I know that sounds like a joke is coming, but instead, a respectful conversation is coming instead. My good friend Drew Collins hosts a page called MAARS Alive, that’s designed to help recovering musician alcoholics deal with their addiction through faith.
But instead of me talking about how this discussion came about, below is what he wrote on his own Facebook page. I largely agree with what he said, except the part about me getting more “talk time” (we really are great friends, and that’s just him “taking the piss” as the British would say).
But like Drew, I agree it’s disgusting the way we often talk to each other about politics, religion, or any other topic we’re passionate about. So we hope you like the discussion, and hope it motivates others to discuss “hot button” topics in a similar manner. Enjoy:
One day, I got really disgusted with how people go online and allow their friendships to be destroyed, simply because their views are different. I thought of my good friend, Gary Nolan.
We agree on most everything, with one exception; faith/belief in God.
I called Gary and asked him if he would like to get together and talk about the one thing we both disagree on, strictly for the purpose of demonstrating to people that civil conversation can be far more productive and enjoyable than venomous hostility.
Gary came ‘loaded for bear’ and, in my opinion got more “talk time” than I did. That being said, I chose to post this in it’s unedited form so that I could not be accused, by others, of putting a “spin” on the talk. The whole idea was not about “winning” or “losing” an argument. It was about communicating with another person, whom I disagree with, in a respectful manner.
Despite the miles between us on the reality of God, Gary remains one of my best and most trusted friends to this day. A special THANKS! to my close friend, Dwight Farmer for all his work on filming this.
I’m a meat-eater and have never entertained going vegetarian/vegan. My passion level on the subject is pretty low, it’s just my curiosity that’s high. Unlike me, some are quite fervent on the subject however, so be wary of that if you intend to discuss the subject with those who have chosen to avoid animal byproducts. You may be in for a very heated debate.
While I do have a love for animals, especially my pets, and I understand (and largely agree with) all the arguments against the less-than-ethical treatment of animals, knowing that there are many natural meat-eaters in this world lends me to the conclusion that animals eating others is simply the natural order of things. So those are my biases in advance, and you should be fairly made aware of them.
I would also like to point out that ALL decisions about your health and diet should involve consulting your physician (MD) and/or a registered dietitian (RD). I’m neither of those things. Do NOT consider my advice, or any other internet celebrity who isn’t an authority on the subject (aka The Food Babe, David Wolf, et al.) as a credible source.
I’m merely a skeptic providing food for thought, not giving any dietary advice above consulting your doctor or dietitian.
Unlike the aforementioned celebs, I will at least cite reputable sources where possible. All of them are chocked full of great information. They’re not just there for reference, I encourage you to read them individually. I’ve even reached out to a few registered dietitians as well, to be sure I don’t steer you down the wrong path (as you’ll see later).
On to the show…
To start, let’s break down veganism vs. vegetarianism. The short answer is that vegetarians don’t eat meat. Vegans take that one step further, and don’t consume anything that comes from animals, such as meat, dairy, eggs, and other such animal-derived consumables. For the long answer, click this article from Authority Nutrition.
There are two basic types of reasons for choosing to drop foods from the animal kingdom—opinion-based and factual. Only factual claims could be fairly subjected to criticism.
For instance, if you don’t want to be part of exploiting animals in any way, that’s a matter of opinion. While others can potentially find flaws in your reasoning, the bottom line is that opinions, by definition, are not right or wrong. So if that’s your only motivation, no one should be trying to argue you’re right or wrong, only that they agree or disagree.
The other reason one might do so, is for health reasons. That is a matter of fact, not opinion, and therefore is subject to scrutiny. No one has a right to their own facts, nor do facts care what someone believes. The best way to come to know them, is via the scientific method. So this is why I stress above that someone trained in evidence-based science like an MD or RD should be consulted. It is your life, after all…so to you, it’s kinda a big deal.
Controlled studies are difficult on the subject, you have to rely on the subjects not only to stick to their respective diets, but if done properly, the study would take decades to test for longevity between the two groups, and other factors like changes in exercise and lifestyle, changes in diet within the framework of omnivorosity and herbovosity can all change the outcome and skew the data in such a study.
