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Error: "The Only Proof Is That There Is No Proof!"

Look Mother, the Emperor doesn't have his clothes!
"Look Mother, the Emperor doesn't have his clothes!"

1) Introduction

An assertion is either true, or non-true. If it's true, the person asserting it must be able to show it's true, thanks to a proof. This proof can require a more or less long reasoning, or on the contrary be a return to a simple observation (like showing one's right hand to someone who doubts our assertion "My right hand has five fingers"). But in any case, during a philosophical debate, we must be able to prove what we assert.

In my debates, I sometimes encounter (especially with Atheists) people who invoke as "proof", the very absence of proof!

2) How this error presents itself

As any dishonest manoeuvre during a debate, this error doesn't present itself "naked". Normally, the person committing this error will "dress it up" with the defects of his listeners.

A few examples:

2.1 Pride. "Mister Emperor, here are your new clothes! They are made of a fabric so beautiful and luxurious, that only people who are very intelligent and high-class can see it!"

2.2 Hatred. "We must exterminate Jews, since they are sub-human! Indeed, only sub-humans could be the cause of all the disgust and repugnance that wells up in our hearts, when we think about them!"

2.3 Envy. "The accused is guilty! Indeed, everybody knows he is rich!"

Etc., etc.

3) The "It's a plot" variation

A frequent variant of this error is to try to hide the absence of proof, by claiming the accused himself eliminated that proof! Of course, the accuser never explains how come he knows about these "proofs", even though no trace of them can be found! Since no facts are required to make accusations using this method, it's a favorite of conspiracy theorists.

4) How can we refute this error?

Excuse me for a moment, I have to stop writing this article to make an urgent phone call! I must call the police, since you just killed your grandmother and robbed a bank! The proof? Well, since you're a very crafty criminal, you've wiped out all traces of your crimes, therefore you're guilty! Hello? Police?


Seriously, in a philosophical debate, you just need to say:

Quod gratis asseritur, gratis negatur.
("What is asserted without proof, can be rejected without proof.")

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