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The rejection of Verificationism
Karp Popper (1902-1994) in Logic of Scientific Discovery criticised logical positivism's
focus on verification in science, which assumed an inductive approach i.e. the collection of
evidence and the development of theories/conclusions.
However, this cannot lead to certainty as the conclusions made do not always
follow from the evidence/premises, at best they are a good sensible guess. He
insisted that science moves not from observation to theory (induction) but from
theory to observation (deduction) and so instead insisted on falsification as a means
of establishing meaningfulness.
Theories are created and considered to be true until evidence is found against them
in which case they are then falsified.
Popper claims that scientific advance can only come through:
The testing and falsifying of hypotheses (unjustified, exaggerated guesses), which
are then replaced by new hypotheses if they are receiving lots of criticism, which in
turn they are then subjected to test and falsification. Only hypotheses capable of
falsification are scientific.
For example "Gold is soluble in hydrochloric acid," is scientific (through false)
because we can test it and eliminate it if it is false. Whereas, "some homeopathic
medicines does work" is unscientific (though possibly true) because we can't
present any conclusive observation that contradicts it since it says "some"
Popper also thinks that all observation is prone to error. Any "positive support" for
theories is both unobtainable and superfluous, all we can and need to do is create
theories and eliminate error (via negative). One cannot ultimately verify, only
It is further argued that hypotheses are only meaningful to the extent that a test
can be conceived that would falsify them i.e. it is possible to specify a set of
circumstances or know what evidence would be needed, the occurrence of which in
principle would demonstrate that the proposition is false.
Anthony Flew and Falsificationism
In "Theology and Justification" Flew applied Popper's ideas universally to all modes of
thinking and so to religious statements. Flew adapts the Parable of the Gardner, originally
written by John Wisdom to support the idea that religious language is cognitive. Flew used
the parable to say religious language is non-cognitive and meaningless. He restates the
teleological argument, asking, does the world in which we live give evidence of a designer
The Parable: two explorers discover a meadow of flowers and weeds, one claiming
that a gardener exists to keep it tidy while the other rejects this due to lack of
evidence, and so rejects religion saying "Just how does what you call an invisible...
gardener (God) differ from an imaginary gardener or even from no gardener at all.
In the parable the believer does not let anything count against his idea of a
gardener, he keeps moving the "goal posts" inventing excuses, by suggesting is
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Flew says this is, "Death by thousand
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Flew assumes the principle to be correct without evidence. However, it fares no
better than verificationism. It is an un-falsifiable theory. It contradicts itself. How
do we know that the only true things are empirical things?
This rules out other types of truths. However, if he is right that the only allowable
proof is empirical, religious language has a big problem since God is non-empirical.
Most religions, Islam, Judaism and Christianity included reject the idea of actual
proof in favour of faith.…read more