Sunday, October 20, 2019

Is it Falsifiable?

What is science? This is a question that scientists, philosophers, and others have discussed with no definitive conclusion. Common definitions of science require that a scientific idea be testable, falsifiable, and predictive. Many of the definitions of science are developed in order to distinguish science from pseudoscience. Pseudoscientific ideas are those that may appear to be scientific but fail some of the basic requirements of a scientific theory. They may be unfalsifiable, their proponents may consider only data that supports the theory and none that contradicts it, others may not be able to reproduce any of the results that might confirm the idea, or other such problems.

Although the claims of Christianity are not scientific claims, per se, the same tests that are used to help confirm the truth of a scientific theory can be applied to religious claims. Over the last several blog posts I have shown that the claims of Christianity can be scrutinized using some of these same criteria used to test a scientific theory and can be shown to have validity. For instance, the claims of Christianity do have external confirmation, can deal with counter-arguments, and are logically self consistent. In this blog post we address the seventh of eight criteria used to assess the truth of any particular hypothesis: "Can the hypothesis be falsified or confirmed with other data?"

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

External Confirmation Required

At every laboratory where I've done research there have always been at least two major experiments designed to investigate similar scientific questions. At CERN, where I currently do research, I am a member of the ATLAS collaboration, one of the two "general purpose" experiments at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) constructed to explore a broad range of scientific questions with LHC data. The CMS experiment, which sits at the opposite side of the 27 km (17 mile) circumference tunnel, is also a general purpose detector designed to look at a broad range of scientific topics. Despite the fact that having two somewhat redundant experiments costs twice as much to build and maintain, this arrangement is optimal so that each experiment can corroborate the results of the other. New discoveries and measurements require external confirmation to affirm their validity, and so complementary experiments are established in order to provide the necessary verification.

There have been a few times during my career in particle physics that one experiment seemed to have evidence for a discovery of something entirely new, but was eventually shown to be wrong, partially because other experiments were unable to provide external confirmation. Such cases involve the false "discoveries" that quarks have substructure, that particles can travel faster than the speed of light, and that weird particles called lepto-quarks actually exist. (These things may still turn out to be true but the past experiments that seemed to have found them have all been shown to be incorrect.)

External confirmation is not only one of the requirements for determining if a proposition is valid or not in any scientific endeavor, but also in other arenas where claims about objective truth are made. In a series of blog posts I have been applying some of the same principles used in my scientific research to the beliefs and world-view of Christianity to investigate whether or not they seem to have objective validation. I have already addressed the questions (1) "Is the data logically self-consistent?", (2) "Is there enough evidence to support the hypothesis?", (3) "Is the hypothesis compatible with other known data?", (4) "Is contradictory evidence conclusive?", and (5) "Is something essential missing?". This blog post will address the sixth question, (6) "Is there External Confirmation?", while two future posts will discuss the final two questions,  (7) "Can the hypothesis be falsified or confirmed with other data?", and (8) "Are there other possible explanations that are more feasible?".