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Defining the Scientific Theory

Subutai
Posts: 3,227
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3/28/2014 9:41:21 PM
Posted: 2 years ago
I hear way too often, usually from creationists, that a particular scientific idea is "just a theory". The problem is that such people do not understand what is meant in science by the term "theory". A theory is not an untested hypothesis, but alternatively, a heavily tested hypothesis. A theory is more general than a law. The main characteristic of a theory is that it is "breathing", and will change, but is very unlikely to be rejected through further experimentation.

This article from Kennesaw State University shows five definitions of a scientific theory:

"1) The grandest synthesis of a large and important body of information about some related group of natural phenomena

2) A body of knowledge and explanatory concepts that seek to increase our understanding ("explain") a major phenomenon of nature.

3) A scientifically accepted general principle supported by a substantial body of evidence offered to provide an explanation of observed facts and as a basis for future discussion or investigation

4) A scheme or system of ideas or statements held as an explanation or account of a group of facts or phenomena; a hypothesis that has been confirmed or established by observation or experiment, and is propounded or accepted as accounting for the known facts; a statement of what are held to be the general laws, principles or causes of something known or observed.

5) An explanation for an observation or series of observations that is substantiated by a considerable body of evidence."

http://science.kennesaw.edu...

Notice how there is nothing in here about untested hypotheses or ideas that don't stand up to rigorous experimentation and peer-review.

One of the main problems that this misconception stems from is that a law is somehow superior to a theory. From the same source, "Some scientists will tell you that the difference between them is that a law describes what nature does under certain conditions, and will predict what will happen as long as those conditions are met. A theory explains how nature works." It later explains that there is not hierarchy of scientific terminology here. A theory is not a process towards a law. A law could even be described as a terse form of a theory.

For example, gravity is technically a theory, but Newton's law of universal gravitation (F=Gm1m2/r^2) is just that - a law. Since gravity is only a theory, if you still believe that theories are untested hypotheses of speculation, then go jump of a cliff (metaphorically).

A TalkOrigins article explains how this applies specifically to the theory of evolution: "First, we should clarify what "evolution" means. Like so many other words, it has more than one meaning. Its strict biological definition is "a change in allele frequencies over time." By that definition, evolution is an indisputable fact. Most people seem to associate the word "evolution" mainly with common descent, the theory that all life arose from one common ancestor. Many people believe that there is enough evidence to call this a fact, too. However, common descent is still not the theory of evolution, but just a fraction of it (and a part of several quite different theories as well). The theory of evolution not only says that life evolved, it also includes mechanisms, like mutations, natural selection, and genetic drift, which go a long way towards explaining how life evolved."

http://www.talkorigins.org...

The same could be said of the Big Bang Theory. It has been rigorously tested, and numerous of its predictions have been found to be true, not the least of which was the discovery of gravitational waves from the big bang itself.

To be fair, both sides can be fallible here. Evolution is not a theory or fact - it is both a theory and fact. My main point is, next time you see a theory, don't discredit it on the sole basis that "it is only a theory", as that is actually an argument in that theory's favor.
I'm becoming less defined as days go by, fading away, and well you might say, I'm losing focus, kinda drifting into the abstract in terms of how I see myself.
blaze8
Posts: 164
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3/28/2014 10:48:09 PM
Posted: 2 years ago
At 3/28/2014 9:41:21 PM, Subutai wrote:
I hear way too often, usually from creationists, that a particular scientific idea is "just a theory". The problem is that such people do not understand what is meant in science by the term "theory". A theory is not an untested hypothesis, but alternatively, a heavily tested hypothesis. A theory is more general than a law. The main characteristic of a theory is that it is "breathing", and will change, but is very unlikely to be rejected through further experimentation.

This article from Kennesaw State University shows five definitions of a scientific theory:

"1) The grandest synthesis of a large and important body of information about some related group of natural phenomena

2) A body of knowledge and explanatory concepts that seek to increase our understanding ("explain") a major phenomenon of nature.

3) A scientifically accepted general principle supported by a substantial body of evidence offered to provide an explanation of observed facts and as a basis for future discussion or investigation

4) A scheme or system of ideas or statements held as an explanation or account of a group of facts or phenomena; a hypothesis that has been confirmed or established by observation or experiment, and is propounded or accepted as accounting for the known facts; a statement of what are held to be the general laws, principles or causes of something known or observed.

5) An explanation for an observation or series of observations that is substantiated by a considerable body of evidence."

http://science.kennesaw.edu...

Notice how there is nothing in here about untested hypotheses or ideas that don't stand up to rigorous experimentation and peer-review.

One of the main problems that this misconception stems from is that a law is somehow superior to a theory. From the same source, "Some scientists will tell you that the difference between them is that a law describes what nature does under certain conditions, and will predict what will happen as long as those conditions are met. A theory explains how nature works." It later explains that there is not hierarchy of scientific terminology here. A theory is not a process towards a law. A law could even be described as a terse form of a theory.

For example, gravity is technically a theory, but Newton's law of universal gravitation (F=Gm1m2/r^2) is just that - a law. Since gravity is only a theory, if you still believe that theories are untested hypotheses of speculation, then go jump of a cliff (metaphorically).

