Thursday, January 06, 2022

Do extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence?

 A reply to a standard anti-Resurrection argument. 


Here. 

37 comments:

bmiller said...

If no one is going to Hell, then why the Resurrection?

John B. Moore said...

It's not the claims themselves that require evidence, but people require evidence in order to believe the claims. Clearly some people require far less evidence than others. Some people are eager to believe whereas others are hesitant.

What Carl Sagan's statement really means is that people _should_ require lots of evidence before they believe a miracle has occurred.

We can talk about what counts as evidence or how much evidence you or I might need, but the real discussion is about _why_ we should require evidence. Why shouldn't we believe willingly? Why shouldn't we encourage everyone to just have faith?

bmiller said...

John,

What Carl Sagan's statement really means is that people _should_ require lots of evidence before they believe a miracle has occurred.

I'm pretty sure that that for Carl Sagan (while he was alive) there would never be enough evidence that a miracle had occurred. Miracles were not allowed in his world-view.

In order to change, a person must allow himself to consider that his world-view is wrong. I wonder if that becomes more difficult when you get old.

Limited Perspective said...

I don't know how much effort anyone of us invest in our skeptism. How far is anyone willing to take it?

In earning my chemistry degree it was required to take Analytical Chemistry. The lectures were about finding out how you can determine what's in a substance. The lab work was getting a sample of (usually) a powder, and determining the percentages of each substance in the powder. We were graded on how close we came to the analytical lab that provided the powder.

We accepted (by faith?) the analytical lab that provided the powder had much better equipment, better techniques, and better raw materials than we had. Did any of us investigate to see if this was true? Of course not. We were trying to get through our class with our best effort.

What do I make of all of the complex things I have seen in people's health and mental state, miraculous changes in people's beliefs and understanding about the world, forgiveness and healing?

God is one way for me to grasp those things.

Limited Perspective said...

The resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth seems to be the best explanation for the rise of Christianity. I'm going with that by faith, by my best understanding, by personal experience, and it's also given me the path to a pretty good life.

One Brow said...

Limited Perspective,

As a religion, Christianity had many positive features, rare in previous religions, that explain its rise to me, even without supernatural involvement.

Limited Perspective said...

Thanks for acknowledging the positive features of Christianity.

One Brow said...

Of course. You can't deal with reality if you don't acknowledge it.

David Brightly said...

I'd like to discuss some of the epistemological issues here, but putting to one side the high stakes domains of religion and politics (say).

1. I'm not sure I agree with Pearce that 'extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence'. If extraordinary means 'of low prior likelihood' then the extraordinary evidence is on a par with the extraordinary claim. We are on the slippery slope of demanding extraordinary evidence for the evidence, which, after all, is just another claim. I'm inclined to say instead that we need more evidence or better quality evidence.

2. How are we to understand require here? Is it merely an empirical observation that, on average, subjects don't believe extraordinary claims unless furnished with extraordinary evidence? I'm inclined to go with this, putting aside worries about the meaning of 'extraordinary'. Or is there a normative element here? Subjects should not believe without commensurate, let's say, evidence. But there is a problem here. Can we say, Well, that's enough evidence for this claim, therefore I'll believe it? That suggests that believing is a conscious, voluntary act, and I don't think that is the case at all.

3. Mclatchie says that Pearce 'appears to be assigning the sort of evidence required to justify these propositions arbitrarily and subjectively'. Yes, but in my view there is no alternative. I say that there is no way of laying down in advance what evidence should (normative) or will (empirical) be convincing, short of mathematical proof, which is a very limited domain. One reason for this is that we have no access to our belief formation. We may be able to say, Yes, I believe, or No, I don't, but our attempts to explain why are highly subjective. I will grant that courts of law have 'rules of evidence'. But these, I think, tend to state what is inadmissible rather than what is required. It's assumed that adult jurors have developed over their lives ways of assessing evidence but these ways cannot be expressed in language.

In summary, I found myself sufficiently at odds with the assumptions of both these writers that I read no further than Mclatchie's first section. What do others think?

Starhopper said...

My quarrel is with the word "require".

Let's say I witness a person rising from the dead. I think we would all agree that that would constitute a miracle. But let's also say that not only was I the only person to witness this event, but that no one else even knew the person was dead. (Perhaps I chanced upon his rotting corpse in the woods while on a hike.)

