Tuesday, June 20, 2006

A Physics Moment

DaveScot has topped Newton and Einstein, in his mind at least, by turning the physics world on its head by declaring gravity "the strongest force in nature".

First a bit of a blogsphere primer. DaveScot is less a thorn in the side, more of the Intelligent Design court jester who's never-ending hijinks provide great fodder for the good people at Panda's Thumb, Pharyngula and Dispatches From The Culture War.

One of the most frustrating parts of the Creation / Evolution debate is the subject of gravity. It is not in the nature of scientists to compare one theory to another in some sort of sliding scale. For the most part it is the proverbial apples and oranges.

However, a useful tactic is to explain to someone that currently more is known about evolution than gravity. This can be a real headscratcher as we experience gravity in everyday life. (We also experience evolution but it's just not as noticeable).

The shock of a scientist stating that something so well known is far from understandable will inevitably lead to one of two reactions. Hopefully, the person will be thoughtful and ask why. Unfortunately, most people respond with something along the lines that if you don't understand something so basic as gravity then you should go jump off a building and learn for yourself.

This is the point where scientists begin pulling their hair out since the abhorrent science learning in the U.S. education system has left many people confused with the evidence of something and the understanding of how that something works. Yes, things fall because of gravity. That is evidence of gravity's existence. Why things actually fall gets a bit weirder. It's a crazy world of relativity, curves in space and the bizarre quanta.

But back to DaveScot.

One thing that we do know is that compared to other forces in the universe gravity is fairly weak.

Don't believe me? Get up off the couch.

You just overcame the force of gravity. The force of the entire earth (in addition to your couch) was attempting to hold you down and was overwhelmed by a few muscles in your legs and back.

Need more convincing?

Try this simple experiment.

Take two good sized magnets. Now place them north pole to south pole. We all know how this works from grade school. The two magnets will click together bound by the electromagnetic force. Now pull them apart. Not too terribly difficult unless you got some really big magnets.

Now take one of the magnets on the floor. Now pick it up.

You tell me. Which action required more force?

That gravity is a fairly weak force is something every high school student should easily understand.

But apparently no so easy for DaveScot.

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