Arguing from Ignorance

by Lenny Esposito

After posting my podcast series “Why the Origin of Life Requires a Creator,” I received a response from an atheist friend of mine who charged me with committing a logical fallacy. In the comments section he wrote, “It is all a logical fallacy called ‘Appeal to Ignorance.’ ‘Not knowing’ isn’t evidence for, nor against, the existence of God.”

For those who are not familiar with the discipline of logic, there are two types of fallacies one can commit when advancing an argument: one is a formal fallacy, which is when the conclusion one presents doesn’t follow from the premises. In casual conversation this sometimes happens, but one is more apt to run into an informal fallacy. An informal fallacy is one where you present something as evidence that really isn’t evidence for your conclusion at all.

The fallacy known as appeal to ignorance (formally argumentum ad ignorantiam) was first coined by philosopher John Locke in his Essay Concerning Human Understanding. The Lander University Philosophy Dept. web site gives us a good definition:

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  1. Argumentum ad Ignorantiam: (appeal to ignorance) the fallacy that a proposition is true simply on the basis that it has not been proved false or that it is false simply because it has not been proved true. This error in reasoning is often expressed with influential rhetoric.
    The informal structure has two basic patterns:
    • Statement p is unproved.
      Not-p is true.
    • Statement not-p is unproved.
      p is true.
  2. If one argues that God or telepathy, ghosts, or UFO’s do not exist because their existence has not been proven beyond a shadow of doubt, then this fallacy occurs.
  3. On the other hand, if one argues that God, telepathy, and so on do exist because their non-existence has not been proved, then one argues fallaciously as well.

Of course, anyone who has listened to the series would know that I don’t claim that God exists because no one has proven otherwise. However, I’ve heard this charge before, that by claiming a creator I am somehow committing an appeal to ignorance…

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