What does the word “theory” mean? Most of the time it means a guess, or having an opinion on something. But not in science. In science a theory is the best explanation for why and how things happen. It’s the best explanation we have so far, supported by lots of evidence. It might be wrong, and if there is evidence that it’s wrong then scientists will either change it to have it include that evidence, or throw it away for a different theory.
For example, we used to think the Earth was the center of the universe. After all, it looks that way. But it didn’t explain the motion of the planets. Copernicus proposed that the sun is at the center, with the planets orbiting in circular orbits. It explained reality better. Then Kepler proposed that the orbits are ellipses, which explained observations better. These theories were controversial at the time because they went against Church doctrine that the Earth is the center of the universe. Now we accept the reality without problem because of the vast amount of evidence that we orbit the sun.
There are a number of current theories that are controversial. Generally not because there is controversy among scientists, but because they are unpopular for other reasons, generally religious, political, or economic. Climate change is one of these. The amount of science supporting climate change, and the human causes for it, are enormous, and more is being found all the time. But to face climate change is to accept that our way of life is one of the causes for it, and we’d have to change to try to stop it. This would involve lots of money, and changing our lifestyle. These are not things that come easily to politicians. Some people would rather stick their heads in the sand about it than actually face reality.
In Wyoming, the legislature has rejected the Next Generation Science Standards. Not because the standards are bad science, but because they don’t like the economic reality of it. The science standards were unanimously recommended by the Wyoming State Board of Education. Then the state legislature (lawyers, not scientists or educators) prohibited public spending to implement the standards. They want a new set of standards that better reflect the values and economic interests of Wyoming. They’re upset that the NGSS includes climate change, and teaching it would harm Wyoming’s economy, which is the nation’s largest energy exporter, mainly in coal, natural gas, and oil. These energy sources produce CO2 and other greenhouse gases, leading to more global warming.
This kind of thinking harms science, harms the United States’ position globally in science, and hurts our children’s education. As Bill Nye said,
Science is the key to our future, and if you don’t believe in science, then you’re holding everybody back.
If you’re an adult and you choose not to believe in science, fine, but please don’t prevent your children from learning about it and letting them draw their own conclusions.