Semantic Quibbling fun over the word "theory"

Incl. intelligent design, belief in divine creation

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Semantic Quibbling fun over the word "theory"

#1  Postby VazScep » Jul 09, 2014 9:04 pm

It gets repeated that scientists have their own special technical meaning of the word "theory" which differs from the colloquial meaning, which apparently means something like "shitty guess", but I think that's wrong. Scientists use the word mostly the same way that mortals do, and I want to emphasise that meaning, arguing that it's the creationists who are overemphasising the interpretation of "theory" to mean "shitty guess".

Theory is the opposite of practice. It refers to the stuff you do with pen and paper (and nowadays, with a computer), as opposed to getting your hands dirty. So when you're learning to drive, the practical part will involve sitting behind the wheel of a car, but the theory part involves questions about rules and regulations and driving strategies that you're allowed to think about in abstract. When you learn to play the piano, a good deal will be spent mashing your chubby fingers on a keyboard like a cretin, but some of it will involve sitting with sheets of symbols and going through the purely abstract symbol manipulation of transposition.

Mathematics and computer science are full of theories, because most of maths and computer science is done with pens, papers and computers.

"Theory" in "theory of evolution" is consistent with these familiar usages. It's the abstract pen-and-paper thinking that goes when organising all those dirty fossils and other shite that irritating naturalists kept bringing back from the garden and from their voyages to the Galapagos Islands. Theories of gravitation are the equations you do on pen-and-paper to recover the ridiculuous amounts of data that astronomers generate. And so on and blah.
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Re: Semantic Quibbling fun over the word "theory"

#2  Postby kennyc » Jul 09, 2014 9:19 pm

Agreed. I think they first intentionally called their beliefs 'theories' in an attempt to add unwarrented support to them without even understanding the word but thinking it made their claims sound scientific.
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Re: Semantic Quibbling fun over the word "theory"

#3  Postby Sityl » Jul 09, 2014 9:21 pm

I think when people talk about the colloquial definition of theory, they're meaning "wild guess with no supporting evidence."
Stephen Colbert wrote:Now, like all great theologies, Bill [O'Reilly]'s can be boiled down to one sentence - 'There must be a god, because I don't know how things work.'


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Re: Semantic Quibbling fun over the word "theory"

#4  Postby VazScep » Jul 09, 2014 9:33 pm

Sityl wrote:I think when people talk about the colloquial definition of theory, they're meaning "wild guess with no supporting evidence."
Yeah. I don't think that's the colloquial meaning. Because the theory of music isn't a bunch of wild guesses with no supporting evidence, and wild guessing your way through your theory test when trying to get your driver's licence is almost certainly going to fail you.
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Re: Semantic Quibbling fun over the word "theory"

#5  Postby kennyc » Jul 09, 2014 10:04 pm

Sityl wrote:I think when people talk about the colloquial definition of theory, they're meaning "wild guess with no supporting evidence."



I think even in everyday usage its more in the frame of why something is or happens based on reasoning. Far from a wild guess.

In everyday speaking if they are guessing they will usually just say that -- 'Well my guess is....'
Last edited by kennyc on Jul 09, 2014 10:21 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Semantic Quibbling fun over the word "theory"

#6  Postby Calilasseia » Jul 09, 2014 10:10 pm

Been there, done that ...
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Re: Semantic Quibbling fun over the word "theory"

#7  Postby tuco » Jul 09, 2014 10:19 pm

Scientific method.
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Re: Semantic Quibbling fun over the word "theory"

#8  Postby Templeton » Jul 10, 2014 2:23 am

Theory = degrees of repeatability. Using the plural as It has changed over the years. Why? :dunno: still an adequate means for a definition.
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Re: Semantic Quibbling fun over the word "theory"

#9  Postby THWOTH » Jul 10, 2014 2:33 am

www.etymonline.com wrote:theory (n.)
    1590s, "conception, mental scheme," from Late Latin theoria (Jerome), from Greek theoria "contemplation, speculation; a looking at, viewing; a sight, show, spectacle, things looked at," from theorein "to consider, speculate, look at," from theoros "spectator," from thea "a view" + horan "to see," possibly from PIE root wer- "to perceive".

    Earlier in this sense was theorical (n.), late 15c. Sense of "principles or methods of a science or art" (rather than its practice) is first recorded 1610s (as in music theory, which is the science of musical composition, apart from practice or performance). Sense of "an intelligible explanation based on observation and reasoning" is from 1630s.
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Re: Semantic Quibbling fun over the word "theory"

#10  Postby Darwinsbulldog » Jul 10, 2014 3:19 am

I am quite happy to debate anyone to asserts that "evolution is just a theory" with those terms of reference. I will still win.
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Re: Semantic Quibbling fun over the word "theory"

#11  Postby Boyle » Jul 10, 2014 4:15 am

VazScep wrote:It gets repeated that scientists have their own special technical meaning of the word "theory" which differs from the colloquial meaning, which apparently means something like "shitty guess", but I think that's wrong. Scientists use the word mostly the same way that mortals do, and I want to emphasise that meaning, arguing that it's the creationists who are overemphasising the interpretation of "theory" to mean "shitty guess".

