Intelligent Design

Who Made Popper Pope?

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In his post below Dave refers to Karl Popper’s famous white swan/black swan illustration.  Dave is, of course, quite correct to show how ID can be formulated within Popper’s paradigm, which was most cogently set forth in The Logic of Scientific Discovery in which the swan illustration appears.  Popper may be unique among philosophers in that his ideas have been given the force of law in the United States courts.  One need go no further than Judge Jones’ opinion in Dover (although there are other examples) to see this phenomenon at work.  For this reason all who seek acceptance of their work in the scientific community bow before Popper. 

While I find Popper’s ideas compelling and often cite them myself, it seems to me that there is nothing axiomatic, fundamental or self-evident about them, and there are other methods by which we could determine the value and/or validity of a scientific theory.  Inference to the best explanation (abduction), is one such method. 

I have often wondered, therefore, why do Popper’s ideas alone have the force of law?  Who made Popper the pope of science and by what authority?  Was Popper sitting ex cathedra when he announced his falsifiability criterion as the foundation of the definition of scientific inquiry?   

As you comment on my questions, keep in mind that I am not asking anyone to defend Popper’s ideas.  That is not the issue.  The issue is why his ideas have the force of law and ideas like abduction do not.  I have my own thoughts on these questions, but I would like to see yours before I post them.

22 Replies to “Who Made Popper Pope?

  1. 1
    DaveScot says:

    Barry

    It seems self-evident to me that things which can’t be either proven or disproven even in principle could not possibly rise to the level of established fact. Since courts are very concerned with the establishment of facts it doesn’t surprise me a bit that aspects of Popper’s philosophy of science carries the force of law.

  2. 2
    Bob O'H says:

    I think the problem is that one needs a demarcation criterion if one wants to separate science from non-science. How would abduction be placed into such a criterion to decide whether a theory was scientific?

    Bob

  3. 3
    DaveScot says:

    Bob

    Consider the hypothesis that black holes exist in nature. It can never be falsified. Is it scientific? Not according to Popper but any number of astronomers and physicists will disagree because one observation of a black hole will prove it.

    For that reason I believe that abiogenesis is a valid scientific hypothesis. It can never be disproven but one observation can prove it.

    There seems to be some semantic games being played here. The logical opposite “black holes do not exist” is ostensibly scientific according to Popper because it can be disproven by the very same observation that proves its opposite. Therefore I conclude that there is no practical difference between an hypothesis which can be proven in principle and one that can be disproven in principle. They’re two sides of the same coin.

  4. 4
    BenK says:

    Popper deserves his place in the philosophy of science for highlighting a genuine problem, but his solution doesn’t work. No theory is ever falsifiable by observation; there is always a way to reconcile theory and observation by introducing some auxilliary hypothesis (consider epicycles). Similarly no observation can ever confirm a theory without depending on a range of assumptions external to the theory itself. How would we ‘observe’ a black hole? We would rather be making guesses about the sorts of things we should observe if a black hole were present somewhere and seeing if those observations obtained.

    This sounds like unnecessary pedantry but in practice we do hold quite obstinately to cherished beliefs and will jump through mental hoops in order to justify them. The oft-repeated claim that ‘science constantly questions its’ own beliefs’ is pure hagiography.

  5. 5
    Carl Sachs says:

    It seems right to me to think, as was suggested above, that Popper’s cache is due in part to his attention to the demarcation problem. And the demarcation problem in turn has assumed cultural prominence because of the history of “creationism” in this country. That, in a very small nutshell, is how Popper became “pope.”

    That said, I agree with BenK in (4) regarding the substantial philosophical problems with Popper’s falsificationist test for scientificity (if that’s a word).

    Whereas if one accepts abduction (inference to the best explanation) as a valid model of cognition, the task of demarcating good scientific explanations from good non-scientific explanations becomes practically impossible.

    Instead one comes to regard science as just a method (or more precisely, as way of generating new method) of creating good explanations in general.

