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Falsifiability Vs. Varifiability


Fonkey
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What my question boils down to is this: "all other things being equal, is it better to believe an assertion that is provable but not testable, or an assertion that is testable but not provable?" Why?

 

Possible Examples:

 

Provable, but not falsifiable:

"God exists"

"Intermediate fossils exist"

"Dark matter exists"

"The Flying Spaghetti Monster exists"

 

Falsifiable, but not provable:

"God does not exist"

"Intermediate fossils do not exist"

"Dark matter does not exist"

"The Flying Spaghetti Monster does not exist"

 

Doubtless you may notice a pattern here...

 

Many atheists, freethinkers, rationalists, and scientists put value in the idea that theories or hypotheses, in order to be scientifically acceptable, must be "falsifiable"; i.e. it must be theoretically possible to produce evidence that disproves the theory/hypothesis. My problem with this is that it appears to lead to the devaluing of provable assertions.

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What my question boils down to is this: "all other things being equal, is it better to believe an assertion that is provable but not testable, or an assertion that is testable but not provable?" Why?

 

Possible Examples:

 

Provable, but not falsifiable:

"God exists"

"Intermediate fossils exist"

"Dark matter exists"

"The Flying Spaghetti Monster exists"

 

Falsifiable, but not provable:

"God does not exist"

"Intermediate fossils do not exist"

"Dark matter does not exist"

"The Flying Spaghetti Monster does not exist"

 

Doubtless you may notice a pattern here...

 

Many atheists, freethinkers, rationalists, and scientists put value in the idea that theories or hypotheses, in order to be scientifically acceptable, must be "falsifiable"; i.e. it must be theoretically possible to produce evidence that disproves the theory/hypothesis. My problem with this is that it appears to lead to the devaluing of provable assertions.

I think where your problem with this approach seems to lay is more of a philosophical one.

 

First off, how can something be provable that has no potential for being falsified? The example of the invisible snork makes this case: "There is an invisible snork on your shoulder". Since there is nothing there to test, nothing to falsify that claim, it is worthless information in the scientific sense.

 

What can a group of people who do not share an unprovable faith in the snork, do with that? If you were to say "there is a bear standing behind you", now based on something more tangible like everyone being able to directly see it, it becomes useful information to the dispassionate observer. Everyone, no matter their belief in someone's word about the invisible snork, can act on the observation there is a bear there and all run for safety.

 

If however they could provide evidence for the existence of this invisible snork, then it may indicate something we can't see directly, like electricity, but that evidence needs some method of being considered sound, in order for it to have value in a tangible scientific sense. In order for those who believe an invisible snork exists to prove the worthiness of the evidence, it needs to have some method of testing it for consistency, predicable patterns, etc. Doing this, anyone without a religious faith, can verify and corroborate the evidence indicates strongly that something called a "snork" is there.

 

Think in terms of black holes. We cannot directly see them, but the evidence is readily available for scientists to evaluate, discuss, disagree with, use to make prediction, confirm results, come to a consensus of well founded agreement on, created models describing this, etc.

 

If however, the evidence of the invisible snork offered by believers of the snork is found to be bad evidence based on wishful thinking, than no one outside of those who believe in the invisible snork can agree with them about, then this is not useful information to people outside the group of believers. Science transcends belief systems. It is supposed to be a language that anyone can agree on, regardless of their cultural or personal non-scientific perceptions. Take this one step further into mathematics, which rids word choices used in science that carry cultural connotations with it, like the word "Theory" for one quick example.

 

Now to the point you seem to be making that this leads to the devaluing of possibilities. By "devaluing" do mean the value of "thinking outside the box"? The value of imagination, the value of inspiration? Again we have to be clear that when it comes to the purpose of science, it is to provide reliable information that can operate completely independent of one's religious beliefs. Science doesn't limit possibilities; it simply tests them in the context of being something that should be considered useful dispassionately.

 

Philosophy and religion deal with those transcendent qualities of the human "spirit". I look at it in terms of language. What are you trying to communicate? Do you tell someone you love them with math formulas, or do you use poetry? Does this mean math limits love? Not at all, they are for different purposes. Science is not a spirit killer. The problem is that myth once spoke as science and people seem to expect science to now take the place of myth in totality.

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First off, how can something be provable that has no potential for being falsified?

I gave some examples already, but here's another one: suppose I said "somewhere in the universe, there exists a pink unicorn" This is a pretty useless statement, because to disprove it, we'd have to scour the entire cosmos. So that statement is pretty well unfalsifiable and untestable. However, it can easily be proven to be true; all we'd have to do is find a single pink unicorn, and we'd know they exist.

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First off, how can something be provable that has no potential for being falsified?

I gave some examples already, but here's another one: suppose I said "somewhere in the universe, there exists a pink unicorn" This is a pretty useless statement, because to disprove it, we'd have to scour the entire cosmos. So that statement is pretty well unfalsifiable and untestable. However, it can easily be proven to be true; all we'd have to do is find a single pink unicorn, and we'd know they exist.

