What Constitutes a 'Fact'?

Over in this thread I suggested that evolution was a theory and not to be taken as fact. I was astounded at the response I got including beauties like, “Let’s get one thing straight – when a scientist calls something a theory, he means it’s a fact.” Knock me over with a feather on that one…

Anyway, I replied that to me 2+2=4 is a fact and that evolution is a theory that is based upon facts but is not a fact itself.

Mayeb to humble me, maybe to have fun with me, maybe seriously or maybe all of the above Mangetout added this to the mix:

So here it is…when does ‘theory’ rise to the level of fact? How certain or sure does something have to be before it is a fact and not just a really good explanation that seems to fit most facts?

This could go many ways…philosophical, scientific, everyday experience…feel free to apply it as you deem necessary or worthwhile.

Well, when a scientist says theory, he means theory. However, evolution is a fact. The theory of evolution is a theory. Evolution is a fact because we can watch it happen. The theory of evolution relates to how evolution works. Since we haven’t been around long enough to watch it happen, it probably will always be a theory.

Click here for a better explanation.

This site has a very simple explanation of what a theory means to science.

Evolution is what is called a ‘scientific fact’, which means that it has met the level of proof that it need not be questioned whenever it is invoked.

by that I mean if someone was writing a scientific paper on something that invoked evolution they would not need to provide evidence for evolution.

I wish that were true **MC Master of Cermonies[/], but it isn’t. Don’t you think they would’ve changed the name to “law of evolution”?

Didn’t you read any of the above links?

I dunno, x-ray. This Stephen Gould quote from one of those links seems to be saying the same thing MC is:

Well, Gould’s point is probably that all science is inductive and thus all “facts” are provisional. In mathematics, you can prove things deductively within the logical system and then they are absolutely irrefutable (within that system at least).

But, science doesn’t work that way. One cannot prove that the sun will rise tomorrow and one can’t prove that all the fossil evidence and all the geological evidence and all the cosmological evidence for evolution and an old earth and universe were not put here by a perverse Creator. However, that does not believe that this view should have equal treatment in a science classroom.

I think all the quibbling about whether evolution is “theory” or “fact” gets down to semantics at one level. The point is that it is the accepted explanation in the scientific community for how our animal and plant life came to be which means it has survived countless tests and attempts by people a hell of a lot smarter than the creation research society to try to find flaws in it.

To put another way, the “evolution=theory => evolution not fact” position is sophistry at best. If it is true for evolution, then it is true for universal gravitation, atomic theory, heliocentric theory, etc. It may be technically true that the fact of evolution is theory, i.e. inferred from the things dug up in the ground, sedimentation, DNA, genetics, physics, et hoc genus omne, but that state of affairs does not undermine the strength behind the conclusion that almost all life comes from a common source. (In Science & Creationism, ed. by Montague, it is noted that in Yosemite there are microbes that came about on thier own, IIRC.)

To put it another way, evolution=theory therefore creation is on equal footing is intellectually dishonest. No offense meant.

No, “they” (whoever that is) wouldn’t have. We still call Ohm’s law a law even though it only works in certain circuits.

Bad news for you, 'Mole: 2+2 only equals 4 by convention.

Yeah! You could live in a base 4 society and 2+2=10. Maybe I’m just being dumb and tired… I’m goin to bed

When we’re awfully damn sure of it – i.e., when it becomes, for whatever reasons, more helpful for us (individually) to call a thing a “fact” than a “theory.” I’m don’t think there’s much more to it than that.

I never tried or meant to put evolutionary theory on an equal footing with creationism. They are both theories but you can have good theories and not so good theories. Evolution holds up far better under scrutiny than creationism. When weighing the two I think the scale tips drastically in favor of evolution…that does not make it a fact however and I do not think it is sophistry to point that out. People keep mentioning the Theory of Gravity to me like it is a fact. That gravity exists is without doubt (i.e. some attractive force). That we understand it fully is in serious doubt. Indeed, gravity and its true nature is what is screwing up a Grand Unified Theory (GUT). All the other forces (strong nuclear weak nuclear and electromagnetic) have been rolled in…gravity stubbornly remains aloof from the rest. Hence it is the Theory of Gravity.

In the very broad view I think you might say that evolution is a fact the same way you say gravity is a fact. That is…do things evolve over time? I believe that has been observed and documented sufficiently to say that yes…this does indeed happen just as we notice things fall to the ground when we drop them suggesting gravity. However, evolutionary theory is incomplete. When looking over the entire history of evolution on this planet we do not have one document…call it The Law of Evolution…that neatly sums up and answers all questions regarding the course of life on this planet. Within evolution itself you have a myriad of sub-theories vying for attention. There is no confirmed, definitive answer to evolution so it is not* a fact in its particulars.

I strongly recommend x ray’s link here. It does an excellent job of explaning the whole theory - fact thing.

My bad. Sorry about that.

"We, (whoever that is) call Ohm’s law a law because it is. And yes, “they” would no longer call it the Theory of Evolution if it became more than a theory.

Well, I don’t think you can call creation a “theory” at all in the scientific sense. For one thing, it is not falsifiable.