Dear Christians: Extraordinary Claims ALWAYS Require Extraordinary Evidence!

Image result for image of jesus silent before pilate
But when the leading priests and the elders made their accusations against him, Jesus remained silent. 13 “Don’t you hear all these charges they are bringing against you?” Pilate demanded. 14 But Jesus made no response to any of the charges, much to the governor’s surprise. –Matthew 27:12-14

 

Dear Reader:  Below is a masterful summary of the reasons why not to believe in miracles, in particular, why not to believe the greatest alleged miracle of all, the Resurrection of Jesus.  It is written by atheist Michael Shermer, contributing author to the book, The Case Against Miracles (reposted from Bart Ehrman’s blog):

Skepticism is reflective inquiry into the truth, and in many cases we have adequate grounds for certainty as to the truth of many propositions. For example:

There are XXX pages in this book, The Case Against Miracles. True by observation.

Dinosaurs went extinct around 65 million years ago. True by verification and replication of radiometric dating techniques for volcanic eruptions above and below dinosaur fossils.

The universe began with a Big Bang. True by a convergence of evidence from a wide range of phenomena such as the cosmic microwave background, the abundance of light elements like hydrogen and helium, the distribution of galaxies and the large scale structure of the cosmos, the redshift of most galaxies, and the expansion of space.

Image result for image of the big bang
the Big Bang

These propositions are “true” in the sense that the evidence is so substantial it would be unreasonable to withhold one’s provisional assent. It’s not impossible that the dinosaurs died recently, just after the creation of the universe 10,000 years ago (as Young Earth Creationists believe), but it is so unlikely we need not waste our time considering it.

Then there are negative truths, such as the null hypothesis in science that the nonexistence of something is the truth. You claim that you have a cure for AIDS, a drug that can eliminate 100% of HIV in a body. Before the FDA will approve your drug for sale to the public you must provide substantial evidence that your claim is true in the scientific sense, that is, to reject the null hypothesis that you do not have such a drug. More simply, when people tell me Big Foot is real, I say “show me the body and I’ll believe, otherwise I remain skeptical.” The null hypothesis in this example is that Big Foot does not exist. Finally, it is telling that among the tens of thousands of government emails, documents, and files leaked in recent years through Wikileaks, there is not one mention of a UFO cover up, a faked moon landing, or that 9/11 was an inside job by the Bush administration. Here the absence of evidence is evidence of absence. This has implications for miracle claims.

Image result for image of the null hypothesis
the Null Hypothesis

The null hypothesis is that your claim of a miracle is not true until you prove otherwise. Here we say that the burden of proof is on the miracle claimant, not the skeptic or scientist to disprove the miracle claim. Let’s consider the biggest religious miracle claim of all—that Jesus was resurrected. Now, the proposition that Jesus was crucified may be true by historical validation, inasmuch as a man named Jesus of Nazareth probably existed, the Romans routinely crucified people for even petty crimes, and most biblical scholars—even those who are atheists, such as the renowned University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Religious Studies professor Bart Ehrman—assent to this fact. The proposition that Jesus died for our sins, by contrast, is a faith-based truth claim with no purchase on valid knowledge. It cannot be tested or falsified. It cannot be confirmed. It can only be believed or disbelieved based on faith or the lack thereof. In between these propositions is Jesus’s resurrection, which is not impossible but would be a miracle if it were true. Is it?

Here we turn to Section XII of David Hume’s Philosophical Essays Concerning the Human Understanding, “Of the Academical or Sceptical Philosophy,” in which the Scottish philosopher distinguishes between “antecedent skepticism”, such as Descartes’s method of doubting everything, that has no “antecedent” infallible criterion for belief; and “consequent skepticism,” the method Hume employed that recognizes the “consequences” of our fallible senses, but corrects them through reason: “A wise man proportions his belief to the evidence.”

Image result for image of david hume

Another way to state this principle of proportionality is extraordinary evidence for extraordinary claims, as Carl Sagan famously said (quoting the lesser known sociologist of science Marcello Truzzi, thereby confirming the observation that pithy and oft-quoted statements migrate up to the most famous person who said them). Of the approximately 100 billion people who lived before us all have died and none returned, so the claim that one of them rose from the dead is about as extraordinary as one will ever find. Is the evidence commensurate with the conviction? According to the University of Wisconsin-Madison philosopher Larry Shapiro in his 2016 book The Miracle Myth, “evidence for the resurrection is nowhere near as complete or convincing as the evidence on which historians rely to justify belief in other historical events such as the destruction of Pompeii.” Because miracles are far less probable than ordinary historical occurrences like volcanic eruptions, “the evidence necessary to justify beliefs about them must be many times better than that which would justify our beliefs in run-of-the-mill historical events. But it isn’t.”

What about the eyewitnesses? Maybe they “were superstitious or credulous” and saw what they wanted to see, Shapiro suggests. “Maybe they reported only feeling Jesus ‘in spirit,’ and over the decades their testimony was altered to suggest that they saw Jesus in the flesh. Maybe accounts of the resurrection never appeared in the original gospels and were added in later centuries. Any of these explanations for the gospel descriptions of Jesus’s resurrection are far more likely than the possibility that Jesus actually returned to life after being dead for three days.”

