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should the scientific community change the word "theory"?

while i'm not a scientist, it seems to me that the word that scientists use to describe their ultimate accomplishment is inherintly flawed.  they must be as tired of the misinterpretation of "theory" by the uninformed or uneducated as we are.  given that they spend innordinate amounts of time correcting the layperson who equates scientific theory to guesswork, why don't they come up with a new word for theory? 


in Dawkins' the God Delusion, he added an intro to the paperback version that discussed this.  his minor modification was to call it a "theorum", much like the usage in mathematics.  i don't feel like that is good enough. 


at the same time, i don't have a better word.  i'm open to ideas though...

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"It's not the word that has to change - it's the people who think they know what it means..."


i guess i'm not optimistic this well EVER happen.  until it does, Creation Science will continue to infect or at least threaten to infect our public schools.  ya know, b/c it's another "theory". 


you are all probably right about this, and it is simple frustration that made me think of this topic. 

It would be nice, but it wouldn't work. For starters, it would be controversial and would take a long time to catch on, if ever; rewriting all the textbooks would take years and the word we would need to choose to replace "Theory" would have to be unassailable. 

The very change could also be distorted to accuse the scientists of being "insecure" about their own terminology.

One of the few benefits of the  misinterpretation of the word "theory" is that anyone with a smartphone can look it up and instantly make the counterpart look stupid and ignorant.

What it comes down to is the dismal state of education. Politician pander to their base about the teaching of "math and science" in schools. What they should be teaching is critical thinking instead of forcing students to learn arithmetic (what they understand as "math"). It would be nice also if homeschooling was redefined and they had to adhere to stricter standards.

can understand and sympathise with your frustration, as cretinists are not above apppropriating scientific terminology in order to give a scientific gloss to their self-evident crapola. For example, I watched a creation "scientist" tell his audience that the light even from the farthest star took only 24 hours to reach earth, utter crap, of course, but he then went on to announce that his claim had been "peer reviewed" and accepted by other scientists in the same field. Which is precisely what Behe claimed during his Bacterial Flagellum debacle during the Dover School Board trial, however, what they don't reveal is that the "peer review" is carried out by other cretinists (Behe's claim's were supported by the Discovery Institute) the aforementioned creationist "scientitific" claim was supported by Creation Ministries International (CMI)

Thus they not only misrepresent the word theory when used in it's correct scientific context they also claim (when it suits them of course) that their nonsense is scientific in and of itself. With this in mind does anyone else think that Richard Dawkins is correct when he thinks it is about time we dropped the word theory when referring to evolution and simply refer to is as "Evoulutionary Fact". Or is booklover correct to say it won't make any difference as they are going to lie anyway?. I'm not sure myself.

In answer to your question as to whether the scientific community should stop referring to evolution as a "theory," most emphatically No!  This would deprive the rest of us from enjoyment in pointing out to these dolts who think Adam rode a brontosaurus that gravitation is a theory, too, yet we don't seem to be falling off the face of the earth.  (BTW, psssst, the earth is not flat, no matter what the Catholic Church keeps insisting).

Quite so, it is fun to show them up for the idiot's/liars that they obviously are,however, when a leading neo-Darwinian expert of Dawkins stature gives voice to his (understandable) frustration, perhaps it should give us a moments pause. And then, perhaps, re- consider our (or at least my)position as a non-scientist and take him seriously.

I would hate to throw out my "evolution is just a theory - like gravity" t shirt, so...

As much as I would hate it if you were to waste your hard earned cash on a possibly now "null" statement on your t-shirt, your original question was "should the scientific community change the word theory" and perhaps the most famous public scientist (since Sagan) agrees( well he agrees where evolution is concerned). I just believe it's worth thinking about thats all

I obviously agree, hence I thought of it!

The other responders make good points though. And I still can't think of a better word.

Yes I know you agree, however, you did not think of it. It is a debate that has been discussed on numerous occasions and  continues to produce debate whenever and wherever it "raises it's head" as can be seen in the following youtube exchange between Dawkins and the audience at ( I think ) a book launch. I apolpogise for the sound quality

I didn't mean I originally thought of this idea.

For the layman, a "theory" (as mentioned by other posters already) is just a conjecture, perhaps with some evidential support, but not enough to be a thorough causal explanation.  So to call something "just a theory", implies lack of adequate support.  It's a kind of insult. This is unfortunate, but isn't really such a problem once we think carefully.  What is more of a problem, as regards evolution vs. creationism, is consequences of the scientific usage of the term "theory".  This can open the window for some one to claim that evolution isn't a theory in the scientific sense....

Even within science, there is disagreement on what's a theory.  In physics, a theory is generally a collection of equations and their solutions, where one can prove that the solutions are correct consequences of the starting assumptions.  But the starting assumptions need not be correct, and the solutions to the equations need not necessary be useful or meaningful.  That's one view.  Alternatively, the result of these mathematical manipulations earns the moniker "theory" only when the mathematical predictions are confirmed by experiment.  So, in one interpretation, general relativity became a theory as soon as its mathematical self-consistency was demonstrated.  But in the competing interpretation, it only became a theory once we obtained experimental evidence corroborating it.

In mathematics, a "theory" is just a collection of postulates, definitions and their true consequences (the "theorems").  So, branches of mathematics such as real analysis or algebraic topology are "theories".  They are proven in the sense of internal consistency, but strictly speaking they make no claim regarding the physical world, nor do they care.

In engineering, a "theory" is a collection of simplifications to the governing equations (often derived by physicists), sometimes solved with the aid of a computer, which allow the calculation of physical quantities useful in designing some physical object (an airplane, a chemical reactor, a transistor radio).  A theory is true if it systematically approximates experimental observation... and the admissible margin of error is often quite large.

But we do have to be very careful in refuting the religionists' claims that evolution is "not a theory".  The claim is that for a body of knowledge to be a theory, it must be corroborated by experiment (the physicists' second definition).  And since an experiment to corroborate evolution would presumably take thousands of years (at a minimum), the gotcha-objection is that evolution - even if completely true and the best available explanation for what we CAN observe - lacks the credentials to be called a "theory".  It is in this matter that I personally have not yet worked out a good retort to my scientist-friends who have the misfortune of having bought into creationism. 

i'm not so sure i agree with you.  evolution has been tested in many experiments, all confirming the theory.  Lenski's experiments with e-coli studied evolution over 50,000+ generations.  the experiment to attempt to domesticate the silver fox is a powerful example.  also, there have been experiments on lizards and fish that have all seen evolution work in the laboratory.  it's true to see macro evolution occur in the natural world may very well take thousands if not millions of years, but the theory is both testable and provable in human lifetimes, and has been done on many occassions. 


from what i can gather, scientists are reluctant to call anything that they prove to be fact in the classical sense of the word.  math is the only thing that can be completely 100% verified.  physics uses the word theory a bit more liberally than the rest of the scientific community (correct me if i'm wrong), as they have the Big Bang Theory (still debatable) and String Theory (very debatable).  they are sound theories with a lot of good information, but nowhere near as credible as Evolution, Relativity, Germ, Plate Tectonics, etc. 


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