Just a “Theory”
😡 I am really sick and tired of hearing “evolution is just a theory!” Knowing the difference between a scientific theory and our everyday use of the word theory is just basic scientific knowledge. Recently I have been having a hard time with creationists who want to argue with me. I am really getting bored with the “just a theory” bit. It seems to be the only thing that I hear anymore.
Biological scientists are nearly unanimous in their support of biological evolution as a fact! The amount of evidence supporting this position is overwhelming. I’ve lost count of the number of times classmates of mine and grown adults have said to me, “Well, evolution is just another theory.” The late Stephen J. Gould addressed this confusion over twenty-seven years ago. His explanation is awesome! It’s simple and can be used to refute this ridiculous “just a theory” nonsense. I especially like what he says about gravity and apples. Here is Gould’s explanation:
In the American vernacular, “theory” often means “imperfect fact”–part of a hierarchy of confidence running downhill from fact to theory to hypothesis to guess. Thus the power of the creationist argument: evolution is “only” a theory and intense debate now rages about many aspects of the theory. If evolution is worse than a fact, and scientists can’t even make up their minds about the theory, then what confidence can we have in it? Indeed, President Reagan echoed this argument before an evangelical group in Dallas when he said (in what I devoutly hope was campaign rhetoric): “Well, it is a theory. It is a scientific theory only, and it has in recent years been challenged in the world of science–that is, not believed in the scientific community to be as infallible as it once was.”
Well evolution is a theory. It is also a fact. And facts and theories are different things, not rungs in a hierarchy of increasing certainty. Facts are the world’s data. Theories are structures of ideas that explain and interpret facts. Facts don’t go away when scientists debate rival theories to explain them. Einstein’s theory of gravitation replaced Newton’s in this century, but apples didn’t suspend themselves in midair, pending the outcome. And humans evolved from ape-like ancestors whether they did so by Darwin’s proposed mechanism or by some other yet to be discovered.
Moreover, “fact” doesn’t mean “absolute certainty”; there ain’t no such animal in an exciting and complex world. The final proofs of logic and mathematics flow deductively from stated premises and achieve certainty only because they are not about the empirical world. Evolutionists make no claim for perpetual truth, though creationists often do (and then attack us falsely for a style of argument that they themselves favor). In science “fact” can only mean “confirmed to such a degree that it would be perverse to withhold provisional consent.” I suppose that apples might start to rise tomorrow, but the possibility does not merit equal time in physics classrooms.
Evolutionists have been very clear about this distinction of fact and theory from the very beginning, if only because we have always acknowledged how far we are from completely understanding the mechanisms (theory) by which evolution (fact) occurred. Darwin continually emphasized the difference between his two great and separate accomplishments: establishing the fact of evolution, and proposing a theory–natural selection–to explain the mechanism of evolution.
– Stephen J. Gould, ” Evolution as Fact and Theory”; Discover, May 1981
You know, if a person does not accept evolution it does not magically change the fact that we are all “talking monkeys!”