Darwin’s ‘law’ of evolution? Don’t hold your breath

Scientific explanations progress from hypotheses, to theories, to facts, and finally, to laws, according to people who have no idea what they're talking about.

Let’s talk about words for a moment, shall we? Words are a wonderful thing, and in an experienced hand, they can be incredibly powerful. Used properly, they can be a source of deep inspiration, motivating readers and listeners toward the greater good. But unfortunately, they can also be used by the forces of evil to sow disorder and confusion, particularly when those using the words have no real idea what they mean, or deliberately misuse them.

An example of the latter can be found in the opening salvos of this brilliant column on the website of a Richmond, Va.-based CBS affiliate, about why the theory of evolution “should be challenged — scientifically.” I’ll quote the relevant portion for you here (emphasis mine):

Why does the apple fall from the tree to the ground?

The 325 year old law of gravity explains it.

In science, a law is a theory that has been proven, without a shadow of a doubt.

A century and a half after Charles Darwin published his theory of evolution, it remains a theory.

I’ve been seeing this more and more, the ridiculous assertion that scientific laws are somehow the proven “descendants” of theories. This is as hopelessly erroneous as saying apples are the immature larval stage of oranges. Theories and laws are not different points on some progressive continuum (like “boy” and “man”). They are completely different concepts.

As the National Center for Science Education explains, a law is a descriptive generalization about recurring behaviors observed in nature. The above author’s appeal to gravity is a decent example, although Newton’s law of universal gravitation is a bit more complicated than “apples fall from trees to the ground.” But indeed, Newton developed this law based on his empirical observations — a key facet of laws, because they seek to describe what matter and energy in the universe does under certain conditions.

Inigo meme

A theory, on the other hand, is a a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world. This is the key difference between theories and laws: the ability to explain things. Because the author is actually quite incorrect in his first two sentences: Newton’s law does not explain why the apple falls to the ground, it just provides a name and useful mathematical formula for the phenomenon.

The fascinating truth is that gravity remains largely a mystery to us. Scientists are still puzzled about exactly why that famous apple fell, and Newton’s law can offer no assistance other than assuring them that it always has and always will.

Theories can — and often do — incorporate facts and even laws into their explanations, but they do not grow up, graduate and “become” facts or laws. Theories cannot be “proven” in the common sense of the word, they can only be confirmed through experimentation and observation or falsified (i.e., proven false) the same way.

The fact that evolution has been confirmed, repeatedly, through countless challenges and rigorous experimental testing for more than a century makes it a very good and very successful theory. But it does not make it any closer to morphing into a law (which would maybe look something like this?).

Even if aliens visited from outer space and offered us a complete video record of the 2.5 billion-year-long history of life on earth — while it would almost certainly make for the craziest reality TV show ever — it would not produce a “law of evolution,” because unlike the apple, life does not follow or behave in a predictable pattern. Evolution proceeds randomly, and though I personally believe that in no way precludes God’s involvement, there is no scientific reason to think the tree of life couldn’t have branched out in an infinite number of other ways.

Like I said before, I bring all this up because I’ve been seeing similar claims repeated more and more. And what I really want to know is, where in the world is the idea coming from?

Please post your best theories below. I’ll pick my favorite two or three, and make them into laws.

Thanks for reading this post! Now that you’ve made it this far, why not take another second and help God of Evolution develop a stronger following on Facebook and Twitter? You’ll be glad you did.

Tyler Francke

  • T. Woolford

    Well done! That’s a keeper.

  • Nancy R.

    I’ve heard educated people who should know better use that “it’s just a theory” line. Right now I’m reading Dennis Venema’s excellent series on “Evolution Basics” on Biologos, and this piece explains the whole hypothesis/theory/law issue: http://biologos.org/blog/evolution-basics-evolution-as-a-scientific-theory

    • Hey Nancy! Yeah, that is an excellent series. I highly recommend it. Thanks for commenting, and for the link!

  • mikespeir

    Give it up. They’re obviously not paying attention.

    • Yeah, I don’t think the people who write this stuff really care that they’re grossly misusing scientific terms, but perhaps some of their followers will.

  • TogetherWeStand

    It is interesting to me that Evolutionist are now using precisely the same logic, complete with condescending ridicule, that the ultra religious have used for centuries to avoid open dialogs with those of different persuasion. My Evolutionist friends and I have at least agreed for so long that the beauty of Science is that the presentation of the facts takes the preeminence in determining our direction. I am sorry to see that to some of those evolutionists their direction has taken preeminence over the presentation of facts–almost like they are now the self proclaimed guardians of truth. Truth that has to be guarded or protected is weak. I love truth that does not have to protected, in fact I love Truth despises being protected.

