Tucker Carlson says evolution is still or just a theory.

Evolution is just a theory. Great!

Evolution is just a theory. Sometimes, we need not counterarguments but a reimagining of the profound implications hidden within the phrase “just a theory.”

One of the most influential political commentators in the US, Tucker Carlson, recently pointed out the supposed weakness of the evolution theory. In a conversation with podcaster Joe Rogan, Carlson argued that “we’ve kind of given up on the idea of evolution,” claiming that Darwin’s theory is “kind of not true.”  

When asked to develop that thought, Carlson continues,

“You hear [people] make references to evolution because the theory of adaptation is clearly obviously true. But Darwin’s theories […]. That’s why it’s still a theory almost 200 years later, you know, um, no, we have not found that at all.”

Tucker Carlson is kind of right: Evolution is “just a theory”

You know what? You might be surprised, but I agree with a part of Carlson’s argument. Yes, I agree, evolution is “still a theory” (or the slightly differently formulated, “just a theory.”)

And Tucker Carlson is not alone in stating this truth. More often than not, people highlight the “just a theory” argument to undermine evolution. In other words, scientists have not proven evolution. Checkmate!

But here’s the twist: I’m happy evolution is “just” or “still” a theory. That’s right. Even though I’m an ex-researcher turned science communicator, I’m happy that evolution is just a theory.

To make things worse, I’ll stick my neck out and claim you should be happy about it, too. Imagine life if evolution were more than a theory; it would be unbearable.

New to science, lacking counter-arguments

Like any other scientist, I’ve also been a rookie scientist baffled by this same argument. I can take one example from my university years, where I encountered more religious people than ever for some unexplainable reason.

After a lecture, I found myself in a discussion with Sandra over lunch. Sandra was one of the most ambitious students in my class. She basically knew all our course literature by heart and always sat in the front of the classroom. You probably know her, too.

Nevertheless, I want to remember we discussed gene editing and its implications for human health. At some point, while we were both arguing about the dangers of human gene manipulation, she dropped the bomb, stating, “I don’t buy into all that evolution stuff, anyway. It’s just a theory, after all.”

I stared at her. I couldn’t argue with that – although I knew she was wrong, I also knew she was right… somehow. Since I was new to the science world, I’d never had to formulate a response to that argument before.

Flipping the argument

About 15 years later, Tucker Carlson reminds me of this argument. The difference is that today, I’m equipped with better responses that flip the supposed weakness of evolution theory to a strength. (This is how I developed independent thinking at university.)

The claim remains true; evolution is still a theory. However, the cell theory, which states that all living organisms are composed of cells, is also a theory. Similarly, the germ theory of disease, which states that many diseases are caused by microorganisms, such as bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites, is also a theory.

Then, how about gravity theory, the theory of general relativity, plate tectonics theory, the Big Bang theory, the atomic theory, the theory of special relativity, quantum theory, or the theory of electromagnetism? They are all theories.

Still, how’s this a strong argument for evolution or any of the theories I listed? And notably, how do they differ from my loose theories about why and how navel lint always finds its way to the belly button? (The latter being theories I inevitably have to casually share with unexpecting people during gatherings.) Regardless, they are also theories.

After all, the root of the word “theory” originates from the Greek verb “theōrein,” which means “to observe” or “to contemplate.” But there’s a slight difference between theories and theories, and there’s a good reason scientists label scientific theories as theories.

You see, science took a slightly different direction concerning theory. In science, a theory is more or less the opposite of the loose theory we express during pub crawls.

When we use the term “theory” in scientific discourse, it carries a heavier significance. In science, a theory is a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of reality based on robust evidence. Other scientists then test and scrutinize these same results and, if compelling enough, might support the explanation.  

Why evolution is just a theory

Scientists’ theory reflects humility in the scientific process. It acknowledges that scientific knowledge is always temporary and can change upon new discoveries or better explanations.

This approach allows us to challenge and improve our understanding of reality whenever necessary. It’s one of the reasons researchers still challenge well-established theories, such as Einstein’s relativity theory, and find new details that can improve our knowledge.

So when Tucker Carlson tries to undermine evolution as merely a theory, he uses EVERYDAY THEORY as a reference and not the scientific theory. But he also highlights a crucial and excellent aspect of scientific theory: it’s not a dogma. Calling it a theory protects scientific findings from being set in stone. 

It’s a robust and well-supported explanation, BUT it acknowledges the ongoing search for deeper understanding and refinement. Isn’t that what we all want?

I think it’s a good argument when we discuss with people who are naïve to science and scientific concepts. Somehow, I assume Carlson and other evolution skeptics, using the “just a theory” argument, don’t mind scientific progress. A vital aspect of this progress can be attributed to its humility and dynamics. It’s just a theory, but any alternative theories require robust scientific support and consensus. Otherwise, it’s merely a theory for the dinner table.  

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The featured image is a modified version of Tucker Carlson (46491086341).jpg by Gage, which was uploaded under the common license agreement Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic.

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