By Steve Mueller
When a Theory is not a Theory
A theory is not always a theory. People confuse everyday use of the word theory with scientific theory. Applying the wrong theory definition in nature niches causes problems. The two theories have different meanings (like many words often do) and that makes it difficult for us to understand why science has only one accepted theory for a given conclusion.
In everyday use the word theory means best preliminary idea of that happened. “How did the accident occur?” In science, a theory is the evidence-based conclusion proving “How the accident occurred.” For scientific acceptance, it must also have accepted repeatable methods of experimentation. A scientific theory requires physical evidence as proof. In everyday use the word theory precedes evidence-based proof as a potential truth.
Scientific theory is the refined statement of knowledge based on experimental and physically supported evidence. It is more correct than facts. Facts are transitional truths at a moment in time. Facts may used to develop theories and later facts may cease to be true.
Examples of known facts from an earlier time:
Humans see the same visual spectrum
The Earth is the center of the universe
Swallows hibernate in winter at the bottom of lakes
The Sun moves around the Earth daily
These facts were the best knowledge of nature niche occurrences based on known evidence at that time. Now all are proven incorrect. Gathering of experimental evidence often changes facts and our working knowledge of how nature functions.
Scientific theories, however, are the most supported evidence for understanding how nature functions. They are based on continuing experimentation and rigorous scientific challenges. Science has a self-correcting design. Scientists challenge experimental methods and conclusions for every finding. Each conclusion must be verified with repeatable physical experimental evidence before it is accepted as the most correct explanation. If 100 percent of the time the physical evidence supports the conclusion, it may be elevated to theory status. It is then considered more correct and truthful than facts that tend to change with time.
When the scientific community identifies something as a theory, it means scientific evidence is overwhelmingly conclusive as the one correct explanation. When new scientific experiments demonstrate a flaw in a theory, the theory must either be discarded or the flawed portion removed from the theory. Scientifically, theories are the one correct explanation. For this reason we do not have a theory of global climate change because there are too many contributing factors that have not all been experimental incorporated together to explain the causes of climatic change. That does not mean global climate change is not occurring or that we do not know many of the causes.
Science has a limited number of theories but has a tremendous number of hypotheses. A hypothesis is a synonym with the word theory used in everyday conversation. That is where many people get the false idea that a scientific theory is an educated guess instead of the most truthful account with an evidenced based conclusion. Theories like the Cell Theory, Gene Theory, and Theory of evolution have repeatable experimental evidence support used to scientifically understand how nature niches function.
Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at the firstname.lastname@example.org Ody Brook, 13010 Northland Dr, Cedar Springs, MI 49319-8433.