The Argument from Ignorance

Christians, and indeed most religious people, use the argument from ignorance frequently.  It usually goes like this; “Where did the universe come from?  You don’t know do you?  See?  It has to be God.”  OR “Where did we come from?  Since Intelligent Design has shown that Evolution is false, then it was God!”

This is called the “Argument from Ignorance” not because the person making the argument is dumb, or stupid, but because they are ignorant; i.e. they have a lack of knowledge about that which they’re speaking.   It is a fallacy to draw conclusions based on what we don’t know.

It’s also a logical fallacy because it includes other Logical Fallacies, like the False Dichotomy and Begging the Question.  Let’s look at these one at a time.

Begging the Question (also called Circular reasoning ) is a logical fallacy that occurs when the conclusion of an argument is used as a premise of that same argument; i.e., the premises would not work if the conclusion wasn’t already assumed to be true.

Trying to prove that God exists by claiming that God had to have created the universe assumes God’s existence In the argument.  First you must prove the existence of god before any claim that he did something can even be evaluated.

For example:  Let’s say you are accused of murder, but you’re defense is that you didn’t do it, Bigfoot did.  Your claim would be laughed out of court because it has never been proven that Bigfoot actually exists.  You would be expected to first prove that, THEN prove your claim that he did it.

However, religious people usually give you a pass on your claim that God created the universe because they were raised, from their earliest childhood, to believe that god exists. But to a rationalist, you’re not making any sense when you claim that an unseen, and unproven, entity did something.

The Argument from Ignorance is also a False Dichotomy: When someone asks where the universe came from they pose a question which they consider has to only have 2 answers, and then they attempt to discredit one of them, so that the other (their God) must be true.

However there may be multiple answers: For instance, it may have entirely natural causes… i.e. there may be many universes (a multi-verse) and ours could have sprung from one of them, it could have been created as a computer simulation from another universe by an entity that is entirely natural (i.e. not a god), it could have been created by a god, but not one we know anything about it. Heck while we’re considering supernatural causes, it could have been universe-creating pixies, since they, by definition, create universes. By the way, “We don’t know” is also a perfectly good answer.  And ,in my opinion, the only true one at this point in our scientific investigations.

Simply claiming that you have the answer certainly doesn’t make it so until you can supply credible evidence for that claim.  Keep in mind also that the bible isn’t proof of your claim.  IT’s the claim, you’re just repeating it.

This is also called an Appeal to Ignorance.  Carl Sagan explains in his book The Demon-Haunted World:

An Appeal to ignorance is the claim that whatever has not been proved false must be true, and vice versa. (e.g., There is no compelling evidence that UFOs are not visiting the Earth; therefore, UFOs exist, and there is intelligent life elsewhere in the Universe.”… This impatience with ambiguity can be criticized in the phrase: absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.[3]

But, in some cases, the absence of evidence CAN be evidence of absence, if the claim that you’re making WOULD leave evidence, but that evidence is not to be found.

For instance, if you tell me that you’ve kept a cat as a pet for the last several years, but if I happen to stay overnight at your apartment and see no cat, no cat toys, no litter-box, no water bowl and no cat hair anywhere, I would be entirely justified in assuming that you do not actually have a cat.  In this case, the absence of evidence would be evidence of absence, because if the claim were true, evidence would be expected to be there.

The bible claims that the Egyptians kept millions of Jews as slaves, and that those slaves were freed by a generic “Pharaoh” after God released His 10 plagues and killed all their first born children.

However, even though the Egyptians kept meticulous records of that time period, there is no evidence in Egyptian writings that they 1) ever kept Jewish slaves (and certainly not in the millions) nor 2) did they mention any of the 10 plagues talked about in the Bible, nor 3) that all of the first born Egyptian children died in one night.

Neither is there any evidence that millions of people spent 40 years wandering the Sinai desert after escaping from slavery; a trip should have only taken them a couple of weeks at most.

This is all evidence of absence, if not of God himself, then, at least, of the truth of the stories of the Exodus in the Old Testament.  And that would certainly mean that the Bible is not inerrant.

The Bible does, however, give us a very colorful view of the lives of the people from that period.  Sometimes it mentions things and events that we see in the archaeological records, but sometimes it makes incredible claims that simply cannot stand up to the light of modern scientific examination; claims of events that would leave evidence if true.

It’s much like the old song that says, “the things that you’re liable, to read in the bible, it ain’t necessarily so”.

2 thoughts on “The Argument from Ignorance”

  1. “Christians, and indeed most religious people, use the argument from ignorance frequently. It usually goes like this; “Where did the universe come from? You don’t know do you? See? It has to be God.””
    This is commonly known as a “God of the gaps” argument. However, no cosmological argument is this type of argument. They are all deductive arguments, meaning if the premises are true, the conclusion of God existing must be true. For example the Leibnizian Cosmological Argument goes as follows:
    1. Everything that exists has an explanation for its existence, whether it be by an external cause or in the necessity of its own existence.
    2. If the universe exists, then its explanation is grounded in a necessary being.
    3. The universe exists.
    4. Therefore, a necessary being exists.

    With this type of argument, if the premises are true, then God must exist.

    1. Maybe, If the premises are true.

      However, let me make 3 points about your argument.

      1) #1 … Does it? Maybe, but you’ve not demonstrated it. It’s a simple claim.

      2) Again, you just Claim that #2 is the case without showing that it is. You have to SHOW that it was created by a being. It could be that the universe arose from purely Natural causes..

      3) EVEN if you did show that a god created the universe, you would be no closer to proving it was the Christian God. It could be ANY god from ANY religion that man has worshipped in the past 5,000 years, OR it could be a god that we have no knowledge of. And, if so, THAT would deflate all of the Religious claims of all of mankind’s religions.

      Read my article called Examine Your Beliefs for more information about just how far Christians (or Muslims, or Mormons, etc. etc) are from proving any of their claims.

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