In this section, I will be discussing two aspects of cosmology that have been, at times, antagonistic to each other. One is the theory of evolution and the other is the belief in creationism. While a summary of each will be provided, some important questions regarding both systems of thought will be included. Anytime topics such as this are discussed it's important to keep an open mind and approach the material nonjudgmentally.
As you know, this section is about theories of the universe. Let's pause and do some reflective thinking for a moment. What exactly is a theory? We use the word in various ways, ranging from simply contemplating or speculating about certain things, to formulations about apparent relationships and underlying principles of observed phenomena. This last definition is normally how science uses the word, but in this sense, there are theories that can be equally as good as scientific ones.
One of the things that makes a theory acceptable at all is the amount of evidence there is to support the theory. But evidence can come in many ways other than strictly scientific. Just because a theory is scientific that doesn't make it truer than theories that aren't. A theory is simply that, a theory. It's not an absolute, nor is it proof that what is being discussed is the way things really are. It is open to questioning, refutation, and disproof. It can also lead to better theories, deeper insights, and a closer approximation of what is really true. And that is the crux of the whole thing, isn't it. What is the truth?
Any discussion on the nature of truth has to involve how we gain knowledge of it in the first place. This search for how we know anything at all falls into a realm of philosophy called epistemology. If this is of interest to you, any good introductory text to philosophy can get you started in the area.
I made the statement, “Just because you believe something is true doesn't mean it really is.” I don't plan on taking you through three thousand years of philosophical debate about what the nature of truth is. (You can find that in The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Truth, just kidding.) But in order to clarify my statement, let's look at some definitions of the word true.
The laws of physics are regarded as truths about the natural world. If a law is broken it doesn't mean that it's no longer true, it just means that more information is required so that it can be revised to include the event that broke it in the first place. It then becomes a more encompassing law containing a higher element of truth. This same process can be applied to what we believe to be true as well.
So truth, or what is true, based on the definitions above, can be divided into two types: subjective and objective truth. And this is where we run into problems. Some people argue that there is no such thing as objective truth. Since everything outside of us is merely filtered through our perceptions and beliefs, we see what we want to see.
Then, of course, there is the other position that argues that all we can really know are objective truths (truths apart from our perceptions of the world). They exist whether or not we perceive them. Into this category would fall facts such as 2 + 2 = 4, a triangle has three sides, and other self-evident mathematical concepts. The scientifically minded individual often takes the position that there are objective truths because for them what science has shown to be true and ultimately real can't be disputed because of the powerful methodology found in science.
But whether it's the scientific method or the filtering of reality through our perceptions and beliefs, it all comes back to us. Truth is only meaningful to us. It's a human concept. If the truth is out there (X-Files music in the background) or inside of us, to what degree does that matter? We are the ones that accept or reject what others think, feel, or believe. It doesn't matter if it's religion, science, politics, or cosmology, we live our lives based on our own unique version of what is true for us.
Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Theories of the Universe © 2001 by Gary F. Moring. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.