In Theory


I’m an agnostic on good day, Buddhist on a great day, and an atheist most days. Generally I let people think whatever the hell they want to think. Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, Hindi, Pastafarian, whatever. We’re all probably wrong and none of us will know until we’re dead so it doesn’t matter.

What bugs the shit out of me is the Creationist movement. While I wasn’t around to see the first primate that thought “Damn, I’m tired of crawling around all day, I’m gonna become a human,” we’ve got a good chunk of evidence saying that’s likely what happened. (Arguably with different wording.) We have fossils that date back millions of years that demonstrate this, fields of science built on determining shit like this, and the vast majority of half-way educated people agree with it. Except this guy. Fuck him.

Yet there’s still people out the who take Genesis as the word of God or something. I’m not going to argue the cases out there that say God put fossils in the ground to test our faith, because at least that’s a decent argument as far as fairy tales go. What pisses me off is the misunderstanding of Darwin’s theory of evolution being “just a theory”.

Breaking the Law

There’s a common misconception that a scientific theory is somehow lesser than a scientific law. I’ll admit: I thought that too. I wondered when relativity would have enough evidence that it’d go from a theory to a law. And I eat this science shit up. Elections? Celebrity gossip? Fuck no, where are we at with warp drives and antimatter? (Short answer: nowhere near where I’d like.) And I’ve told my bosses “in theory…” way more times than “definitely”, so I understand some of the confusion as well.

So I had to look it up myself and see what the difference is. Took a bit to really understand it, but only because I spent so long thinking the wrong way I couldn’t grasp it very easily. It’s pretty easy shit though.

First, what most people think of when they say or hear “in theory” (myself included), is equivalent to a scientific hypothesis. It’s an educated guess, basically. If I have a ball in my hand, and I let go of it, what do I think will happen? Will it fall? Will it hover? Will it transform into a murderous orb and seek vengeance upon those who wronged me? I dunno. At this point, we’re making a guess.

A scientific law is something irrefutable, that describes observations. I drop a ball, it falls. I drop it again, it falls. Every time I drop it, it falls. The law, therefore, is that stuff falls if nothing holds it up.

Simple. No explanation, just a fact. If you want, you can take measurements on it and repeat those measurements – how long did it take to fall from 2 feet? From 10 feet? From 1/2 a cubit? You can figure out math and equations and shit. You can check if a bowling ball and a golf ball fall at the same speed, and see how that information works with (or against!) your law.

A scientific theory, on the other hand, is the why. You can collect data all day long and all it’ll tell you is that, barring air resistance, shit falls to Earth at about 9.8 meters per second2. There’s no bungee cords strapped to everything that holds them down. There’s no strange bird that swoops down and pushes a ball to the ground when you let go of it.

This is the creative part of science. Well, kinda – it’s more creative than just counting shit and timing things that fly by. A theory is why things happen. For gravity, it’s General Relativity. In biology, we have cell theory; geology there’s the theory of plate tectonics.

And, of course, there’s the “theory” of evolution.

 

Survival of the Phattest, Yo

Kind of ironically, one of Darwin’s biggest contributions to science almost applies to the scientific process itself. If you squint. And you’re a little drunk, maybe? I dunno – I hate segues. Anyways…

The key thing about scientific theories – and the scientific process as a whole – is that they’re intended to evolve. They grow, they fail, they get poked and prodded by other scientists until they either die and get forgotten or they get strong enough they can swat the scientists back and say “How do you like it jackhole?!”

Einstein didn’t just sit around a camp fire with a couple of interns and some peyote and say “Oh man, it all makes sense now!” He worked shit out, and when he was confident it held water, he published it for other people to try it out. They tried it out. They tried to poke holes in it. Hell, over a century later people are still trying to poke holes in it. But it’s still holding up.

Same with evolution. It’s been refined, tweaked, fought (scientifically), rubbed and massaged for a long time. Fuck, it’s been considered since the Ancient Greeks, not just Darwin and Mendel. Theories are under constant attack, because that’s how science is supposed to work. You figure things out, and your idea either sinks or swims. If it swims, great! If not, you figure out why it sank and try again.

Creationism – and you can call it Intelligent Design but that’s just the same horse shit from a prettier mare – doesn’t work like that. Hell, nothing about religion works like that. It’s written in a book from 2 millennia ago, by someone who said it was told to them by a guy in the clouds. It’s true. If you say otherwise you get burnt at the stake, because fuck logic. There’s no change, no adaptation. There’s no way to argue with that, to prove someone wrong or right about it. How the fuck can we live in a world built on scientific theories yet this is still something that comes up in school board meetings?!

This post brought to you by the letter Y.

Tune in next time, as I show you five alternative uses for cinder blocks in the bed room. (Number 7 will shock you!)

— The Sloth

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