The Durability of Scientific Laws

Instructor: Lisa Roundy

Lisa has taught at all levels from kindergarten to college and has a master's degree in human relations.

Scientific laws are durable and hold up over time. This lesson will help you understand what a scientific law is and why scientific laws are so durable.

Understanding Scientific Laws

If you want to understand the durability of scientific laws, you need to understand the definition of a scientific law. A scientific law describes what will happen each time a phenomenon occurs in a given situation. Let's look at an example. In 212 B.C., an ancient Greek scholar named Archimedes made an important discovery that led to the scientific law that bears his name: the Archimedes principle. Allegedly, Archimedes was getting into the bathtub when he noticed the water level rise as his body entered the water. He was so excited by this discovery that he ran naked through the city shouting!

In this example, Archimedes created the phenomenon when he immersed himself in water. As a result, he displaced the water, an event that occurs every time an object is placed in water. This example serves as a simple illustration of a scientific law. Based upon repeated observations, scientific laws tell us that if one event occurs, another event will follow.

Law vs. Theory

Now that you have an understanding of what a scientific law is, let's briefly discuss what it is not. A scientific law is not the same as a scientific theory.

As we have already learned, a scientific law is an observation of what will happen in a given situation. In contrast, a scientific theory is an explanation of why these things happen. In other words, scientific laws are the facts, while scientific theories are the way we interpret the facts. If the information simply tells you something, it is a law. If the information answers the question why, it is a theory. Scientific theories are more likely to change, while scientific laws tend to remain constant.

Durability

Most scientific knowledge holds up over time, even though science, by nature, rejects the idea that any absolute truth can exist. Scientific laws are the best example of durability in science. In the last section, we mentioned that scientific laws remain constant. You may wonder how this is possible if science doesn't accept absolutes. How can something be considered a consistent fact? The key to this can be found in modification.

Rather than rejecting a scientific law when a contradiction comes up, scientists work to find out why and then adapt the law to reflect the new knowledge. In this way, scientific laws remain true. Observations associated with the scientific law don't change either. It simply becomes more precise with time.

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