Talk:Argument from ignorance/Archive 1

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untitled discussion

"However, the mistake is to assert that because a phenomenon is unexplained, that it is unexplainable."

This is double thatting. Is this supposed to mean "However, the mistake is to assert, because a phenomenon is unexplained, that it is unexplainable." or "However, the mistake is to assert that because a phenomenon is unexplained, it is unexplainable."?

I'm not really happy with this sentence, but I can't absolutely tell why (lack of imagination ? ;-):

This logical fallacy should be distinguised from the logically valid method of reductio ad absurdum. In reductio ad absurdum it is necessary to show that A implies not A, not merely that A implies something which the speaker considers absurd.

The point is, to prove "not A" by reduction ad absurdum, you have to prove that "not A" implies "B" where B is a proposition you can prove to be false per se, or prove to be contradictory with A. The author of the sentence wants to point out the danger of simply believing B to be false by lack of imagination. But, expressed this way, the problem applies to any kind of reasoning, not just reductio ad absurdum. It's lack of imagination aplied to sub-argument B. I don't really see what is special with reductio ad absurdum here. So, in my opinion, the sentence boils down to being redundant.

Perhaps one could say something like:

One should be particularly wary of lack of imagination when applying reductio ad absurdum.

But even then, I don't see why a special importance is granted to reductio ad absurdum specifically.

I have the same qualms with a correlated update from the same author to the reductio ad absurdum entry. See there my modifications and my [remark in brackets] (in the text, as there is/was no talk page).

Does anyone feel like me on this ?


I liked the reductio ad absurdum paragraph, though I think that I interpreted rather differently than FvdP did above. Some expressions of an argument by lack of imagination are framed as "I can't imagine that therefore it is ridiculous and must be untrue." To someone who is unfamiliar with the classes of logical argument (like a reader of these pages), that statement could be confused with "The premise leads to a logically impossible (ridiculous) conclusion, therefore it must be false." A leads to not A. The paragraph merely claried the difference between the valid reductio ad absurdum and the invalid argument by lack of imagination. Rossami 01:56, 28 Aug 2003 (UTC)

I removed this paragraph:

Evolutionary biologist Leslie Orgel, believing that people constantly underestimate the explanatory power of evolution, has coined a phrase now known as Orgel's rule: "Evolution is cleverer than you are."

because I felt the article was getting a bit overly focussed on arguments against arguments against evolution, for which Wikipedia already has pages dedicated to. And, I'll concede, I find "Evolution is cleverer than you are" to sound disturbingly like "The Lord works in mysterious ways."

I have real trouble with this argument in the Creation/Evolution context. This is because, in simple terms, Evolutionists say "Evolution can explain everything". If someone comes and says "I can see no way that Evolution can explain this." then the Evolutionist says "Ah, but it might - you just can't imagine it". To me that seems like a cop-out on the Evolutionists part. The onus must be on the proponents of a theory to show that it actually explains what they claim is explains, especially if they want their theory to move from 'conjecture' to 'fact' status. DJ Clayworth 19:41, 27 Aug 2003 (UTC)

Actually, what the creationists normally do is ignore the proposed models and theories of evolutionary biology. Instead they say "Look at this marvelous wonder we call the human eye -- something like this could never have come into existence by chance." They then conclude that the biblical account of creation as related in the Bible must be true. To this the evolutionary biologists respond: 1) Evolution is not the same as randomness. The conditions of evolution are determined by the environment to which an organism must adopt. 2) The reason you do believe that something like the human eye cannot have evolved naturally is that you lack the imagination to see the processes by which it can. But several such processes have been proposed, see ... etc. 3) Even if evolutionary biology was insufficient to explain incident X or Y, this would not necessitate a creator, and certainly not creation as described in the Bible. The explanatory power of evolutionary thought has been demonstrated time and time again, and to propose that organism X or Y now invalidates evolutionary thought as a whole and necessitates creationist thought requires more evidence than just the absence of an explanation -- without such evidence it is much more likely that we presently lack the imagination and information to come up with the full explanations required.—Eloquence 19:52, Aug 27, 2003 (UTC)
This is all a very fascinating debate, but I'm afraid I can't see what it's got to do with improving the encyclopedia article that this Talk page is attached to. Perhaps this would be better taken elsewhere? Martin 20:00, 27 Aug 2003 (UTC)

