The Argument from Unwarranted Design

Coined by psychologist Nicholas Humphrey, and also referred to by the same as the Argument from Unnecessary Restrictions, this is a useful means of calling into question some types of supernatural or paranormal fringe claims when a conventional explanation to account for them is not immediately available.

Note that this sort of argument applies equally well to such sorts of claims as Intelligent Design as it does some paranormal research, to note just a couple.

It goes without saying that a hypothesis should explain the data, but just as importantly, it must also conform to them. If the data we obtain for a particular claim is not what we would expect given the hypothesis proposed, then that’s reason to consider the falsehood of the hypothesis, and the attendant claim, to be very likely indeed.

For example, if Professor M, reputed mutant feline telepath, can actually read minds solely using supernormal mental abilities, then it’s valid to ask why she needs face-to-face contact with the subject, why she has to speak with the subject, why she has to be under conditions favorable for reading various sorts of verbal and non-verbal physical cues, why she cannot statistically score above the chance of guessing by a control subject when properly blinded to these things, and finally, why the subject and she must share a common language even under these conditions to find out anything when the information gained is allegedly via memorized sensory imagery and emotions as well as otherwise privately articulated thoughts, etc, etc. If Professor M’s ability is truly paranormal and not simply clever cold-reading trickery, this is not what one would expect.

To sum it up, any hypothesis that is proposed should both explain and comply with the data, and if it makes testable predictions that the data don’t bear out, then we have good cause indeed to question it.

(How To Think About Weird Things: Critical Thinking For A New Age, 4th Edition (pp. 73-74) by Theodore Schick, Jr. & Lewis Vaughn)


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