Extraordinary Claims Require Extraordinary Evidence


“Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”

This quote was popularized by Carl Sagan, the astronomer, educator, physicist and skeptical philosopher. His quote is used by many atheists to reject the belief in God. They argue that the claim of the existence of God is so grand that any evidence to support this claim must be equally grand. In this short essay, I will explain why this statement is not only grossly subjective, but in reality the claim that there is no God is more difficult to prove than the claim that there is one.

What is an extraordinary claim?

Really, how do you define what that means? What one defines as extraordinary another might define as ordinary, and vice versa.

For example, I personally know people who consider it common-place to see visions holy men of the past. Not only do they experience these visions on a regular basis, their fellow community members also experience these apparitions. (And for the record, these are sane, educated and coherent people). For me, their experiences are extraordinary, but to them they are common-place and not even worth discussing. Conversely, I heard a story of my grandmother seeing a TV for the first time and being completely perplexed about how a man could fit inside a small box. To her, that was an extraordinary occurrence. And most some see the idea of God as well within the realm of normality.

What is an extraordinary claim, by the definition Sagan intended, is subjective from person to person.

Whose claim is more extraordinary?

The only objective way to measure whether a claim is extraordinary is by the amount of evidence required to make the claim. What the evidence consists of is inconsequential, as previously explained. Based on this objective standard, the atheist claim that there is no God requires more evidence and is therefore more extraordinary than the claim that God exists.

To understand why, consider a sample population of one million people. To make the claim that amongst them is a redheaded person, you would only need to produce a single redheaded person out of the million. This one person would be sufficient to support your claim. Conversely, if you wanted to say that there was not a single redheaded person amongst the population, the only way to verify this claim would be to check every single person amongst the million. Even a single exception would violate the claim, so one’s examination would have to be absolute.

The positive claim that a redhead exists in the population requires only a single piece of evidence. But, the negative claim that not a single redhead exists requires an examination of every single person in the population- one million pieces of evidence. Therefore, the statement “no redhead exists amongst the population” is an extraordinary claim that requires more evidence.

Now compare this to the belief in God. A believer must bring forth only a single piece of evidence for his belief in God. However, the atheist must examine every corner of the universe and personal experience claiming that God exists and conclude that they are mistaken. This is complicated by the fact that Jewish and Muslim theologians argue that God’s existence is outside of time and space, and we are incapable of examining outside of time and space. The claim of the atheist requires more evidence and is therefore the extraordinary claim.

While Sagan and other atheists used this quote to reject God, in reality, its reality goes against them.

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