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The word ''theory'' in science

Started by Paolo, March 03, 2021, 04:45:10 AM

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Quote from: PopeyesPappy on March 03, 2021, 04:27:29 PM
It isn't a semantics issue. Theories are not facts. Theories change. Facts do not. Evolution is a fact. It has been observed over and over again. The theory of evolution is a different story. It is constantly evolving itself. New observations are made and the theory is modified in light of new facts.

So the statement ''the theory of evolution is a fact'', took literally, would be wrong?
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Quote from: Paolo on March 04, 2021, 01:17:30 AM
So the statement ''the theory of evolution is a fact'', took literally, would be wrong?
The Theory of Evolution is a theory.  But evolution is a fact. I think you confuse the two.  Don't.  They are at best related, but very different.  At the time Darwin proposed the theory, few people understood it to be fact.  Darwin based his theory on his observations.  The only facts at his disposal were that life on isolated islands of the Galapagos varied in a way that appeared to him to be favored by differing environments.  Facts were scant, but his ideas made sense, even when expanded to the Earth as a whole.  So Darwin proposed a theory. 

At the time the theory was first proposed, evolution was a fact, but we weren't as sure about it back then.  I prefer to say evolution is the "reality".  Darwin could have been wrong.  But after a hundred years of observations, advancements in science, like the discovery of DNA, new fossil finds, and further study did the theory become widely recognized as indisputable fact, and during those one hundred years, not a single scientific discovery could dispute the theory of evolution, which solidified the reality of evolution even more.  Of course some people still deny it, but they are mostly limited to an uneducated fringe element or religious folks who feel that the theory threatens their belief system.

Darwin held off on publishing his theory, because he was very religious and feared a backlash from the church, but he eventually published the theory, partly because that's what science does, even in the face of protest, and possibly because another observer was about to publish very similar findings.  With or without Darwin, the theory of evolution was going to happen.  There was just too much there that made sense, and there was no factual evidence to deny it.


Quote from: Paolo on March 04, 2021, 01:17:30 AM
So the statement ''the theory of evolution is a fact'', took literally, would be wrong?

That is correct. A theory, even a scientific theory is not a fact. A theory is an explanation of the hows and whys of a set of observations. A scientific theory is a theory that has been repeatably tested using the scientific method yielding repeatable results. The integral model of the theory of evolution is considerably different than Darwin's model.

The theory of evolution would fill multiple written volumes. It has evolved over time. We have no reason to believe it will not continue to do so as new facts become available to us. Theories are subject to change as new data becomes available. Facts don't change.
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I do not know where I read this or got this idea from, then. I found an article in The Statesman online which said: ''Evolution, because it's a theory, is a higher form of knowledge than a fact'' ( But the author did not elaborate much on this sentence, so I really have no sources to support me.

It nevertheless remains a 'fact' that theory in common sense is the complete opposite of theory in the scientific sense, which is what I meant.

Thanks for the informative posts. If I find new information, I will post here again.
Oh noes...I think I’m dead....


Paolo? You understand that personally you -or me or people here, anywhere- can't really question these concepts to challenge their definitions and meanings, right? Do you understand this? Why are you trying to catch a set of terms out? This is not learning. Nobody gets to have a personal opinion or some home cooked definitions with these concepts. This is not scepticism. It's more like Dunning Kruger syndrome, and a bad case at that. You learn these from textbooks. If you really do want to understand them that is.

From the top of my head, as some trivial kind of information goes, the word fact has been adopted from Latin in relation to law, several hundred years ago. (English) Hence, 'in this case'. And it is transferred to natural sciences when it was needed. (Natural philosophy in its day.) Theory is ancient Greek -probably was adopted around the same time around, considering the period; 16th century?- and orignally, it means something like 'speculation'. Again we are talking about the word being adopted by the English language. And again, nothing of its usage remotely close to ours, until 18th century or may be late 17th at the most?

Most of the terms in natural sciences (esp. medicine) are coming from latin terms used in law. The idea of 'context' is coming from the law to begin with roughly. As in a certain situation; a 'circumstance'. (To code it in modern pop cultural terms, bastardising it; why Sherlock Holmes is a universal character? Because Arthur Conan Doyle was a physician. Furthermore in history, most of the people who have attempted to 'theorise' in various fields -including the humanities- are either physicians or lawyers. The first sense of method and theory.)

This historical law-medicine-linguistic-theorisation, methodology... roots of human thought thing -and at some other fields, sometimes gastronomy- have shaped the accumulation of knowledge in history. They looked at everything, not just living things, in a span of birth, growth, decay and death. They defined periods, eras, movements, events with their 'symptoms', health, sickness...etc., tried to determine thier circumtances; situations and they created contexts, so concepts. This is the primitive historical development in a small nutshell.

Today, they have evolved into different concepts, invented and re-invented, continously employed and re-employed into new contexts. Esp. when Latin -far more than ancient Greek- is in question, going for the original or some neat definition is a fool's errand. It's not needed either. Two grand scientific revolutions changed everything.

You should read about these definitions from some basic textbooks. If you want to learn how they have evolved, your key words are:  EMPRICISM. John Locke. George Berkeley. David Hume. [Going back further in time, Francis Bacon. (There is another Bacon before him. Don't get into 'but which Bacon' bullshit.)] Thesis. Antithesis. Synthesis. Hypothesis. Theory. Scientific method. Scientific theory. Paradigm shift. 

"science is not about building a body of known 'facts'. ıt is a method for asking awkward questions and subjecting them to a reality-check, thus avoiding the human tendency to believe whatever makes us feel good." - tp