Saturday, February 1, 2014

Just Who is Making Extraordinary Claims?

I just read this great blog entry by +Rob Lundberg and I wanted to put in my thoughts on this interesting challenge.

The idea, as Rob so clearly presents it, comes from the late Carl Sagan and the preface to Peter Boghossian’s book, A Manual for Creating Atheists.  I can't say that I've actually had this challenge levied at me before, but I've seen it in many an online discussion.  Honestly, I don't have nearly as much to say on this matter but I did want to ask a question.  Who is making the truly extraordinary claim?

Take this analogy.  You're watching a magic show and you see the stage magician pull a live rabbit out of an empty hat, you'd think (and you'd be right) that the magician is making an extraordinary claim.  That is, the ability to make something, the rabbit, out of nothing, the air in the hat (which is technically not 'nothing,' but for the sake of this argument let's leave it there).  Now, that is not unlike the claim of theists.  I know, I know, before all the apologists that happen to read this send me nasty grams, let me explain.  Keep the image of the magic show...  Only this time, there is no magician.  There is no hat.  There really is no stage either, but let's stop it there.  And, with no intervention by anyone at any time.  A rabbit appears on the stage.  THAT is the atheist's claim.  Now, without any formal philosophical training or anything, just the regular guy doing regular life.  Which one seems more extraordinary?  Keep in mind, that technically the analogy falls short, it's not a rabbit that is pulled from the hat.  It's the entire universe created ex nihilo (from nothing).

So, I know there are going to be some objections.  Let me approach some now.  Some claim that the universe has always existed.  Let's apply the same analogy.  This time, there is no magician still, and no hat.  Only a rabbit.  That never gets old or when it does get old it suddenly implodes and becomes a baby again, and then continues this cycle of getting older and then popping back into youth and never being born and never dying.  Is that more reasonable than the previous claim?  Is that verifiable?  Okay let's look at another.  There are an infinite number of universes out there.  Now, our stage and the extraordinary claim hasn't gotten any easier or more rational.  If anything we've now multiplied the extraordinary claim by an infinite.  And I don't know what you learned in math, but I'm pretty sure anything times an infinite is an infinite.  So now we have either an infinite number of sequential rabbits popping onto an infinite number of stages one at at time popping into existence living an unknown amount of time and then dying in an unknown way for no reason.  Or, we have no magician and no hat and an infinite number of rabbits all popping into existence at the same time.

So again I ask, Who is really making extraordinary claims and is really required to provide extraordinary evidence?

Seoul Tower near sunset
There's millions (maybe I didn't count them) of these locks with wishes/messages of love by Seoul Tower.