Explanation Arguments

Here I'm going to use the term "explanation argument" to refer to any evidence-based argument that is not based on a sample, a correlation, an analogy, a lack of evidence or the word of an authority.

Here is a simple explanation argument:

Oh, will you look at that. Your window is broken and your brand new three-thousand-dollar nuclear-powered stereo is nowhere to be seen. So you've been robbed, my lad!


Standardized.

1. The window is broken.
2. Your stereo is gone.
3. (We cannot explain these things unless you've been robbed.)
C. You've been robbed.


Notice that the argument starts with a couple of facts (broken window, missing stereo) and concludes by asserting a third fact (a robbery). Unlike a causal argument, it assumes a causal connection between robbery and things like breakages and missing stuff. Just about everybody accepts that robberies cause such things, so nobody needs to argue for this causal connection, (which I have added in as a suppressed third premise).

Here is another explanation argument.

There's gas in the tank, juice in the battery, but the car just rattles when you turn the key? Buddy, your starter is shot!


Standardized.

1. There is gasoline available to the engine.
2. The battery is sufficiently charged.
3. The car does not start when the key is turned.
4. The car makes a rattling noise when the key is turned.
5. (These facts could only be explained if the starter motor was broken.)
C. The starter motor is broken.


Explanation argument.
Facts:                         got gas, got juice, no start, rattling noise.
Explanation:                broken starter motor.

Again, the argument gets its force from the idea that a busted starter motor is the only reasonable explanation for the facts cited.

Counter Example

An important form of argument by explanation is the counter example. (Not to be confused with counter argument.) It is can be used to prove generalizations and causal claims false, or to prove negative claims.

Some of A are not-B
Not all A are B

E is an X that does not have P
Not all Xs have P

E is an X that does not have P
X does not always cause P


Here's a less formal example.

What do you mean feminism is just "man bashing?" What about Katha Pollit? She's not a man basher!

1. Katha Pollit is not a man basher
2. (Katha Pollit is a feminist.)
3. (If feminism was just man-bashing, all feminists, including Katha Pollit, would be man-bashers.)
C. Feminism isn't just man-bashing.

Explanation argument.
Facts: Katha Pollit is a feminist but not a man-basher.
Explanation: Feminism is not man bashing.

And another one.

Michael Moore once asked Charleton Heston why he thought American society was so violent. Heston replied, "well, there's a lot of ethnic diversity . . . " Now suppose I get into Chuck's face and say "Santa Ana fundamental schools have ethnic diversity and no violence, so nuts to you, gun-boy!"

1. Santa Ana fundamental schools have ethnic diversity
2. Santa Ana fundamental schools do not have violence
3. (If ethnic diversity caused violence, then ethnically diverse schools like Santa Ana fundamental would have violence.
C. Ethnic diversity does not cause violence.


Explanation argument.
Facts: These schools have diversity but not violence.
Explanation: Ethnic diversity doesn't cause violence.

Explanation vs. Correlation Arguments

Definition of "Explanation Argument"

I'm using the term "explanation argument" to refer to arguments where the primary mode of analysis concerns the logical properties of proposed and possible explanations for certain sets of facts. Although the concept of explanation turns out to be important in all arguments about the real world, I distinguish explanation arguments from arguments based on samples, arguments based on correlations, arguments based on lack of evidence, arguments based on analogies, and arguments based on the word of someone taken as an authority. Explanation arguments seek to establish that some conclusion is true because it is necessary to explain some already known fact, and thus their evaluation will require us to think carefully about whether the explanation given is a good explanation, and whether there is any other reasonable explanation out there.

Explanation arguments typically attempt to prove that things exist, or that events happened. For example, after Isaac Newton developed his theory of universal gravitation, astronomers and mathematicians applied his formula to the observed orbits of the known planets. From their calculations they noticed that the orbit of Uranus (then thought to be the outermost planet) was not exactly what Newton's mathematics predicted it would be. Since Newton's math was working perfectly everywhere else, a mathematician decided that Newton's math was right, and therefore there must be something we did not know about the solar system that was making Uranus act this way. The explanation he came up with was that there was another planet orbiting beyond Uranus whose gravitation was pulling on that planet to distort its orbit. After trying various ideas for where and how big this planet had to be, he figured out a mass and an orbit that would precisely account for the distortion. No astronomer had ever reported any planet in that orbit, but this explanation precisely accounted for the observed facts, and there was no other explanation available, so the mathematician decided there had to be a new planet there, and contacted an astronomer. Who wasn't able to to look for this planet. Yep, that astronomer othe things to do, and ignored the mathematician who had figured out there was a new planet. Fortunately, another mathematician made similar calculations and contacted a different astronomer, who listened, and pointed his telescope in the right direction, and discovered the planet we now call "Neptune".

Proving the occurence of an event can be trickier. Arguments concerning events must look into the past, at things that are no longer observable, and reconstruct occurences based on present evidence. This can be difficult and complicated. For instance, the death of the great astronomer Tycho Brahe has become controversial because of protons and moustache hair. It was long thought that Brahe died of a burst bladder incurred because he was too polite to leave a noble dining table before the host. People thought this despite the fact that bladders are actually very hard to burst, and Brahe's symptoms did not in any way match those of a person with a burst bladder. Furthermore, Brahe actually recovered from his initial attack, and was sitting up and chatting with his family before then having another attack of the same symptoms, and dying. How did Brahe die? I will give you some facts, and let you work out a possible explanation for yourself. Brahe was a medical alchemist who manufactured medicinal compounds in his home laboratory. Among other dangerous chemicals, there were highly toxic mercury compounds in that laboratory. Brahe was a very careful man with decades of experience working with these chemicals. The amount of a mercury compound necessary to cause serious illness or death is much too large to accidentally ingest without noticing. Living with Brahe at the time was Johannes Kepler, who did not get along with Brahe, and who had been begging Brahe for access to the results of Brahe's Mars observations so he could check his personal model of the solar system. Brahe, however, had steadfastly refused to give Kepler access to the Mars data, and had kept Kepler at work on proving Brahe's own solar system model. In the 21st century, particle-induced X-ray emission scanning (which shoots protons at things and sees what kinds of X-rays they produce) revealed the Brahe had two seperate instances of high blood-mercury level; one at the time of the dinner party, and one just before his death. These times of high mercury coincided with Brahe's major symptoms. After Brahe's death, and without authorization from Brahe's heirs, Kepler took Brahe's Mars data, and used it to test his personal theories of the solar system. (Jenny Ashford, Suite101: Did Johannes Kepler . . . .)

So, how do you think Tycho Brahe met his death?

Issues in Explanation Arguments

Judging the strength of an explanation argument is not as simple as judging the strength of the argument types we've looked at before. We have to look at the explanation's plausibility, its explanatory power and at the explanatory strength of any competing explanations. One way to explain this is offering eight questions that can be asked about any explanation argument. Not all of the questions are equally potent. As you will see, an unsatisfactory answer to some questions will kill an explanation argument stone dead, while failing to properly answer other questions merely weakens the argument, and opens up the issue to more discussion.

Since the issues raised by these questions also underly the relationships between direct and counter arguments, and the kinds of mistakes people can make, I'm going to organize my discussions of tactics and fallacies under these issues. There are four basic questions we can ask about any explanation argument:

  1. Is there another possible explanation that is at least as plausible as the one offered in the argument?
  2. Does the explanation logically imply a causal story that shows exactly how the known facts came to happen?.
  3. Does the explanation fit all the relevant facts?.
  4. Does the explanation patch-over problems with weak and arbitrary ad-hoc assumptions?.

Argument Killers

There are two issues that can easily kill an explantion argument stone dead. They are the existence o

Question 1. Is there another possible explanation that is at least as plausible as the one offered in the argument?

It's important to recognize that the availability of an equally plausible explanation for the same set of facts kills an explanation argument stone dead without raising any problems with the explanation it contains. The explanation in the argument may be a perfectly good one, but if a different explanation explains the relevant facts equally well without requiring us to believe the argument's conclusion, then it's easily possible that that conclusion isn't true, and so the argument has failed to prove it's point. (Arguments that fail to recognize viable alternative explanations commit the suppressed alternative fallacy.)

Leilani: My wallet is missing! I can't find it anywhere. Your long-haired slacker son was moping around here all day, so he must have stolen it, and this proves he's a thief.
Alvaro: You say that the fact that your wallet is missing proves that my son is a thief, but I'll point out you have a long history of losing your wallet in strange places and, quite frankly, you were drunk as a skunk last night, so I think it's at least possible that you left your wallet in one of those "exotic dance" bars you're so fond of.

Notice that Leilani is making an explantion argument, in that she gives a set of facts and offers an explanation for those facts that she thinks requires her conclusion to be true. Since she's not referring to anyone else's argument, she's giving a direct argument. Alvaro is commenting on Leilani's argument, so he's giving a counter argument. In this case, his counter-argument consists of offering an alternative explanation for the facts given by Leilani.

It's important to remember that an explanation argument can only work if the explanation offered is the only possible explanation for the facts given. (If there is another equally plausible argument for those facts, the explanation argument fails, and we call it a suppressed alternative fallacy.) This means that Leilani and Alvaro are on an uneven playing field here. If Leilani wan't to prove her point, she has to prove that there are no other reasonable explanations for her facts. If alvaro wants to knock down Leilani's argument, all he has to do is show that it's reasonably possible that something else happened. He doesn'y have to show that his explanation is the only possible one. He just has to show that it's reasonably possible that it happened that way.

Remember the strange death of Tycho Brahe? Well it turns out that one Erik Brahe, a very, very distant relative previously unknown to Tycho had recently wormed his way into the household. This Erik Brahe was known to always need money and to have worked as a secret diplomat, and had prequent contacts with the Danish King Christian IV, who hated and had previously persecuted Tycho Brahe . . . (Matthias Schulz: Was Tycho Brahe . . . )

Question 2. Does the explanation logically imply a causal story that shows exactly how the known facts came to happen?

There's two basic ways of committing this fallacy. The first way is to offer an explanation basically just a restatement of the problem. Such an explanation is empty of content, since there is actually nothing there. The basic facts of a situation, and the fact that they need an explanation, can be stated in many ways. And they can be stated in such a way as to describe whatever it is that explains them without adding any information whatsover. The classic example is from the French playwright Molière, who has a character "explain" the fact that opium makes people fall asleep by saying that it has a "dormative virtue." What does "it has a dormative virtue" mean? Why, it just means that it makes people go to sleep. "Explanations" that just restate the problem are not explanations at all, and thus no conclusions can be drawn from them whatsoever.

Then there's a common style of "explanation" that takes a mere redescription of the problem (rain is caused by some rain causing thing) gives the redescription a name (rain is caused by Soaker, the rain making genie) and calls it an argument ("We can explain the existance of rain by postulating the existance of Soaker, a rain-causing genie. Therefore the existance of rain proves that Soaker exists.")

Even worse, some people attach these empty explanations to their favorite imaginary beings and thus concoct "arguments" for the existance of those beings. ("Vuntag is the creator of basketball. Basketball exists, so therefore Vuntag exists.") The trouble with this is that Vuntag is held to "explain" basketball by definition, so assuming Vuntag did it actually adds nothing to our understanding of basketball.

Argument Wounders

The last two questions are a bit trickier. Sometimes a wrong answer to one of these two questions kills an explanation argument stone dead. Other times, circumstances might be such that the argument is still convincing. This has to be judged on a case by case basis.

Question 3. Does the explanation fit all the relevant facts?

There are at least three ways an explanation can fail to fit the facts. It can contradict already established facts, like the known laws of physics, or the facts of history. It can contradict one or more of the known facts of the case, or it can fail to account for one or more of those facts. These problems don't always automatically kill an explanation argument, because even very problematic explanations can sometimes turn out to be good. Rather we have to look at just how weak the argument is, and what competing explantions are available to figure out whether any particular weaknesses are enough to kill that particular explanation argument.

If an explanation contradicts the known laws of physics, for instance, that tends to give us good reason to think that the explanation is false, and that in turn tends to give us good reason to think that the argument is no good. Unfortunately, we can't just say that the explanation is false and leave it at that because the "fact" that the explanation contradicts may actually turn out to be false! This has happened to the laws of physics several times, which is why the known laws of physics of today are different from the "known" laws of physics of 200 years ago. Still, an explanation that violates our best established physical laws is much worse than an explanation that doesn't violate those laws, and our current understanding of physical law is very well established, so any explanation that violates any scientific law is highly unlikely to be true. Remember that arguments do not merely try to establish that their conclusions are possible. They try to establish that their conclusions are true, and an argument that relies on an explanation that seems physically impossible is almost never a logically compelling argument. It takes an enormous amount of evidence to overturn a physical law, and so no argument that contradicts physical law without overwhelming evidence is ever going to be a logically compelling argument.

Explanations that contradict the facts of a case are also not going to make good arguments. One explanation offered for the death of Tycho Brahe was kidney stones, but whenhe was autopsied in 1901 they found no kidney stones. At that point, they decided it was uremia, a build-up of urea in the blood consequent to a loss of kidney function. This would be fine, except that symptoms of uremia typically include fatigue, peripheral neuropathy, decreased mental acuity, seizures, anorexia, nausea, decreased taste and smell, cramps, sleep disturbance, coma, amenorrhea, sexual dysfunction, reduced body temperature, hyperphosphatemia, hyperparathyroidism, reduced basal metabolic rate, serositis, pericarditis, itching, restless legs, and hiccups. Brahe had none of these symptoms (not even restless legs), so I don't think this is a good explanation.

When Brahe's moustache hair was subjected to PIXE scanning, which shoots protons at specific points along each hair, high levels of mercury (and calcium) were found inside the hair. Some people claimed that this mercury must have been left over from the embalming process, but it did not exist in all the hairs, and in the hair where it was found it was not on the hair surface, where it would have been deposited by embalming, but inside the hair, near the follicle, where it could only have come from the bloodstream while the hair was still growing, and Tycho was still alive. ( http://www.tychobrahe.com/uk/tycho_myter.html) When you add in the fact that there were two specific places in that hair where the mercury was concentrated, the embalming explanation, which requires that the mercury be evenly distributed over all the hair and all the hairs, becomes so weak as to be untenable.

Another, nastier example occured early on in the so-called "War on Terror". Certain officials of a certain Balkan state wanted to demonstrate a contribution to the fight against terrorism, so they hired some Pakistani laborers for nonexistant jobs, drove them to the border of that certain Balkan state, massacred them, placed weapons by their bodies, photographed the scene and announced that they had intercepted a group of terrorists. People who observed the photographs noticed many inconsistencies between the scene and what you would expect after a firefight, and the murderous fraud was uncovered. From our point of view, this illustrates that the "murderous fraud" explanation fit the observed facts much better than the "intercepted terrorists" explanation.

Question 4. Does the explanation patch-over problems with weak and arbitrary ad-hoc assumptions?

An ad-hoc assumption is something that is made up on the spot to fill a hole in a theory. The most famous ad-hoc in science occured when Albert Einstein created the cosmological constant to patch what he thought was a hole in his theory of relativity. When Einstein was working on his theory, it was generally thought that the universe was static, so when Einstein's equations, which were spectacularly successful in other areas, turned out to imply that the univers was not static, Einstein added another mathematical term - the Cosmological Constant - to his equations to make it all come out right. Later it emerged that the universe is expanding, and Einstein discarded the Cosmological Constant, calling it the biggest blunder of his life. (Scientists working on dark energy recently began to consider invoking the Cosmological Constant again, this time to explain why the universe's acceleration is expanding.)

A more notorious example of ad-hockery occured after William Thompson (later Lord Kelvin) challenged the theory of Natural Selection by presenting calculations that he claimed proved that the Earth was less than 40 million years old, which was hundreds of millions of years younger than needed for Natural Selection to work.. While Alfred Russell Wallace (Natural Selection's other discoverer) simply responded that Kelvin was wrong, Charles Darwin made arbitrary and mathematically unjustified alterations to the theory to make the sums come out right.

It's important to recognize that there is good and bad ad hockery. The fact that Einstein's cosmological constant was an ad hoc assumption did not make it bad, and nobody rejected it because it was ad hoc. (Isaac Newton included an ad hoc gravitational constant in his formula that we still use today.) Rather what happend is that physicists debated, and still debate, whether or not a cosmological constant is needed, and whether or not it actually solves the problem. In contrast, Darwin's ad hoc assumptions in response to Kelvin were not based on assuming a new physical constant, but assumed whole new mechanisms, such as inheritance of acquired characteristics, that Darwin had previously ruled out as impossible. Thus Darwin was compromising his own theory to "save" it from Kelvin. Wallace, on the other hand, took what proved to be the correct course. He insisted that there was something wrong with Kelvin's calculations, and he turned out to be right. (Notice also that while Darwin committed a fallacy in his defense of natural selection, that fallacy did not make his claim false.)