So the only evidence I would have for this miracle is my own word, and nothing else. Where would this "extraordinary" evidence come from?

And what qualifies as extraordinary? Photographic evidence? But we all know (or should know by now) of undetectable "deep fakes". A video? Same thing. I saw the Wicked Witch of the West melt after a bucket of water was thrown on her. But did it happen? Multiple witnesses? That is unquestionably better than just one, but what would be extraordinary about many people observing something? A written record or paper trail? Records are indeed valuable evidence for things (else historians would be out of a job), but extraordinary? That's stretching the meaning of the term. I can't think of anything that would qualify. Perhaps someone else can?

Starhopper said...

Let me state my question more clearly.

What constitutes "extraordinary" evidence? And what makes it any more convincing than "ordinary" evidence?

David Brightly said...

Yes, I agree. Though it's pat and memorable I don't think Sagan's remark helps us much, especially in the case of a first person witnessing of an extraordinary event. The event and one's witnessing it are almost the same thing. Almost. There is little sense that there is a claim in play.

The more problematic case is an event witnessed (supposedly) by A who then reports it to us, or, worse, through a chain of intermediaries, B, C,... There is much more of a sense (for us) that there is a claim at stake, and there is a feeling that a more unlikely claim 'demands' or 'requires' more corroborating evidence. I think there are good evolutionary reasons for this.

What is your beef with 'require'?

Starhopper said...


Perhaps I should have said I have a quarrel with "extraordinary".

Define extraordinary evidence, and how does it differ from run of the mill evidence?

David Brightly said...

We are both uncomfortable with the phrase 'extraordinary evidence'. Let's put it on one side---unless someone else can explicate it better. Let's instead return to my remark at 12:10 PM that there is a feeling that a more unlikely third person claim 'demands' or 'requires' more corroborating evidence to be believed. Can you accept that somewhat loose formulation?

Kevin said...

I think the quote is basically a cute and easily memorized catch phrase that is imprecise in of itself. A more accurate but less cute rewording would be something like "Claims which seem less likely to be true require more evidence to be accepted as true."

That in of itself is problematic but I've always taken that to be the meaning.

bmiller said...

The more problematic case is an event witnessed (supposedly) by A who then reports it to us, or, worse, through a chain of intermediaries, B, C,... There is much more of a sense (for us) that there is a claim at stake, and there is a feeling that a more unlikely claim 'demands' or 'requires' more corroborating evidence. I think there are good evolutionary reasons for this.

And that is why the German Higher Critics were biased to date the Gospels very late...in order that it would be B, C or D+ telling the story.

THE VIEWS OF THE CONTINENTAL CRITICS

Regarding the views of the Continental Critics, three things can be confidently asserted of nearly all, if not all, of the real leaders.

1. They were men who denied the validity of miracle, and the validity of any miraculous narrative. What Christians consider to be miraculous they considered legendary or mythical; "legendary exaggeration of events that are entirely explicable from natural causes."

2. They were men who denied the reality of prophecy and the validity of any prophetical statement. What Christians have been accustomed to consider prophetical, they called dexterous conjectures, coincidences, fiction, or imposture.

3. They were men who denied the reality of revelation, in the sense in which it has ever been held by the universal Christian Church. They were avowed unbelievers of the supernatural. Their theories were excogitated on pure grounds of human reasoning. Their hypotheses were constructed on the assumption of the falsity of Scripture. As to the inspiration of the Bible, as to the Holy Scriptures from Genesis to Revelation being the Word of God, they had no such belief. We may take them one by one. Spinoza repudiated absolutely a supernatural revelation. And Spinoza was one of their greatest. Eichhorn discarded the miraculous, and considered that the so-called supernatural element was an Oriental exaggeration; and Eichhorn has been called the father of Higher Criticism, and was the first man to use the term. De Wette's views as to inspiration were entirely infidel. Vatke and Leopold George were Hegelian rationalists, and regarded the first four books of the Old Testament as entirely mythical. Kuenen, says Professor Sanday, wrote in the interests of an almost avowed Naturalism. That is, he was a free-thinker, an agnostic; a man who did not believe in the Revelation of the one true and living God. (Brampton Lectures, 1893, page 117). He wrote from an avowedly naturalistic standpoint, says Driver (page 205). According to Wellhausen the religion of Israel was a naturalistic evolution from heathendom, an emanation from an imperfectly monotheistic kind of semi-pagan idolatry. It was simply a human religion.

