Grandfathers of Alchemy, Forefathers Of Chemistry

Grandfathers of Alchemy, Forefathers Of Chemistry


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Alchemy is a word almost everyone has heard of, but few have ever committed more than a handful of hours trying to grasp what this heavily loaded symbolic word actually means, in its entirely. So often the interested are discouraged by the complex matrix of bizarre symbols and motifs which include nightmarish creatures and semi-divine humans emerging from shadows searching for pure alchemical gold of a type that cannot be bitten, to test its fortitude. Even fewer know that the ultimate goal of the Western alchemist was ‘Projection’, achieved after successfully creating the ‘Philosopher’s Stone’, and this powder of projection was thought of as having the ability to transmute lesser metals and substance into their higher form; with gold being the ‘king’ both temporally and allegorically.

Multiplicatio’ emblem from Philosophia Reformata, by Johann Daniel Mylius, 1622 . In this image “multiplication” is illustrated with a pelican and a lion feeding their young.

The Ultimate Goal Of Alchemy

Alchemy describes historic explorations into natural philosophies and while this philosophical, proto-scientific conquest originated in Mesopotamia and Greco-Roman Egypt in the first few centuries AD, it was subsequently practiced across Europe, Africa, and Asia. The primary goal of the alchemist was to purify, mature, and perfect different materials and substances. Early experiments played an important role in the development of scientific knowledge, especially in the discipline of chemistry, where alchemists essentially founded its development. But alchemy had a parallel philosophy which attempted to identify precursors and base elements, and mythology has corrupted these arts into the greatly simplified idea of hooded old men locked in moonlit tower-laboratories attempting to turn base metals such as lead, into gold.

Polish alchemist, philosopher, and medical doctor Sedziw ój performing a transmutation for Sigismund III , by Jan Matejko (1867). Art Museum, Łódź,

Since ancient times gold has been associated with the center of the earth where it was thought to have undergone a natural transformation, becoming gold, so alchemists for the most part sought to find the key to this transformation. The ultimate aim of the alchemist was first to create the ‘Philosopher ’s Stone’, a legendary substance which according to traditions could not only transform metals into gold, but could also award the alchemist longevity and eternal life. Most historians would agree, however, that the vast majority of alchemists were charlatans seeking the ‘monthly retainer’ from their greedy, gold fevered royal sponsors. This antiquated quest for chemical facts; answers to life beyond life and death beyond death existed at the foundations of both the Western and Islamic worlds. Some famous alchemists were the ‘grandfathers’ of these two greatly different paradigms.

Plato and Aristotle in The School of Athens, by Rafael (1509)

Old Masters Of Western Alchemy

Concerned with the origins and nature of things, and how everything in creation interact, Greek alchemists such as Aristotle, Plato, and Empedocles believed everything in reality was formed from portions of the four classic elements: earth, fire, air, and water, and of the three essentials: salt, mercury, and sulphur. Aristotle believed that every created form strives for perfection and when elements are mixed together in perfect ratio they would turn into gold, and metals in general were regarded as amalgams without this perfect ratio.


General Patton's Grandfather Was Also a War Hero—In the Confederacy

The famed general of World War II, George S. Patton III, often spoke with pride of the military deeds of his forefathers. From an early age, Patton had been regaled with the exploits of the Pattons and their relatives from the War for Independence to the Civil War. These stories of courage and great deeds, of heroic men and mighty battles, greatly influenced the man who would dash his tanks across France.

Of all the courageous men spoken of, none stood taller in the eyes of the young Patton than his dead grandfather, Confederate Colonel George S. Patton I. This was the man the younger Patton regarded romantically as a noble fighter, who had displayed great bravery and honor in battle and had met his end at the head of his troops. So who was this unheralded soldier of the Civil War that Patton knew only through stories, but who helped to inspire him to become one of the great generals of World War II?

George Smith Patton was born in Fredericksburg, Va., on September 26, 1833, to Peggy and John Patton. The Pattons had 12 children, but only nine lived to adulthood—eight sons and one daughter. Peggy Patton was of the Virginia plantation society and John, a states’ rights advocate and pro slavery, was a lawyer, politician, and slave owner. The Pattons were loyal Virginians and proud of their Southern aristocratic culture. When John Patton died in 1858, his spirited, strong-willed wife became the matriarch of the family and continued to raise their children in the manner to which they were accustomed.

The Late Blooming Patton Excelled as He Matured

John Patton realized early on that to maintain the Southern way of life he and his wife held so dear would eventually lead to secession and hostilities. He therefore prepared his sons for the future conflict by sending them to military colleges. George Patton, like three of his brothers, attended the Virginia Military Institute. At age 16 Patton entered VMI, where for the first two years he was academically in the middle of his class but was a leader in demerits. Maturing in his last year, Patton graduated in 1852 second out of a class of 24. He excelled in Latin, English, French, chemistry, and artillery tactics.

At VMI Patton impressed his classmates with his mild-mannered but responsible personality and genial wit. Upon graduation, the tall, slim, handsome young man with long brown hair was ready to make his way in the world. In the summer after graduation, Patton met 17-year-old Susan Thornton Glassell of Alabama, who was visiting friends in Virginia. A relationship blossomed and by the fall they were engaged. For the next two years Patton taught in Richmond while studying law. Although he found teaching difficult and eventually quit, he did better at his law studies and was admitted to the Richmond bar in 1855. In November of that year he and Susan were married. On their wedding night the couple headed for Charleston, Kanawha County, Va. (now West Virginia), where Patton had been offered a partnership in a small law firm.

At Charleston, a town of some 2,000 located in the Kanawha River Valley, Patton set up a successful law practice and became involved in local affairs. The deeply religious Pattons were well liked by the citizens of Charleston, and soon after they arrived Patton was affectionately given the nickname of “Frenchy” for the goatee he sported. On September 30, 1856, the Pattons had their first of four children, a son they christened George William Patton. Eleven years later George William had his middle name changed to that of his father, Smith. George Smith Patton, Jr., would later become the father of General George S. Patton of World War II fame. Also in 1856 George organized and became captain of a militia company called the Kanawha Minutemen, to which he devoted much of his time.

War on the Doorstep

Although Kanawha County held the fewest slaves of any county in Virginia—and of these most were domestic servants—George followed his father’s beliefs and soon became a passionate supporter of secession. After John Brown’s invasion of Harper’s Ferry in the fall of 1859, Patton’s militia company changed its name to the Kanawha Riflemen and stepped up its drilling. Patton, feeling that war was just around the corner, devoted himself increasingly to his militia company at the expense of his law practice. With the firing on Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861, what Patton believed was coming and had prepared for finally arrived—the country was at war. When Virginia seceded from the Union, the Kanawha Riflemen became Company H of the 22nd Virginia Infantry Regiment.

Besides George, six other Patton boys would go off to fight for the Confederacy. John Mercer (1826-1898) would become the commander of the 21st Virginia, but had to resign in August 1862 owing to poor health. Isaac William (1826-1890), who had moved to New Orleans before the war, would lead a Louisiana regiment and be captured at Vicksburg. George’s closest brother, William Tazewell (1835-1863), would lead the 7th Virginia and be killed at Gettysburg during Pickett’s Charge. Hugh Mercer (1841-1905) became an officer in his brother’s 7th Virginia, while teenage brother James French (1843-1882) became an officer with George in the 22nd Virginia. The last Patton to serve was William Macfarland (1845-1905) who, as a cadet at VMI, would take part in the battle of New Market. The only brother not to serve was the oldest, Robert (1824-1876), an alcoholic former naval officer.

