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Does a Possibly Make a Probably?

by Nathaniel Bluedorn

We all make mistakes in our thinking – fallacies. Confusing something that is possible with something that is probable is the possibility fallacy. The following report is a fictional example of this fallacy.

Special Report: Moon Landing Hoax

In 1969, NASA announced they landed a man on the Moon. However, there is growing evidence that this was a hoax.

It started when veteran photograph analyzer “Allan” began to question whether it was possible to land on the moon. “I found we couldn’t have done it,” he says. “The technology just wasn't there in 1969. Computers were merely glorified calculators.”

“But what about the pictures of astronauts on the moon?” you say. Allan and his team studied the Apollo photographs and concluded, “There are literally tons of problems. Our discoveries suggest these pictures were actually taken in a Hollywood studio.”

No Stars
Photo A

For example, look at Photo A. Where are the stars? “On the moon there isn't any atmosphere, so you should see more stars than on Earth.” But you can't see a single star!

"C" on Rock
Photo B

Now look at Photo B. Do you see the “C” someone drew on the rock? This probably meant the rock went in a certain place on the stage – they just forgot to turn it upside down.

Another question Allan asks is, “How is it possible they took so many pictures? The average temperature on the moon during the day ranges from 260° F to 280° F. How did the film in the cameras survive? At that temperature photographic film would melt.”

Why did NASA fake the moon landings? Allan says the answer is simple. “We were in the Cold War with Russia, and we wanted to show the world that we were better.”

Did This Report Convince You?

This report shows that it is possible the NASA moon landing was a hoax. (1) Maybe we can’t see the stars because it was all faked. (2) Maybe there’s a “C” on the rock because it was a studio prop. (3) Maybe the film would melt if it were taken to the moon. So, it is possible that NASA astronauts didn’t land on the moon.

But remember, a possibly doesn’t make a probably. There is lots of evidence that NASA didland on the moon. Imagine a balance scale: on one side, we put evidence that NASA did land on the moon and on the other side we put evidence that NASA didn’t.

The evidence that NASA did land on the moon includes:

Difference between Possible and Probable

All of us can confuse these important ideas: (1) what is impossible, (2) what is possible, and (3) what is probable. Let’s explain the difference.

1. Something is impossible if there is no way that it could be true.

Jack realized he’d made a revolutionary discovery. When you add two plus three underwater, you always come up with seven. Every math textbook must be rewritten!

2. Something is possible if there is a chance that it could be true.

Little Girl : Mom, is it possible the hospital switched me at birth and I’m really a princess?

Mother : Yes, but it’s not likely. Now eat your asparagus – even a princess must eat her asparagus.

3. Something is probable if it is more likely true than not true. We must weigh the evidence and decide.

Annoyed Dairy Farmer: Dulcy got out of her pen again, and I can’t find her – she’s probably on the other side of the moon.

Calm Wife: No, she always goes for my strawberries – that’s where you’ll probably find her.

If someone chooses to believe a possibility while ignoring evidence that supports an obvious probability, he is using the possibility fallacy .

Our cure for this fallacy is to look at the evidence as if we were holding a balance scale. We look at the evidence, and we filter out the possibilities that are probably not true. This is hard for people like us! We never want to throw away our favorite possibilities. But we need to get this right; so many choices in life can depend on judgments like this.

Exercises

In the examples below, indicate whether what is said is (1) totally impossible, (2) possibly true, or (3) probably true. No evidence is given; simply use your knowledge of history, science, or the Bible.

  1. Moses and King David were great friends. They often went out for a milk shake at Checker’s drive-in.
  2. Abraham Lincoln decided to grow a beard after a little girl wrote him a letter saying he’d look better with one.
  3. The tallest mountain in the lower forty-eight states is west of the Mississippi.
  4. Iowa Farm Boy: “Mom! Dad was out plowing the cornfield, and the tractor almost fell in a new volcano that’s forming out there! Call the fire department!”
  5. NASA’s Opportunity rover has found evidence of water on Mars.
  6. Homeschooling Today magazine is actually a covert CIA operation used to send coded messages to agents in Argentina.
  7. Honeybees never sting when they’re foraging for nectar.
  8. Grandpa, with four-year-old grandson on his knee: “When I was your age, I did mountain climbing. I remember the day I summited on Everest alone. . . .”
  9. Read the following example and choose whether A or B is the wiser choice based on the evidence in the story.

Advertisement: “Invest in our lead teacups – this is how the super-rich protect their wealth! We know the price of lead teacups hasn’t changed for two hundred years, but this is only a trick. We’ve studied the market, and we have secret information that the price of lead teacups will soon go through the roof!”


"Moon Landing Hoax" from Logic in 100 Minutes DVD

Answers

  1. Impossible. The Bible says Moses was dead before King David was born.
  2. Probably true.
  3. Probably true.
  4. Possible. It’s always possible a new mountain will form in Iowa.
  5. Probably true. NASA is a reputable institution.
  6. Possible.
  7. Nathaniel: “Probably true.” Hans: “Impossible. I’ve been stung in the eye by one of Nathan’s bees when I wasn’t near the hives.”
  8. Impossible. It is not reasonable that a four-year-old could climb Mount Everest alone.
  9. B. If the price of lead teacups hasn’t changed for the past two hundred years, it’s not likely it will today.

First appeared in Homeschooling Today magazine, September-October 2004.

Copyright September 01, 2004, all rights reserved. 72003 views


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