Project Logicality | the Argument from Personal Incredulity


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Here we discuss a common flaw in reasoning, the Argument from Personal Incredulity, a variation of the Argument from Ignorance. It involves denying or asserting a claim from the standpoint of a failure to accept, understand, or imagine said claim or it’s contrary.

It’s to impose one’s own cognitive horizons on reality, and like the Argument from Ignorance, pretend to a certain conclusion that one does not have the data or perspective to correctly make.

Reality is not limited, restricted or constrained by our willingness or ability to comprehend it, by what we can personally accept as true, simply because no positive conclusions are obtainable from missing evidence or a failure to generate strong or valid explanations.

Someone with a more active imagination or greater understanding may discover a way to conceive of and comprehend what we cannot. The Argument from Incredulity could be illustrated by way of example:

  • ‘Evolutionists’ and Origin of Life researchers (effectively one and the same to creationists) claim that life arose and reached its present form over billions of years.

  • Being a human with a lifetime of only decades, I can’t wrap my mind around time-scales that immense, or comprehend life arising and evolving by blind, natural processes.

  • So I conclude that evolution is false, as the only alternative I know of, young-Earth creationism, is easier to understand and accept.

or by this silly example…

  • I can’t imagine computers working without pixies transmitting the data in them…

  • So I believe pixies must be responsible for the operation of my Mac.

…or further, in this way…

  • I don’t understand the mathematics and theory behind the Big Bang, Relativity and Quantum Mechanics, and the simpler Electric Universe theory appeals more to my personal intuitions…

  •  So orthodox astronomy and cosmology is wrong and my pet alternative cosmology is correct.

This fallacy has a minor variant of its own, the Appeal to Ridicule, in which the one making the argument attempts to portray a factual claim or statement as ludicrous, often with dishonest intent in order to influence others into disbelieving it, as is often the case with portrayals of the theory of evolution by creationists like Ray Comfort, Kirk Cameron, the late Duane Gish and Kent Hovind. The following is an example of the appeal to ridicule:

  • Scientists would have us believe that hydrogen, a colorless, odorless gas, given time, becomes stars, planets, animal and plant life, and ultimately, people.

  • Now, who in his right mind would believe anything so absurd?

…As is this:

  • Mainstream astronomers are always saying that most of the mass of the universe is locked up in some invisible, fairy-tale thing they call ‘dark matter,’ and the even more silly concepts of magic ‘dark energy’ and ‘inflation theory’ unicorns they need to prop up their failing model…

  • …Therefore conventional cosmology is unbelievably comical, so my pet doctrine must be true because it’s more sensible and logical than the Big Bang with all that useless, abstract math it involves.

Never mind that no self-respecting unicorn would be caught dead in an argument like that…much less ‘inflation theory’ ones… 😉

It is not an argument from incredulity to make more valid inferences, when what we know is complete enough that our ability to imagine or understand something applies to most reasonable situations, when the phrase ‘I can’t imagine this’ is just a figure of speech, as with this example:

  • We happen to know things about Quantum Mechanics that we have verified experimentally time and again…

  • We do not know anything of QM as it is currently understood that supports its use as a viable explanation for Psi, should Psi even truly exist as is claimed…

  • So I think that Psi, if it exists, cannot be adequately explained by QM.

The argument from incredulity is sometimes a tricky one to pick out, especially in one’s own arguments, as it is not always made in the form of a statement, but well worth the effort in recognizing to avoid being bamboozled in a debate, with or without creationists, electric universe proponents or parapsychologists as the opposition.

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