Logical Gal examines the ‘extraordinary’

28 Feb

Extraordinary Claims

I heard this thrown out as a defeater for the truth of the resurrection of Jesus.  At first blush, it sounds pretty reasonable.  But then the skeptic in me started to question this claim.

When you face an assertion such as this you need to ask about the quantifier.

To wit, do ALL extraordinary claims require this degree of evidence?  or just some?

If the one making this ‘claim’ affirms that he intends ALL such claims to require that caliber of evidence, then you have an easy way to defeat his proposition.  All you have to do is think of ONE counter-example and you have defeated him.

So what would qualify as a potential counter-example?  I immediately thought of the lottery.

Lottery winner

If one of our sons called up to tell us that he had won the lottery, that would qualify as an extraordinary claim.  So what kind of evidence would he need to produce for me to believe him?

Actually, something very simple

  • He could show me the winning ticket
  • I’d also take a picture like the one above as proof

It wouldn’t take much to substantiate his amazing claim.

Now back to the context of the Carl Sagan quote.  Sagan who was paraphrasing David Hume was referring to the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.  That certainly does qualify as an extra-ordinary claim.  You don’t see former dead people walking around very often.  So how would I handle the demand for ‘extra-ordinary’ evidence?

What do we do when we don’t know which way to proceed?

Ask questions

The easiest tact to take is to ask your interlocutor what she means by extra-ordinary evidence. What would qualify?  After all, we have eye-witness testimony that was verifiable by many.  Paul mentions that over 500 people encountered the risen Jesus.  And when Paul made that claim, had it not been true, most of those people were still alive themselves.  They could have come forward and said, “I did not say that!”  Moreover, no body was ever found (that would have defeated the ‘resurrected Jesus’ claim) and scared followers changed their demeanor overnight and started a movement that has only built up momentum in the 2000 years since the event.  Christianity continues to expand today.

Finally – I would ask Carl Sagan or David Hume or anyone who repeats this double extra-ordinary assertion the following: Is YOUR proposition an ordinary one or an extraordinary one?  What kind of evidence do YOU have to justify your position?

We logical Joes and Janes have to exercise healthy skepticism.  Resurrection-deniers don’t have a corner on that market!

Skeptical

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