Never Quite Enough

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, or so goes the claim. On its face, it appears quite reasonable. After all, if something truly outrageous happens we shouldn’t believe without having good reason. But does requiring extraordinary evidence for extraordinary claims suffice? Is it even reasonable? What does it mean, and can the request ever be satisfied? I believe this stipulation is invoked more often than not, in order to avoid having to engage an issue of which the person is uninformed to offer opposition to, or to afford themself an easy escape from having to acknowledge good evidence for a position they desperately wish to deny. It is the refuge of the intellectually dishonest.

This tack is used primarily by skeptics in general and atheists specifically, usually when discussing evidences for the existence of God or the possibility of miracles.  A priori, the New Testament is considered an unreliable source for considering historical events on the sole basis that it contains narrative about miracles and Jesus rising from the dead.  Faced with these claims filtered through a naturalistic, purely physical worldview, the skeptic categorizes miracles as claims requiring extraordinary evidence, and by design, excludes by definition any evidence which affirms a miraculous event.

The evidence under consideration can be extraordinary in a quantitative or a qualitative sense, either of which can be accepted or rejected based on subjective assessments.  Herein lies the problem.  Since both quality and quantity are subjectively defined, the skeptic is under no obligation to admit any evidence fulfills the requirement.

There could be a dozen evidences for argument in favor of a miracle, and the skeptic could protest, “that’s not enough”.  The point being, there will never be enough evidences to satisfy a quantity sufficient to convince him miracles can happen, there is always an escape.

The demand for qualitatively extraordinary evidence however, also suffers from the same subjectivity.  No type of evidence will be extraordinary enough for the skeptic.  Pictures and video can be altered, witnesses can be mistaken or lie.  Even seeing for themselves would not likely elicit the concession of a miraculous event.  For example, if the skeptic claimed that if “Jesus is God” were to be written in the clouds, they would admit miracles happen, and it were to happen before their eyes, they doubtlessly would still seek a materialistic explanation; they were hallucinating, or there was a small plane performing sky writing, or any other explanation except a miraculous explanation.

Whenever you hear the slogan, “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”, you can be sure the game is rigged.  There is no way to fulfill the request.  In fact, all which is required is adequate reliable evidence.  To be sure extraordinary events, probabilistically, happen on a daily basis all over the world, without the demand for unfulfillable evidence.  When such a demand is made, ask what kind of evidence would be persuasive, chances are nothing you provide will be enough to answer the challenge, and you are not meant to.

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Related article: Not at All lacking, Natural Blindness, Prove It!, A Burden The Hand, Not A Shred Of Evidence, Objection Overruled

Comments

  1. “Since both quality and quantity are subjectively defined, the skeptic is under no obligation to admit any evidence fulfills the requirement.”

    And yet, when using it, the person who is making the extraordinary claim will not accept similar extraordinary claims for the same reason I do not accept theirs.

    I have multiple first-hand witnesses of abductions by extraterrestrial beings. Because these people are alive and we are able to talk to them now, their evidence is significantly better than any claims made in ancient documents. But I am going to go out on a limb and assume you will not accept their claims based only on their word. Am I correct?

    If I’m correct, why won’t you accept those claims? They have the exact same kind of evidence you say your claims have. And more reliable.

    Extraordinary claims DO require extraordinary evidence. Unless you’ve already accepted the claim for non-evidence based reasons, apparently.

    • To start the fact that miracles and the resurrection are mentioned in ancient documents has no bearing on the truth claims in the documents themselves. Additionally there is a significant difference between multiple different individual (I assume by multiple you mean, one person having the experience, but more that one individual making the claim; rather than a group of people being involved in the same incident) encounters, and groups of people having the same experience. An individual claiming an incident in isolation by himself leaves quite a bit to be desired.

      In the case for the miracles and resurrection of Jesus the record indicates that groups containing up to hundreds of people at a time witnessed the events in question. The New testament was composed before the close of the first century with all but one being written before 70 AD, meaning many if not the majority of witnesses to the events in question were alive at the time the NT books were being distributed and would have been able to discredit their claims. There would have been all the motivation in the world to abandon the claims since Christian persecution was rampant and profession of the belief Jesus was God and was raised meant your life.

