The Unfalsifiable Hypothesis – Part 1

It is time to do a series on a very important term that everyone should learn – the unfalsifiable hypothesis.

Many people present ideas that they claim to be correct which have no way of being falsified: ideas about gods, supernatural entities, conspiracy theories, psychic predictions, etc. Just as one quick example, consider the sort of arguments you hear from 9/11 conspiracy theorists that claim that the attacks were orchestrated by the Bush administration, or that it was a Jewish conspiracy, or whatever. If the 9/11 commission reported that they found out that the Bush administration (or some Jewish group, or whatever conspiracy you like best) orchestrated the 9/11 talks then the conspiracy theorist claims to be proven right. If the 9/11 commission reported that the Bush administration had no hand in the attacks then the conspiracy theorist says that they are in on the conspiracy so of course they would say that and the conspiracy theorist claims to be proven right. There is no possible outcome which they would concede proves them wrong.

To present a hypothesis at the table of rational, scientific inquiry the very minimum that a hypothesis needs is some way to falsify it. If your hypothesis lacks this then you are not wrong – you are not even wrong. The scientist who tests his idea and is proven wrong has learned something new about the world and has done it with intellectual honesty. The dogmatist who can not have his claim falsified would be served a gargantuan upgrade in intellectual honesty if he was merely wrong.

Before i get into the philosophy and a deep analysis of the issue let’s just start off (and finish the first entry on this topic) with a recent and funny example. Pat Robertson makes predictions every year that he says were revealed to him by his god. He sometimes gets things right, sometimes gets things wrong. As an aside he does what any good psychic does and uses high probability predictions (like predicting a recession when one has already started). When he gets things right it is because he really has a personal connection to an all knowing god. When he gets things wrong he does not deny this claim (that would be the intellectually honest thing to do). He says:

“All I can think is that somehow the people of God prayed and God in his mercy spared us.” (in response to being asked why his major predictions of terrorist attacks on the US causing millions of deaths in 2007 did not come to pass as he predicted)

No matter what, he is always right. That makes him not even wrong. It also makes him completely full of shit.


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