Fallacies of Explanation

The fallacies associated with explanation arguments are as follows:

Suppressed Alternative: Arguer leaves out another reasonable explanation that doesn't support his conclusion
Empty Explanation: Arguer gives an "explanation" that doesn't actually explain anything.

Suppressed Evidence: Arguer ignores known facts that undermine his explanation.
Weak Explanation: Explanation dies not ignore contrary facts, but fails to properly account for those facts.

Suppressed Alternative Fallacy

An explanation argument commits suppressed alternative when it leaves out another explanation that's at least as reasonable as the one it's pushing. (In the example above, Leilani commits suppressed alternative by accusing Alvaro's son when there is clearly another possble explanation.) Here's an easy example.

He's a good person, and he's a writer, so he's a good writer

I'm adding a suppressed premise to clarify the suppressed alternative implied by this argument.

1. He is a good person.
2. He is a writer.
(3. Either he's a good writer or he's a bad person.)
C. He is a good writer.


Explanation argument.
Facts: He's a writer, and he's a good person.
Explanation: He's a good writer.

This argument fails because we can easily explain the premises as a mere coincidence. There's nothing about either one that makes the conclusion necessary. The third premise is false. Good writer and bad person are not the only two alternatives open to us. You don't have to be a good writer to be a good person, nor do you have to be a good writer to be a writer.

Remember that the alternative being suppressed has to be a reasonable explanation. It has to be something that is supported by and consistent with both the available evidence and our background knowledge. Unreasonable alternatives don't count.

We should not believe that Kepler poisoned Tycho because it could have been done by Chinese agents who travelled secretly to Europe, secretly entered his house on two occaisions and secretly slipped a poisonous mercury compound into his warm milk.

This explantion is unreasonable on two counts. First, it's would be incredibly difficult, if not impossible, for Chinese people could accomplish all this without ever being seen by anyone in the area. Second, the Chinese had absolutely no reason to want to kill Tycho Brahe.

Reversability

Please note that the same explanation can be used in both direct and counter arguments, depending on what other arguments are around. Observe:

Luz: We should believe that Kepler poisoned Brahe because the poisoning could not have been accidental, and we know that Kepler wanted Brahe out of the way.
Marlon: But Erik Brahe was also there at the appropriate times. Erik was known to be a money hungry bon-vivant with no interest in science who worked as a secret agent for various royal houses, so Erik Brahe is just as likely to have done it as Kepler

Marlon: We should believe that Erik Brahe poisoned Tycho because the poisoning could not have been accidental, and Erik was known to be a money hungry bon-vivant with no interest in science who worked as a secret agent for various royal houses.
Luz: But Johannes Kepler was also around at the appropriate times, and we know that Kepler seriously wanted Brahe out of the way.

The reason the roles can be reversed in this way is because the first person in each dialog is asserting that their explanation proves that their candidate murdered Brahe, and the second person is merely pointing out what they take to be a second plausible explanation for the known facts. Thus the red argument in each of these two dialogs is trying to prove that the person in the explanation actually did kill Tycho Brahe, while the green argument in each dialog is only trying to prove that the red argument in that dialog fails.

Empty Explanation Fallacy

This is the fallacy of offering an "explanation" that doesn't actually explain anything, or raises at least as many questions as it answers. This can be done by just restating the observed facts and calling it an "explanation."

The rocket crashed because it's flight path intersected the ground.

The reason the weather cleared up just now is because the local conditions of wind, temperature and so on happened to combine in such a way as to end the local precipitation.


You think?

Another way to commit empty explanation is to simply attribute to some real or imaginary entity without giving us any reason, beyond the arguer's word, to think that the entity is capable of bringing about the event or condition. The main characteristic of these empty explanations is that they can't be checked by experiment or anything else.

The reason the rocket crashed is quite simple. It was gremlins.

You want to know why the weather cleared up right now? My uncle Ted did it.


Notice that the addition of detail doesn't help.

Gremlins are invisible flying creatures that get into electronic devices and make them malfunction.

My Uncle Ted has the power to control the weather. He doesn't always feel like it, but he definitely can do it any time he really wants.


Of course, it's not testable.

No, you can't see, hear or feel the gremlins.

I told you, Uncle Ted doesn't always feel like controlling the weather.


and making it "explain" more doesn't help.

Gremlins don't just affect electronics, they make airline food taste bad too.

Uncle Ted has other powers, you know. Like those good parking spaces you found last week, Uncle Ted was feeling generous, and he likes you, so he fixed them up for you.


The real kicker is, of course, is that there is no causal mechanism.

The gremlins just do it because they're gremlins. That's what gremlins do, dummy!

Uncle Ted doesn't know how he does what he does. It's just a mystery.

Say that we presently don't know precisely what caused a particular bridge to fail, what caused some particular disease to break out, or precisely how some particular species happened to evolve from it's immediate ancestors. We could develop fallacious arguments of the following form

1. We don't know precisely why X happened.
2. We can explain X by assuming that Vuntag intervened to make it happen.
C."God did it" is equally as valid an explanation as "an otherwise well-understood natural process did it."


The salient fact here is that saying "Vuntag did it" doesn't explain the event in any meaningful sense. It doesn't add anything to our understanding of the event. And it certainly does not allow us to predict what will happen the next time the same conditions occur! The "Vuntag did it" explanation has exactly as much explanatory power as "Thor did it," "Mickey Mouse did it" and "my imaginary friend who looks like Donald Trump did it," which is to say, none whatsoever. The "theories" of Intelligent Bridge Failure, Intelligent Infection and Intelligent Design are all functionally equivalent to saying "I don't know," which means that they are not only anti-scientific, but are also a colossal waste of time and, not coincidentally, are all classic examples of the empty explanation fallacy.

If you think an argument commits empty explanation, you could construct a counter-argument that tries to show that the "explanation" given simply fails to explain anything. Actually howing that the purported explanation doesn't explain how the purported cause (whose existance is not otherwise established) was able to accomplish the purported effect will handily knock down an explanation argument.

Kailee: We should believe in Vuntag because we can only explain the existance of the universe if we assume that Vuntag exists to have created it.
Adan: But nothing in your definition of Vuntag explains how a being that wants us to persecute left-handed people and wear honey in our ears could possibly have the power to create anything, let alone a whole universe.

Kailee's argument is a direct argument. Adan's argument is a counter argument because it attempts to point out a problem with Adan's argument. Kailee's argument commits empty explanation because we have no reason to think that Vuntag could have created the universe, even if she did exist. Consider the following progression of arguments.

The universe exists, and apparantly had a beginning.
A universe-creating event happened.

The universe exists, and apparantly had a beginning.
A universe-creating process existed at some point.

The universe exists, and apparantly had a beginning.
A universe-creating process exists.

The universe exists, and apparantly had a beginning.
A universe-creating object existed at some point.

The universe exists, and apparantly had a beginning.
A universe-creating object exists.

The universe exists, and apparantly had a beginning.
A universe-creating intelligent object existed at some point.

The universe exists, and apparantly had a beginning.
A universe-creating intelligent
object exists.

Notice that these arguments get weaker and weaker as they add unnecesary details to the conclusion. If the universe did start at some point, it seems to follow that something happened to start it, and that some kind of universe making process existed back then. But we have less reason to think that that process still exists, or that it was an object, and we have absolutely no reason to think it had to be an intelligent object.

Suppose that someone argued that Tycho Brahe had to have been murdered by Rhinomercurian, the metal-nose-hating demon (Brahe had a metal nose), and that this proves that Rhinomercurian exists. The problem with this is that there is no causal story as to how Rhinomercurian could have magically induced the symptoms of mercury poisoning in Brahe, so this "explanation" is no better than no explanation at all.

Explanation arguments that fail the tests imposed by questions 1 and 2 fail absolutely. Notice that there are two modes of failure, and that either mode will kill an argument all on it's own. When a conclusion is based on an explanation, the mere existance of an equally plausible alternative explanation that does not require that conclusion kills that argument stone dead, no matter how good it's explanation is otherwise. Similarly, if a conclusion rests on an explanation that lacks a causal story (or is self-contradictory or otherwise empty of content) then that argument it no good whatsoever, even if there is no other even remotely plausible explanation in sight.

