Are Untestable Statements Necessarily "Bad Science"?

Well, okay, but what does that have to do with whether the statement was bad science or not?

4 Likes

If it’s untestable, it’s bad science.

“It’s not a scientific claim” is not a good excuse for making untestable claims. Are we to now say that you can just respond “Okay so my claim is untestable, but at least it’s not bad science.”?

C’mon.

1 Like

Where did you get that idea? Many claims have nothing to do with science,

It is, however, a factually correct statement – which puts it ahead of “If it’s untestable, it’s bad science”.

Are you unable to evaluate claims except in terms of their scientific status? Why not say, ‘That statement is wrong’, or ‘You have no evidence for that statement’, or ‘Your belief is ungrounded’?

5 Likes

For claims about things that happen in the real world(why is the weather the way it is?), as opposed to purely fictional subjects(what would Darth Vader do?), I think that’s a bug, not a feature.

This “it’s not a scientific claim” idea appears to me to be the go-to bad excuse people come up with when there is no good evidence in support of their beliefs. When they made testable claims that proved false, they start making them untestable instead, and then make the excuse that “it’s not a scientific claim”.

I don’t see why I should agree that an untestable claim isn’t bad science. Come to think of it, that would be one way to determine that a claim is bad science, by it being untestable.

I believe I am able to do all of that, and more. Nothing prevents me from saying that, and also saying that unestable claims are also bad science, and that simply saying untestable claims are by definition outside the remits of science is a bad excuse for making unsupported claims.

1 Like

“God” in this context is really a place holder for “it happened through untestable and undetectable processes that I believe through faith”. It is the unsupported belief in an untestable and undetectable process that makes it unscientific.

2 Likes

@T_aquaticus,

I think you forgot where you are. This is a Theist forum for Theist views. There’s no point in trying to convince people that “God is a placeholder”.

Is there a rule or a condition which tells us which statements are scientific statements and which are not?

Let’s say that there is. It may be helpful to think of “falsifiability” here as an example, but it can be any such condition. So now, we can make the statement that “scientific statements are those that meet this condition X”.

Is that statement now a scientific statement?

Isn’t philosophy fun?

4 Likes

Indeterminate. It may be true, false, undecidable or paradoxical depending on what ‘X’ is.

This isn’t philosophy - just a simple logic exercise.

What does “testable” mean? Please define it rigorously. For a statement to be “testable”, does mean that I can conduct a quantifiable study to find out if it is true? Or do you have a broader definition of “testability”?

1 Like

Testable claim:
There are empirical observations I can make that will justify rejecting the claim

@CLAVDIVS

I think it is perfectly acceptable to use an aggregate of observations to “justify rejecting” Atheism and its related ideas.

But it is another thing entirely to use these subjective observations as “proofs” or even “definitive deductions”.

Proofs and/or definitive deductions are in the realm of science.

There is an aspect of Specificity to consider. For example, we know the fossil record shows a nested hierarchy as predicted by evolution, and there are numerous examples (ie: Tiktaalik). But for specific fossils A and B we may never find an intermediate fossil. Questions about specific intermediate fossils are scientific because the more general case is scientific, even if we never find that specific fossil. We may also find other fossils which could falsify the hypothesized relationship between A and B.

I am personally sympathetic to certain hypotheses which have a certain aspect of necessity. For example, any region of the universe more than some 48 billion light years away is forever beyond our ability to observe. BUT according to everything else we know, those unobservable regions should also exist. We would some additional knowledge for it to be reasonable to think otherwise.

I like what Sean Carroll had to say on this subject:

One of the struggles that we have as modern physicists and cosmologists, is that the conventional ways we have of talking about how to do science might be too simplistic. One way we can put this that is very dramatic is, there is a t-shirt or bumper-sticker-sized motto that was given to us by Sir Karl Popper about what demarcates science from non science, namely, scientific theories are falsifiable, which doesn’t mean you can prove them wrong, it means that if they were wrong you could prove them wrong. A good scientific theory according to Popper sticks its neck out. It says, here’s what I think is true about the universe. There’s something very definite that I’m saying. If you look for this aspect and don’t find it there, then that theory is not correct.

