Anti-evolutionary critique #?: evolution is called a theory

There are two, kind-of related criticisms of evolution that I want to adress here.  This is the last of the attempts that anti-evolutionists make to underut Neodarwinism on a scientific level, that I am aware of.  If somebody else knows of any other arguments, I’d be interested to hear them… the way I see it, none of the them work.

The two related points:

A) Even Neo-darwinians call it the theory of evolution; notice the contrast between the word “theory” and the use of the word “law” as in “the law of gravity.”  This indicates that main stream science isn’t nearly as confident in Darwinian principles as it claims. 

B) If you read the journals, darwinians fight violently over the details of this science.  This similarly implies a lack of confidence in the fundamentals of neodarwinian theory.

The reasons that neither of these work:

Response to A) Though some people attempt to draw a distinction between science’s use of terms like “law” and “theory”, these are mostly just matters of convention…. Ultimately, in science, everything is a theory.  If an account popped up that better explained why stuff falls than gravity, we’d accept this account.  What we call “gravity” is quite beside the point. 

But suppose I’m wrong…  I’ll consider the possibility that maybe the fact that evolution is referred to as a theory is significant.  If this were the case, the anti-evolutionary folks ought to see this as a sign of respect.  With a tiny handful of overplayed exceptions, the only people who really doubt that evolution is a law is the creationists themselves.

The creationists often lament the fact that mainstream science gives them no respect, credit, etc.  If the creationists are correct, if the fact that evolution is referred to as a theory has some level of significance, it’s actually quite a show of respect to the creationists themselves… The creationists are having their cake and eating to; are they going to play the “we get no respect” Rodeney Dangerfield card, or are they going to play the “there are serious doubts about evolution and where the one’s causing those doubts” card; because playing both cards at the same time simply makes no sense.

B) The fact that there are debates within the evolutionary community does not indicate that the science is shaky… In fact, debate is a sign of robust science.  There aren’t many who doubt whether evolution is occuring, nearly all of the debate is around comparitively insignificant details…

Sometimes quotes seem to imply otherwise.  This is sometimes because the quotes are taken out of context, and other times, because overemphasing the significance of disagreements sells books, articles, and journals. 

Who’d really read an explanation that said “Such-and-such a belief is 99.9% correct.”  Wouldn’t we be much more likely to read something which said “I’ve discovered a fundamental problem with the traditional account of such-and-such a thing.”

Before we get to holier-than-though around those Godless, deceptive bioligist, we religious folks would do well to look at our own history… We could teach science a thing or two about overstating fairly insiginicant differences in beliefs.  And our beliefs are supposed to have a moral component!  If a scientist behaves in poor character, it doesn’t impugn his science!

So there we are.  I guess I’m all done with the topic of evolution for now. 