Theory is the opposite of practice. It refers to the stuff you do with pen and paper (and nowadays, with a computer), as opposed to getting your hands dirty. So when you're learning to drive, the practical part will involve sitting behind the wheel of a car, but the theory part involves questions about rules and regulations and driving strategies that you're allowed to think about in abstract. When you learn to play the piano, a good deal will be spent mashing your chubby fingers on a keyboard like a cretin, but some of it will involve sitting with sheets of symbols and going through the purely abstract symbol manipulation of transposition.

Mathematics and computer science are full of theories, because most of maths and computer science is done with pens, papers and computers.

"Theory" in "theory of evolution" is consistent with these familiar usages. It's the abstract pen-and-paper thinking that goes when organising all those dirty fossils and other shite that irritating naturalists kept bringing back from the garden and from their voyages to the Galapagos Islands. Theories of gravitation are the equations you do on pen-and-paper to recover the ridiculuous amounts of data that astronomers generate. And so on and blah.

I hate to break this to you but creationists comprise a good chunk of the population here in the States, so that may be where some of this confusion is comin' from. When you say "creationists" I think "~40% of the US" It sounds like it's different across the pond, though.
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Re: Semantic Quibbling fun over the word "theory"

#12  Postby Calilasseia » Jul 10, 2014 9:35 pm

VazScep wrote:It gets repeated that scientists have their own special technical meaning of the word "theory" which differs from the colloquial meaning, which apparently means something like "shitty guess", but I think that's wrong. Scientists use the word mostly the same way that mortals do, and I want to emphasise that meaning, arguing that it's the creationists who are overemphasising the interpretation of "theory" to mean "shitty guess".

Theory is the opposite of practice. It refers to the stuff you do with pen and paper (and nowadays, with a computer), as opposed to getting your hands dirty. So when you're learning to drive, the practical part will involve sitting behind the wheel of a car, but the theory part involves questions about rules and regulations and driving strategies that you're allowed to think about in abstract. When you learn to play the piano, a good deal will be spent mashing your chubby fingers on a keyboard like a cretin, but some of it will involve sitting with sheets of symbols and going through the purely abstract symbol manipulation of transposition.

Mathematics and computer science are full of theories, because most of maths and computer science is done with pens, papers and computers.

"Theory" in "theory of evolution" is consistent with these familiar usages. It's the abstract pen-and-paper thinking that goes when organising all those dirty fossils and other shite that irritating naturalists kept bringing back from the garden and from their voyages to the Galapagos Islands. Theories of gravitation are the equations you do on pen-and-paper to recover the ridiculuous amounts of data that astronomers generate. And so on and blah.


The latter two paragraphs above, constitute part of the reason that I've stated repeatedly what the word 'theory' means in science. In science, a theory is an integrated explanation for a class of phenomena of interest, that has been tested to determine if it is in accord with the data arising from said phenomena, and found to be thus in accord via said testing. It's as far removed from "made up shit guess" as it's possible to be. That which has not been tested comes under the heading of "hypothesis", with the understanding that scientists are going to perform the requisite tests the moment they are able to.
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Re: Semantic Quibbling fun over the word "theory"

#13  Postby Darwinsbulldog » Jul 11, 2014 2:17 am

Calilasseia wrote:
VazScep wrote:It gets repeated that scientists have their own special technical meaning of the word "theory" which differs from the colloquial meaning, which apparently means something like "shitty guess", but I think that's wrong. Scientists use the word mostly the same way that mortals do, and I want to emphasise that meaning, arguing that it's the creationists who are overemphasising the interpretation of "theory" to mean "shitty guess".

Theory is the opposite of practice. It refers to the stuff you do with pen and paper (and nowadays, with a computer), as opposed to getting your hands dirty. So when you're learning to drive, the practical part will involve sitting behind the wheel of a car, but the theory part involves questions about rules and regulations and driving strategies that you're allowed to think about in abstract. When you learn to play the piano, a good deal will be spent mashing your chubby fingers on a keyboard like a cretin, but some of it will involve sitting with sheets of symbols and going through the purely abstract symbol manipulation of transposition.

Mathematics and computer science are full of theories, because most of maths and computer science is done with pens, papers and computers.

"Theory" in "theory of evolution" is consistent with these familiar usages. It's the abstract pen-and-paper thinking that goes when organising all those dirty fossils and other shite that irritating naturalists kept bringing back from the garden and from their voyages to the Galapagos Islands. Theories of gravitation are the equations you do on pen-and-paper to recover the ridiculuous amounts of data that astronomers generate. And so on and blah.


