Cooking Lord Kelvin

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This is about a true story that has a sad part, and a happy ending. What makes it a bit unusual is that the sad element is due primarily to many of the people involved, and the happy ending is due to something completely impersonal – a process.

Since this posting is in the Enyart forum, one might correctly assume that something Pastor Bob said precipitated this posting.

Among the Christians who were important figures in the early development of science is Lord Kelvin. Bob Enyart often refers to him as one of the “Fathers of Modern Science”, and makes a point of saying that he supported the Bible.

One of Bob’s more complete statements on Lord Kelvin is found about 8 minutes and 30 seconds from the start of the recorded dialogue on the back side of tape 3 of the “Genesis-Creation” set of lectures. Here is the entirety of what Bob said in that recording about Lord Kelvin:
Well before we look briefly at some of these others, I’d just like to mention – we’ve got Kepler here, 2000, the sun is 600 degrees, uh, Kelvin, I said Kepler, I meant Kelvin. Well Lord Kelvin, he’s the guy who gave us this temperature scale, this absolute temperature scale, where zero Kelvin is absolutely the coldest you can get in the physical universe. You can’t get colder. It’s like there’s no heat energy whatsoever.

Now, that guy, Kelvin, Lord Kelvin, who did this. He lived back, 1824 to 1907. Well, from time to time in a Bible study or on the air I’ll point out Christians, strong Christians who are also incredible scientists, like we’ve talked a lot about Galileo who defended vigorously the truth of the Bible, and Johann Kepler, the father of modern astronomy, who was such a strong Christian and defended the Bible to the hilt. Well Lord Kelvin, he was a scientist, a Bible believing scientist after the stature of like Isaac Newton and Michael Faraday. Newton we know pretty well. Faraday was a leader in electronics and magnetism. In fact, just like they named Kelvin after Lord Kelvin, they’ve got the Faraday, they named these electrical units after Michael Faraday.

Well Kelvin, he established thermodynamics. Remember when we started this Bible study talking about the First and Second Laws of Thermodynamics, the most basic laws of all the physical sciences? Lord Kelvin established that, he defined them, initially. He was the first scientist to use the concept of energy. He talked about energy and used that in his work.

He strongly opposed Charles Darwin. Strongly, vocally, publicly. He opposed uniformitarianism – that the features of the earth all gradually ended up this way. No God created it and there were catastrophes like the flood. He demonstrated with heat flow formulas that the earth could not be billions of years old. Could not be. And he lived into the time when they discovered radioactivity, and he took that into account in his formulas.

His discoveries led to Samuel Morris, enabled him to develop the telegraph. He designed, this Lord Kelvin, designed and actually he supervised the design and the laying of the first transatlantic cable. He did that. He was knighted, eventually. That’s how he became Lord Kelvin.

So wow, we just measure the, measure the stars, the temperature, say how hot is the sun? You ask any scientist, “Well, it’s 6000 degrees Kelvin.” Who’s Kelvin? Well he’s the guy who really gave us the basis for all physical sciences. Well did he believe in evolution? Did he think the earth was billions of years old? Did he buy into all this? No, not really. He was a Bible believing Christian who staunchly defended the Bible and rejected a godless naturalistic view of the world. And that was true of so many of the fathers of the sciences.
In some of what Reverend Enyart says he is quite correct. And in some he is making up claims from whole cloth. And since Bob prefers to selectively leave out the details that might go against his young-earth beliefs, I will supply what Bob did not.

I will take the relevant points in the order that Bob brought them up.

To degree or not to degree​
… the sun is 600 degrees, uh, Kelvin, I said Kepler, I meant Kelvin. Well Lord Kelvin, he’s the guy who gave us this temperature scale, this absolute temperature scale, where zero Kelvin is absolutely the coldest you can get in the physical universe.
There is an interesting point in the phrasing Bob uses here. It is not something that most non-scientists are aware of, and even scientists who should know better slip up on. Look at these two phrases from Bob side-by-side: “600 degrees kelvin” and “zero kelvin”. Notice the lack of the word “degrees” in one of them? When the Kelvin temperature scale was established, it was decided that the word “Kelvin” would be understood to mean “degrees on the Kelvin temperature scale”. So “zero Kelvin” is correct, and “600 degrees Kelvin” is like saying “600 degrees degrees Kelvin”. Since the word “degrees” is superfluous in the Kelvin scale, “600 K” means 600 Kelvin, and there is no need to write the little circular degree symbol at the top right of the 600, as would be needed in the Centigrade or Fahrenheit scales.

