Monday, June 8, 2009

A new name for everything

There are a new set of polls going around on Facebook, and I love sharing my worthless opinion with people who care as little for it as I care for theirs, so I joined in.

The first one was simple enough. Do you approve of President Obama?
Yes, I do. I saw that a friend of mine, Jubal, had put that he approved and had come under some fire from people who I can only assume are conservative and more likely, militantly conservative. Jubal had said that Obama's diplomacy, and pledge to end American torture were two of the reasons he approves of the president, and one of his detractors posted something like "I only need one reason to disapprove of Obama and that's his stance on abortion." And then this crusader posted again saying "how about we stop American torture of innocent babies." So of course, I (in all my maturity) commented and said "How about we stop reducing complex issues to bumper sticker slogans?" I just hate that. The world is almost never black and white, as sensationalist talking heads like Rush Limbaugh and Bill O'Reily would like you to believe.

I'm not impressed with the bailouts, but I'm very proud of Obama, largely because of his foreign policy. We voted for change and it seems that that is exactly what he's giving us, particularly in the case of Israel. I don't have anything against Israel that I don't have against Palestine, I just don't understand why we've decided that they're right no matter what. Maybe someone can explain it to me.

The second poll was about another one of my favorite discussions, Evolution vs. Creationism. I know people that say Creationism or Intelligent Design (which is the same thing at the end of the day) are the only way this world could possibly have occurred. I know people that say Evolution is the only way this world could have occurred. I also know people that say maybe God used Evolution to make this world occur. I can understand the last two, but in the year 2009 I don't understand how anyone can still cling to the first one, unless they simply don't care, which is the most viable reason I can think of. Most Christians I know have dropped the idea that the book of Genesis is to be taken literally, since they know that a) the things in it are illogical and impossible and b)science has disproved a lot of it. Anyway, these Facebook polls have room for people to comment after they've voted and in the comments you see the same argument repeating that we had here a few weeks ago. "Evolution is just a theory."

Why doesn't the scientific community come up with a new word for the scientific definition of "theory?" Its confusing that a word can have two almost polar opposite meanings. I remember in my high school biology class the teacher told us it was "just a theory." He didn't understand the difference either and if this is the kind of understanding of the subject matter that our biology teachers have, what hope can the students have of grasping the concept? Hopefully, schools like mine that teach misunderstanding of the topic are the exception and not the rule.


  1. I don't really know what two definitions you are thinking of for the word 'theory', but maybe you are searching for the more emphatic 'paradigm' which would imply that evolution is a logical part of the beliefs currently held by the scientific community? I guess the word paradigm would seem to carry more legitimacy that the word theory.

    All the same, I can't really see how saying evolution is "just a theory" is all that dumb, or was that not what you meant?

  2. When people say its "just a theory" they're, technically, right. But they're trying to convey the idea that the scientific community is uncertain or that its just one of many ideas that are being pondered. In the context of science the only real difference between theory and law is in the way they can be expressed. So my problem with people saying evolution is "just a theory" is that they're putting a dismissive connotation to the word that doesn't belong there. We are, in fact, quite sure of the validity of evolution.

  3. I went back and read what you said earlier about the word theory and the statement "evolution is just a theory."

    This is definitely a topic I never argue about for the good reason that it requires too much fancy academic research and nothing is more tedious. The only weak and general sounding point I have to add is that paradigms are not set in stone. Throughout history scientists have had to re-evalute the foundations from which they have postulated elaborate scientific structures, i.e. Newtonian physics in the wake of Einstein's relativity (which I happily have never tired myself with learning of the particulars ).

    Evolution is a result of our current scientific beliefs so, sure, it should be taught. But I think theories like ID have value if only that they are a tangible way of explaining how the theory of evolution is not absolute. Regardless of whether or not ID has failings which make it totally unlikely, I think it has value at least as a thought exercise.

    Lucky you! Recipient of the one and only screed on evolution I will ever type out as long as I live, I really hope.

  4. People mix up theory with hypothesis. It's also just a cop out.

    It's infuriating when "just a theory" is used as some snide little quip, as if Christianity were anything more than just hypothesis simply by merit of the number of its believers.

  5. Laura, you're right about it being taught because it is the current scientific understanding. If Science discovers later that its wrong then we should teach whatever that turns out to be instead. The big difference between ID and Evolution, however, is that one is falsifiable and supported by the fossil record and one has no real concrete evidence of any kind that I know of. Until it gets some I don't know that it can go any further toward being a valid scientific concept. If they did find some irrefutable evidence of ID then I, for one, would welcome it into the classroom with open arms.

    The great thing about evolution is that if we learn later that we got stuff wrong then we learn later that we got stuff wrong and we change our minds, whereas creationism put all its cards on the table pretty early on. But hey, that's me, I could be wrong.

    Thanks for commenting, I really enjoyed your take.

  6. When people say it's just a theory, it's because they WANT to think of it as "just a theory" or because they want you to think of it as "just a theory." I don't think many of them are confused about the scientific meaning of theory. I think it's their way of arguing semantics instead of the real issue- that evolution gets their tight white jesus undies in a real bad twist.

  7. Evolution is supported by vast genetic evidence in addition to just fossils. While the average person can understand what a fossil is, very few people have even a basic grasp on genetics, let alone an understanding of the complex science behind it, which makes the "just a theory" cop-out even more obnoxious. That's why we've got plenty of creationist "scientists" arguing the fossil record but not many seem to want to debate DNA.

  8. That picture kind of looks like George Carlin.