Is it a Theory? Is it a Law? No, it’s a fact.

by Richard Dawkins

I once tried to persuade an American atheist conference that the slogan,  “In God We Trust”, on banknotes was a cosmetic trivium. We should stop bellyaching  about it and concentrate our fire on more substantive issues such as the tax free status of churches. I was kicked around the room by the admirable Edwin Kagin, unfortunately now dead. It really matters, he said, not only because it’s unconstitutional but because many Americans, ignorant of history (the phrase was added as late as 1957) actually point to “In God We Trust” as evidence that America was founded in Christianity.

Our habit of referring to the “theory” of evolution is similarly used to mislead. Huge numbers of people are bamboozled by the phrase “Only a Theory.” This essay is designed to remove confusion by abandoning the word theory altogether, when talking to creationists.

Today the dominant reply to the creationist “only a theory” bleat is to explain that the meaning of “theory” in science is different from everyday usage, which is synonymous with “hypothesis”. In The Greatest Show on Earth I quoted two definitions from the Oxford English Dictionary:

Theory, Sense 1: A scheme or system of ideas or statements held as an explanation or account of a group of facts or phenomena; a hypothesis that has been confirmed or established by observation or experiment, and is propounded or accepted as accounting for the known facts; a statement of what are held to be the general laws, principles, or causes of something known or observed.

Theory, Sense 2: A hypothesis proposed as an explanation; hence, a mere hypothesis, speculation, conjecture; an idea or set of ideas about something; an individual view or notion.

The party line among scientists arguing for evolution is to promote Sense 1, and I have followed it until today. But now I want to depart from the party line. I now think that trying to clear up this terminological point about the meaning of “theory” is a losing battle. We should stop using “theory” altogether for the case of evolution and insist, instead, that evolution is a fact.

Philosophers, I am aware, can be relied upon to cloud even the word “fact”. A fact can never be more than a hypothesis on probation, a hypothesis that has so far withstood all attempts to falsify it. The more strenuous those attempts, the closer we come to endowing the accolade of fact. I am fond of Stephen Jay Gould’s way of putting it. “In science, ‘fact’ can only mean ‘confirmed to such a degree that it would be perverse to withhold provisional assent. I suppose that apples might start to rise tomorrow, but the possibility does not merit equal time in physics classrooms.” Courts of law, newspapers, and all of us in everyday life use the word “fact” in a way that few have difficulty in understanding. It is a fact that New Zealand is in the Southern Hemisphere (Barack Obama is the US President, it is now raining in Oxford, grass is green etc). It is this everyday usage of “fact” that we should be concerned with when we advocate evolution to lay audiences. We are failing to get across “Theory, Sense 1”. Let’s dump it and talk frankly of evolution as a fact, from which it would be perverse to hold assent.

Our failure to get across Sense 1 is partly blamed on an everyday tendency to leap straight to Sense 2: theory as tentative “mere” hypothesis. But we must admit that scientists themselves use “theory” in a way that might strike the poor layman as confusingly inconsistent. “String Theory” has elements of Sense 1. It is indeed a “scheme or system of ideas or statements” but it is very far from being “confirmed or established by observation or experiment”. It isn’t even clear how anyone might set about testing it by observation or experiment.  Yet it is always called String Theory, not String Hypothesis. “Theory of games” is not something that can be “confirmed or established”: it is, rather, a technique of reasoning which, originating in the mathematical study of games, has proved useful in a variety of different fields. Marxist Theory is definitely “a scheme or system of ideas, held as an explanation or account” of human economics and sociology (and as a normative recipe for politics) but again you have to ask “held by whom?”

Charles Darwin made frequent reference to his “theory”, and in his time it was a theory in Sense 2: a hypothesis whose supporting evidence at the time persuaded some scientists but by no means all. In the succeeding century and a half it has moved from Sense 2 to Sense 1, indicating that there is a continuum, in this case historically traceable, between Sense 2 and Sense 1. Nowadays no knowledgeable scientist has any doubt of the fact of evolution: it is an indisputable fact that we share common ancestors with our cousin gorilla, and with our more distant cousin kangaroo.

Some scientists speak of the fact of evolution, as distinct from Darwin’s hypothesis of its mechanism (natural selection). They would relegate natural selection, but not evolution itself, to a Sense 2 theory. Others feel that natural selection is so well established as the only known mechanism for producing adaptive evolution that its historical progression from Sense 2 to Sense 1 is now almost as complete as that of evolution itself.

In our tussles with creationists it is evolution itself rather than natural selection that bears the brunt of their attacks. So we can set aside the status of natural selection and concentrate on the fact of evolution as something so firmly established by evidence that to deny it would be perverse. It is a fact, beyond all reasonable dispute, that if you trace your ancestry and your dog’s ancestry backwards you’ll eventually hit a common ancestor. It is a fact, beyond reasonable dispute, that when you eat fish and chips you are eating distant cousin fish and even more distant cousin potato.

Confusion of a different kind is introduced by those who agree to abandon “theory of evolution” but try to replace it by “law of evolution.” It is far from clear that evolution is a law in the sense of Newton’s Laws or Kepler’s Laws or Boyle’s Law or Snell’s Law. These are mathematical relationships, generalisations about the real world that are found to hold true when measurements are made. Evolution is not a law in that sense (although particular generalisations such as Dollo’s Law and Cope’s Law have been somewhat dubiously introduced into the corpus of Darwinian theory). Moreover, “Law of Evolution” conjures up unfortunate associations with grandiose overgeneralisations linking biological evolution, cultural evolution, linguistic evolution, economic evolution and evolution of the universe. So please, don’t make matters worse by turning evolution into a law.

Let’s simply give up on trying to explain the special scientific meaning of “theory”. It is begging to be misunderstood by laymen eager to misunderstand, and even scientists are not consistent in their usage. The ordinary language meaning of “fact” (it is a fact that New Zealand is in the Southern Hemisphere) and the scientific meaning (the evidence for evolution is so strong that to withhold assent would be perverse) are close enough to obviate confusion in the mind of all but the most doggedly pedantic philosopher. By all means postpone for another day the question of whether natural selection is also a fact. For now, when arguing with creationists, let’s sweep confusion aside by means of a strategic retreat from the word “theory”. Let’s sacrifice a pawn for strategic advantage and hammer home a clear message that everyone can understand, and which is undeniably true in the everyday sense. Evolution is a fact.

Evolution is a fact.

203 COMMENTS

  1. We should stop using “theory” altogether for the case of evolution and insist, instead, that evolution is a fact.

    I really appreciate this clarification. I for one am sick and tired of being diverted off topic by creationists who (predictably) try to cut me off at the knees with an argument over the word “theory”. When they say the word theory they often raise their hands and make air quotes to indicate that the word theory has no substance at all and has all the power of a wacky opinion. I’ve lost all patience with this infantile tactic and the minute this arrogance is presented I’ve told them that “It’s a scientific principle!”. I think the distinction may be lost on them so I’m now going to give it a try with the “It’s a fact!” statement. Let’s see how this goes because I absolutely agree that we’re not getting anywhere with launching into an explanation of what a theory is and is not.

    Also, for the sake of argument, is a scientific law the same as a scientific principle? Are the terms interchangeable?

  2. Mmmh, perhaps RDF could come up with new t-shirt logos?

    What about:

    EVOLUTION IS A FACT!
    Get used to it, pervert!

    or

    EVOLUTION IS A FACT!
    Even Pope Frankie knows that!

  3. I hope Zakir Naik is reading this.

    Yes, evolution is a fact. Anyone should be able to understand that:- the confused, scientists, laymen, even Ken Ham, Z Naik and their ilk; though we may have to wait in vain for agreement from such fools.

    It is surely a wise step to bring more clarity to a somewhat vexed question.

  4. Once or twice, I’ve heard one of science’s upper echelon say ‘theory of evolution’ as a short-cut, I presume, when speaking to the choir.

    Thing is, this often makes its way to mainstream online videos. A pain to have to recite the full terminology each time, but needed. Ask the person “is the ‘by natural selection’ the part you object to?”. More headway, perhaps.

  5. It is definitely much more straightforward and effective, in view of the superabundance of evidence amassed in its support, to refer to biological evolution as a fact to people who still wish to regard it as a hypothesis among other hypotheses. The word ‘fact’ is most certainly better than the etymologically monstrous ‘theorum’ proposed in chapter 1 of The Greatest Show on Earth by a certain renowned and esteemed professor emeritus, which would have been at least as liable to confusion as ‘theory’ has been. Stating that evolution is a fact makes the point succinctly and plainly, and only a fool would try to deny it. Sadly, there are plenty of such fools, for whom evidence, which consists of facts and reasoning, counts for nothing.

  6. Cantaz
    Nov 30, 2015 at 10:26 am

    EVOLUTION IS A FACT!
    Even Pope Frankie knows that!

    Sorry but he doesn’t, even when he lies and says he does.
    This is an example of the theist semantic high-jack of scientific terms!

    Frankie BELIEVES in theistic evolution and pretends it is the same as the biological science of evolution, from which it has stolen a few pieces before mixing them with doctrine and dogma to make a pseudoscience recipe of “this is how god-did-it to create worshippers”!

    http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Theistic_evolution
    Theistic evolution (also evolutionary creationism) is a theological response to the scientific theory of evolution, aimed at reconciling that theory with religious myths involving a creator deity. Supporters of theistic evolution generally believe in the creator deity unreservedly, and also accept the theory of evolution to varying degrees.

  7. No. We cannot play fast and loose with language in this way.

    Theory is exactly right and is a reminder that all of science is a work in process. We are not the arrogant ones. We truly have no need. Rather we should always and everywhere remind the religious that God is still at the starting gate, an hypothesis unable to shake off its metaphysics and, thus, still locked in the domain of the imagined.

  8. It is very simple really!

    That evolution happens and continues to happen, is a fact.

    The explanations about how particular organisms evolve or have evolved, are scientific theories (where evidence is strong), or hypotheses where less studies have been conducted.
    The explanations can even be merely inferences or speculations, where newly discovered or undiscovered organisms are involved.

  9. Cantaz

    Get used to it, pervert!

    ha. The word “perverse” will also create confusion in this discussion. The very people who don’t accept evolution as fact will also take umbrage at the accusation of sexual perversion. ~chuckle~

  10. Sadly, there are plenty of such fools, for whom evidence, which consists of facts and reasoning, counts for nothing.

    That made me think of the start of the debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham. Both were asked: What would make you change your views? Nye replied: “Evidence”, Ham replied: “Nothing.”

  11. Point taken, but hasn’t the Vatican officially accepted that

    it is an indisputable fact that we share common ancestors with our cousin gorilla, and with our more distant cousin kangaroo

  12. Laurie,
    of course, I was joking with that caption… on the other hand, I would love to see the expression on my students’ faces if I wore that t-shirt while lecturing…

  13. Not at all. There are lots of facts. My laptop is currently turned on. The problem comes with what is included in “the theory of evolution”, what constitutes its definitive…er…definition. The nature of evolution is a work in progress.

    There are a number of facts that could be stated. Any pair of living things appear to share a common ancestor. It is a fact here are no countervailing facts from nature that this has not always been so for DNA based organisms. Etc.

  14. Cantaz
    Nov 30, 2015 at 11:00 am

    Point taken, but hasn’t the Vatican officially accepted that

    That is one of the disjointed bits they accept, – but going to the horse’s (donkey’s?) mouth in the Vatican!
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catholic_Church_and_evolution#Pope_Francis

    On October 27, 2014, Pope Francis issued a statement at the Pontifical Academy of Sciences that “Evolution in nature is not inconsistent with the notion of creation,” warning against thinking of God’s act of creation as “God [being] a magician, with a magic wand able to do everything.”

    The Pope also expressed in the same statement the view that scientific explanations such as the Big Bang and evolution in fact require God’s creation

    This is just the usual double-talk, self contradiction, and gobble-de-gook, if you look at the linked sections on “Pope Francis” and “Catholic teaching and evolution”.

    They are trying to shrug off the denials of science from the likes of Pius IX, but the pretence that faith trumps evidence and reason, remains!

    Concerning the doctrine on creation, Ludwig Ott in his Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma identifies the following points as essential beliefs of the Catholic faith (“De Fide”):


    All that exists outside God was, in its whole substance, produced out of nothing by God.
    The world was created for the Glorification of God.
    God keeps all created things in existence.
    God, through His Providence, protects and guides all that He has created.

    These dogmas of theistic purposes, are not consistent with astronomical or biological evolution.

  15. I personally have always tried to emphasize that evolution is both fact and theory. The way I have put it is that the theory of evolution is a compilation of facts – common descent, natural selection, etc but also comprises the explanation of how those things relate and function together to achieve the modern biological world.
    The theory contains both facts and hypothesis’ and so there is room for dissension on any given detail but taken as a whole it represents our understanding of the natural world. While you may disagree on when humans evolved from our earlier ken, the fact that we did is now beyond reasonable contention.
    That said, I agreed with RD, we definitely need to clarify our terms. I once considered to myself that we could try a term like, ‘the Principal of Evolution’ instead of theory.

  16. Alan, I think there may be a bit missing from the final sentence of Ott. Should it not read something like this: God, through His Providence, protects and guides all that He has created with plagues, famines, cancers, wars and a hotch-potch of crazy, murderous and ambiguous stories thrown together in a book that allows me to choose whatever meaning I like and still not be a hypocrite while I am advocating love for all people at the same time as giving a good kicking to all the queers, trannies and lesbos.

  17. LaurieB, when someone says something is only a theory, ask them to explain precisely what a scientific theory is, and the processes by which it comes about.

    If you haven’t already seen the video, Google: Ken Miller on Intelligent Design and the Kitzmiller-Dover trial; it’s quite good fun!

  18. Stephen Mynett
    Nov 30, 2015 at 12:01 pm

    God, through His Providence, protects and guides all that He has created with plagues, famines, cancers, wars and a hotch-potch of crazy, murderous and ambiguous stories thrown together in a book that allows me to choose whatever meaning I like and still not be a hypocrite while I am advocating love for all people at the same time as giving a good kicking to all the queers, trannies and lesbos.

    . . . and of course killing those from other faiths whose god-delusions don’t match!

    Still! – All faith heads are peace-loving brothers and sisters in shared (conflicting) delusions! – That must be TRRRrrrooo – the infallible pope said so!

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-34960971
    Pope Francis has told worshippers in a mosque in the Central African Republic that “Christians and Muslims are brothers and sisters”.

    He was speaking to Muslims who had sought shelter in the capital Bangui after nearly three years of violence between Christians and Muslims.

    He was speaking in Latin, which was then translated into the local Sango language.

    More than 100,000 Muslims fled the capital as a result of the fighting but 15,000 are left in an area called PK5, according to the campaign group Human Rights Watch.

    There was tight security for the visit to the Koudoukou mosque and armed UN peacekeepers were stationed on its minarets watching the crowds who had come to greet the pontiff.

    Conflict has blighted the CAR for decades but it was only in 2013 that the fighting took on a religious form.

    President Francois Bozize was ousted in a coup in March 2013 and a group of mostly Muslim rebels from the north, the Seleka, marched on Bangui, briefly taking control of the country.

