Friday, November 16, 2007

Logical Fallacies I have Known: Ad Ignorantiam

This is a rampant fallacy most commonly associated with conspiracy theorists, paranormal proponents, and creationists. Essentially, this fallacy contends that a specific belief is true simply because it is not known that it isn't true. For example, Shannon Edwards, in an article musing on why cemeteries are so haunted, argues the following:

It is my theory that the reason ghosts haunt cemeteries is not because they are buried there. In fact, the ghost haunting the cemetery might not even in fact be buried there. I think they reason they haunt the cemeteries is because of the time they spent there when they were alive. Even today, community churches in the rural south still hold church functions on the edges of or at times inside the cemeteries themselves. Teenagers go into old cemeteries at night to party. And we, as ghosthunters can often be found in cemeteries taking recordings and pictures. Who is to say that once we die, we might not haunt the cemeteries that we frequented most often? [1]

The opposite corollary is also used: A specific belief is not true simply because it isn't known how it can be true. For instance, creationists often ask these questions:

How could organs as complex as the eye, ear, or brain of even a tiny bird ever come about by chance or natural processes? (See page 8.) How could a bacterial motor evolve? How could such motors work until all components evolved completely and were precisely in place? (See page 19.) [2]

The problem with this fallacy is that the lack of evidence for an argument does not logically prove the argument - it supports the contrary position. If there is no evidence for naturally occurring purple monkeys then the reasonable position is that purple monkeys do not exist in nature. Also, just because someone cannot understand how something can work does not mean that it can't. For instance, I can not possibly understand how people watch American Idol and yet they do!

-Safari Bob


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