“Just a theory”

When coming into internet debates about the validity of the theory of evolution it has come to my annoyed attention that a favorite tactic of those who choose to disbelieve these widely accepted principles in science is that they cannot accept or believe something that is “just a theory”.

“You cannot prove evolution because they are just theories”

Or something along these lines. It becomes painfully obvious to anyone who has studied science (or at least its terminology) or to anyone honest enough to pursue these debates on youtube as well as any other public forum that anyone who utters those three words have no idea what they’re talking about.

To the ordinary mans ears, when the word theory is introduced into the conversation the immediate reaction and understanding that come to their mind in that it is like a scientific guess, something no one is ever sure of, something that has yet to be proven etc. However, if you listen in on the conversations of actual scientists you will soon find out that when they say “theory” and when you say “theory” then the two of you are talking about two drastically different things.

Lets go over some definitions;

According to Oxford:

Fact-a thing that is known or proved to be true

Hypothesis-a supposition or proposed explanation made on the basis of limited evidence as a starting point for further investigation.

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

According to Thesaurus:

Fact-verifiable truth, reality

Hypothesis-a proposition, or set of propositions, set forth as anexplanation for the occurrence of some specified group ofphenomena, either asserted merely as a provisionalconjecture to guide investigation (working hypothesis) oraccepted as highly probable in the light of established facts.

Theory- a coherent group of tested general propositions, commonly regarded as correct, that can be used as principles ofexplanation and prediction for a class of phenomena

As you can see the layman theory is more akin to a hypothesis and thus, more often than not, a theory is something that has been seen as dominantly correct to have gained a higher standing than a hypothesis. But why not call them facts if they’ve been proven and prevent all this confusion?

The answer is quite simple, scientists aren’t 100% sure.

He said what?!

To quote Agent K from MIB: “1500 years ago everybody knew that the earth was the center of the universe. 500 years ago everybody knew that the earth was flat and 15 minutes ago you thought that people were alone on this planet. Imagine what you’ll know, tomorrow.”

The difference between science and religion is that one holds sacred dogma untenable to change, unrectifiable and infallible to a fault; and everyone who does try to divert will be punished while the other is constantly changing in order to further add to the sum of knowledge and improve the understanding of the earth and universe around us continuously. So whatever explanations we ever come up with must not be believed but to be understood, tested, corrected and even rejected if a major flaw is found.

It is common practice in science (and mathematics) to hold at least a 5% margin of error. Error being a wrong assumption based on the absence of data that would prove otherwise. Anticipating that we’re already wrong on some level, in some way is nothing to be ashamed about. In fact it is wisdom that is forever beyond the comprehension of religion that dictates absolute knowledge and truth for all times and circumstances because it derives guidance from an all-knowing being.

Carl Sagan once said “Science is a self-correcting process. To be accepted new ideas must survive the most rigorous standards of evidence and scrutiny”

Many are unaware at just how much study and effort actually goes into the creation of a theory and its subsequent defense. In order to be even called a theory it must first undergo Peer Review which is the bloodiest battle of survival in the academic arena. Ideas and hypothesis must be tested, retested, falsified and go through everything again when a flaw is found or when new information is discovered at any time at any place. It is insurmountably difficult to produce such a theory that can stand the test of time for more than half a century, but after 150 years The theory of evolution is still going strong. After 150 years of testing, retesting, adjustments and attempted falsifications the theory of evolution is still the only theory that can explain the diversity of life on the planet.

Along those lines, there are the same amount of people who are unaware that gravity, yes the phenomenon of matter attracting matter of lesser mass, is also considered a theory. We know things fall down, thats the fact, but why do things fall down? Thats the theory.

In fact we have more evidence and understand evolution more than we understand gravity that we see and demonstrate on a daily basis. Science has even demostrated that the original Newtonian mechanics are wrong and was subsequently replaced by Einsteins theory of relativity. But even that can’t fully explain the nature of gravity and how it can warp space time as well as being at odds with quantum mechanics. The theory of relativity. thought compelling, is not a unifying theory, evolution is.

Evolution is supported by Cellular biology, Genetics, Anatomy, Geology, Paleontology, Environmental systems, Tectonics, Atomic chemistry and Taxonomy. Not to mention that it is the very backbone of biology just as atomic theory is the backbone of modern chemistry.

When different fields of study across the spectrum of science conduct individual studies and every conclusion that they ever made pointed to one single conclusion and supported one single theory and its principles would you dismiss that theory and conclusion on the whole merely because it takes the name of theory and that rejecting it at such a shallow basis requires you to dismiss every field of study that has ever supported it?

In fact let me reintroduce you to some other theories:

Plate tectonic theory

Atomic theory

Germ Theory

Cell Theory

Heliocentric theory

Tide theory

Most of these you might recognize as being common facts of life but have not known that they were considered as theories. Now then, will you dismiss the nuclear bomb, earthquakes, the common cold, and the fact that the earth revolves around the sun because their “just theories”?

So every time you get the urge to rebuttle with the phrase “just a theory” replace it with a thought and think to yourself “just shut up” and maybe you’ll emerge with most of your dignity intact.

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