Wednesday, October 30, 2013

"Evolution is only a Theory" and misconceptions about science.

Her name is Amanda.  She is a wonderful character, with great moral values.  She and I always enjoyed talking at the dinner table in college; we'd laugh about whatever was going on around us, we were both forensic science majors (before I switched majors); both of us were taking biology, and she usually has a great deal of common sense.  Despite our friendship, we always differed on just about every debatable topic.  She is pro-life; I am pro-choice.  She was for capital punishment; I am vehemently opposed to it.  She puts an inordinate amount of faith in the Bible; I view it as a trivial work of fiction.  Needless to say, she believes in Creationism; I believe that we are products of evolution.

We always got into arguments at the dinner table.  We remained friends, but we always got into arguments.  The one thing that I could never get over was that she was a forensic science major and rejected any piece of science that conflicted with the old testament.  She always tells me that "Evolution is only a Theory;" this is what kills me.

"Evolution is only a theory."  Many fundamentalists chant that mantra when they want to protect their views. I find myself fuming on the inside when I hear this. You can believe in your religion and accept evolution simultaneously; they often do not conflict, but no scientifically literate individual would willingly state the above mantra.

Most of us, when we hear the word theory, think of a proposed idea with insufficient knowledge to be considered valid.   Dictionary.com defines a theory as:

Theory - a coherent group of tested general propositions, commonly regarded as correct, that can
 be used as principles of explanation and prediction for a class of phenomena:

A theory is actually a very high degree of confidence.  The reason why evolution is a theory and not a law is that there is no way to experimentally prove this.  Evolution takes too much time and depends on variables that cannot be independently manipulated.  Imagine trying to design an experiment to prove evolution; you can't!  This is why evolution is "only" a theory; the quotation marks parody the fact that all scientific theories are very well established.

This is in contrast to a law, which is an idea that has been thoroughly tested and found to have stood strong despite several attempts to "foil" such principle.  Scientists are really designing experiments in an effort to disprove their hypothesis.  This is why a law is the most powerful degree of certainty in science.

So, where do we have absolute truth in science?  We don't.  Well, sort of.  We could state that it is absolutely true that 3 is a prime number, or that adding 2 jelly beans to 3 jelly beans yields 5 jelly beans, but these are rules of mathematics, which is really science without the tangible world.  Once you add the physical universe, you can no longer state that you are "absolutely certain" about something; this concept doesn't exist.

Gravity, currently a law, was once a theory.  It remained a theory until Henry Cavendish created a device that could determine the universal Gravitational constant, G, which equals 6.67 x 10^-11 Nm^2/kg^2.  It is possible that one day, gravity will be replaced by an even better explanation.  Nobody currently knows why gravity exists; we only know how it exists.

On the scale of scientific certainty, the most basic level is a paradigm.  A paradigm is a proposed, highly uncertain model, or explanation of how something works.  Aristotle's explanation of how the universe worked was a paradigm; it had no real proof, other than a few inert, incomplete observations about how things always "seek rest."  He was absolutely wrong on that matter.

After a paradigm is a hypothesis, which is an announced, educated proposal.  Some call it an educated guess, but a hypothesis is better than this.  Evolution does not contain a real "hypothesis" because it cannot be tested.  A theory occurs when instead of directly testing a hypothesis, people make observations related to the idea, all of which seem to support it.  Not all scientists have to definitively agree on a theory; but most should.

Where does creationism or intelligent design fit on this spectrum?  Think for yourself on this one.  I don't think there will ever be true scientific support for creationism, since evolution can consistently explain what creationism cannot.  Evolution does not ever have to become a law; a theory remains valid until a better explanation is reached; the only way to "kill" an idea is with a better idea.

My conclusion:  Evolution may only be a theory, but on the same scale, creationism is not even that.  I am not telling people to drop their religion; I have many Jewish and Christian friends who accept evolution over creationism, so there is no reason why you cannot have your cake and eat it, too.

12 comments:

  1. Mr. Steindler this is Seth Brown from period 4 general physics. Though I may not have lived all that long I have met a great number of people. However, I have never met a creationist. I too have many Jewish and Christian friends, some more religious than others, and they all agree in the theory of evolution. I don't understand how creationists accept that there is no evolution. There has been clear evidence of change over time in skeletal structure as well as organ development in many species. Take for example the appendix. if creationism is correct then G-d created man with a useless organ that served no purpose. It makes far more sense that we evolved with an appendix for some purpose many thousands of years ago and then the necessity of it disappeared.

