Extraordinary Claims Demand Extraordinary Proof

Atheists and skeptics frequently write articles from the standpoint that their view is ‘rational’ and ‘logical’ and that religious or ‘New Age’ views are irrational and based on incorrect assumptions. This view is fallacious and in these writings I explain that atheism is simply another belief system with as many (if not more) irrational assumptions as many religions.

Skeptics place great emphasis on arguing techniques. Ostensibly, their motive is to expose the false arguing techniques used by their opponents but the fact is, many of them place greatly more emphasis on arguing than they do on understanding. In my personal experience, I would say this applies to the vast majority of skeptics. One of the arguing techniques that seems to raise its head frequently is that Extraordinary Claims Demand Extraordinary Proof. The basic proposition here is that science has established some rules for how the universe works. These rules appear to work, they are useful in that we can build on them to, for example, produce computer chips or send rockets into space. If a claim comes along that appears to go against the established way of seeing the world then we can’t apply the same rules of proof to it as we would to a claim that goes along with our current way of seeing the world. For instance, an investigator trying to determine why an aeroplane crashed would look at the known possibilities for crashes: Pilot error, equipment failure, maintenance failures, these sort of things. If someone suggested that it was caused by an alien UFO, most investigators would be dismissive of the idea. This is, in one sense, the idea that ‘Extraordinary Claims Demand Extraordinary Proof’. The investigator would examine the mundane possibilities first. In fact, he would probably investigate only these possibilities.

However, suppose a person, who was firm believer in alien UFOs saw the crash and saw that a UFO was involved. To him, the possibility of UFO involvement is not an extraordinary claim but a quite obvious one. What determines what is extraordinary depends on your current belief system. In fact, put another way, the phrase ‘Extraordinary Claims Demand Extraordinary Proof’ simply says that once you have made your mind up as to how the things work, you do not have to change it simply because a few facts come along that contradict it. Of course, in the case of most skeptics, they have no intention of changing their belief system and this parrot call is simply a method they use to retain their belief system.

Another piece of poor logic that comes up is the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Put briefly, this says that if we going to believe in one deity that has no scientific validity, then why can’t we accept any deity? And the Flying Spaghetti Monster is as good as any other.

This ignores experience. I believe in God because I have had experiences that convince me that God exists. Neither I nor anyone else, so far as I know, has had experience that would convince them that a Flying Spaghetti Monster exists. The skeptic, of course, argues that the experiences I have had are not scientific evidence, which is true. But here is the circular argument: the skeptic will only accept as evidence what is scientifically verifiable. Belief in God can never be scientifically verifiable. So when I talk about experience it is no account to the skeptic – I may as well be talking about dreams. So as far as the skeptic is concerned, belief in the Flying Spaghetti Monster is a valid as belief in God. The huge range of human experience counts for nothing.

Atheism is on an evangelical drive

Atheism is on an evangelical drive. Largely fuelled by Richard Dawkins they are out to convert people. To some extent one might argue they are simply making it more respectable. In the same way as the Gay movement see themselves not as converting people to homosexuality but as allowing homosexuals the freedom to express themselves, one could argue that the evangelical atheists are simply allowing people who are atheists the freedom to say so without stigma. Except, of course, that is not their agenda. They want to convert people away from religion and what they call ‘belief’ to what they call ‘reason’ and ‘science’.

A recent item on the US National Public Radio reports that atheism is on a crusade. One of the weapons in their armoury is ridicule. This would not be a surprise to anyone who has had dealings with members of the various sceptical societies. I have in the past tried to engage in intelligent email debates with sceptics only to be sent an email reply that the author obviously thought was clever but relied on ridicule rather than answering the issues I raised. Atheism relies on what they call reason to counter what they call faith. If they are unable to put their case using reason then really they have nothing to offer.

In the NPR program is a reference to the TV program ‘House’. In this program a rather cynical doctor (Dr House) uses logic and reason to find the cause of esoteric symptoms that patients exhibit. In one episode, a colleague uses a scoreboard. When Dr house finds a scientific reason, he scores a point; when he can’t a point is scored to God.

This idea that religion and science are somehow opposites is a very recent one, spurred on, I suspect, by Richard Dawkins. Up until a few years ago many (if not most) scientists would have considered themselves religious to some degree. Many would have said that science was discovering aspects of God’s creation. What changed this was the view that all religious people are creationists, creationism is anti-Darwinism and Darwinism is a scientific theory. Therefore, logically, religious people are anti-science.

This is complete nonsense for a number of reasons:

I have previously discussed  how science makes as many, if not more, assumptions than most religions and depends on unsubstantiated beliefs.

Only a small number of (admittedly vocal) religious people believe in the literal idea that the universe was created as described in the Bible. Atheists like to concentrate on these people because they feel they can win this argument fairly easily.

I have pointed out before that discussion of religion is outside of science. Science cannot prove or disprove God. Dawkins argument that science cannot prove or disprove the spaghetti monster is typical of the simplistic ridicule approach that atheists adopt. The truth is that science is simply the wrong tool for the job. To talk about ‘proof’ in this context is absurd (and in any case most scientists would find it difficult to tell you what proof is).

There are flaws in the Darwinian theory as it is normally put forward, and it is not good science. Most of the so-called ‘theories’ are little more than just-so stories with no proof. A full discussion of this is for another article but one thing that anyone who considers Darwinism to be scientific fact may like to consider is this: The Darwinian view of evolution is that, in a nutshell, mutations that enable a species to survive better persist whist those that don’t die off. A gross simplification but sufficient for this example. Now consider, for example, that humans have five fingers on each hand. Presumably this is because five fingers are better able to survive than four or six. It enables people to grasp etc. However, Darwinism says not just that five fingers are better able to survive but that four or six fingered groups were so unable to survive that they completely died off. This doesn’t stand up to common sense. We are talking about not just how many fingers we have but also any variation in genetics. For example, a group that develops the ability to visualise ultra-violet light (why should that make a group so unable to survive that all traces of them died out?); a group with a different shape to the nose or the ears or having an appendix and so on. Not only is there not as much genetic diversity as one would expect but also: where are the traces of the mutated groups who did not survive? We have what purports to be a scientific theory with no evidence to support it.

This is simply one argument against Darwinism as it is commonly put forward, but what I have found invariably is that any rational argument against Darwinism provokes a storm of accusations of being ‘unscientific’ and, invariably, that anyone who questions Darwinism must be a creationist in some form or another.

There’s a Sufi story of the murid (seeker of the truth) walking down a road and he sees a rock. On it is written

If you seek knowledge turn me over

He turns the rock over and on the reverse is written

Why do you seek more knowledge when you do not use what you already have?

We live in the information age. People always want more information but they do not use what they have. Imagine a time in the future when an archaeologist comes across a stereo picture. Not knowing what it is he performs mathematical analysis on it and forms theories. Other people perform analysis and form different theories. Like amoebas they form sects by division. All they need to do is view the information they have in a new way, but what scientist is going to accept that?