Do extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence?


(Carson Weitnauer) #1

Hi everyone,

Michael Shermer is publisher of Skeptic magazine and a Presidential Fellow at Chapman University. In an article published at the Scientific American website on Easter Sunday, entitled “What Would It Take to Prove the Resurrection?”, he argues the following:

What about religious truths? The proposition that Jesus was crucified may be true by historical validation, inasmuch as a man whom we refer to as Jesus of Nazareth probably existed, the Romans routinely crucified people for even petty crimes, and most biblical scholars—even those who are atheists or agnostics, such as renowned religious studies professor Bart Ehrman of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill—assent to this fact. The proposition that Jesus died for our sins, in contrast, is a faith-based claim with no purchase on valid knowledge. In between these is Jesus’s Resurrection, which is not impossible but would be a miracle if it were true. Is it?

The principle of proportionality demands extraordinary evidence for extraordinary claims. Of the approximately 100 billion people who have lived before us, all have died and none have returned, so the claim that one (or more) of them rose from the dead is about as extraordinary as one will ever find. Is the evidence commensurate with the conviction?

What do you think? Is this a strong argument?

In particular, do you think the principle of proportionality is a good one?

(SeanO) #2

@CarsonWeitnauer I think that aside from the principle of proportionality, part of the problem for the skeptic is that they limit valid evidence to that which can be attested with our 5 senses or measured in a laboratory. God is spirit “and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24).

The following passages make a claim that God is self-evident, but that people reject Him because they love darkness rather than light.

Romans 1:20 says - " For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse."

John 3:19 - “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.”

2 Thessalonians 2:10-12 - “and all the ways that wickedness deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. 11 For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie 12 and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness.”

So there is a spiritual dimension to knowledge and peoples’ desires can lead them to reject knowledge of God and walk into spiritual darkness.

I think when the skeptic talks about ‘proportionality’ they will find on judgment day the evidence was quite proportional enough, but it was not restricted to the physical world.

C. S. Lewis makes this point brilliantly in ‘Til We Have Faces’ - where one of the characters rationalizes a misdeed only to find out on something similar to the ‘day of judgment’ that they knew it was wrong all along and did it anyway. Their own rationalizations were exposed and their true heart revealed.

(Terrell Allison) #3

I believe extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. What day is it? To have everything we possess stamped with the date of the birth of Jesus Christ, and everything dated to pre Christ, or post Christ has to be extraordinary evidence to the truth of who he is. All international mail and shipping are stamped with the birth date of Christ.

If I go to the grocery store and purchase 30 items it is assured that almost every item with be stamped with Christ’s birth. You can’t make a contract, whether it be a marriage contract, and installment loan, or almost anything you can think of without embracing the date of the birth of Christ.

If God wanted the world to be without excuse in the knowledge of the existence of his Son, what better way would there be?

You will have all the naysayers saying that the date isn’t right, or that it only references the Common Era. REALLY? Ask them why everything is not referenced to their birth.


(Jennifer Judson) #4

Okay, say you do have extraordinary evidence to extraordinary claims, what then. Will the skeptic believe? I’m not so sure.

The fleeing Israelites crossed the Red Sea without getting their feet wet. They witnessed the destruction of their Egyptian pursuers. They followed a pillar of cloud and fire. They were fed. Their thirst was quenched in the dry desert. They defeated enemies. Yet every step of the way, no matter the extraordinary evidence of God’s faithfulness they belly-ached, grumbled, and wanted to go back to their oppressors.

Somewhere in our human nature we are never satisfied with the evidence. Almost immediately after the feeding of the 5 thousand, they asked Jesus to, “show us a sign.” We are hard-headed and hard-hearted creatures until we yield to God. I agree with Sean that there is a spiritual component to knowledge. And also a sinful component to our understanding of knowledge. Intellectual pride is the stumbling block for many.

(Jimmy Sellers) #5

I believe that this a scientific principle and because science is heavily dependent on empirical data, in this case repeated death and resurrections, that it cannot apply because it only happen once. Short of the body faith is the only thing left, save the testimony of the many that know him today.