That being said, I was able to find this study from Oxford, which studied vegetarians against omnivores. As you can probably imagine, it’s complicated, for reasons I’ll get into in a bit. I’ll let you read it and come to your own conclusions, I’m not qualified to do so myself. (I keep pointing this out, not to demean myself, but so you don’t take advice from others who aren’t qualified either.)
So what started me down this path of inquiry? I had an exchange with a friend who is vegan, and she had suggested that dairy was not a natural food source for humans—I’ve heard this multiple times since. Me being the slightly sarcastic skeptic that I am, decided to share the response I gave her recently on Twitter for a laugh or two.
Had a female friend contemplating going vegan. Her: We're not meant to eat dairy. Me: You have not one, but two dairy farms on your chest.
While I was of course being a little cheeky in my response, this brings me to my first point. There are a lot of clearly false claims out there that simple skepticism on your part can debunk—no biology degree required. Question everything, especially when your health is at stake. So let’s get to this claim.
Milk – It Does a Body Good?
All mammals are born eating milk. Mammals have mammary glands which supply…you guessed it…milk! And yes, I said eating—milk is technically a food, as much as it is a drink.
Why do we consume milk? Remember back to the days you were born; in case you don’t recall, you didn’t have any teeth.
Since our prehistoric ancestors didn’t have access to baby food or applesauce, it should make sense that milk was pretty much the only thing a toothless fecal factory can consume and get all the nutrients it needed. So, voila! We are in fact meant to eat dairy; or more to the point, the nutrients contained in dairy.
While it’s important to note that milk does vary slightly from animal to animal based on their needs (cow’s milk isn’t evolved for humans, for instance), there’s certainly no evidence it’s toxic in any scientific definition of the word. Click here for a good breakdown of the nutritional content of many animal milks from the University of Illinois. You’ll notice that it’s largely the same contents, just in varying amounts. This make sense, because we’re all mammals, and on the evolutionary tree, we’re all one big branch stemming from one common base, which means our needs are pretty similar as well.
As we grow older, and our teeth come in, we don’t need milk—we never technically did. We just need nutrients that milk provides, which many other chewable food sources also contain. Your body doesn’t care where protein, glucose (sugar), sodium chloride (salt), calcium, and other essential vitamins and nutrients come from, it just needs them wherever you can get them. So if one is to argue you need milk as you grow older and are able to consume a more normal diet, that’s also pretty false, despite what the National Dairy Council tells you. Milk does however have a good, natural combination of carbs, fat, and protein which is why it’s been deemed a great beverage for post-exercise recovery.
Harvard has a phenomenal write-up on milk, including it’s effects on osteoporosis, one of many dubious claims about it. As you can probably imagine, as with most things, there are pros and cons—be skeptical of anyone telling you anything is all good or bad.
There’s a saying in biology “everything is a poison, what matters is the dose.” Bear that in mind, because many false arguments come from a zero-tolerance perspective (the idea that consuming any amount is dangerous), which is rarely if ever true. How much of something you consume is almost always equally important to what you actually consume. You can die from drinking too much water, while there is an acceptable amount of substances like mercury you can safely consume without incident. This is important for all those who think glyphosate and other potentially harmful chemicals used in food crops should learn before they assume what they’re eating is dangerous. The levels you get them in with a normal diet, make them almost entirely innocuous.
Since I’m a lover of science, and my interest level was getting high, I tweeted the following to two RDs I know from Twitter. Huge thanks to Amanda Kruse RD, CD (@Amanda_Kruse) for editing this post, and thanks to RD David from Science Based Nutrition (@SciBasedNutr), and Cara Harbstreet RD (@StreetSmartRD) for furthering the discussion on Twitter. I encourage you to follow them and join in the discussion.
@Amanda_Kruse@RDkarolina Re: vegan/vegetarianism. I'm not considering, but curious if you know of a good science-based writeup on pros/cons
One of the arguments against eschewing meat, is that we evolved to eat it. It’s true humans have been eating meat for the entirety of our 200,000ish years on Earth. To argue we aren’t evolved to eat meat is clearly illogical. Veganism/Vegetarianism are fairly new concepts to our species.
