Kentucky Republicans realize that they screwed up: students will have to learn evolution!

August 21, 2012 • 7:37 am

Three years ago the Kentucky legislature approved a measure to make the state’s high-school standards appropriate to those tested by the countrywide ACT (American College Testing) exams. I guess they didn’t realize that the ACTs, which are used to measure students’ proficiency in four areas and also are used as a criterion for college admission, require knowing evolution in the science section.  OMG! That has Kentucky legislators—the Republicans, of course—up in arms.  As usual, they utter their barrage of moronic statements. As HuffPo reports:

. . . state Republicans are now recoiling at their decision. They claim it doesn’t give the theory of creationism a fair shake and places undue emphasis on the teaching of evolution, which they maintain exists only as a “theory.”

“I would hope that creationism is presented as a theory in the classroom, in a science classroom, alongside evolution,” state Sen. David Givens (R) said in an interview with the Herald-Leader. “We’re simply saying to the ACT people we don’t want what is a theory to be taught as a fact in such a way it may damage students’ ability to do critical thinking.”

Teaching creationism in the school classroom is, of course, unconstitutional in America.

And what kind of amazing ignorance is displayed by this statement:

“The theory of evolution is a theory, and essentially the theory of evolution is not science — Darwin made it up,” state Sen. Ben Waide (R) said. “My objection is they should ensure whatever scientific material is being put forth as a standard should at least stand up to scientific method. Under the most rudimentary, basic scientific examination, the theory of evolution has never stood up to scientific scrutiny.”

Darwin “made it up”?  Yeah, just like Einstein “made up” the theory of relativity and Pasteur and others “made up” the germ theory of disease, and Newton “made up” the theory of gravity.  Does Waide know nothing about evolution? Is he aware of the thousands of observations, just in the fossil record alone, that show that the theory does indeed “stand up to the scientific method”?  I feel like sending him a copy of my book, except that I doubt he’d read it.

And another:

State Sen. Mike Wilson (R) said he thinks the system could allow students to be “indoctrinated” by the study of evolution.

Yep, just like we indoctrinate students with the theory of gravity.  What they’re afraid of, of course, is that the scientific facts may turn students away from religion.  Pity, that, for evolution is indeed a central concept of biology that must be required in any decent education in science.

Sadly, even the state commissioner of education is showing some cowardice here. Although he avers that creationism can’t be taught in public schools, he shows that his pedal extremities are getting cold:

Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday responded to the lawmakers’ inquiry, telling them that the test is “based on evolution as a theory, not as fact.”

Do these people know what a scientific theory is? Apparently, to Holliday it’s equivalent to a guess or a wild speculation, for he’s reassuring parents here that the theory isn’t really all that true.

Well, at least my colleagues at the University of Kentucky are standing up for scientific truth:

While the debate has been rehashed countless times, Vincent Cassone, chairman of the University of Kentucky biology department and a member of the committee that helped developed ACT’s testing curriculum, told the Herald-Leader that the Republicans’ rejection of evolution was incomprehensible.

“The theory of evolution is the fundamental backbone of all biological research,” he said. “There is more evidence for evolution than there is for the theory of gravity, than the idea that things are made up of atoms, or Einstein’s theory of relativity. It is the finest scientific theory ever devised.”

That may be a bit of an exaggeration, since every time something falls on Earth (or we look at the Moon or the planets) we get evidence for gravity, but Cassone gets kudos for emphasizing the importance of evolution. It is, after all, the true story of our origins, and therefore the greatest of all human tales. It’s something that everyone needs to know.

Someone in Kentucky send Waide a copy of my book; I’ll reimburse you! (Self-promotion: Amazon has the hardback of WEIT on sale as a “bargain book” for only $11.18, only a few cents more than the paperback.)

134 thoughts on “Kentucky Republicans realize that they screwed up: students will have to learn evolution!

  1. >>every time something falls on Earth (or we look at the Moon or the planets) we get evidence for gravity

    yes, the existence of gravity is irrefutable, but the *theory* of gravity (pick one) is not quite as well understood. Our theories are one approximation after another. We understand more about evolution than we do about gravity.

    1. Right. The phenomena of gravity exists, and the phenomena of evolution exists. Those are facts about reality. The theories we devise to explain how these phenomena occur are something else altogether.

      1. No. As we can’t observe forces directly it’s not a fact, but a hypothesis. What’s a fact, ie observed, is that all bodies with masses attract each other. And when we measure gravity with a spring we only oberve its deformation.

        “the existence of gravity is irrefutable”
        It isn’t. It’s just a theory. We might as well say goddiddud. You can’t prove gravity. Tomorrow you might fall upward. Who knows?
        Now please don’t confirm Poe’s Law. Because exactly this is why “evolution is just a theory” is so incredibly stupid.
        Same for concepts like electricity, energy, power etcetera.
        And I agree that evolution is better understood than gravity, ie scientists have less theoretical problems with the first. Now the higgs-boson has been found that might change though.