(Jessica Helena Sutedjo) #6

What is faith? I meant, what is the writer mean with faith? I think we need to be clear with that first. Continuing from previous comments that sometime, skeptics limited themselves into their own ‘faith’ about religion…

However, the term extraordinary claims… on which we judged something is extraordinary? I meant, the world is always changing. what we think it was extraordinary at first, it might turn out ordinary in the future. But one thing for sure, what we think it was extraordinary for us, actually prove ordinary in God’s eye. Human has their limitation and it won’t be possible for human to think like Him.

I guess, even the term miracle isn’t about extraordinary claim. It’s more like, something that goes beyond natural, and it was done in a very short time. So we never expect something like that in human capability… ?

(Helen Tan) #7

Hi @CarsonWeitnauer, I think that another approach to responding to this article is to point out one glaring error Shermer committed in this sweeping statement: “ Of the approximately 100 billion people who have lived before us, all have died and none have returned, so the claim that one (or more) of them rose from the dead is about as extraordinary as one will ever find .”

In this statement, Shermer himself made the extraordinary claim that billions of people who died over the years have never returned. By his argument, this extraordinary claim would call for extraordinary evidence for which none was offered. Is he able to provide evidence that no one in the history of mankind has ever experienced the miracle of returning from the dead (albeit for a limited time)? Yet this forms part of his argument to making a case for ‘extraordinary evidence’ (a term which he failed to define for judgment to be made).

On the other hand, has he sought and examined the evidence that’s been offered for Jesus’ Resurrection to form a reasonable judgment? If he did, he would find that there is a large body of evidence that’s awaiting his consideration. For example, Dr Gary Habermas has done extensive research in this area and provided some convincing biblical and extra-biblical evidence.

Overall, it is an article that’s written with bias, using undefined terms and little evidence and appears to be suffering from a bad case of begging the question.

(Omar Rushlive Lozada Arellano) #8

@CarsonWeitnauer For me, this is a bad argument. This is similar to David Hume’s argument against miracles which confuses probability with evidence. In his principle of proportionality, he adds the evidence for all regular events and concludes that all rare events are unworthy of belief. He must weigh each rare event to see if it would be reasonable for people to believe in a rare event.

This principle he mentions defies common sense as well, since he surely believes on some rare events, which is reasonable for him to believe, even if he cannot repeat it. If this is the case, if a rare event is thus asserted, we must check the rare event if it is indeed reasonable, and not confuse it on the regularity of other events to make it invalid.

(Emilio Carmona) #9

Thank you, @CarsonWeitnauer. I think the skeptic argument is right up to a point. We need extraordinary evidence. But the kind of evidence they have in mind is kind of statistical and scientific proof, excluding the historical and moral evidence. To me, Jesus is the ultimate evidence, not only for His miraculous life and resurrection, but because of His faithful witness and holiness too.

(Carson Weitnauer) #10

Hi friends,

I appreciate each of your responses. Sean, I think you add a key piece that this investigative process is not abstractly intellectual, but involves our spiritual disposition. Jennifer, I think you illustrated this point powerfully with the story of the Israelites fleeing Egypt! Jessica, you spoke about the importance of faith in knowing God. Terrell, you point out one example of how we are regularly reminded of Christ’s birth in daily life. Jimmy, you keenly demarcated between the kind of evidence we expect in repeatable scientific experiments and in historical investigations - they are different kinds of knowing - a point echoed by Emilio. And Helen, I love your care to show that even within this brief article, Shermer himself casually makes extraordinary claims without offering any evidence for them. This is a hallmark case of begging the question. Omar, you take a similar line as Helen, pointing out the confusion between probability and evidence. We all believe in rare events. The particular combination of words in this very topic is quite rare!

I wanted to briefly add to this discussion some powerful words from Ravi on critical thinking in regards to this question:

RZ: You know, I find the atheist very clever in what they do. For example, why do they discount miracles? According to David Hume, because the natural law functions routinely—so why do you look for miracles, an oddity in the midst of natural law? So they did away with the miraculous because they were going with what was normative and what was routine. But then when it came to ethics, they very cleverly switched the terms. If you started talking about an absolute, which was normative, they would interject an exception like, “What happens if you walk into your home and your family member is being assaulted? Are you telling me you will not fight or take a baseball bat or something?” Very fascinating. When it came to natural law in the realm of the sun and the planets, they did not allow for the exceptions. But when it came to ethics, it was the exception that debunked the absolute.