Image result for image of the principle of proportionality

The principle of proportionally also means we should prefer the more probable explanation over the less, which these alternatives surely are. In The Case Against Miracles John Loftus devotes a chapter to this greatest of all miracles—the resurrection—and it is the best analysis I’ve ever read. In time, all of these “god-of-the-gaps” type arguments for miracles will fall, and with them the last epistemological justification for religious belief beyond blind faith. Perhaps this is why Jesus was silent when Pilate asked him (John 18:38) “What is truth?”

 

Michael Shermer

Michael Shermer is publisher of Skeptic magazine (www.skeptic.com) and host of the Science Salon podcast. He is a Presidential Fellow at Chapman University where he teaches a course on Skepticism 101, and for nearly 18 years he was the monthly “Skeptic” columnist for Scientific American. He is the author of a number of New York Times bestselling books including Why People Believe Weird Things, The Believing Brain, The Moral Arc and Heavens on Earth. Follow him on Twitter @michaelshermer

 

End of post.

22 thoughts on “Dear Christians: Extraordinary Claims ALWAYS Require Extraordinary Evidence!

  1. There is so little evidence of Jesus, the mere idea that he existed at all is good enough for believers.
    They also trivialize empirical evidence but race all over the world to even see a piece of toast or a place he might have been if he were real. They love empirical evidence, but downplay it because they have none.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. All of your arguments are pure crap. There’s a ton of evidence that Jesus existed,only really stupid people by the ytyer crap. The overall BS ECREEP is crap Logicians do not teach that. Take a real logic class in college

      It’s a contradiction in terms, sufficient evidence proves the point,why should anything ever be more than sufficient?

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      1. I nor Michael Shermer (at least in this post) ever suggested that the man Jesus of Nazareth did not exist.

        Your belief system is unable to provide even ONE person claiming to have witnessed the central event of your religion: the bodily resurrection of Jesus. Allegedly this man had repeatedly predicted his resurrection from the dead on the “third day” after his execution—but no one bothered to hold a vigil outside of his tomb to witness it! All your belief system has are disputed—at best third-hand—claims of alleged eyewitness sightings of a ghost.

        That is not good evidence, Joe. That is not rational thinking.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. “Your belief system is unable to provide even ONE person claiming to have witnessed the central event of your religion: the bodily resurrection of Jesus. Allegedly this man had repeatedly predicted his resurrection from the dead on the “third day” after his execution—but no one bothered to hold a vigil outside of his tomb to witness it!”

          Hello Gary

          quote :
          Williams wants to defend the expectations that Jesus would rise from the dead, arguing Jesus likely told his followers to expect it and even hostile Jews would be concerned about a claim of it (pp. 239-40), evidently not realizing this increases the probability of hallucinating or dreaming a confirmation of it…or even indeed of stealing a body to inspire it; after all, Jesus repeatedly telling them the plan, sounds an awful lot like a plan; which is why William Lane Craig likes to deny Jesus predicted his resurrection (see my discussion of the plausibility of theft in Ch. 9 of The Empty Tomb). This does not help his case. But his argument suffers from a number of unjustifiable assumptions anyway, such as that Matthew’s addition to Mark of a wild tale of monster-paralyzed guards has anything to do with reality. In the original version, there is no knowledge or expectation Jesus’s followers would claim he rose from the dead; nor any plausibility to tales of Jesus telling them he would—which portray his Jewish followers as not even knowing what a resurrection was, nor ever understanding or believing him, which is odd behavior for fanatical cultists.

          https://www.richardcarrier.info/archives/15182

          can you explain the bit, “increases the probability of confirmation of it….even stealing….sounds awful lot like a plan…”

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          1. Gary and others, can you explain what carrier means “increases the probability of confirmation of it …..”
            but then how come mark does not mention even one sighting ?

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            1. If Jesus truly predicted his death and resurrection, that increases the chances of confirmation bias: It increases the chances that is disciples will have vivid dreams, hallucinations, false sightings, or illusions of his resurrection.

              Liked by 1 person

        2. I wasnt aware that ghosts typically sat down to have a meal, or could be physically touched. Or indeed appeared to different people at different times in different places, to groups from 2 to 30 or more over a specific 40 day period.

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        3. If you mean they didnt see him emerging from the tomb, then youre correct. But let’s face it, if there was a single person who did claim that, you still wouldnt believe them, so why put that forward as if it would be convincing evidence for you?

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            1. Joe has a Christian blog. He refers to himself as a progressive Christian but he talks and acts like a fundamentalist. He has a master’s degree in theology so he considers himself an expert. He can be very condescending to those of us without a theological pedigree. When angry, he has quite the potty mouth.

              https://metacrock.blogspot.com/

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      1. Well, Tacitus and Josephus make reference to his existence, but outside of that passing commentary everything is left to belief. I’m not sure where Gary stands in this, but most likely there was a man named Jesus at that time. The rest is a conundrum of conjecture. I am however, certain that the promises recorded by the writers are lies, or there are no true Christians in the planet. Curious if you are a believer or an imposter?

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  2. Gary during the prayers of the people today at the Feast of the Nativity service, I felt very impressed to just hold you and your family in prayer for peace, unity, and encouragement. So, prayers and good thoughts coming your way.

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    1. Reason, science, and rational thought to you, Becky!

      (FYI: Many ex-fundamentalist Christian cult members like myself see offers of prayer for our well-being as offensive, passive aggressive attacks.)

      Like

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