In science, it is important to be able to clearly and explicitly explain on which evidence a theory is based and how its conclusions are drawn, as well as to assess the degree of reliability of various theories. The hypothetical-deductive model of theory verification allows to clearly identify the evidence for a hypothesis and to show how the hypothesis follows. On the other hand, Karl Popper’s theory of demarcation provides a criterion for evaluating the reliability of a theory, or, in Popper’s terms, whether it is scientific. In this paper, two theories will be discussed; the hypothetical-deductive model and Popper’s theory of demarcation will be used to assess each of these two theories.
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The first theory
The first theory that will be discussed in this paper states that God exists. We will understand the notion “God” as one that refers to the highest being, one that is superior to everything, and whose existence is absolutely necessary. In philosophy, God is often considered to be a transcendent being, which means that God is completely independent of the world, and is beyond the world. The “evidence,” or, rather, proofs of such God’s existence is classified by Kant into three types: physico-theological, cosmological, and ontological proofs (Kant 563). Noteworthy, Kant brilliantly refutes all these proofs (563-583), but later alleges that the notion of God is useful due to ethical reasons.
It is possible to argue that the Kantian understanding of God is based on the Christian philosophical tradition, and it might be stated that the existence of such or a similar God is advocated by modern Christians (and, possibly, members of some other religions) (although, definitely, their emphases are different from those made by Kant). (The hypothesis of) God is used to explain many phenomena, from the world’s existence and the emergence of humans as species to the everyday matters such as becoming infected with a disease.
The second theory
The second theory that will be discussed is one according to which the Earth is the center of the world. This theory, the geocentric model of the universe, was used in the ancient times and in the Middle Ages before it was finally replaced by non-geocentric models. It was advocated by numerous philosophers, for instance, Plato and Ptolemy. This theory is based on the common sense of people for whom the scientific methods and calculations that are sufficient to doubt and disprove this point of view were not available. It accounts for the fact that the Earth appears immobile (the movement of the Earth in space is not felt as motion by the planet’s inhabitants); it also was used to explain the movement of celestial bodies, as well as countless other phenomena.
Applying the Hypothetical-Deductive Model to the Theories:
Observations Needed to Verify the Theories
All inference can be classified as either deductive or non-deductive, and now we are interested in the non-deductive kinds. Godfrey-Smith recognizes two main types of such inference: induction and explanatory inference (43). As we have shown, the discussed theories were employed to explain some phenomena; when the theories are used, those who use them find it difficult to find other explanations.
The first theory
The first discussed theory states that God exists; this is the hypothesis. As it was noted, Kant classifies all philosophical proofs of God’s existence into three main types; they are based on the concept of things in general (ontological), on the experience of any existence in general (cosmological), and on determinate experience of any particular things in the world (physico-theological) (Kant 578). Among these three proofs, only the physico-theological is apparently tied to particular empirical experience, but, for the purpose of the proof, any particular experience is appropriate. The cosmological proof is tied only to the fact that something exists. Therefore, it seems that for the antecedents of the latter two proofs to be true, only the existence of any particular thing, or the fact of existence in general, are required. Thus, virtually any observations (and even the possibility of observations) may serve as an antecedent for these two proofs of God’s existence; the ontological proof does not even require observations or their possibility.
The second theory
From the modern point of view, it is hard to think of any observations that would prove that the Earth is the center of the world, at the same time being not contradictory to most modern scientific theories. However, (unlikely) observations showing that there are some “borders” of the universe that are equidistant to the center of Earth could prove it. At the same time, observations or theories showing that the universe has no borders and is infinite (which is more likely) might be used as an argument for the point of view that the Earth is a center of the world, for, in an infinite world, it would be technically possible to say that any point in space is a center of the universe.
Applying the Popper’s Demarcation to the Theories
According to Popper’s theory of demarcation, the criterion for distinguishing a scientific theory from a non-scientific one is falsifiability; only a theory that can be falsified is scientific. Formally, it means that a theory is scientific if and only if it splits the set of all statements that are particular observation-reports into two non-empty subsets; the first subset consists of statements that contradict the theory (and can falsify it), whereas the second subset is comprised of statements that do not contradict the theory, thus being either independent of it or supporting it (Thornton 3).
The first theory
The theory about God’s existence, the methodology of which consists of the three types of proofs described by Kant, is not scientific according to the Popper’s criterion. Indeed, as we argued, not anything is needed for the ontological proof; any observations or even their possibility are sufficient for the physico-theological or cosmological proofs. Formally speaking, the set of statements that contradict the theory is empty. (It is noteworthy that Kant does not question the antecedents of the proof, instead showing that the proofs themselves are fallacious.)
The second theory
The theory that the Earth is the center of the world is scientific, according to the Popper’s criterion. It can be falsified, for instance, if the center of the world (located anywhere else) is found, or if it is shown that there is no single center of the world.
Noteworthy, the theory that the Earth is a center of the world is also scientific, for it can be disproved if it is shown that there is no center of the universe at all (although it is hard to imagine this situation, because either the universe is finite and has one center, or it is infinite, and, technically, any point can be considered a center), or if it is shown that e.g. there is only one center that is located elsewhere.
As it can be seen, the discussed theory of God’s existence is not scientific, according to the Popper’s criterion. It is also interesting how Kant grasps the crux of the proofs of God’s existence, showing that e.g. any particular observations would be enough for these proofs. And, indeed, it can even often be seen in practice: for some adherents of God’s existence, virtually any particular fact or observation, be it the complexity of the universe or the fact that someone fell ill after doing something bad, serves as a proof, which makes it possible to claim that no particular content is essential for a fact to be considered evidence in this case.
On the other hand, the disproved geocentric model of the universe turns out to be scientific, which should not be surprising – according to Popper, any scientific theory can be disproved, and only non-scientific ones cannot be refuted (Thornton 3). It is also interesting that, after closer consideration, it seems that there is more to the discussed theory than meets the eye; the possibility that the universe is infinite makes the statement about the Earth being a center of the universe possibly true in some respect; however, it still remains inconvenient for (most) mathematical calculations.
To sum up, it should be stressed that identifying the evidence for a theory and the theory’s degree of reliability is crucial in science. In this paper, it was shown that the theory of God’s existence (at least, one of such theories) uses no particular evidence; it also cannot be considered scientific according to Popper’s criteria. On the other hand, the theory about the Earth being a/the center of the world nowadays would require evidence that is almost impossible (or impossible) to obtain, but, at the same time, this theory remains scientific in Popper’s terms.
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Godfrey-Smith, Peter. Theory and Reality: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Science. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2003. Print.
Kant, Immanuel. Critique of Pure Reason. Trans. Paul Guyer and Allen W. Wood. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1998. Web.
Thornton, Stephen. Karl Popper. 2013. Web.