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A Wilder View: It's more than "just a theory"

A Wilder View usually looks at the surprising science behind the animal world, But do you ever wonder how we know the truth?
Theories in Science
Posted at 4:52 PM, Oct 04, 2023

MISSOULA — A Wilder View usually looks at the surprising science behind the animal world. But do you ever wonder how we know the truth?

Scientists use theories every day to test what we know.

We’ve all probably heard it before – well, you know, it’s just a theory. In our everyday conversations, we use it to express a hunch or a guess without any concrete evidence. But in the realm of science, a theory takes on an entirely different meaning.

According to the American Museum of Natural History, a theory is defined as "A well-substantiated explanation of an aspect of the natural world that can incorporate laws, hypotheses, and facts." It represents the pinnacle of scientific understanding, built upon years of meticulous observations, experiments, and rigorous testing.

On Earth, what goes up must come down. That’s gravity and more specifically, that’s the theory of gravity.


Imagine you're constructing a beautiful brick home, meticulously laying one brick after another to create your masterpiece. However, the house itself never becomes a solid brick. That's not how construction works, just like a theory doesn't transform into facts.

Instead, scientific theories serve to explain facts, providing a comprehensive framework for understanding complex phenomena.

Scientific theories are not static; they are testable and subject to refinement. Much like a house with a weak foundation may need rebuilding, scientific theories may require updates or revisions as new evidence emerges.

Theories such as gravity, natural selection, evolution, and climate change aren’t random guesses or personal opinions. They’re time-tested explanations for why we observe the things we do.

The theory of relativity by Albert Einstein is not just about E=mc², it revolutionized our understanding of space and time, challenging conventional wisdom and reshaping our perception of reality.

Similarly, the theory of evolution goes beyond the concept of "survival of the fittest." It tells the story of our interconnectedness with all life forms on Earth, showcasing the incredible journey of life through millions of years. Supported by fossil records, genetics, and real-world observations, it reveals how life on our planet has transformed over time.


Now hypotheses are more so what we mean in everyday conversation when we say “theory”. It’s an educated guess! It's where the scientific journey begins.

A scientific theory is not the end result of the scientific method; theories can be proven or rejected, just like hypotheses.

Theories are continually improved or modified as more information is gathered so that the accuracy of the prediction becomes greater over time.

So, why do these misunderstandings persist? Well, part of it lies in the way science is communicated. Complex theories often get oversimplified, losing their nuance and depth.

Scientific theories don't just stay confined to textbooks and laboratories. They shape our lives, our technologies, and our understanding of the cosmos. They connect us to the universe in profound ways.