(by Dennis B. Horne)
In this article, Elder Widstoe destroys the attempt made by many scientists to redefine a theory as a fact. Science may have their own reasons for calling theories facts or truths, but they are not acceptable to non-specialists/scientists, who still define theories as theories, and truth as truth. For science to call a theory a fact or truth in order to make it more attractive or palatable to non-scientists is dishonest sophistry. Hence Elder Widstoe’s explanations, especially in regards to the “theory of evolution”:
Thus, the fact of the constancy of composition of any chemical compound led to the inference known as the atomic theory; the fact that an apple falls to the ground, became converted into the theory of gravitation, and the facts of the fossil’s record in the rocks have become the theory of evolution. Such inferences from facts are useful in the further building of science; they are often glorious evidences of the power of the human mind; but they are only inferences of varying degrees of probability of truth approaching only the validity of facts. They are modernized, and truly better, “theories of men,’ but not on a par with the facts of experience.
And now, as I read along, I discovered that many a writer of books in this enlightened day is a poor philosopher, who has not learned to distinguish between facts, the only reliable units of knowledge, and inferences, the guesses, more or less probably, as to the meaning of the facts. One writer builds a philosophy for universal acceptance upon the theory of the electron, another upon the theory of gravitation, and a third upon the theory of evolution. If opposition is voiced, the proponens of the theories rise up in might wrath, forgetting that they are but defending a human inference, not a fact of human observation. So, even in this enlightened age men have not wholly freed themselves from the heavy yoke of “theories of men.”
Here, perhaps, lies the chief danger besetting this otherwise clear-thinking age. Men become enamored of their own creations, their explanations of the universe. Much of the discord among men may be traced directly to an unintelligent allegiance to inferences; few men quarrel about facts. A truly enlightened person would tolerantly consider all inferences from knowledge, recognizing them, at the best, to be helpful conjectures concerning the meaning of the universe, none wholly representing the truth. The concern of humanity must be to discover facts of unquestioned validity; that done, useful inferences, or hypotheses, or theories, will come as need demands or desire dictates. We must not return to the day dominated by “theories of men,” for they endanger freedom of thought and action. It was surprising how many of the recent books set out to promulgate or defend inferences, or “theories of men.”
I pondered, in the sheltered alcove of the Library, upon these matters. I thought of the youths and maidens, who, not understanding the difference between a fact and an inference, wreck years of their youth in the attempt to reconcile religion and scientific theory. A religion founded in truth accepts all facts and rests itself upon established truth. A religion founded upon truth discriminates carefully between fact and inference. Theories of science can no more overthrow the facts of religion than the facts of science. Inferences are always subordinate to facts. For example, one cannot build a faith upon the theory of evolution, for this theory is of no higher order than any other inference, and is therefore in a state of constant change. A fact remains unchanged throughout all time; an inference changes as facts accumulate. A straight stick in a pool appears bent, an unchanging fact, all conditions remaining the same; the theory of light explaining the "bent" stick has already been changed several times, and is subject to more change. No scientific theory of consequence remains today as it was originally.
(“Theories of Men: The Difference Between a Fact and an Inference,” Improvement Era 31:3, (1928) 193.)