is a method of investigation,
no more, no less. And that method has strict rules.
A specific science, like biology or physics, has
a structure of concepts based on the work of generations
of scientists. To view concepts as "facts" is
to miss the point completely. Meaningful research
can only be undertaken after one has understood these
basic concepts which so many before us struggled
to formulate (ps--"understand" does
not mean "believe!").
Trying to do meaningful research without understanding
basic science concepts is like trying to write a
novel before you know the alphabet or how to read.
Theory vs Hypothesis:
The method of science is to observe a series of events or phenomena and then, considering the concepts of that particular branch of science (and sometimes rejecting those concepts), to formulate an idea about the how and why. An idea like this is called a hypothesis--an educated guess. The word "theory," however, is used differently in science than it is in popular speech. In popular language, theory and hypothesis have the same meaning and are treated as synonyms. A "theory" in science, however, is the result of a hypothesis which has been tested by many other scientists from different perspectives and which holds up to experimental tests. A "theory" in science is a very elevated notion. A theory is an idea that has a large body of observational evidence to support it and that has come to be accepted by most scientists in the field of study. I'm sure you've all felt the consequences of the Theory of Gravity when you trip and fall. Yet we call Gravity a "theory" rather than a "fact" because there are no absolutes in scientific understanding. Although gravity is "only a theory," no one I know would doubt its validity enough to walk off a bridge to test it. Theories are always subject to the test of time, and most accepted theories prove in the long run to be correct but not complete, for example, Newton's Theory of Gravity and Einstein's. Newton's theory of gravity was not wrong, it was just incomplete. Einstein's theory of gravity is more general and incorporates Newton's. So the bottom line is that a "theory" in science is an idea that has so much experimental support that it is likely to be correct.
The Laws of Science:
word that is used differently in popular speech
than it is in science is the word "law." In popular language,
a "law" is
a "must," no questions asked. Mostly, societal laws are a
list of what you may not do. Rob a bank, go to
jail. In science, a "law" doesn't
mean anything so strict as that! A scientific law is a principle on
which things *seem* to work. Maybe they're right and maybe they're
just not complete, as with Newton's Laws of Motion.
There are no absolutes in scientific thought.
By "scientific law" we
- pretty - good - idea - about - how - this -
thing - works - but - gee - maybe - it's - more
- complicated - than - we - think - we'll - have
- to - wait - and - see law.
Science is never absolutely sure about anything,
so we continue to test theories and laws to see
if we can poke holes and thereby learn something
even more wonderful about Nature. That is what's
so wonderful about science. There are always
new adventures to take, new horizons to sail
across in our never-ending journey to understand
the nature of Nature.