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Dissing gravity as a way of dissing either reality itself or some theory/guess/world-view.

For various reasons, the theory of evolution and Global Warming are the only theorum-level theories that get challenged on a regular basis In Real Life. In some works, however, the theory of gravity comes under fire as well, most often for purposes of analogy and satire.

Remember, a scientific theory isn't the same as the colloquial definition of a theory (as a synonym for conjecture).

What most people think of when they use the word theory is what scientists call a hypothesis (an idea that has some weight to it but hasn't or can't be tested. This is what most people think of when they say "I have a theory..."); e.g. "Aquatic Ape" hypothesis.

A theory is an explanation for why something happens in nature. Theories have been tested and reproduced and can be backed up with evidence; e.g. germ theory, General Relativity theory, and atomic theory.

And then there's a law which is something observed repeatedly in many situations, usually reserved for the physical sciences; e.g. Newton's laws, Ohm's law, and the law of conservation of energy. Scientific laws are patterns in nature that theories seek to explain. Laws are not stronger than theories (i.e., theories that have been "proven" true). From Rationalwiki: A law of gravity will tell you that two objects will be attracted to each other and the magnitude of the force, contrastingly a theory of gravity will offer an explanation for the existence of the force.

Therefore, accusing something of being false merely because it's "just a theory" is fallacious reasoning, as the "theory" label doesn't make it any less valid or true. A hypothesis can become a theory (if the hypothesis is along the lines of "x might explain y"), and a large set of data might be summed up in a law (of the form "data set x might have a verifiable mathematical relationship, which is y"), but a theory does not become a law (which is why we have both Gravitational Theory and the Law of Gravitation). In short, anything in science labeled a 'theory' can be read by the lay person as being a 'fact' of science, specifically an explanatory fact.

Compare Windmill Political: Depending on the setting and context, this trope can be for those who believe in gravity, those who don't, or those who believe in something else that the author is poking fun at by comparing it to gravity.

See also: I Reject Your Reality, Science Is Wrong, What We Now Know to Be True, and Outgrown Such Silly Superstitions -- and see Gravity Is a Harsh Mistress for when gravity itself is simply acting goofy.

Examples of Gravity Is Only a Theory include:


Comic Books

  • In one Dilbert strip, Dogbert theorizes that gravity is optional and that this is the reason why most people are stupid: Smart people question everything, and when they start questioning gravity they get flung out into space.
  • Chick Tracts: Some tracts go into this territory, claiming that the solar system is held together by Jesus' hand rather than any scientific principle such as gravity (see page illustration).
    • Others even state that matter is held together on the subatomic level not by gluons, but by the will of God.


Film

  • In the computer world of The Matrix, gravity is not real because the world is not real. At the end of the first movie, Neo gives the tyrant overlords the proverbial finger by flying off in broad daylight, showing mankind that gravity is not all it's cracked up to be.
  • You Are Here: If you walk through that door on the seventh floor (the one leading straight out in the air, not to a balcony or bridge or anything), there's only two things to be afraid of as you fall towards the ground... that you will hit it. And that you won't.


Literature

  • Franz Werfel in Star Of The Unborn depicts a far future in which science and theology have been unified by Ursler's Fundamental Paradoxes. The Principle of the Infinitely Mobile Central Point of All Conceivable Orbits has established that the Earth really IS, in some way, the center of the universe, and the official Uranographer moves the stars around every night to spell out the day's news.
    • This actually makes some sense in that statements like "the earth goes around the sun", or vice versa, imply that there is some absolute frame of reference.
  • The Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster claims that "gravity" is actually the Flying Spaghetti Monster gently pushing us down with his noodly appendages. This theory is supported by the fact that people are taller now then during the stone age, and also more numerous: Clearly there is less gravity for each of us these days, and thus we grow taller.
  • Invoked by Charles Darwin in an essay 1842: What would the Astronomer say to the doctrine that the planets moved (not) according to the law of gravitation, but from the Creator having willed each separate planet to move in its particular orbit?
  • In Kurt Vonnegut's novel Slapstick, the protagonist and his sister theorize that gravity was once variable, which is how the Pyramids in Egypt were built. This turns out to be true when their theory is used by the Chinese to change gravity back to how it used to be. From that point on it varies daily.


