The Dutch Atheist
“It’s called a theory because it hasn’t been proven.”Theist Claim
the argument

This is a claim we hear way to often. One would argue that a theory is just a thought process, without any evidence supporting it. I think a lot of the confusion is derived from how we use the word theory in everyday life. You often hear things such as ‘in theory it should work, but experience tells us otherwise’. Also, it is important to understand that there is a big difference between a scientific theory and a ‘normal’ theory.

If we search Wikipedia for the two words, the first sentences explain quite a lot:

Theory:

Theory is a contemplative and rational type of abstract or generalizing thinking, or the results of such thinking.

SOURCE

Scientific Theory:

A scientific theory is a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world that is acquired through the scientific method and repeatedly tested and confirmed through observation and experimentation.

SOURCE

Reading and comparing the above, two things really stand out. In theory ‘thinking’ and in scientific theory ‘well substantiated’.

It’s easy to come up with a simple theory. Imagine holding two objects, one heavy, one light, but of the same shape. One would think that if you’d drop the objects, the heavy object will fall first. That’s then a theory: the heavy object will fall faster than the lighter one.

To make such a theory, also called a hypothesis, a scientific theory, one has to come up with evidence using the scientific method. This means that you would have to do experiments such as observation and measurement to then formulate and modify a theory that can be tested by others.
In this specific example you would have to have a system that would release the two objects from height at exactly the same time. Then at ground level you would have to measure the exact moment of impact. It must be tested over and over, documented and formulated. The experiment would show the theory to be incorrect- the objects would reach the ground at the same time.
After the theory is completed and well documented, one would publicize it for peer-review. The theory would then be open for any one expert in the field to test and correct. After it has been tested over and over and the theory would be hold it would be accepted. It has now become a scientific theory- the best way to describe nature with the knowledge we currently possess.

long story short

A theory is the result of a thought process, explaining some event or aspect of nature, without any evidence other than rational thought to back it up.

A scientific theory is proven through experiments, measurements and/or observation, it has been tested by other experts in the field. It may be incomplete or slightly perfected over the years, but it currently stands as the best way to describe nature.

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