This is a splinter from the thread, “Scientific theories taught as factual”. Rather than the approach that thread took this thread is to discuss the nature of the following terms and their variants: Fact and Proof.
Percy wrote: My guess is that your thinking of the claim that people like to make that it is a fact that evolution has occurred, while the mechanisms thought to lie behind evolution, what we would call evolutionary theory, are tentative. I blame the former claim, that it is a fact that evolution has occurred, on Stephen Jay Gould, and I believe it is false. For the purposes of that statement, Gould defined fact only as something that had so much supporting evidence that it would be perverse to withhold at least provisional acceptance. If you define fact in that way, then clearly it is not beyond any shadow of doubt that evolution has occurred, since that would mean 100% certainty. In science nothing is ever 100% certain, even what we consider our facts.
Percy wrote: Yeah, this pretty much nails what I was trying to say. Too much time and effort is wasted on the evolutionist claim that it is a fact that evolution has occurred. If evolutionists are involved in any bait-and-switch tactics, this is it. While it wouldn't quite be correct to say that calling evolution a fact is wrong, it certainly is misleading to attempt to give the impression that evolution is the same type of fact as the height of your desk. Something that took Darwin years of investigation during a round the world voyage followed by many more years of thought and analysis to discover and understand is by no means the same type of obvious fact as the height of your desk or the color of a flower, and I wish Gould had never made the claim as it's a cause of endless and unnecessary trouble.
It isn’t my understanding that the word ‘fact’ means 100% certainty either within or without the realm of science. Even if certainty is a synonym for fact, then clearly the use of 100% is a qualifier. ‘100% certainty’ seems more comparable to ‘an absolute’ or ‘absolute fact’ than to the unqualified term ‘fact’.
Same with the use of ‘proof’ and ‘prove’ in the previous thread. My understanding is that ‘proof’ means, “sufficient to a standard” while ‘prove’ means, ‘meeting or exceeding a standard’. I do not claim these are exclusive definitions, but as far as I know they’re acceptable ones.
So where comes the authority within the field of science to assert that the definition of fact precludes saying evolution is a ‘fact’ or that evolution hasn’t been ‘proven’?
We need to keep in mind that "fact" and "prove" are part of common language. They are not technical terms within science, although "prove" is a technical term in mathematics. When a scientist is using math, he would probably use "prove" in the strict mathematical sense. At other times, he might use "fact" and "prove" with the same sloppiness we see in ordinary speech.Let's end the political smears
I’m not sure that is the case either. Don’t scientists gather ‘facts’ and represent the ‘facts’ of their studies in addition to their conclusions, if any? If a scientist conducts a test and writes down that when the test started there were 1mil bacterium per millimeter and when the test was concluded there were on average 10mil bacterium per millimeter, is that really not referred to as ‘facts’ within science? Sure it may more typically be called data or datum.
Even odder to me, is that if the claim is that there are no facts in science and that science has no definition for fact. If that is the case, then logically, the common definition of fact would actually apply to science. Sure scientists can say that internally they do not use nor define the term (if this is actually the case), but if they have no internal definition, then the external definition applies.
Still even odder to me is the assertion that fact somehow means 100% certainty. This definition is not one I have ever seen used. I can’t think of a single where a ‘fact’ is objectively 100% certain.
We need to keep in mind that "fact" and "prove" are part of common language. They are not technical terms within science, although "prove" is a technical term in mathematics. When a scientist is using math, he would probably use "prove" in the strict mathematical sense. At other times, he might use "fact" and "prove" with the same sloppiness we see in ordinary speech.
Precision of language works both ways. To me it is far more misleading for people to say that evolution hasn’t been proved or hasn’t been upheld to be factual when clearly the question being asked is not defining the terms in the same way.
Don’t scientists gather ‘facts’ and represent the ‘facts’ of their studies in addition to their conclusions, if any?
Yes, they do. But the technical term for these is "observations" and not "facts".
If a scientist conducts a test and writes down that when the test started there were 1mil bacterium per millimeter and when the test was concluded there were on average 10mil bacterium per millimeter, is that really not referred to as ‘facts’ within science?
It is usually referred to as "observations."
If that is the case, then logically, the common definition of fact would actually apply to science.
But there is no common definition of "fact".
Sure, we can look at a dictionary. But dictionaries don't really define words, even though we sometimes use the expression "dictionary definition." The meanings of words are determined by how people use them. Those who compile dictionaries study how words are used, and try to capture that as well as they can in their dictionaries. This is usually stated as "dictionaries are descriptive, not prescriptive."
Still even odder to me is the assertion that fact somehow means 100% certainty.
That does not seem odd to me. People tend to use "belief" when they have some uncertainty, and "fact" when they are certain. Of course, what one person thinks is certain might what another thinks as contentious, so there will often be disagreement here.
Precision of language works both ways.
If you want precision of language, then stick to mathematics and express everything in FOPC (first order predicate calculus). Formal languages are quite precise, but they have the disadvantage that you can't say very much. Natural languages are never completely precise, but they are highly expressive.Let's end the political smears
Science is inductive, not deductive; as such, it is not in the business of manufacturing absolute truths or deductive proofs.
As already stated here, a Fact in science is a synonym for an observation. The goal is to obtain objective and unbiased information about the world; an observation represents such information.
Oservations can occur either directly(sight, sound, touch, smell) or indirectly(analog or digital measuring device.) The goal is to receive information from the external world that confirms what is thought to be true or what one expects to be true. Based on the information received, one can formulate a relationship among independants. When such information repeats itself and/or follows a general pattern of appearance, one can draw conclusions or create a theory to explain the patterns of such information.
In order to be considered a 'Fact' in science, one observation alone will not do. It is not sufficient for only one observer to receive the information; rather, the information needs to be available to more than one observer on more than one occasion - it needs to be repeatable.
Thus, to be established, Scientific 'Facts' require not only an observation, but also verification.
I would like to add the following:
Given this definition, The Theory of Evolution in it's current form would not be considered a Scientific 'Fact', nor would any theory that models a phenomenon that cannot be observed directly.
Obviously, due to the nature of the mechanisms involved, such models are not repeatable or observable in a lifetime. Certainly, the theory of mutation and selection makes predictions that can be verified on the micro level; however, such observations are not adequate to establish a macro scale change as fact. That can come only through observational verification.
Scientific Theories such as Evolution are formally considered Inferential rather than Factual. Do not confuse this with the implication that such a theory is by definition false; there is no current observation which falsifies the theory, nor is there information which indicates inconsistency with established facts.