Are Skeptics of an Extraordinary Claim Obligated to Provide Evidence for Alternative Explanations for that Claim?


If someone makes a claim that a very extraordinary event has occurred, is it necessary for the skeptic to prove that the claimed extraordinary event did NOT occur, or is it sufficient for the skeptic to demonstrate that there are alternative possible explanations for why the person making the claim arrived at his belief? And if the skeptic is able to provide alternative explanations for the claimed event, must the skeptic give evidence for these possible alternative explanations or simply present that they are possible?

For instance, take this very extraordinary claim: Your neighbor claims that last night, a small group of two foot tall, green, antennae-toting space aliens abducted him from his bed, flew him to the planet Neptune, and gave him a walking tour of the planet—without an oxygen tank—for three hours. They then returned him safely to his bed before sunrise this morning. His wife and five children confirm that his bed was empty from Midnight to 5 AM.

You doubt your neighbor’s story. Are you obligated to prove your neighbor’s extraordinary claim is false to not believe his claim? Must you have evidence supporting an alternative explanation to state that it is much more probable that your neighbor was drunk, on drugs, or hallucinating this experience, and, that he either wandered out of his house on his own two feet or that other humans (not aliens) assisted in his “escape” from his house? Or is it sufficient to simply state, without providing any evidence, that these possible scenarios are much more probable to be the explanation for your neighbor’s very extraordinary claim for his Empty Bed than his explanation of an over-night space trip to Neptune?

Dear Christians:  Do you see my point?


The question is not POSSIBLE explanations, but REASONABLE explanations. That’s the same standard that they use in a court of law. For example, it’s POSSIBLE that only one of us truly exists but only as a brain. But is that really reasonable?


I think we are making this much more difficult than is necessary. If you wake up tomorrow and cannot find your car keys, you are going to do what every other educated person in western civilization does: you are going to go through a mental list of possible explanations for your missing keys such as this one:

1. I misplaced my keys.
2. My wife took my keys.
3. One of my children took my keys.
4. My dog took my keys.
5. Someone broke into my house last night and stole my keys.

Even if you have ZERO evidence for any of these possible explanations for your missing keys, they are still very reasonable, possible explanations for your missing keys and western culture would consider it perfectly normal and acceptable for you to consider one of these possible explanations as the true explanation for your missing keys even if you cannot provide any evidence to support these explanations.

Even if your psychic next door neighbor claims (after hearing that your keys are missing) that her tea leaves tell her that a demon stole your keys in the middle of the night, our culture is going to assume that one of the above, natural, explanations is much more likely to be the cause of your missing keys than the explanation given by your psychic neighbor, even though the car-key-stealing-demon story is the only story we have.

See my point?

Skeptics are under no obligation to provide evidence for alternative, natural explanations for the early Christian resurrection belief, we only have to provide alternative, natural explanations that explain the few facts that everyone agrees exist.


In that scenario, those explanations start with the most reasonable one and get more contrived. You can brainstorm possibilities all you want but at some point you have to consider the evidence to see if that possibility works.
Wife: check with your wife to verify that possibility
Children: check with your children to verify that possibility
From personal experience, a pet ferret would be more reasonable than a dog taking the keys.
Someone broke in: is there any evidence of someone breaking in? Did they take anything else? Did they take the car?

Just reaching for any possibility is like a kid saying the dog ate his homework to explain why he didn’t do his homework. Sure, it’s possible. But is it reasonable. (Like, does he actually have a dog to start with.)

As far as explanations for evidence, the best explanation will be feasonable (i.e. explanatory viability), straight forward (explaining explanatory simplicity), be exhaustive (displaying explanatory depth), logical (possessing explanatory consistency), and superior (accounting for all the evidence).

The only time a skeptic is asked for evidence, is when their explanation requires further evidence that isn’t there (or readily available).


Ok. So you ask your wife and kids if they took your keys and they say, no. What then? Odds are that YOU misplaced your keys, but unless you find your keys, there is no evidence to prove that explanation. So are we forced to believe your psychic next door neighbor’s story that a demon stole your keys just because it is the only story available???

Of course not!

The most probable explanation for your missing keys is that YOU misplaced them even though there is ZERO evidence to prove this explanation. Just because an explanation exists for the missing keys does not mean that we must accept that explanation as the most probable cause.

And the same is true for the early Christian resurrection belief. Just because the Christian explanation is the only story we have does not mean that we must accept this explanation. And just because there is no evidence for alternative, natural explanations does not mean that an alternative natural explanation is not possible.


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