Evolution Misconception #3 – Only a Theory


Evolution is only a theory, not a fact or Law.

This claim is made quite often. The confusion arises because the word theory has more than one meaning.


In science, the word theory has a more technical meaning than in ordinary vernacular.  When scientists talk of Scientific Theories, they do not mean that they are guessing, or hypothesising, or that somehow it is of less weight than a Law.

I wrote up an answer here.

Here is an article I thought explained the difference between a Scientific Law and a Scientific Theory in a simple way.  A quote from that article:

The biggest difference between a law and a theory is that a theory is much more complex and dynamic. A law describes a single action, whereas a theory explains an entire group of related phenomena. And, whereas a law is a postulate that forms the foundation of the scientific method, a theory is the end result of that same process. [emphasis added]

To put it as simply as possible: A scientific theory connects up a set of facts and observations (in this case, evolution) and weaves them together into a coherent description/explanation.

In case anyone is interested, at least one young-Earth Creationist organisation believes that ‘only a theory’ is an argument that Creationists should NOT use.


The next time you hear/read the claim that evolution is only a theory (and not a fact/law) and therefore should not be taken seriously, tell yourself (and your childen), “The theory of evolution refers to the explanations of how life changed, not to the uncertainty of it.”

<< #2 – Origin of Life | List of Misconceptions | #4 – Random, Chance Process >>


About yewnique

I am a Malaysian-born woman who is married to an Australian and now live in Melbourne, Australia. I am a mother to four children. I home school. I like reading, writing, and cooking -- not necessarily in that order. I care about grammar and spelling, but am nonchalant about the Oxford Comma. I try to follow Christ's teachings.

Posted on Tuesday, March 22nd, 2011, in Evolution, Misconceptions. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Also, you’re not going to have people arguing, “The Theory of Gravity is only a theory”.


  2. I have heard arguments along the line “Evolution is only a theory—that’s why it’s called the /theory/ of evolution”. Of course, that /second/ claim (of /why/ it’s called a theory) is incorrect, for the reason you point out.

    However, that doesn’t make the first claim (that evolution is only a theory) incorrect. As you hint at, but don’t really explain (in this article), the term also has non-scientific meanings, and I’d suggest that it is presumptive to think that if someone merely claims that “evolution is only a theory” without the added claim of that being why it’s called a theory, that they are not using it in a layman’s sense.

    I support everything in that creationist link, including the point that “the critic doth protest too much” and that “the attack is really cheap point-scoring”.

    The next time you hear/read the claim that a theory “is a more or less verified or established explanation accounting for known facts or phenomena”, tell yourself (and your children) that evolution doesn’t qualify, because it’s not verified or well-established (as opposed to very popular) at all.


  3. Precisely! Misunderstanding the use of the word “theory” often leads folks — some of them folks I admire, make no mistake — to assume that scientific theories are little more than hunches scientists get every now and again. Yours is an excellent correction to that misconception.


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