The Parable of Energy

There was once a Professor who said explained to his student that “Energy” was the foundation of all things. “Energy cannot be created or destroyed. Energy holds everything together and drives all things.”

The student said, “But why can’t I see this energy? How do you know it exists? Where is the evidence?”

The professor was shocked, “Energy is contained in matter.”

“You mean it is inside that table there, but I can’t see it?” asked the student.

“Sort of” said the professor, “but that is a rather simplistic way of putting it.”

“Well can I see this energy or not” said the student.  “If not, how do you know it exists?”

“If you were to burn the table energy would be released in the form of fire.”

“So fire is energy?”

“No. Fire is simply one form of energy being released.”

“So I was right. You can’t see energy. It’s an invisible force. This is beginning to sound like Star Wars. I don’t get why you think this energy thing exists if you can’t see it.”

“Why the evidence is all around you! That car you drive. That is powered by energy.”

“No it isn’t.” replied the student. It is powered by gas burning in the engine which makes the pistons go up and down. What is this strange “energy” you’re talking about?”

The professor laughed incredulously, “My dear boy, energy is not something you can ‘see’ with your eyes. Instead you see all around you the effects of energy. We deduce that energy exists because we see what energy does. When the gasoline is burned energy is released which moves the pistons.”

“Nonsense!” said the student. “The pistons go up and down because the gas exploded.” Read more.

About Fr. Dwight Longenecker
  • Jack

    Very clever Father, may I deduce that you are using the parable of energy to explain the 1st proof of God’s existence?

  • Brian Westley

    Radio works if you believe in it or not. Religion, not so much.

    Science builds on consensus and increases knowledge; people of all different religions agree that the world is (roughly) spherical, and that electrons exist and that even really weird things like quantum mechanics accurately explain how the universe behaves — otherwise, GPS simply wouldn’t work. But it does, even if you think the world is flat.

    Religion, on the other hand, can’t reach a consensus on even very basic questions, even after thousands of years. How many gods exist? Is polygamy moral? Religion isn’t useful for answering these questions, since you can easily find contradictory answers from different religions.

    • Zaire

      Brian,
      I don’t think that is part of the argument of this parable. As far as religious belief and feeling go, there is a consensus that there is something greater than us (that numen and whatnot). We don’t agree on all the details surrounding it, but the impulse to religion is generally agreed upon. Additionally, religions that are comprehensive do answer these questions, whether or not everyone accepts said answers is beside the point.

    • Peter Brown

      Brian,

      I can’t figure out what you mean by “consensus” in your post. Applied to science, you can’t possibly mean “consensus of everybody”–otherwise, there could be nobody left who doesn’t believe, so your statement about things working “even if you don’t believe in it” would be meaningless. At most, therefore, you’re talking about “consensus of the scientific community”. Yet you require consensus across religions–a consensus of everyone, near enough–for religion to “work”.

      Even that causes trouble, though, because it’s pretty easy to find contradictory answers to questions from scientists working in different paradigms. (Do matter and energy even exist apart from us, or are they merely convenient ways to describe observations? How much oil have we got? How fast is the climate warming, and what’s the cause? Why are some folks sexually attracted to people of the same sex, but most aren’t? And that’s not even to touch–more than slightly, anyway–on the controversies in the social sciences.) Nor is the existence of a scientific consensus a guarantee that its answers are right–there was once a pretty good consensus on phlogiston, for example, and later another one on the existence of ether. Do these failures in consensus mean that science “isn’t useful” for answering questions about combustion or radiation, about climate or about sexuality?

      I could go into the substantial consensus that *does* occur across religions (in the existence of the divine, for example, or the idea that murder is wrong), and the far more substantial consensus found within religious communities, but this is already long for a combox. I’m not claiming here that science doesn’t have lots of contributions to make (as I type here on my computer, that would be a pretty dumb claim to make :-)). Instead, I’m claiming that a facile assertion that “science answers questions, religion doesn’t”–which you appear to be making in your comment–is, well, too facile to be useful.

