I’m having internet issues again, so please bear with me if there are problems with formatting and I can’t insert tags or mark categories. It’ll be OK in a few days and I’ll fix the backlog, and in the meantime I do have some posts uploaded so it should be fine.

Anyway, here is this week’s AABQOTW, this time dealing with the vexed and ongoing problem of evolution, fact or theory? I imagine most of you will know the answer well in advance, but it’s worth a peek if you have not tought about it before, and is certainly something that should be brought up more often to avoid confusion.

I don’t normally go in for ‘coming soon’ type posts, but as I hope the AABQOTW will be a regular fixture (regular in the sense that I remember to write it, you don’t have much choice in my putting it up) it seems a practical way of introducing the odd upcoming feature. Anyway, even with Christmas on the horizon you can look forward to posts on taxonomy, new Chinese dinosaur footprints, pterosaur terrestriality, BAD-BAND, bone degredation and the progression of science.

2 Responses to “AABQOTW 2”

  1. 1 Lockwood 30/11/2008 at 1:22 pm

    In everyday language “theory” means a conjecture, a guess. But in the context of science, “theory” means an explanatory framework- a model, physical or (as in this case) mental, that accomplishes two tasks: first, to provide an explanation of observations that have been made, and second, to predict other observations that could in principle be made. Without the latter part, there would be no way to support or contradict the theory, and it would be scientifically useless.

    As an aside, and a little off-topic, a “law” in colloquial language is a rule that may not be broken. In the context of science, a “law” is relational- it relates two or more variables, most often in terms of mathematics, but not neccesarily so. As an example, “molecular kinetic theory” explains the behavior of gases; “the gas laws” relate variables associated with gases, temperature, pressure, volume, and quantity as measured in moles.

    “Fact” in day to day language means something known to be true. Since in an absolute sense science cannot “know” something is true (we can only show to an arbitrary degree of certainty that it’s converse is *not* true, I try very hard to avoid using that word in the context of science. However, Stephen J. Gould pointed out in one of his countless essays that “observation” is about as close as a scientist can get to “fact,” and I accept that. He also pointed out that in science, if the only reason a reputable scientist would challenge the “truth” of an idea is to be contrary, the idea, for practical purposes, at least at that point in time, should be considered “true,” or a “fact”.

    So evolution, by scientific criteria, is both a fact and a theory.

  2. 2 David Hone 30/11/2008 at 5:28 pm

    Ooops, clearly links aren’t working either! That is a great answer, and in fact near identical to the one that should be linkd to in this post which has mysteriously failed to work! I’ll try and get it fixed…

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