Nothing gets most secular scientists more perturbed than when they hear people denying Evolution. On the other hand, it seems that nothing makes them happier than having religious people affirming Evolution as fact and how it doesn’t clash with their belief in God. One does not have to go further than how often Theodosius Dobzhahnsky’s 1973 essay “Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution” is brought up, or believing Catholics like evolutionary biologist Kenneth Miller are promoted to tell all those irrational religionists that Evolution is not a theory, but a fact to give bolstering for its validity with the faithful.
I thought I should just address a couple of things here about this matter. The purpose of this article is simply to address a little of the confusion that is running rampant without restraint, because terms are not being defined properly by those discussing this subject.
The first issue at hand is this business with the word “theory”. On the one hand the public uses the term to mean an unsubstantiated opinion, or baseless conjecture and guesses. On the other hand, in science the term is used in a more stringent way. When we speak of a theory at the lab bench, we are speaking of a number of well-established propositions that were based on repeated observations, which have been confirmed to have predictive power when tested for their veracity. A theory in scientific terminology is not some pie in the sky idea. It is something that is used on a daily basis in labs across the world while conducting experiments to produce expected results. The stronger the predictive power of the theory, the more established it becomes.
It should be pointed out here that just because a theory has strong predictive power for observations, this does not necessarily make it true. Einstein said it best when he said, “it is the theory that determines what we observe”. This is explained through Thomas Kuhn’s acknowledgment of how much of the data generated in science is “theory-laden”, which refers to the fact that when scientists design an experiment, they are guided by their theories in mind. If an experiment is designed based on a theory, the observations cannot be truly considered objective, because the design of the theory-based experiment can drive the observations to confirm the theory itself. In logic, this is a form of fallacy called circular reasoning. Not to mention the conundrum of Hume’s Problem of Induction. This is why whether scientists, and those who worship science, want to accept it or not, despite having strong predictive powers, theories will always be a form of conjecture. Albeit, it is a stronger form of conjecture than the public would try to make it to be.
So when we speak about Evolution in a scientific sense, we are speaking about a set of propositions, which have strong predictive powers that guide biological studies to arrive at findings that seem to confirm it. I do not like the terms “prove” and “fact” when it comes to science because they are just too strong to use if one truly understands the underlying realities behind how science is conducted. I can see why those who reject Evolution despite all of this “evidence” can trouble secular scientists. How can they not when it is so “obvious” that Evolution is a “fact”? However, I think they would be less troubled if they took into account the reality of how science functions. For one thing, if it were not for anomalous findings that do not necessarily agree with Evolutionary theory, it would have been called a Law instead of a theory.
The second issue that seems to never go away when it comes to this business with Evolution is the fallacious use of authority. Just because Dr. John Doe is some big hotshot scientist who says Evolution is fact, it does not make it so. Moreover, Dr. John Doe’s being a believing religious man, does not all of a sudden give him any more authority than he had before so as to make Evolution a fact. It is foolishness to believe something simply because the scientific man in the white lab coat, or for that matter the religious man in the white robe, said it is true. The content of what is being said has to be examined, and the soundness of it must be tested before it can be accepted.
The final issue I have with how Evolution is discussed is the fallacious comparison with Gravity. The assumption underlying the comparison, which seems to go unnoticed by those making the comparison, is that each theory deals with the same type of observation. That could not be further from the truth. In Gravity, we have an immediate effect. Take a book, raise it up, let go, and it immediately drops. Take a feather and a cannon ball, go up to the roof of a building, release them at the same time, they immediately drop, make some calculations, and you get the same downward acceleration for both. These are the immediate effects that are readily observed by the experimenter. Evolution on the hand is a different story. One of the major conditions for Evolution to make it possible for it to give rise to the diversity seen is the timescale that extends to the 4.5 billion year old age of the Earth. Conveniently, or inconveniently depending on your perspective, this is not in anyway a realistic time scale for anyone to carry out an experiment that directly proves Evolution in the same way Gravity can be proven. I am talking pure phenomenology here.
When one examines the process by which Gravity acts, and the process by which Evolution is proposed to act, it makes the equating of the two problematic. They cannot be grouped under the same heading, and when they are spoken about as theories, the conjecture behind Gravity is most definitely not even close to the conjecture when it comes to Evolution. For one thing, you can observe the process of Gravity happening right in front of you, whereas the same is not possible for Evolution. After a bit of reflection, it becomes obvious that this is just a clever and elaborate fallacy of equivocation. The danger here is that it relies on transferring of the granted acceptance of one concept to a different one, which may not be so readily acceptable.
The closest anyone has come to giving direct proof of Evolution, which is not even close to being called close, is Richard Lenski with his work on E. coli that started in 1988, where he grew it for 50,000 generations. It takes this bacterium 20 minutes to double by the way; so do not let the impressive 50,000 generations number impress you too much. His continuing “long-term” study has gotten E. coli to utilize citric acid in addition to taking up some other “evolutionary adaptations”. While this study is typically pushed as having shown the bacteria becoming more fit in the culture’s environment they were grown in, those who speak of it usually marginalize the fact that these “more fit” bacteria became more sensitive to other types of stress and were actually less able to survive for a longer period in stationary phase.
In fact, other experiments where normal wild type bacteria were put under a pressure that promoted the growth of particular resistant “more fit” strains, have shown that these bacteria reverted back to their wild type nature once the pressure was taken away. This is not Evolution as much as it is gene fluctuations that depend upon environmental pressures but may not necessarily result in speciation and forward progression.
Those who claim that we have direct observations of Evolution are making the same mistake the public makes when they speak about theory. Evolution is supposedly a process of progress from simple to complex, as well as a survival for the most properly adapted for an environment. It is a proposed process where new species arise from old ones, and diversity, we are assured, comes about after multiple mutations. It takes a very long time for this to take place – in the scales of hundreds of thousands and millions of years, which we can never observe in our lifespans. Any “evidence” or “observation” that is pushed as “support” for Evolution is circumstantial at best. The validity of Evolutionary theory rests on indirect inferences that were linked together to come up with its mechanism. If this is not faith, I do not know what is.
According to those who love Evolutionary theory, it is a beautiful and elegant explanation for how everything came about. However, an objective examination of the matter will reveal that it does not necessarily meet all the stringer requirements that other theories must. For one thing, it cannot even be physically tested. For its predictive power, it relies on a set of postulates that are derived from observations of gene fluctuations, which are unjustifiably, and quite fallaciously induced into an elaborate process of speciation and diversification. It is more a philosophy than it is science. This is not to say that it is definitely not true. But it is to say that it cannot be talked about as fact, and it definitely should not be spoken about as a theory in the same sense that Gravity is.