Bible Believing Lord Kelvin and Young Earth​
Well Lord Kelvin, he was a scientist, a Bible believing scientist after the stature of like Isaac Newton and Michael Faraday.
In general this is true, except in one very relevant point. One of the major points Bob returns to again and again in the “Genesis-Creation” tapes is that the creation was about 6000 years ago. I will cover this later in this post, but Lord Kelvin most emphatically did not even pretend to believe in a recent creation.

Farads but no Days​
… they’ve got the faraday, they named these electrical units after Michael Faraday.
A very fine point of correction - the electrical unit named after Michael Faraday is the “farad”, a unit of capacitance, and not a “faraday”.

He did it all by himself​

Enyart whopper #1:
Well Kelvin, he established thermodynamics. Remember when we started this Bible study talking about the First and Second Laws of Thermodynamics, the most basic laws of all the physical sciences? Lord Kelvin established that, he defined them, initially.
This is the type of distortion of the truth that should have no part in any pastor’s teachings. Lord Kelvin was a major player in formalizing some aspects of thermodynamics, and especially in the Second Law. But to aggrandize Lord Kelvin as the person who established thermodynamics, and especially to accord him credit as the person who defined the First and Second Laws is to ignore a lot of scientific history. Specifically, here is a sampling of some of the other scientists who developed significant parts of thermodynamics and the dates they did their work:

- 1824 - Sadi Carnot lays the foundation for the second law of thermodynamics
- 1831 - Macedonio Melloni studies black body radiation
- 1841 - Julius Robert von Mayer writes on the conservation of energy
- 1843 - John James Waterston expounds the kinetic theory of gases
- 1843 - James Joule experimentally finds the mechanical equivalent of heat
- 1847 - Hermann von Helmholtz publishes a statement of the conservation of energy, the first law of thermodynamics
- 1848 - William Thomson (Lord Kelvin) extends the concept of absolute zero from gases to all substances
- 1849 - William John Macquorn Rankine calculates the relationship between saturated vapour pressure and temperature
- 1850 - Rudolf Clausius clarifies Carnot's statement of the Second Law; and establishes the importance of dQ/T, but does not yet name the quantity.
- 1852 - Joule and Thomson (Kelvin) demonstrate that a rapidly expanding gas cools
- 1854 - Helmholtz puts forward the idea of the heat death of the universe
- 1854 - Rankine introduces his thermodynamic function, later identified as entropy
- 1856 - August Krönig publishes an account of the kinetic theory of gases
- 1857 - Clausius gives an account of the kinetic theory of gases
- 1859 - James Clerk Maxwell discovers the distribution law of molecular velocities
- 1859 - Gustav Kirchoff shows that energy emission from a black body is a function of only temperature and frequency
- 1865 - Clausius introduces the macroscopic concept of entropy
- 1867 - Maxwell asks whether Maxwell's demon could reverse irreversible processes
- 1870 - Clausius proves the scalar virial theorem
- 1872 - Ludwig Boltzmann states the Boltzmann equation for the temporal development of distribution functions in phase space
- 1874 - Thomson (Kelvin) formally states the second law of thermodynamics.

Notice that an early version of the Second Law that Lord Kelvin is famous for was put forth by Carnot in the year that Lord Kelvin was born. 26 years later Clausius improved on Carnot’s rendition of the Second Law, and emphasized the concept of entropy (dQ/T). 4 years later Rankine develops the idea of entropy from a different angle. Then in 1865 Clausius generalizes entropy to the macroscopic world. It wasn’t until 1874 that what we now know as the Second Law was penned by Lord Kelvin, and that was the result of refining less well-defined concepts by numerous colleagues and predecessors.

As for the First Law, well, Bob’s statement is sheer boulderdash. Lord Kelvin understood the First Law intimately, but was not one of its principal authors.

So no, Kelvin didn’t establish thermodynamics, any more than Henry Ford invented the gasoline engine, or Bob Enyart invented Creationism.

