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Author Topic:   The phrase "Evolution is a fact"
boysherpa
Junior Member (Idle past 4610 days)
Posts: 19
From: Lomita, CA
Joined: 10-04-2008


Message 1 of 217 (487434)
10-31-2008 1:05 PM


The phrase "Evolution is a fact" is interesting to me, semantically. My question for discussion is whether this is a scientifically justifiable statement.

First, I don't think everyone is thinking of the same evolution when they talk about this statement. Some folks launch into a discussion of natural selection, which, i thought, was a mechanism of evolution but not evolution itself.

Secondly, it is not clear to me what sense of the word fact is being used here. (I have an entry from the Merriam-Webster website below for reference.) If Evolution is a theory, it cannot be a fact. But, then, I may have missed the promotion ceremony.

But, is it that we are saying evolution has occurred, as in def'n 4. Or, is it an object that is able to be examined and tested, as in def'n 5 (i hope not, as I can't test it, nor can you).

From www.merriam-webster.com:

Main Entry:
fact
Pronunciation:
\ˈfakt\
Function:
noun
Etymology:
Latin factum, from neuter of factus, past participle of facere
Date:
15th century

1: a thing done: as a obsolete : feat b: crime <accessory after the fact> archaic : action
2 archaic : performance , doing
3: the quality of being actual : actuality <a question of fact hinges on evidence>
4 a: something that has actual existence <space exploration is now a fact> b: an actual occurrence
5: a piece of information presented as having objective reality
— in fact
: in truth

Edited by Admin, : Change angle brackets into HTML literals.


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AdminNosy
Administrator
Posts: 4754
From: Vancouver, BC, Canada
Joined: 11-11-2003


Message 2 of 217 (487441)
10-31-2008 1:46 PM


Thread moved here from the Proposed New Topics forum.

  
roxrkool
Member (Idle past 227 days)
Posts: 1497
From: Nevada
Joined: 03-23-2003


Message 3 of 217 (487444)
10-31-2008 1:55 PM
Reply to: Message 1 by boysherpa
10-31-2008 1:05 PM


Let's add another definition (same source):

Main Entry:
the·o·ry
Pronunciation:
\ˈthē-ə-rē, ˈthir-ē\
Function:
noun
Inflected Form(s):
plural the·o·ries
Etymology:
Late Latin theoria, from Greek theōria, from theōrein
Date:
1592

1: the analysis of a set of facts in their relation to one another
2: abstract thought : speculation
3: the general or abstract principles of a body of fact, a science, or an art
4 a: a belief, policy, or procedure proposed or followed as the basis of action b: an ideal or hypothetical set of facts, principles, or circumstances —often used in the phrase in theory
5: a plausible or scientifically acceptable general principle or body of principles offered to explain phenomena
6 a: a hypothesis assumed for the sake of argument or investigation b: an unproved assumption : conjecture c: a body of theorems presenting a concise systematic view of a subject


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subbie
Member (Idle past 493 days)
Posts: 3509
Joined: 02-26-2006


Message 4 of 217 (487445)
10-31-2008 2:02 PM
Reply to: Message 1 by boysherpa
10-31-2008 1:05 PM


quote:
The phrase "Evolution is a fact" is interesting to me, semantically. My question for discussion is whether this is a scientifically justifiable statement.

Yes, it is.

Evolution can be described by the phrase "descent with modification." Change in the population of various organisms across generations has been directly observed, both in the lab and in nature. Thus, it is an fact.

Simple as that.


Those who would sacrifice an essential liberty for a temporary security will lose both, and deserve neither. -- Benjamin Franklin

We see monsters where science shows us windmills. -- Phat


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Huntard
Member (Idle past 1533 days)
Posts: 2870
From: Limburg, The Netherlands
Joined: 09-02-2008


Message 5 of 217 (487447)
10-31-2008 2:08 PM
Reply to: Message 1 by boysherpa
10-31-2008 1:05 PM


boysherpa writes:

The phrase "Evolution is a fact" is interesting to me, semantically. My question for discussion is whether this is a scientifically justifiable statement.


