Joined: Oct. 2005
|(From Blipey): This is a particular argument that has always rubbed me the wrong way. As an actor, I very much understand the importance of language and its usage. However, I've ever been irritated by people claiming phrases like Whiteside's are ill-conceived.|
I don't believe they are. There are situations where words need to be chosen very carefully--situations that require great specific detail in order to communicate a message. Most situations do not fall into this category. For the most part, we get a sense of message from the context of what we're hearing/seeing/feeling.
When a scientist is the one speaking/writing/punching us in the nose, we generally know where he's coming from. His words can be interpretted through our understanding of his role as a scientist.
|(From Zachriel) There are two different definitions at work here.|
1) to have a firm religious faith
2) to hold as an opinion
We can presume that Whitesides is using the second definition (deduced from his appeal to authority).
On Blipey's point. I think most people make a real attempt to communicate with one another. If a word such as "believe" is subject to misunderstanding, they simply ask for clarification rather than trying to manipulate the language for rhetorical purposes.
Obviously, people are usually trying to communicate and in most cases people give or get the benefit of the doubt. Also obviously, Whitesides was using the looser definition of "believe". I'm sure Whitesides' immediate audience understood him just fine, but these days he should be aware that his audience is not just his fellow-chemists.
More specifically, it should be obvious to all working scientists that creationists and IDists are all too ready to twist any comment they can out of context to serve their own purposes. The existence of the IDists and their notorious attempts to miscommunicate and misrepresent means that we are exactly in a situation "where words need to be chosen very carefully." It therefore behoves scientists not to go around handing them choice nuggets.
(This includes the standard exaggerations and put-downs about the weaknesses and deficiencies in prior understanding that people make in the introductions to their papers, to build up the significance of the contributions they are about to make. Whitesides' comments are exactly of this sort because he is not being truthful when he says he lacks any supporting evidence for abiogenesis - he's just exaggerating for the sake of a little drama. Nonetheless, his statement feeds right into IDist misrepresentation, and he should have seen that coming. A simple statement that chemists lack a inadequate set of hypotheses and speculations and are in dire need of some fresh facts and/or ideas would have been correct and appropriate.)
I have no problem with a scientist saying something like, "My hunch is that .....", or even, "As a catholic I believe in ....". However, even if creationism and ID didn't exist, it is obvious that the general public has a really poor grasp of the scientific method and do indeed tend to view scientific controversies as competions between opposing beliefs. Thus it doesn't help public understanding of science to have a scientist say prominently that he believes something scientific even though he has no supporting evidence. And if he really does believe it, evidence or not, then he's falling down on his intellectual responsibilities as a scientist.