        1. “What’s a fact, ie observed, is that all bodies with masses attract each other.”

          That is, in fact, precisely what I meant by “the phenomena(sic) of gravity exists, . . .” Gravity is the label that we use to identify the phenomenon of masses attracting each other. That this occurs is a fact. Explaining how it happens is something entirely different. Ditto for Evolution.

          My definition of a fact in this context is something for which the probability of its existence is so high as to make it unreasonable to behave as if it does not.

          If you insist that the word fact must have some absolute, never attainable in real life, value, then okay. I don’t think that necessary or desirable.

    2. If we define “finest” by a measure of most applicable, thermodynamics, quantum physics and cosmology (which incorporates gravity by way of general relativity) has to fight it out.

      But if we define “finest” by a measure of highest quality, the combinatorial nature of phylogenetics makes it the least uncertain theory we have. The uncertainty of the overall tree topology, despite the low resolution as we zoom in on any particulars, wins hands down over physics predictions as a tree grows to a few tens of members.

      And yes, the many mechanisms and thus observed details helps too. Partly that is unfair to physics, which makes differential and not additive theories where you can integrate mechanisms. But mostly it is because physics is at the more fundamental level much simpler in structure.

  2. UGH. There are times I simply want to slap half the people in my native state… and the other half I usually want to lock in a small dark room and never let them out.

    1. Hi Kat,
      I’ve been looking at letters to the editor from newspapers in Kentucky. The letters seem to be written by reasonable, thoughtful, intelligent people who understand science. How do the ignorant keep getting elected in your state?

        1. @Brett and @Leigh
          A while ago I was talking to an organiser for one of the local political parties here who was telling me that they had a “panel” of “the usual suspects” – generally members of the party – who they’d encourage to write letters into the local press. Generally they wouldn’t write the letters themselves, but arguments, “position papers” with highlighted sections and other material would be proferred with a suggestion to “write in about” … whatever.
          (I should point out that this would often be in the pub, in the midst of general socialisation. It’s not quite as shamelessly corrupt as it sounds. Not quite.)
          Study the paper for a few weeks – you’ll see the same names reappearing time and again. All the political parties do it, and for private individuals, you are not required to state your party alleigance.
          The political professionals know this ; the editors know this ; the “usual suspects” know this. And, to be honest, the only way that you’re going to change it is by becoming one of “the usual suspects” yourself, even if you’re an “independent”.
          (What is in it for the editors? Column-inches filled, and contentious opinions aired, garnering them publicity, and therefore eyeball-seconds, and therfore increasing the rates that they can charge for advertising. The press are in business, after all.)

  3. Oh yes. We had a fight in our local papers concerning creationism…I even got my response published!

    But the interesting thing about these creationists is that they are true cranks. They have no knowledge of science. But…instead of ASKING scientists for advice, the GIVE it to them. 🙂

    It would he hilarious if the long term consequences weren’t so serious.

    1. It is a form of lying. It sure would be nice if our political leaders could be held accountable for the lies they tell. After all the consequences of their lies are about as serious as it gets. There should be serious legal consequences for politicians who lie when addressing the public or in the performance of their public service. Such as removal from office and/or eligibility for election.

    2. If your creacrappers in the States bear any resemblance to my creacrappers in The Netherlands they don’t wánt to know about science.
      They don’t wánt to read TalkOrigins. They don’t wánt to google on observed speciation.

  4. I’d love it if Kentucky public school students were to find themselves barred from entering Kentucky state universities, or even if Kentucky state universities found themselves without national accreditation. What will it take to get these people to understand that the “theory” is about how evolution occurs, not about evolution itself, which is self evident, even to dog and horse breeders. And a theory is te best possible explanation that conforms to observation and evidence. Since Zues, Thor, Ra, and Yahweh/Jehovah/Jesus can’t be observed, and there are no verifiable facts or evidence pointing to such a being, they aren’t, by definition, science. Why can’t they just mandate a theology class? Oh yeah, then they’d have to teach about Islam, hinduism, budhism, Shinto, and Confucianism as equally plausible religions to avoid constitutional issues. Are founders were so smart!

    1. Why can’t they just mandate a theology class?

      Studying the bible as literature is a perfectly legal elective, not just in Kentucky but everywhere. Comparative theology, the same.

      This is not about student freedom to study religion. They already have that. This is about co-opting the imprimatur and social standing of science to lend credibility to their religion.

      Put another way: they can already sell their product in the marketplace of ideas. What they object to is not being able to falsely advertise it under another seller’s highly successful brand name.

      1. Studying the bible as literature is a perfectly legal elective, not just in Kentucky but everywhere. Comparative theology, the same.

        Considering the audience, I hang my head in shame :
        In my final year of Religious Studies (a compulsory subject in UK schools at the time) I got the following report card :
        Exam result : 100%
        Comments : Top of the year! As an atheist, Karley should be ashamed of himself!

