War on science? Well, we hear about it more often than we see it. People—particularly naturalist atheists involved with progressive causes, who are flogging up some unverifiable thesis—are prone to claiming that their opponents are creationists (whether they are or not, in any meaningful sense), or else some other type of warriors against science.
There is, as it happens, an assault on the science concept of falsifiability as explained at PBS:
Does Science Need Falsifiablity?
Meanwhile, cosmologists have found themselves at a similar impasse. We live in a universe that is, by some estimations, too good to be true. The fundamental constants of nature and the cosmological constant, which drives the accelerating expansion of the universe, seem “fine-tuned” to allow galaxies and stars to form. As Anil Ananthaswamy wrote elsewhere on this blog, “Tweak the charge on an electron, for instance, or change the strength of the gravitational force or the strong nuclear force just a smidgen, and the universe would look very different, and likely be lifeless.”
Why do these numbers, which are essential features of the universe and cannot be derived from more fundamental quantities, appear to conspire for our comfort?
In fact, you can reason your way to the “multiverse” in at least four different ways, according to MIT physicist Max Tegmark’s accounting. The tricky part is testing the idea. You can’t send or receive messages from neighboring universes, and most formulations of multiverse theory don’t make any testable predictions. Yet the theory provides a neat solution to the fine-tuning problem. Must we throw it out because it fails the falsifiability test?
“It would be completely non-scientific to ignore that possibility just because it doesn’t conform with some preexisting philosophical prejudices,” says Sean Carroll, a physicist at Caltech, who called for the “retirement” of the falsifiability principle in a controversial essay for Edge last year. Falsifiability is “just a simple motto that non-philosophically-trained scientists have latched onto,” argues Carroll. He also bristles at the notion that this viewpoint can be summed up as “elegance will suffice,” as Ellis put it in a stinging Nature comment written with cosmologist Joe Silk.
“I think falsifiability is not a perfect criterion, but it’s much less pernicious than what’s being served up by the ‘post-empirical’ faction,” says Frank Wilczek, a physicist at MIT. “Falsifiability is too impatient, in some sense,” putting immediate demands on theories that are not yet mature enough to meet them. “It’s an important discipline, but if it is applied too rigorously and too early, it can be stifling.”
Some don’t believe testability is needed either.
Prediction: To the extent that science is dominated by naturalist atheists, falsifiability will not survive as a criterion. Whatever speculation supports the multiverse will count for far more than any failure of evidence.
And the next war will be against the idea of evidence. What evidence counts for will depend on who is presenting it and what causes it would support. That is what post-empiricism must necessarily mean in the current environment.
See also: Cosmologist Sean Carroll would retire falsifiability as a science idea. Philosopher Massimo Pigliucci defends it.
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