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...

Views: 1234

Reply to This

Replies to This Discussion

But aren't we talking about whether or not to change perfectly straightforward language, in order to address an objection that isn't sincere in the first place?  People who attack reason with "it's only a theory" know full well what we're talking about.  There's no confusion -- it's just a rhetorical tactic.  So why change? 

i wish i agreed with you.  i feel pretty confident that most of those who make that stupid assertion truly believe it.  they're quite ignorant in matters of science.  

I hope not, otherwise, what is the point at all.

Perhaps it's confusing the concept of theory and processes is the problem. A process is a definable,  observable and testable way in which a biological system works.  For example Metabolism, Ecological succession, cell replication and Evolution.  The theory of evolution should be the theories of the evolutionary process - theories about specific aspects of the process - continuous or punctuated evolution  or both. 

I always thought that what it a theory was natural selection.

i'm not sure if you're right but it's the best idea (assuming you favor a change in nomenclature) that i've heard yet.

So because the engineering community knows a scientific term that is confusing to everyone else, we can't create a term for the common individual?

Do we go around calling people homo sapiens?

We can obviously keep the scientific term, but a common term MUST be created or we will continue to be looked at as if we don't know what we are talking about.

Yeah, because it's not like any new term we create wont be misused or anything.


With all due respect...

Sure, you can make something up. "Theorem" is as good as anything else. Just don't expect scientists to begin using the same term. The word "hypothesis" and "theory" have worked just fine within their community. That non-scientists can't seem to wrap their head around the concept is not the fault of the scientists. They have a magic book, with a magic daddy who told them what to believe. It isn't going to make any difference what you call it or how well you explain the science.

It's actually fun speculating what would happen with yet another new term the fundies could twist to their advantage (or as I see it, expose us to their ignorance). I can see it now, "Look at those idiot scientists. If they'd only put their faith in Jebuz they wouldn't be so confused. They even doubled down by coming up with a new word for their lies." They would stop saying the word theory meant "I made it all up" and start saying the word theorem meant "I made it all up, they didn't believe me so I had to give it an even more pompous name to make it sound truthier".


I like what Dawkins has done for the non-theists. I've learned quite a lot about atheism, genetics and evolution from him by reading his books. I believe he's wrong on this one though. If scientists have done anything wrong, it's not that they're using the wrong terms. It's that they haven't been assertive enough in trying to plainly explain the reasoning behind their theories. Some of them have been trying as of late but they're awful late to the party.

Hi Greg,

I doNOT to change the scientific term.  We simply need a common term, i.e. Homo Sapiens (scientific) / Human (common).  That's all I'm saying.

We have been going back and forth here between educated people, now imagine trying with someone without an education.  It would be futile.

We can speculate about the outcome of it, but as we stand, we almost have nothing to loose and much to gain.

I agree with your last statement 100%  Way to late!  But let's hope that it's not too late...

Yes, it is so aggravating!

I've done as Loren has suggested many times. I ask if they accept the theories of gravity and mathematics. I tell them that the layman's definition is not at all the same as the scientific definition. I explain that the theory must be supported by proven facts, etc, etc...

It always falls on deaf ears. We'll likely never stop hearing that alternate "theories" should be taught alongside the theory of evolution. The only people who accept the difference are those who already accept evolution.

It's interesting that Wiktionary actually addresses our concerns specifically:


In scientific discourse, the sense “unproven conjecture” is discouraged (with hypothesis or conjecture preferred), due to unintentional ambiguity and intentional equivocation with the sense “well-developed statement or structure”. This is particularly found with reference to the “theory of evolution”, which opponents disparage with “it’s just a theory [conjecture]”, while proponents retort that in this context, theory means instead “well-developed, well-established”.


As Loren said, I don't really think a new term will help the situation. From my experience, the folks who misuse it are so close-minded and ignorant that it seems nothing can sink in. If people are determined to believe the earth is flat, not even a trip around the world can cure them.

On the bright side:

Even here in Indiana (where almost everyone I know is a theist), I've confirmed that I've changed the way some people think about atheists. While they're still believers, they no longer think atheists are immoral or evil. When a catholic coworker told me so last week, I responded, "So you no longer think it's ridiculous that some people don't believe in a set of ideas for which there is no proof whatsoever." He smiled and confirmed.

Baby steps...

"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. 


© 2019   Atheist Nexus. All rights reserved. Admin: The Nexus Group.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service