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Facts, Laws and Theories

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Sometimes people, trying to emphasise how much science supports evolutionary theory, will say 'evolution is a fact'. This is wrong, or at the very least unhelpful and confusing.

They may also say 'gravity is a fact', but that's also kind of wrong. Here's a brief blurb I prepared on Facebook as part of a discussion, and thought I'd share here:

'Objects dropped near the surface of Earth accelerate toward it at about 9.8 ms-2' <--- this is a fact. It is measurable and observable.

'Objects that have masses m1 and m2 and are rmetres apart exert a force on each other of F = (Gm1m2)/r2 where G = 6.67 x 10-11 Nm2kg-2' <--- this is a law. It is stated mathematically and allows us to calculate answers.

'Objects that have mass cause space-time to curve in their vicinity and this curvature causes other objects with mass to appear to accelerate toward them' <--- this is a theory. It has descriptive, predictive and (most importantly) explanatory power. It tells us, not only that when we drop an object it will accelerate toward Earth, but *why*. A theory explains facts.

Facts, laws and theories are *not* interchangeable. A theory that is well-supported by many facts remains a theory. It does not become a fact.

Gravity is technically not a theory: General Relativity is the current theory of gravity that best explains the most facts. And that's a theory, and will remain a theory, no matter how many more facts it successfully describes, predicts and explains.

The 'modern evolutionary synthesis' is our best theory for explaining the facts of the diversity of living things, the fossil record and the DNA record. Its scientific status is exactly equivalent to that of General Relativity.

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