“Argument to ignorance” (also called “appeal to ignorance”) is a logical fallacy in which one argues that because we do not have certain information, therefore an idea (or its opposite) must be true. “An appeal to ignorance is an argument for or against a proposition on the basis of a lack of evidence against or for it. If there is positive evidence for the conclusion, then of course we have other reasons for accepting it, but a lack of evidence by itself is no evidence.” — Fallacy Files, http://www.fallacyfiles.org/ignorant.html.
"Fallacy of argumentum ad ignorantiam (argument from ignorance). The Latin means 'argument to ignorance.' (a) Arguing that something is true because no one has proved it to be false, or (b) arguing that something is false because no one has proved it to be true. Examples: (a) Spirits exist since no one has as yet proved that there are not any. (b) Spirits do not exist since no one has as yet proved their existence. Also called the appeal to ignorance: the lack of evidence (proof) for something is used to support its truth." — Peter A. Angeles DICTIONARY OF PHILOSOPHY (Barnes and Noble, 1981), http://abyss.uoregon.edu/~js/glossary/fallacies.html.
A classic example: We cannot prove that flying saucers do not exist, therefore flying saucers do exist. A more extended example: “[Senator Joseph McCarthy] announced that he had penetrated ‘[President Harry] Truman's iron curtain of secrecy’ and that he proposed forthwith to present 81 cases … Cases of exactly what? ‘I am only giving the Senate,’ he said, ‘cases in which it is clear there is a definite Communist connection[,]…persons whom I consider to be Communists in the State Department.’ … Of Case 40, he said, ‘I do not have much information on this except the general statement of the agency…that there is nothing in the files to disprove his Communist connections.’" — Fallacy Files.
Rudolf Steiner used this fallacious form of reasoning (among many others he stooped to). Steiner argued, for example, that it is difficult to absolutely pin down historical facts. The study of history is hampered by the lack of complete, irrefutable documentation. Therefore, Steiner said, his own form of historical investigation — depending on clairvoyance and the “Akashic record” (an invisible celestial storehouse of information) — is the right way to go. In brief, Steiner argued that conventional history may be wrong; therefore occult history must be right.
Here is one of Steiner’s statements on this matter. Note his insistence that actual information is not only hard to find, but that it actually hampers “true” research. Evidently thinking that he is making a sensible case, Steiner affirms ignorance and fantasy.
“Someone inexperienced in such matters might object: ‘To our mind, your narrative of past times is pure fancy. You are acquainted from history with the deeds of Caesar, and your powerful imagination makes you believe you see some kind of invisible Akashic pictures.’ But whoever is familiar with such things knows that the less the seer knows from external history on the subject of his investigations, the easier it is for him to read in the Akashic records. External history is a positive hindrance to occult research. When we have reached a certain age, we are influenced in many ways by the culture of our day. The seer, too, brings with him the education of his day, up to the point when he can give birth to his clairvoyant Ego. He has studied history and the knowledge handed down to him in geology, biology, archaeology, and so on. Strictly speaking, all this disturbs his vision and may bias him when he comes to decipher the Akashic records. For the same objectivity and certainty may by no means be expected in external history, as are possible in deciphering the Akashic records. Consider upon what conditions some fact or other becomes ‘historical’. Certain documents relating to some event or other have been preserved, while others — perhaps the most important — are missing. An example will show how unreliable all history may be.
“Among Goethe's many unfinished poetical sketches, which are a beautiful addition to the great works he has given us in finished form, there is a fragmentary poem on Nausicaa. We have only a few notes on this poem, showing how Goethe intended to complete it. He often worked in this way — jotting down a few sentences — and often only a fragment has remained. So it is with the Nausicaa. Now two scholars have attempted to complete this fragment: Scherer, the author of a history of literature, and Herman Grimm. But Grimm was more than a scholar; he was an imaginative thinker. He is the same Grimm who has given us a Life of Michelangelo and a study on Goethe. Grimm set to work by endeavouring to identify himself with the spirit of Goethe. He put himself the question: Goethe being what he was, how would he have conceived the Nausicaa of the Odyssey? Then, with a certain disregard of the historical records, he reconstructed the poem in the sense of Goethe's ideas. Scherer, however, with a mania for documentary evidence in black and white, asserted that Goethe's Nausicaa could not be reconstructed except on the basis of existing material. He, too, attempted to reconstruct Nausicaa, but keeping strictly to Goethe's notes. To this Herman Grimm remarked: ‘Suppose Goethe's valet took some of the notes (perhaps the most important) to light the fire! Is there any guarantee that the available notes are of any value whatever, when compared with the others which perhaps served to light the fire?’
