TOK: “Just a Theory?”

Here’s a good clip from Friends where Ross (a paleontologist) is defending the scientific evidence for evolution against Phoebe.

Grade 11 Students, the Evolution Core content is here: 5.4 Evolution (Core)

Now do some research: what is the linguistic distinction between theory and fact? How can different meanings of the word theory lead to confusion in non-scientists?

When you watch the clip, think about the use of language: from a scientific point of view, what is the difference between a fact and a theory?

Here is the definition of a scientific fact:

“any observation that has been repeatedly confirmed and accepted as true; any scientific observation that has not been refuted”

In contrast, here’s the definition of a theory from the Science Dictionary:

“A set of statements or principles devised to explain a group of facts or phenomena. Most theories that are accepted by scientists have been repeatedly tested by experiments and can be used to make predictions about natural phenomena.See Note at hypothesis.”

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Look at these resources that outline why evolution is considered both a fact (that it happens, and its evidence) and a theory (the processes by which it happens):

Evolution: Fact & Theory, from ActionBioscience

Evolution as Fact and Theory, by Stephen Jay Gould

Evolution as Fact and Theory from Wikipedia

Fact or Theory? by John Pratt

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So now we’ve cleared up the issue of fact vs theory, we can move on. Think about how the scientific method works. If you need to, look at these resources:

Science as Falsification, by Karl Popper

Falsifiability (testability), via Wikipedia

Why is the the theory of evolution scientific?

Why was Ross right, from a scientist’s point of view, when he said “just a teeny-tiny bit,” at the end of the video clip?

What about the following theories – why do people have no trouble accepting that they are true based on scientific evidence, that they are empirical theories?

Gravity – Special Theory of Relativity – Plate Tectonics – Cell Theory

Why, then, are alternative creation theories considered unscientific?

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Evolution is one of those hot topics that seems to sit right in the space where science and religion don’t get along. It doesn’t need to. Science is about understanding the world we live in through reason, evidence and observation. Religion is an entirely different area of knowledge based on entirely different ways of knowing (emotion).

So can you believe in God and accept that evolution is true? Of course you can. And many religious leaders agree (here are more statements).

To finish off, here is Sir David Attenborough talking about the fact of evolution and how scientific progress is made through empiricism and falsification, and also how we as humans have abused our supposed position of ‘dominion’ to massively detrimental consequences:

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Extension: hunt out The Genius of Darwin on YouTube for more evidence and explanation. Here is a clip from the first episode:

It is one of the simplest ideas anyone ever had

Find out more about the term Occam’s Razor. How does it apply to the scientific method and reasoning as a way of knowing?

About Stephen

International Educator: China via Japan, Indonesia & the UK. Director of Innovation in Learning & Teaching. Science educator. Twitterist (@sjtylr), dad and bloggerer. MA International Education & current EdD student. Experienced Director of Learning & MYP Coordinator. Interested in curriculum, pedagogy, purposeful EdTech and global competence. Find out more: Science site:

Posted on September 16, 2010, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on TOK: “Just a Theory?”.

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