Silence is not evidence of approval
July 28, 2012 § 5 Comments
In Catholic circles, I seem to find this argument or cognates of it everywhere:
“Lots of good people are arguing that X. X pertains to a really important issue, and the Pope hasn’t condemned X. Surely X would have been condemned by the Church if it were wrong, because it is so important. So the fact that the Church hasn’t condemned X supports the argument that X.”
Elizabeth Anscombe has pointed out that “The argument from the silence of the Holy See has itself been condemned by the Holy See”. (Warning: evil PDF format). Some people might not want to take Anscombe’s word for it though.
Anscombe’s citation from Denzinger on this is number 1127. It is from a list of “Various Errors on Moral Matters,” condemned in a decree of Sept 24, 1665 by Pope Alexander VII. In my version of Denzinger it is on page 321, and reads in English translation as follows (this is a condemned proposition):
“If a book be published by a younger or modern person, its opinion should be considered as probable, since it has not been rejected by the Holy See as improbable.”
I don’t know what word in what language in the 1665 manuscript was translated as “book”, but I think it would be reasonable to assume that it refers to published opinion. So the fact that there is lots of published opinion (blog posts, op eds, or general bloviating anywhere) that X and the Holy See has not condemned X, does not provide evidence for the truth of X.
Taking the silence of the Holy See as evidence of approval isn’t just a fallacy. It is a heresy.