this really provide evidence of creation? Well, if the elements had just fallen together by chance, why wouldn’t their atomic weights be clustered around some average value, with maybe a few light and a few heavy ones? And why wouldn’t the properties such as density, melting point or chemical reactivity vary at random from one element to another? Why expect any correlation between one and another? There would be no reason to expect the elements to be grouped into families with well-marked similarities.
But Mendeleyev’s table demonstrated that the whole structure of matter is not haphazard. Its very orderliness proves that its origin could not possibly be accidental. A very intricate pattern in this most basic organization of matter gives evidence of design.
Now, do you not agree that this provides powerful evidence of the existence of an intelligent Designer, a wise Creator? Or do you desire more proof? Well, further evidence was yet to come to light. Indeed, the addition of the group of inert gases, which had lengthened the short periods to eight elements and the long periods to 18, proved to be the foundation on which the forthcoming theory of atomic structure would depend for its perfection.
Further pioneering research opened up the atom for a more detailed look at what it is like inside. First, J. J. Thomson showed that negatively charged electrons could be separated from atoms of all kinds. Ernest Rutherford showed that the positive charge of the atom was concentrated in a very small volume, called the nucleus. Niels Bohr conceived of an atom as being like the solar system, with numerous electrons in various orbits around the nucleus at the center. The positive charges came in multiples of a unit charge. The hydrogen atom had just one unit of charge; it was called a proton. Different elements had atoms each with a certain number of protons, and the protons in the nucleus were neutralized by an equal number of electrons in orbit.
A remarkable discovery by Henry Moseley made it possible to tell just how many protons and electrons are in each kind of atom. He measured the energy of X rays emitted by various elements when the innermost electrons are disturbed. Moseley found that this energy increases in a mathematically regular fashion from one element to the next in the order of Mendeleyev’s table. Where there was a gap, the energy jump was twice as much. He proposed putting a serial number on each element, starting with hydrogen as number 1, helium as number 2, and so on. This atomic number is the number of protons in the nucleus, as well as the number of electrons, in each kind of atom.
This number turned out to be even more fundamental than the atomic weight in fixing the properties of an element. The elements ordered by atomic number fell exactly into their places in the periodic table, without exception! Mendeleyev had found it necessary to put argon before potassium, although argon’s atomic weight is 40 and potassium’s is only 39. Other cases where he had reversed the order for the sake of chemical harmony were vindicated by the order of Moseley’s atomic numbers, that being so in every case. All the discrepancies were gone. Also, the exact assignment of atomic numbers made it possible to say positively just what elements were still missing, and to make it certain that no other gaps were left. There is no room to fit in another family the way the inert gases were squeezed in.
By 1925 it was definitely established that the whole roster of elements from hydrogen to uranium fell into exactly 92 spaces in the periodic table, with only four spaces still blank. Two of these, Nos. 85 and 87, were expected to be radioactive, just as are all the other elements beyond bismuth. The other two, Nos. 43 and 61, were diligently sought among ores of other rare elements, but in spite of claims to discovery by several chemists, their existence was not confirmed.
Electrons in Shells
Bohr introduced the idea, and others refined it, that the electron orbits lie in shells, each of which has a certain maximum capacity. The innermost shell, where electrons have the smallest possible orbits, can hold only two electrons. In the next shell, with somewhat larger orbits, up to eight electrons can be accommodated. The third will hold 18, the fourth 32. These numbers were derived from a study of the different possible shapes of the orbits, circular and elliptical, according to Bohr’s “quantum” theory.
The extent to which these shells are filled depends on the number of electrons in any given atom, that is, its atomic number. Thus, in helium, with two electrons, the innermost shell is filled. The elements from lithium to neon, Nos. 3 to 10, have successively one to eight electrons in the second shell. The next elements, sodium, with 11 electrons, has a single electron in the third shell, and so on.
The electrons in the outer shell control the atom’s interaction with other atoms; so the chemical behavior of an element depends on how many electrons occupy the outer shell. Now we can see why lithium and sodium are in the same family. They each have a single electron in the outer shell. This is also true of the other alkali metals, potassium, rubidium and cesium. In the halogen family, fluorine, chlorine, bromine and iodine each have seven electrons in the outer shell.
