Nature’s battery

by Barry Newton

If a scientist were to explain a battery’s functioning, he might say: “An oxidation reaction on the anode terminal releases electrons.”

Although physics and chemistry can explain how a common AA battery works, what would happen if we had never seen one before and we found one on an unknown island? Could science inform us about its origin?

Through the scientific method, our understanding of physics and chemistry continues to amass deeper insight into how and why things work as they do. Nevertheless, could either accurately explain a AA battery’s origin if it were discovered on an island?

Where Batteries Come From

Of course we know that commercial batteries are produced by engineers, who design both the manufacturing equipment as well as the fabrication process. And then workers use that equipment and follow those processes to produce them.

We know that even eons of time combined with mere natural principles will not create AA batteries. AA batteries owe their existence to the ingenuity of the human mind to design and fabricate them.

A Scientist’s Explanation of Battery Origins

However, imagine what would happen if we did not know where batteries come from and scientists assumed that batteries were merely the result of natural forces. (The notion is silly, but what if?)

In this case, if scientists assumed a naturalistic origin, human curiosity would demand discovering exactly how this could be feasible. Even if we did not get all of the story’s details right, a plausible explanation would be sought.

Perhaps excerpts from such a story might include:  “This molten metal composition under volcanic pressure could have been driven into thin rock fissures. … As the surrounding rock eroded over time, these tiny sheets of metal would then have been exposed. We are still far from a battery, but what would eventually become the casing had been formed.”

In spite of a naturalistic imagination, the undirected and purposeless forces of physics and chemistry could never accurately describe either the origin of AA batteries nor those other objects that surround our lives: electronics, furniture, buildings, roads, signs, and vehicles. All of these objects exist, not because of naturalistic forces, but because intelligent human beings designed and built them.

A Battery in Nature

While humans manufacture many types of batteries, another type exists in both the plant and animal world. We call these tiny packets of stored energy ATP, for adenosine triphosphate. Within living cells a whole host of tiny machines depends upon the energy within ATP in order to function.

While biochemistry and physics can tell us how kinetic mechanical energy is converted into potential chemical energy during ATP synthase to manufacture ATP, can these disciplines tell us how these marvelous, minute energy-manufacturing factories, often operating at 9000 RPM with near 100% efficiency, came into existence?

Just like its commercial counterpart, ATP is manufactured by a machine. Furthermore, just as human designed battery manufacturing depends upon machines constructed from many parts, so too the enzyme responsible for ATP synthase is itself composed of multiple smaller protein units, each of which are constructed from DNA instructions and then assembled.

We know that commercial batteries did not just happen. What about ATP and its manufacturing process?

How It Works Doesn’t Explain Where It Came From

Some will insist that mere naturalistic principles are responsible for the origin of ATP synthase. Really? What evidence demands that undirected and blind naturalistic forces provide us correct insight into the origin of ATP synthase? After all, there is a categorical difference in describing how a process works and assuming that those same naturalistic principles can account for the origin of that entity.

To make the assumption that the type of principles that explain how something functions are also capable of explaining its origin abandons the realm of verifiable science to engage in philosophical speculation. The seeming plausibility of the story will be more dependent upon one’s own insight and ignorance than in actually reconstructing history.

The naturalistic imagination must create innumerable origin stories.

A More Ancient Story

There is another story, an ancient story, that proclaims, “In the beginning God created.”

When we use our intelligence to design and manufacture commercial batteries, our efforts are a poor imitation of the efficiency of what Someone has already done at the nanoscale to store usable energy.

Share your thoughts: