To do this I thought I'd begin with a quick run through of how I'm doing all this by taking FOUR, yes FOUR, whole theories, and parsing them all through this whole thing.
Of these four Theories, only one of them will be non-falsifiable, hte hows and the whys of it are what I'm interested in here.
The four are:
The Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection
The Theory of Evolution by Theist Selection (AKA, Intelligent Design)
The whole Richard Dawkin "religion is the source of all evils, Atheism Uber Alles, rarr!" thing.
Those who wish to take a guess at which one of those four is the non-falsifiable one, may do so now.
How to Judge Falsifiability/Applying Occam's Midget
The application of Occam's Midget is more than just a theoretical or abstract scientific thing - it's key in not just understanding and analysing the world around us, but also in counter-attacking and attacking reactionary bullshit, whereever it originates or regardless of who's arguement it appears, ostensibly, to support.
Take the case of Natural Selection versus ID. One of hte htings that people don't get about evolution is that "evolution" itself was never either A) controversial, B) a theory or C) ever not accepted by the biological sciences, the breeding and domestication of pets and work animals requires that evolution be at least possible - if it wasn't, we wouldn't have domestication of animals or plants for that matter, and therefore we wouldn't have agriculture as we know it today.
Evolution isn't then actually a theory, it's a phenomenon, that is, it's something that has been observed to occur, rather than something which is postulated to either drive another phenomenon or something that might exist and be phenomenon - it's like blackholes, until they were actually observed to exist using the theoretical properties that General Relativity embued them with to look for them, they were still a theory, there's things like collapsars and similar that are alternative theories of what happens when a gravitational body's swartzchilde radius exceeds it's surface - all of which were thrown out when GR's picture of what black holes look like was observed to actually exist, and data aobut hte existence of what appears to be GR consistent blackholes instantly threw out most of hte other theories.
What people also don't realise about evolution, is that ID and the theory of theist selection preceded Darwin's theory of natural selection - in fact, anyone who posits that Natural Selection doesn't explain the facts of evolution as well as ID has explicitly never read The Origin Of Species, in which Darwin, over a hundred years ago, attacked all the then current (and now seriously outdated but still in use by the ID crowd) arguements for the theory of Theist Selection.
But what's interesting is that ID explains, well sort of, the facts of evolution just as well as Natural Selecton does, it states that organisms change over time, that whole species and taxinomical classifications can emerge from adaptions by previously existent organisms.
Which is what the theory of Natural Selection does right? So if ID existed first, and ID explains the phenomena of Evolution as well as... why did the scientific community switch?
Well the thing is that Natural Selection actually explains evolution better - and mores to the point, it can be tested and has all sorts of interesting scientific applications and conclusions (in fact one of the things that has to be remembed that most of the things that Darwin posited in Origin were proven wrong, but the theory of evolution by natural selection has.
The tested point is the crux of it, because that's what makes something falsifiable, can we test this fucker's assertions against reality, and mores to the point, can we by testing ever, even theoretically, prove the bastard wrong.
It's the possibility of failure that actually makes a scientific theory valid, because the possibility of failure always goes hand in hand with the possibility of success, but because of how things work, proving a failure is infinately easier than proving a theory's correctness - This may seem odd, but it is quite a common idea that underpins a great deal of our social institutions.
For instance, as I've explained previously, the legal system works on a very similar principle, it doesn't ever attempt to prove innocence, that's actually the polar opposite of what it ever even attempts to prove - ignore what countless ad hominem throwing defense councils have churned out over the years -This is why the system cannot, for any reason, ever assume guilt on the part of the defendant, if it did that it would become, automatically, a highly biased witness to evidence either for or against the defendant's guilty status, and thus couldn't be trusted to actually detirmine any innocence either.
But it's not a scientific standard either, because it adds in one little extra caveat to it's setup - the idea that it is better for a guilty man to go free than it is for an innocent man to be found guilty, which then adds in something that no scientist could allow cloud their judgement - it holds jurors and judges to a standard of "reasonable doubt", which is very very far scientific because it means that you a scientist could never actually say "this is right", because by the very nature of a scientific theory, there's always that "barring any evidenc to the contrary" hidden caveat on the end of any theory.
