Clarification of terms

26 posts / 0 new
Last post
Jared Alesi's picture
Clarification of terms

So, to everyone who says that evolution is "just a theory", know this: Your idea of theory and the actual definition are different. Colloquially, a theory is simply a hypothetical. Like, creationists will behave as if Darwin got high and said, "You know, what if all life had common ancestors?" And that's it. In reality, a scientific theory is a rigorously tested hypothesis that has been accepted as fact in the scientific community, can predict outcomes of related problems, can be interpolated and extrapolated with accuracy, and adequately explains natural phenomena. Saying that evolution is a theory is actually a good compliment. Theory is the highest quality a scientific idea can achieve.

Subscription Note: 

Choosing to subscribe to this topic will automatically register you for email notifications for comments and updates on this thread.

Email notifications will be sent out daily by default unless specified otherwise on your account which you can edit by going to your userpage here and clicking on the subscriptions tab.

Sirkenstien's picture
kinda like music theory then?

kinda like music theory then? Sorta makes sense, as there are lots of different ways that notes can relate to each other. To say that evolution is a theory and not proven is like saying music theory is just a theory in the sense that it's not proven that it works. Music theory is knowledge about how musical notes work together the same way evolution is the theory of how the universe actually functions.

Jared Alesi's picture
Exactly. Rationality Rules

Exactly. Rationality Rules has a video on YouTube about this. It's a great channel, and you should absolutely check it out.

Pitar's picture
Not true. Theory is but a

Not true. Theory is but a hypothesis until proven factual. At that point it loses it's theory status and become classified as fact. Evolution, though a very strong contender for factual status, has not yet been substantiated as such so it lives on only as a theory, not a fact. This is the ammunition theists use against it. Moreover, the theory of evolution remains tied to advances in the sciences and discoveries supporting it. Funding for that from a god fearing body politic is a tough row to hoe. The bishops won't bless off on it and aldermen don't need them scolding them for supporting such devilry.

Oh, and BTW, theory is the lowest level of scientific inquiry. Everything is built upon it.

Jared Alesi's picture
You're making an equivocation

You're making an equivocation fallacy by using colloquial definition. Abiogenesis, the hypothesis of how nonlife became living, is what isn't proven, but highly supported. The theory of evolution by natural selection is fact, and is used to understand almost all facets of biology. This definition of theory is the highest quality of scientific principle, in that it is factual, and a means to uncover more facts previously unknown.

Jared Alesi's picture
The layman's term of theory

The layman's term of theory is synonymous with the scientific definition of hypothesis. The scientific definition of theory is synonymous with the layman's term fact.

ʝօɦռ 6IX ɮʀɛɛʐʏ's picture
I consider this wrong on two

I consider this wrong on two accounts. Firstly, regular people don't tend to use theory as a hypothesis, they use it as an explanation for something. If my girlfriend hasn't talked to me for a week, my theory could be that its because I forgot her birthday. It functions the same as a scientific theory, minus the scientific stuff.

Secondly, scientific theories get rigorously tested, via the hypothesis they produce; but hypothesis don't get rigorously tested to become scientific theories. I think you have that backwards.

Sirkenstien's picture
That's quite the verbal

That's quite the verbal gymnastics you have going on there. In fact, you proved Jared's point and you didn't even realize it.

LostLocke's picture
Yep. Exactly what Sirk said.

Yep. Exactly what Sirk said.
Your use of the word 'theory' here is would be a 'hypothesis' in science, not a theory.

ʝօɦռ 6IX ɮʀɛɛʐʏ's picture
Not exactly. My example is

Not exactly. My example is very simple, so for all intents and purpose it could serve as a rough hypothesis as well, or be turned into a hypothesis. But when the average person says they have a theory about something, they're typically saying they have an explanation for something. They're trying to answer the "why" question, much like scientists are.

The average person thinks of a hypothesis as a guess. When someone says "I have a theory about X" they're not trying to guess, they're trying to explain something. However, to be more precise, in science a hypothesis is your assumption about the outcome of an experiment, in other words, a hypothesis is the things you test. In my angry gf scenario, I can come up with a hypothesis: If I remember her next birthday, she won't be mad at me. Notice I'm not trying to explain her behavior anymore, I'm trying to test it. That's no longer a theory.

