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Demanding Extraordinary Evidence for Extraordinary Claims Can Render You an Extraordinary Dupe

A couple of weeks ago my ministry hosted an online discussion (voice/text/vid) about the merits of the skeptical mantra, “Extraordinary Claims Require Extraordinary Evidence.”

One of my objections is right to the point:  any notion of what makes something ‘extraordinary’ is hopelessly subjective.  I for one find it deliciously ironic that our hyper-rationalistic scientific minded atheist friends so easily adopt such a weak standard for evaluating claims.  To measure the temperature of water, we’d use a thermometer.  For air pressure, a barometer.  These are scientific tools used by scientific minds;  I’ve never seen an instrument that can measure extraordinariness.

There is a corollary to this objection that I have recently seen illustrated.  The corollary is this:  if one applies a higher standard of inquiry against claims that they might deem extraordinary, then claims they find to be ordinary will ordinarily be accepted- without demonstration at all.  Here again we see skepticism turned on its head:  the skeptic is not skeptical about the things he is prepared already to believe.  It is only the things he deems unlikely that he is skeptical about- God alone knows how the skeptic determined something was ‘unlikely.’

It is a fact of human nature, I think, to quickly accept things that one is already prepared to accept.  If I am told tomorrow that some Democrat in high office has failed to pay his taxes- again- I will pretty much accept it as a fact because I have become accustomed to Democrats doing such things (eg here, here, here, and here).  We should expect nothing less from the people who believe that we should all pay higher taxes; by ‘we all’ it is known they mean us all.  I am prepared to believe it as a pretty ordinary claim in the realm of things and therefore will demand very little evidence to support it.   So you see, I am not exempting myself from this human tendency.

The problem is that this preparedness opens us all up to be exploited and taken advantage of.  A true skeptic- and I am closer to such than any so-called skeptic I have ever met- tests every claim according to reasonable, consistent standards of examination before accepting it as provisionally true.  By ‘reasonable’ I mean standards that are not ad hoc, capricious, and arbitrary, ie, labeling certain claims as ‘religious’ and turning the screws on them while being perfectly content to convict a man for murder and sentence him to death based on nothing more than a tiny piece of hair found on the murder weapon that matches that man’s DNA.

So earlier this week on Facebook I saw exactly the sort of outcome that can be expected when one hears a claim that one is prepared to immediately accept as true.  The headline of the news article:  Conservative Pie: Republicans Introduce Legislation Redefining Pi as Exactly 3.   What morons!  The Facebook friend says, paraphrased, “Not content with screwing up political matters, congress is screwing up math. This isn’t disturbing at all.  Our kids aren’t going to get smarter if you dumb things down.”

This was followed with an apology by someone else for the state of Alabama for producing the legislator who produced the legislation.

I thought it was worth pointing out what was already quite clear:  this article was on the Huffington Post’s humor page.

His reply? Paraphrased, “Given the record of congressional Republicans in some kinds of issues, such things aren’t all that unbelievable.”

And there you have it.  He was prepared to believe it before he heard it so when he heard it he believed it immediately and uncritically.  Ordinary claims are accepted uncritically, while extraordinary claims are held to hilariously high standards. 

I discovered my facebook friend was not alone.  Here are five websites that I found of people who re-printed the original article and apparently believed it was representing a true news account.  (There are certainly more.  This was a quick search.  It is clear from the comments on the original article itself that people were fooled) Here, Here, Here, Here, Here.  You can look for more examples of you own, here.   There seem to be a lot of people who quoted this verbatim, but I have a life.

This one is a classic, because it is now deleted, after the Democrat admitted that they accepted it immediately.  Oops.  That’s called transparency.

Now, I know that this entry has been constructed with political undertones to it.  The irony of the fact that the enlightened liberal secular humanist skeptical atheists who think the rest of us are bumpkins are the ones that so readily gulped this up hasn’t escaped my notice.  But it wasn’t really the purpose to take a jab at Democrats.  The incident illustrated what I was referring to in my objection, and it isn’t my fault that the incident happened to be a faux news article that took aim at Republicans.  I have to work with what I’ve got, you see.

