Science and Religion-as-Art
Richard H. Zander
Res Botanica, a Missouri Botanical Garden Web site
January 14, 2005
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Science and Religion-as-Art

Richard H. Zander


The following is an email sent to the listserver Taxacom on January 14, 2005, in response to the two messages subjoined.



The definitions quoted below from the Merriam-Webster dictionary all presuppose that the three (hypothesis, theory and law) are distinct. They actually intergrade somewhat. One can also rephrase the three as pragmatic guides to action:


Hypothesis is a good guess about processes in nature that we posit and gather facts (well documented observations) about with the intent of demonstrating a theory. A hypothesis is acted upon by the brave with nothing to risk.


Theory is a well-supported description of a process in nature based on lots of evidence, with little contradictory evidence, and contrary theories based on much the same evidence are somewhat improbable or unreasonable. A theory is acted upon with certain care for contrary surprises and a moderate risk.


Law is a theory that has no reasonable alternative and which we do use confidently as a basis for action even when risking much.


All these are scientific in that they deal with the facts of nature and thus our experience of the natural world. Because I base their value on how well they perform in action given certain risks, they do not require an acceptance of a particular "reality" pre-action even though such undoubtedly exists.


As long as we keep Science and Art separate, things go swimmingly. Science is, in my opinion, the skeptical pursuit of truth with a small "t", truth we act on and revise as required by new facts; science makes us part of nature and no different from the animals. Art is the invention or detection of Truth, things that strike us as absolutely and incontrovertibly true no matter how contradictory or illogical; Art makes us human. Keeping them apart is important not just legally as in keeping religion out of science/politics and vice versa, but to keep us complete by protecting our Science from our Art and vice versa.




-----Original Message-----

From: Susanne Schulmeister [mailto:susanne71_2000@YAHOO.DE]

Sent: Friday, January 14, 2005 8:13 AM


Subject: Re: [TAXACOM] Judge orders removal of anti-evolution stickers

from textbooks in Georgia school district



The Merriam-Webster online dictionary states:


"3 : the antecedent clause of a conditional statement synonyms


HYPOTHESIS, THEORY, LAW mean a formula derived by inference from scientific data that explains a principle operating in nature.  HYPOTHESIS implies insufficient evidence to provide more than a tentative explanation <a hypothesis explaining the extinction of the dinosaurs>.


THEORY implies a greater range of evidence and greater likelihood of truth <the theory of evolution>.


LAW implies a statement of order and relation in nature that has been found to be invariable under the same conditions <the law of gravitation>." 5



Susanne Schulmeister



 --- Richard Jensen <rjensen@SAINTMARYS.EDU> schrieb:


> The equating of hypothesis and theory, the common thread that underlies these attempts to consign evolution to the same status as individual belief, reflects one of the greatest failings of science education.  We, as science educators, need to make sure that we spell > out exactly what the difference between a theory and a hypothesis is.  The general public, and too many science teachers, have been taught and/or allowed to continue to believe that a theory is just a hypothesis.


Note Feb. 20, 2009: Rational-skepticism might be preserved if religion were entertained as suspension of disbelief (for however long a time) rather than simple belief. --R.H.Z.