Welcome to the Emory Valley Center for Evolutionary Studies

Emory Valley lies on the eastern edge of the city, and the Clinch River runs through it. It's a beautiful spot to sit and study the world - so let's do that. Here's the Emory Valley Center for Evolutionary Studies...


Look here for a great metaphor: Theory as Map

New!Look here for a site on Not Just A Theory - good stuff.

"Just a Theory"

Here's a definition from WordWeb:

"A well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world; an organized system of accepted knowledge that applies in a variety of circumstances to explain a specific set of phenomena."
Here's another from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition Copyright © 2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
1. A set of statements or principles devised to explain a group of facts or phenomena, especially one that has been repeatedly tested or is widely accepted and can be used to make predictions about natural phenomena.
And another, this one from Merriam-Webster Medical Dictionary, © 2002 Merriam-Webster, Inc.
a plausible or scientifically acceptable general principle or body of principles offered to explain natural phenomena —see ATOMIC THEORY, CELL THEORY, GERM THEORY
And one more - this one more an explanation than a definition - from How Good Are Those Young-Earth Arguments? A Close Look at Dr. Hovind's List of Young-Earth Arguments and Other Claims by Dave E. Matson (Copyright © 1994-2002)
Scientific hypotheses are rated according to their credibility; as more and more data support a scientific hypothesis, the greater our confidence in it. If that hypothesis fits into a common pattern, successfully interlocking with established theories, then it gets another big plus. If that hypothesis has no credible competition, despite much work in the area, then our confidence in it begins to soar. If that hypothesis also supplies us with numerous insights into nature, which are confirmed by further observation and testing, then it might attain the status of a "scientific theory." (Note that a scientific theory ranks very high in credibility, has been tested repeatedly, and serves as a successful framework for integrating and explaining a class of diverse, natural phenomena; it must not be confused with the layman's use of "theory" which refers to half-baked speculation or guesswork. Consequently, the complaint that evolution is merely a (scientific) theory is a little like saying that an athlete is merely a gold-medal winner!)
And from further on in the same source:
Evolution (descent of life with modification) is a fact of life! That is to say, it may be deduced from the facts with near certainty. The fact of evolution is debated in the scientific community about as often as the roundness of the Earth! Both issues have been settled scientifically long ago. If you don't believe me, scan the world's leading scientific journals, such as Nature or Science, and tell me how many articles in the last 24 issues challenge the fact of evolution. After you have answered that question, then note how many articles are based on the fact of evolution. Thus, you will get some feeling as to what's going on in the real world of science. Legitimate scientific disagreement is not over descent with modification, but rather over how best to explain descent with modification. The better explanations constitute the theories of evolution. It is there we find the legitimate scientific debate which creationists are so fond of quoting, often out of context.

In the scientific world theory does not mean guesswork or speculation but rather a well tested concept which gives order and scientific meaning to a great many facts. (Reread the paragraph above if you will.) Saying that evolution is only a theory is like saying that a car is only a Cadillac! It is a scientific compliment.

In the United States the chief opposition to the fact of evolution comes from a noisy, minority religious crusade cloaked in scientific jargon, whose ultimate goal is to enforce the teaching of fundamentalist doctrine in our schools.

Evolution is a theory. So is General Relativity. So is the Big Bang. So is plate tectonics. So are a host of others - such as those mentioned by Meriam Webster, you know, Atomic Theory, Cell Theory, Germ Theory - by which we learn, every day, a little bit more about the way the Universe functions.

So why are some things called Laws, then? Fair question. And the answer is simple: "Law" is what scientists used to call things they thought were immutable. We don't name things "Laws" anymore, though you'll still see Laws referenced historically. Newton's Universal Law of Gravity, for instance, has been replaced by Einstein's Theories of Relativity, Special and General. Do we think Einstein's theories are less true, somehow, than Newton's laws? Clearly not, as the laws are only true locally, under some conditions. It's a matter of nomenclature, not truth.

This question came up on Pharyngula a while back, and got a great answer:

Jase3217 asked: Is a theory a fact or a belief?

JASE3217--if you're reading this: You ever use maps? They aren't the place itself-- they're a type of model, just as a scientific theory is a model.

If you were making a map of a place that you'd just discovered, what would you draw? A land mass, a coastline, some hills? Suppose someone came after you, went in a little deeper, looked around and told you: Hey! it's got a desert! and a mountain range! Assuming you were intellectually honest and wanted an accurate map, you'd fix your map to reflect this new information. Another guy pokes around and tells you that there's a forest over there, a town over here and your original coastline is off a bit and doesn't include some islands. You'd make the appropriate adjustments. And after a century or so of these reports, all augmented by the best technology of the time, we'd have quite an accurate map--which would be impossible if the place weren't there to start with.

Now, suppose someone with no particular knowledge of this sort of exploration pops in, has a hissy fit and insists that the land doesn't exist--not because he has any proof, expertise or facts, but because he and his friends are so much more pious than the rest of us.

Question: Why shouldn't this person be laughed out of the room?

Posted by: Molly, NYC,on Pharyngula, March 20, 2006 12:01pm
Permanent address: http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2006/03/a_creationist_pest.php#more

And to conclude, here's Richard Dawkins on 'just a theory':

People sometimes try to score debating points by saying, "Evolution is only a theory." That is correct, but it's important to understand what that means. It is also only a theory that the world goes round the Sun -- it's just a theory for which there is an immense amount of evidence. There are many scientific theories that are in doubt. Even within evolution, there is some room for controversy. But that we are cousins of apes and jackals and starfish, let's say, that is a fact in the ordinary sense of the word.
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