What’s wrong with being a theory?

I often hear evolutionists claim that evolution is not a theory, but a fact.  I argue that this is not so.  Organisms living or fossilized are facts.  The characteristics they share, such as backbones or hair or flowers, are facts.  (And sometimes we get confused about these things, too.)  Evolutionary theories, one or more of them, have been constructed to explain the existence of these biological facts of planet Earth.  To call evolution a fact makes it hard to criticize, to re-examine, to amend.  This makes evolution more of a focus of faith than an argument of science.

To call something a theory doesn’t make it weak, as some may think.  On the contrary, theories are strong because they must stand up to testing.  A theory that manages to remain a rational explanation in the face of empirical evidence or criticism is stronger than something you either believe or don’t.

I confess to being the suspicious type.  When I hear evolutionary biologists claim that, “Evolution is more than a theory.  It’s a fact.” they are almost always talking about neo-Darwinian evolution, with natural selection and survival of the fittest and all those other claims that are rather nonsensical in the face of biology.  This elevates a rather poor excuse for a theory to a revealed truth.  This makes for bad science!  Like Karl Popper said, “All knowledge is human.”  The idea that everything is open to criticism is the thing that makes science strong.

About Kali

I wanted to be a botany professor studying alternative pieces of evolutionary theory contributed by various people and extrapolated from I. Prigogine's expanded 2nd law of thermodynamics - there's a far more accurate causal explanation to be had here than the standard neo-Darwinian explanation based on random mutation and natural selection. But there's no job market - no immediate $$$ to be made for drug or GMO companies! So, I'm working on a book - I put a proposal on morethanthesum.com and added a blog - I hope to do more on the blog before too long, but I'm old and poor and need to hunt for work!
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2 Responses to What’s wrong with being a theory?

  1. Mishtu Banerjee says:

    I think Darwin once said something like, “all observation is for or against some theory”. If it’s good to believe 5 impossible things each day, it’s probably equally good to doubt 5 commonly known facts each day. Skeptism about facts, it part and parcel of scientific practice. I’m comfortable with evolution being a theory, one supported by a great deal of observation. But it only retains its status as a scientific theory as long as it is subject to scrutiny. The big bang theory is … a theory. People do not refer to it as the big bang fact. The fact that the big bang theory is a theory does not lower it’s status some how so that undergrad programs are pressured into giving “equal time” to some alternative theory on the origins of the universe, say the turtles on the backs of turtles theory. Unfortunately undergrad programs ARE pressured in parts of the US to give equal time to Intelligent Design. That evolution as a theory continues to generate new ideas and sub-theories about specific mechanisms only adds to its strength over time — and that’s a fact ;-}

    • admin says:

      Hey Mishtu!
      I can’t remember if I mentioned I was planning to get a blog going, but you found it. Thanks for commenting! Not much on here yet, but I hope to have more pieces of the book done soon (in between job searches), then I have some ideas about promoting it.

      Semmelweis kept observing the same high death rate and testing every hypothesis he could think of until he ran out of ideas…and then his colleague got stabbed… It seems to me observation can be used to test a theory, but it’s also the source of the inductive flash-in-the-pan new theory – another one of those yin and yang things.

      I think the neo-Darwinians are foolishly calling their theory a fact because they don’t want it questioned – most of the time they can get compliance, especially because the IDers are even crazier than the Darwinians, but this misleads people. Apparently, they don’t care. I was thinking I need a last chapter – probably to be called Guerrilla Science – sort of what we’re forced to do to get around the gatekeepers – unfortunately, these include not only IDers, but Dawkins, EO Wilson, et al.

      Hope things are good with you!
      -DD (aka “admin”)

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