Creationist Wisdom #996: A Mere Theory

This thing seems to be never-ending. It began three weeks ago with the news we wrote about in Drooling School Board Chairwoman. As you recall, Susie Kern, chairwoman of the school board of Brainerd, Minnesota, couldn’t figure out why the schools were teaching evolution. Since then, Susie’s friends and supporters have been driving our letter count ever closer to 1,000.

Today’s letter-to-the-editor, like most of the others in this mini-series, is in the Brainerd Dispatch of Brainerd, Minnesota. It’s titled Evolution is theory, and they don’t have a comments feature.

Because the letter writer isn’t a politician, preacher, or other public figure, we won’t embarrass or promote him by using his full name. We think he’s a CPA, but that doesn’t qualify for full name treatment. His first name is Lanny — not to be confused with “Lenny” who wrote the letter in #994: Evolution’s Problems. Excerpts from Lanny’s letter will be enhanced with our Curmudgeonly commentary, some bold font for emphasis, and occasional Curmudgeonly interjections that look [like this]. Here we go!

I would like to add my two cents to the debate over the “theory of evolution.” [Everyone else in town is, so why not you?] In the Sept. 13 Dispatch article, Craig Rezac, a science teacher, was quoted as saying, “The interesting thing about theories is that we have to find information to disprove it. There hasn’t been any information found to disprove the theory of evolution.”

In our post about the start of this controversy in Brainerd, we quoted something else that Craig Rezac said, but what Lanny quoted wasn’t in the article. Assuming Rezac said it, it’s true — when someone is denying a theory which is well supported by evidence. In that case, the burden of proof is on the theory’s denier, and he does indeed require some evidence — like the elusive Precambrian rabbit. How does Lanny respond? He says:

This is an inaccurate statement on his part. [Huh?] First of all, his statement is backwards. In scientific jargon a theory is a partially supported hypothesis — there needs to be support for it to move to the “theory stage.”

It’s true that theories need to be supported by evidence, but we never heard of a theory described as “a partially supported hypothesis.” Lanny tells us:

A hypothesis is a guess, an opinion. Without the need for proof, all opinions would become theories. [Huh?] A law is a theory that has been proven to be indisputable — like gravity for instance.

Groan. Theories never “grow up” to be laws. Creationists always get their definitions wrong. A good set of definitions is provided by the National Academy of Sciences: Definitions of Evolutionary Terms. There’s also this: Scientific Hypothesis, Theory, Law Definitions. The National Center for Science Education has definitions right here.

Lanny continues:

No one has ever made the statement seriously that evolution is a law. [That, at least, is true.] Therefore, it’s not proven in any way beyond reasonable doubt.

BWAHAHAHAHAHA! Having established that evolution is little more than a wild guess, Lanny says:

There should be room for other opinions on this important subject. [Got any suggestions?] Further, there are several intelligent design advocates [Hee hee!], with impressive scientific credentials, who take issue with the “theory of evolution.” They have raised very serious objections to it and have proposed alternatives.

Lanny is very impressed by the Discoveroids. Hey — who wouldn’t be? Let’s read on:

Are we teaching the alternatives that these well qualified advocates propose? [Probably not.] Isn’t that what teaching is supposed to be about[?] No, what we are teaching our children is opinion, not scientific facts.

Egad — evolution is just an opinion! Another excerpt:

There is a lot of money and scientific prestige behind evolution. That does not make it a fact that should be taught exclusively over all other options. Evolution is scientific orthodoxy, nothing more. It is a statement of unproven faith [Gasp!], exactly what Christians are being accused of.

Devastating. Absolutely devastating. And now we come to the end:

I applaud Sue Kern for her courage in bringing this matter up [We all do.] and I am very disappointed in her treatment by the educational establishment and this newspaper.

Susie Kern certainly has supporters. How many more of their letters will there be?

Copyright © 2019. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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13 responses to “Creationist Wisdom #996: A Mere Theory

  1. Lanny displays his blissful ignorance:

    “A law is a theory that has been proven to be indisputable — like gravity for instance.”
    Wrong example, Lanny. Newton’s Laws of Gravity totally have been disputed – by Einstein for instance and his General Relativity. And Quantum Mechanics disputes both by introducing the concept of the graviton.

    “Are we teaching the alternatives that these well qualified advocates propose?”
    Yes, we here at this nice blog pretty often do. Here I go again:

    1. Evolution theory is wrong, doesn’t matter how;
    2. The god of the gaps fallacy is a valid argument;
    3. Paley’s False Watchmaker Analogy is a valid argument.

    Perhaps, when we put a lot of effort in it, it might take 15 minutes to teach.

