Thursday, May 11, 2006


No Science, Not Even Science?

We're told since middle school that conducting a proper scientific experiment is conceptually simple. You observe a phenomena, you formulate a hypothesis to explain it, divine some testable predictions from that hypothesis, then finally test those predictions using experiments. If enough experiments confirm your predictions, you have yourself a scientific theory. We call this the "scientific method".

The important criterion here is falsifiability. For a theory to be scientific it has to yield testable, falsifiable, predictions. If you can't test it, it ain't science. This is a very reasonable sounding criterion for what is scientific that falls apart upon closer inspection.

What I mean is that if we follow this criterion to its logical conclusions, we would have to dismiss all familiar scientific theories as pseudo-science. Why? Because one can never "disprove" a hypothesis with empirical evidence--no hypothesis is falsifiable. The problem arises because we can't test single hypotheses one at a time. When we conduct experiments we have to test a slew of hypothesis all at once. For example, If I were to test my hypothesis that a force called gravity will cause an apple to fall to the Earth when it's dropped I am also testing my hypothesis that no force greater than gravity will push the apple away from the Earth.

If I drop the apple and it flies into space, does that disprove my hypothesis that a force pulls it to the ground? Not at all! I can easily say that it only disproves my second hypothesis. There must be some force stronger than gravity pushing the apple into space!

This is an important insight made a long time ago by philosopher of science Pierre Duhem that still hasn't fully been appreciated by our legal system or high school science teachers.

The moral of the story: Searching for truth about the world around us is VERY hard and empirical evidence only takes us so far.

Well, for it to be empirical knowledge, it has to be able to be tested via observation and experimentation. It also has to be both fasifiable and provable.

Understanding that, I think we can learn a lot, but it is difficult to know if there is such a think as a priori knowledge or "truth".

Most scientists would not classify gravity as a hypothesis. I am pretty sure most of those folks classify it as a law. I don't think they consider it empirical knowledge, since it was not tested exactly the way we normally approach hypotheses. Additionally, is its existence a hypothesis or simply its exact quantity of force (amount of downward pull) in differing settings?

If its existence can not be both fasified or proven, is it empirical knowledge or a priori knowledge?
Ah, but the point is that we can't falsify any hypothesis.

philosopher of science Karl Popper, the man most associated with the flasifiability criterion, even saw this problem with falsifiability. Though he never adequatley addressed it.

He also used it to claim that the theory of evolution was unfalsifiable.
So like in the movie last night, if you argue correctly, you can never be wrong.

All we can hope for it to continue to stack up enough negative evidence for something to be dropped from the converstation.

What about knowledge that is not empirically-based or not a hypothesis, if that knowledge is even attainable? What about those laws of nature or a priori truths?
That's pretty much the sense I'm having.

I'm not sure about a priori knowledge, though. The more I think on things the more attractive philosophical naturalism becomes to me.

Check out this essay by CUNY philosopher Michael Devitt.

It's called "There Is No A Priori". I had to link to a google cache site, since his webpage appears to be having problems, but it's still readable.
Without any doubt-proof basis for knowledge, there arises the possibility of REVELATION. Which I believe in. But even this requires a leap of faith, so the doubt remains. What can help us overcome this doubt? Authentication. What process exists for authentication of revelation? Incarnation, resurrection, and indwelling. Each of which is subjective and neither verifiable nor deniable to anyone other than the individual who has experienced these.
I was gonna mention this last week:

If it is not falsifiable, is it ever provable?

Nothing is definitive, if it is based on empirical evidence and empirical knowledge.
"Definitive" connotates categorization. "Empirical" connotates measure, which implies incrementalization.
Post a Comment

<< Home
CrispAds Blog Ads

Does someone you know deserve flowers?
Web Site Hit Counter
Dell Canada

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?