So we return to that point, now.  All claims require demonstration.  They will all be demonstrated in the same ways.  That is, in real life they will be.  Special standards of demonstration actually create a blind spot in one’s intellect, creating an area where one is less skeptical the moment they create an area where they are more skeptical.

I would submit that each and every one of us has a duty to the truth and the facts and we should be prepared to scrutinize our own most cherished beliefs with the same level of scrutiny we apply to the ones we are suspicious about.  I won’t deny that practically speaking we must erect filters to help us make judgments as we wind our way through life, and that these filters are constructed with our past experiences in mind.  This is a fact- yet, if we are honest, we will admit that these filters cannot be given our full trust.  They can let us down.  Indeed, they often do.  For this reason, we must constantly be on our guard- not against the manipulators and exploiters (alone)- but against our own prejudices and preferences and desires about the world.

 

 

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    • NoNeedForAName on February 26, 2016 at 6:19 am

    This article is an epic testimonial to how Christendom is committed to anti-intellectualism. Wow.

    Allahu Akbar, infidel.

    • Michael on February 27, 2016 at 11:00 pm

    Extraordinary means simply “out of the ordinary.” I think we can find a common sense consensus on that. A miracle is extraordinary, I’d think people can agree. If not, it wouldn’t be a miracle. Is it odd for people to accept ordinary things with little to no evidence? No, I don’t think so. If someone says “I went to the store today” it’s easy to accept that just with their word. Hearing they saw the store destroyed by a falling meteor would be difficult to believe. Is that truly so odd? Not impossible for us to believe, just more difficult. I don’t think this is really that unreasonable.

    • Anthony on March 2, 2016 at 9:57 am
      Author

    You’re wrong, Michael. We can’t find a common sense consensus on it, which is my point. Furthermore, you make my point again about how this perspective can make you into a ‘dupe.’ You instinctively disbelieve a meteor crash and instinctively believe the ‘ordinary’ trip to the store. If someone is lying about the latter, you’re likely to just believe them, uncritically.

    You do this, because you can’t imagine that something as ‘ordinary’ like that could have ‘extraordinary’ implications–which is my point.

    For example, if someone says, “I went to the store today” that is indeed easy to accept. It’s an ‘ordinary’ thing. But, if that same person is being accused of murder (an extraordinary claim), then whether or not he went to the store (an extraordinary evidence) matters a great deal.

    I would imagine that in your ‘common sense’ understanding of what makes something ‘ordinary,’ you would allow that a human hair is pretty ordinary. No?

    Well, let’s say a man was murdered at that store, and the belief was that Obama did it. (I’m trying to make it REALLY extraordinary for you). If Obama went to the store, that’s a pretty ordinary thing… but it places him at the scene. If one of his very ordinary hairs was on the body, dude… Obama is going to jail for murder.

    Conversely, of course, if Obama said that he did NOT go to the store (also very ordinary) but the hair was found there (hair is very ordinary), this would disprove it.

    The fact that you are prepared to believe things without evidence, based on your personal perception of what constitutes ‘extraordinary’ is not commendable, in the slightest.

    But of course, you will happily concede that ordinary hair could lead to an extraordinary outcome (ie, get a man thrown in jail for murder), and that our criminal justice system does this sort of thing all the time, and quite validly. Not just for ‘extraordinary claims’ either. Very ordinary claims are backed by ordinary evidences, and people are set free or incarcerated, properly, based on that evidence. Most, if not all evidence, is very ‘ordinary.’

    So, then what we discover is that you don’t actually live by this principle in real life. Not really. You only use it in reference to the ‘God’ question. It’s totally ad hoc. Made up. Self-serving.

    Now, a miracle is indeed ‘extraordinary,’ but not in a ‘common sense’ way (which is subjective) but in a more technical, definitional way. That is, a miracle is, by definition, something that happens that is not allowed by the rules of nature. Note, however, that it does not follow that on this view, whether or not such an event happened would be validated on the same kinds and categories of evidence that we put people in jail for life–that is, very ordinary ones.

