Religion 101

As I mentioned in my previous blog entry, a sizable proportion of the American public in general seems to have the impression that creationism and evolution are equally legitimate heavyweight contenders in the scientific marketplace of unsettled ideas.

With so much anti-evolution creationist propaganda currently in circulation, and with so many periodic attempts to introduce the teaching of creationism alongside evolution in U.S. public schools, it’s perhaps no wonder that so many average Americans assume that evolution and creationism are presumably pretty evenly matched opposing “theories,” competing neck-and-neck on a level scientific playing field, with no clear winner yet in sight.

As I discussed in that previous blog entry, part of the problem revolves around a widespread misunderstanding and misuse of the term “theory.” In science, a theory is not a hypothesis or guess, but a systematic, comprehensive, testable, and scientifically well-supported explanation of observed phenomena. (Evolution is such a scientific theory; creationism is not.)

Sometimes creationists argue that evolution is “only a theory,” thus misusing the term “theory” and implying that if it’s a theory, then it cannot be a fact. However, “theoretical” does not mean “hypothetical,” and theories never become facts. Rather, theories are comprehensive, systematic, detailed, robust, and well-tested explanations of facts. Thus the theory of evolution explains the “how and why” behind the fact of evolution, just as the theory of gravity explains the “how and why” behind the fact of gravity.

In other words, evolution is both established scientific fact (the observed phenomenon of evolution really happens) as well as scientific theory (not a hypothesis or guess, but a systematic, comprehensive, detailed, and well-supported explanation of how evolution works, and why evolution happens).

By contrast, creationism is neither a scientific fact nor a scientific theory, in the technical sense of the term.

(At most, creationism is a failed hypothesis, unsupported by the facts and even undermined by the evidence. It is really not even a scientific hypothesis, since its origins lie not in empirical observation but in religious belief alone.)

But many people who do not fully understand the distinction between the colloquial vs. the scientific meaning of the term “theory” frequently misuse it, mistakenly assuming that evolution and creation are both “theories” (e.g., mere unproven hypotheses), and therefore must be more or less on par with each other. But this is like comparing apples to oranges.

The theory of evolution accounts for the observed and testable facts of evolution. Evolutionary theory, like gravitational theory or atomic theory or any other scientific theory, is a scientific explanation of the observed facts — a thorough and detailed explanation which is based upon observation, experimentation, and rigorous application of the scientific method. Scientists simply follow the evidence, and go wherever it leads them.

By contrast, creationism is instead wholly based upon religious belief and religious doctrine. Creationists unswervingly follow the creation accounts found in the Bible, as a principled matter of faith; they will never deviate from those accounts, regardless of where the actual physical evidence might lead.

Creationism is thus not based upon evidence or experiment or empirical observation, which are the very hallmarks of science. Creationist books and websites notwithstanding, there is no valid or legitimate scientific evidence to support its claims. Creation, unlike evolution, makes no predictions and is not scientifically testable. It’s therefore a fundamentally faith-based position, rather than a science-based position.

That’s why creationism is not science. It’s a religious belief, not an empirically-based scientific conclusion.

And that is also why creationism doesn’t belong in science classes — especially not in taxpayer-funded U.S. public schools’ science classes.

(To be continued, in Part Three.)