There is a marvelous video circulating on YouTube called “Cosmic Quandaries with Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson.” The program was set at The Palladium in St. Petersburg, Florida, on Wednesday, March 26th, 2009. In complete control of the stage, Tyson masterly explicated some of the most complex discoveries in theoretical physics, astrobiology, and cosmic history. As always his humorous insights were magnificent. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CAD25s53wmE)
A highlight in the presentation came when he was asked by an audience member to explain dark matter. Tyson said that dark matter is a hypothetical form of matter which is invisible to electromagnetic radiation. It does not absorb or emit light, and it does not collide with atomic particles but exerts gravitational force. Although it has never been detected, it (along with dark energy) makes up 90% of the mass of the universe. Tyson then used an analogy of a bear. The reality of the bear can be inferred from the plausible evidence that it leaves behind. For example, if someone is camping in the woods and finds a series of large paw tracks, that would indicate the presence of bears. Furthermore, if a camper saw large piles of poop next to the tracks, that too would indicate the presence of bears. As would the reports of eyewitnesses who saw bears in the same area. Tyson concludes that we may not know what exactly dark matter is, but we know enough about the evidence which it leaves behind to surmise that it does indeed exist. Great stuff!
Around 55 minutes in the program things get really interesting. Someone from the balcony shouted out a question about UFOs and whether Tyson believes in ET visitation. Receiving the question with a jesting “I’m not authorized to talk about that,” he went on to belittle all UFO observers, experiencers, and researchers by saying that the whole phenomenon is simply a fallacy known in philosophy circles as the Argument from Ignorance. According to Tyson, when people see something unidentifiable they are prone to assume that it is a craft operated by alien beings from outer space. Yet once someone admits that a UFO has no conventional explanation, that would necessarily rule out any explanation dealing with conventional subjects- including little green men from mars and strange Greys from Andromeda. The implication is clear enough: if someone believes in UFOs- especially if they base their belief on the testimony of eye witnesses- they are either hopelessly gullible or pathetically ignorant. He even declares, “the lowest form of evidence is eyewitness testimony.”
As much as I respect Dr. Tyson and his vast contributions to the world of modern education, I wonder if he is not committing the same fallacy of argumentation that he accuses UFO observers and researchers of making. For instance, what about crop circles, abductions, anomalous relics, debris from crash sights, and hundreds of credible testimonies from witnesses including U.S. Presidents, astronauts, commercial airline pilots, and whistleblowers from every branch of the covert and overt military? When Tyson ridicules people who classify UFOs as extraterrestrial, he is forgetting that most people believe in their reality not because they see physical craft in the sky but because they have been exposed to a large collection of circumstantial and inferential evidence- including the phenomenon of crop circles, which involves knowledge of botany, agriculture, mathematics, and semiotics; reports of abductions; the discovery of relics, debris, and other found objects of unknown origin, which requires expertise in the fields of archeology and forensics; and hundreds of eye-witness accounts.
That Tyson is so eager to dismiss this physical and psychological data, is, to be plainspoken, beneath him as a scientist. With all due respect, he is the one who actually winds up arguing from ignorance. What is more, isn’t it interesting that his analogy about the bear perfectly describes the situation that most UFO and ET researchers find themselves in today? In other words the vast majority of these people have never even seen a UFO! Nonetheless, they believe in the existence of ETs because they leave behind so much evidence. Could it be that people are willing to accept the ET hypothesis not because they know with empirical certainty that these beings are really out there, but because they have seen photographs, videos, eyewitness testimonies, ancient relics, government memos, and clues from sacred texts. Perhaps, the same reason that Tyson believes in the reality of dark matter, is the same reason people believe in the reality of extraterrestrial beings: there is simply too much evidence to disregard their presence as being a mere hoax or psychological fallacy.