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Gravity Is Only a Theory

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[People say] "But evolution is only a theory!", which is true, I mean it is a theory and it's good they say that, I think, because it gives you hope, doesn't it? That they feel the same way about the theory of gravity and they might just float the fuck away...

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

A large part of this trope's use in both fiction and Real Life stems from the fact that 'theory' means something very different in a scientific (and philosophical) context to its everyday use, which could be summed up as 'unconfirmed idea'. 'It's just a theory' is a common way to indicate lack of confidence/certainty. This is not at all how the word is used in science, which gives many scientifically ignorant laypeople the confidence they need to attack any science of their choosing. What "theory" actually means is a tricky, tricky subject — just go to your friendly university library and ask for some books on philosophy of science. In some works, however, the theory of gravity comes under fire as well, most often for purposes of analogy and satire. note 

For various reasons, the theory of evolution is the only scientific theory that gets challenged on a regular basis in Real Life. This has caused many science communicators to assert that evolution has so much evidence supporting it that it may instead be considered 'scientific fact'. note 

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.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Played with in JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Stone Ocean. The main goal of the main antagonist, Enrico Pucci, is to achieve what he refers to as "Heaven" through the teachings of DIO. Given that Pucci is a priest, DIO asks him if he believes in the concept of gravity. Pucci naturally doesn't get what DIO means by this, and DIO explains to him that gravity is the force which draws all life together, which is an abstract, yet not entirely incorrect thesis on the subject of gravity. From this, Pucci takes the knowledge he has on gravity and uses it in his Heaven plan, notably by evolving his Whitesnake Stand into C-Moon, which allows him to control the gravity of living creatures within a 3-kilometer radius, and later into Made in Heaven, which can manipulate the gravity of the entire universe and as such accelerate time until the universe's eventual death and rebirth.
  • In Saint Seiya, in Shiryu's final trial to earn his Dragon cloth he has to revert the flow of a waterfall using his Cosmo, Shiryu at first objects to the trial saying that it's impossible since it goes against the laws of nature, his master, Dokho, chastises him by saying that "There's no law that says the water has to flow downwards" and that the so-called "Laws of Nature" are the feeble attempts of weak men to explain what they can't possibly comprehend.

    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 universe is held together by Jesus rather than any scientific principle such as gravity.
    • Others even state that matter is held together on the subatomic level not by gluons, but by the will of God.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • 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.

  • 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 than 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.
  • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy holds that learning to fly is a fairly simple manner. All one has to do is throw oneself at the ground... and miss, at which point physics will happily ignore what you're doing as long as you yourself don't think about it too hard. Several characters successfully achieve flight in this manner. It's pointed out in analysis that, from a certain point of view, this is actually true: being in orbit is literally a case of moving so quickly horizontally that you keep missing the ground while falling.
  • Nineteen Eighty-Four: As O'Brien puts it, "I could be floating in front of you right now if I wish it. Right now I do not wish it, because it does not suit the Party."

    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.
    • This leads to one of the show's funniest jokes: there's a knock on the door, and Chandler responds, "Uh oh, it's Isaac Newton and he's pissed."
  • 3rd Rock from the Sun has a scene with the aliens commenting on humanity's "misplaced faith in gravity" and laughing about it.

  • 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.

    Stand-Up Comedy 
  • From Northern English musical comic Mike Harding, there's the Sir Isaac Newton sketch, in which Newton has a sudden insight into the nature of gravity whilst sitting underneath an apple tree:
    Apples fall down! Now that doesn't sound like very much, but Newton's discovery revolutionised the apple-picking industry, since up till then they'd tied nets over the top of apple trees and waited for the buggers to fall up...

    Tabletop Games 
  • In Mage: The Ascension, Gravity is only one of the many oppressive and arbitrary rules that The Technocracy forces on us and The Traditions want to get rid of.. On the flip side, because consensus reality sort of becomes the mage's personal reality the closer you get to him, there is often convenient floor-directed 1*g gravity and 1*atm air pressure wherever a mage that's too lazy to come up with better is standing... even if he's standing on an asteroid, in space, with no atmosphere.

