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https://donotlink.it/YOAV

It's quite amusing to hear self-proclaimed "rationalists" attempt to make use of this quote, since the claim that "extraordinary evidence" is required is fundamentally illogical. Because that which is supernatural must interact with the natural in order to be perceived, most supernatural activity will leave natural footprints which are capable of being evaluated by fully natural means. A poltergeist is supernatural, while a vase smashed by a poltergeist, a video of a vase being smashed by an invisible force, and an audio recording of an observing scientist watching a vase being smashed by an invisible force are all natural things that could be provided as evidence for the supernatural.

A proper scientific study of the supernatural, as proposed by the likes of Daniel Dennett, will look no different and provide evidence that is no more extraordinary than the evidence that is provided for any natural claim. Whether one is studying the utility of prayer, Vitamin C, or surgery in curing cancer, the means and the evidence produced will be the same.

As for the example of the watered plants and the alien pet, Ninja Rabbit has created a very poor analogy. It's not a proper comparison. He's assuming knowledge on the one part and denying it on the other; how do we know that the plants are actually his neighbor's? We don't; perhaps he doesn't own them or even the house. How do we know if he watered them or not? We don't. Perhaps they're plastic. Ninja Rabbit is making a series of baseless assumptions based on the fact that because he knows other people own plants that they water, and because he thinks that his neighbor has no motivation to lie to him, his neighbor must be telling him the truth.

The reason the analogy is poor is obvious if we consider a more equitable version of it. Ninja Rabbit lives next door so he can see the plants. He knows they exist and are in decent health, so he concludes someone must be watering them. His neighbor claims to be doing so, so he accepts the claim. Now, if he also saw the three-headed 50-foot alien next door on as regular a basis and it appeared to be in good health, his neighbor's claim to own it and feed it would be no more remarkable than his claim to have watered his plants.

It should be clear to everyone, now, that "extraordinary claims" require no extra proof of their soundness, the only difference between an "extraordinary claim" and an ordinary one is that there is usually less tangential knowledge surrounding what is described as an extraordinary one. But that tangential knowledge should not be confused with evidence in itself, especially when it does not even support the specific claim being made.

How do you know if the evidence you are presented with matches the claim? How do you know the smashed vase wasn't a trick to make it seem supernatural? What is more likely, natural forces leaving natural footprints? Or supernatural forces leaving natural footprints? How would you be able to tell? There seems to be a problem with Vox's argument but I need help to articulate it. Can anyone here help me?

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The quoted paragraph starts off with the wrong meaning of extraordinary by taking it to be synonymous with supernatural when it means remarkable or exceptional so everything that follows must be wrong.

What that extraordinary quote means is simply that big claims need big evidence. For example if you saw a rainbow coloured car, I could be convinced to believe you because it's not outside the realm of possibility for someone to paint their car like that. But if you told me you saw an angel descend from the skies no amount of stories will convince me unless you show me proof because no one has ever demonstrated proof of angels existing.

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[..]he only difference between an "extraordinary claim" and an ordinary one is that there is usually less tangential knowledge surrounding what is described as an extraordinary one[..]

The above quote from the last paragraph is tossed out and very casually and dismissively and then glossed over. What the author calls "tangential knowledge" is one of the key reasons that extraordinary claims do in fact require remarkable evidence.

The "tangential knowledge" of the observer (that plants exist, that they thrive when watered appropriately) is not trivial. It is the product of millions of years of evolution on planet earth. It fits nicely into our scientific worldview about how plants evolved and the biology of plants.

The existence of the alien represents a serious inconsistency. Can you imagine NASA announcing that extraterrestrial life had been discovered, and then just ending the press conference without showing any evidence, just "trust us"?

The requirement for extraordinary evidence does not only apply to supernatural claims. Both relativity and quantum mechanics made extraordinary claims about the nature of the universe. These theories were met with a great deal of resistance until the evidence they provided was remarkable enough to make them generally acceptable.

