Can Skeptics Justify Their Criterion for Acceptable Evidence for Extra-Ordinary Claims?

Extraordinary Claims Require Extraordinary Evidence, “Says Ordinary  Intellect | Andalusian Project

Jonathan McLatchie*, Christian apologist: Unfortunately, [skeptics] fail to justify [their] criterion of what counts as acceptable evidence [for an extra-ordinary claim]. …[Skeptics] appear to be assigning the sort of evidence required to justify [extra-ordinary claims] arbitrarily and subjectively. Before any discussion about miracles can proceed, there need to be clear standards of evidence which are relevant to the sort of claims being made. One cannot simply gerrymander the standards of evidence to conveniently fit either their faith or their skepticism.

Gary: Theists often howl when skeptics demand extraordinary evidence for the bodily resurrection of Jesus claim. They insist we skeptics have no valid justification for demanding extra-ordinary evidence for this claim and proceed to give reasons why we non-supernaturalists are being unreasonable and irrational. So instead of engaging in an endless debate regarding what kind of claim requires extra-ordinary evidence and what that extra-ordinary evidence would consist of, I simply respond with this:

I demand the same quality of evidence that you demand to believe Mohammad’s claim that he rode on a winged horse into outer space (heaven), the Buddha’s claim that he caused a water buffalo to speak in a human language for 30 minutes, or Joseph Smith’s claim that he was visited by an angel with golden plates.

If Christian apologists will admit that the above Muslim, Hindu, and Mormon claims are “highly plausible” I am more than happy to admit that the bodily resurrection of Jesus is “highly plausible”.

🙂

McLatchie: Deviation from the physical regularities, therefore, is hardly a useful consideration in determining the prior probability of a miraculous occurrence such as the resurrection

Gary: Let’s go with the Christian claim that supernatural events do occur in our universe. Let’s also assume that thousands if not millions of supernatural events occur each and every year (all manner of answered prayers, including healings). Even if we include these supernatural events in our calculation of probability, it does not change the fact that even Christians believe that a resurrection has only happened ONCE in history. So when an individual or group of people claims/claim that they have seen a “risen from the dead” body, probability still suggests that a there is another more probable explanation than a resurrection.

*Dr Jonathan McLatchie is a Christian writer, international speaker, debater, assistant professor at Sattler College, Boston, and fellow of the Discovery Institute. He holds a Bachelor’s degree (with Honors) in Forensic Biology, a Masters (M.Res) degree in Evolutionary Biology, a second Master’s degree in Medical and Molecular Bioscience, and a PhD in Evolutionary Biology. Currently, Jonathan is an assistant professor at Sattler College in Boston, Massachusetts. He is also working on his MA in Biblical Studies at Southern Evangelical Seminary. Jonathan is a contributor to various apologetics websites, including CrossExamined.org and AnsweringMuslims.com. He is also a contributor at Evolution News & Science Today, the official blog of the Discovery Institute.

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7 thoughts on “Can Skeptics Justify Their Criterion for Acceptable Evidence for Extra-Ordinary Claims?

  1. It’s kind of like an evidential teeter totter- The bar is at its highest point for other religion’s miracle claims, but comes back down when apologists want to affirm their own miracles. Or they attribute all other religion’s miracles to the devil, but that of course raises a whole other set of problems, like maybe the devil is also faking Christian miracles, in order to test the true religion, Judaism.

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  2. I went to Mclatchie’s site and noticed that Jonathan Pearce had been commenting on this topic, since his book was being reviewed by Mclatchie. I dare say that Pearce’s Masters Degree in Philosophy better qualifies him to talk about standards of evidence than Mclatchie’s uncompleted MA in Biblical Studies. His Phd. in Biological stuff should have taught him something on this topic, surely it must have come up, but again it’s a case of faith and devotion to Jesus overriding reason and common sense.

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  3. Two words suffice to show how we must treat extraordinary claims: Bayes’ theorem.

    An extraordinary claim is one that goes against a lot of well-established background knowledge (priors, in Bayesian lingo). Say, . . . oh, I don’t know, . . . a resurrection. When you have a claim that is vanishingly unlikely, you need an enormous amount of evidence to rationally conclude that the claim is true. Richard Carrier says, convincingly, that everyone – including historians – use Bayes theorem for claims, it’s just that most use it unwittingly, and thereby poorly, mostly. Bayes’ theorem is no magic solution, either, it just lays bare estimations and guesses that you’d make without knowing you’re doing it otherwise.

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    1. Slight edit: When you have a claim of a type that is exceedingly unlikely because it rarely or never has happened in the past (like a resurrection), you need an enormous amount of evidence for the specific occurrence in question (the resurrection of Jesus, say) to overwhelm the prior understanding that such a thing doesn’t happen or is exceedingly rare.

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    2. Christians will argue that since God exists (according to them) and has a history of performing millions of laws-of-nature-defy acts, such as healing Aunt Bessie of her chronic sinus infection, the normal rules of probability do not apply.

      The problem with that argument is that then we must apply that same standard to the millions of miracle claims attributed to Allah, Lord Krishna, and the Mormon god who lives on Mt. Krumpit on planet Kolob.

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