Department of Teaching, Learning and Teacher Education


Scientific Theories and the Power of Enquiry

Date of this Version



Professor Lawrence C Scharmann, from the University of Nebraska, discusses the power of theory in scientific enquiry and how, through understanding the drivers behind and applications of theory, science and theology do not have to be at odds.

Science – as a way of knowing and making sense of the world – uses many conceptual ‘tools.’ Among these are observations, inferences, predictions, hypotheses, laws, and scientific theories. Together, this array of conceptual tools represents a powerful heuristic used to solve scientific puzzles and problems. New discoveries often begin with observations obtained through our senses (sight, smell, sound, taste, and touch) and by means of measurement instruments (e.g., telescopes, microscopes, mass balances, thermometers, computers) that extend our senses. Observations are repeated (and independently corroborated), patterns are inferred and are then aggregated to form a more generalised conclusion – or theory. Theories permit scientists to make new predictions (i.e., if -> then conditional propositions), pose and test hypotheses, and collect confirming or disconfirming additional data.