Last night I got to watch an episode of The Wicked Edition by Dr. King’ori that aired in the beginning of this month. Over at YouTube it is titled “Is this the final debate between Atheists and Christians?”. The episode is a non-structured dialogue between Apostle Mr. T and the President of Atheists Society of Kenya, Harrison Mumia. Although dubbed as the final debate between Atheists and Christians, the episode simply served to demonstrate just how clueless Apostle T is when it comes to science and the questions of Scientific Facts vs Scientific Theories – and particularly the place of evolution as a theory that attempts to explain the diversity of life on earth.
That isn’t actually the biggest problem I have with the episode. My biggest problem is how majority of commenters on the YouTube video praised Apostle Mr. T for his grasp of science. Here are a few of those comments:
- Gonga like kama unaona Mr. T hakutupa school fees ~ Jacob Marshall.
- Mr T is both the pastor and the scientist Mumia ni Bure kabisa ~ Abduul Nuurki.
- The pastor is well informed. The president of atheists has no facts ~ Mwema Patti.
When majority of a population have such a poor understanding of a subject matter that’s very critical for progress, then you really must get very worried. It is due to such lack of understanding of certain basics that makes it possible for politicians to manipulate us, thereby giving the likes of King Kaka a reason to call us Wajinga.
This is because by and large a proper understanding of science ought to open up the critical thinking capacity of a people, so that when the politicians and the religious leaders come with their unmeasurable lies, they find us prepared to critically dissect those lies and lay them bare for the falsehoods that they are.
In that unstructured conversation Apostle Mr. T claimed that he has a degree in geology and environmental science, and that alone ought to have made him a scientist. However his lack of understanding on what Facts and Theories are in scientific terms makes him a complete layman of science.
In the video, Apostle Mr. T claimed that scripture (meaning the Bible) does not fight scientific facts but instead fights speculation and theories of science; where he concluded that Evolution is just but a mere theory (speculation) but not a scientific fact. In this understanding, he elevated what he terms scientific fact to be superior to scientific theory – when in fact it should be the other way around.
A scientific fact is nothing but an observation made through careful measurements. For example, and this has been used several times to differentiate between a fact and a theory in the field of science, when one holds an object that’s denser than air above the ground, the object will fall to the ground. Objects falling to the ground is a known fact. Different objects of different masses, although counter intuitive, fall to the ground at the same rate. That’s another fact.
When a scientist holds objects of known weights and allow them to fall from known heights (measurements) so that he can determine whether or not those objects fall at different rates, then what the scientist has done is called an experiment. The objects falling remain a fact, but for the scientist he has to take careful measurements – e.g. weigh the objects, raise them up to definite heights, and let them fall and measure the time it takes for the object to come from that height to the ground. One last time – these observations are called scientific facts. Unless someone is crazy, no one is expected to dispute these facts.
Another scientific fact I can use to drive this point home is when someone falls sick. Let’s assume you are feeling some headache – the fact that you are feeling the headache is a scientific fact. If you go to a doctor and the doctor performs certain tests, those tests (observations), are scientific facts. A scientific fact could be something like the doctor determining that your body temperature is 42 degrees celsius.
A scientific fact by itself is not very useful. Let’s say the doctor has measured your body temperature and found it to be 42 degrees celcius – that alone may not be useful. The doctor must provide an explanation why your body temperature has risen that much. In several instances, just knowing that your body temperature is 42 degrees celcius will not be enough data to tell him why that is the case. He may need to collect other facts e.g. is there any pathogen in your blood? Is there any food poison in your system? And so forth and so forth.
Once he collects these data – and depending on his findings, the doctor will come up with an explanation why your body temperature is 42 degrees celsius. That explanation, called a diagnosis, if based on sufficient data, will almost, with a high degree of confidence, be correct. If correct, and in most cases they are, the doctor is able to offer remedy against the fever. In a few instances especially when those facts (data points) were not properly collected through careful measurements, the explanation may be wrong – hence the doctor may end up giving you a wrong remedy.
So, when you have a fever and it gets measured to 42 degrees celsius, that becomes a scientific fact. When the doctor collects more facts and comes up with an explanation as to why you have that fever – that can be viewed as a scientific theory. A scientific theory from this simple analogy can therefore be defined as an explanation attempting to offer an understanding why certain facts are the way they are.
A rigorous definition of a scientific theory has been offered as follows: “A scientific theory is an explanation of an aspect of the natural world that can be repeatedly tested and verified in accordance with the scientific method, using accepted protocols of observation, measurement, and evaluation of results. Where possible, theories are tested under controlled conditions in an experiment.”
Going back to the falling bodies analogy – one may ask, “Why do objects fall to the ground?” Or, after making careful measurements and finding out that no matter the weight of an object, they will always fall down at the same rate, another may ask, “Why do all objects no matter their sizes in mass/weight fall at the same rate?”. These why questions seek an explanation – then someone may throw in an explanation like this one:
Or we could go with the scientific theory of gravity that has allowed humans to do among other things send satellites to space.
Note – It is a theory of gravity, not a fact of gravity. A theory because something like General Relativity attempts to offer explanations as to why objects fall, planets go around the sun, the stars go around the centres of their galaxies, and why the Universe is expanding.
The Universe is expanding is a fact (one of the rare facts that can be disputed given lack of accuracy in measurement), but General Relativity that attempts to explain why of those facts is a theory. Another theory hinged on the expansion of the Universe is called The Big Bang Theory, which is a theory that attempts to explain how the Universe came from a very tiny unmeasurable state to what it is today.
Of all the known scientific theories, the theory of evolution is probably the most established. I am not going to go into details why this is the case, but what you need to know is that the theory of evolution has actually been taken to an actual real court of law and put on trial against Intelligent Design.
The verdict from that trial was that Intelligent Design is not science and must not be taught in schools. What was interesting in that trial is that the presiding judge was a known Christian aligned to the Republican Party. It is a fact that most supporters of Republican Party are conservative Christians who believe in things like young earth creationism. This is however not to say that the judge was a young earth creationist by the time of the trial – put most probably he was.
As a theory, evolution is an explanation that tries to offer a unified understanding about several facts of life on earth – and one such fact is that we have diversity of life. You don’t have to do anything before you can realise that life on earth includes things like humans, dogs, cats, donkeys, a whole variety of trees, snakes, and a million other life forms.
That’s a fact. The question will be – Why do we have all these life forms? Why is life on earth diverse?
Another fact is that if you dig through rocks that have been left alone for unknown amount of time (dating will always tell us the time is in millions and billions of years ), you will find other different forms of life, and the deeper you dig, the more different from the current life forms they become. These are called fossils.
Another fact is that if you change the environment of a life form, the life form will adapt to the new environment, or die if it can’t adapt. Currently, about 25 species of plants and animals go extinct daily because they can’t adapt to environmental changes. Of all the already catalogued species, about 99 percent of them have gone extinct.
So again, the question will be why? Someone may answer that an invisible super intelligent being made them the way they are, but another person may say that natural selection gives rise to what he calls evolution – hence the theory of evolution.
Then another person may ask, if the theory of evolution is true, what can we expect if we subject the same life form to two different environments? The answer will be obvious – Given that evolution says life changes according to environmental factors, the two sets of life forms drawn from the same species will start becoming dissimilar over time if none of them die out.
Then yet another person may say – if that be the case, then let us put this bird species in different environments and observe them for 50 years and see what happens. Such a research has been done over and again and results are always the same – the two different species always become way too different that at some point they can’t mate with one another.
Now the last point is very critical for a scientific theory – a scientific theory is not only useful in explaining why a fact or related facts are they way they are (descriptive power), but are also very useful in predicting what might happen if we make changes on subjects of measurements/observations – like putting the same bird species in totally different environments and observing what happens to each of them over a long period of time.
After the prediction of a theory has been confirmed, and it has been found that the same species of a life form can become totally different species when given enough time, the question someone may pose is – if we have different life forms today, does it mean we had a few or even just one life form way back in the past? If it is so, is there something that can tell us? The scientist then comes up with things to look for (more facts to be found) – characterises them carefully, then goes out into the field to look for those facts.
In the field of evolution theory, studies on fossils, and those done on present life forms using scientific tools such as anatomy, embryology, molecular biology, genetics, all lead to the conclusion that we are all descendants of the same life form through a process called evolution powered by natural selection.
Most importantly, the theory of evolution has been established to be true because it satisfied the characteristics that define valid scientific theories namely:
- Ability to confirm or verify the theory.
- Falsifiability – The theory should be able to say that if we find X, then the theory is wrong.
- Ability to prohibit events. If the theory is true, then X cannot happen.
- Predictability – If the theory is true, and we change certain facts explained by the theory, then we should end up with a situation Y.
I hope this clarifies, in a very simple – probably too simplistic – language, the confusion between scientific facts vs scientific theories.
Then there is that question people usually ask about evolution – if people evolved from monkeys, why are monkeys still here? Do you want an answer?
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