Even extraordinary claims require only ordinary evidence!

by Robert Bently

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post describing how some critics of Christianity use demands for “evidence” as a way of dodging tough questions rather than dealing with them. In that post, I described a hypothetical example of two strangers: one tells me he has a pet dog and the other tells me he has a pet sloth. In these cases, I would be apt to believe the claim to own a dog but be skeptical of the claim to own a sloth.A few people have tried to point out to me that my heightened suspicion of the claim to own a sloth actually contradicts a point I made later in my post. Carl Sagan made a famous claim that, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” By me being more critical of the claim to own a sloth than a dog, they say I’m engaging in exactly the kind of skepticism Sagan said was necessary before believing an extraordinary claim. I don’t think so, but since a few people have accused me of the same thing, I thought I’d use this as an opportunity to expound my earlier point.

First off, Sagan’s claim is self-contradicting. If it were true, then where is the evidence for Sagan’s claim? I’m not even asking for extraordinary evidence, mind you. I mean any scientific evidence whatsoever to justify the claim that claims require evidence? If Sagan were here and I asked him to present the evidence for his claim, I’m sure he would resort to logic and reason which proves my point. Through logic and reason, we can make judgments about the truthfulness of a claim – even a claim for which there may be no scientific evidence! In my example about the sloth, you will notice that not once did I demand to see the sloth. My point in asking more questions was so that I might judge the truthfulness of the claim using only my skills of logic and reason.

But let’s examine that a little but further. What if I were an especially stubborn skeptic and demand to see a picture of the sloth? If he pulled out a photo of him holding his sloth, that really still wouldn’t prove anything. How do I know he didn’t have that picture taken some exotic petting zoo somewhere? How do I know it’s not a Photoshop? Maybe he could take me to his home and show the sloth in person. It’s still not enough because, if I were especially bullheaded, I could ask for proof that this was his home. You say he has the deed? So what?! Maybe he’s leasing part of his property to someone else who actually owns the sloth! No matter what evidence he shows me, I could sit cross armed and skeptical saying, “That’s not enough evidence!”…

Even extraordinary claims require only ordinary evidence!