  • TogetherWeStand

    Hi Tyler. It might be helpful to display somewhere on these pages that you only allow opinions approved by you. Otherwise individuals might be mislead into thinking this site is for open discussion. However, in my opinion, “Theology With An Attitude” could use a little feedback from others.

    • Hi, TogetherWeStand. The comment policy for this site is available right here. I welcome any and all opinions here, and the majority of comments on my site come from those who do not agree with me. However, I do ask that comments be, at least remotely, related to the topic of the article on which the comments appear. Yours wasn’t even close, so it was deleted.

      If you feel you can contribute to these discussions, then by all means, do so. If, instead, you want to babble on about your deep insights regarding the shadowy agendas of “evolutionists” and the secular boogeymen, do it somewhere else.

      • TogetherWeStand

        Hi Tyler: My wife and I have dedicated our lives to assisting young people such as yourself on how to critically think and articulate themselves. My wife is earning her Phd at a well known secular University and is a professor there teaching that subject. Her Thesis, which is also on that subject, was nominated among a handful as thesis of the year at UCLA last year and can be viewed online. Many young people, such as yourself , are attempting to refute arguments without articulating themselves. The present argument brought forth is that Evolutionist are acting in parallel to a religion–the particular subject at hand being their justification for discouraging the upcoming evolution/creation debate. Now, religions for centuries, through process, have developed laws that they insist others must accept without debate and now Evolutionists are similarly making the same claim. I challenge you to articulate an argument refuting that claim.

        • Hi TogetherWeStand: I would be happy to attempt to refute your argument, but I can currently make no sense of what your argument is. I’m sure it’s because of my age and my inexperience dealing with such a worthy adversary. Please try restating your argument more clearly, with fewer grammatical and syntactical errors, if possible. Perhaps have your wife review it for you before you post.

          • TogetherWeStand

            Hi Tyler: My claim or argument is that Evolutionist such as yourself are establishing a religion and calling it Science. Some of the evidences being that you believe in something that took place before anyone in recorded history was able to observe it, condescending ridicule those of opposing persuasions, and now are claiming that through process your belief system has established laws that should be accepted by others without debate. Thank You

          • Thank you. My response is that the theories in science that seek to unravel the ancient past are all based on evidence that is in the plain view of anyone who cares to look for it. If we are unable to make inferences based on evidence, and can only believe something is true if we directly observed it, then we are no longer able to function in society. We cannot try suspects for crimes, we cannot trust the newspapers’ reports about anything that did not happen in view of our front windows. I ridicule only the actions of others that are ridiculous (like claiming a scientific law is “a theory that has been proven, without a shadow of a doubt”). And the terminology of a “law” in science is not remotely new, and laws most certainly can be challenged. Conduct an experiment that shows an object able to defy gravity at will and Newton’s law of universal gravitation crumbles.

          • TogetherWeStand

            Hi Tyler: Thank you for responding. Again, I am requesting an argument refuting the claim that evolution is a religion. What happened in the ancient past and observing the results of forensics or eyewitness testimony, in my opinion, are much different. So is Newton’s Law (again observable) and building a law from what happened in the ancient past. I look forward to continuing this discussion with you at any time. Your friend Jim.

          • What happened in the ancient past and observing the results of forensics or eyewitness testimony, in my opinion, are much different.

            Please explain how. Both use evidence to reconstruct plausible scenarios in exactly the same ways. In the case of evolution, some of the evidence is very old, like fossils, much of it can be observed with the naked eye in modern-day creatures, even us (homologous structures, vestigial structures, fixed action patterns, nested hierarchies, island biogeography, etc.). The vast DNA evidence is a relative newcomer, and has confirmed the theory in every way.

            The only thing the theory of evolution by common descent does not have is eyewitnesses, which is good as far as I’m concerned. Eyewitnesses can be mistaken, or lie; hard evidence cannot and does not.

            Again, I am requesting an argument refuting the claim that evolution is a religion.

            Yes, and previously, you offered three lines of evidence to support your claim of evolution being a religion, all of which I responded to. You have offered nothing new in your most recent post.

          • TogetherWeStand

            Hi Tyler: The difference is that seeing something in the present takes no faith, where as seeking to understand an occurrence in the ancient past does take faith. I believe that is taught in the Bible. Hebrews 11:1 Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. Therefore to construct an argument proving that evolution is not a religion it must be proven that excepting evolution does not include hoping for something that was unseen or unwitnessed in the ancient past. Constructing an argument to assert that present-day evidence is more reliable is subjective at best and in my opinion still leaves the burden on the evolutionist to prove they are not establishing a religion.

