In the “Hail Darwin” link under “Additional Descent” we are told that the National Academy of Sciences’ “Science, Evolution and Creationism” gives the following epistemological definition of “fact”:
“In science, a ‘fact’ typically refers to an observation, measurement, or other form of evidence that can be expected to occur the same way under similar circumstances. ”
So far so good. This is pretty much the same way I defined “fact” just a few days ago in Epistemology. It’s What You Know.
The NAS then says this:
“However, scientists also use the term ‘fact’ to refer to a scientific explanation that has been tested and confirmed so many times that there is no longer a compelling reason to keep testing it or looking for additional examples. In that respect, the past and continuing occurrence of evolution is a scientific fact. Because the evidence supporting it is so strong, scientists no longer question whether biological evolution has occurred and is continuing to occur. Instead, they investigate the mechanisms of evolution, how rapidly evolution can take place, and related questions.”
Interesting. Two observations:
1: Under the second NAS definition, Ptolemy’s epicycle theory was a “fact” even more than Darwinian evolution is a “fact.” Ptolemy was tested and confirmed so many times over the course of 1,400 years that many scholars no longer saw a compelling reason to keep testing it. Darwinism will need to be around another 1,250 years before it can achieve the same success.
Of course, the fact that no one saw any “compelling need” to keep testing Ptolemy’s theory did not mean it was not flat wrong!
Conclusion: The NAS’s definition of “fact” may include propositions that have absolutely no correspondence to reality. Today, with the benefit of 500 years’ of hindsight, many people snigger condescendingly at the poor ignorant rubes who believed in epicycles. In the future people may snigger condescendingly at the poor ignorant rubes who believe certain “facts” under the NAS definition of the word.
2: The NAS handbook is very useful. We finally have incontrovertible proof that the Darwinists have two definitions of fact. The first definition above I will call “hammer dropping fact.” When I drop a hammer, it falls. That’s a fact. The second definition I will call “maybe not a fact fact.”
Here’s the bottom line: Much of the Darwinistas’ rhetoric depends upon an equivocation between “hammer dropping facts” and “maybe not a fact facts.”
As I contemplated the second NAS definition of “fact” a little more, I realized that at its core it is not a definition at all. It is the exercise of raw power.
When the NAS says a fact is a fact if there is no “compelling reason” to continue investigating, the first question we should ask is “compelling to whom?” And of course the NAS means “compelling to us.” If you say, “Well, it’s not compelling to me,” the NAS will respond, “Tough noogies. We’re the ‘kings of science.’” To which you might respond like Dennis the anarcho-syndicalist in Monty Python and the Holy Grail:
Arthur [to Dennis]: Be quiet! I order you to be quiet!
Dennis’ Mother: Order, eh? Who does he think he is?
Arthur: I am your king!
Dennis’ Mother: Well I didn’t vote for you.
Arthur explains that no one voted to make him King, and Dennis’ mother asks how he became King:
Arthur: The Lady of the Lake,… [Angel chorus begins singing in background] her arm clad in the purest shimmering samite, held aloft Excalibur from the bosom of the water signifying by Divine Providence that I, Arthur, was to carry Excalibur. [Angel chorus ends] That is why I am your king!
Dennis: Listen. Strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government. Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony!
Arthur: Be QUIET!
Dennis: You can’t expect to wield supreme executive power just ’cause some watery tart threw a sword at you!
Arthur: SHUT UP!
Dennis: If I went ’round saying I was an emperor, just because some moistend bint lobbed a scimitar at me, they’d put me away!
Arthur: Shut up; will you SHUT UP?! [Grabs Dennis and shakes him]
Dennis: Ah, now we see the violence inherent in the system!
So, the next time someone says, “Darwinism is fact.” Put on your best cockney accent and say, “Oh well very impressive. Who made you the king of science? Because I know I didn’t vote for you!”