Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

LEVELS OF CONCEPTS (anti-science people read NOW)

  1. May 20, 2003 #1
    Often times, the religiously drowned population, as well as just non-science people with honest intentions, like to use the word "theory" against a scientific concept. Let's face it, outside of the scientific community people know not a thing about science.

    To be widely considered a theory in science is a great honor. One can certainly call their concept a theory. But to become appropriate labeled a theory, a hypothesis must go through rigorous testing, many times by many different independant organizations.

    There is no particular rule as to the label of a concept. As you can see in my new post called "the world as I have come to see it" physics is the hardest science.

    Thus things in physics often recieve the term LAW. It's a fundamental principle, VERY FUNDAMENTAL. And something that shapes the entire existance of that area of science. Such as netwon's laws.

    A Theory and Law require the same rigorous testing. THEORY is just a term used in lesser sciences that are more complex.

    Because they're more complex, humans would probably make more mistakesss in their studies. That's the main reason LAWS are reserve for physics. You can also see some LAWS in chemistry, but rarely in biology.

    So, don't ever say "it's just a theory". To say that is to saw "It's just considered absolutely true and proven by hundreds of independant tests". It makes you, to the scientific community, certainly look like a mule.

    Remember, this is for widely accepted theories, in its given community. If you're questioning something in science you MUST:

    1. Be in the scientific community. Don't you dare be religious either.

    2. Have extraordinarily documented evidence, or a good plan to carry out the scientific method.

    As I stated before, this regards evolutionary theory. Evolution is a group of evolutionary agents. All accepted agents have been proven to exist in every niche and every ecosystem on our planet. Every single one.

    Don't you dare refute it unless you've done some serious investigation and experimentation. You just look downright stupid.
  2. jcsd
  3. May 20, 2003 #2
    I am missing your basis for excluding religious persons in scientific discussion.

    I am (or would be considered) religious. However, I understand the definition of the word "theory" as used in the scientific process. I am also a person who believes in the benefits of science. I doubt anyone here would disagree if I would suggest it is something the human race most definitely needs.

    It would appear to me that the major intersection of science and religion is in the debate about the creation and development of the world.

    Barring discussion there, why would a religious person have any difficulty seeing things in a "logical" manner? I think the majority of religious persons would agree with my previous statement about the great benefits of science.

    So don't group all religious people in a "science-hating" category...we most certainly (for the most part) do not belong there.
  4. May 20, 2003 #3
    This is perhaps an enormous nitpick on my part, and probably not warranted for some (those for whom this is preaching for the choir), but I figured it should be said.

    Maxwell's laws (to the best of my knowledge) have not changed their mathematical substance since old J.C. put them down in the 19th century. However, the theoretical framework outlining electrodynamics has gone through shifts from what is now called "classical" physics to relativity to quantum electrodynamics. Gas laws that are learnt in introductory physics and chemistry courses have not varied much since they were originally written down by Boyle and Charles and Gay-Lussac. I would say that the kinetic theory of gases and the introduction of statistical mechanics shed entirely new light on the gas laws since when they were originally devised.

    A "law" is, at least as I see it used in the scientific community, a mathematical relationship which holds true under certain circumstances. Newton's laws, which have been previously mentioned, had significant impact on the world of physics and are still of great utility (I use them for molecular dynamics simulations, in fact). A theory tends to be the framework in which these laws are placed and made sense of, for the most part. While it is probably safe to conclude that the aforementioned laws will always remain valid within their limits, they do not necessarily always include the entirety of the theoretical work in which they are included. Maxwell's equations do not easily lend themselves to including the entirety of SR and QED, for instance, at least as far as my tormented brain can tell.

    In short, as I hoped I've managed to do, there is a difference between a law and a theory, at least as the words are commonly used by scientists. Properly formulated laws will likely never change form to any significant degree (barring of course revolutions in formal notation), but the theories which are composed of these laws are undoubtedly subject to drastic revision if need be.