First use of the concept of energy​

Enyart whooper #2:
He was the first scientist to use the concept of energy.
Here again we see how little respect Bob has for truth. The necessary ingredients for even our modern concept of energy were laid by Newton, centuries before Lord Kelvin. To state it imprecisely, energy is what is used in moving a force over some distance. Force and distance are fundamental terms to Newton. The realization that energy existed in numerous forms took some time to be recognized, and it wasn’t until Lord Kelvin’s era that the realization and proof that heat itself was just another form of energy was crystallized. But the concept of energy far predated Kelvin.

Hating the message and not the messenger​
He strongly opposed Charles Darwin. Strongly, vocally, publicly.
Only partially true. Lord Kelvin opposed Darwinian evolution, but I can find no indication that he had any ill feelings towards the man Darwin. In fact one of Darwin’s own sons became a close colleague of Lord Kelvin. There were a couple of reasons for Lord Kelvin’s opposition to evolution. First was some work on the age of the earth that Lord Kelvin did himself that showed the earth was not as old as evolution required. More on this below. And secondly, Lord Kelvin felt that evolution gave no room for the design and order that he saw in the world.

Uniformitarianism and Catastrophism​
He opposed uniformitarianism – that the features of the earth all gradually ended up this way. No God created it and there were catastrophes like the flood.
The debate between uniformitarianism in geology – the belief that most of what was observed in geology could have been the result of slow processes operating over long periods of time – and catastrophism – the belief that the geological record was evidence for a history of violent changes, was a major issue in the Victorian England that Lord Kelvin grew up in.

Lord Kelvin was a physicist, not a geologist. But below we will consider his beliefs, based on physics, that the uniformitarians’ need for hundreds of million of years could not be granted.

Kelvin attacks​
He demonstrated with heat flow formulas that the earth could not be billions of years old.
This is true. And this is where the sad part of my story starts. This was a story that played out primarily in England, with some limited involvement from the scientists on the European mainland and in America. It is the story of a contest between three fields – evolution, geology, and physics. In this story I should be rooting for my team – the physicists – but instead I am forced to subject my pride to the knowledge that of the three teams, mine had the upper hand and yet most dishonored the game.

In the early 1800’s in Victorian England the long-held belief that the geological record was evidence for catastrophism (a series of major geological catastrophes) started to come under challenge by those who felt the uniformitarian view was more accurate. The uniformitarians saw no restriction on the time available to them, and were not hesitant in invoking hundreds of millions of years, and in some cases, postulating that the record in geology was essentially unending.

Darwin’s evolution appears on the scene​

In 1859 Darwin published his “Origin of the Species”, and the timeline to support it seemed to require hundreds of millions of years. This comported well with the uniformitarian timeline. Even before Darwin had come the recognition that certain fossils consistently seemed to be found below (and therefore lived earlier) than other specific types. The claim of circular thinking that “fossils date the rocks which date the fossils” is an exaggeration of the real case. The “dating” of both the fossils and the rocks was attempted based on principles unique to the two fields – anthropology and geology, with the underlying recognition that eventually they must agree.

A limit to time​

Toward the mid-1800s Lord Kelvin and others realized that what was eventually to be formalized as the Second Law of Thermodynamics simply forbade an unending pre-history to the earth. The absolute nature of this law was not well understood by the broader scientific community for years.

Hot rocks​

But Lord Kelvin’s interest in heat flow in rocks led him to tackle the question of just how old was the earth. To make such a judgment he had to know or assume a number of things about the earth – like the original temperature, the rate of heat diffusion through rock, and the internal structure of the earth. The basis for even thinking that the earth’s heat might be used as a timepiece for creation came from the fact well known by Lord Kelvin’s time that the deeper underground one went, the hotter the rocks got. Very simple physics said that that internal store of heat had to be slowly making its way to the surface of the earth and radiating away into space, cooling the earth.

The rate at which rocks could conduct heat could be measured, within limits. Not all the earth’s surface is underlaid by the same type of rock. Different types of rock make a difference. The thickness of the layer, and the interfaces between them mattered. And often overlooked is the fact that even a few hundred feet down typical rock is under such pressure from overburden that it’s physical characteristics may be significantly altered. Lord Kelvin understood these limitations, and frequently returned to his calculations to refine them as new data became available.

