Sunday, November 16, 2014

Do Extraordinary Claims Require Extraordinary Evidence?

Almost all atheists live by the principle that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. We recite it almost like a reflex whenever some theist trots out a claim to the supernatural "truth" of their religion. The atheist demands a high standard of evidence because the nature of the claim is high. But realizing the difficulties with being able to produce extraordinary evidence to support their extrodinary claims (which they can't), some theists have chosen to attack the principle instead.

Randal Rauser is one of them. He's written criticisms of this popular atheist saying several times on his blog and even tried to parody it with the idea that "Extraordinary cars require extraordinary acceleration". There's a categorical mistake by comparing cars and acceleration to claims and evidence. Claims always need to be backed up by evidence, no matter how ordinary or extraordinary. For every claim, there needs to be evidence. The more extraordinary the claim, the more extraordinary the evidence should be. Seems reasonable. For cars, extraordinary cars do not require extraordinary acceleration. There's no relationship between how rare or unusual a car is and how much acceleration it needs. A custom made car that is one of a kind doesn't require any extra acceleration needs.

Randal objects to the idea that claims about god, virgin births, resurrections, and spirits living among us are extraordinary. He's thinks they're perfectly, well, ordinary. But there are problems with this position.

In order for something to be ordinary it has to be common, routine, standard, or typical. That's the definition of ordinary. So to claim that gods, virgin births, resurrections, and spirits living among us are ordinary, is to say that they are common, routine, standard, or typical. But things that are ordinary are uncontroversial because they are backed up by lots of empirical data and we experience them frequently.

People flying on airplanes are ordinary; people flying on magic carpets are not. We recognize this because no one has ever seen or documented a flying carpet. Thus, such claims would be extraordinary, because they aren't common, routine, standard, or typical. If we were living in a world infused with spirits, resurrected bodies, virgin births, and flying carpets, then a claim that there was a virgin birth, and a resurrected body 2000 years ago would be ordinary. But we don't live in such a world. We live in such a world where these things are never shown to have happened. And that's why such claims are extraordinary and require extraordinary evidence.

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