MadSci Network: Science History

Subject: What is the difference between a theory and a law?

Date: Fri Oct 22 14:59:28 1999
Posted by John C. Hall
Grade level: teacher/prof School: Fitzgerald High School
City: Fitzgerald State/Province: GA Country: USA
Area of science: Science History
ID: 940618768.Sh

     I recently read a journal article* that spurred my curiosity.  The 
author stated, "Individuals often hold a simplistic, hierarchical view of 
the relationship between theories and laws whereby theories become laws 
depending on the availibility of supporting evidence." He added, "theories 
and laws are different kinds of knowledge and one can not develop or be 
transformed into the other" and, "theories are as legitimate a product of 
science as laws."
     Throughout my years of undergraduate and graduate education, I have 
been taught this "hierarchical view" of theories and laws. As a former 
biology professor and current teacher of secondary education, I need to 
know, "What is the difference between a theory and a law?" and more 
importantly, CAN a theory eventually become a law based on supporting 
evidence?  I need these questions answered in order to produce 
"scientifically literate" citizens, I would surley hate to continue 
misleading my students.

*Lederman, N.G. 1998. The state of science education: subject matter       
    without context. The Electronic Journal of Science. 3(2).

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