  • Ron

    Brian:

    Very true. Religion should never be used as the basis for answering the great questions of science. Nor is that it’s purpose. Some things you have to take on faith. Because you will never know the answer. Not on this world at least. I dare say that there are some great questions of science that we will never know the answer to as well. Science builds a consensus (Fred Hoyle and the Steady State theory of the Universe) and then someone else comes along and tears that consensus down (Father George Lemaitre and The Big Bang Theory). Even The Big Bang Theory is presently under question. Perhaps another consensus will come along in the next year or two to totally replace it.

    We used to be taught that the Solar System consisted of 9 planets. Now it’s 8. If you count many of the objects beyond the Kuiper Belt the answer is more like “hundreds,” not counting the possibility of Brown Dwarfs and other as of yet undiscovered anomalies. A consensus is great. Until it changes.

    • Brian Westley

      “Science builds a consensus (Fred Hoyle and the Steady State theory of the Universe)”

      Sorry, Steady State was one theory among many; that’s not a consensus. That’s when people were hashing out different theories.

      “then someone else comes along and tears that consensus down (Father George Lemaitre and The Big Bang Theory). Even The Big Bang Theory is presently under question.”

      In what way?

      “We used to be taught that the Solar System consisted of 9 planets. Now it’s 8.”

      That’s just a definitional change; people agreed decades ago that Pluto orbits the sun, and it still does today. Brontosauruses no longer “exist” because they are now (officially) named apatosauruses.

      “A consensus is great. Until it changes.”

      I really doubt that scientists will turn around and say the earth is flat. For a better example, relativity showed that Newton’s laws were (slightly) wrong. Newton’s laws are fine for small, slow-moving masses, but they don’t come up with the right answer for large masses or speeds near c. Relativity explained the discrepancies. Even so, most NASA calculations use Newton’s laws since, even though they are known to be wrong, they are close enough for most purposes.

      • Ron

        “I really doubt that scientists will turn around and say the earth is flat. ”

        Why would they?

        “then someone else comes along and tears that consensus down (Father Georges Lemaitre and The Big Bang Theory). Even The Big Bang Theory is presently under question.”

        “In what way?”

        Not by me, please understand. Just something I’ve seen in a few articles I’ve come across recently. If I had the links I’d provide them for you. I’m merely open-minded for the final results.

        I sincerely hope we never are able to empirically prove, to everyone’s satisfaction, that God does indeed exist. What would be the point? Would all the atheists suddenly turn around and start going to “church?” “You got me man. I guess I was wrong. Where do I sign up for Sunday School?” So much of being human consists of believing in things that often seem beyond our reach; things which appear clearly irrational but for some reason you still hold fast to the possibility. Sometimes that’s just a matter of believing in yourself when others don’t , or believing in a different way of doing things, when the consensus is completely against you and totally devoted to carrying on business as usual.

        You want it all quantified down to a laboratory experiment or a physics equation. Then what? Then you’re going to start going to Sunday School? The good news, from my point of view anyway, is that that will never happen.

        • Brian Westley

          ““I really doubt that scientists will turn around and say the earth is flat. ”

          Why would they?”

          Exactly. We really know now that the earth is spherical. This wasn’t always so.

          “I sincerely hope we never are able to empirically prove, to everyone’s satisfaction, that God does indeed exist. What would be the point?”

          Well, that depends on what kind of god exists I would think. Why wouldn’t god want people to know he/she/it/they exist, anyway?

          “You want it all quantified down to a laboratory experiment or a physics equation.”

          No, I want some indication that religious claims (like the existence of gods) are true. For example:

          The energy parable: even if person A doesn’t believe radio works, they can hear that it works. Even if person A is deaf, they could conduct a simple experiment to show that person B and person C can communicate using radio.

