Demanding a mechanism:

Evidential Fallacy
Definition Example
When overwhelming evidence for a phenomenon is rejected on the grounds that the causal mechanism is not known or understood. Scientists still can’t fully explain how and why lightning occurs. Therefore, I am not obligated to assume that the cause is electromagnetic.
  Notes
Though the existence of a coherent and predictive mechanism is significant evidence for belief in a particular phenomenon, very often, there are other forms of evidence that are sufficient to warrant belief, even when a mechanism is missing from the theory. Consider a scenario in which an individual claims to be able to predict the outcome of coin-flips on a fair coin. Your skepticism is warranted for perhaps the first 10-20 correctly predicted flips, but you will gradually be compelled to increase your belief that, even though you don’t know the mechanism, the individual’s claim that they actually can, through some unknown mechanism, correctly predict the coin tosses.

Case Study One

For many years, people were attributing the flight of the bumblebee to something miraculous since there was, at that time, no physical mechanism known that could explain how so small a wing surface could successfully levitate the relatively large mass of the bumblebee.


Case Study Two

Some claim evolution cannot be accepted as fact until the mechanism is fully teased out, in spite of much converging evidence for evolution from many domains of research.


Case Study Three

It is sometimes claimed that dualism, the belief that mind and brain are separate entities, warrants no credibility until a mechanism that explains how the immaterial can interface with the material is discovered and explained. However, if there was clear evidence of ESP in which the mind exhibited an independence of physical location, then that would constitute evidence for belief in dualism, and require skeptics to remain open-minded, even in the absence of a known mechanism.


Keep in mind that a fallacious argument does not entail an erroneous position.


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