Magi Mike's Blog

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The Principle of Falsification

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The Rev Dr Paul Sheppy of Reading objects to the claim that, while science determines truth from falsehood by experiment and maths by self consistency, there is no basis for determining theology’s assertions. In a letter to the press, he said it is “the sort of knock-down argument that the average first year student of philosophy of religion should be able to demolish in fairly short order”. His reason is that the “verification” or “falsification” principle is itself incapable of verification or falsification and is in it own terms, therefore, meaningless. He continues to say that Wittgenstein showed many universes of discourse exist, each with its own grammar, syntax and logic, and rules cannot sensibly be moved from one such universe to another. So:

the application of the rules of the natural sciences is unlikely to work with disciplines that make extensive use of metaphor. “Bill’s a brick” is not a scientific statement. As science, it is either untrue or meaningless. But Bill is a brick, and very fine member of my congregation. Moreover, I see the truth of what he believes by my experience and observation of him!

The reverend doctor needs to go back to school and study a little more, preferably in a universe that demonstrably makes sense. The principles of scientific method—including the falsification principle—have indeed been verified because they are subject to constant falsification, and have not yet been thus falsified. The criterion is simple, and, indeed, biblical (Dt 18:22). God explained how a false prophet could be discriminated from a true one. The prophecies of the false prophet were not true. They were not verified in practice. It is the same as the principle he attempts to lambast, and, incidentally, on this God given criterion, the Christian god, Christ, is a false prophet.

Science validates itself by selecting hypotheses that can be demonstrated not to be false—they work in practice. It is a criterion that was good enough for God but is not good enough for his theologians whose true vocation is obfuscation and mysticism to keep themselves employed by gullibles who cannot discriminate fact from fiction.

As for “Bill is a brick” not being scientific, we must concur, but there is no reason at all why it should not be. Science is a part of human thought, and each of us builds it up from infancy as a succession of increasingly complex metaphors based on our experience. Science consists of these metaphors, concepts like magnitude as height, understanding as grasping, time as a journey or a landscape, and so on. There is no fundamental reason why “Bill is a brick” should not be meaningful scientifically providing that the metaphors are defined and Bill’s brickness is falsifiable.

What is the basis, then, for the theological claim that we live on when we have ostensibly died?

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Written by mikemagee

3 March, 2008 at 5:15 pm

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