Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Just a Theory

Anyone who discusses the interactions of religious belief, public policy, and science will encounter the argument that because something in science is just a theory, it shouldn't be taken any more seriously than other ideas. This comes up a lot in creationism versus evolution conversations and its use betrays a certain degree of scientific illiteracy.

The word theory has two very different meanings. In everyday language, a theory is just an uncertain idea, perhaps thought up on the fly. In science, a theory is a comprehensive framework that unifies and explains a large number of actual observations, has withstood rigorous testing, and makes accurate predictions of future observations. A scientific theory, like the theory of evolution, isn't a wild guess. It is the best possible understanding of some aspect of nature we currently possess. 

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