        Not one member of that class, even the Jews and Jehovas, left that classroom with the concept that any god was accepted unchallenged. They had absolutely no choice but to think about things for themselves. Which is a substantial chunk of the ultimate battle.
        the next year, the local Jehovas took their kids out of the class. Can’t stand the competition, I suppose.
        (For completeness, the teacher who taught the class and marked the exams was a lay baptist (I think) preacher ; a believer, but honest enough to teach comparative religion rather than hammering his opinions down our throats. Which wouldn’t have worked terribly well, and he knew it!)
        (Attempting to use the “tt” tag on the quote ; don’t know if it’ll work out.)

      2. “What they object to …..”
        Exactly. After all nobody is required to accept Ohm’s Law if he/she plugs in some electrical apparatus.
        If you want to study the science behind it though you better learn it.

  5. Accounts Differ!

    “Things fall not because they are acted upon by some gravitational force, but because a higher intelligence, ‘God’ if you will, is pushing them down,” said Gabriel Burdett, who holds degrees in education, applied Scripture, and physics from Oral Roberts University.

    Burdett added: “Gravity—which is taught to our children as a law—is founded on great gaps in understanding. The laws predict the mutual force between all bodies of mass, but they cannot explain that force. Isaac Newton himself said, ‘I suspect that my theories may all depend upon a force for which philosophers have searched all of nature in vain.’ Of course, he is alluding to a higher power.”

      1. Not knowing who he/ she/ it is, why would “Oral Robert’s Degree in Physics” be anything particularly more amusing than anything from the person/ place or school?
        Do they do a degree in studies of Applied Fruitbat Fellatio? And if not, why not?

        1. Not sure of your question, but. Oral Roberts University is a fake university founded by, of course, Oral Roberts. Oral Roberts was a Methodist-Pentecostal televangelist, one of the pioneers. The purpose of the “university” is not to educate its students, but to try and give them an unwarranted patina of respectability and authority.

    1. *chuckles*

      I suspect Oral Roberts physics grads leave the story there… that they don’t bother to check out Laplace’s subsequent successes (obtained only by chucking Newton’s “goddidits”, rolling up his sleeves, and getting back to work).

  6. Evolution is a fact proven by anthroplogy and the fossil records. I believe in scientific fact and not in theological fantasy. People fear the truth and reveal their ignorance,whether it be in acedemia or in the so called dogmatic principles of the church. Evolution must be a foremost facet of education.

  7. Amazing stupidity! Black is white and white is black. These idiots got into office because idiot voters elected them. The same thing is happening on a national scale. (sigh)

    1. This is why I support the movement for “one term limit”; that is, you are elected to “one term”, be it mayor of Swipegrass, Nebraska, or senator from New York, or Assemblyman from Los Angeles, “One…and done”. No further public office. Not any. No further elections for you. POTUS? Take your cue from Ross Perot. Take your worldly success and go for it….

      But, no more careers in politics, except office help.

      1. Now that is a really good idea! Blindingly obvious too,once someone actually articulates it. I wish I’d thought of it…

      2. That’s a nice-sounding theory, but, in practice, it’s about the worst possible way to run a government.

        You see, what winds up happening is that the elected officials never have a chance to gain enough knowledge or experience to get anything accomplished. As a result, it’s the lobbyists (who do stick around enough to get that knowledge and experience) who set policy, and the bureaucrats (who’re also lifers) who run the show.

        The reform that we really need is to implement some sort of preferential voting system. The first-past-the-post method we have is mathematically guaranteed to result in the situation we have today: a two-party duopoly that’ll work together to prevent any third party from getting a piece of the pie.

        It doesn’t really matter what method we go with — instant runoff, ranked choice, whatever; the worst of the alternatives is leagues better than what we have today. All we really need is a way for voters to indicate that they’ll settle for Mr. Jones but only if they can’t have Ms. Smith.



        1. Could not agree more.

          Would just add that single term limits also inhibit the ability to achieve longer term goals. The people that devised our system of government put some serious thought into setting term limits for various positions to try and reach a balance between maintaining an ability to achieve long term goals and preventing an aristocracy from forming at the same time. Unfortunately their planning in this regard was not successful at keeping human nature in check.

          1. But how does one get around the problem that the highest priority long term goal for many politicians is to get re-elected ?

              1. IIRC that was a plot point in a SF short story. People could push a down vote button in a telephone kiosk. If enough down votes were received the representative would be decapitated.

            1. the highest priority long term goal for many politicians is to get re-elected ?

              “many”?This is some new “leet-speek” way of spelling “all”? Or do you know of a counter-example?

              1. I’ve known a number of people who have got involved in politics because they thought that they could generally make a difference for other people. And after 15 years in politics, including in one case several years near the top of the city power structure, have retired from politics and gone back to their previous (much better-paying) careers as well as moving out of the country. Shame to lose them, because they were good friends and genuine people – stabbed in the back (with a running chain saw) by their “high heidjuns”.
                I guess there are other counter-examples who are still in active politics. The “high heidjuns” are going to try to keep the numbers down, but they won’t get them all. Hence “most” ; “very large majority” would be another way of putting it.

