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gherkin001
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Assignment

Post by gherkin001 »

I've been given an assignment to do a display piece on scientific theories, but am supposed to come up with a write up about a theory that science will never be able to prove or disprove.

Does anyone have any ideas?

Kirsty
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Lithium_joe
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Post by Lithium_joe »

Sounds like a trick question to me.

The whole idea of scientific theories is that they can be disproved (unlike say religious claims to truth which are not verifiable) Scientific theories are only considered 'valid' if they are falsifiable but remain to date unfalsified.

This however does not preclude the idea that they one day won't be falsiifed. It merely lends confidence that the longer a theory is seen to be able to make accurate predictions verfied by experimental data that a theory is considered to be valid.

Take for instance the theory of phlogiston.

Never heard of it?

Well it's obsolete now that's why - the theory is 17th century and was used to explain why things burn in air (it was assumed that phlogiston was somehow used up in the process) This was all completely superceded by the dawning understanding of Chemistry and the process of oxidisation

Try googling phlogiston and Lavoisser (who discovered Oxygen - one of the first true elements that now make up the periodic table of elements that was arranged by Mendelev) It was Lavoisser who conclusive proved that the phlogiston was a load of old fetid dingo's kidneys and that Oxygen was not de-phlogiston-ised air (which we now know is made up mostly or Nitrogeon, Oxygeon and trace elemtents of Argon etc.)

More up to date: Relativity supplanted Newtonian physics as explaining (and predicting) how gravity works but while it has withstood the test of time over the last 90 or so years it may yet be overturned by a quantum mechanical theory of gravity.
Lithium_joe
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Post by Lithium_joe »

Having had some time to think about it: I think I can give a fuller answer to your question.

A theory Science would never be able to prove:

A Theory Science would never be able to disprove.

They kind of amount to the same thing.

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A theory that cannot be proven is one that is not testable or has been tested to wildly divergent results like, say, Cold Fusion.
Fusion is a kind of nuclear reaction that, according to conventional thinking, only occurs at high temperatures and pressures such which are not available on Earth (but which are quite normal inside stars.)

So far Cold Fusion (the idea that fusion can take place at not only Earth-bound pressures but at room temperature), to date, has not been proven. But then nor to my knowledge has it been 'disproved.' Scepticism is high, however, for as I tried to explain in my original post, the repeated poor experimental data suggests that as a theory it is wrong - or to be more specific - that the theory of high temperature/high pressure fusion cannot account for it. So perhaps the phenomenon is real but if it is then so far experimental data just isn't there to lend credibility to such an alternative viewpoint. But then perhaps the right experiment that provide such convincing (read repeatable, objective, falsifiable) data that would prove it, hasn't been done yet. But any research scientist is going to want to think long and hard before taking up a career trying to prove the theory of Cold Fusion.
This explains why science tends towards conservatism - to be an outcast and right - you need to be awfully sure of your facts.
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A theory that can't be disproved, however, is different. It's hypothesis is not able to be proven false because it does not submit to testing. Whereas the theory of Cold Fusion, for all it's faults, is still scientifically testable because as a theory of energy production tests can and have been conducted but to dissapointing results. So it can, in theory be falsified.

A theory that cannot be disproved doesn't even go that far. It's claims and theories are not even able to be tested, right or wrong.

A cogent example from modern times would be Intelligent Design.

I.D is a recent mutation of Creationism (the idea that Life, the Universe and Everything was - and depending on your view - still is being created by a Divine Supernatural Intellect.)

Intelligent Design, because it is so desperately unoriginal, borrows a lot of scientific terms and phrases and tries to appear scientific-by-proxy. However, ultimately, it's hypothesis is unfalsifiable because it crosses from Empiricism (Natural) to Theology (Supernatural) in search of an explanation. And not by accident either.

Carl Sagan famously remarked: "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence"

Bearing that in mind: the claims of the Intelligent Design fringe claim that there are instances of biological complexity so complex that the 'bottom-up' theory of incremental evolutionary development by natural selection cannot account for them. Therefore, they conclude they must have been designed and that therefore this designer is the Judeo-Christian God Yahweh and the Creation Process is the one described in Genesis page 1.