It sure is.

First, I don't think everyone is thinking of the same evolution when they talk about this statement. Some folks launch into a discussion of natural selection, which, i thought, was a mechanism of evolution but not evolution itself.

Yes, that's why I'm going to define evolution:

From wiki:

quote:
In biology, evolution is the process of change in the inherited traits of a population of organisms from one generation to the next.

This process has been observed to happen, thus, it is a fact.

Secondly, it is not clear to me what sense of the word fact is being used here.

It is definition 4.

If Evolution is a theory, it cannot be a fact. But, then, I may have missed the promotion ceremony.

You've got the wrong idea about the meaning of the word theory, so here's another definition.

Again, from wiki:

quote:
In science a theory is a testable model of the manner of interaction of a set of natural phenomena, capable of predicting future occurrences or observations of the same kind, and capable of being tested through experiment or otherwise verified through empirical observation.

As you can see it is something different entirely from a fact. The "Theory of Evolution" explains the mechanisms that make the FACT of evolution happen, and makes predictions about what we should find in nature.

So you see, evolution is both a Theory and a Fact.


I hunt for the truth

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Dr Adequate
Member (Idle past 290 days)
Posts: 16112
Joined: 07-20-2006


Message 6 of 217 (487450)
10-31-2008 2:28 PM
Reply to: Message 1 by boysherpa
10-31-2008 1:05 PM


If Evolution is a theory, it cannot be a fact.

The theory of gravity is a theory.

Gravity is not a theory.

Gravity is a fact.

The theory of evolution is a theory.

Evolution is not a theory.

Evolution is a fact.


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Lithodid-Man
Member (Idle past 2169 days)
Posts: 504
From: Juneau, Alaska, USA
Joined: 03-22-2004


Message 7 of 217 (487516)
11-01-2008 5:26 AM
Reply to: Message 6 by Dr Adequate
10-31-2008 2:28 PM


Evolution as fact and theory
To expand on Dr A's excellent post on fact and theory:

I explain it to new science students that a fact is an observation. In the example of gravity, the observation is things fall. Why do they fall, how do they fall, that is the theory.

That things fall = observation = fact
How things fall = Theory of Gravity = (G*(M1*M2))/d^2 Where G is a gravitational constant, M1 and M2 are the masses of the bodies in question, and d is the distance between the gravitational centers of the masses.

Evolution = species change = observation = fact
How species change = Theory of Evolution = (doesn't lend itself to a quick equation) Variation in offspring, limited resources, differential reproductive success, propagation of successful traits.

The facts are facts, are based upon observations. The theories in both examples are subject to experimental analysis and can be disproven but can never be proven. A theory must explain ALL data, past present and future. A single data point not explainable by a theory disproves it and it must be modified or rejected.

If, for example, we found that objects in the Alpha Centari system (indulge my fantasy here) were attracted to each other by the cube of their distances we would have to reject the Theory of Gravity and come up with another that explains why it is the square in one region and the cube in another. This would not invalidate the fact, the observation here on Earth, just require another theory that explained both.

Likewise, if Darwin's theory of natural selection were proven wrong tomorrow, we would still be left with the fact of evolution. We would still have to explain HOW genetic traits change and adapt over time and how new species are produced.

I apologize for the redundant post, I think that some points need to be restated as many times as necessary to make them clear.

Edited by Lithodid-Man, : Changed "lengthy" to "redundant" in the last sentence


Doctor Bashir: "Of all the stories you told me, which were true and which weren't?"
Elim Garak: "My dear Doctor, they're all true"
Doctor Bashir: "Even the lies?"
Elim Garak: "Especially the lies"

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Rrhain
Member (Idle past 1111 days)
Posts: 6349
From: San Diego, CA, USA
Joined: 05-03-2003


Message 8 of 217 (487518)
11-01-2008 5:59 AM
Reply to: Message 1 by boysherpa
10-31-2008 1:05 PM


Stephen Jay Gould said it much better.

