It's finally that time, thank you all for joining me. I can't wait to see what kind of intellectual conversation we can make of this. I want to start by letting everyone know that this is the first time I've tried to lead anything like this and that constructive criticism and suggestions are gladly welcome. My idea for running this is plain and simple, Open Forum  Style. Open to any and all questions, stories, and comments related to the reading and keeping in mind that we all have a different reading/comprehension level and we all deserve to understand what Dawkins is trying to communicate to us. With that out of the way, let's get started!

 

Preface and Chapter 1 both give us a good idea of what to look forward to. The Preface contains our base information on the book and what is different between this book and two other books Dawkins has written. Chapter 1 however, is very precise about a few definitions, specifically the word 'theory' and the use of Sense 1 (Dawkins labels it as Theorum) and Sense 2 (Labeled as hypothesis). I think this is a good starting point as it was where my first question started to form. What do you think is the main difference in 'Theorum' and 'Hypothesis' as they are defined in this book, and where do you think such a drastic change in meaning came from?

 

I see the biggest difference being only one word that is found in the 'Theorum' section. CONFIRMED. This is what we seem to always look for when we state a conclusion right? We need a confirmation of a positive result in an experiment. This is what we learned as children when we were first introduced to the "Scientific Method" in the 4th grade, or whenever it was that we had our first set of science classes. As for why there is such pronounced difference in the two meanings for the same word, I am at a loss. I can see how they are related to each other, but to make a bold leap from defining something as a "hypothesis that has been confirmed" to "A hypothesis proposed as an explanation" just seems irrational to me. In the same style as Dawkins wrote his observations, lets look at the definitions to these two key words.

 

Confirmed - (a) - Marked by long continuance and likely to persist.

                         (b) - Fixed in habit and unlikely to change.

 

Proposed - To form or put forward a plan or intention. 

 

I see here the idea of intending to prove something, like it's mission statement of a thesis project before you even attempt to perform an experiment, versus the conclusion to all of your hard work. These are VERY different words to me and  I just don't understand how they could have come to these two being the candidates to represent the same thing. I guess our words can evolve as well, but this is like having the pen on my desk evolve into a new planet.

 

Well this sums up what I gathered was the main point, I wrote way more than I thought I would and I hope you are all as interested in this as me. Thanks again for participating and I can't wait to see the comments!

Tags: Atheism, Dawkins, Discussion, Reading

Views: 51

Replies to This Discussion

I loved Dawkins' explanation between Theory Sense1 and Theory sense 2. I was able to have a wonderful conversation with my husband last night about this. We both just came out of religion and belief within the last year and he's been having a hard time understanding evolution and other science "theories." It's been a roadblock for us..he didn't believe but yet he still couldn't accept the fact that we weren't just created somehow and that we have evolved from other life. So last night was a big step into his critical thinking and I owe it to this!
I'm so glad that this is helping you both. I really loved that explanation too and I'm pretty sure his definitions here will become very useful in the rest of the book. If you don't mind me asking, what was it that brought you both out of religion? I'm just always curious as to what finally pushes people to start looking for their own answers. :) Thanks for reading along with us Heather!
I would be interested in that "push" question as well to compare it with my 'awakening'.  I say 'awakening' because that's what it was to me...a securlar 'born agin' or epiphany (sans the magic and fantasy),if you will, and asking myself, "What the heck have you been thinking all these years?  Why? What started that evolution towards religious mysticism? I already know the answer having searched inwardly years ago.  The discovery was very enlightening.
I grew up Mormon in Utah. Had a lot of doubts and questions and cog dis throughout my years in and it was about two years ago that I started to find there were others who doubted and questioned which led me to the evidence of Mormonism being ridiculously untrue that led me to question CHristianity and other religions and ultimately a personal god or any for that matter. Learning about critical thinking and science has been amazing, and it's just been so freeing!!!! That's the short story.
Heather,  Welcome to free-thought.  Enjoy!
Thanks! Really enjoying my release from mind prison!

It was a long process for me until I reached the 99% level. Coming from a family of rocket scientists, including a "burn in hell" Jehovas witness, a devout Mormon and the rest some degree of Christian I was surrounded with much cognitive dissonance. Fortunately I believed wholly in evolution and whittled down all dieties from there. 

Interestingly I still, every now and then, have an implicit/tacit "belief" surface about one system or another -- completely , I am sure, from earlier indoctrination (certainly not from god). I haven't read Dawkins but I would guess "theorum" means "confirmed" to this point(with all the operations that define it) -- leaving open the door for further question and review?

 

"Question everything" -Einstein?

Jerry, you are more than welcome to join us on this read whenever you can. We just started it and we will be taking a pretty laid back pace to the end.
I also wondered about the big difference between the two senses of the word 'theory' in the Oxford Dictionary.  It seems that most non-scientific thinking people say "It's just a theory" to mean that it is mere speculation or conjecture.  But anyone versed in scientific terminology know that sense 1(a system of ideas or statements held as an explanation of a group of facts or phenomena) is the correct way to describe evolution.
I'd like to thank everyone for participating in the discussion. For next Sunday/Monday's discussion I think we can get chapters 2 & 3 in. Does this sound like a plan to everyone?

Yeah, I think that Dawkins opening the book with this discussion is great. Of course, the whole point of The Greatest Show on Earth is to lay out all the evidence there is for evolution. But a really big "roadblock" (as heather said) when talking to people about evolution is this misunderstanding of the different senses of meaning of the word "theory."

 

As for the question put forward in the opening paragraphs to this discussion, "...where do you think such a drastic change in meaning came from?" I'm actually inclined to not see it quite in that way. As I was thinking about the question and looking up some things I came upon this on the wikipedia entry for theory :


"[Theory] is derived from theoria, θεωρία, meaning "a looking at, viewing, beholding", and refers to contemplation or speculation, as opposed to action."

 

To me, that statement helps clarify the actual close relationship between the two meanings. The body of knowledge is referred to as theory, as in "medical theory," as opposed to the practice of medicine. So when someone says something like, "well, in theory, that might work," what they're saying is more like, "given everything that is known about this particular type of situation, that might work." So when you say "theoretically" you're not just using the word in sense 2 as Dawkins puts it; you're actually using both senses at once: sense1, referring to the body of knowledge and sense 2, hypothesis, speculation, conjecture.

 

(I know I had a point to make somewhere in there, I hope it came through!)

 

Having been confronted with the old "it's just a theory" retort when talking about evolution, and not being able to respond, I was delighted that Dawkins chose to start the book out this way. Actually, the 1st time I encountered someone explaining the difference in meaning of the 2 usages was at the San Diego Natural History Museum last year. They had an exhibit on Darwin and Evolution, and in the last room of the exhibit they actually had a close-to-lifesize video playing of someone clarifying this exact issue :) Which i thought was quite cool.

One of the most salient points was the difference between eye witnessing and laboratory testing to determine an outcome.

 

Listening to Dawkins read "Origin" on audiobooks is like (if I believed in such things which I don't) that Dawkins was channeling Darwin in that it was as if Darwin was speaking directly.

 

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