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The stories that speak to our soul begin at a home where things are good. Cinderella is happy with her father. The three little pigs have grown up and are ready to move on. Bilbo Baggins knows his shire. Adam and Eve walk with God in the garden. My story isn’t much different. There was a time and a place where it was so good. There was a community for me. And there was joy. We were filled with a sincere desire to do what God wanted us to do. We possessed explanations and understandings that went a certain distance. We offered security and tradition and laughter. For a lot of years, that was enough. I have this sense that it was also necessary. I have this surety, now, that it certainly wasn’t everything. There were some things that became increasingly problematic as time went by. There was a desire to package things up so very neatly. Sunday morning services were efficient and strategic. Responses to differences of opinion were premeditated. Formula began to feel more important than being real. A real desire for everybody to be one of us, but also a real sense that there is an us, and there is a them. They carried a regret that it has to be this way, but deeper than this regret was a surety that this is how it is. I began to recognize that there was a cost of admission to that group. There were people who sat at the door, collecting it. Those people wished they didn’t have to. But I guess they felt like they did have to. They let some people in, and they left others out. There was a provisional membership. My friends did possess a desire to accommodate people that are different… But it would be best for everyone concerned if they were only a little bit different. I did make many steps forward in this place. Before I went there, there were lies that I believed. Some of the things that I learned there, I still hold on to. But that place is not my home anymore. Those people are not my community anymore. There were times it was hard. I am engaged in a different community now. And I am working hard at finding a place in many different places now, embracing many different kind of families. I don’t always get it right. I am trying and I am learning and I am moving foreward. I have this sense that I am not alone in these experiences. I believe that we are tribe and we are growing. We are pilgrims, looking for a new holy land. Perhaps we won’t settle on the same spot of land. But if you’ve read this far, I am thinking that we are probably headed in the same general direction. I have begun this blog to talk about where my journey is taking me. In every space, we find people who help us along. And maybe we can get to know each other, here. We embrace ideas that provide a structure for the things we believe, and perhaps we can share these too. Maybe we can form a group, a tribe, a community, if we can figure out a way to work through the shadow of these kinds of groups, if we can bigger than the us-and-them ideas that have caused so much trouble in the past. As important as they are, I think the very nature of online interactions will lend itself to something equally powerful. I am stumbling onto these practices that my grandfathers and great grandfathers in the faith engaged in. I am learning about these attitudes and intuitions are so different than the kinds of things we call doctrine today. I don’t know about you, but I am running out of patience, and even interest, in conversations about doctrine. I hope that maybe you’ll share a little something about where your journey is taking you, and maybe our common joys and challenges might help each other along, and we might lift each other up. Thanks for doing this journey with me.

6 thoughts on “Anti-evolutionary critique #?: evolution is called a theory”

  1. I probably have as good a grasp on science as most people who pay attention to the world, watch a lot of PBS, went to school, church, and spend a little time contemplating my place in the universe. My understanding of how science works is that is exists in the realm of observation, measurement, postulation, experimentation, application, and all those other activities that allow the typical modern fifth grader have a meaningful relationship with Pythagoras, Euclid, Archemides, Galileo, Newton, Da Vinci, Einstein and all the rest. The question being: HOW does the world work? Gregor Mendel was a monk, so I guess we can assume he believed in God since he dedicated his life to God, but he still observed, recorded, and subjected to experimentation and scrutiny something interesting and useful going on in the pea patch. WHY? Well, we’ve gotten to the point where we can sometimes explain Process A + Process B = Result C. It’s a law of nature or science or whatever you want to call it if you can predict the same result every time. Things fall. It’s gravity. What’s gravity? Scientists aren’t sure, but objects fall unless something else is acting on them, and even then gravity plays a part. The universe seems to be a lot of push and pull we don’t really understand but it’s there. Evolution is a theory that actually encompasses several variations. Scientists talk about small changes or big changes or various lengths of time. There are probably both processes going on at once, still. Were there dinosaurs? Yes. Do they still exist? Most scientists will say yes, in the form of birds and reptiles. Are there a lot of similarities between humans and other mammals? Yes, some mammals more than others. Are the differences greater now than they were 10,000 years ago? Yes, apparently. 50,000 years? One million years? Yes. Why? We don’t know. Scientists have theories about HOW it works. It just doesn’t address the question of WHY all this exists and occurs in the way it does. That doesn’t mean it’s wrong or that it doesn’t exist. It doesn’t rule out the possibility that other forces are at work in the universe. It’s extremely important to me that doctors, scientists, teachers, and politicians understand they way the processes of the world work – as we understand them in the modern world. I don’t care at all if they believe the reason the world exists is because of God, the Great Turtle, the Sacred Lotus, or just a happy accident. You can call it “Creationism” but that doesn’t make it equivilent to a scientific theory. It’s another word for religious beliefs. For that matter, “Darwinisn” is not a religion or a belief system equivilent to a regious belief. You can set those two concepts in opposition but it is a false comparison. I’ve gone on too long. What was the question? (Great topic, Jeff!)


  2. Hi Francine! Hope you’re doing well! Awesome to hear from you…
    Very interesting thoughts.
    You are quite right to observe that religions and science should proceed by quite different methods and serve somewhat different functions.

