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Evolution is only a theory (Talk.Origins)

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Response Article
This article (Evolution is only a theory (Talk.Origins)) is a response to a rebuttal of a creationist claim published by Talk.Origins Archive under the title Index to Creationist Claims.


Claim CA201:

Evolution is only a theory. It is not a fact.

Source: State of Oklahoma. 2003. House Bill HB1504: Schools; requiring all textbooks to have an evolution disclaimer; codification; effective date; emergency.


CreationWiki response:

It is important to define accurately what is meant by the statement before we can deal with its response. What is a creationist trying to say when he or she says that "evolution is only a theory"? To quote Answers in Genesis:

"What people usually mean when they say this is ‘Evolution is not proven fact, so it should not be promoted dogmatically.’" [1]

The problem is the ambiguous word "theory" which is used by different people in different ways. TalkOrigins says the following:

(Talk.Origins quotes in blue)


The word theory, in the context of science, does not imply uncertainty. It means "a coherent group of general propositions used as principles of explanation for a class of phenomena" (Barnhart 1948).

The claim that in science the word theory does not imply uncertainty is a grand overgeneralization of the use of the word "theory" among scientists. "Theory" is an ambiguous word that can speak either of a well substantiated explanation of aspects of the natural world or of a tentative (doubtful or provisional) hypothesis about the natural world. Even the definition given by TalkOrigins does not remove doubt or uncertainty, but simply says that a theory is one way of thinking, not THE only way of thinking, based on some consistent logic.

When they say this, creationists are usually addressing a non-scientific audience, for whom "theory" invariably means something that is only a possibility. They are not addressing scientists in scientific language.

The author of this TalkOrigins piece lists some "facts", or at least what he tries to authoritatively declare as "the truth". The examples he gives are:


  1. Life appeared on earth more than two billion years ago;
  2. Life forms have changed and diversified over life's history;
  3. Species are related via common decent from one or a few common ancestors;
  4. Natural selection is a significant factor affecting how species change.


Remember that science is supposed to be based on observations, and repeatable, reliable experiments, which limits its focus to the present. "Facts" declared about a distant past outside the realm of human experience are not really facts, but strongly advocated faith-points. He may have evidence to back up his view, but that evidence can be viewed from a different point of view to give a different interpretation than his own, which is based on the unsubstantiated philosophy of naturalism.

So to deal with each point briefly.

That life appeared on earth two billion years ago is not a truly scientific statement. It was never directly observed to have happened by anyone or anything that can leave a conclusive historical record. It cannot be directly tested because it is in the past, beyond human experience. The date would also have to be questioned and the process by which life "appeared" is still unknown; there are only hypotheses that at best can say how life could have arisen, not how life actually did arise, and the possibility that it could appear without intelligence is still only a belief, not a fact.

The fact that lifeforms change and diversify is admitted by creationist and evolutionist alike. The question is whether these changes have limits. Can a bacterium change into a fish when it lacks the genetic information for a fish? The changes claimed by evolutionists have never been observed; they are merely inferred from the fossil record on the basis of evolutionary assumptions. The fossil evidence is not consistent and can be interpreted on an entirely different set of assumptions.

The idea that species are related via common descent is not a fact. It is a naturalistic (anti-theistic) interpretation of evidence from different areas of scientific research, the naturalistic presupposition forcing the interpretation. The reasoning is inherently circular because the "fact" that this happened is based on the belief that it happened. Once again, it is beyond direct observation and outside human experience, from a past which is unrepeatable and untestable. This is not a scientific fact but a statement of belief.

Once again, creationist and evolutionist alike accept the fact of natural selection. The debate is about how far natural selection can go and whether it can really change a reptile into a bird or mammal. We see, we observe very small changes, such as the peppered moth changing population colours from light to dark and back again. But that does not explain how moths came to be in the first place.

All these statements show little real fact, and a lot of interpretation based on a naturalistic (not scientific) mindset.

The theory of evolution has proved itself in practice. It has useful applications in epidemiology, pest control, drug discovery, and other areas (Bull and Wichman 2001; Eisen and Wu 2002; Searls 2003).

The fact that there are scientists who firmly accept the creation account in Genesis as fact, yet do practical science in the fields of chemistry, biology and physics and geology (to name but a few) is a good refutation of this. That is because creationists too use observation to support their belief and their science.

