Saturday, May 22, 2004

God and Photons. As my family, especially Carol, is really tired of knowing, I became interested in amateur radio a year or two ago. For several months, I have been reading three books that I bought at Radio Shack about electronics: Basic Electronics, Basic Communications Electronics, and Basic Digital Electronics. These books are very well written and profusely illustrated. They have examples and questions at the end of each chapter. They explain technical points carefully and clearly so that liberal arts majors can hope to understand them.

In the Basic Electronics book, the last chapter is "How Photoelectric Devices Work". In some ways, the chapter is a culmination of many of the ideas that the authors explained earlier, especially about how semi-conductors work. To understand the point I am about to make, you need to know that the authors are very serious science writers. The book is not for children. And up until Chapter 11 they have laid their points out carefully and rationally, leading the lay reader along with respect for the subject and for the lay reader.

In Chapter 11, the authors introduce again the kind of semiconductor known as a diode. What we did not know up to that point is that such semi-conductors actually emit light. You are probably familiar with this property and don't know it. Those little lights that tell you when a thing is on or off, ready or unready, etc., are LEDs, or "light emitting diodes". All diodes emit light, but some are designed to emit light in brighter ways and to function as you see them function on the front panel of some sort of thing that does electricity.

So the authors in Chapter 11 carefully explain how these things are used in circuits and applications. Then they get to a couple of questions at the end: (1) How can forward current in a p-n junction diode produce light? and (2) Do all p-n junction diodes light up when they conduct? Here is what they say about these questions:

"The answer to the second question is yes-they all produce light. . . In an LED, the p and n regions are shaped and positioned so that a lot of the light shines out instead of being absorbed [by the silicon crystal]. . .

"As to the first question, light is produced whenever free electrons fall into holes in a semiconductor crystal. . . [W]hen each free electron drops to the lower energy level, the potential energy it loses is instantly converted into a photon, as if by magic. The photon zips away from the junction in some random direction traveling at the speed of light . . . "

"As if by magic?" That sounds like superstition to me. Is this the best these guys can do on the naturalistic end? I guess so. People accuse Christians of finding God "in the gaps" of scientific knowledge. They say that it is just a matter of time before one particular gap or another will be filled in by science. OK. But at the least, at Radio Shack I found a gap. I think the whole thing about electrons in holes, the special properties of semi-conductors, all this wonderment, proclaims the glory of God. Not just the gaps but the non-gaps. But the gaps remind us of the ultimate truth, do they not?

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