It turns out that in each of the inert gases—neon, argon, krypton and xenon—there are eight electrons in the outer shell. Eight electrons form a very stable arrangement. We might say that such atoms are well satisfied with themselves, and smugly resist all offers to give or take electrons. By contrast, the loose electron in sodium or potassium is easily lost. Such metals react vigorously with almost any substance, even air or water. At the other end of a period, fluorine or chlorine will try to take an electron from another element, to attain the stable number of eight. So these elements, too, are chemically active, but for the opposite reason.
The activity of sodium metal makes it quite dangerous to handle, and elementary chlorine gas is very poisonous. But move a single electron from sodium to chlorine and see what a difference it makes. Chlorine now has its deficiency satisfied, with a full shell of eight like the inert gas argon. And sodium has left a similar shell of eight, like neon. So in the compound sodium chloride (common table salt) both elements are quite innocuous, even safe to eat.
The Neutron Completes the Picture
But knowledge of one basic part of the atom was still lacking. Looking at the table, the reader will note that all the elements, hydrogen excepted, have atomic weights that are at least twice the atomic numbers. Since the proton has a weight of only one unit, why does carbon, for instance, with only six protons, have an atomic weight of 12? This piece of the puzzle was filled in when the neutron was discovered in 1932. This is a particle with nearly the same weight as the proton, but without any electric charge. So, as we understand it today, carbon has six protons and six neutrons in the nucleus, and, orbiting the nucleus, six electrons that balance the charge of the protons.
Many elements have isotopes, in which the nucleus contains a different number of neutrons. In a small percentage of carbon atoms, for example, there are seven neutrons instead of six. This does not alter the charge, or the arrangement of the electrons, but does effect the atomic weight. This variation in the number of neutrons is a reason why Mendeleyev found the atomic weights out of order in a few cases.
Most of the volume of the atom consists of empty space, but the high speed of the orbiting electrons and their behavior give the appearance of a solid or fluid state. The protons, neutrons and electrons are the same in all atoms, no matter what the substance is. All matter is built from just these three building blocks. What, then, makes one substance differ from another? It is simply the number of protons in the nucleus and the number and arrangement of the electrons in the shells around it. And just think how infinitesimally small all of this is! The diameter of an atom is only about one hundred millionth of an inch (2 or 3 hundred millionths of a centimeter)!
So modern atomic theory has wonderfully vindicated Mendeleyev’s faith that the elements were created according to an orderly plan. It has explained why the atomic weights put the elements very nearly in the right families, and it has justified the exceptions that he felt it necessary to make. It explains the chemical similarities in the families of elements. Truly they form a beautiful, harmonious system. We properly give high credit to the one who discovered the system. How much more should we praise the One who devised the system and made the elements according to such a purposeful pattern!
The Table Completed
Today, all the blanks in Mendeleyev’s table have been filled. Elements Nos. 85 and 87 were found, as expected, as rare, transient members of the series of radioactive decay products of uranium. Elements 43 and 61 were created artificially, by nuclear transmutation induced in a cyclotron or a nuclear reactor. Several isotopes of each have been made, but they all turned out to be radioactive, decaying completely in far less time than has elapsed since the earth was formed. That is why they were never found in “nature.”
More than that, the Periodic Table has been extended far beyond the original quota of 92 elements by the creation of “transuranic” elements. Again, the nuclear reactor and the cyclotron have been the means by which this has been accomplished. Of course, all such elements are radioactive; and the heavier they are, the more unstable they are. Elements all the way to No. 103 have been identified. But with lives measured in minutes, the fleeting existence of the heaviest ones makes it more and more difficult to capture and study them.
With every element accounted for, right up to No. 103, the table that Mendeleyev struggled to put together 100 years ago is now complete. No more elements can be found between any of those now known. If new elements are discovered, they will have to go beyond the end of the table. Some Russian and American scientists claim to have discovered elements 104 and 105, but these have not been confirmed.
Creation or Blind Chance?
Much more could be said about the atom, and our consideration here has been limited. But do you not agree that this amazing order and symmetry is powerful evidence of creation, proof that there is a Master Creator who knows what he is doing? Who could imagine that all the complex matter around us, yes, even we ourselves, could all be made out of three simple building blocks—neutrons, protons and electrons! Yet, look at the tremendous variety. Observe the beauty and harmony of it all.
