Creationist Wisdom #424: Theories are Worthless

Today’s letter-to-the-editor appears in the Post-Bulletin of Rochester, Minnesota. The title is Theories come and go, so they shouldn’t be seen as facts. It’s a bit short, and rather confusing, but it’s all we could find today.

We don’t like to embarrass people (unless they’re politicians, preachers, or other public figures), so we’ll just use the letter-writer’s first name, which is John. We’ll give you a few excerpts from his letter, enhanced with our Curmudgeonly commentary and some bold font for emphasis. Here we go!

Science deals in data and facts. This is why the “Big Bang,” evolution and human-caused global warming are considered “theories.” While each have observations and data to support them, there also are data and observations against each.

We’ll ignore the reference to human-caused global warming, about which we are not well informed; but it’s surprising to hear that there are “data and observations” against the Big Bang and evolution. We’re eager to learn about that from John. He tells us:

The data and observations of our universe lend credence to the “Big Bang” theory. Several hundred years ago, Copernicus advanced a sun-centered universe over the earth-centered universe that was in vogue. There followed the galactic universe, an island galaxy among galaxies, and today many alternatives are being advanced.

What did he say? Copernicus had data and observations contrary to the Big Bang? Or is he merely saying that our knowledge has progressed in the last few centuries, and new facts result in new theories that inevitably supersede old ones? Perhaps it will all be cleared up as we proceed with John’s letter. Let’s read on:

So while I can see the striking similarity between the first several verses of Genesis and the Big Bang theory, I am sure that the next few decades will bring even more fantastic possible theories.

Striking similarities indeed — that must be why so many creationists hate the Big Bang theory. And John is certain that even more theories are coming. What will that mean for Genesis? John continues:

As a person of faith and of science, I struggle to rationalize the two.

Stop struggling, John. Trust the Curmudgeon — it’s better to compartmentalize them. Here’s more:

How does one accept the DNA molecule being created by happenstance, rather than a guiding hand?

Why only one guiding hand? Why not five, or ten, or ten billion? Once you leave the natural world, there aren’t any limits.

Up to now, we’ve got a lot of questions. John better answer them soon, because what’s coming next is the end of his letter:

I am limited by space constraints from more debate, but theories are advanced and most are discarded when data and observation do not support that theory.

[*Sigh*] So we’re back where we started, which is nowhere. John said he had data and observations against evolution and the Big Bang. But as always happens, we’re left wondering where it is. It must be out there, somewhere, because the creationists always say they’ve got it. We’ll keep looking — they must be keeping it somewhere.

Copyright © 2014. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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16 responses to “Creationist Wisdom #424: Theories are Worthless

  1. Charles Deetz ;)

    John didn’t try very hard. Sounds like he is just holding out for for science to somehow reverse itself.

  2. Jim Thomerson

    I like someone’s definitioon of a fact as a Theory so strongly supported that it is foolish to attempt to falsify it at this time.

  3. As a person of faith and of science, I struggle to rationalize the two.

    Faith in what? Invisible gods? And where does his association/familiarity with science arise from?

  4. John the pernickety penman opines—

    “So while I can see the striking similarity between the first several verses of Genesis and the Big Bang theory…”

    John appears to be suffering from an extreme form of literary apophenia. John is also a good example of what happens to people when their craving for purposeful pattern and directed agency overwhelms their good sense. His letter reminds me of a line from a movie (The Sentinel, IIRC) that goes something like: “Once you have a theory, you only see evidence to support it.

    BTW, there’s a typo in the third paragraph: “He tells us:

  5. Con-Tester helpfully points out: “BTW, there’s a typo in the third paragraph”

    Got it. Thanks. Durned spell-checker!

  6. anevilmeme

    It’s not like the meaning of the word theory is some deep dark secret, heck it’s even available online. So why then can’t these morons find it, read it and comprehend it?

  7. I like to roam reference sources for uses of “theory of …”. A few of them, which nobody would consider “worthless” (or “only a theory”, or whatever the pejorative):

    The theory of fight (does that mean that flight is only a theory)?
    The theory of antennas (or “alternating current circuits” and so on)
    The theory of the Earth
    The theory of ordinary differential equations
    The theory of computation
    The theoris of germs, atoms, …

  8. @Anevilmeme: the meaning of the word theory is ambiguous. In the Anglo-Saxon tradition evolution (and gravity and electricity) can be both a theory and a fact:

    http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/evolution-fact.html

    In the contintental tradition a theory is a set of hypotheses and never can become a fact. Fact is singular for empirical data. Eg gravity is an abtract concept that describes a large amount of facts, like things falling down and not upward.
    Creacrappers, dishonest as they are, typically try to abuse this ambiguity to their advantage, maintaining that gravity and electricity are facts (in the Anglo-Saxon tradition) and evolution is not (in the continental tradition). So the answer to your question is: because they don’t want to. You can test this for yourself. Next time a creationist tells you that “evolution is just a theory, not a fact” answer “you’re right, so are gravity and electricity”. My prediction is that he/she will either remain silent or bring up all kind of twisted stuff to wriggle out of this dilemma. Of course every single possible argument to argue that gravity and electricity are facts can be used to defend that evolution is a fact too.
    It’s just a linguistic game.

