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Argument From Ignorance

Estimated Lesson Time: 30 minutes (self-evaluated option) / 1 hour (instructor-evaluated option)

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Lesson Introduction

In this lesson we will cover the Argument From Ignorance fallacy in detail, also known as: appeal to ignorance, absence of evidence, argument from personal astonishment, argument from Incredulity.

By the end of this lesson you should be familiar with this fallacy and be able to recognize when it is committed, even if not by name. You will have practice identifying this fallacy in real world contexts. And you will create your own example of this fallacy.

We will also answer the big question, is absence of evidence, evidence of absence?

Lesson Resources

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Lesson Videos

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Introduction to Lesson 8 (00:24)

Argument from Ignorance / Absence of Evidence (03:58)

The assumption of a conclusion or fact based primarily on lack of evidence to the contrary. Usually best described by, “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.”

Proof vs. Evidence (02:05)

There is an infinity of things we cannot prove -- the moon being filled with spare ribs is one of them. Now you might expect that any “reasonable” person would know that the moon can’t be filled with spare ribs, but you would be expecting too much. People make wild claims, and get away with them, simply on the fact that the converse cannot otherwise be proven.

Plausibility vs. Probability (02:55)

Plausibility is essentially believably, and people believe things for all sorts of reasons, many of which are not rational.

Dispositions to this Fallacy (02:38)

Not all people are equal in terms of dispositions to fallacies, and this one is no exception.

Lesson Key Points

Argument from Ignorance: The assumption of a conclusion or fact based primarily on lack of evidence to the contrary.  Usually best described by, “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.”
Confusing ignorance with impossibility (or possibility) is fallacious.
A conclusion or fact deduced from evidence of absence where presence is expected, is not considered a fallacy, but valid reasoning.
Avoid the word "proof" outside of the mathematical and deductive logical contexts. Use "evidence" instead.
There is a difference between probability and plausibility. Probability is based on facts where plausibility is strongly influenced by human biases.
Environment and biology is responsible for our individual levels of tolerance with ambiguity and uncertainly. Intolerance for uncertainty increases with religiosity.

Lesson Assignments

Assignment #1:

This assignment is for students with the instructor-evaluated course option.

Find an example of this fallacy on the Internet. This is a common fallacy in blogs, YouTube videos, and even "news" websites. Argue both sides... why is it a fallacy, and also why it might not be a fallacy. Or if you clearly see it as a fallacy, explain what would need to change for it to not be a fallacy. Submit your weblink and answer below. 1-2 paragraphs.
Assignment #2:

This assignment is for students with the instructor-evaluated course option.

Create your own example of this fallacy. Use the area below.
Assignment #3Take a minute to answer at least one of the following questions in the discussion section below:

What was the most important thing you learned in this lesson?

What question do you have about this lesson?

How would you sum up this lesson in one sentence?

Then, respond to/comment on at least one student's post. Comment on a post that has no comments yet, if possible.

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Lesson Quiz

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    #3: Appeal to Common Belief
    #4: Fallacies and Religion
    #5: Deception Through Confusion
    #10: Fallacies of Poor Statistical Thinking
    #11: Black and White Thinking
    #12: The Impossible and the Possible
    #13: The Red Herring
    #15: Special Pleading
    #16: The Analogy - Both Friend and Foe
    #17: A Look at Nature
    #18: Fallacies Worthy of Mention

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    Lesson Quiz

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    1) When can we actually "prove" something?
    a) in court
    b) if we have first-hand testimony
    c) if we have a photo or video
    d) when dealing with deductive logic or mathematics
    2) Is absence of evidence, evidence of absence?
    a) yes
    b) no
    c) in cases where we expect to find evidence for the claim if the claim were true
    d) when it works to my benefit
    3) Why is plausibility not a good indicator of truth?
    a) plausibility is generally unrelated to probability
    b) plausibility is greatly subjective and based on one's worldview
    c) virtually anything can be made to sound plausible
    d) all of the above
    4) Some people have personality types that make them more susceptible to this fallacy.
    a) true
    b) false
    5) "Life was created by a god because that is what I read in a book" is an example of the Argument From Ignorance.
    a) true
    b) false
    submitting answers...

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