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  2. Seth, God bless you for saying that. I know I'm an isolated man who's belief and ego are way different than most people on earth. But I've heard many stories about People (including atheist people) having a Near Death Experience and going to heaven. They said "It felt like I'm at my real home and It felt more real than how I felt on Earth" It is told that things on earth seems to faded away as if it was just an illusion. What is our purpose living on Earth? Why are we here? I'd say We're born to learn how to love each other more then how we should love ourselves and find true joy in life. That excludes material wealth because I believe that money and wealth are just illusion. I was raised in strict scientific beliefs from my parents. My dad would mock the God and how they're not real but an imaginary figure.
    Talking about the "The Theory of Evolution", I used to believe that was true. I used to believe that Science is everything. I was wrong.....dead wrong. I became drawn into the mystery of life, sorceries, magic, paranormal, supernatural beings, Astrology and Religion since I was 10. I just somehow knew they were just there. I came to believe that science can not proof that these things exist. I'd always argue with my brother that Science cannot proof that Heaven exists. And he'd say "What IF Science can proof that heaven exists? What would you do?" "There's no way science can do that but as far as I know, Your journey needs to end to find out what's on the other side." That'll be my response There are more than meets the eye. Some say We just disappear after we die, some would say we go to heaven or hell. We're more than just humans. We're spirits. Spirits who'd inside a matter made of star dust. And all of us were born to do something. Maybe there is a Superior beings who casted an illusion on us, who knows. Sorry if this sounded like a lecture. I'm just saying what my beliefs are. This is Tulga by the way from your Period 4 General physics class.

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  3. This was a well written article Mr. Steindler. I do agree with you that there is no thought behind defending creationism with a simple "evolution is only a theory". Any person who says this is ignorant of what the term theory really means. I know plenty of people who are wonderful scientists that support the theory of evolution and are religious. My mother is one of them. One of the things that irks me about the argument over this is the use of the word belief. One does not believe in evolution on the same level that one believes in religion. One SUPPORTS the theory of evolution because of the high level of evidence and its accuracy in describing what we see around us today. A person does not just trivially believe that evolution is true - that's just as bad as saying that evolution is false just because you disagree with it. Evolution is not faith - but there is no reason why they cannot coexist. People get it into their heads that it can only be one or the other because that's what everyone and the media tells them. Humans love a good dramatic argument, and that's what the media gives us. It's the same thing with global warming. There isn't really a huge debate over it but the media makes it so. Big companies spread propaganda against global warming because they don't want to pay the money to make themselves greener and protect the health of individuals living outside/inside/near their factories. There is plenty of evidence to back this claim up, especially if you look at the oil company BP. They have a nice history of not even protecting the safety of their own employees. If you don't support global warming, you're only hurting yourself and generations to come by allowing companies and your fellow humans to continue to pollute and poison the Earth.
    -Isabel Burgess P7

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  4. Mr. Steindler and class mates,
    Many religious people believe that creationism is the correct theory. I think that this is part their religious beliefs and part ignorance. Just like Seth stated we have organs that we don't necessarily need in our body. I think that this is enough evidence to call it a theory. I also did some research that led me think to another evolution. Most scientist agree that human body and organs have evolved from apes. Scientists studying apes have discovered that is not difficult for apes to communicate with humans, and that apes act very similar to how humans act. This led me to believe that maybe the way our brains, human brains, send signals to our body evolved from apes. I don't think that only our physical structure has evolved but also our organs and most importantly our brains and minds. When I explained my idea about the similarity of the brains to my family, they thought that it wasn't a bright idea, and now thinking about it I don't know how scientific this is, but I wanted to share it with you guys and see what you guys thought.
    -Diego Hoflack Honors physics P.6

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  5. To whom it may concern,
    I am always baffled when people tell me I have to choose: evolution or creationism, science or religion. I myself am a believer in God, but I also rely on and believe in science. The subject isn’t a matter of choice, because the truth is: science and religion co-exist, and neither one refutes the other. Many atheists I know tell me I’m wrong, and many theists I know also tell me I’m wrong. What they don’t understand is that we can use aspects of science to help us better understand the concepts of God and creationism (that in nature are beyond human complexity and understanding). Regarding the theory of evolution, the theory mainly states in short that Life Form A turned into Life Form B through millions of years through a long process called evolution (in this theory includes concepts such as natural selection, selective pressures, and so on). But evolution doesn’t tell us how the first, most simple life form came into existence, which brings us to religion. While science cannot give us this answer, religion can, in that God gave life to what is now our great, green planet. Another example is the big bang theory (which atheists use against theists to try to disprove God). The big bang theory states in short that something (matter) was created out of nothing through some sort of explosion. However, the big bang theory contradicts laws that we believe to be universal today, such as the law of conservation of mass. The law of conservation of mass states that matter cannot be created nor destroyed. So how could nothing create enough matter (in the form of star dust) that would eventually build all our planets, stars and galaxies? Science doesn’t know the answer. But creationism tells us that God created the universe (again, creationism seems to give us the only logical answer) so we use our information to make some valid conclusions (remember, these laws were devised by people like Newton, and Newton’s laws were later proved to be incomplete and revised by Einstein, they are not nature’s laws). But this doesn’t mean evolution or the big bang are wrong, and I am NOT trying to disprove either of these theories. After all, they are theories backed with heavy evidence. I’m saying that these theories are incomplete in giving us answers to questions that are beyond science. Maybe God created the universe through the big bang, and maybe God gave the first life to Earth and then allowed evolution to happen (this is what I believe purely through logic from my understanding of religion and science). The reality is: science and God do co-exist, and science does NOT refute God.

    -Eyad Krunz, Period 7 Honors Physics

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  7. Mr. Steindler,
    The question of evolution has baffled me from the day it was introduced to me? Is God real? Is God fake? I honestly didn't have proof for either. That is where my argument comes into play. The way I see it, if you are talking about God, you should detach it from any context of religion. Every religion in our world could be fake, but God could still be real. So when thinking of God, don't let evolution be a factor in his existence, they could easily coexist in harmony. It's just that we as a species believe that they are dependent on one another. We take phrases from books written thousands of years ago, and we take them as binding. They could be true, but they could be false. Just like God. He/she/it both exists and doesn't. Saying God exists is a wild accusation, but saying God does not exist is just as wild an accusation. You can't just say that God exists because there is no proof otherwise, and you can't say he doesn't exist because there is no proof otherwise. We honestly don't even know what God is. We just know about the concept of God, and that God may or may not have created the universe. To me, that is all we can know about that subject, we simply do not have the proof or evidence to completely dispute either notion. As for the evolution, I think it will stay a theory. Even if we miraculously were able to have an experiment, we would need similar variables. Weather, climate, food, resources, predators, and millions of years. We can simply just either accept it as truth or as just a notion and just hope for proof that will prove or dispute it's validity.

    -Nizar Hadeli, Period 1 Honors Physics

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  8. I think its really interesting what all of last year's students chose to comment on about the article and what they had to say. Our generation more than any before us has become, not more secular, but more open-minded. We chose to believe in what we desire to believe rather than let someone else tell us what is correct. I think it is because of the wealth of information, that we get to delve into at whatever point we deem necessary, that makes us more accepting of change. We learn about a time in history where people believed in what those of power told the general public. In every regard, this is no longer true. Now, people want to be educated and make informed decisions to better the lives of themselves and others. As teenagers we are calling into question evolution, the existence of God, and whether the two may coincide. This is a positive change in the way society works and we should welcome that change and adapt our educational and political systems to reflect the responsibility taken on by young people to have legitimized opinions. We should be able to take our learning into our own hands, not be held by state mandated standards. As adults we should actually be able to influence who runs our country and run the country ourselves. Our lack of national pride comes from not seeing a way to make it better. Capitol hill should be an accurate reflection of today's America, not the America of 50 years ago. I feel extremely lucky to be apart of such an amazing generation of innovative thinkers. We will continue to change the world, I hope, for the better.

    -Julia Crocco 4th period honors physics

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  9. Mr. Steindler, when I heard you use the phrase "Evolution is only a theory" today in class I found it interesting and semi-comical because a theory, according to the Scientific Scale of Certainty, is a very high confidence as you said in your article. Up until today I was very uncertain about whether the bible was a an absolute truth or a semi-fictional tale used to explain the unexplainable 2000 years ago. Growing up in a house that only went to church sometimes allowed me to wonder if the bible was fact or fiction. My classmate Julia stated that our generation is more open-minded and I couldn't agree more. Today so many teens are questioning what has been previously accepted to be true and they are formulating their own opinions. That being said some of my friends seem to have made up their minds and they still believe in the bible and creationism. I believe I even used the "Evolution is only a theory" a couple of times to get out of awkward situations with my more religious friends. I may believe in the Theory of Evolution and even though it is a theory which is more certain than creationism I can't go around telling people what to believe in. I have known religious people who worked in a scientific field where they believed in their religion and Evolution but they came to that conclusion on their own. Many teens and adults are very confused about what to think but they can't rely on teachers, parents, or people with more education to make the decision for them. They have to trust themselves and make the decision based on how they feel and think in order to truly be satisfied with their beliefs.

