I thought I would share something I just recently learned about a hero of the scientific community.  I adore the fact that his ideas from 1963 can be used TODAY to fight ignorance in the field of Christian-based pseudoscience.

Austro-British Philosopher, Karl Popper.

His importance (to science, at least) lies in the fact that he, in 1963, wrote published a paper that has since been used to define a very important demarcation between science and pseudoscience.  Many of you already know the importance of this, if you care about keeping pseudoscience like Intelligent Design and Young-Earth Creationism out of our public-school science classrooms.

Science, among other things, has always been about empiricism, observation and predictability.  But those attributes alone weren't completely successful at keeping pseudoscience from being accepted as science.  Many people don't understand that science isn't out to (nor can it) prove anything.  Just because you devise an experiment that shows your theory to be valid here and now, doesn't mean that it can prove that it is in all places at all times.

This is precisely the problem that Popper had been thinking about since 1919.  His paper was published in 1963.  That's 44 years of careful deliberation on these ideas.

The paper is entitled "Science as Falsification."

What it states, in a nutshell, is that for a theory to be scientific, it must have, amongst other well-established attributes, the attribute of falsifiability.  The theory must BE falsifiable.  What struck me is that this was proposed as late as 1963.  I had always included it in the scientific method.  And although it may have been there in spirit, Popper stated it rather persuasively and definitively.

Popper describes in his paper, first, exactly how he came about studying this particular problem (since this paper is now in the public domain, I will quote it liberally):

After the collapse of the Austrian empire there had been a revolution in Austria: the air was full of revolutionary slogans and ideas, and new and often wild theories. Among the theories which interested me, Einstein's theory of relativity was no doubt by far the most important. The three others were Marx's theory of history, Freud's psycho-analysis, and Alfred Adler's so-called "individual psychology."

There was a lot of popular nonsense talked about these theories, and especially about relativity (as still happens even today), but I was fortunate in those who introduced me to the study of this theory. We all—the small circle of students to which I belong—were thrilled with the result of Eddington's eclipse observations which in 1919 brought the first important confirmation of Einstein's theory of gravitation. It was a great experience for us, and one which had a lasting influence on my intellectual development.


It was the summer of 1919 that I began to feel more and more dissatisfied with these three theories—the Marxist theory of history, psycho-analysis, and individual psychology; and I began to feel dubious about their claims to scientific status. My problem perhaps first took the simple form, "What is wrong with Marxism, psycho-analysis, and individual psychology? Why are they so different from physical theories, from Newton's theory, and especially from the theory of relativity?"

What Karl talks about next could easily be applied to the power (for many Christians, anyway) of some of today's pseudoscience, namely Intelligent Design...
I found that those of my friends who were admirers of Marx, Freud, and Adler, were impressed by a number of points common to these theories, and especially by their apparent explanatory power. These theories appear to be able to explain practically everything that happened within the fields to which they referred. The study of any of them seemed to have the effect of an intellectual conversion or revelation, open your eyes to a new truth hidden from those not yet initiated. Once your eyes were thus opened you saw confirmed instances everywhere: the world was full of verifications of the theory. Whatever happened always confirmed it. Thus its truth appeared manifest; and unbelievers were clearly people who did not want to see the manifest truth; who refuse to see it, either because it was against their class interest, or because of their repressions which were still "un-analyzed" and crying aloud for treatment.

I could not think of any human behavior which could not be interpreted in terms of [these three theories]. It was precisely this fact—that they always fitted, that they were always confirmed—which in the eyes of their admirers constituted the strongest argument in favor of these theories. It began to dawn on me that this apparent strength was in fact their weakness.

How many times have we seen Intelligent Design adherents produce "evidence" that their "theory" was obviously true?
With Einstein's theory the situation was strikingly different. Take one typical instance — Einstein's prediction, just then confirmed by the finding of Eddington's expedition. Einstein's gravitational theory had led to the result that light must be attracted by heavy bodies (such as the sun), precisely as material bodies were attracted. As a consequence it could be calculated that light from a distant fixed star whose apparent position was close to the sun would reach the earth from such a direction that the star would seem to be slightly shifted away from the sun; or, in other words, that stars close to the sun would look as if they had moved a little away from the sun, and from one another. This is a thing which cannot normally be observed since such stars are rendered invisible in daytime by the sun's overwhelming brightness; but during an eclipse it is possible to take photographs of them. If the same constellation is photographed at night one can measure the distance on the two photographs, and check the predicted effect.

