Theory is not fact

Whenever someone even hints at a criticism of Darwinism or “climate change,” the True Believers come out of the woodwork to try to shame the heretics. You can always tell who they are, because they say things like “climate change is a fact” or “evolution is a fact the same way gravity is a fact.” The implication here is, you wouldn’t be so dumb as to deny the reality of gravity, would you, so why are you denying the reality of evolution or climate change?

But here the True Believer shows his blind faith, for with his inability to distinguish between fact and theory he exposes himself as someone whose understanding of how science works doesn’t even rise to the level of middle school. Another way to describe this sort of blind faith is science fetishism. As I told the anklebiting commenter to Surak’s article, we do not permit people to fetishize science here.

A fact is something we observe; for example, that objects in free fall accelerate toward the Earth’s center at a rate of 9.8 m/s2 or that the Moon orbits the Earth with an average orbital speed of 3700 km/s. There is no doubt of the fact that objects fall toward each other, because we see it and measure it all the time; this is what the science fetishist means when he says “gravity is a fact.” But what he apparently doesn’t realize is that gravity is a theory. Theories are not facts, they are models that attempt to make sense of the facts. And, as it turns out, there are several theories of gravity that attempt to make sense of what we know: Newton’s universal law of gravitation, Einstein’s general theory of relativity, modified Newtonian dynamics, and so on. And, as we all know from the various scientific revolutions that have taken place in the last several hundred years, no theory is invulnerable to being overturned by new and better evidence or new ways of thinking.

When a science fetishist leaps into a conversation to tell you that evolution is a fact, the first thing you should tell him is that you are fully aware of the fact that different lifeforms have emerged over the course of the Earth’s natural history and that lifeforms have been observed to change over relatively short periods of time. And then ask him which theory explains it — microevolution, macroevolution, speciation, microbial evolution, or chemical evolution — and why. At that point you will expose what Hugh Ross describes as the evolution shell game when fetishists argue about evolution, wherein he will either substitute the facts of fossils and other evidence for theory or well-established forms of evolution for those that are not at all supported.

As for climate change as “fact,” I can only surmise that our True Believer is not aware that scientists — including the famous hockey stick guy, himself — are now finally admitting that there has been no significant warming in the last two decades. It’s only a matter of time before the whole edifice of human-caused “climate change” collapses.

UPDATE: im2l844 asks in the comments:

Do you have a concise response to the “consensus” argument that is invariably trotted out by the AGW faithful?

Yes, there are two responses: who cares? and what consensus?

Who cares if there’s a consensus? Reality isn’t decided by a vote. There was a time when 97% of scientists thought the Earth was the center of the universe, so that tells you the value of consensus.

The reality is, there isn’t a consensus about global warming or climate change or whatever the True Believer wants to call it. The 97% statistic that is invariably trotted out is based on a very small number of scientists polled — just 77 — who met the criteria for a 2-minute survey as part of a student’s thesis. What the True Believer either doesn’t know or refuses to acknowledge is that over 31,000 scientists from an array of scientific fields have signed a petition stating they believe “there is no convincing scientific evidence that human release of carbon dioxide, methane, or other greenhouse gases is causing or will, in the foreseeable future, cause catastrophic heating of the Earth’s atmosphere and disruption of the Earth’s climate.”

6 thoughts on “Theory is not fact

  1. Thanks for this. You’ve been on a roll recently, Sarah. I seldom comment, but I always read.

    Do you have a concise response to the “consensus” argument that is invariably trotted out by the AGW faithful?

    If I can’t make a reasonable argument in three sentences or less then I believe I’m doing it wrong and likely wasting my time.

  2. Thanks for the support — it’s appreciated. And that’s a good question. I’ll post a response as an update to the article.

  3. “Do you have a concise response to the “consensus” argument that is invariably trotted out by the AGW faithful?”

    Reality doesn’t run on consensus. Ptolemy’s flawed geometrical models were accepted for centuries before they were overturned by better models grounded in empirical data that modeled reality better. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EYPapE-3FRw

  4. Thanks, Russell. You’re right, of course. If consensus was a reliable metric for what constitutes fact, we would still believe all sorts of wacky stuff in a variety of disciplines.

  5. No problem, im2l844.

    The history of science is littered with failed theories and hypotheses, many of which were considered to be correct by the majority at the time.

    Consensus only works for subjective topics, like what to have for lunch, never for objective areas of inquiry.

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