Suppressed Evidence Fallacy

In general, the fallacy of suppressed evidence happens when an arguer completely leaves out available facts that imply that the conclusion he's advancing is false, or which weaken his explanation so much that his present argument clearly does not prove his conclusion. (When you make an argument you don't have the time to include all the facts that might be relevant, so it's understandable if you leave a lot out. However, if you leave out stuff which suggests that your conclusion is wrong, that's a problem.)  

Suppressed Evidence

The fallacy of "suppressed evidence" occurs when an arguer leaves out some fact that contradicts his thesis, or undermines his argument.  (The word "suppressed" here doesn't mean "deliberately ignored," rather it just means that something important fact is left out. This might be deliberate, or it might easily be accidental, so the term "suppressed evidence" doesn't mean that the arguer is doing anything dishonest.)

Karina. Sometimes, psychological problems defy explanation. People who have endured no trauma, no abuse, and have no organic problems sometimes out of the blue turn up with psychological problems. They may be caused by factors we can't see yet, or they may strike at random. We just don't know.
Rachelle. Your problem is that you focus too much on present-life events. Most, if not all, present-life psychological problems can be traced back to the effects of traumatic events that took place in a former life.

Rachelle commits suppressed evidence because her explantion ignores the fact that, according to our present knowledge, reincarnation is impossible.

Other examples:

Buy your new computer from us and we'll give you a $300 rebate. (Provided you spend an extra $600 on an internet provider you don't need.)

American corporations are never racist. When a manager decides on hiring or promoting he's going to want the best person for the job, period. (This, of course, ignores the fact that racists think that non-white people can't be the best for the job.)

You should learn the psychic technique of remote viewing now. The CIA funded it for many years to spy on Russia! (Suppressing the fact that it never worked.)

Just think of someone who is thinking of eating hamburgers and other fast food to excess. Anyone who is thinking about a hamburger-based diet will realize that it will inevitably lead to obesity and an elevated risk of coronary-artery disease. No-one wants to be fat or risk an early death, so no-one will adopt a hamburger-based diet.

Look at any advertisement that has the word "FREE" of "GIFT" in big letters. The small type might tell you how much you have to pay to get this "free gift." Or the salesman might tell you when you call the number. Either way, you won't get it without paying something.

Finally, psychics who advertize themselves as having "assisted" the police always suppress the fact that their "assistance" has never been the least bit helpful.

A word of caution about suppressed evidence. You don't have to mention stuff that's really irrelevant, so it's no fallacy to suppress stuff that's not evidence of anything relevant to your conclusion. This means we should be wary of arguments that purport to show that the other side suppresses evidence. If the "evidence" they uncover isn't relevant, then the other side doesn't commit any fallacy.

I should mention that it's possible to commit the fallacy of suppressed evidence without advancing an argument at all. People often state beliefs that are sharply contradicted by the available evidence.

Colleen. Don't you find it significant that the Soviet economy was collapsing under it's own weight when Gorbachev took over?
Angelique. You're ignoring the fact that since World War Two the United States was threatening the Soviet Union with hostile rhetoric, nuclear weapons and an ever more powerful series of conventional weapons systems, so that the Russians had to divert a large proportion of their resources to defense just to keep up.
Colleen. Don't fool yourself. The Soviets were pushing the arms race just as hard as America.
Angelique. Actually, the CIA and the Defense Department have frequently acknowledged that the USSR followed a "mirror policy" of only doing enough to keep up with the Americans all through the cold war.


In this conversation, Colleen seems unaware of certain facts that are very relevant to her claims regarding the Soviet Union. She is speaking out of ignorance, and her claims are being shot down by someone who knows a couple of facts that she doesn't. We call Colleen's fallacy "suppressed evidence" even though we can't be sure that Colleen is suppressing the facts mentioned by Angelique. Colleen's ignorance here could be accidental, and therefore innocent, (although not harmless). Even if we were to assume that people have a duty to become informed before making judgements like this, that duty is so frequently violated that it is pointless to mention it in any particular case.

Weak Explanation Fallacy

When an explantion acknowledges inconvenient facts, but fails to properly account for them, or otherwise contains so much ad-hockery that it ceases to be reasonable, it commits the weak explanation fallacy, as in this example:

Travon. I think it's pretty clear that your "Walk on Water Seminars" are a complete waste of money. You claim that chanting "water can hold me up" can allow people to walk on water, but thirty thousand of your followers drowned when they tried it.
Jude. Yes, all thirty thousand of my followers drowned when they attempted to walk on water. But we can account for this if we assume that each of them forgot to chant “water can hold me up, water can hold me up” as he or she stepped off the dock. So the fact that they all drowned only proves that all of them were absent-minded. Since I can hardly be blamed for the absent mindedness of other people, it's clear that you haven't proved that my seminars are a waste of money.

Or this one:

Karina. Sometimes, psychological problems defy explanation. People who have endured no trauma, no abuse, and have no organic problems sometimes out of the blue turn up with psychological problems. They may be caused by factors we can't see yet, or they may strike at random. We just don't know.
Rachelle. Your problem is that you focus too much on present-life events. Most, if not all, present-life psychological problems can be traced back to the effects of traumatic events that took place in a former life. This is a reasonable explanation because it only requires us to assume that people who die are reincarnated in new bodies, that people can exist without physical bodies, that people can carry information from one life to the next, that they forget everthing from their former lives, that the effects of trauma are preserved through the reincanation process, and that most psychological problems are caused by traumatic events and that psychological problems usually don't show up in present life, but generally lie dormant until the next life.

Here Rachelle is not suppressing the fact that reincarnation is not supported by present knowledge. She tackles that issue head-on. Unfortunately, she deals with it by identifying every problem with reincarnation (which is good) and then dismissing that problem with an ad-hoc assumption (which is bad).

Counter Arguing

There are three main ways to argue against an explanation argument.

1. Try to show that
there's a reasonable alternative explanation for the facts:

Well, yes your explanation does technically account for all the facts, sort of, but we can also easily explain those facts buy assuming that you fell asleep while watching "War of the Worlds" on TV last night, and so we don't have to assume that there was a short-lived Martian invasion of the Earth last night in which the Pillsbury Doughboy and the Snuggle Fabric Softener Bear defeated the Martians and cleaned up all the mess before you woke up this afternoon.

Remember that this doesn't work what the fact you're trying to explain is a statement by some authority or other souce. If you try to discredit an authority by merely suggesing that they could be corrupt, or if you make an unsupported accusation of corruption, you commit something I call the "fallacy of slander."  For example:

Yes, Doctor Foster, the noted expert on Persia, makes several very serious criticisms of Shah Shower, but we can dismiss those criticisms because obviously Doctor Foster is an antipersite, and he's only criticising Shah Shower because he's prejudiced against all things Persian.

Notice that the arguer says that Dr. Foster is prejudiced, but he doesn't give any evidence to support this. Thus he's making an unsupported accusation against Dr. Foster, and the legal term for that is "slander." This means that the fact that the arguer does not give independent evidence that Dr. Foster has this unworthy motive is enough, all by itself, to show that she's committing the fallacy of slander. (We will deal with this properly in the chapter on authority arguments.)

2. Try to show that the explanation given does not contain a causal story.

Well, modern science cannot presently explain the occasional making of hideous grimaces by otherwise perfectly composed news anchors during prime time, but your "explanation" of an Intelligent Gurner doesn't work because your "explanation" does not include any possible way in which your invisible, intangible "Gurner" could possibly bring about these grimaces.

3. Try to show that the explanation has too many unsupported ad-hoc assumptions.

Okay, you're positing that the Intelligent Gurner employs a horde of invisble frown fairies with little syringes by which they inject botox into random places in the news anchor's faces, but . . . frown fairies? Really?

4. Try to show that we have good reason to believe that the "explanation" given simply isn't true.

Okay, let's say that your explanation accounts for all the facts, and I still can't come up with another explanation right now, but I hesitate to accept your explanation right now because, quite frankly, it completely violates all the laws of physics, chemistry, biology and neuroscience!

However, referring to a lack of other evidence for a theory is not a good strategy.