“As in this case, so it may be with all history that is based on documental evidence. When we pin our faith to documents we must never forget that precisely the most important of these may have perished. In fact we have in ‘history’ neither more nor less than a fable convenue [an agreed-upon fable]. When the facts shown by the Akashic records differ widely from conventional history, the seer finds it difficult to believe in the Akashic picture. And he would be immediately attacked by the public if his relation of any fact from the Akashic records differed from accepted history. Hence the experienced in such matters are happiest to speak of ancient times — of long past phases of our earth's evolution, of which there are no tradition or documents extant. Here experience of the Akashic records, being least hampered by exoteric history, is most true. It follows therefore that no one familiar with such things could ever conceive that the Akashic records were merely an echo of the facts related by conventional history.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE GOSPEL OF ST. JOHN (Percy Lund, Humphries and Co., 1933), lecture 2, GA 112.
[R. R., 2010.]
Steiner's followers also use argument to ignorance, quite often. They realize that their views, the doctrines of Anthroposophy, are a minority position, at odds with the views of society at large and generally at odds with the natural sciences. They argue that the Anthroposophy is perfectly justified, nonetheless. No one has proven Anthroposophy false, they say, so we are justified in proclaiming it true. (An argument to ignorance.) And, anyway, they say, no one has absolutely, conclusively proven that all the teachings of the natural sciences are true — so these teachings are quite likely false, since they are mere "theories." Science has certain theories about the Moon, for instance. But other "theories" are possible (such as Rudolf Steiner's teachings about the Moon) — and one theory is as good as another. Some people may choose to believe the theories of science, and this is their right. We choose to believe the theories of Anthroposophy, and this is our right. No one can tell us that we are wrong. [For Steiner's teachings about the Moon, see "Lunacy".]
The Anthroposophical position is generally an argument to ignorance compounded by a misunderstanding of the meaning of the word "theory" as used in science. In common usage, "theory" means a guess, an unreliable speculation. In science, the word means something very different: It refers to an explanatory set of ideas based on established facts. The prevailing scientific theories of any period represent the best, most solid explanations available concerning the phenomena of the real world. The General Theory of Relativity, for example, provides the best explanation available for the nature of space, time, the speed of light, acceleration, and gravity in the universe that we see around us. This theory is based on firmly established facts, and numerous tests have confirmed the accuracy of the theory.
Later theories may improve upon or overturn earlier theories, but in no case does the word "theory," as used in science, mean loose or unsubstantiated guessing. Anthroposophists often attack modern science as if the word "theory" indicates that science is unsure of its findings. This is a fundamental misunderstanding. There is a vast amount of evidence supporting the prevailing scientific theories of today; there is little or none supporting Anthroposophy. [See "Steiner's Blunders".]
Here is an item from Waldorf Watch "news" page:
[Wynstones Press, 2011]
"Anyone working toward a deeper understanding of human existence will invariably encounter many paradoxical and contradicting phenomena — in life, as well as in Anthroposophy and the work of Rudolf Steiner. Growing into Anthroposophy makes it clear that we should view such paradoxes as the very foundation for a realistic way of knowing; the many-layered, contradictory facets of life cannot simply be captured in schemes and theories.
"By applying our contemplative capacities as well as by developing higher cognitive powers [i.e., clairvoyance], polarities and contradictions can live side-by-side, offering a more complete view of the world, humankind, and spirit." [10-3-2011 http://www.steinerbooks.org/detail.html?id=9780946206704]
Anyone who wants to believe the teachings of Rudolf Steiner faces imposing obstacles. Most of Steiner 's teachings make no sense, and many of them contradict one another. Steiner tried to cover himself by arguing that his were "living" thoughts, not the dull, dry thoughts of logic or rationality. Thus, if one day Steiner said that black is white, and the next day he said that black and white are irreconcilable opposites, these two "living" thoughts are both true, or were true each in its own way on its own day, because of the wondrous, organic, ever-changing glories of spiritual reality. [See "Thinking" and "Steiner's Illogic".]
