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Extraordinary Silliness

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The group of atheists behind last year’s controversial bus ads that suggest God “probably doesn’t exist” will be splashing a new set of posters on buses across the country. Photograph by: Handout, Handout

Christ meets Big Foot: more irreverent atheist ads to hit Canadian cities

The atheist group behind last year’s controversial bus ads suggesting “there’s probably no God” is rolling out a provocative new set of posters on buses across the country that places Allah beside Big Foot and Christ beside psychics. The new posters bear the slogan: “Extraordinary Claims Require Extraordinary Evidence” with “Allah, Big Foot, UFOs, Homeopathy, Zeus, Psychics, Christ” listed below. They will hit Toronto streetcars in January, pending final approval from the Toronto Transit Commission, said Justin Trottier, national executive director of the Centre for Inquiry, an atheist organization. After the Toronto debut, the organization plans to post the ads to buses in Calgary, Vancouver, Ottawa, Saskatoon and Montreal. “Why is belief in Big Foot dismissed as delusional while belief in Allah and Christ is respected and revered? All of these claims are equally extraordinary and demand critical examination,” says the campaign’s website, http://www.extraordinary-claims.com. Trottier insists the ads weren’t designed to offend religious Canadians.

Perhaps you’ve heard this particular mantra of the atheistic crowd before.  It is a favourite for stifling any meaningful debate.  And why wouldn’t it be? If you demand extraordinary evidence it is then very easy to simply dismiss any evidence given as not extraordinary enough.  So nice try, but better luck next time.  You can see why many find it effective.  In case you are wondering, this seems to be where the idea came from:

“Carl Sagan is also widely regarded as a freethinker or skeptic; one of his most famous quotations, in Cosmos, was, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”[40] This was based on a nearly identical statement by fellow founder of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, Marcello Truzzi, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof.”[41] This idea originated with Pierre-Simon Laplace (1749–1827), a French mathematician and astronomer who said, “The weight of evidence for an extraordinary claim must be proportioned to its strangeness.”[42]” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carl_Sagan)

I agree, that all claims must be backed up by evidence, but here is where a little bit of rational thought clears up a whole bunch of silliness … Pecisely what isextraordinary” evidence? Evidence is evidence. You either have evidence for your claim or you do not.  We may certainly dispute the worth of the particular evidences given, we may seek to give differing weights to say, circumstantial evidence versus eye-witness evidence, forensic or textual evidence, and the like … but who gets to say what is “extraordinary” or not? Especially before any such evidence is even given?  And, just what evidence are they providing to make their (extraordinary) distinctions?

As a wise fellow on a discussion forum once said, The phrase has a certain emotional appeal, but such an appeal has no place in critical thinking, logic, or scientific discussion. Evidence is evidence. You either have it or you do not. Any preceding adjectives (like “extraordinary”, or “overwhelming”) are subjective and emotive value judgments that should have no place in rational discourse. To put it another way, the veracity of any claim must be assessed according to the “weight of evidence”.  Any claim, big or small must be supported by sufficient evidence.

To see how this particularly silly argument holds little real weight, consider this.  If extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, then surely very little claims require very little evidence, right?  Then why not make the claim that anyone who seriously holds to this position is either not very bright, or is intentionally lying.  Secondly I will claim that you shouldn’t listen to those who are not wise, or who are lying.  Neither of  these is an extraordinary claim.  They are each of them, rather minor claim, therefore my evidence needs be no more than they think calling something extraordinary is enough to shut people up.

It is not my intention to get into bout of  name-calling, however, just to point out the lack of rational integrity in such a point of view.  Evidence for Jesus and His resurrection, (unlike Bigfoot and UFO’s) is not only substantial, historical, verifiable  (and found outside of the Bible too), but on orders of magnitude above and beyond any other historical figure of the ancient world.  If atheists would like to argue the particulars of the evidence that would be most productive.  But then again, it wouldn’t easily fit on a bus ad and would take a lot more conviction, care, and well-reasoned thought.

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By the way, just for fun, why not turn the whole thing around, and let them taste their own medicine for a while … Christians are not the only ones to have “extraordinary” claims.

If life came from non-life, then only being able to make new life from completely non-living materials will be proof enough, that such a thing happens.

If, in the Big Bang, everything came from nothing, then once again making everything from nothing is the evidence required to prove it happens.

Multiple universes, the spontaneous creation of (useful) genetic information on an order such as to change an organism, dark matter and dark energy, star formation, and billions of years, all need to be shown, not by extrapolated information (as the underlying constants may not be constant and the beginning assumptions may not be correct), or by secondary effect (simply showing how such a thing “must” be to balance some mathematical, or physics equation is not proof – again the underlying equation may be faulty, and/or the assumptions may be wrong), or by computer simulations (they only do what their programmers tell them to).

True science is observable, measurable, and repeatable.  Until such claims can be directly observed, measured AND repeated no amount of evidence will be enough.

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Author: kenmaher

When I'm not working I enjoy Astronomy, Camping, Comic Books, Epic Fantasy Novels, Games (both playing and designing), Hiking, Juggling, Sci-fi, and building strange things out of pvc pipe. I also enjoy being an honorary pre-schooler with my four great children ... much to their mother's dismay.

4 thoughts on “Extraordinary Silliness

  1. “It is a favourite for stifling any meaningful debate.”

    No it’s not. It’s a key part of any debate. If you don’t have evidence to back up your claims, then why are we having a conversation in the first place? I’d love it if you’d show us your extraordinary evidence. We want you to bring it forward.

    “Evidence is evidence. You either have it or you do not. ”

    I’m sorry, but this is just wrong.

    The most obvious example is the difference between physical evidence and anecdotal evidence. Anecdotal evidence is just not as good as physical evidence. Never has been and never will be. And I’m not objecting to it on emotional grounds. It’s pure logic. A human’s perception and observations are subjective and can be tricked, fooled or mistaken quite easily. And while having an eye witness to an event is certainly a good thing to have, it is best as an additional to physical evidence.

    If all you have are anecdotes, then your evidence just isn’t good enough.

    “If life came from non-life, then only being able to make new life from completely non-living materials will be proof enough, that such a thing happens.”

    Which they are well on their way to recreating. See the Miller-Urey experiments for starters.

    “If, in the Big Bang, everything came from nothing, then once again making everything from nothing is the evidence required to prove it happens.”

    Do a little more studying in cosmology. Cosmologists don’t claim the Big Bang came from nothing.

  2. Dear NotAScientist

    Thank you for your comments, and for being inclined to discuss the topic with me.

    I believe that your initial response to the content of my posting is precisely the case in point. Already in your opening lines you seem to imply (1) that there is no evidence for the claims of Jesus (or that non has been provided as of yet) and (2) that you would consent to hear claims only if the meet some predefined requirement of being “extraordinary”. What defines said extra-ordinariness? You? Me? Someone or something else?

    Is it not rather the spirit of open and reasonable debate to hear someone’s claim, to give ear to the evidences they care to bring in support of said claims, and then upon hearing the evidences weigh them against the claim being made and decide if they are indeed sufficient for the claim being made? It seems to me that is the only way to actually discuss something. To make an a prior dismissal of evidence before evidence is given (such as by stating that it must be of a certain kind, or given in a certain fashion, or meet a certain criteria) is not to engage in conversation but to close conversation. I am not accusing you of this, but the sentiment is often expressed along the lines of “I will listen to what you have to say when you have something worth saying.”

    Further to the discussion, one must also be willing to ask just which claims of Christianity are to be considered “extraordinary” and on what basis? That Jesus existed? That he lived and taught in Galilee and Jerusalem? That He gathered followers? That said followers grew into a religion that has spanned the globe and nearly 2 millenia of human history? Or is it simply the claims of Jesus that He was God in the flesh, that He died for our sins, that He rose again to life? Not all the claims of Christianity are “extraordinary” by any means. Many are very quickly and easily supplied evidence from even the most cursory review of history.

    I would agree with your assessment that simple anecdotal evidence is not as strong as other forms of evidence, but this does not make it inadmissible as evidence. By your very words you yourself call it evidence. The question is not in the strength/weight of the evidence but whether or not the evidence fits the claims being made. (In the courts of law the majority of all criminal convictions are made solely or by a majority of purely circumstantial evidence).

