The concept of scientific method and theories can be traced back to Aristotle in ancient Greece
The concept of scientific method and theories can be traced back to Aristotle in ancient Greece. During the Middle Ages the concept was further developed by various scientists in the Muslim world. In the 11th century several scientific methods emerged, an accepted feature of all these methods was experimentation. Since there has been a scientific method there has been scientific theory. While the term was eventually coined in the 15th or 16th century, the exact definition of a scientific theory has been disputed, defined and redefined over the years but the concept endured. The most recent and accurate definition is from Donald Willower in 1975, he defined it as being a body of interrelated, consistent generalisations that explain phenomena.
A scientific theory needs to fulfil several criteria in order to be considered legitimate. Firstly, it must make falsifiable predictions with consistent accuracy, it must be supported by many independent pieces of evidence and it must be consistent with pre-existing theories. These are the general characteristics that underpin all scientific theories. Stephen Hawking however disagreed, believing that only two criteria were necessary; “A theory is a good theory if it satisfies two requirements: It must accurately describe a large class of observations on the basis of a model that contains only a few arbitrary elements, and it must make definite predictions about the results of future observations.”
One example of a scientific theory is the Atomic Theory. First suggested by Democritus in the 4th century BC it states that all matter is made up of discrete units called atoms. It has been refined over the last two and a half millennia to its current form; a highly accurate descriptor and predictor of the nature and structure of atoms. The theory is built upon the experimental evidence of protons, neutrons and electrons as discovered by Ernest Rutherford, James Chadwick and J.J. Thompson respectively. Building on this foundation, organisations such as ‘The Stanford Linear Accelerator Centre’ and ‘The European Organization for Nuclear Research’ have made great progress in this field discovering quarks and the Higgs Boson greatly advancing our understanding of atoms and their makeup. This collection of discoveries contribute to the foundation of the Atomic Theory and aid it in fulfilling the criteria of a scientific theory. It makes falsifiable predictions, is well supported by independent pieces of evidence and is consistent with existing theories.
Another example of scientific theory is Gene Theory. It is the idea that genes are the basic unit of heredity, transmitting characteristics to the next generation. This theory is supported by the discoveries of DNA, Mendelian inheritance and gene sequencing. It predicts the characteristics of phenotypes in an accurate and consistent manner. Gene Theory has been further supported by more recent findings such as the sequencing of the human genome, transgenics and gene therapy. The evidence continues to build and confirm Gene Theory.
Scientific theories are the basis of scientific research as well as the goal. Each new scientific theory marks the culmination of a period of scientific research, sometimes decades maybe even millennia. Irrespective of the amount of time, new scientific theories are always significant and consequential.