    They targeted churches and Christian communities, which triggered the creation of the anti-Balaka – meaning anti-violence – militias, and led to a downward spiral of tit-for-tat violence which continues.

    Towns and villages are divided, with hundreds of thousands of people displaced into camps divided along religious lines.

  19. I’ve been having cat-fits over these ridiculous arguments trying to define the word “theory” to try to counter creationist arguments. The problem was, of course, creating a lie about the word “theory” and how it is in fact used by science and scientists even while speaking formally.

    The key problem is copying the brain-dead thinking that words have magical properties. Whoever came up with the idea to fake how the word “theory” is used in practice had to be a either an amateur or professional philosopher or the like — masters of verbal masturbation. Using the word “fact” instead is the same problem.

    We are neck-deep in sophistry and the view that words have magic properties allow it to flourish. Is Pluto a planet or a dwarf planet? Is a virus living? What is a species? Is there any such thing as Black Letter Law? Is there such thing as “original framers’ intent” in determining Constitutionality? Is the Bible the “word of God”? How about the words of the Koran or Mohamad? “Let there be light” for many were the magical word necessary to create the earth-centric universe.

    A student was suspended from school recently because he brought a “weapon” to school. His mom had put a plastic knife in his lunchbox. Since we call one of these things a “knife”, by definition, he had brought a weapon to school. Of course, the powers that be “had no choice” even though they agreed the result made no sense.

    Such is the power of “magic words”. It would be beneficial to stop this whole process, instead of leaving it to the increasingly stupid among us.

  20. Lawrence J. Winkler
    Nov 30, 2015 at 12:26 pm

    We are neck-deep in sophistry and the view that words have magic properties allow it to flourish.

    In order to square their triangular circles, theist double-talk requires semantic obfuscation and “new interpretations” of words! – frequently with shifting meanings.

    Is Pluto a planet or a dwarf planet?

    https://www.iau.org/public/themes/pluto/
    A dwarf planet is an object in orbit around the Sun that is large enough (massive enough) to have its own gravity pull itself into a round (or nearly round) shape. Generally, a dwarf planet is smaller than Mercury. A dwarf planet may also orbit in a zone that has many other objects in it. For example, an orbit within the asteroid belt is in a zone with lots of other objects.

    This distinguishes it from similar bodies which are moons, and from smaller objects which are not gravity derived spheroids.

    By the end of the Prague General Assembly, its members voted that the resolution B5 on the definition of a planet in the Solar System would be as follows:

    A celestial body that (a) is in orbit around the Sun, (b) has sufficient mass for its self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that it assumes a hydrostatic equilibrium (nearly round) shape, and (c) has cleared the neighbourhood around its orbit.

    While scientists go to great pains to describe precise definitions, after extensive research and consultations, while theological philosophers just hide fallacies and obfuscation in verbosity and complexity, to mask their lack of evidence and coherent arguments.

    The issue is pinning them down and calling them out, if engaging with them in public.

  21. There is colloquial speech, which mutates with the fashion and there is professional speech and vocabulary which professionals fight to regularise to preserve meanings through time such that knowledge remains accessible and can reliably be built upon. When talking of science, because there is a professional language it is always and ever the safest long term policy to use that language. Should it formally change the change will be highly documented and known.

    Psychology/psychiatry was plagued by a lack of common vocabulary and great harms to patients resulted and research hampered and lost. (Autism. Neuro Tribes Steve Silberman.)

    We should preserve the integrity of our scientific speech and police the disaster areas that are those of the religious.

  22. Like.

    If we can’t even explain the ‘theory’ aspect of it then what chance have we got with their overall delusion?

  23. As has long been the case, a clear understanding of scientific principles is not a prerequisite for survival in the prevailing conditions on Earth. So evolution itself dictates that there will be a multitude of scientifically inept people for us to grapple with.

    In true THHGTTG tradition there will be uncountable years of futile debate before we find the ultimate question.

  24. So because some people are unable to undersand what the word “theory” means, we go on to debase the meaning of another word, “fact”.

    Evolution is not “fact”. Evolution is the theory that best explains the known facts regarding the origin of different species.

  25. Any pair of living things appear to share a common ancestor.

    The evidence that any pair of living things share a common ancestor (evolution) is so overwhelming that I have no problem talking about the fact of evolution.

    The evidence that any pair of things gravitate towards one another is so overwhelming that I have no problem talking about the fact of gravity.

    RD is not suggesting that the Darwinian explanation be described as a fact, after all it’s an explanation for the fact of evolution. He is merely saying that when debating creationists who dispute evolution (all species or “kinds” were created by God) we insist that evolution is a fact (supported by a vast amount evidence) rather than get bogged down discussing the mechanism.

    Similarly if there were, for some reason, people who disputed gravity, we should insist that gravity is a fact rather than getting bogged down discussing the accuracy of the theories of Newton and Einstein.

    Far from playing fast and loose with language, RD seems to be in line with The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine:

    Is Evolution a Theory or a Fact?

    In science, a “fact” typically refers to an observation, measurement, or other form of evidence that can be expected to occur the same way under similar circumstances. However, scientists also use the term “fact” to refer to a scientific explanation that has been tested and confirmed so many times that there is no longer a compelling reason to keep testing it or looking for additional examples. In that respect, the past and continuing occurrence of evolution is a scientific fact. Because the evidence supporting it is so strong, scientists no longer question whether biological evolution has occurred and is continuing to occur. Instead, they investigate the mechanisms of evolution, how rapidly evolution can take place, and related questions.

  26. And just to prolong the debate there seem to be a good supply of even scientifically adept people who choose to accredit their successes to some mystical deity and package all their scientific understanding in a tightly closed box.

    We need an anti-virus to launch into the religious world rather than endlessly fighting the symptoms.

  27. David
    Nov 30, 2015 at 2:12 pm

    We need an anti-virus to launch into the religious world rather than endlessly fighting the symptoms.

    I think neuroscience is working on that, as they try to isolate the physical locations of the god-delusions.

  28. Still just a fact devoid of explanation. The sun rises in the East is a fact but I’m sure you can think of the explanation (theory ) for this phenomenon.

  29. Sorry, professor Dawkins but I must respectfully disagree. The primary meaning of theory in the dictionary is the scientific meaning and I will not back down or modify that definition. Even loosely held the meaning is ‘explanation’ while facts, though useful, are a dime a dozen. ( stole that from E. Scott )

    I see no reason to give in to this creationist nonsense of being willfully ignorant of the scientific meaning of ‘theory.’ Shoving it down their throats, showing them their arrogant ignorance, is not only fun it is the way to go. Anytime you give these creationist idiots an inch they will take the mile of your measure. Your measure being that you are a waffling type that has shown them a weakness they will then exploit.

    Theory is a perfectly good word for the highest concept in science and I see no reason to change it for the sake of illiterates who can not use a dictionary!

  30. It’s is properties of things that are key and not the words used.

    Nature cares not one wit about the word we use. Pluto just is, and it does what Pluto does, regardless of whether we label it a planet or dwarf planet. We have invented categoritizations, and labeled nature with them and these labels have both positive and negative consequences. In particular, they create bright lines where no lines exist.

    Fortunately and unfortunately, the labels we use have consequences. If Pluto had been labeled a dwarf planet 10 years ago, would resources had been allocated to launch a craft to study it?

    Viruses were not labeled as life, therefore it was not studied as such.

    Species don’t exist. It’s a category we apply, quite inconsistently, to different life forms. Does a genus exist, what about a family, or domain? It’s somewhat arbitrary. At some point, specialists in particular areas may decide that there are enough differences between sets of individual organisms to give the different species names. There is nothing special about that act and decision. It changes nothing about the organism.

    Creationists and too many others think that the word “species” connotes some magical happening, rather than some man-made and relatively arbitrary decision to place very similar organisms to different species groups.

    Back in the 1990’s the domesticated dog was given a species designation. DNA tests later revealed that that domesticated dog was related to the gray wolf. So now the domesticated dog is a subspecies. Nothing changed about the dog, just our labeling. If the gray wolf becomes extinct, the domesticated dog will become a species.

  31. Just to get explicit here. The current theory of evolution doesn’t yet cover the acquisition of organelles in early cells to create eukaryotes and probably never will. We still don’t know how much the lateral transfer of genetic material between say bacteria drives their change outside of evolutionary processes and how much of our own development is effected by these lateral transmissions.

    I take it as a badge of honour and worthy of note that we are super conservative with the epithet fact, until we can speak with specific authority.

    The problem is a parochial one in poorly educated states in the US.

    Lets stay squeaky clean.

  32. OP:

    Philosophers, I am aware, can be relied upon to cloud even the word “fact”. A fact can never be more than a hypothesis on probation, a hypothesis that has so far withstood all attempts to falsify it.

    I’m happy that the speed of light is thought to be some 300,000 kps, or 186,000 mps or thereabouts. I accept that as fact. I also accept that evolution is a natural process which has been going on since life first started. I accept that as fact. There are mountains of evidence for these ‘facts’. Let the philosophers waffle away, but don’t let the YECs get away with “only a theory”.

    Richard has it dead right.

  33. Reply to Neodarwinian above:
    even if “the earth is sort of roundish” were “just a fact devoid of explanation”, wouldn’t it be nice to get even flat-earthers to acknowledge it by letting them know that it is

    …confirmed to such a degree that it would be perverse to withhold provisional assent.

    ?

  34. Talk Origins web site includes an article in their FAQ section:

    Evolution is a Fact and a Theory

    Note, it was last updated in 1993 – the creationists don’t give up!

    Includes this quote from Stephen J Gould, 1981:

    Evolutionists have been very clear about this distinction of fact and theory from the very beginning, if only because we have always acknowledged how far we are from completely understanding the mechanisms (theory) by which evolution (fact) occurred. Darwin continually emphasized the difference between his two great and separate accomplishments: establishing the fact of evolution, and proposing a theory–natural selection–to explain the mechanism of evolution.

  35. Lawrence J. Winkler
    Nov 30, 2015 at 3:10 pm

    It’s is properties of things that are key and not the words used.

    Very much so, but in science we try to apply accurate labels to those properties.
    Some because of a potentially continuous spectrum, – like “species”, do not fit into convenient boxes, so must be approximate with unclear boundaries.

    Nature cares not one wit about the word we use.

    Absolutely correct!

    Pluto just is, and it does what Pluto does, regardless of whether we label it a planet or dwarf planet.

    But the scientific label accurately describes its properties.
    A large number of expert astronomers considered those properties, before fitting them into categories, which have accurate and exclusive definitions.

    Back in the 1990’s the domesticated dog was given a species designation. DNA tests later revealed that that domesticated dog was related to the gray wolf. So now the domesticated dog is a subspecies. Nothing changed about the dog, just our labeling.

    Actually it looks a little more complicated than that – but that makes your point about imprecise boundaries even more emphatic, as you will see on the links on this earlier discussion.

    https://www.richarddawkins.net/2015/11/greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts/

  36. I agree that it is an uphill battle. But for me, the point is to separate the ‘facts’ of evolution from the theory. In colloquial language they are essentially the same but the point is to get past the argument that the facts of evolution should at this point still be debated. Evolution happened is a fact and that is what RD is trying to get to. By changing the way we speak of this topic, he is trying to close a verbal opening and settle the foolish arguments that continue to plague our society and stunt our intellectual growth as a people.

  37. I have no need to ‘evangelise’ rational thinking.

    If the religious wish to (perversely ?) dwell in a noisome imagined cosmos peopled by gods, demons and other odius hoodoos, then let them. It may the only way that they’ve found to cope with the real world and its misfortunes. A condescending view? – possibly so, but I feel no compulsion to change the opinions of others.

    I’ll treat them kindly, avoid tiresome discussion, buy them a coffee and move on.

    rz

  38. When Horizontal Gene Transfer became a big thing a number of years back Creationists crowed over the breaking of evolution. They could honestly point to processes that helped define species charateristics that didn’t fit the vertical transmission paradigm due to even the neo Darwinists. I don’t want that ever again. If we explain evolution is just this vertical thing and it alone defines all we see, then this is not a fact.

    We need to be a little circumspect.

    Coming up we have to manage the idea that the solution space for proteins may be a million times more fecund than we imagined (Arrival of the Fittest Andreas Wagner) and the viable alternate proteins form a mesh-like structure for each of the functionalities (like photosensitivity). The patterns of these meshes for complementary functions may force spandrels of various types. We may rather see more spurious feature production that drives cultural evolution than we imagined. This is exciting complicated stuff, far from done and dusted.

    It may only be a one percent effect, but for the remarkableness of us and our antecedents, details count.

  39. rzzz
    Nov 30, 2015 at 4:35 pm

    I have no need to ‘evangelise’ rational thinking.

    If the religious wish to (perversely ?) dwell in a noisome imagined cosmos peopled by gods, demons and other odius hoodoos, then let them. It may the only way that they’ve found to cope with the real world and its misfortunes.

    There would be no problem with that, if they kept it to themselves, but unfortunately they try to push their science denial and irrationality into schools, and their hoodoos into medical treatments and other people’s sex lives!

    https://www.richarddawkins.net/2015/11/the-stealth-attack-on-abortion-access/#li-comment-191443

  40. But as I have described elsewhere there are facts other than evolution that shape our physionomies and drive our natures. I want to make sure we can’t be accused of dumbing down the issue and overclaiming for evolution.

    Evolution has an extraordinary number of facts and many good enough statements that are factually true can be made.

    The creationist plague is parochial and simply susceptible to sufficient education.

    My preference is not to loosen up on our own language but to increasingly show that creationists are stuck entirely with mere hypotheses and no sustainable facts.

    It is an astonishing strength that we are able to demonstrate a complete absence of closed mindedness (an accusation regularly levelled at us). To term such certainties as theories until all questions and concerns are closed shows us for what we are, the people most in love with truth.

    I actually think it poor psychology to make the change suggested….

  41. I have no need to ‘evangelise’ rational thinking.
    If the religious wish to (perversely ?) dwell in a noisome imagined cosmos peopled by gods, demons and other odius hoodoos, then let them. It may the only way that they’ve found to cope with the real world and its misfortunes. A condescending view? – possibly so, but I feel no compulsion to change the opinions of others.

    Whenever I hear arguments like this I am reminded of a picture from a couple of years ago of an 8/9 year-old girl in DR Congo whose left arm from almost the shoulder to the wrist had been scared for life. Her mother, at the behest of the local preacher, had tied cellophane around it and set it on fire to extract a confession of witchcraft.

    I will not sit back and say nothing while children are tortured and mutilated in the name of any faith.

    In many cases like this in Africa the preachers have been trained by Western evangelicals who, unable to fully pursue their religious agenda at home, take a fundamental brand of it overseas and when it is coupled with local superstitions create a situation reminiscent of the inquisitions.

  42. I think Phil is examining the bark on the tree, rather than looking at the forest of YECism, – which I think is Richard’s point. Peope like Ham, Comfort, Hovind and others need to be countered with words they can understand, or at least words that other people understand.

    Phil can stick with his “theory”, but for YEC purposes, I’m happy with “fact”, as defined above.

  43. @Mr DArcy

    Ham will, of course, not slap his hand to his head crying hallelujah, told evolution is a fact not a theory.

