Silverbullet sternly informs me: “We ask that you support extraordinary claims with extraordinary evidence.” This claim is so familiar, indeed, well-worn, that it is like putting on a pair of old 501 jeans. The only problem is … it doesn’t fit very well. And why is that? What’s wrong with this delicate and eminently reasonable demand for “extraordinary” claims to pony up some “extraordinary” evidence?
Well this is a token example of a general claim: “Extraordinary xs require extraordinary ys.” Let’s take a look at another example of that claim and then get back to SBs token example.
“Extraordinary cars require extraordinary acceleration.”
What should one make of this statement? For my money, I find it to be true in some cases but not others. After all, a 1967 Alfa Romeo Spyder is an extraordinary little car and yet it is hard pressed to keep up with a Honda Fit off the line.
At least, that’s my perspective. I recognize that a drag racer may have a single thing in mind when he assesses cars: brute force acceleration. But then who says the drag racer gets to decide what makes an extraordinary car? I think whizzing along with the top down on Highway 1 just north of Ventura as the sun sets in the Pacific shows the Alfa to be pretty extraordinary indeed. And I lament the narrow vision of the drag racer who can’t see beyond the 1/4 mile.
And so it is for beliefs. “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”? And who decides what counts as “extraordinary”? Let me guess: the naturalist/atheist/skeptic. But isn’t that a bit self-serving? After all, it seems to me that naturalistic, reductive accounts of ethics, deterministic denials of libertarian free will, claims that consciousness just is neurons firing, and so much more on the naturalist/atheist/skeptic’s agenda strikes me as extraordinary indeed.