Evolution: Just a theory?

Many bold, dogmatic claims have been made over the years regarding the validity of evolution. Consider the following as just a few examples:

“Evolution is a fact, fact, FACT!”

[Michael Ruse, Darwinism Defended: A Guide to the Evolution Controversies, 3d ed. (Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1983), 58.]

“No educated person any longer questions the validity of the so-called theory of evolution, which we now know to be a simple fact.”

[Ernst Mayr, “Darwin’s Influence of Modern Thought”, Scientific American 28, no 1, 2000, 78-83]

“You cannot be both sane and well educated and disbelieve in evolution. The evidence is so strong that any sane, educated person has got to believe in evolution.”

[Richard Dawkins, My Short Interview with Richard Dawkins by Lanny Swerdlow, http://www.positiveatheism.org/writ/dawkins0.htm, last accessed 10/29/13]

Such statements can be very intimidating, especially to young Christian students who have many sincere questions about the relationship between science and the Bible and often feel that maybe the Bible isn’t completely accurate or not completely inspired from cover-to-cover.

 

One very common response to these types of authoritarian assertions is to state that “Evolution is just a theory.” The intention here is to convey that evolution is not a “fact” it’s just a “theory”. The problem with this response is twofold: (a) it gives the wrong impression about evolution and (b) it is an inaccurate use of the word “theory”.

If you say “Evolution is just a theory”, people will view it much as they do Einstein’s “Theory of General Relativity” which is backed by a fair amount of solid, operational, scientific evidence. They may in turn admit that it isn’t exactly a proven fact, but it is a well-documented, scientifically attested view. In reality, evolution (i.e. molecules-to-man evolution) is just a story that’s told about the past, in which no one was around to observe it happening, we can’t repeat it in the laboratory and we can’t test it directly.

According to The National Academy of Sciences, a theory is “a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world, based on a body of facts that have been repeatedly confirmed through observation and experiment.”

Molecules-to-man evolution does not meet these criteria. It has not been observed or experimentally verified at all. Here’s an interesting quote from Richard Dawkins (former Professor of Zoology, Oxford University):

“Evolution has been observed. It’s just that it has not been observed while it’s happening.” [Richard Dawkins, ‘Battle over evolution’ Bill Moyers interviews Richard Dawkins, Now, 3 December 2004, PBS network]

A very odd statement, in deed. Technically, in order to qualify as a theory, something must be observable and directly testable.

 

By way of an admittedly silly analogy, let’s say someone was walking along the beach and stumbled upon a rather large rock resting on the shore. They ask, “I wonder how that unusually large rock got here?” I say, “I have a theory. I think 3.8 billion years ago, on a planet close to the edge of a universe outside our own, two aliens were arguing about whose turn it was to take out the garbage. In their squabble, one of the aliens, being particularly strong, picked up a rock one million times the size of Jupiter and threw it at the other alien. He missed, but the rock kept flying out of their universe, into ours and by the time it made its way all the way to Earth (and this beach) it had disintegrated down to its current size. That’s my theory!”

Obviously there’s no way to directly “test” that view, because it was a one time event that happened in the distant past (allegedly billions of years ago), in a place that is outside the reach of science (i.e. not observable). I have every right to hold to that belief, but it certainly isn’t a scientific view and doesn’t even qualify as a theory. I would have to admit that it was just my belief (and a blind one at that, if I did not have any evidence).

I prefer to refer to evolution as a model of how some people think life came into its present form. It may also rightfully be referred to as a worldview. I would equally caution using the phrase “theory of creation”, because it too involves actions that happened in the past which cannot be repeated or directly observed. The major difference is that, as Christians, we actually have an eye-witness account of the origin of life and the universe (the Bible), written by someone (God) who was there in the beginning, knows everything and does not lie. We also have volumes of scientific evidence that is strongly supportive of the biblical account. We don’t use it as proof (science doesn’t actually ever truly prove anything), but we use it as a natural, logical defense for our Christian worldview.

You might want to keep all of this in mind when you are having a serious discussion about the creation/evolution debate. On a lighter note, I actually don’t have a problem when I hear people loosely using the phrase “theory of evolution”, because that term has been used for so long and most people don’t give it much thought as to what it means, other than the person using it is simply talking about evolution in general. I’m not on a crusade to change the world with this one issue… there are more important things to worry about, but this will help refine your apologetic defense of the Bible.

 

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Author: Jay Seegert (Co-Founder & Principal Lecturer, Creation Education Center)

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