Jared Alesi's picture
When the average person gives

When the average person gives their 'theory' about something like in your example, it is purely conjecture, without experimentation. In other words, it's a hypothesis.

Jared Alesi's picture
When a hypothesis is tested

When a hypothesis is tested and proven to be true, it is applied in other similar scenarios to test. If the hypothesis is true in all scenarios, a working theory can be made, and adjusted or abandoned based on new evidence. At one point, evolution by natural selection was a hypothesis. Now it is a functional scientific theory, used to explain natural phenomena. The hypothesis of your mate getting mad when you forgot her birthday, once tested and proven to be true, can be elevated to the status of theory.

Randomhero1982's picture
Let's clear this up, there is

Let's clear this up, there is two definitions of 'Theory' according to the Oxford dictionary...

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.

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.

It is '1' that science/scientists use! And evolution falls within this parameter.

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.

It is only natural selection that could possibly be discussed as a 'theory' in lay terms, evolution however is a fact and called 'theory' by the actual scientific definition.

ʝօɦռ 6IX ɮʀɛɛʐʏ's picture
Ok, forget how normal people

Ok, let's forget how normal people use the word and focus on how scientists use it.

Pretend I’m a researcher. I need to develop a research question and a hypothesis before I can begin my research. The research question is what I want to research and the hypothesis is my prediction on the outcome of that research. In other words, a hypothesis is the thing I test. I can do that in two ways: I can develop a data-driven hypothesis or a theory-driven hypothesis.

A data-driven hypothesis is inductive. You are looking at prior research findings and expanding it into new territory. Let’s say I find a study that shows exercise makes people more attentive. So now I’ll expand on it and hypothesize that exercise affects memory too, because memory and attention are codependent. I have two options now, I can make a one-tailed or two-tailed hypothesis. A one tailed-hypothesis is specific, it predicts the direction of the effect: exercise will improve memory. A two-tailed hypothesis predicts that there will be an effect too, but it doesn't specify the direction: it could improve memory or worsen it.

Theory-driven hypothesis are those made from the predictions of a theory, not prior data, therefore it is deductive in nature. Theories seek to explain something. They organize several observations and try to explain why those observations exist. So, let’s say someone has a theory that a person’s social status is caused by their facial appearance. I can extract a hypothesis from that. I can say ok, based on this theory, I would assume attractive faces are seen as more trustworthy than unattractive faces. If I test this hypothesis and results show that my prediction is true, then the theory has gained support.

Evolution is a theory: It looks out into the world, sees all the diversity of life, and explains it by saying they’re all connected. Why are there so many species of animal? The theory claims that it’s because they all evolved from a common ancestor. This theory also makes use of a few driving mechanisms: natural selection, mutations, genetic drift, etc. I can use this to develop a theory-driven hypothesis: a poodle can evolve into a giraffe through mutations and natural selection. So then I go into a lab and conduct the experiment to test this hypothesis.

CyberLN's picture
John, you wrote, “ I can use

John, you wrote, “ I can use this to develop a theory-driven hypothesis: a poodle can evolve into a giraffe through mutations and natural selection. So then I go into a lab and conduct the experiment to test this hypothesis.”

I’ve never heard that the ToE includes making predictions about all the mutations that WILL take place in the future and then go on to pre-name the animals that result from those mutations. The ToE, to my knowledge, does not predict that poodles can evolve into giraffes either. That’s just silliness, John. But folks have seen mutations occur in labs. So despite your seeming attempt to debunk the ToE using silliness, changes to animals have been seen with, so to speak, the naked eye.

ʝօɦռ 6IX ɮʀɛɛʐʏ's picture
What? I wasn't trying to

What? I wasn't trying to debunk anything, and such changes should be possible under the theory. How hard is it to mimic natural selection in a controlled environment? And how hard is it to induce artificial mutations? We already know what a giraffe's DNA looks like, so we literally know how much a poodle's DNA would have to change before it turns into a giraffe.

Randomhero1982's picture
You literally know nothing

You literally know nothing about evolution.

