Logic Me This

Logic Me This: Argument From Ignorance

Welcome to another exciting installment of Logic Me This! Today we’re going to be talking about a kind of argument that many theists love to use, the argument from ignorance. Some people use it to prove God, some people use it to talk about creationism…it can be used in almost ANY context of woo.

The basic premise of the argument from ignorance is that if you can’t prove that something is wrong then it must be right. In many situations, theists will use this to stick the burden of proof on atheists: until you prove to me that my God doesn’t exist, he does.

Now there are a large variety of things wrong with this argument, but the first of them is that it presents a false dichotomy. It says that either we know something is wrong, or it is right, while leaving out the third option that we may not have enough information to prove something right or wrong. A true skeptic will withhold judgment until we do have enough information, or work from the information we have to come to a reasoned conclusion.

Another problem with this argument is that it could allow us to argue for nearly anything. One lovely example of this is the flying spaghetti monster. While this was originally an argument against creationism in schools, it has turned into a symbol for the idiocy of theism in the face of skepticism. The flying spaghetti monster is a great flying God made up of the wonderful carbohydrate known as spaghetti. And since we have no proof that the flying spaghetti monster does not exist, he must! Other possible examples of crazy things you can prove with the argument from ignorance: a teapot flying around the sun, unicorns, and God.

To argue against the argument from ignorance can be difficult because people who use it generally seem to be arguing from a rather emotional place. One way to approach it is to make sure the other person realizes exactly what their logic is: “so you’re saying that since we can’t prove God false, then he must be true?”, and if they agree, then you can give strong evidence to the contrary (since we can’t prove that UFOs aren’t visiting earth, they must be). You may also want to mention that since we don’t have proof that God is false there is some probability that God is true, but this is NOT a proof.

Hope this helps you see through some of the woo in your future!

 

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Olivia

Olivia

Olivia is a giant pile of nerd who tends to freak out about linguistic prescriptivism, gender roles, and discrimination against the mentally ill. By day she writes things for the Autism Society of Minnesota, and by night she writes things everywhere else. Check out her ongoing screeds against jerkbrains at www.taikonenfea.wordpress.com

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