A TalkOrigins article explains how this applies specifically to the theory of evolution: "First, we should clarify what "evolution" means. Like so many other words, it has more than one meaning. Its strict biological definition is "a change in allele frequencies over time." By that definition, evolution is an indisputable fact. Most people seem to associate the word "evolution" mainly with common descent, the theory that all life arose from one common ancestor. Many people believe that there is enough evidence to call this a fact, too. However, common descent is still not the theory of evolution, but just a fraction of it (and a part of several quite different theories as well). The theory of evolution not only says that life evolved, it also includes mechanisms, like mutations, natural selection, and genetic drift, which go a long way towards explaining how life evolved."

http://www.talkorigins.org...

The same could be said of the Big Bang Theory. It has been rigorously tested, and numerous of its predictions have been found to be true, not the least of which was the discovery of gravitational waves from the big bang itself.

To be fair, both sides can be fallible here. Evolution is not a theory or fact - it is both a theory and fact. My main point is, next time you see a theory, don't discredit it on the sole basis that "it is only a theory", as that is actually an argument in that theory's favor.

http://www.debate.org...

To be clear, we have not actually discovered primal gravitational waves. We have simply observed effects on light which would be consistent with the existence of gravitational waves. Last time I checked, no one has actually seen gravity physically.
"For I am a sinner in the hands of an angry God. Bloody Mary full of vodka, blessed are you among cocktails. Pray for me now and at the hour of my death, which I hope is soon. Amen."-Sterling Archer
Subutai
Posts: 3,227
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3/29/2014 1:49:57 PM
Posted: 2 years ago
At 3/28/2014 10:48:09 PM, blaze8 wrote:
At 3/28/2014 9:41:21 PM, Subutai wrote:
I hear way too often, usually from creationists, that a particular scientific idea is "just a theory". The problem is that such people do not understand what is meant in science by the term "theory". A theory is not an untested hypothesis, but alternatively, a heavily tested hypothesis. A theory is more general than a law. The main characteristic of a theory is that it is "breathing", and will change, but is very unlikely to be rejected through further experimentation.

This article from Kennesaw State University shows five definitions of a scientific theory:

"1) The grandest synthesis of a large and important body of information about some related group of natural phenomena

2) A body of knowledge and explanatory concepts that seek to increase our understanding ("explain") a major phenomenon of nature.

3) A scientifically accepted general principle supported by a substantial body of evidence offered to provide an explanation of observed facts and as a basis for future discussion or investigation

4) A scheme or system of ideas or statements held as an explanation or account of a group of facts or phenomena; a hypothesis that has been confirmed or established by observation or experiment, and is propounded or accepted as accounting for the known facts; a statement of what are held to be the general laws, principles or causes of something known or observed.

5) An explanation for an observation or series of observations that is substantiated by a considerable body of evidence."

http://science.kennesaw.edu...

Notice how there is nothing in here about untested hypotheses or ideas that don't stand up to rigorous experimentation and peer-review.

One of the main problems that this misconception stems from is that a law is somehow superior to a theory. From the same source, "Some scientists will tell you that the difference between them is that a law describes what nature does under certain conditions, and will predict what will happen as long as those conditions are met. A theory explains how nature works." It later explains that there is not hierarchy of scientific terminology here. A theory is not a process towards a law. A law could even be described as a terse form of a theory.

For example, gravity is technically a theory, but Newton's law of universal gravitation (F=Gm1m2/r^2) is just that - a law. Since gravity is only a theory, if you still believe that theories are untested hypotheses of speculation, then go jump of a cliff (metaphorically).

A TalkOrigins article explains how this applies specifically to the theory of evolution: "First, we should clarify what "evolution" means. Like so many other words, it has more than one meaning. Its strict biological definition is "a change in allele frequencies over time." By that definition, evolution is an indisputable fact. Most people seem to associate the word "evolution" mainly with common descent, the theory that all life arose from one common ancestor. Many people believe that there is enough evidence to call this a fact, too. However, common descent is still not the theory of evolution, but just a fraction of it (and a part of several quite different theories as well). The theory of evolution not only says that life evolved, it also includes mechanisms, like mutations, natural selection, and genetic drift, which go a long way towards explaining how life evolved."

http://www.talkorigins.org...

The same could be said of the Big Bang Theory. It has been rigorously tested, and numerous of its predictions have been found to be true, not the least of which was the discovery of gravitational waves from the big bang itself.

To be fair, both sides can be fallible here. Evolution is not a theory or fact - it is both a theory and fact. My main point is, next time you see a theory, don't discredit it on the sole basis that "it is only a theory", as that is actually an argument in that theory's favor.

http://www.debate.org...

To be clear, we have not actually discovered primal gravitational waves. We have simply observed effects on light which would be consistent with the existence of gravitational waves. Last time I checked, no one has actually seen gravity physically.

http://www.scientificamerican.com...

While true, "This pattern, basically a curling in the polarization, or orientation, of the light, can be created only by gravitational waves produced by inflation." In other words, the lambda-CDM model is the only current cosmological theory that could explain this. Although yes, no one has seen gravity physically, there is no doubt that it exists, how it works (with the exception of the undiscovered graviton). Gravitational waves come from the same theory (general relativity) as our current best description of how gravity works does.
I'm becoming less defined as days go by, fading away, and well you might say, I'm losing focus, kinda drifting into the abstract in terms of how I see myself.