  6. 6
    kairosfocus says:

    Gentlemen:

    I would observe that, post-Lakatos, there is no hard and fast distinction between science and philosophy once we reach up to the research programme level.

    For, research programmes in their time deeply embed “plausible” phil ideas in their cores, which other times, schools and places will reject. (The debates in economics in the last generation are eloquent testimony in point. But in that case, arguably, there did come an overt empirical refutation in the end . . . vindicating Von Mises et al.)

    It is worth excerpting the ever-humble Wiki:

    . . . Kuhn implied that good scientists [in fact] ignored or discounted evidence against their theories Popper regarded counter evidence as something [that ought] to be dealt with, either by explaining it, or eventually modifying the theory. Popper was not describing actual behaviour of scientists, but what a scientist should do. Kuhn was mostly describing actual behaviour.

    Lakatos sought a methodology that would harmonize these apparently contradictory points of view, a methodology that could provide a rational account of scientific progress, consistent with the historical record.

    For Lakatos, what we think of as a ‘theory’ may actually be a succession of slightly different theories and experimental techniques developed over time, that share some common idea, or what Lakatos called their ‘hard core’. Lakatos called such changing collections ‘Research Programmes’. The scientists involved in a programme will attempt to shield the theoretical core from falsification attempts behind a protective belt of auxiliary hypotheses [GEM comment: sounds familiar? But when that extends to censorship and career busting that goes too far . . .]. Whereas Popper was generally regarded as disparaging such measures as ‘ad hoc’, Lakatos wanted to show that adjusting and developing a protective belt is not necessarily a bad thing for a research programme. Instead of asking whether a hypothesis is true or false, Lakatos wanted us to ask whether one research programme is better than another, so that there is a rational basis for preferring it. He showed that in some cases one research programme can be described as progressive while its rivals are degenerative. A progressive research programme is marked by its growth, along with the discovery of stunning novel facts, development of new experimental techniques, more precise predictions, etc. A degenerative research program is marked by lack of growth, or growth of the protective belt that does not lead to novel facts.

    I would hold that the Design paradigm/ programme is re-emerging as a force to be reckoned with because of the developments in information theory and its application over the past 60 or so years, and is both highly promisingly fruitful and quite progressive at this point.

    I also extend the issue of “facts” to embrace the question of integrative power and coherence, i.e when an idea has strong ability to unite areas of thought and transmit links and ideas across the domains, it is also fruitful, not least as then facts form entire, relatively independent fields are suddenly relevant to other fields.

    Paradigms/programmes that can withstand that shock are obviously stronger than those that cannot. And here of course it is the Information concept and findings that are speaking into biology with greater and greater force. (Through the bridge from irreducible complexity to fine-tuning and co-adaptation of components, we also see a link to cosmogenesis and the fine tuning of the parameters of the observed universe.]

    You will see here that the design idea bridges engineering ideas to information theory to the nanotechnology of the cell in biology to the fine-tuning and co-adaptation of the components in the organism’s body-plan to the fine-tuning of the parameters of the cosmos.

    That is maybe half a dozen whole fields there, and many of these fields are sufficiently independent that the social and institutional power structures and games and ideologies are most unlikely to prevail with a monolithic voice across all of these domains. Indeed, resort has had to be made to philosophy to try to blunt the force of the insights, i.e to imposition of so-called methodological naturalism.

    Also, it is now notorious that there is no hard and fast demarcation line that has as yet been drawn that includes all and only generally accepted cases of science and excludes only and all generally accepted cases of non-science. [BTW, that nuance is what was exploited in the reporting on Dover. Circa turn of C17 or so, astrology was “scientific,” but nowadays it is a paradigmatic example of pseudoscience. Indeed, as Koestler notes, Kepler first made his name as an astrologer!]

    Those who have looked at my notes on phil methods will realise that I too am a fan of Peirce’s Abduction, in the wider context of the inference to best explanation as holding all the way up to how we compare worldviews across comparative difficulties on factual adequacy, coherence and explanatory power.

    In short, I see various schools and ideas competing and as evidence unfolds, can gain/lose credibility, but I also hold that scientific thought is provisional.

    Certainly, Popper is not the only serious philosopher of science out there! And, falsificationism has its limitations too . . .

    GEM of TKI

  7. 7
    Janice says:

    I think the reason people keep citing falsification, despite Laudan, is that it makes sense, given what most people (not philosophers, and particularly not philosophers with a social science bent) think of when they think of “science”, and it’s very clear cut. You don’t have to spend a lot of time figuring out whether a “research progam” is progressing or degenerating.

    The problem with the word “science” is that it started off with so much cachet and, because of the technological successes of the enterprise, kept getting more. That resulted in, “the promotion of a scientification of all other realms of human endeavour”. (Aant Elzinga) So Marx, or least Engels, claimed that socialism was a science. Emile Zola even, “proposed ‘a literature governed by science'”!

    Is it any wonder, then, given that background and given the prizes to be obtained by having one’s field considered a science, that philosophers of science have had so much trouble deciding what is “science” and what is not? It’s time for a sorting and reclassification. Let “science” be what most people think it is – i.e., experimental science +/- observational science.

    But I think that going with abduction could be a big mistake. Abductive reasoning commits the fallacy of affirming the consequent. P causes Q, Q, therefore P, is only safe if you know that P, and only P, causes Q. If you don’t know that you could be in big, big trouble. So it works in comp sci but only because the comp sci guys wrote the programs and/or built the hardware they’re trying to detect faults in. That is, they know, or ought to know, the full set of things that can go wrong.

    Abductive reasoning is what doctors do and almost nobody is willing to call the practice of medicine a science. Nothing is more certain than that doctors do not know the full set of things that can go wrong with the human body.

    Abductive reasoning is also what macroevolution theorists (can they be anything but theorists?) use. That they don’t know the full set of things that happened in the past is proven regularly by their repeated need to revise the stories they tell. Homo habilis was a direct ancestor of human beings? Grass did not exist in the time of the dinosaurs? Ontology recapitulates phylogeny?

    I think you’d have a very hard time trying to get most ordinary people to accept that abductive reasoning is good enough for any project they would think of as “science”.

  8. 8
    Janice says:

    DaveScot,

    one observation of a black hole will prove it

    No one will ever observe a black hole. Someone may observe features that will be explained if the theories about black holes are correct. Such features may have other explanations that have nothing to do with black holes and disbelievers in black holes will cite these explanations as the reason for their continuing non-belief. What’s left (for believers in black holes) is to disprove (falsify) the explanations that say the feature has nothing to do with black holes. And so it goes. Maybe not quite an infinite regress.

    It’s the same sort of thing that happens when somebody says that a miracle has occurred. Some believe. Some find all sorts of reasons not to believe.

    Tomorrow I’m teaching a lesson on Elijah, the prophets of Baal, the water-soaked sacrifice and the fire that fell from heaven, so belief and non-belief is on my mind.

  9. 9
    kairosfocus says:

    Hi Janice:

    A few more notes if you don’t mind:

    1] A bit more on research programmes:

    Here again, Wiki is helpful:

    Lakatos was following Quine’s idea that one can always protect a cherished belief from hostile evidence by redirecting the criticism toward other things that are believed . . . This difficulty with falsificationism had been acknowledged by Popper.

    Falsificationism, (Popper’s theory), proposed that scientists put forward theories and that nature ‘shouts NO’ in the form of an inconsistent observation. According to Popper, it is irrational for scientists to maintain their theories in the face of Natures rejection, yet this is what Kuhn had described them as doing. But for Lakatos, “It is not that we propose a theory and Nature may shout NO rather we propose a maze of theories and nature may shout INCONSISTENT”1. This inconsistency can be resolved without abandoning our Research Programme by leaving the hard core alone and altering the auxiliary hypotheses . . . .

