An evolutionary idea:

I wonder sometimes if it’s the language surrounding evolution that’s tripping up a lot of fundamentalists. Obviously there’s religious dogma in it too, but creationists seem to seize on what they see as uncertainty in the scientific position, whereas they claim steadfast certainty in their beliefs.

For instance, the ‘theory’ of evolution. Theory, to creationists, implies that scientists are just guessing (funny that they never question the ‘theory of gravity’). Why not call it the Principle of Evolution? It doesn’t change the meaning of the phrase (at least in my eyes), but the word itself does not lend itself to a misunderstanding of context.

It’s called a theory when you have a good working explanation of how something works that fits all available facts but that cannot yet be totally proven to be the RIGHT theory. With gravity we can measure it and describe how it affects things but we arent totally sure how mass causes it or just how it ties in with the other fundamental forces. We have a general idea of how evolution works but there are many complex little factors we still need to study before we can really nail it down 100%.

I think there are very specific scientific definitions as to what constitutes a theory, law, and principle… you can’t just redefine them in the scientific context.

The real problem is that “theory” is commonly perceived to mean either something more akin to “hypothesis”, or “wild ass guess”. That’s the ignorance/fault of society as a whole, to misuse a term that has a specific scientific meaning.

But yeah, when I hear “it’s just a theory!” I want to smack people. “Go jump off that building! Gravity is just a theory!”

  1. Uncertainty is inherent in all scientific theories - one characterestic of scientific theories is they can be falsified.

  2. Evolution is not only a theory, it is also a fact.

I think the problem in “definition” would go away if fundamentalists would stop trying to dictate what is “science” and what isn’t. I also think some of the problem lies in certain fundamentalists who don’t understand science-yet try to teach a warped view of it.

I think the problem is evolution-science writers trying to convince creationists.
It only makes their disbelief legit!
Do you think any scientist one would answer such a statement about the shape of the Earth? If they did, we would be forever explaining it!

I don’t think they are trying to convince the diehard creationists, they are trying to counter creationist activities (spreading lies, basically).

And where’s the religious dogman in evolution?

My, what an interesting typo. “dogman” should be “dogma”.

If we called it The Principle Of Evolution, they would come right back with “Well, we Christians have principles too! What makes your principles any more valid than ours?”
The word games and deliberate misunderstandings would continue.

Newbie here adding my 2 cents worth.

The problem doesn’t come from the fundamentalists, it comes from dictionary.

if you look up theory in the dictionary one of the possible definitions is “abstract thought : SPECULATION” (This is out of the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary) and you can check it for yourself.

We can limit the descussion to the Scientific definition of the word, but most people wil grab the “Speculation” part and run with it. Can you blame them when you tell them to look it up? If the word Theory doesn’t reallt fit, then Science should find another word… Plain and simple… They should use a word that can cause wild speculation about what is meant.

How did I do for my first post?

Oops, I guess I goofed that up… I meant to say that Science should use a word that DOES NOT cause wild Speculation about what is meant

Welcome aboard, Tuarus.
While I appreciate you point, I would say that scientific theory has a specific meaning which can be gleaned from a dictionary. Those who point to alternative definitions can simply be informed that scientists are using definition 1. I suppose that the fundies can try to argue that scientists really mean definition 3, but that would be sort an absurd, and easily falsifiable approach to take.

I don’t know of another term which could be substituted for scientific theory which would really be useful. Also, would this be an all purpose surrogate for all scientific theories (atomic theory, theories of gravity, relativity, quantum mechanics, etc.)?

Anyway, even if scientists did change the term, then creationists would simply claim that “evilutionists” were just trying make evolution a fact by fiat.

He’s 100% correct. Even if it were called “The Concrete Fact of Evolution,” it wouldn’t change the mind of a single die-hard Creationist.

The very nature of scientific writing, using terms such as “it is believed,” and “possibly (this happened)” gives fuel to their fire. Of course, this is perfectly correct, given that we can only use an educated guess at certain aspects of evolution, but for Literalists, a tiny word such as “perhaps” gives them a loophole the size of Mars. After all, their Book doesn’t use such terms.

Creationsists will always distrust and ignore scientific fact, and there’s nothing that can be done about it. Blessedly, their willful ignorance will most likely keep them out of a position of power over scientific knowledge which could really do damage to the advancement of science. You can argue, debate, and point out errors to a Creationist, but their stubborn, circular “reasoning” cannot be defeated, because they despise and ignore logic. They simply do not want to be enlightened, and there’s nothing you can say to such a person.

That’s the thing. I think the word originally specifically referred to the scientific meaning, but because of common (mis)use, it eventually came to mean either a scientific theory or speculation.

As far as I know, science did use the word precisely as it was meant, and, in language, misuse, if common enough, makes that misuse a legitimate way to use it.

It’s not that scientists have to find a new word - they had a perfectly good one in the first place - but that others quit distorting it’s meaning.

Good Point Diogenes,

Many people seem to have a way of destorting meanings of words over time.

I guess the best that we can hope for in this debate is to agree to disagree. Anything other than that would not be very civilized now would it? But then again, we wouldn’t be in the “Great Debate” catagory now would we, so let’s have at it.

There are many holes in both the evoluitionary theory and the creationist theory. Though at this point, I am not convinced either is truly correct.

There are good arguments on both sides, but only if one is willing to look at both sides. Unfortunately, no one seems willing to truly consider the other’s point of view and the debate rages on in the bowels of time and we here are no closer now than we were 25, 30, 40 or even 50 years ago!!


I have to disagree with “we are no closer now…” 50 years ago there were only a handful of ancient human fossils. Today there are fossils from pretty much the entire 6 million year range since human and ape lineages separated. OK, some are very fragmentary, but the overall story is just what Darwin said it would be over 100 years ago: the farther back you go, the more like other apes our ancestors appear. To be specific, look at skull capacity. Around 3 million years ago hominids had about a pint of brains. Modern humans have about a quart and a half. According to Darwin there must have been a sequence of hominids with brain capacity in between these two numbers. That’s exactly what’s been discovered over the past century! Pick any number between 500 cubic centimeters and 1500 cc and there’s a fossil hominid skull close to that number.

Anyone who thinks we’re “no closer now” simply hasn’t been paying attention.

For a time legitimate scientists (who are commonly college professors) ignored creationism as a belief so laughable as to be beneath debate.
Then they started to notice the abyss of scientific ingnorance with which they were faced every semester. Creationism isn’t the only problem - it’s belief in space aliens, the loch ness monster, bigfoot and pseudo-science in general.

In my humble opinion, it’s a matter of faith on both sides. You can’t prove 100% that evolutions is true and I suppose evolotionists are going to say the same thing about creation. Evolitionsists say there’s plenty of proof to support their position and creationists are going to say there’s proof of special creation. Neither side is going to accept the other side’s “proof” I imagine so I’m sure this will be debated for a long time to come. I think faith plays a part in both.