    This is only about the education of children. Tell them all the pertinent facts you know. We all have a common heritage back to LUCA. Deep Space, Deep Time are facts. Evolution, working like this formed the great majority of the features in our common heritage. It is a complex issue and many interesting details remain to be explored…you’ll love it.

    The grown ups are a lost cause. Having exchanged hundreds of posts over four months or so with a YECer, before being banned, I can honestly say the “theory” issue was absolutely the least of my problems.

    I see it as a bit of a drudge at the outset, because it becomes their opening gambit, but it merely becomes a point scoring exercise for us about us being open to evidence unlike them.

    No more hostages to fortune like the HGT fiasco.

  44. Just to be infuriating. I’ve always thought no matter how demonstrably true a theory is in the 1st sense, to call evolution a fact is breaking for me a golden rule that science is tentative – the door should be left open just in case a better idea wants to come in. In the case of evolution, which in the opinion of mine and most will not be overturned – it still might be a nobler position to leave the door as least slightly ajar.

    Having said all that, we will need to clearly define the moment or tipping point that a theory ‘goes fact’ – who is worthy to ‘canonize’ and give their blessing to these future ideas? Exciting to think a body of eminent thinkers might be set up specifically for the task.

  45. Of course it is a fact, that is why we are atheists!
    Nevertheless, we are at the beginning of a long journey of further fact-finding and fact-enhancing to convience the mind-blinded people .

  46. fast and loose

    I am somewhat confused and have a two-fold comment.

    1) Phil, that is exactly what I was going to say (but not as well). We keep trying to find ways to avoid getting hit with attacks by our religious adversaries. Maybe we shouldn’t use the word atheist, maybe we shouldn’t use this word and that word, etc. Even if we substituted theory for fact or atheist for non-theist (or whatever) there will always be those who will find some other way of distorting and exploiting the vulnerabilities associated with all words, and using this against us.
    Theory is a fine word. To “hell” with the evolution-deniers. If we say “fact” they will still say it’s not a fact; we’ll be no better off. Let them get smarter; we don’t have to keep bobbing and weaving in order to avoid opposition. The opposition is not based on reason, so let’s keep using good words like theory and atheist.

    Jonathan Miller said: “theories don’t graduate and become facts; theories are based on facts.”

    2) That being said, I am not 100% sure why gravity is still called a theory. Is it not a fact? Maybe Richard D. is right. Why is it called the heliocentric theory? Why is evolution still considered a theory? Is the existence of the sun a theory?

    It just occurred to me that I can answer my own question with what you said: “that is the way science works.” Beautifully put.

  47. This is a bad idea. There is no quick fix for the kind of willful ignorance that describes evolution as “only” a theory. Worse, any attempt to arbitrarily change terminology would be seized upon by the other side as evidence of desperation on our part. It would have, if anything, the opposite effect to the one intended,

    Here are the top 10 scientific theories, according to Science News. The theory of evolution proudly takes its place at number 2. It’s as much a theory as theory number 1, heliocentrism. Next time a creationist brings up the “just a theory” argument, point them in the direction of this list and ask them if they think the earth orbiting the sun is “just a theory”.

  48. Phil you are using the word evolution as short hand for evolution by natural selection. Evolution itself is just an observable fact that allele frequency changes in a population over time and that differential changes in a population can cause it to speciate as two distinct populations.
    Evolution is an observable fact and it’s not a misuse of the language to say so.

  49. john.wb
    Nov 30, 2015 at 7:05 pm

    Next time a creationist brings up the “just a theory” argument, point them in the direction of this list and ask them if they think the earth orbiting the sun is “just a theory”.

    This seems to be grossly overestimating the levels of education and intelligence of American creationists!

    http://news.discovery.com/space/astronomy/1-in-4-americans-dont-know-earth-orbits-the-sun-yes-really-140214.htm

    1 in 4 Americans Don’t Know Earth Orbits the Sun. Yes, Really.

    The NSF poll, which is used to gauge U.S. scientific literacy every year, surveyed 2,200 people who were asked 10 questions about physical and biological sciences. On average, the score was 6.5 out of 10 — barely a passing grade. But for me personally, the fact that 26 percent of the respondents were unaware the Earth revolves around the sun shocked me to the core.

    Perhaps I’m expecting too much of the U.S. education system? Perhaps this is just an anomaly; a statistical blip? But then, like the endless deluge of snow that is currently choking the East Coast, another outcome of the same poll appeared on the foggy horizon of scientific illiteracy: The majority of young Americans think astrology is a science.

  50. Wow – that makes very depressing reading. Here are a couple more findings that will shock you:

    “43% of Americans correctly answered “false” to the question: the earliest humans lived at the same time as the
    dinosaurs”

    “47% of Americans correctly indicated that the “greenhouse effect” is not caused by the use of nuclear energy”

    In other words a majority of Americans believe that humans and dinosaurs co-existed and that nuclear energy contributes to global warming.

    Now I think I’m going to close my computer, go and pour myself a tequila and console myself with the fact that I live in Canada 🙂

  51. The existence of the sun is a fact (presuming it is not some sustained glitch in the Matrix concealing the Disco Glitter Ball).

    Gravity?

    Well there is still a lot to find out about gravity. Is Newton’s account inaccurate? Is general relativity the best description? Is it complete? What happens to gravity at different scales like the very very small? Is the gravitational constant G truly constant? How might it have changed since t=0? Is it gravity pushing during inflation phase of the universe rather than dark energy?

    It is easy to say evolution is a fact or gravity is a fact, but in what way, doing what, accounting for what? When there is more to find out even about what the whats could be, its best to make more defined claims.

  52. And the word “fact” carries very little weigh these days.
    For now, when arguing with creationists, let’s sweep confusion aside by means of a strategic retreat from the word “theory”. Let’s sacrifice a pawn for strategic advantage and hammer home a clear message that everyone can understand, and which is undeniably true in the everyday sense. Evolution is a fact.
    —Dawkins

    Open comment to Dawkins: Everyone is always saying: the fact of the matter is…
    No, we should stop being afraid to use words. Switching words in order to avoid unfair characterizations and attacks is fruitless.

  53. It seems to me the very opposite of us saying we cannot 100% prove god does not exist so we give them .01% to play with leaving them to prove 99.99% and make it a fact. Gravity, evolution etc, are 99.99% fact leaving the floating .01% as a constant update. Either way they only get .01%. Whats all the fuss about?

  54. P.S. Top sentence highlighted (“And the word ‘fact’ carries very little weigh these days.”) is mine. Mistake. Sorry.

    My point, if it wasn’t clear, is that the substitution of one perfectly good word for another may seem like a good strategy but I don’t think it’ll accomplish anything.
    “Fact, you say? It is a theory!” or “No, it is not a fact” or “You know what you can do with your facts, blasphemer.”

  55. I am skeptical about this whole business of substituting words or phrases for other words or phrases. I don’t think it’ll accomplish very much.
    Laurie: It’s a scientific principle.”
    Creationist: No it isn’t.
    Laurie: It’s not a theory; it’s a fact!”
    Creationist: No it is not a fact.
    Laurie: Evolution is a law.
    Creationist: Oh really! A law! Who says?

  56. Hi Phil. I agree with your point that ‘theory’ is the right word for the adequately tested scientific explanation of facts, and I did not understand Prof. Dawkins to be suggesting otherwise. All I thought Prof. Dawkins to be proposing is that we speak of the fact (rather than the theory) of evolution when engaging with religion-motivated evolution-deniers to avoid discussion being diverted by semantic obfuscation, as all too often happens, especially in those poorly educated states of the USA you mentioned.

  57. Richard, dear man, your suggestion is born out of frustration, and for that reason faulty. We speak of evolution as a ‘theory’ for reasons you know, and have articulated well. To continue doing so even in the face of such frustrations as you have also recounted is to our credit. Should we, in the face of ignorant or self-interested tirades, alter the well-suited phrase to ‘the fact of evolution’ I believe it would be to the impoverishment of our collective intellectual life.

    In the wordscape of our scientific endeavours, that ‘theory’ is an anchoring force cautioning us not to be over-certain. It urges, and I believe through its repetitive use, goes some way towards compelling restraint of those auras of certainty from which, though on occasion it seems to slip your mind (as indeed it slips all of our minds from time to time) all the greatest horrors spring. Please do not wish it away in the midst of some frenzied contest with trolls and snake-oil salesmen. It is far too precious to be discarded that its abandonment might facilitate the scoring of such a paltry hit, a mere trifle in the scale of things.

    You are, I fear, submerging yourself ever deeper in a culture which represents an astonishingly small sliver of life. From time to time I check in with your Twitter feed and see you rehashing the same old arguments. Have you forgotten the limitless horizons which once evoked in you the humility that brought a smile to your face when you considered that you are part of a culture that celebrates its decision to denote as ‘theory’ something which repeated, rigorous confirmation has unfurled as the way of things?

    It is not because I doubt the veracity of evolution that I caution against your proposal, but because I doubt myself. And I doubt, more solemnly, the strength of the intellectual tradition that we will hand on to future generations.

    Today we tire of the cautionary approach and call evolution a ‘fact’. What tomorrow? Who is to say what will be tired of then? Perhaps it will be the insistence that genetic engineering is an issue deserving of treatment with the utmost moral seriousness? Admittedly, I present to you here a ‘slippery slope argument’ of the type so often maligned as fallacious. But life is a slippery slope, Richard, and our footing has always been precarious.

    Evolution is a ‘theory’ just as my love for my mother is a ‘theory’; not because I am not certain I love her, but because it is a mere word, and in truth, my knees quake before the mystery of it all. Please, do not stare into the mysteries of life and claim to have plumbed them. Remember that “you are like a boy playing on the sea-shore, and diverting yourself now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lays all undiscovered before you.”

  58. Hi, Cairsley,

    How are you?

    That is precisely what he is suggesting, and it won’t work, for the reasons that I gave.

    Even if we substituted theory for fact or atheist for non-theist (or whatever) there will always be those who will find some other way of distorting and exploiting the vulnerabilities associated with all words, and using this against us.
    If we say “fact” they will still say “it’s not a fact”; we’ll be no better off. Let them get smarter; we don’t have to keep bobbing and weaving in order to avoid opposition. The opposition is not based on reason, so let’s keep using good words like theory and atheist.

    How come no one ever compliments me on my comments? What am I, chopped liver? (kidding)

    What ignorant states are you referring to? the ones that vote Republican? The scary thing is that many well-educated people are evolution-deniers too (Willful ignorance is complex); in such cases the intellect, no matter how developed it is in a general sense, is in the service of the will. And they WILL not listen. (Schopenhauer’s observation re language.) It is not lack of education that gives rise to the need to deceive oneself and to engage in obfuscation, in all cases.

    (You’d be surprised how many climate change deniers there are here in sophisticated Manhattan, where I live.)

    They just turn the other way when they can’t face something.

  59. I think Irving J. Lee differentiates fact form inference very well in the following clip. I stand in disagreement with RD and say we keep the distinction between fact and theory. Our inferences can change. New facts can lead to new inferences. I think muddling the two can inhibit new insights.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4iByeXWxZ1k

  60. P.S. If Dawkins, a man who probably knows more about all this than anyone on the planet, can’t get through to these people, do you really think simply using the single word “fact”, in addition to the many facts themselves which he can rattle off with great skill (and I’ve seen him do it), is going to help him? And how do you suppose the rest of us would do?
    You saw him with Wendy Wright; do you think using the word “fact” would have made any difference?
    “Ms. Wright, I assure you; it’s a fact.”
    “Why didn’t you tell me that before, Professor Dawkins? Okay–I’m convinced.”

  61. He is merely saying that when debating creationists who dispute evolution (all species or “kinds” were created by God) we insist that evolution is a fact (supported by a vast amount evidence) rather than get bogged down discussing the mechanism.

    Marktony
    Nov 30, 2015 at 2:07 pm

    They insist that “all species or “kinds” were created by God” I don’t think it is good optics (or logic) to match their insistence with our insistence. The sides are clearly differentiated on matters of fact. The facts they have on their side are extant texts containing stories. Insistence on the truth of these stories is unfounded. On the other hand, evolution by natural selections is substantiated by numerous facts. The mechanism is what matters. One is blind assertion of the truth of ancient stories, the other is methodical research, observation and experimentation etc..

  62. Case in point. This is what I mean about the will vs the intellect. It’s not only the dumbos (from the ignorant States and elsewhere) that we have to fear, it’s the educated people who WILL not understand. They are more dangerous. Watch Dawkins debate an Oxford professor.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6xzaTyhRfzo

  63. I don’t agree with your percentages. The unknowns are surrounding the key stages like the transition to complex cells and the transition to complex bodies. Conversations with Creationists get into these things. We can talk of many evolutionary facts sufficient to confound their nonsense, common descent. We could talk about the fact of Evolution as the dominant force in shaping the species. But in the matter of closing off all the God Gaps we need these other processes nailed (and we’re getting there) securely shut before we offer that hostage to fortune.

  64. @DanDare

    This is not what RD seems to be promoting. I think a retreat from Natural Selection by Natural Selection as the current tacit understanding to enable the use of “fact” is not the clean win wanted. Going there simply opens the can of worms from the other end.

    It is entirely that other processes of change appear to be interlarded in the overall process of evolution especially at transitions into complexity of cells and bodies, that should delay our embrace of “The Fact of Evolution” until we can deliver all those details.

    At the moment I think we have the best coverage until the job is done.

  65. The original motto on the 1776 American Great Seal of State was: E Pluribus Unum; what a criminal tragedy it is that native Americans and Negroes were, in principle, excluded from that maxim.

    “The first man to die for the flag we now hold high, was a black man.”

    Steveland Morris. AKA Stevie Wonder.

  66. Ed
    Nov 30, 2015 at 11:00 pm

    This is from the second episode, where he says “Evolution is a fact, it’s not a theory. It REALLY happened.”

    This is not only true of biological evolution.

    The physical evolution of accretion disks, stars, and planetary systems, really happened and is still happening – hence is (observable as) a fact.
    As I said previously about biological evolution, that it is happening is a fact. The details of the deduced processes and mechanisms, are scientific theory or hypothesis.

  67. john.wb
    Nov 30, 2015 at 7:56 pm

    Wow – that makes very depressing reading. Here are a couple more findings that will shock you:

    Much of the technical scientific debate here, would go straight over the heads of many creationists – especially the home-schooled types.

    and console myself with the fact that I live in Canada

    While I have visited the USA, and my daughter worked there for a time, – I live in England.

  68. I agree Phil but in my defence, I wasn’t going for accuracy in the percentages but the overall message….Plus…it gives a little room for some ‘pazarlik’ (haggling). Cant help it. Its in my culture!!

  69. The claim of RD contains a fallacy. “New Zealand is in the Southern Hemisphere” is a descriptive proposition. “The evidence for evolution is so strong that to withhold assent would be perverse” is an evaluative statement.

  70. chopped liver?

    Foie gras(?).

    educated people who WILL not understand

    Are they the one’s who complain of carbon foot prints to attend Paris conference. When worldwide carbon emissions are severely cut, there’ll be no need for cc talks.

  71. Nice one Dan (Fixed)

    Neandertal scull being 250 years old…Pah!..There is one much younger than that. Its talking to RD in that video!!!

  72. Native Americans

    (off topic) – A northern plains tribe teaches the Choctaw language to pre-school children, as a way to preserve their heritage. Choctaw was the code used in the first world war (Navajo second world war).

    (on topic) – RD wrote a clarification paragraph on the Facebook link of his opinion piece. In his element, extracts good dialogue.

  73. zaw 022
    Dec 1, 2015 at 7:11 am

    The claim of RD contains a fallacy. “New Zealand is in the Southern Hemisphere” is a descriptive proposition.

    Not really! Both are descriptions of objective observations.
    A commentator’s lack of awareness of observational techniques, in no way invalidates the records of the observations.

    “The evidence for evolution is so strong that to withhold assent would be perverse” is an evaluative statement.

    . . . . but no more so than the evaluation of a witness statement on observed geography, or satellite views of new Zealand.

  74. Were he to restrict himself to common ancestry as per his facebook post (that of itself blows YECs out of the water), I would have little complaint as discussed at the outset.

  75. Canvassing the levels of “assent” might be rather different.

    For this to work we cannot choose the canvassed.

    Hmm? Assent to New Zealand’s current location might also be a little thin on the ground in Kansas….

  76. Dan,
    Yes, I’m sure your dialogs above have played out a million times in real life. Luckily, I never expect a complete capitulation in the first conversation. Also, when I realize that I have a defensive interlocutor who has a minimal education in science this gives me pause because I have some difficulty knowing where to start with my explanation of what evolution is or what natural selection is. This is not effective because they see me just standing there, apparently dumbfounded. They take this as a win for them and then we’re really off to a bad start. I’m not baffled about the subject, I just don’t want to launch into an explanation that they will throw in my face as being “elitist”. What I really want to say to these people is – Why don’t you read a book about it?

    A while back someone set the scene for that exact problem. She said, “Well, if God didn’t created us then how did we get here?” She wasn’t being snarky, just, let’s say, assertively curious. So, see what I mean? Where the hell should I start with that? I don’t think she’s ever taken a class on biology, and not much of any other science either. She attended Catholic schools the whole way so I assume we have nothing to base an explanation on at all. As I paused for a minute wondering where to start, I know it looked like I just didn’t have any answer at all. The problem here is that my explanation would take a long amount of time to get across and her explanation – God did it! – takes three seconds! Not good. 🙂 Not good at all.

    I do recommend TV shows because I figure that if it’s an adult like the one I describe above, they must not be much of a reader or if so then they read sappy romantic trash or military spy novels but never anything educational. The show I recommend is the one based on the book Your Inner Fish by Shubin. This show and books on science that are written for the general public, like the ones that RD writes, are the most valuable resource for these people. It’s tough for others like us to explain the science behind evolution because I’m not a teacher and when push comes to shove, it shows very clearly!

    I also ask them questions that challenge their notion of a perfect creation of the human body by God. Someone here on another thread was just lately using the “ridiculous design” argument and I do use that too. If in discussion with a woman I always use the cephalopelvic disproportion statement.

    “If God wants us to be fruitful and multiply, as the Bible clearly states, then why does he kill so many of us (women) in childbirth? And of course, the baby dies right along with us. Why did he make our pelvises too narrow like that? Or is it that he makes babies heads too big or is it a little of both? He could have fixed this problem with a wave of his hand but he didn’t do it. Maybe your God hates women. Is that what’s going on here? And Jesus never stood up for us women either. Just walked on past. It’s a blatant abandonment.”

    There is never any lack of opportunity to point out the nasty cruelty of God toward humans. Children in cancer wards, innocent people stuck down in their prime of life for no good reason at all, tsunamis mass murdering whole towns of people including innocent children, etc, on and on. Pointing this out to some poor deluded believer won’t change their mind overnight but I’ve seen some value to asking them to explain how this could possibly jive with a loving God.

    Make them explain it and hold them responsible for their views. Say that they’re a good person even if they part ways with their church/mosque/synagog. Afraid to take that scary step? Say there’s a safety net all around you…I’ll catch you if you fall. Show that we don’t need religion to be kind, compassionate and generous people. Stand up for ethical values even if we get steamrolled over by cruel selfish people while eating our Thanksgiving dinner, right Dan?

  77. There is one much younger than that. Its talking to RD in that video!!!

    If I were a Neanderthal I’d be rather offended by your comment…

  78. Cantaz
    Dec 1, 2015 at 11:01 am

    If I were a Neanderthal I’d be rather offended by your comment…

    . . . . Probably a bit offended if you are from outside Africa!

    https://genographic.nationalgeographic.com/neanderthal/

    As our modern human ancestors migrated through Eurasia, they encountered the Neanderthals and interbred. Because of this, a small amount of Neanderthal DNA was introduced into the modern human gene pool.

    Everyone living outside of Africa today has a small amount of Neanderthal in them, carried as a living relic of these ancient encounters. A team of scientists comparing the full genomes of the two species concluded that most Europeans and Asians have between 1 to 4 percent Neanderthal DNA. Indigenous sub-Saharan Africans have no Neanderthal DNA because their ancestors did not migrate through Eurasia.

  79. Yes yes yes, I was aware of Svante Paabo’s research… I guess it was the 3.5% Neanderthal in me that got offended…

  80. Gee, current human language is a mess… just look at this thread… surely somewhere/sometime else in the universe a better way of communicating MUST have evolved…

  81. Tom, my dear man,

    You are an excellent example of the type who with lofty high principles and a flowery poetic vocabulary, our redneck evangelical Americans would like to tear apart at the seams and eat you alive, dust themselves off, grab their guns and ride off into the sunset in their extremely large and noisy pickup trucks. Save your rhetorical flourishes for your dinners at the gentlemens’ clubs at Oxford and Harvard. These, by the way, are the exact people who have no issue with the word “theory”.

    Some of us are sweating it out in the trenches down here! Let us say “It’s a fact!” and hammer it home!

    Pip pip cherio from Laurie your dear woman.

  82. I’m not so sure it’s human language as much as the human minds that (try to) use (and usually misuse) it. Primarily, it’s a failure to understand and properly use the rules of logic.

  83. Hello, Dan. My point was simply that I do not understand Prof. Dawkins to be advocating substituting any terms for any others or changing established terminology but to be promoting the use of the term ‘fact’ rather than ‘theory’ in disputes with evolution-deniers. As for the poorly educated states of the USA that I mentioned that Phil Rimmer mentioned, you will have to ask Phil about them. I take his point though, that much of this problem is educational and related to certain localities. Your point about educated evolution-deniers is a good one too. I recall how irritating it was to watch Prof. Dawkins debate with the Christian mathematician Prof. John Lennox — almost as excruciating as watching his stand-up chat with Wendy Wright!

  84. Tom
    Nov 30, 2015 at 11:34 pm

    Today we tire of the cautionary approach and call evolution a ‘fact’.

    No more “cautionary approach” is needed about the observable fact that evolution happens, than a “cautionary approach” is needed that the Earth is approximately an oblate spheroid, or that the Sun is the star containing the barycentre of the Solar-System within its atmosphere and other layers.

    What tomorrow? Who is to say what will be tired of then?

    Science does not classify facts, laws, theories, or hypotheses, according to how tired anyone feels.

    Admittedly, I present to you here a ‘slippery slope argument’ of the type so often maligned as fallacious.

    Fallacious slippery slopes have no place in evidence based rational thinking.

  85. Dan, I hasten to add that, of course, Prof. Dawkins’s debate with Prof. Lennox was about God’s existence and related matters, not about evolution, but in this context much the same problem of trying reason with unreason (not something one expects from a professor of mathematics).

  86. Agree with Cantaz. It’s a mess. But perfection isn’t essential for survival – “good enough” suffices, much to the consternation of us perfectionists.

    As long as our language surpasses that of other species we prevail – internal conflict notwithstanding.

  87. Dan, Dec 1, 2015 at 2:21 am Watch Dawkins debate an Oxford professor.

    The person Dawkins is interviewing in the video is not an Oxford professor. Things are not quite that bad. It’s bad enough, though, since this creationist teacher was head of the chemistry department at Blue Coat, a prestigious secondary school in Liverpool, England.

  88. I enjoyed reading what you wrote. Thanks. I tend to lose sight of one of your implied premises; there are different types of people out there. There are different categories of people. Not everyone who rejects Darwinism or climate change, or what-have-you, do so for the same reason; some do have an agenda, are actually wicked people (if I may put it that way) and some are just uneducated and /or victims of superstitious or limited parents, or victims of other unfortunate circumstances of an environmental nature. In other words, the latter category have a degree of openness. Not all of these people are like Wendy Wright. If they were all like her then surely there is no hope for humanity. But the person who asked you this: “Well, if God didn’t created us then how did we get here?” sounds to me, from the way you describe it, as someone who simply had a naive question and thought you might have the answer. It’s really quite sad – but the good news is that they are not hopeless; they are not closed personalities, or closed-minded; so your suggestion, your approach, may very well, over time, and if adopted by others too, yield good results. That being said, and you don’t need me or anyone to tell you this; recommending good books and documentaries is a beautiful thing, but it is not a cure-all, will not suffice; a dramatic shift has to take place; there are just too many Wendy Wrights out there and they have children and even students.

    And there are many entrenched interests. Religion and the politics of greed are intertwined.

    There is the “God’s Will” crowd. They are fanatics, the true enemies of reason and science, and ultimately –and I don’t think I am exaggerating – the enemies of our species. “It’s God’s will.” No matter what happens (earthquakes, genocide, you name it) it’s God’s will. God always comes out smelling like a rose. They are irrational to the core, have no interest in any sentiment or idea that is contrary to their own. No peace with them will ever be possible so long as any will contrary to their own is allowed to prevail. In short, they are totalitarian.

    And the Republicans love them. The Republicans may not be as religious as they claim to be. I suspect that our foreign adventures and interventions and our policies, and our imperialism and our support of dictators, and of Israel, is not motivated by religion; religion is its justification to a large extent. It’s about power, profit, and diversion. They need religion as an excuse, a pretext, to do what they do They need a “stupid majority” of religious cattle in order to gain the support they need. (I am not saying anything particularly new.)

    Btw, the words “cattle” sounds harsh, but I am sure that the Republicans, or many of them, secretly look upon their constituency that way.
    Hope that made sense. As you can see it’s rather late – or is it early?

    As for Thanksgiving: I wish I had been there. I would have made you laugh.

    Bye for now.

  89. P.S. I might fell slightly more optimistic about the future of humanity after a good night’s…or morning’s sleep.

  90. How can you go to bed feeling anything but uplifted from talking to people on this forum Dan. Optimism lives here.

  91. All the evidence points to Darwin’s ideas being true. It’s all a question of semantics. Instead of ‘theory’ or’fact,’ shouldn’t we call it ‘Darwin’s LAW of the origin of species through natural selection?
    PS I’m not an atheist.

  92. If you know the fella’s parents names, you can talk about the theory that they are the actual parents. It is probably harder to prove this than evolution. Of course, instead of assent, you may get a punch in the face, so use with caution.

  93. Dawkins said:

    Confusion of a different kind is introduced by those who agree to
    abandon “theory of evolution” but try to replace it by “law of
    evolution.”

    The term “law” is much too absolute. The only absolute in science is that there are no absolutes. The term “fact” is also a problem for that term is much too ambiguous.

    Let us stay with the term THEORY for theories are always open to additional testing. That is basic to science. In addition, there is NO SUCH THING as “THE theory of evolution.” There are many theories in the field of evolutionary biology. Some are fully supported by the evidence and includes such theories as natural selection, variations within a species, punctuated equilibrium, and descent with modification. There are no observations to support such hypotheses as evolution by inheritance of acquired characteristics, finalism, pangenesis, orthogenesis, mutationism, or saltationism.

    Creationists will always create their own definitions to fit their religious agenda. We should not change ours as a reponse to their absurdities.

  94. Actually I woke up feeling bad, Olgun, about being so pessimistic. Here’s something that Daniel (Nice name, btw) Dennett wrote that I like. It’s encouraging and it addresses the problem of widespread pernicious ignorance and indoctrination, a problem that I touched upon (in my usual incoherent way).

    “In the March issue of Scientific American, Deb Roy and I compare this to the Cambrian Explosion. The Cambrian Explosion happened 540 million years ago, when there was a sudden, very dramatic explosion of different life forms in response to some new change in the world. Oxford zoologist Andrew Parker argues that the increased transparency of the ocean made eyesight possible, and this changed everything: now predators could see prey, and prey could see predators, and this set off an arms race of interactions. Well, we think something similar is happening in human culture. Institutions—not just religions but also
    universities, armies, corporations—are now faced with how to change their fundamental structure and methods to deal with the fact that everybody’s living in a glass house now.

    “Protecting your inner workings is becoming very difficult; it’s very hard to keep secrets. Religions have thrived in part because they were able to keep secrets. They were able to keep secrets about other religions from their parishioners, who were largely ignorant of what other people in the world believed, and also keep secrets about their own inner workings and their own histories, so that it was easy to have a sort of controlled message that went out to people. Those days are over. You can go on the Internet and access to all kinds of information. This is going to change everything.”

  95. Phil
    Dec 1, 2015 at 12:07 am

    I think Irving J. Lee differentiates fact form inference very well in the following clip.
    I stand in disagreement with RD and say we keep the distinction between fact and theory.

    I thought that was what the objectives were! – To separate repeatable objective observations -ie facts, – from explanatory scientific theories.

    http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/fact

    *: something that truly exists or happens : something that has actual existence

    *: a true piece of information

    the quality of being actual : actuality <a question of fact hinges on evidence.>

    something that has actual existence <space exploration is now a fact>

    a piece of information presented as having objective reality

    The dictionary definitions of “fact” as applied to anything, do not imply that absolutism is involved – otherwise “facts” would not exist and the word would be meaningless. High probability is all that is required. There are many areas of scientific observation which are not at all likely to be subject to revision.

  96. I like that Dan and hope that the Internet is the only anarchist format we have with only a few lines drawn with one of them being personal privacy. I don’t like the idea of having to wear a fig leaf then cover up more and more.

  97. Evolution is an observed fact and was accepted before Darwin.

    Evolution by Natural Selection Alone is an Hypothesis, commonly referred to as a Theory, i.e it can (and has been) been shown by experiment or observation to be incomplete as an explanation.

    There now, children! That’s not hard to grasp, is it?

  98. caelon
    Dec 2, 2015 at 12:29 pm

    Instead of ‘theory’ or’fact,’ shouldn’t we call it ‘Darwin’s LAW of the origin of species through natural selection?

    No. It is not precise or predictive enough to be a scientific law, and in any case, Darwin’s original theory has diversified and been updated in numerous details, as the science genetics has developed.
    http://science.howstuffworks.com/innovation/scientific-experiments/10-scientific-laws-theories.htm
    Scientists have many tools available to them when attempting to describe how nature and the universe at large work. Often they reach for laws and theories first. What’s the difference? A scientific law can often be reduced to a mathematical statement, such as E = mc²; it’s a specific statement based on empirical data, and its truth is generally confined to a certain set of conditions. For example, in the case of E = mc², c refers to the speed of light in a vacuum.

    A scientific theory often seeks to synthesize a body of evidence or observations of particular phenomena. It’s generally — though by no means always — a grander, testable statement about how nature operates. You can’t necessarily reduce a scientific theory to a pithy statement or equation, but it does represent something fundamental about how nature works.

  99. When I discuss the TOE with a Christian friend, the argument always comes up that it is a belief and there are missing links and it is only a theory. I think it might be worth asking if it really is only a belief, maybe I could make it another religion and get tax exemption on my “house” of worship. Tax exemption on vehicle license, and use the clergy only parking bay at the cemetery.
    I drew a straight line (with intermittent gaps) on paper. I asked if it was a straight line and when I was told that it was, I said but there are missing links so how could it be a straight line. The answer was what Peter Bogossian introduced to me as obfuscation and that is what the theist did. I like the concept of cognitive dysentery. You have to think fairly sh**y to bend your own thinking to make silly stuff make sense to fit your preconceived position.

  100. ChrisSquire
    Dec 2, 2015 at 5:07 pm

    Evolution by Natural Selection Alone is an Hypothesis, commonly referred to as a Theory, i.e it can (and has been) been shown by experiment or observation to be incomplete as an explanation.

    There is no scientific “Theory (or hypothesis) of evolution by natural selection alone”! All scientific evolutionary theories involve mutations and modifications on which natural selection can act.

  101. Thanks for that reminder. In the remake of Cosmos, Neil deGrasse Tyson went even further than Carl Sagan:

    Some claim that evolution is just a theory, as if it were merely an opinion. The theory of evolution — like the theory of gravity — is a scientific fact. Evolution really happened. Accepting our kinship with all life on Earth is not only solid science. In my view, it’s also a soaring spiritual experience.

  102. To me, it’s like the difference between the dancer and the dance. Clearly they go together, but we generally don’t blame the dance for a “mess” of a performance by a dancer. We have a sense of how a dance should be performed. Similarly, we have a sense of how language (a “way of communicating”) ought to be used. When it’s not used properly, it’s the fault of the user. That’s all I’m saying…

  103. Excellent, Dan. I hadn’t picked you for a Monty Python fan. Is this the 5 minute argument or the full half-hour?

    In lay-speak, I prefer to call it an Explanation. As in, aha, yes, I see, that explains it….

  104. Laurie, I’d like to second your recommendation of “Your Inner Fish”. My 9-year-old was fully engaged by the TV series, understands it easily, and loves to watch it again and again. Any moderately intelligent adult who doesn’t have an agenda should also find it accessible.

  105. I agree with Phil Rimmer and cbrown (and others that I might have skipped),

    We really should stick with Theory of Evolution. It is a scientific framework that helps explain what happened and predict things we have not seen but may one day observe. Just because this also means we also have to defend it as “theory” is not a weakness but a strength. The day when we are not able or willing to defend the Theory of Evolution with data and facts…it is time to pack up and go home.

    When we try to forestall arguments over the theory of evolution by renaming it a fact or law…we are turning into a religion relying on faith …and once again, it is time to pack up and go home.

  106. Excellent summary, Alan.

    Evolution is a discovered fact, like “the earth is a sphere (+/- 0.3%)”.

    All attempted explanations are, as you stated, theories or hypotheses or speculations or guesses, depending how well verified. Darwin’s Theory (Evolution by Natural Selection) provides a powerful and concise explanation.

    Likewise Gravity is a fact – just step out of an upstairs window if you want to convince me otherwise – and the explanations are a work in progress, but even the rough-and-ready Newtonian formula is good enough for navigation to a comet or the planets.

    Exact mechanisms by which genetic material is passed around, these are matters of ongoing investigation, new discoveries, and new guesses-speculations-hypotheses. Finding wasp genes in butterflies, and learning about the workings of viruses, reveal there’s been more going on than simple point-mutations in the inheritance tree, but whatever mechanisms give rise to a specific individual, it is natural selection that is deciding factor, the gatekeeper to the next generation, summed up in the common phrase “Survival of the Fittest”. Which is of course a tautology, as Fittest is defined as “the ones that survive”. Survival of the Survivors is hardly helpful.

    (I do favour “Survival of the Luckiest”, but perhaps luck has a genetic component. Refer Larry Niven, Ringworld, for more about this).

  107. Evolution is a fact, and the Theory of Evolution is our best explanation of the fact.
    We are not going to be able convince the creationists no matter how much we simplify and dumb down. No amount of simplification, clarification or explanation will get them to see what they don’t want to see. They must believe they are exceptional. The have to cling to the fantasy of immortality. Some of them know that the emperor is naked but they dare not speak, lest they lose family, friends and livelihood.
    All we can do is keep explaining, studying, building, and gathering evidence.
    We have to out last them.

  108. Hi, OHooligan, can you please explain your comment? I don’t get it. Is what the 5 minute argument? And it refers to what? I have no idea what you’re talking about.
    (I used to love MP. Bored now. The Holy Grail is a masterpiece. The guard scene, with Palin and Idle, is one of the funniest scenes in the history of film.)
    P.S. Dawkins is concerned about dealing with the agenda-ridden people, so that is what I was addressing. They ain’t gonna watch Your Inner Fish.

  109. It deserved a lot of comments allthough I didn´t read it as carefully as I should, I ´ll just add another brief comment.
    I will certainly take into account all about science with respect to evolution and theory/fact.
    I agree with the remark of the mentioned atheist, I myself see no paralel (what means Prof Richard Dawkins has his own mind, different from mine), perhaps because UK does not even has a Constitutional Law?
    Once a state has a basic Law it´s Constitution, ther´s no way that it should not be takin into account by politicians, the mentioned atheist was completly right, it makes no sense at all. Well, I don´t quite understand either a country that changes it´s law to avoid homosexuals from geting married, that´s ridiculous.

  110. We should take a page out of the Creationists book – state that Evolution is a fact and respond to all criticism with ‘teach the controversy’ – the benefit is that some people will then actually read up on Evolution, even if only to try to disprove it and in the end ‘get it’.

  111. To Chris, You said:

    “Evolution is an observed fact and was accepted before Darwin.”

    Actually Charles Darwin never used the term “evolution” according to Ernst Mayr in his book One Long Argument (1991). Thomas Malthus accepted the idea of evolutionary change but proposed an incorrect theory about how that change occurred.

    “Evolution by Natural Selection Alone is an Hypothesis, commonly
    referred to as a Theory, i.e it can (and has been) been shown by
    experiment or observation to be incomplete as an explanation.”

    That is a confusing statement. First of all evolution by any means is not an hypothesis, for that means the “evolution” (or change) is only a guess. Secondly “evolution” is not even a theory, however within the science of Evolutionary Biology there are many theories solidly supported by the evidence.

    That is not hard to grasp, now is it???

  112. A theory is a means to explain why things are the way they are – it explains facts. Thus the ‘fact’ that Darwin’s finches had different shaped beaks could be explained by reference to a ‘theory’ about how change occurs randomly but that useful changes persist through the process of natural selection and inheritance. Although it may be very doubtful that anyone will come up with a more convincing and evidenced theory to explain that fact does not mean we are entitled to say that the explanation is itself a fact. If we do so, what’s is to stop the Creationist saying that it is a ‘fact’ that the Universe was designed? Both seem to me equivalent to putting your fingers in your ears and just refusing to engage with the argument – which is the sort of blinkered response we hate when people end arguments about religion by saying ‘I know I’m right because I have Faith’.

  113. Enigmaparibus, We should stop using the phrase “I believe in the theory of evolution.” That kind of statement emboldens creationists.

    I ACCEPT some of the theories in Evolutionary biology because those particular theories have been well supported by the evidence. To BELIEVE in evolution makes evolution sound like some sort of god.

  114. cbrown
    Dec 3, 2015 at 12:50 pm

    There’s a nice concise list here:

    http://ncse.com/evolution/education/definitions-fact-theory-law-scientific-work

    Fact: In science, an observation that has been repeatedly confirmed and for all practical purposes is accepted as “true.” Truth in science, however, is never final and what is accepted as a fact today may be modified or even discarded tomorrow.

    Hypothesis: A tentative statement about the natural world leading to deductions that can be tested. If the deductions are verified, the hypothesis is provisionally corroborated. If the deductions are incorrect, the original hypothesis is proved false and must be abandoned or modified. Hypotheses can be used to build more complex inferences and explanations.

    Law: A descriptive generalization about how some aspect of the natural world behaves under stated circumstances.

    Theory: In science, a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world that can incorporate facts, laws, inferences, and tested hypotheses.

  115. Yes, let’s NOT “believe in the theory of… ” anything. Quite right, that’s descending to the YECs level, in a feeble attempt to talk sense into them. Allowing them to drag you down to their own level and then beat you with experience.

    Treading carefully in conversation with non-scientists, I’m trying to phrase things using “accept” as cbrown suggests. I find the Explanation provided by the Theory of EbNS (Evolution by Natural Selection) to be a Satisfactory Explanation, while those offered by religions I find Unsatisfactory. To me, a Satisfactory Explanation has to be one that makes sense to me, that doesn’t have obvious holes in it, that has withstood a lot of questioning, that does not strain my credulity. And in that I’m probably similar to a lot of born-in-the-faith creationists, whose main obstacle to EbNS is that they find it a hard pill to swallow, given that it contradicts a whole lot of things they’ve been brought up – conditioned – to accept, including acceptance that their elders-and-betters Know The Truth. My appeal is then more towards a blend of basic common-sense, streetwise cynicism, and mistrust of authority. Which, you might find, creationists aren’t entirely devoid of. They, for example, mistrust the government, or at least one of the parties that would like to form a government. And when they’re nodding agreement with that sentiment, it’s time to whip out Occam’s Boxcutter, and slash their fallacies…

  116. YES!!!

    There is one problem….there are several theories proposed by Charles Darwin, not just one all encompassing theory.

  117. At the risk of being accused of redundancy, I strongly suggest reading the book by Ernst Mayr, the late famous Harvard University professor and well known Evolutionary Biologist:

    One Long Argument, 1991

    It is relatively advanced but he writes so well and can be understood by most educated people. This book clearly explains history and concepts of Evolutionary Biology.

  118. Although it may be very doubtful that anyone will come up with a more convincing and evidenced theory to explain that fact does not mean we are entitled to say that the explanation is itself a fact.

    The National Academy of Sciences believes otherwise:

    In science, a “fact” typically refers to an observation, measurement, or other form of evidence that can be expected to occur the same way under similar circumstances. However, scientists also use the term “fact” to refer to a scientific explanation that has been tested and confirmed so many times that there is no longer a compelling reason to keep testing it or looking for additional examples. In that respect, the past and continuing occurrence of evolution is a scientific fact.

    I guess they have decided the fact of evolution is something so firmly established by evidence that to deny it would be perverse.

    Your comparison with Intelligent Design is weak to say the least:

    If we do so, what’s is to stop the Creationist saying that it is a ‘fact’ that the Universe was designed? Both seem to me equivalent to putting your fingers in your ears and just refusing to engage with the argument

    Would you be able to keep a straight face if a creationist told you that the fact of Intelligent Design is so firmly established by evidence that to deny it would be perverse?

  119. Too late William. You will probably find most biologists already describe evolution as fact.

    There are many quotes by notable scientists talking about the fact of evolution, including Stephen Jay Gould, Richard Lenski, Julian Huxley, Ken Miller, Ernst Mayr, Carl Sagan, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Jerry Coyne …, Richard Dawkins. I have no doubt that they are (or were) also willing and able to defend the Evolutionary Theory with data and facts.

  120. “The basic theory of evolution has been confirmed so completely that most modern biologists consider evolution simply a fact. How else except by the word evolution can we designate the sequence of faunas and floras in precisely dated geological strata? And evolutionary change is also simply a fact owing to the changes in the content of gene pools from generation to generation.”
    Ernst Mayr

  121. Fortunately he excluded simpler cells and only involved higher level eukaryotes in his range of life included. He also said “basic theory of evolution” and presumably in a context discussing evolution by natural selection.

    This isn’t pettifogging. Details matter. We are much cleverer than “Evolution is Fact”. Contextualised as natural selection, perhaps, (and with more than enough to see off YECers) with allowances for other evolutionary processes eking changes out of subsequent phenotypes like HGT, the full details of which we are unsure of and having no evidence to exclude a change (prokaryote to eukaryote) that might be better characterised by the epithet revolutionary rather than evolutionary….it can be said. I used to say it more. Having read Nick Lane and Andreas Wagner I say it with more care, and not where it may be used against me.

    Mayr’s quote predates quite a lot of this new understanding.

  122. I think that their are more elemental facts that describe what we mean by evolution. Evolution is just a name that has been given to the collection of facts that describe the process. I can point (however they do it) to a DNA molecule and observe and comment on how it may have changed. I can point to a trait in a family of animals and observe and comment on how it may have changed. Both facts. I can take a perfect stranger and show him as well. I can’t point to the object evolution. It is a word. It is an idea. As he says in the video: “if we can ever say that anything is certain, it is after we’ve have had some direct experience, some direct acquaintance with it.” The “it” being the object of observation (experience or acquaintance). I am saying we, in the laboratory, have acquaintance with cells, molecules or animals. Not the idea or word evolution. The way I see it, what we call evolution is described in terms of the “facts” we observe of objects like cells molecules and animals. Therefore, I think the idea, evolution, is a higher order of abstraction than the happenings that we observe in the above objects and thus I don’t think should be put in the same category, “fact”, where observations of cells, molecules and animals rightly belong.

  123. The point I still haven’t made is about how the phrase is then used in a discussion with say a Creationist. This is the nub of it for me. This has to be organised to encompass all the latest insights and the clear facts that won’t lead us (ever!) to a later qualification. Creationist brain freeze happens then.

  124. This has to be organised to encompass all the latest insights and the clear facts that won’t lead us (ever!) to a later qualification.

    I’ll use that answer to the “science doesn’t know everything” comment. If we ever got to that point, science would stop. But in the meantime I’m still OK with the fact of evolution.

  125. Lol. That “ever” came out wrong looking….

    The point is the potential for hypocrisy within the ensuing conversation not forevermore! If we knew about HGT but brushed over it and had to backtrack over our blythe unqualified opening statement that we lose any access we had at the time.

    In science anything could happen tomorrow. That glitch in the matrix…. We’ll look better then too, having spoken in well qualified terms and modulated certainties.

  126. I agree with Professor Dawkins that if we are going to have more people accept the concept of evolution then we have to separate the concepts of fact and theory from one another, then deal with the first concept first.
    I think that the problem can be conceptualized as revolving around three words; what, how and why. The “what” is the body of facts that support the concept that evolution has occurred, over 600 million, or even 3.5 billion years, for which we have objective evidence. The “how” are the theories for the mechanism that made it happen. The “why” starts with the presumption of intention, perhaps an agent with a goal directed cause or reason for creating life. The “why” discussion needs to be avoided, if at all possible, because it implies intention by an agent which is outside the purview of science. The “how” theories should be discussed but differed until the fact of descent, over time, with modification, is accepted. That discussion should be supported by all the objective evidence available such as; the fossil record, genetic evidence, morphological, embryological and developmental evidence plus geological distribution evidence, etc. Only after the “what” has been accepted should discussion on “how” begin. Only then maybe, unless it can be avoided, the conjecture of why, which of course has no supporting evidence, and much counter evidence, might be addressed. Theodicy anyone.
    Thus I support this educational approach.

  127. Well put. We need to be clear on what we can can say with confidence to be true and get people to acknowledge that much before even discussing the ‘theory’.

  128. Creationist brain freeze happens then.

    Problem is, creationist brain freeze has happened already.

    How many creationists have you been able to convince by telling them “all the the latest insights and the clear facts”?

  129. In science anything could happen tomorrow.

    True, but it needs to be further qualified, though.

    What do you think the chance is that, tomorrow, new scientific evidence will strongly suggest that we don’t share a common ancestor with chimpanzees?

  130. What do you think the chance is that, tomorrow, new scientific evidence will strongly suggest that we don’t share a common ancestor with chimpanzees?

    Darn it! I wish people would notice that early evolution is at issue here for old earth creationism. We have to stop thinking of just dealing with YECs. Common descent and its evidence are the facts that dispose of their silliness. We have to imagine how real exchanges can go and the rhetoric we most need to win an opening of hearts and minds.

    OEC’s have issues of directed evolution. The theories of evolution are of course incomplete and though evolution through natural selection is thoroughly understood (though perhaps not all its complex nuances) with a wealth of demonstrative facts and a fantastic record of corroborating predictions, this process does not apply to all observable characteristics in phenotypes. We can be pretty darn certain that these other process (horizontal gene transfer, “characteristics as infection”) played little (direct!) part in the essential characteristics of plant and animal species formation, but they may have played a much bigger part in single celled micro-organisms, and those micro-organisms may have played significant roles in the nature of the multicelled creatures they inhabit.

    Crucially the transition from prokaryotes to eukaryotes appears to fall off this plan of incremental change from the pressure of natural selection. Somehow it seems that very simple uni-cell creatures ate others and acquired their characteristics despite a substantial thermodynamic barrier to this. HGT and this non digesting process of invagination (!) require other evolutionary theories for their full account and these aren’t ready yet. We are only just getting to grips with them.

    The explanations we give should never been of cartoon simplicity, such that they only meet the rhetorical requirements of a single group. Which theory of evolution in which variant and applying to which entity and in what formative capacity in the last 3.8bn years is a fact?

  131. The problem of Creationists (particularly YECs) is fixed with decent childhood education. Dualing with YECs on the interwebz and TV… don’t sweat it. Nothing much gets in. In my dealings “theory” was one of the smallest of issues.

  132. I really don’t see why we have to worry so much. The case for evolution is far far far stronger than creation. Creationists have not answered a single question that can satisfy whereas evolution and science does with honesty.

  133. Cantaz
    Dec 7, 2015 at 8:40 am

    Problem is, creationist brain freeze has happened already.

    How many creationists have you been able to convince by telling them “all the the latest insights and the clear facts”?

    Progress with individuals in an argument will usually come up against the blockage of their indoctrinated immunisation against evidenced reasoning.

    However, when this is on record in an internet debate, it can benefit many casual readers, who recognise the preconceptions and irrational nature of the claims of creationists, as these are debunked by competent scientists and other intellectuals.

  134. One of the problems with indoctrinated creationists, is a view based on simple ignorance and perverse teaching:-

    There is no evidence because I haven’t looked for any, have no idea how or where to look, and have listened to people presented to me as authority figures, who have told me YEC/ID is science which disproves evolution!

    In internet debates their lack of basic scientific and reasoning skills become evident, when they quote, the Bible, Ham, Hovind, AIG etc. as “authoritative sources”!

  135. I especially like Alan’s definition, that evolution has and will continue to happen, and agree with Phil that playing to the LCD takes the beauty of specifics in the wrong direction.

    So, we stop taking the (herd of cats) bait.

    Explain the terms of evolution, because that is the real dispute being deflected by the challenge, and we need to answer it as a deflection.

    We are attempting to clarify the wrong word when challenged with the statement, because as pointed out, many adult YECs are closed for business, where there may be hope for the youth being indoctrinated in myth.

    “Theory” nor “fact” are “evil” to the young, but “sex” and “evolution” are. Whenever an adult YECist cracks that door, we should find a way to use the youthful curiosity carrot of sex to explain evolution as something in which every human will participate, in simple, biologically accurate, indisputable, PG13 terms.

    RD has already begun this, when he explains how no two offspring are identical. – One might choose the word, “children,” so that children will relate to it, and so on.

    As patiently as RD tolerated the Wright interview, and for the same reasons, our responses should be composed for the youth, and still retain the beautiful integrity of science.

    At the least, we should expect a sharp decline in being challenged on the “theory” of evolution.

  136. I’m not as scientifically educated as most are likely to be here, and I do understand that I reply to my most admired scientist ever Professor Richard Dawkins. But I am highly concerned when science tries to change science.

    I fully agree (and why shouldn’t I) that evolution is a fact.

    But, I do not accept that scientists or science text or any other part of science should refer to a theory (the highest level achieved of discovery with scientific evidence) be referred to as a fact, in any single or multiple scientific theories that exist.
    Yes in conversation I dearly hope that Professor Richard Dawkins continues to state evolution is fact (I truly wait for him to announce it, it always brings a smile to my face), but this should NOT be placed in scientific text or journals or even belittle other known scientific theories that OTHER scientists may have spent a lifetime gaining evidence for.

    To be clear.
    I want science to continue being scientific. We all respect that, we respect science the way it is.
    Verbally anyone can say what they like to support known scientific theories (like the theory of gravity stating this as fact) BUT not to change ANY of the scientific community to redesign already accepted respected understandings of science. ie If I were to read in a science journal the fact of evolution, I would be disappointed UNLESS it also stated scientific theory.

    Scientific theory Vs Human fact 🙂

  137. You’ve probably been told before, but it may have slipped your mind: In science, a “theory” is an explanation of a fact or facts. A fact is simply a consistent, repeatable observation. If an explanation makes correct predictions, then we can conclude, at least tentatively, that the explanation is correct.
    Your concern that science changes science is noted. But … Of course it changes! If science didn’t change it would be useless. Theories change as more facts are discovered. Methods change as new technologies and ways of understanding are discovered.
    The mid-ocean ridges with vulcanism and up-welling magma gave rise to the theory of plate tectonics, and now we have actually measured continental drift. Geological theory predicted where would be found sediments containing the fossils predicted by the theory of evolution which paleontologists actually found. They went to the predicted area and found, in the predicted formation, Tiktaalik, an intermediate between fish and amphibian predicted by the theory of evolution.
    Just as life evolves to fit changes in environment, so science evolves to fit newly discovered facts. Just a mutations and recombinations give rise to new possibilities for life, so new technologies and methods of analysis give rise to changes in science.
    Religion is knowledge set in stone. It is not alive. It is a fossil of thought, a graven image. Science is living thought, adapting to fit reality.

  138. I don’t think science has evolved at all.
    The tools and technology and reporting and even discoveries have consistently modernized science information and how its presented and how it works! But science itself is still the quest to build on knowledge using facts in testable experiments, I’ll agree that quantum theory built on mathematics is a type of evolved idea of science, but still science itself is about testable explanations from knowledge and known facts.

    Specifically Professor Richard Dawkins states: This essay is designed to remove confusion by abandoning the word theory altogether, when talking to creationists.

    I find this to be very reasonable specifically in this scenario. But in reality in science, evolution remains a scientific theory. And this change to science especially when pointing this article at other scientists for debate, should be stopped to avoid an unknown inevitability of breaking the stability of science which has never changed or evolved at all to present. Within science and scientists the ‘theory’ should be discussed and always bettered, but not re-labelled as fact only when convenient when it is not!

    As stated I fully agree with verbally stating as fact to creationists as a layman type conversation.
    But discussed to other scientists here on a biologists page? No, I feel this is a mistake, that can only hurt science in the future. Great idea to discuss on Facebook, here it belittles science and possibly even other scientists who have worked on confirming their own theories, who presently do not have a convenient place to also state theirs is a fact. And, I don’t think even Professor Richard Dawkins has the right to change the very concept of science within a scientific community. In my view the topic is not required here.

  139. When one says “evolution is a fact”, because of the ambiguity of terms I have to ask:

    What do you mean by “evolution?”

    What do you mean by “fact?”

    Please don’t think everyone must know, obviously, what “evolution”and “fact” means. Each of those terms have a multitude of definitions and interpretations. “Evolution” means to some that a chicken egg hatches out as a dog. To others it is a “fact” that god exists.

  140. I don’t think science has evolved at all.

    The ancient Egyptians were performing surgery – do you think they gained their knowledge of medical science (limited as it was) using the same methods as we use today? Did they even use the same methods as the ancient Greeks? The Greeks are often credited with developing the scientific method, but Plato believed in pure reason and didn’t see the need for measurement.

    Has science evolved since Aristotle’s contributions on empirical measurement, observation and induction? What about Islamic scholars such as Ibn al-Haytham, did they not preserve and add to the Greek knowledge. The Renaissance added to (evolved?) the science of the Greeks and Muslims with contributions by Francis Bacon, Galileo, etc. Has the division of scientific knowledge into separate disciplines resulted in changes to the scientific method in the 20th century?

  141. When one says “evolution is a fact”, because of the ambiguity of terms I have to ask: What do you mean by “evolution?” What do you mean by “fact?”

    Are you asking Richard Dawkins? If so, he has written many articles and books that you could read to gain a clear understanding of what he means.

    Each of those terms have a multitude of definitions and interpretations. “Evolution” means to some that a chicken egg hatches out as a dog.

    Are there any definitions of the term “Evolution” that would lead you to interpret it as meaning that a chicken egg hatches out as a dog? You can safely assume that’s not what it means to RD. But by all “means” don’t take my word for it, read some of Dawkins work.

  142. But discussed to other scientists here on a biologists page?

    Oh dear. Iv’e added a number of posts and I didn’t realize this was a biologists page. As a non-biologist, I may well have contributed to “breaking the stability of science”.

  143. Marktony
    Dec 21, 2015 at 11:07 am

    Are there any definitions of the term “Evolution” that would lead you to interpret it as meaning that a chicken egg hatches out as a dog?

    I think this is referring to some creationist pseudo-science teachings as their interpretations of what constitutes “macro-evolution”!!

  144. Note: I stupidly clicked report post because reply and report are next to eachother and I clicked first and thought later! Since I can’t unreport the post, I’ll apologize for that here.

    Oh, you must be at wonder of the Fact of Quantum in science?
    It’s amazing how a particle can be at 2 different places at the same time. But since its a fact it’s obviously not up to any of that research idea anymore!
    I hope you don’t mind I say fact, when talking to you I will only refer to quantum theory as FACT, that way you’ll understand what I mean better 😉

    Since you didn’t seem to get my response clearly, possibly I wrote it in mud.
    IF science has evolved (and I don’t mean in method of course), and all this is just another evolved part of science, I welcome all theories being expressed as fact when talking to others (as the article prefers).
    Please let all other areas of science know that their theories are now facts when discussing to people who don’t understand 🙂

    I might keep the theory idea within science areas only (ie on facebook for instance, I’ll actually state fact). But I suppose I’m a bit of a dinosaur on science, it’ll take a while to adapt to this change.

  145. Hi Stafford,

    … ask them to explain precisely what a scientific theory is, and the processes by which it comes about.

    I prefer your response to that proposed by the OP.

    To say that there are “laymen eager to misunderstand” the facts, e.g. that theory has two meanings, seems to me to abrogate our responsibility to educate. Let me be clear, I’m assuming that there’s an audience. Though your response, Stafford, seems to fit both crowd and one-to-one scenarios in the second case one might, of course, simply walk away.

    To switch to fact in the OP scenario is to throw up one’s hands and say: ‘I can’t teach you, I can’t explain it, I give up.’ Switching from theory to fact is a blunderbuss to crack a nut – overkill, and then some. But it’s worse than that, it also says: ‘Yes, we used to call it a theory, but we can’t win the argument that way.’ to which my very average brain responds: ‘And you think that changing your tactics supports a winning strategy … ?’. I can only imagine the fun someone who’s really clever might have with that.

    I have two other objections to replacing theory of evolution with fact of evolution.

    The first, as any regular visitor to this sight must surely be aware, is that quoting facts that counter someone’s firm belief will only make them more determined to defend their position. It will only fuel the engine of obstinacy.

    The second – as I seem to remember posting here before but that comment has mysteriously disappeared without trace (I blame myself, I probably got on a hobby horse) – is because it gives too much ground.

    Allow me to spell this out. While I’m at it I’ll be sure to align it with the OP, to try and ensure my comment doesn’t get deleted again.

    For now, when arguing with creationists, let’s sweep confusion aside by means of a strategic retreat from the word “theory”. Let’s sacrifice a pawn for strategic advantage and hammer home a clear message that everyone can understand, and which is undeniably true in the everyday sense. Evolution is a fact.

    Yes, I get it, this is a strategic proposal in the sense that the bigger picture is that creationists are using the two meanings of theory to obfuscate and this is allowing them to win points. The proposal is that we can drive round this objection by saying fact. I’ll come back to this point.

    As above there are immediate problems – creationists are not going to stop saying theory, and they’re as sure as donuts have sugar not going to forget that we used to say theory any time soon. The proposal therefore has the disadvantage that it already looks like we’re trying to put lipstick on a pig and pretending it’s anything but a pig.

    BUT, my main gripe is that the proposal is presented in terms that make this seem like yielding a little in order to make a larger gain: “sacrifice a pawn for strategic advantage.”

    Even if sticking lipstick on a pig will allow us to enter it for Ms. Universe, I remain unconvinced that playing creationists at their own immature, unprincipled, imbecilic game (i.e. playing with words because they have no better tactic to distance people from truth) does anything other than remove a valuable distinction between us and creationists.

    Again, this is why I like your response Stafford; If they want to play with words then your reply simply asks them to define the rules by defining the word they’re using.

    I believe this to be a very important point. To repeat my earlier post: Any long conflict will tend to draw one into the way of thinking used by one’s opponents. This is both healthy, and inevitable. However, it is a mistake of the first order to take this to the next stage and simply adopt the tactics of your opponent. To do so is to give strategic ground that will be far more difficult to regain particularly, but not only, if the projected “strategic advantage” fails to materialise.

    I like the fact that we play by the rules, that we know that theory has two meanings (and how and when to use them both) and that this can be made obvious to those watching.

    As Peter Boghossian tells us, people are not generally persuaded in a moment. They’re persuaded by people who are honest and open, and who point out things they didn’t previously know or think about – then are left to their own devices, to cogitate in their own time.

    I said that I would come back to the point on driving round theory using fact. Even if it is true that switching to fact would short-circuit any creationist’s argument based on the idea that the theory of evolution is a “mere hypothesis” – and I’ve given substantive, not to say substantial, reasons why this is very unlikely – it will also undermine our current presentation.

    We are the purveyors of truth, and that means something. Maybe not to to the person that we’re arguing with, but it definitely counts to the audience. The results of that will, in all likelihood, not be visible … but they’re real, and worthwhile. The vote of the woman at the back who said nothing is every bit as valuable as the vote of the flailing loudmouth on the stage.

