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1/29/09

The First Commandment of Thermodynamics

At least, some treat the First Law of Thermodynamics as a sort of commandment which they seek to employ in a self-serving manner. Such was the case with Brian Sapient of the Rational Response Squad (during his, and Kelly’s, debate with Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron).
To read/Or not to read

Two quick things to point out: he made the slight misstatement of referring to the Law as being the Third rather than First. Also, some mistakenly claim that he argued that the universe is eternal but he did not. Rather, he argued that eternal uncaused energy/matter brought our universe into being. Thus, according to his argument our universe is finite but energy/matter is infinite.

Here is the crux of his statements in this regard:
“Science has a law, it's called the third law of thermodynamics; which shows us, and it's one of the most tested laws in science, that matter or energy can neither be created nor destroyed. That we always have the same amount of matter and energy.

We could blow up this building, and while it would look completely different, there would be the exact same amount of matter and energy in the universe.

That tells us scientifically, if we were to use a more scientific approach, that the components of our world today, our universe, have always existed.

And we have real science to lend credence to that.”[1]

The erudite and elucidating retort by Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron was basically to hit the floor fetal position and such their thumbs.

Yet, the crucial non sequitur here seems to be that the First Law is relevant to the universe in which it functions. As obvious as this seems, it does appear as if this is what is being overlooked: “we always have the same amount of matter and energy.” Who is “we”? It is us, here, this, universe.

Thus, the disconnect, the non sequitur, is to conclude that “the components of our world today, our universe, have always existed.” This is sort of like sealing a box and stating that nothing can go into the box and nothing can come out. Yes, but this is within the box. Let us think outside of the box.

We know that within the universe energy/matter is neither created nor destroyed but only changed. We are dealing with conservation of energy within a system. We have real science to lend credence to this but not to the assertion that energy/matter is the uncaused eternal first cause.

The fact that the universe is not eternal leads us to the rational conclusion that energy/matter came into being at the moment of the universe’s inception (along with space/time). Furthermore, it is reasonable to conclude that whatever existed “before” that, whatever brought the universe into being, was without matter, or immaterial, or spirit (and timeless, or eternal and space-less or without spatial restrictions).[2] Thus, we have real science that supports the conclusion that energy/matter came into existence at a finite point having not existed previously.

Therefore, real science does not demand that energy/matter cannot be created or destroyed any“where” any“time” but only within our universe, within the box in which the Law functions.


The Bible predicted the First Law of Thermodynamics:
Genesis 1:1
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth”

“beginning” = time.

“heavens” = space.

“earth” = matter.

“In the beginning” = the finite creation of the universe.

“God” = a preexistent time-less, space-less, matter-less being or; eternal, not confined to locality nor subject to natural laws, immaterial or spirit.

“created” = brought into being, infused with energy/matter, designed.

Genesis 2:1-3

“Thus the heavens and the earth, and all the host of them, were finished. And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.”

Thus, the Bible stated that energy/matter were brought into being, placed within the box (the universe) and that no more energy/matter is being created.

[1] These statements were made during a debate series between Brian Sapient and Kelly (Rational Response Squad) vs. Kirk Cameron and Ray Comfort (Way of the Master) which aired on ABC Nightline.
[2] Note that in energy/matter we are dealing not with potency but with the within the box interactions of energy/matter.

16 comments:

  1. I agree with you on the following two points:

    1. Atheists should not use the First Law of Thermodynamics as a refutation of the kalam cosmological argument. The best science we have suggests that the laws of the universe (including the FLoT) formed at the Planck time, 1x10^-43 seconds after the Big Bang, and that therefore, nothing prior to that time is knowable. Thus, the honest atheist answer to "who or what created the universe," is "I don't know."

    2. Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron are indeed buffoons.

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  2. Andrew: you say-

    Thus, the honest atheist answer to "who or what created the universe," is "I don't know."

    Your question presupposes a "creation", which presupposes a "creator". A better phrasing would be "how did the Universe come to be?" My answer would be "I don't know."

    And yes, Comfort and Cameron are buffoons. But they've marketed their buffoonery quite well, and are in no discomfort, at least materially.

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  3. I don't think Comfort and Cameron are buffoons, but I would readily accept that they are not adept apologists. They have, however, done other things in the Christian realm that I think are quite useful - for example, their work on evangelism is nice.

    Lest we be uneven however, the RRS isn't exactly a shining example of the side they represent. To be honest, I'm not sure why you would choose either of those groups for a debate on the existence of God.

