A very common evolution misconception is that it is just a theory.
This misconception is quite simple to explain: the layman's use of the
is in a different context from how scientists use the term.
The layman's meaning of the term "theory" tends to be synonymous with
a hunch or a guess (such as "I've got a theory..."); it also seems to
imply uncertainty (as expressed in the phrase "it's a theory, not a
However, the scientific meaning of a theory has a more precise
and mechanical definition: "An extremely well-substantiated explanation
of some aspects of the natural world that incorporates facts, laws,
predictions, and tested hypotheses" . Clearly,
when scientists use the term "theory of evolution", they really mean
that evolution is a large body of consistent, well-substantiated facts,
laws, predictions, and observations that describe natural phenomena;
they don't use the word to imply that evolution is yet to be proven.
There is a popular misconception that a theory must be proven,
then it becomes a fact or a law. However, a scientific theory is, most
generally defined, a large body of facts and laws, so this criticism
does not make sense.
The weakness of the "just a theory" criticism becomes obvious
because in light of other well known theories, such as Einstein's
theories of Relativity, atomic theory, germ theory, quantum theory,
electromagnetic theory, plate tectonics theory, etc. No one would
seriously imply that any of these theories are unproven and uncertain.
Very often, when a evolution is criticized for being "just a theory",
it is paired along side Intelligent Design theory - the
implication is clearly that, both being nothing more than "theories",
they both must be on the same level of credibility.
Of course, we know this is not true, because to say that
evolution is a scientific theory implies that it is rigorously tested
On the other hand, Intelligent Design is not and could never
be considered a scientific theory: Intelligent Design adds no new knowledge
to the world, postulates hypothetical unfalsifiable entities, cannot be
described in terms of scientific laws or mathematics, and cannot be
falsified even in principle. It cannot be studied, tested, empirically
verified, or even have the scientific method applied to it.
Quite literally, Intelligent Design is as much of a
scientific theory as Last Thursdayism (the "theory" that the universe was
created Last Thursday with an apparent old age).
It is helpful to understand the scientific meaning of words:
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