Take the Duke Lacross Rape Trial now, now from the legal standpoint, reasonable doubt throws the case out, can't prove the accuseds' guilt without a reasonable doubt, not an unreasonable doubt, but a reasonable doubt, and all things being equal, the word of the stripper was equally as valid, in a legal sense, as the defendant's, and the defense was able to provide alternative reasons why the physical evidence might exist, while also saying that, for enough certainty to assure a conviction, there really would need to be all this other evidence (even if the crime could have happened and that evidence could have still been absent).
The defense didn't prove innocence, explicitly so, it did what IDers do, it made the case for nothing more than "reasonable doubt" about the defendant's guilt, nothing more and nothing less.
From the scientific view however, things look very different.
Remember that a scientific theory would still approach the case from the point of view of not assuming, a priori, that the defense was guilty, but yet the automatic lack of the whole "reasonable doubt" requirement of evidence towards the defense's guilt, nonetheless leads to whole new viewpoint on the trial.
For instance the word of the accuser is not, a priori, assumed to be as equally valid as the defendants', in fact because of how rape trials are set up, and the shit that rape victims who do take it to court face, the shit that the victim in this particular case has in fact gone through and is still going through most likely, the testimony of the victim is more believable than the defense, who has a vested interest in lying because of it being a trial to detirmine their guilt prior to sentencing, UNLESS, and this is where the all important falsifibility comes in, one can provide a reason why the accuser would in the first place be lying, or unless it can be proven that the defendent physically could not have possibly have done the crime.
From the scientific point of view, using a reasonable standard of evidence and full impartiality, members of the lacrosse team did rape that stripper, detirmining which ones actually did the crime is harder to say because the stripper's testimony, as a result of the trauma of the event itself, seems to have made her not readily able to identify which ones specifically did it - but that it was members of the lacrosse team, and that it did happen that night, at that party, is a theory that would require something a bit more than some vague conspiracy theory that teh prosecutor had set the whole thing up from the start for reason of teh fame (Or in midget form "the prosecutor set the whole thing from the start for reasons of a midget", or that she's a black stripper and therefore she must be lying (which isn't actually an arguement, because it doesn't offer any evidence why a black stripper is exceptionally more prone to lying than some upperclass misogynists, or any reason why someone who doesn't a priori assume that black strippers are innate and habitual liars should accept that hypothesis, to apply occam's Midget, the arguement looks like "She's a midget, and therefore she must be lying") or even that she's only making accusations to get money (which is actually a readily falsifiable theory, can she get money out of making the rape accusations that leads to a criminal trial? No. Hypothesis disproven) - the mere possibility that the pysical evidence for the rape was the result of something other than a rape isn't enough to disprove the theory that she wasn't a liar, because you need concrete proof that means that her eye witness statement that a rape did occur, at that house, on that night, and members of the duke lacrosse term were responsible isn't a valid peice of evidence.
And that's the thing that makes science tricky, sometimes a theory will be falsifiable, but to actually disprove the theory is really difficult, which is what happens here, She could be lying, it's physically possible in so far as no physical laws inherently make the possibility that she might be lying impossible and proof to support that hypothesis would weaken the theory that members of the duke lacrosse team raped her, but the thing it's fundamentally highly unlikely that she's lying, in fact all the evidence points to the fact that the vast majority of rape accusers are honest as hell, there's just no real gain for them, and too much to lose even if the case does find the defendant "guilty" - but if she had said "oh they raped me in this location, at this time", and the defendants could whip out eyewitnesses that said that not only wasn't he anywhere near that location, but "I saw him at that time and he was actually elsewhere", i.e. htey have a sound alibi that makes the accusation intrinsically impossible.
