Monday, April 20, 2015

Theory and Law in Science

Recently, I found myself in a Facebook debate regarding science and truth. I made the comment that "...there is not unanimous agreement that Darwinism is true or it would be promoted from theory to Law such as the Laws of Thermodynamics." Todd, my atheist nemesis in this debate, castigated me with the following rebuke:
A theory graduates into a Law---Again, no, no, no... If I could just get Dennis to admit this one, terrible mistake, I could feel like our dialogue had been good for something. Dennis either missed this in science class, or just chooses to ignore it. And I will admit that early in my science education, I too erroneously thought this as well; boy, I was so glad of the day I learned that I had been wrong!
Well, Todd the Atheist can be happy now because our dialogue was good for something. I'm pretty careful about the statements I make in an online debate, but I'm not infallible. So, I spent some time thinking about what Todd the Atheist wrote, and why we had a failure to communicate. After some consideration, I realized my use of the word "promote" was a poor word choice, and my actual argument needs further explanation.

First, I need to give Todd the Atheist points in our debate for his insistence on definitional clarity. He wrote: "In science, laws are simple facts and formulas that are so basic that they apply universally." Yes. We both agree on this. And by definition, a theory is "a supposition or a system of ideas intended to explain something, especially one based on general principles independent of the thing to be explained." Scientific theories are supported by scientific laws, and we are in perfect agreement on that. Todd the Atheist also posted this:
How much proof does it take for a theory to graduate to being a law? Because the words theory and law have such different meanings in the language of science, it is often a difficult question to answer, so instead, I'll start by giving you a few similar questions to answer. How perfectly do you have to build a house so that it will become a single brick? How well do you have to write to change an entire dictionary into a single word? What would you have to do to change an entire symphony into a single note?
If you are thinking that those questions don't make much sense, then you are feeling very much like a scientist who has been asked "How much proof does it take for a theory to graduate to being a law?" A house is made up of many bricks, boards, nails, windows, doors, concrete, etc. A dictionary is made up of thousands of different words, and a symphony can easily have thousands of notes that all fit together in just the right way to produce pleasing music. In the same way, theories are based on a variety of scientific laws, facts, testing, and other evidence, all fit together in a way that offers an explanation of how some part of the universe works.
These cute questions make a worthy point. But if you dig a little deeper, the way science progresses in the real world really is from laws to theory, and then to more laws. Laws describe things. Theories explain them. The theories themselves may not be promoted or "graduated" to laws, but the laws that describe things do go into theories that explain things which in turn lead to better laws and theories that describe and explain things more simply or completely when science is working as designed. That is the point I was trying to make, albeit poorly. Here's an actual example from the real world.

Isaac Newton succinctly unified Galileo's theory of falling bodies with Kepler's laws of planetary motion in his Principia published in 1687. Newton's laws of motion and universal gravitation replaced the Copernican heliocentric theory which had been around since 1543. The laws of Kepler and insights from Newton changed our understanding of the physical world by giving rise to a new theory of gravity which was more encompassing than what Galileo proposed following his apocryphal falling body experiment from the Leaning Tower of Pisa in 1589.

More than three centuries after Copernicus and more than two centuries after Newton, Einstein came along with his Theory of General Relativity. Einstein unified Newton's law of universal gravitation with his own Special Theory of Relativity. Einstein's theories led to new laws and falsifiable empirical tests. Einstein proposed three tests of General Relativity. In a letter to the London Times in 1919 he wrote: "The chief attraction of the theory lies in its logical completeness. If a single one of the conclusions drawn from it proves wrong, it must be given up; to modify it without destroying the whole structure seems to be impossible."

The three tests Einstein proposed were not falsified, and to this day the General Theory of Relativity provides the most complete description of gravity we have. This is an example of science moving from law to theory to new and better laws and theories regarding gravity. I appreciate Todd the Atheist for insisting on clear definitions, so I retract my statement that a theory is "promoted" to law. Instead, I will restate that laws lead to theories which in turn lead to new and better laws and theories. The example of gravity being case in point.

My point in the debate with Todd the Atheist is that Darwinism hasn't been so successful. Granted gravity and the physical sciences are less complex than biological life sciences, but Darwinists like to make the comparison implying their theory is on par with our knowledge of gravity. That is hopeful wishing, but I believe a comparison between Darwinism and gravity can be instructive if we consider the striking differences as well as the slight similarities.

Darwinism tries to explain biodiversity by the random, undirected mechanism of natural selection over "millions of years" which essentially makes Darwinism non-reproducible and non-observable. In this way it is completely different from the scientific work within the field of gravity (pun intended) since we cannot devise or run reproducible and observable experiments in a meaningful way as we have with gravity. Further, Charles Darwin himself proposed a falsifiability test of his theory. He wrote, "If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed, which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down."

Examples of "irreducible complexity" have been proposed by Intelligent Design Theorists for organs down to the sub-cellular components of biological life such as a Kinesin, and Darwin would probably admit his theory as he conceived it did "absolutely break down." In fact, I doubt Darwin would have ever proposed his theory if he could have seen the incredible design inside a cell, but he didn't have a microscope powerful enough to see sub-cellular design. Darwin's test for falsifiability has been falsified over and over again through examples of irreducible complexity. Yet Darwinism is patched up and persists. Why? Shouldn't Darwinism be tossed out as it "absolutely break(s) down"?

As I stated before, the life sciences are much more complex than the simple concept of gravity, so falsifiability tests as clear cut as those for gravity are much harder to devise. Darwinism, and the patched up version of NeoDarwinism, are basically claims about history more than theories about observable, reproducible phenomena we can measure in the physical sciences. So, why do the Darwinists think their theory is on par with those of gravity? And, why do atheists like Todd believe it has predictive value?