    *slinks back to work*
    Last edited: May 20, 2003
  5. May 20, 2003 #4
    I certainly tried to say a THEORY was different than a LAW. Not sure why you pointed it out again. THEORY and LAW are perhaps the most popular naming devices for a concept. LAW being greater than THEORY because it usually is a mathematical relationship.

    My ultimate point was to make people understand the significance of a widely accpeted THEORY. It's a distinquished term, and there's no logical reason to take it lightely at all.
  6. May 20, 2003 #5


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    Not true at all. Vector calculus didn't exist when Maxwell was doing his work. The common notation involving the curl and divergence is relatively new. Indeed, the shift has recently been made to an even more abstract formalism, differential forms, in which the curl, divergence, and gradient operations are all aspects of one single operator, the exterior derivative. Maxwell's laws have changed enormously in notation since his days. Of course the meaning of the equations has not changed.

    A law, in my opinion, is just a theory which is beyond experimental reproach. Newton's laws essentially perfectly describe the behavior of pendula and small objects in laboratories on Earth. As a result, there's really just no room for argument about their validity or capability. The domain of Newton's laws is in small velocities, small masses, and so on -- they've been tested in every possible way to enormous precision, and are simply beyond reproach over that domain.

    Relativity, by that measure, is not quite a law yet. It's certainly on its way, but there are still several experiments (like Gravity Probe B and LIGO) that must be completed satisfactorily to exhaust the experiment space as thoroughly as scientists have exhausted the experiment space for Newton's laws.

    Quantum mechanics shares the same boat. There remain many experiments which must be done before one can assert, without qualification, that QM explains all experiments within its domain. Then, and only then, could that theory be rightfully called a law.

    My personal opinion is that both relativity and QM will eventually bear the 'law' moniker, but only as GUTs expose larger areas of unknown physics. Currently, there are no known experiments which are outside the domain of (QM + relativity) -- their domains are technologically unbounded. GUTs will eventually show us the boundaries of both QM and relativity, though. Eventually we'll have the technology to conduct experiments with results that would not be explainable with either QM or relativity alone, but only by the GUT. The GUT may allow us to finally close the boundaries inside which QM and relativity apply, and we would then, in principle, be able to completely exhaust the space of experiments within those boundaries. We might well then call QM and relativity "laws," within those boundaries.

    - Warren
    Last edited: May 20, 2003
  7. May 20, 2003 #6


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    I'm sorry, but that's not what the label "theory" means. A theory is the body of analysis arising from a collection of facts or observations.

    The thing that sets something like "Newton's Theory of Gravitation" or "Einstein's Theory of Special Relativity" apart from other theories is that they were (are) scientifically accepted theories. Rigorous testing and widespread belief are not requirements for a scientific theory to be called, well, a theory; string theory is a nice example.

    You are correct you your admonishment that the statement "just a theory" taken literally doesn't really mean anything; the person making such an utterance should take care to say what they mean instead of using a cliche.
  8. May 20, 2003 #7
    Hurkyl - I didn't say a theory always means that. I said that this is how it is used in science. Meaning that rigurously tested hypotheses are called theories usually. Not that all theories are rigurously tested. In otherwords, the word is thrown around yes, but it's also used for some serious claims.
  9. May 20, 2003 #8

    You still do get the same answers with either method, no? If not, perhaps it's time for me to go review my EM now instead of later this week....(also have been meaning to read that book on the geometry of physics I got on sale...)


    Reason I mentioned what I did is because I've said exactly what you said in discussions/flame wars and had people take it completely out of context. (Been there, debated the creationists, wanted to bash my skull against the nearest brick wall.)
  10. May 20, 2003 #9


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    Oh certainly, you get the same results. It just requires less work (or maybe more work -- or maybe just different work!) to get the answer with increasingly modern formalisms.

    - Warren
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook