If you’ve ever watched a creationist in a debate, or have had the misfortune of debating one yourself, it’s very likely that at some point you’ve heard the argument that “Evolution is Just a Theory”. And moreover, it tends to be said as if it was a fatal and devastating blow against evolution…
Yet the irony, which may or may not be known by the proponents of this argument, is that calling evolution a theory is actually a tremendous compliment…
While the argument that Evolution is Just a Theory is very rarely presented in its logical form, for the purpose of clearly demonstrating why exactly it’s flawed, I’m going to present it this way nonetheless;
• A theory is, by definition, “an idea used to account for a situation or justify a course of action”.
• Evolution is a theory.
• Therefore, evolution is just “an idea used to account for a situation or justify a course of action”.
Here’s a link to Hemant Mehta’s (The Friendly Atheist’s) YouTube channel (definitely worth checking out!):
Throughout the video I pint-point several flaws and fallacies that those who use the augment that Evolution is Just a Theory tend to commit, but for a very brief summery (extremely brief), they are as follows:
1. Equivocation Fallacy:
The first major flaw with the argument that Evolution is Just a Theory, is that it commits, and that it pretty much entirely is, a huge Equivocation Fallacy. An Equivocation Fallacy is the misleading use of a word or a term with more than one meaning, by glossing over which meaning is intended at a particular time.
And in this case, the Equivocation Fallacy occurs in the word ‘theory’. The argument uses one definition of the word ‘theory’ during its first and third premises – that being, “an idea used to account for a situation or justify a course of action”; but it uses another definition of the word ‘theory’ during its second premise – that being, “a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world that is acquired through the scientific method and repeatedly tested and confirmed, preferably using a written, pre-defined protocol of observations and experiments”, and because it switches between these two definitions to attain its conclusion, it’s not a coherent argument.
2. Scientifically Illiterate
However, to raise another… not so much of a flaw but rather a comment, proponents of the Just a Theory argument tend not only be unaware of what a scientific theory is, but they also tend to be unaware of the four degrees of scientific knowledge altogether… that being facts, laws, hypotheses, and of course theories.
To put it simply;
• A scientific fact is an objective and verifiable observation. For example, it’s cold outside.
• A scientific law is a description of how some aspect of the universe behaves under stated circumstances (but not why). For example, Newton’s Law of Universal Gravitation.
• A scientific hypothesis is, for intent and purposes, an educated guess. It’s very similar to the everyday layman definition of the word theory. For example, eating vegetables causes weight loss because they’re low in calories but are high in fiber.
• And a scientific theory is a rigorously tested and confirmed hypothesis that accounts for all related facts and laws, and has been proven to accurately predict future findings and phenomenon. Or as Matt Dillahunty puts it, “a theory is the highest possible achievement of science”.
Hence, calling evolution a theory, which it is, is actually a tremendous compliment!
3. Fact & Theory:
The last small point I want to make on this matter is that evolution is technically both a fact and a theory. It’s an uncontroversial fact that organisms have changed (or evolved) during the history of life of Earth, and the theory as to why these organisms have changed (or evolved) is called Natural Selection.
Just as gravity is a fact, so is evolution; and just as General Relatively is a scientific theory, so is Natural Selection.
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As always, thanks you kindly for the view, and I hope that this video will help you defeat those who would use the argument that Evolution is Just a Theory against you.