    I would like to finish by taking a moment to be sympathetic. Richard is the one who actually has to get up there and argue, not me. He’s also very good at it. My main BUT is related to this very problem of argument.

    When one is in an argument one is in a battle, a tactical situation. It is all too easy in the thick of it to lose sight of the strategic objective. As the old saw has it:

    When I found myself up to my butt in crocodiles, I forgot that my objective was to drain the swamp.

    I propose to Richard a new tactic: Don’t focus so much on winning every argument. Every debate is an opportunity to tune in the audience’s minds to routes to truth (that they will explore in their own time) just as much as it’s an opportunity to demonstrate your opponent’s deceit (because, if they don’t know you mean theory 1, just how qualified are they?). Every debate is an opportunity to educate.

    Stafford’s tactic will serve you far better than fact.

    Peace.

  146. LaurieB
    Nov 30, 2015 at 10:08 am

    I really appreciate this clarification. I for one am sick and tired of being diverted off topic by creationists who (predictably) try to cut me off at the knees with an argument over the word “theory”. When they say the word theory they often raise their hands and make air quotes to indicate that the word theory has no substance at all and has all the power of a wacky opinion. I’ve lost all patience with this infantile tactic and the minute this arrogance is presented I’ve told them that “It’s a scientific principle!”.

    I suggest an appropriate response on this link:-

    https://www.richarddawkins.net/2015/12/the-12-days-of-evolution-with-its-okay-to-be-smart/#li-comment-193649
    “I would not repeat that unless you want to make a fool of yourself!”

    ” That’s not a statement about biology. It is and expression of personal scientific illiteracy, demonstrating that those making such statements are so ignorant of the subject, that they don’t even know the definitions of the scientific terms, and have no idea what a scientific theory is!”

  147. What do you say to people who say that they ‘believe’ in evolution but not in natural selection? I get that from time to time.

    I guess the answer is to read, and overwhelm them with facts. I just answered my own question.

  148. Dan
    Dec 29, 2015 at 12:11 am

    What do you say to people who say that they ‘believe’ in evolution but not in natural selection? I get that from time to time.

    That is because the religious leaders, being dragged along centuries behind the science (and needing to up-grade their credibility) , dispute Natural Selection and substitute god-does-it-selction in its place.
    When they say they BELIEVE IN EVOLUTION, that is what they mean, but with the traditional theist play with semantic obfuscation, they have substituted the pseudo-science of theistic evolution for the scientific theory, when they use the word “evolution” – along with telling the sheeples, this is the real science!

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catholic_Church_and_evolution#Pope_Francis
    On October 27, 2014, Pope Francis issued a statement at the Pontifical Academy of Sciences that “Evolution in nature is not inconsistent with the notion of creation,” warning against thinking of God’s act of creation as “God [being] a magician, with a magic wand able to do everything.”

    The Pope also expressed in the same statement the view that scientific explanations such as the Big Bang and evolution in fact require God’s creation:

    This is of course contradictory drivel! – Especially the comical assertion that god is not a magician (given that magicians move in mysterious ways)!!!! – Not to mention Catholicism making claims to numerous miracles, and several exorcisms!

    I guess the answer is to read, and overwhelm them with facts. I just answered my own question.

    They are not interested in facts! They have “faith”, and authoritative pronouncements from the “religious authority figures”, who make up their “facts”, and do their thinking for them!

    See also: – Alan4discussion
    Nov 30, 2015 at 10:44 am

  149. I’m kinda surprised we’re still discussing this but I still agree with RD…. Let me ask this one question and see if you folks agree: ‘Is common descent, as an example, a fact?’ By the definition of fact and the evidence we have for common descent, I would say it is. If you would agree, then RD’s suggestion to refer to the ‘facts’ of evolution is neither unreasonable nor inaccurate. At no point did RD say that we should not recognize that evolution is also a theory – just refer to the facts of evolution when discussing it in the public venue.
    It makes further sense to use the terminology of the audience. Granted, we can teach the scientific term theory to the laymen – and we should, but we can hardly expect the average folk to learn all the wealth of knowledge and its corresponding terminology not only for evolution but for every other field of knowledge there is. As such, we must strive to convey understanding at a level we can reasonably expect our audience to appreciate. Using theory in in its ‘official’ scientific way could reasonably be preferred in science circles and less preferentially among the laymen.
    (Note: I am not trying to imply the laymen is less intelligent – rather just not specialized in the field)

  150. OracleT
    Dec 29, 2015 at 10:26 am

    As such, we must strive to convey understanding at a level we can reasonably expect our audience to appreciate. Using theory in in its ‘official’ scientific way could reasonably be preferred in science circles and less preferentially among the laymen.

    I think when addressing an audience on any subject involving scientific theories, it have a description of the scientific definition of “theory” explained at an early stage.

    Without a clear understanding of the worlds muddled misconceptions will abound even in a sympathetic audience which wishes to learn.

    With know-it-all interjections, it is important to identify to the audience, the capability levels of those posing as “authorities” who interjecting with asserted ignorance.

    Creationist trolls neither retract stupid statements nor learn anything from expert advice available.

    It is therefore better than becoming bogged down in their nonsense to simply expose their ignorance and lack of substance in their claims.

    For example when this troll says “evolution has been refuted“, https://www.richarddawkins.net/2015/12/the-12-days-of-evolution-with-its-okay-to-be-smart/#li-comment-193709, this is a statement that he does not know what a scientific (or logically reasoned) refutation is, and is therefore merely the personal opinion of an uneducated know-it-all ignoramus!
    It has nothing to do with the expert evidenced view of the subject!

    (There are plenty of examples on the links from that discussion. )

  151. Note: I stupidly clicked report post because reply and report are next to each
    other and I clicked first and thought later! Since I can’t unreport the post,
    I’ll apologize for that here.

    No need to apoligize, easy mistake to make.

    Oh, you must be at wonder of the Fact of Quantum in science?

    You will have to elaborate. I do wonder at the ability of scientists to hypotheze such concepts in order to gain an ever
    more accurate understanding of nature. At the beginning of the 20th century Planck explained why some objects change
    colour when heated, by assuming that energy can only be absorbed or released in tiny packets (quanta). Quantum describes
    the amount of something. A quantum of light is a photon – is that a fact?

    It’s amazing how a particle can be at 2 different places at the same time. But since its a fact it’s obviously not up to
    any of that research idea anymore!

    The theory of evolution by natural selection explains the fact of evolution. It’s one of the best substantiated scientific
    theories, supported by evidence from genetics, biology, paleontology etc. But that does not imply that research in the
    various fields of evolutionary science should stop.

    Quantum electro-dynamics is arguably the most precisely tested scientific theory, and I’m not going to quibble if YOU want
    to say QED is a fact. But the OP is referring to evolution as fact, not the theory of evolution by natural selection.

    I hope you don’t mind I say fact, when talking to you I will only refer to quantum theory as FACT,
    that way you’ll understand what I mean better ??

    You keep referring to theories. Perhaps you should take the time to read the article again.
    Then read my posts and the penny might drop. I have not suggested referring to the theory as fact and neither has RD.

    Since you didn’t seem to get my response clearly, possibly I wrote it in mud.
    IF science has evolved (and I don’t mean in method of course), and all this is just another evolved part of science,
    I welcome all theories being expressed as fact when talking to others (as the article prefers).

    There you go again. Are you doing an impression of a creationist, diverting the subject from evolution to discuss
    the scientific theory. And the only person suggesting any or all theories be expressed as fact is you.
    This is what RD had to say above:

    “In our tussles with creationists it is evolution itself rather than natural selection that bears the brunt of their
    attacks. So we can set aside the status of natural selection and concentrate on the fact of evolution as something
    so firmly established by evidence that to deny it would be perverse. It is a fact, beyond all reasonable dispute,
    that if you trace your ancestry and your dog’s ancestry backwards you’ll eventually hit a common ancestor.”

    Please let all other areas of science know that their theories are now facts when discussing to people who don’t understand 🙂
    I might keep the theory idea within science areas only (ie on facebook for instance, I’ll actually state fact).
    But I suppose I’m a bit of a dinosaur on science, it’ll take a while to adapt to this change.

    See above.

  152. YES! I agree. As a biologist I will always refer to the various THEORIES in evolutionary biology and will not ever refer to “evolution is a fact.” That would lead us in the wrong direction.

    I would ask the creationist If they understand what a theory is (obviously they do not).

  153. I propose to also do a switch and start reffering to religion as a theory (in the popular sense of the word -an unsupported hypothesis) . And emphasise thelack of supporting proof . As opposed to “an opinion or hypothesis I like from people I like or respect”

  154. hardy
    Jan 7, 2016 at 11:04 am

    I propose to also do a switch and start reffering to religion as a theory (in the popular sense of the word -an unsupported hypothesis)

    I think this would just muddy the waters further!

    Most religions and religious claims, would not even qualify as a scientific hypothesis.

    http://www.livescience.com/21490-what-is-a-scientific-hypothesis-definition-of-hypothesis.html
    A hypothesis is a suggested solution for an unexplained occurrence that does not fit into current accepted scientific theory. The basic idea of a hypothesis is that there is no pre-determined outcome. For a hypothesis to be termed a scientific hypothesis, it has to be something that can be supported or refuted through carefully crafted experimentation or observation. This is called falsifiability and testability, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica.

    A key function in this step in the scientific method is deriving predictions from the hypotheses about the results of future experiments, and then performing those experiments to see whether they support the predictions.

    Religious thinking almost invariably starts with preconceptions based on unevidenced “faith, has no requirements to be subjected to scientific testing, and has no requirement to take into account prior evidenced scientific knowledge. Indeed, much of it flies in the face of the evidence.

  155. Right on!

    Evolution is a fact, as are the laws of nature from which evolution springs.

    But to make such a big deal about the fact that the vast majority of humanity employs rather silly and simplistic ideas based on egoism to totally miss the point about the foundations of reality smacks of “Sheldon Cooperish” egotism.

  156. A principle is really a ‘law of the mind’, where ‘law’ as a term should be appropriated to something ‘man made’, or possibly a better use would be that it can be ‘governed’ by other men and even enforced.

  157. You don’t have to have a belief to answer these simple questions:
    THEORY
    A proposed explanation whose status is still conjectural and subject to experimentation, in contrast to well-established propositions that are regarded as reporting matters of actual fact.

    FACT
    You will have to sleep tonight because you have no control over your pre-programmed executable that governs the ‘act’ of living on this planet

  158. Osias Joaquin
    Jan 19, 2016 at 10:57 am

    You don’t have to have a belief to answer these simple questions:

    But you would need to be unclear on scientific definitions (given elsewhere on this discussion), to quote vernacular non-scienctific the definitions you have!

    THEORY
    A proposed explanation whose status is still conjectural and subject to experimentation, in contrast to well-established propositions that are regarded as reporting matters of actual fact.

    https://www.richarddawkins.net/2015/11/is-it-a-theory-is-it-a-law-no-its-a-fact/#li-comment-191733

    Theory: In science, a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world that can incorporate facts, laws, inferences, and tested hypotheses.

    FACT
    You will have to sleep tonight because you have no control over your pre-programmed executable that governs the ‘act’ of living on this planet

    Fact: In science, an observation that has been repeatedly confirmed and for all practical purposes is accepted as “true.” Truth in science, however, is never final and what is accepted as a fact today may be modified or even discarded tomorrow.

  159. Osias Joaquin
    Jan 19, 2016 at 10:35 am

    A principle is really a ‘law of the mind’, where ‘law’ as a term should be appropriated to something ‘man made’, or possibly a better use would be that it can be ‘governed’ by other men and even enforced.

    That is the definition of a legislative law, not a scientific law!

    https://www.richarddawkins.net/2015/11/is-it-a-theory-is-it-a-law-no-its-a-fact/#li-comment-191733

    Scientific Law: A descriptive generalization about how some aspect of the natural world behaves under stated circumstances.

  160. “Fact: In science, an observation that has been repeatedly confirmed and for all practical purposes is accepted as “true.” Truth in science, however, is never final and what is accepted as a fact today may be modified or even discarded tomorrow.”

    The laws of nature may at any time be subjected to scientific observations which advance and change human understanding. The laws of nature are as magnificient as, and ultimately far more powerful than, any supernatural god ever contemplated by humans. Human egotism is a formidable obstacle indeed.

  161. Alan4discussion

    My explanation of theory and your pasted ‘science theory’ are exactly the same no? A well-substantiated explanation, in the same theory context; is the same as a proposed explanation.

    This is your English: ‘to quote vernacular non-scienctific the definitions you have!’
    What is a ‘non-scienctific’ term exactly when spelt correctly?? Detailed stepped conclusions are not pre-requisites to joining a simple forum for discussion. The use of a native dialect is good – we are all English…. there is no such phrase as a ‘non scientific definition’.

    I stated a fact did I not? You will sleep tonight Alan – that is a fact.
    You relayed the definition behind what a scientific fact is – this forum might not be a suitable place for refreshing your memory. I want to talk and conclude – not get wrapped in unprofitable reasonings

  162. Alan

    I forgot – I found something similar to my theory explained – here is RD’s statement at the top of the page on THEORY 1 – which he wants to move to THEORY 2….. to ‘fact’

    A hypothesis proposed as an explanation; hence, a mere hypothesis, speculation, conjecture; an idea or set of ideas about something; an individual view or notion.

    Has anybody broken down what RD is actually saying?

  163. Osias Joaquin
    Jan 19, 2016 at 12:18 pm

    I forgot – I found something similar to my theory explained – here is RD’s statement at the top of the page on THEORY 1 – which he wants to move to THEORY 2….. to ‘fact’

    No! That is not what he is proposing.
    What he is proposing is that THEORY 1 is the recognised meaning of the term “scientific theory”, explaining HOW individual organisms evolve.

    [ THEORY 2] A hypothesis proposed as an explanation; hence, a mere hypothesis, speculation, conjecture; an idea or set of ideas about something; an individual view or notion.

    Is a common misuse of the vernacular term “theory”, [ THEORY 2] which creationists often quote when dismissing or dissing the scientific theory without looking at or discussing the evidence. Scientific theories are not “speculation or conjecture”! Even scientific hypotheses are not simply “conjecture”!

    Has anybody broken down what RD is actually saying?

    Yes. – But this is a long thread and you may have missed it.

    @OP – The party line among scientists arguing for evolution is to promote Sense 1, and I have followed it until today. But now I want to depart from the party line. I now think that trying to clear up this terminological point about the meaning of “theory” is a losing battle.

    This comment is about avoiding the confusion between the scientific and the vernacular definitions of “theory”. – Particularly when talking to those who are not familiar with scientific definitions.

    here is RD’s statement at the top of the page on THEORY 1 – which he wants to move to THEORY 2….. to ‘fact’

    You have misunderstood his position.
    What RD is saying, is that evolution being observed or inferred as happening, is a fact. The process by which natural selection changes species over time is a scientific theory (as defined in my comments and link).

    @OP – We should stop using “theory” altogether for the case of evolution and insist, instead, that evolution is a fact.

    This comment is about avoiding the confusion between the scientific and the vernacular definitions of “theory”, by starting with recognising the “fact” that evolution is happening – as geneticists, relationships between species, sub-species etc. and fossil records, continue to demonstrate.