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  4. Zilch: Point taken, although I'm reasonably comfortable with the fact that we tend to anthropomorphize things. When my 6-year-old son asks me, "What made the world?" I don't instantly think that he wants a theological debate. :)

    Leslie: I'm terrified if you think that what Comfort and Cameron does is good evangelism. Seriously. I mean, I'm not a Christian or anything, but if I were, I sure wouldn't want those guys as my public face.

    Similarly, I agree with you that the RRS isn't a shining example of atheism, either. And I think it's obvious why you would pick two sets of extremists for a publicly televised debate that would otherwise be of very low interest to the public.

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  5. Andrew: what you said. I was just nitpicking, in case any of the theists here were inclined to jump on "creation". Actually, as you know, it's difficult indeed to frame that question without introducing assumptions: even my version, "how did the Universe come to be", assumes that there was something or some time "before" the Universe "came to be", whereas it might well be that all talk of "before" is meaningless.

    Leslie: sorry, Ray and Kirk are buffoons. I will admit that Brian is an arrogant prick, though.

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  6. Yeah brian is a prick.
    But you know, i think Ray and cameron honestly have a desire to do what they think is right, so I'll give them that, and I'll bet they are great fathers and husbands, but yeah, a bit bufoonish. But good peeps, unlike Ted Haggard and Benny Hinn. But then again I think Carrot-top is funny so what do i know.

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  7. Well, I guess I don't know every single evangelistic thing they've done, but for example, I've seen them talk to people I'd be pretty uncomfortable talking to and do a great job with it. What really stuck out in my mind though was a show I saw once with them discussing how to talk to your family about your beliefs. It was a very good lesson on that particular form of evangelism. If you're looking for someone to evangelize to atheists, no, they're not who I'd want. But if you're looking to reach out to the average person, I'm fairly confident that they know what they're talking about.

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  8. Hello all,

    I agree that Cameron and Comfort should stick to evangelism. That is obviously their strength. And while I don't always agree with their methods and/or arguments, I do believe they are sincere.

    I believe Leslie is correct: Comfort and Kirk are great for reaching the average joe and sharing the simple gospel message.

    However, like Mark, I think "Carrot-Top is funny" as well!

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  9. "When my 6-year-old son asks me, "What made the world?" I don't instantly think that he wants a theological debate. :)"

    Love this point and I think its the case with most adults also.
    Wouldnt mind seeing a thread on the children side of things as on this point.

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  10. When thermodynamics is used in a debate of this nature I have to cringe. The whole Unmoved Mover argument is pointless when dealing with the cosmic censorship that prevent us from knowing the state of the universe at a time just following the Big Bang as previous commentors have mentioned. The second law of thermodynamics does not refute evolution.

    "The Bible predicted the First Law of Thermodynamics", the bible and every other creation myth.

    Saying the universe is finite in either time or space is also troublesome as our concept of time and space depends on our time and space frame of reference within the universe and more importantly that we can observe it at all. In short, one can not claim a finite universe because one can not observe the universe as a whole

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  11. "In short, one can not claim a finite universe because one can not observe the universe as a whole"

    And since Hubble proved (see also the "Hubble's Law of Red Shifts") that the universe is expanding if you rewind the clock what is your natural conclusion?

    While you can't observe the universe as a whole, you can observe what it's doing right now and extrapolate. It was because of Hubble that Einstein was forced to admit, in conjunction to his own theory of relativity, that God exists.

    Regarding evolution: your argument is basically that since we cannot observe the whole of the universe, then we should ignore all evidential physics. By the same argument, since we do not observe the all of the transitional forms (or ANY for that matter) in the fossil records, then we should ignore all biology?

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  12. Jared makes two points, one on cosmology ("if you rewind the universe, what do you think you get?"), and one on biology ("we don't see any transitional forms"). Let me try to address both, although with the caveat that I am not a scientist.

    1. My understanding of time is that it is a dimension, like length and width and breadth. Thus, physicists talk of us as experiencing a four-dimensional universe (along with postulating "hidden" dimensions, for example, in quantum string theory).

    These dimensions, in turn, came into existence with the Big Bang. So, for example, although it is intuitive to ask "what's outside of the universe?" or "how big was the singularity that produced the Big Bang?" -- those questions are literally meaningless from the standpoint of physics. There are no dimensions outside, or before, the universe.

    Similarly, even if you want to rewind the universe to the Big Bang and t=0 -- which contemporary physics tells us we can't do before the Planck time, but let's play along -- time itself as a dimension came into existence at the Big Bang. Asking what came before t=0 is like asking what's outside the universe; it's a nonsense question from the standpoint of physics, no matter how intuitive it seems.

    Does that help?