            You have admitted to ridiculing and in my opinion have already displayed that characteristic in several forms. All one would need to do is read it. The webpage we are on even declares “Theology with an Attitude”. An argument should be constructed proving that the ridiculing that takes place has nothing to do with demeaning, feeling better than or feeling indignant toward others. The ultra religious usually justify ridiculing by saying they are just declaring the truth. Jesus Christ pointed this out to the religious leaders who justified not honoring their parents by declaring their actions were Corban (for their own good).

            That leaves us with constructing an argument proving that evolutionists are not establishing a religion when they claim that their beliefs have established laws that should be accepted without debate. As stated previously religions have been doing that for years and I am at a loss how anyone can expect another of a different persuasion to except their laws. In my opinion only a religious radical would consider such a thing.

          • The difference is that seeing something in the present takes no faith, where as seeking to understand an occurrence in the ancient past does take faith.

            If by “faith,” you mean a “belief that the universe and the evidence in it wasn’t made in such a way so as to deliberately deceive us,” then yes, that is needed. Though I must say, that is a pretty weak and anemic definition of “faith,” certainly not the kind of “faith” Christ asked his followers for when he asked that they entrust their lives to him.

            I believe that is taught in the Bible. Hebrews 11:1 Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. Therefore to construct an argument proving that evolution is not a religion it must be proven that accepting evolution does not include hoping for something that was unseen or unwitnessed in the ancient past.

            That is a laughable, and frankly, offensive misuse of Hebrews 11:1. Hebrews 11 is not about science, for crying out loud! The chapter is all about active faith, the OT figures trusted in what they could not see (namely, God) in the hope that they would receive some kind of reward (“substance”) for their faith.

            Constructing an argument to assert that present-day evidence is more reliable is subjective at best and in my opinion still leaves the burden on the evolutionist to prove they are not establishing a religion.

            I’m rapidly losing interest in where you think the “burden” lies. You are making absolutely no sense.

            That leaves us with constructing an argument proving that evolutionists are not establishing a religion when they claim that their beliefs have established laws that should be accepted without debate.

            Who, exactly, do you think is saying that? This article says nothing remotely like that.

          • TogetherWeStand

            Hi Tyler: My goal from the beginning has been to challenge you to critically think and articulate, but I see that is not going to happen. You are honest and admitting that you believe evolution is taught in the Bible. I would be curious if you agree it is right to teach exclusively your beliefs in the Bible as science to our children in the schools.

            I totally agree that Hebrews 11:1 has nothing to do with science–that was my point. Hebrews 11:1 identifies faith and in particular your faith in evolution or anyone that hopes something took or will take place in the ancient past or future.

            Again, the condescending ridicule only confirms evolution is a religion.

            Finally, your recent article stated that, “scientists should generally avoid debating creationists”. Those are your words not mine. Again religious radicals are wrong to expect others to accept their laws without debate.

          • You are honest in admitting that you believe evolution is taught in the Bible.

            I have said nothing remotely like that.

            I would be curious if you agree it is right to teach exclusively your beliefs in the Bible as science to our children in the schools.

            No, I would not. My beliefs regarding a religious text have nothing to do with science.

            I totally agree that Hebrews 11:1 has nothing to do with science–that was my point.

            Well, you made it very poorly.

            Hebrews 11:1 identifies faith and in particular your faith in evolution or anyone that hopes something took or will take place in the ancient past or future.

            No, it doesn’t.

            Again, the condescending ridicule only confirms evolution is a religion.

            Or maybe it just confirms that your position, and your arguments that attempt to support this position, are ridiculous.

            Finally, your recent article stated that, “scientists should generally avoid debating creationists”.

            Yes, that was a summary of another author’s position, which was discussed and linked to in my article.

            Again religious radicals are wrong to expect others to accept their laws without debate.

            Again, no one ever said evolution is a “law.” This article says exactly the opposite. The reason scientists should avoid debating creationists is because there is no valid debate to be had. The evidence is conclusive, and the real debate over the proper interpretation of said evidence was settled long ago. Young-earthers like Ken Ham have simply refused to accept the evidence, but that is no reason to have a debate with them, unless you think astronomers should also debate flat earthers?

          • TogetherWeStand

            I do agree that your beliefs in the God and the Bible have nothing to do with Science. I guess we will just have to disagree agreeably on the rest. Your friend, Jim

  • Paul Braterman

    I’m late to this party, but let me mention the Turkish education minister who called in the Institute for Creation research to advise him, on the grounds that evolution was still only a theory and not yet, despite 150 years of trying, a law. And that was the PREVIOUS Turkish Government, the secularist one.