Emperical evidence comes from observations and experience but not from theoretical proofs. Science heavily relies on both, yet empirical evidences are outnumbered in many fields such as mathematics, physics etc. For instance, The conservation of momentum law in Physics is a widely accepted, heavily used, empirical law (or charge, energy or any other basic conservation laws). There is no fundamental proof as to its validity. We accept it since no contradictions have been observed so far. Does this in any way disqualify this theory's ability to compete in a logical argument.


"This theory is backed by conservation of momentum"
"But you have no proof for it, have you?"
"No, but is widely accepted, and never seen violated."

Will this count as a fallacy because of the nature of that claim?

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    Can you clarify what you mean by "scientific evidence" in your title? It's hard to grasp what that would mean if it is neither logic nor empirical evidence.
    – virmaior
    Jun 9, 2015 at 13:24
  • Scientific evidence is primarily emperical. You might want to read Hume on induction and Popper on emperical falsification.
    – Cicero
    Jun 9, 2015 at 13:39
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    See Karl Popper : the fact that up to now we have been not able to find an experiment/observation falsifying the conservation of momentum is not a valid logic proof of it. But we have built bridges, houses, rockets and much more on it... Conclusion : logic is not the only source of knowledge. See e.g Pragmatism and Charles Sanders Peirce. Jun 9, 2015 at 15:21
  • @virmaior I meant those evidence/data that are acquired using experimentation which are backed by mathematical/logical proofs. So if an experiment gives us an unexpected result that doesn't fit any existing theories it is not a scientific theory until someone proves it. The history of black body radiation comes to mind. Jun 9, 2015 at 21:32
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    @RenaeLider - There isn't really a formal definition of a fallacy. These things arise when trying to informally apply logic to empirical (real-world) matters. If you're doing your (formal) logic wrong, it's not a fallacy. It's just wrong.
    – Rex Kerr
    Jun 10, 2015 at 2:51

2 Answers 2


First of all, you might want to rephrase your question. You seem to be placing science and logical evidence on one side, and empirical evidence on the other. This is a false dichotomy. There is only a dichotomy between logic and empirical evidence. Where science stands with regards to those two is another question. In fact the logical positivists defined science as exactly the set of facts that can be described using a combination of true empirical statements and valid logical propositions. Put more simply: science = logic + empirical evidence.

The conservation of momentum law in Physics is a widely accepted, heavily used, empirical law (or charge, energy or any other basic conservation laws). There is no fundamental proof as to its validity. We accept it since no contradictions have been observed so far.

From the text of your question, you seems to be asking about the problem of induction. This is indeed a major problem in the philosophy of science. Several authors have tried to address it.

One example is Karl Popper, who proposed the idea of falsificationism: no science theory can ever be definitively proven, instead the most successful theories in science (i.e. those backed by empirical evidence) will only be the best for now, until the day they are falsified (i.e. proven wrong by new evidence).

He proposed that the criteria for what constitutes a scientific statement should thus not be whether the statement can be verified or not. Instead it should be whether a statement can be falsified or not.

Falsification is a stronger criteria than verification. It is no longer enough to provide empirical evidence for statement, one must provide a way of proving the statement false. The statement is considered a valid scientific result when one has tried to prove it false and failed.

In your example, one must design an experiment to prove that momentum isn't conserved and then run it and show that the experiment failed. Of course someone else in the future might succeed, hence the principle that theories are just the best we have so far, never definitely proven.

Others besides Popper have discussed the problem of induction. I'll leave it to you to look them up.


How can one have supremacy if both are needed to have any science at all? Including the conservation of momentum, it does not fall out of empirical evidence, one needs quite a bit of generalization, abstraction and theoretical reasoning to get to it from what is observed, and historically it took a while to do so. A theory "backed by conservation of momentum" only would be a tautological rephrasing of the said conservation, unless it is backed by something else as well. To paraphrase Kant, theory without experience is empty, and experience without theory is blind.

"Fallacy" is about logical reasoning, not sources of knowledge. You can have a correct argument with false premises and a correct conclusion, or a correct argument with false premises and a false conclusion. You can even have an incorrect argument, a fallacy, with correct premises and a correct conclusion. But your "argument" is not a fallacy because it is not an argument. The first sentence is a premise, the second is a question about the premise, and the third is an answer to it (both irrelevant for the purposes of any argument as long as the premise is accepted). There is no reasoning and no conclusion. If the premise is supposed to mean "in this theory the conservation of momentum holds", and the conclusion is supposed to be "therefore, it should be accepted" then it is an obvious fallacy (non-sequitur). But the other two sentences can be deleted because they add nothing to the argument.

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