What’s a Theory?

I’ve been meaning to write this post for quite some time. Recently I’ve had quite a few people (of the creationism side of Christianity) argue with me about certain things. One thing they say is ‘well evolution is only a theory’. This gets me rather irate. They flamboyantly say ‘theory’ as if it were some sort of guess or sudden thought that popped into someones head. This couldn’t be further from the truth! In this post I want to settle the matter and tell you what a theory actually is and what it means. Listen closely!

Everything is a theory! The theory of evolution, the theory of thermodynamics, the theory of quantum mechanics, the Big Bang theory…the theory of gravity! That’s right, even gravity, the fundamental force that effects all of us, every day, is a theory.

A theory doesn’t start with someone making an uniformed, rash opinion on something. A theory starts with things that have been observed. From these observables, a small amount of them to begin with, we can make a theory or indeed theories. In fact lets say 5 different people, at this stage, come up with 5 different theories from the limited amount of information provided. Let the experimentation begin.

Theories need to be tested. Experiments are set up to prove and disprove the theories. If you’re unwilling to try to disprove your theory then you’re really not open enough to critical thought. Our experiments, lets say, have whittled us down to two, perhaps opposing, theories. You must now change your experiments or make a new one.  This is an important part, the experiments need to be fine tuned. After this, when we get down to one theory, and there’s no other evidence to suggest otherwise we have arrived at an accepted theory. We commonly call these theories fact! Evolution is a fact, gravity is a fact.

In the future, near or distant, new information becomes available, new observables are found. We can now refine, re-tune, change our theories to fit with what’s observed. This is the beauty of science, ever changing.

Science changes its view based on what’s observed

I’m not suggesting a different, completely opposing view on evolution will be found, but it will be fine tuned. Like anything in science there are gaps in our knowledge and we work to find out what these are.

We journey from ignorance to knowledge

So please, when you  decide to argue, please, please be sure as to what a theory is as so to not make yourself look like a fool. Thank you!