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Difference Between Theory and Law

Theory and law are interrelated. It is a common misconception that these two may be used alternatively.
Now let us take a look at each one in detail.


According to science, a law is a generalized statement set after a number of observations. A law has no
explanations or exceptions when it is framed. It is an obvious fact recorded after observations.

A good example of this may be the force of gravity. It is observed that an apple falls down on the surface
of the Earth. It is an undeniable fact. This observation has no exceptions also. No one has ever observed
a reverse or alternative phenomenon. Hence it is considered to be a law.

There is another misconception about the hierarchical level of law. A group of scientists is of the idea
that there is a hierarchy of hypothesis, theory, and law, but this is only an erroneous statement. Laws are
obvious and simple statements.


A theory is the explanation of the observational data set forward in the form of a law. In simple words, a
theory is the reasoning behind a law. It may also be put as an advanced or evolved hypothesis.
Hypothesis is a probable reason behind any observation. A hypothesis has to undergo various tests. If
the hypothesis holds well in different conditions, it may be accepted as a theory.

Taking account of the previous example of the law of gravity, in 1687 Sir Isaac Newton put forward the
inverse square law in his journal. It was till then a hypothesis. This law was put to a test by different
scientists in the study of planetary motion. With some of the planets the hypothesis held good but
exceptions were there. At this stage, Newtons hypothesis was accepted as a theory, the gravitational
theory. This theory was later superseded by Einsteins Theory of Relativity.

A theory can be a strong one if it has a lot of evidence to back it. It may also be regarded as a weak
theory if the amount of accuracy in its prediction is low. A theory may become obsolete with time and be
replaced by a better one. A law, however, is a universally observable fact. It is undeniable and never
fades away with the stretch of time.


1.A law is an observation; a theory is the explanation of that observation.

2.A theory requires experimentation under various conditions. A law has no such requirements.
3.A theory may become obsolete with time. This is not the case with a law.

4.A theory can be replaced by another better theory; however, this never happens with a law.

5.A theory may be strong or weak according to the amount of evidence available. A law is a universally
observable fact.

Difference between Law and Theory

Key difference: Law and theory are two terms that are often used in context of scientific terminology.
The main difference between a law and a theory is that a theory tries to explain the reasoning behind
something that occurs in nature, whereas scientific laws are just descriptive accounts of how something
occurs in nature.

Law and theory are two terms that are often used in context of scientific terminology. A law mainly refers
to a statement that is generally considered as fact by the scientific community. The reason as to why the
law is true may not be known, however, the fact that it is, is evidently visible.

For example: Newtons Law of Gravity, which states that all objects in the universe are attracted to each
other, and hence are likely to pull each other towards themselves with a force, i.e. the gravitational
force. The law is considered to be true and taken as a fact because it can be observed, i.e. everything
thrown in the air falls back to the earth. The reason for this is not stated nor explained by the law. The
law merely states that the object does fall to the earth every time. Hence, it must be true.

However, since then, other scientists have studied the reason as to why the objects do fall in the manner
that they do. These scientists have attempted to explain the reasoning behind the law. These attempted
reasoning are known as Theories.

For example: Einsteins Theory of Gravity which aimed to explain how and why gravity worked, an
explanation which was not adequately covered by Newtons Law of Gravity. Newtons Law of Gravity
merely stated that it did and how.

A scientific theory is essentially a type of explanation for the way things occur in the universe. It offers an
explanation that is consistent with the scientific method, and it also fulfills the criteria required by
modern science. It can also be said that theories are tested and proved hypotheses, which are confirmed
through observation and experimentation.

A theory is only valid up until the time that there is evidence to disprove it. As soon as that evidence is
found then, the theory is disproven and is no longer valid. A new theory would then be formed taking in
consideration the new evidence on the matter.

The main difference between a law and a theory is that a theory tries to explain the reasoning behind
something that occurs in nature, whereas scientific laws are just descriptive accounts of how something
occurs in nature. Hence, laws are limited and can only be applied in certain instances. However, it is
generally considered that laws are always true, whereas people are always trying to disprove theories.

Difference Between Hypothesis and Theory

Beyond that their significance is important and descriptive of the approach that is central to the scientific
process. These two terms are originated in the same time frame and much of the derivation is the same
as well citing Greek as one of the most recent sources.