          Now, I’m an atheist. Some religious people claim they can talk to god, or god talks to them (through prayer or revelation or whatever method). If their claim is genuine, even if I can’t talk to their god, two people who can actually communicate with their god ought to be able to pass information from person B to person C using god as a go-between, and demonstrate that their claimed ability actually works, and works consistently. I won’t hold my breath waiting for this to happen.

          Another analogy: over the centuries, medical knowledge and technology have improved. Cures for diseases, better treatments, etc. Consequently, fewer people die of, say, smallpox. I haven’t noticed a similar improvement in faith-healing results.

          In my opinion, that’s because religion has no real knowledge to build on. Faith healing doesn’t work better now than before because it never worked to begin with. Religions continue to schism and new ones form, because there’s never any way to show that a religion is wrong about any metaphysical claims. Why should I ever think that any of them are right?

          • Ron

            I’m glad to hear you won’t be holding your breath. It’s been my own personal experience that God works on His own schedule, whether we hold our breath or not.

            And about that whole “spherical” earth thing: When I was around 20 some guy showed me a passage in the Old Testament about the Sun rising and lowering, something like that, that one could interpret as knowledge that even back in those days there were those who already understood that the world was round. I forget the exact verse. 20 years old. Wasn’t paying much attention. Don’t forget that throughout time sometimes knowledge gained is knowledge lost.

            “Why wouldn’t god want people to know he/she/it/they exist, anyway?”

            Seriously. Where do I even begin? To separate the Faithful from the non-believers? Maybe that’s important to Him?

            Here’s a question: Why should He/She/It/They make it easy for us? Does life make it easy for us? I’m just a puny little human being, so I cannot speak for The Almighty, but I’m sure that He/She/It/They have their reasons. It’s not for me to speak as to what those reasons might possibly be.

            “No, I want some indication that religious claims (like the existence of gods) are true.”

            Again, don’t hold your breath. And what would you do with this knowledge anyway? Start going to Church? Play The Market? Find a new way to beat Las Vegas?

            As far as “Faith” healing, as the old saying goes, “Talk Is Cheap.” It’s easy for anyone to say that he has Faith until said Faith is actually put to the test. It’s not exactly something you can pour into a bucket and measure. So much for quantifiable faith-healing results down through the centuries. Faith is something that is always tested, and, I think I can speak for a lot of people here, more often than not we come up short. There are countless examples of that in the Bible: God comes through real big for you. You fall to your knees and thank Him profusely. Ten minutes later you’re back to all your old bad habits, and probably taking a disproportionate amount of personal credit for the blessings bestowed on you from Heaven above. This reminds me of a story:

            Randy Cunningham was the top Naval Ace of the Vietnam war. A surface to air missile had just blown off the tail of his F-4 Phantom. The plane is upside down, spinning towards the ground. “God if you’ll just get me out of this mess… blankety blankety blank!” (I’m paraphrasing here a bit). Suddenly Cunningham regains control of the aircraft and is headed back out to sea. “God didn‘t have anything to do with that,” he cockily smiles. “It was my own great flying ability.” Next thing you know the plane is upside down again and he’s headed for the triple canopy below. “God I didn’t mean it! Blankety blankety blank!…” (Something like that). Again Cunningham regains control of the F-4 and gets it over the ocean where he and his backseater safely eject and are later rescued.

            Sorry, but that’s the way people are, and probably always have been. And so-called Faith can be very tenuous. “Faith” healing? Seriously? As in Elmer Gantry? There’s a difference between real Faith and a circus routine. Now I believe in Faith and I believe that miracles happen every day. But in this case you’re going on as if stories of Faith and miracles are all to be discredited because there isn’t somebody to log all of these events into a daily medical journal. You say you haven’t noticed similar improvements in faith-healing results? I guess I’ll have to take your word for it. Obviously I haven’t done as much research on the subject as have you.

            I myself experienced a miraculous event when I was about 15 years old. Yes, I am one of those people who have actually heard The Voice of God. (No plans on an empirical experiment to validate the results though) It wasn’t a matter of life or death or anything like that. Not even a matter of money. God surely had much more important things to do that day but for one miraculous second I was the most important thing in the whole world to him. And as a result of that brief moment, something that I thought was going to end up as a complete and total world-shaking disaster was instantaneously transformed into a complete non-issue. Ever had a moment like that? I highly recommend them. Anyway the events of that particular day did not appreciably improve my church attendance, which was and still is pretty bad. I never even told anybody what had happened. I’m talking about it right now for the first time. I just went about my business, the same spoiled, inconsiderate brat that I had always been before, but really grateful that the Big Guy had come to the rescue for me.

            “So that’s what a miracle is like? Cool!” You could probably even say that after a while I took that whole day of divine intervention for granted. Some of us actually took God for granted back in those days. Most people actually still believed in Him back then. This whole experience was something that I hadn‘t even thought about until just a few years ago. Since growing up I’ve actually been through circumstances that WERE life and death, but I’m still here, so I guess sometimes the small miracles are the ones you forget about: God literally saves your life. (And He has.) Yeah. You’re going to remember times like that. But when He actually stops and takes the time to bail out some stupid little punk whose own carelessness and laziness put him in a real bad situation when there were far more important things in this world that He could have been dealing with … well, you can call it whatever you want, but in my log book I’m just going to chalk that whole day up as a miracle.

            Do you know how many times my “Faith” has been tested since then? Do you know how many times my Faith as come up short? I probably couldn’t even count that high. Why did He even bother? I sometimes ask myself. Because believe me, I’ve screwed it up countless times since way back then. But I think I’ve finally figured out the answer to that question: One day in the far-off future He wanted me to remember what He once did for me. He wanted me to remember that one time that He was there for me, because He knew I’d quickly forget about all the millions of other times that He’s been there for me as well. So as a Christian, in my own puny little way, I’m doing the best I can to try and be there for Him.

          • Brian Westley

            “When I was around 20 some guy showed me a passage in the Old Testament about the Sun rising and lowering, something like that, that one could interpret as knowledge that even back in those days there were those who already understood that the world was round.”

            There are ancient arguments for and against a round earth, but without understanding gravity, the “round earth” theory appeared to have problems. Eratosthenes not only figured the earth was round, but measured its size, circa 200 BCE.

            “Seriously. Where do I even begin?”

            Just make up stuff.

            ““No, I want some indication that religious claims (like the existence of gods) are true.”
            Again, don’t hold your breath.”

            I won’t. I see no reason to give religious claims any credence.

          • Ron

            “Just make up stuff.”

            I’ll just stick to what I know.

            “I won’t. I see no reason to give religious claims any credence.”

            Interesting then that you would spend so much time posting to a religious website. Isn’t there an Atheists.com?

  • Brian Westley

    (Zaire) “As far as religious belief and feeling go, there is a consensus that there is something greater than us (that numen and whatnot).”

    Millions of atheists would disagree with that statement.

    (Peter) “At most, therefore, you’re talking about “consensus of the scientific community”. Yet you require consensus across religions–a consensus of everyone, near enough–for religion to “work”.”

    Not to “work,” but to increase knowledge and build upon prior knowledge. Religions don’t even being to agree on even the most basic metaphysical questions (because there’s no reliable, or at least agreed-upon way to test which answers are right or wrong). How many gods exist?

    “At most, therefore, you’re talking about “consensus of the scientific community”. Yet you require consensus across religions–a consensus of everyone, near enough–for religion to “work”.

    “Even that causes trouble, though, because it’s pretty easy to find contradictory answers to questions from scientists working in different paradigms.”

    At the edges, yes; that’s where science is moving into new territory. But find a scientist today who says the earth isn’t spherical. You can’t. Electricity was not understood for a long time, but now we know it’s a flow of electrons. Atomic theory helped explain why electricity flowed through some materials and not others, and why some materials could be in-between (semiconductors), and we go from vacuum tubes to chips and computers shrink.