Patton first tasted combat on July 17, 1861, only 20 miles down the Kanawha River from Charleston, at a place called Scary Creek. Recently commissioned a lieutenant colonel in the Confederate Army, Patton commanded some nine hundred men who were part of a force under Brig. Gen. Henry A. Wise that was attempting to stop a Union push up the Kanawha Valley. The Federals were part of Maj. Gen. George McClellan’s assault into western Virginia from Ohio. Late into the battle, while trying to rally retreating troops in the center of the Confederate line, Patton was struck by a minie ball in the right shoulder, shattering the bone in the upper arm and throwing him from his horse.

Patton Refuses Amputation at Gun Point

He was carried to the rear where he was told that his arm needed to be amputated. Patton adamantly refused and pulled out his pistol to emphasize his point. He kept his arm, but never regained full use of it. Although the Confederates had won the battle, they were later forced to retreat from the Kanawha Valley. Unable to be moved because of his wound, Patton was left behind and captured. A few weeks later he was paroled and went home to recuperate.

After spending eight months at home impatiently waiting to get back into the war, Patton finally received word that he had been exchanged. Although he had only partial use of his right arm and could not raise it above his head, he returned to the 22nd Virginia as its commander. On May 10, 1862, Patton saw action again when he led the 22nd Virginia in an attack against a Union regiment at Giles Court House, Va., during Brig. Gen. Henry Heth’s campaign against Union forces trying to cut railroad lines in southwestern Virginia. The Confederates were victorious, but Patton again was wounded, shot in the belly.

Patton was laid against a nearby tree and, fearing that he was dying, he began writing a farewell note to his wife. General Wharton, his brigade commander, rode up and asked him how he was. George answered that he believed the wound was fatal. According to Patton’s son, George William, “Gen. Wharton dismounted and asked if he could examine the wound. He stuck his unwashed finger into it and exclaimed, ‘What is this?’ as his finger hit something hard. He then fished around and pulled out a ten dollar gold piece. The bullet struck this and had driven it into his flesh, and glanced off.” The bullet had struck a $10 gold piece that his wife had put into a money belt she had made and given him just before he left to rejoin his regiment. (In another version of this incident, it is General Heth, not Wharton, who finds the gold coin.)

Saved by a $10 Gold Piece

Thanks to the thoughtfulness of his wife, his life had been saved however, although the wound was not serious, he developed blood poisoning and had to return to his family, now living in Richmond, to recuperate. While at Richmond, he learned that he had not been properly exchanged in March. For honor and to avoid being executed if captured again, Patton was forced to remain out of the war until he could be properly exchanged.

After waiting for what seemed like an eternity but was only a few months, Patton was finally exchanged. He rejoined the 22nd Virginia at Lewisburg, Va. His regiment was now part of the First Brigade, under Brig. Gen. John Echols, in the Army of Southwest Virginia. Because Echols suffered from heart disease and was frequently absent, Patton regularly took over command of the brigade. In the fall Patton’s regiment took part in the campaign to chase the Federal forces out of the Kanawha Valley and retake Charleston, which the Confederates had lost the year before. The drive was successful, but less than a month later the Confederates were driven back to Lewisburg, where they set up camp for the winter.

In the spring of 1863 the Army of Southwest Virginia began operations with a raid into the Union-controlled mountainous region of northwest Virginia (now West Virginia). The purpose of the raid was to impede the New State Movement in the region (the creation of a new state in western Virginia loyal to the Union which, of course, eventually succeeded) the destruction of the rail lines of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad and other Union property and to forage for food, clothing, and other badly needed supplies. Patton and his regiment were part of Brig. Gen. John Imboden’s force, one prong of the two-prong raid. Leaving camp at Shenandoah Mountain on April 20, Imboden’s raiders roamed slowly through the region capturing wagon loads of supplies, livestock, and horses before returning to the Shenandoah Valley. Patton, proud of how his regiment had performed, noted that 40 of his men marched the entire 400 miles barefooted.

A Full Display of Patton’s Talent in Battle

In August, Union Maj. Gen. William Averell, a friend of George’s before the war, led 3,000 men against Lewisburg. On the 26th, at Dry Creek, Averell’s cavalry force collided with the First Brigade under Patton. After two days of hard fighting, Averell was beaten back. The victory at Dry Creek showed Patton’s ability to command troops in battle to the fullest.

Averell, however, was to get his revenge against Patton in November, when he confronted him at a place called Droop Mountain and where Averell’s force of 5,000 cavalry defeated Patton’s 1,700 men. Patton was forced to retreat, allowing Averell to occupy Lewisburg for a few days before the threat of a counterattack forced the Union cavalrymen to leave. At the time of the battle, Patton’s family was living in Lewisburg. His son William vividly recalled seeing the defeated troops passing through Lewisburg and later wrote: “Late in the night my father came by with the last of the rearguard and stopped to tell us goodbye and give my mother a letter for General Averell asking him to see that we were not bothered.” The next morning Susan took the letter to Averell who, honoring the request from his old friend, posted a guard at the Patton home.

Patton’s finest hour came the following year at the Battle of New Market. Patton’s regiment was part of a small army hastily assembled under Maj. Gen. John C. Breckinridge to counter a Union thrust under Maj. Gen. Franz Sigel up the Shenandoah Valley toward Staunton. (Because the Shenandoah River runs south to north, the Union thrust up the valley was actually going in a north to south direction.) The Confederates, being vastly outnumbered, had to call upon 247 cadets from VMI as reinforcements. One of the cadets who immortalized the VMI Corps of Cadets that day was Patton’s youngest brother, William Mercer Patton.

The two sides clashed on the Valley Turnpike at New Market on May 15, 1864. In the ensuing battle the Confederates made a heroic stand against superior Union forces and won the day. During the latter stage of the battle, Patton, who for all practical purposes was commanding the First Brigade for the ailing Echols, was defending the right against Union cavalry attempting to outflank the Confederate line. When the cavalry broke through the left of his line, Patton quickly wheeled his 22nd Virginia and the 23rd Virginia of Lt. Col. Clarence Derrick to either side of the gap, catching the Union cavalrymen in a deadly crossfire. With the help of several pieces of artillery, the Confederates decimated the Union horsemen, forcing many to surrender and the rest to retreat in panic.

Promoted to Brigadier General

According to historian William C. Davis, “The principal architects of the triumph [at New Market] were Patton’s 22d Virginia, to a lesser extent Derrick’s 23d Virginia, and Breckinridge with his magnificent guns. Patton’s and Derrick’s men, spread thin, successfully withstood that most terrifying of assaults to an infantryman, a mounted charge. More than that, they threw it into disarray, turning it into a rout.” New Market proved without a doubt that Patton was an outstanding and resourceful leader. A week later, when his poor health forced Echols to give up his command permanently, Patton was given command of the brigade—a promotion he rightly deserved. Patton was also recommended for a promotion to brigadier general.

Soon after the battle at New Market, Breckinridge’s army was rushed east to help Robert E. Lee stem Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s advance on Richmond. Patton’s brigade joined Lee’s forces at the crossroads hamlet of Cold Harbor, only eight miles from the Confederate capital, on June 2. Hastily building defense works through the night, Patton and his men were barely ready when at 4:30 am Grant launched a full-scale attack against the entrenched Confederates. Grant was repulsed, losing nearly 7,000 men in half an hour. One Confederate general said, “It was not war, it was murder.”

“It Was Not War, It Was Murder.”

