# Question about Scientific Theories

Every time I read a Christian talk about a Evolutionary theory, you get the typical "It's just a theory!"

Here's where I am confused...

Take String Theory. It is also called a theory and at it's core it says the everything is made of strings but we have no proof of this. I guess the same can be said about Quantum Theory?

My guess is that a theory is true is if has stood the test of time and has overwhelming acceptance in the Scientific Community and backed by a lot of evidence. Is it that simple?

Would appreciate some clarification on this.

Thanks.

#1Actually, it's only called a theory by scientists if it has stood the test of time, has overwhelming acceptance in the scientific community and is backed by lots of evidence. Unfortunately, in the US there is a massive ammount of ignorance of science. What the general public means by the word "theory" and what a scientist means are worlds apart. The idiots that spew out "it's only a theory" only demonstrate their own ignorance (or they are being purposely misleading.)

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#2Euclidean geometry is primarily theorems and yet it has built a lot of roads, bridges, and structures.

And yet it's insufficient in and of itself as a mathematical science since it doesn't cover everything that could be mathematically expressed.

The mathematics of angular momentum has had to be incorporated into Euclidean geometry; where physics is concerned, one has to add calculus...etc...and so it goes. It's safe to say, then, that a theory is an expression of an observation or set of observations but leaves the door open to appending and complementing by other disciplines in recognition of the fact that in and of itself it isn't a complete statement.

There remains that which is yet to be discovered and means by which it fits into and works with other theories/theorems.

For the longest time in human history there was no need of a place-holding value of a zero, and yet look how far we've come since its invention. And yet the theory of zero leaves its own unresolved difficulties like the division by it, etc.

The mathematics upon which science relies should be viewed as a language, and zero but a reference marker which serves most purposes but not all purposes. Same can be said of a theory--it serves particular purposes, but not all purposes.

I shall continue to be an impossible person as long as those who are now possible remain possible. {Michael Bakunin 1814-1876}

#3Well they call String Theory a theory and it hasnt meat the criteria you and I layed out.

Also when Darwin first proposed his theory of evolution it wasnt instantly accepted.

I understand common ignorant statement of it's only just a theory but my answer to them wont really be satisfactory when you take into account other theories that arent accepted.

Luckily they have all been really stupid so far and havent made the connection and come back with something like "well there are theories such as string theory that havent been proven so you telling me a theory is an explanation that's true has no merit"

#4Well, NO theory is an "explanation"; it's more like an expression of what's been observed to serve the purpose of establishing repeatability of what's been observed.

To the extent that String Theory may do that, it has validity within its limits. And all theories have their limits.

I shall continue to be an impossible person as long as those who are now possible remain possible. {Michael Bakunin 1814-1876}

#5Ig wrote:The problem actually lies in a misunderstanding of the English language. The term "theory" has several definitions. One of those definitions is specific to science and is defined (by dictionary.com anyway) as:

Now, the definition they are thinking of is:

Which is the more colloquial usage of the term. They are the one's who are confused. They think evolutionary science is just guesswork in a labcoat apparently. I usually just retort that there's also the theory of gravity, the germ theory of disease, et cetera. However, they don't seem to have a problem with any of these "conjectures".

#6Professionals in agribusiness disagree with your assessment of evolution as guesswork. The mechanisms utilized in natural selection have been put to artificial selection for decades. There isn't any guesswork in the field of hybridization and genetics either.

Rutgers is NOT a guesswork variety of tomato. The Morgan horse is NOT a guesswork type of horse. God didn't create either one of those--Man did, and he did so by manipulating natural selection artificially.

You have but to check with your local chapter of the National Iris Society for details on how it's done WITHOUT guesswork. You can doublecheck their work with irises by the people who do similar work with daylilies. Etc.

I shall continue to be an impossible person as long as those who are now possible remain possible. {Michael Bakunin 1814-1876}

#7Ig wrote:Well graviational theory is just that, a theory right? Well then I would challenge anyone who dismisses evolution as "just a theory" to go to the top of the tallest building they can find, and jump off. After all gravity is only described by the graviational theory...therefore it's just a theory and shouldn't be given any kind of credibility.

Theists who claim evolution as being just a theory have no idea what a theory is. It is due to the lack of education that is as virulent as the spread of religion in this country.

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#8I think the main point that Ig was getting at is, what about the theories that aren't quite as strong?

Larry just made the argument, that gravity is also a theory. Couldn't xians make the same argument about string theory?

As far as I understood it, string theory is far from being as widely accepted as several other scientific theories (like gravity and evolution).

"It is far better to grasp the Universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring." - Carl Sagan

#9IMHO, the best test of any theory is how well it holds up when practically applied, repeatedly. Theoretical Science gains credibility only so far as Applied Science is successful--repeatedly.

#10That's was my point V1per41. I don't think I made my post clear enough.

Anyways it doesnt really matter. I give up on these crazies with their 6000 year old earth and stuff. You show them evidence and they will say shit like "it takes faith to believe in that".

I just walk away now and will wait till they all die off.

#11Sapient and I lay out the difference between theory, law, fact and hypothesis:

http://www.rationalresponders.com/media/Mailbag/David6-26-06.mp3

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#12Clara Listensprechen wrote:Warning: this is a pedantic post by a math nerd.

All of mathematics is definitions, axioms, and theorems. Mathematicians use the word "theory" in a slightly different way. A mathematical theory is a group of definitions and axioms, and what can be logically duduced from these definitions and axioms. If you want to express somthing else, like hyperbolic geometry, you start with different axioms.

Clara Listensprechen wrote:I've never heard of a "theory of zero." There's no unresolved difficulties with division by zero. 0 is the additive identity in any ring. Division by 0 is simply undefined in a ring (the real numbers form a ring). Another way of putting it is 0 is the only member of a ring with no multiplicative inverse.

One can define division by 0 in the real or complex numbers (usually taken to be infinity), and do various things with that. This is usually done in conjunction with some sort of limiting process like one does in calculus.

Edit: Oops, I meant field instead of ring. This is why I'm not an algebraist.

#13Just a few nits to pick:

Mathematics is not a science. Math is totally unconcerned with evidence and the real world, it deals in proof. As such, the mathematical term "theorem" is quite distinct from the scientific term "theory".

When used by science, math is essentially just a language in which concepts can be couched.

If anything, math is an exploration of structure itself; math looks at the nature of structure and science chooses a mathematical structure in which its evidence fits.

MrRage: I can't tell from your post whether or not you have ever studied model theory. Your explanation of the word "theory" is extremely close to the definition used in model theory, but it includes definitions and makes no reference to a language.

For everyone who is confused by what I just said: In model theory, the term "theory" is used as follows.

Given a language and rules of inference, we say that sentence Y is a consequence of sentences {X1, X2, ...} if, through finitely many applications of the rules of inference to the Xi's, Y can be constructed.

A "theory" is a set of well-formed sentences in the language which contains all consequences of itself.

Practically, a theory is usually used as the set of consequences of a set of axioms, but that does not have to be the case.

Please realize, though, that this use of the word "theory" is only from a particular sub-branch of math and should not be taken as universally applicable.

#14Yiab wrote:I'm aware of model theory, but I have never studied it. I wish I had studied though.

My definition wasn't meant to be technical, just to get the gist of what mathematics does.