Kelvin opposing Newton​

On the question of the temperature of the earth when it was formed, I have never heard Bob Enyart mention Lord Kelvin’s belief. And for good reason. Enyart often tells that Newton rejected the idea that the solar system could have resulted from a contracting nebular cloud. Yet the premise that Lord Kelvin initially used was the very one that Newton rejected. Why does Enyart never pass on that bit of information about Lord Kelvin - one of his “fathers of science” heroes? Lord Kelvin assumed that the energy of the earth (and the sun) resulted from the gravitational attraction of a condensing cloud. Assuming a widely spread tenuous cloud as a starting point, the physics showing the amount of heat that would result from it’s condensation into a planet or sun is rather straightforward. In modern astrophysics essentially this same calculation is used to predict at what point the cloud will reach a high enough temperature to ignite nuclear reactions, and thus the moment of thermonuclear ignition for a new star.

A Solid Earth​

The question of the internal structure of the earth is an interesting one. Water has some unusual properties. When it freezes, it expands slightly, so its density lessens, and therefore ice floats on water. But most substances, including rock do the reverse. When rock cools from a liquid to a solid, it contracts, and in so doing solid rock will sink below the liquid rock. If the earth was once molten, it stands to reason that as it cooled the solidified rock sank to the center. For Lord Kelvin the center was therefore solid, and the crust was solid, so the entire earth must be a solid sphere.

New limits to the earth’s time​

Soon, Lord Kelvin added two more scientific ideas to support his age of the earth studies. The first new idea was relative to the sun ’s heat. The explanation at his time for the heat of the sun was the heating that would result from it either contracting recently, or from a continuous bombardment by meteors. The second new idea dealt with the interaction of the moon and the earth. By his time it was understood that the tides were expanding the moons orbit. This brought forth the question of whether or not the moon was a piece of the earth that had been effectively flung off shortly after creation, and had been migrating farther and farther away since. This was one of the problems that Charles Darwin’s son became an expert in.

The issue of how long the sun had been burning was of direct import to evolution. No matter what other age factors might dictate, sunlight was presumed to be an absolute necessity for evolution. The origin of the earth-moon system was relevant to the age of the earth, but less directly involved with either geology or evolution.

How finite is time for Lord Kelvin?​

These three issues of heat and astrophysics – cooling of the earth, the time the sun had been burning, and the moons orbit - for Lord Kelvin indicated a very finite time since creation. But now again we must confront something the reverend Enyart selectively omitted from his discourse. How finite was the time since creation that this Lord Kelvin - Bob’s Bible-believing “father of science” – thought was correct? His early calculations were on the order of 100 million years, with an admitted uncertainty of many tens of millions. Throughout the latter part of his life Lord Kelvin repeatedly revisited these calculations and refined them. At first the uncertainty he admitted to was quite large. But late in life, he felt the margin for error had been made much smaller by the advent of improved data and methods. And herein is another one of the convenient omissions that Bob always makes when discussing the venerable creationist, Lord Kelvin. At first, Lord Kelvin felt the earth might be as much as 100 million years old, or as few as 20 million years. At the end he had settled on the figure of 24 million years as being the best one.

Enyart vs Kelvin​

Had Lord Kelvin been an invited participant at the age-of the earth debate that Bob had 2 years ago with the Hugh Ross supporters, Lord Kelvin would have been far more comfortable sitting with the Hugh Ross people than on the side with Bob and Don Daley. Lord Kelvin was an old-earther - a scientifically literate and doggedly uncompromising old-earther.

Men and their (lack of) principles​

If you take the time to read the details of the story of Lord Kelvin and his defense of the age of the earth, you will be saddened by how men – scientists - succumbed to pressure and perverted the way they interpreted the data they had. Yet in spite of the weaknesses of these men, something completely impersonal and unintelligent triumphed, and that is the scientific process. Where men failed, eventually their weaknesses were exposed and only the truth that transcended them survived.

Who are these men that I allude to that failed? Most of the geologists, some of the evolutionary biologists, and definitely Lord Kelvin himself. Lord Kelvin will always be regarded as a critical element in the formalization of thermodynamics. But he used his unusual understanding to challenge the vast times the geologists and evolutionists were saying they needed. His conclusions were almost impossible to refute, and he repeatedly responded forcefully and directly to those who challenged his dates. Few in the geology or biology world had the backbone to stand their ground for decades and hold to their timelines. Again and again numbers were adjusted to minimize conflict with this genius of physics who decreed that the time his understanding of physics decreed was superior to theirs. The last few decades of the 1800s was a period in geology in which one giant in physics demanded that the concept of unlimited time be forfeited, and geology must remake itself to fit the Lord Kelvin timeline.

