Proving Theories?

<quote from Real Faith & Reason, vol 2>

Suppose a speculative explanation becomes a legitimate theory. A problem develops when the theorist makes the mistake of thinking observation has confirmed the theory. The theory goes beyond the observations. Therefore, the observation can’t prove the theory. However, schools teach students the observations prove theories, so they’re teaching irrational thinking. Here are the irrational steps:

  1. A scientist makes up a hypothesis to explain the observed and experienced facts.
  2. The scientist compares observations and experiences to the explanation.
  3. They don’t conflict, so the hypothesis is labeled “theory.” [That’s fine. There’s nothing wrong yet. The blunder is in the next step.]
  4. The scientist uses the observations and experiences to prove the explanation. [That’s circular reasoning.]

Some people think they’ve observed the explanation. Then they apply the label “scientific fact” to this circular reasoning.

Even if a theory predicts accurately, accurate predictions can’t prove theories. We’ll cover the prediction argument next, but, in short, prediction-as-proof is a formal fallacy known as affirming the consequent.

<end quote>

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