Saturday, April 21, 2012

Argument From Ignorance

Today I want to talk about the logical fallacy "argument from ignorance". Good resources on this are available at wikipedia and iron chariots.

First, I feel the need to point out that if you say someone is using an argument from ignorance, you are not calling them stupid. It is not an insult, it is just pointing out that they are making a logical error. Unfortunately, when people have never heard of this fallacy they might feel attacked when it is pointed out and they can stop listening. If you are arguing with someone and you point out an argument from ignorance you should be prepared for this and be ready to say something like "I didn't say you are ignorant, I am pointing out a logical fallacy." That doesn't always work either, but it is good to be aware of it.

The argument from ignorance is basically when someone simply claims that something is not understood and is therefore impossible. They will then often insert their claim which also has no evidence. You can see this fallacy at work most often when you hear people say things like "well how else would you explain it?" or alternatively "there is no other way to explain it."

The most common examples of this that I have seen relate to evolution, abiogenesis, and the beginning of the universe.

1. How could a single celled organism have become a human with random mutation? That doesn't make sense to me, so evolution must not have happened. (That is the argument from ignorance) I think God created everything.

2. How could life come from non-life by random natural processes? That doesn't make sense to me so it didn't happen. (Again, that was the argument from ignorance). God did it.

3. How could the universe just happen? What was there before the beginning of the universe? How could it have gotten started on it's own? That doesn't make sense, it couldn't have just happened by random natural processes (AFI) so God must have been guiding it.

The real shame here, is that an answer of "I don't know" is not a bad thing. Because of the answer "I don't know" we have a very good answer for my first example and there are very big strides being made on the second. The third example is a fair bit over my head to be honest, but my understand is that there are people working on that as well. Being comfortable with "I don't know" is a difficult thing, but it is important. It is better to know that you have a gap in knowledge than to fill it with incorrect things.

Suppose we were living before we understood how diseases were transmitted. Suppose I ask the question "How does disease spread?" What is a better answer
A. I don't know, we should look into it
B. Must be evil spirits
(A) might not be satisfying and it could leave people feeling helpless, but (B) is dangerous and who knows what it could lead to. "Billy is sick, let's go sacrifice a goat"

1 comment:

  1. I think that this is a great thing to post. People take being ignorant as a personal attack. We are all ignorant about a lot of things. The six greatest words I think are “I don't know” and “I was wrong.” I also love your example of disease. It's alright to not know something, that is what drives science. :)


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