    Lakatos claimed that not all changes of the auxiliary hypotheses within research programmes (Lakatos calls them ‘problem shifts’) are equally as acceptable. He believed that these ‘problem shifts’ can be evaluated both by their ability to explain apparent refutations and by their ability to produce new facts. If it can do this then Lakatos claims they are progressive2. However if they do not, if they are just ‘ad-hoc’ . . . .

    Lakatos believed that if a research programme is progressive, then it is rational for scientists to keep changing the auxiliary hypotheses in order to hold on to it in the face of anomalies. However, if a research programme is degenerate, then it faces danger from its competitors, it can be ‘falsified’ by being superseded by a better (i.e. more progressive) research programme. This is what he believes is happening in the historical periods Kuhn describes as revolutions and what makes them rational as opposed to mere leaps of faith (as he believed Kuhn took them to be).

    In short, falsificationism has serious challenges, and when we move to more than a merely popular level of thought, we have to face that fact.

    2] Abductive reasoning commits the fallacy of affirming the consequent. P causes Q, Q, therefore P, is only safe if you know that P, and only P, causes Q. If you don’t know that you could be in big, big trouble.

    Now, I happen to be a physicist [BTW, so was Kuhn], so I am intimately aware that on much instantiation of theory implies obserevations, across 200 years, Newtonian Dynamics was perceived to be capital-T Truth by many.

    Then from about 1879 to 1930, the consensus was blown up by what is the no 2 classic scientific revolution. That is, the precise leap was made: E –> O, O, so T.

    That is why I see that abduction captures this picture very well, knowing that the inference from confirmation to accepting a “reliable” explanation/ model/ theory, is PROVISIONAL.

    Thus, too my discussion on reason and belief, originally 1985, and used and developed from then to train emerging student leaders, that we see here an inextricable convergence adn intertwining between reason and belief in the root of all worldviews. [That is part of my response to CS above, too.]

    3] Sciences, applied sciences, practice based on such, and pseudosciences

    I think we need to make the above distinctions, and recognise that there are clearly identifiable cases of each, but that there are fuzzy cases between these firm ones. (Precising definition is often at best a hope, not an achievement, despite how too many teachers seem to instruct students.)

    4] Someone may observe features that will be explained if the theories about black holes are correct. Such features may have other explanations that have nothing to do with black holes and disbelievers in black holes will cite these explanations as the reason for their continuing non-belief.

    In short, precisely a case in point of abduction, i.e there is a counter-flow between the direction of the logic of implication from creatively proposed explanation to observations, and the direction of empirical evidence, i.e from observations to proposed explanations.

    So, what we seek in science is to get the best current empirically controlled reliable explanations, which we then hold to be the state of the art, but subject to revision or even replacement. [That is why the dogmatism that now characterises too much of the NDT as a programme is ever so plainly degenerative.]

    Thus, too, we should always recognise the provisionality in science.

    GEM of TKI

  10. 10
    BarryA says:

    kairosfocus writes:

    “So, what we seek in science is to get the best current empirically controlled reliable explanations, which we then hold to be the state of the art, but subject to revision or even replacement.”

    This might be stated: “Let us define “truth” by saying a true statement is a statement that corresponds to the way things really are. Science is merely a search for truth, but we understand that our understanding of the “way things really are” is limited. Therefore, we can never hope for “absolute” proof of our scientific statements. Instead, we propose contingent explanations, and the one that explains the data best is the state of the art at a given time.

  11. 11
    pk4_paul says:

    DaveScot: Consider the hypothesis that black holes exist in nature. It can never be falsified. Is it scientific? Not according to Popper but any number of astronomers and physicists will disagree because one observation of a black hole will prove it.

    For that reason I believe that abiogenesis is a valid scientific hypothesis. It can never be disproven but one observation can prove it.

    Yet it has been demonstrated that intelligence can be used to engineer modifications of genomes that alter phenotypes for affected organisms and their descendents. Could we not conclude that conclude, based on this, that intelligent design is a viable option among the accepted non-purposeful options under consideration?