The term hypothesis is used to refer to an explanation of things that occur. In some cases, it may refer to
a simple guess. In other instances it may be a well-developed set of propositions that are crafted to
explain the detailed workings of some occurrence or occurrences. One definition states specifically that
it is the antecedent to a conditional proposition.

The hypothesis is formed and tested within the scientific process . One may develop the hypothesis
while observation is occurring, but that may also be considered premature. The act of observation
(outside of experimentation) may actually present opportunity to disprove a hypothesis. The hypothesis
though is necessarily well defined and inclusive of details. This allows for accurate testing. It also in many
cases distinguishes it from a theory.

The term theory is one of a rather scientific nature, but of a less limited nature. Some uses can refer to
explanations of occurrences; some do include usage as referencing a simple guess. There is more
though. Theory is used to refer to a branch of study that is focused on the general and conceptual, as
compared to the practical and the applied of the same subject. It is significant that a theory is
conjectural in nature.

Within the scientific process, the use of a theory is like a working model or understanding of what is
occurring. The theory is often developed in the course of observation (in a non-experiment setting).
Though, it is further developed by experimenting and the testing of hypotheses, a theory is only a
theory. By its existence it maintains its validity. Once a theory is disproved, it is usually dismissed.

An illustration of sorts: If one watches water fall from a table after being spilled, one might develop the
theory that water moves toward the floor. Then a hypothesis may be developed that states, water will
move toward the flooring regardless of its direction relative to the table. Then testing of the hypothesis
might include holding samples of the flooring in numerous directions relatively to the table and then
releasing the same amount of water with the same vector on the table. If the water does not move
upward from the edge of the table toward the flooring above the table, the hypothesis is incorrect and
must be replaced.

Those are the major distinctions of theory and hypothesis and their similarities.
Read more: Difference Between Hypothesis and Theory | Difference Between

Hypothesis vs. Theory

A hypothesis is either a suggested explanation for an observable phenomenon, or a reasoned prediction

of a possible causal correlation among multiple phenomena. In science, a theory is a tested, well-
substantiated, unifying explanation for a set of verified, proven factors. A theory is always backed by
evidence; a hypothesis is only a suggested possible outcome, and is testable and falsifiable.

Comparison chart

Differences Similarities

Hypothesis versus Theory comparison chart

Edit this comparison chart Hypothesis Theory

Definition A suggested explanation for an observable phenomenon or prediction of a possible

causal correlation among multiple phenomena. In science, a theory is a well-substantiated, unifying
explanation for a set of verified, proven hypotheses.

Based on Suggestion, possibility, projection or prediction, but the result is uncertain.

Evidence, verification, repeated testing, wide scientific consensus

Testable Yes Yes

Falsifiable Yes Yes

Is well substantiated No Yes

Data Usually based on very limited data Based on a very wide set of data tested under various

Instance Specific: Hypothesis is usually based on a very specific observation and is limited to that
instance. General: A theory is the establishment of a general principle through multiple tests and
experiments, and this principle may apply to various specific instances.

Purpose To present an uncertain possibility that can be explored further through experiments
and observations. To explain why a large set of observations are consistently made.

Examples of Theory and Hypothesis

"No amount of experimentation can ever prove me right; a single experiment can prove me wrong."
Albert Einstein
Theory: Einstein's theory of relativity is a theory because it has been tested and verified innumerable
times, with results consistently verifying Einstein's conclusion. However, simply because Einstein's
conclusion has become a theory does not mean testing of this theory has stopped; all science is ongoing.
See also the Big Bang theory, germ theory, and climate change.

Hypothesis: One might think that a prisoner who learns a work skill while in prison will be less likely to
commit a crime when released. This is a hypothesis, an "educated guess." The scientific method can be
used to test this hypothesis, to either prove it is false or prove that it warrants further study. (Note:
Simply because a hypothesis is not found to be false does not mean it is true all or even most of the
time. If it is consistently true after considerable time and research, it may be on its way to becoming a

Common Misconception

People often tend to say "theory" when what they're actually talking about is a hypothesis. For instance,
"Migraines are caused by drinking coffee after 2 p.m. well, it's just a theory, not a rule."

This is actually a logically reasoned proposal based on an observation say 2 instances of drinking
coffee after 2 p.m. caused a migraine but even if this were true, the migraine could have actually been
caused by some other factors.

Because this observation is merely a reasoned possibility, it is testable and can be falsified which
makes it a hypothesis, not a theory.

What is the difference between a hypothesis and a theory?

A hypothesis is an attempt to explain phenomena. It is a proposal, a guess used to understand and/or

predict something. A theory is the result of testing a hypothesis and developing an explanation that is
assumed to be true about something. A theory replaces the hypothesis after testing confirms the
hypothesis, or the hypothesis is modified and tested again, until predictable results occur.

So, a person might make an observation and immediately form a hypothesis about why something
happens the way it does. He or she then tests the hypothesis, modifies it if necessary, and eventually
develops a theory. The hypothesis might change significantly as testing occurs. A hypothesis can be right
or wrong, but a theory is supposed to be true based upon the scientific method. So, when a hypothesis
has been verified to be true, it becomes a theory.

What is the difference between Hypothesis and Theory?

In scientific terms;
A hypothesis is either a suggested explanation for an observable phenomenon, or a reasoned prediction
of a possible causal correlation among multiple phenomena. In science, a theory is a tested, well-
substantiated, unifying explanation for a set of verified, proven factors. A theory is always backed by
evidence; a hypothesis is only a suggested possible outcome, and is testable and falsifiable.

This is quite different from how the term "theory" is used in common parlance, which is closer to the
scientific term "hypothesis" or "educated guess".

Some people get confused about theories in science and believe they "grow up" to become laws.

A law, by contrast;

A scientific law generalizes a body of observations. At the time it is made, no exceptions have been found
to a law. Scientific laws explain things, but they do not describe them. One way to tell a law and a theory
apart is to ask if the description gives you a means to explain 'why'. The word "law" is used less and less
in science, as many laws are only true under limited circumstances.



a supposition or a system of ideas intended to explain something, especially one based on general
principles independent of the thing to be explained.



a supposition or proposed explanation made on the basis of limited evidence as a starting point for
further investigation."professional astronomers attacked him for popularizing an unconfirmed



(1) An established principle thought to be universal and invariable.

(2) A scientific generalization based on empirical observations of physical behavior.

This is the Difference Between a Hypothesis and a Theory

In scientific reasoning, they're two completely different things

As anyone who has worked in a laboratory or out in the field can tell you, science is about process: that
of observing, making inferences about those observations, and then performing tests to see if the truth
value of those inferences holds up. The scientific method is designed to be a rigorous procedure for
acquiring knowledge about the world around us.


In scientific reasoning, a hypothesis is constructed before any applicable research has been done. A
theory, on the other hand, is supported by evidence: it's a principle formed as an attempt to explain
things that have already been substantiated by data.

Toward that end, science employs a particular vocabulary for describing how ideas are proposed, tested,
and supported or disproven. And that's where we see the difference between a hypothesis and a theory.

A hypothesis is an assumption, something proposed for the sake of argument so that it can be tested to
see if it might be true.

In the scientific method, the hypothesis is constructed before any applicable research has been done,
apart from a basic background review. You ask a question, read up on what has been studied before, and
then form a hypothesis.

A hypothesis is usually tentative, an assumption or suggestion made strictly for the objective of being

When a character which has been lost in a breed, reappears after a great number of generations, the
most probable hypothesis is, not that the offspring suddenly takes after an ancestor some hundred
generations distant, but that in each successive generation there has been a tendency to reproduce the
character in question, which at last, under unknown favourable conditions, gains an ascendancy.

Charles Darwin, On the Origin of Species, 1859

According to one widely reported hypothesis, cell-phone transmissions were disrupting the bees'
navigational abilities. (Few experts took the cell-phone conjecture seriously; as one scientist said to me,
"If that were the case, Dave Hackenberg's hives would have been dead a long time ago.")

Elizabeth Kolbert, The New Yorker, 6 Aug. 2007

A theory, in contrast, is a principle that has been formed as an attempt to explain things that have
already been substantiated by data. It is used in the names of a number of principles accepted in the
scientific community, such as the Big Bang Theory. Because of the rigors of experimentation and control,
its likelihood as truth is much higher than that of a hypothesis.

It is evident, on our theory, that coasts merely fringed by reefs cannot have subsided to any perceptible
amount; and therefore they must, since the growth of their corals, either have remained stationary or
have been upheaved. Now, it is remarkable how generally it can be shown, by the presence of upraised
organic remains, that the fringed islands have been elevated: and so far, this is indirect evidence in
favour of our theory.

Charles Darwin, The Voyage of the Beagle, 1839

An example of a fundamental principle in physics, first proposed by Galileo in 1632 and extended by
Einstein in 1905, is the following: All observers traveling at constant velocity relative to one another,
should witness identical laws of nature. From this principle, Einstein derived his theory of special

Alan Lightman, Harper's, December 2011

In non-scientific use, however, hypothesis and theory are often used interchangeably to mean simply an
idea, speculation, or hunch (though theory is more common in this regard):

The theory of the teacher with all these immigrant kids was that if you spoke English loudly enough they
would eventually understand.

E. L. Doctorow, Loon Lake, 1979

Chicago is famous for asking questions for which there can be no boilerplate answers. Example: given the
probability that the federal tax code, nondairy creamer, Dennis Rodman and the art of mime all came
from outer space, name something else that has extraterrestrial origins and defend your hypothesis.

John McCormick, Newsweek, 5 Apr. 1999

In his mind's eye, Miller saw his case suddenly taking form: Richard Bailey had Helen Brach killed
because she was threatening to sue him over the horses she had purchased. It was, he realized, only a
theory, but it was one he felt certain he could, in time, prove. Full of urgency, a man with a mission now
that he had a hypothesis to guide him, he issued new orders to his troops: Find out everything you can
about Richard Bailey and his crowd.

Howard Blum, Vanity Fair, January 1995

And sometimes one term is used as a genus, or a means for defining the other:

Laplace's popular version of his astronomy, the Systme du monde, was famous for introducing what
came to be known as the nebular hypothesis, the theory that the solar system was formed by the
condensation, through gradual cooling, of the gaseous atmosphere (the nebulae) surrounding the sun.

Louis Menand, The Metaphysical Club, 2001

Researchers use this information to support the gateway drug theory the hypothesis that using one
intoxicating substance leads to future use of another.
Jordy Byrd, The Pacific Northwest Inlander, 6 May 2015

Fox, the business and economics columnist for Time magazine, tells the story of the professors who
enabled those abuses under the banner of the financial theory known as the efficient market hypothesis.

Paul Krugman, The New York Times Book Review, 9 Aug. 2009

Since this casual use does away with the distinctions upheld by the scientific community, hypothesis and
theory are prone to being wrongly interpreted even when they are encountered in scientific contexts
or at least, contexts that allude to scientific study without making the critical distinction that scientists
employ when weighing hypotheses and theories.

The most common occurrence is when theory is interpretedand sometimes even gleefully seized upon
to mean something having less truth value than other scientific principles. (The word law applies to
principles so firmly established that they are almost never questioned, such as the law of gravity.)

This mistake is one of projection: since we use theory in general use to mean something lightly
speculated, then it's implied that scientists must be talking about the same level of uncertainty when
they use theory to refer to their well-tested and reasoned principles.

The distinction has come to the forefront particularly on occasions when the content of science curricula
in schools has been challengednotably, when a school board in Georgia put stickers on textbooks
stating that evolution was "a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things." As Kenneth R.
Miller, a cell biologist at Brown University, has said, a theory "doesnt mean a hunch or a guess. A theory
is a system of explanations that ties together a whole bunch of facts. It not only explains those facts, but
predicts what you ought to find from other observations and experiments.

While theories are never completely infallible, they form the basis of scientific reasoning because, as
Miller said "to the best of our ability, weve tested them, and theyve held up."

What is the difference between a scientific hypothesis, theory, and law?

When reading scientific articles (and many other articles on Futurism), you will see the
terms hypothesis, theory, and law used to describe something. In the scientific
community these words have very specific definitions. For laypeople, sometimes these
definitions get confusing because many time these words are used differently in a
colloquial context.

So, what does it mean when you call something a hypothesis, a theory, or a law?