Immediately after the battle Patton’s brigade headed back to the Shenandoah Valley to join Lt. Gen. Jubal Early’s army. The Union forces were again advancing south, and Early had been tasked with countering this new threat. After pushing the Federals out of the valley, Early continued on through Maryland to the outskirts of Washington. Patton’s brigade was one of the first Confederate units to reach the city on July 11. Finding the city’s defenses heavily reinforced the next morning, Early called off an assault on the city and that night headed back to the Shenandoah Valley.

In response to Early’s incursion into Maryland and the threat to Washington, Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan was ordered to deal with Early and lay waste to the Shenandoah Valley. The two sides clashed on September 19 at Winchester, Va., in the Third Battle of Winchester. Greatly outnumbered, the Confederates could not stand up to the Union’s lightning attack and were defeated. Early lost one-third of his army and Patton’s brigade lost half its men. But that was not all that Patton’s brigade lost that day it lost its commander as well.

A Second Refusal for Amputation and the Loss of a Great General

Around 2 pm, as the Confederates were being pushed back, Patton was making a stand on the left of the line against a determined attack by Sheridan’s cavalry. It was then that he was wounded. Robert H. Patton, in his book on the Patton family, described the event: “He was standing in his stirrups on a Winchester street when an artillery shell exploded nearby and sent an iron fragment into his right hip. He’d been trying to rally his men, who were in full retreat before onrushing Yankee cavalry….” He was taken to a nearby house and later captured. Amputation of his right leg was recommended, but as he had done after Scary Creek, he refused. Within a few days gangrene set in and he ran a fever. On September 25, 1864, he died of his wound. (Claims have been made that at the time of Patton’s death a commission as a brigadier general was en route to him. According to Terry Lowery, a 22nd Virginia historian, there is only sketchy evidence to support this and no solid documentation has been found. However, Patton had been recommended for the promotion on several occasions.)

Patton’s wife Susan, reading about her husband’s wounding in the newspapers, hurried to Winchester sadly, by the time she arrived, he had passed away and been buried. Rather than move her husband’s body to one of the family plots in Richmond or Fredericksburg, she left it interred at Winchester. Some 10 years later Patton’s younger brother, William Tazewell, who was killed at Gettysburg, was moved to Winchester, and he and George were reburied in a simple grave.

The year after the war ended Susan and her four children joined her brother in California. In 1870 Susan married George’s close friend and first cousin George Hugh Smith, who like George had served the Confederacy, commanding two Virginia regiments. Smith adopted the Patton children and lovingly brought them up as his own. In 1883 Susan died after suffering from cancer for several years. Patton’s oldest son, George S. Patton II , attended VMI like his father but did not pursue a military career. He did, however, keep the memory of his father’s military service alive through the stories he told his son, General George S. Patton III.

This article by James M. Powles first appeared in the Warfare History Network on September 23, 2015.

Left: Oil portrait of Confederate Colonel George S. Patton, Class of 1852, commander of the 22nd Virginia Infantry Regiment during the Civil War killed at Winchester in 1864. The original portrait is owned by the Virginia Military Institute and located in Preston Library. Artist: William D. Washington.


A. TOEFEL MODEL TEST Reading Comprehensin 12

Although its purpose and techniques were often magical, alchemy was, in many ways, the predecessor of the modern science of chemistry. The fundamental premise of alchemy derived from the best philosophical dogma and scientific practice of the time, and the majority of educated persons between 1400 and 1600 believed that alchemy had great merit.

The earliest authentic works on European alchemy are those of the English monk Roger Bacon and the German philosopher St. Albertus Magnus. In their treatises they maintained that gold was the perfect metal and that inferior metals such as lead and mercury were removed by various degrees of imperfection from gold. They further asserted that these base metals could be transmuted to gold by blending them with a substance more perfect than gold. This elusive substance was referred to as the “philosopher’s stone.” The process was called transmutation.

Most of the early alchemists were artisans who were accustomed to keeping trade secrets and often resorted to cryptic terminology to record the progress of their work. The term sun was used for gold, moon for silver, and the five known planets for base metals. This convention of substituting symbolic language attracted some mystical philosophers who compared the search for the perfect metal with the struggle of humankind for the perfection of the soul. The philosophers began to use the artisan’s terms in the mystical literature that they produced. Thus, by the fourteenth century, alchemy had developed two distinct groups of practitioners-the laboratory alchemist and the literary alchemist. Both groups of alchemists continued to work throughout the history of alchemy but, of course, it was the literary alchemist who was more likely to produce a written record therefore, much of what is known about the science of alchemy is derived from philosophers rather than from the alchemists who labored in laboratories.

Despite centuries of experimentation, laboratory alchemists failed to produce gold from other materials. However, they gained wide knowledge of chemical substances, discovered chemical properties, and invented many of the tools and techniques that are used by chemist today. Many laboratory alchemists earnestly devoted themselves to the scientific discovery of new compounds and reactions and, therefore, must be considered the legitimate forefathers of modern chemistry. They continued to call themselves alchemists, but they were becoming true chemists.

B. List new vocabulary with their meaning:

alchemy : the medieval forerunner of chemistry, concerned particularly with attempts to convert base metals into gold or to find a universal elixir.
predecessor : a person who held a job or office before the current holder.
fundamental : n. adjective of or serving as a foundation or core of central importance.
premise : a previous statement from which another is inferred.
derived : obtain something from (a specified source).
philosophical : relating to or devoted to the study of philosophy.
scientific : relating to or based on science.
treatises : n. noun a written work dealing formally and systematically with a subject.
inferior : lower in rank, status, or quality. Of low standard or quality.
lead : cause (a person or animal) to go with one by drawing them along. show (someone) the way to a destination by preceding or accompanying them.
asserted : v. state a fact or belief confidently and forcefully.
elusive : adj. adjective difficult to find, catch, or achieve
cryptic : adj. mysterious or obscure in meaning.
struggle : n. make forceful efforts to get free.
terms : n. a word or phrase used to describe a thing or to express a concept.
thus : adv. as a result or consequence of this therefore.
distinct : adj. recognizably different in nature individual or separate.
record : n. a piece of evidence about the past, especially a written or other permanent account
despite : prep. without being affected by
gained : n. obtain or secure (something favourable).
wide : n. of great or more than average width.
forefathers : noun an ancestor or precursor
C. Ideas of each paragraph
Paragraph 1: Although its purpose and techniques were often magical, alchemy was, in many ways, the predecessor of the modern science of chemistry.
Paragraph 2: The earliest authentic works on European alchemy are those of the English monk Roger Bacon and the German philosopher St. Albertus Magnus.
Paragraph 3: Most of the early alchemists were artisans who were accustomed to keeping trade secrets and often resorted to cryptic terminology to record the progress of their work.
Paragraph 4: Despite centuries of experimentation, laboratory alchemists failed to produce gold from other materials.

