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Thursday, March 11, 2010

Weekly Trivia Series #9 : Ad Ignorantium

For those of you who have been following this trivia series for awhile, I doubt you need a reminder of why I'm doing it.  It's not because I'm particularly interested in false argument/debate techniques.  It's only that I understand that even somewhat boring things can be useful. In this case, studying argument theory can improve your testimony as a Christian, helping you to present the facts about your faith in the strongest and most logical way.  It can make you look like a more rational person overall, which also helps your testimony.

Still, I think the most useful quality about this study is that it might help you catch on to bad argument techniques so that you don't fall for them. Just like they tell you on a plane flight, if you don't save yourself first, you won't be around to help anyone else.

Ad Ignorantium, Arguing from Ignorance

Because of the Latin name of this argument, it does sound pretty clever, and perhaps it is.  This argument is based on a subtle change in sides on the part of the debater.  In real, logical argument, the conclusions are always positive, in essence, they argue for something to exist or happen.  Even if the debater is trying to convince an audience that something doesn't exist or shouldn't happen, he or she has to bring proof of that position to convince the audience.  For instance, whether you are arguing that unicorns exist or arguing that they don't exist, you have to bring proof of your position.

Ad Ignorantium doesn't bring proof; in fact, it insists that something might happen, simply because no one could bring proof to the contrary.  Therefore, unicorns must exist, but are very clever at hiding, since no one has been able to summararily prove, one way or another, that they don't exist.  This fallacy tends to reduce an argument to an indefensible position and then challenge the audience to try to disprove that position.

Example: "The Bible doesn't specifically say that I'm not supposed to say this curse word.  There isn't a list of words I can't say, anywhere in the Bible.  So when you tell me I can't curse, you're just trying to take away my freedoms.  You can't prove that I'm doing anything wrong."

Example: Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, "Did God really say, 'You must not eat from any tree in the garden'?"
 The woman said to the serpent, "We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, 'You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.'"
"You will not surely die," the serpent said to the woman.   "For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." (Genesis 3: 1-5 NIV). (I have always read the words, "You will not surely die," to mean, "You don't know that for certain.")

Example: "Just because you can't see God doesn't mean that He doesn't exist."

Let me make myself clear about the last example.  I do believe God exists, even though I cannot see Him, but I am aware that such a statement seems to indicate that I have no other way to prove God exists.  In fact, I do; therefore, I don't recommend using that point in a debate.  It is weak and easily dismissed.