No doubt, much more is to be learned about matter, atoms and elements. Nevertheless, even this brief look at the basic arrangement suffices to show us that what we now know constitutes powerful evidence of the handiwork of an intelligent Designer and Creator. (Heb. 3:4) No, it could never have happened by blind chance!
a Dmitri Ivanovitch Mendeleyev was born in Tobolsk, Siberia, in 1834 and died in St. Petersburg, Russia, in 1907.
[Chart on page 19]
ARRANGEMENT OF ELECTRONS IN SHELLS
No. Elements 1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th 6th
1 Hydrogen 1
2 Helium 2
3 Lithium 2 1
4 Beryllium 2 2
5 Boron 2 3
6 Carbon 2 4
7 Nitrogen 2 5
8 Oxygen 2 6
9 Fluorine 2 7
10 Neon 2 8
11 Sodium 2 8 1
12 Magnesium 2 8 2
13 Aluminum 2 8 3
14 Silicon 2 8 4
15 Phosphorus 2 8 5
16 Sulfur 2 8 6
17 Chlorine 2 8 7
18 Argon 2 8 8
19 Potassium 2 8 8 1
20 Calcium 2 8 8 2
21 Scandium 2 8 9 2
* * *
26 Iron 2 8 14 2
* * *
30 Zinc 2 8 18 2
31 Gallium 2 8 18 3
32 Germanium 2 8 18 4
33 Arsenic 2 8 18 5
34 Selenium 2 8 18 6
35 Bromine 2 8 18 7
36 Krypton 2 8 18 8
37 Rubidium 2 8 18 8 1
38 Strontium 2 8 18 8 2
* * *
53 Iodine 2 8 18 18 7
54 Xenon 2 8 18 18 8
55 Cesium 2 8 18 18 8 1
56 Barium 2 8 18 18 8 2
* * *
82 Lead 2 8 18 32 18 4
* * *
[Chart on page 21]
(For fully formatted text, see publication)
MENDELEYEV’S PERIODIC TABLE OF THE ELEMENTS WITH APPROXIMATE ATOMIC WEIGHTS
2 10 18 36 54
Helium Neon Argon Krypton Xenon
4 20.2 40 38.8 131.3
1 3 11 19 37 55
Hydrogen Lithium Sodium Potassium Rubidium Cesium
1 7 23 39 85.5 133
4 12 20 38 56
Beryllium Magnesium Calcium Strontium Barium
9 24.3 40 87.6 137.3
5 13 21 39 57-71
Boron Aluminum Scandium Yttrium *
10.8 27 45 89 139-175
22 40 72
Titanium Zirconium Hafnium
48 91.2 178.5
23 41 73
Vanadium Niobium Tantalum
51 93 181
24 42 74
Chromium Molybdenum Tungsten
52 96 183.8
25 43 75
Manganese Technetium Rhenium
55 99 186.2
26 44 76
Iron Ruthenium Osmium
55.8 101 190.2
27 45 77
Cobalt Rhodium Iridium
59 103 192.2
28 46 78
Nickel Palladium Platinum
58.7 106.4 195
29 47 79
Copper Silver Gold
63.5 107.9 197
30 48 80
Zinc Cadmium Mercury
65.4 112.4 200.6
31 49 81
Gallium Indium Thallium
69.7 114.8 204.4
6 14 32 50 82
Carbon Silicon Germanium Tin Lead
12 28 72.6 118.7 207.2
7 15 33 51 83
Nitrogen Phosphorus Arsenic Antimony Bismuth
14 31 75 121.8 209
8 16 34 52 †
Oxygen Sulfur Selenium Tellurium
16 32 79 127.6
9 17 35 53
Fluorine Chlorine Bromine Iodine
19 35.5 80 127
This table is in the form of the original published by Mendeleyev in 1869, but includes the revisions he made in 1871. In more recent forms of the table, the periods are usually put on horizontal lines and the family groups in vertical columns. Many of the atomic weights are given here more accurately than they were known in his day. Elements discovered since 1871 and the atomic numbers, assigned since 1913, are shown in color.
* Mendeleyev put in the third and fourth groups, between barium and tantalum, the four rare earths known to him: Lanthanum, cerium, erbium and didymium (later found to be a mixture of neodymium and praseodymium). All together, 15 of these rare earth elements were found, all belonging to the same family as yttrium.
† Thorium and uranium, two elements heavier than bismuth, not shown here, Mendeleyev put into a sixth period, in the fourth and sixth families respectively.