Evolution as Fact and Theory

Stephen Jay Gould writes:

In the American vernacular, "theory" often means "imperfect fact"—part of a hierarchy of confidence running downhill from fact to theory to hypothesis to guess. Thus creationists can (and do) argue: evolution is "only" a theory, and intense debate now rages about many aspects of the theory. If evolution is less than a fact, and scientists can't even make up their minds about the theory, then what confidence can we have in it? Indeed, President Reagan echoed this argument before an evangelical group in Dallas when he said (in what I devoutly hope was campaign rhetoric): "Well, it is a theory. It is a scientific theory only, and it has in recent years been challenged in the world of science—that is, not believed in the scientific community to be as infallible as it once was."

Well, evolution is a theory. It is also a fact. And facts and theories are different things, not rungs in a hierarchy of increasing certainty. Facts are the world's data. Theories are structures of ideas that explain and interpret facts. Facts do not go away when scientists debate rival theories to explain them. Einstein's theory of gravitation replaced Newton's, but apples did not suspend themselves in mid-air, pending the outcome. And humans evolved from apelike ancestors whether they did so by Darwin's proposed mechanism or by some other, yet to be discovered.

You base theories on facts. That's why it is called the theory OF evolution. We can't develop a theory until we have a factual phenomenon we are seeking to explain.

A ball falls from my hand to the ground. We call the force that pulls it down "gravity."

But what is gravity? How does it work? Ah, those are questions to be answered by theory. We'll never be able to prove the theory because that isn't how science works. But there is no way to contradict the fact: When I drop a ball, it falls to the ground.

Similarly for evolution. When we observe populations over time, they change. We call that change "evolution." But what is evolution? How does it work? Those are questions to be answered by theory. We'll never be able to prove the theory because that isn't how science works. But there is no way to contradict the fact: When we observe organisms over time, they change.

Now, it turns out that we actually have a mechanism for evolution: Natural selection (among others). We can directly manipulate it and cause evolutionary change to happen. None of this do we have for gravity. We still don't rightly know what it is, how it works, or how to manipulate it. And yet, nobody seems to think gravity is in doubt even though it is less solidly grounded than evolution.

So why are you picking on evolution when it's gravity that's the real problem?


Rrhain

Thank you for your submission to Science. Your paper was reviewed by a jury of seventh graders so that they could look for balance and to allow them to make up their own minds. We are sorry to say that they found your paper "bogus," specifically describing the section on the laboratory work "boring." We regret that we will be unable to publish your work at this time.

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aftab
Junior Member (Idle past 4861 days)
Posts: 4
Joined: 11-02-2008


Message 9 of 217 (487575)
11-02-2008 8:49 AM
Reply to: Message 8 by Rrhain
11-01-2008 5:59 AM


Well even when we talk about the theory of evolution (as in the whole natural selection bit) well we can be certain its true but why should that be a source of criticism?
If I am not gravely mistaken the Standard Model is a theory too...why don't we rip that out of textbooks? Economics is based on theory...it is not necessary for the market to react completely in compliance with the stuff in our textbooks. So what's the big fuss about?

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bluescat48
Member (Idle past 3428 days)
Posts: 2347
From: United States
Joined: 10-06-2007


Message 10 of 217 (487596)
11-02-2008 11:56 AM
Reply to: Message 9 by aftab
11-02-2008 8:49 AM


Well even when we talk about the theory of evolution (as in the whole natural selection bit) well we can be certain its true but why should that be a source of criticism?

It isn't except to the Religious Fundimentalists, who for some unknown reason, think that it is detrimental to their religious beliefs. It doesn't seem to bother the mainstream religious.