    I raise this distinction because ‘steady laws of nature that we humans are unable to violate’ are a pre-condition for ‘miracles.’ Just because the laws of nature are ‘ordinary’ for us, miracles are detectable. If the universe was chaotic, with no discernible rhyme or reason to any of it, you could not distinguish a ‘miracle’ from any other kind of event.

    To put it bluntly, a violation of the law of nature could be seen as ‘extraordinary’ over against the pattern of the laws of nature, but NOT ‘extraordinary’ if there is a God. The miracles themselves are not ‘extraordinary.’ They are to be expected if there is a God and there is an orderly universe and he wants to reveal himself to us in a way that we can discern is him, and not some creature likewise belonging to the universe.

    So, besides the problem that Sagan’s Balance is not really lived out in real life and only applied to the question of God, it is useless when applied to the question of God. If there is a God, then the occurrence of miracles is perfectly ordinary, and whether or not we believe we’ve witnessed one will be demonstrated or falsified by perfectly ordinary measures.

    Thus, whether or not something seems ‘extraordinary’ or not is very relative. Even a ‘miracle’ is only ‘extraordinary’ to YOU. To me, they are expected if there is a God. And of course, to God himself, they are banal.

    • Michael on March 2, 2016 at 6:30 pm

    Why can’t we? I think that’s something most of us could agree on. Simply believing whatever someone says to you, no matter how unusual, also makes people “dupes” it seems. I don’t “instinctively disbelieve”-it’s just harder to believe, not impossible. Yes, I’d agree if going to the store is their alibi that would be different.

    How is believing something ordinary someone says to you based on their word terrible? Isn’t their word evidence?

    I don’t think people being put in jail based on DNA evidence is really that extraordinary. That’s kind of the point. If the person accused of a murder defended themselves by saying their evil twin did it, however, that would be extraordinary and harder to believe. Not impossible, however, as I said.

    You don’t actually know whether I live out this principle in my life. I try to, but assuming I’ve failed (which is quite possible, being a flawed human) that would not invalidate it necessarily. This would simply be a failing on my part.

    I have also used it in reference to many questions, not just God and miracles. UFOs, for instance, and psychic powers etc. I think you will find those who follow the principle don’t focus simply on religious claims.

    Even if there is a God, it seems miracles are extraordinary-i.e., they do not happen ordinarily. You yourself said the “laws of nature” are ordinary. Any interruption would be extraordinary by definition.

    • Anthony on March 2, 2016 at 7:40 pm
      Author

    “Why can’t we? I think that’s something most of us could agree on.”

    Well, you think wrong. It might be a nice change of pace to see something like this more rigorously tested. You know, get 100 people in a room and see if you can actually find some things that qualify as ‘most’ that they agree on. Apart from something like that, its just a subjective short cut that tells us more about the one who makes the statement than it does about epistemology.

    “Simply believing whatever someone says to you, no matter how unusual, also makes people “dupes” it seems.”

    You’ll have to read more carefully. First of all, the title says it CAN make people dupes. Big difference. Second of all, I assume you meant ‘usual’ and not ‘unusual’? The point is that you’ll apply a less rigorous standard to something you consider ‘ordinary’ which makes it far more likely you’ll have an incorrect belief about something ‘ordinary’ than you would ‘extraordinary.’

    It’s just bad epistemology.

    “How is believing something ordinary someone says to you based on their word terrible? Isn’t their word evidence?”

    It isn’t terrible. I agree, it is evidence. As it relates to Sagan’s Balance, repeating:

    The point is that you’ll apply a less rigorous standard to something you consider ‘ordinary’ which makes it far more likely you’ll have an incorrect belief about something ‘ordinary’ than you would extraordinary.’

    “I don’t think people being put in jail based on DNA evidence is really that extraordinary.”

    Me neither. 🙂

    “That’s kind of the point.”

    Yes it is. That is the point. Likewise, theism will be supported or refuted by perfectly ‘ordinary’ evidences.

    “You don’t actually know whether I live out this principle in my life.”

    I’m trying to be charitable. If someone really lived out Sagan’s Balance they’d be one of the most gullible person you’d ever met. You don’t strike me as someone like that.