LostLocke's picture
"So, let’s say someone has a

"So, let’s say someone has a theory that a person’s social status is caused by their facial appearance."

You just used the word theory in the common usage again. In the scientific method you would say, "So, let’s say someone has a hypothesis that a person’s social status is caused by their facial appearance."
And by the way, this is not our opinion of how to use hypothesis, this the DEFINITION of hypothesis. It's the same as if someone said, "The definition of a water molecule is 2 parts hydrogen to 1 part oxygen." And then you go, "I disagree with that because...." It doesn't matter if you agree or disagree with it, that's what water is.

Here, nice and simple for ya:


Attach Image/Video?: 

Sky Pilot's picture
Just another salad = https:/
Sheldon's picture
"A scientific theory is a

"A scientific theory is a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world, based on a body of facts that have been repeatedly confirmed through observation and experiment. Such fact-supported theories are not "guesses" but reliable accounts of the real world."

"A law in science is a generalised rule to explain a body of observations in the form of a verbal or mathematical statement. Scientific laws imply a cause and effect between the observed elements and must always apply under the same conditions."

Laws differ from scientific theories in that they do not posit a mechanism or explanation of phenomena: they are merely distillations of the results of repeated observation. As such, a law is limited in applicability to circumstances resembling those already observed, and may be found false when extrapolated.

All scientific facts are broadly explained by scientific theories, and these are expansive explanations of natural phenomena. Within scientific theories are smaller more concise explanations of how certain observed aspects of the phenomena behave as they do, and these are scientific laws. They do not explain the phenomena itself or offer any explanation of why it behaves as it does.

To say that a scientific theory is not yet proved is incorrect, science does not prove things it evidences them. The preponderance of evidence supporting species evolution through natural selection has long since established it as a scientific fact, as demonstrably true as the rotundity of the earth. It does not however have anything to say about the origins of life, but then neither do other scientific theories like gravity and relativity, and no one doubts them because of this. The simple fact is that people deny the fact of species evolution because it contradicts archaic religious dogma for which there isn't a shred of evidence, and which has at it's core supernatural claims that are the very antithesis of science, which by definition is the study of the natural physical world and universe.

ʝօɦռ 6IX ɮʀɛɛʐʏ's picture
You'll rarely come across the

You'll rarely come across the term "fact" within scientific research. Instead, the terms observations, results, data, findings, etc., are more appropriate.

Sheldon's picture
I agree, where did I say you

I agree, where did I say you often come across the word fact in scientific research? I said evolution was a scientific fact explained by the scientific theory.

A thing that is known or proved to be true.

In the scientific sense species evolution is known to be true, it is accepted as true by the entire scientific world, hence it is a 'scientific fact'.

ʝօɦռ 6IX ɮʀɛɛʐʏ's picture
Non-scientific people tend to

Non-scientific people tend to describe things as facts, more than scientific people. That's all I'm saying. If I'm writing a paper for publication, I'll reference other people's findings to support my claims, I don't reference "facts." It just seems unprofessional.

Sheldon's picture
Nevertheless evolution is

Nevertheless evolution is accepted as true by science, hence it is a scientific fact. This is objectively verifiable, and I'm not suggesting that scientific facts don't remain tentative, they do and they must. Any method for gathering knowledge that can't correct a mistake would be useless, it would cling to demonstrably erroneous claims and ideas in the face of overwhelming evidence, as creationists do incidentally. Scientific fact does not imply 100 % certainty, which is epistemologically impossible anyway. Science couches it's claims and is cautious in it's language, as it should be, but sadly creationists and religious apologists often try to misinterpret this dishonestly to portray scientific doubt about species evolution that simply isn't true.

Sapporo's picture
A hypothesis is a possible

A hypothesis is a possible explanation for observable phenomena. A theory is a hypothesis which has had a significant level of verification. "God" for example does not even qualify as a hypothesis.

Donating = Loving

Heart Icon

Bringing you atheist articles and building active godless communities takes hundreds of hours and resources each month. If you find any joy or stimulation at Atheist Republic, please consider becoming a Supporting Member with a recurring monthly donation of your choosing, between a cup of tea and a good dinner.

Or make a one-time donation in any amount.