Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Unfalsifiable and falsified

Among various criticisms of creationists is that they have incoherently claimed that evolution is both unfalsifiable and has been falsified. See, for example, TalkOrigins:
Claim CA211:

Any fact can be fit into the theory of evolution. Therefore, evolution is not falsifiable and is not a proper scientific theory.

Response:

...This claim, coming from creationists, is absurd, since almost all creationism is nothing more than (unsubstantiated) claims that evolution has been falsified.
In spite of everything wrong with creationism, this is not as incoherent as it appears at first. A claim may be reasonably said to be both unfalsifiable and falsified if:

1) There are observations which, on the face of it, would falsify the claim
2) These observations are made
3) In response to the observations, proponents invent auxiliary hypothesis or special rules which make it clear that no evidence would convince them that the claim is false.

I've already described the strained defenses of inerrancy put up by Christian fundamentalists. Another example of a falsified, unfaslifiable claim is parapsychology. The pattern laid out above happens again and again. One striking example is Susan Blackmore, once a reasearcher in good standing with the parapsychological community, now a member of CSICOP. In 1986, she wrote in Fate magazine that after sixteen years of reasearch, she had found no evidence for psychic phenomenon. On the face of it, she had managed to falsify claims of parapsychology. However, Blackmore's declaration did not phase parapsychologists. In a relpy appearing in the same magazine, Scott Rogo rationalized her failures as possibly the result of unconscious use of psi by Blackmore to inhibit results.

A somewhat more controversial, but nonetheless arguable, example, is the claim that the universe was created by an all-powerful, loving God. There is overwhelming disconfirmation of that claim in the form of the famines, plagues, and genocides that have afflicted this world (see my version of this argument). Theologians, of course, have spent much ink trying to resolve this problem. Setting aside the question of whether they've even opened up a logical possibility of God's existence, it is clear when one reads their work that they have not left any possible observations which would contradict their claim that God exists.

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