Empirical Falsifiability

Edward Feser has a blog post up that is highly relevant to much of the debate that takes place here at The Skeptical Zone between theists and non-theists.

A note on falsification

Lazy shouts of “unfalisfiability!” against theological claims just ignore all this complexity — the distinctions that have to be drawn between empirical claims on the one hand and claims of mathematics, logic, and metaphysics on the other; between extremely general empirical claims and more specific ones; between philosophy of nature (which studies the philosophical presuppositions of natural science) and natural science itself; and between the testing of a thesis and the testing of the auxiliary assumptions we generally take for granted but conjoin with the thesis when drawing predictions from it.

So, falsificationism is a rather feeble instrument to wield against theology. And in fact, atheist philosophers have known this for decades, even if New Atheist combox commandos are still catching up.

484 thoughts on “Empirical Falsifiability

  1. Mung: keiths can sympathize, but questions are not arguments. I’m trying to figure out what your point is, what claim you are advancing. I have to admit I’m not all that concerned if I fail to offer a refutation of a question.

    Surely you jest… your reading comprehension in past has proven up to the task of comprehending my straight-forward questions.

    Please stop prevaricating for Christ and just answer my questions.

  2. Mung: And what “victory” will you have won?

    This is the problem keiths has. He thinks if he asks a question and gets no answer, or no satisfactory answer, that he has “won” the argument. That he must be correct, that his conclusion must somehow logically follow. We’re always left wondering what his conclusion was, and what it followed from, and what the argument is that he actually won.

    What victory?

    Your public admission you are unable to answer three simple and straight-forward questions without embarrassing yourself!

    Shall we call in a moderator to adjudicate?

  3. keiths:
    Mung,

    Stay tuned for my OP on the psychology of admitting mistakes. I discuss that scenario, and it is not true that “nothing follows and nothing can be concluded”.

    I am awaiting your efforts with bated breath!

    ITMT, may I add THANK YOU!

  4. TomMueller,

    Shall we call in a moderator to adjudicate?

    No, that would be pointless. Moderators don’t have a privileged vantage point. Readers can decide for themselves whether Mung is evading your questions.

    I haven’t been following your conversation very closely, so I can’t offer an opinion myself. However, Mung has a long history of avoiding questions he can’t answer, including many of mine, so it certainly wouldn’t surprise me to learn that he is avoiding yours. I doubt that it would surprise any of the regulars here.

  5. keiths:
    TomMueller,

    No, that would be pointless. Moderators don’t have a privileged vantage point.Readers can decide for themselves whether Mung is evading your questions.

    I haven’t been following your conversation very closely, so I can’t offer an opinion myself.However, Mung has a long history of avoiding questions he can’t answer, including many of mine, so it certainly wouldn’t surprise me to learn that he is avoiding yours.I doubt that it would surprise any of the regulars here.

    Hi Keiths

    My three questions were repeated here on one post for everyone’s convenience;

    http://theskepticalzone.com/wp/empirical-falsifiability/comment-page-9/#comment-121508

    best

  6. keiths: The hypothetical existence of an omnipotent being with other specified characteristics can have entailments.

    Yes, one could specify the existence of an omnipotent being that creates a world in which keiths is always right. Some might say this has already happened.

    But an omnipotent being could capriciously change history and erase all evidence of keiths.

    Nothing about existence follows logically or necessarily from the existence of an omnipotent being.

  7. petrushka,

    Sure, an omnipotent being could erase the evidence. If he couldn’t, he wouldn’t be omnipotent.

    But if we’re testing a hypothesis about an omnipotent being who doesn’t monkey with the evidence, such as the YEC God, then there are testable entailments.

    It simply isn’t true that

    There can be no entailments for an omnipotent being.

    The YEC God is a counterexample to your claim and also to Alan’s:

    You can’t have a supernatural testable hypothesis. It’s a matter of definition.

    PS: It might comfort you to paint me as someone who claims he’s always right, but it isn’t true. Don’t indulge yourself.

  8. keiths: But if we’re testing a hypothesis about an omnipotent being who doesn’t monkey with the evidence, such as the YEC God, then there are testable entailments.

    Assuming you have some certain way of knowing that the omnipotent being hasn’t monkeyed with your mind and memory, or the evidence. Or made it all an illusion.

    You can test all the evidence you want, but you cannot be certain that the evidence you test has not been tampered with.

    All you can do is test whether the evidence available to you best fits some hypothesis or another. You cannot test whether the evidence is real or illusory, or even have any certainty about what what real and illusion are, considering that the omnipotent being can change reality at whim.

  9. petrushka,

    Assuming you have some certain way of knowing that the omnipotent being hasn’t monkeyed with your mind and memory, or the evidence. Or made it all an illusion.

    There is no such “certain way of knowing”. That’s one of the reasons I argue that absolute certainty is impossible. And note that this doesn’t just apply to our beliefs regarding the testable entailments of omnipotent beings — it applies to everything we believe.

    The can of Mountain Dew in my hand might be an illusion created by some powerful being, and I have no way of ascertaining with absolute certainty that it is not.

