I continue to hear the word “theory” used incorrectly.
It matters that it’s wrong. That it usually falls from the lips of evangelical Christians trying to proclaim the infallibility of the Bible. And that it’s used to dismiss the reality of biological evolution.
In fact, it’s an irony. What creationist Christians are arguing is not only the opposite of what is true but what is possible.
An example of a “theory” in the casual sense — a supposition, not necessarily factual — is the Christian belief that an invisible deity not only exists but personally supervises and orchestrates every earthling’s life. There is no evidence for it.
So, Christians choose to believe in ideas that are not only unverified but unverifiable, because invisible deities are beyond human capacity to sense much less substantiate in reality. They’re just imaginings.
On the other hand, “theory” in the scientific sense — the one linked to evolution, as in evolutionary theory — is as different in reality from religious theories as a mountain is to a bogus opinion. One exists in tangible, public reality, the other trapped in private imagination.
The website Livescience.com simply describes the defined route by which ideas become theories:
“Every scientific theory starts as a hypothesis. A scientific hypothesis is a suggested solution for an unexplained occurrence that doesn’t fit into a currently accepted scientific theory. In other words, according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, a hypothesis is an idea that hasn’t been proven yet. If enough evidence accumulates to support a hypothesis, it moves to the next step in the scientific method — known as a theory — and becomes accepted as a valid explanation of a phenomenon.”
That’s what evolution now is considered in the scientific community, after more than a century of testing and reaffirming its hypotheses.Originally, Charles Darwin (and some others), noting how species changes over time as they interacted in their environments, wondered what underlying biological mechanism possibly effected these changes. After much research, he deduced that the key determinant was “natural selection,” where each species’ innate compulsions toward procreation — which traits they favored in sexual partners, etc. — led to how species most robustly evolved or went extinct.
Testing of hypotheses led to concrete facts — like obvious flora and fauna trait transformations over time in various ecosystems, or evolving fossil records of ancient species — which then led to natural section becoming the consensus foundational explanation of how species, including Homo sapiens, evolve.
Theological “theory” on the other hand is based almost entirely on writings in ancient books, private emotions and irreproducible anecdotal accounts of supposed miraculous events people have reported experiencing.
It’s the difference between fiction and nonfiction. Between real and unreal. Between a random hunch and a scientific theory.
So, when evangelicals feel the urge to use the word “theory” to denounce science as a way to defend faith, they should reconsider.
Otherwise, they run a serious risk of seeming ignorant.
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