Ok yes, "God exists" is a provable statement. Produce God. It is not falsifiable, because there is nothing there to disprove.

 

And again,

Falsifiable, but not provable:

"God does not exist"

The statement God does not exist is falsifiable by virtue of someone producing God. It is not provable per se', because you can't prove a negative.

 

So in what way does this lead to the devaluing of provable assertions? I'm not sure I'm really following.

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The way I look at it, I'm just choosing the most likely of two chocies, namely that there is no god.

 

Though his existance is provable with evidence, no such evidence has presented itself up till now, and thus, even If I believed it one, I would have no idea if I were right, or what said god was even like. The belief would serve no purpose, so why even waste my time?

 

I believe in many things that are provable...because they have been proven, I don't see reason I should believe in something that CAN be proven but hasn't yet.

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Provable, but not falsifiable:

"God exists"

Not provable.
"Intermediate fossils exist"
Uh.... they do and it is "falsiable" it just hasn't been falsified.
"Dark matter exists"
is falsifiable.
"The Flying Spaghetti Monster exists"
Neither provable or falsifiable.
Falsifiable, but not provable:

"God does not exist"

many, including me, believe this has been proven,
"Intermediate fossils do not exist"
Not provable nor falsifiable since it's not true.
"Dark matter does not exist"

"The Flying Spaghetti Monster does not exist"

 

Doubtless you may notice a pattern here...

Yes, the twisting of words and ideas to support an a priori assumption.
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So in what way does this lead to the devaluing of provable assertions? I'm not sure I'm really following.

 

Okay, a lot of people (scientists, atheists, etc) emphasize the fact that for something to be a scientifically valuable idea, it has to be falsifiable. I have heard, from several places, that if it's not falsifiable, it's not scientific. My question is, what about ideas which can be easily proven--or perhaps have already been proven--but are not falsifiable? Should these be cast aside as unscientific?

 

When Darwin first published his theory of evolution, he conceded that the large gaps in the fossil record were strong evidence against his theory. He did, however, believe that transitional fossils would be found in time (I can't remember where I heard this; maybe I'm completely wrong on Darwin's opinions on this matter). This strikes me as a characteristically unscientific statement; if no transitional fossils were found, it would be easy enough to say that they're there, we just haven't looked hard enough.

 

So, which is more important; falsifiability, or verifiability? Is it more important that a statement can be proven or disproven?

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Many atheists, freethinkers, rationalists, and scientists put value in the idea that theories or hypotheses, in order to be scientifically acceptable, must be "falsifiable"; i.e. it must be theoretically possible to produce evidence that disproves the theory/hypothesis. My problem with this is that it appears to lead to the devaluing of provable assertions.

 

Why should provable assertions be valued? What do they add to knowledge? Do you think that society should spend any resources looking for pink unicorns? (No I don't think any resources should be spent on looking for intelligent life elsewhere like SETI) If you really want "there are pink unicorns" to be a valued assertion go find one.

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Why should provable assertions be valued? What do they add to knowledge?

Well if you prove something, doesn't that add to knowledge?

 

"Intermediate fossils do not exist"
Not provable nor falsifiable since it's not true.

What? I don't think you understand what I'm talking about. If statement X HAS been proven false, then it obviously CAN BE proven false, and is therefore falsifiable. To say that something is not falsifiable because it has been proven false is completely self-contradictory.

 

"Intermediate fossils exist"

Uh.... they do and it is "falsiable" it just hasn't been falsified.

I don't follow your reasoning, could you please explain how someone could disprove (i.e. falsify) the existence of intermediate fossils? As far as I can tell, that would require every cubic inch of the earth's crust to be scoured, which isn't likely to happen. Also, I never claimed that intermediate fossils do not exist.

 

"God exists"

Not provable.

I must disagree with you here. If one were to locate an intelligent being who could demonstrate power over the cosmos in a scientifically controlled environment, then I think we could say with pretty safe certainty that "God" (i.e. an intelligent being who controls the universe) exists.

 

I think you must have misunderstood what I meant by provable or falsifiable. "X" is falsifiable if it is hypothetically possible to put forth evidence that disproves X. For instance, the assertion that "all cats have tails" can be disproven by finding a single cat without a tail. The assertion that "the FSM exists" is not falsifiable, because EVEN IF IT IS FALSE, it is impossible to provide evidence to show that it is not true.

 

I believe in many things that are provable...because they have been proven, I don't see reason I should believe in something that CAN be proven but hasn't yet.

I agree.

 

Can anyone recommend any books or something to illuminate this topic?

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Why should provable assertions be valued? What do they add to knowledge?

Well if you prove something, doesn't that add to knowledge?

 

"Intermediate fossils do not exist"
Not provable nor falsifiable since it's not true.

What? I don't think you understand what I'm talking about. If statement X HAS been proven false, then it obviously CAN BE proven false, and is therefore falsifiable. To say that something is not falsifiable because it has been proven false is completely self-contradictory.

