Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Do you ever think about things you do think about?

From Todd Wood, a professor of science at Bryan College, a Christian college located in Dayton, Tennessee where William Jennings Bryan squared off against Clarence Darrow in the Scopes Monkey Trial:
Evolution is not a theory in crisis. It is not teetering on the verge of collapse. It has not failed as a scientific explanation. There is evidence for evolution, gobs and gobs of it. It is not just speculation or a faith choice or an assumption or a religion. It is a productive framework for lots of biological research, and it has amazing explanatory power. There is no conspiracy to hide the truth about the failure of evolution. There has really been no failure of evolution as a scientific theory. It works, and it works well.
I say these things not because I'm crazy or because I've "converted" to evolution. I say these things because they are true. I'm motivated this morning by reading yet another clueless, well-meaning person pompously declaring that evolution is a failure. People who say that are either unacquainted with the inner workings of science or unacquainted with the evidence for evolution.
Like his school's namesake, Wood accepts the biblical account of creation as a matter of faith, but he apparently has too much respect for his God-given capacity for rational thought to deny that the scientific method supports the theory of evolution.


  1. Two points on evolution:

    The first I would think is elementary, but I often find the need to repeat it when dealing with skeptics. Yes. Evolution is technically a "theory". And a theory is not fact. However, a theory is also not a hypothesis. A theory is a hypothesis that has been tested and found to be an accurate description of some phenomenon. It's supported by evidence. The more evidence there is, the stronger the theory becomes. Our current atomic model is theory. So is germ theory and the theory of gravity. Using the qualifier "theory" doesn't make them any less accurate or meaningful. It just recognizes that the explanation is incomplete and subject to change should new evidence require it. Unless we find near-complete fossils of every stage of evolution for every organism back to the very first replicators (DNA-like molecules that could copy themselves) evolution will continue to be a "theory".

    The second has to do with evolution's status as an ever-evolving picture. There is plenty of disagreement as to how exactly evolution happened. But, like I said, that's because it's a theory. New evidence forces scientists to change their model. And, incomplete fossil records means there will most likely always be competing models. However, too many people mistake this valid academic disagreement as evidence that evolution itself is false. This, as I hope you can tell, is absolutely ridiculous. It's as if to say that historians' disagreement about some event means that the event must never have happened.

  2. Ale - I think your definitions are incorrect. This is often repeated, but actually, fact, law, theory, and hypothesis are differences of _category_, not of _degree_, and none of the designations (except possibly fact) have anything to do with how well proven they are.

    A "law" is a mathematical relationship. A law does not imply a mechanism.

    A "theory" is a framework of understanding.

    A "hypothesis" is a proposed, testable result of an experiment.

    So, for instance, Newton's gravitational law is F=G(m1*m2/r^2). This is a law because it is specified mathematically. There have been many theories proposed to explain the law. The theory can change without the law changing, and the law can change without the theory changing. However, changes to the law can often be suggested by changing ideas about the theory.

    A hypothesis is usually driven by a theory or law, but can be independent of them.

    A "fact" is a designation by anyone based on their interpretation of the data, but is not really a useful part of the philosophy of science.