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The Argument from Incredulity: How People Explain What They Don't Understand

It’s ok to be incredulous

... and to bring this up as part of an argument. The issue with doing so occurs when this incredulity isn’t justified or supported by concrete information, and when this lack of belief is used in order to assume that a preferred personal explanation must be the right one, despite the lack of proof.

At the same time, it’s also important to remember that it’s possible that the person using the argument from incredulity is right, despite the fact that their reasoning is flawed.

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The Argument from Incredulity: How People Explain What They Don't Understand

The Argument from Incredulity: How People Explain What They Don't Understand

https://effectiviology.com/argument-from-incredulity/

effectiviology.com

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Key Ideas

The argument from incredulity

Is a logical fallacy where someone concludes that since they can’t believe that a certain concept is true, then it must be false and vice versa.

Its 2 basic forms:

I can’t imagine how X can be true; therefore, X must be false.”

I can’t imagine how X can be false; therefore, X must be true.”

Basic structure of an argument from incredulity

Premise 1: I can’t explain or imagine how proposition X can be true.

Premise 2: if a certain proposition is true, then I must be able to explain or imagine how that can be.

Conclusions: proposition X is false.

It’s ok to be incredulous

... and to bring this up as part of an argument. The issue with doing so occurs when this incredulity isn’t justified or supported by concrete information, and when this lack of belief is used in order to assume that a preferred personal explanation must be the right one, despite the lack of proof.

At the same time, it’s also important to remember that it’s possible that the person using the argument from incredulity is right, despite the fact that their reasoning is flawed.

Counter the argument from incredulity

  1. Explain why this sort of reasoning is fallacious: namely the fact that your opponent’s inability to explain a certain phenomenon or to understand a certain theory, does not invalidate current explanations for it.
  2. Shift the burden of proof back to your opponent: ask them to support their initial assertion, and explain why they are incredulous, and why they think that this validates their position.
  3. If possible, you should show that there is scientific evidence that can be used in order to explain the phenomenon that’s being discussed. 

SIMILAR ARTICLES & IDEAS:

Cherry picking

It is a logical fallacy and it happens when we choose and focus only on evidence that supports our views and arguments while ignoring anything that may contradict us.

The problem with cherry picking
  • It fails to take into consideration all the available information
  • It presents information in a misleading way.
  • It might lead to improper analysis and might cause someone to paint a misleading picture of a certain outcome.
The principle of total evidence

Also referred to as Bernoulli’s maxim, it states that, when assessing the probability that a certain hypothesis is true, we must take into account all the available information.

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Fallacies

A fallacy is the use of faulty reasoning in an argument.

There are formal and informal fallacies:

  • A formal fallacy describes a flaw in the construction of a deductive ar...
Appeal to privacy

In this fallacy, someone behaves in a way that negatively affects others but then gets upset when others criticize their behavior. They will reply with a "mind your own business."
For instance, someone who doesn't see a reason to bathe, but then boards a full 10-hour flight.

Sunk cost fallacy

It happens when someone continues in a course of action, even if evidence shows that it's a mistake.

Common phrase: "We've always done it this way, so we'll keep doing it this way." "I've already invested so much..."

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Convince Them With Confidence
  • Speak confidently, be concise, and try not to repeat yourself. 
  • Give the appearance that you truly know what’s right from the beginning, even if you don’t have all o...
Avoid Common Argument Fallacies

Winning an argument often comes down to who can go the longest without contradicting themselves and keeping sound logic, not direct persuasion of the other party.

Anecdotal Fallacy

Using a single personal experience as the foundation of your argument or your big piece of evidence. 

For example, your phone may have broken right after you bought it, but you can’t use that to argue that those phones are not worth the purchase for others.

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Jumping into Conclusions
Jumping to conclusions is a common phenomenon, where people prematurely decide and finalize something, without having sufficient information or choosing not to consider it.
Jumping into Conclusions: Examples
  • Inference-observation confusion: An assumption made that may or may not be correct. Example: Concluding that a guy is rich, based on the car he drives.
  • Fortune-Telling: Assumption of knowing exactly what will happen in the future.
  • Mind Reading: Assuming based on how to have read someone's mind and concluded something which may not be true.
  • Extreme Extrapolation: Finding a minor clue and making something major out of it.
  • Overgeneralization: Copy-pasting a piece of knowledge over something that you think is related, but is not.
  • Labeling: Stereotyping a set of people based on their likes and dislikes.
Why We Jump to Conclusions

The reason people jump to conclusions is the fact that they find it easy.

Fact-checking and 100 percent accuracy on everything they see or observe consume way too much time for a normal person.

Taking mental shortcuts is the path most people choose to jump to conclusions.

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False equivalence

It is a logical fallacy and it occurs when someone incorrectly asserts that two or more things are equal because they share some characteristics, regardless of the notable differences...