Yes, your explanation clearly implies a very plausible causal mechanism that accounts well for all the facts of the case with no ad-hoc assumptions whatsoever, and, despite years of trying by dozens of highly qualified people, there are absolutely no even remotely plausible alternative explantions for the facts of this case, but, apart from all that, there is no other reason to believe your theory.

Unless the argument being attacked is a fallacy of slander.

You claim that Doctor Foster, the noted expert on Persia, criticizes Shah Shower because Foster is an antipersite, but you have failed to come up with even a shred of evidence that Foster has ever said antipersite things or acted in an antipersite manner.

You can always defeat a fallacy of slander by showing that the slanderous allegation is unsupported by any evidence.
(The fact that an expert gives an opinion you don't like is not evidence that he's biased or corrupt. The merely fact that absolutely any source logically could be biased or corrupt is not enough to make that a reasonable possibility in any particular case.)

Notice, however, that fallacy of slander is about the only form of explanation argument vulnerable to the "unsupported by evidence" strategy. In most explanation arguments the facts to be explained are evidence that supports the conclusion. However, in fallacy of slander, the fact to be explained (some statement made by the person being attacked, in this case Dr. Foster) cannot count as evidence for the kind of dishonesty imputed by the appeal to motive. This is because, in the absence of such evidence, we always have good reason to assume that the source is speaking truthfully, and came to his opinion honestly. Therefore, a lack of evidence for the unworthy motive attributed to the speaker will always knock down an argument based on a claim of unworthy motive.

Mixed Fallacies

Here is an argument that commits both suppressed alternative and empty explanation fallacies.

We know that Fnorbert exists because it cannot be true that the universe is completely bereft of meaning.

1. (Either Fnorbert exists or the universe lacks meaning.)
2. The universe does not lack meaning                              
3. Fnorbert exists.


Explanation argument.
Facts: there is meaning in the universe.
Explanation: Fnorbert.

This is an empty explanation because it doesn't say how Fnorbert can give meaning at all. And it's suppressed alternative fallacy because it ignores all the other potential sources of meaning in human life, such as family, friends, art, culture and public service.

Good explanations tell us more than we knew already, give us a causal mechanism that shows how the process works, and give us a testable way to go forward. Bad explanations don't really tell us any more, don't show how anything works, and don't give us anything we can test. A good explanation argument is one that really does have the only reasonable explanation for some observed set of phenomena.

Tactical Complications

Once we start thinking about more than just sampling, correlation, authority and burden of proof arguments, the issue of tactics becomes much more complicated. This is because an alternative explanation for a given set of facts can  function both as a counter argument to a given argument, and as direct argument for a contradictory conclusion.

needs fixing

wankersodbugger

Explanation Vs. Other Argument Types

To my mind, the concept of explanation is about the most fundamental concept in logic, and once you understand the difference between a good explanation and a bad explanation you will understand a great deal about how logic actually works. In a sense, all arguments are basically explanation arguments, and the four argument forms we have covered so far are just special cases of the explanation argument.

In an argument from authority the crucial premise is always that some person says that the conclusion is true. This kind of argument only works if it is the case that the only realistic explanation we can come up with for that premise is that this person has used her expertise and has been driven to accept the conclusion by an unbiased review of the available evidence. If it turns out that the facts give credibility to some other explanation (by showing that the authority has reason to be biased in this instance) or that they rule out the "used her expertise" explanation (by showing that the authority lacks training, has a bad track record, is contradicted by evidence, and so on) then the argument from authority will fail. (The fallacy of slander may be seen as a failed attempt to offer an alternative explanation by concocting an imaginary reason for bias.)

In a generalization argument, the crucial inference is always from the characteristics of a sample to the characteristics of a whole population. If we can credibly explain away the characteristics of the sample without also having to assume that the population has the same characteristics, then the generalization argument will fail. If we can show that the characteristics of the sample are plausibly the result of poor mixing in the population, or of a biased sampling method, then the generalization fails. If we can plausibly explain the results by saying that the population used to be that way but isn't necessarily that way now, then the generalization fails. This is why we attack generalizations by pointing to small sample size, age and biased sampling method, and defend them by pointing to good mixing, durability of features, and irrelevance of the purported bias.

As for causal arguments, they work when it is impossible to explain an observed correlation without also assuming that there is some presently unknown thing going on that will make that correlation reliably continue on into the future. When we find that we can comfortably explain a past correlation without having to assume that the correlation will continue into the future, then the causal argument fails. (Notice that the fallacies of reversed cause and effect and ignoring a common cause are fallacies because they both amount to ignoring an alternative explanation for the observed correlation.) There is an important difference between correlation arguments and explanation arguments.While you can criticize an explantion argument by pointing to something it does not explain, you cannot make this kind of criticism of a correlation argument. Pointing out that a correlation argument fails to explain the observed correlation is a red herring fallacy. Pointing out that an explanation argument fails to explain one or more of the significant facts is not a fallacy, and may indeed point to a genuine weakness in the argument. This difference arises from the fact that correlation arguments only seek to prove that a particular correlation will continue into the future, and all that needs is proof that the correlation reliably existed in the past, without any other explanation. If you can show that the presence of A has always raised the probability of B, whatever else was going on, then you will have shown that A causes B, even though you don't have the slightest idea how A is raising the probability of B.

What this all means is that absolutely any argument can be logically evaluated by asking yourself if it is reasonably possible for this set of premises to be explained without necessarily assuming that the conclusion is true. If that set of premises cannot be reasonably explained without assuming that the conclusion is true, then the argument is good. If you can reasonably explain the premises without assuming the truth of the conclusion, then the argument is no good.

Questions

i.  What are the questions we should ask when evaluating an explanation argument?
ii. Explain how explanation arguments are supposed to work.
iii.  Explain "empty explanation."
iv. Explain "suppressed evidence."
v.  Explain "suppressed alternative."
vi. How do counter examples function as explanation arguments?
vii. Why is appeal to motive a form of explanation argument?
viii. What kind of argument is mounted by offering an alternative explanation?
ix. How do alternative explanations defeat explanation arguments?

Exercises

1. Annabelle. I really don't see any reason to assume that Saddam Hussein and Al Queda were not allies before the Iraq invasion. In fact, I think that they were working closely together!
Octavio. But what about the fact that Al Qaeda is a group of religious extremists sworn to destroy secular governments like Hussein's and the fact that Hussein vigorously persecuted Islamicists like Al Qaeda whenever he could reach them?

2. Lamont. Scientists are still baffled by the precise cause of lightning. They've been observing thunderstorms and lightning discharges for decades, and they still can't come up with a plausible physical process that fully accounts for all the features of lightning.
Graciela. They can't be very good scientists, because obviously lightning happens because electricity in the thunderclouds suddenly jumps down to the ground.


3. Robyn. It's simply not true that there is no evidence connecting Saddam Hussein to Al Qaeda. Yes, the story of the meeting in Vienna has been decisively discredited, but the fact remains that Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda had a common enemy in the United States!
Cedric. Um, isn't it possible that Saddam and Al became enemies of the United States for independent and totally unrelated reasons?

4. Frankie. I can't believe that people think that chimps can learn sign language. It's obvious that all this "language use" is just chimps imitating the dumb humans who keep trying to teach them sign language.
Jalyn. Hey, those chimps have conversations with those humans, and they use sign language to give information, answer questions, and ask for things!

5. Celine. It seems obvious that religion was a major causal factor in the Indian rebellion of 1857. The Indian people of that time were a mixture of Hindu and Muslim groups, and they are always fighting each other. Add in the British, who were of a third religion, and you have a recipe for disaster.
Ashly. But the British had been taking over India for a hundred years before the rebellion, and both Hindus and Muslims had frequently fought against people of their own religion and for people of the other religion throughout India's history.

6. Dillan. I don't think racism was a major factor in the Indian rebellion. It's true that the British were racist, but everybody was racist at that time, and in 1857 the British were one of the more enlightened colonial governments. The fact is, the average Indian peasant was usually better off under the British than he had been under his previous native ruler.
Abigail. The problem with that is that rebellions are generally not organized by peasants. They are organized by people with organizational skills, such as the thousands of people who were government officials under native governments, but who all lost their jobs to Englishmen when the English East India Company took over native states. That exclusion must have caused enormous resentment because it eliminated all possibility of advancement for thousands of educated Indians, and it was entirely due to racism. 