A hypothesis is a reasonable guess based on what you know or observe. Hypotheses

(plural of hypothesis) are proven and disproven all of the time. Hypotheses play a strong
role in the scientific method where you formulate a question, create a hypothesis, make
a testable prediction, test, and then analyze the data. Even then, a hypothesis needs to
be tested and retested many times before it is generally accepted in the scientific
community as being true.

Example: You observe that, upon waking up each morning, your trashcan is overturned
with trash spread around the yard. You form a hypothesis that raccoons are responsible.
Through testing, the results will either support or refute your hypothesis.


A scientific theory consists of one or more hypotheses that have been supported with
repeated testing. Theories are one of the pinnacles of science and are widely accepted in
the scientific community as being true. To remain a theory, it must never be shown to be
wrong; if it is, the theory is disproven (this also happens). Theories can also evolve. This
means the old theory wasnt wrong, but it wasnt complete either. Here are some

Creating a more complete theory Newtonian physics and General


When Sir Isaac Newton discovered the theory of gravity and wrote laws that explained
the motions of objects, he was not wrong; but he wasnt fully right either. Einstein later
discovered the theories of special and general relativity and this creates a more complete
theory of gravity. In fact, when you stay far below the speed of light, many of the
equations in general and special relativity give you Newtons equations. NASA, for the
record, uses Newtons equations when planning missions for their spacecraft.

Overturning a theory Steady State vs Big Bang

What happens when you have two theories
that contradict each other, as is the case with the Steady State and Big Bang theories?
For a very brief summery on these theories. the Steady State theory says the universe is
Steady and doesnt change whereas the Big Bang theory says the universe started at
some point in time in a big bang.

In this case, scientists make observations, hypothesis and testable predictions to figure
out which one is right (Example: I observe the universe is expanding, I hypothesize
there was a beginning, I test by doing the math). Eventually, either one theory is
overturned completely (as is the case with Steady State vs Big Bang) or the correct
aspects of each theory are combined to form a new theory.

In either case, the theories then need to withstand the rigors of testing and retesting.
After a theory proves itself overtime, it is accepted into the scientific community as
being correct. In many cases, these theories are the groundwork on which other theories
are built on. An example is general/special relativity, these theories lay the foundation
for many, many other theories and equations (such as Hubbles law and the
Schwarzschild radius). If relativity were ever overturned, that would be very bad (but,
also good because it means science advanced).

Note: In cases like relativity, since the math always works out, the likelihood of that
happening is very, very small. Rather, relativity will probably be proven a smaller piece
in a lager more complete theory scientists hypothesize about called Grand Unification
but that is a post for another time.

Scientific laws are short, sweet, and always true. Many times laws are expressed in a
single expression. Laws cannot ever be shown to be wrong (that is why there are many
theories and few laws). Laws are accepted as being universal and are the cornerstones of
science. If a law were ever to be shown false, then any science built on that law would
also be wrong; then the domino effect would have a new (and devastating) meaning.
Laws generally rely on a concise mathematical equation

Some examples of scientific laws (also called the laws of nature) include the laws of
thermodynamics, Boyles law of gasses, the laws of gravitation, and a several others.


In the end, it is all about using it correctly. A

law is used to describe an action under certain circumstances (Evolution is a law it
happens but the law doesnt describe how). A theory describes how and why something
happens (Evolution by natural selection, in which there are a host of descriptions for
various mechanisms, describes the method in which evolution works). Another example
is seen in Einsteins famous equation E=mc^2, which describes the action of energy
being converted to mass. The theory of special and general relativity, on the other hand,
show how and why something with mass is unable to travel at the speed of light (among
other things).

I hope that this will help expand your knowledge on what it means when scientists call
something a hypothesis, a theory, or a law.

Hypothesis, Model, Theory & Law

Know the Difference Between a Hypothesis, Model, Theory,

and Law
Hypothesis, theory, and law have specific meanings in science. A law, like Newton's Law of Gravity,
typically includes a mathematical equation. Dorling Kindersley, Getty Images


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by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

Updated October 02, 2016

In common usage, the words hypothesis, model, theory, and law have different
interpretations and are at times used without precision, but in science they have very
exact meanings.


