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RELIGIOUS STUDIES IN CHEMICAL SCIENCE.
PROF. ALBERT B. PRESCOTT.
Delivered Feb. 21, 1892.
[JOHN I, 1-10.]
Any studies of created things, made in a distinct recognition of God as their Creator, become religious studies. Religion is defined as "the recognition of God as an object of worship." This definition applies to all religions of all peoples. Among ourselves, in the thought of civilized life, and among college students, whoever acknowledges God admits Him to be the Creator of all. I need not consider any one as having belief in a God who is not a Creator. With us it is, perhaps, the very easiest of the declarations of God, that "all things were made by Him." We believe this if we believe in God at all; without this there is no starting point for our studies.
The recognition of God, in studies of natural objects, imparts to these studies such degree of religious character, as is in proportion to the extent in which God is recognized. It is first on the natural side that we admit Him to be the Creator. It is first on the religious side that we acknowledge Him as a being for worship. It follows to fill out our recognition that we know Him as a being for our obedience and our love.
The first four words of the Apostles' Creed state a sufficient qualification to take a course in religious study of science: "I believe in God." The first four words of the English Bible signify the same, "In the beginning God." And when for the
divine name we place the definition given in Webster's Dictionary we have these terms for the full creed we require in the study before us, I acknowledge God, the Creator, being for worship, obedience, and love. With this creed we are well prepared to make religious studies in any field of science.
Man's knowledge of things existing below his own mind, so far as this knowledge is systematic and general, constitutes the basis of what are called the sciences. "Physical Science" includes both "physics" and "chemistry." The chemist has made studies of the composition of bodies, and of their transmutation. He inquires into the different kinds of matter, and the nature of the essential difference between one kind of mat ter and another kind of matter. Chemists have a heavy task in hand. All the matter of the solid globe, of the living things and the atmosphere upon it, indeed all the matter of the universe is before the chemist for analysis. The task was fairly entered upon one hundred and eighteen years ago, and a good deal has been already done towards its completion, but it cannot be said that the chemistry of so much as one drop of water is fully known to any man as yet. 3:
The task of the chemist is rich with many meanings at every step of the way. It is most rich when the hand of God is recognized in all the fashionings of matter, and His truth is seen to be the strength of the sands under our feet. an
The subject for this morning has been announced as “Religious Teachings of Chemical Science." In the spirit of this subject let me use another phrase for it, and let me propose, for the time we have together, Religious Studies in Chemical Science. Let us study a little, even a very little of the chemistry of creation, and let us endeavor to do this in the single de sire to learn of the Creator while we study.
Let us learn, first, that strength and solidity do not lie in matter, as it appears to us. We trust to the iron strands of the suspension bridge to sustain us across the chasm above, the merciless cataract, and yet when we drop a wire of the same iron into a certain clear liquid, the metal, owing its strength to the grasp of chemical force, yields to another command of the same power, and, as you see in the test-tube, it dissolves to a liquid as clear as water.
We build a wall of marble, that it shall be strong, but what is marble? Chemical action, with proper liquid, dissolves it, and a part of it becomes a breath, one that boils in the cooling draught at the soda-fountain. The quality of matter shifts and changes with every change in the direction of this force. The marble is solid, and inert to touch and taste. Its molecules cohere perfectly. Each molecule, we say, has an atom of calcium bound by two of oxygen to one of carbon, and to the latter is bound still a third atom of oxygen. Make the marble white hot, and the atom of carbon takes two of the oxygen atoms and becomes the molecule of a vapor. The other oxygen atom cleaves wholly to the calcium, and a new molecule résults, a particle of quick-lime, loose and light, biting the tongue, and corroding the flesh.
All the studies of the chemist are made upon transmutations of matter. Professor Kekulé says: "The relations of a body to what it once was, and to that which it may become, form the essential object of chemistry."
The character of matter depends upon the direction of this resistless power, the movements of which, in the innermost of chemical compounds, the chemist can follow but for a part of their way. One of these atoms of oxygen, as we study it, holds the metal with one bond and the carbon with another bond, and