Wyoming state welcome sign, along Interstate 80, entering from Utah. Photograph by ErgoSum88 via Wikimedia Commons.Unless you are middle school embryology?

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Miller's Crossing poster

In Miller’s Crossing (1990), one of my favorite movies of all time, the gang boss Johnny Caspar murders his henchman Eddie Dane, on the mistaken assumption (fostered by Tom Reagan) that Dane double-crossed him, and remarks by way of explanation, “I had a theory about this son of a bitch!” In “Speculatin’ about Hypotheses,” I gratuitously quoted Miller’s Crossing before I began to criticize the National Academy of Sciences definition of “hypothesis,” so I may as well take the opportunity to address its definition of “theory” now.

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Miller's Crossing poster

In Miller’s Crossing (1990), one of my favorite movies of all time, the corrupt chief of police O’Doole speculates that the boss of the town, Leo O’Bannon, is losing his grip, whereupon O’Bannon’s right-hand man Tom Reagan reproaches him, ending, “there are plenty of coppers I know who wouldn’t mind bein’ chief and could swallow it clean.” Hastily backpedaling, O’Doole protests, “Jesus, Tom, I was just speculatin’ about a hypothesis.” Here, however, I’m going to speculate not about a hypothesis but about the concept of a hypothesis.

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Rodin, The Thinker. Photograph: Frank Kovalchek, via Wikimedia Commons.

Over at The Week, Keith Blanchard recently contributed a piece under the headline “Why you should stop believing in evolution,” with the subhead, “You don’t believe in it—you either understand it or you don’t.” The prose is engaging; I particularly liked the sentence, “Poodles, Rottweilers, Great Danes, Hollywood red-carpet purse dogs—all this fabulous kinetic art was created, and continues to be created, by humans manually hijacking the mechanism of evolution.” (Did you notice the perhaps inadvertent echo of the last sentence of the Origin of Species, “…from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved”?) And the piece is well-intentioned: Blanchard recognizes that there’s overwhelming evidence for evolution, acknowledges that the bulk of the rejection of evolution is motivated by religious concerns, and understands that people of faith have managed to make their peace with evolution nevertheless. But I’m a nitpicker, and I want to register five quibbles.

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