Haggling over perfection: the definition of words

The Edge has noted the discussion started by an article by Paul Davies, a cosmologist at Arizona State University and author of popular science books, on the Op-Ed page of The New York Times (Laws of nature, source unknown). The haggling is about what “law” means in science and the nature of belief.

Dr. Davies asserted in the article that science, not unlike religion, rested on faith, not in God but in the idea of an orderly universe. Without that presumption a scientist could not function.

The idea of an orderly universe is not a matter of faith nor a presumption. Rather, it serves in the role of the axioms in a geometric proof, that of “a proposition that is assumed without proof for the sake of studying the consequences that follow from it.” (dictionary.com)

Edge notes:

Science is a topic which can cause people to turn off their brains. I contend that science has failed to excite more people for at least two reasons: it is frequently taught poorly, often as rote memorization of complex facts and data, and it is antithetical to our visceral-driven way we live and interact with our world.

Well, that is perhaps a point similar to that of Cromer in his book Uncommon Sense and could apply to mathematics and many other complex constructs humans use to simplify their reality. Religion is also in this class. Science and religion both demonstrate the need humans have to make sense of the world around them. How they do so is what distinguishes them from each other.

Religion puts its focus on preferred behavior and develops a belief system to rationalize the desired behavior. The goal is salvation of the person.

Science and mathematics define certain axioms and extrapolates their influence. The value of an axiom or a method in science is in how well it functions to describe what can be sensed.

In English, words mean things and that meaning has nuance that depends upon context. The needs of science for words is different than that of law or religion or day to day conversation. When terms such as “law” or “theory” or “belief” are misused, the effort represents an intention to confuse and mislead. Haggling about these words means that the ‘debate’ has gone sour and the intent is to find ways to rationalize personal viewpoints rather than to learn and share ideas.

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