Bob Park’s column, “What’s New” (“available at aps.org”:http://www.aps.org/WN) is the way I close out every Friday. Most of the time, I read and smile (or groan). Today, though, his column raised a point which I think counts as fair turn-about.
As you may know, there is a strong anti-evolution movement growing in the United States. The basis of this movement is that evolution is a theory which fails to explain every case where it can be applied, so it must be totally wrong. Advocates of this perspective clearly demonstrate their complete misunderstanding of a theory, and what it means when it fails to explain a set of particular cases. In fact, Isaac Newton’s laws of classical mechanics are really just theories, because they fail to explain the world that atoms inhabit. However, noone doubts their use when applied to their home, a bridge, a skyscraper, or a rocket launch. In that same sense, quantum mechanics and relativity are “just” theories because they only explain our world up to a point. That doesn’t make them wrong.
Anyway, this movement has tried to get stickers placed on biology textbooks that state that evolution is just a theory (as if this is discrediting, as I’ve illustrated above with counter-examples). One thing that annoys me is that nobody seems to object to quantum mechanics or classical mechanics, but they disagree with evolution because it confronts traditional Christian creationism. The literal reading of the Bible clearly disagrees with a theory they advocates the shaping of life over long periods of time due to environmental conditions.
Well, if they get to slap stickers on science textbooks, Bob Park advocates that we should get to slap stickers on their religious texts:
“This book contains religious stories regarding the
origin of living things. The stories are theories, not
facts. They are unproven, unprovable and in some cases
totally impossible. This material should be approached
with an open mind, and a critical eye towards logic and
believability.” (Bob Park, “What’s New” 1/28/05).
Seems fair to me. Why single out a single theory of scientific pursuit? Why not single out all the other theories that are time tested but not necessarily sufficient to explain all behavior. Besides, evolution has given us so much as a theory: it explains drug resistance, it explains the emergence of unique traits in related species due to relative isolation from the main populations. I encourage everybody to go check out the recent “National Geographic”:http://magma.nationalgeographic.com/ngm/0411/feature1/index.html issue discussing the details, successes, and failures of the Theory of Evolution.