  9. mnbo, you have given a very nice, complete answer to anevilmeme’s question of “why these morons” can’t find, read, and comprehend a definition of the word “theory”. However, it might be overkill. Anevilmeme answered his own question — they’re morons.

  10. I’ve made this point before on this blog, but bear with me.

    We commonly refer to it as The Theory of Evolution, which gives the impression that we consider evolution itself to be theory. When we look at the evidence, however, a strong case can be made to call evolution a fact, as we can clearly see in the fossil record that life has changed over time — which is evolution.

    The part that is theory is what caused these changes to take place. According to Darwin, the changes happened because of natural selection.
    Thus, we shouldn’t be calling it Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, but rather, Darwin’s Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection — or simply, Darwin’s Theory of Natural Selection.

  11. “The month of May” – this is an appositive genitive – “the month is May”

    “The storming of the Bastille” – this is an objective genitive – the Bastille
    is the object of the action of storming

    “A parent’s love” is a subjective genitive – the parent is the subject of the loving

    And there are a several kinds of genitives.

    “The theory of X” – is usually an objective or subjective genitive, and rarely an appositive. We don’t usually mean that the “theory of X” means that X is a theory. Most often, we mean that the theory is about X – in the sense that the theory accounts for or explains something about X. The theory of flight is a theory, and flight is the phenomenon which is being explained.

    I don’t know why so many people think of the rare appositive meaning when it comes to “The Theory of Evolution”.

  12. TomS says: “And there are a several kinds of genitives.”

    I must remind you: this is a family blog. We don’t speak of genitives here.

  13. Mark Joseph

    @retiredsciguy:

    Stephen Jay Gould has already done the heavy lifting for us:
    Evolution as Fact and Theory (also in his book Hen’s Teeth and Horse’s Toes).

    The problem is, as mnbo explained, that creationists continue to intentionally equivocate the two meanings of the word “theory”.

  14. Why I obviously am not as smart, informed, … as Gould, I dare to disagree totally. Evolution is neither a fact nor a theory.
    Evolution is something that happens in the world of life. Evolution is, in a word, a phenomenon.
    It is a fact that evolution happens whenever there is life.
    There are a number of
    theories that account for the fact that evolution happens, And there are theories that use the fact that
    evolution happens to account for features of the world of life. For example, there is the theory known by the phrase “Natural Selection”. There are other theories, more or less successful (and more or less general), which are known as “Neutral Theory”, “Sexual Selection”, “Symbiosis”, “Acquired Characters”, “Allopatric Speciation”, “Sympatric Speciation”, …

    I suggest that there is equivocation in the word “of”.

  15. @RSC: the complete answer is: “because they prefer to be morons”.

    “Thus, we shouldn’t be calling it ….”
    How are you going to rename Newton’s Theory of Gravity and how Classical Theory of Electricity?

    @TomS: this discussion is superfluous. Scientists typically care zilch basically because your choice of terminology has zero impact on what scientists do and what science is. The only time when it becomes relevant is when debating creacrappers (something SC is dead against anyway). Then you only have to keep one thing in mind: make sure you remain consistent and coherent and then turn their own arguments against them.
    Gravity and electricity are facts? Great, so is evolution.
    Evolution is just a theory? Great, so are gravity and electricity.
    Evolution is neither, but it is a phenomenon? Great, so are gravity and electricity.
    The point is not that creacrappers are wrong; it is that they are inconsistent and incoherent – ie use a double standard.

  16. @mnbo
    I have no problem with your approach.
    What I am talking about those who analyze.
    With you, I say that there are more important things. More interesting things. But once the can of worms is opened up, when someone it’s “both a theory and a fact”, worries about just confident we are about evolution (real answer: we’re sure), and starts to talk about distinctions that distract from what is going on – then I try to point out:
    Nobody says that flight is both a theory and a fact.
    Nobody says that the Earth is both a theory and a fact.
    Nobody says that antennas are both a theory and a fact.

    Evolution happens. We all know that. So why do people talk about what its status is? I say, because they, for unknown reason, when they see the expression, “the theory of evolution”, they think that it is an appositive.
    That’s all there is to it. A simple grammatical error. And then, when that is cleared up, we can on on to talk about interesting, important things.