With the legal death of Intelligent Design as a result of the Kitzmiller v. Dover School Board ruling, the current trend within Creationist circles is to “teach the controversy” surrounding evolution. Creationist organizations such as the Discovery Institute in
Next, one needs to look at what exactly constitutes a theory. Perhaps Creationists don’t know what “theory” means in scientific terms. However, I doubt this, and it seems more likely that organizations such as the Discovery Institute want to exploit the public’s misunderstanding of science for their own purposes. The word “theory” has significantly different meanings between its uses in science and common English. In English, a theory is nothing more than a guess. This fits closer to the scientific term hypothesis. In science, a theory is an explanation for natural phenomena that is supported by a large amount of empirical evidence. Furthermore, theories can never be proven right, but they can be falsified. However, no evidence has come to light proving evolution to be false. Scientists have certainly tried, but any hypotheses against evolution have quickly been ruled out. Furthermore, the evidence for evolution continues to grow. The fossil record supports it. Genetics supports it. Advances and discoveries in modern medicine support it (the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, for example). I could continue, but the fact remains that it would take a monumental discovery to debunk evolution. Just to give you an idea of the type of find it would take, British scientist J.B.S. Haldane famously said it would take “fossil rabbits in the Precambrian” to falsify the theory of evolution.
Now, if schools have to put stickers in biology books saying “evolution is just a theory,” then those same schools had better put stickers in physics books saying “gravity is just a theory,” too. Like evolution, the theory of gravity describes an observed, natural phenomena. However, scientists have no idea what actually causes gravity. A great number of hypotheses exist, but no evidence has been found to support any of them. In some ways, evolution is better understood than gravity because we know the mechanisms behind it.
As for Intelligent Design, it is not a theory at all. It breaks the cardinal rule that all scientific theories must adhere to: it cannot be falsified. We cannot observe the supernatural “Intelligent Designer,” therefore, it is impossible to prove or disprove its existence, which makes Intelligent Design (and its parent, Creationism) outside the realm of science and reason.
The next time someone tells you “evolution is just a theory,” please educate them and tell them: “At least it deserves the status of theory, unlike Intelligent Design or Creationism, which do not even adhere to the conventions of science.”