If statement X has been proven false, it is falsified and no longer worth worrying about. Intermediate fossils have been found so the statement "intermediate fossils do not exist" is not true.
"Intermediate fossils exist"
Uh.... they do and it is "falsiable" it just hasn't been falsified.

I don't follow your reasoning, could you please explain how someone could disprove (i.e. falsify) the existence of intermediate fossils? As far as I can tell, that would require every cubic inch of the earth's crust to be scoured, which isn't likely to happen. Also, I never claimed that intermediate fossils do not exist.

The fossils found COULD be fossils of other species.
"God exists"
Not provable.
I must disagree with you here. If one were to locate an intelligent being who could demonstrate power over the cosmos in a scientifically controlled environment, then I think we could say with pretty safe certainty that "God" (i.e. an intelligent being who controls the universe) exists.
These gods are only found in mythology. You need to define a god before you can claim it exists and that definition changes every time someone tries to falsify it. Therefore it is unfalsifiable.
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If statement X has been proven false, it is falsified and no longer worth worrying about. Intermediate fossils have been found so the statement "intermediate fossils do not exist" is not true.

I wasn't talking about whether or not it was true, I was talking about whether or not it was falsifiable. Because evidence can be presented that falsifies it, it is therefore falsifiable, a fact you initially denied. "Falsifiable" and "false" are hardly mutually exclusive.

 

The fossils found COULD be fossils of other species.

Not sure of your meaning here. Could you please elaborate?

 

These gods are only found in mythology. You need to define a god before you can claim it exists and that definition changes every time someone tries to falsify it. Therefore it is unfalsifiable.

...which is something I never disputed. I completely agree that the existence of gods is unfalsifiable. Didn't you just prove my point?

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If statement X has been proven false, it is falsified and no longer worth worrying about. Intermediate fossils have been found so the statement "intermediate fossils do not exist" is not true.

I wasn't talking about whether or not it was true, I was talking about whether or not it was falsifiable. Because evidence can be presented that falsifies it, it is therefore falsifiable, a fact you initially denied. "Falsifiable" and "false" are hardly mutually exclusive.

I see the problem now. For an idea to be falsifiable it just has to be open to the possibility of being falsified. Evolution could be falsified if someone finds something that would prevent species from changing. A god cannot be falsified since it is a belief and not open to falsifiability.

 

This article explains it much better than I can.

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Um... correct me if I'm wrong, but something that is Falsifiable (able to be proven false) is also able to be proven True.

 

Hence something that has been proven false is no longer Falsifiable...

 

Hmm, that's not my understanding of the concept, I'm pretty sure that falsifiability and "provability" are separate things entirely.

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Um... correct me if I'm wrong, but something that is Falsifiable (able to be proven false) is also able to be proven True.

 

Hence something that has been proven false is no longer Falsifiable...

 

Hmm, that's not my understanding of the concept, I'm pretty sure that falsifiability and "provability" are separate things entirely.

Hang on...

 

The ability of something to be proven false is seperate from the ability to be proven true? They're opposite sides of the same coin!

 

 

Here's a thought... can you win a race that's already been won? A race is winable until it's been won... but you seem to be saying that even when it's been won, it's still winable. :scratch:

 

You are mixing up the tenses here... falsifiable is future tense only. Proven false is past/present tense.

 

Sort out the mixed up tenses and you can see just where the mistake was made.

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Something which has been found, such as fossils, is no longer provable or falsifiable, it is proven. We have to go with the best evidense that there is. A theory is never 100% provable. You do as many test on it as you can and if it passes them it is propably right. An item exists or doesn't. It can be proved by finding it but not disproved. If you have found it its not a matter of beleif, it is there. You have found it.

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  • 1 month later...
The statement God does not exist is falsifiable by virtue of someone producing God. It is not provable per se', because you can't prove a negative.

 

Not than I proving that god doesn't exist, but negatives can be proven.

 

If one can point out a contradiction in an argument to a positive or an "existential" statement, one has, in a roundabout way proven a negative. This type of "proving negatives" through contradictions is common in mathematics. Mathematics can be applied to the physical world in the "hard sciences" like chemistry, biology, and mathematics.

 

Though, to be fair, it is usually accomplished by first saying something that something exists, and then arriving at a contradiction in order to maintain that existence. It is true it is extremely difficult to directly prove a negative, but it can be done nonetheless, usually through indirect methods. For instance, if I say there exists a round square, it can be proven that there are no round squares because the memberships to round set and the square set are mutually exclusive by their very definitions. Having a round square makes as much sense as saying 3=2.

 

Many of the negatives that can be proven outright are quite trivial. I can easily prove that "no massive objects that are visible and are larger than my refrigerator are currently and completely inside my refrigerator". They aren't any such objects in there 'cause while the object is larger than my refrigerator, it won't fit. I can't use the excuse that there is an invisible object that can occupy space within refrigerator, because that contradicts it being visible, and contradicts it being massive (having mass and occupying space). If I do make it fit completely inside, I have either increased the size of my refrigerator, decreased the size of the object, or both. Was this (albeit stupid and silly) negative statement provable? Of course. Trivial, oh ya you betcha, doncha know!

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