The latter two paragraphs above, constitute part of the reason that I've stated repeatedly what the word 'theory' means in science. In science, a theory is an integrated explanation for a class of phenomena of interest, that has been tested to determine if it is in accord with the data arising from said phenomena, and found to be thus in accord via said testing. It's as far removed from "made up shit guess" as it's possible to be. That which has not been tested comes under the heading of "hypothesis", with the understanding that scientists are going to perform the requisite tests the moment they are able to.

Nyet Cali. What is important in science is the formulation & testing of models about natural phenomena. "Explanation" is emergent from this in the "how sense". Likewise, mechanism[s] are nice when they can be reasonably inferred. But not essential, otherwise you would have to chuck out both quantum mechanics and Darwins Theory by natural selection [missing mechanism for inheritance, circa 1860-1950's] and label them as pseudoscience. Sure, scientist SEEK both mechanism AND explanation. But they are bonuses, not mandatory. Too much emphasis on mechanism and explanation [apart from the limited explanation of description and predict] drifts science away from methodological naturalism and towards philosophical naturalism, and indeed, metaphysical naturalism. Not that there is anything intrinsically wrong with metaphysical/philosophical positions in the philosophy of science[1], they have no place in science itself.

[1] And I have argued that there are ways to look at the metaphysical implications of science that do not have to be mystical, but can generate interesting speculations that are not evidence-free or irrational.
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Re: Semantic Quibbling fun over the word "theory"

#14  Postby Calilasseia » Jul 11, 2014 10:34 pm

That's why I used the word 'phenomena', DB, and referred to the data arising therefrom. No mention of whether the phenomena are considered to be 'real' sensu metaphysics. :)
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Re: Semantic Quibbling fun over the word "theory"

#15  Postby Darwinsbulldog » Jul 12, 2014 12:52 am

Calilasseia wrote:That's why I used the word 'phenomena', DB, and referred to the data arising therefrom. No mention of whether the phenomena are considered to be 'real' sensu metaphysics. :)


I was mainly bitching about "explanation", which can bring in metaphysics [not my lovely, perfect scientific metaphysics, of course] but the turgid black pudding woo variety. :dopey: :thumbup: :lol: :lol:
Explanation, being a 'why" word, is scientific blasphemy. At least, if it is used in the "why" and not the "how" context. :thumbup:
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Re: Semantic Quibbling fun over the word "theory"

#16  Postby Calilasseia » Jul 12, 2014 2:59 am

Well once again, I'm minded to note that the world 'explanation' is used as a shorthand for 'the model is in accord with the data'. :)

Indeed, I'm tempted to suggest that this is the only use of the word 'explanation' that really matters. Because it's the only use of the word 'explanation' that points to something substantive.
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Re: Semantic Quibbling fun over the word "theory"

#17  Postby Darwinsbulldog » Jul 12, 2014 8:17 am

Calilasseia wrote:Well once again, I'm minded to note that the world 'explanation' is used as a shorthand for 'the model is in accord with the data'. :)

Indeed, I'm tempted to suggest that this is the only use of the word 'explanation' that really matters. Because it's the only use of the word 'explanation' that points to something substantive.

Well all good then. BTW, the puppy metaphysics does not allow for "why" questions! :crazy: :dopey: :lol: :lol: I should have pointed that out.
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Re: Semantic Quibbling fun over the word "theory"

#18  Postby kennyc » Jul 12, 2014 8:26 am

Darwinsbulldog wrote:
Calilasseia wrote:Well once again, I'm minded to note that the world 'explanation' is used as a shorthand for 'the model is in accord with the data'. :)

Indeed, I'm tempted to suggest that this is the only use of the word 'explanation' that really matters. Because it's the only use of the word 'explanation' that points to something substantive.

Well all good then. BTW, the puppy metaphysics does not allow for "why" questions! :crazy: :dopey: :lol: :lol: I should have pointed that out.



But what is the relationship between 'puppy metaphysics' and 'jamest philosophy?' :ask: :ask: :ask:
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Re: Semantic Quibbling fun over the word "theory"

#19  Postby Darwinsbulldog » Jul 12, 2014 9:59 am

kennyc wrote:
Darwinsbulldog wrote:
Calilasseia wrote:Well once again, I'm minded to note that the world 'explanation' is used as a shorthand for 'the model is in accord with the data'. :)

Indeed, I'm tempted to suggest that this is the only use of the word 'explanation' that really matters. Because it's the only use of the word 'explanation' that points to something substantive.

Well all good then. BTW, the puppy metaphysics does not allow for "why" questions! :crazy: :dopey: :lol: :lol: I should have pointed that out.



But what is the relationship between 'puppy metaphysics' and 'jamest philosophy?' :ask: :ask: :ask:

Pup metaphysics only considers natural phenomena: the how and howto's, not the "why's". It is "work in a progress"..... :dopey:
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Re: Semantic Quibbling fun over the word "theory"

#20  Postby kennyc » Jul 12, 2014 11:55 am

Ah....it's 'the-ory'
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