When is a theory 'just a theory'?

by HB 70 Replies latest watchtower beliefs

  • Phizzy

    The problem lies simply with people not understanding how the word Theory is used in Science as opposed to how we use it. I found this useful :

    Definitions of Fact, Theory, and Law in Scientific Work

    Science uses specialized terms that have different meanings than everyday usage. These definitions correspond to the way scientists typically use these terms in the context of their work. Note, especially, that the meaning of “theory” in science is different than the meaning of “theory” in everyday conversation.

    • Fact: In science, an observation that has been repeatedly confirmed and for all practical purposes is accepted as “true.” Truth in science, however, is never final and what is accepted as a fact today may be modified or even discarded tomorrow.
    • Hypothesis: A tentative statement about the natural world leading to deductions that can be tested. If the deductions are verified, the hypothesis is provisionally corroborated. If the deductions are incorrect, the original hypothesis is proved false and must be abandoned or modified. Hypotheses can be used to build more complex inferences and explanations.
    • Law: A descriptive generalization about how some aspect of the natural world behaves under stated circumstances.
    • Theory: In science, a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world that can incorporate facts, laws, inferences, and tested hypotheses.


    The Role of Theory in Advancing 21st Century Biology, National Academy of Sciences

  • redvip2000

    Biological evolution started out as a theory, now its accepted as fact through decades of various kinds of tests and scientific inquiries upon physical evidence.

    In reality, not quite. A scientific theory never graduates to being a fact, or law, or anything else. It starts as a theory and remains a theory. The very basis of a scientific theory is that there is always room for someone to come along and disprove it or enhance it. It's NOT like religious dogma which is said to be absolute truth, despite contrary evidence.

    The best evidence for solidity of a theory is the amount of evidence collected over time that supports it, so in essence a scientific theory which has been around for 150 years is likely solid as a rock, since countless of attempts to disprove it have been made.

    This is the case with the theory of evolution, or the theory of relativity, or the atomic theory, or the theory of the heliocentricity, or any other theory. They will never become something else, despite being true.

  • slimboyfat
    I've read the comment that Marxist theory may be an incomplete theory of history but it's the only theory we've got.
  • Landy
    TBH she should be sacked for her total ignorance of the meaning of the word Theory when used in a scientific conext just as she should be sacked if she teaches creationism as a viable alternative to evolution.
  • Finkelstein

    In reality, not quite.

    I posted that comment as to the comparative knowledge of what started as an expressive theory by Darwin to what has now been discovered accumulatively to date.

    Biological evolution might be better defined as a theory of probability based from observational evidence.

  • David_Jay

    Cofty is correct in calling evolution a "fact," because of the fact that it is a "scientific theory."

    The terminology in analysis is merely different than our vernacular speech. In the scientific method when one establishes a "fact" they have what is called a "working theory," which means a validated observation. In everyday speech that is what we call a "fact."

    Most of us are not scientists, and even the most analytical of among us speak in the vernacular. For instance, whereas "fact" in everyday speech is equal to "scientific theory," the everyday use of the word "theory" in science is "hypothesis."

    Analytical methods use terms differently than they are employed in everyday speech. Similar to the use of the word "theory" and it's different meanings in science compared to the vernacular, critical Biblical analysis uses the word "myth" in a different way than used in everyday speaking. A critical "myth" is a story explaining how something came to be employing narrative devices, a story of origins. In everyday speech we use the word "myth" to mean a "false" report. But a critical myth is neither necessarily false nor fact, it's just a tale of the origins of this or that.

    So when one speaks in the vernacular it is correct to call evidence a "fact." When speaking in scientific terms it is the "theory of evolution."

  • talesin

    If someone chooses to bait Xtians by using the word "fact" instead of "theory", does anybody really care? Stop fueling the flames. Is this a sandbox or an adult support group / discussion forum?

    As far as using 'common vernacular' as an explanation, I say fuddle-duddle! If I am going to TEACH something, I shall use the correct terms. And since when did 'fact' become the common term for 'theory'? That's only an issue HERE because someone chose to make it an issue.


    From the Urban Dictionary (widely accepted as the best source of the current English common vernacular):

    1. In common, everyday language when you have a theory it means you simply have a guess. It doesn't have to be supported by evidence or fact.

    2. In the scientific community, an explanation supported by a evidence and is logically sound.
    1. "My theory is that Jane stole the cookie from the cookie jar!" - Jack after he found no cookies in the cookie jar.

    2. The theory of Evolution logically explains why life is so diverse, and the evidence that supports it includes fossils, DNA, living specimens, and bacterial research.
  • cofty
    If someone chooses to bait Xtians by using the word "fact" instead of "theory", does anybody really care? Talesin

    Millions of intelligent christians accept the fact of evolution.

    Creationism is the bedrock of JW theology. Presenting powerful objective evidence that it is false is not "baiting" anybody.

    If I am going to TEACH something, I shall use the correct terms. - Talesin

    It is scientifically correct to speak about the fact of evolution.

    Fact - "Every living thing evolved from a common ancestor over millions of years"

    "We can say that evolution was a theory when first proposed by Darwin, and since 1859 has graduated to "facthood" as more and more supporting evidence has piled up. Evolution is still called a "theory" , just like the theory of gravity, but it's a theory that is also a fact." Jerry A, Coyne in Why Evolution is True p.18

    Coyne is a professor of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Chicago. He has taught biology for more than 25 years and published widely. He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

  • Mephis

    In using definitions, Phizzy's from the National Academy of Sciences are very useful because words sometimes have very specific contextual meanings. Theory in science is one of those times.

    I've yet to see anyone dismiss fears about nuclear power or weapons with the reassuring "all that atomic stuff - it's only a theory". No-one seriously rejects the theory of gravity any more (I suppose those who did reject it are long since weeded from the gene pool...). But then neither of those challenge religious beliefs, and the word 'theory' does have the unfortunate ability to be the same one we use for Cousin Bob's ideas about who really was on the grassy knoll.

  • cofty
    If the bible explicitly taught that the sun revolves around a flat earth - it does but not explicitly - there would be millions of christians dismissing cosmology as "just a theory".

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