I’m a huge proponent of the theory of evolution. It’s not a radical stance, but yet to some, I am living a lie thinking I share so much in common with other animals. The most common rebuttals: “Well if we evolved from monkeys, why are there still monkeys at the zoo?” “Where are the transitional forms?” and “Isn’t evolution just a theory?”
The first is easy to respond to. The theory of evolution doesn’t say we evolved from monkeys, it says primates share the same ancestor. Humans, monkeys, apes, and gorillas shared an ancestor millions and millions of years ago.
The second, and possibly my favorite because it does deal with an evolutionary fallacy which was later met with a solution from scientists. For years it was extremely difficult to find the transition form between Homo erectus and Homo sapiens. That was of course, when they realized something: the human body is ever-changing – it gets rid of organs and finds better uses for others. The appendix is one piece of evidence suggesting transition forms are ever-present. It is an utterly useless piece of tissue that hangs off the intestine, but it’s still there, serving no purpose. It is theorized that it used to be a part of the immune system, but it later became defunct due to the rise of medicine. So my response to the transitional form question? “Look in the mirror.” Humans are constantly moving from one stage to the next. The average human today is taller than the average human centuries ago. Every species on Earth is at a transitional stage.
However, it’s that final question that creationists seem to spurt out constantly, with the feeling that they can stop and evolutionist in his tracks. “Well, evolution is just a theory.It’s true, evolution is, after all, just a theory. No scientist or teacher refers to it as “the fact of evolution.” They refer to it as “the theory of evolution.
I enjoy reading out of my English 1310 textbook, The Arlington Reader. Every time I need to use the restroom, I open the book to an essay that looks promising, and I read it. You’d be amazed how much reading you get done if you do that. One of the essays I turned to once was called “Evolution as Fact and Theory” by celebrated professor Stephen Jay Gould. I was interested, but it was a bit long. After doing my research on Dr. Gould, I came across the fact that he was once on The Simpsons. That’s when I knew he was a scientist I needed to take seriously. In Dr. Gould’s essay, I came across what I think is one of the most important paragraphs in this debate. It reads:
“Well, evolution is a theory. It is also a fact. And facts and theories are different things, not rungs in a hierarchy of increasing certainty. Facts are the world’s data. Theories are structures of ideas that explain and interpret facts. Facts do not go away when scientists debate rival theories to explain them. Einstein’s theory of gravitation replaced Newton’s, but apples did not suspend themselves in mid-air, pending the outcome. And humans evolved from apelike ancestors whether they did so by Darwin’s proposed mechanism or by some other, yet to be discovered.”
I don’t think many could define the theory of evolution quite as well as Dr. Gould did fifteen years ago when this essay was published. Even the Catholic Church took evolution seriously when evangelicals were deriding it. Pope Pius XII actually said, “There is no opposition between evolution and the doctrine of faith. He called it a “serious hypothesis.” Fifty years later Pope John Paul II, with words that were for some reason shrugged off my much of the religious community, said that evolution is far more than just simple theory. In a very simple, but very profound statement, he said to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, “Truth cannot contradict truth.” “Today,” said the Pope, “new knowledge has led to the recognition of evolution as much more than a hypothesis.”
So to make this short: the idea of “theory” is far greater than you tend to imagine it. What you learned in grade school about what a theory about isn’t what the scientific community accepts as theory, and therefore is about as useful when arguing against evolution as reciting Thomas the Tank Engine is when debating over engineering problems.
Read while you are at it: