Talk:Evolution as fact and theory

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Material moved[edit]

Defining evolution[edit]

As discussed above, Casey Luskin is a useless source for science, and the article did not reflect his anit-evolution claims. I've added another article by Moran as a source to clarify what evolution means generally, and specifically in biology, and have revised the wording a little to comply closely with Moran's article cited previously. He covers the points listed, albeit not in a simple checklist. I've tried looking at other sources, but haven't found any better reference for this specific set of definitions. The 1998 NAS report we reference covers similar issues, again not as a chacklist. They have a 2008 edition which gives a description, but again no checklist as far as I've found. . dave souza, talk 14:09, 10 March 2013 (UTC)

Thanks Dave for producing a more relevant citation for the meaning of the word "evolution" (Moran1993a). It enlightens me as to the origin of views commonly expressed in evolution-related articles in WP.
It's interesting that Moran flays into all the dictionaries: Oxford Concise Scientific, Websters, Chambers etc and indeed ignores the elucidation by Futuyma that he himself quotes and is in the article. The current Oxford "Pro" dictionary defines evolution as "the process by which different kinds of living organism are believed to have developed from earlier forms during the history of the earth", which may avoid the obvious shortcomings of the Oxford Scientific. But that is rather different to the "genetic" definition on which he depends. He says "Recently I read a statement from a creationist who claimed that scientists are being dishonest when they talk about evolution. This person believed that evolution was being misrepresented to the public. The real problem is that the public, and creationists, do not understand what evolution is all about." I think that attitude is condescending and self-defeating.
Unfortunately, by changing a list of definitions into one of "well-established facts" you have begged the point of the whole article, in particular no. 2: "All life forms have descended with modifications from ancestors in a process of common descent".
I still believe that Luskin's point is valid and I'm sorry you're unwilling to admit it: people are talking past each other partly because they are using the word "evolution" in different senses. This article is about the public perception of science. Gould, who in the absence of older citations I still believe to be the originator of the phrase used as the title of this article (Dobzhansky has his own article), was writing a popular article: one that in religious circles would be called "apologetic". By refusing to acknowledge these differences you are in danger of making scientists appear as obdurate as religionists. Chris55 (talk) 18:22, 10 March 2013 (UTC)
We do have some sources for the point that public ideas of evolution differ from current scientific thought, but as Moran notes, creationists sometimes hold to very different meanings. Luskin is clearly trying to put over a particular creationist view that microevolution or evolution within species is ok, but do we want to cover that in this article? The Oxford's use of "believed" looks very odd if it's describing science. . dave souza, talk 22:50, 10 March 2013 (UTC)
I've tracked down the original source of Luskin's definitions, which is Thomson, Keith Stewart (1982). "The meanings of evolution". American Scientist. 70: 529–531.  The author was a professor of biology at Yale. Is this an acceptable citation? Chris55 (talk) 20:25, 10 March 2013 (UTC)
Hmm. It's certainly better than Luskin, and gives one view of the position in 1982, but is showing its age a bit. I think most scientists now accept that avian dinosaurs aren't extinct! Apart from the slightly archaic language, it's surely wrong to say that "the third meaning is currently confined to a particular explanatory hypothesis, Darwinism." Not a neutral statement. A fourth meaning would be evolution as progression, a common idea but not one considered part of the modern evolutionary view. The idea that evolution means "change over time" is accurate, but not sure if it's illustrated by the article: is breeding of dogs evolution? So, I think there are some issues with this, and it would be good to get a better source giving a more up to date picture. . dave souza, talk 22:50, 10 March 2013 (UTC)
I agree it's reflecting past controversies, but I thought his comment on dinosaurs--"it's only hypothesis...that they became extinct at the end of the Cretaceous" was quite perspicacious. Wikipedia doesn't demand that citations should be neutral, and would Darwin have been a bit upset by your suggestion that the breeding of dogs has nothing to do with evolution? If we have to argue over the contents of citations in the same way as the contents of the articles, we'll never get anywhere. (And I was not the person who introduced the Luskin quote to the article in the first place. Had I noticed it came from rather than I would probably have deleted it anyway.) Chris55 (talk) 09:42, 11 March 2013 (UTC)
  • Perhaps useful: some useful desriptions, including "The word evolution has a variety of meanings. The fact that all organisms are linked via descent to a common ancestor is often called evolution. The theory of how the first living organisms appeared is often called evolution. This should be called abiogenesis. And frequently, people use the word evolution when they really mean natural selection -- one of the many mechanisms of evolution." It also notes that morphological change can occur without evolution, and evolution is not progressive. . dave souza, talk 23:20, 10 March 2013 (UTC)

E as T&F "in the literature"[edit]

Despite all the careful discussion preceding it, I still feel uncomfortable with the section Evolution as theory and fact in the literature, because it seems to me that at least some of the quotations arguing one or another viewpoint are not so much addressing the nature of evolution itself, or any meaning of the word evolution, so much as these are quibbles about definitions of the terms fact, and especially, theory.

This seems especially clear in the quotation from Richard Dawkins. I think what Dawkins is really saying, in something of a pique of impatience, is, people do not understand the word "theory" in its scientific sense, and it has been deliberately misapplied in its colloquial sense to attack the concept of evolution. So let's throw in the towel, abandon "theory" as a descriptor, and fall back on "fact" as a term that is much harder for evolution deniers to twist out of shape and confuse the public. No one is going to argue that evolution is "only a fact".

