Sometimes It Is Science All the Time Around Here

I’m often amused by the things science evidently can’t explain. The Chick Tract Big Daddy, nominally about evolution, claims that science can’t explain why an atom’s nucleus holds together even though it’s packed full of positively-charged particles.

In the tract Big Daddy, Jack Chick claims the strong nuclear force doesn't existIn the Chick Tract Big Daddy, atoms are held together by Jesus

In the version I read long ago, gluons weren’t even mentioned — the tract merely claimed that no one knew why atoms held together. At the time I murmured, “the strong nuclear force?” At some point Chick updated it to refute quantum chromodynamics, the theory that describes the strong nuclear force that holds atoms’ nucleii together, by saying “Nuh uh!”

That’s semi-defensible: QCD is a deep subject, an area of physics that you really only run into if you specialize in physics in school. More puzzling is that Bill O’Reilly doesn’t know how tides work.

O’REILLY: I’ll tell you why [religion’s] not a scam, in my opinion: tide goes in, tide goes out. Never a miscommunication. You can’t explain that. You can explain why the tide goes in —

SILVERMAN: Tide goes in, tide goes out?

O’REILLY: See, the water — the tide comes in and it goes out, Mr. Silverman. It always comes in, and always goes out. You can’t explain that.

In sixth grade my science class focused on Earth science. One of the topics was tides, where I learned that the Moon and Sun’s gravity pulled our oceans around, causing tides. I also learned that the Moon is tidally locked to the Earth, meaning that the same side of the moon always faces the earth. That should give a hint that things orbiting around each other has something to do with tides.

Let me present some new information to counterbalance ignorance: did you know that eventually the Earth will be tidally locked to the Moon? Just like the Earth now stays at a fixed location relative to the Moon, the Moon will stay at a fixed location above the Earth. As a side effect, the Earth’s rotation relative to the Sun will slow, and the Moon will move further away from the Earth. As an exercise for the reader, can you explain why this is happening? Bonus points if you can predict how long a day on Earth will then be.

Oh, and here’s the full video featuring Bill O’Reilly:

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9 Comments

  1. Jizaboz
    on January 7, 2011 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

    “Lunar gravity? What is that? I don’t know what that means…

    …F’n thing sucks!!”

  2. on January 7, 2011 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

    I’ll admit I was tempted to title the post “Effin’ Gravity, How Does it Work?” The sad thing is, we don’t know how gravity really truly works, at least not yet.

  3. on January 7, 2011 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

    “There must be a God, because I don’t know how things work.”

    http://www.colbertnation.com/the-colbert-report-videos/370183/january-06-2011/bill-o-reilly-proves-god-s-existence—neil-degrasse-tyson

  4. Lucian
    on January 7, 2011 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

    In the Colbert video clips, we also hear him say, “Sun goes up; sun goes down.” So I don’t think it’s really that he doesn’t know how it works (surely he can’t claim he didn’t know the Earth spins?), but his argument seems to be… something else. That I don’t really understand. Maybe some sort of argument from design?

    Many, how did you manage to sucker me into defending kooks on your blog?

  5. Paul
    on January 7, 2011 at 5:29 pm | Permalink

    Maybe something about the two bodies’ gravitational pull on
    each other reaching some kind of balance, so that the orbital speed
    of the moon matches the Earth’s rotation. Then the moon would be in
    geosynchronous orbit. Then it moves away because, uh, momentum? You
    said that the Earth’s rotation relative to the Sun would change, so
    the length of the year will change, but unless the Earth’s rotation
    around its axis changes, the length of the day ought to stay the
    same. I’ve pondered a lot about this need to play gotcha with
    science. When and why did certain strains of religious thought
    decide that science was an enemy? It’s like spiritual ideas have to
    be argued in materialistic terms. And it’s all wedded to this idea
    that the Genesis account has to be literal–which, I think, is a
    response to the “threat” of evolution (especially b/c it says that
    man isn’t special); it has to be literal in order to counter
    science, which is literal. But I’m way off topic! 🙂

  6. on January 7, 2011 at 8:00 pm | Permalink

    Lucian: I dunno, a misspent youth playing the literal Devil’s advocate? Given that O’Reilly loves and is known for nuance, clearly he’s making some deep argument.

    Paul: The main factor is that, as the Moon drags the oceans (and the Earth! which bulges a bit) around, there’s friction. That friction bleeds energy out of the system, and actually serves to slow the Earth’s rotation down. Eventually the Earth will stop rotating relative to the Moon, at which point there’s no more changing tides and no more friction.

    This is, by the way, how the Moon stopped rotating relative to the Earth. The Earth causes tides on the Moon — it makes the Moon bulge out a bit. The friction of moving that bulge around made the Moon’s rotation slow until it eventually stopped and became tidally locked to the Earth.

  7. on January 8, 2011 at 11:40 pm | Permalink

    And it’s all wedded to this idea that the Genesis account has to be literal–which, I think, is a response to the “threat” of evolution (especially b/c it says that man isn’t special); it has to be literal in order to counter science, which is literal. But I’m way off topic!

    Biblical literalism isn’t really a science thing. It’s a theological construct made typically by Protestants of conservative/Reformed traditions. I’ve always taken it to be justification for Christ to be all that faith and scripture purports Him to be. I’ve never held to it myself, nor do I find Gen 1-2 to be anything more than a myth. I find it terribly problematic to expect that a written record of centuries of oral history is going to be 100% accurate, divine inspiration or no. But then I’m a liberal United Methodist.

    Eventually the Earth will stop rotating relative to the Moon, at which point there’s no more changing tides and no more friction.

    I know you meant tidal friction, Stephen, but I think every engineering mechanics student just crapped their pants. “You mean we won’t have to deal with friction anymore? SWEET!” They’re only fooled by this for two reasons: 1) you have a Ph.D. and 2) it’s six weeks into the semester and they still haven’t cracked open the textbook they bought two weeks into the semester.

  8. on January 9, 2011 at 7:31 am | Permalink

    Don’t you see? Friction is caused by TIDES! ALL friction! That’s why there isn’t any in space, maaan!

  9. on January 9, 2011 at 7:37 am | Permalink

    In space, no one can hear the waves lapping on the shore.