Don't "Throw the Baby Out with the Bathwater": Not All Theories are Bad!
Perhaps you have fallen victim to the fallacy alluded to by the title of this article. Creationists spend quite a bit of time countering the claims being made by those who believe in the Theory of Evolution and the Big Bang Theory—and rightly so. However, in our haste to show the flaws in evolutionary theories that contradict the laws of science, the impression might be left that we believe scientific theories are somehow unimportant, or are to be rejected and even scoffed at simply because they are theories. Let’s set the record straight.
According to the McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific and Technical Terms, scientific theory is “an attempt to explain a certain class of phenomena” by deducing them from other known principles (p. 2129). Scientific theories are crucial and very beneficial to the work of a scientist. They are a starting place to try to explain and make sense of scientific evidence that has been gathered. Much of what we know to be true in science started out as theory that was later verified or proved and re-categorized.
In biblical apologetics, we often lay out “theories” as to what message might be conveyed in a certain difficult text. For example, in Matthew 20:29-34 and Mark 10:46-52 the Bible records an incident where Jesus is said to have been leaving Jericho, and seemingly the same incident is recorded in Luke 18:35-43, where it says that the event happened while Jesus was drawing near to Jericho. Mark and Luke say that one blind man was healed in this incident, while Matthew says that two blind men were healed. Eric Lyons discussed various “theories” which adequately explain what is likely happening in these passages—reasonable theories which illustrate that the Bible in no way contradicts itself (Lyons, 2004). While many of these theories may not ever be known as “gospel” this side of eternity, those theories should not be considered “bad” or things to be scoffed at. Creation scientists also suggest “theories” in order to attempt to explain various scientific observations in light of biblical revelation, for example, about the Flood or the Creation account.
Theories can be good—as long as they are accepted for what they are. A theory looks at the evidence and attempts to explain what may be going on—but it does not necessarily yield definites. Theories are “maybes.” That is why there can be multiple theories to try to explain the same observed phenomena, and yet those theories can be totally different from each other and can even contradict one another without, at the same time, contradicting the evidence. One scientist says, “Well, I believe this is what’s going on.” Another scientist says, “Well, maybe, but I think this explains that phenomena better;” or “Yes, I agree, but I also think this is going on.” They have both proposed theories, and may find out in time that they are both right, only one of them is right, or neither is right. But for the moment, their explanations are merely theories—possible explanations of what they are witnessing. A theory may ultimately be proven wrong in the long run, and if not, it will still likely be revised to some extent.
That said, a fundamental rule for developing a scientific theory is that the theory must be in keeping with the scientific evidence—not in contradiction to it. A law of science trumps a “theory” if the two contradict one another, because a law, by definition, is known with certainty to describe nature and is considered to be without exception—beyond doubt. For example, if John Smith proposes a “theory” that claims that a “perpetual motion machine” could be made by combining certain mechanical components in a certain way, he would likely be scoffed at by the engineering community, since the Second Law of Thermodynamics prohibits the design of such a machine (cf. Miller, 2010). The laws of science trump theories that contradict them.
Theories are not, in and of themselves, bad. They are very good for science. The key is to develop theories that are in keeping with the evidence, and reject those theories that are found to be in contradiction to it. The Theory of Evolution and the Big Bang Theory contradict the laws of science in many ways (cf. Miller, 2011; Miller, 2012; Miller, 2007; Thompson, et al., 2003), and yet those theories are blindly clung to by many in the scientific community when those theories should be rejected. We should be sure not to “throw the baby out with the bathwater” with regard to the importance of scientific theory, but if the bathwater needs to be thrown out, do it, or you could hurt the baby—in this case, the baby being the progress of science.
Lyons, Eric (2004), “Controversial Jericho,” Apologetics Press, http://www.apologeticspress.org/apcontent.aspx?category=6&article=666.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific and Technical Terms (2003), pub. M.D. Licker (New York: McGraw-Hill), sixth edition.
Miller, Jeff (2007), “God and the Laws of Thermodynamics: A Mechanical Engineer’s Perspective,” Reason & Revelation, 27:25-31, April, http://www.apologeticspress.org/articles/3293.
Miller, Jeff (2010), “Couldn’t There Have Been Exceptions to the Laws of Science?” Apologetics Press, http://www.apologeticspress.org/APContent.aspx?category=12&article=3713.
Miller, Jeff (2011), “God and the Laws of Science: The Law of Causality,” Apologetics Press, http://www.apologeticspress.org/article/3716.
Miller, Jeff (2012), “The Law of Biogenesis,” Reason & Revelation, 32:2-11, January, http://www.apologeticspress.org/apPubPage.aspx?pub=1&issue=1018&article=1722.
Thompson, Bert, Brad Harrub, and Branyon May (2003), “The Big Bang Theory—A Scientific Critique” Reason & Revelation, 23:33-47, May, http://www.apologeticspress.org/apPubPage.aspx?pub=1&issue=541&article=540.