Pro-evolution, anti-Christianity, all in the same sentence.

From my presentation last night at Northwestern University.

Evolution is disprovable!  "If we found rabit fossils in soil from the Triassic, evolution would be as dead as Jepthah's daughter.  If new discoveries don't corroborate evolution, it would be as useless as the second commandment."

About JT Eberhard

When not defending the planet from inevitable apocalypse at the rotting hands of the undead, JT is a writer and public speaker about atheism, gay rights, and more. He spent two and a half years with the Secular Student Alliance as their first high school organizer. During that time he built the SSA’s high school program and oversaw the development of groups nationwide. JT is also the co-founder of the popular Skepticon conference and served as the events lead organizer during its first three years.

  • Glodson

    Evolution is only a theory!

    Wait… you explained that with the slide given the proper context for the term theory.

  • Peter N

    When a creotard says “Evolution is only a theory!”, we usually launch into an explanation that the word means something different to scientists than it does to the general public. But is this really true? I know that they are implying that it means “wild-assed guess” or something like that, but I think the common meaning is actually something very much like “an explanation that fits our observations, and makes testable predictions”, which is pretty much the way scientists use it.

    Do these sound like intelligent statements?

    My roommate’s theory is that if you put the pasta in cold water and then bring it to a boil, it comes out just as well, and also saves a little energy.

    According to the Chief’s theory, hiring two extra officers would save more money on overtime than it would cost in salaries.

    My theory is that it isn’t worth studying longer hours if I’m too tired — I do better if I study less and get more sleep.

    My theory is that all of those comport with both the scientific and colloquial usages of the word perfectly well. So when a Defender of the Faith scoffs “it’s just a theory”, throw it right back at them!

    • iknklast

      Actually, you’re describing a hypothesis. Theory is usually thought of as an explanation about the natural world that is supported by the weight of the evidence and is provisionally considered true. Theory is after testing, not before.

      • Liz

        That’s not even how the word theory is used in science, though. The theory of evolution and the theory of special relativity fit the bill. But string theory isn’t nearly there. Phlogiston theory is a wrong theory. “Set theory” and “game theory” aren’t even in the right category for accumulating evidence.

        • iknklast

          That’s true, but a lot of scientists I know refer to those correctly – as hypotheses. And a couple of them as “not even wrong”. That is how theory is SUPPOSED to be used, but even scientists sometimes get into the sloppy habit of using it as a synonym for “what I think might be true if I could just find some sort of evidence to support it”. I think what we need to do is either clear out sloppy verbiage among scientists, or concede theory to the vernacular and start calling evolution and genetics, special relativity, gravity, and so fort, something else.

  • garicgymro

    This is false anyway. Rabbit fossils in Triassic soil could straightforwardly be explained by time travel, leaving evolution unscathed.

    • Highlander

      Either that or the FSM put them there to test our faith in Evolution

    • Glodson

      But that would introduce a major problem: time travel. We can come up with timelike loops in spacetime that the resulting geometry would result in time travel to the past, it just turns out this is really hard if not actually impossible to do in the real world.

      However, let’s explore this. One point I would quibble with is the Triassic period. I know that mammals start to emerge in the fossil record some time in the Jurassic period. I would say that finding a rabbit in that part of the record would be extraordinary. But it could just be a strange anomaly. Finding a family of rabbits at the same level in the fossil record, that would be something.

      This wouldn’t disprove evolution, but might require retooling our understanding of the evolutionary past. The fossil record is a great source of evidence, but it is possible to miss out on some animals given the process of fossilization. It would be possible to explain a mammal, a rabbit like mammal, existing in the Triassic period. We already have large animals walking around. It might be strange if there’s little difference between the rabbits found and the rabbits today, but it could be explained. Maybe it would require a rethinking of some ideas in the theory, but it wouldn’t really falsify it.

      Precambrian Rabbits? Well…. that’s a problem. Like a big problem. Much larger than the Triassic example. Again, this is assuming we are talking about a family, in terms of taxonomy. A singular example would be odd, but in light of the supporting evidence, that singular example might be more a consequence of unusual circumstance. Now we might have to completely rethink some of Evolution. The theory would have to change to accommodate this new data. If it cannot be changed to be consistent with this new data, and the data it is built on, then we must reject the theory.

      Here’s the best part: the rejection of evolution isn’t the acceptance of creationism. It just means we need to get back to the drawing board. When OPERA claimed to observe neutrinos traveling at a rate greater than c, it didn’t mean it was time to revert to Classical Mechanics. If this oberservation had been true, and given the data I have on it, it would have required reexamining the principals of Relativity and maybe even parts of the Standard Model, not to mention theories like QED and QCD as these theories incorporate Special Relativity. Given that the experiment would produce the same results when repeated. If this couldn’t be done, if these theories could not be made consistent with the new data, then we would have to start over.

      Falsifying a theory doesn’t prove any other theory. Really, we don’t even prove the theories, we just show they aren’t wrong.

      So, it wouldn’t help the creationist, even if there were rabbits in the Triassic or Precambrian periods. Even if it is was families of rabbits.

      I’m sure that most here know this. Sorry for this pedantry. It is a minor quibble, in a way.

      • Glodson

        Edit: I should say that I am relatively sure that everyone replying right now understand this. Hopefully, people who didn’t really understand this will gain something.

        • Peter N

          It’s still a good point that bears repeating — it’s something Christopher Hitchens would say, that even if he were to concede the virgin birth, the resurrection, all that, “you still have all your work before you” to show any evidence for the kind of god you claim to believe in.

      • Reginald Selkirk

        But if there’s no time travel, how do you explain Bruce Willis?

        • Glodson

          I don’t explain Bruce Willis, I merely tolerate him.

  • invivoMark

    Amusingly written but untrue. A rabbit in the Triassic would not even come close to disproving evolution. It might drastically alter our view of the history of life on Earth (we would have to rearrange our understanding of the evolutionary history of mammals), but the theory of evolution, like all scientific theories, is open for revision (and is constantly being revised as we gather more data).

    A good post on this by genome biologist Ryan Gregory is here:

    Evolution is falsifiable, certainly, but it would take an accumulation of multiple evidences. No single data point would instantly overturn everything that we have learned.

  • Catholic Dad
    • Nate Frein

      This is supposed to prove…what, exactly?