In theory . . .
Not to go on all-fours; that is the Law. Are we not Men?
H. G. Wells had it all backwards. Evolution, that is. Read The Island of Dr. Moreau and find out for yourself. “Are we not Men?” was not a rhetorical question.
The tug-of-war between evolutionists and creationists has been ramping up, with plans for a Creation Museum going full steam ahead and high profile cases about what can or should be taught in the schools popping up around the country. To be honest, it’s all sort of bored me until I read about a recent case in Georgia. Disappointed by the ruling of a federal judge, the Cobb County school board has decided to appeal to a higher authority. A higher human authority, I should add. The school district has already placed stickers in science texts being used, stickers that label evolution as “a theory, not a fact.” What U.S. District Judge Clarence Cooper decided is that this is an endorsement of religion, which is unconstitutional. The board disagrees, and so do I, but probably for a different reason.
I actually believe in both evolution and creation. For me the former is a theory while the latter is a lovely idea. I think both are just as likely to be wrong as to be right. Nobody really knows. None of us were present at the beginning of time, or if we were, we don’t remember or are locked up in some sort of asylum and being force fed heavy meds. I also think the schools are a place where everything should be taught and people left to sort things out on their own. This is another lovely idea, but I’m realistic enough to know that this penchant for loveliness doesn’t get one too far in our culture. So setting the rose-colored glasses aside, I disagree with the Honorable Judge Cooper because the declaration that “evolution is a theory” is an endorsement not of religion but of science.
Evolution is a theory. Unlike the temperature of water at its boiling point, evolution is not undisputable. We tend to say that water boils at 212°F (100°C, 373°K) , though truthfully the actual temperature at which water boils is dependent on the barometric pressure. Basically, however, these are fixed points and well known as facts. Theories, on the other hand, tend to get a bad rep; in general usage, they’re viewed as being sort of nebulous, or ill-defined, or not too trustworthy. We are skeptical and wary of them, finding them lovely but not necessarily dependable because they seem too much like speculation. At least that's my theory, but within the realm of science, there’s a lot more to the science of theories. There’s a “scientific method,” that involves a series of steps leading from observation to the development of theory. Speaking theoretically, the method is dependent upon evidence, not belief or faith or desire. Fossils, for example, comprise a large part of the evidence supporting the theory of evolution. That's a fact.
In point of fact, facts are related to truth. Not like the “do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth” kind of truth, because that kind of truth is often subjective: it was a red pill, no it was a blue pill. . . . You can go back and forth on that kind of truth. In fact, it is the word “fact” that should earn the kind of reputation that “theory” has in the popular vernacular. As evidence I present the first definition of “fact” in The American Heritage Dictionary:
1. Knowledge or information based on real occurrences: anBesides oddly using the term being defined to define itself, the entry goes further to note that “fact” has “a long history of usage in the sense of ‘allegation of fact,’ as in ‘This tract was distributed to thousands of American teachers, but the facts and reasoning are wrong.’ (Albert Shanker).” I’m not sure what tract Shanker was up in arms about, but I’m sure the problem could have been solved with a few stickers. Nonetheless, what we’re really talking about here is scientific fact, an observation that has been confirmed repeatedly and is accepted as true, although that truth might never be 100 percent validated. The day that hell freezes over, the boiling point of water is bound to change.
account based on fact; a blur of fact and fancy.
Ironically, a definition of fact that I really liked comes from Laurence Macon, who writes that “facts are the world’s data. Facts don't go away when scientists debate rival theories to explain them.” What makes it ironic for me is that the quotation comes from a nice essay he posted on the Usenet group Talk.Origins. called “Evolution Is a Fact and a Theory.” When I came across it, I have to admit that I was irritated. Who knows this Macon guy from Adam? But I put my rose-colored specs back on and decided that even if he’s right, (notice how I don’t say “and I’m wrong”) I’m still right: calling evolution a theory is calling it a spade. The stickers should stay.