Language is an amazing thing, isn’t it? Recent research seems to indicate that it originated in sub-Saharan Africa with about a hundred different sounds each of which probably stood for a single concept. Later, the likelihood is, those sounds began to be assembled into words and it was found lots of words could be made with fewer sounds so some of the more difficult phonemes dropped out of use. As people migrated they became separated by mountains, forests and rivers, so different tongues gradually evolved. That’s when the barriers to communication got worse.


A while ago, I was conversing with an English lecturer who had spent some time associating with Scientists. He said the most notable cultural difference was in the precision with which the Scientists chose their words. However, even those who share a language like English can misunderstand each other because of the different meanings they assign to the same word. Can you think of a word that means one thing to one person and the opposite to another?


Such a word is ‘believe’. Many religious people consider a belief to be a solid fact based on their conviction in the veracity of a book that they were taught from as children. Scientific Realists use the word in the sense of, ‘I believe Tom is hiding in the garden’; in other words, for something they do not really know for sure. ‘Belief’ means certainty to one and doubt to the other!


A good Scientist has little use for the word ‘believe’ in a Scientific context because it’s reasonable to assume educated audiences know that Scientific Facts are based on evidence and do not require believing. Sadly, debating from different premises soon turns into an argument. My advice is to define the words before you start, which of course cannot be done during verbal communication - people are usually too impatient to listen and rarely allow themselves enough time to absorb the significance of the different usages. Fortunately, we now have Facebook and Twitter that can be used for more carefully considered dialogues although the absence of intonation and facial expression presents its own problems.


The history of words can often be revealing. Take ‘sect’ for example. There are two schools of thought as to its origin: the Oxford English Dictionary and the Online Etymological Dictionary both suggest it maybe from either the Latin secta from fem. of sectus meaning "following a person’s guidance, hence party or faction", or from secta, fem. pp. of secare meaning  "to cut" which has also given us words like section, sector, dissect and bisect. The American Heritage New Dictionary says: ‘A religious group, especially one that has separated from a larger group’ thus indicating an affinity to the ‘cut’ option.


Is the origin of the word ‘sect’ a clue? Are religions divisive, unnecessarily cutting up mankind into antagonistic groups based on falsehoods?


‘‘England and America are two countries separated by the same language”


George Bernard Shaw

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"It is always better to have no ideas than false ones; to believe nothing, than to believe what is wrong."

Thomas Jefferson


Religion is an attempt to conjure up an immeasurable force to explain what some people are uncomfortable about not knowing.”


Don Engle

Houston, Texas

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