I don't doubt that there are real and substantive, as opposed to merely definitional, disagreements about whether evolution is better described and understood as theory or fact. But I'm concerned that these brief quotations taken out of their original context give the illusion of substantive disagreement where there may be little or none. Milkunderwood (talk) 01:42, 24 September 2013 (UTC)

Milkunderwood - There doesn't actually seem to be much in the literature about the phrasing so much as reiterations on opposing sides over it. I see it as the towel was thrown in on more than just that, that there was some tradeoff of a lost moral high ground in the combined usage, and it can come off as joining in advocacy wordgames and pettyfoggery, a strategically chosen and willfully deceptive attempt to confuse rather than inform the public. It seems reasonable and educational to bash "only a" in "only a theory" as misleading, and for one to say "facts supporting biological change over time exist" and "theory of modern synthesis is the best-accepted explanation of the facts", or combined quora "evolution is a fact, natural selection is a theory that explains most evolution". A scientific theory describes a higher level of understanding that ties facts together and is explanatory, making a conceptual difference between items of observed evidence and explanation of the items and typically clarifying the hierarchy of detail and certainty in hypothesis/theory/law. But use of "both a fact and a theory" seems just a wordgaming catchphrase, in use of 'just let me skip mentioning those are multiple meanings of evolution and let me redefine fact' to something that doesn't match Webster or any other scientific usage. Yeesh. There are better clarifications from Early Theories of Evolution based on Evidence of Evolution at those times; or Refuting Evolution that Evolution is true science not 'just a theory'; or Micsconceptions about Evolution; or even Evolution for Dummies. (Maybe go Noetic and look for Teilhardism and Evolutionary materialism.) Markbassett (talk) 17:10, 23 February 2015 (UTC)

Fitzhugh reworked[edit]

I have re-worked our presentation of Fitzhugh's argument. Fitzhugh has great certainty that the theory of evolution accurately describes our world, and the point of his letter is to philosophically distinguish between theories and facts in a quite technical manner. It is important that our presentation of his argument does not give the impression that Fitzhugh is questioning the truth or certainty of evolution. -Darouet (talk) 17:37, 12 August 2016 (UTC)

Proposal to undo the removal of Prof Smiddy's quote[edit]

The following sentence was removed from the section, "Evolution as a collection of theories not fact".

Prof William E. Smiddy writes, "evolution is still but a theory, not an experimentally verifiable fact."[1]

The editor's reason was that the removed sentence was "not notable for this subject". I respectfully disagree and would like to undo his removal. Here is my justification.

Not only is Prof Smiddy a board certified ophthalmologist, he is also an internationally recognized professor of ophthalmology in the nation's #1 ranked eye hospital at University of Miami.[2][3]

His cited publication was taken from a highly reputable JAMA Ophthalmology, which is an ISI-indexed journal, whose publisher is American Medical Association.[4]

In short, Prof Smiddy is a subject-matter expert in the scientific field of ophthalmology, and his quote from the cited publication was his professional opinion that he based on his scientific knowledge in ophthalmology.

Considering the wiki section is titled, "Evolution as a collection of theories not fact", and Prof Smiddy is advocating very exact position, it is notable for this subject.

References (talk) 17:36, 14 October 2016 (UTC)

I don't think Smiddy's comments on this topic are enlightening or helpful to readers, and there is zero reason why an ophthalmologist would be expected to know anything, whatsoever, about evolutionary theory. -Darouet (talk) 17:39, 14 October 2016 (UTC)
Exactly. His study of opthalmology doesn't qualify him to comment on evolution, string theory, etc. Doug Weller talk 18:08, 14 October 2016 (UTC)
it is a good thing his work as a surgeon has nothing to do with his credibility as a scientist. Jytdog (talk) 18:36, 14 October 2016 (UTC)
Smiddy's piece on evolution is published as a letter to the editor, who opted to include a reply. The piece is not a peer-reviewed publication. It is also grossly ignorant about the most basic facts of evolutionary theory. -Darouet (talk) 19:04, 14 October 2016 (UTC)
Please read the cited publication. Prof Smiddy made his statement as a rebuttal to an evolutionary model of eye. Ophthalmology specializes in the biological knowledge of eye. And his quote wasn't from some personal website; it was from a reputable science journal. Thus, his quote carries scientific weight. (FYI, a letter to the editor does NOT allow an author to make any unscientific statement. It is reviewed by the editor who is also a subject-matter expert in the field, and gets published only if the editor deems it worthy of publication; not all submitted letters are automatically published.)
@Doug Weller,
Not only does ophthalmology requires the extensive studies in many aspects of biology in general, it requires the in-depth scientific education related to eye. Please don't trivialize the professor's knowledge in biology (and yes, they teach evolution in biology -- and considering he's a professor of ophthalmology, he probably knows more about eye evolution than any of us or any other non-ophthalmology scientist.) If he were a professor of computer science, then you might have had a point, but he is a professor of ophthalmology. (And even if he were a professor of computer science, it may still be valid because the underlying disagreement is in the philosophical differentiation of scientific theory from fact, regardless of a field of the study, e.g. biology, physics, chemistry, etc. please read the cited publication by Kirk J. Fitzhugh, which appears on the same section for the details.) (talk) 19:56, 14 October 2016 (UTC)
anatomy =/= biology. surgeons only have to know anatomy to do their jobs; they don't have to understand science. Also the piece is a "letter" responding to an article; journals let people make fools of themselves such pieces within bounds as is just a letter, but that could never be published as an actual piece of scientific literature. Jytdog (talk) 21:14, 14 October 2016 (UTC)