              2. In my experience, the smaller and more local the politics, the higher the chance of the politician being honest and dedicated to the community and the lesser the chance of the politician caring only about personal ambition.

                By the time you get to the medium-sized city level and mayor / council, it’s probably a 50:50 split of honest v power-hungry, and it’s at least 70:30 when you get to the level of boards and commissions. And, even then, the power-hungry ones are genuinely furthering their own agendas that are typically in line with significant numbers of the residents. That is, they’re climbing the ladder, sure, but they’re doing so by faithfully representing their own interests and the interests of like-minded people.

                At least, in my experience.


        2. “You see, what winds up happening is that the elected officials never have a chance to gain enough knowledge or experience to get anything accomplished.”

          Where was this?

      1. That’s what you get for buying her that Puritan Paint Company catalogue titled “Fifty Shades of Grey.”

        1. I thought Fifty Shades of Grey was Joel’s autobiography… Oh well, age can be hell, but forgetfulness a delight… :-O

  8. “It is the finest scientific theory ever devised.”

    Biologists really need to stop saying this. Quantum Electrodynamics is the most accurate theory ever devised, so I’m pretty sure that makes it the “finest.”

    1. Well, perhaps if we value “accuracy” so much.

      What makes the theory of evolution by natural selection most fine is that it explains the appearance of design and function in the biological world and provides precious hints regarding an explanation of the origins of life on this planet. THis has the effect of exposing our mythologies for what they are.

    2. But the combinatorial nature of phylogenetic trees makes them the most precise observations possible out there, I take it. A few possible trees out of a vast set of combinations means the precision gets high very fast. 20 taxa means ~ 10^22 combinations, so a handful of possible nestings makes a precision of ~ 10^-21.

      Of course the local resolution is nothing like that, so it is fairer to look for accuracy. Assessing accuracy of trees on the other hand would mean comparing topologies with some statistical measure, and I can’t think of any simple one on short notice.

      However, the existence of bottlenecks makes it possible to get at accuracy in certain cases. Theobald’s observation of a UCA has a likelihood of ~ 10^2000 against multiple ancestors. Since we have a unique node, the accuracy of that observation is the same as the local precision, i.e. the likelihood under repetition.

      To get the latter we can just to throw some of Theobald’s underlying data out. A guesstimate, pure handwaving since I don’t want to read the paper, is that we will get down to ~ 10^-200 accuracy as a possible estimate.

      QED can be accurate to ~ 10^-12.

      And to compare with physics precision, Bell test experiments are the most precise. The best of them gets to quantum mechanics passing at ~ 25 sigma, so the precision is ~ 10^-25.

      Still many, many, many orders of magnitude less accuracy and precision than the best biological observations.

      [A physics that also do combinatorics is eternal inflation cosmology, see Susskind et al on the Symmetree structure.

      But even if its predictions on cosmological constants and cosmic coincidences are testable, it will not allow a similar accuracy due to the spread on possible habitable environments.]

      1. Forgive me if I’m misunderstanding the evidence here, but the UCA hasn’t been verified. All we’re saying is that *we think* there is a really low chance of multiple ancestors. Our guess could be wrong.

        QED, on the other hand makes predications to 12 decimal places, which are then confirmed. This is entirely different from biology where we haven’t confirmed the UCA at all.

        1. Theobald tested the UCA by unambiguous observation. It was a paper in 2010 Nature, IIRC.

          How do you define “confirmation”?

        2. Especially, I should ask, since I suggested how a robust repetition (which is confirmation in my book) of the genome observation should be possible.

          1. By “confirmation” I mean that we use science to make a prediction, and then we see that prediction borne out in the real world.

            With the precision tests of QED, we make a prediction about the value of α, and then we run an experiment and we find that value to be accurate 12 or so decimal places (although the wiki page makes it clear that both “measurements” and “calculations” are involved in the test).

            With UCD, we make a prediction that all living things share a UCA, and then we *do not see* that prediction borne out in the real world. We cannot see it, in this case. We cannot actually find a fossil or whatever of the UCA. Instead, we just bring phylogenetic data to bear on the problem, which is provides more evidence, of course, but to me it doesn’t seem like the same thing. To use the Physics example, this seems equivalent to saying “Based on our calculations, we’re pretty sure the Mars rover will land here,” without ever seeing if it actually does.

            Am I wrong here?

    3. “But even if its predictions on cosmological constants and cosmic coincidences are testable, it will not allow a similar accuracy due to the spread on possible habitable environments.”

      On 2nd thought, maybe the _accuracy_ gets close/ties/wins, I was too hasty. The cosmological constant is ~ 10^-120 from the natural value of ~ 1 in a normalized measure.