    There’s nothing comparable in religion. Religion doesn’t build on previous knowledge — people disagree on theology, but there’s no way to test which side is correct, so disagreements simply lead to new sects forming. The very fact that a map like this (http://www.mapsofworld.com/world-religion-map.htm) can be made shows how different “religious knowledge” is from scientific knowledge.

  • http://servusfidelis.wordpress.com Dave

    It get even more befuddling if you get into string theory. Some types of energy they explain as electrons moving and attractions between elemental particles, weak forces, strong forces, gravity, magnetism etc. But the strings are just energy without any possible particles responsible for the existence of all things even the most elemental particles. What could it possibly be and how would you ever explain it. The mathematics work but the human mind will never grasp this nothingness that has created every thing in the universe that can never be explained or seen: but the belief is there because the effects of their scientific model works. No more need be said to them about it. They are believers.

    • Brian Westley

      String theory is one possible unifying theory to explain both relativity and quantum mechanics, along with a few others. However, scientists aren’t going to throw up their hands and “believe” or “disbelieve” in string theory based on their feelings — they will see if this or other theories model the universe correctly by making accurate predictions. If they don’t, they’re either modified to reflect reality, or simply dropped.

      The Higgs boson was predicted nearly 50 years ago, but its existence wasn’t decided by scientists believing real hard or declaring a holy war against unbelievers in the Higgs boson — instead, a whole bunch of experiments have been done over the last few decades to measure and put limits on it, and the $9 billion Large Hadron Collider seems to have established that it exists with a mass of 125–127 GeV/c2.

      Meanwhile, the vatican still has an exorcist.

      • http://servusfidelis.wordpress.com Dave

        My point exactly. The mathematical theory works so we find evidence of its truth but we will never possibly see or understand the “thing” it found. It is still unknown, unseen, will always remain so but will be held firmly: like magnetism or electrical attraction or repulsion. The think we speak of can only be demonstrated (not proved) by the consequence of its existence: is that not the same argument used by theologians when they speak of different demonstrations of God? They are, as I say, believers though some cannot believe in God even though we live in a rational world that gives them ability to use their reason to examine phenomenon and try to explain everything which turns out to be as ethereal as God Himself.

      • Peter Brown

        Brian:
        If you think propositions in religion are decided by nothing more than people “believing real hard” or “declaring a holy war against unbelievers”, you haven’t spent enough time around real religious folk to know what you’re talking about. The concept of peer review, like the idea of the university, came to us from the Church, not the other way around.
        In addition, if you think that science is immune to emotional and sociological influences on its practitioners, some contact with the work of Thomas Kuhn might help. Individual scientists can and will, at this formative stage, believe or disbelieve string theory based on feelings, funding sources, intuition, social interactions, and a whole host of other non-rational sources. Eventually, one hopes, a consensus will emerge based on verified predictions–it depends on how the theories develop, how (and whether) the funding emerges for the needed experiments, and so on. In other areas of science, however, such a neat solution isn’t really achievable either politically (e.g., research into sexuality) or even in principle (e.g., the multiverse).
        Again, the facile claim that “science advances knowledge, religion doesn’t” does justice to neither.

        • Brian Westley

          “If you think propositions in religion are decided by nothing more than people “believing real hard” or “declaring a holy war against unbelievers”, you haven’t spent enough time around real religious folk to know what you’re talking about.”

          Oh, is there only one religion left in the world and I missed the news?

          Religious folks can’t even agree on basic questions like how many gods there are. Sure, subsets of people will agree, but all you’re doing is dividing up into groups based on shared suppositions.

          “In addition, if you think that science is immune to emotional and sociological influences on its practitioners”

          I don’t. But that’s why repeatability and peer review is important.

          “Eventually, one hopes, a consensus will emerge based on verified predictions–it depends on how the theories develop, how (and whether) the funding emerges for the needed experiments, and so on.”

          I agree. But “verified predictions” is something religion doesn’t have. What religion has even been shown to be false and lose all its followers? Even doomsday cults that get the end of the world date wrong keep many of their followers after the “expiration date” has shown them to be false.