There is no better love between 2 people than mutual respect for each other WT Young, 2002

Who gave anyone the authority to call me an authority on anything. WT Young, 1969


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Taz
Member (Idle past 2530 days)
Posts: 5069
From: Zerus
Joined: 07-18-2006


Message 11 of 217 (487599)
11-02-2008 12:16 PM
Reply to: Message 1 by boysherpa
10-31-2008 1:05 PM


The fact of evolution is the allele frequency of a population changes over time. This is an observable phenomenon. It's a fact. The theory of evolution gives us explanations to how/why the allele frequency of the population changes over time.

Someone brought up economics a couple posts before this. It's a very interesting analogy. Do you doubt that the economy exists? It's an observable fact the economy exists. Then we have the theory of economics.

Same thing with disease. Do you doubt diseases exist? It is an observable fact that diseases exist! Then we have the germ theory of disease.


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Deftil
Member (Idle past 3694 days)
Posts: 128
From: Virginia, USA
Joined: 04-19-2008


Message 12 of 217 (487600)
11-02-2008 12:46 PM
Reply to: Message 4 by subbie
10-31-2008 2:02 PM


I agree with subbie. (as does the natural world, I might add :))

If evolution is defined as "descent with modification" then it's occurence is as much of a fact as just about anything, hardcore epistemological skepticism aside.

Again, as subbie said, we've observed it in nature and in the lab.

While there is plenty of evidence for it, I do suppose I can reasonably understand why some people might not think the idea that all current life evolved from a common ancestor should be regarded as a fact though. We obviously couldn't have directly observed that.


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Chiroptera
Inactive Member


Message 13 of 217 (487605)
11-02-2008 4:13 PM
Reply to: Message 12 by Deftil
11-02-2008 12:46 PM


...I do suppose I can reasonably understand why some people might not think the idea that all current life evolved from a common ancestor should be regarded as a fact though. We obviously couldn't have directly observed that.

Just like we haven't directly observed nuclear fusion reactions occurring in the sun's core, or that the earth's core is composed of nickel and iron. Yet both of these things are considered facts.

We may consider something to be a fact if the overwhelming abundance of evidence suggests that it is inconceivable that it is not a fact.


Speaking personally, I find few things more awesome than contemplating this vast and majestic process of evolution, the ebb and flow of successive biotas through geological time. Creationists and others who cannot for ideological or religious reasons accept the fact of evolution miss out a great deal, and are left with a claustrophobic little universe in which nothing happens and nothing changes.
-- M. Alan Kazlev

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Deftil
Member (Idle past 3694 days)
Posts: 128
From: Virginia, USA
Joined: 04-19-2008


Message 14 of 217 (487607)
11-02-2008 4:50 PM
Reply to: Message 13 by Chiroptera
11-02-2008 4:13 PM


Chiroptera writes:

Just like we haven't directly observed nuclear fusion reactions occurring in the sun's core, or that the earth's core is composed of nickel and iron. Yet both of these things are considered facts.


True, there's many things that are considered as facts that haven't been directly observed. But few, if any of them, are found to be as directly in conflict with people's religious beliefs as common ancestry. Therefore I can "reasonably understand" why some of those people might not regard it as a "fact", while I personally disagree with them.

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Cold Foreign Object 
Suspended Member (Idle past 2286 days)
Posts: 3417
Joined: 11-21-2003


Message 15 of 217 (487621)
11-02-2008 7:02 PM
Reply to: Message 1 by boysherpa
10-31-2008 1:05 PM


The phrase "Evolution is a fact" is interesting to me, semantically. My question for discussion is whether this is a scientifically justifiable statement.

If you are an evolutionist----yes. If you are a creationist----no.

"Evolution" (defined briefly as speciation) is an interpretation of scientific evidence. Since the interpretation is false there is no evidence of evolution.

First, I don't think everyone is thinking of the same evolution when they talk about this statement. Some folks launch into a discussion of natural selection, which, i thought, was a mechanism of evolution but not evolution itself.

You are essentially correct. NS is the alleged main cause of evolution (but not the exclusive cause).

Ray


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