Is Evolution Just A Theory?
There is a currently under consideration in the Montana State Legislature a bill (HB183) that would require our schools to teach the "controversy" of evolutionary theory. Complaints often come from people, most notably Christians, that evolution is "just" a theory and therefore does not prove anything conclusive. Evolutionary scientists will readily point out that saying "just" a theory is incorrect. They will rightly state that theories are an integral part of the scientific method and one of the foundations of modern science. The term theory as used in science is actually the result of many observations, empirical testing and the accumulation of vast amounts of data. As such, to say that evolution is "just" a theory only shows ignorance of the scientific method on the part of the commentator.
I personally do not think that the "theory of evolution is "just" a theory. In fact I do not think it is a theory at all. From a typical dictionary: "Theories are intended to be an accurate, predictive description of the natural world." Note the word "predictive". A scientific theory should be able to explain past and current events. It should also be able to predict future events as well. The "theory" of evolution claims great prowess in explaining what has happened in the past but is impotent in predicting what may happen in the future.
The theory of evolution is often compared to gravitational and atomic theory. There is however one big difference between these different theories. Gravitational and atomic theory are both explanatory and predictive but the theory of evolution cannot predict anything. Atomic theory explains the spectrum of individual atoms, the bond strength between different elements and a whole host of other observations. Atomic theory was also used to design the first atomic bomb. When that first bomb went off in the New Mexico desert what happened was not a surprise. Scientists had a pretty good idea of what would take place based on the current atomic theory of the day. No doubt some things were different than expected but all in all atomic theory was used successfully to build the A-bomb.
Gravitational theory explains the motions of the planets, the path of projectiles and even why we fall down. Gravitational theory was also used to put a man on the moon in 1969. When Apollo 11 left the ground the scientists that designed the rocket didn't just push a button and hope for the best. They knew how much fuel was needed, how fast the craft had to go and where the ship should land. They also knew exactly what was needed to get the astronauts back home alive. All of this was based on the predictive power of gravitational theory.
Evolutionary theory on the other hand is like taking a car ride and spending the whole time looking out the back window. You see where you've been but you have no idea of where you are going. You can never anticipate what will happen next because everything you see has already happened. Evolutionary theory attempts to explain past events based on circumstantial evidence. But it is powerless to predict any future events. A classic example of this inability to predict future events is antibiotic resistance. Antibiotics were first developed in the 1940's. They proved to be so effective that they became known as miracle drugs. The Surgeon General of the United States even went so far as to predict that all infectious diseases would "soon be a thing of the past". And yet in just a few years doctors were stunned to find that bacteria were no longer as susceptible to antibiotics as they were at first. Some bacteria had become resistant to these new "miracle" drugs. This antibiotic resistance is often used as evidence of evolutionary theory. And yet evolutionary theory could not predict antibiotic resistance beforehand so that it could have possibly been avoided.
Evolution was claimed to be the cause of antibiotic resistance only after this resistance had already occurred. Darwin published his theory of evolution in 1859. Antibiotic resistance was first discovered in the 1960's. This means that the theory of evolution had been around for more than 100 years. So where was evolutionary theory when we needed it most? It was too busy trying to explain what happened to the Trilobite 400 million years ago. Evolutionary theory attempts to explain the past but it has absolutely no bearing on the future. Therefore evolutionary theory is really no theory at all. It is in fact just an idea (one of many) that is used to explain past events. Calling it a theory gives this idea more stature than it deserves.
So what about House Bill 183? I am not sure that legislating what is taught in a science class is the way to go. I personally think that it would be more effective for concerned citizens to have their say at the local level. Talk individually to the teachers and the school boards. Present sound and scientifically based information that would educate the educators of our children. But of course this would take more effort on our part than just writing house bills or letters to the editor.