Why Vox Day failsJune 7, 2008 — Deacon Duncan
I know it’s not TIA Tuesday, but this popped up recently on Vox Popoli, and it’s a really clear example of why Vox’s attempts at debunking fail so badly. He’d like to prove that he has the inside scoop, the intelligence, and the objectivity to see what other people miss, but what he really ends up showing is that he has failed to understand the material.
As I have mentioned before, anyone who repeats the common atheist talking point that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” is demonstrating one of two things. The first option is that they haven’t actually thought about it; they’re simply echoing what they’ve heard before. The second is that they aren’t very intelligent.
There’s also a third option: they’ve realized that truth is consistent with itself, and therefore when you claim that extraordinary things are part of the real world, then we ought to be able to find these extraordinary things in the real world. That, however, does not seem to be an option Vox is willing to consider.
Vox’s post is prompted by the remarks of one Ninja Rabbit on the nature of evidence needed for extraordinary claims.
If your neighbor told you that he watered his plants yesterday, it would be a reasonable claim to believe. But if he told you he fed his pet three headed 50 foot alien, it would probably not be reasonable to believe at this particular point. Your neighbor would have to elaborate and give you evidence that this 50 foot three headed alien exists and is his pet.
Vox’s “rebuttal” tries to escape from the dilemma by changing the scenario so that it supplies exactly what Ninja Rabbit said would be needed:
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.
Notice, Vox seems completely oblivious to the fact that it would be highly unusual (aka “extraordinary”) for someone to possess a 50-foot three-headed alien in the first place. If people commonly possessed such pets, or if the neighbor was already known to possess such a pet, then granted, there would be nothing extraordinary about displaying the pet as evidence of the claim. But in that situation, the claim would no longer be extraordinary either. All that proves is that ordinary claims (i.e. claims consistent with what we ordinarily experience) do not require extraordinary evidence (i.e. evidence above and beyond what we ordinarily experience).
What Vox has done, indirectly, is to support the conclusion that extraordinary claims do require extraordinary proof. Ninja Rabbit said the claim would require evidence that the neighbor had an alien pet, and that’s exactly what Vox had to add to the story to make it come out the way he wanted. Vox seems to be a little confused about the results, though: he seems to think that by demonstrating Ninja Rabbit was right, he somehow proved he was wrong. But Vox’s confusion runs even deeper: he seems to feel that “extraordinary evidence” means evidence that is itself supernatural or atypical in some way:
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.
Quite so, and the absence of such evidence is precisely why scientists fail to conclude that poltergeists exist. “Extraordinary evidence” does not mean that we need a fundamentally different type of evidence, it means natural evidence which is consistent with the extraordinary claims being made, such as observable and verifiable smashing of vases without the involvement of any natural agents or forces. Evidence of poltergeists, or levitation, or telepathy or other such things would not be “extraordinary evidence” in the sense of being something other than measurement, observation, correlation, and so on. It would simply be natural evidence consistent with the extraordinary phenomena of poltergeists, levitation, telepathy, and so on.
The relationship of the evidence to the conclusion is, or should be, that that truth is consistent with itself, and therefore before we decide that a particular conclusion is true, we ought to expect (and receive) real-world evidence which is consistent with that conclusion. Where the claim is already consistent with common, ordinary experience, the evidence (which Vox calls “tangential knowledge”) is already supplied, and thus the conclusion is justified without requiring further proof. Where the claim is of something unusual, or even contrary to common experience (such as the resurrection of the dead), the evidence consistent with this claim is lacking, and therefore we need to seek it somewhere else.
This is all fairly simple and straightforward stuff, and really, it’s rather peculiar that Vox would even try to make an issue of it. I suppose it’s because he’s embarrassed about the notable lack of extraordinary evidence for the extraordinary claims of the Gospel.