Appeal to Ignorance Fallacy

Definition of the Appeal to Ignorance Fallacy

Imagine someone tells you there’s an invisible person in the room. You look around, see no one, and say you don’t believe it because there’s no evidence. But then you’re told, “You can’t see them, so you can’t prove they’re not there.” This sort of reasoning is what we call the appeal to ignorance fallacy—it’s when someone argues that something must be true because it hasn’t been proven false or that something must be false because it hasn’t been proven true.

Another way to understand this fallacy is by thinking about a secret room in your school that you’ve never seen. If someone claims it’s filled with ice cream just because no one can show you it’s not, they’re asking you to believe in something without any real evidence. By demanding evidence that something doesn’t exist instead of showing proof that it does, they are relying on an appeal to ignorance. Good, logical thinking means needing actual evidence to support a claim. We shouldn’t believe in something solely because nobody has shown it to be impossible.

Examples of the Appeal to Ignorance Fallacy

  • Example in Science: Let’s say there’s a huge debate on whether or not there are pink elephants that can fly. No one has ever observed such a creature, but someone claims, “Pink flying elephants must exist because nobody has proved otherwise.” This claim is not based on any concrete evidence of pink flying elephants but on the fact that their existence hasn’t been disproven. This represents an appeal to ignorance fallacy because it confuses the lack of evidence against pink flying elephants with evidence of their existence, which isn’t the same thing. To believe in pink flying elephants, we need to see some real evidence or an actual pink flying elephant.

  • Example in Law: In some cases, a person may be accused of a crime without any strong evidence. Someone might argue, “You can’t show any evidence that this person didn’t commit the crime, so they must have done it.” This reasoning is flawed because it shifts the responsibility to prove innocence onto the accused instead of requiring proof of guilt from the accuser. It’s an appeal to ignorance fallacy because not having proof that someone didn’t commit a crime doesn’t mean they did. The justice system relies on evidence to make fair judgments, not assumptions in absence of evidence.

How to Avoid an Appeal to Ignorance Fallacy

Avoiding the appeal to ignorance fallacy means we need to be comfortable with uncertainty. It’s better to say “I don’t know” or “We don’t have enough information” rather than making a jump to believe something without proper proof. To keep from falling into this trap, always seek out actual evidence before deciding what to believe. That means doing research, looking for expert opinions, and examining the facts before making any conclusions. Just because we don’t have evidence against something, doesn’t make it true, and vice versa.

Related Topics and Explanations

  • Burden of Proof: This is the obligation to present evidence to back up a claim. Think of it like this: if you tell a friend you can do a backflip, it’s up to you to prove it, not for your friend to prove you can’t. When someone says they’ve seen a ghost, they can’t just expect others to believe them without any evidence—otherwise, it turns into an appeal to ignorance fallacy.

  • False Dichotomy: This happens when someone argues that there are only two choices when, in fact, there are more. It’s like saying you must either love homework or hate it, without considering that maybe you just think it’s okay. This oversimplification doesn’t take into account the full range of possibilities and can lead to incorrect conclusions. It also overlooks the complex nature of opinions and situations.

  • Confirmation Bias: This is the tendency to pay attention to information that confirms your existing beliefs and ignore information that doesn’t. For instance, if someone believes in a certain superstition and notices that good things often happen when they follow it, they might only focus on those times and disregard the times when nothing good happened. Confirmation bias can prevent people from seeing the whole picture because they’re too focused on finding bits that support their viewpoint.

  • Circular Reasoning: This is when someone uses what they’re trying to prove as a part of the proof. For example, saying, “I’m right because I say I’m right,” uses the conclusion as the evidence, which isn’t valid. It’s like drawing a circle with your argument, ending right back where you started without having shown any new proof.


In summary, an appeal to ignorance fallacy happens when someone argues that a lack of evidence against a claim is the same as evidence for it, or vice versa. It’s important not to mistake unknowns for truths or falsehoods. Solid evidence is essential for proving that something exists or is true. The absence of proof to the contrary doesn’t automatically make something real. Our beliefs and claims need to be based on what we can demonstrate and verify, not on the unproven and unseen. Understanding and recognizing this fallacy helps us think more critically and avoid jumping to unwarranted conclusions just because we don’t have all the answers.