A very good short introduction to going meatless from the Cleveland Clinic shows what precautions one should take if going vegan/vegetarian to get nutrients they’ll be missing from a normal diet containing meat. If special caution needs to be taken if you ween yourself off of meat, this itself is a pretty strong argument that we are meant to be omnivorous. But if choosing this route, here’s a separate article from Cleveland Clinic (thanks Twitter RDs) outlining what you should consider—it can be a very good alternative for some if done right.
But, as the articles from Cleveland Clinic point out, with some careful planning, you can easily substitute those missing nutrients with plant-based options. In doing so, you can fashion a diet that may in fact be even healthier. So while the evolution argument is compelling on the face of it, the fact remains that you can go meatless and be healthier for it. Take care though; if you think you’re not the type to stick to a carefully planned diet, veganism may not be for you.
So why would we be meat-eaters in the first place?
Evolution is the ability for a species to adapt to its environment. So they will thrive in locations that contain a rich supply of foods and nutrients those species need. If that species can eat just about anything, then that species has a greater chance of living on. So being omnivorous gave mankind the best chance of survival as we migrated all around the globe.
Mankind is also the one species (there may be others, but I’m not aware of them) that took evolution to a whole new level by customizing their environment to suit them. We build fires and air conditioning units. We farm and build shelter, too. All of these things make it possible for us to inhabit every continent on the planet. Take that, other species!
This ability to adapt our environment to suit us, changed the face of evolution in a meaningful way. It also brings us full circle to veganism, because it allowed us to do things like go vegan/vegetarian if we choose to, thanks to the knowledge of how we can modify our diet to supplement what we’ll miss from meat.
Because this issue is quite contentious, there are a lot of bad arguments out there from people who simply want you to see their side, and through confirmation bias, have come to their conclusions one way or the other—insisting their way is the only way to be.
Anecdotes – “I went vegan, and I feel great. So will you!”
So why should you ignore your vegan friend who swears by their diet? Because they are not a controlled study.
Imagine your friend does go vegan for health reasons. Many meat eaters eat fried meats like deep-fried chicken nuggets, and other friend foods like french fries. Maybe they’re feeling bad, and a doctor tells them to eat healthier and exercise.
So instead of entering into a controlled study, they start exercising, and go vegan, as well as other such “healthy” lifestyle changes.
Six months later, they feel great. But why do they feel great? We know that exercise makes you feel better, as long as you don’t overdo it. So maybe going vegan did nothing, and you’re just feeling better because of the exercise.
Also, maybe while going vegetarian, you also cut out those other fried foods as well, so you’re not only going vegetarian, you’re eating healthier in general. It’s quite possible that had you done all that, but instead switched your meat consumption to fish, chicken, bison, and other healthier low-fat meats, you’d be even better. How would you know? You didn’t control for all those variables. Instead, you went through a life change, and introduced a myriad of variables where you really can’t determine which, if any were effective.
So while your friend might mean well, this is a great example as to why scientists don’t consider anecdotes as evidence.
What is healthiest?
Another concern you should have, is when people claim one diet is healthier than the other.
The word healthy is incredibly ambiguous—how would you define it? It could mean not being obese or malnourished, disease free, heart-healthy, mobile, longevity of life, clear of mind with no dementia…the list is pretty endless as to how you could define it. (I refer you to the Oxford study above now, which broke down the areas that were better and worse). So for someone to claim one is healthier than the other as a blanket statement, is already a walk down the path of hyperbole and flawed logic.
Because of nearly entire lack of fat, if obesity is your concern, a vegan/vegetarian diet is almost certainly the better option than eating high-fat meats. But again, lean meats like chicken, fish, bison, etc., could achieve the same goal.
Why do I point this out? Because again, this is exactly why you should consult your doctor, or a registered dietitian. They will know better than anyone, how to determine your needs, and then guide you down the best path to achieve them.
