The “Extraordinary Claim” Argument

A popular argument used by Atheists is called the “Extraordinary Claim Argument.”  It says that an extraordinary claim (like the resurrection of Christ from the dead) requires extraordinary evidence.  Of course the kind of evidence that history is capable of presenting–eyewitness testimony that is consistent versus strained alternative explanations that ignore basic facts–is never enough.  The Extraordinary Claim Argument turns out to be a clever way of setting the bar so high that, no matter what kind of evidence the Christian presents, the Atheist does not even have to deal with it.

The Atheist Confronted by the Actual Evidence.

Next time somebody tries this gambit on you, remind him that it cuts both ways.  The idea that this wonderful, intricately designed, and finely tuned universe just randomly popped into existence out of nothing for no reason and then proceeded to organize itself through random purposeless processes to the point that it contains creatures able to understand its laws—is that not an extraordinary claim? 

The stunning Chi Rho page from the Book of Kells

Ink that has tried to organize itself out of nothing. R-i-i-i-g-h-t.

The notion that the Disciples were transformed from clueless wimps and cowards to people who turned the world upside down by what they knew to be a lie—is that not an extraordinary claim?  The notion that gnostic texts from two centuries too late have the same authority as documents written closer to the events than we are to the assassination of Kennedy by people who were there–is that not an extraordinary claim?  

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Where the Argument from Extraordinary Claims takes you.

The Extraordinary claim argument then is ultimately a cop-out.  It is a two-edged sword that cuts the hand that wields it. But in the light of the other claims set forth here, it is tempting to say that the idea that Atheists are the only ones who care about reason and evidence while Christians are the ones who believe absurdities out of blind faith—that may be the most extraordinary claim of all!

Inklings of Reality 2nd EditionFor more hard-hitting apologetic arguments, check our Dr. Williams’ books in the Lantern Hollow Store, especially REFLECTIONS FROM PLATO’S CAVE: ESSAYS IN EVANGELICAL PHILOSOPHY.

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About gandalf30598

Theologian, philosopher, poet, and critic; minister of the Gospel who makes his living by teaching medieval and renaissance literature; dual citizen of Narnia and Middle Earth.

Posted on December 2, 2013, in Christianity, Donald Williams, Philosophy, Theology and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Ignostic Atheist

    I’ll grant to you that a universe from nothing is an extraordinary claim, but the problem with your argument is that over time, as we learn more about the universe, the religious claims have become more implausible, while the scientific claims go from implausible to true, or implausible to false.

    • Have religious claims become more implausible over time? Which ones? On what basis? The historical evidence for the Resurrection of Christ is as strong as it ever was. And many advances in scientific knowledge have tended to lend further support to the claims of Christian theism: the avalanche of evidence for the fine tuning of the universe for life, the refutation of the eternality of matter, the fact that we now know the universe to have had an absolute beginning in time, the correlation of the nature of the DNA molecule with information theory–the list goes on. That is why the physicist Robert Jastrow pictured Scientists scratching and clawing their way to the top of the cliff only to find the Theologians sitting there waiting for them.

      • Ignostic Atheist

        The very large majority of the universe is cold and desolate, and completely inhospitable to life. The fine tuning argument comes from the assumption that there are no other possible configurations that could result in a stable universe. The idea that there is a definite beginning to the universe and time is a claim the big bang theory does not assert. Much like evolution, it describes how things have changed from simple origins, but it does not claim that there was nothing before. Pointing out that DNA is delightfully logical doesn’t really convince me of supernatural origins, considering I’ve studied how it works and changes over time.

        Meanwhile, Jesus walked on water, healed the sick, talked to angels, is the son of a virgin mother, changed water into wine, drove out demons, raised the dead, cursed a fig tree, created never-ending food, calmed the weather, and rose from the dead after absolving us of our sins. These things are all reasonable in a world where science is not just false, but impossible.

        So you tell me why god has been taking it easy the past couple thousand years, abandoning all those meaningful miracles and instead making himself known through leaky statues and burnt toast. I’d say that the never-ending basket of food would be both most convincing, and most needed, right now.

        • I don’t know where you are getting your information about the arguments for Christian theism, but your critiques do not suggest a very good understanding of what they claim. The large tracts of space that are inhospitable to life are irrelevant. The earth might well echo Yoda: “Judge me by me size, do you?” The fine-tuning argument in fact stipulates that many configurations could be “stable.” But it points out the many factors that all have to be tuned to within infinitesimal standards to permit life as we know it. You can cling to the belief that this happened by chance it you want, but it is one more fact that makes design look much more plausible. And it is not that DNA is “logical”; it manifests specific features of *coding* that are reliable indicators of intelligent design and which never are observed to be produced by random chance.

          As for the relationship between science and miracles, you seem to misunderstand that badly. Christian theism actually requires a stable and reliable set of scientific laws operating for miracles to be significant. Without that framework, they are just random bits of weirdness. I’m not any more impressed by weeping statues than you are. But if God exists and is able to suspend the laws of science by which He normally operates at strategic points, one would expect them to cluster around moments of revelation such as the life of Christ where God is showing Himself in the world. We don’t see them on the same scale today, but they have not ceased. I have experienced one or two myself.

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