100 trillionths of a metre. In scientific
notation, 1 × 10-10 m. Atoms are tiny!
The hydrogen nucleus is much
smaller than the electron cloud,
about 2. 4 femtometres. That’s
0.0000000000000024 metres. In
scientific notation, 2. 4 × 10-15 metres.
Electrons do not ‘orbit’ the nucleus like
many people think, so we can’t really say
how ‘far away’ the electrons are from the
nucleus, but in the hydrogen atom the
average distance to the electrons is about
60,300 times the diameter of the nucleus.
Molecules are held together by covalent bonds in which they share electrons.
Thus, atom-to-atom distances are in the
range of the size of individual atoms. The
distance between two hydrogen atoms
in the H2 molecule is about 74 pm.1 The
distance between hydrogen and carbon
(one of the most common bonds in the
human body) is about 109 pm.
So, the space between the nucleus
and the electron cloud is quite large,
compared to the diameter of the nucleus.
It helps to have something to compare to.
If you were to make the nucleus as large
as the sun, the average distance to the
electrons would be 14 times as far away
as Pluto! In a molecule, nuclei would be
about 100 billion miles apart. But even at
this scale the electrons would still have
essentially no ‘size’. That means the
inside of the atom, and the inside of any
molecule, is almost completely empty.
Fun fact: our bodies are more than
99.99999999% empty space!
What is your life? For you
are a mist that appears for a
little time and then vanishes.
But if we are made up of empty space,
how can the human body (or any other
physical object) be ‘seen’ or ‘felt’? When
we see something, what we are detecting
is the light (an electromagnetic wave)
reflecting from the surface of the object.
Some electromagnetic waves (e.g. X-rays)
pass right through most objects. This is
because their wavelengths are shorter
than the spacing between the nuclei, so
they can almost literally squeeze between
atoms. Another type of electromagnetic
waves, infrared, is usually absorbed. This
is because they are very long waves with
low energy, and they get absorbed by
molecules, causing their atoms to wiggle
(that is, heat up). In between those two
extremes is the ‘visible’ part of the elec-
tromagnetic spectrum. Visible light tends
to bounce off most objects. Even though
the atoms are very tiny, very far apart,
and made up mostly of empty space,
the electron clouds create a continuous
‘surface’. What you see is the light waves
that are reflected from the surface. A
molecule like chlorophyll strongly
absorbs blue and red light. This is why
plant leaves are green, because that is
what is ‘left’ to reflect. A substance like
tar absorbs most wavelengths of light,
making it black. A piece of paper absorbs
few, making it white.
OK, but how do we ‘feel’ things?
When you press your hand against an
object, the tightly-bonded atoms in your
hand are moved close to the tightly-bonded atoms in the object. Your hand
cannot penetrate the surface of a brick
wall, no matter how hard you try. This is
because the molecules are held rigidly in
place by the shared electron clouds within
the molecules. What you are feeling is
not ‘brick’ so much as an electromagnetic
force field generated by the atoms in the
wall. There is really not much of anything
there. The physical world, including your
precious body and brain, is little more
than an empty vapour.
O Lord, make me know my end
and what is the measure of my
days; let me know how fleeting
I am! Behold, you have made my
days a few handbreadths, and
my lifetime is as nothing before
you. Surely all mankind stands
as a mere breath! … Surely a
man goes about as a shadow!
Psalm 39: 4–6
The Good News
Even though the science of reality is
humbling, and even though our bodies
may be nothing more than dust, this
does not mean we are unimportant in
Consider what the Old Testament
says about man:
ROBERT CARTER, B.S., Ph.D.
is a senior speaker/scientist for CMI-USA in
Atlanta, Georgia. He has a Ph.D. in coral reef
ecology with a speciality in genetics, and is
currently researching human genetics and other
issues related to biblical creation. For more:
Yet you have made him a little
lower than the heavenly beings
and crowned him with glory
and honour. You have given him
dominion over the works of your
hands; you have put all things
under his feet. Psalm 8: 5–6
Or think about what the New
Testament says about us:
In him we have redemption
through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according
to the riches of his grace, which
he lavished upon us, in all
wisdom and insight making
known to us the mystery of his
will, according to his purpose,
which he set forth in Christ as
a plan for the fullness of time,
to unite all things in him, things
in heaven and things on earth.
Ephesians 1: 7–10
Mankind has a very special place in
God’s creation. In one sense, He built
this world, this universe, to bring about
a bride for Christ. Next to Him, we are
nothing. Yet, for reasons known to Him
alone, we were brought into existence
to work out His divine plan. Are we
empty? Yes. Compared to God are we
worth anything? No. But in God’s eyes
we are very, very valuable nonetheless. In
the eyes of the Creator, we are precious.
Holding both of these thoughts simultaneously helps us to keep everything
References and notes
1. See quora.com/What-is-the-diameter-of-a-hydrogen-atom.
2. See quora.com/What-is-the-average-distance-of-a-single-electron-in-the-first-orbital-of-a-hydrogen-atom-relative-to-the-size-of-the-nucleus.
3. See wikipedia.org/wiki/Carbon–hydrogen_