    -Jack Hadley 4th Period H Physics

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  10. Mr. Steindler,
    Evolution is and always will be a hot topic. At no point in the future will people stop wondering how did we come to be. One of the reasons why they will never stop wondering is because until "Back To The Future" becomes reality it will be nearly impossible to prove evolution is indeed how humans became humans and how each specie became each specie. The reason why I say nearly is because scientists are always looking to find the missing link between two different species. For example, I recently watched a documentary on how scientist were searching a long dried lake bed in search for a creature that has eyes on the top of their head instead of on the side because they believe that was the first characteristical step from fish to land-dwelling animals. I could not agree more that scientist could not prove evolution through experimentation. It may always be a theory because it is certainly the best explanation that we have and until time travel it cannot be throughly tested.
    I personally believe in Intelligent Design. I believe Intelligent Design means that evolution did occur but it was guided by an outside force (for me God). I believe in both the Bible's creation story as well as in the scientific explanation of evolution. Here is a joke:
    A man was walking through a forest pondering life. He walked, pondered, walked, and pondered. He felt very close to nature and even close to God. He felt so close to God that he felt if he spoke God would listen.
    So he asked, "God, are you listening?"
    And God replied, "Yes my son, I am here."
    The man stopped and pondered some more. He looked towards the sky and said, "God, what is a million years to you?"
    God replied, "Well, my son, a second to me is like a million years to you."
    So the man continued to walk and to ponder... walk and ponder... Then he looked to the sky again and said, "God, what is a million dollars to you?"
    And God replied, "My son, my son...a penny to me is like a million dollars to you. It means almost nothing to me. It does not even have a value it is so little."
    The man looked down, pondered a bit and then looked up to the sky and said, "God, can I have a million dollars?"
    And God replied, "Sure...just a second."
    This joke may seem random but it is the reason why I am able to believe in the Creation Story as well as evolution. The Bible says that the Earth was created in 7 days, while evolution and other physical evidence such as carbon dating say the Earth is billions of year old. I believe that the 7 days was in God's perspective and for us humans that would be billions of years. Evolution and other processes that shaped the Earth was God in a matter of billions of years over time (in human perspective). This a topic where each individual should be able to decide for themselves, no textbook should tell you what to believe.

    ~Dashiel Pudwill 4th Period Honors Physics

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  11. Mr. Steindler, I do not have much of a different perspective to add to the conversation if I am being really honest. But Jack and Dashiel are my close friends and I find their perspectives, as well as yours, intriguing. Anyone who claims that evolution is completely false is simply ignoring the evidence. I believe that at least to some degree evolution must be true even if we cannot "prove" it. But at the same time, I believe that we as humans are more than just an animal along the evolutionary chain. I do believe there is a deeper meaning in life and we each have our own individual unique purposes in life. But just because I believe it does not mean it is true. We definitely cannot prove that God is real and the Bible is completely true. We cannot have conversations with God at least that I know of but that does not mean he/she/it does not exist. I would like to believe that God exists but I will never have physical evidence to support my belief. I also believe that my mental capacity is am more than just a bunch of neurons and nerves connecting to formulate thoughts. Life is happier, easier, and better believing that. If you believe that is all we are, then what is the benefit to being a good person? What is guiding your moral compass? There are tons of questions that still need to be answered and some never will be. When it comes down to it, we will never know for sure how our world came to exist.
    -Rhett Rodriguez

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  12. Mr. Steindler, I do not have much of a different perspective to add to the conversation if I am being really honest. But Jack and Dashiel are my close friends and I find their perspectives, as well as yours, intriguing. Anyone who claims that evolution is completely false is simply ignoring the evidence. I believe that at least to some degree evolution must be true even if we cannot "prove" it. But at the same time, I believe that we as humans are more than just an animal along the evolutionary chain. I do believe there is a deeper meaning in life and we each have our own individual unique purposes in life. But just because I believe it does not mean it is true. We definitely cannot prove that God is real and the Bible is completely true. We cannot have conversations with God at least that I know of but that does not mean he/she/it does not exist. I would like to believe that God exists but I will never have physical evidence to support my belief. I also believe that my mental capacity is am more than just a bunch of neurons and nerves connecting to formulate thoughts. Life is happier, easier, and better believing that. If you believe that is all we are, then what is the benefit to being a good person? What is guiding your moral compass? There are tons of questions that still need to be answered and some never will be. When it comes down to it, we will never know for sure how our world came to exist.
    -Rhett Rodriguez

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