I had a conversation with someone the other day who didn’t understand the importance of linguistics – the study of language. Honestly, I didn’t find this all too surprising, because this person also adheres to the misleading idea that evolution is “just a theory”. Red flag #1 that a person really needs to attain a better grasp on linguistics. Though I can’t blame him too much either, seeing as how many people fail to understand the scientific importance of the term ‘theory’, as opposed to the layman’s understanding of said term.
Let me first try and explain this. To the layman, ‘theory’ to them just means an “idea” with no evidence or backing. Hell, many people tend to confuse ‘hypothesis’ for this definition as well. The problem is that, scientifically speaking, a ‘scientific theory’ isn’t just an idea, but is an idea that’s been meticulously tested over and over again and proven to be true. We use ‘theory’ throughout science all the time, like the ‘Big Bang theory’ and the ‘gravitational theory’ – both very well substantiated with loads of evidence. The same applies with natural selection, which is dubbed the theory of evolution.
Which brings me to another linguistic point: the importance of the preposition ‘of’. If there’s anything that’s more of an absolute fact than natural selection, it’s evolution. The relationship between natural selection and evolution is determined via the preposition ‘of’. When I mention the term ‘evolution’, many would just say, “Oh, well that’s just a theory,” ignoring both the scientific understanding of ‘theory’ and the linguistic understanding of ‘of’. When we’re talking about scientific theories regarding evolution, we’re not talking about evolution itself, per se, but rather of natural selection, which is the theory of evolution. Evolution is an absolute fact of life – both micro- and macro-evolutionary changes occur throughout our world. You can’t have one without the other. ‘Natural selection’, on the other hand, is the scientific theory in which helps us understand how evolution operates. Thus when I say the theory OF evolution, the linguistic importance of the preposition ‘of’ isn’t that “evolution=theory”, but rather the scientific theory, natural selection, explains evolution – ‘explains’, verb, the act making clear to someone by describing in more detail.
So yes, natural selection is a theory – a scientific theory, backed by loads and loads of evidence. Evolution, though, is an absolute fact of life.