There is another slightly more subtle argument related to the Appeal to Ignorance fallacy Kevin mentioned in his previous post. Under the guise of being open-minded many debaters often resort to the “possibility” argument. Basically, the debater’s rebuttal to any argument that weakens their stance is to claim that in some far-fetched, ludicrous scenario what they believe could happen.
The argument usually starts, “What if [insert absurd premise] were true?” The difference between possibility and probability is a delicate, but important division to make. Arguing what is possible quickly escalates into far-flung what-ifs instead of simple, well-supported explanations. We can’t even begin to conceive of everything that is possible. What is important is to decide and evaluate what is probable. Let’s take a look at a ridiculous example:
It’s possible there is a ninja hiding in my bathroom right now waiting to attack me on the toilet. He could be the last remaining member of a dynasty of ninjas that has survived and remained hidden for hundreds of years. And it’s possible he has a lightsaber. This sounds ridiculous, but it may be possible. I don’t know much about actual ninjas and I only have a passing knowledge of what is required to make a functional lightsaber. I wont know if the ninja is in my bathroom until I actually go in my bathroom. But guess what? I still take the dump.
Is it worth the risk? Hell yes! Because it may be possible that there is a sci-fi weapon wielding ninja waiting to assassinate me in my bathroom but it sure isn’t probable. There could be any number of crazy phenomena going on in my bathroom, but I’m certain the strangest thing in there is the smell. Too often someone arguing from a ridiculous position pulls the possibility card. This point is almost useless in a logical debate. Yes, many things are possible. No, we don’t know everything. But we have evidence, laws, theories and experience that allows us to function and make decisions daily. It’s possible the ground beneath my home turned into lava while I slept but I know it’s not probable because I’m not anywhere near a volcano and I can look out my window.
Pointing out that a person is using this method of arguing usually results in them calling you close-minded. But as skeptics we are not closed off to ANY possibility if it is supported by evidence. Ignoring evidence and logic while clinging to ridiculous possibilities because “you’d like them to be true” is what I define as truly close-minded and it’s a hallmark an illogical true believer.