In about two weeks we will be celebrating the 200th anniversary of the birth of one of the most famous naturalists the world has produced – Charles Darwin. As anyone with a little education knows, he is famous for articulating what we now call the Theory of Evolution. And while he doesn’t have exclusive rights to the distinction (Alfred Russel Wallace stumbled upon it at about the same time) he is the one who put flesh on the skeleton of the theory.
The theory has proven to be quite controversial, from the moment Darwin published his book, On the Origin of Species. To this day, it evokes incredulity, vituperation, and pure ignorance from people of a religious bent who find that it conflicts with their precious scriptures. Whole movements have arisen dedicated to obliterating the theory from public discourse. Creationism is just such a movement, and is still alive and well despite being repeatedly discredited by one court decision after another, most recently in the Kitzmiller v. Dover decision in Pennsylvania.
Despite the fact that biology would make no sense without the theory of evolution, polls indicate that a sizable majority of Americans don’t believe in evolution, even though a scientific theory is not something one places belief in. The people who vehemently oppose the teaching of evolution are usually very religious, fearing that if the theory of “evilution” was true, people would stop believing that man was created by god, that the universe was created for man, and by eventually following the naturalistic worldview to its logical conclusion, might even conclude that since a supernatural entity was not needed for our creation, it doesn’t exist. Without god, people would indiscriminately rape and kill their neighbors, steal their property, and otherwise generally make a mess of this world, and all because the Theory of Evolution had somehow given them a license to do so.
I have a friend, a lawyer, (who is running for Judge in my locality) a smart guy, who I started discussing the Dover decision with one day after the ruling came down. You would think that two lawyers, schooled in the Socratic method and the Rules of Evidence, would agree that Evolution should be taught in school, and Intelligent Design should not. But we disagreed, and I remember his main argument for teaching ID was that “Evolution is just a theory”. I was taken aback, indeed flabbergasted, because that’s not what I would have expected from him. But he is very religious, attends his church regularly, and has bought into the typical Christian apologetic, hook, line and sinker. He has no understanding of what a scientific theory actually is.
More to the point, he, like most devout Christians, never sees the dishonesty in that argument. Here they are, taking one dictionary definition of the term theory:
n., pl. -ries.
- A set of statements or principles devised to explain a group of facts or phenomena, especially one that has been repeatedly tested or is widely accepted and can be used to make predictions about natural phenomena.
- The branch of a science or art consisting of its explanatory statements, accepted principles, and methods of analysis, as opposed to practice: a fine musician who had never studied theory.
- A set of theorems that constitute a systematic view of a branch of mathematics.
- Abstract reasoning; speculation: a decision based on experience rather than theory.
- A belief or principle that guides action or assists comprehension or judgment: staked out the house on the theory that criminals usually return to the scene of the crime.
- An assumption based on limited information or knowledge; a conjecture.
and ignoring all the other definitions. Instead of using the most applicable definition, the first one above, they take the last, and most general, definition, and apply it to Evolution. Evolutionary Theory is not a hunch or a conjecture, it is a systematic application of all known facts and phenomena bearing on the subject of species and its origins, repeatedly tested and accepted by the most brilliant scientists in the world. Use of the sixth definition as if it’s the only one is the type of dishonest argument Christians are known for.
But one thing they always miss when they try this simplistic argument (not to convince us, but to convince themselves), is the pure unadulterated irony involved in it. They actually have the temerity of calling Evolution “just a theory” when their whole religion is based on nothing more than a hunch or a conjecture, call it a leap of faith, that the world was created and is ruled by a supernatural entity. They have no evidence whatsoever to support this hunch, contrasted with the literally billions of pieces of connected evidence supporting the Theory of Evolution. When it’s pointed out to them there is no evidence for god, they fall back on faith, which is simply belief without evidence.
Not only do they believe in god(s) without a shred of evidence, they believe in such things as a man walking on water, virgin births, loaves of bread and fish that multiply by themselves, human beings raised from the dead, talking snakes, women who turn into pillars of salt, a world wide flood that killed everything, burning bushes that talk, demons, angels and other spirits, and a whole host of really bizarre ideas, all without a tiny speck of evidence, and all in obvious conflict with everything we actually know about reality.
But Evolution is “just a theory”.
So my rejoinder from now on is: God – it’s just a theory.