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Thread: What a theory is and is not

  1. #1

    What a theory is and is not

    What a theory is and is not. All these polls telling us that Americans believe more in the theory of creation than the theory of evolution are misleading in several ways, as explained by this web site http://www.notjustatheory.com/ . Please, evolution is not *just* a theory. Evolution is a fact. Evolution by natural selection is a theory, proposed by Darwin. Creationism is not a theory. It is a faith-based belief.

    There is a clear misunderstanding of both what evolution is and what theory means. Evolution is a phenomenon. We can observe evolution, the similarity of genetics, the fossil record indicating that the age of animals, the measurements that indicate that many of the fossils are millions of years old, the geological evidence that the earth is much older than 6000 years old. On the other hand, nobody observed God creating Adam and Eve, and all the animals on earth. There is no evidence indicating that the world is 6000 years old.

    Many people mistakenly assume that science progresses from hypotheses to theories and theories to laws. Laws describe phenomena. For example, the law of gravitation was *discovered* by Newton who basically observed that if you drop anything, it will fall towards the center of the earth and Galileo who observed that objects fall with an equal acceleration regardless of their weight. The theory of gravitation, on the other hand, is a very different matter.

    Einstein attempted to explain gravity by attributing gravitation to space-time curvature instead of a force (Source. He offered ten field equations of general relativity which predicted phenomena that had not yet been observed. Please note that the test of the theory of relativity was the determination whether the predictions from the equations are correct. Many of the predictions of general relativity have now been empirically confirmed. That is the difference between a theory and a law.

    Now, what is the difference between a hypothesis and a theory? A hypothesis is a prediction of outcome based on a presupposition. So, the form of a hypothesis is usually "if" X is true, then Y will happen. Thus, the predictions of a theory are the hypotheses. Hypotheses do not become theories. They emanate from theories and they represent testable predictions that form the basis of experiments to prove or disprove the theory. A hypothesis is a conjecture. A theory is an explanation that leads to conjectures. Now, a theory must have several other characteristics.

    A theory should be logically self-consistent and it should predict phenomena that have not yet been observed. This last characteristic of theory is of course the so-called "scientific method" where hypotheses are posed and tested in experimental situations that seeks to limit the number of confounding variables. Now, a theory may be partially wrong. If the theory does not fit the data, one has to modify the theory or propose a new theory to replace it.

    In contrast, a belief (particularly a faith-based religious belief, as opposed to an evidence-based belief) is not subject to facts. One cannot falsify a belief. If evidence contradicts a belief, the person may decide to continue believing or endeavor to find circumstances where the evidence does support the belief. So, for example, many people believe that God made a man and a woman. Note that this belief may be dealt with allegorically instead of literally. The problem is when the belief is treated as literal. So, when evidence emerges that contradicts the belief, the evidence is discarded.

    The faith is clearly exemplified by the declaration that everything that the Bible says must be literally true. The Bible cannot be wrong. Of course, even the most ardent believers in the Bible understand that the interpretations of the Bible may be wrong. More important, if any evidence contradicts the Bible, the necessary conclusion must be that the Bible is correct and the evidence was right. Therefore, the conflicting evidence is discarded. The favorite approach is to ignore the evidence.

    Wise.

  2. #2
    I respect faith, as long as people don't impose their faith on science. I know that this sounds sort of arrogant but it really is not. We can be fooled by evidence and by mistakes of logic. However, because we are imperfect does not mean that faith should be substituted for science.

    Faith has no place in science because faith will not admit to being wrong. Of course, if the faith is wrong, i.e. does not fit the evidence, then the faith must be discarded. On the other hand, scientists are constantly declaring themselves wrong. They approach an experiment critically and skeptically, looking for reasons why what they have seen may not reflect reality.

    Scientists are looking to prove each other wrong. Yes, most scientists are wrong most of the time. That is how we advance by proving each other wrong, proposing something in the hopes that it is true but to have it disproved at some point. Theories are meant to be disproved. Hypotheses are "tested".

    The above is why is it so important that we don't mix up phenomena and theory. Phenomenon is what the theory is trying to predict, to explain, and to provide a mechanism for. Evolution is a phenomenon. Evolution occurs. It occurs when a dog breeder creates a new type of dog. It occurs when changes in the environment changes animals, plants, bacteria, etc.

    Evolution is occurring all around us. When bacteria die and those that survive are more resistant to antibiotics, and doctors have to prescribe another antibiotic to kill the bacteria, that is evolution. It is happening. It can be seen, measured, and assessed. The theory is the explanation of how their deaths account for the antibiotic resistance.

    Wise.