Shouldn't this article conform with a [Neutral point of view]? This defends on what the stated purpose of this article is. Is it to inform the reader of "Argument from ignorance" logical fallacy or is it to describe and give examples of a particluar science-related theory? Should every possible application be considred? In the effort to maintian a NPOV, it is a good policy that highly controversial examples of application be avioded. Why risk pushing a particular POV when another example thats not so highly disputed-and possible a plainer and simpler example-could be used? In resisted corrections in this article, are you unobjectively attacted to the evolution example or will you admitt that it is in fact arbitrary and unecessary? This does not mean we should become paraniod about all potential biases, however we should recognize using this article as a means to discredit " the obvious irrationalatiy of organized religion" is inappropriate. Again, this comes back to the question of what our purpose is.

"For example, the current lack of evidence about unexplained aspects of evolution indicates that the theory of evolution is incomplete, rather than necessarily incorrect."

This is clearly pushing a point of view. I am not saying that it was intentional. That is in fact precisely my point; examples which add nothing to the readers understanding of the articles concept and deal with highly controversial subeject matter and is most appropriatly moved to an other article or changed or deleted.

I'd like to add back the classification of Lack of imagination as a logical fallacy. I do not think this is a POV statement. If, during a logical argument, you attempt to defend your position with a statement that is consistent with lack of imagination, you have made an invalid argument by definition.
The second part of the Copi quote itself falls prey to the lack of imagination fallacy. For any scenario where his "qualified observers" "should have found ...", I can imagine some reason (however improbable) why they may not yet have made the discovery. Copi's qualification may be part of a valid reasonable argument, but not part of a valid logical argument.
However, this could be my own lack of imagination. If anyone can respond with a single counter-example where a lack of imagination argument would be logically valid, then I must concede to the 'sometimes' wording. Rossami 01:29, 28 Aug 2003 (UTC)

If you can find a named advocate, preferably a philosophy expert, who agrees with you, then by all means add that view to the article, appropriately attributed. Martin 08:51, 28 Aug 2003 (UTC)

I believe that the "lack of imagination" is a pertenent concept. Formally, however I believe that it is known as "Proof by Failure to find a Counter-Example". I.E. All invisible horses have poka dots. Have you ever seen an invisible horse that didn't have poka dots? This proves my origonal statement.(Clearly, an illogical conclusion)

As a side note, articles on abstract logic  should  not be concerned with any particlular issue.  This is simply an matter of style.  One may use concrete examples, but these should be removed from highly specific applications.  Like the example above, taken from a book on logic.  Does it give the reader an understanding of the concept of the logical fallacy?  Yes.  Is there any justifiable reason to bring controversy into this?  This is an encyclopedia, not a textbook.  To address such a controversal and complx concept as evolution in this article would be innappropiate.   Concepts should be detached enough so as to thoughly inform the reader of the fundamentals and intracacies of logic and allow the reader to make up his own mind as to when a certain fallacy is being used.  If we have given the reader a complete and though understanding of logic, would nothighly specific applications be self-evident?  Does he need to be held by the hand?Tmchk | Talk 23:29, 19 May 2007 (UTC)

I removed the following comments because Wikipedia is not in the practice of providing unimportant information, and particularly not in the practice of offending people's sensabilities and beliefs.

Excized: Ayn Rand

An example of this argument is Ayn Rand's defense of patent and copyright law. She argued that such laws were "obviously necessary" for authors and inventors to earn a living, so they should be supported. In other words, she could not imagine any ways for artists and inventors to earn a living without them, therefore such methods cannot exist. Rand's conclusion is falsified when, for example, a wealthy patron commissions a work for public display (such as a manufacturer creating an advertisement), or an author chooses to control the work through licensing agreements based on trade secret law rather than through a copyright. Rand's hypothesis also fails in light of the sociological work of Marcel Mauss on gift economies based on mutually voluntary transaction. (This is an idea that is particularly "unimaginable" to many people who believe that it contradicts human nature.)