Which is not of course to say that the court Should use this standard, because as hard as it is for someone outside the court system and the "reasonable doubt" standard of evidence to find most accused rapists "not guilty" on each individual case, the thing is that the thing that gives rise to the reasonable doubt standard is it self a testible hypothesis; Is it better to let guilty people go rather than send one innocent person to jail? Well is the prison system bad enough that sending innocent people to jail would be wrong? Yes, but is the risk of letting people guilty of comitting serious crimes like rape free worse than that? Probably not, unless it's pretty clear that the rapists in question are liable to be repeat offenders to level that makes letting them loose in society is actually worse than locking someone who didn't commit a crime into one of happy Othering institutional rape camps, in which case the reasonable doubt standard should get the guilty anyway.
Which is cold logic, but I find it hard to argue with it because it's a neat, falsifiable theory, one that could be argued down given a reasonable standard of evidence.
Alas, the same cannot be said of Intelligent Design, you see, the theory was created, way back when people were starting to look at the world and see that, hey, things change, things change alot, look, even we've changed things, look at my poodle! Gaze upon my genetically modified goat (which I shall henceforth call a "sheep")! (we really did invent the sheep, seriously) The question of the time then, which wasn't seen as particularly urgent, was "how and why do all these things we've not been actively changing, change from one thing to another?"
Of course this was during the rennaissance, so the primary reason for such things happening was the same reason given to anything else that couldn't be immediately explained - God did it, for us, and to us as well.
This then kept the question out of hte hands of scientists for a while, who generally ignored it, because "god did it" doesn't add anything to anything, it explains eveyrthing, but well... yes god did it, AND? What's does that mean?
In fact a few scientists rejected teh theory, among them the grandfather of Darwin, and eventually the son of a devout anglican cleric himself, for the simple reason that it's not that satisfying - god did it doesn't answer any thing, it merely explains it, and then puts forth further questions like "why did It create wasps?" or "what purpose amoebas?" because "god" is also mixed up with all sorts of other thoeries, among them the age old one that God created the universe explicitly for Man to use and exist in, rarrr progress, which unfortunately for the early IDers, was actually almost falsifiable, there's all these things which, while you could say "god did it for us", leads to questions about what god wanted "us" for in the first place.
"what the fuck is with all the beetles?" is one of those sorts of questions, they beg themselves, and so theist selection was, while the leading theory - for the simple reason htat there wasn't anything better - it wasn't a particularly liked theory, it led to really weird conclusions that made no sense, and required yet more theories of dubious use to support it.
Then Darwin came along and said "oh wait you guys, God doesn't like beetles, they're just very good at finding niches in their enviroment because of their physiology and breeding rate - God doesn't need to be involved at all, the enviroment shapes biology all on it's own!"
Which actually is, unlike ID, falsifiable, is there evidence of animals that haven't been shaped and adapted to their eviroment? Has the scale of time neccesary to lead to species actually passed to justify the theory? Do creatures inherit physical traits from generation to generation? yes, yes and yes, a lack of evidence of species changing over time, a lack of natural evolution that was unshaped by people or a lack of heritability in fact, would have thrown it into disrepair, the theory wouldn't have worked - and more importantly than that, it doesn't require you to prove that God (and which god) exists before you can accept it as true.
ID on the other hand, leads to questions that are answered with two phrases: Either "God did it" or "you can't know the mind of god", which instantly makes everything about the theory untestable, and hence un-falsifiable, you can replace the word "god" with "a midget" and it all makes just as much sense "a midget did it" and "you can't know the mind of a midget" are equally valid as anything the IDers put forth.
And for those playing at home, that means that the singular non-falsifiable theory in this post is ID.
Which might strike people as odd, but it's true nontheless.
Creationism basically states that the earth is very young, 6000 years, and it states that it was made in 6 days, and it states that 6000 years ago all things were created as they are now, that evolution doesn't exist.
The thing is that while the theory is falsifiable, none of it's statements prove true.