    I’ve even argued elsewhere that God himself, if he exists, cannot be absolutely certain that he isn’t being fooled by some higher-level god or demon.

    If you insist on absolute certainty, all knowledge goes out the window. Including Descartes’ cogito.

  10. petrushka,

    Do you dispute that the YEC God is a counterexample to your claim that “there can be no entailments for an omnipotent being”?

  11. keiths: Do you dispute that the YEC God is a counterexample to your claim that “there can be no entailments for an omnipotent being”?

    We’ve been through this over and over.

    Let’s assume there is an entity corresponding to the god of Moses and Noah.
    Let’s assume this entity is omnipotent.

    Nothing else follows from this. An omnipotent entity could have fabricated all of history up to five minutes ago. An omnipotent entity could have fabricated a different history in the mind of each and every individual, or there might not be any individuals.
    An omnipotent entity could have done the things recorded in the bible and altered the evidence to look like uniformitarianism. Or vice versa.

    It’s a pretty feeble form of omnipotence that is bound by entailments.

    There is nothing in the concept of omnipotence that logically requires you to trust evidence.

    You can argue that the evidence is inconsistent with YEC, but you cannot be certain that the evidence hasn’t been tampered with. Or that your mind and memory haven’t been tampered with.

  12. Hi Mung,

    Just like Sal who could not answer my earlier question on Hinnies and Mules, you are unable to answer my simple and straight-forward queries on Biblical Exegesis.

    Inescapable conclusion, you Mung are unable to find error in any of my syllogisms.

    Thank you, I accept your tacit concession of defeat.

    best

  13. Alan,

    Since you’re here, let’s pick up where we left off.

    I pointed out a major problem with your position, but you never responded. Here’s how I described it to Glen:

    He [Alan] asserts that

    Gods with entailments are testable.

    …and that

    Anything testable is real.

    It follows inexorably that

    Gods with entailments are real.

    Since Alan is an atheist, this conclusion must be disconcerting. 🙂

    The problem lies with his second statement:

    Anything testable is real.

    Hypotheses can be testable even if they refer to entities that turn out not to be real.

    Your response?

  14. keiths: I pointed out a major problem with your position, but you never responded.

    Obviously he is conceding defeat. Do you plan a victory celebration?

  15. keiths:

    Do you dispute that the YEC God is a counterexample to your claim that “there can be no entailments for an omnipotent being”?

    petrushka:

    We’ve been through this over and over.

    Apparently we need to go through it again, because you’re still not getting it.

    petrushka:

    Let’s assume there is an entity corresponding to the god of Moses and Noah.
    Let’s assume this entity is omnipotent.

    Nothing else follows from this. An omnipotent entity could have fabricated all of history up to five minutes ago. An omnipotent entity could have fabricated a different history in the mind of each and every individual, or there might not be any individuals.
    An omnipotent entity could have done the things recorded in the bible and altered the evidence to look like uniformitarianism. Or vice versa.

    The God that YECs believe in is not merely “the God of Moses and Noah”. They believe in a God who created the universe less than 10,000 years ago and who has not monkeyed with the evidence. They believe in a God who is honest and who has revealed the (literally true) creation story in the inerrant Bible.

    That hypothetical God does have entailments, and among those entailments is that the earth should appear to be young. That’s why YECs are obsessed with casting doubt on radioactive dating methods.

    It’s a pretty feeble form of omnipotence that is bound by entailments

    I wouldn’t exactly describe a God capable of creating the universe as “feeble”, would you?

    Also, you’re thinking of entailments as restrictions or limitations. They aren’t. Here’s how I put it to RoyLT earlier in the thread:

    RoyLT,

    I just don’t understand how a being with even a single entailment can be said to have total power and total freedom?

    You seem to be interpreting entailments as restrictions, but they are not.

    I like okra. My liking of okra has various entailments:

    a) I tend to choose okra over competing vegetables when ordering food;
    b) I buy okra at the supermarket;
    c) at my house, you’ll often find okra slime on the dishes waiting to be washed;

    …and so on.

    The fact that my okraphilia has entailments does not mean that my vegetable-buying power is restricted, or that my freedom is somehow curtailed. I could shift my allegiance to rutabaga tomorrow if I chose.

    How is it any different for an omnipotent being?

    petrushka:

    You can argue that the evidence is inconsistent with YEC, but you cannot be certain that the evidence hasn’t been tampered with. Or that your mind and memory haven’t been tampered with.

    That’s true of any evidence you look at. Anything at all. Even though you’re an atheist.

    Please slow down and think this through carefully. Nobody, including those of us who are atheists, can be exactly 100.0% sure that God (or some other powerful entity capable of fooling us) does not exist. No matter how small, there is still a finite, nonzero chance that we are mistaken and that such an entity does in fact exist.

    If it is possible that such an entity exists, it follows that we cannot be absolutely certain that we are not being deceived. Absolute certainty is a myth.

    While this is true, it is separate from the question of whether the existence of a particular omnipotent being can have entailments.

    The YEC God described above does have entailments.

    Therefore your claim is incorrect:

    There can be no entailments for an omnipotent being.

  16. Mung: Obviously he is conceding defeat. Do you plan a victory celebration?

    Yes – Finally we agree!

