Monday, August 02, 2010

Ray Comfort gets it half-right on Creation and matter/energy

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Hubble composite image of possible ring of dark matter
Hubble composite image of possible ring of dark matter
[source: The Internet Encyclopedia of Science]

It’s one of those times when our favorite Creationist isn’t stupendously wrong, but still manages to take a truth and bury it under a coating of rubbish:

After God had created the heavens and the earth, the Bible says, "Thus the heavens and the earth, and all the host of them, were finished" (Genesis 2:1).

The original Hebrew uses the past definite tense for the verb "finished," indicating an action completed in the past, never again to occur. The creation was "finished"—once and for all. That is exactly what the First Law of Thermodynamics says.

This law (often referred to as the Law of the Conservation of Energy and/or Mass) states that neither matter nor energy can be either created or destroyed. It was because of this Law that Sir Fred Hoyle's "Steady-State" (or "Continuous Creation") Theory was discarded.

Hoyle stated that at points in the universe called "irtrons," matter (or energy) was constantly being created. But, the First Law states just the opposite. Indeed, there is no "creation" ongoing today.

It is "finished" exactly as the Bible states.

The part that Comfort is correct about is that it’s true that there is no matter or energy that is either appearing from or vanishing into nothingness. (At least, as best as I can recall; my knowledge of physics is pathetic at best.) The bit that he is mistaken about, however, is that this doesn’t mean that the universe is in any way “finished”, in the sense that it was always exactly as it is now and always will be. Matter and energy may not pop into existence out of nowhere, but it can disassemble and reassemble to form one thing or another, from a plant to a rock to a skyscraper to a star. Also, how much matter is present is measured in mass, not volume; basically, density over size. You could compress an entire planet into an area the size of a baseball. Sure, it wouldn’t have the same volume anymore, but it would be just as massive, or would have just as much matter in it, as a solid celestial body tens of thousands of miles across.

The thing about matter is that it is (in theory) infinitely compressible, if only enough amounts of pressure and energy are applied. Just look at black holes, those strange, poorly understood and yet fascinating oddities of the cosmos. They are able to “eat up” any number of stars, asteroids, planets, and basically anything at all that falls within their event horizon (ie. the limit beyond which their gravity is so immense that nothing can escape, even light itself). And yet, their volume is generally only a few kilometers in radius. (And that’s not mentioning the singularity, the absolute center of a black hole, which is simply impossible to calculate how voluminous it may be, at least for now.)

The point is that just because the universe doesn’t gain or lose any amounts of matter or energy (that we currently know of), that doesn’t mean that it cannot expand or shrink. In fact, we are really quite confident that it is, in fact, expanding, continuously and at very great speeds – at increasing speeds, even. Which, logically, means that it used to be a whole lot smaller. So small, in fact, that if you go back some 13.75 billion years, it would be infinitely tiny, smaller than the head of a pin. Then, that little event known as the Big Bang came along.

So, no, Ray. The fact that no matter is being directly created or vanished out of existence is no indication that the Universe has always been the same, or always will be, and that it is in any way “finished”. The universe itself is as dynamic and ever-changing as is anything else in it. Bringing up basic physics doesn’t support your Creation myth, it utterly defeats it.