D. Answer the questions given

1. Which of the following is the main point of the passage?

A. They were both laboratory and literary alchemists.

B. Base metals can be transmuted to gold by blending them with a substance more perfect than gold.

C. Roger Bacon and St. Albertus Magnus wrote about alchemy

D. Alchemy was the predecessor of modern chemistry.

2. The word authentic in paragraph 2 could best be replaced by ?

3. According to the alchemists, what is the difference between base metals and gold?

4. According to the passage, what is the “philosopher’s stone”?

A. Lead that was mixed with gold

B. An element that was never found

C. Another name for alchemy

5. The word cryptic in paragraph 3 could best be replaced by which of the following?

6. Why did the early alchemists use the terns sun and moon?

A. To keep the work secret

B. To make the work more literary

C. To attract philosophers

D. To produce a written record

7. Who were the first alchemists?

8. In paragraph 3, the author suggests that we know about the history of alchemy because ?

A. The laboratory alchemists kept secret notes

B. The literary alchemists recorded it in writing

C. The mystical philosophers were not able to hide the secret of alchemy

D. The historians were able to interpret the secret writings of the alchemists

9. Which of the following statements would the author most probably agree?

A. Alchemy must be considered a complete failure.

B. Some very important scientific discoveries were made by alchemists.

C. Most educated people dismissed alchemy during the time that it was practiced.

D. The literary alchemists were more important than the laboratory alchemists.

E. Summary of the passage
The fundamental premise of alchemy derived from the best philosophical dogma and scientific practice of the time, and the majority of educated persons between 1400 and 1600 believed that alchemy had great merit. The earliest authentic works on European alchemy are those of the English monk Roger Bacon and the German philosopher St. Albertus Magnus. In their treatises they maintained that gold was the perfect metal and that inferior metals such as lead and mercury were removed by various degrees of imperfection from gold. Most of the early alchemists were artisans who were accustomed to keeping trade secrets and often resorted to cryptic terminology to record the progress of their work. The term sun was used for gold, moon for silver, and the five known planets for base metals. Many laboratory alchemists earnestly devoted themselves to the scientific discovery of new compounds and reactions and, therefore, must be considered the legitimate forefathers of modern chemistry.


Reading Comprehension 12

Although its purpose and techniques were often magical, alchemy was, in many ways, the predecessor of the modern science of chemistry. The fundamental premise of alchemy derived from the best philosophical dogma and scientific practice of the time, and the majority of educated persons between 1400 and 1600 believed that alchemy had great merit.

The earliest authentic works on European alchemy are those of the English monk Roger Bacon and the German philosopher St. Albertus Magnus. In their treatises they maintained that gold was the perfect metal and that inferior metals such as lead and mercury were removed by various degrees of imperfection from gold. They further asserted that these base metals could be transmuted to gold by blending them with a substance more perfect than gold. This elusive substance was referred to as the “philosopher’s stone.” The process was called transmutation.

Most of the early alchemists were artisans who were accustomed to keeping trade secrets and often resorted to cryptic terminology to record the progress of their work. The term sun was used for gold, moon for silver, and the five known planets for base metals. This convention of substituting symbolic language attracted some mystical philosophers who compared the search for the perfect metal with the struggle of humankind for the perfection of the soul. The philosophers began to use the artisan’s terms in the mystical literature that they produced. Thus, by the fourteenth century, alchemy had developed two distinct groups of practitioners-the laboratory alchemist and the literary alchemist. Both groups of alchemists continued to work throughout the history of alchemy but, of course, it was the literary alchemist who was more likely to produce a written record therefore, much of what is known about the science of alchemy is derived from philosophers rather than from the alchemists who labored in laboratories.

Despite centuries of experimentation, laboratory alchemists failed to produce gold from other materials. However, they gained wide knowledge of chemical substances, discovered chemical properties, and invented many of the tools and techniques that are used by chemist today. Many laboratory alchemists earnestly devoted themselves to the scientific discovery of new compounds and reactions and, therefore, must be considered the legitimate forefathers of modern chemistry. They continued to call themselves alchemists, but they were becoming true chemists.

1. Which of the following is the main point of the passage?
A. They were both laboratory and literary alchemists.
B. Base metals can be transmuted to gold by blending them with a substance more perfect than gold.
C. Roger Bacon and St. Albertus Magnus wrote about alchemy
D. Alchemy was the predecessor of modern chemistry.

2. The word authentic in paragraph 2 could best be replaced by ?
A. Valuable
B. Genuine
C. Complete
D. Comprehensible

3. According to the alchemists, what is the difference between base metals and gold?
A. Perfection
B. Chemical content
C. Temperature
D. Weight

4. According to the passage, what is the “philosopher’s stone”?
A. Lead that was mixed with gold
B. An element that was never found
C. Another name for alchemy
D. A base metal

5. The word cryptic in paragraph 3 could best be replaced by which of the following?
A. Scholarly
B. Secret
C. Foreign
D. Precise

6. Why did the early alchemists use the terns sun and moon?
A. To keep the work secret
B. To make the work more literary
C. To attract philosophers
D. To produce a written record

7. Who were the first alchemists?
A. Chemists
B. Writer
C. Artisans
D. Linguists

8. In paragraph 3, the author suggests that we know about the history of alchemy because ?
A. The laboratory alchemists kept secret notes
B. The literary alchemists recorded it in writing
C. The mystical philosophers were not able to hide the secret of alchemy
D. The historians were able to interpret the secret writings of the alchemists

9. Which of the following statements would the author most probably agree?
A. Alchemy must be considered a complete failure.
B. Some very important scientific discoveries were made by alchemists.
C. Most educated people dismissed alchemy during the time that it was practiced.
D. The literary alchemists were more important than the laboratory alchemists.


Overview: The Questionable Arcana Crafting System is a homebrew set of rules that builds on the RAW crafting system. The goal of the system is to increase the rate that items are crafted while introducing an element of variability(aka dice rolling).

  1. A Lead Artisan - An artisan with the appropriate tool who can lead the crafting process.
  2. Crafting Materials - Materials to craft with. The items should be valued at 50% market value for mundane items and 100% market value for magical items.
  3. Means of Production - Any special equipment or location requirements such as a forge for blacksmiths.
  4. Instructions - Memorized instructions for mundane items or a written blueprint for magical items.
  5. Labor - Time and energy measured in 8 hour increments and proficiency dice rolls!

TOEFL MODEL TEST: Reading Comprehension 12

Although its purpose and techniques were often magical, alchemy was, in many ways, the predecessor of the modern science of chemistry. The fundamental premise of alchemy derived from the best philosophical dogma and scientific practice of the time, and the majority of educated persons between 1400 and 1600 believed that alchemy had great merit.

The earliest authentic works on European alchemy are those of the English monk Roger Bacon and the German philosopher St. Albertus Magnus. In their treatises they maintained that gold was the perfect metal and that inferior metals such as lead and mercury were removed by various degrees of imperfection from gold. They further asserted that these base metals could be transmuted to gold by blending them with a substance more perfect than gold. This elusive substance was referred to as the “philosopher’s stone.” The process was called transmutation.

Most of the early alchemists were artisans who were accustomed to keeping trade secrets and often resorted to cryptic terminology to record the progress of their work. The term sun was used for gold, moon for silver, and the five known planets for base metals. This convention of substituting symbolic language attracted some mystical philosophers who compared the search for the perfect metal with the struggle of humankind for the perfection of the soul. The philosophers began to use the artisan’s terms in the mystical literature that they produced. Thus, by the fourteenth century, alchemy had developed two distinct groups of practitioners-the laboratory alchemist and the literary alchemist. Both groups of alchemists continued to work throughout the history of alchemy but, of course, it was the literary alchemist who was more likely to produce a written record therefore, much of what is known about the science of alchemy is derived from philosophers rather than from the alchemists who labored in laboratories.

Despite centuries of experimentation, laboratory alchemists failed to produce gold from other materials. However, they gained wide knowledge of chemical substances, discovered chemical properties, and invented many of the tools and techniques that are used by chemist today. Many laboratory alchemists earnestly devoted themselves to the scientific discovery of new compounds and reactions and, therefore, must be considered the legitimate forefathers of modern chemistry. They continued to call themselves alchemists, but they were becoming true chemists.

