What’s the difference between a scientific law and theory? – Matt Anticole


Chat with a friend about
an established scientific theory and she might reply,
“Well, that’s just a theory.” But a conversation about
an established scientific law rarely ends with,
“Well, that’s just a law.” Why is that? What is the difference
between a theory and a law, and is one better? Scientific laws and theories
have different jobs to do. A scientific law predicts
the results of certain initial conditions. It might predict your unborn
child’s possible hair colors, or how far a baseball travels
when launched at a certain angle. In contrast, a theory tries to provide
the most logical explanation about why things happen as they do. A theory might invoke
dominant and recessive genes to explain how brown-haired parents
ended up with a red-headed child, or use gravity to shed light
on the parabolic trajectory of a baseball. In simplest terms, a law predicts what happens
while a theory proposes why. A theory will never grow up into a law, though the development of one
often triggers progress on the other. In the 17th century, Johannes Kepler
theorized cosmic musical harmonies to explain the nature of planetary orbits. He developed three brilliant laws
of planetary motion while he was studying decades
of precise astronomical data in an effort to find support
for his theory. While his three laws
are still in use today, gravity replaced his theory of harmonics
to explain the planets’ motions. How did Kepler get part of it wrong? Well, we weren’t handed
a universal instruction manual. Instead, we continually propose,
challenge, revise, or even replace our scientific ideas
as a work in progress. Laws usually resist change since they wouldn’t have been adopted
if they didn’t fit the data, though we occasionally revise laws
in the face of new unexpected information. A theory’s acceptance, however,
is often gladiatorial. Multiple theories may compete
to supply the best explanation of a new scientific discovery. Upon further research, scientists tend to favor the theory
that can explain most of the data, though there may still
be gaps in our understanding. Scientists also like
when a new theory successfully predicts previously unobserved phenomena, like when Dmitri Mendeleev’s theory
about the periodic table predicted several undiscovered elements. The term scientific theory
covers a broad swath. Some theories are new ideas
with little experimental evidence that scientists eye with suspicion, or even ridicule. Other theories, like those involving the Big Bang,
evolution, and climate change, have endured years
of experimental confirmation before earning acceptance by the majority
of the scientific community. You would need to learn more about
a specific explanation before you’d know how well
scientists perceive it. The word theory
alone doesn’t tell you. In full disclosure, the scientific community has bet
on the wrong horse before: alchemy, the geocentric model, spontaneous generation, and the interstellar aether are just a few of many theories
discarded in favor of better ones. But even incorrect theories
have their value. Discredited alchemy was the birthplace
of modern chemistry, and medicine made great strides long before we understood the roles
of bacteria and viruses. That said, better theories often lead
to exciting new discoveries that were unimaginable
under the old way of thinking. Nor should we assume
all of our current scientific theories will stand the test of time. A single unexpected result is enough
to challenge the status quo. However, vulnerability to some potentially
better explanation doesn’t weaken
a current scientific theory. Instead, it shields science from becoming
unchallenged dogma. A good scientific law
is a finely-tuned machine, accomplishing its task brilliantly but ignorant of why it works
as well as it does. A good scientific theory is a bruised,
but unbowed, fighter who risks defeat if unable to overpower
or adapt to the next challenger. Though different, science needs both laws and theories
to understand the whole picture. So next time someone comments that
it’s just a theory, challenge them to go nine rounds
with the champ and see if they can do any better.

99 thoughts on “What’s the difference between a scientific law and theory? – Matt Anticole”

  1. I hate when someone tells me about some scientific data and claims it to be 100% true. Most of the time, scientific data is, like the video said, a work in progress, so it might not always be as accurate as some people claim it to be.

  2. if in 1000 years humans perception system like vision etc has changed then if data doesnt fit with our laws then would be proven wrong? if we somehow evolved then we will perceive world different from now these laws would have no sense?

  3. Anyone that claims a theory is different from practice is only substituting their own theory in place of another. Usually out of confusion or ignorance.

  4. S'theory is statement on observations but S'law is a full proof rule based on the observations and documentations.

  5. For instance the redshift in the universe?
    E. Hubble observed as first that galaxies have a redshift in the light, and the further away the larger the redshift.
    Hubble made up the theory that redshift was caused by moving away of the galaxies, and this theory became a law.
    But a better theory is that galaxies have a redshift because of distance, and the larger the distance the larger the redshift.
    When moving away there is a redshift because of the distance plus the moving away, is if the increasing distance is accelerating.
    Or not?

  6. We understand every idea of this reflexion. But even so it will still be a theory. Is not a law, a reality. other theories may have the same force to confront scientific ideas. Any atrophy of these strikes is to exercise dogma.

