Monday, June 20, 2011

Scientific Terms 101

The term “theory” is not the same in science as it is in informal exchanges. Theory doesn’t mean just some educated guess, or some idea that somebody has conjured up. Within the scientific community, a theory is something that has been proven and is generally accepted as being true. Unfortunately, scientists are sometimes guilty of using the term “theory” in a colloquial sense which only further confuses many laymen.
A good basic definition of theory- an explanation of a set of related observations or events based upon proven hypotheses and verified multiple times by detached groups of researchers.

In looking at evolution, creationists and other naysayers like to point out that evolution is only a theory. They think that the word just means a hunch or one of many possibilities. Anyone looking at the evidence would come to a different conclusion pretty quickly. A theory and hypothesis don’t mean the same thing either.
A good basic definition of hypothesis (or hy-po-thee-sis as one caller on the Atheist Experience pronounced it…much to everyone’s amusement)-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 or continued observation.

Most creationists would state that evolution is in the hypothesis stage even though it hasn’t been in that infant stage for 150 years. Let’s get with the times, shall we? The theory of evolution has been proven, but there are new hypotheses developed by scientists all the time. This doesn’t mean that the theory has been unproven! It simply means that we know evolution occurs, but opinion varies on HOW it occurs when looking at in from a case by case perspective. For instance, we know that humans evolved from tree dwelling apes, but we don’t necessarily know the exact conditions which prompted bipedal locomotion.
Then there are scientific laws- 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.
The law of gravity and thermodynamics are popular scientific laws, but they are not the same as a theory. BOTH ARE GENERALLY CONSIDERED TO BE TRUE HOWEVER!

My adversary was trying to argue with me about how evolution was far from proven. He stated that it wasn't a law yet either. We can see from the above descriptions that there was simply some confusion about what these scientific terms imply.

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