Joined: Oct. 2005
|Quote (Glen Davidson @ May 22 2018,05:41)|
|Since the whole "fact" issue comes up often enough, I'd note that the first definition that the web OED has for "fact" is this:|
1A thing that is known or proved to be true.
I think that's about right. F=ma is a fact, that life has evolved is a fact. KF is muddled about the issue because, well, he's KF, but also because Wiki's claim that laws and theories being called "facts" is a bit strange. I mean, is evolutionary theory a fact? Other than that it exists (or at least a bunch of ideas that we call a theory does, but it is more like ecology and its models, which usually aren't called theories), not exactly. It states facts, it explains facts. It seems like it's better to say that evolution as a process (or set of processes) is a fact in the sense that it's a process that has occurred and does occur, while evolutionary theory is a theory about that fact, about the facts involved.
E=mc^2 presumably is a fact, one more correct than the empiric facts that support that claim, but again, is the theory of relativity a fact, other than it factually exists? I don't know if it's wrong to say that the theory of relativity is a fact, but it's weird to say that it's a fact. It's a conception, a model about facts.
To be sure, one problem is that "fact" itself is a rather slippery idea, and it simply isn't the preferred term for discussing theories, laws, and data. Indeed, "evidence" and "data" are more typically favored over "fact," and while those may be heavily affected by theories and models, where theory ends and the evidence for it begins seems more clear with those terms than with a term like "fact."
I think that "fact" is usually understood as a sort of "truth" too much for science to be comfortable using it instead of "evidence" or "data." We'd rather not call a theory a "fact" because it could be wrong altogether, but maybe even more importantly, because it has a much better chance of being partly wrong (established theories almost never will be entirely wrong). We're not really tempted to call a theory evidence or data, so again, better those terms than "facts."
So in a sense, I'd like to say that science should just not use the term "fact." Except it's not really possible to avoid it altogether, because people "want the facts" and it's just too common a term to expunge from science and its interface with the public. I think, then, that we can say that it's a fact that life has evolved, and a fact that E=mc^2, but that evolutionary theory and relativity theory themselves are ways of modeling, conceiving, and understanding such facts. And, importantly, relativity theory is not a fact, and evolutionary theory is not a fact, because both are ways of understanding multiple facts. They contain multiple facts. They may help to produce multiple facts that science--and the courts--can use as evidence.
Laws state facts. Theories do too, but they're different linguistically in that they're articulations of many facts, and thus they state facts and the relationships of facts. We don't typically call a theory a fact because theories both contain and are about facts.
Language is vague so something can be a theory and a fact at the same time. Gravity is a theory and a fact. It's a fact in the sense that if i throw a brick off the Chrysler Building it'll fall to the ground. That's the fact of gravity. Gravity is also the theory that it does so according to F=(G*m1*m2)/r^2, and it's also another theory that blah blah General Relativity blah blah. Evolution is the same way. It's a fact that things evolve and have evolved, and evolution is also the theory that this happened because of natural selection blah blah random mutation blah blah genetic drift.