XFiles Fri–uh, Saturday…April 4, 2009 — Deacon Duncan
[Sorry for the late post. I had an unplanned out-of-state trip.]
(Book: I Don’t Have Enough FAITH to Be an ATHEIST, by Geisler and Turek, chapter 12.)
When a pair of Christian apologists, who believe in salvation by faith alone, get together to pen a book complaining that atheists have more faith than Christians, you can expect a certain amount of cognitive dissonance to show up in their writing. We have a good example of that as Geisler and Turek attempt to address the principle that extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence. First they complain that skeptics are being unreasonably demanding. Then they act like they’ve got no clue what “extraordinary” means. Then they claim that they have extraordinary evidence. Then they set unreasonably high standards of evidence for skeptics to live up to with regards to evolution. Then they mush all their confusions into one by complaining that skeptics believe the story of Alexander the Great on far less evidence than exists for the Resurrection. And then they wrap up by denying that evidence is really necessary, in Jesus’ case.
In short, the whole concept of evidence simply freaks them out.
The dictum that says “extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence” is simply a rejection of superstition. It’s the scientific counter to the argument that says supernatural explanations do not need any evidence, because science cannot study the supernatural. Granted, “the supernatural” is, by definition, that which science cannot verify (since it wouldn’t be branded “supernatural” if it could be studied scientifically). Nevertheless, from a rational and truth-loving perspective, the impossibility of verifying supernatural claims means that we cannot reasonably infer that they are necessarily true. Extraordinary claims demand evidence consistent with what is claimed.
Geisler and Turek try and strike a reasonable pose by conceding that it’s not unreasonable to expect the evidence to be consistent with the claims, if the claims are to be accepted as true. This pose only lasts for about one sentence, however, before they begin trying to worm their way out of its constraints.
[S]ince the New Testament makes extraordinary claims—such as miracles—we must have extraordinary evidence in order to believe those claims. This objection seems reasonable until you ask, “What does ‘extraordinary’ mean?”
They know good and well what “extraordinary” means, since they recognize that miracles are extraordinary. The point of raising the question in connection with the evidence is to try and give themselves some wiggle room by adopting, once again, some very specific, narrow, and biased definitions of “extraordinary” that they can either excuse themselves from providing, or claim to have already given.
If it means beyond the natural, then the skeptic is asking the Resurrection to be confirmed by another miracle…In order to believe in the first miracle (the Resurrection), the skeptic would then need a second miracle to support it. He would then demand a third miracle to support the second, and this would go on to infinity. So by this criteria, the skeptic would never believe in the Resurrection even if it really happened. There’s something wrong with a standard of proof that makes it impossible for you to believe what has actually occurred.
Sorry, I should have warned you to shut off your irony meters before that last statement. As we saw in the chapters on evolution (aka “Darwinism,” in G&T’s sectarian lexicon), this is pretty much the creationist’s strategy for denying evolution: no matter how much evidence you are given, keep asking for more, claiming that what’s been shown so far is not enough. The rebuttal to Geisler and Turek’s claim, above, is that scientists (at least in the West) started out believing in a created Earth, and only adopted the evolutionary explanation when the evidence became stronger for evolution than it was for creation.
Contrary to G&T’s claim above, the skeptical process for evaluating the evidence is not an infinite series of requests for more. Geisler and Turek have confused skepticism with denialism. And even then, why would it be denialism to expect that we ought to see consistent evidence that miracles happen, in order to support the claim that a Resurrection miracle happened? G&T try to make it sound like skeptics are making unreasonable demands, but the only reason a request for more miracles sounds unreasonable is because we all know (G&T included) that miracles do not happen. Skeptics are demanding for the impossible, because miracles are impossible. Or at least, that’s the expectation that Geisler and Turek are appealing to, and they know that even Christians that that for granted. Hmm.
Next, they purport to have some serious confusion about what “extraordinary” might mean.
If “extraordinary” means repeatable as in a laboratory, then no event from history can be believed because historical events cannot be repeated.
Someone should write to Dr. Geisler and Dr. Turek and inform them that “extraordinary” does not, in fact, have anything to do with being repeatable in a laboratory. (One wonders just what they think a “extraordinary” claim would be, by that confused definition.) But perhaps they do know, and are just taking the opportunity to pimp one of the more popular (and ignorant) misconceptions that creationists try and spread about science: the idea that no real science ever happens outside of a lab.
Usually, this argument is proposed more positively, as though it’s a good thing to deny that you can believe anything outside of what’s reproducible in a lab. The creationist goal is to deny that evolution is science, so they’re only too happy to pretend that you can discredit the theory by pointing out the impossibility of running a lab experiment that duplicates the entire process of millions of years of evolution. Geisler and Turek are a bit out of step with their tradition when they present the weaknesses of this argument as a strike against it.
But regardless, this whole section is completely spurious, since no honest, competent and sane person would ever claim that the saying “Extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence” ought to translate to “Extraordinary claims require repeatable laboratory experiments.” Geisler and Turek are just setting up a complete straw man in order to pose as victorious gladiators when they knock it down.
And now the pendulum swings back the other way, as Geisler and Turek suddenly decide that a demand for extraordinary evidence might not be so bad after all.
If “extraordinary” means more than usual, then that’s exactly what we have to support the Resurrection. We have more eyewitness documents, and earlier eyewitness documents for the Resurrection than for anything else from the ancient world. Moreover, these documents include more historical details and figures that have been corroborated by more independent and external sources than anything else from the ancient world. And as we’ve just reviewed, we also have more than usual circumstantial evidence supporting the Resurrection.
Once again, Geisler and Turek throw around the deceptive term “eyewitness” as though the Gospel documents were all written by men who were describing what they themselves saw firsthand. But remember, all “eyewitness” means is that the writers either saw something, or else “had access to” (i.e. lived in the same general time and place) as people who claimed to have seen something. And none of these people actually saw Jesus rise from the dead. The most they claimed was to have had ghost-story-ish encounters with a Jesus who could walk through locked doors, appear and disappear at will, and change his physical form to the point that his own disciples could not recognize him.
More to the point, however, Geisler and Turek are once again missing what it means to have extraordinary evidence of the Resurrection of Jesus. The extraordinary claim is that Jesus physically returned to life, after having been dead for three days, in a glorified and immortal body. The extraordinary evidence that would be consistent with that claim would be for Christians to show us the risen, glorified and immortal body. You can rationalize the lack of this evidence by claiming that God decided, for some strange reason, to make it unavailable. If you’re going to rationalize the lack of evidence, however, you don’t get to claim that you do have it.
Nor do you get to claim to have “more than usual” evidence if your evidence consists mostly of hearsay, urban legends, and inconsistent stories. Trivial references to actual people and places, even if corroborated, don’t really tell us whether or not Jesus rose from the dead in the literal, materialistic, and non-spiritualized sense of the phrase. Nor do exaggerated claims that fail to reflect the divine behavior we see (or rather, fail to see) in the real world.
What Geisler and Turek have is not “more than usual” evidence, but merely more “more than usual” claims. It’s very easy to tell what kind of evidence ought to accompany a physically resurrected Jesus, especially since (as we noted before) there is no physical Heaven floating up above the clouds for him to take a physically-raised body to. In the absence of a literal, physical Heaven, there is no particular reason why he ought to be anywhere else but here. That, therefore, is the extraordinary evidence that we ought to check for.
Geisler and Turek are aware of this, dimly, and end up concluding that Jesus shouldn’t need to show up in real life. But we’ll have to save that until next week.