      Also, the religious atmosphere in Jerusalem was very Jewish, Jews had no reason to abandon their religious beliefs for worship of a man. Jews of the time were for the most part incredibly devout. They lost everything by converting. The Christian church had little to no chance of ever getting off the ground if there were not people who witnessed the events described and could attest to their truth. There were very minor religious movements which would surface from time to time and would gain no traction. Christianity blew a hole wide open in that part of the world.

      Unfortunately your UFO comparison is not like the testimony of the NT events. A single individual describing an event to which he is the only witness, is entirely different than multiple witnesses experiencing the same event, and even participating.

      BTW, what would you consider proof of a miracle, or evidence of the resurrection of Jesus?

  2. “The New testament was composed before the close of the first century with all but one being written before 70 AD”

    This is a misleading statement. Perhaps not intentionally on your part. The point is, the Gospels were all written at least ten years after Jesus was supposed to have died. And we have no way to confirm who it was that wrote them. So, we don’t have records. We have written anecdotes at least a decade later.

    If there were hundreds if not thousands of witnesses to these miracles, why are there not at least dozens of written testimonies written at the time they happened, from numerous extra-Biblical sources?

    “would have been able to discredit their claims.”

    Who said they didn’t? Why would Christians keep records of people trying to discredit them? What if the Jews and other religious groups didn’t give them enough credit to bother discrediting them? The history of all religion is full of violence and war, so who’s to say apostates weren’t killed, as they almost always are?

    “There would have been all the motivation in the world to abandon the claims since Christian persecution was rampant and profession of the belief Jesus was God and was raised meant your life.”

    I’m not arguing whether or not people believed. Certainly they did. Today it’s easy to see that people, despite persecution, and sometimes because of persecution, still hold on to their beliefs. I’ve heard from many Christians and Muslims that being persecuted is ‘evidence’ that they must be doing something right.

    “Jews had no reason to abandon their religious beliefs for worship of a man”

    And part of being Jewish is believing that one day the Messiah will come.

    Again, I’m not arguing that people believed. I’m just not convinced they believed for what I would consider a good reason.

    “They lost everything by converting. The Christian church had little to no chance of ever getting off the ground if there were not people who witnessed the events described and could attest to their truth.”

    And nowadays people throw away their lives and all their savings to join Scientology. Or they join some cult that inevitably leads to group suicide. People do all sorts of things that look crazy to outside observers. That doesn’t mean their beliefs are true.

    “A single individual describing an event to which he is the only witness, is entirely different than multiple witnesses experiencing the same event, and even participating.”

    Check the internet. There are groups of people who have all been abducted together with the same stories. Thousands of people have described nearly identical experiences and nearly identical aliens.

    “BTW, what would you consider proof of a miracle, or evidence of the resurrection of Jesus?”

    Sadly we’re too far removed from the event for there to be any good evidence for that supernatural claim. Now, if there were multiple reports from extra biblical sources, all written at the time the miracles or resurrection was supposed to have happened, that would at least be the start of good evidence.

    If the Jesus story is true, and I don’t think it is, he made the massive mistake of appearing to a very small group of mostly illiterate bronze aged people with no recording devices or mass communication.

    If Jesus really wanted people to believe in him for evidential reasons, he’d appear in a lab and start doing his miracles under test conditions so we could actually study them and get good evidence.

    • Well, I don’t think i was misleading,it is common knowledge that the NT was composed starting at least 15-20 years after the death of Christ. However, that is an extremely close proximity when speaking of ancient documents. For example, most of the classics (ie Homer’s Iliad), the earliest copies from the originals date 600-1400 years after the original was written. In ancient history, having a written record as few as 15-20 years after the events is an outstanding credit for the NT. We cannot look back anachronistically and impost a reporting standard to the ancients. Nowadays an event happens in a small corner of the country (Terry Jones’ burning Korans) makes international news in a matter of hours, not so in the first century. Events happen and some events are eventually put to paper. There was a very high illiteracy rate in first century Palestine, that there are any written sources, especially so close after the event is rather amazing. Extra biblical sources for the life of Jesus include:

      Tacitus, a Roman historian, from his writings we verify that: Christians were named after their founder Christus, He was put to death by Pilate, during the reign of Tiberius.

