Why Evolution Is Not “Just a Theory”

by Sean McDowell

One of my favorite presentations to do at universities, schools, conferences, and churches is my Atheist Encounter, in which I interact with the audience while role-playing an atheist. After briefly setting up my character (which involves putting on my “atheist glasses”), I then take live questions from the audience and do my best to defend atheism so Christians can see how well—or how poorly—they defend their faith.

The topic of evolution inevitably comes up. And more often than not, some well-meaning Christian will say something like: “How can you say evolution is a fact, when it’s called a theory?” The questioner seems to be under the impression that since evolution is called a theory it is just a blind guess, and can be dismissed without consideration of the actual evidence.

Here is how I typically respond (in my role-playing mode): “I think you are confused about what theory really means. In popular verbiage, theory often means a conjecture, an uneducated guess. But in the scientific world, a theory can mean an idea that has empirical support and explains a wide range of data. So, yes, evolution is a theory, but the evidence is overwhelming and should be accepted nonetheless.” And then the conversation typically moves on to the actual evidence.

For the record, I do not believe in neo-Darwinian evolution. I don’t think there is sufficient evidence to justify its grandiose claims. In fact, I have written a critique of some of the main arguments for Darwinism in my book Understanding Intelligent Design (with William Dembski). But I also think it’s a big mistake for anyone—and especially Christians—to simply dismiss evolution because its called a theory. In fact, to dismiss evolution with such ease portrays remarkable misunderstanding of how theory functions in science…

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Why Evolution Is Not “Just a Theory” – Sean McDowell