So what do those two reactions have in common? They both want to get rid of God—because if you bring in the miraculous in natural law, you have to accommodate the presence of God. If you take the normative and the absolute in ethics, you have to invoke upon the very person of God. So it is more the atheist that is anti-reason and anti-rational, but the accusation that is made against the Christian is leveraged to their advantage now.

But what about the origin of the universe? Is it repeatable? No.They themselves say this could never happen again. What about the contingencies that it took? Thirty some contingencies the exactitude demanded. The very fact that you and I are here is the process of what even atheists would sometimes say is so awesome that it is tantamount to being something like a miracle. Some of the scientists have used that very word. So what I say to them is, you have already accepted that which is not repeatable. You have already accepted that which is so rare. You have already accepted the fact that when you come to a singularity, you are actually seeing the laws of physics do not apply to all of those origins. Do we really think that the consummation of love between and a man and a woman and the birth of a child is just something that is explainable so naturalistically? Rather than seeing the miracle of birth and the wonder of it, we think just by describing it that we have debunked the notion of the miracle.

So when we talk about walking on water and the miraculous, we are talking about a theistic framework. When you are able to defend the existence of God, you also talk about the intervention of God in history and the intervention of God in the process of a natural law. To me, the very fact of natural law is a miraculous expression of God to sustain life. You remember when we had the two astronauts visiting us here at the office. They talked about looking through the windows of space as they were orbiting the earth and seeing something so unique about this planet and its particularity. I think we live with the miraculous every day.

Now the atheist is unfortunately partially correct when he or she attacks the Christian faith and we make no proper defense of it. So I think the defense of the existence of God, the defense of the very person of Jesus Christ, and the defense of the miraculous can be done and ought to be done.

To take this conversation another way, I think that L.T. Jeyachandran had a brilliant approach to this claim:

Some years ago, Dr. Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan, professor of eastern ethics at Oxford University, made the comment that Christians are just ordinary people making extraordinary claims. Yet elsewhere, Dr. Radhakrishnan seemed to make an extraordinary claim himself: “Jesus is not exceptional but typical.” If the claims of Jesus to uniqueness are extraordinary but untrue, what are we to make of him? What are we to make of Christianity? If Jesus is merely a typical specimen of humanity, what are we to make of his influence over the world? What are we to make of our own lives?

L.T. goes on in his article to point out the many ways that Jesus was quite exceptional. So if Jesus was exceptional, but we claim that he was just an ordinary person, then the burden of proof has shifted! Now we need extraordinary evidence that he was just an ordinary man! And the whole focus of the conversation is on the many extraordinary characteristics of Jesus - a good place to be!

(Jean-Luc Petit) #11

I think Mr. Shermer is assuming his conclusion.

Said differently, Mr. Shermer forces the mortality of non-divine humans onto Jesus by grouping Him with the 100 Billion others without explaining how Jesus was different (Jesus is also God and part of the Trinity.)

A related scenario to Mr. Shermer’s might tell of rocket ships. If all the one-thousand rocket ships that had landed on a planet didn’t have enough fuel to leave, and a thousand-and-first rocket ship landed after, it also should not have enough fuel to leave according to Mr. Shermer’s idea. But what if this thousand-and-first rocket ship’s fuel tanks were larger and contained more powerful fuel, enough for not only that one landing but many others? If this were so, it would take-off without problems, and it might even help some of the other rocket ships take-off as well. More importantly, Mr. Shermer’s idea wouldn’t explain what actually happened.

Humans are obviously not rocket ships. Does Mr. Shermer believe humans are God?

Mr. Shermer’s idea does not make proportionality without use. When you don’t assume your conclusion, proportionality can provide supporting evidence for what is or what will be true. The words “empirical evidence” are often used to describe how proportionality supports an idea. For example, if a person has baked bread every week at 375 Fahrenheit from when they began baking bread twenty years ago, it is very likely they will bake the same bread at 375 Fahrenheit again the next time they bake it. Note, that they could choose to be different and bake the bread at 385 Fahrenheit instead. Proportionality supports ideas with likelihood, not guarantee.

(Michael Martin) #12

Given Humes’ reasoning, he would never have had reason to believe the earth existed, given the extreme improbability of such concurrent relationships happening simultaneously (weak/strong forces, gravitational forces, distance from the sun, tilt of the earth, et cetera. Just a small variation in any one of these would have prohibited life from beginning, much less every one of these factors.