The argument from lack of imagination is often used to attempt to invalidate a scientific theory by pointing out a phenomenon which the theory does not readily explain. This is rather simple to do because there are a lot of phenomena that are currently unexplained. However, the mistake is to assert that because a phenomenon is unexplained, it is unexplainable.

Richard Dawkins has called the fallacy "the argument from personal incredulity". He uses it specifically in the context of the argument from irreducible complexity, in debates between creationism and evolution. Evolutionary biologist Leslie Orgel, coined Orgel's rule: "Evolution is cleverer than you are."

In a telling demonstration of the weakness of such argument Dawkins cites the example of Bishop Hugh Montefiore's implicit assumption that since polar bears are camouflaged even though they have no natural predators, their camouflage serves no evolutionary purpose. In reality, the polar bear benefits by its camouflage concealing it from its potential prey when it is hunting, of course.

An argument from lack of imagination is arguably part of the teleological argument for the existence of God.

--- To have made these last statements, the author is overlooking the fact that evolution is not proven, and so to argue in favor of evolution, without proof, is on equal ground with creationism. Evolutionists are forever commiting the assumptive argument fallacy in speaking as if evolution were fact and not theory.

When speaking about logic, it is vitally important not to fall pray to fallacy. Also, when writing about controversial subjects on Wikipedia, it is important to speak from a neutral standpoint and not to offend the majority of readers.

-- Corey 01:44, 8 Sep 2003 (UTC)

Cyan, you are wrong, Wikipedia has neither a policy to be non-offensive, nor do you supply convincing arguments why the Ayn Rand example is "unimportant". Your opinion about evolution not being proven as fact, while incorrect, is noted -- you may want to add this opinion in attributed form to the article instead of just removing arguments you do not like.—Eloquence 01:48, Sep 8, 2003 (UTC)

My name is Corey, not Cyan. Yes, on the wikipedia page it clearly states:

First, because there are a huge variety of participants of all ideologies, and from around the world, Wikipedia is committed to making its articles as unbiased as possible. The aim is not to write articles from a single objective point of view -- this is a common misunderstanding of the policy -- but rather, to fairly present all views on an issue, attributed to their adherents.

Also, the only way that evolution could be proved is by showing gradual progressions in the so-called evolutionary chain. Showing a bunch of skeletons with two ears, two eyes, two nostrils, teeth and a brain with two hands on the extremities of two arms is not proof.

Read the book Darwin's Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution" by Michael J. Behe, an evolutiionist.

-- Corey 01:54, 8 Sep 2003 (UTC)

I'm not interested in a debate with you about "intelligent design", Corey. Our NPOV policy is about phrasing statements neutrally, not about removing "offensive" statements. Please read it before engaging in edit wars, or you will end up finding yourself banned from Wikipedia quite quickly.—Eloquence 02:05, Sep 8, 2003 (UTC)

I believe that's exactly what I said.

And I was avoiding the argument by giving you a book to read for yourself.

It is not my responsibility to write the opposing views, for one, and to introduce a complex subject and all it's viewpoints would be counter-productive to this article. Such discussions of viewpoints on evolution and creation belong on one and the other such articles, not on an article about a completely unrelated topic.

It is the responsibility of the one typeing the original statement to include the opposing views in the first place. -- Corey 02:14, 8 Sep 2003 (UTC)

Actually, it's better if the opposite viewpoint is argued by a person knowing and understanding it. The person originally writing that passage may also think there is no plausible opposite viewpoint (that is, none which could then not be rebutted with counter arguments to a certain point until it is completely refuted). And I do not agree that this issue is too complex for the article -- in fact it would be an excellent test case to see if this "lack of imagination" argument really holds up to closer scrutiny. So if you want to go for that, I'll gladly unprotect the page. But please do not remove information just because you disagree with it.—Eloquence 02:21, Sep 8, 2003 (UTC)

