Dear Mike Pence,
I know it’s presumptuous of me to write to you, and somewhat pointless as you will probably never read this. However, I live in hope.
It has come to my attention you’re having difficulty accepting the credibility of evolutionary theory. Don’t ask how I know - it’s all over the Internet: footage of you talking to congress, and being interviewed on news programmes, becoming angry and confused.
I wouldn’t care, but you are the vice-president elect of America. You will soon become (arguably) the second most powerful person on the planet. It must be embarrassing to be so baffled by evolution, which is such a widely accepted idea. But when you propose the teaching of other so-called theories of creation, I believe you’re conflating two separate issues.
Allow me to clarify your problem.
Firstly, you’re misunderstanding the meaning of the word ‘theory’.
In general conversation it’s true that ‘theory’ implies something un-proven.
However, in science the word ‘theory’ has a completely different emphasis, and is often misunderstood.
A Scientific Theory represents a series of proven ideas that collectively lead to a fully working conclusion.
In science, an unproven idea is called a hypothesis – this is where your confusion might stem from: you believe The Theory of Evolution is merely a hypothesis. It isn’t.
Please be assured, it is an incontrovertible fact that organisms have changed or ‘evolved’ throughout the history of life on earth. It is a proven fact that you, along with all living matter, have evolved from something less than pond slime. And rather than being insulted or feeling diminished by this, the ascent of mankind should be celebrated; not for the ascent itself, but for the discovery of the process that lead to the ascent.
Thousands of years ago, the invention of God was an attempt to explain human existence; and in that sense, religion, science and philosophy have the same original objective. But as our empirical knowledge improves, it becomes clear that existence generally, and the ascent of human life, can be explained through robust scientific terms, without the intervention of a divine being.
It is difficult to comprehend the vast scale of evolution, how such a wealth of disparate life forms could originate from one common ancestor. The achingly slow process of gradual change, and the overwhelming range of subsequent speciation, defies the imagination. So of course, it’s tempting to attribute the phenomenon to a divine cause, rather than apply yourself to study the natural process involved.
But for example, did you know it took longer for the landmasses of India and Eurasia to collide and form the Himalayas, than it took for the great apes to evolve into modern man? This fact alone should help you to understand the monumental time scale involved.
So why, you might ask, is it still called the Theory of Evolution, rather than the Fact of Evolution?
There are many examples of natural phenomena that are not directly observable, in which we can only observe the effects of the process, rather than the process itself. This is true of evolution. We can’t directly observe the emergence and speciation of the variety of life forms that originated from one common gene pool, because this is a phenomenon that has taken 3.5 billion years.
What we do is observe the evolutionary process through other proven theories, including: population genetics, palaeontology, developmental biology, biochemistry and the molecular sequencing of DNA etc.
In brief, the phenomenon of evolution is often called a ‘theory’ because it’s a synthesis of many proven facts; and because it is such a vast subject, there will always be new findings brought to the table.
In order to answer the question, is Evolution a proven fact? we would first have to explain that ‘proof’ is the wrong word to use. Proofs generally refer to mathematical formulae; it would be more accurate to say the theory of evolution is demonstrably correct.
Which brings me to the second point...
Reading between the lines of your arguments, it would seem that you are keen to champion the cause of Creationism.
From what I understand, Creationism is the religious belief that the universe and all life originated from a specific act of divine creation.
I’m not going to satirise this belief because I know how important religion is to millions of people; but equally we can’t dismiss empirical evidence because it doesn’t suit our faith. For religion to have credibility and currency in our modern world, the definition of God must be altered – in the same way that scientific theories are altered to accommodate new discoveries.
We all aspire towards a more enlightened state of being – to have the freedom to use our intelligence, to overcome ignorance and superstition; such is the challenge of modernity, and the obligation of our tribal elders.
Please don’t take The Rapture too seriously and play dangerous with world politics.