Evolution by natural selection is a scientific theory about the origins and development of life. And since it is “just a theory,” scientists (including anthropologists) should teach alternative “theories” like Intelligent Design to be fair, right? Wrong! This disingenuous appeal to fairness is an old trick that plays on different uses of the word theory:
“A scientific theory is not a hypothesis or a guess, as the word commonly means when used in casual conversation. A scientific theory is the one explanation that is confirmed by all the known and validated experiments performed to date. Experiments involving evolution have numbered in the hundreds of thousands over the past 150 years. A theory is thus among the most certain forms of scientific knowledge, and evolution is among the most certain of theories” (Shawn Lawrence Otto 2011:167. Fool Me Twice: Fighting the Assault on Science in America).
That’s a wonderfully accurate distinction between a scientific theory and a “just a theory.” Laura Helmuth at Slate.com provided another statement about the far-reaching power of evolution as a scientific theory today:
“Evolution is a theory the way gravity is a theory [unless you prefer the “theory of intelligent falling”]. It’s not a story or an aesthetic choice or one side of a debate; it’s the way the world works. Everything we know about geology, paleontology, isotope chemistry, genetics, taxonomy, experimental biology, biomedicine, biochemistry, paleoanthropology [emphasis mine], and yes, in some cases even psychology … all of it enriches our understanding of evolution. Whatever levels of analysis you care to use, from molecular to planetary, they all mutually reinforce the discovery that all living things evolve through a process of natural selection. Absolutely nothing in the 154 years since Origin was published has undermined the theory.”
I couldn’t have said it better myself – though I have tried Evolution is integral to anthropology, and all of science. To pretend that it is “just a theory” is misleading nonsense.