It was not my original intention to add to such an argument in an article on a logic definition. I prefer to use my time in a more practical manner. However, since I'm left with no option, and no one else on this site who would be interested in doing so, it leaves me with no recourse but to take up the challenge. This is more than a minor inconvenience which those genuinely interested in an encyclopedic article on "Lack of Imagination" are likely to be uninterested in reading such jibberish. -- Corey 02:36, 8 Sep 2003 (UTC)

Well, if you can only come up with jibberish, then we will just have to rephrase it. Page unprotected.—Eloquence

That was a very funny play on my statement. Thank you for the compromise. -- Corey 04:06, 8 Sep 2003 (UTC)

Isn't the Ayn Rand argument a rather minor one and also just based upon some evidence that has "it is true because I found someone who agrees with me" logic. Argumentation about the necessity of intellectual property laws could go on for pages, the brief summary really does not do that topic justice and it is rather tangental to the point of this topic, a simpler and more direct example would be better, someone who wants to argue about Ayn Rand's opinions would be better advised to do it either on Ayn Rand's page or on the intellectual property page, not on a page about a logic topic; it gives it the wrong spin and I do not think it is a NPOV issue, it is just a writing issue. That is my opinion, for what it's worth. Alex756 04:23, 8 Sep 2003 (UTC)

I have a different objection to inclusion of the Ayn Rand example. Can anyone provide a reference to her ever saying that it was "obviously necessary"? I've read several of her works, and although that doesn't make me an expert, I don't recall that she ever made this bald assertion. I fear that we are attributing to her something that she never said, and doing so in a way to cast aspersion upon her. -BuddhaInside
I think the IP example is a good example for "lack of imagination", because for decades, people have been arguing like this and many still do. I don't care if we attribute it to Ayn Rand or just treat it as a general example. Regardless, many people just say that "we obviously need copyright" and do not take into account the alternatives. Of course, some do take into account the alternatives and write detailed treatises on why they think that they will not work. To them, the "lack of imagination" fallacy does not apply.—Eloquence 04:39, Sep 8, 2003 (UTC)
Using the logical argument as a demonstration with the attribution to any particular person makes sense for several reasons: (1) you don't have to worry about misquoting or (2) finding the right quote. It also (3) keeps the focus on the topic at hand. Those seem like three good reasons to make all arguments in logic articles generic, sort of like what we do in legal teaching, the example is using some simple name or the name of the property is always called Black Acre, keep out all extraneous details, focus on the main point, this always makes any kind of reasoned writing a bit easier to read. I'd say just making the major point about IP not being necessary because there are alternatives gets to the heart of that argument; this is not the place to argue about IP laws. Alex756 05:05, 8 Sep 2003 (UTC)
Well, I don't like arguments that are too generic and boring. I like examples that tie into the reality that people are familiar with. But of course this should be limited to a reasonable extent -- we don't want this to become an IP debate. I think Rand should be cited if Damien can provide a source, but otherwise the example should be anonymized.—Eloquence 05:38, Sep 8, 2003 (UTC)
I welcome using this or any other example where someone claims an observation is "obvious" as a means of demonstrating a fallacy. Why, to some, it is "obvious" that wikipedia cannot tolerate a List of famous heterosexuals. I'd just like to verify that this really is something that Ayn Rand wrote about before using her persona as an example in this manner. -BuddhaInside
Well, you have not responded to my arguments on your talk page regarding the list. As for Rand, you may want to ask User:Damian Yerrick, who is the one who added that section.—Eloquence 04:51, Sep 8, 2003 (UTC)
I do not read my talk page, and have requested deletion of any content there. -BuddhaInside


In other words, she could not imagine any ways for artists and inventors to earn a living without them, therefore such methods cannot exist.

I doubt that Rand made such a simplistic argument: seems like a strawman - exaggerating her position, and rebutting the exaggeration. I'd be happy for the entire section to be removed.