    2. With respect to biology, virtually all scientists uniformly believe that transitional forms are "abundant." Now, when I see 99.9% agreement among scientists in a particular discipline, I conclude that the 0.1% of dissenters are cranks. I presume you do likewise; for example, there is far less agreement among cosmologists about the Big Bang theory than there is among biologists about the modern synthesis. So why is it okay for us to go with the overwhelming majority on Big Bang cosmology but not evolution?

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  13. "Transitional forms". Right, you mean like how an Australian Aboriginal looks superficially closer akin to an anthropoid ape, as per Darwin's own words? By gar, then he... oh, I'm sorry... it must be closer to a transitional form.

    And yes, when you have that much agreement in any discipline - including racial and hereditary studies in Germany - then you have to conclude: The minority are cranks. I mean, who could disbelieve all those highly skilled German scientists who professed the subhuman status of Slavs and (especially) Jews and Africans, based on the apparent transitional nature of their outward features. To those highly trained professionals, that was an undeniable fact, based on scientific consensus of course...

    Nevermind the fact that you can take any series of objects and construct a cladogram, based on their apparent transitional natures. Try it with a series of man made objects sometime - you'll inevitably show the history of how Corvettes accidentally arose from the prebiotic ooze of Detroit all on their own, with no engineering mind needed. (Well, with GM cars, you may have a case for non-intelligent design...)

    Phylogenetics and paleontology are wonderfully ambiguous games of tic-tac-toe: Nobody gets any closer to finishing (or the truth), but that's ok, so long as the grant money keeps a'flowin... Kind of like the White House.

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  14. "Nevermind the fact that you can take any series of objects and construct a cladogram, based on their apparent transitional natures. Try it with a series of man made objects sometime - you'll inevitably show the history of how Corvettes accidentally arose from the prebiotic ooze of Detroit all on their own"

    Nice straw man.

    I suppose that would be a valid argument if the ONLY basis for transitional forms was purely morphological phenotypic expression -- but it's not. You can do SNP analysis, or look at ERV / SINE data across various generations and even species. (That's pretty much the basis for haplotype mapping)

    The central criticism of Evolution by the creationist/ID folks seems to center around this whole idea of the alleged impossibility of morphological evolution. The problem with this view is that it separates the genes responsible for our physical appearance from those which are responsible for our microscopic/internal workings.
    When you compare genetic data from, for example, an Archaeabacteria and a Eukaryotic bacteria, they can be DRASTICALLY more different genetically than we are from Alligators or Ostriches, depending on which two microorganisms you look at. The primary structure (genetic sequence) of the proteins that make our morphological makeup is no different than the primary structure responsible for "microevolutionary" changes -- it's just when it's transcribed and folded, it happens to make a visible difference.

    Visible transitional forms (Tiktaalik, for example) make headlines because they present a relatively easy concept to grasp; but to think that's ALL the information we have is wholly ignorant.

    "Phylogenetics and paleontology are wonderfully ambiguous games of tic-tac-toe: Nobody gets any closer to finishing (or the truth), but that's ok, so long as the grant money keeps a'flowin... Kind of like the White House."

    ... or like the tithe plates in churches, right?

    Come off it.

    The process of science is a journey TOWARDS truth -- we chip away at this gigantic block of marble (reality), getting rid of explanations and conclusions that don't work or are disproved as we move closer towards the central singularity of truth inside.

    That's the key point here, and one that's often misunderstood -- Science works by DISPROOF; for a given phenomenon, likely explanations are formulated and then tested in ways that provide an opportunity for disproof. (W/R/T evolution -- part of the reason it is such solid science is BECAUSE it has stood up to disproof for so long; and not for lack of trying! ReligiousTolerance.org has a terrific article about this idea: http://www.religioustolerance.org/ev_disp.htm )

    The essential difference between "Biblical truth" and "Scientific truth" is that biblical truth is based on this notion that its followers believe they already know the exact form, shape, and even color of the truth singularity contained within that giant block of marble, without any real desire to back up their claim (ie. research) beyond simply asserting it.
    Scientists acknowledge that what we know about truth is based on the form that is presently in front of us, and they constantly look for more ways to chip away at that which is NOT true.

    We know VASTLY more about the world around us than we did 100, 50, or even 10 years ago. To say that we are not getting any closer is straight fallacious.

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  15. "Furthermore, it is reasonable to conclude that whatever existed “before” that, whatever brought the universe into being, was without matter, or immaterial, or spirit (and timeless, or eternal and space-less or without spatial restrictions)"

    Your supposed conclusion is nonsense.

    "Thus, the Bible stated that energy/matter were brought into being, placed within the box (the universe) and that no more energy/matter is being created."

    Completely irrelevant.

    ReplyDelete