Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Running out of Wind, and the Beginning of the Universe

Strange and unusual things flow through my Facebook feed. Today, this particular example popped up, which sent a shiver down my spine, at the thought that these people are determining environmental and energy policies:

"Wind is a finite resource and harnessing it would slow the winds down which would cause the temperature to go up." - Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX)

I had to do some fact checking to make sure this wasn't some made up quote... but nope, it's legit. My original plan was to simply point and laugh, but I realized something. Joe Barton, in this quote, is making the same reasoning error that Apologists do, when they conclude that the Kalam Cosmological Argument is a sound argument.

I'll explain.

Physics Explained

First, for those of physics-minded folk, the problem with Barton's quote shouldn't be too obscure, but for those who aren't in-tuned with such topics, here's a brief background.

Our study of thermodynamics shows that there's three basic types of energy transfer:
  1. Convection - fluid (liquid or gaseous) absorbs heat in one spot, moves to another, colder spot, and that heat is absorbed into that cooler environment, forming into a cycle
  2. Conduction - physical contact between two objects allows for transfer of heat (there's a lot of parallels between heat conduction and electric conduction)
  3. Radiation - electromagnetic waves: visible light, radio, infrared, x-rays, etc
The "wind" we experience is the convection of air between the hot and cold areas of the planet. It's caused by the temperature imbalance, and if the planet were to ever be uniformly temperatured, the wind would stop.

Earth does not lose heat through convection (outside of very very very very small amounts), and clearly not through conduction - Earth loses heat through radiation - in the same sense that sitting next to a fire warms you, the Earth radiates heat away.

Wind has nothing to do with whether Earth, as a whole, cools off... only about how that heat moves around. Sure, an individual object may be cooled through conduction/convection... such as a hot cup of coffee.. but the idea is that, trough convection (movement of the air), the heat is transferred away from the coffee, and into the lower-temperature local environment.

The vacuum of space effectively insulates Earth from that process... in fact, it's a problem for space shuttles - they can actually overheat in space, and have to take steps to figure out how to radiate heat away.

Barton's Understanding

With the above information, hopefully it's painfully obvious why Barton's understanding was incorrect. We'll continue to have wind because the sun, combined with Earth's radiation energy loss, will continue to cause an imbalance in temperatures across the surface.

*fwoom* - wind!

What happened with Barton? He wasn't educated. Instead, he made a primitive and highly intuitive assessment of how reality appeared to work, based on a very small sample set - localized hot objects in a larger cooler environment, while totally immersed in fluids... except, he didn't realize any of that critically important context.

His resulting understanding of temperature/heat ended up being about the level of a 5 year-old's comprehension of thermodynamics.

What's the problem? As a thinking being, he made a superficial intuitive assessment of reality, and then attempted to apply it more complicated mechanisms... and missed the mark entirely.

Kalam Cosmological Argument

Barton made the same type of reasoning error that those who buy into the Kalam Cosmological Argument do.

In case you aren't familiar with the argument (I'm trying not to assume too much), this is it, in a nutshell:
  • p1: Everything that has a beginning has a cause
  • p2: The universe had a begining
  • c1,p3: Therefore, the universe has a cause
  • p4: Since infinite regresses are impossible, something had to be the first cause
  • c2: That first cause is an eternal god
While there's a lot of different problems to address with this argument, on a basic reasoning level, it's doing the same thing Barton did - a superficial intuitive assessment of reality erroneously applied to a significantly more complicated context.

So why do we quickly recognize the error in the assertion that "we're using up the wind", but so many people don't see the problems in these cosmological arguments? Why does the argument seem so compelling?

We actually have a good, thorough understanding of thermodynamics and fluid dynamics.

We don't have the slightest clue how universes start... or if they start. Due to this, we can't point any fact-based errors as easily as when statements are made on topics we do have a have knowledge.

In short, the compelling nature of the Kalam Cosmological Argument only exists due to the vacuum of knowledge regarding the topic... whereas any random citizen plucked from the street, who has more than a rudimentary science education, can eviscerate Barton's idiotic position on "using up the wind". 

We're not there yet with the Big Bang. There's nothing to contradict the assertion, nor is there anything to validate it either.

The Apologist invoking the Kalam Cosmological Argument is indistinguishable from the 5 year-old thinking that planets are cooled down by wind.

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