Others suggest anonymising: I oppose that. For it to serve as an example, we need solid evidence that at least one advocate of IP law does so (or did so) on the basis that there is no imaginable alternative. Martin 10:25, 8 Sep 2003 (UTC)

The same applies to "Montefiore's implicit assumption". Did Montefiore actually make that assumption, or is Dawkins putting words into the good bishop's mouth? Martin 10:43, 8 Sep 2003 (UTC)

I have never seen Ayn Rand cited as an authority for getting ride of IP laws. I do not think that anonymising is a problem. THIS IS NOT AN ARTICLE ABOUT IP ARGUEMENTATION. It is a standard anti-IP argument, not everything needs to be cited in an encyclopedia. It really detracts from the neutrality of this article to cite someone who has only a tangental role to play in the ongoing debate about IP law (it is not her argument it is as old as the Queen Anne Statute, she is just citing the same arguments that many people have brought up who object to IP laws; maybe saying it is her argument is some kind of idea plagarism (if you believe that people can own ideas, I don't and I don't even known any pro-IP advocate that does)) The idea belongs to no one. Perhaps giving it to Ayn Rand is dishonest and immoral (that is what some people post on the mailing list when we discuss IP laws and how they apply to Wikipedia).
So, so far in arguments against citing Rand:
  • We don't know if she really held the position attributed to her
  • She's not an authority on intellectual property anyway
I think those are solid arguments against mentioning her. Martin 14:51, 8 Sep 2003 (UTC)
Why don't you use an similar example from criminal law? I don't think most people can really connect with IP laws; also they are hard to explain and understand. It really does not touch most people except writers and software developers (hey gee, that is probably half the people who volunteer here). Criminal laws, however, that touches practically everyone's life (and it is very scary stuff to anyone to think about going do jail). Put an argument in about restorative justice wouldn't that work fine? Alex756 10:48, 8 Sep 2003 (UTC)
I like the mention of the teleological argument and creationism, because these are canonical examples of the argument ad ignorantium - it's impossible to have a discussion on the subject without that issue being raised.
Are intellectual property arguments similarly prone to lack of imagination arguments and accusations? I'm not convinced.... Martin 14:51, 8 Sep 2003 (UTC)

--- I had protected this yesterday, by request, to prevent deletion. Since it's now unprotected, I hope my changes this morning aren't a violation of Wikipedia etiquette. (If they are, please at least keep the grammar fixes.)Vicki Rosenzweig 15:07, 8 Sep 2003 (UTC)

Arguments 'from lack of imagination' are used in law all the time. If there is no plausible way that a defendant could have comitted a crime, then that is considered evidence (though not necessarily proof) that they did not do it. To argue that they did do it you would have to bring up substantial additional evidence.

Likewise in science the burden of proof is on a theory to be able to explain all relevant phenomena. If a theory can explain some phenomena, but others have no plausible explanation, that is an indication that more work should be done on the theory before it is considered true. DJ Clayworth 15:39, 8 Sep 2003 (UTC)

Your first point: this would be "lack of imagination" if the defendant were trying to prove that he was innocent. In most modern legal systems, he is merely trying to prevent the prosecution from proving "beyond reasonable doubt" that he is guilty. As you say, to assume that because a defendant is found not guilty that he therefore did not commit the crime is a perfect example of argumentum ad ignorantium. I'll add it to the article. -- Onebyone 19:38, 28 Sep 2003 (UTC)

Alright. I see this isn't going to be easy. I'm going to rewrite this so as to include all the points being made, but do it in such a way that it is easily understood and neutral.

By the way, the teleological argument page, while very well done, and 99% neutral, is way out of date. Teleological argumentation doesn't just cover one argument. It covers any argument that argues for the existence of God based upon design in nature. To just put a link to that page is meaningless. A specific example of a teleological argument that falls prey to lack of immagination is required. I will do this.

P.S. Why is this article titled "Lack of Imagination"? The three foremost exponants of Logic, namely Hurley, Copi, and McCall, not to mention, the majority of the logic community use the modern term "Argument from Ignorance" or its more ancient Latin term "Argumentum ad ignorantium". I don't know where the "Lack of Imagination" use came from, but it certainly isn't the most common usage, nor is it the name by which professors and logicians call it. -- Corey 15:50, 9 Sep 2003 (EDT)

I'm not sure either. All the Googles I've found for it are referencing the Wikipedia article, apart from a few discussion board postings. 16:07, 9 Sep 2003 (EDT)

To add all these subjects within an encyclopedic article is meaningless. If you include these subject headings, you have to include all reasoning subjects, from psychology to which pair of shoes should be universally accepted.

