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.
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