Scientific Laws, Hypotheses, and Theories
| Scientific Theory versus “Just a theory” Layman’s term: |
In layman’s terms, if something is said to be “just a theory,” it usually means that it is a mere guess, or is unproved. It might even lack credibility. But in scientific terms, a theory implies that something has been proven and is generally accepted as being true.
SCIENTIFIC LAW: This is a statement of fact meant to describe, in concise terms, an action or set of actions. It is generally accepted to be true and universal, and can sometimes be expressed in terms of a single mathematical equation. Scientific laws are similar to mathematical postulates. They don’t really need any complex external proofs; they are accepted at face value based upon the fact that they have always been observed to be true. Specifically, scientific laws must be simple, true, universal, and absolute. They represent the cornerstone of scientific discovery, because if a law ever did not apply, then all science based upon that law would collapse. Some scientific laws, or laws of nature, include the law of gravity, Newton’s laws of motion, the laws of thermodynamics, Boyle’s law of gases, the law of conservation of mass and energy, and Hook’s law of elasticity.
HYPOTHESIS: This is an educated guess based upon observation. It is a rational explanation of a single event or phenomenon based upon what is observed, but which has not been proved. Most hypotheses can be supported or refuted by experimentation.
THEORY: A theory is more like a scientific law than a hypothesis. A theory is an explanation of a set of related observations or events based upon proven hypotheses and verified multiple times by detached groups of researchers. One scientist cannot create a theory; he can only create a hypothesis. Theories may be expanded or modified with further scientific evidence.
Development of a Simple Theory by the Scientific Method: