Human evolution: just a theory
“Evolution – it’s just a theory?”
- “Evolutionary theory isn’t a science because you can’t test it”
- “Reconstructions of human evolution are purely theoretical”
- “Evolution is just one theory of how humans came to be”
- “Survival of the fittest is a circular argument”
- “The trouble with human evolution is that there’s a new theory each week”
Sound familiar? These statements are commonly heard about evolution, and human evolution in particular. Criticisms about human evolution can come very vociferously from religious fundamentalists, but equally from science skeptics, New Agers, post-modernists and many more. It is perhaps odd that after 150 years since Darwin published the Origin of Species, the theory which acts as the organising principle and overarching framework for all biology should still be questioned and challenged so widely. Nobody today, in contrast, seriously challenges Galileo, Newton or Einstein, or thinks the periodic table is ‘just a theory’.
Perhaps because evolution goes to the heart of what it means to be human, its ‘theory’ is a contentious matter. The British Council Darwin Now Theories of Human Evolution Programme was set up to explore the nature of theory and theories in human evolutionary studies, and how much human evolution has become a strong and mature science.
Part of the problem, however, is that in science the word theory means something different from its common usage. A scientific theory is a tool for investigation, not speculation