The Argument From Ignorance

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By aaron

The argument from ignorance is a fallacy in which someone asserts that something is true simply because it has not been proven false, or vice versa. This is a fallacy because something could still be true or false even if it has not been proven as such.

If a claim has not been proven as true or false, then it just means we don't know, but that is not the same as being false.

To help prevent this fallacy, it is important to understand that not knowing the truth or falsehood of a claim does not actually affect the truth or falsehood of that claim. In other words, something that is true will be true regardless of whether or not we know it is true. Likewise, something that is false will be false regardless of whether or not we know it is false.

Here is an example that demonstrates the argument from ignorance:

Imagine you flip a coin and catch it in your hand before you have a chance to see whether it landed on heads or tails. Your friend asserts that the coin landed with heads facing up. You ask him why he believes that, and he states that it must be heads because you don't know for sure that it landed on tails.

While this is an extreme example, it demonstrates the point. The coin has already landed on heads or tails and is in one position or the other. It exists in one of those states regardless of whether or not we know which state it is in. Until you open your hand to check, you simply don't know.

The coin toss example is a trivial one, so let's consider another example that is more realistic, and somewhat more subtle. This is an argument that is sometimes brought up in discussions about life elsewhere in the universe. The argument goes like this:

Life does not exist elsewhere in the universe. If it does, then why haven't we found it?

This is a very subtle argument from ignorance. First, it makes a claim that life does not exist elsewhere in the universe. Then it suggests that because we can't prove that claim to be false, then it must be true. The fallacy here is that it assumes we have an answer. In the same way that our coin toss was either heads or tails before we opened our hand to check, the claim that there is life elsewhere in the universe is also true or false before we complete our search for such life. And, as with our coin toss, the conclusion could be right or it could be wrong, we just don't know.

Not knowing is not the same as being false. By assuming that it is, you are committing the argument from ignorance. #logic #skepticism #criticalthinking #fallacy #fallacies

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