Which of these descriptions best describes a theory? ?

A) an idea that has never been proven wrong. B) an educated guess. C)a conclusion reached from analyzing experiments data. D)a proven fact

6 Answers

  1. Facts are never proven. All of science knowledge is tentative. The future may bring new imagined ideas that provide better quantitative prediction and better explanation of prior experimental results. So, not D.

    An educated guess is the usual meaning for ‘hypothesis.’ So not B.

    This leaves a choice between A and C. Theories are ideas — mental concepts that we can hold in our heads and apply (use for deduction to predict outcomes for specific cases) over a bounded “mental volume” of possible situations. So the first part of A seems close. Theories are also tested, as often as possible, by using them to make deductions and then testing them by analyzing the results of germane experiments. So the last part of C seems close, too.

    The question turns on the second half of A and the first half of C. Are theories better seen as “conclusions” or better seen as having “never been proven wrong?”

    It’s problematic to say that a theory has never been proven wrong, because we use the term for Newton’s theory of gravitation and there is no question at all that Newton’s theory is profoundly wrong in presuming that the force of gravitation is an instantaneous one, for example. Einstein’s general theory of relativity replaces it, entirely. However, we still use Newton’s theory all the time (where it applies.) But Newton’s theory continues to be correct within a smaller “mental volume”, within which it works sufficiently well and isn’t proven wrong. In fact, all theories are held true because the overwhelming weight of existing evidence and predictive power in fact haven’t been proven wrong for the mental region within which they operate well. We may move the boundaries a bit as we learn more, so that they remain “always true, so far.” So A still might be a player here. Or not. Depending on which side of this you decide to fall.

    It’s also problematic to say that a theory is a “conclusion.” Theories are always tentative to what the future may bring. And they are idea-spaces, not conclusions. A conclusion is a matter of reasoned deductions or inferences. You might conclude from Newton’s theory of gravitation, for example, that a falling object near the surface of the Earth will experience a constant acceleration (for some sufficiently short time.) That would be a conclusion __from__ Newton’s theory of gravitation. But the theory itself is NOT a conclusion in the important sense of the word. You make conclusions from theory when given specifics of a situation. But the theory itself is not a conclusion.

    If I faced this question, I’d be mad at the question. Is a theory still a theory if it has been proven wrong? For example, the theory that the Earth was at the center of our solar system and that the known planets and sun traveled in perfect circles (or perfect circles imposed upon perfect circles, and so on) is wrong according to the current state of science theory and experimental result. But does that mean it isn’t a theory? It actually managed to predict the positions of the known planets and the sun fairly well, when it was sufficiently refined. In some ways, better than Copernicus’ sun centered theory (which is also wrong in using perfect circles but right(er) in moving the sun to the center.) It’s still a theory in some sense. Fact is, it is simply that we now have ones that are everywhere better at prediction and less complex to manage, besides. And as to a “conclusion”, scientists do reach conclusions from theory and they reach conclusions ABOUT theories (work well, don’t work well, etc.) after time enough happens for consensus to arrive. But that doesn’t make a theory a conclusion. Conclusions are deduction from theory for a given situation, not a theory itself.

    Interesting and I will leave it there without “concluding.” But forced, unlike others here, I’d probably choose A (and justify it by thinking we are discussing only the kinds of theories that are currently held and excluding those that have been refuted.)

  2. C is the best of those four.

    What would make C much better is the addition of one word:

    “an *explanatory* conclusion reached from analyzing experimental data.”

  3. Definitely C because science is constantly changing in time and theories have been proved and sometimes disproved…chopped/changed

  4. C)

    what grade level question is this?

  5. C

  6. the answer is “A”

Relevant information

I’m going to assume from previous learning it’s B. Theory is defined as “a supposition or a system of ideas intended to explain something, especially one based on general principles independent of the thing to be explained” Hope this helped.

Leave a Comment