It’s only a theory!

(Previously published in the McTavish Opera blog 20 May 2013)
Get the terminology right before you comment upon it.

This has got to be the most irritating comment I hear from believers in creation, usually of the Christian and Muslim faiths. It does not help that the same people continually chant this, like some religious mantra, which let’s face it, to some of them it is.

There is a complete misunderstanding here of the term “theory” in a scientific context. Believers in creation seem to think that a theory is just a guess or at the best educated guesswork. Well creationists you could not be more wrong.

Now pay attention. You at the back, stop chewing gum and sit up straight. Blackadder, see me after class. I am about to educate you all on the definition of a theory in the scientific sense.

For my UK audience, here is the definition of a scientific theory in the Oxford English Dictionary;

“A supposition or a system of ideas intended to explain something, especially one based on general principles independent of the thing to be explained.”

For my US audience, the definition in the Merriam-Webster English Dictionary;

“A plausible or scientifically acceptable general principle or body of principles offered to explain phenomena.”

Have you got that? Do you notice that at no point do either of these definition mention guesswork or supposition. Instead both mention principles upon which ideas are based.

The word principle is extremely important here, because theories are based upon principles, and wherever principles are involved, then you cannot maintain that theory is mere supposition or guesswork.

There seems to be a basic misunderstanding of how science works, so allow me to enlighten you. Ideas from observation become a hypothesis. Further observation and testing either proves or disproves the hypothesis. If the observation fits the model and is proven correct, you thereby have the principles upon which the model works and thus it becomes a theory. Now obviously scientific theory relies upon the hypothetical evidence. Due to this a theory, or part of it, may be unproven if further evidence is discovered. This does not however necessarily disprove the entire theory. Again, science does not work like that. Contrary to what a lot of theists claim, science does not claim to have all the answers. Instead the theory changes to accept the revised evidence. The only time a theory can be refuted is if the majority or the entire evidence can be completely refuted.

To explain, imagine that you see a car in a street and you see three people in it. As you approach the closer to the car you notice that there is in fact a fourth, smaller person in the back seat whom you did not notice before. Your observation immediately told you there was a car there and that there were people in it. From your initial observation you saw three people. As your observation changed however, you deduced that there were in fact four people in the car. Because you observed a fourth person obviously does not mean the car was never there in the first place but a different perception gave you more information. If there never was a car there despite you seeing it however, I want to know a, what you’ve been smoking, and more importantly, b, why haven’t I had any?

Due to this, the Darwinian Theory of Evolution, which has been observed both in nature and under laboratory conditions, is an irrefutable fact. It happens, we rely upon it happening, get used to it. By equal measure, relativity is a theory. If you are going to consider a theory to be only guesswork, and as such unproven, then you are effectively saying that no nuclear reactor in the world works and several countries in the world do not have nuclear weapons. If you wish to believe that, please feel free to visit Hiroshima and Nagasaki and tell the Hibakusha (atomic bomb survivors) their cities could not possibly have been bombed, because relativity is “only a theory”. Equally still, gravity being a theory, this means that the twin towers of the World Trade Center could not possibly have fallen on 9/11. But then given that they were built with the effects of gravity in mind, they could not have stood in the first place either. If you doubt the Theory of Gravity, please be my guest to take yourself to the top of a tall building and step off to see how well you float.

Before any theists try to counter me with what I know what is coming next, I’m going to immediately head you off at the pass. I recall once discussing gravity online with a Muslim who claimed to be a structural engineer. When I mentioned the Theory of Gravity he immediately called me stupid and said it was the Law of Gravity. I replied that he had just exposed the fact that he could not possibly be a structural engineer as he had shown up his complete ignorance of scientific terminology. Yes, there is a Law of Gravity, but there is also a Theory of Gravity. Just as there is a Law of Evolution and a Law of Relativity. In science every proven hypothesis has both a theory and a law. The theory describes why something happens, the law however explains how it happens. To explain, if Sir Issac Newton (personal hero) ever did observe an apple dropping (largely considered to be a myth) his Law caused him to describe how it happened but not why. It is the Theory of Gravity which describes the latter.

So theists may wonder why under these rules they cannot have “creation science” taught in schools. Well there are some very good reasons why not. Firstly, creationism is not a science. It has no hypotheses, theories or laws to qualify it as a science. Some tend to refer to creationism as a pseudoscience. Well, sorry to disappoint those people as well but under the above rules it does not even qualify as pseudoscience. More importantly however, physics, chemistry, geology, biology, evolution, archaeology, anthropology and even history have all conclusively proven creationism to not only be false, but an impossibility. Therefore, it deserves no better of a title than mythology.

By all means, therefore, teach creation in Religious Education (or Classical History, along with Greaco-Roman Mythology) if you want, but creationism has absolutely no right to have any place in any Science class.

Finally, here’s the deal theists; you don’t find people like me demanding evolution and other sciences have equal time in your places of worship, so keep your mythology out of science classes and we’ll all get along just fine.

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