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Only a theory

Discussion in 'Religious Issues' started by ArtificialGrape, Jun 11, 2013.

  1. We see these "only a theory" type remarks all the time. They are generally addressed in each thread, but it seems that a standalone thread is warranted.

    Whenever I see these remarks it is immediately clear that the author does not understand how the words are used in the scientific community. If you prefer to watch than to read, jump to the video at the bottom of the message.

    Facts are observations -- they have no explanatory power.
    • The sun rises in the east and sets in the west.
    • The eastern coastline of South America matches the western coastline of Africa.
    • Simple life forms appear in the geologic column before more complex life forms.

    Hypotheses are testable/falsifiable statements that explain the known facts.
    • Geocentrism was a hypothesis before becoming a theory.
    • Plate tectonics was a hypothesis before becoming a theory.
    • Evolution was a hypothesis before becoming a theory.

    Theories are built on confirmed hypotheses and explain a large body of facts. Theories are not hunches or wild guesses as the term may be used on the street. Theories are built on enough evidence that a single anomalous data point is unlikely to falsify the theory, though it may require a revision to the theory.

    Theories do not aspire to becoming laws. Not all fields of science even use the terminology of "law". When "law" is used, it is a generalization of behavior (or equation(s)) within the framework of a theory. There is no subsequent term for a theory that is massively supported by evidence.

    The example that everybody loves... within biology, even though evolution is supported by a metric arse load of evidence across multiple disciplines, it will always be a theory, it will not be described as the law of evolution.
    • Heliocentrism replaced geocentrism when there became enough data to falsify geocentrism.
    • Theory of plate tectonics.
    • Theory of evolution.
    • Big Bang theory.
    • Germ theory.
    • Atomic theory.

    Here are a few scientists discussing how the terms are used among the scientific community.

    [ame=""]Just a theory?[/ame]
    Last edited: Jun 11, 2013
  2. dbcooper


    Mar 2, 2011

  3. Glock36shooter


    May 30, 2010
    Tagging this in my new sig for quick reference. Thanks AG.
  4. steveksux

    steveksux Massive Member

    Jul 12, 2007
    Interesting explanation of scientific terms you posted there...

    Tell me, though, are you sure that explanation is 100% factual, or is it only a theory?


    Sent from my DROID RAZR HD using Ohub Campfire mobile app
    Last edited: Jun 11, 2013
  5. Last edited: Jun 11, 2013
  6. dbcooper


    Mar 2, 2011

    A law generalizes a body of observations. At the time it is made, no exceptions have been found to a law. Scientific laws explain things, but they do not describe them. One way to tell a law and a theory apart is to ask if the description gives you a means to explain 'why'.
    Example: Consider Newton's Law of Gravity. Newton could use this law to predict the behavior of a dropped object, but he couldn't explain why it happened. As you can see, there is no 'proof' or absolute 'truth' in science. The closest we get are facts, which are indisputable observations. Note, however, if you define proof as arriving at a logical conclusion, based on the evidence, then there is 'proof' in science. I work under the definition that to prove something implies it can never be wrong, which is different. If you're asked to define hypothesis, theory, and law, keep in mind the definitions of proof and of these words can vary slightly depending on the scientific discipline. What is important is to realize they don't all mean the same thing and cannot be used interchangeably.
  7. Jakestir


    Feb 16, 2013
    North central IL
    Good post. Nailed it.

    Sent from my Milestone X2 using Ohub Campfire mobile app
  8. rustytxrx


    Oct 17, 2012
    Laws may not be laws but local ordinances.

    I have spent a life time trying to understand. It all comes down to this....If you took all the atomic space and atomic motion out of matter, all the world's population would go less than two cubic inches of volume. All the beautiful theories and thoughts came from the space and motion that structured matter. Space, motion and structure are the difference between life and a lump of quantum stuff. There has just got to be some magic in there somwwhere