Adventures in ACE XXVI: God Piles on the Pressure

We’ve survived a lot of atmospheric nonsense and learned that you should never allow anyone associated with ACE to water your lawn. Now things are about to heat up. Yes, they are on about temperature. And in looking it over, I don’t think this section has been updated since the Cold War.

Seriously. All their talk of thermometers and thermographs and such like make no mention of digital thermometers or computers. None of the equipment mentioned for monitoring temperature over time records observations electronically. The photographs look like they’re straight out of the 70s.

Image shows a double set of maximum and minimum mercury thermometers nailed to a wooden plank inside of a white slatted enclosure. There's a hand reaching toward the first set of thermometers. It all looks tres last century.
Photo from page 22 of ACE Science PACE 1088

It’s pretty sad.

There’s some mildly-interesting history of the Fahrenheit and Celsius scales, but delivered in that pompous and pedantic ACE tone that sucks any joy out of it.

We are told that “temperatures vary greatly nationwide,” but that fact remains an orphan without an explanation. Dad says that folks are most comfortable in the 70-75°F range, because this is apparently a vital science fact. Then he joins us in the late 20th century with a brief mention of “space satellites and other devices that collect information.” Don’t get excited: he just tells us how high they orbit, contrasts that with the orbit of communications satellites, and that’s it.

Then they’re on about how the Earth gets warmed up. It’s an extremely simplified version, but it’s basically correct. They even manage to talk about the greenhouse effect without having a tantrum over global warming – they simply neglect to mention carbon dioxide or our excessive emission thereof. They mention that “dark colors absorb more heat than do light colors,” but don’t explain why. Silly kids, whys and wherefores are for heathens! All you need to know are some facts.

Strangely, they then spend several paragraphs talking about mirages and how they’re caused. With that much focus on a relatively minor topic, I expect them to clumsily segue into some Christian analogy about how we must be careful not to believe the evidence of our own eyes or something, but no. They abruptly end the temperature section and jump straight to humidity. Odd.

Ace wants to know what humidity has to do with temperature. Dad explains that “God designed our bodies to produce perspiration on hot days,” so we feel hotter when the air is more humid and less evaporation takes place. We’ve gone pages without any creationist drivel, so I’m fairly excited to see that silly reference to design there. Not to mention, it’s piss-poor design. You’d think a really clever designer could give us a cooling system that worked efficiently in humid conditions, too.

Dad then goes on to tell us about specific versus relative humidity and introduces us to the hair tension hygrometer, which is quite fun for me since I’ve never heard of them before. Then he tells us that humidity depends on many factors, but gives us only a couple of them, like proximity to large water bodies and movement of air masses. He doesn’t bother mentioning that the temperature of the water and air is also a factor, which, considering we were just talking about temperature, seems like a rather large oversight.

We’ve now gone two entire sections with only one small mention of God. I am amazed.

Next up is Pressure. We learn of a fantastic demonstration of the power of atmospheric pressure involving teams of horses trying to pull apart two metal hemispheres. Dad gets the metal wrong (they’re made of copper, not steel), and is incorrect as to the year (1654, not 1650). But the story is broadly correct: when you pump out the air from inside the joined hemispheres, not even sixteen horses can pry them apart. The atmospheric pressure bearing down on the hemispheres is too great.

There’s a flurry of facts on barometers, then Dad shows Ace a cool experiment with a card and a glass of water. He doesn’t explain how it works very well – there’s more to it than just atmospheric pressure – but it’s still pretty neat.

Dad gets in a snide swipe at science:

“Mr. Torricelli showed by scientific experimentation that air has weight when he made the first barometer. Thousands of years before that, however, the Scripture described air as having weight when it stated that God made ‘the weight for the winds’ (Job 28:25a).”

Let’s just take a look at that verse in context, shall we? Sounds more like bragging than a scientific dissertation. Also, weight in this case may be talking about force, a quality assigned to wind, but not air.

This time, they go only one short paragraph before dragging God into things again. Dad yammers about air pressure being a constant:

“Constants in nature remind us of the changeless character of God. The Bible states in Malachi 3:6a, ‘For I am the LORD, I change not.’ We can always depend on God’s love, mercy, and grace.”

Funny. The air pressure at sea level is variable due to weather systems and the time of day, just like everywhere else. That “constant” is an average. Kind of like how, in the Bible, God is at times a homicidal maniac and at others burbles about how much he loves us even though we make him hit us, but on average he’s just a psychopathic jerk.

Ace basically ignores Dad’s Bible babble, and asks how atmospheric pressure is measured. Dad goes on to explain really well how water is able to boil at lower temperatures when the air pressure is lower, such as at high altitudes. This is the only time I’ve seen the story style of textbook writing done well in an ACE PACE. Dad explains the basics, Ace asks for clarification because he still doesn’t understand, and Dad explains in a different way that makes the concept clear. It’s really well done. For a moment, it almost seemed like genuine learning, even!

After a long discussion including Pascal’s air pressure experiments and how pumps work, ACE Science PACE 1088 concludes with a mini-sermon wherein Dad claims that God uses the “weather to teach us to be flexible.” We have to change or cancel plans if the weather gets violent, see. All those lives lost either due to our former inability to predict the weather or our current inability to get people out of the way in time is just necessary collateral damage, I guess, because God really needed to teach some people how to reschedule things.

Image shows a tornado touching down. Below, the caption says, "God's lesson in being flexible and willing to reschedule. Shame your house got destroyed..."
Image by Justin Hobson. Caption by moi. Tornado by God.

“A violent storm could, at any time, destroy our home and everything in it,” Dad says. “Therefore, God tells us in Colossians 3:2, ‘Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth.'” Because, y’know, God might randomly fuck your shit up down here, but if you take it all with a smile, he’ll totes treat you better in heaven. Definitely.

So Ace decides this is a brilliant idea, and he’ll try to be completely flexible whenever God wants to screw with his life, “Whether He uses the weather or people.”

Wonderful. So, along with mostly shitty science, we’re learning how to take God’s sometimes fatal abuse with a grin and a shrug. Super. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to chuck this PACE into a trash fire, where it belongs.

Adventures in ACE XXVI: God Piles on the Pressure