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Belief, Theory, Fact.

  1. Dec 3, 2004 #1

    I need your help to make the distinction between Belief, Theory, and Fact as clear as possible. I have made this comparison table, but I have the feeling it can be improved. I am looking forward to receive improvements like additional comparisons, substitutions for examples, etc. My goal is to make it more correct/excellent fit, but also to maintain a level of simplicity (complex examples should be avoided).


    Please take a look and email me back: here or through the provided link.
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 3, 2004 #2

    Tom Mattson

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    Some of the column headings are not so clear. For instance at the head of one column, "Can it be readjusted?"

    Can what be readjusted, and what is readjustment?

    A key to the headings would help.
  4. Dec 3, 2004 #3


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    The three categories of evidence are usually delineated as fact, inference, and judgement. I've got a debate handbook with me, and the definitions given are these:

    Fact: Something known or observed with no reasonable controversy.

    Inference: Information derived from presumption or probability, usually prefaced by qualifiers such as likely, almost, or probably.

    Judgement: A discriminating or authoritative opinion. Only such an expert opinion may be considered as evidence.
  5. Dec 5, 2004 #4


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    I don't know how much this will help you, but I would suggest using different categories. A few points: People can believe facts and theories, so you would have to carefully define belief. Facts can be arrived at by two means: direct observation and inference. Technically, theories cannot become facts as theories cannot be proven true, they can only be proven not true. And so on.

    I think, by "belief" you mean "faith" so a set of categories, which still cover the same things, would be: observation, deduction, induction, and faith. You could even combine deduction and induction under inference, if you wanted to (getting observation, inference, and faith). And you could use logic instead of inference, if you think your audience will be more familiar with the term logic (getting observation, logic, and faith).

    It seems the distinctions you are trying to make have something to do with religion, and the categories I've suggested can accomplish the same results.

    If you decide to go this way and run into problems, just post them. :smile:
  6. Dec 7, 2004 #5

    Thank you for some good pointers. I have tried to improve on the previous version; by adding and by changing.

    The goal is to make a table from which it becomes possible to see what the conflicts are between science-based and religion-based perspectives. Often there are similarities, often there are differences.

    If I were to add a Fiction category, would that help or make it murkier?
  7. Dec 8, 2004 #6


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    I think it would be difficult as a category for the exact reasons it would be great as an example. A work of fiction, that is. For example (if you went with observation, logic, and faith for the categories), Hamlet has some elements we believe exist because we have observed them (people), some we cannot observe but can logically infer exist (14th century Denmark), and some we can only believe on faith (King Hamlet's ghost). Well, some people believe they have seen ghosts, just an example. But that does bring up a problem with revealed religion. Maybe a science fiction story would be better suited. Even a religious text would work. Anyway, just some impromptu thoughts.
  8. Dec 8, 2004 #7
    I worry about the Fact row. How is it that you define the word "Fact"?
  9. Dec 9, 2004 #8
    Good help - good question

    Thank you for having some 'fun' with my little quest. I haven't thought of any fiction examples, but the Hamlet version is definitively interesting - though possibly tricky indeed.

    The fact category is possibly the most interesting category from a philosophical point of view, but what I have chosen the facts to be is something not disputed. In the example table (provided in the link below the first table) I chose the color blue. This information can be looked up in a color book and therefore confirmed this way. All people all over the world agree that blue is blue (even though different words are used to express 'blue'). As such this color is a fact.
  10. Dec 10, 2004 #9


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    The conclusion of a valid deductive argument is also not disputable.

    The problem with this is that it doesn't make much sense to say that a color is a fact. Usually only statements can be facts. Of course, you can define fact however you want to, but your definition is confusing.
    The color blue is observable by anyone who can see. They can verify the statement "The color blue exists" by making an observation. Their belief is then justified by observation. If you are blind, you have to rely on other methods. This is one reason I think treating the justifications for belief would work better.
    If you must keep fact, theory, and belief, I would at least mention that facts follow only from observation or deduction, while theory and belief must involve some amount of induction and/or faith.
  11. Dec 11, 2004 #10


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    It is not disputable that it is valid. The conclusion itself most certainly is. If one or more premises is false, if any premise is inconsistent with another premise, or if the argument is circular, then nothing is established.
  12. Dec 11, 2004 #11
    Disputable reputation


    I am really happy with this help because it is so easy to not get it right - precisely. One of the reasons I chose the color blue is that it is verifiable in a book that is accepted/based on what we all agree on: the color dictionary. As such it is a standard about which there is no doubt (even though a lot of interesting philosophical stuff can be mentioned about color perception).

    If you mention that only statements can be considered facts, what would be an example: make it as common as possible. I am looking for an example where there is no discussion possible, like with the color blue. Giving an example would also help clarify my mind on what the boundaries of facts are: when I read all of your descriptions I think I have a pretty rigid idea about it right now.

    Apologies for describing facts as indisputable; I did not mean to make a dispute out of it. But do we at least agree that facts are indisputable (whether anything other than facts can be disputable or not is not of importance)?

    I have added a category of Fiction to the stack, and use as an example a movie (K-Pax). I also changed the pink color to orange. Yes, advise on creating a better visual display is welcome (but I don't want to turn it into a circus of visual theater).
  13. Dec 11, 2004 #12


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    Oops, thanks. I should have said the conclusion of a valid deductive argument is true if the premises are all true.
    How would an argument with inconsistent premises be valid?
    The reason I brought this up was to suggest deduction be moved to the "Fact" row.

    I'm not sure how far you want to go with this, and I'm certainly not the most qualified to help you. I'll take a shot, and you and others can check me. Read https://www.physicsforums.com/showpost.php?p=390664&postcount=6 for a good explanation of factually meaningless statements.

    If you want everyone to know your statement is true, you are asking for a lot. When you claim that a statement is true, you are really claiming the statement is true in some system, according to a set of rules and definitions. When you say "All trees are blue", you are implicitly claiming "All trees are blue" is true in some system where all of the terms and rules for relating the terms in the statement are defined. And a statement like "All trees are blue" is claiming even more, by using "all".
    The statement you're asking for is equivalent to "All people will know this statement is true." That's quite a statement! Of course, you can safely assume some things will be known by most people. Most people know their name, have seen the color blue, etc.

    The color blue is actually an interesting example because even someone who hasn't seen blue (ex. if they have been blind from birth) has almost certainly experienced other things described by the physical sciences (felt the warmth of the sun, for example). You could possibly use those experiences to prove statements about the color blue to them, since colors are described by the physical sciences.

    Anyway, you are safe using colors as an example as long as you remember to pair your statements with their systems. If your audience knows what a color book is and will agree to use it as a definition of blue, you're fine. I think I've rambled a bit. If I haven't answered your question, just ask again.
  14. Dec 11, 2004 #13


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    It's due to an oddity entailed by the definition of "valid." An argument is valid if it is impossible for its premises to be true and its conclusion false. Because inconsistent premises cannot all be true, they cannot all be true and the conclusion false. You can literally draw any valid conclusion from an argument with inconsistent premises.
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