    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. note 
  • 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.
  • Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal parodies both Evolution and Gravity "theories." For those less scientifically literate, gravity is actually somewhat poorly understood. While the basic idea of "Two masses exert attractive forces on each other" is sound and verified, the actual theory of gravity is not.note  Ironically, the understanding of gravity is much closer to the more colloquial definition of theory, rather than the scientific definition. In short, when trying to demonstrate how well grounded the Theory of Evolution is, comparing it the the Theory of Gravity is counter-productive.

    Another good example of how the scientific terminology is more nuanced and different than common use: the phenomenon (objects acceleration toward each other in proportion to mass) is firmly observed and existent, the law (that, on the macro-scale, force = g*m1*m2/d^2, and its more thoroughly detailed relativistic version) is well-established and verified as it can get, but the Theory, i.e. the set of explanations describing why these things are so in the context of all the other stuff we know, is not very well fleshed-out.
  • Invoked by Stephen in Academia as part of The Rant.
    Pasha:'ve based this whole report on a theory. Isn't that ad ignorantium?
    Stephen: I am this close to killing you. That is not what theory means! A scientific theory is something we know is true because of huge amounts of empirical evidence! Gravity is a theory! Atoms are a theory!

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • In the Clone High episode "Blinded With Pseudoscience: Magnetic Distractions", Candide Sampson hires a substitute teacher named Professor Hirsute, who turns out to be a pusher of pseudoscience (and was hired by Candide under the gambit that the students who aren't leadership material would be stupid enough to blindly believe his nonsense and get themselves killed). At one point. Hirsute shows a bird in his hand and takes the bird flying away as proof that gravity isn't real.
  • 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.”
  • Looney Tunes:
    • In "High Diving Hare", Sam finally has Bugs Bunny tied and standing on the edge of the platform, with Sam sawing away at the board, gloating: "Now ya smarty-pants, let's see ya get out-in this one! This time, you're a-diving!" However, as soon as Sam cuts through the board, it is the ladder and platform that falls, leaving the cut plank suspended in midair. Bugs turns to the camera and cracks: "I know this defies the law of gravity, but, you see, I never "studied" law!"
    • At the end of "Fastest with the Mostest", Wile E. stares at the Road Runner, still standing on a floating piece of rock, much to Wile E.'s confusion. He pulls out a sign that says, I WOULDN'T MIND, EXCEPT THAT HE DEFIES THE LAW OF GRAVITY!, but the Road Runner holds a sign that says, SURE, BUT I NEVER STUDIED LAW!, as he speeds away.
  • In the My Life as a Teenage Robot episode “Turncoats”, Dr. Locus assumes this trope is effect when he tries to use his invention controlling remote on gravity itself. He promptly gets crushed by a thrown XJ-8.

    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. In 1996, he was at the center of an academic hoax where a journal (albeit a non-peer reviewed one) accepted for publication a paper written by him that declared quantum gravity a social construct.
  • Skydivers joke: Skydiving is a hobby where gravity is not presumed to be a social construction.
  • 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.
  • Strictly speaking gravity today is not believed to be an actual force. It is not matter itself attracting other matter, but rather this apparent force is caused by the bending of spacetime in the presence of matter. On the macro-scale (stars, planets) this distinction doesn't really matter, which is why Newton's theories (which describe gravity as a "force") can still be used. But on the micro-scale with quantum mechanics it becomes important. Normally on the quantum scale gravity is so weak it's irrelevant. But when things are both very, very small and gravity is very, very strong you run into problems. This is why scientists can say so little about what goes on inside black holes.
    • The exact nature of gravity - whether it is a Fundamental Force (alongside the affirmed Fundamentals of Strong Force, Weak Force, and Electromagnetism) or whether it is an Emergent Force - is so hotly debated in the scientific community and among enthusiasts that proclaiming support for either stance on a science forum is as close to flamebait as one can get in learned circles.
    • The core problem is that quantum mechanics works fine for most things where it's relevant, relativity works fine for most things where it's relevant, gravity is the one place there's significant overlap where no one has figured out yet how to reconcile the two.
    • Gravity is often used to explain why even the most demonstrable theories remain theories and most scientist believe it's difficult if not impossible to ever proclaim something "objective fact." Yes it's been known since mankind first existed that things fall "down," but why and how is not nearly as self evident. Even since the theory of gravity was first put forth, it's had to be modified to fit with new discoveries, as discussed above. Arguments about such things can already get tense without people evoking a special title like "objective fact."