  1. NEW VOCABULARY WITH THEIR MEANING
    • Magical : of or relating to magic.
    • Alchemy : a form of chemistry and speculative philosophy practiced in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance and concerned principally with discovering methods for transmuting baser metals into gold and with finding a universal solvent and an elixir of life.
    • Predecessor : a person who precedes another in an office, position, etc.
    • Merit : claim to respect and praise excellence worth.
    • Monk : (in Christianity) a man who has withdrawn from the world for religious reasons, especially as a member of an order of cenobites living according to a particular rule and under vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience.
    • Treatises : a formal and systematic exposition in writing of the principles of a subject, generally longer and more detailed than an essay.
    • Maintained : to keep in existence or continuance preserve retain
    • Lead : Chemistry. a heavy, comparatively soft, malleable, bluish-gray metal, sometimes found in its natural state but usually combined as a sulfide, especially in galena. Symbol: Pb atomic weight: 207.19 atomic number: 82 specific gravity: 11.34 at 20°C.
    • Mercury : Chemistry. a heavy, silver-white, highly toxic metallic element, the only one that is liquid at room temperature quicksilver: used in barometers, thermometers, pesticides, pharmaceutical preparations, reflecting surfaces of mirrors, and dental fillings, in certain switches, lamps, and other electric apparatus, and as a laboratory catalyst. Symbol: Hg atomic weight: 200.59 atomic number: 80 specific gravity: 13.546 at 20°C freezing point: −38.9°C boiling point: 357°C.
    • Imperfection : an imperfect detail flaw
    • Asserted : resting on a statement or claim unsupported by evidence or proof
    • Transmuted : to change from one nature, substance, form, or condition into another transform.
    • Elusive : eluding or failing to allow for or accommodate a clear perception or complete mental grasp hard to express or define
    • Resorted : to sort or arrange (cards, papers, etc.) again.
    • Cryptic : mysterious in meaning puzzling ambiguous
    • Mystical : mystic of or relating to supernatural agencies, affairs, occurrences, etc.
    • Substances : that of which a thing consists physical matter or material
    • Compounds : composed of two or more parts, elements, or ingredients
    • Forefathers : an ancestor
    1. THE IDEAS OF EACH PARAGRAPH
    • Paragraph 1 : Alchemy was the predecessor of the modern science of chemistry. The fundamental premise of alchemy derived from the best philosophical dogma and scientific practice of the time, and the majority of educated persons between 1400 and 1600 believed that alchemy had great merit.
    • Paragraph 2 : The earliest authentic works on European alchemy are those of the English monk Roger Bacon and the German philosopher St. Albertus Magnus. In their treatises they maintained that gold was the perfect metal and that inferior metals such as lead and mercury were removed by various degrees of imperfection from gold.
    • Paragraph 3 : Most of the early alchemists were artisans who were accustomed to keeping trade secrets and often resorted to cryptic terminology to record the progress of their work. This convention of substituting symbolic language attracted some mystical philosophers who compared the search for the perfect metal with the struggle of humankind for the perfection of the soul. By the fourteenth century, alchemy had developed two distinct groups of practitioners-the laboratory alchemist and the literary alchemist.
    • Paragraph 4 : The laboratory alchemists failed to produce gold from other materials. However, they gained wide knowledge of chemical substances, discovered chemical properties, and invented many of the tools and techniques that are used by chemist today.

    4. ANSWER FROM THE QUESTIONS GIVEN
    1. Which of the following is the main point of the passage?
    A. They were both laboratory and literary alchemists.
    B. Base metals can be transmuted to gold by blending them with a substance more perfect than gold.
    C. Roger Bacon and St. Albertus Magnus wrote about alchemy
    D. Alchemy was the predecessor of modern chemistry.
    2. The word authentic in paragraph 2 could best be replaced by ?
    A. Valuable
    B. Genuine
    C. Complete
    D. Comprehensible
    3. According to the alchemists, what is the difference between base metals and gold?
    A. Perfection
    B. Chemical content
    C. Temperature
    D. Weight
    4. According to the passage, what is the “philosopher’s stone”?
    A. Lead that was mixed with gold
    B. An element that was never found
    C. Another name for alchemy
    D. A base metal
    5. The word cryptic in paragraph 3 could best be replaced by which of the following?
    A. Scholarly
    B. Secret
    C. Foreign
    D. Precise
    6. Why did the early alchemists use the terns sun and moon?
    A. To keep the work secret
    B. To make the work more literary
    C. To attract philosophers
    D. To produce a written record
    7. Who were the first alchemists?
    A. Chemists
    B. Writer
    C. Artisans
    D. Linguists
    8. In paragraph 3, the author suggests that we know about the history of alchemy because ?
    A. The laboratory alchemists kept secret notes
    B. The literary alchemists recorded it in writing
    C. The mystical philosophers were not able to hide the secret of alchemy
    D. The historians were able to interpret the secret writings of the alchemists
    9. Which of the following statements would the author most probably agree?
    A. Alchemy must be considered a complete failure.
    B. Some very important scientific discoveries were made by alchemists.
    C. Most educated people dismissed alchemy during the time that it was practiced.
    D. The literary alchemists were more important than the laboratory alchemists.

    Alchemy was the predecessor of the modern science of chemistry. The fundamental premise of alchemy derived from the best philosophical dogma and scientific practice of the time, and the majority of educated persons between 1400 and 1600 believed that alchemy had great merit. Most of the early alchemists were artisans who were accustomed to keeping trade secrets and often resorted to cryptic terminology to record the progress of their work. This convention of substituting symbolic language attracted some mystical philosophers who compared the search for the perfect metal with the struggle of humankind for the perfection of the soul. By the fourteenth century, alchemy had developed two distinct groups of practitioners-the laboratory alchemist and the literary alchemist.


    Journal Entry [ ]

    • Meet the pellar in the stone circle on Fyke Isle at midnight.
    • Protect the ritual's participants.

    If you choose to side with the pellar:

    • Defeat the witch hunters.
    • Defeat the wraiths.
    • Find the body of the pellar's father in the swamps using your Witcher Senses.
    • Burn the pellar's father's body.
    • Talk to the pellar. (50)

    TOEFL MODEL TEST : Reading Comprehension 12

    Although its purpose and techniques were often magical, alchemy was, in many ways, the predecessor of the modern science of chemistry. The fundamental premise of alchemy derived from the best philosophical dogma and scientific practice of the time, and the majority of educated persons between 1400 and 1600 believed that alchemy had great merit.

    The earliest authentic works on European alchemy are those of the English monk Roger Bacon and the German philosopher St. Albertus Magnus. In their treatises they maintained that gold was the perfect metal and that inferior metals such as lead and mercury were removed by various degrees of imperfection from gold. They furtherasserted that these base metals could be transmuted to gold by blending them with a substance more perfect than gold. This elusive substance was referred to as the “philosopher’s stone.” The process was called transmutation.

    Most of the early alchemists were artisans who were accustomed to keeping trade secrets and often resorted to cryptic terminology to record the progress of their work. The term sun was used for gold, moon for silver, and the five known planets for base metals. This convention of substituting symbolic language attracted some mystical philosophers who compared the search for the perfect metal with the struggle of humankind for the perfection of the soul. The philosophers began to use the artisan’s terms in the mystical literature that they produced. Thus, by the fourteenth century, alchemy had developed twodistinct groups of practitioners-the laboratory alchemist and the literary alchemist. Both groups of alchemists continued to work throughout the history of alchemy but, of course, it was the literary alchemist who was more likely to produce a written record therefore, much of what is known about the science of alchemy is derived from philosophers rather than from the alchemists who labored in laboratories.

