Sunday, November 04, 2012

Eggstraordinary claims require eggstraordinary evidence

What about this claim that an egg was hatched after being inside the chicken. So we need extraordinary evidence for this?

Here is the discussion in Graham Veale's website, Saints and Skeptics.

9 comments:

cautiouslycurious said...

Why is he comparing an egg getting stuck in a hen to the violation of natural laws? Is that really what he thinks extraordinary means? When something has such a mundane explanation, the remarkableness of the story is fairly low.

Victor Reppert said...

Well, is extraordinariness a function of infrequency, or of the type of explanation required. If the former, then the response is well-taken, if the latter, then doesn't that question-beggingly assume naturalism?

Walter said...

If I tell you that I am a primary witness of a guy who can flap his arms and fly over his house, would you reject my testimony based on a question-begging assumption of naturalism?

cautiouslycurious said...

Victor,

"Well, is extraordinariness a function of infrequency, or of the type of explanation required. If the former, then the response is well-taken, if the latter, then doesn't that question-beggingly assume naturalism?"

How you define extraordinary will decide that question. Do you want to consider things like mega-lotto tickets as extraordinary or things like ghosts as extraordinary? If your comparison has more in common with ghosts than winning tickets, I would think it is more fitting to go with the latter definition. Also, it doesn't just put supernatural explanations under the bus. It is also what makes us skeptical of things that most would consider natural explanations such as neutrinos exceeding the speed of light.

WilliamM said...

"Do you want to consider things like mega-lotto tickets as extraordinary or things like ghosts as extraordinary?"

What exactly makes ghosts extraordinary? Reports of them are common across effectively all cultures and ages. The report of the eggless chicken strikes me as far more out of line.
Of course you could avoid this issue if you would define what it means for a claim and/or evidence to be "extraordinary", because it's clearly not an everyday meaning that you have in mind here.

Mr Veale said...

Thanks for linking to us Vic. A couple of points.

1) It's a joint article, so my co-conspirator David Glass has to take some of the blame here...
2) There are difficulties with defining "extraordinary" - it seems to be in the eye of the beholder! This is something that we'll address later this week.
3) Of course Walter's testimony is insufficient to establish the existence of a flying man. But - given I know next to nothing about Walter, or his credentials - I wouldn't believe him if he told me that he owned an eggless chick!
4) The point of the article is that widely acknowledged facts, and rather mundane evidence, can be used to support hypotheses that strike us as extraordinary.


Graham

Mr Veale said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mr Veale said...

A couple more thoughts...

5) while there is a naturalistic explanation for an eggless chick, I would hesitate to call that explanation "mundane"! This is a rather rare event...hence the headline.

6) when it comes to worldviews, if the evidence is what I’d expect if theism is true and not at all what I’d expect if theism is false, the evidence is sufficient to outweigh whatever initial improbability I attached to theism.

Graham

cautiouslycurious said...

William,
"What exactly makes ghosts extraordinary? Reports of them are common across effectively all cultures and ages. The report of the eggless chicken strikes me as far more out of line."

The claim itself is remarkable. It would be the same thing as claiming Noah's Ark existed and a global flood posited it on top of a mountain. Even though there have been several reports of people finding it, it is still a remarkable claim without evidence to support it. The existence of the testimony doesn't change this. Carl Sagan used the phrase in reference to alien abductions. When talking about the supposed evidence for alien abductions, he concluded that "there are reports of such things, but never the things themselves". Basically, testimony is not evidence, it refers to evidence and if you can't find the appropriate reference, then the testimony is not performing its duty.

"Of course you could avoid this issue if you would define what it means for a claim and/or evidence to be "extraordinary", because it's clearly not an everyday meaning that you have in mind here."

I would try to find out what the original usage would be. I'm not entirely sure what Carl Sagan meant by it other than we should have good evidence for our beliefs, especially if it is something we want to be true. I would put it along the lines of a claim that is contrary to existing knowledge and the more it counters it, the more extraordinary it is. This would be along the lines of a more clear definition of what it means for something to be worthy of notice.

Even if something is the first of its kind, whether it is extraordinary or not will depend on whether it contradicts prior knowledge or relies on something unsubstantiated. So, claims of ghosts, perpetual motion machines, something exceeding the speed of light, homeopathy, time dilation, astrology, Noah's Ark, Pangaea, psychics, etc. would be prime examples of extraordinary claims. An egg getting stuck in a hen not so much.


Graham,
"The point of the article is that widely acknowledged facts, and rather mundane evidence, can be used to support hypotheses that strike us as extraordinary."

I don't think many would disagree with this. For example, for most, time dilation is an extraordinary claim. It wasn't taken seriously when it was first brought to the physics community and it was only after testing it did it become accepted. The instruments for testing it weren't really special given the field, a couple telescopes that took photographs for astronomers seem fairly mundane. And since then, just some clocks on airplanes.

"while there is a naturalistic explanation for an eggless chick, I would hesitate to call that explanation "mundane"! This is a rather rare event...hence the headline."

I wouldn't hesitate to call it mundane because I found it to be mundane: Lacking interest or excitement; dull. Rare, yes, but also mundane. Want another event that was rare, got media attention, and also mundane, this will only take 3 minutes of your time: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TfF05kPNKNw