Bad arguments, great illustrations


The argument presented there, however, is itself a classic example example of a bad argument, widely known as a straw-man. Regardless of what one thinks of ufology, the ufological argument that some unidentified objects might be extraterrestrial crafts was never predicated on the argument presented above (ie 1. Unidentified objects are observed 2. They cannot be proven NOT to be extraterrestrial crafts. 3) Therefore they are extraterrestrial crafts.) Can anybody actually provide ANY example of somebody arguing that something is true SOLELY on the basis that it cannot proven false? If not, the “Bad Argument” presented above is ironically itself a text book example of a “Bad Argument”.

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No. . . the argument given is a fallacious one. There was never any suggestion that it was intended to discredit all of “UFO-ology,” (whatever that might be.)

In other words, the author NEVER SAID “This argument for UFO’s is bad, therefore all arguments for UFO’s are bad,” which would indeed have been a fallacy.


No, there’s no doubt that the argument is fallacious, but my point it that it is a straw man because nobody actually uses the argument in the first place. Again, I would ask, can anybody actually cite an example of somebody using this argument? If not, the argument presented is a straw man.

Strictly speaking you’re right, very few people make the straw man version of the argument.

However, it is very easy to find people making the weaker case that, “You can’t prove it wrong, so you can’t tell me I’m wrong.” That, too, is a fallacious argument, since it assumes that evidence and proof provide “definite” answers instead of probabilistic ones, ignores the vast number of cases where I can be very sure a hypothesis is so unlikely as to not be worth the mental effort of consideration even if I don’t have an obvious candidate to replace it. Fallacious, and potentially destructive, since once someone points out a possibility, however unlikely, confirmation and status quo biases kick in.

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The problem with that as far as I can see would be as follows. You say that there are a “vast number of cases where I can be very sure a hypothesis is so unlikely as to to be not worth the mental effort of consideration even if I don’t have an obvious candidate to replace it.” It follows from that there must also be cases where the hypothesis is not so unlikely, and hence not so easy to reject. Also, there must be hypotheticals about which the probabilities of them being true or false simply cannot be calculated in any truly objective and demonstrable fashion. If the probabilities cannot be rigorously demonstrated, then your saying that something is so unlikely it doesn’t warrant consideration can only amount to an expression of subjective opinion - you would effectively be saying “I can say something is definitely false without being able to prove it so, so long as I subjectively believe that it is very unlikely.” As an example, in Richard Dawkins’ book The God Delusion Dawkins considers the fairly inescapable (imo) logic that a properly empirical and evidential response to the question of god’s existence would necessarily conclude in agnosticism, since neither god’s existence nor non-existence can be empirically demonstrated to any reasonable standard. To avoid this problem, Dawkins appeals, as you do, to probability. But having done this, he never explains how the probabilities are calculated! He simply says he considers god’s existence to be highly improbable! Hence, unless the calculation of the probabilities is rigorous and objective, any appeal to probability can only be a spurious attempt to lead scientific credibility to one’s own subjective philosophical prejudices and confirmation biases.

All I can say is that those odd slot-like eyes are creepy as hell and undermine the cause of a very worthwhile effort, wonks be damned.


Well, anybody who claims that a UFO is of extraterrestrial origin IS making that claim tacitly, aren’t they?
I mean, if a hypothetical eyewitness sees a UFO, then tells you its a venusian spacecraft, and accepts no other competing theory as plausible, then, Isn’t he really saying the same thing as the cartoon?

Seems to me that rewording the argument like this is pretty useful in showing its flaws. Otherwise the caption under the picture would need to say “-Look! Aliens!”


A aeroplane is a UFO until your parents tell you what it is. If you have parents and if they know what it is and if they tell you.

Ball lighting might appear to be ‘flying’, driven under it’s own power and, in a sense, it is.
And probably also mistaken for an object directed by some kind of intelligence. In the sky.
Did I mention that it was darting around faster than any man made object could? Wow, that was a UFO!
The classic sceptical response is to ridicule the notion, the very notion that it could be aliums.

Sceptics get a bad name as obnoxious pricks for exactly the above kind of misappropriation of intent behind statements which contain words that have become so loaded by their own personal philosophical drive, they fail to maintain any consideration of impartiality in their response.

The quick absence of any consideration that any kind of conscious uncertainty could exist in the mind of the observer who dared to describe an object she couldn’t identify, often makes good faith communication with them difficult.

Bad those are just bad sceptics, not representative of the real sceptics. Not real, (dare I say) Scottish sceptics. [unpack that!]

Let me tell you, real sceptics. You are woefully out-fucking-numbered.