    The challenge is that they both claim to report on the same reality… When they make conflicting claims about this reality this conflict either has to be resolved or we have to resign ourselves to a sort-of schizophrenia., or at the bare minimum agnosticism about what the real truth is…

    It’s kind-of funny to find an old poetry friend jumping into a theological discussion (While meanwhile, my friend, Pastor Marty has dived into commenting on some of my poems.)


  3. “The challenge is that they both claim to report on the same reality…”

    Well – interesting. It’s true, each is a unique interpretation (report, as you say) of observed/experienced phenomena. One requires proof, the other faith. So we are talking about two different systems. I just don’t believe that science is an attack on faith. If someone believes the natural world is fully explained by their religious beliefs, that is fine with me. If they don’t want to accept modern scientific thought, that is fine, too. But science should be taught in science classrooms and religion should not. The world, the universe, all living things are changing all the time – in small ways as well as large….Evolution is – present tense – all around us.

    Surely a tradition that can accept virgin birth and resurrection can also imagine a Creator that sets in motion the mechanisms of evolution. The world and its processes are truly things of wonder and beauty.

    I think we are back to the issue of what, exactly, is being discussed here. Most Christian groups cannot agree on the same interpretation of the bible. The monotheistic traditions cannot agree on the same interpretation of the old testament. And that’s just the western philosophies. But the arguments (and wars!) are about mostly insignificant points. The main ideas that hold civilation together exist in some form everywhere you look. I would truly like to see organized religions spend a lot more time worrying about things like peace, love, acceptance, mutual respect and cooperation among all people and nations. Religion can do that. Science cannot.

    As they say, use the right tool for the job.


  4. If you believe the Earth was created(in 7 days at that) and that we all shared this planet with dinosaurs and the trillions of other lifeforms that have been put into the fossil record then you might as well believe in santa claus. Evolution may be a theory, but it is a theory that has been rigorously tested over the last century & every detail we look into has backed it up. The theory of evolution is grounded in more facts than plate tectonics. I always here religious people say that darwinian evolution is bad for humanity because it makes people act immorally. Well I would argue that monotheistic religions have problems as well. People that believe everything is under control of a higher power are likely to be irresponsible and expect that they will be (forgiven). If you literally think the world is going to end what motivation could you possibly have to care about the planet?


  5. psychonaut…
    It doesn’t appear that you’ve read the second half of this post. I agree with most of what you say.
    This post was part of a series of a posts where I attempted to dissect arguments usually held by creationists. I am a Christian and a firm believer in evolution.

    Personally, I feel it’s essentially irrevant whether or not Neodarwinian theory leads to immorality. The relevant question is “Is it true?” Unless we’re prepeared to perpetrate a tremendous hoax on the whole of humanity because of the immoral actions it may lead to, it really doesn’t matter what it’ll lead to. And it would be quite hypocritical to use the immoral act of lying to cause people to be more moral.

    Any idea or authority can be abused. There are people who abuse God’s grace and use it to justify their errors. Some people abuse God’s love in just this way. But again, this does not argue for the truth or falsity of whether or not God’s love exists.

    There are a vocal crowd whose theology was inspired by a lot of places we shouldn’t get theology from. They believe that the world is going to end soon and our eternity’s will be spent elsewhere.
    Many of us don’t take this view. Their is significant biblical for the support for the idea that God is involved in reclaiming and redeeming this world for our eternity. There is a lively and passionate stream within Christianity that is environmentally conscience and tremendously motivated to care for the earth.


  6. I understand that there are many christians who don’t take everything the bible says literally. My problem is the ones who do take it literally are always trying to jam it down other peoples throats. I remember being taught some pretty scary things in church as a child, once I grew up I realized how crazy most of it sounded, and if anything I rebelled against it due to how much it was pushed on me. I just wish that the rational part of christianity (thats you) would talk some sense into the fringe elements. Basically I agree with you that some christians are environmentally conscious, but I think the fringe side to that religion is really bad for us as a whole


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