Is Darwinian Evolution “Just a Theory”?
by Casey Luskin
Earlier I wrote here about the Scientific Dissent from Darwinism List, seeking to help students who have been misled into thinking there is no scientific disagreement over Darwinian theory. The list affirms that “Careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory should be encouraged.” We often hear people who disagree with evolution saying that it’s “just a theory.” While that’s not what the Dissent List signers say, we must ask: Are Darwin-skeptics using the correct terminology when they say Darwinian evolution is “just a theory”? Well, definitions are crucial: The answer depends on how you define “evolution” and how you define “theory.”
In common usage, “theory” typically means a conjecture or a hunch. But scientists often use the word to refer to “a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world that can incorporate facts, laws, and tested hypotheses”1 or “a comprehensive explanation of some aspect of nature that is supported by a vast body of evidence.”2 Obviously those definitions suggest that a “theory” enjoys strong support from the evidence, and is much more than a mere hunch or conjecture. But if the scientific objections to Darwinian evolution that I discussed in my earlier article are valid, then under this stronger definition, it should not be called a “theory.”
However, when scientists use the word “theory,” they don’t always mean a well-established idea that is supported by a broad range of evidence. Even in their professional writings, scientists sometimes use “theory” to refer to a conjecture or hypothesis that is not confirmed by the evidence. For example, here is a medical researcher writing in a scientific journal who used the word “theory” to refer to an idea that may or may not yet be established within science:
An old joke about the response to revolutionary new scientific theories states that there are three phases on the road to acceptance: 1. The theory is not true; 2. The theory is true, but it is unimportant; 3. The theory is true, and it is important — but we knew it all along. … Theory for scientists is like water for fish: the invisible medium in which they swim.3
Thus, even among scientists, the word “theory” can mean different things…
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