What the Demand for Extraordinary Evidence Really Means
by Al Serrato
Recent posts considered the challenge of many secularists that “extraordinary claims” – like the resurrection and other miracles of Jesus – require “extraordinary proof.” While this phrase makes for a catchy jingle, it demonstrates, I tried to show, an underlying bias on the part of the person who adheres to it.
At one level, an extraordinary claim is simply one that is so out of the ordinary that the likelihood it actually occurred appears quite low. Winning the lottery, for example, would be difficult to believe, considering the one in a several million odds against bagging the big prize. But if you held the winning numbers in your hand, despite the quite ordinary nature of your proof, I have no doubt that you would expect this ordinary evidence to be accepted. Imagine your shock if you were to hear the lottery official demand something more “extraordinary” to support your claim. You would suspect a scam, and you would probably be right.
There are other “claims” that defy intuition and common experience. In the field of criminal law, it is exceedingly unlikely to find a mother who would torture and murder her own child. Common experience and a basic awareness of maternal instincts lead most to conclude that mothers simply don’t engage in this type of behavior. Yet when an extraordinarily evil act such as this does occur, juries do not – or at least should not – expect some supernatural type of proof before they convict. Proof is proof, and with sufficient “normal” evidence, there is simply no reason to doubt that an historical event – whether a murder, a winning lottery ticket or a resurrection – can be established as factual, not fictitious.
To these examples, the skeptic will no doubt reply that winning the lottery or killing a child – however out of the ordinary – do not involve “supernatural” acts. They can be explained, and accepted, as the result of purely natural forces. Trying to prove that Jesus died and then returned to life in a supernatural body is an event for which there is no “natural” explanation. Consequently, this historical “event” is not simply unlikely – i.e. having an extremely low probability like the probability of winning the lottery – it is impossible. It didn’t occur, they will contend, not because a person doubts the witness’ accounts or credibility, but because it was not possible for it to occur. And impossible things simply don’t happen. This is really what the skeptic is saying, however obscurely he addresses the issue.
Getting the skeptic to see this underlying presupposition may be the first step in getting him to see this his doubt is not logically compelled. Here’s why…
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