Perhaps the most difficult and intriguing step is the development of a specific, testable
hypothesis. A useful hypothesis enables predictions by applying deductive reasoning,
often in the form of mathematical analysis.
It is a limited statement regarding the cause and effect in a specific situation, which
can be tested by experimentation and observation or by statistical analysis of the
probabilities from the data obtained. The outcome of the test hypothesis should be
currently unknown, so that the results can provide useful data regarding the validity of
the hypothesis.

Sometimes a hypothesis is developed that must wait for new knowledge or technology to
be testable. The concept of atoms was proposed by the ancient Greeks, who had no
means of testing it. Centuries later, when more knowledge became available, the
hypothesis gained support and was eventually accepted by the scientific community,
though it has had to be amended many times over the year. Atoms are not indivisible, as
the Greeks supposed.


A model is used for situations when it is known that the hypothesis has a limitation on
its validity.

The Bohr model of the atom, for example, depicts electrons circling the atomic nucleus
in a fashion similar to planets in the solar system. This model is useful in determining
the energies of the quantum states of the electron in the simple hydrogen atom, but it is
by no means represents the true nature of the atom.

Scientists (and science students) often use such idealized models to get an initial grasp
on analyzing complex situations.


A scientific theory or law represents a hypothesis (or group of related hypotheses)

which has been confirmed through repeated testing, almost always conducted over a
span of many years. Generally, a theory is an explanation for a set of related
phenomena, like the theory of evolution or the big bang theory.

The word "law" is often invoked in reference to a specific mathematical equation that
relates the different elements within a theory. Pascal's Law refers an equation that
describes differences in pressure based on height. In the overall theory of universal
gravitation developed by Sir Isaac Newton, the key equation that describes the
gravitational attraction between two objects is called the law of gravity.

These days, physicists rarely apply the word "law" to their ideas. In part, this is because
so many of the previous "laws of nature" were found to be not so much laws as
guidelines, that work well within certain parameters but not within others.

Once a scientific theory is established, it is very hard to get the scientific community to
discard it.

In physics, the concept of ether as a medium for light wave transmission ran into serious
opposition in the late 1800s, but it was not disregarded until the early 1900s,
when Albert Einstein proposed alternate explanations for the wave nature of light that
did not rely upon a medium for transmission.

The science philosopher Thomas Kuhn developed the term scientific paradigm to
explain the working set of theories under which science operates. He did extensive work
on the scientific revolutions that take place when one paradigm is overturned in favor of
a new set of theories. His work suggests that the very nature of science changes when
these paradigms are significantly different. The nature of physics prior to relativity and
quantum mechanics is fundamentally different from that after their discovery, just as
biology prior to Darwins Theory of Evolution is fundamentally different from the
biology that followed it.

The very nature of the inquiry changes.

One consequence of the scientific method is to try to maintain consistency in the inquiry
when these revolutions occur and to avoid attempts to overthrow existing paradigms on
ideological grounds.


One principle of note in regards to the scientific method is Occams Razor (alternately
spelled Ockham's Razor), which is named after the 14th century English logician and
Franciscan friar William of Ockham. Occam did not create the concept - the work of
Thomas Aquinas and even Aristotle referred to some form of it. The name was first
attributed to him (to our knowledge) in the 1800s, indicating that he must have
espoused the philosophy enough that his name became associated with it.

The Razor is often stated in Latin as:

entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem

or, translated to English:

entities should not be multiplied beyond necessity

Occam's Razor indicates that the most simple explanation that fits the available data is
the one which is preferable. Assuming that two hypotheses are presented have equal
predictive power, the one which makes the fewest assumptions and hypothetical entities
takes precedence. This appeal to simplicity has been adopted by most of science, and is
invoked in this popular quote by Albert Einstein:

Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.

It is significant to note that Occam's Razor does not prove that the simpler hypothesis is,
indeed, the true explanation of how nature behaves. Scientific principles should be as
simple as possible, but that's no proof that nature itself is simple.

However, it is generally the case that when a more complex system is at work there is
some element of the evidence which doesn't fit the simpler hypothesis, so Occam's Razor
is rarely wrong as it deals only with hypotheses of purely equal predictive power. The
predictive power is more important than the simplicity.