The problem with false equivalence
  • The equivalence exaggerates the degree of similarity. I.e, stating that two people share a specific personality trait, but ignoring that they differ in other aspects of this trait.
  • The equivalence exaggerates the importance of the similarity. I.e, focusing on a personality trait that two people share while ignoring that many other people also share this trait.
  • The equivalence ignores important differences.
  • The equivalence ignores differences in orders of magnitude. 
Responding to a false equivalence
  • Show that the similarities between the things being equated are exaggerated, overemphasized, or oversimplified.
  • Highlight the differences between the things being equated. 
  • Explain why these differences are more significant than related similarities.
  • Provide counterexamples.
  • Ask your opponent to justify why they believe that their equivalence is valid, and then demonstrate the issues with the reasoning they provide.

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The argument from dictionary
The argument from dictionary

The argument from a dictionary is a logical fallacy and happens when someone's argument is based, in a problematic way, on the definition of a particular term as it appears in a diction...

An example of the appeal to definition

"We should ignore the theory of evolution because the dictionary says that a theory is just an opinion that you have about something you can't prove."

The person using this fallacy is basing their statement on a specific definition of the word "theory" while ignoring alternative definitions that will better capture the meaning of the term as it's used in a scientific context.

Appeal to definition: when the process becomes fallacious

Not every use of a definition is necessarily fallacious. If the definition is properly justified and is selected in a properly justified way, it is generally not fallacious. However, it is fallacious when at least one of the following conditions are true:

  • There is no valid reason for using the definition.
  • The definition was cherry-picked out of a range of possible definitions.

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Reasons for constructing a good argument

How should we evaluate arguments that people make to persuade us? And how should we construct our own arguments to be the most effective?

At its core, an argument consists of a conclus...

Structure of a well-formed argument

It does not use reasons that contradict each other, contradict the conclusion or explicitly or implicitly assumes the truth of the conclusion. Checklist:

  • Does the communication include at least one reason to support the conclusion as being true? If not, it is not an argument, but an opinion.
  • Could any of the key premises be interpreted as making the same claim as the conclusion? If so, then it’s a “circular argument” without independent reason given to support the conclusion.
  • Do any of the premises contradict another premise, or does the conclusion contradict any of the premises?
The relevance of a premise

A premise is relevant if it provides some bearing on the truth of the conclusion. Checklist:

  • If the premise were true, does it make you more likely to believe that the conclusion is true? If yes, the premise is probably relevant.
  • Even if the premise were true, should it be a consideration for accepting the truth of the conclusion? If no, then the premise is probably not relevant.

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Begging the question
Begging the question

Begging the question is an example of a fallacy of presumption, also known as a circular argument: The conclusion appears at the beginning and the end of the argument. ...

Begging the question example

"The law says you should drive on the right side of the road, and the law is the law."

When someone is questioning this statement, they are questioning the law. If we say, "because that is the law," we are begging the question. We are assuming the validity of what the other person is questioning.

Structure of circular reasoning

The most simple form of begging the question: A is true because A is true.

Circular reasoning can also be a bit longer:

  • A is true because B is true, and B is true because A is true.
  • A is true because B is true, and B is true because C is true. C is correct because A is true.
Bruce Lee

“Absorb what is useful, discard what is useless and add what is specifically your own.”

Bruce Lee
Making mistakes

Mistakes are opportunities for learning and for creating something truly new.

And the trick for making good mistakes is not trying to hide them. Be honest with yourself and really know your own mistakes, so that you learn from them and that you'll never repeat them.

Reductio ad absurdum

It's a mode of argumentation or a form of argument in which a proposition is disproven by following its implications logically to an absurd conclusion. 

Take an assertion and see if you can inquire about any contradictions out of it. If you can, that proposition has to be discarded.

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The zero-sum bias

A cognitive bias that causes people to mistakenly believe that one party’s gains are directly balanced by other parties’ losses.

This bias encourages belief in an antagonistic natur...

Zero-sum bias effects

It can generally be said to affect people on two scales:

  • Individual scale. It causes people to mistakenly assume that there is intra-group competition for a certain resource, between them and other members.
  • Group scale. It causes people to mistakenly assume that there is inter-group competition for a certain resource, between their group and other groups.
Examples of the zero-sum bias
  • People sometimes view membership in social groups as being zero-sum: belonging to one social group excludes you from being a member of a different group.
  • People sometimes view gender hierarchies in the workplace as being zero-sum, which can cause them to be more opposed to gender-fair policies.
  • People sometimes believe that there is an inherent zero-sum competition between different ethnic groups, which can cause them to develop negative attitudes towards immigrants.
  • People sometimes view racism as a zero-sum game, meaning that they believe that a decrease in racism against one group will be balanced by an increase in racism toward other groups.

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