Repost: It’s Just a Theory

I was itching to write a flash fiction piece in response to my one-word prompt, “theory.” But in the end, I decided, rather than trying to pull something new out of thin air, and at the risk of coming off somewhat as a rapscallion, I’d repost this December 2017 rant.


00BA5746-684A-481D-8D86-D29C09BB7601It really chaps my ass when people argue that evolution is “just a theory” in order to attack its credibility.

In everyday vernacular, the term “theory” is often used to describe a guess or a hunch. In science, though, a theory is not a “good guess.” It’s something that has been proven to have considerable merit based upon substantial amounts of evidence. It’s based upon facts and observations, not on beliefs.

Let’s clarify a few terms and how they’re defined from the scientific perspective.

Hypothesis: In science, a hypothesis is an educated guess based on observation. Usually, a hypothesis can be supported or refuted through experimentation or more observation. A hypothesis can be disproven, but not proven to be true.

Fact: In science, a fact is an observation that has been repeatedly confirmed and, for all practical purposes, is accepted as “true.” Truth in science, however, is never final and what is accepted as a fact today may be modified or even discarded tomorrow based upon further examination and new discoveries.

Theory: In science, a theory is a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world that can incorporate facts, laws, inferences, and tested hypotheses.

So, a scientific theory, such as evolution, is a highly substantiated, well-supported, well-documented explanation for our observations. It ties together all the facts about something, and provides an explanation that fits all the observations. In science, theory is the ultimate goal, the explanation. It’s as close to proven as anything in science can be.

In other words, a hypothesis is educated guess; a fact is a what; a theory is a how and/or a why. A theory in science is an explanation, not just a hunch or a good guess.

What a theory is not is a belief or an opinion unsubstantiated by observable, tested evidence.

So to those of you who claim that evolution is “just a theory,” you’re right, it is a theory. A well founded scientific theory.


Written for these daily prompts: Word of the Day Challenge (itching), Fandango’s One-Word Challenge (theory), Ragtag Daily Prompt (air), and Your Daily Word Prompt (rapscallion).

Are Dead People Voyeurs?

CEB274F9-BD76-4B99-A978-93702D2271F0I was watching a TV show the other night when one character said to the other, “You’re father would be so proud of you. I bet he’s looking down from heaven right now with a big smile on his face.”

Yeah, right. Do people really belief that their dearly departed friends and relatives are looking down — or looking up, as the case may be — at them to see what they’re up to?

“Oh my God, Dan, that was the best sex ever. I bet your mom is looking down on you from heaven with a big smile on her face.” Oh wait, maybe it was Dan’s father who was looking up at him from hell and masturbating while watching Dan having a hot time with that blonde he picked up at that party. Hmm. Do the souls of dead people masturbate?

Do people really believe that the souls of their deceased loved ones are spending their days in the afterlife spying on their earthbound family members and pals? Do they do it all the time, or do they only do it when something extraordinarily good or bad happens?

And where’s the line? Are there boundaries, safe zones, where you can escape the prying dead eyes of the deceased? Like the bathroom, maybe. Is my mother watching me sitting on the toilet taking a dump and beaming about what a big boy I am?

Is there a statute of limitations? For example, are these dead voyeurs watching over us forever? Or are we sentenced to a finite number years after their death to be subjected to their constant observation? And how large is this circle of voyeurs? Just your parents or does it go back multiple generations and include more watchers than your immediate family and closest friends?

In the interest of full disclosure, I’m an atheist and I don’t believe in the notion of an afterlife. But I’m genuinely interested in hearing from those who are believers. Do you believe that the souls of your deceased loved ones — your parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and closest friends — are looking down at you, watching what you’re doing day in and day out?

I’m not trying to be an asshole. I really want to know what you believe. Tell me in the comments or write your own post and link it back to this post.

Thanks!

Morality: Objective or Subjective

909E2401-3F73-4359-AC70-D4B839CE7F59In my latest provocative question, I asked, “Is morality objective or is it subjective? If you believe it’s objective, what is its source? If you believe it’s subjective, how do you know whose concept of morality is correct?”

Perhaps a better question should be: does objective morality actually exist?

