By: Dean Tersigni
Even though "algebra" is an Arabic word, and Muslims greatly contributed to the subject, we don't refer to Algebra as "Muslim mathematics." Likewise, we don't call "geometry," a Greek word, "Olympian mathematics." In fact, unless we're referring to a specific technique used by a past culture, we don't apply such prefixes to any type of mathematics, it's just "math." But this isn't true for all fields.
Have you ever heard of "Jewish physics?" It's a type of physics that only works for a Jews. In fact, it only works for a subset of the more conservative Jews. Sounds strange, right? Before I explain it, I have to talk a little bit about the Jewish laws, or mitzvot.
In the book of Exodus, Yahweh condemns working on the Sabbath in the Ten Commandments. In fact, he goes on to say that anyone who works on the Sabbath must be executed! Yahweh doesn't go into too much detail as to which activities constitute "work," but he does clearly state that lighting a fire in your house is a violation.
Is Electricity Fire?
Because of this, being an Orthodox Jew meant having a cold dark home from Friday night through Saturday. This was observed for centuries until a revolutionary invention came around in the 1800s that could change everything, the electric light! But, before Jews risked execution for a brighter Sabbath, they asked their Rabbis the million dollar question, "Is electricity fire?" The Rabbis answered saying, electricity creates sparks, and sparks are tiny bits of fire, so, yes, electricity is fire. And since no Orthodox Jew is allowed to use fire on the Sabbath, they can't use electric lights either.
This was quite shocking (no pun intended) to physicists around the world because, to them, electricity is the physical effect of the electromagnetic force, often described as a current or flow of charged particles, while fire is an exothermic chemical reaction where a material is rapidly oxidized. In short, while they may have similar results, each is an entirely different process; electricity is not fire.
So, what can we conclude from this? Are the Rabbis wrong? Of course not, they're holy men educated in the divine ways of understanding the word of Yahweh. Are the scientists wrong? Of course not, they have all the tests and evidence to back up their claims. No, the answer is clear. There are two types of physics. There is the physics that everyone in the world uses where fire and electricity are fundamentally different, then there is Jewish physics, where fire and electricity are the same thing.
Of course, this is a joke, there aren't two different types of physics, but to this day, conservative Jews continue to try and come up with ways to justify their belief that electricity is fire. You can read an interesting story about the mental gymnastics Jews will take in the book, Surely You're Joking Mr. Feynman!. And, before you feel bad for Orthodox Jews who must sit in the darkness every Sabbath, don't worry, religious people always find loopholes to get around inconvenient commandments.
We may snicker at the provincial beliefs of the Orthodox Jews, but they aren't the only religious believers who have decided to create their own form of physics. But before I can give an example, first indulge me in a recap of some grade school science.
Most people are aware that the atoms of elements like hydrogen, helium, and carbon are made up of negatively charged electrons orbiting around an atomic nucleus consisting of positively charged protons and neutrons with no charge. In an atom, the number of electrons and protons are always matched, hydrogen has one proton and one electron, helium has two of each, carbon has six, and so on.
The number of neutrons, however, can vary from atom to atom, and scientists call these variations "isotopes." Isotopes are named based on the total number of particles in the atomic nucleus, for example, the most common isotope of carbon has six protons and six neutrons, and is called carbon-12, but there is a much rarer form of carbon with six protons and eight neutrons which is called carbon-14.
The number of neutrons in an atom affects the stability of the atom. If an atom has too many or too few neutrons, it will be unstable. Unstable isotopes are radioactive which means that, over time, they will break apart into elements that are more stable and release energy in a process called radioactive decay. For example, when carbon-14 decays, it splits into nitrogen-14 and a beta particle. Nitrogen is a harmless gas, but beta particles are so energetic they can damage our DNA and cause cancer.
Although we can't predict when an individual radioactive atom will decay, the rate at which a large collection of radioactive material decays is predictable and measured according to the isotope's half-life. A half-life is the length of time it takes for half of the material to decay. Carbon-14 has a half-life of 5,700 years, so if you had a big block of carbon-14, in 5,700 years, half of the atoms in your block will have decayed into nitrogen-14. After another 5,700 years, a total of 75% will have decayed, and after another 5,700 years, 87.5% will have decayed, and so on.
The Earth's air contains carbon dioxide, and some of the carbon in the CO₂ molecules is carbon-14. When plants take in carbon dioxide to grow, the carbon-14 becomes trapped in their cells, and anything that eats the plants, also eats the carbon-14. Because of this, radioactive carbon-14 is in every single organism on the planet, including you, but mercifully at such small levels it doesn't harm you; in fact, in some ways, it's extremely convenient. All living things consume carbon-14 their whole lives, but, when they die, no new carbon-14 enters the body, and the stockpile begins to slowly decay into nitrogen-14 which is trapped in solid parts of the organism. By using extremely sensitive equipment, scientists can determine the ratio between carbon-14 and nitrogen-14 in the remains and figure out how long ago the organism died. With a 75% carbon-14 to 25% nitrogen-14 ratio, we know about 2,850 years have passed, at 50%/50%, about 5,700 years have passed, and at 25%/75%, 11,400 years have passed, and so on. This is called radiocarbon dating, but you can use the same principle on the numerous other radioactive elements, each with different half-lifes, a process called radiometric dating.
With many different radiometric dating techniques at our disposal, humanity is now able to get very accurate results for the age of pretty much everything on the planet, and that brings me to our second type of religious physics: Christian physics. Like Jewish physics, Christian physics only works for Christians, and only for a sub-set of Christians. You see, in Christian physics, radioactivity doesn't work the way it works for scientists. Oh sure, it works for them exactly as predicted when we build nuclear power plants, and when we detonate nuclear bombs, and when we use Geiger counters, and even when we power tiny pacemaker batteries, but when it comes to using it to measuring the age of anything, it can't possibly be trusted! Well, actually, it can be trusted for anything under 6,000 years of age, which, coincidentally, is also the age of the Earth according to Christians.
So, is it that the scientists are wrong? No, of course not. They're not only brilliant, but all the stuff they make to harness radiation works. Is it the young-earth creationist Christians who are wrong? Of course not. They're honest men who have a personal relationship with the creator of the universe. No, the answer is clear; there are two types of physics. There is the physics that everyone in the world uses where radioactive decay can be used to accurately measure something's age, then there is Christian physics, where all forms of radioactive decay suddenly stop working after the 6,000 year mark.