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What is Falisifiability?

  1. Apr 5, 2005 #1
    I see this word appear often in debates, usually when pseudo-science and theism are involved.

    From wikipedia.org I get the gist of: "For a proposition to be falsifiable, it must be possible in principle to make an observation that would show the proposition to be false, even if that observation has not been made."

    I have seen the question asked: “Is atheism falisifiable? Since it's not, atheism isn't scientific.” And I have seen the claim that the universe was intelligently designed can be “falsified by demonstrating how the universe can come to be in the absence of a designer.”

    Are these logical and appropriate uses of the term? Do these lines of questioning bolster a theist’s case, or is it nonsense?
     
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  3. Apr 5, 2005 #2

    Galileo

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    There is no observation that would show the universe is not intelligently designed, so that proposition is not falsifiable. What demonstration was claimed to show it is?

    Even then, showing that the universe CAN come to be in the absence of a designer doesn't make the proposition falsified.
    In any case, the laws of physics do not require that the universe is intelligently designed. It's a metaphysical matter.
     
  4. Apr 5, 2005 #3

    Chronos

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    Falsifiability is contingent on testability. It is really more accurate to think in terms of a hypothesis that can be tested under controlled conditions and yields unambiguous results. A hypthesis can never be proven in an absolute sense, but when a large enough number of tests have been conducted without a false result, it can be considered sound. But the inability to produce a false result is in itself meaningless. It may easily, and often is in the case of arguments based on unsupported assumptions - e.g., intelligent design - merely reflect the inability to properly test the hypothesis.
     
  5. Apr 5, 2005 #4

    SpaceTiger

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    I think this is why many scientists (including myself) prefer to be called agnostics. I can no more show that there isn't a god than I can show that there is one. Many athiests will argue, however, that a proposition that was invented entirely by humans (having no physical basis in reality) is so unlikely to be true that it's rendered untrue. For example, I could claim right now that the universe was created by a race of super-intelligent hamsters in another dimension. You can't show it to be wrong, but you'd be right to dismiss it entirely. If this is the case with religion, then atheism would indeed be logical. "God" is such a broad and ambiguous concept, however, that I don't think it's fair to assume that it has no physical basis in reality.
     
  6. Apr 5, 2005 #5

    Evo

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    You mean it's not? :cry:
     
  7. Apr 5, 2005 #6

    Chronos

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    The hampster theory so out of date, Evo. Modern observational evidence suggests the universe was created by a super-intelligent race of rap artists.
     
  8. Apr 5, 2005 #7

    SpaceTiger

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    Now that's even less plausible... :cool:
     
  9. Apr 5, 2005 #8

    Tom Mattson

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    Falsifiability 101

    From my Journal:

    This is a post that I have made at at least 3 different message boards, including this one. I really like it, and since the question of "What distinguishes science from pseudoscience?" comes up so much (at least tacitly), I thought I'd post it here in my journal.

    Plus, my View count needs a boost.

    Here is what makes a theory "scientific".

    1. It must be consistent.
    That is, for no statement X should it be possible to deduce both X and NOT X from the axioms of the theory.

    2. It must be valid.
    That is, its claims must be correctly derived via logic and, if applicable, mathematics.

    3a. It must be satisfiable.
    That is, it must make claims that are subject to empirical investigation. If a theory is analytically false, then it is known to be trivially false with no need for investigation.

    3b. It must be falsifiable.
    That is, it must make claims that, if false, will show the theory to be false. If a theory is analytically true, then it is known to be trivially true with no need for investigation.

    Points 3a and 3b can be summed up as:

    3. It must be contingent.
    That is, it must be contingent on the outcome of experimental investigations.

    Let\'s take a look at the development of a toy pseudoscientific theory.

    Hypothesis 1a: I have a rock that keeps tigers away from my home.

    (Yes, that comes straight from The Simpsons. Is there anything that show isn't good for? :biggrin: )

    This theory is both consistent and valid, but only trivially so because it has only one prediction!

    This theory is also both satisfiable and falsifiable:

    *Satisfiable because the theory is satisfied when no tigers are around.

    *Falsifiable because the theory is shown to be bunk if a tiger is around.

    This theory is thus scientific.

    So, how do I investigate it? Well, I could observe the area around my home, and if no tigers show up then I take that as strong inductive evidence that the theory is good.

    But is that enough? I could also deliberatly bring a tiger around and see if something (presumably attributable to the rock) doesn't keep the tiger from coming around. If that works, then I try to develop other explanations (besides the rock) that caused it. If it does work, then I know the theory is no good, and it is thus said to have been falsified.

    Now, let's say I really like my theory, so I weaken its claim so that I can hang onto it.

    Hypothesis 1b:
    I have a rock that keeps tigers away from my home, except when there is a tiger around.

    What happens when there is no tiger? The theory is satisfied.
    What happens when there is a tiger? The theory is satisfied.

    Those are the only options! Since it is impossible for the theory not to be satisfied, it is unfalsifiable and therefore pseudoscience.
     
  10. Apr 6, 2005 #9

    Evo

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    But what if these hamsters can travel between branes? They can go between multi verses? :confused:
     
  11. Apr 6, 2005 #10

    Phobos

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    The theist in question may be under the mistaken impression that science = atheism. Science may deal only in naturalistic explanations, but it does not make the claim that there is no God. As SpaceTiger suggests, agnostic may be a more appropriate characterization (if personifying a method of knowledge is appropriate at all).

    The "falsifiable" criterion applies to the scientific method and not to religious views (of which the Intelligent Design movement is one).
     
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