Newsflash: Evolution can be both a theory and functionally true

Paul Krugman, in this article in the New York Times, says

“Mr. Perry, the governor of Texas, recently made headlines by dismissing evolution as “just a theory,” one that has “got some gaps in it” — an observation that will come as news to the vast majority of biologists.”

Dear Mr Krugman:

You, and many of my other co-believers in evolution keep using the word ‘theory.’  I do not think this word means what you think it means.

A theory, in the scientific sense, can only prove a LACK of causality, as demonstrated by a lack of correlation between variables.  A theory CANNOT prove causality, only correlative relationships that *may or may not* be causal.

Evolution cannot be proven without a doubt, no matter how much correlative evidence is gathered for it.  We can see evolutionary process in action today, but they do NOT prove that evolutionary processes are what got us all here in the first place.  We have TONS of evidence to suggest that the evolutionary process is responsible for life on Earth, but we CANNOT prove it.

Evolution ***IS*** a theory.

Yes, I get that this makes it harder to refute anti-science pundits who don’t understand that a theory can have so much weight of evidence behind it that it is *functionally* true, but that isn’t my problem, it is yours.  My job, as a science educator, is to help you use scientific vocabularly and concepts more accurately.  If you want to call pundits out for being dismissive of evolution, go right ahead (please!), but please don’t be anti-science yourself by throwing around the term ‘theory’ as if it were both incorrectly used and a perjorative to boot.

(And yes, I think all pundits and reporters should be required to take classes in both ethics and logic, but maybe that’s just me.)

This might sound like semantics, or even scientific-elitism, but think about it: the Republican party is anti-science, in part, because *science is complicated*, and complicated issues don’t make good sound bites, or good rallying cries.

Please be above such behavior, especially when you are calling them on the same.

Mama Siggi

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This entry was posted in rant, science, Secular Thursday. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Newsflash: Evolution can be both a theory and functionally true

  1. Steph says:

    I think you hit the nail on the head when you said critics of evoultion are using the word “theory” incorrectly — or at least out of context. In science, a “theory” isn’t just an idea. And who says biologists don’t realize there are some gaps? Darwin himself acknowledged that all the facts weren’t in yet. I guess that’s while there’s still a thriving field known as evolutionary biology. 😉

    • Siggi says:

      Many *proponents* of evolution are using it incorrectly too, like the author of the article I’m writing to here. If those who acknowledge evolution can’t get their terms right, it just gives the critics more to pick apart!

      Did you see the latest on Australopithicus sediba? Great stuff! I love seeing new pieces get put on the puzzle table! 🙂

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