          • Peter Brown

            Me: “If you think propositions in religion are decided by nothing more than people “believing real hard” or “declaring a holy war against unbelievers”, you haven’t spent enough time around real religious folk to know what you’re talking about.”
            Brian: “Oh, is there only one religion left in the world and I missed the news?”
            No, you made a claim with an implied universal quantifier–that religious folks (unqualified, therefore the implication is “all”) solve problems by believing real hard or declaring jihads. I disproved it. In fact, the fuzziness of your quantification doesn’t even matter here, because your claim is false for all the major religions. Holy wars are the exception, not the rule, and wishful thinking is as prevalent among secularists as among religious people. (In fact, I think you just provided an example.)

            Brian: “Religious folks can’t even agree on basic questions like how many gods there are.”
            And scientists can’t agree on basic questions like whether matter actually exists or is a convenient fiction. The problem might well escape your notice, because you get the same predictions either way–but the fact remains that you’ve got groups here working with mutually contradictory views on an utterly basic point.

            Brian: “But “verified predictions” is something religion doesn’t have.”
            Which is really only to say that religion is not science–that’s true, but nobody’s claimed that it is. Verified predictions are great for relatively straightforward, predictable systems, but they aren’t a sufficient tool to give a complete account of the world. For example, if you want to have a friend, or relate to a family member, verified predictions are both too cumbersome and too ethically problematic (experimenting on friends is a great way to lose them) to be very useful as a way of understanding what’s going on. If you want to develop any kind of ethical understanding, predictions aren’t going to help you much, because observation itself is capable of telling us only what people *actually* do, not what they *should* do. (Given a definition of “good”, you can indeed measure the performance of various alternate approaches–but to assume a definition of “good” is already to beg the ethical question.) The point here is that there are plenty of major spheres of human activity where scientific reasoning just isn’t applicable. Thus, the claim that religion isn’t scientific is a long way short of showing that science adds to human knowledge, but religion doesn’t–which, unless I’ve grossly misread you, has been your claim right through this thread.

          • Brian Westley

            “No, you made a claim with an implied universal quantifier–that religious folks (unqualified, therefore the implication is “all”) solve problems by believing real hard or declaring jihads”

            No, you (erroneously) inferred a universal qualifier (and, for some reason, that my list was exhaustive).

            “Brian: “Religious folks can’t even agree on basic questions like how many gods there are.”
            And scientists can’t agree on basic questions like whether matter actually exists or is a convenient fiction. ”

            Scientists agree on many things, and the list keeps growing. Theologians don’t.

            “Brian: “But “verified predictions” is something religion doesn’t have.”
            Which is really only to say that religion is not science–that’s true, but nobody’s claimed that it is.”

            But theologians are quick to tell me all kinds of contradictory things about gods (properties of gods, what gods expect of humans, etc) with no verification at all. There’s no reason to believe any of them.

  • Brian Westley

    “The think we speak of can only be demonstrated (not proved) by the consequence of its existence: is that not the same argument used by theologians when they speak of different demonstrations of God?”

    No. Theologians don’t even agree on how many gods exist. They don’t agree on whether these god(s) approve of polygamy, or eating bacon. To paraphrase Gertrude Stein, there’s no THERE there.

    Scientists, by contrast, even when working with “invisible” stuff like magnetic fields, can actually measure field strength, predict that moving that field in such-and-such a way will produce a known current in a loop of wire in a particular direction, and all kinds of properties that are well established science.

    Theologians don’t have anything near that. They can’t even begin to agree on whether there are 0, 1, 2, or more gods. They can’t even begin to agree on what these god(s) supposedly expect from humans.

    The Higgs boson wasn’t discovered by accident; it was hunted down for nearly 50 years and billions of dollars by thousands of scientists. Theology doesn’t make accurate predictions like that.