      Sigh! Maybe I have to dig up Theobald’s paper some day and see how it works out. Assuming the Planck probe won’t throw out the possibility of eternal inflation by the end of this year, that is.

  9. Seriously can we actually teach students and adults all over again the difference between a scientific theory and a hypothesis. Every time someone says evolution is only a theory I just want to do a basic lesson.

    Secondly creationism isn’t a theory because the whole premise of creationism is that it can’t be tested or replicated, it happened once and it doesn’t match the fossil record.

  10. “Do these people know what a scientific theory is? ”

    I think there is much conflating the two words “theory” and “theoretical”. Seems to me as if people equate something being a theory as meaning it is only theoretical. Well at least that is my theory as to why theories are devalued by people who might not be so bright.

  11. “Darwin made it up.”

    As opposed to religious explanations, which are, of course, demonstrably not made up.

    It’s difficult for me to comprehend the level of “unthinkery” that such statements belie.

  12. The different meanings of the word “theory” in everyday speech vs. science is unfortunate, an ambiguity eagerly seized upon by creationists. But even if the ambiguity didn’t exist creationists would find some other rationale for rejecting evolution.

    1. Always correct, and suggest that a hypothesis is a guess, and a theory is the widely-acknowledged fact.

      Without using hypothesis, theory keeps its ambiguous ‘public’ definition.

      The theory of a heliocentric solar system (as opposed to a geocentric solar system, once a part of the Bible but now omitted) is not supported by everyday evidence (i.e., standing watching the sun go by seems to support a geocentric universe).

      Is the theory of a heliocentric solar system a “guess”, or “made up”?? The (earliest) Bibles would say so.

      1. How does watching the sun go by seem to support a geocentric universe? What would it look like if it seemed to support a heliocentric unverse?

        1. Ah, shades of Wittgenstein!

          Watching the sun go by isn’t enough to distinguish between the two theories. But geocentrism fits far better with a range of quotidian evidence (Scott’s point).

          Thony C. (The Rennaisance Mathematicus) discusses this at length: “We live in a geocentric world”.


    2. And it looks like this misconception isn’t going to die out any time soon.
      I don’t understand why the differences between a theory, a hypothesis, a law and a fact as they are used in science are not emphasized more in science classes.

      1. I am not sure the fault is with how these concepts are taught. Sure, there are probably a lot of KY teachers friendly to creationism. But I think a bigger problem is that most of the good Senator’s audience just doesn’t care about the right definitions. The rhetoric is a tool to put prayer and God back in schools, so the rhetoric is used. The validity of its content is irrelevant.

        You could teach them perfectly, test them, and watch every person get a perfect 100% on understanding the difference between hypothesis, theory, and fact. And the next day, they’ll be out spouting the same incorrect BS.

        1. Well, no. In Europe we tend to go with Popper on this. As such we attach a more modest meaning to the word fact (only when directly observed) and a more ambitious one to proof/evidence; the latter we reserve for 100% certainty.
          In my personal experience the European meanings give more opportunities to bash creacrappers. It goes like this:

          Cc: Evolution is not a fact!
          I: No, neither is gravity. Still you assume that you’ll fall downward when you jump from a bridge tomorrow.
          Cc: Evolution is just a theory!
          I: Yes, just like gravity (*). Still ….
          Cc: Evolution hasn’t been proven!
          I: No, neither has gravity. Still …..
          Cc: … (silence).
          Also compare that Onion article linked to above.

          * In Newtonian Mechanics gravity doesn’t mean the same as in Modern Physics. Hence modern physicists prefer interaction to force.

    3. It doesn`t help that scientists are less than consistent about this usage. Cosmologists seem particularly keen to attach the T-word to far from validated models; eg M-theory.


      1. And when exactly is a theory validated according to you? When confirmed one time? A hundred times? A million times?
        Do you know how often BCS-theory (two Nobel-prices, so a quite respectable one) on superconductivity was confirmed before it was falsified?
        The problem with M-Theory is not its validation. It’s very hard to design experiments which eventually might falsify it.

        1. Maybe you’ve missed my point… ?

          Do you think M-theory is as robust as the theory of evolution?

          Do you think M-theory warrants being called a “theory”?

          Do you think such usage enables us to unequivocally rebut “only a theory” jibes against evolution?


  13. Is there any way Mr. Casone could set up a remedial science class, at a very basic level, for the Kentucky legislators who dreamed up this nonsense?
    Attendance would be mandatory….

    1. I’m afraid they’d take the final word, as spoken to Jerry after a lecture to some businessmen, written in Jerry’s WEIT (page 221):

      “I found your evidence for evolution very convincing–but I still don’t believe it.”

  14. It’s because Kentucky has a long border with Tennessee which has been seeping this stuff since 1925. The good news? Look how long it’s taken Kentucky to catch up with the Scopes trial! Slow, slow regression.

  15. What is this “(R)” that goes after some politicians’ names in your country? “Ridiculous”? “Reactionary”? “Religious”? “Redundant”? “Romneyite”? “Retrogressive”? “Risible”? Perhaps all of the above?

