Philosophy of Science: Bitter Water

ambience stream, Sierra Nevada

Is there the makings of a chemistry lesson in the Bible? Well, in a moment, a story of sweet and bitter water. I’m Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet, presented by DuPont. Roald Hoffmann, an theoretical chemist at Cornell University, refers us to a passage in the Old Testament, and wonders if there may be some common ground here between religion and science.

Right after crossing the Red Sea, the people are complaining they cannot get water and they find a pool of water where the water is tasting bitter. And so then, God commands Moses to throw a piece of wood into that water and it turns sweet. What’s going on here? On one level, it’s interesting to think, what could have happened biologically and chemically. What kind of transformation could a piece of wood have wrought to purify this water. On the other hand. there’s a discussion in the Talmud about ‘did God do miracle, or did he teach Moses how to do chemistry?’ The rabbis talk about this 1500 years ago, and there is a debate between them.”

So how did Moses make the bitter water taste sweet? Roald Hoffmann tells us how chemistry may explain this phenomenon.

“Turns out that there are some plants which actually release some chemicals which can take out certain ingredients from the water that might make it bitter. There also are natural substances growing in that area which are like analogs of saccharin, or something, to make the water actually physically sweet and overcome the bitterness.”

If the bible is a living allegory, than there may be not one but many ways to understand and appreciate its lessons – including through the science of chemistry. Pulse of the Planet is presented by DuPont, bringing you the miracles of science, with additional support provided by the National Science Foundation. I’m Jim Metzner.
music

Philosophy of Science: Bitter Water

A theoretical chemist offers a scientific explanation of how a humble piece of wood may have sweetened water in Biblical times.
Air Date:07/30/2001
Scientist:
Transcript:

ambience stream, Sierra Nevada

Is there the makings of a chemistry lesson in the Bible? Well, in a moment, a story of sweet and bitter water. I'm Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet, presented by DuPont. Roald Hoffmann, an theoretical chemist at Cornell University, refers us to a passage in the Old Testament, and wonders if there may be some common ground here between religion and science.


Right after crossing the Red Sea, the people are complaining they cannot get water and they find a pool of water where the water is tasting bitter. And so then, God commands Moses to throw a piece of wood into that water and it turns sweet. What's going on here? On one level, it's interesting to think, what could have happened biologically and chemically. What kind of transformation could a piece of wood have wrought to purify this water. On the other hand. there's a discussion in the Talmud about 'did God do miracle, or did he teach Moses how to do chemistry?' The rabbis talk about this 1500 years ago, and there is a debate between them.”

So how did Moses make the bitter water taste sweet? Roald Hoffmann tells us how chemistry may explain this phenomenon.


"Turns out that there are some plants which actually release some chemicals which can take out certain ingredients from the water that might make it bitter. There also are natural substances growing in that area which are like analogs of saccharin, or something, to make the water actually physically sweet and overcome the bitterness.”

If the bible is a living allegory, than there may be not one but many ways to understand and appreciate its lessons - including through the science of chemistry. Pulse of the Planet is presented by DuPont, bringing you the miracles of science, with additional support provided by the National Science Foundation. I'm Jim Metzner.
music