Whether you choose to go herbivorous or carnivorous, there are healthy and unhealthy paths you can go down with either. Ignore anecdotal evidence, ignore hyperbolic claims that indicate one is clearly “healthier” than the other, ignore your well-intentioned friends who are eminently unqualified, and the myriad of internet celebrities selling you whatever they want to believe, too. With most things in life, there are pros and cons; anyone telling you there isn’t, is someone you probably shouldn’t listen to.
You can go vegan and be healthier. You can remain omnivorous and with small changes, still be healthier. While we did evolve to eat meat, at the end of the day, it doesn’t appear it’s necessary. The short answer seems to be, that the opinion reason is the only one that’s a firm reason to ditch meat. You can achieve most any health goals without going vegan by…say it with me…consulting your doctor or registered dietitian.
As police shootings of black men under dubious circumstances continue to make headlines, along with peaceful protests among several professional athletes, opinions on racism and the #BlackLivesMatter movement abound.
I do not have any affiliation with the group, and being Caucasian, cannot genuinely identify with their specific plight.
But I can apply some pretty basic critical thinking to understand their message, instead of dismissing it outright as divisive.
But before we get into the opinion portion, let’s take a look at the science and psychology of race and racism in general.
First we must understand that there is no black or white gene. I think we all understand we’re not literally black and white. But moving past that, the term “black and white” supposes there is a binary system with only two options. But with the multitude of skin colors around the globe, this clearly isn’t the case.
Carotene: which is rather uncommon, and is typically only a factor if people overeat things with carotene in it—like carrots. It causes the skin to take on a yellowish shade.
Hemoglobin: This molecule is contained in our blood for facilitation of oxygenation of the blood. It takes on a reddish hue, unless you’re oxygen-deficient, in which case it will be purplish.
Melanin: The component responsible for the “black” and “white” we refer to, is a severely dark brown color typically. The higher the concentration of this molecule in your skin, the darker your skin tone will be.
These three variables to one’s skin color have a default value they would inherit from their parents. But as you might expect, there are environmental factors that can change them such as the aforementioned carrot eating or tanning which increases melanin production. Since we’re talking about genetics, we’ll ignore the environmental factors for this post.
Because of the tilt of the Earth’s axis, seasons are reversed depending on which side of the equator you’re on. For instance, winter in the northern hemisphere coincides with summer in the southern.
But also, Earth’s path around the sun is elliptical—not a perfect circle. Therefore, those of us in the northern hemisphere are actually closest to the sun (perihelion) in January, and furthest from the sun (aphelion) in July—the difference being about 3%.
As a result, the Southern hemisphere being tilted towards the sun when they’re closer to it means the southern hemisphere’s summers will receive slightly more solar radiation than their northern counterparts.
In theory, this would mean the climate variation in the northern hemisphere would be less severe than in the southern hemisphere, but the increased water-surface to land-surface ratio of the southern hemisphere mitigates the variance for them, as explained in the video below.
The excess melanin in one’s skin helps absorb ultraviolet (UV) radiation, protecting the skin from potential harm such as skin cancer. So people living closer to the equator, being exposed to more solar radiation, have better survived due to the protection melanin provides their skin.
However, solar radiation is the only natural way your body gets the vitamin D it needs, and that UV blocking melanin inhibits vitamin D’s production in the process. So those further from the equator would naturally select for lighter skin to maximize the vitamin D production from the lesser amount of solar radiation they receive.
The reason this is important when discussing race, is to make the simple point that variances in our skin color, through natural selection from our ancestor’s environments, have dictated how dark our skin tone is based on how far our recent ancestors were from the equator. And any other reasoning one might attribute to our different skin tones is largely ignorant and false.
While race is identified by skin color, it’s typically understood to be more about someone’s ancestry, than the actual color of their skin. But our desire to stick to a binary system of black and white, is entirely unfair to a large group of people who have mixed ancestry.
For instance, someone with a medium skin tone of mixed heritage is often just as closely related to someone referred to as black as they are to someone who is thought of as white, or any other different race. Therefore, referring to them as a light-skinned black person, wrongly puts them in one racial bucket when they really belong to both; or more correctly, a third bucket in between.
Tiger Woods for instance, is often referred to as being black, when his mother Kutilda Woods is actually Asian.
