Monday, January 24, 2005

In theory ... redux

Last week, I posted a piece that ruffled many feathers. (See "In theory..." and click on comments; for an even angrier bunch of hornets read the comments at the same posting at

Sadly, I heard not from one creationist. All the people mad at me were all of the evolution ilk, which is interesting because that's where I would put myself if there were a check box. As I mentioned in my responses, particularly to Anon on this site, I am aware that it was a poorly written piece in a certain sense yet successful in that I was trying to emphasize the fact that many of our political debates are held within a framework of semantics, which may be obvious in and of itself, though I don't think the ramifications are. Nonetheless, I was attacked (mostly nicely) every which way. Even my girlfriend was up in arms when she read what I wrote. She spent the next few days trying to convince me of the error of my ways. I agreed with many of the points made by those who responded but found it interesting that some were unable to stay on point, which is something to which I'll probably come back at a later date. But it was really the response of someone I've never met that finally got through my thick and stubborn skull.

To recap the issue: a federal district judge ruled against a school board in Georgia that placed stickers stating that "evolution is a theory not a fact" in their in science books. The judge ruled that the stickers are an endorsement of religion. While I in no way uphold the religious indoctrination of students through the vehicle of public education, I felt that the stickers only state the obvious. However, I'm the one who missed the obvious—i.e the way the other theories are treated.

Graeme McRae wrote directly to me:

"I feel the need to point out that all scientific explanations of facts are theories, and no theory can be proven. A theory can be disproved, though. This is our scientific method: to propose a theory that explains the facts, and to seek out more facts that support (but can't ever prove) the theory. If facts are uncovered that disprove the theory, then a new theory can be proposed to account for all the facts. When asked what makes one theory better than another, if both explain the facts, Einstein said, 'A theory should be as simple as possible, but no simpler.'

Like you, I believe in the theory of evolution. By that, I mean that I believe it explains the facts, and that it's as simple as possible but no simpler. I also believe in the theory of gravitation, as proposed by Newton and refined by Einstein, and in the theory of plate tectonics, as proposed by Alfred Wegener. If the state of Georgia feels the need to point out that evolution is a theory, then they should also point out that gravitation and plate tectonics are theories, too. None of them stands on firmer footing than the others. By putting stickers in science books designed to diminish just one of the theories presented in the book in the minds of the students and teachers using the book, the state is supporting the religious zealots who oppose that particular theory."

My poor ego is assuaged by the first part of his response because he confirms that evolution is a theory, though I've found that most who believe in evolution don't like it "diminished" by calling it that. (Back to semantics). But I have also been convinced that this is a case that calls for a savvier reading, which is what Anon among others tried to drum into me. While I stand by most of what I said, I can admit the error of my ways knowing that I fought the good fight and have actually wound up a bit wiser for my efforts. Thanks Graeme, my lady, and to all who lent a helping hand in raising the consciousness of a wayward blogger. I shan't forget you when I'm large and in charge.


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