  • Paul in the GNW

    Fr. Longenecker,

    Thanks, I get what you are trying to analogize, and as a Catholic Christian I agree fully with your overall point that we can know that God exists by his effect on the world even though we can’t see him. However, from the perspective of science the argument here falls flat for me.

    Just as quite often atheists and skeptics make religious arguments that just won’t hold together for anyone who has a background in religion, it is difficult to really make a strong science argument if one doesn’t really fully understand the field. A real physics professor CAN provide good answers. Being a good teacher would help.

    In particular addressing your analogy, although energy is ‘invisible’ what energy “is” is very strictly defined mathematically in modern science. Energy is the ability to do work. Work is defined as a force over a distance. Energy is defined in relationship to work and work is defined in relationship to force and all three are somewhat inseparable. We CAN feel force and we can visually observe work. Energy is not ‘visible’ but we do know that falling bowling balls have kinetic energy intuitively. All work requires energy, energy is the ability to do work. Looking at classical physics (instead of quantum and particle physics) makes all of this far more tangible. A 5 kg bowling ball on top of a 2 meter step ladder has the ability to do work. It has energy – in this case Potential Energy. We can’t see the energy but anyone over the age of 3 can see that the bowling falling 2 meters will do some serious work on my big toe. The bowling ball falling accelerates and the potential energy (being 2 meters up) becomes kinetic energy (mass moving fast). We also intuitively know that lifting the bowling ball back up to the top of the ladder will requires work and we know what doing that work feels like – applying a force of 10 Newtons for a distance of 2 meters.

    I don’t think most people feel that energy is such a mysterious, invisible, nebulous quantity in the classical model – bowling balls and train cars. It is important that all Physicists and Chemists start with developing a very thorough grounding in Classical Mechanics, precisely because tying that gut level understanding of work and energy in models that are visible and graphic is essential to being able to understand energy in less accessible fields like Chemistry, Quantum Mechanics and Cosmology. However, the energy definitions in all of those areas is the same as in Classical Mechanics even if the circumstances we are dealing with are less visually accessible.

    So I think this analogy fails to be at all persuasive to someone with a science background. We know what energy is because we have a very simple and exact mathematical definition of energy. In some circumstances we can’t see it and it can even be difficult to imagine it, but we built our understanding from physical situations that are not mysterious at all where we can in a sense “see” the energy. That same definition allows us to understand how the same concept works in processes that are too big or small to see directly and where we have to trust the mathematics, but we trust the mathematics because we have done the footwork of learning and proving to ourselves that the math works. Again, energy is not a broad or nebulous concept. It is one specific quality- the ability to do work.

    In fact, in the esoteric areas of Physics it is the Energy that we do fully understand.

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      Thank you for your reply. I understand what you are saying. The parable was just that–a parable and not a scientific treatise. I was not so much talking about the real facts about energy–but pointing up the arrogant ignorance of the student who thinks he knows what he’s talking about, but hasn’t got a clue.

  • DJ

    Dwight, Dwight, Dwight.
    Stick to your god-thumping, and leave the physics to the physicists.
    Here’s hoping you’ll someday see that which Maxwell first described.

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      It was errr, a parable about obstinacy in disbelief. It was not meant to be a science lesson.

    • flyingvic

      Richard, Richard, Richard.
      Stick to your evolutionary biology, and leave theology to the theologians.
      Here’s hoping you’ll someday see that which Genesis first decribed.

  • Bernard

    Athiests want proof that there is a God. I have yet to see an athiest prove that there isn’t one. The Catholic Christian religion is good enough for me. It has all the truths I need.

    • RickK

      If I say you are a simulation in a computer game designed and run by a 9-legged alien on a planet orbiting Rigel, the burden of proof is on me, not you.

      Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Here is an extraordinary claim: we are managed by an omniscient, omnipresent god who listens to all prayers, tallies all wrongs, who is all-loving as he decides which people shall suffer eternal damnation and who turned a piece of himself into his own son, became somewhat human so he could die of torture, all because he needed a reason to forgive his own creations for the behavior which he created.