7. Cecelia. Once again, no homework from Christiana. I think this proves that you are not putting the proper effort into this class.
Christiana. No it doesn't, because I can explain why I have no homework today. I did it, as well as I could, but it got ruined before I could bring it into class. How did my homework get ruined? Well, it was raining outside this afternoon, and all the doors and windows were closed, so obviously rainwater flowed up the back steps, under the back door, across the kitchen floor to the hall, and then up the stairs to my bedroom where it must have flowed over the top of the carpet (because the carpet is perfectly dry) and up the legs of my desk and on to my homework, causing it to burst into flames.  
 
8. Ellis. Belief in ghosts is something that will never be fully explained. People have believed in ghosts since before people started writing down history. The only thing I can think of is that some people did not want to believe that their loved ones were gone for good, and so comforted themselves with the belief that their loved ones could come back.
Houston. I've got a much more precise explanation than that. How did people first get the idea that ghosts exist? Well, it must be because back in the neolithic period some hunter or gatherer decided to comfort a friend who'd just lost a parent. This hunter hid in the shadows one night and pretended to be the friend's deceased parent. He disguised his voice and covered himself with a white sheet so as to not give the game away. Well, things didn't go as expected! His friend wasn't comforted, he was terrified! So to cover his embarassment, our hunter told his friend it must have been his parent's left over spirit, which we now call a ghost. That must have been it.  
 
9.  Kelley. I've started to develop arthritis, which is a recurring inflammation of my joints. I can't figure out what's causing it. I'm only 35 years old, and the inflammation doesn't come and go with any exposure to any of the things that I normally touch. Sometimes it happens when I'm weaving wool but other times I can weave wool without any inflammation whatsoever. The same is true for my other crafts, my job, and all the household chemicals I handle regularly.
Jordan. I think it's pretty clear what's causing your arthritis. Obviously it is some inflammatory agent or agents that attacks the the joints.
 
10. Donna. I finally figured out why my friend Jumpin’ Joe can't sleep at night.
Abner. Who’s Jumpin’ Joe?
Donna. He’s a fellow I see at the computer center. I don’t know much about him, but he’s nervous and irritable all day, and he says he can never get to sleep at night. Anyway, it must be that his spine is out of whack.
Abner. His spine? Have you checked his spine to see if it’s working okay?
Donna. No, I don’t need to. It has to be out of whack because that’s the only possible explanation.
Abner. Listen, I don't know much about this Jumpin’ Joe, but I'd be willing to bet that he drinks coffee, or Mountain Dew or something else with caffeine in it. I mean, if he were taking a lot of caffeine, his nervousness, irritability and sleeplessness would make a lot of sense.
 
11. Cornelius. You know, it's not really so strange that Oscar would become a Catholic. It's true that he has absolutely no interest in religion, but he has always been fascinated by elaborate rituals, beautiful singing, and fine art. The Catholic Church has all of these in abundance, so naturally he would be drawn to it.
Jazlyn. Rubbish. I know you might think it was because he likes all that ritual and fine art and other fol-de-rol, but I can tell you the real reason must have been that he got tired of the moral constipation of the Anglican church.  
 
12. Christa. The universe exists because Ethel The Frog needed a laugh, so she created a universe that would eventually bring forth intelligent beings who would amuse her. This explains why so many absurd things happen in the world. Come to think of it, Ethel must have a sick sense of humor, because much of what happens in the world would only be amusing to someone who enjoyed cruelty and humiliation.
German. No, you've got it all wrong. Ethel must be universally benevolent, because only a benevolent creator would have created so many nice things.  
 
13. Remington. Science cannot fully explain the build-up of electric charge that leads to lightning, so we are going to have to say that it is unexplained until someone comes up with a reasonable explanation.
Marianna. The explanation is that clouds have legs, and the hills are fully carpeted. The clouds build up static electricity by shuffling their feet on the carpeting. That's what builds up all that electricity. You don't have any explanation, so my explanation must be the truth.  
 
14. Karina. Sometimes, psychological problems defy explanation. People who have endured no trauma, no abuse, and have no organic problems sometimes out of the blue turn up with psychological problems. They may be caused by factors we can't see yet, or they may strike at random. We just don't know.
Rachelle. Your problem is that you focus too much on present-life events. Most, if not all, present-life psychological problems can be traced back to the effects of traumatic events that took place in a former life. This is a reasonable explanation because it only requires us to assume that people who die are reincarnated in new bodies, that people can exist without physical bodies, that people can carry information from one life to the next, that they forget everthing from their former lives, that the effects of trauma are preserved through the reincanation process, that most psychological problems are caused by traumatic events and that present psychological problems aren't explainable by events in this life. If we just assume all these things, then we can see that past-life trauma is a perfectly good explanation of present psychological problems.  

15. Davin. I don't know why you keep telling me I need Fnorbert in my life. I've lived without Fnorbert for 20 years and I'm doing just fine.
Alexandrea. I will prove that you need Fnorbert in your life. To think a man can live without Fnorbert (creator of the universe) is like thinking a man's left hand can live and thrive away from the rest of his body.

16. Sully. I once lived in an apartment next to a long-term gay couple. They'd lived together so long that everyone in the building referred to them as "the old married couple." I got to know them pretty well, and let me tell you, they acted just like a married couple in every way possible. Among other things, they were mutally supportive, shared household chores, did everything together and spent long hours complaining about each other's families. As far as I'm concerned, they were married in every sense but the legal one.
Ivana. Well, maybe they seemed to act like married people, but they weren't married in any real sense because, if you look in any dictionary, the definition of "marriage" always includes the stipulation that it's a union between a man and a woman, so two men can't be married.

17. Massacre. One of the things that intrigues people about Mormonism is that it gives a very different picture of Jesus from the other Christian churches. Many people have said to me after a long discussion something like "wow, you folks have a whole different Jesus than I'm used to."
Woococ. If anyone needs further evidence that Mormonism is not a Christian religion, they only have to listen to Massacre's admission that their "Jesus" is wholly different from the Jesus of Christianity.

18. Antoinette. I think that tribal ties were very important to the people of 19th-century India. For instance, the 2nd Bengal Light Cavalry refused to charge a party of Afghan horseman in the first Afghan war. The 2nd Bengal Light Cavalry was raised from people of Afghan descent living near Lucknow, and it seems reasonable to think that they refused because they didn't want to charge fellow Afghans.
Mandy. But we have a better explanation! We can explain their behavior perfectly well if we just assume that they were all cowards. 
 
19. Luciano. I don't know how you can seriously claim that the Soviet Union was not actively pursuing territorial expansion during the Cold War. Have you forgotten their unprovoked invasion of Afghanistan, a country that was outside the Iron Curtain at that time? The only thing that distinguished Afghanistan from other countries on their border was that Afghanistan was vulnerable. They saw that vulnerability, and they pounced.
Kaela. But aren't you forgetting that the government of Afghanistan was about to fall to a bunch of religious terrorists that had only gotten to be a serious threat because the Jimmy Carter administration had been arming them for the last six months? Given that Zbigniew Brzezinski had armed these people with the specific intention of sucking in the Soviet Union, you can hardly claim that the invasion was unprovoked.

 
20. Tricia. You know that activist, Tessa Veracity, the one who disappeared?
Hayden. You mean the one who kept reporting violent attacks on innocent people by government troops and the police? The one that was last seen being dragged screaming off the street into a white Ford SUV? What about her?
Tricia. Well, it looks like her disappearance is a mystery that will never be solved. The people who snatched her off the street might have been fellow anti-government activists, or they might have been petty criminals. We will never know.
Hayden. Well, there is the fact that witnesses to the abduction got a license plate number from the white Ford, and a white Ford SUV with exactly that number was seen in the lot where the police park their personal vehicles 3 days later. If you add in the fact that neither activists nor petty criminals had any reason to abduct her, then I think it's pretty clear it was the police who actually kidnapped her.
 
21. Jacqueline. You're just fooling yourself if you think that the homosexual agenda does not include creating a society where heterosexuality is considered abnormal! Look at this questionnaire circulated by homosexuals. It includes questions like "do you think you could learn not to be heterosexual?" And "do you think you are justified in following a heterosexual lifestyle when that lifestyle is offensive to other members of society?" Obviously, the agenda here is to make heterosexuality abnormal and homosexuality the normal and desirable.
Dwight. Or perhaps the agenda here could be to have a laugh at the expense of people like you.  
 
22. Bernardo. I think it is obvious that elementary schools are not conducting enough math drills. Elementary school teachers should devote more time to taking authority in the classroom, publicly exposing students who fail at math, and making students take tests with strict deadlines. It has to be the case that teachers aren't doing enough of this, otherwise students would be doing much better at math in middle and high school.
Darin. Well, in my school district students do do much better at math in middle and high school, and my elementary school teachers don't do any of what you said. Instead, they keep lecture to a minimum, conduct student-directed classes, and emphasize discussion instead of testing. 
 
23. Fidel. I think that it is obvious that expanding human population is the cause of desertification. It stands to reason that whenever an increased human population puts more stress on a piece of land it will likely turn into a desert, and whenever people leave a piece of land, that will take the pressure off, and the land will bloom again.
Hazel. But then how do you explain the desertification of hillside terraces in Yemen, which happened after the population radically decreased in that area? And how do you explain the fact that the Kano area in Nigeria supports enormous numbers of people without turning the area into a desert? 
 
24. Nikita. It is staggering to contemplate the degree to which an idea can dominate the thinking of any individual. King Charles of England could have ruled England peacefully if he had just accepted that he had to share power with Parliament. But because he believed in the divine right of kings, he could not accept power sharing. For instance, he only allowed Parliament to meet when he needed money, and in 1642 he took 300 soldiers to Parliament to arrest his five biggest critics. Since almost no one in England believed in the divine right of kings, this action was the final spark that started the English Civil War, which was a disaster for Charles.
Skylar. It's more likely that Charles was merely an opportunist who pretended to believe in the divine right of kings to fool people into unquestioning obedience. If he could get the common people, including those who had votes, to believe that he had god's mandate to rule England, then they would support him without question. So he pretended to believe in the divine right of kings because it was in his interest to do so. 

25. Inuit: Here we see a concrete relic of the Russian fur-trader's oppression of the Native People of Alaska. This kayak was made with three seats. Stories handed down by the survivors tell how the Russians enslaved the Aleuts and then brutally conquered the Inuit. They also tell how Kayaks were built like this so that the middle seat could be occupied by a Russian who would carry a rifle to force the two Inuit in the other seats to keep hunting for many, many hours.
Tourist: That can't be right, because the Russian culture values freedom, and so Russian fur traders wouldn't do something like that.


26. Emily. This invasion of Iraq is going to permanently damage America's security. Almost no one in the Muslim world gives any credibility to the Bush administration's pretext for this war, and people are highly unlikely to forgive what they see as an unprovoked attack on the sovereignty of a Muslim country, so we are likely to see a continuing effort to pull off more 9/11-type attacks on American soil.
Donnie. Hold on there! That ain't necessarily so. Remember that Osama bin Laden was originally incensed by the presence of American troops near the holy sites in Saudi Arabia, not by the American attack on Iraq. Osama's network is pretty much gone now, and there's no evidence that any new network has grown up to take its place. You should also remember that Osama was able to create the Al Qaeda network because of all the Islamic fighters that were drawn together by the Afghan war. Nothing since then has concentrated Islamic fighters in that way, so organizing a network like Al Qaeda will be much more difficult now. Finally, if the United States pulls out of Iraq immediately after a representative and independent Iraqi government is in full control of the country, radical Islamicists will no longer be able to portray America as a permanent desecrator of the holy places.

27. Stuart. Say what you like about the Vietnam War, it certainly proves that the United States government stands by its commitments. U.S. presidents Kennedy and Johnson promised that the United States would stand by the regime it had installed in Vietnam. And they did so for as long as it was humanly possible.
Louisa. But we can explain the fact that Kennedy and Johnson stuck with the war by assuming that the Republicans would make a big stink about "losing" Vietnam to communism. Giving up in Vietnam would have been political suicide, especially for Democrats like Kennedy and Johnson.

Answers

i.  Are the fact claims properly supported? Can we explain the proven facts without accepting that conclusion?
ii. If there's a set of proven facts that can only be explained if we assume some other claim is true, then that other claim is true.
iii.  An "empty explanation" is an uncheckable story, like "invisible elves did it", that doesn't help us control the phenomenon.
iv. "Suppressed evidence" is when an arguer wittingly or unwittingly leaves out a fact that fatally undermines his argument.
v.  "Suppressed alternative" is when an arguer wittingly or unwittingly leaves out a reasonable alternative explanation (or possibility).
vi. Counter examples are facts that can only be explained if the generalization is question is false.
vii. In appeal to motive the arguer tries to undermine an authority by making an unsupported claim that the authority has or must have a bias, interest or other unworthy motive for saying what she says. This is a form of explanation argument because the arguer pretends to give an alternative explanation for the authority saying what she says.
viii. Alternative explanations are only ever offered in counter arguments.
ix. Alternative explanations defeat explanation arguments by showing that the given facts can be explained without accepting the given conclusion.

1. Annabelle commits suppressed evidence.

2. Graciela commits empty explanation.

3. Robyn commits suppressed alternative.

4. Frankie commits suppressed evidence.

5. Celine commits suppressed evidence. Notice also that Celine could only be right if religion by itself always leads to war.

6. Dillan commits suppressed evidence. Notice that, as Abigail points out, the people who actually carried out the rebellion actually were victims of racism, even though most other Indians weren't

7. Notice that Christiana is offering an alternative explanation as part of a counter argument to Celine's argument. This means that the most she can prove here is that Celine hasn't proved she's slacking. The question then is has Christiana dodged the bullet here? The most obvious problem with Christiana's "explanation" is that it violates our established background knowledge about physical processes. In our previous experience, water does not flow upstairs, does not flow over carpet without making it wet, and does not cause things to burst into flames. (Of course, we can imagine strange sets of circumstances where such things might happen, but Christiana has not given us any reason to think that such circumstances exist.) Christiana's argument might work if her story was the only possible explanation for her lack of homework, but since assuming that she didn't do it is a much more reasonable explanation, her argument clearly fails. Since she's not claiming that hers is the only explanation, she can't be committing suppressed alternative, but because she ignores well-proven facts, she's definitely committing suppressed evidence.
 
8. Houston's explanation is precise, but it's not precise in any way that helps his argument. None of the details that he mentions are at all relevant to the ideas that some people presently have about ghosts. For instance, the type of ghost stories that are actually believed (as opposed to fiction) typically involve violent death, and typically link ghosts to specific places and times of appearance. Neither of these things is explained by any detail in Houston's explanation. Remember that Houston's explanation is perfectly possible, perhaps even plausible, but just about any physically possible explanation is equally plausible, and there is nothing in the present day phenomenon of belief in ghosts that makes Houston's explanation any better than any other, so he commits suppressed alternative.
 
9. Jordan's "explanation" is so empty as to not constitute an explanation at all. All Jordan is really doing is rephrasing Kelley's point that something is causing his arthritis. In effect, Jordan is saying "your arthritis is caused by something that causes arthritis" or "your joint inflammation is caused by something that causes joint inflammation," which is hardly useful.
 
10. Abner's argument is based on three facts. Donna's irritability, his difficulty staying awake, and his sleeplessness. Excess coffee consumption is known to cause all three things, and it is a fairly common condition in today's society, whereas other conditions that might cause the same symptoms are much less common. So Abner's argument is a very reasonable first guess at the cause of Donna's problem. Since she leaves out this explanation, Donna commits suppressed alternative.
 
11. People switch religions for all kinds of reasons, so it is possible that Oscar switched because of perceived moral constipation in the Anglican church, but Haven has not given us any reason to think that Oscar believed that the Anglican church was morally constipated or that he would care about it if he did. Cornelius, on the other hand, has given us reason to think that Oscar would be attracted to the ritual and fine art of the Catholic Church, so his explanation is much more plausible. Since Haven ignores the evidence given by Cornelius, Haven commits suppressed evidence.
 
12. Both of these explanations are horrible. The existence of some supernatural entity capable of creating a universe is inconsistent with everything we know about the universe, so it is extremely unlikely to be true. Christa's explanation is slightly better because a sick sense of humor is more consistent with the observed irrational cruelty of the universe, and a benevolent creator would only be supported if the universe contained only good things, but that's not enough to make up for the fact that her explanation is inconsistent with everything else we know about the universe. Technically, they both commit both suppressed alternative and suppressed evidence.
 