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That’s a good example of how the concept of ‘god’ needs to be better defined before you even ask the question of God’s (non-)existence. For many evangelical Christians for example, God is directly involved in the lives of humans and had been provably active in history, so things like prayer should have scientifically noticeable effects. If you believe in the strict literal historicity of the Bible, there should be more evidence of God’s existence in archaeology, astronomy etc. The fact that it is not convincing is in itself evidence supporting the non-existence of that particular god (and probably similar gods), but not necessarily evidence against any possible god. In that sense, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to be an atheist with relation to any/every concept of god that you’ve encountered, but agnostic about the existence of a general undefined concept of ‘god’. I also think you can call yourself an atheist while admitting that you don’t have exhaustive knowledge and may be wrong, just as anyone should on this issue, wherever they stand on it. I call myself an atheist because I have a positive opinion on the issue (as I do with lots of things that I’m not 100% sure about), but I’m happy to be convinced otherwise.


You’re assuming they were wrong…

Unfortunately the quoted text

Hence, absence of evidence is taken to mean evidence of absence.

is problematic. It’s not unreasonable to take absence of evidence as evidence of absence, Whilst absence of evidence does not entail evidence of absence, by the same token it doesn’t not entail not evidence of absence (not quite the same thing as evidence of presence). I think the rule that the oiiginal writer may have meant to reference was “absence of proof is not proof of absence”, which is sound

But very, very few people actually make that claim in practice. The tendency is to claim that it MIGHT be of extraterrestrial origin, which is a very different thing. And their reasons for thinking that it might be are not ultimately predicated, as the cartoon implies, on the fact that vague, obscure objects are witnessed in the sky which cannot be proven NOT to be extraterrestrial craft. The belief in extraterrestrial UFOs was predicated on witnesses seeing objects which were apparently (and that word is stressed, obviously) technological in nature, and which exhibited capabilities beyond those of terrestrial aircraft. So, while the belief in extraterrestrial UFOs is open to various criticisms, the argument above still seems to be a straw man to me.

The concept of god (in a monotheistic rather than polytheistic context) can be very simply and clearly defined as a intentional intelligent agency who is either responsible for, or coeval with, the physical universe. This definition agrees with the western theistic tradition going back to Aristotle’s First Mover, and encapsulates a theistic, deistic, or pantheistic definition (although perhaps pantheism might be better left out, as it is sometimes unclear whether it denotes an idea about the physical world, or simply an attitude towards it.) With this definition in mind, god’s existence or non-existence is fairly easy to discuss. If the universe exists solely by virtue of some type of blind physical necessity, then the existence of no type of monotheistic god is possible. If on the other hand, the universe doesn’t exist solely by virtue of self -sustaining physical necessity alone, then some type of monotheistic god is clearly possible. Or, you can phrase it as a chicken and egg question: god’s non-existence becomes certain if we what we call consciousness and intentionality derives from blind physicalism of some kind; the existence of some type of god becomes certain if the position is reversed, and what we call blind physicalism derives from a prior state of consciousness and intentionality. So I don’t think god’s existence or non-existence is that difficult to discuss; what is difficult, I suspect, is to produce unambiguous evidence in support of either contention (ie direct evidence for or against, rather than evidence which can only arguably be interpreted as favoring either contention.) (When you say that one can be an atheist as regarding certain versions of the god idea, I think this is an abuse of language. One can disbelieve a great number of versions of the evolutionary theory, without this fact denoting any kind of general attitude towards the core idea of evolution. You cannot say, for example, that you are atheist as regards a god of biblical literalism, because this would mean in effect that a great many Christians are atheists; without denoting a general attitude towards the idea of god, atheism would become applicable to just about anybody, and essentially meaningless.)

I think there are different levels to the influence that a god could have on the universe: for example, ‘god’ could just be the cause of the universe, essentially creating physical laws that we experience now. Once you limit god to that level of influence, it’s difficult to prove god’s existence or non-existence (or indeed, anything much about god at all - consciousness, personality, reason for creating the universe etc.), but this concept is very different from a god with a personality who cares about individual people’s lives and who has repeatedly intervened in history in noticeable ways. As you get farther away from a personal god who is observably active, it gets more and more difficult to prove god’s non-existence, but the question becomes less and less relevant and a new term for ‘god’ becomes necessary. (Can humans communicate with god? Has he revealed anything about himself? (I’m using male terms for the sake of convention) Did god mean for humans to exist on earth? Did he create the conditions for earth to be suitable for life, or was this just an accident? Did god actively create the physical laws of the universe, or did they just happen after the big bang was triggered? Did god even know what he was doing when the universe was created?). By the time you’re asking if a god who is inactive now caused the big bang, I can’t provide any evidence one way or the other, but the question becomes pretty much meaningless. If a scientist somehow caused a new big bang through an accident at the LHC, they would not be ‘god’, even if they had done all of the things that the first mover supposedly did (creating new physical laws etc.). Christian non-literalists would presumably still believe in a personal god who is in some ways relevant to humans, but once you get to a god who is only a prime mover without any ongoing control over the universe (i.e. being able to intervene, change laws etc.) and with no relationship to us or who we can know anything about, I don’t think ‘god’ is the term we are looking for.

They don’t even look like eyes to me, though I don’t know what else they could be. I won’t say it’s bad art but…I don’t know how to finish this sentence.

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