Do you think this claim is true or false?

Claim: A claim is true if and only if it is scientifically verifiable.

Doesn’t this claim contradict itself since no experiment or use of the scientific method can verify it?

Posted: September 12th 2011

Mike the Infidel www

Yes, it’s self-contradictory, but that’s not a problem for me because I don’t agree with it. There are plenty of things that are true that science either can’t verify (due to their subjective nature) or has not yet verified.

If this is meant to be an indictment of science as a process, I’m afraid that it’s a failure, since science is about developing models of reality and not discerning absolute truth. It’s freely admitted by scientists of all stripes that science is not in the business of absolute certainty.

The thrust of the question appears to be to cast doubt upon whether we can be certain that some things don’t exist, since we can’t scientifically verify their absence.

When we’re speaking of things like gods, souls, the afterlife, and so on, however, we can rule some of them out. Under many formulations of these concepts, evidence of their existence would necessarily be forthcoming; since it is not, we can rule these formulations out.

Unsurprisingly, the most prevalent forms of theism are of the sort where the god believed in is immune to any sort of inspection; if a god truly doesn’t interact with the physical world in some scientifically detectable fashion, though, then that god is basically meaningless to us.

Posted: September 17th 2011

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George Locke

You’re correct that the statement implies a contradiction. You can’t use the scientific method to verify the scientific method – that’d be assuming what you’re trying to prove.

There are also counter-examples. For example, there are non-falsifiable statements that could be true. For instance, last thursdayism. That could be true, but we have no way of knowing – note that it doesn’t make a difference either way. Then there are statements, like “if A implies B, then not B implies not A“, that are logically self-evident, and statements that are true by definition, as in “all bachelors are unmarried”.

I think it’s a bit more interesting to ask how much you can know by means besides science. Quite a lot. Subjective experiences, opinions, emotions, memories, etc, these are all known to you without any need for science. When you love someone, you don’t need some joker in a lab-coat to tell you so. You feel it, and you know it.

What if you want to know whether your memories are accurate? Well, you could ask other people who saw the same things or heard about them. Eyewitness testimony is evidence, and sometimes it gets used in science, but I think it’s bending the word to say that asking your friend if that guy you met was interested in you is science.

It’s not really so different, though. In science, when you want to know something, you gather evidence and weigh it all together. When you want to know if a man has a romantic interest in you and you ask your friend if he got the same impression as you, that’s just gathering evidence, although there’s a lot more intuition in the final conclusion than you’d find in science proper.

Coming back full circle, some people have said that the only way to believe that science works is faith. The problem is that science is based on assumptions so basic that if you doubt science, you’re essentially doubting whether we can know anything (besides the subjective and the trivial or self-evident).

One of the main axioms of science is the reliability of induction. The sun rises and falls every day, but some say that this is no proof that one day it will suddenly stop. This is just last-thursdayism in reverse. If you want to embrace solipsism, go for it. Trying to convince others of it seems a bit silly to me, but whatever.

Posted: September 13th 2011

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Galen Rose www

We atheists are usually very high on science, but I’ve never heard of one who thinks, “A claim is true if and only if it is scientifically verifiable.”

You could claim that you dream of Donald Duck every night while you’re asleep. This could be true, but there is no known way today for science to verify this.

Since you’re asking this of atheists, I assume your purpose is to ask whether it makes sense to believe something that can’t be verified by science. I would answer yes, but with caveats. I think our beliefs should answer to probabilities, since virtually nothing can be proved or disproved with 100% certainty. But, it doesn’t make sense to believe just anything, just because it can’t be absolutely disproved. There should be a reasonable probability that a hypothesis is true before we accept it, otherwise we are wide open to any scam that comes down the road. Just think of the billions of people who have believed in false gods down through the ages.

So, we look to the evidence for a claim to estimate the probabilities. If there is no testable evidence for a claim, then it probably makes little sense to believe it. For example, many have written about the god of the bible, but no one has ever proved that he has seen, heard, felt, or in any other way actually interacted with this god. No one can actually DEMONSTRATE the existence of this god. All we have is hearsay; people have written and said many things about this god but there is no known test or experiment to prove or disprove the hypothesis.

Posted: September 13th 2011

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SmartLX www

The claim is false because there are exceptions to it. It’s possible that something is true but can never or will never be verified. It’s not hard to imagine things we’ll never know for sure.

Since you’re asking this on Ask the Atheist, I assume you’re trying to establish that God is not necessarily false despite being scientifically unverifiable as far as we know. I agree with this, but it doesn’t change the fact that there is no scientific evidence for God to justify belief in Him.

Posted: September 13th 2011

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“True” or “false” is the province of philosophy, not science, and my observation is that you can argue the same questions in philosophy (what is truth etc) that were argued in the Plato and Socrates, so I don’t see philosophy as generating much useful knowledge.

As for the claim, I think it’s bad to believe in things that can’t be falsified, since humans are so good at convincing ourselves.

Posted: September 12th 2011

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