In this video, starting at 25:29, Lawrence Krauss said “It’s an insult to evolution to call string theory a theory, because it’s not a theory. Scientists, unfortunately, use that word (theory) inappropriately, as well as the public.” He also said we should stop calling facts theories.
Richard Dawkins said: “We need to start talking about the fact of evolution. It is a fact! It’s a totally secure fact. There’s no doubt about it, and we need to stop even using the word theory. Call it a fact. That’s what it is.”
Good video and I agree.
One way to differentiate is between biological evolution and natural selection. Biological evolution is an observed fact. Natural selection is the scientific theory that describes the sorting mechanism behind biological evolution.
Darwin's presentations in his 'Origin of Species' was a hypothesis which can be described as a theory. Subsequently, several branches of science have contributed ample empirical evidence to turn that theory in to a proven scientific fact.
"Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution" said Theodosius Dobzhansky, who himself has made substantial contribution to modern evolutionary synthesis.
It was a hypothesis, at one point. It has since graduated to a theory, surpassing Lamarck's hypothesis of acquired characteristics. It's now the only theory that describes the observed facts.
There's no such thing as a proven scientific fact, as you mean it. Science doesn't work that way. Science doesn't 'prove' things, it supports them with evidence. 'Proof' is a mathematical and philosophical concept.
The only way that facts fit into the scientific framework, unless you want to be very sloppy using colloquial language, would be to refer to data as facts, in a roughly synonymous manner.
There is so much scientific evidence (both in the form of fossil trails and DNA trails) supporting evolution that it cannot reasonably be considered anything else than a fact. Natural selection has to be the driving mechanism behind it - not only because empirical evidence overwhelmingly indicates this - but because there is so much indifferent cruelty in the evolutionary process that any intelligent designer that might be behind it would have to be abjectly sadistic, and it makes no sense that such an entity would be able to command nature.
Yeah, but looked at one way, those bits of evidence are observed facts. The evolution of species, speciation, and the common ancestry of all life are the obvious conclusions of those facts.
As for a sadistic creator ... well, there were some groups like the puritans who recognized that the god in their holy book was capricious and evil. They mostly seemed to be attempting to placate that being so he wouldn't piss on them worse than he already was.
Against my better judgment I'd have to say that the theory of evolution is just that. Gravitational theory is just what it says. There's no such thing as factual knowledge. Evolution is impossible to deny but it's deemed a theory because however vanishingly small the possibility it could be wrong.
We're fine using the word theory, as long as you make sure to emphasize that it's a scientific theory, not a theory in the colloquial sense.
And like I think I said elsewhere, biological evolution isn't the theory. Natural Selection is the dominant theory. Evolution is an observed fact, indicated by the fossil record, geographical distribution, and many other observed facts. Evolution is just a meta-fact, perhaps, which people have noticed for thousands of years.
The theory of Natural Selection just describes the mechanism behind biological evolution. Hell, philosophers in ancient Greece observed that things seemed to change into other, similar things.
'Factual knowledge' seems like a weird way to put it, but it's true that our knowledge-base is made up of observed facts, along with the theories and laws that describe those observed facts. We could find other facts that would contradict the facts we've observed about evolution, and we would have to explain that contradiction, but that doesn't make evolution any less of a fact.
To be reasonable, fair and not be misleading, if we are going to call it a theory we should elaborate on our position. That is, we should say that it is a theory but the probability that it is a fact is 99.99999999999999%. I think this is fair even thinking of evolution as including natural selection.
Eh, you still need more precise language to describe things, when we're speaking within a scientific context. How about this, John:
Within a scientific context, biological evolution/natural selection is not a mere fact. It's far more powerful than a mere fact ... mere data. It explains facts, makes sense of all of the data that we collect about organisms.
But if we're using words in a sloppy, colloquial sense, in which a theory is just some crazy idea that you're spit-balling around ... okay, yeah, in that context, biological evolution/natural selection would be considered a fact, by the similarly sloppy usage of the word 'fact', which people use within that context.
The problem is that you're going to have to go meta in the discussion, since when you get some dumb-ass creationist who starts this sort of discussion, they're going to use words in a very sloppy, manipulative manner, equivocating 5 times per statement, because that's what they do. Since the label says 'theory', you have to explain to them what that label means.
A discussion with a creationist always includes a great deal of education by us, since creationists have no fucking clue what they're talking about, kind of by definition.
I think I may have been too vague in my reply. What I meant was that it's rated a theory and not fact because it's a work in progress, always being updated, fluid and not over and done with.
Well, sure, the nuts and bolts of the biological mechanisms behind natural selection are still being sorted out. That biological evolution happens, though... and that all organisms on the Earth are descended from the same pool of original single-cell organisms ... those are firmly established facts.