Perhaps Steiner had a point. The universe is a complicated, mysterious place. On the other hand, arguing that black is white and that black is not white doesn't really work. The truth is that these statements contradict one another and cannot both be true, no matter how much Steiner and his followers twist and turn.* It is quite inadequate to claim that "the many-layered, contradictory facets of life cannot simply be captured in schemes and theories." After all, Steiner's own teachings constitute a scheme or theory called Anthroposophy. Steiner tried to "capture" the "contradictory facets of life" in this scheme or theory — Anthroposophy is his theory of everything, his explanation of "the world, humankind, and spirit." [See "Everything".]
What we are dealing with, here, is one stream of occultism that rebels against reason and sense, a stream that revels in mysteries and paradoxes. The deeper the mystery, the more irreconcilable the paradox, the better — these are taken as the hallmarks of profundity. But we should accept such thinking only with the greatest reluctance, since it ultimately amounts to a devastating surrender: We relinquish the great hope that our minds can penetrate to genuine, firm answers about reality and our place in it. The occult/Anthroposophical approach is, in the end, a surrender to ignorance. And indeed, Steiner advocated ignorance.
Steiner denied that our brains can find truth ("The brain and nerve system have nothing to do with actual cognition"**). Instead of rational thinking, he advocated the illusory "faculty" of clairvoyance ("Clairvoyance is the necessary pre-requisite for the discovery of a spiritual truth"***). Indeed, he argued that we are better off having no knowledge in our dull, non-cognitive brains. Possessing information, he said, blocks us from having spiritual insight. Thus, for instance, he argued that we should not bother learning about history. "External history," factual knowledge of what has happened in the past in the physical or real world, gums up our clairvoyant ability to read the "Akashic Record," a celestial storehouse of wisdom available through clairvoyance:
“External history is a positive hindrance to occult research. When we have reached a certain age, we are influenced in many ways by the culture of our day. The seer, too, brings with him the education of his day, up to the point when he can give birth to his clairvoyant Ego. He has studied history and the knowledge handed down to him in geology, biology, archaeology, and so on. Strictly speaking, all this disturbs his vision and may bias him when he comes to decipher the Akashic records.... In fact we have in ‘history’ neither more nor less than a fable convenue [an agreed-upon fable]. When the facts shown by the Akashic records differ widely from conventional history, the seer finds it difficult to believe in the Akashic picture ... [Direct] experience of the Akashic records, being least hampered by exoteric history, is most true.”****
Steiner's argument loses some of its force when we pause to reflect that neither clairvoyance nor the Akashic Record exists. [See "Clairvoyance" and "Akasha".]
Anthroposophy affirms ignorance. Indeed, it is an embodiment of ignorance. Waldorf schooling stands on this foundation. Is this what you want for your children? Is this what you think education should reflect?
* We can resolve some apparent contradictions by agreeing that some statements (e.g., "black is white") are metaphorical, not literal. But Steiner professed to offer literal statements of his clairvoyant discoveries. His chief defense, instead, was that some statements that are false in the physical world are true in the spiritual world. But many of his statements share the defect of "black is white" — they don't merely contradict other statements, they contradict themselves. Thus, they cannot be literally true at any level of reality.
Philosophers and theologians could extend this discussion unendingly, but surely this is more than enough for a news digest.
** Rudolf Steiner, THE FOUNDATIONS OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE (Anthroposophic Press, 1996), p. 60.
*** Rudolf Steiner, THEOSOPHY OF THE ROSICRUCIAN (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1966), lecture 1, GA 99.
**** Rudolf Steiner, THE GOSPEL OF ST. JOHN (Percy Lund, Humphries and Co., 1933), lecture 2, GA 112.
— Compilation and commentary by Roger Rawlings