    Abiogenesis advocates now argue that it is a field of study and hence a falsification of one hypothesis cannot signify anything with regard to another hypothesis. Of course the one type of hypothesis not on the table is one relevant to an ID inference.

    The real challenge to ID is presenting and testing an OOL hypothesis that supports purposeful or intelligent design.

  12. 12
    Collin says:

    Kairosfocus,

    I really think that before people begin debating evolution and ID they should read up on Popper and Kuhn. I’ve heard so many ignorant statements about philosophy and science being totally separate. In a college class in fact the professor stated that on one hand you have philosophy and the other you have empiricism! As if empiricism were not a philosophy!

  13. 13

    […] Who Made Popper Pope?. […]

  14. 14
    bornagain77 says:

    I think therefore I am!

    and so goes the philosophical proof that one actually exists. But the scientific method would inquire to see where the thinking actually came from. Thus the scientific method, free from all possible philosophical biases prior to investigation, gives philosophy a much deeper footing into establishing truth.

  15. 15
    kairosfocus says:

    All:

    Briefly before trying to catch a last nap before facing the day:

    1] PK, 11: it has been demonstrated that intelligence can be used to engineer modifications of genomes that alter phenotypes for affected organisms and their descendents. Could we not conclude that conclude, based on this, that intelligent design is a viable option among the accepted non-purposeful options under consideration? . . . . The real challenge to ID is presenting and testing an OOL hypothesis that supports purposeful or intelligent design.

    The first part of the excerpt answers to the second.

    The problem is not whether intelligent agents can do the sort of things we see in life forms at cellular level, it is whether chance and necessity without the injection of agency have been shown to be able to do the same. So far the plainly obvious answer is not acceptable to many power brokers, we need not give prizes for guessing why.

    2] Collin, 12: In a college class in fact the professor stated that on one hand you have philosophy and the other you have empiricism! As if empiricism were not a philosophy!

    True, true!

    And, we have a very hard time indeed escaping from the worldview preconceptions that are deeply embedded in our thinking and working, including in Science. [When we see something AS something else, what are we doing . . .? When we claim to KNOW something what is that about? And so on – phil is just a scratch deep beneath the veneer of science!]

    Oddly, only a few generations back, scientists were reasonably trained in/exposed to philosophy as a part of their general education requirement, and/or as a part of the culture of the university as a community.

    GEM of TKI

  16. 16
    allanius says:

    Hey! Don’t pick on Popper. His falsification notion cast a fatal shadow over both Freud and Marx in one fell swoop, and over modern theotetical science in general. It does the same thing to Darwin, if anybody’s paying attention, although Popper probably did not feel free to express this at the time. Also the concept of paradigm effects in science (lemming culture) has become the single most effective rhetorical antidote to Darwinism, as seen in Philip Johnson. Think of Popper as an Aristotelian antidote to a toxically Platonic age.

  17. 17
    bornagain77 says:

    DI just posted a “coincidental” piece on philosophical biases in science that may be of interest to this thread.

    http://www.evolutionnews.org/

  18. 18
    Jaz says:

    David Stove, Australian philosopher, rehabilitated induction. His take on Popper is summed up by the title of one of his books: “Scientific Irrationalism: Origins of a Postmodern Cult”

    In a nutshell, Popper was horrified by the failure of Victorian certitudes, prominent among which was Relativity superceding Newtonian mechanics. Having been betrayed by Certain Knowledge, he undertook to explore irrational methods.

  19. 19
    BarryA says:

    allanius, no one is picking on Popper. As I said in the post, keep your eye on the ball. The issue is not whether Popper’s theories are useful. The question we are exploring is why they have been given primacy.