      Sorry Bernie, but the burden of proof is on you.

      • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

        The reductio ad absurdam form of argument is only pleasing to the person who makes it for anything can be made to sound foolish in that way.

        Here’s an example about atheists for instance: “An atheist believes that nothing came out of nothing in order that everything might be meaningless, and yet he believes that this statement has meaning. He insists that his position is rational, and that his rational thought came about in a universe that is random and meaningless. And he calls theists ‘irrational’?

        The reductio ad absurdam form of argument doesn’t do anything except make the person who created the argument feel smug and clever.

        • abb3w

          Though an atheist might respond with a discussion about how the net mass energy of the universe (including the negative component from space-time curvature) apparently is still zero, how the statistical mechanics sense of entropy leaves a state of nothingness thermodynamically unstable, the potential (and under certain conditions, mathematical inevitability) of emergence of local order from sufficient chaos, and the carelessness required in conflating the informational and “purpose” senses of meaning.

          A reductio ad absurdam is no more pleasing to the persuadee than any manner of substantially persuasive counterargument; contrariwise, neither does it seem particularly less so. Nowhow, it can be effective; with the effectiveness seeming to depend on whether the potential persuadee is more strongly attached to their initial position, or to the premises allowing the inference that the initial position is absurd.

          • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

            is ‘persuadee’ a word?

          • abb3w

            I think persuadee is a completely cromulent word.

  • Jane

    I am amused by the debate in the combox. Arguing the existence of God with those who have made up their minds that God cannot be (as opposed to merely believing on their own version of faith that He is not) is pretty futile.

    I loved this post, Father. Years ago, I was driving along a deserted road in New Mexico listening to radio. A program came on that discussed the then-recent derivation of an equation that, when variables were properly substituted, described the “voice” of every instrument in an orchestra. I had to pull over just to take it in: the fingerprints of God–information in its most basic form which can only come from an Intelligence. And what an Intelligence! None of the atheists commenting would see it that way, because–for whatever reason–they don’t seem to acknowledge the possibility of Someone bigger than human minds. Those of us who perceive God, even darkly, can’t explain Him and when we do sometimes we use language that is more off-putting than illuminating. Even so, He is here, everlasting and He IS, without Whom nothing can be. For those of us who perceive God in our world, your parable was beautiful. It’s going in my RICA stack for the fall.

  • RickK

    A young woman from the back of the room raises her hand and asks:

    “Professor, you say energy is held in the bonds of molecules, and that specific interactions will release energy in specific ways.

    But Mr. O’Connor says that energy is released when he waves a wand he fashioned out of the branch of an elm tree.

    And Miss Rushdink says that energy is released when she puts her fingers on a crystal and invokes her own personal energy djinn.

    With so many competing claims, how can we know which is true?”

    The professor replies: “Excellent question – in this instance we determine truth the same way we determine truth throughout our daily lives. We view each of the claims skeptically and we test them. The one that produces reliable results regardless of who does the test or what they believe – that is the truth.

    Now, let me show you an example of energy being released through chemical reaction…”

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      The young woman replied, “Thank you professor. I agree, and I have tested Mr O’Connor’s and Miss Rushdink’s claims already. Mr O’Connor explained that energy lies within the elm tree, and the energy locked in the elm branch is focussed through his mental powers. Miss Rushdink explained that ‘personal djinn’ is not an objective personality, but a name for the form of energy she works with, and that it is just as real or unreal as an electron. When Mr O’Connor touched me with the elm wand and Miss Rushdink touched the crystal I felt a tingling in my body so I know what they say must be true….”

      • Brian Westley

        So would you hire the young woman, Mr O’Connor, and/or Miss Rushdink to teach physics? If not, why not?

      • RickK

        LOL – I am in awe of the arrogance it takes to imply that there’s no difference between science and magic while debating over a global digital communications network.

        • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

          It is funny. Thanks for starting the joke! I was just following up on the gag.

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