09 February 2010

Theory or Fact? There is a big difference.

Faith and Science are not necessarily opposites.

While I am not big on debates, I do enjoy seeing informed people of maturity and integrity respond appropriately and respectfully to each other to ferret out information and arrive at a better understanding of the issue.

What really annoys me is when people only inform themselves as to the strengths of their argument, totally ignoring the weak points and then taking personal pot shots at the people on the other side. That's just not on!

Whether we are talking about creation and evolution, a theory put forth by a well meaning man which has since created a huge revenue stream for publishers, or Climate Change/Global Warming or the value/reality and potential of space travel, let's sip our tea nicely and listen as well as chime in!

"If you and I always agree, one of us is redundant." -- Ken Howard

Almost half of New Zealanders are not convinced global warming is real, a survey suggests.

A NZ Herald survey has found that although United Nations experts have grown steadily more certain about climate change, the public is not so sure.

Almost one in five of 2296 respondents said the concept was a giant con, and a further 28 per cent said global warming had not been conclusively proved.

The NZ Prime Minister's science adviser, Sir Peter Gluckman, said the 28 per cent figure was not surprising as scientists were not claiming conclusive proof. He said little in science could be conclusively proven.

“If the facts don't fit the theory, change the facts.” Albert Einstein

Part of the problem is the way the information is presented. When contenders make things political (IPCC) or personally attack each other (Leighton Smith) or turn a personal profit (Al Gore), the rest of us become skeptical.

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From John Pratt, a science teacher and more:

It is extremely important to distinguish between facts and theories in science, and in every other subject also, because facts usually remain the same and theories often change. They are not always easy to differentiate, and even scientists forget to do it.

Try Replacing the Word "Fact"

The word "fact" has several meanings, which can be very confusing. In popular usage it can mean either "observation," "theory," or "truth." As an example of each, one can say, "it is a fact that every time I have dropped this ball, it fell to the ground." That is what has been observed so far, and the word "fact" can be replaced with "observation." One can also say, "it is a fact that every time I have dropped this ball, gravity pulled it to the ground." Even though this statement appears very similar to the first, "gravity" really refers to a theory proposed to explain why the ball is observed to fall. Finally, if one so thoroughly believes that the theory of gravity is really "true," he could replace "a fact" with "true," which would take the meaning beyond science into the realm of his personal convictions.

This confusion can often be avoided by always replacing the word "fact" with "observation," "theory" or "truth," whichever seems to convey the intended meaning best. Remember that if the meaning is "observation," then it is as fallible as the observer. If it is a "theory," then it also could be disproven someday. If it is claimed to be "truth," then it is a statement of the personal conviction of the speaker, which is outside the domain of science.

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