"Only a theory", other theories than gravity and evolution

  • 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 than flat as "only a theory."
  • Safehold: Variant. Many scientific theories (including gravity) are taught to the locals as divine miracles with no further context. If a doctor fails to wash his hands before a procedure and the patient dies, it's not because of germs, it's punishment for his sins. If you don't eat enough fruit and get scurvy, it's because of sin. The locals are even aware that their world is a globe, and are told that this is clear evidence of divine will, because what else could keep them affixed to a rock floating in space?
    • It's worth noting that this was done very specifically to undermine the growth of the scientific method, as part of an attempt to keep Safehold stuck in Medieval Stasis.

  • S.P.O.C.K 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 & 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 
  • Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal
    • 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.
    • In a much later strip, a biology teacher reverses the arguments against evolution— he argues that history is only a theory. More specifically, he does not believe in "the theory of revolution": According to his religion, all states were created in their current form (he handwaves away revolutions he could personally observe as "microrevolutions" whose resulting states are basically the same.note ) However, he was deliberately using Insane Troll Logic in order to prove his point that teaching Intro Biology was tougher than teaching Intro History, because even though both have to deal with wackos and conspiracy theorists of all flavours the biology professor actually has to deal with bullshit "theories" as well.

    Real Life 
  • This was the original position of the Catholic Church with regards to the heliocentric model (i.e. that the Earth and planets orbit the Sun rather than the Sun, planets, and basically everything else orbiting the Earth, considered the literal centre of the universe) during the time of Copernicus and Galileo. These men were allowed to publish under the proviso that it was basically a mathematical model to simplify understanding of how the universe worked, eliminating the complexities (such as "epicycles") needed to make sense of the movements of stars. Galileo got into trouble with the Church when he started making claims to theology that contradicted the Church's official teachings on Scripture, and basically appearing to mock Pope Urban VIII, by putting his works in the mouth of the Simplicio in his book Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, when that Pope had asked him simply to make an unbiased comparison of those systems and insert his own words somewhere.
  • Climate change is a highly debated subject in the political spheres of the United States. Less so in its scientific field, with roughly 97% of climate scientists supporting the model, or in the rest of the world.
  • Creationism holds that the concepts of a many-billion-year-old universe and a four-billion-year-old Earth are not just theories, they are dangerous ungodly delusions. This even before Young Earth Creationists get on to discussing the mere theory of Evolution.
  • Flat Earthers often reject gravity, with some proposing instead that constantly experiencing a 9.8 m/s2 acceleration towards the centre of the Earth is in fact a flat earth endlessly accelerating upwards at that rate. This would violate several other core principles of physics, like conservation of energy (where is the energy causing that acceleration coming from?) or the speed-of-light limits imposed by relativity (accelerating constantly at 1G, it would only take about a year to approach the speed of light, where the amount of energy needed to keep accelerating gets beyond astronomical) but that doesn't seem to bother them. They're also apparently unbothered by the ungodly mess that their theory makes of the relative motions of the planets, which was one of the things that was steadily eroding Geocentrism (the notion that Earth is the centre of the universe around which everything else moves) before Newton was even born. Finally, there's a peculiar obsession among some Flat Earthers that the Moon emits a "cold" light (not physically possible; all light, whether considered as being a waveform or as being a particle, has energy, and objects can only get colder by releasing energy, so shining a light of any kind on any object will raise its temperature — even if the increase is too small to be measured without incredibly sensitive tools) based on their failure to understand how radiative cooling works.note 
  • "Jet fuel doesn't burn that hot!" is a frequent cry of 9/11 "Truthers", asserting (actually, correctly!) that the temperature of an aviation fuel fire is not as high as the melting point of steel. The fact that steel beams don't actually need to melt, i.e. become a liquid, in order to be compromised to the point where they can become soft and malleable (something any blacksmith could tell you) doesn't seem to register with them.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Intelligent Falling


Gravity Disproved In 2 Minutes

The Amazing Atheist does a Take That! to Josh Feuerstein and his reasoning against evolution in "Gravity Disproved In 2 Minutes", where his character Josh Moronstein uses the same line of logic as Feuerstein to "disprove" that gravity is real using a helium-filled balloon.

How well does it match the trope?

4.1 (10 votes)

Example of:

Main / GravityIsOnlyATheory

Media sources: