Is Evolution a Theory, a Fact, or a Law? Or -- None of the Above? by Dr. David N. Menton,
Is Evolution a Theory, a Fact, or a Law?
Or -- None of the Above?
by Dr. David N. Menton, Ph.D.
Copyright (c) 1993 by the Missouri Association for Creation
[No. 4 in a series]
by Dr. David N. Menton, Ph.D.
I have heard many Christians say that evolution doesn't concern
them because, after all, it's "only a theory." Presumably they think
that the word "theory" means about the same thing as a "pipe dream."
But the term theory, at least as it applies to experimental science, has
a much nobler meaning than that. A scientific theory is a careful
attempt to explain certain observable facts of nature by means of
experiments. Since many Christians have concluded that evolution is
incompatible with the Biblical account of creation, we would do well to
investigate if evolution is a fact or a theory -- or perhaps neither.
There is a widespread misconception that good theories grow up
to be facts and that the really good ones finally become laws. But
these three categories of scientific description are neither directly
related nor mutually exclusive. It often occurs that a single natural
phenomenon can be described in terms of a theory, a fact, and a law --
all at the same time!
Consider the well-known phenomenon of gravity. First, there is
a fact of gravity. While we cannot actually see gravitational force
itself, we do observe the effects of this force every time we drop
something. There is also a theory of gravity that addresses the
question of how this force we call gravity really works. While we
really don't know how gravity works, there are theories that attempt to
explain it. Finally there is the well-known law of gravity. This law,
first formulated by Isaac Newton, a Bible believing Christian and
creationist, is a mathematical equation that shows a relationship
between mass, distance and gravitational force. So in summary, a
scientific fact is an observable natural occurrence; a scientific theory
is an attempt to explain how this natural occurrence works; and, a
scientific law is a mathematical description of this natural occurrence.
Science itself is the whole process of making careful
observations of certain facts of nature and then constructing and
testing theories that seek to explain those facts. We call these tests
of a theory experiments. Experimental science, better known as
empirical science, is the kind of science that is responsible for the
marvelous technological achievements that make our life easier. One has
only to consider what it would be like to endure surgery without
anesthesia to appreciate the contributions of empirical science to our
The most important requirement of empirical science is that any
object or phenomenon we wish to study must first be observable. While
we may assume the existence of events not witnessed by human observers,
such events are not suited to study by empirical science. Secondly, the
object or phenomenon we wish to study must be repeatable. Unique and
unrepeatable events, like say the Babylonian Empire, are the subject of
history, not empirical science. Finally, any explanations we might
propose for observable and repeatable phenomena must be testable. By
this we mean that we must be able to conceive of an experiment that
could refute our theory if it were wrong. If one were to propose an
explanation for a phenomenon in such a way that no one could conceive of
any way to test or refute it, it wouldn't be a theory at all, but rather
a belief. Beliefs, of course, are not necessarily wrong or
inappropriate, they just aren't well suited to study by empirical
What then shall we say of evolution? First, evolutionists tell
us that major evolutionary changes happen far too slowly, or too rarely,
to be observable in the lifetime of human observers. Most living
organisms and their offspring are said to remain largely unchanged for
tens of thousands, or even millions, of years. According to the
evolutionist Theodosius Dobzhansky, even when evolutionary changes do
occur, they are by nature "unique, unrepeatable, and irreversible."
Dobzhansky tells us that the "applicability of the experimental method
to the study of such unique historical processes is severely
restricted." The well-known evolutionist Paul Ehrlich says the theory
of evolution "cannot be refuted by any possible observations" and thus
is "outside of empirical science."
Still, the occurrence of evolution is widely believed to be a
scientific "fact" and those who dare to doubt it are not endured gladly.
The Encyclopedia Britannica confidently assures us that "we are not in
the least doubt as to the fact of evolution." In his textbook
_Evolution_, J. Savage says "we do not need a listing of the evidences
to demonstrate the fact of evolution any more than we need to
demonstrate the existence of mountain ranges." In another textbook
titled _Outlines of General Zoology_, H. Newman arrogantly declared that
evolution has no rival as an explanation for the origin of everything
"except the outworn and completely refuted one of special creation, now
retained only by the ignorant, the dogmatic, and the prejudicial."
What exactly is the "observable fact" of evolution? First you
should be aware that evolutionists recognize two types of evolution --
micro evolution, which is observable, and macro evolution, which isn't.
So called "micro evolution" is a process of limited variation among the
individuals of a given species that produces the sort of variety we
observe, for example, among dogs. Macro evolution, on the other hand,
is a hypothetical process of unlimited variation that evolutionists
believe transforms one kind of living organism into a fundamentally
different kind such as the transformation of reptiles into birds or apes
into people. Obviously, no one has ever observed anything remotely like
this actually happen.
The very name "micro evolution" is intended to imply that it is
this kind of variation that accumulates to produce macro evolution
though a growing number of evolutionists admit there is no evidence for
this. Thus an observable phenomenon is extrapolated into an
unobservable phenomenon for which there is no evidence, and then the
latter is declared to be a "fact" on the strength of the former. It is
this kind of limitless extrapolation that comprises much of the argument
In conclusion, evolution is not observable, repeatable, or
refutable and thus does not qualify as either a scientific fact or
theory. Evolution must be accepted with faith by its believers, many of
whom deny the existence, or at least the power, of the Creator.
Similarly, the Biblical account of creation is not observable,
repeatable or refutable by man. Special creation is accepted with faith
by those who believe that the Bible is the revelation of an omnipotent
and omniscient Creator whose Word is more reliable than the speculations
of men. Both evolution and creation, however, can be compared for their
compatibility with what we do observe of the facts of nature. In the
months ahead, we will see that creation by intelligent design is a
vastly more reasonable explanation for the origin of the complexity we
see in living things than is evolution by mere chance and the intrinsic
properties of nature.
Dr. Menton received his Ph.D. in Biology from Brown University. He has
been involved in biomedical research and education for over 30 years.
Originally published in:
St. Louis MetroVoice, October 1993, Vol. 3, No. 10
Electronically distributed through the Missouri Association for Creation
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