Extraordinary Claims Require Extraordinary Evidence image

Extraordinary Claims Require Extraordinary Evidence

The argument goes like this: extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. If you want to say that Jesus was raised from the dead, fine - you just need to produce evidence that is as remarkable as the claim you're making. And, since the claim you're making is utterly remarkable, you'll need a lot more than a few ancient documents written by people who, let's face it, had a vested interest. In other words, talking about resurrection will commit you to a burden of proof that you'll never reach.

It sounds very plausible, doesn’t it? Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.  Some people think David Hume said it, although he didn’t; even Lawrence Krauss, debating Bill Craig in Australia recently, quoted it as if it was Hume’s. The problem is, it isn’t true. Here’s why.

When considering the possible explanations for a set of evidence, you cannot just assess the intrinsic possibility of each explanation. You have to assess the probability of each explanation producing the evidence you have. You have to argue that your explanation is more likely to have resulted in the available evidence than all the alternatives - for the simple reason that sometimes, apparently improbable things happen, and all of the possible explanations involve improbabilities. So if you’re going to object to the resurrection, it is not enough to say that, since dead people supernaturally coming back to live is extraordinary, extraordinary evidence is needed. You have to show that your proposed alternative - mass hallucinations, the swoon theory, the conspiracy theory, or whatever - accounts for the evidence better than the resurrection theory. Otherwise, you are simply replacing a remarkable explanation with an even more remarkable one, and in doing so believing that you have won the argument.

That doesn’t prove that the resurrection happened, obviously. But it does show why resorting to the “extraordinary evidence” line isn’t enough to show that it didn’t.

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