Is the Theory of Evolution a fact? Is it silly to even ask such a question when, in most textbooks, we refer to Darwinian Evolution, and other branches of evolution, under the umbrella title of "Theory of Evolution"? Can a theory be a fact?
According to the late Stephen Jay Gould — Harvard professor and leading spokesperson for evolutionary theory right up until the time of his death in 2002 — Evolution, while still a theory, is also a fact. Is it me, or is this approach faintly reminiscent of former President Clinton parsing the meaning of the word "is" in front of a grand jury?
Gould goes on to assert that "'theory' often means 'imperfect fact'–part of a hierarchy of confidence running downhill from fact to theory to hypothesis to guess." Unfortunately, there are no dictionaries in existence today which would describe a theory as "imperfect fact." Rather, dictionaries describe theory as a "proposed explanation," or a "group of general propositions." And, as if the waters were not murky enough with this statement, Gould elaborates, saying that "facts and theories are different things, not rungs in a hierarchy of increasing certainty. Facts are the world's data. Theories are structures of ideas that explain and interpret facts."
Gould believed that in the "fact" of evolution, and often asserted that the only unknown about evolution was the exact mechanism. While many have never heard this explanation by Gould, this line of reasoning has been widely quoted and used by proponents of evolution to support what they believe. But this is not a scientific argument, rather, it is a philosophical one. Which is why Gould then tries to offer a relevant example showing how something can be a fact while still having a theoretical component.
What relevant example does Gould offer? Gravity of course. As we well know, an object dropped from a building will drop at a rate, based on it's mass, that can be reproduced over and over, no matter how many times the object is dropped. Based on observation and applied mathematical principles, we know that gravity is predictable, even though we don't know exactly how or why it works the way it works.
As Gould rightly asserts, "Einstein's theory of gravitation replaced Newton's in this century, but apples didn't suspend themselves in midair, pending the outcome." That is a fact, but then Gould tries to borrow on this example to insist that "humans evolved from ape-like ancestors whether they did so by Darwin's proposed mechanism or by some other yet to be discovered." In other words, evolution is like gravity, we know it is real, we just don't know exactly how it works.
But this is a flawed example, mainly because Gould implies that we've observed evolution taking place over and over again, just as we see gravitational effects in action whenever we drop something. But have we?
Supporters of evolution would argue that we have indeed observed this phenomenon, but there's a bit of bait-and-switch going on here. We can see micro-evolution in action, also known as "adaptation," but macro-evolution, the shifting of one species to a new and entirely different species has never been observed.
The most famous example of micro-evolution, and the one used by Darwin himself when he first postulated the theory of evolution, is that of the Galapagos Finches who, during a long drought on the island, saw a surge in the size of their beaks (as the Finches with shorter beak died off). The Finches with larger beaks were able to more readily crack open seeds. Finches with shorter beaks could not.
In the mind of evolutionary proponents then, this is evolution in action. A species adapted to a climate change by weeding out the Finches with smaller beaks and conferring an advantage on those with larger beaks. If you postulate a million such changes over man thousands of years, you could, theoretically, get an entirely new species.
However, the vast majority of researchers ignore the fact that, after the drought subsided, the average beak size for Finches returned to pre-drought norms. This adaptation was temporary as are most adaptive behaviors. This can be labeled "natural selection," as Finch beak sizes are "selected" based on rainfall conditions in the Galapagos, but, ultimately, this selection even is a zero sum game. To then extrapolate that out and say, "this is how all life came to be" is not scientifically sound.
Evolution, then, seems to be correctly identified when we use the term "theory" rather than a law — as we do with gravity — because we see no direct evidence of micro-evolutionary changes leading to macro-evolutionary changes.
Please understand this essential fact; when evolutionary proponents talk of a missing link, they are understating the problem considerably. It's not just one link we're missing. Instead, there are billions of missing links.
Has anyone ever observed the transition of any species into an entirely different and distinct one? The answer to this is a resounding "no."
But proponents of evolution assume their theory is "fact," then work to piece archaeological, biological, and medical finds so as to prove it. So, for example, if two species look similar and show similar traits, but one seems slightly more advanced, it is often assumed that the simpler species is the precursor to the more complex one.