Live Action TV

  • Phoebe in Friends states, "Lately I get the feeling that I'm not so much being pulled down as I am being pushed" when Ross compares evolutionary theory with gravity. It was never confirmed whether she was serious or just messing with Ross.


Music

  • Tim Minchin refers to this phenomenon before playing I Love Jesus.

 Tim: “But evolution is only a theory!”, which is true, it is a theory, it’s good that they say that, I think, it gives you hope, doesn’t it, that - that maybe they feel the same way about the theory of gravity… and they might just float the fuck away.


Tabletop Games


Web Original


Web Comics

  • In this strip from I Drew This, a preacher is arguing for Intelligent Falling, leading to students walking off cliffs. It is left ambiguous whether they do this because he have convinced them to disbelieve gravity or because his crude discourse has pushed them past the Despair Event Horizon.
  • In this Men in Hats strip, Sam pooh-poohs evolution as "some theory without any evidence," and Gamal tells him that gravity, like evolution, is "just" a theory. Sam's reaction: "Oh I'll float, God damn you."
  • 8 Bit Theater. Fighter attempts to save the group from a lethal fall by blocking the earth. It never occurs to him to factor in gravity or any other forces that might deadify anyone who was stupid enough to try such a thing. It works.
    • Well, it's Not the Fall That Kills You, right? The earthy hurtling towards them (subjectively) would actually be easier to block than the magic and whatnot he's blocked before.
  • SMBC parodies both Evolution and Gravity "theories" here.


Western Animation

  • In a "U.S. Acres" segment on Garfield and Friends, Roy tricks Wade into thinking that the law of gravity (or "grabbity", as Wade misinterprets it) has been repealed, leading to Wade thinking he's going to fly off into space.
  • In an episode of Family Guy, Peter gets Mel Gibson to walk off Mt. Rushmore because, according to Peter, “Christians don’t believe in gravity.”


Real Life

  • Alan Sokal wonderfully played on this trope, stating: "Anyone who believes that the laws of physics are mere social conventions is invited to try transgressing those conventions from the windows of my apartment." He used to live on the twenty-first floor.
  • Additionally, there exist several alternative formulations of gravity, such as Modified Newtonian Dynamics (MOND) and Modified Gravity (MOG) which differ from Einsteinian gravity in their asymptotic limit, as a way to account for astrophysical observations without invoking the existence of dark matter.
  • Technically gravity is "only" a theory. If we somehow found two bodies with mass that do not attract each other, then we would disprove the theory that all bodies with mass attract themselves. However, because we use empirical falsification as the current scientific method, we cannot "promote" gravity any further. Some people do not believe it when they are told that gravity is not law and it can in fact be disproved (following a more positivist approach). This is partly due to the widespread use of the expression "the law of gravity", which scientifically wouldn't actually refer to gravity's existence. A true "law" of gravity would be a mathematical expression of how rapidly two objects (one of them is usually the earth itself) would accelerate toward each other, given their mass, their starting distance from each other, and the slowing effect of anything that might impair the acceleration, such as air resistance.


"Only a theorum", other theorums than gravity and evolution

Literature

  • One of the short stories in Vetenskap och Ovetenskap (Science and Unscience) features a member of the Flat Earth Society who dismisses the idea of the Earth being round rather then flat as "only a theory."


Music

  • SPOCK start their song Alien Attack with dismissing geology as "just a theory". It looks as if they are about to build a case for Earth Is Young, but it quickly turns out that they're actually arguing that the dinosaurs never died out... and now they are back to reclaim their planet!


Video Games

  • In Sam and Max Freelance Police Season 2, Max claims not to believe in the existence of magnetism, insisting it's 'only a theory'. Then he brings out his Luger...only for it to be magnetized to the North Pole. He then says he believes it, "But that's my limit!"


Web Comics

  • In SMBC, a combination of two strips plays creationism for laughs by invoking the idea that the theory about the earth moving around the sun rather than vice versa is only a theory. The first strip joke about creationists demanding to put "evolution is only a theory" stickers in biology textbooks. The next strip joke about a guy from the 13th century demanding the same kind of stickers in astronomy textbooks.

Notes

  1. In that case, Jesus is doing a rather poor job at it, given that the universe is flying apart.
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