David Brightly said...

Hi Kevin. We are broadly in agreement. Why do you find your formulation problematic?

David Brightly said...

Hello BM. You are suggesting that the GHCs implicitly held a view related to mine and Kevin's and John's that a longer chain of intermediaries would generally make a claim harder to believe and/or more demanding of corroboration. Is that right? Do you agree with us?

Starhopper said...

Kevin: "That in of itself is problematic"

DB: "Why do you find your formulation problematic?"

I can't speak for Kevin, but what I find problematic in his formulation are the words "less likely to be true". Sounds like a pre-judgement has been made. "Less likely" to whom? And for what reasons?

I might be a conspiracy theorist, for whom even a mountain of evidence would not satisfy as proof. Or I might believe something to be true (or false) on the grounds of who said it. Etc.

bmiller said...

Hi David,

I'd say that the Higher Critics were more explict than implicit in their hypothesis. They reason that second hand accounts are usually treated with less credence than first hand accounts so since there could have been no miracles, there could have been no first hand witnesses. They then assume the versions we have now had been mythologized somewhere along the line.

Kevin said...

David,

Starhopper largely covered my problem with the statement, both as I worded it and as originally written. Pre-existing beliefs are going to play a huge part in the amount of evidence it takes to convince someone of any claim, and there is thus no standard for the statement to be anything but a generally true observation.

Another problem is the ease of the counter claim. Take Saul of Tarsus, aka Paul the Apostle. Saul the Pharisee had everything a man could want - power, respect, utter confidence in himself and his own rightness and righteousness. He then tosses all that in the garbage and begins preaching Christ, and begins experiencing scorn, beatings, stoning, imprisonment, and every other hardship you cared to name.

An atheist would demand high amounts of evidence to accept that Saul experienced a true vision, but I would demand high amounts of evidence that Paul gave up power and respect for shame and beatings for any other reason than Christ appearing to him.

bmiller said...

Related to the Higher Critics bias toward the late dating of the Gospels: The reasoning they follow is that the Gospels must have been written after all of the original witnessed had died and so there would be no one left to counter the claims of miracles in them. They are usually dated later than the destruction of the Temple around 70 AD.

HERE is an analysis of Luke and Acts that place their dates around 60 AD while Peter and Paul were still alive and indicates that Luke had interviewed them both as sources for his material.

Starhopper said...

I've heard more than once the objection that Paul never mentions the many miracles performed by Jesus, but there's an easy rebuttal to that.

1. Luke was a companion of Paul, who must have been familiar with (if not a contributor to) Luke's Gospel. Why reinvent the wheel, if Luke has already covered that ground?

2. And why should he mention them? His epistles are pastoral letters, dealing with contentious issues within the churches. If the miracles were a given, they would not have been an issue to be addressed.

I personally believe that at least three of the Gospels were written prior to A.D. 70 (although I'll grant that they could well have been edited after that date). In that case, they would have been written contemporaneously with Paul's letters, reinforcing the idea that there was no need for Paul to repeat them.

(I'm open to a late date for John, although I see no pressing reason why it must be so. It irks me when people (especially Catholics, and most especially priests and bishops) blithely go along with the fashionable late dating, when there is no conclusive evidence for such.)

bmiller said...

This is an argument for early dating of John.

None of the Gospels nor Acts mention the destruction of the Temple which is a pretty BIG story to miss if they were written after that occurred.

bmiller said...

Fun(?) Fact.

The Roman Colosseum was built with the spoils of the war that tore down the Jewish Temple.

Starhopper said...

bmiller,

Thanks for the link to the dating article. I tend to distrust most biblical scholars of the last 2 centuries or so, since they all seem to have a skeptical ax to grind (sometimes embarrassingly so), rendering their conclusions suspect at best. Although I am open to other hypotheses, I personally believe that the entire NT was written (although perhaps not finally edited) prior to A.D. 70.

Most biblical texts, from both testaments, underwent a complex process of editing that often extended far beyond the deaths of the original writers. This is pretty much undeniable for most OT books, so it's not out of the question for the NT as well.