We know the universe is older than 6000 years old, we know this because human settlements, and sheep are over 6000 years old, there are things in and around jerusalem that are far older than the paltry 6000 years assumed by creationism, you don't need to get into fossil or geological records ot disprove it, and because the 6000 year estimate of creationism is based on a dodgy matching of the kings in the OT, with archeological evidence in the middle east, you can't, as most creatonists do, actually wave your hands around and declare that God put it there because you end in a sticky situation where you can't say that God (or more likely, the devil) didn't also just put evidence supporting that whole OT + archeology = young earth theory in the earth as well for humans to find. And just because God might have intentionally created a big faker of a universe, that part of the theory is non-falsifiable because, OMG, maybe a midget really did it! And the sad thing is that THAT'S JUST AS VALID A THEORY AS THE ONE THAT SAYS THAT GOD DID IT!
But that's not really what's wrong with creationism, because what the real problem with creationism is that it's not even sound theology, let alone science, first of all, you ahve to accept that the bible, which remember, these people also state is to be literally read, actually hints at a 6000 year old universe, when it does no such thing, and mores to the point, the exact identity of who the pharoah in Exodus was (not to mention other figures who were members of civilisations that left as great a archeological footprint as the egyptians) is still a matter of quite a bit of debate and not in any way certain, which means that the date the whole king counting basis for the young earth date is itself deeply problematic - it could easily be 7000 years old, or 5000 years old, but 5000 is ruled because *dramatic drumroll* the archeological evidence says that the world is older than 5000 years! The Midget couldn't have made the world then! Oh noes! And so you end in a bizarre quandary, where on the one hand you have to literally take the bible's complete silence on the matter of the age of the world and then ignore it entirely, you then have to make a series of suppositions and guesses that, remember, a priori ignore the literal mountains of evidence that previous generations of christians from most denominations have amassed that says that teh universe is billions of years old, the earth is a bit younger, but not by much, and that people, not even the amoebas and dinosaurs, have existed for more than 6000 years, and that we've even been building cities, in jerusalem and mesopotamia for more than 6000 years.
All theological and scientific contortions of which you need to pull merely to support the conclusion that either A) God is a lying deceiver who really likes beetles and has taken a rather over the top interest in how and when people ahve sex or B) the deeply heretical (if you're a member of the two main brands of christianity) gnostic idea that the Devil (who is, after all, the great deceiver) actually made the universe, and God (or possibly a midget) merely moved in afterwards and took charge of creation.
Whihc leads me to the trouble with the whole Richard Dawkins thing.
The theory is falsifiable, the trouble is that, like creatonism, it's fundamentally flawed due to a really curious relationship to the evidence that is used to support it.
Okay, the thoery goes: so religion is evil, it is dangerous.
but the slight trouble is that he, and people who repeat his theory, can't seem to actually analyse the data they're using sensibly, from a quote on his wiki page for instance:
Many of us saw religion as harmless nonsense. Beliefs might lack all supporting evidence but, we thought, if people needed a crutch for consolation, where's the harm? September 11th changed all that. Revealed faith is not harmless nonsense, it can be lethally dangerous nonsense. Dangerous because it gives people unshakeable confidence in their own righteousness. Dangerous because it gives them false courage to kill themselves, which automatically removes normal barriers to killing others. Dangerous because it teaches enmity to others labelled only by a difference of inherited tradition. And dangerous because we have all bought into a weird respect, which uniquely protects religion from normal criticism. Let's now stop being so damned respectful![
Now eveything he says there is, to a certain degree of "true", true.
thr trouble is taht he doesn't then carry through with his observations.
Okay, revealed faith is dangerous nonsense, but what, exactly, isn't dangerous? What in fact makes the dangers of revealed faith so much more dangerous than any other sort of nonsense? Nonsense is taught in school, QED says that the picture we're all familiary with of electrons orbiting neutrons and protons in an atomic nucleas is complete nonsense, they don't orbit neatly, they don't really orbit, atoms aren't made up of various shells of particles, all orbiting each other, they're made of an icky squishy mess of potential particles and their potential possible positions.
