I waited far too long to listen to this discussion between Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss. The topic was science education, and the points the two men raise are absolutely fascinating.
There was one point in particular I wanted to focus on, being the point that inspired the title of this post. The two scientists were having a bit of a laugh at the ancient creationist one-liner “It’s just a theory,” and of course Professor Dawkins pointed out that creationists refer to the colloquial definition of the word “theory,” while scientists use it in a very strict sense. What he said next was fascinating. He explained that when creationists and scientists speak of theory, they’re actually speaking two different languages. In the language that scientists use, which is a rigorous, academic language where words have precise meanings, the creationist word “theory” actually means “hypothesis.” In the colloquial language of creationists, the scientists’ word “theory” translates far better as “fact.”
Professor Dawkins then went on to compare the theory of evolution to the theory that the object on stage was in fact a table, and that empirically all one can hope for is to fail to disprove the hypothesis that it is in fact a table. Perhaps the best job of exposing the ridiculousness of the “it’s just a theory” line I’ve ever seen. I haven’t done it justice, please listen to the discussion!