What exactly is “objective morality”? One definition I read said that objective morality is “the idea that a certain system of ethics or set of moral judgments is not just true according to a person’s subjective opinion, but is absolutely and undeniably true for everyone.”

Another definition said that objective morality is “the idea that an act of good or evil is always right or always wrong, regardless of whether one person believes it is right and another believes it is wrong.”

Did you notice that both of these definitions start with the words, “the idea that…”?

And what is an idea? It is an opinion, a perspective, a belief, a thought, a concept, a notion. Interesting that the word “fact” is conspicuously absent from any definition of objective morality.

Back to my original question. “Does objective morality exist?” Is objective morality a set of definitive laws gifted to humanity by God, where God has determined what is “right” and what is “wrong,” and these determinations are deemed to be unimpeachable?

Or is morality subjective? Does it relate more to time, place, and social norms (culture) than to a universal code of conduct attributed to a supernatural deity?

Objective morality exists because God exists

4E1D4FF7-A36A-4BD2-84FB-FDC71FB9CB6FDo you buy that? If morality is an objective set of rules handed to us by God, shouldn’t what God defines as morality be considered the same by every human being across time and in all cultures? Shouldn’t all humans, since we were created in God’s image and we are all God’s children, universally agree upon and accept that which God has told us is objectively moral?

Yet we don’t.

Time, place, and culture

Let me make a few observations about the influence of time, place, and culture on morality.

Hitler had millions of people killed in the 1930s and 40s. Did he consider what he was doing immoral? Or did he believe that he had a moral imperative to cleanse Germany of all but the purest Aryans?

At the time of the Spanish Inquisition, did the Catholic monarchs consider it immoral to require Jews and Muslims to convert to Christianity or to face expulsion or execution? No. They simply wanted to ensure Catholic orthodoxy in their kingdoms. What could possibly be immoral about that?

Did the Pope and the nobles of Europe in the Middle Ages see anything immoral about the Crusades? Why would they? Their goals were based upon a command passed down by a higher authority to restore Christianity to holy places like Jerusalem. What was wrong with pillaging the countryside and killing thousands of Jews and Muslims while doing God’s work? Nothing. It was what God wanted.

Our own American genocide of native Americans was excused because of the moral imperative of Manifest Destiny, which was deemed to be the young country’s mission from God. And less than 200 years ago many farmers and plantation owners in the American South owned slaves. Did they consider slavery to be immoral? Of course not. To them, all God-fearing Christians, there was nothing immoral about owning another human being.

Today most people find what Hitler did, what slave owners did, what occurred during the Spanish Inquisition, the Crusades, and even the American West, to be morally wrong.

But for the people at those times, in those circumstances, and within those cultures, they were widely accepted as being society’s norms.

Most of us in Western cultures in the 21st century agree about what is or is not moral. There is a broad consensus across our culture about what is right and what is wrong. And that broad consensus helps us arrive at our communal morality.

Yet not long ago, there was a broad consensus across some parts of our country that interracial marriages were immoral and that homosexuality was immoral. Even today, some people believe both are still immoral. Yet the broad consensus in this country is acceptance of interracial and gay marriage.

Morality, then, is really how individuals interpret a cultural consensus. And since different cultures at different times have had different consensuses on what is moral, then morality must be subjective, relative to time, place, and culture.

What God wants

Those who insist that objective morality can only exist if God exists define objective morality as what people should do or ought to do, regardless of time, place, or culture. But who defined what people should do or ought to do? Was it God? Or was it humans who, based upon their ideas (opinions, beliefs, thoughts, views) of the communal good, decided what people should do and ought to do?

I read somewhere — I can’t remember where, but it stuck with me — that the religious, having invented God in their own image, use objective morality as a way of turning “what I want” into “what God wants.”

Isn’t morality really what people would like to have happen? Isn’t it a human consensus, shaped by the time, place, and culture in which we live, that defines what we should do and how we ought to behave?

SoCS — A Means to an End

20C6073F-F930-4AEA-9243-02C86A0F48B2“It’s just a means to an end, that’s all,” Ed said aloud, but more to himself than to his wife, who was sitting next to him on the sofa.

