I work at a school in London (Dinosaur Dave Hone's old school in fact) and was talking to my students about Evolution and Creationism the other day - I am really concerned about the growing use of pseudo-science to support Creationist views and the large volume of this information that is out there. One of my students said that God must have been involved in the creation of life as intermolecular forces are not strong enough to hold molecules together and therefore God must have intervened or there would be no life. Not being the strongest chemist and having never heard this reason before, I didn't really have enough information to answer this point. Is this a piece of supportive evidence for Creationism you have heard before? It is obviously not correct and do you have any good quality science I can use to counter this argument.

Still having fun with that little ankle-biter are you Jon? Hmmm, never heard that one before I'm afraid. I have had a look in the usual sources (like the peerless TalkOrigins) but can't find anythign about intermolecualr forces. My short answer would be "if that's the case what is holding everyhtign together now? That's no so much creation as ongoing scaffolding" but that does not deal with the science of the issue. We do have a couple of people with biochemnistry backgrounds so hopefulyl they can offer mroe than me.

Jon, Dave,
                  I think what the pupil was probably referring to are the intermolecular bonds between hydrogen molecules (also know as Van der Waals forces). The molecules involved in this type of bond do need to be in close proximity, but there are plenty of other types of bonds and forces out there to hold molecules together. So in a few words; tosh and cant.

Methinks this sounds like a standard creationist gambit, ask the scientist about an area of science they don't work in and if they can't answer the question then creationism must be valid. Worth checking if they are being primed by parents or others. Don't get any hits about this on creationist sites, though. Googling intermolecular forces gets me straight to Van der Waal bonds.


"Hope is a duty from which palaeontologists are exempt."
David Quammen

Sounds like your student has a level-crossing problem here.  Here is one way to approach it.  Suppose you were to assume, for the same of argument that God exists, and that he actively keeps molecules together; then you'd note that he keeps _all_ molecules together in the same way, consistently; you'd determine the repeatable properties of the bonds that keep moecules together, and study them.  Then what you have there is science -- the study of the observable and repeatable.  Whether those bonds are due to God's active intervention or not isn't even theoretically determinable, either by scientific of theological means.  What matters to us as scientists is that the molecules consistently follow rules, whether of divine or physical origin.  More than that we cannot say -- and neither can creationists, if they want to maintain any veneer of being scientific.

I would guess the student was alluding to the 'fine-tuned universe' proposition, albeit not in the most accurate/credible way. The main premise is that the physical constants of nature appear finely tuned to allow the existence of life as we know it.

There are several examples cited in support of this, usually relating to more fundamental forces like those necessary for neutrons and protons to interact within an atom (e.g. strong coupling constant) or for electrons to orbit them (e.g. fine-structure constant).

Here is one example. Life as we know it depends on elements heavier than hydrogen, which are formed by stars (stellar nucleosynthesis) or during their extinction (supernova nucleosynthesis). The nuclear reactions involved in these processes are influenced by the strong nuclear force; if this force was 10% weaker, neutrons and protons (and therefore larger elements) would not hold themselves together; if this force was 2-4% stronger, it would allow two protons to directly fuse together in a star to form helium-2, a very fast fusion reaction that would likely cause the star to burn all its fuel long before conditions would allow life the chance to evolve.

I attached a graph of this from a Prof Barrow book below, which also shows the fine-structure constant on the x-axis. As you can see, it does indeed seem impressive that the physical constants of our universe fall within the narrow range allowing for elements and ultimately life to evolve (and these are just two examples).

There are many interesting philosophical questions arising from this. The usual response invokes the 'anthropic principle', or the idea that there is nothing remarkable about observer's in a universe noting that the universe's constants are permissive of observer's coming into existence, i.e. it's a necessity. To avoid this becoming circular-reasoning/tautological, multiple universes are usually proposed, each with potentially different physical 'constants' to ours. There is even one neat idea that these universes may inherit values of physical constants resembling their parent universes' constants, in a somewhat bizarre cosmological-scale quasi-Darwinian multiverse evolution.

Last edited by Combiz Khozoie (9th Feb 2012 23:47:56)

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