    “Even if there is a God, it seems miracles are extraordinary-i.e., they do not happen ordinarily. You yourself said the “laws of nature” are ordinary. Any interruption would be extraordinary by definition.”

    But the context matters, which is why I gave the example of the murder. A violation of the laws of nature is only extraordinary from our frame of reference and only in one specific way–we ourselves cannot violate the laws of nature. But, if there is a God, the laws of nature are as miraculous as the miracles. (On the Christian view of God.) And, like I said, since I believe there is a God… and billions of others do, too, you can’t say that ‘most’ would think it ‘extraordinary’ for God to do miracles. It would be ‘extraordinary’ if he didn’t.

    To your point about how they do not seem to happen ordinarily… yes… because if they did happen ordinarily, you wouldn’t be able to distinguish them from the background universe.

    I discuss this all in my book, available on Amazon, “The Golden Rule of Epistemology.”

    Thanks for your comments. I appreciate your respectful tone.

    • Michael on March 2, 2016 at 8:17 pm

    Well, if it requires testing how do you know I’m wrong ahead of time?

    No, I definitely meant unusual, it was reversing your statement. I think we are justified to apply a less rigorous standard for ordinary things, as they have a higher probability of being true based on past experience. While it’s possible you’ll still be wrong, I think you’re less likely to be on that basis.

    Sagan’s Balance must be another name for this statement that I’ve not heard about before, is that correct?

    I’m thinking of this from a human perspective, obviously to God it would be different. We seem to be coming at this from different angles though, unsurprisingly. How do you define a miracle? I’m thinking of it as something like this: “An effect or extraordinary event in the physical world that surpasses all known human or natural powers and is ascribed to a supernatural cause.” So of course if it’s defined that way the laws of nature are by definition not extraordinary or miraculous. If you have another definition I’m happy to hear it however. Of course I realize that most people do believe in a god. As you say, if they weren’t, there wouldn’t be anything even to distinguish them from the ordinary working of the universe.

    Looking at Amazon’s description, it says the Golden Rule is not using your reason to destroy reason. This sounds similar to something G. K. Chesterton wrote. So you think this statement (I’ll call it “Sagan’s Balance” as that’s shorter) is an example of that? How so?

    You’re welcome. I try to respect. Another Golden Rule is what I apply on that.

    • Anthony on March 2, 2016 at 9:13 pm
      Author

    “Well, if it requires testing how do you know I’m wrong ahead of time?”

    Well, I’ve been arguing with skeptics for almost 25 years, and Sagan’s Balance has always been uttered only as something that is ‘self-evident.’ If its supposed to be some kind of robust epistemological tool, you’d expect an actual defense of it. You know, like in scholarly journals, book form, something of that sort. Not as a one-off assertion that’s just supposed to cow you into silence.

    If it doesn’t require testing, what good is it? It really is just subjective. If it does require testing, where are the tests? Barring any kind of test, its one man’s opinion against another until someone ponies up something. And I’ve never met any man who agrees 100% with another man, even if they agree on a lot.

    “I think we are justified to apply a less rigorous standard for ordinary things, as they have a higher probability of being true based on past experience.”

    Depends on the context.

    “While it’s possible you’ll still be wrong, I think you’re less likely to be on that basis.”

    Well, you can think it, but you can’t actually know it unless you did a test to find out. 🙂

    What you really mean is that being right or wrong in these circumstances hasn’t tended to yield very big and noticeable consequences. Anecdotally, you’ve gotten along ‘ok.’

    “Sagan’s Balance must be another name for this statement that I’ve not heard about before, is that correct?”

    That is correct. He’s the one that made this maxim famous.

    “I’m thinking of this from a human perspective, obviously to God it would be different.”

    Right. Context is important.

    “We seem to be coming at this from different angles though, unsurprisingly.”

    See above, about any two men agreeing on anything, 100% 🙂

    “How do you define a miracle?”

    probably a little simpler than that, but not worth quibbling over.

    “So of course if it’s defined that way the laws of nature are by definition not extraordinary or miraculous.”

    Depends on context and frame of reference. 🙂

    “Looking at Amazon’s description, it says the Golden Rule is not using your reason to destroy reason. This sounds similar to something G. K. Chesterton wrote.”