The problem comes from foolish people who for some reason think this is somehow a strike against the validity of the texts or a reason to believe they are not divinely inspired. But this is without foundation. If God inspired the original writers, what prevents Him from inspiring the editors as well?

One Brow said...

Kevin,
An atheist would demand high amounts of evidence to accept that Saul experienced a true vision, but I would demand high amounts of evidence that Paul gave up power and respect for shame and beatings for any other reason than Christ appearing to him.

Other men have done similar things to Paul, sometimes for other religions than Christianity. That said, I would only offer the slight modification that the reason was Paul's belief that Christ appeared to him.

One Brow said...

bmiller,
HERE is an analysis of Luke and Acts that place their dates around 60 AD while Peter and Paul were still alive and indicates that Luke had interviewed them both as sources for his material.

Using that same logic, Mark would have been written before Jesus' supposed Ascension.

Starhopper said...

There is plenty of time between Christ's Ascension and the martyrdom of Peter (a little over 30 years) for all 4 Gospels to have been written.

I personally follow those scholars (such as David Alan Black) who regard Matthew as the first Gospel to have been written (the standard view for 1800 years), followed by Luke, with Mark coming in third. I realize that this is a minority view, but there is solid reasoning behind it. (And at this point, the "answer" may be unknowable. And in the long run, what difference does it make?)

David Brightly said...

Let's look at Kevin's version: Claims which seem less likely to be true require more evidence to be accepted as true. Is this problematical? This strikes me as a truism about our belief formation. As Kevin himself says, a generally true observation. So where's the difficulty? Star says, Sounds like a pre-judgement has been made. "Less likely" to whom? And for what reasons? Well, of course a pre-judgement has been made. The subject is presented with a claim. He assesses it against what he already believes. He adopts an attitude towards the claim---It's unlikely to be true, he might say. I don't think we need look for a strictly probabilistic reading of 'unlikely'. Rather, the claim's 'likeliness' is a measure of the degree of coherence it has with what the subject already believes. These are the subject's 'reasons' for his 'pre-judgement'.

Could you elaborate a bit on the 'ease of the counter claim' problem? I didn't follow that.

Kevin said...

It follows from the pre-existing belief foundation from which each of us judges a claim as likely or not likely.

By counter-claim, what I meant was that the "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence" statement is treated like the criteria for what constitutes an extraordinary claim is self-evident, but it's not. Two people with opposing beliefs can apply "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence" to the other's belief, which makes it a fairly moot statement.

A theist would require "extraordinary" levels of evidence to demonstrate the universe exists entirely of natural causes, because the claim itself would be extraordinary to him. An atheist would require "extraordinary" levels of evidence to demonstrate God exists.

As a general truism the statement is fine, but that's not how it normally gets applied.

David Brightly said...

Thanks, Kevin. We seem to be in the territory of Quine's Web of Belief. I take your point that two subjects with divergent belief systems can equally apply the extraordinary principle (to give it a name) to each other. I don't think that renders the principle itself moot, though. It partly explains the tenacity with which ideologies, conspiracy theories, metaphysical systems, and so on, can grip people.

Starhopper said...

In the case of conspiracy theorists, it's the ordinary claims (those that debunk the conspiracy) of which are demanded extraordinary evidence. The conspiracy's extraordinary claims often don't require any evidence at all.

Kevin said...

And often in those cases it is impossible to provide evidence, because the usual sources you would go to for that evidence are part of the conspiracy and rejected as untrustworthy. In those cases the belief seems to be the evidence for itself.

bmiller said...

In context then, why wouldn't Christianity be a "conspiracy theory"? People don't ordinarily rise from the dead, the only witnesses were Christians and so forth.

Starhopper said...

As for "the only witnesses were Christians", well, I should hope so! If a person witnessed the Resurrection and that did not convince him to become a Christian, well... all I can say is there's something wrong with him. It would be like someone observing an object fall to the floor after dropping it, and still refusing to believe in gravity.

David Brightly said...

...and still refusing to believe in gravity. Er, like Aristotle, perhaps :-) Aristotle no doubt had some beliefs regarding falling bodies but he couldn't have believed in gravity as we think of it. The idea wasn't invented for another two millennia.