I was really psyched to see Carl Zimmer’s recent NY Times article on the use of the word “theory”.
In Science, It’s Never Just A Theory
The misuse of “theory” in the general public — and sometimes even in scientific circles — has always been a personal pet peeve of mine. And don’t get me started on the various misuses of homology, orthology, and paralogy.
Now that everyone is clear on when and how to use “theory”, another thing I find equally annoying are the Darwin fish emblems. You’ve seen them. They are riffs on the ichthys or Jesus fish symbol, except they have legs and “Darwin” inscribed. It’s astounding to see the continued popularity of these emblems since they first appeared in the 1980s. At that time, I thought they were hilarious. Now, I just think they reek of a self-satisified smugness, vaunting the superiority of the owner’s intellect. And since their introduction, they’ve led to a stupid one-upsmanship almost as inane and tasteless as the Calvin (of Calvin and Hobbes) peeing stickers. [BTW: Don’t miss this hilarious take on the Peeing Calvin from The Onion]
The problem is that they conflate science and religion when the two things are completely different endeavors. Science isn’t a belief system. It doesn’t tell you what you should think. Science is a process and method of understanding the world around us. Nothing more and nothing less. It is, hopefully, introspective of itself and always moving to deeper understanding.
When scientists mistakenly place religion and science in the same sphere, they introduce unnecessary conflict. Religion and science aren’t simply two sides of the same coin. They are entirely different currencies altogether.