    I have referenced Chesterton in this vein before.

    “So you think this statement (I’ll call it “Sagan’s Balance” as that’s shorter) is an example of that? How so?”

    No. The book is a collection of essays. I talk about reason, but also miracles, the laws of nature, and God’s ‘problem’ for communicating to finite creatures in a way that they can reliably know that it is Him and not a delusion or fraud.

    As for you and me, maybe we need to nail down where the actual disagreement is. You seem to be open to the idea that an extraordinary claim can be demonstrated through ordinary means. If you are, then we may not have very much to argue about. Usually, the maxim is stated to try to apply an unreasonably high standard for claims that someone is, subjectively, already inclined to disbelieve (ie, circular reasoning, etc.) But this doesn’t seem to be you. Or am I wrong?

    • Michael on March 2, 2016 at 9:24 pm

    Well, it wasn’t my intention to cow you into silence. I hope I’ve provided some defense of it, but others have done so too. Marcello Truzzi is the person who coined the “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” phrase. I’m sure he defended it. Prior to this I’d never heard it named “Sagan’s Balance” but that implies Carl Sagan probably also spoke in defense of it.

    I admit that I’ve felt your same reservations about it. The same can occur in using Occam’s Razor, or what’s also known as the principle of parsimony. What qualifies as “the simplest explanation” is equally contentious. So it’s more of a guideline than a rule to me.

    Why do you think higher probability depends on the context?

    I’m certainly not claiming any empirical data about this. For me it’s more a philosophical idea.

    As for what this means in practice, on this I agree with you: it depends. What do you mean by extraordinary claim, or ordinary evidence? We have different views on this. Perhaps an example, so I could give you my take?

    • Anthony on March 2, 2016 at 10:49 pm
      Author

    I’m not trying to say you are trying to cow me into silence. I’m just giving you some insight into my experience into this.

    I don’t want to come across as ungrateful, but by ‘defense’ I mean something quite a bit more formal. Stuff published in scholarly journals would be nice, but for my money, I’d like to see examples of how real professionals utilize it. For example, if the principle is any good, you’d think it would be deployed in more than one court case, with legal tests employed.

    If the principle is only good when applied to things that skeptics already don’t believe, and is not used by serious people in the search for truth, where life and death counts, or used by anyone else for any other area of inquiry, for that matter, that is very suggestive about its actual legitimacy.

    Yes, Occam’s razor is horribly abused. 🙂 Ockham was a Christian… I don’t think he really thought his guideline justifiably applied to God. 🙂

    I’m not saying ‘higher probability depends on the context.’ In fact, I don’t see anywhere that I mentioned probability at all. Do you refer to this:

    “The point is that you’ll apply a less rigorous standard to something you consider ‘ordinary’ which makes it far more likely you’ll have an incorrect belief about something ‘ordinary’ than you would ‘extraordinary.’”

    When I mean context, I don’t refer to probabilities. I mean that what we deem as ordinary or extraordinary hinges a great deal on the overall situation. Again, the idea of going to a store is ‘ordinary.’ But, if the store was the location of a murder, then the ‘ordinary’ claim potentially becomes extraordinary. And even then, whether or not we decide one’s presence at the store is extraordinary, its going to be established along very ordinary lines… a receipt, a transaction record on a credit card statement, a hair, some video, a witness account, or so on.

    A ‘miracle’ claim is only extraordinary if you know there isn’t a God. If you think there is a God, then you expect a miracle here or there. If you don’t yet know if there is a God, then an actual miracle would be evidence in favor of that proposition. But, unless you witnessed the miracle yourself, you’d be left with evaluating claims–and claims are an ordinary thing, whether the claim is about nacho chips, a witness to murder, or a witness of a miracle. We have very ordinary ways of weighing witness testimony.

    So, I would object to the assertion that a miracle is ‘extraordinary’ unless it was put into a greater context–which I would insist for any claim. But since I would insist on it for any claim, what good is the principle at all?

