Re: Warning Labels

George Murphy (
Wed, 12 Nov 1997 07:45:37 -0500

Bill Payne wrote:
> George Murphy wrote:

> > >
> > > No one was present when life first appeared on earth. Therefore, any
> > > statement about life's origins should be considered as theory, not fact.
> >
> > This contains "we can't see the past" argument, the use of which
> > is _prima facie_ evidence of incompetence.
> It's not that "we can't see the past", but that we prefer to leave our
> options open as to the interpretation of data buried under "millions of
> years." Are you saying that you have absolute truth as to the origin of
> life, such that it should be presented to children as fact?

No. The theory of evolution is a theory - a pretty good theory,
the best one we presently have - about the development of life on earth.
We have information from the past - conveyed by fossils & other signals
- whose interpretation requires theory. There is where many
uncertainties arise. But this is not unique to evolution. All data is
to some extent theory laden, & _all_ the events we observe are to some
extent in our past. This is especially so in astronomy. The study of
the supernova in the Large Magellanic Cloud, e.g., deals with something
that happened ~160,000 years ago, & some theory (about light propagation
&c) has to be used to say where & when it happened.
Many people untrained in the sciences think of "theory" as
meaning just guesswork or untrammeled speculation which anyone has a
right to indulge in. They will take the statement by the Board of
Education to mean, "This happened a long time ago, so your opinion is as
good as anyone else's." Thus the statement is an invitation to students
& their parents to ignore evolution if they don't like it.
George Murphy