Pillars of a Scientific Study: A Hypothesis Vs. a Theory

Omkar Phatak May 12, 2019
Tap to Read ➤
The objective behind this comparison between hypothesis and theory, is to clarify the difference between these two stages of scientific analysis.
As a student of science and a rational human being, it's your right to question everything and strive to find answers on your own through research. 'Doubt' is the most sacred thing for a scientist and a follower of the scientific method. This keeps you on your toes when you feel like surrendering or believing in something at face value without research.
As scientists, we constantly strive to create a coherent picture of the world, as we know it by piecing together one fact at a time, through theorizing and experimentation. Every experiment in science is aimed towards proving a hypothesis, which will validate it into a theory.

Scientific Hypothesis Vs. Theory Comparison

Scientific method is all about providing a causal explanation for every phenomenon observed in nature. When we see something happening around us, there is an inherent need to make sense of it. To come up with a rationale that explains any phenomenon in nature, you have to imagine and make a causal connection of things.
Let us see when and how a rationale for a phenomenon qualifies to be called a hypothesis or a theory. To begin with, let us define the two concepts clearly.

Basic Differences

A hypothesis is an unvalidated rationale that just 'might' be the right explanation about why things are the way they are. It is one of the most important steps of the scientific method, where you have studied a phenomenon and have come up with a probable explanation.
It is purely a conjecture, which you have come up with. It may possibly be the right explanation, if it fits all the facts, but you can't know about it until an experiment proves it.
In science, every such hypothesis is pure fiction until it has been tested through an experiment to prove that the rationale is universally applicable and produces reproducible experimental results. In simplest words, a hypothesis is a possibility.
A theory is an established rationale explaining a phenomenon, which has passed the test of truth, which is experimental verification and observational evidence. The terms theory and law are used interchangeably, as they are one and the same thing.
A law or theory is known to be consistent with all associated experimental facts and can successfully predict the behavior of a system under consideration. In short, a theory is a possibility, which has graduated to become a fact.

Significance and Examples

Hypothesizing plays a very important role in the whole process of theorizing, to explain any phenomenon. Be it any of the social sciences or physical sciences like physics and chemistry, new hypotheses are needed to explain any occurrence, which has defied explanation, according to conventional thought.
Coming up with a hypothesis requires imagination and a very clear study of the facts of the phenomenon at hand, which you are trying to describe. For example, what is known as 'String Theory' is still just a hypothesis, as there is no experimental fact supporting its predictions.
A theory on the other hand, is the sum total of established thought in any scientific field, which has proved to be consistent with all experimental data. Two examples of established theories in physics are the special theory of relativity and quantum physics.
As discussed before, hypothesis is just a conjecture or an idea, which can accurately describe a phenomenon, but is not backed up with solid experimental evidence. On the other hand, a theory or a scientific law is a hypothesis that has graduated to be a law, as it has passed the requirement of being validated by experiment.
Write for us