I think the answer has more to do with faith in scientism than it does with good science or critical thinking. Based on what we know about probability, information science, and sub-cellular design, it is pretty clear that Darwinism is 19th century thinking that needs an overhaul and frame of reference shift like Einstein's Theory of General Relativity. Darwinism has no reasonable answers for the complexity of sub-cellular design and programming of life in DNA. But, so far the Intelligent Design Theorists have been unable to unseat the entrenched belief system of science today which is rooted in Darwinism.


  1. I tried answering Dennis's post here, but it's way beyond the 4096 characters that I'm allowed (there's always so much of his postings needing correction), so I put ny responses in bits and pieces in the original Facebook posting. Cheers!

  2. Toad - or Todd - I couldn't make sense of your "bits and pieces" in Facebook or tease out what was pontification from valid criticism. ;-) I think 4096 characters is plenty for naming just one needed correction, and I'm happy to make emendations here in my blog for any valid criticism. Excusing your lack of correction because "there's so much" is nonsense. Name just one needed correction, and do it in 4096 characters if you dare. :-)

  3. Dennis, you suggested that the theory of gravity is superior to the theory of evolution. I am definitely paraphrasing here, I know. The point I am leading up to is I don't think there is a theory of gravity. Contrary to your post, Newton did not offer a theory, only laws. We have no idea why gravity works. Currently, there are few competing theories but neither has overwhelming acceptance. The Theory of evolution has more acceptance than any of the conflicting theories of gravity. Electricity is a force that involves electron. Light is an energy that involves photons. There are no 'gravons'...yet.
    To keep this comment simple, I used the word 'acceptance' rather than 'evidence', which we might argue over.

    1. Dear Surprises - You seem to be making the same argument that Dr. Pittman points out in his essay titled "Biological Evolution: Did It Happen?" (See April 29,2015, in the archives to read it.) The best evidence for the veracity of the Theory of Evolution is that scientists have faith in it. I just don't have that much faith because the science around the Theory of Evolution is very poor compared to the science around gravity. Science text books talk about the theory of gravity as well as the Newtonian and Einsteinian descriptions of it. Gravity is not controversial. We've described it and observed and measured it, and it has predictive value. It is dishonesty or ignorance when atheists try to put the Theory of Evolution is on par with our knowledge of gravity. Quibbling over whether the law or theory of gravity should be compared to The Theory of Evolution doesn't really add much to the dialog because it is an apples and oranges comparison either way, but thanks for your comment.

  4. Newton did offer a theory but it is incomplete and doesn't explain the phenomena. I would really like you to share this theory of gravity. I don't believe that is one. There is the fact and law of gravity but no commonly accepted explanation. Wikipedia has a list of theories, all of them are controversial.

    Yes, we can describe and measure and use the law to predict events but there is no accepted theory. It is dishonest or ignorance when creationists try to put the theory of gravity as a real thing. The theory of evolution explains a lot of what we see but this is not true for any current theory of gravity.

    Once we ask 'why do masses attract each other?" we can only say, "they do." but not why. When we ask "why do the iguanas in the Galapagos behave that way?" we can answer, "Natural selection and sexual selection."

    1. Brian (Surprises) Newton's theory of gravity (that it is two objects attracting one another at a distance) does explain the phenomena for most cases. Einstein's Theory of General Relativity is a different theory about gravity that is more precise and conceives of gravity not as two objects attracting one another at a distance, but as the curvature of spacetime. The blog post above goes to great lengths to clarify the difference between laws and theories. The point you seem to be making is that comparing the Theory of Evolution (Darwinism) to theories about gravity is a bad comparison, and we are in violent agreement about that. Gravity is well understood and described with falsifiable experiments. Darwinism is NOT. It is unscientific b/c it is not falsifiable, or maybe it is falsifiable and has been falsified, but they keep patching it up and trying again which is the scientific process. The science on gravity is clear. The science on biological evolution is horribly muddled b/c it has been compromised by the dogmatic religionists who bow to Darwinism as their false god.

  5. Please tell me why or how two objects attract each other. Or how an object curves spacetime. We don't know how.

    I don't want to assume things about you. Do you, as AiG does, believe that a limited number of kinds were on the Ark and evolved into all the diversity we see today? That all cats currently alive and extinct came from a single pair on the Ark?

    If you do, how did cats spread out to small house cat to lion and sabre tooth tiger size? Range in behavior from pack hunting lions to individual hunters as most other cats are? The following is not a point I am pursing this time, but also, how all this happened in much less than 4000 years?

    If you do not believe in evolution after the Ark, I salute you for your consistency.

    If you accept that all cats evolved from a single pair, then you must accept most of evolution. If you accept cat evolution, then you accept maybe 10 steps are possible while denying that 10,000 are. And yet, the same processes are involved.

    This is my third comment on this post. I will read your response (if any; I don't want to sound demanding) but I will not reply without a request from you.

    1. Accepting that a primitive form of a horse has evolved into the modern thoroughbreds we have today is reasonable. Accepting that a single cell life form evolved from lifeless chemicals and than that single cell evolved into the diversity of life we see today is a giant leap of faith that stretches credulity beyond breaking. I simply don't have enough faith to be an atheist. My beliefs are based in fact and evidence, but if you prefer dogma and a blind leap of faith for your worldview, I'll not stop you. But do yourself a favor and stop fooling yourself by thinking you have a scientific worldview. Your views are faith based and lacking evidence.