Theory and belief

People on the right/conservative side of the political spectrum have taken to saying that science is “just another theory,” and that religion – or craziness like “intelligent design” – is just as valid as any scientific “theory.”


But science is not “just another theory.”

Science is based upon observation. A real scientific theory begins with observed phenomena, and posits explanations for those phenomena, which can be disproved. (That last phrase is very important. Read it twice or three times.) If these explanations can’t be disproved by modern methods, then – huzza! – the theory is valid. (Until a better or more elegant theory comes along.)

Here’s an interesting statement: “I have a theory that Satan buried dinosaur bones to confuse us into believing in the false theory of evolution.”

Is this a real theory?

Well, is it based on observation? Not really. There are certainly dinosaur bones, but Satan’s fingerprints are nowhere to be found on them.

Is it disprovable? Nope. The more I argue with this “theorist,” the more he insists that I’m a dupe of Satan.

Is this, therefore, a real theory? Nope.

Here’s another theory: “Dinosaurs existed hundreds of millions of years ago.”

Here are some facts:

–         Dinosaur fossils have been found all over the world, and have dated to the right periods, using reliable methods.

–         These fossils have been found in geologic layers which have also dated to the right periods.

(Is this disprovable? Yes, in many ways. Our dating methods might be found to be unreliable, or the fossils might be found to be fake. But, at this point, neither is the case.)

–         Thus: we have no reason to doubt that there were dinosaurs back in the Jurassic.

Except, of course, that the Religious Right tells us that God doesn’t allow for that kind of thing.

Here’s your friend and mine, Bill Nye the Science Guy, explaining sweetly and reasonably why science is important:

I respect people of faith, but I do not want to hear them dismissing science anymore.

Because they just don’t know what they’re talking about.

About Loren Williams
Gay, partnered, living in Providence, working at a local university. Loves: books, movies, TV. Comments and recriminations can be sent to

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