  7. To include the monumentally imprecise “climate change” on a level with evolution is just embarrassing to the authors. I know no one of intellect who challenges the theory of evolution. As to “climate change,” what are you even talking about? If you mean that climate changes over time, I doubt you could find anyone who would argue the point. If, rather, you mean CAGW, as I suspect, please don’t try to sell the magic beans that this is accepted on the same level as evolution. The science behind evolution is deep and rich and has withstood decades upon decades of official attacks by governments and organized religion. CAGW is the outcome of a new age pep rally of scientists bought and paid for by politicians who need a pretext to control peoples’ lives.

  8. But the fact remains that scientific theories are not inarguable or unchanging. Sooooo . . . Saying that something is "just a theory" would be valid, because it is NOT proven. Although, yes, the person saying that should have a logical, coherent alternative explanation for the evidence.

  9. I have a theory… i cant stay up long because youre supposed to make it real.. interferences from the universe

  10. I don't get this. A theory 'explains' a certain observed phenomena. So does another. How do you distinguish between the two, which one is more valid? You deduce logical consequences from the propositions of that theory and test them – in other words, theories have to predict an observed event in advance of experience and be right, only then is it a valid theory. So both laws and theories involve predictions.

    Also, if the sole task of a theory is to explain things, then we risk bringing in all kinds of psuedoscience into the fore. Any event can be explained by a theory by adding auxillary hypothesis. Psychoanalysis prevents falsification by adding such unfalsifiable hypotheses every time it is contradicted.

    How do you know which is a valid theory, then? Again, making predictions in advance of experience. Theory of relativity made a bold prediction in 1919 (I think) and turned out to be true. When was the last time psychoanalysis even made a bold prediction?

  11. If there is no solid evidence for time being linear is there any way to know that every scientific “law” is just mere coincidence corresponding with the present we live in?

  12. The difference between Theory and Law is that Theories are spherically shaped and Laws are cube shaped.

    Like for free vbucks

  13. Fact: A single piece of objectively verifiable evidence.
    Something happens.

    Law: a consistent pattern in a natural phenomena, given the right circumstances.
    If facts A, B & C are in place, fact D will invariably happen.

    Theory: An explanation of the natural phenomena that is consistant with all available Facts and observed Laws.
    How it all happens.

  14. Theory of evolution does not have almost any evidence yet you say that could stand better than other theories??? Interesting!!!

  15. Knowledge is never definite. Some theories are based on previous theories. Theories require the acceptation of a hypothesis. A Hypothesis requires the acceptation o suppositions. And laws are just observations while theories explanations, but are laws truth, can we trust empiricism?

  16. "Why" and "How" are misleadingly used here. The "Why" implies a sentient will, while scientific theories tell the way nature works.

  17. Hi, thanks for the lovely video, its great…I love the humour in the animation very much…Encourage you to continue the same…:)

  18. The only real problem is in forensic science when law is overruled by convenient theory. Any statement that is measurably always true, is scientific law. Forensic science involves construction of scientific law from any given real life story problem.

  19. Scientist: the big bang theory is the most widely accepted theory of the creation of the universe based on lots of evidence and observations
    Uneducated Person:
    iTsJuSTaThEoRy

  20. Good thing about the unchallenged dogma and theories otherwise things might be accepted as true when there is ZERO evidence of their truthfulness… like evolution. Nice in a science book. Not so much on a book of evidence and proof.

  21. The primary difference between a scientific law and a scientific theory is that a law is a theory that has been tested sufficiently and produced consistent results that it can be assumed to be a fact and thus not need to be proven itself when used to support a conclusion drawn for a different theory. It does not mean that it cannot be falsified, merely that, thus far, falsification attempts have not provided sufficient evidence. That's one of the reasons why gravity is still tested with new methods. A theory is a hypothesis that has been well tested and has had repeated results consistent to support the hypothesis with a minimal amount of data opposing it, making an assumption that the theory is a fact reasonable when variations in the data are accounted for. Thus, unlike the colloquial use of the term, a scientific theory is not merely a guess, it is a guess that has been repeatedly shown to be correct. A hypothesis is more than a mere guess, it represents a synthesis of observations into a possible explanation in a testable form.

  22. To my knowledge and I might be wrong there is always only a single current scientific theory on a topic and sometimes even none. The challengers of the theory would be hypotheses, right?

  23. The thing that people don't seem to understand is that theories often incorporate laws and observed phenomenon. So creationists saying evolution is just a theory don't seem to understand that the theory of evolution merely explains how we think these insane number of iterations of species came to exist, but the fact the all life on earth has a common ancestor that predates their bible ISN'T up for debate; we KNOW it happened, and evolution is our theory on how it happened. Therefore they're still left holding an empty sack as the great Hitchens would say, even if we admit it's "just a theory".

  24. Debunked theories in science https://www.famousscientists.org/10-most-famous-scientific-theories-that-were-later-debunked/

  25. So a Scientific Theory is a well explained why something works or not, while Scientific laws explain how it works or not, with scientific facts explaining what is and what is not. Got it.

  26. This is some nice scientific dogma you have established here. Theory is an educated guess. Stop trying to deify science. Nothing is absolute and no product of the fallible human mind is in fact infallible.

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