President Obama, also often referred to as black, has a Caucasian mother, Ann Dunham.
The whole concept of race in general is simply a man-made construct held over from our ignorant past. We used it to differentiate ourselves from one another, long before we understood genetics or biological species.
As this Nature.com report shows, “approximately 85−90% of genetic variation is found within these continental groups,” referring to Africa, Asia, and Europe, “and only an additional 10−15% of variation is found between them.” This illustrates that our fundamental differences lie in things other than our skin color.
As you hopefully already know, humans are typically social in nature, sociopaths, also known as people with Antisocial Personality Disorder, make up a mere 4% of the population. This means the desire to bond with other people is ingrained in about 96% of us as a result.
One way people bond is by finding commonalities with each other.
Imagine the person next to you, talking to a friend, says they just “pahked the kah.” If you’re a Bostonian in Boston, this won’t even get your attention. But if you were a Bostonian in the UK for instance, you’ll almost assuredly at least say, “Hey, I’m from Boston too.”
This is because the two of you have something unique for the location you’re in, that you share, and therefore can bond over.
In that example, you had to overhear the person say it though. With race, you can plainly see that you share that trait with another from across the room, and therefore immediately make an instinctive connection with that person. This is fairly natural, and not an inherently hateful form of racism.
Racism can be good if it’s simply a way to bond with others as illustrated above. But also with cases like the NAACP, where segregating by race is simply a way to focus your efforts on helping those who are discriminated against, such as “colored” people (the C in NAACP) certainly were at the time the NAACP was founded.
But while individuals use racism to create strong bonds, it sadly has a more heinous side that’s often rooted in hate. Because just as we bond over our commonalities, an us-against-them mentality can kick in when two or more people are like each other and another party in the area is not.
The heinousness of hateful racism is so well-known and understood, that I really don’t care to go into that any further here. It’s an unpleasant topic, and there’s probably little I can say that would add anything new to the conversation anyway.
But it’s important to understand that some level of racism is instinctual and what an instinct actually is in the first place.
Instincts are things we do subconsciously and uncontrollably without thinking about them. For instance, imagine someone were yelling hateful and vile insults at you—you will have no control over your instinct to punch them. But because you’re a responsible adult, and know violence should be avoided if possible, many of you will suppress that instinct.
Racism is not that different, and can only be suppressed through knowledge and understand of why we do it, and then a genuine desire to avoid acting on it maliciously.
Who’s A Racist?
Now moving on to the op-ed portion of this post. While I explained above why we are not in fact black or white, I will use the terms “black” and “white” going forward since the word black is in #BlackLivesMatter, and the terms are for the most part the social norm. It will help make this next part a little easier to read than using “light-skinned” or “dark-skinned.”
Let’s first state unequivocally, that racism isn’t exclusive to any one race. So while the discussion of people being racist is often assumed to be white-on-black, it can just as easily be black-on-white. It can oddly even be white-on-white (when white people attack others like them for their “white privilege” for instance), or black-on-black (when black people assume the worst from other black people but tend to be more trusting of whites).
I should also point out that it’s not just skin tone. I’ve met Japanese people who don’t like the Chinese, Brits who hate the French, Colombians who don’t like Mexicans…the list of racial animosity goes on endlessly.
So this problem isn’t uniquely black and white, and it certainly isn’t even uniquely American. It existed long before America did and will likely endure for as long as vastly different skin tones exist.
So when I talk about racism, I’m referring to all of it, not just white-on-black.
Now let’s get back to the #BlackLivesMatter movement. Once the #BLM movement started, it launched a lot of counter movements like #PoliceLivesMatter or the more generic #AllLivesMatter. At first, you can understand the opposition’s concern that #BlackLivesMatter seems to be segregating in nature, but I believe that entirely overlooks their underlying point.
As troubling as it is, when a news story airs about a police shooting of a suspect, there seems to be an improperly common sentiment among the media and the people. That if the victim is a black man, it is more likely to be justifiable homicide by the police than if the person who was shot were white. They are assuming the black man must have been engaged in criminal activity, where a white shooting victim more often gets the benefit of doubt.
While all people officially have equal rights under the law; these days, this perceptive double-standard on the presumed innocent of two people, solely based on the color of their skin, is the darker side of racism that still remains in the hearts and minds of far too many, despite many of them feeling they’re not racist in any way.
While I don’t believe most people, black or white, make a conscious effort to be racist, almost everyone will have some instinctual racial bias based on the psychology aspect mentioned above, and their own life experiences with people of a different race. The better those experience were, the less likely they are to be hatefully racist.
The next few times you see a police shooting of black and white civilians, see if your initial reactions to those shootings are the same; regardless of skin color.
Also, do the media portray both incidents equally? Do the public seem to have the same concerns or outrage on social media or around the office? Sadly, if I’m truly being honest with myself, I have to say they’re often not.
Where the #BLM Opposition Goes Wrong
So why do I think people are misguided when they think the #BLM movement are arguing other lives don’t matter? Because they didn’t specifically say that. It’s a straw man argument—one of the most common logical fallacies.
The opposition’s argument is that by saying #BlackLivesMatter, the #BLM people are arguing that white lives, police lives, et al., do not. But the #BLM movement is made up of three simple words and a hashtag. It says nothing about anyone else. So if you assume they’re saying non-black lives don’t matter, that’s a assumption you added yourself.
The predominance of people supporting the #BLM movement acknowledge wholeheartedly that all lives matter. Their argument is that the rest of the public don’t seem to value black lives. If the #BLM movement has any fundamental flaw, it’s poor phrasing. The simple addition of the word “Too” at the end of #BlackLivesMatter could have went a long way.
While I don’t like the tactic of lashing out at our country, our flag, or our military as some professional athletes have chosen to do (I think community outreach programs, focusing on positive interaction, would better achieve their goal), we should also recognize that a peaceful and non-violent protest is exactly what most of us encouraged people to do when riots, vandalism, and looting by outraged people have broken out, and this is genuinely what those athlete’s are doing.
It’s easy to be mad at each other, but it’s better to be empathetic, and honest with ourselves that their concerns are often legitimate. Instead of getting angry, and pushing back, it’s not too much to ask to be skeptical of police who shoot someone.
Be A Skeptic, Even Of The Police
While the police by and large do a great job, and should always be given the utmost respect, on some occasions they exercise bad judgement, and in incredibly rare incidents, are would-be-felons willingly committing crimes.
If this weren’t true, there would be no Internal Affairs Bureau. So it is important to remember they’re not perfect, and may actually be the person in the wrong when they use their firearm against a civilian.
The shooting of pastor Terence Crutcher is one example of several, where many in the media and on social media initially assumed he had potentially done something to cause the officer to shoot him. That officer has since however been charged with first degree manslaughter, and Pastor Crutcher deserved the respect and outrage he sadly didn’t get from far too many people.
At the same time, it’s also important that the #BLM supporters wait for all the facts to come out when a black person is shot by police, because he may have indeed been engaged in a crime and was endangering others.
We should all let the facts come out, let the court system do it’s job, and if we’re not on the jury ourselves, try to accept the idea that the jury was given more evidence that’s credible and scientific, and therefore made a more educated decision than we could have.
Where the media often purposefully distort the facts for ratings, our legal system has safeguards to prevent such unfair biases in a court of law by excluding prejudicial evidence, and ensuring all witnesses can be cross-examined.
While you may not agree with the tactics of the #BLM movement and the peaceful protests of several black athletes, no fair person can argue there isn’t occasionally a double standard in TV and print media, social media, and public opinion as to how tragic the death of a black person is compared to anyone else.
If we want this racial divide to stop, we have to understand it, make an effort to change it, and more important than anything, exercise a little empathy and understanding for those on the other side of the issue.
Embrace that which makes us different—it makes us interesting to one another, it helps provide alternate perspectives, and most importantly from a science perspective, our diversity actually preserves our species (think of purebred animals which have much higher incidents of disease and genetic defect).
But know that the difference between any two of us, is basically the same, no matter what color we are, and therefore we should all have equal rights under the law, and equal rights to the presumption of innocence.
Ever heard the expression, “Evolution is just a theory”?
It’s often used by creationists who deem the theory of evolution, an observation initially put forth by Charles Darwin in The Origin of Species, as an insult to their religion because it isn’t consistent with the accounts of the Bible, Quran, etc.
The notion that all life evolved from a single-celled organism, affectionately known as LUCA (Last Common Universal Ancestor) simply doesn’t jive with being taught that a God created man shortly after the start of time.
If you’ll indulge me for a moment, I will explain, albeit quite simplified, why that is a profoundly wrong and insulting statement to make to discredit evolution.
There are generally accepted levels that answers to questions can be given or assigned, from a scientific perspective. Since science is what brought you the theory of evolution, that’s what should be referenced when discussing it.
Because this is a simple blog post and not a thesis, think of this as just a Cliff’s notes version to explain the basic concept. So please no attacks if you think I left something important out. But by all means, feel free to chime in below if you want to add anything.
Anyway, enough babbling, here goes…
The lowest level assigned to the answer to a question would be a guess. A guess is when you have no evidence you are basing your guess on, you’re just picking something that seems to make the most sense to you and going with it. We all do it, there’s nothing wrong with it, but it’s just not science.
With an educated guess, you still haven’t actually gathered evidence or done any work you could call science, but now you have some knowledge that leads you to your guess so it’s not just a garden variety random guess as above.
This might also be a situation where you might ask a physicist, for example, about a question that could be answered by physics. If they don’t know the answer, yet based on what they do know, they make a guess, that’s an educated guess.
For the first time, we’re talking about actually beginning to do some science.
Imagine you observe something, and you don’t know what it is or why it happened. You’ll gather evidence, try to repeat the observation if you’re able, and look for consistencies. Based on the evidence you have, you’ll form a hypothesis—a conclusion the evidence has taken you to. This is better than a guess because you’ve actually done some work to come to this conclusion, observed the thing you wish to answer first hand, and therefore your conclusion is evidence-based, not something conjured up in your imagination alone.
From there, scientists will test their hypothesis by attempting to falsify it. This means that they try to prove themselves wrong, not right. This may seem counter-intuitive at first, but allow physicist Derek Muller of Veritasium to explain. I promise, you really want to watch this video. It only takes a few minutes, but it will make you rethink the way you approach problems.
Once you’ve made every attempt to falsify your hypothesis, many scientists will attempt to publish their findings in a peer-reviewed journal, with full disclosure of their hypothesis, as well as all their testing methodologies and findings, in hopes that others will test the hypothesis and see if they come to the same conclusions. This is known as replication studies.
If replication occurs consistently, either a law or a theory typically forms.
Once something can be fully observed and tested to a consistent result, it becomes scientific law. A law requires full observation. For instance, if I drop something from ten feet up, and see how fast it accelerates to the floor, I’ve watched the process from start to finish, and can observe it every step of the way.
We understand them, we can observe them from start to finish, we know them to be consistently true, and we’re readily able to replicate the results every single time we either test them, or use them to test something else.
I’ll spend the most time on this one, since it’s the one in the title of this post.
A theory, in common parlance, is often stated as if it’s a guess, but in science, it is much more than that. Theories and laws are effectively the gold standard of science, since science would say there is no knowable absolute (I’ll explain later).
Whereas a law can be observed from start to finish, a theory is a much more complex hypothesis, or set of smaller hypothesis to form a larger one, which are all wholly supported by the evidence, but cannot be fully observed.
For instance, thousands of biologists doing work on the genome project, or studying different species of plants or animals, have made hundreds of thousands of small studies on thousands of smaller questions that fit into the overarching theory of evolution as proposed by Charles Darwin. If any one of them had found evidence to prove the theory of evolution wrong, and their results were replicated by reputable biologists, the theory of evolution would have ended shortly after.
Scientists have updated things Darwin guessed might be true, but was wrong about, but nothing so far has proven the basic theory of evolution by natural selection to be incorrect. But each time biologists understand more about how animals evolve, each time fossils or old animal remains are discovered, each time DNA is analyzed, the evidence that comes out of it, fits neatly into the theory of evolution.
But the reason it’s a theory and not a law, is that we cannot go back in time (at least, not with today’s technology) and observe how life started, how LUCA was formed, etc., and fully observe evolution from it’s start to today. So scientists have to piece the puzzle together with historical evidence, and observations they can make.
If I can use a simple analogy; I will compare scientific theory to a jigsaw puzzle depicting Albert Einstein.
A theory is what the puzzle appears to depict, composed of pieces that have all been determined to specifically fit in it. That puzzle still has a few pieces missing from it you haven’t found yet (items you can’t observe), so you don’t entirely understand what the complete puzzle looks like. If the pieces depicting Einstein’s hair are missing for instance, you can still reasonably assume it’s a picture of Einstein by the face, you’re just not sure what his hair looked like at the time the picture was taken.
In science, it’s only accepted theory if no single piece has ever been proven wrong or falsified. If one piece turns out to be false, scientists must effectively scrap the whole theory, and remove any assumptions they might have made to that point about it.
In the case of evolution, there are thousands of independent studies on different aspects of evolution, most of which have been peer-reviewed, never been proven wrong or falsified, and that all consistently support the theory of evolution—each one completing a larger and larger chunk of that particular puzzle.
Just because we don’t know exactly how Earth went from a lifeless state to a with-life state, doesn’t mean the theory of evolution is just a guess. Anyone who argues is much, is denying all the work by the thousands of biologists who put in millions of hours studying this, often because they once read something in a competing religious text that disagrees with it. But reading one piece of anecdotal evidence doesn’t make someone an expert over those thousands of people putting in millions of hours of observations, testing, and studies. It takes supreme arrogance to think it does.
An absolute is something that is indisputable fact. For the most part, science would say you can never know an absolute, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Quite the contrary. Technically, I’d argue everything is essentially an absolute—facts are all around us. Something either is or it isn’t.
But the problem for us unfortunately, is that you can’t know any of them absolutely, because you can never know what you don’t know.
On any subject, there may be something you’re unaware of that changes everything (like Einstein’s thoughts on gravitation waves which forced a rethink of Isaac Newton’s Universal Law of Gravitation), so you always have to remain open to new information.
Now that we’ve covered those, the reason it’s both wrong and insulting to say the theory of evolution is “just a theory” is due to the fact that thousands of scientists have done hundreds of thousands hours of work over the centuries on thousands of different aspects of evolution.
Work which is really hard to do, requires vast knowledge, is reviewed by their peers, and consistent with what they’ve all observed in the natural world repeatedly. All of it supports the theory of evolution, and is fundamentally different from creation which hasn’t been observed at all.
It should also be pointed out that DNA has largely confirmed evolution via mapping out genealogies of all living things. It’s also interesting to note that DNA wasn’t discovered until long after evolution was theorized. Much like when people thought the Earth was round, but then we went out to space and proved it is round by observing it.
So back to our “Evolution is JUST a theory” folks, most people who make this argument are people who are religious.
They’ve done no tests to confirm what their religion says is true, they’ve merely read a book that may or may not be true. They may accept it as faith, but this why it is called faith, not science.
While their belief might be right, demeaning thousands of brilliant minds who have done a lot of hard and painstaking work when they’ve done none, is profoundly insulting and ignorant when we see all the things around us that science has answered, and answered correctly.
This could be the curing of a myriad of diseases, being able to put a man on the moon, splitting an atom, or simply making a working smart phone. Science has a pretty amazing track record of being right.
Even if you are religious, let me ask you this. If you were feeling chest pains, and afraid you might be about to have a heart attack, are you calling 9/11 to summon a doctor first (a scientist), or would you call your priest and ask them to say a prayer first?
You can do both, but if the answer you chose is option one, you’re already instinctively putting your faith in science over religion, as I’d argue you should. So let’s stop putting religion over science in other aspects of our lives, too.
log·i·cal: capable of reasoning or of using reason in an orderly cogent fashion lib·er·tar·i·an: an advocate of the doctrine of free will; a person who upholds the principles of individual liberty especially of thought and action