Benedict XVI, the Roman Catholic Pope, has pointed out that the theory of evolution cannot be proved because “we cannot haul 10,000 generations of animals into the laboratory.” The pope is right that the theory of evolution cannot be proved in the ultimate sense. Neither can Newton’s theory of gravity or Einstein’s theory of relativity, or Dalton’s atomic table, or for that matter, Galileo’s idea that the earth revolves around the sun. We can’t even prove absolutely that 2 + 2 = 4. Actually, there are numerous occasions when it doesn’t.
What many people don’t understand is that scientific theories can never be proved in the final, absolute, ultimate sense. Scientific theories are accepted when they are the best, most effective explanation for what we observe, or the most effective way of enabling us to solve some problem or accomplish some goal. So Newton’s theory is accepted because of all the theories, it explains better than any other theory why apples fall to the ground and the stars don’t. There are a lot of explanations about why we see the sun come up in the morning and go down at night. We accept Galileo’s explanation because it tallies better than other theories with so many things we observe. Einstein’s relativity has been in practical use since it first was used to land the first space craft on the moon, but it might still be wrong.
So it is possible that any of these theories might be replaced by other theores that are even better at explaining what we observe or solving some urgent problem facing humanity. For myself, Darwin’s theory of evolution currently explains the world better than intelligent design or creationism or the biblical version.
I think the biblical story was never intended to be understood as the literal truth, but as a parable, a poetic paean in praise of the great world that the early biblical writers observed with awe. As do most people even today, believers and unbelievers, scientists and poets alike.