19 September 2005


Main Entry: be·lieve
Pronunciation: b&-'lEv
Function: verb
Inflected Form(s): be·lieved; be·liev·ing
Etymology: Middle English beleven, from Old English belEfan, from be- + lyfan, lEfan to allow, believe; akin to Old High German gilouben to believe, Old English lEof dear -- more at LOVE
intransitive senses
1 a : to have a firm religious faith b : to accept as true, genuine, or real *ideals we believe in* *believes in ghosts*
2 : to have a firm conviction as to the goodness, efficacy, or ability of something *believe in exercise*
3 : to hold an opinion : THINK *I believe so*
transitive senses
1 a : to consider to be true or honest *believe the reports* *you wouldn't believe how long it took* b : to accept the word or evidence of *I believe you* *couldn't believe my ears*
2 : to hold as an opinion : SUPPOSE *I believe it will rain soon*

(Merriam-Webster Dictionary)

There is also an implication to the word "belief" that no evidence is required. Thus the CNN statement that "Astronomers believe a quasar is produced by cosmic gas as it is drawn toward the edge of a supermassive black hole" [emphasis added] is completely wrong. It implies that astronomers have no hard evidence and and are asserting it to be true for us to take on faith.

When you talk on the phone with your family, say your daughter, what evidence do you have that at the other end of your phone it's your daughter? The sound of her voice, the way she words her sentences. But you don't see her, do you? You can't touch her and know she's there. And yet you still know that it's her, right? That's how well astronomers know that quasars are produced in the system of a black hole.

We can't see the black hole directly, but we see all the evidence of one, for example, how fast the gas is moving and how far it is from the center indicates how much mass must be inside a certain radius, which tells us it must be a black hole. Computer models also show that the end of a super massive star's life is a black hole, and we'll see a disk and jets, which is what we see with quasars.

This isn't belief, it is our best knowledge.


Matt Jones said...

Similarily, I know there is a God. I can't see God directly, but I have evidence for one. (Now yes, I know scientific proof / evidence is different from "proof" / evidence for God) Just thought I would throw that out there.

zandperl said...

That's definitely a good point. I would argue that the main difference between religion and science is what is considered acceptable "proof." :)

Man, we've gotta get some other people who disagree with us to comment. :-P

Matt Jones said...


Haha, yeah, I think the problem is people don't want to comment knowing that they are wrong ;) heh

doris said...

I am waaaaay out of my depth here but here goes! I am not sure that the daughter on the phone analogy is a good one for comparison with astroners and quasars although I can see what you are getting at. An absent daughter on the phone is at least a tangible 'object' known from actual and physical experience.

Whilst there may be maths and plasma and what not, and that certain relationships might have been found for certain events it still doesn't mean that is it known that we are talking about black holes. This is still a theory - in my mind! In my mind as someone who knows they are way out of their depth but would still like to speak up!

So I am saying that there is a lot in which we 'believe' because it is to the best of our knowledge at present. Just like people once thought the earth was flat?

My big bugbear is that we are taught that Big Bang and other things are fact when they are a theory.

Humbly wanders off.... :-)

zandperl said...

My "bugbear" (is that a British term?) is using English words when we're speaking in Science. "Fact" is not a word used in science ever -- we may use it when speaking with laypeople, but not other scientists. Ditto "know" or "knowledge." There's observations, which are the things we directly measure, and then there's theories or laws which are things we "know" based upon our observations. Hypotheses and predictions would be the guesses. When scientists use the word "theory," you can translate that into English as "fact" or "knowledge." Man, I can do a whole 'nother blog post on words in Science...