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A theory is not a belief

Posted: September 25, 2011 - 11:27pm  |  Updated: September 26, 2011 - 10:26am

Charley Larson’s Sept. 15th response to Professor Wallace Olson’s (who is not referred to with the courtesy of his title or even his full name) column regarding evolution is riddled with fallacies and flaws.

Olson’s letter does not “first attempt(s) to build a good case for the theory of evolution,” but instead first attempts to define what precisely a theory is. This is crucial to understanding the rest of the letter. After all, if you don’t understand what a theory is you’ll make mistakes like thinking a theory must be proven as absolute fact before it is generally accepted as the best possible explanation for an observation based on the most current evidence … oh wait. Oh dear.

A theory is not a belief. As noted above, understanding what theories are is fundamentally important in understanding a given theory.

I was originally going to check out Ben Stein’s Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed; however, its overwhelmingly negative reception from virtually all credible and less-than-credible critical sources lessened my appetite for it considerably. Suffice to say it is a flawed work, even more so than many so-called documentaries.

Intelligent design is not suppressed from scientific publication and education due to some vast, Dan-Brown-esque conspiracy handled in the shadows by a secretive, anti-Christian mega-organization; it is simply not viable as a scientific theory due to the fact that it is not supported by empirical evidence and cannot be tested. Evolution has clear empirical evidence and its basic tenets can be tested. The only basis, if you can call it that, on which intelligent design stands, is vague hand-waving and contrived analogies to the effect that life is too complex to have arisen on Earth in its current state by ‘mere’ time and chance, whereas anyone holding onto the concept of billions of years as best a human mind can do so will realize that given such utterly incomprehensible lengths of time, little can be dismissed as too complex.

The example, given by Richard Dawkins, suggesting that life on Earth might have been seeded by already-living aliens itself begs the very question of where the seeders themselves originated from. As a justification for intelligent design, it clearly can’t stand on its own.

I see no reason to take the separation of religious beliefs from science under the term ‘folklore’ so very pejoratively. Folklore is merely a term for beliefs carried on through generations by oral and written traditions. Can we not place religion under such a banner? Is such folklore not something to be proud of, if not necessarily for its literal truth, then for the values contained therein? Though John Henry may or may not have beaten a steam engine in a race to drive steel, he still glorifies the common man, serves as an allegory for men and machines, and exemplifies the American value of never-quitting grit. I posit that Christ’s message that we love our neighbor is far more important than the nitty-gritty of how an omnipotent, omniscient, omni-benevolent being such as the Abrahamic God might have ordered the universe.

Larson ends his letter with the clear logical fallacies of argumentum ad populum and anecdotal evidence (to say nothing of classic Pascal’s Wager). Additionally, success stories such as his own, while truly laudable, in overcoming addiction can be found amongst believers of any given faith in the world today, and to some without such beliefs.

I would like to conclude this letter by stating that I am a Christian, and proud to say so, but additionally a rigorously rational mind, and also proud to say so. Science is about understanding how, philosophy and religion are about understanding why. There is no reason they cannot coexist.

• Keeney is a Juneau resident and moonlights as a student at UAS.

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