Many of the less educated Christians when faced with the onslaught of a scientific theory that contradicts their beliefs, whether it’s the Big Bang theory or evolutionary theory, shout back with, “It’s just a theory!” This, of course, is an egregious abomination onto language and epistemology.
First of all, the term “theory” when used as scientists use it, is quite different from the definition ascribed to it by the layman. The layman would define “theory” as ‘a possible explanation for something’. Scientists have a word that fits that definition too. It is “hypothesis”. When a scientist talks about an idea that is a possible explanation for something, he or she uses the term “hypothesis” because “theory” has quite a different definition in the fields of science.
A scientific theory is a bunch of confirmed hypotheses all tied together in a manner that can be used to explain and make predictions relevant to the phenomenon under question. A theory is the closest thing to “proof” that seekers of knowledge about nature can hope to reach.
The Christian may go on to argue, how can scientists be so sure that evolution or the big bang are true? Nobody was there to see it. The Christian will argue adamantly that you can’t prove that something is true without somebody having been there to see it and verify it.
It is at this point that I ask the Christian what 1000 plus 1000 is. Well, duh – it’s 2000.Then I ask if they have ever actually counted 1000 of something, another thousand of something, put it all together and counted everything again to verify that it really is 2000. Well of course not but that’s just ridiculous.
No, I point out. Arithmetic is just a theory – a logical framework resting ultimately on pure assumptions. Arithmetic has never proven itself wrong so we continue believing it to be a valid theory. Natural selection has never been proven wrong (and all it takes is one thing out of place), so we continue believing it to be a valid theory.