“You always use that expression and I don’t really know what you mean,” Karen responded.

“What are you, stupid or something?” Ed lashed out.

Tears began to form in Karen’s eyes. “Why do you have to say mean things like that, Ed?”

“You’re right,” Ed said softly. “I’m sorry, babe. That was a mean thing for me to say.”

“Thanks, I accept your apology,” Karen said. “Now tell me, what does a means to an end mean?”

“It means it’s something you do only to produce or achieve a desired result,” Ed explained. “It’s like when you have to work at a job you hate, but you have to do it in order to put food on the table. The job is the means and the end is that you have enough to eat.”

“Okay, I understand that, but what were you referring to just now when you said it?”

Ed sighed. “Sometimes, Karen, you gotta do what you gotta do and the end justifies the means.”

“So does that mean that a positive outcome excuses or justifies any wrongs committed in order to attain it?” Karen asked, as a concerned expression appeared on her face.

“Don’t worry, babe,” Ed said. “I’m not planning to do anything unethical, immoral, or technically illegal.”

“Then what is this means you are talking about,” Karen asked, “and to what end.”

“Well, babe, it was going to be a surprise,” Ed said, “but since you can’t seem to let this go, I’ll tell you.”

“Tell me what, Ed?”

Ed leaned in close to Karen and whispered in her ear.

Karen jumped back. “Oh my God, Ed, no!”


Written for Linda G. Hill’s Stream of Consciousness Saturday prompt. We are asked to use the word “mean(s)” with or without the “s,” any way we’d like.

I’m a Believer

If you’re reading this because you think this post is about the 1967 song “I’m a Believer” by the Monkees, it’s not. Not even close.

022D0AC0-1820-43FC-91E9-2EF94E30FEDAWhat this post is about is that I was talking to a friend of mine this past weekend. He’s a fairly religious person and he knows that I’m an atheist. He told me that he didn’t understand how anyone could be a “non-believer.” Apparently he believes, like many people, that being an atheist means that you’re a “non-believer.”

Do you tend to call those who don’t believe in God “non-believers”? Well, if you do, your definition of “believer” is way too narrow. You’re thinking that the word “believer” applies only to a belief system, a religious belief system. A belief in a supreme being, a greater intelligence, a supernatural deity. And for most Americans, that means believing in God, Yahweh, Allah, or whatever you call your deity.

As an atheist, I believe that God does not exist. I believe that Christians, Jews, and Muslims made up God in the same way that Greeks and Romans, for example, made up Zeus and Jupiter and all the other gods they believed in.

But just because I don’t believe that God exists doesn’t make me a non-believer. Because that would imply that I don’t believe in anything. I believe in a lot of things.

I believe that we didn’t exist before we were born and that we will cease to exist in any form after we die.

I believe that our universe is almost 14 billion years old and that the planet we live on is 4.5 billion years old. I believe in evolution. And I believe that we are working pretty damn hard to destroy our planet’s ability to sustain human life.

I believe in a woman’s rights to choose. I believe in free speech, in freedom of (or from) religion, in equal rights for gays, and in gun control. I also believe in the separation of church and state.

But wait, there’s more that I believe. I believe that humans are fallible and that we all make mistakes. Some more than others. I believe that most people are good, decent, and moral, regardless of their religious beliefs — or lack thereof. And I believe in my country. Just not in “God and country.”

Yeah, I know. You’re thinking that these beliefs make me a liberal, which is the next worst label a person can have after atheist, right?

You’re also thinking that these are not beliefs. These are philosophies. These are ideologies. And you’re thinking that I’m expressing political opinions, not, you know, beliefs.

Sorry, I don’t believe that. Yes, these are philosophical beliefs. They are ideological and even political beliefs. But they are, nevertheless, beliefs. Other than from a very narrow religious perspective, just because I don’t believe in God, doesn’t make me a non-believer. I have a whole host of beliefs. Because I am a human being and I am alive.

There is not one of us — unless you’re dead — who doesn’t believe in something.

And now, for those of you who took the time to read my 520-word post, here’s a reward for your effort.