  20. 20
    kairosfocus says:

    H’mm:

    It’s probably worth kicking some ideas into the field by making a couple of excerpts from Wiki on Stove’s negative and positive arguments on Humean arguments re inductivism and deductivism:

    [Negative task] Consider a claim such as “All ravens are black”. Hume argued that we don’t know this a priori and that it cannot be entailed from necessary truths. Nor can it be deduced from our observations of ravens . . . . Stove argued that Hume was presuming “deductivism” . . . the view, explicitly or implicitly accepted by many modern philosophers, that the only valid and sound arguments are ones that entail their conclusions. But if we accept that premises can support a conclusion to a greater (or lesser) degree without entailing it, then we have no need to add a premise to the effect that the observed will be like the unobserved – the observational premises themselves can provide strong support for the conclusion, and make it likely to be true. Stove argued that nothing in Hume’s argument shows that this cannot be the case and so Hume’s argument does not go through, unless one can defend deductivism. This argument wasn’t entirely original with Stove but it had never been articulated so well before. Since Stove put it forward some philosophers have come to accept that it defeats Hume’s argument . . . .

    So, it comes down to the question of defeatable but credible warrant, where we may know reliably enough for real-world purposes, but provisionally. [Thus, “all men live by faith; the issue is which one, why?”]

    On the positive task:

    Stove argued that it is a statistical truth that the great majority of the possible subsets of specified size (as long as this size is not too small) are similar to the larger population to which they belong. For example, the majority of the subsets which contain 3000 ravens which you can form from the raven population are similar to the population itself (and this applies no matter how large the raven population is, as long as it is not infinite). Consequen[tl]y, Stove argued that if you find yourself with such a subset then the chances are that this subset is one of the ones that are similar to the population, and so you are justified [NB:following Plantinga, I would use “warranted”] in concluding that it is likely that this subset ‘matches’ the population reasonably closely . . .

    This bit of sampling-theory based reasoning will be familiar to those who have monitored the recent, record-breaking thread on Padian et al that turned into a debate with a prof of Statistics on the ID explanatory filter.

    In effect so long as it is reasonable to infer that a sample is likely to be reasonably representative of the overall population – and the law of large numbers kicks in at about 20 – 30 or so – then a credibly representative sample gives good reason to infer tot he population as a whole, but not without the risk of error that we run in the messy world of facts.

    “We live by faith, as we must . . .”

    So, coming back to Popper, we can see that his falificaitonism, however nuanced, is about the point that we may err, and a good theory is at least subject to reasonably feasible empirical tests — and that pseudoscientific claims tend to be unfalsifiable. [NB: Popper pointed out trouble with NDT on this back in about 1974, but was pounced on by such a wolf-pack that he backed away bleeding and softened the falsificationism thesis to being falsifiable in principle.]

    And, Lakatos is right to show that we can abuse the belt of theories surrounding the core ideas and vision of a research programme, so we need to look at whether our current behaviour is progressive or regressive.

    IMHCO, the current behaviour of the aedvocates of the evolutionary materialist programme and vision, is very regressive (sometimes even oppressive!), and they are now struggling to account for Behe’s edge of Evoliution; which joins a long, growing list of unaccounted for “anomalies.”

    I smell a Revolution in the air, and raise a rebel flag; “Don’t tread on me!”

    GEM of TKI

  21. 21
    allanius says:

    Feeling feisty, are we? Keeping one’s eye on the ball means seeing the whole in perspective. Popper found himself trapped in a nightmarish paradigm. Like Kant before him, he resisted it in subtle ways. Clearly that resistance was effective, because the very people he was resisting are the ones who have anointed him the pope of scientific philosophy. It must be understood that the mirror is two-sided. Any truly effective tactic will be two-sided, and will be mistakenly adopted by ideological foes as their own.

  22. 22
    Rude says:

    Within the Universal Church of Materialism the most powerful motive in regard to the philosophy of science is demarcation: We must exclude God from our knowledge. But why Popper? He works best with physics, as opposed to biology (which is mostly observation). Maybe it’s “physics envy”—at first we wanted all science to be like physics: highly theoretical with deeply impressive results (i.e., technological marvels). Darwin is entirely theoretical—there’s no observation—but if we can just pretend that our risky presumption has not been refuted … and keep lecturing our adversaries on how they don’t understand how science works …

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