And some recently-released findings underscores this tactic. Last week, the Washington Times reported that "new research by famed paleontologist Maeve Leakey in Kenya shows our family tree is more like a wayward bush with stubby branches, calling into question the evolution of our ancestors."
Up until very recently, it was assumed that Homo Habilis evolved into Homo Erectus, which then evolved into Homo sapien. As the article goes on to point out, "those two earlier species lived side-by-side about 1.5 million years ago in parts of Kenya for at least half a million years, Leakey and colleagues report in a paper to be published in the journal Nature tomorrow."
Of course, proponents of evolutionist are quick to assert that this critically important find does not call into question the theory of evolution. Bill Kimbel, science director of the Institute of Human Origins at Arizona State University, was quoted as saying that "All the changes to human evolutionary thought should not be considered a weakness in the theory of evolution. Rather, those are the predictable results of getting more evidence, asking smarter questions and forming better theories."
What questions are being asked, then? What new theories are researchers coming up with? Even researchers like Kimbel admit that, unfortunately, this makes their job more difficult. Rather than an evolutionary tree, now the thought is that perhaps there is an "evolutionary bush." But how does that work? The evidence to prove this may never be uncovered, yet researchers like Kimbel insist that evolution is still a fact.
At the very least, this shows how un-scientific scientists and researchers can be, insisting that something which has never been observed and whose mechanisms scientists have admitted they do not understand is real. And with additional discoveries, it appears that the job of proving this theory grows increasingly more difficult, not less.
"We know it's a fact," they say, "we just can't prove it yet." Fine, then call it a theory and stop trying to insist that evolution is a fact. Rather than searching for evidence so as to prove the theory, observe with an open mind. The current approach to evolutionary research is not only un-scientific, it is counter-intuitive.
How so? Well, what if a person was given a 500-piece puzzle and asked to assemble that puzzle with no clue as to what the puzzle would ultimately show them. Would it be best for that person to assume they know what the picture was, then go about assembling the puzzle to produce that exact picture? Not only would that approach likely produce an incredibly flawed picture, it would certainly take much longer to complete and would contain numerous inaccuracies.
As a matter of fact, my example can be scientifically tested. Set up two groups of randomly selected individuals, each with a 500-piece puzzle. With the first group, give them the box cover with the picture of the puzzle on it. Then allow them to assemble the puzzle and measure the average length of time it takes an individual in the group to complete the puzzle as well as the number of mistakes they make in assembling the puzzle.
Then take a second group of randomly selected individuals and give them the same puzzle, but with the WRONG picture on the box cover. Tell them to go ahead and use the picture as their guide while they assemble the puzzle. Again, measure the average time it takes for individuals in the group to complete the puzzle as well as the number of mistakes made while assembling the puzzle.
With the second group, it is likely that somewhere along the way participants will realize they have the wrong picture. But how any mistakes will they make along the way, and how long will they have delayed the completion of the puzzle because they thought they knew what they were assembling before they began?
Does that sound familiar to you? It sounds like the modern approach to evolutionary research to me. When pieces do not fit, they are ignored. When mismatched pieces fall out of place, the original set of assumptions is almost never questioned. Even worse, when some researchers do have the temerity to raise questions, they are shouted down by the group.
Even Gould admitted to this tendency. In an article written in 1981, he wrote "that some now wish to mute the healthy debate about theory that has brought new life to evolutionary biology." In a moment of frank honesty, Gould goes on to say that "if we ever begin to suppress our search to understand nature, to quench our own intellectual excitement in a misguided effort to present a united front where it does not and should not exist, then we are truly lost."
Unfortunately, that is exactly what is happening today. Faced with an increasing recognition that evolution explains far less than originally believed, many evolutionists have instead reverted to a dogmatic insistence that evolution is science and anything else is "creationism." So, when faced with the concept of "irreducible complexity," close-minded evolutionists call it "creationism." If you disagree with any facet of evolution, you're a creationist. If you try to publish work that in any way challenges evolutionary theory, it is summarily rejected.
But this approach can't work forever. Eventually enough scientists will leave the dogma behind for the open road of research and discovery. As Gould underscores, the "intellectual excitement" of scientists and researchers should not be quenched just to avoid being critiqued.
So, let's go back to the original question; is evolution a fact? Well, if you're an evolutionist, I guess it depends on what the definition of "fact" is; right?