Responding to the “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidences” Objection
by Rob Lundberg
Not too long ago, I was reading Michael Shermer’s preface to Peter Boghossian’s book, A Manual for Creating Atheists. In the preface, he criticizes belief in eternal life, Jesus, and God’s work of salvation as being extraordinary claims made by Bible believing Christians. He reminisced about how he used to be an evangelical Christian, but he found these claims unreasonable. After researching what he calls the truth found in science and ”reason” he became an atheist.
As I was reading Shermer’s remarks, I found something I could not resist addressing. Those of us who have found ourselves talking to someone embracing the “new” (as in popular) atheism may have heard this claim. But Shermer’s ridiculing religious faith was in the context of a popular atheist objection (may I use the term “gauntlet”?) that I want to address in this post: “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” Where does this statement come from?
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This phrase was first popularized by Carl Sagan (1934-96), who was an astronomer, author, and host of the popular PBS TV series, Cosmos. Along with his television show, Sagan is known for his hundreds of scientific articles, and for being a professor of astronomy at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. What did Sagan mean by this statement?
Sagan’s dogmatic statement, ‘extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence‘ is really self-explanatory. Anyone making an extraordinary claim, needs the extraordinary evidence to back up veracity of the claim. For example, if someone said they saw the late great Elvis Presley over at the local McDonalds, they would need some solid circumstantial evidence to back up that claim. In other words, the extraordinary claim would need some extraordinary evidence to show that Elvis was really at the local McDonalds.
May I say that the church is in dire need of training in critical thinking? At the same time, I think there is nothing wrong with having a little healthy skepticism, particularly with some of the wild stuff that is coming up on Facebook walls. To be honest, there are some reasons that I think this statement is really not all that bad. The problem surrounding it is the unbelief encompassing the evidence that we present to the atheist.
So, before I agree with the statement, allow me to present some of the qualifications that are needing to be understood before full agreement can be accepted. Let’s look at those qualifications…