Thursday, March 19, 2009

Apophasis & Falsification

Humor me for a moment. . .

Here's how the Eastern Orthodox theologian, Vladmir Lossky, defines apophatic theology:

"The negative way of the knowledge of God is an ascendant undertaking of the mind that progressively eliminates all positive attributes of the object it wishes to attain, in order to culminate finally in a kind of apprehension by supreme ignorance of Him who cannot be an object of knowledge" ("Apophasis and Trinitarian Theology," 13 in In the Image and Likeness of God).

Now, compare that definition to Popper's notion of falsification:

"Falsificationism claims that a hypothesis is scientific if and only if it has the potential to be refuted by some possible observation. . .all testing in science has the form of attempting to refute theories by means of observation. . .it is never possible to confirm or establish a theory by showing its agreement with observations. Confirmation is a myth" (P. Godfrey-Smith, Theory and Reality, 58).

In both cases, we proceed on a via negativa in order to reduce the accumlative effects of the descriptive errors that occur when we try to explain positively the object of our investigation.

What this comparsion assumes is that the objects of scientific investigation are as elusive as the object of theological investigation.