Appeal to Ignorance
fallacy occurs when someone asserts a proposition as either true or
false, solely because of insufficient proof. The structure of the fallacy looks like this:
There is no evidence against p.
There is no evidence for p.
appealing to ignorance is fallacious:
Reality is independent of the human experience.
has been no burglar in my home, because nothing is missing.”
first glance this seems perfectly reasonable. However, if they
venture upstairs and see a broken window, muddy footprints, and an
open safe, the probability of burglary is quite high. High enough
to supersede the inability to find the missing item.
lies a crux of this appeal – that reality is independent of the
human experience. Just because we lack evidence of something does
not conclusively deem it true or false. This is exemplified in the
following three examples:
exterminator sees no mouse droppings, and therefor concludes that
all the mice are gone. However a week later the client calls back
extremely angry because she saw a mouse in her kitchen.
man believes he is perfectly healthy. After a routine check-up, the
general practitioner discovers a melanomas growth on the man's back.
Reality did not change in that instant, but the man's experience of
reality was flipped upside down.
thousand years ago, many European scholars believed the earth was
flat, because there was no evidence to the contrary. Today,
satellite pictures show us that Earth has been round all along.
you can see, insufficient proof does not change reality.
Things can be unknown or unknowable.
is no proof of God, therefor there is no God”
statement seems pretty reasonable, but neglects the more appropriate
response of agnosticism. People who commit an appeal to ignorance
often hinge their belief on a false dichotomy – that things must be
either true or false. Whereas a true thing can never be disproved,
the opposite idea, that 'an unproven thing is false' is invalid
logic. This is because things are not solely true of false, but can
also be unknown or unknowable. For example an agnostic atheist does
not believe in any deity, but does not deny the possibility.
with this appeal in our daily lives:
People wrongly misplace the burden of proof.
me wrong!” or “There's no evidence that I'm wrong”
a debater tries to persuade an argument in this way, they are
misplacing the burden of proof. Remember the adage “An
extraordinary claim requires extraordinary evidence”? When the
debater makes a claim, that claim requires proof. Merely telling the
other side of the argument that they can't disprove it, is not proof
- it is misplacing the burden of proof. For example:
“Mozart is better than Beethoven”
“No way, Jose!”
“Well prove me wrong!”
“Aha! See, you can't prove me wrong, so I must be right!”
has provided no evidence that Mozart is not better than Beethoven.
This does not render Jose's claim true. For Jose's claim to hold
truth, he will have to support it with his own reasoning as the
burden of proof remains on him and his bold claim. A lack of
evidence by itself is no evidence.
But we are innocent until proven guilty!
everywhere! The presumption of innocence stems from Latin routes
incumbit probatio qui dicit, non qui negat,
Literally: the burden of proof rests on who asserts, not on who
denies.) In Stalinist Russia you were guilty until proven innocent.
Remember that the assumption of innocence is
a practical, not a logical, process.
Appeal to Emotion
Appeal to Fear
Appeal to Tradition
Appeal to Popularity
Appeal to Force
Appeal to Belief