Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Strictly speaking, there is not such thing as falsification

Strictly speaking, falsification isn't really possible. For any piece of evidence that undermines a theory, it is always possible to add an auxiliary hypothesis to restore the theory. There is no logical point that requires the abandonment of any theory, and this is the case whether the thesis involves the supernatural or does not involve the supernatural. 
“A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.” 
“Science advances one funeral at a time.”  -also from Planck. 

16 comments:

Joe Hinman said...

Popper pretty much proves that science can't prove so falsification is all that's ;left. If we have verisimilitude standing in for truth (as Popper says) then perhaps there's a verydissimilitude?

Don McIntosh said...

"Falsification is all that's left." I think that's right. Good scientific theories survive serious falsification attempts. But as Victor suggests, they can also survive by making ongoing ad hoc adjustments.

There seems to be an undefined limit, though, on how many such adjustments can be made before the theory becomes so contorted and convoluted that a new generation of researchers newer to the discipline (whose academic careers are not already invested in the older theory) begin to cast about for something else more parsimonious. On this Planck appears to agree with Kuhn.

planks length said...

There seems to be an undefined limit, though, on how many such adjustments can be made before the theory becomes so contorted and convoluted that a new generation of researchers newer to the discipline (whose academic careers are not already invested in the older theory) begin to cast about for something else more parsimonious.

This is precisely what happened when astronomers began to favor the heliocentric model over the geocentric one. No one disputed Ptolemy's data. There was no new falsifying discovery that led Copernicus, et.al., to come up with a new model. (Galileo's confirming observations were generations later.) The impetus was the increasing cumbersomeness of the accepted model. It eventually just demanded one too many "tweaks" - too many epicycles within epicycles to make it fit the data.

And that is precisely what is happening within contemporary atheist thought. Unable to explain away fine tuning, the appearance of design (whether illusory or not, it's still there), the anthropic principle, and the apparent absence of extraterrestrial intelligence, atheist cosmologists (seemingly clueless of history) have punted to adding epicycles to the materialist model. Only nowadays, they call them "multiverses".

Cal Metzger said...

Saying that your hypothesis can survive through ad hoc reasoning is like saying you can avoid checkmate by conceding.

Don McIntosh said...

That's a very good point Planks. Multiple universes do seem analogous to epicycles as ad hoc paradigm- or theory-preserving devices.

Joe Hinman said...

"Saying that your hypothesis can survive through ad hoc reasoning is like saying you can avoid checkmate by conceding;"

Good analogy. Or by stretching out the end game prolong the inevitable. I first brought out the Popper and now the Kuhn. What you are describing is in line with Kuhn's theory. the anomalies are piling u[ and they are circling the wagons.

Ilíon said...

PL: "This is precisely what happened when astronomers began to favor the heliocentric model over the geocentric one. No one disputed Ptolemy's data. There was no new falsifying discovery that led Copernicus, et.al., to come up with a new model. (Galileo's confirming observations were generations later.) The impetus was the increasing cumbersomeness of the accepted model. It eventually just demanded one too many "tweaks" - too many epicycles within epicycles to make it fit the data."

Actually, that's not the case. The truth is, the early heliocentric model had its own cumbersome epicycles, but it came to be favored for metaphysical reasons -- ultimately, it was for the same reason that Adam ate the apple.

planks length said...

Interesting take, Ilion, but that's not what the history books say.

Ilíon said...

Then you've read the wrong books.

It was the early humanists -- who were, by and large, *not* astronomers -- who were the primary driving force in the displacement of the geocentric model by the heliocentric model long before there was any empirical evidence that could be used to rule out the geocentric model. And the *reason* that the early humanists latched onto the heliocentric model was that doing so definitionally turned the earth into a celestial body, and by implication, turned human beings into celestial being.

Ilíon said...

The heliocentric model did not come to be accepted because of "evidence", but because of the sinful human desire to "be like unto God".

planks length said...

Well, we'll just have to disagree on this one. I don't think Copernicus (a devout Catholic) could ever be called a "humanist". Nor did he have any sinful or antitheist motivations in his studies of planetary motions.

Ilíon said...

Who said anything about Copernicus being a humanist? For that matter, who said anything about Copernicus having anything to do with the supplanting of the geocentric model by the heliocentric model? He was already dead by then.

planks length said...

Uhh.. Isn't Copernicus credited with being the major force behind replacing the geocentric model with the heliocentric one? Yes, I realize that it was Johannes Kepler who actually proved that the model matched reality, but the idea was still Copernicus's.

Ilíon said...

... at the same time, just a little bit of Google-fu indicates that Copernicus *was* a humanist -- "... The other major rhetorical feature of De revolutionibus is the frequent reference to classical authorities and the almost total lack of Christian ones. Humanism was one of the dominant features of Copernicus’s intellectual life and so the use of the ancient sources was consistent with his education ..." Also, that in his own way, he was as much as asshole as Galileo was -- "It is clear from De revolutionibus that the reader is supposed to view mathematical demonstration as the dominant argument. The book claims it is intended for people who can follow this mathematical demonstration for themselves. Few could do so, which means that few would be able to tell that Copernicus had not succeeded in the way that he implies or that some of the techniques he used, like the ‘Tūsī Couple’, do not require a heliocentric hypothesis to improve the model of the heavens. This makes his physical arguments very important because they had to show that a moving Earth is not absurd and imply that the proof was to be found in the technical detail. This implies that the details of his solution to the very difficult problem of producing a heliocentric model are as much exercises in concealment as enlightenment. Moreover, Copernicus joined the humanists in setting up mathematics as an authority able to counter the traditional disciplines and so included himself among the select people able to make pronouncements on astronomy. His work was only to be judged by his peers."

Ilíon said...

Copernicus died in 1543. Galileo wasn't even born until 1564. When Galileo died in 1642, the heliocentric model was still unsupported by evidence ... and still not the "standard model".

Gyan said...


Illion,
Your painting of Copernicus is unfair. He cited classical authorities--all astronomers did. All philosophers did.
". His work was only to be judged by his peers." Naturally, why would one expect a highly technical work to be judged by non-technical persons.

Unchecked empiricism is not science, indeed it discourages science altogether. It is often not appreciated that a key difference between the reigning geocentric model and the upstart heliocentric model was the existence of a unique up-and-down direction in the geocentric model and the lack of such a unique direction in heliocentric model. Now, with the telescoping showing details on Moon and satellites of Jupiter, it began to be reasonable that there isn't a unique up-and-down direction in the world.