The Argument from Silence: Related Resources

(Note: this section will be updated over time.)

Academic Publications

Brooks, E. Bruce. “Arguments from Silence.” Warring States Papers 4 (2013).

Carrier, Richard C. “Did Jesus Exist? Earl Doherty and the Argument to AhistoricityThe Secular Web (2002).

—. Proving History. Buffalo: Prometheus, 2012, 117-19.

Garraghan, G.J., S.J. A Guide to Historical Method. J. Delanglez, S.J. (Ed.). New York: Fordham University Press, 1946.

Duncan, Mike. “The Curious Silence of the Dog and Paul of Tarsus: Revisiting The Argument from Silence.” Informal Logic, Vol. 32, No. 1, (2012), pp. 83-97.

Abstract: In this essay I propose an interpretative and explanatory structure for the so-called argumentum ex silento, or argument from silence (henceforth referred to as the AFS). To this end, I explore two examples, namely, Sherlock Holmes’s oft quoted notice of the “curious incident of the dog in the night-time”from Arthur Conan Doyle’s short story “Silver Blaze,” and the historical question of Paul of Tarsus’s silence on biographical details of the historical Jesus. Through these cases, I conclude that the AFS serves as a dialogical topos best evaluated and understood through the perceived authority of the arguer and the willingness of the audience to accept that authority, due to the “curious” nature of the negative evidence that the argument employs.

Lange, J. “The Argument From Silence.” History and Theory, 5 (1966): 288-301.

Oaksford, Mike and Ulrike Hahn. “A Bayesian Approach to Arguments from Ignorance,” Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology 58 (2004): 75-85.

Sober, Elliott. (2009). “Absence of Evidence and Evidence of Absence: Evidential Transitivity in Connection with Fossils, Fishing and Fine-Tuning and Firing SquadsPhilosophical Studies 143: 63-90.

Abstract. ‘‘Absence of evidence isn’t evidence of absence’’ is a slogan that is popular among scientists and nonscientists alike. This article assesses its truth by using a probabilistic tool, the Law of Likelihood. Qualitative questions (‘‘Is E evidence about H?’’) and quantitative questions (‘‘How much evidence does E provide about H?’’) are both considered. The article discusses the example of fossil intermediates. If finding a fossil that is phenotypically intermediate between two extant species provides evidence that those species have a common ancestor, does failing to find such a fossil constitute evidence that there was no common ancestor? Or should the failure merely be chalked up to the imperfection of the fossil record? The transitivity of the evidence relation in simple causal chains provides a broader context, which leads to discussion of the fine-tuning argument, the anthropic principle, and observation selection effects.

Stephens, Christopher. “A Bayesian Approach to Absent Evidence Reasoning.” Informal Logic, 31(1): 56-65.

Abstract: Under what conditions is the failure to have evidence that p, evidence that p is false? Absent evidence reasoning is common in many sciences, including astronomy, archeology, biology and medicine. An often-repeated epistemological motto is that “the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” Analysis of absent evidence reasoning usually takes place in a deductive or frequentist hypothesis-testing framework. Instead, a Bayesian analysis of this motto is explored and it is shown that, under plausible assumptions about the nature of evidence, the absence of evidence is evidence of absence.

Walton, D. “The Appeal to Ignorance, or Argumentum Ad Ignorantiam.” Argumentation 13 (1999): 367-377.

—. Arguments from Ignorance. University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1996.

Other Resources

Seeing History: Arguments from Silence” (2006).

Blomberg, Craig. “When an Argument from Silence Becomes Utterly Meaningless.” (2009).

Christian Apologetics UK. “Did Jesus Even Exist? The Problematic Argument from Silence.”

Loftus, John W. “Four Arguments from Silence.” (2006)

Wikipedia. Arguments from Silence