Monday, January 02, 2006

An underweening proposal

We were discussing at dinner the other evening the question raised in Comments: Why are scientists much less likely than the general population to believe in a personal God?

My daughter's husband posited, only half in jest, "Overweening hubris?"

We laughed. Well, yes, there could be some of that.

My daughter then wondered, "What does 'ween' mean?"

And although we had heard and used the expression all of our lives, we didn't know.

So to the dictionary. Ween: v. tr. archaic, be of the opinion, to suppose.

Overweening then means to be arrogantly of the opinion, over confident in one's suppositions. Overweening hubris is redundant, but a grand phrase nevertheless.

Is it possible to be underweening? Wishy-washy in one's opinions.

Ween may be a good word to bring back into the language, to represent the intellectual posture that goes with good science: confidence that our theories represent reality ever more closely, but knowing that every supposition is tentative and subject to change. "I ween that the big bang happened." "I ween that life arose on Earth from inanimate matter." Not overweening. Not underweening. Cautious confidence that what we ween is true.