    1. No, of course not.

      You forgot “Reprehensible.”

      Of course, when you combine all of those R phenomena they some how generate an emergent phenomena called a Republican Politician.

  16. “Does Waide know nothing about evolution?”

    Do you seriously need to ask that question?

    “Is he aware of the thousands of observations, just in the fossil record alone, that show that the theory does indeed “stand up to the scientific method”?”

    No, he isn’t.

    “Do these people know what a scientific theory is?”

    No, they don’t. And they’ll fight tooth and nail to keep it that way.

  17. Hypothesis hypothesis hypothesis hypothesis…

    Why oh why, in these “news stories” is not the word “hypothesis” introduced as the correct description of an explanation that has not yet been elevated to the level of theory???

    This seems to be taking longer than the elevation of the term “airplane” from “aeroplane”.

    People such as the chairman of the Biology Dept at Kentucky have to frame their answer, so it does not sound like an “Is!- Is Not!” argument. Here, here is a swipe at it:

    In science, observations using scientific methods of measurement initially begin with a hypothetical explanation of what is observed. The beginning of all scientific explanations start with one, and often many, hypotheses.

    A hypotheis.

    A hypothesis is a guess and not necessarily a fact. Ultimately, hypotheses are discarded in the face of evidence, until one explanation is elevated to the status of theory, supported by evidence. A theory is not a guess, nor is it a hypothesis. A theory is the widely accepted, tested, factually-based explanation. The Theory of Evolution is 150 years beyond a hypothesis, a guess. The science and evidence behind the Theory of Evolution is massive, and reinforced, every month, every year, since 1860.

    P.S. “Statements like ‘Darwin made it up’ have to be directly addressed and pursued until the issuer refutes his own fiction. Otherwise, people will grasp at it, and repeat it.

    1. The meaning and usage of these terms are not all that rigorous and well defined.* There are reasons why the usage of “law” has diminished, and the usage of “test” has increased.

      In my opinion the clearest statement is that “evolution is a fact and a theory”, since the existence of the process is a well observed fact and the existence of a predictive theory for it is also a well observed fact.

      It would certainly help if biologists would start to distinguish between processes and theories on those processes in their terminology somehow. “Evolution” is too malleable or weakened a term, I think.

      Compare physics: gravity (process) – gravitation (theory). Maybe “evolity” – evolution?

      * I personally use them differently, since I want to preserve their structure.

      A hypothesis and a theory can be untested respectively not fully tested, then make a state change to tested but still, in my opinion, be the same hypotheses or set of inter-related hypotheses (theory) as before.

    2. TL is right. What’s more, you don’t describe the procedure entirely accurately. When two hypotheses/theories rival each other scientists deliberately design an experiment to falsify at least one. To do this they must find out which different predictions they make.
      It’s for instance amusing to find out on which predictions the Flat Earth Theory goes wrong.

    1. Hmm, group evolution? Idiotic public policy leads to conservative states producing poorer students, which in turn leads to lower revenues. Of course, they may end up dragging the entire USA down with them. And the rest of the world, via climate change.

      1. It leads to less even income distribution, which means more security from competition for those at the top and relatively cheap labor. I suspect these are the goals; how it affects the national economy is not really a concern.

        1. More likely it’s all about job security for the preachers. I just tried to find a number for the total preachers in the US, without success, but a preacher in LA (First Baptist in Longville) claims that 95% of all the preachers in the world are in the US. Regardless of the exact number, that it is high does not seem surprising.

          Now, if these guys admit that the evidence clearly shows that we evolved over a long time from an ancestor in common with apes (etc), their game is up, and they’d need to explore a different line of work.

          Fundamentalist religions were traditionally apolitical, but with greater numbers of people supporting Democrats the Republicans started courting that vote as the last unclaimed bloc. (And recall that that was much to the chagrin of Barry Goldwater.)

  18. “should at least stand up to scientific method. Under the most rudimentary, basic scientific examination, the theory of evolution has never stood up to scientific scrutiny.”…no problem – hows that working out for your “creationist theory”? Let’s see all the ‘scientific evidence’ you have gathered…what’s that? it’s all in one book and already done? WOW! you guys are fast!

  19. There are only two possible ways these pols obtained their offices:
    A: They are actually uneducated, committed believers in creationist dogma and therefore appealed to the shallow convictions of the majority electorate.
    B: They are actually educated in the politics of lying and scheming and use these skills to pander to the befuddled masses in order to achieve their own selfish ends.

    I think B accounts for the bulk of them.

  20. I enjoy your articles, however I do need to take issue with the title of your article. Evolution is not ‘True’, it is simply the best explanation that fits the empirical data we have on hand. Hell it is the best evidenced theory that we have, but the notion of “Truth” is a dangerous one,and has no place in science.