This is, to put it mildly, the end of inquiry. It is in short to say: 'We can't explain it, therefore God did it.'

There may be examples of complexity in nature which are yet to be fully understood but the track record of evolutionary biology is quite good on this part. As a theory it has an empirical basis, extraordinary explanatory power, and as of last century is understood in light of the genetic theory of transmission of inherited characteristics. So far it's hypothesis, predictions, and evidence and conclusions have withstood scrutiny.

The claim however that the complex 'whatever-it-is', which Creationism would argue was a magically conjured into existence by an all-powerful deity, is not able to be investigated because (often by their own admission) God is defined to be something outside of the 'normal', physical (i.e empirical) universe.
As a theory or a claim to truth, something stating that that something is 'outside' the universe but somehow able to affect change and cause 'inside' the universe is not able to be investigated and therefore not able to be either falsified or for that matter verified.

The strategy of the so-called 'God of the Gaps' is one that when you think about it, is ultimately doomed but for now this argument says: whatever science cannot explain, must *therefore* be God at work. As a theory that is inherently untenable. To return to Sagan: it would require extraordinary evidence not just "because the bible says so."

And this is why, no matter what they may say, the claims of the I.D.ots are categorically not based on science. In fact they are antithetical to it because they purposefully try to operate outside of science while simultaneously claiming not to be. This makes them hypocrites as well.


In either case, as I tried to outline above, the fault lies with not so much the rational of science of the scientific method but the premises of the theories it sets out to test.

If the premises (fusion at room temperature or 'God did it') are flawed, a theory will either be unable to be proven or unable to be disproved.

Science is and will remain only a method for conducting thought. Where it scores over faith or philosophy or alchemy is that it looks at the world we inhabit and tries to understand it: this has led to some extraordinary claims (like Quantum theory) but this theory in particular has to it's credit extraordinary evidence, satisfying Sagan's scepticism.

-----------

It is instructive to remember that 'prove' originally meant 'to test'

as in

"It is the exception that proves the rule."

This does not mean, just in case like me you'd ever stopped to wonder,

'it is the exception to the rule that demonstrates the rule is correct.'

Which would be nonsensical (Think about it).

Rather if you read it as:

'it is the exception that tests the rule' - it makes far more sense.

Either the exception is not governed by that rule or the rule is flawed.

'Proof' in logic and mathematics has another more refined and specific application which boils down to the the outcome following from the premise.



Hope that helps.

LJ. :-k
Lithium_joe
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Post by Lithium_joe »

Did I help? :-s
gherkin001
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Post by gherkin001 »

Yes thats a great help thanks LJ

Kirsty......
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Lumic
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Post by Lumic »

jus done one of these topics in uni where it canot be proved or disproved = the origin of life and what was the very first uni cellular organisms that we all desend from KNOW ONE KNOWS!! many theorys but can never be proved or disproved. apparently scientists fight over this and everything thats been the most enjoyable lecture so far.
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Lithium_joe
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Post by Lithium_joe »

Well yes how life got started is still as of today unknown although it's been the case that recently Scientists have created virus from scratch. Debate amongst yourselves whether a virus is alive or not (since they require a host to replicate)

http://www.cbc.ca/news/story/2002/07/12 ... 20712.html

would suggest that assembly of the basic building blocks can be done

and speaking of basic building blocks....

http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?articl ... sc=I100322

The exact knowledge of how life started is self-admitted gap in humanity's collective knowledge. but admitting to that is not to concede defeat but to rather state the obvious and propose the challenge of finding out.

To go down the ' we can't explain it therefore god did it' is as I said above the end of inquiry. (see 'God of the Gaps' above) - and I'm not arguing anyone here is , I'm just restating my own argument from above.

but Lumic is right: proving HOW life started is going to be next to, if not actually impossible.

or just highly improbable?

The one, at least leaves open the possibility that one day we may have an answer.
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Re: Assignment

Post by rodricks123 »

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Re: Assignment

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