Exposing false assumptions​

Towards the very end of the 1800s, a couple of scientists thankfully came out pretty directly against Lord Kelvin. They could not point to the specific errors in his work, but they were able to show that some of his underlying assumptions were becoming more untenable. One of the first was his insistence on a solid earth, when the advent of volcanoes seemed to provide counter evidence. The specifics of his original nebular hypothesis were shown to be wrong. The heat conductivity of rocks was called into question.


Enyart whopper #3:
And he lived into the time when they discovered radioactivity, and he took that into account in his formulas.
Hogwash, nonsense, BS, fiddlesticks, and baloney. This statement, to use words from Enyart’s own mouth, is a ““whopper of a lie”. The discovery of radioactivity was barely a decade old when Lord Kelvin died, and it was far from being well understood. It had just been shown that the heat released by radioactivity must be substantial a couple of years prior to his death, and he only briefly and indirectly admitted that it might be important. Even then, he shortly after said that he thought that radioactivity was drawing its energy from some unidentified external source, and died thinking it was not a factor he needed to consider in his age of the earth calculations. It was more than 2 decades after his death before physics matured enough to even understand the underlying mechanisms of radioactivity.

All’s well than ends well​

So in summary, Lord Kelvin was a brilliant scientist, and he was convinced of the accuracy of his work. In thermodynamics, he was without equal. In geology, he was not only wrong, but he scientifically bludgeoned his opponents into agreeing with his erroneous judgments. His mathematics admitted for little argument, and the principles of physics he used, though advanced, were clearly laid out for the opponents to critique. The weaknesses in Lord Kelvin’s arguments came from several sources – such as the uncertain makeup of the interior of the earth, the reliance on a limited set of rock heat transmission measurements as being good average values for all rocks.

Kelvin’s arguments seemed almost unassailable. For the last couple of decades of the 19th century, his arguments held such sway that when geologists and biologists recognized and evaluated new data that might help their case, they often biased the interpretations to try to minimize conflict with Lord Kelvin’s dates. Sometimes this data fudging approached dishonesty. Darwin felt that Lord Kelvin’s arguments were the most severe challenges to his evolutionary theory, and struggled to the end to answer them. He never did.

A couple of scientists had the fortitude to stick to their guns and challenge Kelvin. They pointed out the weaknesses in his assumptions, and showed that small errors there could result in large dating errors. But the epitome of scientific integrity was when, on rare occasions, a geologist would simply point out that he would not prostitute his own data and methods to satisfy a challenge from a physicist. One lone cry that rarely was made was that perhaps there were unrecognized factors involved that would change the answer physics would give. No one had any expectation that something called radioactivity would enter the picture in the near future. But science would have been well served by each discipline doing its best, and when it came up with answers that disagreed with another discipline, simply put the discrepancy in the “we really don’t know why” column. Had that been done, this would have given us a classic example of how apparently conflicting data from two fields merge as knowledge increases.

But where men failed, science triumphed. As the data flowed in, new understandings arose, and in spite of the sheer dominance of this one great intellect, and the caving in of those who opposed him, finally the truth broke through anyway. And it surprised almost everyone. Where the geologists chafed under Kelvin’s yoke, and wanted hundreds of millions of years as opposed to the tens of millions he would grant, suddenly the data pointed to 20 times what they wanted. And this new data did not suffer from the enormous assumptions and uncertainties that permeated all previous dating methods, but carried within it multiple checks as to it’s own accuracy. The century that has passed since Lord Kelvin died on the eve of radioactive dating has resulted in our understanding of the age of the earth firming up with a precision that Lord Kelvin could only have dreamed of. And it is old. Almost a million times as old as that fount of scientific (mis)information - Bob Enyart - would have you believe.

And thanks to science for doing what fallible men did not do.
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I note that the Rev. Enyart has found time to post about 40 times since this thread was last touched. So he has time to respond to TOL threads that catch his interest. So I am pinging this in hopes that he will use a bit of that TOL posting effort giving answer to the issues still floating in this thread.
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