Do Extraordinary Claims Require Extraordinary Evidence?

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Do Extraordinary Claims Require Extraordinary Evidence?

Postby Crosser » July 19th, 2017, 12:45 pm

I regularly hear skeptics say, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. ‘God exists’ is an extraordinary claim. You had better be able to produce extraordinary evidence to support such a claim.” This is, based on my experience, untrue.

In 1981, there were approximately 24,159,000 people living in the state of California. That year, 3,143 people committed the crime of murder. Most people were law-abiding, peace-loving citizens; very few (only .01 percent of the population) were murderers. That’s an extraordinarily low number if you think about it. One of these 1981 California murderers (representing only .000004 percent of the population) was Michael Lubahn, the man who killed his wife and claimed that she ran away from home. Michael was a beloved member of the victim’s family, and they refused to believe he was responsible for her death. I can understand why they would feel this way.

It was an extraordinary claim, really: Michael Lubahn, a gentle and friendly man, representing only .000004 percent of the entire population, without any history of violence and without any apparent motive, was accused of committing the worst possible crime. The victim’s family repeatedly told me this was an extraordinary claim that they simply could not accept, and even after showing them the evidence I gathered prior to trial, they refused to believe it.

The jury trial lasted about a month. As is the norm with my cases, the evidence was entirely circumstantial; but this case was particularly extraordinary. There was no physical evidence, no body, and no crime scene. Of all my circumstantial cases, this one was definitely the most difficult and “thin.” It was extraordinary on many levels: the unlikely nature of the crime in 1981, the unlikely nature of the suspect, and the unlikely nature of the evidence available to us.

After weeks of testimony and a jury conviction, the family was still unconvinced. This was an extraordinary charge after all; shouldn’t there be some extraordinary evidence before we lock someone up for the rest of his life? Well, that’s the nature of all homicide cases. Thankfully, they are extraordinary and rare. In spite of this reality, jurors draw reasonable conclusions from evidence that is both ordinary and unexceptional. As a result, I’ve learned that extraordinary claims don’t actually require extraordinary evidence. When the ordinary evidence points to an extraordinary conclusion, jurors are within their right to make a reasonable decision. When Michael Lubahn ultimately confessed to this crime (yet another extraordinary event), he proved the jury made the right decision with nothing more than ordinary evidence.

The same people who require extraordinary evidence to demonstrate the existence of God generally fail to see the extraordinary nature of their own claims. Take, for example, atheistic claims about the nature of the universe. Did everything (all space, time, and matter) come into existence from nothing through some natural process involving the laws of physics? Did life emerge from non-life in a similar way? Can immaterial consciousness and true free agency emerge from an entirely physical and deterministic universe? Can the laws of physics provide adequate grounding for moral obligations? When atheistic naturalists form a case for such extraordinary claims, they do it with rather ordinary calculations and evidences. They assemble theories derived from this evidence and they expect all of us to embrace their case. I actually think that’s a fair approach to the issue, but I also think it’s fair to use ordinary evidence to come to an extraordinary conclusion about God’s existence (I do this, for example, in God’s Crime Scene).

Forensic Faith by J. Warner Wallace
"All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us." - Gandalf

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