Best layman's explanation for Scientific Theory I have ever seen.

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Albums: Science

Comment by Pope Beanie on January 3, 2014 at 7:44pm

How about this:

Science: Absolute certainty, one step at a time, which anyone can repeat.

Faith: Absolute certainty with one giant leap, regardless of anyone's conflicting experience.

Comment by Unseen on July 5, 2014 at 3:08pm

@Heather - I wish we could edit our posts here.

You can, in a way. If you really need to fix something. Copy the post to clipboard, delete it, then post it again with the correction(s) made. Works much better the quicker you do it after the post you want to fix. Otherwise, you may simply want to explicitly notify anyone to whose post it refers that it's an edited post and you're sorry for reposting out of order

Comment by Strega on July 6, 2014 at 10:16am
Technically, religion is a theory. It isn't a very good one because it fails all the tests, but if one assumes the existence of a deity, without any hard evidence, then all the hypotheses surrounding religion are theories.
Comment by Dr. Bob on July 6, 2014 at 2:59pm

Oi, no, that's actually terrible.  There are some wonderful texts out there by the sociologists on the Nature of Science that are much better than these internet things.  I don't agree with all of them, necessarily, but they are interesting, and often quite thoughtful.

First, a "law" is just a theory created before the mid-1800s.  Before that time, the language of the scientific community was about Natural Law, and figuring out what the "laws" of nature were.  After about the mid-1800s the language (and science's way of looking at things) changed. 

So for example, the gas "laws" of people like Boyle, which are combined into the Ideal Gas Law are really just a "theory" in the modern sense of the word.  The Ideal Gas Law is a mathematical model describing the behavior of gasses under certain general conditions.  It's good as a first-order approximation for many practical things, but we all recognize that has been disproven in the general sense, and replaced by other models and formulations based on statistical mechanics.

Second, "facts" is a colloquial term used poorly here.  We don't have "facts" in science so much as we have observations and measurements.  Lots of high-quality measurements make us more confident about our laws/theories, and we'll sometimes use the colloquial when we talk about something that is well-established ("It is a fact that the Earth revolves around Sol"), but what we're really saying is that we have lots of high-quality observations that make us very confident about the theory or model.

It is true that for some theories there is at present no dispute within the scientific community.  There is no meaningful dispute over General Relativity or Quantum Electrodynamics, and we believe from a preponderance of evidence that those models of the world have great explanatory power.  That doesn't mean that we're necessarily satisfied with them, or that we don't dream up other theories.  It also doesn't mean that they will never be in dispute in the future.

I recognize that there's a desire to try to whack various imbeciles over the head when they stuff their fingers in their ears and go "la la la - not listening!" when we talk about evolution, or climate science, or geoscience, or Big Bang cosmology.  While it might occasionally be satisfying, I'm not sure that whacking them over the head is all that productive, and it may along the way cause us to misrepresent those disciplines that we really care about.

Comment by Dienekes on July 13, 2014 at 8:06am

@Pope Beanie: one thing I'd like to make sure people get straight about your post is that "string theory" is not really a Scientific Theory.  That just happens to be the (poorly worded) name of the concept.  "String theory" is currently a Scientific Hypothesis, as is the concept of a multiverse.

The Big Bang, however, IS actually a Scientific Theory.  We have a clear and concise understand of those processes down to a minute fraction of a second into it.  Granted, we do not know what caused it and can't prove the state of the universe at exactly the point in time when everything started, but that is irrelevant. 

Scientific Theories are not required to answer ALL questions, but rather comply with all known facts and not have any facts that contradict them.  They are the currently accepted explanation by the scientific community for a given set of facts.  There are other requirements as well, such as having enough facts to reasonably accept that a scientific Theory does cover a particular subject to the exclusion of any other explanation provided so far.  They also need to be models that have predictive elements, such that it is testable and verifiable and have passed some or all of those tests.

The Big Bang, gravity, evolution, germ, and atomic theories all fall within this description.  Are there potential flaws within any of them?  Sure.  Are there any other explanations that come close to explaining the set of data as well?  No.

The reason string theory isn't a Scientific Theory is that there are no predictive elements that have provided sufficient proof of its reliability and thoroughness.  It is internall consistent, but that isn't good enough for it to be elevated to the status of "Scientific Theory".  There are also competing hypotheses such as Loop Quantum Gravity, so String Theory is not exclusive in it's ability to explain all of the available data.

I'm not accusing you of not knowing this, but I just wanted to throw it out there, in case others are confused by the way these things work.  So many people confuse "theory" with "scientific theory" (even atheists that I have run into) and I wanted to go on record with this explanation.  I've seem many an atheist debating a religiot and not be able to articulate this when the religiot comes up with "evolution is "just" a theory" and not be able to clearly explain WHY that is a nonsensical fallacious argument.

Comment by Taranach on July 18, 2015 at 9:56pm
Dienekes... you were going along real good there and I could concur with what you were saying until you said "junk science" and used man made global warming as your example... you could have used astrology, tarot, alchemy, or any number of other falsities and yet you chose the one that has been proven every bit as much as the other "theories" you said were true and undisputed... when the ice cores show that CO2 levels have not risen above 300ppm over the past 800,000 years and in the past couple decades are now dancing over and around the 400ppm mark and CO2 is a proven greenhouse gas... that is a fact... sea levels have raised over two and a half inches since 1993 and each year the rate is increasing... also a fact.

Why yes... the local weather in the Northeastern US has been cooler this year, but it is the ONLY place on the entire planet to be cooler than normal... everywhere else is recording record highs.... also a fact.... perhaps you are unfamiliar with the polar vortex that has been wobbling and tipping across the northern hemisphere? the one that has caused some record cold and snowfall due to it's drunken wobbles... perhaps you have forgotten Katrina, and the greater flooding and tornadoes and other more severe weather that is driven by that great heat pump in our atmosphere? That's ok... I don't expect you to know everything, but I do expect you to check things out from multiple reliable sources... not the same crap mills that the Extreme Christian Right consults. This is happening weather you believe it or not... the avalanche is not going to suddenly and miraculously part ways and go back where it was because you do not believe it is happening....

I am sorry to say, but you have lost many credibility points with that single statement and will now have to work to regain what respect you had built. Your bias is showing...

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