    You are most correct!

    Hypothetically speaking, if Allan fails to respond (which I doubt will happen) then yes indeed, Allan has tacitly conceded defeat just as you have done.

    Your repeated and public refusal to answer three straight-forward questions leads to one inescapable conclusion – you are unable to answer those three straight forward questions.

    That constitutes a tacit admission of defeat, no differently than Sal was unable to answer the simple and straight-forward Hinny-Mule question on an earlier thread.

    QED

    … and I publically thank you.

  17. Keiths, I have no interest in what people believe about the god of the bible.

    The issue I address is whether regular phenomena can logically and necessarily be derived from omnipotence. Evidence and beliefs are irrelevant.

    Your response is that the omnipotent being you have in mind is defined as not tampering with evidence. Well duh.

  18. Keiths, the problem I see with your argument is that beliefs about the honesty of an omnipotent do not bind such a being.

    You might argue that YEC believers are bad at drawing inferences from evidence, or that they incorrectly attribute goodness and honesty to their deity, but nothing about omnipotence compells such. The YEC god can exist and be a trickster.

  19. petrushka:

    Your response is that the omnipotent being you have in mind is defined as not tampering with evidence. Well duh.

    Yes, and the key point is that he’s still an omnipotent being. He chooses not to tamper with the evidence even though he could.

    Your claim therefore cannot be true…

    There can be no entailments for an omnipotent being.

    …because the existence of the particular omnipotent being we are talking about does have entailments.

  20. petrushka,

    Keiths, the problem I see with your argument is that beliefs about the honesty of an omnipotent do not bind such a being.

    Our beliefs don’t bind reality, period.

    What we’re doing is testing a hypothesis against reality. Reality has the final say. If the hypothesis fails the tests, reality wins and the hypothesis should be rejected.

    For the YECs, the hypothesis is

    a) that the God of the Bible exists;
    b) that he created the world less than 10,000 years ago;
    c) that he’s both honest and omnipotent; and
    d) that the Bible is his inerrant word.

    If that particular omnipotent being exists, there are entailments. Among those entailments is that the world is young, and since the posited God is not deceitful, the physical evidence should corroborate that. It doesn’t, so intellectually honest people reject the YEC hypothesis.

    Yes, it is logically possible for an omnipotent God to tamper with the evidence or to otherwise be deceitful. True, but irrelevant. We aren’t testing that hypothesis here.

    We’re testing the YEC hypothesis, and that hypothesis has entailments despite positing an omnipotent God.

    There can be entailments for an omnipotent being.

  21. keiths: Our beliefs don’t bind reality, period.

    I don’t believe your beliefs are real. Which is why I think that your beliefs about what should be “expected” of people here at TSZ should be understood as fantasy.

  22. Mung,

    Just think how much better you would feel about yourself if you could exceed expectations rather than constantly trying to lower them.

  23. keiths:
    . . .
    For the YECs, the hypothesis is

    a) that the God of the Bible exists;
    b) that he created the world less than 10,000 years ago;
    c) that he’s both honest and omnipotent; and
    d) that the Bible is his inerrant word.

    I’ve demonstrated recently that ( d ) is not supported by the evidence.

    ( c ) is also problematic:

    The Christian god does not lie: Numbers 23:19, 2 Samuel 7:28, Psalms 119:160, Titus 1:2, Hebrews 6:18
    The Christian god does lie: 1 Kings 22:23, Jeremiah 4:10, Jeremiah 20:7, Ezekiel 14:9, 2 Thessalonians 2:11

    It’s almost like the Christian bible is a book written by men for their own purposes.

  24. Mung:
    Do you struggle for or against purpose, Patrick?

    Do you always answer direct questions posed to you by suggesting irrelevant distracting queries instead of providing a straight-forward response?

    Does the noun “sophist” mean anything to you?

  25. Patrick:
    I’ve demonstrated recently that ( d ) [that the Bible is his inerrant word. ] is not supported by the evidence.

    And it gets better: Mung has even publically conceded as much, by his own admission, given his inability to contradict that contention.

    Patrick:
    It’s almost like the Christian bible is a book written by men for their own purposes.

    And yet again, Mung also conceded that point as well by publically conceding the existence of theologically-motivated alterations of Biblical text.

    I welcome contradiction if Mung feels aggrieved by being publically “outed” on these two scores.

    Otherwise, Mung should salvage whatever dignity he still has left and quietly depart this discussion all together.

  26. Public Notice to Mung:

    Mung – please understand I am publically challenging you:

    If you are unable to answer those three direct and straight-forward questions, you should at least have the decency to publically concede as much.

    If instead you indulge in some puerile evasion and yet again dodge the questions I will declare the matter settled to my satisfication.

    … i.e that you are unable to answer the questions and have conceded all three points to me.

    Like we all did for Sal before on a previous thread, you are provided a 24 hour period of “grace” to allow the legions of angels at your command to fly to your assistance.

    Thereafter, the matter shall be considered settled once and for all: namely, your command of Theology in general and Biblical Exegesis in particular remain as astute as Sal’s command of Biology in general and Epigenetics in particular.

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