English has a vocabulary of thousands of words and we can expect this language to boast of ways to express different concepts. There are many well-known examples, indeed, for multiple descriptions for the same idea or item. Also, in addition to the diversity resulting from the history of linguistic hybridization, English has the tendency to assimilate words from other languages too.
Science is certainly no exception. When it comes to some of the most fundamental concepts in science, there is no dearth of numerous terminologies. Worse, some words which have relatively clear meanings in the vernacular are used in science with different definitions. This phenomenon greatly confuses discussions in science when it comes to non-scientific topics.
Some general terms like fact and theory also fall into such confusion. We sometimes hear evolution being downgraded just because it is “just a theory”. Whereas gravity is considered a hundred percent real. It is so thoroughly proven that it might even be called a “scientific fact”.
The words “fact” and “theory” have their own specific meanings in the world of science and they do not match exactly with the language we use in our day-to-day life. There is an intricate relationship between fact and theory.
Fact vs Theory
The difference between fact and theory is that fact is usually thought of as a described state of affairs in which the descriptions are true and highly supported. A theory, on the other hand, is a logically connected set of hypothesis and facts which carefully explains observations of the natural world that have been constructed using a scientific method.
Comparison Table Between Fact and Theory
|Parameters of Comparison||Fact||Theory|
|Definition||Fact is something that has occurred or that which is true or something that has been proven right||The theory is a carefully thought scientific explanation for observations in the natural world and which brings together many facts and hypothesis|
|Based on||Observation or research||Repeated observations and scientific research|
|Represents||Something that really happened||Something that has been predicted or could possible occur|
|Change||Facts do not change and are universally accepted||Theories may change or the way they are interpreted may change|
|Debatable||Facts cannot be debated||Theories can be debated and changed|
What is a Fact?
Facts are constructed and are not objective. There is no proper test for what is a fact. Once Albert Einstein was questioned, “How can you separate fact from fiction in science?” He came out with a brilliant nutty answer, “There is no objective test.”
In science, the fact is an observation that has been confirmed so many times. Hence, scientists for all intents and purposes accept a fact to be true. But everything in science comes with a certain level of uncertainty. So nothing is ever scientifically true beyond a shade of doubt.
It is a fact that every time you drop a pencil, it will fall onto the floor. But science leaves room for a small chance that it might not fall also.
Facts in science are not simply handed over to us by the scientific world. They are also not arbitrary conventions or constructions made by in the world of science. They are a result of our interactions with the world and the attempt by scientists. The scientists apply rigorous standards and ensure that the facts are reliable.
Controversial facts, such as claims on global warming, undergo a lot of critique from many different angles. The adaptability of facts under pressure should give us peace of mind that we can trust these facts.
What is Theory?
A theory is a belief, an idea, or a set of principles that explains something. This set of principles may be organized in a simple manner or could be complex in nature. Theories are not facts. They are predictions that need to be tested for their reality.
A theory in science is an explanation that is supported by empirical evidence. Thus a scientific theory is based on a careful and reasonable examination of facts. A theory explains some aspects of the natural world that are well substantiated by facts, hypotheses, and laws.
Theories are repeatedly tested with experimentation and observations. They are checked and confirmed to see if they can predict and explain their phenomena of interest. The theory is the center of the development of social work interventions. This is because it determines the nature of our solutions to identified problems.
Climate change and evolution are two popular theories that have been well substantiated over the decades. These topics have been often attacked for being theoretically based. But in the world of science, the term theory is not so frivolous.
Scientists have left room for research to build support for the explanations given. An explanation reaches the level of being a theory when the hypothesis has been well supported and there is no substantial evidence to the contrary.
Main Differences Between Fact and Theory
- Definition: Fact is an observation that is known or proved to be true whereas Theory is a system of ideas intended to explain something about a certain phenomenon.
- Evidence: Fact is something that has been proven. There is evidence of whether a fact is true or not. But a theory is a prediction or belief or idea that explains something.
- Change: Facts do not change and are universally accepted. Theories can change but it is a very long process.
- Explains: A Fact explains something that actually exists or the truth whereas a Theory attempts to explain how or why something happens.
- Debatable: A Fact is not debatable as it is based on a true fact or on reality but a Theory is debatable as it is on a predicted phenomenon.
- Honesty: A Fact is an honest observation but a Theory is an exhaustive explanation describing a particular class of constructs.
It is believed the terms Fact and Theory are said to have clear meanings and clear relationships with each other. But their histories and uses are more complex and diverse than that might be expected. Both these words are varieties of models of reality which we use to make decisions.
A Fact is regarded as an empirically verifiable phenomenon and a Theory refers to the relationship between facts. Facts could never have produced modern science if they were gathered at random. At the same time theory cannot yield any predictions without any proper system.
Thus the development in science can be considered as a constant interplay between Fact and Theory. Facts initiate theory. They can lead to rejections and reformulations of existing theories. Hence Facts can change the focus and orientation of Theory.