      Suetonius, a Roman historian, from his writings we verify the Jews were expelled to Rome because of the uproar Jesus created with His teachings, and that Christians were named for their identification with Christ.

      Josephus, Roman historian, we learn from his writing that: Jesus was considered a wise and virtuous man, had disciples who were both Jewish and Christian, Pilate condemned Jesus to die by crucifixion, that the His disciples claimed He had risen from the dead, that because of that belief His followers proclaimed His teachings, that Jesus was the brother of James, and that some considered Him the Messiah.

      Thallus, historian, we verify that an account of the crucifixion was known in the Mediterranean region by the middle of the first century, that there was a wide spread darkness during the time Jesus was said to be on the cross, and that unbelievers offered rationalistic explanations for certain supernatural claims not long after their initial proclamation.

      Pliny the Younger, author, administrator and Governor of Bithynia, verifies that Jesus was worshipped by His followers as a deity, references that Jesus allegedly performed miracles which he called superstitions, that Jesus teachings were responsible for His followers taking oaths to never be guilty of a number of sins Pliny mentions in a letter, that Jesus followers participated in a group meal where they were thought to be partaking of blood (communion), that His worshippers worshipped on Sundays, that Jesus true worshippers could not be forced to recant or worship other gods, that His followers sang hymns to Jesus

      The Jewish Talmud, Jesus was crucified on the eve of the Passover, that Jesus was supposed to be stoned, that Jesus was judged guilty of sorcery, that He was killed because no witnesses came forth in His defence.

      Lucian, Greek satirist, we learn that Jesus was worshipped by His followers as deity, that He introduced new teachings in Palestine, that He was crucified because of His teachings. That Jesus taught that all of His believers are “brothers” from the moment of conversion after false gods are denied. The teachings included that He is to be worshipped, live according to His laws. That He was considered a sage. That His followers believed they were to be immortal. That His followers had sacred writings which were frequently read.

      Mara Bar-Serapion, a manuscript letter. We learn that, Jesus was considered wise and virtuous, addressed as the Jews’ King, that He was executed unjustly, and believed to have paid for His followers misdeeds.

      Not to mention all the gnostic references. So it is not just the bible which speak of Jesus life and death, and the earliest beliefs of His followers.

      I understand your objection to the idea that His followers faced death for their belief, and people die for their beliefs all the time. However let me explain why theirs is a different story. All but one of the apostles were martyred, John, who died on Patmos. Keep in mind that before they had seen Jesus alive again, they had gone into hiding for fear of also being killed by being associated with Him. These men are the ones who claimed to have seen Jesus alive after He had been buried. Being a lover of science I’m sure you know (or maybe don’t) that people do not experience group hallucinations. They are very personal and individual, not to mention rare. These men claimed to have seen Jesus in groups, by other groups of people. If Jesus had not risen, that means these men made the whole story up. They were viciously persecuted for their claims. The were killed for not renouncing their claims. The went from cowards to the brave men who were tortured and killed. The point is, people will die for a lie that they believe is true, but people do not die for what they know is a lie. These men would have had to have been lying about the resurrection, they could not have been mistaken. Too many people knew where His tomb was, too many people (the Jews, and Roman govt) had an interest in this man being dead. Here’s the point of this, had the empty tomb been found to have a body, Christianity would not exist. If Jesus body was found, Christianity would not exist. If any credible answer would have been advanced to discredit the disciples claims, Christianity would not exist. The Pharisees had every reason to discredit and prove Jesus was not the Messiah, but they could not offer reasons to not believe it true. The Christians were not “the winners” of first century Christian history. They had no power to control the facts. The were being murdered and tortured wholesale. They had no power period.

      Are you really claiming that if there were more sources you’d believe? I’m not certain of that, I think you would have another reason to not believe, hence proving the point of my article.

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