    Despite centuries of experimentation, laboratory alchemists failed to produce gold from other materials. However, they gained wide knowledge of chemical substances, discovered chemical properties, and invented many of the tools and techniques that are used by chemist today. Many laboratory alchemists earnestly devoted themselves to the scientific discovery of new compounds and reactions and, therefore, must be considered the legitimate forefathers of modern chemistry. They continued to call themselves alchemists, but they were becoming true chemists.

    List new vocabulary with their meaning

    predecessor : a person who held a job or office before the current holder.

    premise : a previous statement from which another is inferred.

    philosophical : relating to or devoted to the study of philosophy.

    scientific : relating to or based on science.

    treatises : n. noun a written work dealing formally and systematically with a subject.

    inferior : lower in rank, status, or quality. Of low standard or quality.

    asserted : v. state a fact or belief confidently and forcefully.

    elusive : adj. adjective difficult to find, catch, or achieve

    cryptic : adj. mysterious or obscure in meaning.

    struggle : n. make forceful efforts to get free.

    forefathers : noun an ancestor or precursor

    Ideas of each paragraph
    P 1: Although its purpose and techniques were often magical, alchemy was, in many ways, the predecessor of the modern science of chemistry.
    P 2: The earliest authentic works on European alchemy are those of the English monk Roger Bacon and the German philosopher St. Albertus Magnus.
    P 3: Most of the early alchemists were artisans who were accustomed to keeping trade secrets and often resorted to cryptic terminology to record the progress of their work.
    P 4: Despite centuries of experimentation, laboratory alchemists failed to produce gold from other materials.

    Answer the questions given

    Answer : D. Alchemy was the predecessor of modern chemistry.

    Answer : B. Genuine

    Answer : A. Perfection

    Answer : B. An element that was never found

    Answer : B. Secret

    Answer : A. To keep the work secret

    Answer : C. Artisans

    Answer : B. The literary alchemists recorded it in writing

    Answer : B. Some very important scientific discoveries were made by alchemists.

    Summary of the passage
    The fundamental premise of alchemy derived from the best philosophical dogma and scientific practice of the time, and the majority of educated persons between 1400 and 1600 believed that alchemy had great merit. The earliest authentic works on European alchemy are those of the English monk Roger Bacon and the German philosopher St. Albertus Magnus. In their treatises they maintained that gold was the perfect metal and that inferior metals such as lead and mercury were removed by various degrees of imperfection from gold. Most of the early alchemists were artisans who were accustomed to keeping trade secrets and often resorted to cryptic terminology to record the progress of their work. The term sun was used for gold, moon for silver, and the five known planets for base metals. Many laboratory alchemists earnestly devoted themselves to the scientific discovery of new compounds and reactions and, therefore, must be considered the legitimate forefathers of modern chemistry.


    Chemistry in Ancient China: Alchemy

    It is very difficult for modern people to fathom the scientific achievements in ancient China from a modern scientific point of view. Actually, even in this past century, there have been different schools of science that have different understandings of the most basic composition of substances. I quoted Lao Tzu and Confucius in Part I of this series [1]. From a modern science point of view, it is not at all far-fetched to describe these two philosophers as physicists. Their theories revealed the existence of and variations in substances at different levels. It is a myth to modern people that, without access to any scientific equipment or apparatus, these ancient philosophers could have discovered the existence of protons, neutrons and electrons within an atom, as well as the fact that all substances, regardless of their shapes, are made up of atoms. Without the use of particle accelerators, these ancient Chinese philosophers even knew of the existence of substances at microscopic levels in different dimensions. Of course, the ultimate quest for modern scientists is knowledge of the most basic particle that makes up any substance in the universe and the process of formation of that substance. With this knowledge, scientists will immediately be able to realize the dream of being the Creator, one who is capable of creating various substances and turn even stone into gold.

    Alchemy is not a dream. Ancient Chinese scientists already possessed knowledge of alchemy. When it comes to scientific achievements and developments in ancient China, alchemy would be placed in the first chapter of the history book of chemistry. According to the ancient Chinese Taoist concept of making dan (an energy cluster in a cultivator's body, collected from other dimensions) in the furnace, once dan is formed, it has the capability of changing any tangible substance into gold or silver. Dan can also transform the physical body and bodies in other dimensions, thus promoting a cultivator to transcend time, space, and the human body and enter into higher levels of cultivation. With this in mind, "making dan" is, in essence, actually alchemy.

    It would be difficult to determine when Chinese alchemy originated by researching historical documents. According to ancient Taoist records, alchemy was first recorded in the time of Huang Di (the legendary Yellow Emperor) and Lao Tzu. However, Huang Di and Lao Tzu lived in different historical periods that were hundreds of years apart. The most logical explanation would be that alchemy developed along with the Chinese culture and thus became part of it. Huang Di and Lao Tsu were great masters of alchemy, making them the representatives of Chinese alchemy. Legend has it that Hang Di was given nine dans as a gift while visiting Tai Yi. After a person consumed a dan, his hands became as red as the dan. When the person washed his hands in a river, the river would turn red too. Later, Huang Di obtained the secrets of alchemy and made dans with a furnace. Huang Di flew up to heaven on the back of a dragon after the dans were made [2]. According to the Chapter of Fen-Chan in The Book of History by Si-Ma Qian, the alchemists encouraged the feudal lords to seek dan in order to obtain eternal life and youth beginning in the time of the reign of Emperor Jiwei-Xuan in the Warring States Period. Later, during the reign of the First Emperor of the Qing Dynasty, a Taoist named Xu Fu asked the Emperor for permission to seek dan overseas. These are the first official records of alchemy in Chinese history. Alchemy became more ascendant during the Han Dynasty. The Wu Emperor, Liu Che, was very enthusiastic about alchemy. During the same historical period, the King of Huai Nan also kept a big group of Taoists as houseguests. They wrote a lot of books on alchemy for him. Unfortunately all of the books were lost, except for twenty-one volumes of Huai Nan Zi. At the end of the West Han Dynasty, Wang Mang, who usurped the throne, was also a proponent of alchemy. During the Three Kingdoms period, at the end of Han Dynasty, Cao Cao and his son enjoyed the company of alchemists, among whom, Zuo Ci, Gan Shi, and Wang Heping, were the most famous.

    At the end of the Han Dynasty, in approximately 2 A.D., Wei Boyang, a man of the Country of Wu, or today's Shangyu, Zhejiang Province, wrote The References and Comments on the Book of Changes, the earliest textbook of alchemy. Because there are many theories and experiments in this book, naturally, it was a good reference book for later generations of people. Legend has it that Wei Boyang led three disciples into the mountains to cultivate dan. After he made the dans, he first gave one to a dog as a test. But the dog soon died. Then Boyang ate a dan and also died. One of the three disciples then ate a dan after he saw that his Master died from eating a dan. The other two disciples sighed and said, "The purpose of making dan is to obtain longevity. What is the use of eating a dan that will kill you?" The two of them then left the mountain without hesitation. As soon as they left, Wei Boyang immediately stood up and put the real dan into the mouths of the disciple and the dog. Both the disciple and the dog woke up immediately. In this way, they became immortal and started cultivation of the Tao [3].

