Unfortunately, some words and phrases have multiple meanings, making literal translation difficult.  For example, the word "theory" is most often interpreted by the general public as being analogous to "opinion" or "idea."  In scientific circles, however, the word has a much different connotation.  Scientific theories are concepts that describe or explain natural phenomena.  They are supported by evidence - lots of evidence - evidence that has been compiled by numerous scientists in numerous laboratories in numerous countries around the world over the course of many years.  By the time a concept reaches the lofty status of "theory," there is a general consensus among scientists that it is, most likely, the best description or explanation for the natural phenomenon in question.  Debate is never closed, however.  Scientists must be open to new data that may support or refute the theory.  Open-mindedness is critical for science. It allows the germination of new ideas, which facilitates scientific progress (theories on planetary motion and gravity come to mind).  However, open-mindedness must be balanced by a healthy skepticism.  The appearance of new, conflicting information does not imply that textbooks must be rewritten.  If, and only if, the new concept is testable, and tests by multiple researchers repeatedly confirm its legitimacy, can it be considered a real threat to well established, widely accepted theories.

The theory of evolution is a fundamental, unifying theme in the sciences.  Astronomical, biological, and geological evidence supporting the theory is robust and widely accepted.  While details regarding the exact mechanisms are still being debated by scientists, there is no denying that gene frequencies change in populations over time in response to natural selection.  All major scientific societies, including the National Academies of Science, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the National Science Teachers Association, have officially endorsed the theory.  There is a consensus.

"Intelligent Design" (ID) is a relatively new concept (or at least a modern manifestation of a very old concept), which suggests that life as we know it is far too complex to be the result of natural selection, that some sort of intelligence was required to guide the development of biological function.  It is an interesting idea and may seem perfectly reasonable at first glance.  However, it is pseudoscience, at best.  While it may sound scientific, with its references to "irreducible complexity," it is based only on speculation.  There is no evidence to support it.  Media coverage might lead one to believe that evolution and ID are opposite sides of the same coin, that both are legitimate theories that must be given equal treatment in the name of fairness.  ID, however, is not a scientific theory - not even close - and it should not be presented as such.  Perhaps, some day, enough evidence supporting ID will be accumulated to force scientists to rethink their commitment to the theory of evolution; perhaps not.  Scientists cannot make decisions based on anecdotes or speculation.  Science can only progress through careful analysis of empirically-collected data.

West Virginians for Science & Reason