You are on page 1of 4

The Problem with Falsification In the following pages it is my intention to evaluate one objection that creationists have to the

theory of evolution’s status as legitimate science. The objection that I have decided to consider is that the theory cannot be falsified. Unfortunately for the creationists, this objection is based on a misunderstanding of the way science works. I will explain why this objection does not strike evolution down from status as a science. I will also discuss reasons why, in light of this objection, creationism cannot replace evolution as a scientific theory. By objecting to the scientific status of evolution by saying that the theory cannot be falsified, the Creationist camp reduces itself to the level of naïve falsification. Philosophers of science discovered long ago that no scientific theory could be conclusively falsified. The form of logic, Modus Tolens, shows us that it is logically possible to falsify any claim. Unfortunately, when working in the reality of scientific explanation, we find that though falsification of a claim might be logically possible, it is factually impossible. This is exemplified with the Edington experiment, a crucial test that was meant to falsify either Newton’s or Einstein’s theory. In this experiment, a group of scientist went to Australia to observe the apparent position of a star during a solar eclipse. Einstein’s theory predicted that the star would appear not to be in its normal position due to the sun’s gravitational field bending the light from the star. Newton predicted that the star would be where it normally is. The star was in the position that Einstein predicted so Newton’s theory should have been falsified. The problem is that in doing this, or any experiment, there are a large

number of other hypotheses that are assumed to be true but can also be questioned. Accuracy of the instrumentation is certainly one hypothetical factor that would invalidate the results of the experiment, if the instruments were found to be inaccurate. A second assumption that was made is that the sun’s corona is not dense enough to bend the star light. No one had yet measured the density of the corona so the Newtonians were able to say that their theory had not been falsified. This example demonstrates the problem with naïve falsification. When one attempts to falsify a hypothesis with a crucial test, the hypothesis takes many other hypotheses, or auxiliary assumptions, with it into the test. As Philip Kitcher would say, hypotheses are tested in bundles. Whenever a crucial test is performed, supporters of the theory which failed the test can say that one of the other hypotheses in the bundle was falsified instead; just as the Newtonians said that the hypothesis that the sun’s corona would not refract starlight had been falsified instead of Newtonian mechanics. Since one of the auxiliary hypotheses in a crucial test can always be falsified in substitution for the main hypothesis, no hypothesis can be fully falsified. Further, it is unfortunate for the naïve falsificationists among the Creationists that no crucial test has yet be devised between Creationism and Evolution and it appears that due to the tenants of creationism, no test will ever be devised. Both evolution and creationism were devised more to explain rather than predict. Evolution makes few predictions while creationism holds that God made things at the beginning as they are today. Upon the discovery of an orchid

whose flower cup was so deep that no known (at the time) species of bird had a beak long enough to drink the nectar, evolutionary theory predicted that such an incredible bird does exist. This bird was eventually discovered, demonstrating evidence for the validity of evolution. No crucial test could have be devised from this prediction because creationists believe that God made the unusual bird and the strange flower together because it wanted the orchid and bird to exist. No counter predictions could be made in this case using creationism. The statement; due to hypotheses being tested in bundles a hypothesis cannot be factually falsified, leaves scientists in a bind because it now becomes harder to decide when to believe one theory over another. Popperian falsification says that auxilliary hypotheses should be thrown out if they are ad hoc or too ridiculous to be held accountable for the failure of the test. The problem with this account is deciding which auxiliaries are ad hoc. Kitcher attempts to solve this problem by demanding that every auxiliary hypothesis be independently testable. After the Edington experiment the density of the sun’s corona was measured independently to determine if that was the reason for the result of the star appearing out of position. If anyone was to ever devise a crucial test between creationism and evolution, this criterion would be used to confirm one theory over the other but neither theory could be conclusively falsified. The Creationist objection to the scientific status of evolution on the grounds of not being able to be falsify it, is not valid since no scientific theory can be falsified conclusively. Further, no crucial test has yet been devised which

could result in one belief becoming accepted over the other through testing auxilliary hypotheses independently.