    I am also glad that you chose not to go from that idea to a claim that anecdotal evidence is all that Christianity has going for it. To posit that evidence for Christianity is merely anecdotal is to ignore a preponderance of historical, geographical, and textual evidence both within the Bible and from outside (and often hostile)ancient sources.

    As for your comments on my call for extraordinary evidence I will reply:

    Being on the way to something does not prove anything. I can say that I’m on my way to winning the lottery but this hardly counts as evidence (even “ordinary” evidence) that I am a millionaire.

    Further, while the Miller-Urey experiments did indeed prove that some amino acids could be produced from organic compounds under tightly controlled circumstances, it did much to actually prove that such a thing could not have been the cause of life here on earth. First of all, they used the wrong atmosphere. Secondly, the amino acids could only form when the experiment put in place highly specialized traps to isolate the end product from all the other by-products that would destroy it. Such a mechanism for this kind of isolation has not creditably been shown to exist in natural conditions. Thirdly, in the very minute traces of the amino acid structures produced there enough contaminants present to prevent any kind of polymerization. Without this ability none of the 387 needed proteins for even the simplest form of life we know could have been possible. Fourthly, even the most simple form of life we know needs not only 387 distinct proteins, but in the proper order, and combinations to truly live. A spherical of amino acids is a very, very, long step away from this kind of complexity. Fifthly, of all the amino acid structures Miller-Urey produced they were racemic (equally left and right handed) which is certain death as all life on this planet of ours is left-handed. There is more that could be said on the subject but I think this will suffice for mow to show that Miller-Urey is far from the extraordinary evidence needed to proclaim that we are even on the way to explaining anything about life from non-life.

    As for your correction regarding Big bang Cosmology, I thank you. You are indeed correct that not all cosmologists hold to such an idea. There is great division in cosmology and has been from the beginning of the field of study. Many cosmologists hold to such ideas as infinite multiverses, chaotic inflation theories, White holes, Branes, and Big Bounces and Big Crunches.

    However, as to your contention that no cosmologists claim something from nothing I offer the following:

    Here is a quote from an article by Dennis Overbye (http://www.tomcoyner.com/before_the_big_bang_there_was__.htm)

    Nevertheless, most cosmologists, including Dr. Guth and Dr. Linde, agree that the universe ultimately must come from somewhere, and that nothing is the leading candidate.

    As a result, another tune that cosmologists like to hum is quantum theory. According to Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, one of the pillars of this paradoxical world, empty space can never be considered really empty; subatomic particles can flit in and out of existence on energy borrowed from energy fields. Crazy as it sounds, the effects of these quantum fluctuations have been observed in atoms, and similar fluctuations during the inflation are thought to have produced the seeds around which today’s galaxies were formed.

    Could the whole universe likewise be the result of a quantum fluctuation in some sort of primordial or eternal nothingness? Perhaps, as Dr. Turner put it, “Nothing is unstable.”

    As you can see, even within Big Bang cosmology the question is answered either by something came from nothing or something always was. To prove that something can come from nothing requires that something be made from nothing. To prove that something always existed … well that certainly would be extraordinary wouldn’t it?

  3. I was reading an interview with Margaret Atwood in Third Way Magazine (a UK magazine) where she spoke about atheist bus signs. Not my favourite author, I’ll admit, but she hits the nail on the head when it comes to this situation. “The people who put slogans on buses saying ‘God doesn’t exist’ – if you’re going to the trouble and expense of doing that, it’s a religion. That’s the belief – because it’s not a piece of demonstrable fact – that you have invested yourself in.”

    If atheists are going to make such an extraordinary claim about Christianity while ignoring all evidence on the subject, it can be nothing but a religious belief. And not a particularly attractive belief at that.

  4. Matthew,

    Well said. In the language of our Catechism, to have a god is to fear love or trust in something (anything) above all else. Whatever it is that motivates you by fear, love, or trust is your god, and how you live out your life and interact with those who hold to a differing idea of God (those who fear, love and trust something different) is your religion.

    For some this is the religion of No God. HERE is a great article discussing the details. For others it is the religion of Science. See HERE for a fascinating discussion.

    For others that religion must be evolution. See HERE.

    We all place our trust in something, the question is “What?” (followed quickly by “Why”?)

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