  3. #3
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    Quote Originally Posted by Wise Young
    I respect faith, as long as people don't impose their faith on science. I know that this sounds sort of arrogant but it really is not. We can be fooled by evidence and by mistakes of logic. However, because we are imperfect does not mean that faith should be substituted for science.

    Faith has no place in science because faith will not admit to being wrong. Of course, if the faith is wrong, i.e. does not fit the evidence, then the faith must be discarded...
    I understand this point when viewed strictly from a scientist’s perspective, but I think that scientists are too often focused only the problems, solutions, and discoveries in science. If scientists worked in a vacuum apart from the rest of the concerns of society this statement could be true. But within the greater context of societal norms, mores, and beliefs it is not.

    Science needs the support of the greater community outside of its own. The minds of individual scientists may be free, thought may be free; but the development of those thoughts, those ideas, has a cost. The scientific community needs support in the form of cooperation on many levels from the non-science community. Financing is just one form of support. Someone has to the build the infrastructure behind the science. How can science progress without the tools of science?

    Even the development of young minds in the ways of science and critical thinking is dependent on the building and financing of places of learning. More than that, those young minds must have the support of their families to guide them toward a career in science. Critical thinking begins at home.

    Since roughly 85% of the World’s population believes in a deity of some kind (source) , is it so surprising to find religion deeply vested in the interests of science? I think it’s important for scientists to understand this and accept the challenge of working in harmony with the community at large, as difficult as that may seem to be.

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    Senior Member darrel's Avatar
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    oh, of course you would put this up after I posted my opinion.

    so, I will ask here, how did man become, but if not for the first two life forms that swam ashore?

    I don't believe that we were put here by Alliens.. but in turn I don't buy the adam and eve theory either.. Darwin I have to say makes the best since...but due to mans desire to be right religion was formed on bases of belief not fact..

    this is a very touchy subject for some to handle and to accept

    I would have to agree with Mr.Wise on this subject

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    Quote Originally Posted by darrel
    oh, of course you would put this up after I posted my opinion.

    so, I will ask here, how did man become, but if not for the first two life forms that swam ashore?

    I don't believe that we were put here by Alliens.. but in turn I don't buy the adam and eve theory either.. Darwin I have to say makes the best since...but due to mans desire to be right religion was formed on bases of belief not fact..

    this is a very touchy subject for some to handle and to accept

    I would have to agree with Mr.Wise on this subject
    I do not discount science or specifically evolution at all. I count on it. It proves to me more and more that God does exist. With every new discovery in science another infinitesimal piece of the darkness is illuminated to reveal the physical face of God.
    Last edited by ala; 10-26-2007 at 11:41 AM.

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    question

    would the fact of evolution change if say an alien spacecraft was found that had human occupants? I know it sounds strange but as a question, if humans were found, and by that I mean if their genetic makeup was the same as ours, would it destroy the fact of evolution as you've described it?

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    Senior Member darrel's Avatar
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    no, that alien had to come from something it just would be from somewhere else.

  8. #8
    Senior Member darrel's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ala
    I do not discount science or specifically evolution at all. I count on it. It proves to me more and more that God does exist. With every new discovery in science another infinitesimal piece of the darkness is illuminated to reveal the physical face of God.
    ala, do not think that I am an athiest, I am not. I am non denomenational..I do not beleive in any one given religion. I have faith that there is a higher being, but I also have to look at evolution as the basis of man..

    as I said in my first post " this is a touchy subject" due to belief

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    Quote Originally Posted by ala
    I do not discount science or specifically evolution at all. I count on it. It proves to me more and more that God does exist. With every new discovery in science another infinitesimal piece of the darkness is illuminated to reveal the physical face of God.
    If you're happy with an emerging furious, vindictive, blind, malevolent face on a god you are a strange being indeed. I look at what is known of the evolutionary process and compare it to the claims made for the different religions for the origins and/or creation of sapiens, sapiens and see no need for belief in any of this traditionally accepted but superstitiously based, prescientific sort of explanation for the origins of anything.
    "The world will not perish for want of wonders but for want of wonder."
    J.B.S.Haldane

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    Quote Originally Posted by Juke_spin
    If you're happy with an emerging furious, vindictive, blind, malevolent face on a god you are a strange being indeed. I look at what is known of the evolutionary process and compare it to the claims made for the different religions for the origins and/or creation of sapiens, sapiens and see no need for belief in any of this traditionally accepted but superstitiously based, prescientific sort of explanation for the origins of anything.
    A malevolent God? This sounds more like one persons portrait of God. A portrait painted with the pigments of bitterness, regret and anger. You may dismiss the idea of a benevolent God, but most of the world does not.

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