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The use of the word "extraordinary" may be a way to shift the burden of proof. Here is Bo Bennett's description of that which may be an informal logical fallacy:

Making a claim that needs justification, then demanding that the opponent justifies the opposite of the claim. The burden of proof is a legal and philosophical concept with differences in each domain. In everyday debate, the burden of proof typically lies with the person making the claim, but it can also lie with the person denying a well-established fact or theory. Like other non-black and white issues, there are instances where this is clearly fallacious, and those which are not as clear.

The claim being made at this stage of the argument is that some evidence presented by an opponent should not be accepted because it is not considered "extraordinary" enough. That claim needs justification which is not given. This forces the opponent to justify the opposite of the claim that the evidence is indeed sufficient.

This is not a totally losing situation for the opponent presenting evidence that is not accepted as extraordinary enough provided their evidence is convincing to others. That side should then seek to strengthen the evidence by collecting more of it and of higher quality. They can even make this evidence publicly available.

Ultimately it is not any particular opponent in an argument who needs to be convinced but a larger influential audience who vote, decide budgets, write blog posts and otherwise provide popular support for one side or the other. Depending on social mood, rejecting evidence because it is not extraordinary enough may be used against the side that does so. The safest position is to address all evidence an opponent provides to the extent one is able.

The OP asks the following:

What is more likely, natural forces leaving natural footprints? Or supernatural forces leaving natural footprints?

Depending on one's metaphysical views about the underlying reality that we observe either could be more likely than the other. That is why evidence and argument is important.


Bennett, B. Shifting of the Burden of Proof. Retrieved on June 4, 2019 from Logically Fallacious at https://www.logicallyfallacious.com/tools/lp/Bo/LogicalFallacies/222/Shifting-of-the-Burden-of-Proof

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What is an extraordinary claim?

Let's step away from the question of the supernatural for a moment. If someone told me that gravity is only real if you believe in it, and that I could fly like superman if I tried, I would be very skeptical. Why? Because it contradicts a lifetime of accumulated experience. It also runs counter to reason - since babies don't fly, and haven't yet learned to believe in gravity.

Because I have personally experienced gravity, and been taught by reliable sources about gravity, and because gravity affects unintelligent objects, and small children, I would not only disbelieve if someone told me they could simply ignore gravity and fly - I would be highly skeptical if someone DEMONSTRATED flying like superman. Strings which I can't see, magnetic levitation, a human-shaped balloon, optical illusions; all of these and other possibilities would have to be examined and disproved first, before I would credit the evidence in front of me.

In actual practice, we don't judge on single data points (at least, we shouldn't). We collect bodies of evidence, and sift them to draw larger conclusions. An extraordinary claim requires extraordinary evidence because it must overcome a large body of apparently contradictory evidence.

What does that mean in relation to supernatural phenomena? Most people have few or no experiences which can only be attributable to supernatural phenomena, so to assert that a ghost pushed over and broke a vase is somewhat like claiming that gravity could be ignored; to accept supernatural intervention as the most plausible cause requires overcoming the fact that other apparently supernatural causation is, at best, vanishingly rare, and those who claim they can produce it have consistently failed to do so in controlled settings where other causes could be ruled out.

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Both Vox's argument and the slogan it quotes are bad ideas.

First, an idea is either true or false and no amount of evidence agreeing with an idea can show it is true or probably true or anything like that. So the idea that some evidence is extraordinary makes no sense. A piece of evidence either refutes a theory or it doesn't and that's all there is to it:

Do all epistemologies suffer from the "regress of justifications" problem?

Second if you're trying to judge between two ideas the ideas need to make different predictions about the outcome of some event. But before you can get to this stage you can eliminate many ideas that are not viable candidates to explain anything, such as prayer, god etc. Explanations involving god can always be rewritten without god because god's role in the explanation is "god did x" without specifying how he did it. Since no specification is given of how god did x god can just be replaced by whatever mechanism actually caused x and so the theistic theory explains nothing and we don't need to consider it further.

The theistic explanation also makes no predictions because god could do absolutely anything. In response to a prayer to cure a two year old child of cancer god could turn the child into a turnip, or make the cancer cells disappear, or make the cancer kill the child faster, or trigger any other conceivable sequence of events. So no sequence of events could refute the existence of god and so no sequence of events could constitute evidence for judging the existence of god.

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