    1. That’s a book I wrote, not an article, and in it I explain what I mean by “scientific truth”–i.e. a hugely supported but provisional explanation. Do you think it’s true that water has two hydrogen and one oxygen molecule, or do you simply think that’s the best evidenced theory we have about water?

      1. Just a definition, though perhaps not a complete one. That molecules (also just a definition) can be split in atoms, that’s the most often confirmed theory we have on molecules. Or, more precise, working our way the other direction, when atoms combine they form molecules. Sometimes only one atom forms a molecule.
        But indeed, I read your book (and learned a lot of things) and understood what you meant with true.
        Like Nick Marshall I tend to avoid the word; same with evidence and proof. They are too ambiguous to my taste and tend to get religious meanings (ie absolute certainty).

  21. of course it is all made up

    there is no evidence, none for Einstein

    and dogs hear real good, therefore psychics

    must be good evidence

    a lawyer said so

  22. Someone probably has laready said this, but I can’t resist: “I feel like sending him a copy of my book, except that I doubt he’d read it.”

    He probably won’t, because he can’t (read, that is).

  23. Godless Old-Earth Evolutionist Kentuckian here. With State legislators like Givens, Waide and company, it is a miracle Kentucky EVER ranks above Mississippi in public education success (although such legislators do help explain why Kentucky rarely ranks any higher than just above Mississippi).

  24. Reading up the comments looks like I was not the only one who had that thought, did anyone else send it to him? I think it would be epic to flood his office with copies, but that is just the troll in me.

    Nothing to see here, move along.

  25. If I hear someone say, “It’s just a theory” one more time, I think I’m going to puke. Wait a minute, though- maybe they’ve got a point: perhaps we should present students with ALL the “theories” as to the origin of the universe, from the Japanese “egg”, to the creation of the world from the bones of a slain frost giant, and let the students sort it out! (R)= r****d.

  26. The problem is far more profound than just a misunderstanding of “theory” and “hypothesis”. A significant portion of the public (even many who believe in evolution) seem to think that “science” is a collection of “facts”, and a fact is anything that is true. Those who believe in creationism believe it is true, therefore a fact, and therefore should be taught as science.
    To these people, science can be taught rather like dates in history class.
    The concept that science is a process by which we assemble a model that reflects observed phenomenon is utterly incomprehensible to them.

  27. It all comes down to there are those who can only think inside the box, those can think outside the box, and then me, who says there is no box.

  28. A scientific theory is “a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world, based on a body of facts that have been repeatedly confirmed through observation and experiment.”[1][2]

    The key word here is “observation and experiment.” The reason that many politicians (and scientists, by the way), continue to argue that evolution should not be considered the only theory is that:
    1. We did not OBSERVE evolution. The argument could be and has been made that we observe through fossil records. Fine, whatever.
    2. We can not have successful experiments of evolution. It is too long of a process and is impossible to replicate in a lab.

    Now, I’m no scientific expert, but in every science class I took, when a theory could not be backed up with these two confirmations we also learned any other plausible theories that might exist. That is why many people object to evolution being taught as factual.

    Just throwing that out there. Not every person in the world who doesn’t accept evolution is a fact is an idiot. There’s a whole branch of scientists looking for other possibilities.

    1. You’re a bit confused.

      Evolution is the changing frequencies of alleles in reproducing populations. This is a fact, and we do observe it.

      The theory of evolution (ToE) seeks to explain how evolution happens (via natural selection, genetic drift, etc), and also includes ideas about which organisms evolved from which others. The 5 main lines of evidence for ToE are: the fossial record, genetics, biogeography, comparative morphology, and embryology. All of these subjects contain things that we *have* observed (fossils, genetic codes, embryonic formations, physical structures, geographical distributions of living creatures, etc.) Futhermore many of these subjects are suitable for experiment (there are hundreds of thousands of research articles published on evolution in the somewhat limited Pubmed database alone).

      So, every agreed-upon aspect of modern evolutionary theory is well-supported by evidence. Not to mention the fact that we actually can observe evolutionary change over time, directly. Observing microevolution is easy. Macroevolution is less commonly observed, but there have still been many instances of it that we’ve seen. (This one is more recent, and the explanation less technical.)

      And, by the way, there really *isn’t* a “whole branch of scientists looking for other possibilities” to evolution. For every earth or life scientist with respectable academic credentials who doubts the truth of evolution, there are literally one thousand who acknowledge its veracity (I can link you to the survey data that shows this, if you wish.) There are not “many scientists” (with relevant credentials) who doubt evolution. And the politicans who object to the teaching of evolution do so because of their religion, not because they know anything about it.

      Lastly, there is no competing theory to explain the diversity of life on this planet. ToE is it. And many aspects of ToE have been substantiated so well that it is accurate to call them a “fact” in everyday language – for example, the idea that all living things are related by common descent is a fact. That humans evolved from (and still are) apes is also a fact. These claims are not dubious. I don’t think you really understand what a theory is if you think ToE has this much doubt surrounding it. Are you aware that atoms are also a theory?

