Words mean things, even to creationists

Professor Moran notes that Evolution Is a Fact and a Theory. It has been 30 years since this distinction was clearly described yet some are still confused.

When non-biologists talk about biological evolution they often get confused over several different meanings of the word “evolution.” On the one hand, there’s the question of whether or not modern organisms have evolved from older ancestral organisms or whether modern species are continuing to change over time. On the other hand, there are questions about the mechanism of the observed changes… how did evolution occur? Biologists consider the existence of biological evolution to be a fact. It can be demonstrated today and the historical evidence for its occurrence in the past is overwhelming. However, biologists readily admit that they are less certain of the exact mechanism of evolution; there are several theories of the mechanisms of evolution.

Gravity is used as an example. We can see the apple fall out of the tree and hit the ground. That is fact. Its speed, acceleration, and trajectory can be measured. Models to explain that behavior have improved over time from the very early ‘heavier falls faster’ until Galileo to Newton’s laws of motion and then to Einstein’s theories. The facts are how we see things. The theory is the structure we can use to tie together all things that fall so we can predict the behavior of falling things. The theories have improved over time, become more inclusive of falling things and more accurate in describing how they behave. The facts remain the same.

With evolution, the facts include the geologic record, animal breeding, and observed changes in species over time. The theory is about how this happens.

But what is “fact”? Besides confusing fact and theory, some also get into games with the meanings of words. That usually gets into assertions that everything is in the mind or delving into a necessity for absolute meanings. Perceptions, error in measure, and how they fit into language are dismissed.

A “fact,” as Stephen J. Gould pointed out (see above), means something that is so highly probable that it would be silly not to accept it.

As with many things, there are people who hold to a reality they desire with an amazing tenacity. They don’t care whether reality is ‘silly’ or not because they have more important things (to them) at stake.

These people will not be convinced of the “facthood” of (macro)evolution by any logical argument and it is a waste of time to make the attempt. The best that we can hope for is that they understand the argument that they oppose. Even this simple hope is rarely fulfilled.

The same phenomena can be seen a range of issues from climate research to government economic theories.

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