“Just a Theory?”

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Lesson Idea

Here’s a good clip from Friends where Ross (a paleontologist) is defending the scientific evidence for evolution against Phoebe. Lesson provocations are on this GoogleDoc.

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):

It is fact that we have evolved, just as it is a fact that antibiotic resistance continues to evolve. The theory to explain how this evolution occurs is natural selection. 

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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 back at these resources:

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?

GravitySpecial Theory of Relativity Plate TectonicsCell Theory Germ theory

Why, then, are alternative creation theories considered unscientific?

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Science and Religion

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. Religious knowledge systems are an entirely different area of knowledge based on entirely different ways of knowing.

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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A beautiful cartoon

See if you get this. Many species co-evolve; when one goes extinct the other is (almost) sure to follow.

The Bee Orchid. XKCD.com is MrT’s favourite comic – go there!

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