Falsifiability

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'''Falsifiability''' is a fundamental property of a statement of it being possible to have counter-examples to (the search for these counter-examples is called [[falsification]]). According to [[Karl Popper]], claims that are not falsifiable are considered to be outside the realm of [[science]]. This criterion is accepted by most of the worldwide scientific community.
  
==Definition==
 
  
'''Falsifiability''' is a fundamental property of a statement (or hypothesis, conjecture, or theory) that it is possible to be demonstrated to be false. According to the very influential philosopher of science Sir [[Karl Popper]], a claim cannot be "[[science|scientific]]" (or subject to scientific inquiry) unless it is falsifiable. Although in the opinion of some, Popper's definition is incomplete, it remains undeniable that falsifiability is an important part of [[science]]: a hypothesis that cannot be falsified is a hypothesis that makes no difference in the universe.
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==Examples==
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Special creation is not falsifiable. There is no test which could show, even theoretically, that things were not specially created if they weren't. There is also no test which could show God didn't hire unicorns to create us if he didn't. Without falsifiability there are an infinite number of alternatives one can't prove, all of which have equal merit.
  
In the philosophical community, the term "falsify" has come to mean "disprove", opposite "verify". It's unfortunate that this term has become so entrenched, as outside philosophy the term means "to counterfeit" - to dishonestly make a false representation of something.
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The Theory of Evolution is falsifiable. Had the fossil record been found to be static, it would have shown that species have not evolved. Had a mechanism been found that prevents, and has always prevented, genetic mutations from accumulating or being inherited, it would make evolution impossible. However, the opposite is true in both cases - those things were instead found to support the theory.
 
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"Falsifiable" does not mean "false." For a proposition to be falsifiable, it must be possible, at least in theory, for some observation to be made that is incompatible with the proposition. The statement "all swans are white," for example, could be falsified by observing a green swan. On the other hand, the statement that "there is a green swan somewhere" could only be falsified by observing every swan in existence and noting that none of them are green. For statements like "there is intelligent life elsewhere in the universe," this is at best impractical and may well be considered impossible.
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Popper himself proposed falsifiability as a criterion for demarcating what is and is not science. He held, for example, that [[Freud]]ian psychoanalysis was not "science" because it was not in principle falsifiable; a patient who disagrees with his analyst is simply "in denial," and any contrary argument or behavior on the part of the patient can be ascribed to the patient's attempts to buttress his denial.  
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==Examples of Application==
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Many [[Philosophy|philosophical]] beliefs, including questions of [[ethics]] and esthetics, are usually held to be unfalsifiable. A simple example of such a belief is [[solipsism]], the belief that there is no external universe beyond one's own mind. This is obviously unfalsifiable, because whatever "evidence" is presented against it might simply be the product of one's own imagination.
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Similarly, questions of ethics (how would you disprove a statement like "murder is evil"?) or esthetics (how would you disprove a statement like "flowers are pretty?") are usually held to be unfalsifiable since they rely on a degree of personal judgement and assumptions.
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Statements in [[mathematics]] are often unfalsifiable because they are definitions and consequences of definitions; there is little empirical evidence that can be gathered experimentally to touch on question of mathematics.
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Questions of [[theology]] are also often unfalsifiable. It is not, even in theory, possible to falsify the idea of an omnipotent [[God]] who is capable of hiding his own tracks.
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==See also==
 
==See also==
*[[Logic]]
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* [[Logic]]
*[[Logical fallacy]]  
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* [[Logical fallacy]]  
*[[Pseudoscience]]
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* [[You can't prove a negative]]
*[[You Can't Prove a Negative]]
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* ''[[Zeitgeist]]''
  
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[[Category:Epistemology]]
 
[[Category:Science]]
 
[[Category:Science]]
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[[Category:Evidence]]

Revision as of 12:21, 29 June 2011

Falsifiability is a fundamental property of a statement of it being possible to have counter-examples to (the search for these counter-examples is called falsification). According to Karl Popper, claims that are not falsifiable are considered to be outside the realm of science. This criterion is accepted by most of the worldwide scientific community.


Examples

Special creation is not falsifiable. There is no test which could show, even theoretically, that things were not specially created if they weren't. There is also no test which could show God didn't hire unicorns to create us if he didn't. Without falsifiability there are an infinite number of alternatives one can't prove, all of which have equal merit.

The Theory of Evolution is falsifiable. Had the fossil record been found to be static, it would have shown that species have not evolved. Had a mechanism been found that prevents, and has always prevented, genetic mutations from accumulating or being inherited, it would make evolution impossible. However, the opposite is true in both cases - those things were instead found to support the theory.

See also

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