    Hopefully I have also answered your last question, especially as it pertains to ‘ordinary evidence.’ ‘Ordinary’ evidence is going to be the kind of evidence that we use to evaluate any kind of claim. An ordinary piece of hair is sufficient to put a man in jail for life. Likewise, the testimony of a reputable witness. Why can’t claims regarding theology (or even the paranormal, etc, if you insist) be substantiated in the same degree and kind that we give someone a life sentence?

    Or, to put that last in a slightly different way: to put a man in jail for life, we only ask for ‘beyond a reasonable doubt.’ We don’t ask for ‘beyond ALL doubt.’ Demanding ‘extraordinary evidence for extraordinary claims’ is much more like ‘beyond ALL doubt’ than it is ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ because it puts the claims beyond the threshold of demonstration we have for most other very important things we scrutinize in real life.

    • Michael on March 2, 2016 at 11:00 pm

    Ah, well I’m sorry that you’ve experienced that.

    I don’t know about if any philosophers have discussed it. Nor whether it really would apply to court cases.

    I think it could apply to other areas, as I’ve said, however I’m not sure it’s been done.

    I’m sure Occam would be mortified to see it used by atheists. From what I recall, he had ideas of what counted as evidence that we would reject. So it’s probably better to use “parsimony” rather than Occam’s Razor.

    Yes, I see what you mean by the context here. I think that while a murder is more extraordinary for some (although sadly not others, in high-crime areas) it would be less extraordinary than other occurrences. So yes, it does depend upon context in that sense.

    I understand your argument better here, and it seems like I’ve had much the same thoughts about this in the past. However, I’m still not sure if comparing this with court cases is the best idea. Many evidences that have been used for miracles would not really apply there. That may be more of a technical problem however.

    • Anthony on March 3, 2016 at 8:38 am
      Author

    I gave court cases as an example. My underlying point is that if a line of argument or reasoning or epistemological principle is actually good, we will see it used in areas outside disputes about God and religion.

    Religionists are often accused of setting up ad hoc standards by which to evaluate the merits of their religion. Not so, Christian religionists. They have a long history of appealing to the same methods used to evaluate reality that professionals employ. Case in point (again, just to illustrate), Simon Greenleaf, who evaluated the Gospels from the perspective of their admissibility in a court of law.

    Given this, its ironic when skeptics themselves turn to ad hoc standards. If this principle is not ad hoc, then I would expect doctors, chemists, lawyers, etc, to be aware of it and make use of it.

    I don’t know that this is the place to discuss the evidence for miracles. This post had a narrow purpose, which I believe, after our conversation, you understand, even if you don’t fully agree.

    • Michael on March 3, 2016 at 6:50 pm

    I don’t know, maybe it doesn’t apply elsewhere.

    The legal standard wouldn’t apply to the Gospels, I’d think. It has rules of evidence that do not permit hearsay or documents older than about thirty years as I recall. However your point is understandable. They have been evaluated with the historical method.

    Yes, we should stick to the subject. I think we understand each other, and this has been a good dialogue.

    • Anthony on March 3, 2016 at 6:58 pm
      Author

    Simon Greenleaf was a world class attorney. It was actually the problem of hearsay / old documents that he meant to address. Here is the book:

    http://www.amazon.com/Examination-Testimony-Evangelists-Evidence-Administered/dp/0979127696/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1457053015&sr=8-2&keywords=simon+greenleaf+testimony

    I’m sure the text is available somewhere online.

    • Timaahy on March 6, 2016 at 2:25 am

    For example, if someone says, “I went to the store today” that is indeed easy to accept. It’s an ‘ordinary’ thing. But, if that same person is being accused of murder (an extraordinary claim), then whether or not he went to the store (an extraordinary evidence) matters a great deal.

    Indeed.

    I believe you and I have touched on this subject before. I can’t find the link now (oh OK, fine, I can’t be bothered looking), but my main point was exactly your point above.

    Where we differ, I believe, is on a pure technicality.

    Yes, if we’re going to be anally-retentive truth Nazis living in Hypothicalifornia, to categorically prove whether the man went to the shops requires exactly the same amount of evidence, irrespective of what purposes the proof will serve.

    But we don’t live in Hypothicalifornia. And anally-retentive truth Nazis are annoying.

