Argument from ignorance is such a prevalent argument...

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Argument from ignorance is such a prevalent argument...

Postby DjVortex » Wed May 02, 2012 4:30 pm

If one explains briefly what "argument from ignorance" means, it just sounds so silly that there's no way people would make such arguments... Yet people make it all the time. It's extremely prevalent.

If you make a google or video search just with the word "unexplained", you will get tens of millions of hits. A good majority of those hits will land on websites and videos making supernatural/paranormal as well as UFO claims. It is one of the most common and pervasive arguments used as "evidence" for the existence of deities, the supernatural, ufos and other things that are "beyond science". I have had personal friends tell me "science can't explain everything" to defend their beliefs.

Somehow it seems impossible for these people to understand the fact that nothing can be deduced from an unexplained, unknown phenomenon (and that's assuming that the phenomenon is indeed unexplained). If you try to tell them this, they will usually just think that you are dismissing evidence out of principle. (It doesn't help any better if you try to explain that you are not dismissing the evidence, you are simply questioning what it is evidence of.)

Somehow I get the feeling that these people get a sense of self-importance when they contrast the "unknown" with science. Science is good and useful and all, but it's so limited; its view is so narrow. People should open their minds and embrace the unknown, go above and beyond science. Never mind that these wild hypotheses, which are nothing more than the product of fruitful imaginations, have no effect on the real world nor practical applications.

Of course these people will never admit to that. The human mind has an incredible ability to fool itself. When the mind becomes utterly convinced of something, the mind makes it appear real, even if it means distorting or bypassing its own sensory input. People swear completely honesty to have directly witnessed miraculous events, such as someone levitating in the air, while other people in the exact same event report no such thing happening. People trust their senses way too much, especially in situations where they are compromised (such as in a state of self-induced euphoria). It's extremely hard for many of these people to accept that their own brain is fooling itself, and that they are seeing just what they want to see, not something real.

It would be interesting to know why argument from ignorance, and the over-reliance on one's own senses, is so pervasive and apparently such a "good" argument that everyone is using it.
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Re: Argument from ignorance is such a prevalent argument...

Postby Lausten » Wed May 02, 2012 5:00 pm

JT Eberhard has created a response to this in cartoon form.
http://freethoughtblogs.com/wwjtd/files/2012/04/first-cause.jpg
It moves the argument back to where it should be, prior to the discussion of what a particular case is about or what evidence is being presented or how it is being used. Science begins with wonder, it begins by being open, by looking up at the stars and asking what is going on up there. What if we had listened to the people who said that birds flying was magic and there is no way we could figure out flight? Science doesn't interrupt the process of gaining knowledge, it IS the process.

You interrupt the process when you stop asking questions, when you stop being sceptical about the current status quo, and just say you have it figured out, that it must be aliens. Being open minded includes being open minded to being wrong, one of the most important aspects of the scientific method.

I think you answered your question at the end with the paragraph about trusting your own senses just above it. Again, a major aspect of science, admitting that you have a personal bias, that you will want your data to prove your hypothesis.
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Re: Argument from ignorance is such a prevalent argument...

Postby DjVortex » Thu May 03, 2012 6:53 am

Continuing a bit on the subject...

Have you noticed how much of the theist discourse when dealing with atheism consists of trying to make the atheist say "I don't know"? Ray Comfort is painfully infamous for this, the mind-bogglingly stupid question "what's your proof and evidence that atheism is true and accurate" (that many theists think is so clever) is exactly this, asking questions like "where did the Universe come from" is this... The ultimate goal is to make the atheist say "I don't know". Then the theist can immediately jump in: "A-ha!!! You admit that you don't know! You admit that God could exist!"

I wonder if there's any way to make people aware that the argument from ignorance is a fallacy, and doesn't work.
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Re: Argument from ignorance is such a prevalent argument...

Postby Lausten » Thu May 03, 2012 2:32 pm

I wonder if there's any way to make people aware that the argument from ignorance is a fallacy, and doesn't work.

Well, just saying that would be a start. Although "fallacy" and "ignorance" might be hot button words for some.
Starting with agreements is sometimes better, but then you have to use a word like "logic" and agree on that, which can still be trouble.
Acting like adults and saying that you have a right to your opinion is sometimes where you have fall back to. Changing someone's view of the universe doesn't happen instantly, you have to give it time.

One argument I have heard that seems effective is to use an analogy to point out the absurdity of the argument. The argument from ignorance opens the possibility of anything, it could be aliens, it could be turtles, it could be Krishna, if you can leap from "I don't know" to "God", why not leap to one of those. This will lead them back to how the Bible is proof or how their creation story is consistent or that they have experienced God or something so you'll have to pull them back from any of those, but you can keep giving possible scenarios applying the argument from ignorance exactly like they did. But ask them why not Scientology, Mormonism, Paganism or Wiccan? They will probably shut you off at some point, but chances are the gears in their head will be turning.
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Re: Argument from ignorance is such a prevalent argument...

