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Meditation 451

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There was an article in the last edition of the Skeptical Inquirer [1] arguing that we should stop using the phrase "Theory of Evolution" and replace it simply with "evolution." The reason is that the word "Theory" is used in this case in the narrow scientific sense of an explanation supported by evidence, while those who argue against evolution always use it in the common usage of hypothetical.

Consequently, those who oppose evolution feel free to dismiss it with the comment "It's just a theory," and supporters end up wasting time arguing about definitions rather than the scientific facts supporting evolution.

Evolution could very well be considered "just a theory" when Darwin first proposed it. But, evolution has now got well over a century's worth of supporting evidence behind it and it is accepted as valid in the scientific community. The common usage of theory is no longer applicable to it.

We don't talk about the theory of gravity, the theory of thermodynamics, the theory of cell division, or the theory of genetics. The word theory has been generally dropped even from the Theory of Relativity, except when we talk about Einstein's initial insight.

If there are those who want to deny evolution, then that is what the terms of debate should be about; evolution, and not about a theory.

Another term which should be changed in our discourse is "Creation" when referring to the beginning of the Universe. Invariably those who insist on a deity make the statement that if there was Creation, then there was a Creator. We could, of course, refer to the Big Bang, but that really is misleading. We can all agree the universe began, so let's just call it the beginning of the universe, or, briefly, The Beginning. It contains no implication that there was or was not some intelligent force which led to the universe's existence. And it has a nice biblical ring (see Genesis 1:1) to satisfy believers.

If we want to make the debate about what really happened and about what the scientific evidence demonstrates instead of a debate about semantics, then let's use language that does not give those who think differently a spurious argument. No more Theory of Evolution, no more Creation. Make the debate about evolution, and about the beginning.


  1. Skeptical Inquirer November / December 2005