The word hypothesis (like the word theory ) has two meanings - a common one and a more exact scientific one. These concepts are rarely confused, except when people try to abuse language for the furtherance of ideology, as in the way creationists use the words "theory" and "hypothesis" to try to delegitimize scientific ideas they do not like.
In everyday language an hypothesis means a possible explanation for a phenomenon.
In science it is the second stage of the scientific method. It is an original idea generated from data or from existing theories which is tested for its ability to explain and predict phenomena.
There are often a multiplicity of hypotheses on any subject which are winnowed down to one or two equally viable possibilities. Further experimentation and/or observation eventually reduces the number to one, which becomes the theory.
The ability of an hypothesis to make viable predictions is used to test its validity. The inability of one to do so tends to make it evident that it is not actually correct.
While it could be said that hypotheses have no requirements in order to actually be considered hypotheses, if they are to progress through to become a theory, they must fit certain criteria. Perhaps most importantly it should be theoretically possible to disprove them - that is not to say that they will be disproved, only that it must be possible. Obviously if they are actually disproved they will not progress.
A hypothesis often gathers together or builds on earlier theories or hypotheses. This was, for example, the case with Darwin's Theory of Evolution by Natural selection. Although this is a normal part of the scientific process, some fundamentalists seem to think it devalues his contributions.
Often, hypotheses can be tested - unless, of course, they are in the form of the argument from God. However, hypothesis about what happened a long time ago, at the point of the Big Bang for example, are much more difficult to test directly.
Hypotheses about God
Hypotheses about God are not science unless they can be tested. Some theories about God can be tested, for example:-
- We can say the presence of suffering in the world is inconsistent with an Omnipotent, Omniscient and Omnibenevolent god.
- We can say that Young Earth Creationism is inconsistent with a great deal of scientific data known about the world.