No, Virginia, “THE THEORY OF EVOLUTION” does not actually exist — at least not in science, anyway.
In a nutshell, I don’t believe in “THE THEORY OF EVOLUTION,” for the same reason that I don’t believe in Santa Clause:
- Santa Clause does not really exist, except as a character in folk holiday traditions, crummy TV commercials, and unwatchable movies; similarly,
- “THE THEORY OF EVOLUTION” does not really exist, except in the phantasmic Discourse of creationist mythology.
Let’s consider an example of this Discourse:
Here’s Texas State Board of Education member Ken Mercer on January 21, 2009, questioning UT chemistry professor Charles Garner (click the link to play here, or to download the mp3 audio file).
Mercer says that, before the hearings that day, he had never heard anyone say that “evolution is not about the origin of life.” Now, consider this audio clip from the hearings of November 19, 2008, with Mercer questioning Anita Gordon (ph), science education coordinator for a school district in Texas. Mercer asks if Gordon’s “group” would agree that “evolution does not attempt to explain the origins of life” — what Mercer refers to as a comment by UT Prof. Andy Ellington, a comment that Mercer says “I haven’t heard in awhile.” (Andrew Ellington had not actually spoken about this in his testimony on November 19; Mercer was probably remembering this testimony by Mike Singer who, like Ellington, is also a professor at UT-Austin.)
How can Mercer say in January that he hasn’t heard this before, when just two months earlier he expressed similar surprise when he heard the same thing then? What are the possibilities? That he is not being honest? That he just forgot? But how many times can someone be so surprised by hearing the same thing for the first time?
I think there’s another possibility: the possibility that Mercer still, today, has still not heard the factual testimony that evolution does not explain — and does not claim or try to explain — the origin of life. The meaning of this testimony is not intelligible within the “form field” (cf. “force field”) of his Discourse. This is a matter of basic literacy — the ability to construe new meaning from text. A more literate listener might notice that they’re hearing something that does not fit into their prior conceptualizations, and then use this new information to reconceptualize the meanings that are possible for someone to believe. This does not require acceptance of the other speaker’s belief, but only an understanding of the meaning of what they are saying, even though that meaning may not have made any intelligible sense within the listener’s previous conceptual framework.
In this case, I suggest that “evolution” means something to Mercer that is altogether different from what it means to Gordon, Ellington, Singer, and other scientists and science educators.
Darwin’s theory of the origin of species was just that: a theory of the origin of species. It was not a theory of the origin of life.
For the creationists, “Darwinism” is a theory that is seen to fail if it “cannot explain gravity, cannot explain thermodynamics, and most of all, cannot explain how life began.”
There is no theory in science that explains both origin of species, and changes in geology over time. Neither Darwinism, nor even neo-Darwinian synthesis, offers any explanation for plate techtonics.
For Young Earth Creationists, however, THE THEORY OF EVOLUTION encompasses all scientific theory that contradicts their YEC beliefs. THE (YEC) THEORY OF EVOLUTION is not just a theory of how living species evolve, but also the origin of life, geological evolution, cosmological evolution and the big bang, as well as “Social Darwinism” (which, to them, is still simply “Darwinism”) and the kind of thinking that leads to Hitler and to Stalin and the gas chambers of the Holocaust. In their discourse, evolution is “the other side” form theirs; and their demand is to have taught “both sides” of the evolution “controversy.”
Consider these comments to the New York Times by SBOE chairman Don McLeroy (a dentist):
Dr. McLeroy, the board chairman, sees the debate as being between “two systems of science.”
“You’ve got a creationist system and a naturalist system,” he said.
Dr. McLeroy believes that Earth’s appearance is a recent geologic event — thousands of years old, not 4.5 billion. “I believe a lot of incredible things,” he said, “The most incredible thing I believe is the Christmas story. That little baby born in the manger was the god that created the universe.”
But Dr. McLeroy says his rejection of evolution — “I just don’t think it’s true or it’s ever happened” — is not based on religious grounds. Courts have clearly ruled that teachings of faith are not allowed in a science classroom, but when he considers the case for evolution, Dr. McLeroy said, “it’s just not there.”
The YEC THEORY OF EVOLUTION is not a theory taught in any High School or college science class. The evolution studied in geology is not a theory that explains how living species change and new species emerge. The evolutionary theory in biology is no longer limited to species change (since, as an integrative theory, it now extends “down” to cells and molecules, and “up” to ecosystems), but it is not a theory of geologic change, or cosmological evolution, or even the origin of life from non-life.
The communication failure seen in Mercer’s remarks represents creationists’ illiteracy in not recognizing scientific discourse as a discourse that is different from their own. At the same time, failure to understand the discourse within which Mercer hears (or fails to hear) the scientists’ testimony shows some reciprocal illiteracy on the part of scientists. While I don’t see these failings as equivalent, I do see them as failings on both sides nonetheless.
Click here for audio files of the complete November 19 hearings.
Click here for audio files of the complete hearings on January 21.