Now the impressive thing about this case is the risk involved in a prediction of this kind. If observation shows that the predicted effect is definitely absent, then the theory is simply refuted. The theory is incompatible with certain possible results of observation—in fact with results which everybody before Einstein would have expected. This is quite different from the situation I have previously described, when it turned out that the theories in question were compatible with the most divergent human behavior, so that it was practically impossible to describe any human behavior that might not be claimed to be a verification of these theories.

Popper then condenses his ideas into the following conclusions:
1.    It is easy to obtain confirmations, or verifications, for nearly every theory — if we look for confirmations.

2.    Confirmations should count only if they are the result of risky predictions; that is to say, if, unenlightened by the theory in question, we should have expected an event which was incompatible with the theory — an event which would have refuted the theory.

3.    Every "good" scientific theory is a prohibition: it forbids certain things to happen. The more a theory forbids, the better it is.

4.    A theory which is not refutable by any conceivable event is non-scientific. Irrefutability is not a virtue of a theory (as people often think) but a vice.

5.    Every genuine test of a theory is an attempt to falsify it, or to refute it. Testability is falsifiability; but there are degrees of testability: some theories are more testable, more exposed to refutation, than others; they take, as it were, greater risks.

6.   Confirming evidence should not count except when it is the result of a genuine test of the theory; and this means that it can be presented as a serious but unsuccessful attempt to falsify the theory. (I now speak in such cases of "corroborating evidence.")

7.   Some genuinely testable theories, when found to be false, are still upheld by their admirers — for example by introducing ad hoc some auxiliary assumption, or by reinterpreting the theory ad hoc in such a way that it escapes refutation. Such a procedure is always possible, but it rescues the theory from refutation only at the price of destroying, or at least lowering, its scientific status. (I later described such a rescuing operation as a "conventionalist twist" or a "conventionalist stratagem.")

One can sum up all this by saying that the criterion of the scientific status of a theory is its falsifiability, or refutability, or testability.

Remember, adherents of Intelligent Design do NOT have as their priority, the advancement of science, rationality, or the enlightenment of humankind.  They have, as their priority, the indoctrination of children into their religion.  This fact was proved most handily by the plaintiffs in the Dover, PA Intelligent Design trial.

Also remember this:  If you are drawn into a discussion about Intelligent Design, don't be coerced into discussing the "merits" of the "theory."  Stay on topic, by continually stating that as it isn't science, it has no business being taught AS science in a public-school science classroom.  Then refer to the Dover ruling.

I hope this diary will help you in your cause.  It sure has helped me.

Some intriguing parts of the Dover ruling:

ID's backers have sought to avoid the scientific scrutiny which we have now determined that it cannot withstand by advocating that the controversy, but not ID itself, should be taught in science class. This tactic is at best disingenuous, and at worst a canard. The goal of the IDM is not to encourage critical thought, but to foment a revolution which would supplant evolutionary theory with ID.
The overwhelming evidence at trial established that ID is a religious view, a mere re-labeling of creationism, and not a scientific theory.
After a searching review of the record and applicable caselaw, we find that while ID arguments may be true, a proposition on which the Court takes no position, ID is not science. We find that ID fails on three different levels, any one of which is sufficient to preclude a determination that ID is science. They are: (1) ID violates the centuries-old ground rules of science by invoking and permitting supernatural causation; (2) the argument of irreducible complexity, central to ID, employs the same flawed and illogical contrived dualism that doomed creation science in the 1980s; and (3) ID's negative attacks on evolution have been refuted by the scientific community. …It is additionally important to note that ID has failed to gain acceptance in the scientific community, it has not generated peer-reviewed publications, nor has it been the subject of testing and research. Expert testimony reveals that since the scientific revolution of the 16th and 17th centuries, science has been limited to the search for natural causes to explain natural phenomena. (page 64) [for "contrived dualism", see false dilemma.]

And the Dover decision's relevancy to this diary?
....science has been a discipline in which testability, rather than any ecclesiastical authority or philosophical coherence, has been the measure of a scientific idea’s worth.
And "testability" includes Popper's "falsifiability"

And if that doesn't nail their disingenuous asses to the wall............just tell them that the judge who decided Dover, was a George W. Bush appointee.

Originally posted to AlyoshaKaramazov on Thu Jul 04, 2013 at 01:07 PM PDT.

Also republished by SciTech.

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