When I rewrite the article it will include a modification of the evolution example, but I think it totally useless to cite umpteen million examples of the fallacy. It is enough to cite one sample each of the two kinds of arguments from ignorance. -- Corey 19:09, 9 Sep 2003 (EDT)

Ahhhh, that's better. Rewrite still forthcoming. -- Corey 08:48, 10 Sep 2003 (UTC)

Sorry if I've jumped the gun, but the rewrite doesn't seem to be all that forthcoming, so I've had a go myself.

I've removed the following text entirely, becuase it doesn't seem to help the article much:

Evolutionary biologist Leslie Orgel coined Orgel's rule: "Evolution is cleverer than you are".


The argument from lack of imagination is arguably a flaw in the "argument from design" for the existence of God. See teleological argument for details.

Between the cuts which Corey has already made and those I've made today, can the neutrality dispute for this article now be resolved?

Onebyone 19:53, 28 Sep 2003 (UTC)

This looks good. I'd say remove the dispute - if anyone disagrees they can put it back easily enough. Martin 22:38, 28 Sep 2003 (UTC)

Sorry for not getting to that rewrite. Things went haywire in the personal arena for me shortly after that. I'm still not going to be able to contribute much for a while. Thanks for the adjustments.—Corey 18:52, 30 Sep 2003 (UTC)

To be pedantic: re: the polar bear example (but I wouldn't want to ruin it) : the Polar Bear apparently has transparent fur over a dark skin (now why would THAT be useful? ;-) ), it only appears white because its fur also refracts some of the light. 13:19, 20 Feb 2004 (UTC)

Excised Section

anyone ever try ketamine?

I removed this paragraph:

The reason is because the entire paragraph was itself a logical fallacy. Specifically (if I am correct) it employed Amphibology to pervert the intended meaning of the initial premise, 'I cannot imagine any ways for artists and inventors to earn a living without intellectual property laws.' The issue is that all the examples given (which were obviously chosen to be as unappealing as possible) would mean that the artists and inventors were no longer artists and inventors... they would instead be flunkies, whores, drug runners, or hit men.

You cannot prove how an artist or inventor can make a living doing X, if doing X is not part of being an artist or inventor. The original line did not explicitly state that the artists and inventors would of course be employed in their chosen profession, and the paragraph I removed jumped on that oversight, and extended it in what appears to be a calculated attack on the point originally being made.

Now, I should also point out that the original example is, in itself, an advertisement for a different point of view. Perhaps it would be best if a more socially neutral example were put here instead.

Edit IP Example

I further edited the intellectual property example, removing pro-IP biased edits. While I have concerns about using such a controversial example, I do not believe that having 'balancing' rhetoric mixed in aids in the clarity of the example. The purpose is merely to explain an example of argument from ignorance as applied to law. An example argument is given, and the lack of imagination for that argument is shown. Whether or not you agree with the validity intellectual property, the failure of that specific argument is the only issue, and that failure is described, thus helping people to understand Argument from ignorance as used in law.

I would be in support of replacing the example entirely with one that is less controversial... how about abortion? :-)

Relation to negative proof

It would be beneficial to describe the difference between the closely related concepts of "Argument from ignorance" and "negative proof". I would classify "I've never heard of X, so X doesn't exist" as a negative proof, while "I've never heard of X, and reason Y shows that X couldn't exist" is an argument from ignorance if "Y" doesn't take all arguments into account. I'm not sure if this is a totally accurate description, or if it is sufficient to say that a negative proof is a subset of arguments from ignorance, if that is indeed the case.


Work is currently in progress on a page entitled Views of Creationists and mainstream scientists compared. Also currently being worked upon is Wikipedia: NPOV (Comparison of views in science) giving guidelines for this type of page. It is meant to be a set of guidelines for NPOV in this setting. People knowledgable in many areas of science and the philosophy of science are greatly needed here. And all are needed to ensure the guidelines correctly represent NPOV in this setting.  :) Barnaby dawson 21:31, 27 Dec 2004 (UTC)