13. As far as I know, the mechanism by which electric charge builds up in some clouds is not fully understood. Assuming that that is true, it follows that we have no real explanation for it. However, even if it were true that no one had ever come up with an explanation that was as good as Marianna's, that would not mean that Marianna had a good argument. The facts given in her "explanation" are demonstrably untrue, and that is enough to destroy her argument, and thus she commits suppressed evidence.
 
14. Rachelle's explanation is not demonstrably false, because we cannot conclusively rule out reincarnation. (A burden of proof argument against reincarnation only works if there are no plausible arguments in favor of reincarnation, so to make a burden of proof argument work, we must first prove that Rachelle's argument is no good.) Rachelle anticipates the argument that her explanation is inconsistent with current science by listing a set of assumptions that we could make which would make her explanation much more plausible. The problem with this is that, while each assumption is logically possible, none of them are consistent with modern science. This would not be a problem if it was the case that only one contrascientific assumption needed to be made and there was no other plausible explanation for these unexplained psychological problems, but there are seven ad hoc assumptions, none of which is as plausible as the idea that there are factors involved in mental disease that we don't yet understand.

15. Ordinarily, the fact that someone has done without something for 20 years is stunningly clear evidence that he doesn't need that thing. Alexandrea would have to come up with an extremely powerful argument to overcome the burden imposed by this fact. She doesn't even come close. First, there are no relevant similarities between the two relationships in question. Second, there are enormous differences between a hand's relationship to its body, which is substantiated by a visible physical connection between the two, and Davin's relationship to Fnorbert, who isn't even tangible, let alone visibly connected to Davin. Alexandrea bears the burden of proof because she is arguing that all men (and presumably all women) need something that the vast majority of them believe they don't need. It's true that the fact that a lot of people believe something is usually a bad argument, but it is also true that people are generally the best judges of their own needs. If I'm going to tell you that you need something that you don't think you need, then I'd better have some evidence. If I can't come up with that evidence, then you should believe that you don't need that thing, even if you can't come up with any argument to support that belief. Since Alexandrea's conclusion is a generalization that purports to cover all people, a single counter-example is enough to refute it. Davin provides that counter-example.

16. Whether or not Ivana bears the burden of proof here depends on whether or not you think that a straight marriage deserves respect and legal protection. If you do, then Ivana bears the burden of proof of showing why gay marriages should be treated differently. If you don't think straight marriages deserve respect and protection, then Sully bears the burden of proof. Ivanna's argument is weak either way, but the precise way it is weak depends on how the arguer intends his argument to be taken. Does she think that this is an issue of lexicography or of morality? If she intends this argument to be merely a matter of language, (followed up by a suggestion for a new word, say "narriage," that would allow us to refer to both straight and gay deeply committed relationships), then her point would only make sense if people were seriously confused by the use of the word "marriage" in this context. Since it's hard to imagine that this would be a problem for anyone, the fact that dictionaries fail to reflect this usage of the word is not enough to show that we should not use the word "marriage" to refer to a gay couple who otherwise meets the definition of marriage. Remember that a dictionary is supposed to reflect the way words are actually used. It is not in itself a list of rules on how we must use words. A dictionary describes the meanings of words, it does not determine them. If the arguer intends this argument to make a moral point, such as the conclusion that it is morally okay for the state, businesses and individuals to treat persons in deeply committed long-term gay relationships with less respect and consideration than they are morally obliged to treat persons in deeply committed long-term heterosexual relationships, then it is in even more trouble. Moral questions cannot be settled by appeal to a dictionary. Based on this dialog, the gay couple was married. As Sully points out, the couple acted married, and that's enough. (True, their marriage isn't necessarily recognized by the state, but the state can't legislate reality.) The question is does the word "marriage" represent something real, or is it just a meaningless technical term which can be arbitrarily set to "mean" anything? Obviously, we want words to mean things, and there's an important difference between a couple that's married and one that isn't. Ivana claims that they're not married because the dictionary defines marriage in a way that excludes them. But this begs the question of why we should take the dictionary as defining what words mean. Nobody else goes around forcing us to use words the way dictionaries define them, but dictionary writers spend all their time finding out how people actually use words and changing the dictionary to fit. Ivana commits a red herring fallacy by basing her argument on the dictionary.

17. Since members of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints explicitly treat Jesus as both a supreme authority and a pivotal figure in their religion, we can assume they mean the same "Jesus" as non-mormon christians until someone proves otherwise, so Meadows bears the burden of proof here. Woococ's argument is not a counter argument because it does not address Massacre's logic. And it's not an opposing argument because his conclusion does not contradict Massacre's conclusion. However, it is the weaker argument. Woococ is basically accusing Mormons of equivocation in their use of the word "Jesus," and using Massacre's own words to back up that accusation. But to give a different impression of someone is not the same as talking about a whole different person. Even if it is true that Mormonism paints a radically different picture of Jesus from that given by the other Christian churches, it does not follow that they are talking about a different historical figure. Woococ is changing the meaning of the phrase "a whole different Jesus."

18. It is not really plausible to think that an entire unit would suddenly manifest a reluctance to attack at that particular moment. Since Mandy hasn't Mandy given us any reason to think that cowardice is consistent with the previous behavior of this unit, her explanation doesn't fit the facts.
 
19. Luciano's argument crucially depends on his claim that the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was unprovoked. Kaela brings up a reason why we might think that this premise is false, so she's making a counter argument. Think about it. If Kaela proves that the invasion was provoked by Jimmy and Biggie, would that prove that the Soviet Union was not actively pursuing territorial expansion during the Cold War? No it wouldn't, so Kaela can't be pushing a direct argument. However, the fact that there is a reasonable alternative explanation for the Russian intervention does mean that Luciano's argument fails, committing the suppressed alternative fallacy.
 
20. Tricia commits suppressed evidence. She has not given any reason to think that anti-government activists are likely to kidnap another anti-government activist. She has not given any reason to think that criminals are likely to kidnap an anti-government activist. And she (presumably unwittingly) ignores the presence of that SUV in the police parking lot.
 
21. Jacqueline commits suppressed alternative.  
 
22. Bernardo commits suppressed evidence. Notice also that he produces absolutely no evidence to support his implied claim that math drills work at all, let alone work better than anything else. (If you called this false cause, you would be right too.)
 
23. Fidel commits suppressed evidence. Notice also that he produces absolutely no evidence to support his implied claim that expanding human population is the cause of desertification.  (If you called this false cause, you would be right too.)
 
24. Skylar commits suppressed evidence. He ignores the fact that [rofessing to believe in divine right was a disaster for Charles, so if he was an opportunist, he was an unbelievably stupid one. Since it's not plausible that an opportunist would stick with a ploy that not only failed to ever work, but which eventually got him killed, Rita's counter-argument fails.

25. Tourist commits red herring. It's true that "culture" is basically a word meaning "the way people generally act," but that doesn't help Tourist. Everyone's culture values freedom for themselves, and Tourist doesn't give any reason to think the Russians valued freedom for other people. Even if most Russians value freedom for other people, that doesn't mean that these fur-traders weren't an exception.

26 If we only consider the facts presented in the dialogue between Emily and Donnie, we should conclude that the damage done, if any, to American security by the Iraq invasion is not necessarily permanent. This is because, as Donnie says, if the United States restores the independence of Iraq, Muslims will no longer be confronted with America as a threat to Islam. Donnie argues that withdrawal from Iraq will remove the insult of seeing Americans based close to the Saudi holy sites, (presumably because withdrawal from Iraq will also mean substantial withdrawal from Saudi Arabia) which will eliminate one reason for Muslims to support terrorism against the United States. Donnie points out that the terrorists no longer have the Afghan war to attract Islamic fighters, but ignores the fact that they now have Iraq as a recruiting tool. Nevertheless, the basic point remains that if United States leaves Iraq, Muslims will lose a major reason to support terrorism against the United States. Emily argues, correctly, the Muslims will see the American invasion and occupation of Iraq as an unprovoked violation of the sovereignty of Muslim country and will therefore take this is a reason to retaliate against the United States. But Emily ignores the fact that the invasion and occupation are not necessarily permanent. The United States can withdraw and allow Iraq to form an independent government. If that happens, the reason she gives for Muslims to want to attack the United States will disappear, and with it the damage to America's security. Thus her argument fails to prove that this damage is permanent.

27. Stuart commits suppressed alternative.

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