It's nonsense, but what distinguishes that sort of revealed nonsense from revealed religious nonsense? It's working towards a fuller understanding of nuclear physics, it's a useful bit of nonsense, but the revealed nonsense of religion is also designed to allow people to work towards something, to many things in fact, not least of which is to be a good person, it teaches nonsense as a side line in teaching moral codes - it's not absolutely neccesary, but then again is teaching children nonsense absolutely neccesary, after all, very few of them will actually bother to go on and learn about QED...
and more to the point, that scientific knowledge provides a gate way to knowledge that might allow those kids to build the next big dooms day device, that revealed nonsense, in the service of organised science, has led, not just to knowledge, but to some quite horrific evils, no less than the revealed nonsense of organised religions.
So what's the difference?
That's the trouble, is anything really truly uniquely special about organised religion that differs it from the equally dangerous institutions of organised science?
Athiests do of course.
Not atheists in the service of science, nothing about athiests makes them more good or less evil than theists, but the athiests who believe.
but not even atheists who are devout and devoted fundamentalist atheists, no, it's the fundamental athiests who run the organised religions that are the trouble.
Because that's the thing really, the scientific athiests tend to be outspoken, and devoutly refuse to believe in teh god they were taught to believe in - their opinions on say Thor or Sky Midgets are nonexistent even as they boldly attempt to disprove the inherently nonfalsifiable theory that the christian God, specifically, exists - but the religion athiests, now they cause a grab bag of trouble.
It's probably what makes Dawkin so angry at religions, and faith, they look around them and they see athiest after athiest raking in the cash, running mega churchs, tele-evangelising, and convincing the odd nutbar in the middle east that, oh no no, the whole prohibition against suicide and murder is ignorable, trust Al Qaeda or The Zionist Underground, if you can't trust them, who can you trust? - and yes the quran forbids it, and the bible forbids it, but these religious atheist are quite certain, inspite of the most ridiculously clear prohibitions against not just murder, but suicide and killing in God's name*, it even routinely makes clear that, even if you do kill, killing this group of people for the reason you have been killing them, is really really fucking bad and you really shouldn't do it.
And still you can find atheist after athiest stating again and again, ignoring their faith, ignoring their beliefs.
Hitler was an athiest, but he's an athiest in the same sense that the far righters who claim he's an athiest because "OMG, he misquoted nietszche!", are themselves athiests, he had no faith, he couldn't even follow his own religion for two seconds at a time.
But boy did he love ignoring Matthew's calls to never be like the hypocrite and pray loudly in public so everyone could see you, just like Bush and Tony Blair, and Pope Ratzinger and Osama and Saddam did as well once he needed to gain political support from other middle eastern regimes.
Dawkin's theory is that faith is evil, and it is dangerous, and that's a valid scientific theory, but the very evidence that dawkin uses to prove his point in fact proves the exact opposite - no person of faith, no person who sincerely believed in the religion he claimed to believe in has ever done the horrors of the hypocrites and athiests who use and ignore science just as readily as they do religions and the nonsense that goes with them.
But this is more than just a slight error, it's fundamental to understanding how one fights the whole issue;
For instance, if the issue isn't religion not being scientifical enough, but athiests mangling theology, then the thing to counter it is not to try to out scientifical the patently and intentionally non-scientific athiests, but to slap them up the sides of their heads with their own fucking tools - when fighting a person who's audience is conditioned to only accept as valid theological arguements, it actually makes sense to attack, not their scientific validity, but their theological consistency, or in other words, you accuse them of being pagans if they're monotheists (which most, but not all, are, if they are athiest pagans, call them christians, no one likes that).
Okay, this has been the test post, if this had been the first Proper post I would have be dealing with not just the central Patriarchy Theory that underlies Feminism itself, but all the theories that have been put forth to try to disprove it as well.
* come on, Cain kills able even though he's specifically doing it in God's honor and for all the right reasons, his intent, boy was his intent pure and holy, but god still smacks him round the head and curses him.
And this isn't a prohibition not just against murder, but against presuming to know God's will well enough to be able to know when it's actually totally okay to murder people really.