Also the fields quoted above deal mostly with two things: similarities among species of an organism (by that I mean different groups of bacteria, or different groups of bees), which is not the grand scheme of evolution according to which we came from single-celled organisms or ancient fish, but the small varietion within families of organisms; and also similarities outside of families which are not readily accounted for by evolutionists. The fact that a pig's heart has some similarities to a human heart does not actually tell us that we are descended from pigs [2], only that there are similarities between different organisms. Again, this is not evolution. Anyone, regardless of their belief, can observe similarities. Evolution is simply an atheistic, naturalistic explanation for the similarities that goes beyond science into philosophy and untestable axioms. So the writer is giving more credit to evolution than it is really due.

Besides the theory, there is the fact of evolution, the observation that life has changed greatly over time. The fact of evolution was recognized even before Darwin's theory. The theory of evolution explains the fact.

It is true that people believed that non-living things could produce living things; that is abiogenesis, or spontaneous generation. That was disproved by Louis Pasteur. It is true that people believed in alchemy and that base metals could be changed into gold. Research into chemistry has shown that to be a false belief. Some of the ancients (such as Lucretius) have believed that everything evolved. But this has never been observed. Of course things similar to evolution were believed before Darwin formulated his theory, but we know what we see in real life, i.e., limited change within a family of animals and not going outside of that family — dogs bring forth dogs. The evolutionary belief that diversity can naturally go outside of the limitations we see today is simply that: a belief, not a fact.

If "only a theory" were a real objection, creationists would also be issuing disclaimers complaining about the theory of gravity, atomic theory, the germ theory of disease, and the theory of limits (on which calculus is based). The theory of evolution is no less valid than any of these. Even the theory of gravity still receives serious challenges (Milgrom 2002). Yet the phenomenon of gravity, like evolution, is still a fact.

Once again we see the author playing on the ambiguous use of the word "theory" . Which theory of gravity is he talking about? If he means Isaac Newton's laws of gravity, that is different from our experience of it, since gravity is a phenomenon that has been observed and used throughout human history even though people were ignorant of what is really was. Even now we do not know what gravity is. We can describe what it does, but not what it is, and that is based on observations that anyone can make. However, the theory of evolution, which proclaims the common descent of all life, is beyond observation, since what we see is only the small changes within a set group. Germs exist, animals and plants exist. We see them and observe them and what they can do. The grand theory of evolution, which teaches the common descent of all life and, according to Talk Origins, the appearance of life, is not observable and not testable, unlike gravity which is an everyday occurrence. And to say that the small changes we see today can account for the big ones is an extrapolation that goes far beyond the available evidence.

Creationism is neither theory nor fact; it is, at best, only an opinion. Since it explains nothing, it is useless.

This shows a lack of understanding of what creationism is and what it does. There has been a great deal of research by the scientists of Answers in Genesis and the Institute for Creation Research [4],[5],[6], through which many explanations for different natural phenomena have been developed, such as plate tectonics, the ice age, mutations etc. A simple perusal of these websites would show this. Creationism is more akin to a scientific model which makes observations and predictions in many areas, rather than simply a theory [3]. Creation science explains many things through its scientific model, without deceptively covering up its philosophical foundations and making science say what it cannot say [7].

The most important thing to understand is why people call evolution a theory, and not fact. One reason is that the grand theory of evolution still has so many holes and is based on faulty logic. The main reason is that in its widest scope, evolution is based on unobserved and unobservable events, on untestable axioms (that nature is all that is needed to explain the history of life), that nature without intelligence can form the complex and complicated machinery which makes up life and increase genetic information to the point that fish can gain the specific and complex anatomy of a reptile or a bird through the thoughtless and purposeless process of nature. When there are other theories based on different presuppositions that better explain these natural phenomena, it is certainly fair that evolution be called "only a theory".


1. http://www.answersingenesis.org/home/area/faq/dont_use.asp - what people really mean by the word "theory".

2. http://www.healthandage.com/Home/gm=1!gid1=4806 - Example information about Pig-Human Heart transplant.

3. http://www.trueorigins.org/creatheory.asp - Discussion the evolution and creation theory.

4. http://www.icr.org/research/icc03/pdf/ICCSOMERSETDAM_2-AAS.pdf - Research into the compositions of some rocks.

5. http://www.icr.org/research/icc03/pdf/catastrplttect_ICC_Baumgardner.pdf - Research into Catastrophic Plate Tectonics

6. http://www.grisda.org/reports.htm#GEOLOGY - Some discussion about geological findings

7. http://www.apologeticspress.org/modules.php?name=Read&cat=4&itemid=1996 - Limitations of Science