Ad Ignorantiam

Ad Ignorantiam

Argumentum Ad Ignorantiam ( or Ad Ignorantiam, for short) means “argument from ignorance”. This is a fun fallacy, everyone!

Before I start on the fallacy itself, let’s start with a caveat. Never confuse ignorance with stupidity. Those are, or can be, two mutually exclusive topics. Ignorance is the lack of knowledge or information. Stupidity is the lack of the ability to learn and understand things. To surmise that your opponent’s argument is ignorant is one thing. To assume that your opponent’s argument is stupid is a slippery slope to a fallacy itself. Even after your co-debater has proven themselves to be lacking of factual knowledge, you cannot say that they are stupid.

When you boil this fallacy down, it basically follows ,the formula of, “what I believe is true because we don’t know that it can’t be true”. This could be difficult to deal with, as the person just might be right. The “trick” is, as you probably have surmised, that we have critical thinking on our side.

Many of the arguments that you might make if you travel the circuits of pseudoscience or religion will be against this very fallacy. A Bigfoot believer will tout that his/her dubious hair samples will outweigh the fact that no definite DNA has been produced. The “UFOlogist” (and this one is the funniest one to me as it’s just that rich) that their blurry photo or video proves that the unidentified flying object has been identified as an unidentified flying object. Or, one that can truly affect us all, the Creationist or Intelligent Design proponent that claims that evolution is false (therefore god is real) because that humans cannot be “proved” to have sprung fully formed as a species because the fossil record doesn’t provide such evidence. This is known as the “god of the gaps”.

When dealing with such arguments, one of the best concepts to use is Occam’s Razor (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Occam’s_razor ). Occam’s razor states, that when given multiple hypothesis’, the one with the least amount of assumptions should be chosen. How is this relevant, you might ask. Well, let’s break down the three ideas in the paragraph above:

1: Which is more likely? That there is a breeding population of several thousand large primates located the world over that have managed to escape pervasive video/camera ubiquity, definitive DNA analysis, or just a corpse. Or that the argument is flawed?

2: Which is more likely? That an alien race has managed to cross the eons of space but cannot navigate the “wilds” of earth and crash, need to perform experiments on cattle, can only communicate through designs in crops, or haven’t figured out that wherever they have seen people (if they wish to stay secret) that they need to avoid such places.

3: Which is more likely? That “man” sprang fully formed from the dust of the earth from the will of a being that is unknowable, and that “woman” was born of a rib of the man that was made of dust. That a talking snake persuaded someone to take a bite of the fruit the tree of “Knowledge”, therefore introducing pain and disease upon the people that “he loves”, not to mention that he would kill the majority of them. Or is it a passing off of a collection of tales from the millennium preceding it?

 

Contributor: Jonathan Tindell

A native Floridian living in Pennsylvania, eight year veteran of the United States Maine Corp that is in support of responsible gun control, and salesperson in the Oil and Gas industry that believes in climate change, Jonathan is almost the definition of a dichotomy.

See his full bio!

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5 thoughts on “Ad Ignorantiam

  1. I would add that although Occam’s Razor is a good rule of thumb, it is not proof. Logically speaking, it may turn out to be the case that an explanation that makes more assumptions is true. But the key word is “assumption.” The assumptions themselves need to be proved before we are obliged to accept an explanation that makes more of them.

    • Once an assumption is proven, it is no longer an assumption. This is why the multiverse is considered to be quite simple, because although it builds upon a large body of knowledge, it makes very few assumptions. While it may be true that an explanation that makes more assumptions may be true, you will have no reason to accept it unless the explanation with less is shown to be in some way inadequate in its explanation of phenomena. That is what the razor is, a guideline that steers you to hypotheses with the fewest assumptions and the greatest explanatory power, the second half being the part which is often left off.

  2. I can only accept that the answer is 42 if you can back it up with proof, by citing from the work of Douglas Adams. ;-)

    • Granted, August. As you said, it’s just a rule of thumb.

      I do try to write these articles as a layman, which actually I am. The Razor is a wonderful tool to weed out the run of the mill claims from the ones we should actually give a deeper look into.

      42 is the answer. It only sucks that we don’t know what to ask, lol.

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