Do extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence?

Deutsche Version: Erfordern außergewöhnliche Behauptungen außergewöhnliche Beweise?

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Answering such a question proves much more difficult than many people like to think.

The famous Skeptic of parapsychology Richard Wiseman from Britain was once asked why he rejected Extrasensory Perceptions (ESP) and specifically remote viewing. His answer was very revealing:

“I agree that by the standards of any other area of science that remote viewing is proven, but begs the question: do we need higher standards of evidence when we study the paranormal? I think we do.

“If I said that there is a red car outside my house, you would probably believe me.

“But if I said that a UFO had just landed, you’d probably want a lot more evidence.

“Because remote viewing is such an outlandish claim that will revolutionize the world, we need overwhelming evidence before we draw any conclusions. Right now we don’t have that evidence.”

Such an approach to anomalous phenomena is often backed up by the legendary Bayes’ theorem, according to which one can actualize the likelihood of the truth of a theory by incorporating the information conveyed by new facts.

I’m going to keep a critical examination of the related philosophy Bayesianism to future conversations.

In the second book of the Narnia series “The King Of Narnia“, the famous writer C.S. Lewis completely rejected this method. The young Lucy came into Narnia, a parallel world, after having hidden within a wardrobe. Back in the house, she ran to her siblings who utterly denied the reality of her experience.

Worried that their small sister kept holding fast on the truth of her incredible story, they searched Professor Kirke who rebuked them for not trusting Lucy. After they retorted that her claim was extraordinary, he replied:

“Logic!” said the Professor half to himself. “Why don’t they teach logic at these schools? There are only three possibilities. Either your sister is telling lies, or she is mad, or she is telling the truth. You know she doesn’t tell lies and it is obvious that she is not mad. For the moment then and unless any further evidence turns up, we must assume that she is telling the truth.”

That is to say, for the old wise professor, normal evidence was sufficient for vindicating the wild claim of the little girl.

At this point, I am kind of confused about both principles.

On the one hand, it is clear one should always take our background knowledge into account before evaluating a new hypothesis or theory.

On the other hand, if a set of facts is sufficient to prove an ordinary claim, I don’t see why a similar set of facts should fail to prove an extraordinary conclusion.

Let us now see some concrete examples of well-known phenomena which were rejected in the past due to their alleged extraordinariness. Saying in hindsight they weren’t extraordinary after all would be all too easy for this was the way they were perceived by scientists at that time.

The existence of meteorites was once thought to be an outlandish claim and the normal evidence was explained away in terms of purely terrestrial phenomena or witness hallucinations.

In 1923 the German geologist Alfred Wegener found normal evidence for continental drift, but failing to present a mechanism which worked, his theory was ignored and even ridiculed during decades.

The same thing could be said about ball lightnings which were often dismissed as stemming from illusions or hallucinations experienced by the witnesses.

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Nowadays a similar phenomenon can be observed for the small proportion of flying objects which are truly unidentified.

If extraordinary claims demands extraordinary evidence, then UFOs (in the present) does not and continental drift, meteorites and ball lightnings did not (in the past) exist.

But if one only seeks for normal evidence, a strong case can be made that some UFOs (according to the original definition as “unidentified”) really exist. I am going to explain this in future posts.

We will also explore together the possibility that there really exists normal evidence for the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.

 

 

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The trilemna of C.S. Lewis

Deutsche Version: das Trilemma von C.S. Lewis

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C.S Lewis was undoubtedly the greatest Christian apologist of the past century. Tough some of his points are certainly overstated, I do believe it is only fair to say he defended a rational form of Christianity which neglects neither the intellect nor the emotions.

One of his most famous arguments was the so-called trilemna concerning the person of Jesus of Nazareth.

Provided the New Testament reports about Jesus’s claims of being God are reliable, it is irrational to just consider Jesus as a wise teacher among many others. No, according to what he said about himself, he could only be the Lord of all things, a liar or a lunatic (LLL).

Whilst some enemies of the Christian faith have no problem with believing one of two last options, most skeptics have tried to dismiss the whole argument as being a false trilemna: Jesus might very well have been a great man who was just wrong with respect to his divinity.

While this response did have some intuitive appeal to me, I no longer believe it is valid. At the time of Jesus, Jews viewed God as the creator of heaven and earth who is radically different from and superior to the whole creation. After a long and progressive evolution during the time of the Old Testament, they finally saw God as the supreme being responsible for all the wonderful features of nature they could observe.

It is true that during the course of history, quite a few religious great men were (morally) exceptional individuals, even if they believed they were equipped with supernatural powers which were demonstrably absent, and this by no mean involves they were insane or even dishonest.

But this is a far cry from claiming to be the being responsible for the existence of everything.

Imagine that over the coming weeks you were to realize you’re beginning to take more and more seriously the idea you are the creator of the entire reality, which is nevertheless real and not a dream.

Would it not be a safe reaction to immediately go to the psychiatric unit of the next hospital?

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So, I believe that in spite of all the challenges formulated since Lewis brought up this idea, there has been no convincing answer.

Of course, all of this relies on the historicity of the divine claims of Jesus. In future posts, I’ll go into the question as to whether one can or even should believe this or not.

 

 

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