Responding to the “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidences” Objection
by Rob Lundberg
The other day, I was reading Michael Shermer’s preface to Peter Boghossian’s book, A Manual for Creating Atheists, where he rants about believing in eternal life, Jesus, and God’s work of salvation as being an extraordinary claim made by Bible believing Christians. He then states that he used to be a Christian but he found it unreasonable and having been influenced by science and ”reason” he became an atheist.
In the preface to Boghossian’s book I found something I could not resist posting on, particularly if we find ourselves talking to groupies of the “new” (as in popular) atheism. Shermer’s ridiculing of Christianity was in the context of a popular atheist objection (or gauntlet) that I wish to address in this post, “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” This is a “throw down” objection given by many of those embracing the new atheism.
This phrase was first popularized by Carl Sagan (1934-96), who was an astronomer, author and host of the popular PBS TV series, Cosmos. Alongside 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?
Really the statement, ‘extraordinary claims requires extraordinary evidence‘ is a self-explanatory statement. Anyone making an extraordinary claim, needs the extraordinary evidence to back up the statement. 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 its veracity.
Our culture today is not without charlatans and false teachers who are making extraordinary claims without any circumstantial evidence to back it up. Just this morning I read an article about a pastor in Africa who claimed that he could walk on water. By the way, he couldn’t swim. As ridiculous as this sounds, it is a sad commentary today of the lack of the necessary critical thinking skills to help them avoid being conned or harmed emotionally or physically, by anyone like the name it claim it false TV preacher, politician, or anyone e else throwing down an erroneous bill of nonsensical goods.
At the same time our critical thinking skills also require a bit of healthy skepticism to aid in the usage of our built in baloney detectors. In all honesty, the statement ‘extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence’ is really not a bad statement. The problem surrounding it is the unbelief of the evidence that we present to the atheist.
But before I agree with the statement, I want to show some of the qualifications that are needing to be understood before I would fully agree with it. So let’s look at those qualifications…
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