  164. Osias Joaquin
    Jan 19, 2016 at 12:09 pm

    This is your English: ‘to quote vernacular non-scienctific the definitions you have!’
    What is a ‘non-scienctific’ term exactly when spelt correctly??

    A non-scientific definition is a common usage definition which lacks the precision of a scientific one. (eg OP – “theory 1 – scientific and theory 2 vernacular)

    Detailed stepped conclusions are not pre-requisites to joining a simple forum for discussion.

    This is a forum for discussing reason and evidence-based science.

    The use of a native dialect is good – we are all English….

    It is no good if you want to convey clear unambiguous meanings in a scientific discussion.

    there is no such phrase as a ‘non scientific definition’.

    I can assure you that many such unscientific definitions can be found in dictionaries – as in the examples below.

    http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/theory
    6a : a hypothesis assumed for the sake of argument or investigation b : an unproved assumption : conjecture

    I stated a fact did I not? You will sleep tonight Alan – that is a fact.

    It is a reasonable speculation, (not a fact), but it is quite possible something may keep me awake all night, or that I could be working a night-shift!

    You relayed the definition behind what a scientific fact is – this forum might not be a suitable place for refreshing your memory. I want to talk and conclude – not get wrapped in unprofitable reasonings

    There is nothing “unprofitable” about reasoning and evidence-based rationality – especially on a science site!

    this forum might not be a suitable place for refreshing your memory.

    Why would my memory need “refreshing” about standard scientific definitions I have used for many years, which I linked and quoted??

  165. Is anyone aware of the name of the latest episode of human or animal evolution? Would it be useful to show the world the theory of evolution in a contemporary example to try and validate it and make it more real?

  166. Evolution is not an “episode”. Evolution is an ongoing process. And creationists are never going to be convinced by evidence. They have devoted time, money, intellect, and dignity to religion. It requires extraordinary fortitude to admit to yourself that you have been an egregious fool. In the face of evidence that contradicts their heavily invested opinions, most humans “double down’. The greater and more convincing the evidence against their position the stronger their “faith”.
    When the end of the world didn’t come off on schedule those who had quit their jobs and given away their possessions were easily convinced that it was their “faith” that staved off the apocalypse. They certainly weren’t going to admit to themselves that they were just gullible morons.

  167. Apologies for upsetting you so much, I admit I am rather foolish. Could we try the word ‘example’. I am trying to see your argument stack up not shoot it down. Please don’t label, insult and dismiss me without any knowledge – this is my first post! Is this a website full of aggressive commenter’s or have I just been unlucky? Anyone can see the fact that to refuse to give a polite response and answer a simple question would be unintelligent an unreasonable behaviour.

  168. I am not upset. I was explaining why you are seldom, if ever going to convince a creationist with evidence or reason. I was not singling you out as a fool.
    I was pointing out that humans aren’t really good at admitting to their own errors, and the more foolish the error, the more reluctant they are to admit it to themselves. If you go along with the crowd and bully someone or join a lynch mob, you will soon convince yourself that it was the right thing to do. If you march into Poland, or Viet Nam, you will convince yourself that you are noble and patriotic. If you drop a bomb that kills babies, you will convince yourself that you have sacrificed your own convictions to a higher cause. You only killed the babies because “Nits make lice.”

    It works the other way too. If you want to make someone your friend, get him to do a favor for you. He will convince himself it was the right thing to do.

    When the youth grow up already aware that the emperor really is naked, things will change. But some will go to their graves praising his tailors.

  169. Straight talk
    Feb 10, 2016 at 3:21 am

    Could we try the word ‘example’. I am trying to see your argument stack up not shoot it down.

    The whole understanding of biological relationships is based on the historical ancestry of species in their evolution.

    Every related group is an “example” :- cats, dogs, sharks, reptiles, frogs, apple trees, grasses.

    Some earlier classifications based on observations of similarities have been, or are being, corrected and updated, as classifications are now based on genetics rather than purely on observations of structural similarities which could have evolved in parallel rather than by descent.

    Please don’t label, insult and dismiss me without any knowledge – this is my first post! Is this a website full of aggressive commenter’s or have I just been unlucky?

    Welcome to the site.

    The ancestral evolution of genera, species and subspecies, is shown in the family trees of the organisms concerned. The technical name for this classification is “Phylogenetic classification” or “Cladistics”, but “Family Trees” will do for general conversation.

    Here is a link to some pages of explanations of evolutionary relationships presented as tree diagrams.

    http://evolution.berkeley.edu/evolibrary/article/0_0_0/phylogenetics_04

    Evolution is an on-going process as field biologists observe, and animal and plant breeders manipulate.

  170. This artical touched topics but I would like to comment on 2. There is a difference between theory and fact. For a theory to become a fact, it must be witnessed and reproducible. Evolution does not reach that level. Evolution has not been witnessed and, as such, not been reproduced, due to the time required for evolution to take place. It is based on the material found, bones, etc, and this is . That doesn’t mean it isn’t true but simple lacks the first hand evidence required to call it a fact.

    The second deals with evolution and creation. They aren’t currently exclusive concepts. One disagreement is that it only took 7 days. But “days” are a concept that requires humans to develop. If you could talk to a horse, do you think he would know how old he is? I doubt it. Therefore, a day, prior to human existance has no set time frame, even in our solar system, a day varies in length, based on it equaling 1 circuit of the sun. Moreover, a God would have a hard time explaining the concept of millions or billions ofyears to a people who lack a frame of reference. Some believe that the difference is due to God creating and nature evolving. As yet, there is no proven cause to define what caused one species to change to another. It could be a random DNA mistake, radiation or something else. You don’t know what it could be. Maybe God. Can you prove otherwise?

  171. Steve Reeves #191
    May 9, 2017 at 6:03 pm

    For a theory to become a fact, it must be witnessed and reproducible.

    Which of course evolution has been both directly in experiments with bacteria, and indirectly by observing genetic changes over longer periods – along with analysis of the genetic diversity and selection within gene pools.

    Evolution does not reach that level.

    Wrong!

    Evolution has not been witnessed and, as such, not been reproduced, due to the time required for evolution to take place.

    It has been witness in organisms with short reproductive cycles relative to human life spans, and indirectly thousands of times, using preserved or fossil materials.

    It is based on the material found, bones, etc,. That doesn’t mean it isn’t true but simple lacks the first hand evidence required to call it a fact.

    Really??

    The second deals with evolution and creation. They aren’t currently exclusive concepts.

    They certainly are! Evolution is an on-going observable process, with examples from all life which has been studied in sufficient detail.

    One disagreement is that it only took 7 days. But “days” are a concept that requires humans to develop.

    This is an unevidenced biblical claim but their are numerous conflicting creation myths, none of which have supporting evidence –
    Turtles all the way down!

    Therefore, a day, prior to human existance has no set time frame,

    That is nonsense! There is geological and astronomical evidence of the length of (shorter) days on Earth, long before humans evolved or existed, and long before multi-cellular organisms evolved.

    even in our solar system, a day varies in length, based on it equaling 1 circuit of the sun.

    The circuit of a planet around the Sun is its year. A day is the time it takes to rotate from one mid-day (sun-facing) point to the next!

    Moreover, a God would have a hard time explaining the concept of millions or billions of years to a people who lack a frame of reference.

    So would anyone else, or the imagined gods in their minds! However time frames exist in solar systems with or without occupying life forms!

    Some believe that the difference is due to God creating and nature evolving.

    Some people believe in fairies, or a flat Earth, but as with the numerous gods, they fail to produce credible evidence!

    As yet, there is no proven cause to define what caused one species to change to another.

    This is nonsense! The sciences of ecology, and genetics, give clear examples both of branching species, merging species, mutant variations, and of mechanisms of selection pressure.

    It could be a random DNA mistake, radiation or something else.

    Those can certainly cause mutations, which COULD make changes (usually neutral of damaging) to genetic material.

    You don’t know what it could be.

    Actually, in many instances we do! You just identified two of them (DNA copying errors and radiation damage!) – there can also be chemical damage as with carcinogens) –

    Maybe God. Can you prove otherwise?

    Ah! The argument of:- “I have no idea – so I KNOW that god-did-it-by-magic rather than admitting ignorance and commencing study”!

    Maybe fairies, leprechauns or Martians with ray-guns did it! Can you prove otherwise? – or do you also expect beliefs to be supported by credible testable evidence, rather than wild guesses in the absence of any real knowledge of the subject?

    Ecology, genetics, biochemistry and evolution, are complex subjects. – Better make a start with basic science like planetary orbits, rotations, day-lengths, seasons, tides, and the basic physics of inertia and rotation, along with the family trees of descent of the various families of living organisms, – so as to learn how to update and correct misconceptions and understand about the workings of physical universe.

  172. psaras #190
    Nov 26, 2016 at 9:08 pm

    Dr Dawkins and many of the commentators here seem to have little understanding of some basic scientific concepts.

    Correction Dr Dawkins and many of the commentators here are working scientists who have a very deep understanding of science and its methods.

    This article will help you clarify them:

    That linked article does indeed identify some myths about science, but most are strawman views of science, which are propagated by amateur non-scientists!

  173. “Theories do not graduate and become facts; theories are based on facts.”

    Remark made on the Dick Cavett show some years ago by that wonderful polymath, Shakespearian, medical doctor, director of operas, Renaissance man – and proud atheist Dr. Jonathan Miller.

  174. Steve Reeves #191
    May 9, 2017 at 6:03 pm

    Moreover, a God would have a hard time explaining the concept of millions or billions ofyears to a people who lack a frame of reference.

    S’funny, I thought your imaginary god was meant to be omniscient and omnipotent but you think he’d struggle to even explain something as simple as the passage of time to people who know perfectly well how the seasons, the years and their lifetimes go by? Doesn’t sound very omnipotent to me. Sounds like a complete dumbass if he has to use the word day when he really means millions or billions of years.

    The buybull seems to think people can cope with time spans as long as 969 years (Methusaleh’s age) without any problem or too much scratching of bronze age heads and it seems easy enough to little old non-omnipotent me to talk about a thousand times that long is a million years and a thousand thousand times that long is a billion. Not a staggeringly hard concept to grasp. But your supergod threw his hands up at that and just settled for saying days. Sheesh.

    Now admittedly he’d struggle if the people were too stupid to understand the difference between a day and a year 🙂

  175. Steve Reeves #191
    May 9, 2017 at 6:03 pm

    One disagreement is that it only took 7 days. But “days” are a concept that requires humans to develop.
    Therefore, a day, prior to human existance has no set time frame, even in our solar system, a day varies in length, based on it equaling 1 circuit of the sun.

    So to sum up your argument!

    It is typical gapology, and seems to say: –
    “I have no concept of the evolution of the Solar System from an accretion disk, the age of the planets, the mechanisms producing day-length, or the evolution of the Earth as a planet – therefore: pretending that I “know” knowledge I do not have (due to lack of study), -god-did-it by mysterious magic, so I really know it all!”

    As yet, there is no proven cause to define what caused one species to change to another. It could be a random DNA mistake, radiation or something else.

    There is a whole list of sciences and thousands of reputable studies, which explain in detail, the environmental causes of selection pressure, and competition between organisms, causing evolutionary changes, branching into new sub-species, or extinctions in species which fail to adapt.

    You don’t know what it could be.

    Wrong! – You don’t know what it could be because you have not studied the relevant sciences of biology, genetics, geology, astronomy, climatology, or physics, because you choose to read made-up myths from the ignorant of the bronze age instead!
    Scientists and educated citizens, cannot be assumed to share your ignorance of these subjects.

  176. Dan #194
    May 9, 2017 at 9:30 pm

    “Theories do not graduate and become facts; theories are based on facts.”

    That is correct, but wilful misunderstanding tries to pervert this!

    Facts are based on observations of repeatable objectivity!
    Theories offer testable explanations of systems based on details of HOW these fundamentals function in practical situations giving confirmed predictable results!

    That evolution (of life, stars, or planets), is happening, is a fact!
    The precise changes in genetic details of individual organisms or systems, is theory or hypothesis.

  177. The sheer hubris of people who don’t even understand that a day is not how long it takes the earth to go round the sun being prepared to pontificate wildly and erroneously on subjects like evolution and genetics never ceases to amaze me. Nor does how they can say on the one hand that the buybull is the infallible word of a perfect being and then jump through hoops trying to explain away its many errors and inconsistencies. The greatest of these surely is the New Testament in its entirety which means the Old Testament was all a mistake. A bit of a clanger for an omnisicent superbeing you’d think.

  178. Something has just struck me. Is not Trump’s mentality awfully similar to the god of the buybull? They’re both raging egotistical narcissists who demand unwavering loyalty and worship, they’re both vindictive and vengeful, they both think they’re omniscient yet everything they touch turns to shit. Neither of them can ever admit to a mistake even though that’s pretty much all they achieve. One lobs plagues, pillars of salt and floods when he’s throwing a hissy fit and the other lobs the modern day equivalent, cruise missiles and a Moab. Oh, and their followers are both out of the shallow end of the gene pool.

  179. Here’s the thing :

    Life happened because of the various properties of matter : an electron attracts a proton or mass attracts mass or well, there’s that weak and strong nuclear forces.

    These understandings help humans further understand why H20 formed out of elemental H2 and O2 and well, such other thingies beyond my comprehension.

    IOW, life came about because of the properties – physical, chemical whatever – of matter.
    What I’m trying to convey in my typically rudimentary fashion is, that had there not been the need, among atoms, to form molecules through say, covalent or ionic bonds, then, larger and more complex molecules would not have formed.

    I think, that’s what I’ trying to convey.

    Now then, why does matter have properties? Who or what provided matter with properties? Why do the 4 forces exist? What if they did NOT exist? Is it logical to wonder the absence of these forces, or the absence of matter, or, perverse as it may seem, the absence of logic?

    IOW, what exactly is logic? ie., if matter did NOT have properties, would logic not have come about?

    erm, forgive me my incoherence for, this is all the comprehension and thought that i’m capable of but, I do hope that I’ve asked a Q that makes sense.

    tks n rgs
    bns

  180. Sundar BN #201
    Jun 13, 2017 at 9:20 am

    Now then, why does matter have properties? Who or what provided matter with properties? Why do the 4 forces exist? What if they did NOT exist? Is it logical to wonder the absence of these forces, or the absence of matter, or, perverse as it may seem, the absence of logic?

    I think what you are touching on is parts of the speculative multiverse hypotheses, which look at what sort of universes might form / have formed, if these forces, mixes of energy, strengths of fields and laws of physics were slightly different.

    IOW, what exactly is logic? ie., if matter did NOT have properties, would logic not have come about?

    If organic molecules had not formed and thinking life had not arisen, then logic as a process of induction and deduction, would not exist in the absence of life with the neural circuits to carry out those logical thought processes.

    Who or what provided matter with properties?

    “Who”: presents the problem of the origins of an enabling organism and the paradox of infinite regressions of creators.

    “What”: is currently unknown, although there are various speculative suggestions about the origins of the big-bang.
    Meanwhile, particle physicists are working investigations and seeking more information.

    The evolution of the universe is mapped out from after the very earliest stages of the big-bang.

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