By Bob Hueston on Feb 07, 2007
When we stop treating Evolution as a theory, we stop being scientists.
While we scientists must staunchly defend scientific theory from religious ideology, we also must not err on the other extreme of defending scientific theories ideologically. It is an absolute failure of science when scientists start believing their theories are infallible, that they are fact. But Evolution seems to have achieved that dubious state. It is no longer the Theory of Evolution; it has become Evolutionism, and there are people who will fight against anyone and anything that contradicts Evolution. They are afraid to call Evolution a theory because they fear it will encourage people to try to find data that contradicts it. And after all, one key role of science is gathering observational data to either support or contradict existing theories.
This is, of course, not the first time in history that a scientific theory has evolved into an ideology. In circa 100 AD, Ptolemy came up with a theory that the Earth was the center of the universe: the "Geocentric Model." Initially a theory, it too entered the realm of ideology. The strict adherence to a once-scientific theory turned the Geocentric Model into Geocentricism, and new scientific theories that contradicted Geocentricism were considered heresy. More than fourteen-hundred years later, Copernicus and Galileo faced stern opposition to the Theory of a Heliocentric Solar System. Despite a new theory which better explained the universe, ideologues refused to waiver.
In a more recent example, Newton's theory of gravity grew into Newton's Law of Gravity. While no one denies that they feel the effects of gravity, Einstein's Theory of Relativity contradicted Newton, and was met with staunch opposition. (While Einstein received the Nobel Prize in Physics, it was for his work on photoelectric and not for the Theory of Relativity.). The Theory of Relativity proved that Newton's "Law" was not a law at all; it was simply a theory which could no longer hold up to scientific scrutiny. This did not mean objects suddenly started falling up; it simply meant that Newton's Theory was wrong, incomplete.
In science, there are no laws: there are observational data, and theories. Theories explain what we have observed in the past and predict what we will observe in the future. No theory is infallible. If we treat a theory as an ideology, we close the door on other scientific theories that might better explain the world around us.