    If you are going to claim that a bronze age Jewish carpenter was born to a 15-year-old virgin, died and then rose from the dead, and then use that belief to get yourself a holiday or two, I might be inclined to take your word for it. Holidays are nice.

    But if you’re going to use that belief to enjoy a tax-free charity status, and deny women bodily autonomy, and prevent the terminally ill from accessing euthanasia, and deny same-sex couples the right to marry, and countless other religiously inspired interferences, then, I’m sorry, but I’m gonna need more than your word. And more than the words from an internally-inconsistent collection of fairy tales passed on by word-of-mouth centuries after the events they purport to describe.

    Sure, if I wanted to be a prick I could demand infallible scientific proof in both cases. But as I said, anally-retentive truth Nazis are annoying. And holidays are nice.

    • End Bringer on March 8, 2016 at 12:06 am

    In other words, it’s not about what’s true and what’s not to you.

    It’s about serving an agenda you personally prefer no matter what.

    Thanks for the clarification.

    • Anthony on March 8, 2016 at 3:19 pm
      Author

    Tim,

    The question is whether or not your expectations are reasonable.

    The purpose of this post was to throw cold water on the fairly smug and typically simplistic uttering of Sagan’s Balance, as if it is self-evident and is, to any degree, objective.

    Even your examples smack of subjectivity. For example, you assume that… tax free charity status, ‘denying women bodily autonomy’, preventing euthanasia, and so on and so on are ‘extraordinary’ measures based on an ‘extraordinary’ claim. But, as Michael and I sorted out, certain implications of the Christian worldview are perfectly ordinary–if there is a God.

    Which means, if there is a God, it is YOUR bias against charities, your willingness to let women kill their own children in the name of autonomy, your willingness to kill people who are (on your own telling) going to die anyway, etc, that is ‘extraordinary.’

    If there is a God, that he choose to incarnate through a young girl, then die, and rise again, is pretty simple stuff. After all, he created the universe, and everything in it, including all the rules, etc.

    The only way that you could know if this is ‘extraordinary’ or not is if you had some kind of special knowledge (ie, you were omniscient) so that you could evaluate thousands and millions of universes so that you could know what to expect or not to expect as ‘ordinary’ if there was, or wasn’t a God. But you’ve only got one universe. That’s your baseline.

    If the very thing you are investigating is whether or not there is a God, then you cannot use the ‘extraordinary’ argument to evaluate the matter, because you have to have a mass of ‘ordinary’ to serve as your background to distinguish between it and the ‘extraordinary.’ You don’t have that.

    I think there is room for understanding some things as ‘extraordinary’ but in a much more limited way. But not in your way. 🙂 Your way begs the question. And that’s not reasonable.

    I will remind you also that the regular observed laws of the universe are a pre-condition for recognizing miracles (if they occurred). If the universe was chaotic, you could never know what was chance and what was actual information (you probably couldn’t even have information). If there weren’t ‘rules of nature’ you wouldn’t know when they were being violated.

    I say this because you mention the virgin birth and the resurrection as if they are extraordinary… and this somehow makes them unreasonable and irrational. It’s the opposite–if virgins gave birth all the time and people rose from the dead all the time, then it would be meaningless if God did it. It is precisely because it is extraordinary that MAKES it a candidate for a genuine revelation by God, because it is only in the violations of the ordinary that he could, in principle, be reliably detected.

    Which brings us to the other matter–how would such things be demonstrated. This is the point of my mentioning ordinary hair and ordinary testimony. It’s good enough to put people in jail for life… its good enough to test ‘religious’ truth claims, too.

    “And more than the words from an internally-inconsistent collection of fairy tales passed on by word-of-mouth centuries after the events they purport to describe.”

    Begs the question. You assume they are fairy tales. But what if that’s the very issue under discussion?

    Most things you know about history are passed on by word of mouth.

    What would you prefer? Direct revelation?

    I don’t see you thinking very highly of Mormonism or Islam, both of which boast exactly that.

    Or, do you prefer Direct, PERSONAL revelation?

    You should be careful what you wish for.

    I submit my book “Golden Epistemology” for more on that.

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