Postby Tarrin » Tue May 22, 2012 9:43 am

Hi, I have been thinking a bit about this, but isn't the argument from ignorance equally applicable to theists or atheists? What I mean is that for theists the argument is "I do not know, therefore god" and for the atheist "I do not know, therefore no god". Maybe it goes by a different name for atheism, but I do not think that is a valid argument in either case really.

I understand as well that it is much easier to show the error of an idea than it is to show an idea is always right. To demonstrate that an idea is wrong one needs only to provide a single counter example, yet to show validity of an argument one needs to demonstrate that it applies in all cases. Therefore, I think that the atheist statement "I do not know, therefore no god" is much easier to say and more robust of a statement than the theist's "I do not know, therefore god", even though they appear to me to be rooted by the same logic.
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Re: Argument from ignorance is such a prevalent argument...

Postby DjVortex » Tue May 22, 2012 3:52 pm

Tarrin wrote:Hi, I have been thinking a bit about this, but isn't the argument from ignorance equally applicable to theists or atheists? What I mean is that for theists the argument is "I do not know, therefore god" and for the atheist "I do not know, therefore no god". Maybe it goes by a different name for atheism, but I do not think that is a valid argument in either case really.


Do not confuse strong atheism with atheism in general. Strong atheism is the belief that there is no god. Atheism in general, however, is just the lack of belief in a god.

The default position on extraordinary claims is (well, should be) to not accept them until proper evidence is presented and examined. It doesn't matter what it might be. There's no argument being presented here (much less argument from ignorance). There's simply a demand to see proper evidence.
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Re: Argument from ignorance is such a prevalent argument...

Postby Tarrin » Tue May 22, 2012 5:00 pm

I do understand the difference between strong and weak atheism. I apologize as I was thinking of my argument from the two extremes of belief (ie, definitely yes there is a god, and definitely no there is not a god). However, my point, or rather my confusion, is the same. Is the disbelief rooted in the same sort of argument, "You cannot disprove X" and "You cannot prove Y"? Both of these seem to be arguments from ignorance.

DjVortex wrote:The default position on extraordinary claims is (well, should be) to not accept them until proper evidence is presented and examined. It doesn't matter what it might be. There's no argument being presented here (much less argument from ignorance). There's simply a demand to see proper evidence.


I agree, but what would you consider as "proper evidence" for an abstract idea? On the same side, what would you consider "proper evidence" against an abstract idea?
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Re: Argument from ignorance is such a prevalent argument...

Postby dobbie » Tue May 22, 2012 7:05 pm

Tarrin wrote: what would you consider as "proper evidence" for an abstract idea?

My question: Can an abstract idea have proper evidence?

On the same side, what would you consider "proper evidence" against an abstract idea?

My answer: That there’s no proper evidence.

Nobody claims to be a know-it-all. So the general atheist position is one of agnostic-atheism.

And the general atheist considers the general theist to be an agnostic-theist.
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Re: Argument from ignorance is such a prevalent argument...

Postby Tarrin » Wed May 23, 2012 1:23 pm

dobbie wrote:My answer: That there’s no proper evidence.

I agree, my question was sort of rhetorical, though you never know :wink:

dobbie wrote:So the general atheist position is one of agnostic-atheism.
And the general atheist considers the general theist to be an agnostic-theist.


I was not even aware that agnostic-theists existed, sort of an oxymoron to me, but then jumbo-shrimp exist, so why not? Thanks, I will look into that
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Re: Argument from ignorance is such a prevalent argument...

Postby DjVortex » Wed May 23, 2012 6:18 pm

Tarrin wrote:Is the disbelief rooted in the same sort of argument, "You cannot disprove X" and "You cannot prove Y"? Both of these seem to be arguments from ignorance.


Note that disbelief is not a claim, and hence there's no argument being presented in support for such a nonexistent claim.

I agree, but what would you consider as "proper evidence" for an abstract idea?


Abstract ideas don't exist physically, by definition. (That's what makes them abstract in the first place.)

I was not even aware that agnostic-theists existed, sort of an oxymoron to me


Gnosticism/agnosticism is a philosophical stance on knowledge (or the ability to gain knowledge about something). It's perfectly possible for someone to say "I don't know if God exists, but I believe so". This would be agnostic theism. (Gnostic theism would be "I know that God exists", or depending on your interpretation of gnosticism, "it's possible to know for sure if God exists".)
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Re: Argument from ignorance is such a prevalent argument...

Postby Tarrin » Wed May 23, 2012 8:36 pm

DjVortex wrote:Note that disbelief is not a claim, and hence there's no argument being presented in support for such a nonexistent claim.

Why is disbelief not a claim when it requires justification? Belief is that X is true, and disbelief may be either that X is not true or that X may be true and may be false. In either case of disbelief, you must justify (if only to yourself) why you think the way you do.

To clarify further, I do not think that disbelief is rooted in an argument from ignorance, just that it can apply to the reason someone has for their disbelief. The statement "I do not believe because how can it be proven?" is the same as "I believe because what else could it be?" Removing words to draw a parallel, "I ___ because how/what ____ ?" I was just originally under the impression that the argument from ignorance can only be applied to one side, so just curious what other people thought about that.

Thanks btw for your explanation of agnostic theists
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Re: Argument from ignorance is such a prevalent argument...

Postby DjVortex » Thu May 24, 2012 8:41 am

Tarrin wrote:Why is disbelief not a claim when it requires justification?


Disbelief is simply the lack of a belief. It's not a claim.

You are confusing lack of belief with the belief of the negative. "I don't believe in a god" is not the same thing as "I believe that no gods exist". The latter would require justification because it's a claim. The former is simply stating that you don't have a belief.

It's a cliche to compare believing in a god to believing in unicorns, but the comparison is accurate. Not having a belief in the existence of unicorns does not require any justification nor arguments. It's simply the default position until actual evidence is provided. Believing in them does require justification.

You may want to acquaint yourself with the concept of burden of proof.
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Re: Argument from ignorance is such a prevalent argument...

Postby Tarrin » Thu May 24, 2012 9:37 am

So, just to make sure I understand, the burden of proof in theological debates is placed upon the party asserting that X is true, correct? However, just the statement "that is not proof, I remain unconvinced" as in the agnostic case does not have to be proven? To the latter, I would ask "why are you unconvinced in the first place?"

I guess my question then is why it is decided that "because" is a sufficient answer for disbelief, but not for belief? I know that the answer lies in the burden of proof which you have mentioned, but it just seems arbitrary to me that it was chosen to be placed on one stance and not the other.
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Re: Argument from ignorance is such a prevalent argument...

Postby DjVortex » Thu May 24, 2012 4:21 pm

Tarrin wrote:So, just to make sure I understand, the burden of proof in theological debates is placed upon the party asserting that X is true, correct? However, just the statement "that is not proof, I remain unconvinced" as in the agnostic case does not have to be proven?


"That's not valid proof" is a claim and does need justification. However, that's a different proposition from having no belief in a god, and explaining the reason why a certain proof/evidence is invalid is not an argument from ignorance. That's a completely different category.

Example:

"Archeological evidence shows that the Bible is trustworthy."
"Even if that were true, it only proves that those described events did indeed happen. It does not prove the existence of a god."

There's no argument from ignorance presented in the justification for rejection of that argument as evidence of a god.

I guess my question then is why it is decided that "because" is a sufficient answer for disbelief, but not for belief? I know that the answer lies in the burden of proof which you have mentioned, but it just seems arbitrary to me that it was chosen to be placed on one stance and not the other.


If a claim has no supporting evidence, why exactly would you believe that claim? The natural default position is to not believe the claim until the supporting evidence is presented.

Even a theist does not believe every single claim that he/she is presented. He chooses to believe in some claims, while rejecting the belief in others. This choice is often quite arbitrary, and based on feelings and subjective impressions. The correct position would be to not believe until the valid evidence is brought forth. Else you would believe in lots and lots of false claims (and some of those beliefs could become actually detrimental).
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Re: Argument from ignorance is such a prevalent argument...

Postby Lausten » Wed May 30, 2012 9:30 pm

I see either parallel, "I ___ because how/what ____ ?" or the burden of proof line as dead-ends. They are fine if you are dealing with someone who is logical, but not so much for theists.

Rather, I would say, "I don't know therefore God" is an argument from ignorance, but we all agree that there are things we don't know. Better to say, "I don't know, therefore, how do I figure it out?" You can rely on what others have said in the past, which usually leaves you living in the past, or you can rely on a method that others have used in the past to move forward, a method that cured diseases and put men on the moon. That method admits that we don't know everything and relies on a premise. The premise that everything in the known universe is consistent. That's the simplest way I know to put it.

If you start with that premise, you can test things happening anywhere in the known universe and come up with laws, then use those laws to experiment some more. You never prove anything. You can't say for sure that the sun will come up tomorrow, but you can pretty reliably live your life as if it will. You don't need to spread lamb's blood on your door or sacrifice your only son to make sure it will. Using that premise, miracles like the ones in the Bible are so extremely unlikely that it is not worth considering that they happened, or basing your worldview on that they happened. The word "miracle" can be used, but for hard to explain things, like the feeling you get when Spring comes, or birth, or love, or a happy coincidence.
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