      If you want to learn more about evolution, there are some great print and online sources I (and others, I’m sure) could recommend. Just say the word.

      1. It’s true, I’m not an expert. However, I remember reading somewhere once (maybe in an article for a science class?) that microevolution behaves much differently than macroevolution does. I was under the impression the two shouldn’t be compared.

        Anyway, what about the experimentation part? Theories should be proved with observation AND experimentation. Not or.

        And even when there isn’t a competing theory, we were always taught that the theory is just that, a theory in the vernacular sense. Just because something is the only theory doesn’t mean it’s a fact.

        I’m not saying evolution ISN’T true. I’m just saying it doesn’t necessarily fit the criteria for a scientific theory. It lacks confirmation through experimentation.

        1. Although I’m looking, and whatever article I read may have been a LONG time ago, and might be a little out of date. About micro and macroevelution I mean.

        2. Jerry or another evolutionary biologist here may be able to give an expert’s insight, but this is what Wikipedia says:

          Microevolution can be contrasted with macroevolution, which is the occurrence of large-scale changes in gene frequencies in a population over a geological time period (i.e. consisting of extended microevolution). The difference is largely one of approach. Microevolution is reductionist, but macroevolution is holistic. Each approach offers different insights into the evolution process. Macroevolution can be seen as the sum of long periods of microevolution, and thus the two are qualitatively identical while being quantitatively different.

          As to the theory of evolution not fitting the criteria for a scientific theory, have you read Jerry’s book? Or Richard Dawkins’s? Or any other modern popular science book on the subject? 

          What makes you think evolution hasn’t been tested experimentally? What do you think Jerry and his students have been doing in the labs with their flies? 

          In any case, I think you’re putting too much stress on laboratory experimentation. All that’s required is that a testable predictions have been tested and validated by further observations. In some sciences an experiment is a convenient (if sometime expensive; cf. the LHC!) way of making further observations under controlled conditions. But setting up experiments over geological timescales is a challenge that even billions of dollars can’t surmount.

          Sufficient, then, that the theory of evolution can, for example, make predictions of what kinds of fossils will be found in what geological strata, and that those predictions are validated by subsequent discoveries. For example (and one of countless examples), the existence of a wasp-like ur-ant.


        3. I’m not sure what you’re getting at, kmcr097 – I just linked you to hundreds of thousands of research articles on evolution, many of which *are* experiments (i.e. where you have a hypothesis and then you test it). So why on earth would you say that evolution lacks confirmation through experimentation?

          As for micro- vs. macroevolution: macroevolution is basically just long-term microevolution. Specifically, it’s considered macroevolution when a population evolves in such a way as to become reproductively isolated from the larger population of organisms they came from (aka, they have become a new species). In my experience, biologists don’t make the distinction very often between micro- and macroevolution, because the latter is just more of the former. Creationists do use the terms often, however, in an attempt to obscure the fact that the two are basically the same thing.

          If you were taught that ToE is a theory in the vernacular sense, then I’m afraid you were taught wrong. That living things are related to each other by common descent, and that one species can evolve into another species, are facts. And the theory of evolution itself is an incredibly well-evidenced theory to explain those facts. Again, if you’re interested in this subject at all, you really should read up on it.

    1. Meh, too late book is shipped, and I paid less than what Amazon is selling as I had some credit. I am not looking to get reimbursed, as this was funny as hell to do. I love the fact Amazon let me put his info as the billing to as well.

      Here is the tracking numnber, peace out and thanks for giving me a laugh 9102901001298419338800

  29. I have a copy of WEIT sitting ready to mail to the author of this web site for an autograph, but (being in KY) I’d gladly sent it, instead to Waide. Or my local library. (and but a copy to get autographed)

    Chime in. Who gets it? No way is the Prof. going to reimburse me for anything.

  30. Similar story in Turkey. The islamic AKP government (Erdogan and co) is very similar to the republicans (Bush likes) in USA. The AKP people are strongly against Darwin and evolution theory.

    As I was a child (30 years ago) I had learned evolution theory at primary school. Now this theory is banned from almost every school in Turkey, including some national scientific institutes after AKP obtained so much political power.

    Interestingly, their religious leader and chief ideologist Fethullah Gülen lives in USA who is suspected to maintain some relations with some CIA agents. I also believe that USA uses this man to manipulate Turkey. This is a kind of general ignorance and manipulation policy. It is sad to see, how ignorance can beat enlightenment.

  31. I lived in Morehead, KY for a year in the late 80’s while teaching and was very glad to get out. I met some nice faculty people, and there were some lovely and quirky eccentricities in the region, but also lots of weird vibes. No environmental consciousness. Everyone seemed to be related to everyone else in the town….and my 2 year old was picking up a weird accent!

  32. Does your blog have a contact page? I’m having a tough time locating it but, I’d like to
    send you an email. I’ve got some recommendations for your blog you might be interested in hearing. Either way, great site and I look forward to seeing it develop over time.

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