Increase Your Brain Power
Sonia in Vert
Shared Idea
Interesting Excerpts
Awards and Honors
This Week's Puzzle
Last Week's Puzzle
Shared Idea
Theory vs. Law
       The terms theory and law are commonly misused in discussing scientific concepts. For general usage, a law is “a rule defining correct procedure or behavior” while a theory is “a supposition or idea used to account for a situation.” Under these definitions, a law is more important than a theory.
       When used in science, the terms do not have the same meanings and the definitions are different. Referring to the text currently used in my classroom, a scientific law is a “concise statement that summarizes the results of many observations and experiments.” A theory is defined as a “well tested explanation for a broad set of observations.” These definitions make it difficult to distinguish between the two terms.
       Consider some scientific laws. There is the law of definite proportions. Newton developed the law of gravitation and the laws of motion. There also are the law of planetary motion and the law of thermodynamics. These serve as a good sampling of scientific laws.
       Similarly, a sampling of scientific theories should be considered. There are the atomic theory and the quantum theory. Darwin and Wallace developed the theory of evolution. Two other well-known theories, at least as far as most people having heard of them, are the big bang theory and Einstein’s theory of general relativity.
       Most people place more value on laws than theories. They mistakenly believe that one level is proven while the other is not. That is not true. Both laws and theories are fundamental concepts. Both laws and theories are equally based on extensive observations. Likewise, both laws and theories are subject to modification should new evidence be discovered. For example, the law of conservation of mass and the law of conservation of energy were originally independent laws, but they were combined into a single law when Einstein explained how matter can be converted to energy and energy can be converted to matter.
       How, then, do theories differ from laws?
       Laws deal with concepts that can be directly observed. Such is not the case regarding theories. The evidence supporting them is indirect. The atomic theory and quantum theory deal with components that are too small to be seen directly, but that does not detract from the fact that evidence supports these theories. In like manner, we cannot travel in time to observe the big bang theory nor do we live long enough to actually observe the theory of evolution.
       Hopefully, this distinction will make it easier to conceptualize the difference between both terms. At the same time, it should also make it easier to understand why both laws and theories are of equal value.
  Website by Avi Ornstein, "The Blue Dragon" – 2009 All Rights Reserved