    This legend shows that the required standards for xinxing (heart and mind nature moral character) and morals in the arena of ancient Chinese science were very high. The requirements for moral character were much higher than those for intelligence and knowledge. This very characteristic differentiates ancient Chinese science from modern science. The truth of the universe is the manifestation of the nature of different levels. It is impossible to have an access to the truth of the universe via methods or techniques of lower levels. Therefore, "believe first, see later" is another important characteristic of ancient Chinese science. "Believe first, see later" means that those who seek the truth of the universe must first discard all of their conventional thinking before they can see the natural unfolding of the truth of the universe. They need not pursue the truth of the universe in order to see it.

    Einstein believed that the universe is in harmony and order, that the universe was created by God, and that there exist high-level beings in the universe. If Einstein represents modern science, perhaps we can derive from his story that "to believe first" must be the foundation of science. Both ancient and modern science share one common requirement in this regard. This is a question that calls for deep reflection from the modern scientist: What on earth do modern scientists believe in?

    Ge Hong published Bao Pu Zi in the Jin Dynasty. This book has two parts: inside and outside. It broadly describes the functions of herbs, alchemy, stories about deities and cultivation, and the laws behind the changes of everything on earth. According to Ge Hong, his grandfather, Ge Xianweng, was the student of Zuo Ci, who had imparted to him numerous volumes of scriptures about alchemy. Later, Zheng Siyuan, a disciple of Ge Xianweng, passed the art of alchemy to Ge Hong, grandson of Ge Xianweng. Ge Hong called himself Bao Pu Zi. Ge Hong was indifferent to fame and wealth. He studied diligently despite his obscure family background. He read a lot of classical books, and as the apprentice of Zheng Siyuang, he obtained the secrets to immortality. He hid himself on Mount Luo Fu in Guangdong Province, where he cultivated the Tao, and he constantly wrote books of Tao. When he passed away, he was in the sitting meditation posture. His complexion was rosy and his body was soft like a living person. When people transferred his body to a coffin, they found he weighed as little as a piece of clothing. This is what is called "leaving the body behind to become an immortal."

    The Chapter of Huang Bai in Bao Pu Zi says, "Change is the norm of nature therefore, it is a confined way of thinking to believe gold and silver cannot be transformed into something different." The ancient Chinese alchemists maintained that gold and silver could be transformed into and from other types of substances. This is the so-called transformation of elements in the modern theory of high-energy physics. However, even with the modern, precise, and large particle accelerators that are capable of transforming some chemical elements into different elements, it would be like a tale in the Arabian Nights if one were capable of transforming base chemical elements into gold and silver. It would be impossible to observe this phenomenon using today's technology. This is the very reason why alchemy has been regarded as an absurdity and an example of ancient quasi-science by modern scientists.

    Actually, many recent discoveries from modern scientific experiments have shown that many creatures on earth have supernormal abilities like alchemy within themselves. For example, hens, which are not given any food with calcium, unexpectedly produce eggs with calcium shells. Seeds that sprout in distilled water contain more potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, calcium, and sulphur than before the seeds begin to sprout. These experiments demonstrate that all creatures on earth have alchemical abilities [4,5]. These phenomena might support the fact that ancient Chinese scientists probably were much more advanced in their understanding of the laws of changes in the universe. Apparently, alchemy is more than just the understanding of substances on the superficial layer. It probes right into the power of life.


    Is Origin of Life Science Today’s Alchemy?

    The 21st in the series called The Case Against Physicalism. In previous posts on Top Down or Bottom Up, we investigated the challenges to science from the facts of beginnings. Here we look closer at the science of the origin of life. We see a key difference between operational science and origins science which helps explain the science community’s aversion to the idea of a cause for life outside of the cosmos.

    Will our current scientific studies of the origin of life prove to be the equivalent of alchemy?

    Alchemy has a long and noble history. It spans four millennia and three continents and was one of the primary scientific endeavors for most of that time. Although popular understanding is focused on the effort of alchemists to turn base metals like lead into noble metals, mostly gold, there were a number of other efforts pursued such as creating an elixir of eternal life, finding a “panacea” or substance to cure any illness, and a universal solvent.

    From the empirical observations of the time, there was no good reason to believe that such things were impossible. There is metal such as lead in the earth and there is gold. There are obvious transformation, like oxidation. What reason would they have to believe that lead does not through some transformative process turn into gold? And if it did, why not hurry the natural process along and become fabulously rich in the process?

    Now, we know that it is impossible. Science has improved our knowledge about things like lead and gold and where they come from, and has enabled humans to understand that the process they were trying to simulate doesn’t exist.

    Origin of Life (OoL), or abiogenesis, studies are forensic in nature. That is, we do not and apparently cannot study the process by which non-living material turns into something that is alive. So far as we know today, what happened on earth about 3.8 billion years ago, happened just once in the entire universe. That means to understand what happened and how it happened we have to simulate it. To simulate it, we need to know the conditions under which that process occurred, and we need to know the mechanism or mechanisms that caused atoms and molecules needed for life to operate.

    The simulation process really got started in 1952 by Nobel Laureate chemist Howard Urey and his graduate student Stanley Miller. Simply put, they assembled what they believed constituted the pre-biotic “soup” in a container and zapped it with lightning. Both the raw chemicals and the environmental conditions were presented as representing the nearly newborn earth. The zapping ended up producing amino acids, one of the essential building blocks of life. Viola, the path to establishing the creation of life through chemical evolution was established. The frenzied headlines that told the world that the mystery of the origin of life was about to be solved. These misrepresentations have been repeated over and over since that time as new studies “proved” how chemicals evolved to create life.

    Despite the wildly optimistic claims of these click-bait headlines, the public remains very skeptical of the belief expressed by many physicalists that we are very close to discovering the pathway of chemical evolution. As the debates between varying theories, sometimes widely varying theories, boil over into serious acrimony, the confidence in science is diminished. That is a problem for all of us as we have seen in the COVID 19 crisis.

    An example of very irresponsible communication by scientists concerning claims of a solution are found in this 2009 article from American Scientist, introduced with this remarkable statement:

    “In this article we present a view gaining attention in the origin-of-life community that takes the question out of the hatchery and places it squarely in the realm of accessible, plausible chemistry. As we see it, the early steps on the way to life are an inevitable, incremental result of the operation of the laws of chemistry and physics operating under the conditions that existed on the early Earth, a result that can be understood in terms of known (or at least knowable) laws of nature. As such, the early stages in the emergence of life are no more surprising, no more accidental, than water flowing downhill.”

    The hubris expressed in the statement that the emergence of life is no more mysterious than water flowing downhill is almost, but not quite, humorous. Particularly in light of the much more recent assessment of the state of OoL research by a long list of researchers who strongly dispute the optimistic assessment. First, they summarize the areas of agreement. Those, they find are few. The disagreements are numerous, vast in scope and vociferous:

    “There is some consensus on a few points. First, the earliest undisputed fossil evidence places life on Earth prior to 3.35 Ga and molecular clocks suggest an origin prior to the late heavy bombardment >3.9 Ga. Second, the origin of life must have resulted from a long process or a series of processes, not a sudden event, for the complexity of a cell could not have appeared instantaneously…But strikingly, the list of agreements does not expand much further than this…The list of individual theories, different lines of experimental and theoretical research and diverse views on the OoL is extensive and eclectic…we present a forward-looking perspective on how discontinued discourses on the OoL can be (re)united in a new mosaic with resolution and meaning. We reflect purposely on individual topics causing the most distressing divisions in OoL research, most of which result from classical separations between disciplines and theories that date to decades ago. We then portray examples of bridges being built between classically opposed views and finish by providing a roadmap for future dialogue and evidence-based research in OoL.”

    Despite 70 years of dedicated research and who knows how many billions of public and private dollars, the debates rage, theories proliferate and we seem no closer to a solution. We have learned a lot, no question, but have we come closer to the answer of how life evolved from non-life?

    Biologist Dean Kenyon, now professor emeritus of San Francisco State University, provides an interesting case in point. In 1969 he and Gary Steinman wrote a book called Biochemical Predestination in which they presented the idea that

    “Life might have been biochemically predestined by the properties of attraction that exist between its chemical parts, especially between amino acids in proteins.”

    This idea is considered a precursor to the “self-organization” idea that finds expression in many areas of science, including evolution. However, Professor Kenyon later concluded that this predestination was not a satisfactory answer and, much to the frustration of those who esteemed his science work, concluded that creation or intelligent design was a more rational conclusion. As expected, the organized physicalist defenders on Wikipedia mock much of his later thinking, labeling him with that most horrid of anti-science epithets: a young earth creationist!

    Kenyon provided the foreword to a book that set the OoL community into a tizzy. The Mystery of the Origin of Life initially appeared in 1984 and has recently been republished with updates and additional contributions from scientists and philosophers of science. The primary authors Charles Thaxton, Walter Bradley and Roger Olsen combined in-depth scientific knowledge and expertise in three areas critical to origin science: biochemistry, thermodynamics and geochemistry. The book provides a deep dive into the ongoing investigation of origins particularly on the efforts to simulate the conditions and mechanisms necessary for chemical evolution.

    It was a scientific tour-de-force and reviews showed that few could question the analysis provided. Looking at the question from the viewpoint of biochemistry, geochemistry and the laws of thermodynamics was something new and much needed. In the Epilogue Thaxton reviewed the primary ideas about origins and analyzed how they stacked up against the scientific knowledge to date. He summarized their analysis in these key points:

    • “There is accumulating evidence for an oxidizing early earth and atmosphere.
    • Destructive processes would have predominated over synthesis in the atmosphere and ocean in the prebiotic world.
    • There is continued shortening of the time interval (now less than 170 million years) between earth’s cooling and the first appearance of life.
    • Geochemical analysis shows that the composition of Precambrian deposits is short of nitrogen.
    • There is an observational limit or boundary between what has been accomplished in the laboratory by natural processes left to themselves and what is done through investigator interference.
    • In our experience only two things, biotic processes (carried out by enzymes, DNA, etc.) and investigator interference, are able to couple energy flow to the task of constructing biospecific macromolecules.
    • True living cells are extraordinarily complex, well-orchestrated dynamic structures containing enzymes, DNA, phospholipids, carbohydrates, etc., to which so-called protocells bear only a superficial resemblance.”

    An overly simple summary of these key items would be: the conditions and requirements for chemical evolution on earth show that transforming non-living matter into life is impossible. Thaxton quotes Sir Fred Hoyle and Chandra Wickramasinghe who decisively agreed with that assessment:

    “No matter how large the environment one considers, life cannot have had a random beginning… there are about two thousand enzymes, and the chance of obtaining them all in a random trial is only one part in (10²⁰)2000 = 10⁴⁰⁰⁰⁰, an outrageously small probability that could not be faced even if the whole universe consisted of organic soup.

    If one is not prejudiced either by social beliefs or by a scientific training into the conviction that life originated on the Earth, this simple calculation wipes the idea entirely out of court… the enormous information content of even the simplest living systems… cannot in our view be generated by what are often called “natural” processes, as for instance through meteorological and chemical processes occurring at the surface of a lifeless planet… For life to have originated on the Earth it would be necessary that quite explicit instruction should have been provided for its assembly… There is no way in which we can expect to avoid the need for information, no way in which we can simply get by with a bigger and better organic soup, as we ourselves hoped might be possible a year or two ago.” [emphasis added]

    Hoyle and Wickramasinghe are scientists who thoroughly and for carefully explicated reasons reject exclusive Darwinism, not just on origin issues but also as a true story of the history of life. But, Hoyle was so committed to atheism that despite the fact that he was a major contributor to the discovery of fine-tuning for life, he resisted the idea of the Big Bang (a term he coined) that he continued to promote the idea of a steady-state universe. Since a transcendent creator could not be contemplated and chemical evolution of life on earth was not possible, Hoyle and Wickramasinghe promoted the idea of panspermia. To them, it was clear that life arrived on earth from comets in the form of viruses. Panspermia, an idea popularized by Francis Crick, only kicks the can of origins down the road. Such conclusions that the conditions on earth were unsuitable for the emergence of life––short of a creator––requires the belief that conditions on other places in the universe must be more conducive, and that the transformative mechanism works without guidance.

    Lead into Gold

    Let’s return for a moment to the scientific dark ages. A “natural philosopher,” the scientist of his time is engrossed in studying the properties of lead. He leaves his tiny laboratory, making sure all doors and windows are locked, and goes to his humble house for the midday meal. When he returns he finds to his absolute amazement that the lump of lead is now gold.

    1. Someone stole into his laboratory despite his security precautions and replaced the lead with gold.
    2. There is some natural but unexplained process that under certain conditions transforms lead into gold.
    3. It was a miracle.

    The problem with the first is that he knows how he secured the lab, there were no signs of forced entry, and what burglar in his right mind would switch gold for lead?

    The problem with the third is that he is a natural philosopher who believes in the orderly working of nature according to fixed laws (he might have been ahead of his time). His philosophy doesn’t allow for miracles.

    That leaves him the third option. He spends the rest of his life seeking how to transform lead into gold, trying always to replicate the conditions, varying temperatures, position, angle of light through the window, etc. Near the end of his sad life he reveals to others and shows them the gold as proof. It sets off a storm of inquiry and the “science” of alchemy is underway.

    Thaxton in his Epilogue to Mystery explains cogently the opposition of the science community to the miracle of the emergence of life. The resistance comes, he believes, from conflating operational science with the science of origin:

    “Hypotheses of origin science, however, are not empirically testable or falsifiable, since the datum needed for experimental test (namely, the origin) is unavailable. In contrast to operation science, where the focus is on a class of many events, origin science is concerned with a particular event, i.e., a class of one.”

    Life began just once (so far)

    Life, as far as current science takes us, began once. Once on this planet and as far as we know once in the universe. It’s a one-off. Operation science is endlessly repeated like apples falling from trees and moons orbiting their planets. These operational events are what the scientific method has been developed to understand and at which it has succeeded with remarkable results. These sciences are based on closed and continuous causality. Thaxton agrees that injecting God unnecessarily into operational science is harmful to science, indeed, non-scientific. Operational science depends on the reliability of the laws of nature. Discontinuities including one-offs tend to mess with that.

    Breaking with continuity in science is a complete no-no and this essential element of science is embedded in the DNA of any good scientist. Who knows, it might be epigenetic. But one-off events don’t fit the pattern. They are by nature discontinuous.

    This resistance based on a break in continuity was well expressed by Hans Graffon at the 1959 Darwin Centennial Celebration:

    “[Chemical evolution] is a nice theory, but no shred of evidence, no single fact whatever, forces us to believe it. What exists is only the scientist’s wish not to admit a discontinuity in nature and not to assume a creative act forever beyond comprehension.”

    Lead doesn’t turn into gold. Non-life doesn’t turn into life. Unless it is a miracle. And, if your worldview says that miracles are impossible, then, like our old natural philosopher friend, you keep on looking.


    Watch the video: Prof. Jim Al-Khalili presents - 1001 Inventions: Journeys from Alchemy to Chemistry


Comments:

  1. Kazrale

    Not a word more!

  2. Jamal

    Super class !!!



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