Editor’s Note: This insightful letter to the editor explains the difference between a hypothesis and a theory, for those who like to say “evolution is just a theory,” as if that was the same as a harebrained notion. It was in response to a rather sophomoric letter from a creationist who had written in to defend a Bible-based viewed of science, and, evidently, would like to see religion taught in science classes. This was the fourth letter to be printed in the newspaper in response to my article on evolution vs. creationism. Mr. Maarbjerg goes after the idea from Socrates that “opinions divorced from knowledge are ugly things” ... this seems to me to be a perfect definition for the sort of religion that creationists/fundamentalist Christians find so edifying.
To the editor:
Your correspondent of March 2 fails to differentiate between the various terms of scientific laws, theories and hypotheses, unfortunate in someone who wishes to engage in a scientific debate.
Scientific laws, such as Ohm’s Law, the laws of thermodynamics, are based on established facts and can be verified by replicable experiments. They are usually expressed in mathematical terms. They are irrefutable.
Scientific theories are not often replicable by experiment — general evolution is an obvious example: How can you replicate millions of years of genetic change? Nevertheless, they are based on: a) a comprehensive body of verifiable and irrefutable facts; b) the absence of any contradictory evidence. This is a stringent test, that evolution has met repeatedly over the last century and a half.
Scientific hypotheses are assertions based on insufficient facts. Any verifiable fact found to contradict a hypothesis is sufficient to consign it to the scrap heap of history.
Unfortunately, in common parlance the term “hypothesis” is used synonymously with “theory,” giving rise to much confusion, such as, “Evolution is nothing but a theory.” But evolution is a theory in the scientific sense, and as such unassailable.
Creationism does not even meet the standards of a scientific hypothesis. It is based on the introduction of the unknowable and unverifiable notion of “intelligent design.” This notion is redundant in explaining evolution. The accumulated facts at hand are sufficient to demonstrate the verity of evolution, and intelligent design or any other such unverifiable idea is an unnecessary obfuscation.
Your correspondent quotes Socrates: “Opinions divorced from knowledge are ugly things.” Indeed! Intelligent design and its ilk are such opinions, wholly divorced from a century and a half of accumulated and tested knowledge about our origins.
Let us keep opinions and beliefs, however honestly and deeply felt, and science separate.
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