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Argument from incredulity

Masterhawk

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Argument from incredulity is when you reject a belief (or accept one) because you cannot imagine an alternative. The problem should be obvious, the truth is not contingent on your ability to comprehend them.

An example would be in June 26, 1947 with the Roswell crash. Let's say that you noticed something falling from the sky and decided to check it out but before you can get too close, you get taken into custody by the military and they ask you what you saw. After you tell them everything, they let you go but warn you not to tell anyone about what you saw or you'll get arrested. Two weeks later, you read the news of the Roswell army air field claiming that they noticed a flying disc only for it to be retracted and them claim that it was a weather balloon. That doesn't really make sense though. Why would the military make a big fuss if it was only a weather baloon? Interest renewed in the late 70s when people claimed that it was really an alien spaceship. At that moment, things start to make sense. Why else would they have reacted that way?

At this moment we need to look at prior probability which is the probability minus the incident in question. As far as I understand it, the probability that aliens are secretly associating with the government is fairly low. If aliens have the technology for interstellar travel, they probably have very little interest in secretly collaborating with governments if our tech level. Furthermore, we have never detected any extraterrestrial life. That isn't to say that extraterrestrial life doesn't exist but is rather uncommon enough as to not be everywhere. Bear in mind that the burden of proof rests on the one who makes the claim. As Carl Sagan put it, "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence".

Eventually, the Freedom of Information Act gets passed and we find out that it was a spy balloon to see if the Soviet Union was doing high altitude tests of nuclear weapons. At that moment, you may decide that it was another coverup story. But here's the question: how did you know that the original story was a coverup in the first place? The answer is because the explanation couldn't explain why the military threatened you if you talked. But if it was a spy balloon, that probably would have been a good explanation. The problem that this hypothetical you has is that he thinks about what the government would be doing if the Roswell incident were really aliens. However, he has completely cast aside the whole reason for believing that it was aliens in the first place. You couldn't think of another explanation, so when someone suggested that it was aliens, you believed that it was aliens.

End of Part 1
 

Masterhawk

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Part 2

Another example is creationists regarding the existence of God. A common argument against secular explanations is that there are various things that cannot be explained by purely scientific processes, therefore God did it. Once again, we must reiterate that truth is not contingent on our ability to understand. Another thing that must be understood is that science is a constantly expanding circle of knowledge. Back in the days of antiquity, the supernatural was used to explain virtually everything from wind patterns to the day and night cycle and why natural disasters happen. Today, we have scientific explanations for each of these phenomena. Apparently, this never occurred to Bill O'Reilly who once infamously said "Tide goes in, tide goes out. You can't explain it." When someone later responded via mail that the moon causes tides, he responded by asking how the moon got there. What we have here is God of the gaps. Anything which science currently cannot explain is used to support creationism. Better yet, some of these "gaps" are simply due to ignorance on the creationist's part rather than any genuine gap in scientific knowledge such as the tides. The theory of evolution cannot easily be overturned even by a few gaps because of the amount of evidence backing it. Another problem is that as soon as we can explain a phenomenon via natural means, there will inevitably be another which cannot be explained. This dates all the way back to Hippocrates in 400 BC when he said the following:

"People think that epilepsy is divine simply because they don't have any idea what causes epilepsy. But I believe that someday we will understand what causes epilepsy, and at that moment, we will cease to believe that it's divine. And so it is with everything in the universe"

A century earlier and on the other side of Asia, there is a tale of Confucius running into two kids debating over whether the sun is larger at noon or during sunset. One argues that it's larger at noon because that's when the day is the hottest while the other argues that the sun appears bigger during the evening. When both asked who was right, Confucius said that both had good arguments and that he did not know. They then asked "Aren't you a knowledgeable scholar?" to which Confucius replied that there are things that even he does not know.

The point of both stories is that there is a limit to what mankind knows and that's nothing to be ashamed of. We now know what causes epilepsy and why the sun is hotter at noon while it appears larger in the evening. The point that I'm trying to make here is that just because we don't know the answer to a question today doesn't mean we won't know forever and for all of time. Maybe one day, we'll figure out how our planet got water, why physics are the way they are, and just how life and the universe began. Just because we don't have an answer doesn't automatically mean jumping to the most outlandish answer.
 
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