Do extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence?

I think I just said this a couple of weeks ago, but it is worth repeating as it has become a mantra among evangelical atheists:

“Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”

While this may seem like sound reasoning at first glance, it fails in significant ways. Try using this phrase and switch out the modifier. What if I said, “physical claims require physical evidence.” Or what about this: “miraculous claims require miraculous evidence”? How about “canine claims require canine evidence”? Of course, you would see the fallacy right away. The equivocation creates an apparent profundity that misdirects our senses. In every case claims just need evidence. At best, you could say that claims need sufficient evidence, but their sufficiency is subjective to the person, not the claim.

You may be like Thomas and say “Unless I stick my fingers in the nail holes and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe.” But this did not even end up being true for Thomas as the invitation to do so was given, but the subjective need has been overcome.

I don’t know what kind of evidence any one person needs for them to claim mastery of their own subjectivity and exercise a will to believe, so I try to stand ready at all times to give the reasons why my own subjective skepticism gives way to belief. One thing I do know is that when one continues to cry foul at the evidence for Christianity, pronouncing its insufficiency, it is not the evidence that is at fault. There is something more going on, something much deeper. The best I can do at this point is try to get the individual out of the endless spiral of disbelief, understanding that no matter how extraordinary the evidence is their will cannot be overcome by an act of the will. I do think there’s an outage that fits in the situation. “Convince someone against their will and they are of the same opinion still.”


C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo House Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. He can be contacted at [email protected]

    7 replies to "“ Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”… And other stupid statements"

    • […] “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”… And other stupid statements (C. Michael Patton, Credo House): “ ‘Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.’ While this may seem like sound reasoning at first glance, it fails in significant ways. Try using this phrase and switch out the modifier. What if I said, ‘physical claims require physical evidence.’ Or what about this: ‘miraculous claims require miraculous evidence’? How about ‘canine claims require canine evidence’? Of course, you would see the fallacy right away. The equivocation creates an apparent profundity that misdirects our senses. In every case claims just need evidence.” […]

    • Kevin L Caputo

      Hey guess what all religion has been furfilled no more scripture past now if want see how I write scripture and furfill it self furfilling profitcy email me or call I’ll show you a miracle as you’ll call it it just me having fun because I’m going teach them a lesson here chance to be part of a true overcommer of God I survived. Not only direct attacks on but victories over politics killing over 500 thousand politicians ok 7 billion human by but best yet come wrath of Greater Good Gothicker GoD as man writing new holy Bible it be testament for you hear how in o really feel ok Marie Celona my prize I want it .

    • Gordon

      “Of course, you would see the fallacy right away.” That isn’t a fallacy at all. If you make a claim, the evidence you present must be relevant and scaled to the claim. If I make a claim about canines, of course I need something with dogs as evidence on my claim about dogs! If I make a theory about physics, I have to make testable hypotheses on physical phenomena to verify the theory just like the predictions Einstein made proved the greater accuracy of his theory.
      And if you claim to have a god of love and miracles, you need to show that love in a way that is clearly impossible, yet clearly true (which is what a miracle is) to every generation of inquirers, not a dead book of lost dreams. Heal someone! Raise the dead! Prove a demon and drive it out! Then all who see it will naturally be delighted in being proven wrong, unless your god deliberately hardens their hearts in a supernatural way like he did when he abandoned Israel after moving the goalposts on who is Israel (Romans 9).

    • Roger Pierce

      I think it’s a valid statement but more in the context of classical scientific inquiry. Beyond that, even “extraordinary evidence” begins to break down due to the subjective, individual and mysterious nature of consciousness. To put it another way, what constitutes “extraordinary evidence” and, by extension, sufficient proof to one person may remain speculation or fallacy to another. The rise of “peerage”, “peer review” and “the reasonable man” standard have all been attempts to deal with individual subjective variation, but such solutions have proven limitations and can give rise to “echo chambers”, “hive minds”, “intellectual in-breeding” and my personal favorite oxymoron – “settled science”. Ultimately, the mature scientific mind must recognize the need for faith, because what drives the scientific quest for understanding is, in a sense, a type of faith. One would hardly seek additional discovery if they didn’t believe something more might exist. That belief is faith. History tends to prove that whenever “extraordinary evidence” becomes manifest, it’s often accompanied by even more questions that don’t have answers. Perhaps it could be said that the real constant through the ages is not the evidence, but rather the faith. If you live by faith, then you must not argue with nonbelievers as though you live by evidence (however you define it) because you don’t. You live by faith.

      • Gordon

        That’s not faith. That’s inquiry. Asking questions because your theory doesn’t explain everything isn’t faith, unless you equivocate religious “faith” in something that cannot be measured (and produces no reproducible evidence) with something that can, which is fact, not “faith”.
        The scientists in the Manhattan project had faith that the object “Fat Man” would work and exactly what yield it would produce because they knew all of the relevant facts about Plutonium. It was not an ideology about beyond the veil based off of ancient traditions from superstitious times and the very “intellectual inbreeding” which is based on stories conspicuously absent from the many opportunities to be reported by actual contemporary memory, which is what Biblical Christianity is. All of the scientists knew what would happen when the second gadget went off, but there is no case of Herod and Pontius Pilate, or anyone in the Roman Army seeing a resurrection, nor of any tombs opening or other thaumatourgy outside of negative responses to the claims of the Bible.
        Faith off informed prediction and “faith” of wishful thinking are two different things. Unless you have received an experience identical to other faithful without needing a Bible to psych yourself up and preconceive a manufactured experience, you are working off “faith” in ideology and bias, not faith in facts which produce results. Biblical Christianity produces no experimental results except whether something is Biblical or not, a completely internal system divorced from both God and Man. Mysticism and Spiritualism can produce similar results without presuppositions, as vague as they are, but is still universal and separate from the unspiritual realm of emotions. Sciences produce results that can be tested. Both are vastly superior to Biblicism and other ideologies which deny everything outside of its limits as defined by its ideologues. The “faith” that you own absolute truth despite it doing nothing absolute is a recipe for genocide. I suppose because an absolute claim also requires absolute evidence, the absolute annihilation of all who think otherwise would absolutely ensure your success. That is what Islam attempted from its inception.

        • Roger Pierce

          I disagree, but it’s a matter of opinion anyway and I’m of the opinion that within at least some corners of the multiverse, the work of science and technological progress have long been a type of New Testament faith in practice – sometimes overtly so. I’ll gladly take electricity, the automobile and the revelation that neither the Earth, the Pope nor Caesar are at the center of the solar system, let alone the universe (the observable universe apparently has no discernable “center”). Were the inventors or those who discovered such things “believers” or even “good people”? Honestly, besides God or maybe some angels who really knows? Could extraordinary claims without extraordinary evidence have inspired faith in action that ultimately bore fruit? Absolutely.

    • Roger Pierce

      Here’s an extraordinary claim without extraordinary evidence that I can make after 30 plus years of observation and experience – if you can somehow manage to please both God and Satan then you’ll probably have a good life but good luck with that.

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