What Popper had in mind was attacking things like Freudian psychoanalysis. He thought that there was nothing that a patient could tell a psychoanalyst that the psychoanalyst would not be able to say, “Ah, yes. I have a perfect theory that would explain that.” Popper felt that if you could explain everything, you’re explaining nothing. You’re not sticking your neck out. This idea that scientific theory should be falsifiable has caught on. Popper was not completely right about that. He’s not taken as the last word by any respectable philosopher of science, but he was onto something important. He was pointing out that a good scientific theory should be carefully definite. It can’t have infinite amounts of wiggle room.

Some scientists, bless their hearts, have taken this subtle piece of philosophy of science and made it a little bit overly simplistic. When we have a theory now, like string theory which says that there’s little loops of string at a submicroscopic scale, or the inflationary universe scenario that says there are other universes that we can’t see, these theories are saying something very definite. It’s not like anything goes in these theories, but what they are saying seems to be inaccessible to our practical experimental abilities. Maybe even our impractical ones if you’re talking about the multiverse that is further away than we can possibly see.

In some weird overly literal sense, these theories are not falsifiable because we just don’t know how to do the experiments to falsify them even though they’re saying something definite. In my opinion, if you ask Karl Popper about that, he would say these theories are perfectly scientific, there’s nothing wrong with them. He never said it would be easy to falsify things, he just said that a theory should make definite statements. But certain zealous colleagues of mine are saying that because you can’t see the other universes in the multiverse or because you can’t see the little super strings moving around, these theories are not falsifiable and, therefore, should not count as science.

It’s a bit of a tempest in a teapot because science is going to march on one way or the other.

https://www.edge.org/conversation/sean_carroll-layers-of-reality

1 Like

A proper test is to use the fossils we do have. As you note, the theory of evolution says nothing about our chances of finding a specific fossil, or any fossils for that matter. Those questions are more about geology than biology. What the theory of evolution hyhpothesizes is that species in the past should also show a nested hierarchy. Each and every fossil we do find can be used to test that hypothesis.

1 Like

One of the best one liners in the history of physics came from Wolfgang Pauli’s: “It’s not even wrong”.

It’s a bit self serving for Sean Carroll to massage the definition of science to benefit his own field of work, but he does make some important points. I think the most important point is that scientific theories need to make risky statements. As Carroll describes it, scientists have to stick their neck out and see if new evidence backs them up.

A good example to use here is the Higgs Boson. When Higgs proposed the existence of the particle there was no way to test for its existence, but it made risky predictions for certain experiments that could be performed in the future. One of the coolest scientific presentations I ever saw was at CERN when the two independent teams both showed evidence of the Higgs at the same energy, and Higgs himself was there at the meeting. The fact they found it during his lifetime is still one of most heart warming stories there is in science, IMHO.

3 Likes

Whereas if the restrictive definition of science that Carroll is arguing against is applied, then the Higgs Boson was not a scientific claim until the means to detect was invented. Then it suddenly became science.

There are many important statements in science that are not testable.

We need to judge science as a whole, not at the level of individual statements.

4 Likes

In essence, that is correct.

Another way to describe Carroll’s approach is that science is a multi-step process, a part of which is coming up with definitive questions, ideas, and hypotheses. Science is also a communal process, so part of it is other scientists reviewing, debating, and then latching onto your idea as something worth pursuing.

Postdictions are also important. According to my hazy memory of a Michio Kaku book I read about a decade ago, string theory has been able to reproduce Einstein’s equations from first principles. If Einstein had not already discovered relativity we might very well hold string theory in higher regard. The important part here is that new ideas need to explain the data we already have. The next step is coming up with experiments that can differentiate between new and old ideas.

3 Likes

Logic is a sub-field of philosophy.

I was once asked to teach a course in mixed Boolean logic. The Dean planned to cross-list the 400-level course in three departments: Mathematics, Computer Science, and Philosophy.

2 Likes

True. If one is to define science in terms of testability, then it quickly becomes apparent what constitutes a testable hypothesis has to be grappled with. For instance, we can have:

Tested and done.
Tantalizing low sigma hints in the data.
Building the technology.
Blue sky proposals.
Technology doable, but nobody is gonna fund this thing, ever.
Technology conceivable, but beyond practicality whatever the level of commitment.
Technology not yet conceived, but at least in principle would not violate known laws of physics.
Thought experiment.
Not in our universe, but the math works.
Required by the plot.

3 Likes