  2. I can’t find a comments section. If US readers can,please sbmit for me: [Name] is absolutely right. if we teach the heliocentric theory of planetary motion, we should also teach the geocentric theory. If we teach the atomic theory of chemical reactions, we should also teach the phlogiston theory. And if we insist on teaching our doctors the germ theory of disease, then surely we should also teach them the theory of humours, and as for the theory that mosquitoes spread malaria, that surely needs to be counterbalanced by the miasma theory.

    Alternatively, we should teach it like it is. A theory is a well connected set of ideas (as in Newton’s theory of planetary motions), whereas a law is merely a succinct statement, such as Newton’s inverse square law of planetary motion (correct, to a very high degree of accuracy), or Bode’s law for the distance of planets from the sun (wrong). Calling something a theory or a law tells us *absolutely nothing* about whether we should have confidence in it. Evolution of humans and other rates from a common ancestor is not theory but fact, as shown by the fossil record, DNA evidence, detailed anatomy, and development in the womb, whereas Darwin’s theory of natural selection is one component of the large body of theory that we now have to explain this and other related facts

  3. @PaulB finds himself in excellent company: “I can’t find a comments section.”

    Neither can our dear SC, given “and they don’t have a comments feature.”
    That’s enough for me, to use Lanny’s terminology, to lift this mere opinion to the level of a law, ie a theory that has been proven to be indisputable

  4. I suggest better examples of “we should teach both sides”. Parents and taxpayers who are opposing evolution are not apt to be upset by the prospect of teaching alternative theories of disease. Think of anti-vaxxers. I suggest that the theory of sports that “the lower score is the winner” be applied beyond golf and racing to soccer and basketball.

    And my second point is a matter of grammar. Evolution is not a theory. Evolution is a process that occurs in the world of life. Yes, the Theory of Evolution is a theory, but this does not mean that evolution is a theory. Just as:
    the Theory of Flight is a theory, but flight is something that happens
    the Theory of Music is a theory, but there is also the practice of music
    the Theory of the Earth is a theory, but the Earth is something material
    the thought of you is a thought, but you are not a thought
    the Siege of Leningrad was a siege, but Leningrad was a city
    Grammar tells us about the various uses of the word “of”. Yes, it is sometimes used as an appositive, as in “the crime of treason” or “the month of October”. But this is not common in the phrase “the theory of X”.

  5. …have proposed alternatives.
    Yes, there are alternative theories of evolution.
    No, there is no alternative to evolution.
    Among the alternatives, there are natural selection, sexual selection, endosymbiosis, inheritance of acquired characters and others.
    But no one has proposed a theory for accounting for the variety of life without mentioning evolution. (“That’s the way it happens to be” does not count.)

  6. Michael Fugate

    Opinions? let’s open up education to any opinion any one has – who needs curricula, who needs experts – it will make assessment so much easier.

  7. “They have raised very serious objections to it and have proposed alternatives.”
    Citation needed.

  8. I love it when non-scientists try to explain to actual scientists that their terms, long in use, don’t actually mean what they think they mean.

  9. chris schilling

    Lanny doesn’t know how to use paragraphs, either. That disqualifies him right there, in my book.

  10. @Michael Fugate: What a great idea. It would have made grading exams so much easier when I taught anatomy, and everyone would have had to get 100!

  11. @abeastwood
    Would you be so flexible as to accept an answer like “secular answers are wrong because there is a better explanation”? (That is, not specifying what the secular answer is, nor what the alternative is.)

  12. TomS comments:

    Yes, there are alternative theories of evolution.
    No, there is no alternative to evolution.
    Among the alternatives, there are natural selection, sexual selection, endosymbiosis, inheritance of acquired characters and others.
    But no one has proposed a theory for accounting for the variety of life without mentioning evolution. (“That’s the way it happens to be” does not count.)

    “Natural selection” and “sexual selection” are not alternatives to evolution: rather, they are part of it. Natural selection, famously, is a core principle of Darwin’s theory of evolution, while sexual selection is considered a “special case” of natural selection.

    Inheritance of acquired characteristics is widely considered to be disproven, though there are special cases in certain microorganisms which exchange DNA (as when bacteria of a strain vulnerable to a particular antibiotic acquire genes for resistance from another strain and are then able to pass on those genes to future generations, which is once way disease organisms counter once-effective medical treatments). If there are any examples of such inheritance in complex multicellular organisms, I’d appreciate someone pointing them out.

  13. Damn. There go my tags again. O ye Highest Authority, can you fix this?

    [*Voice from above*] Ghastly link, but it’s working now.