Post Author: Bill Pratt
In part 1 of this series, we looked at William Lane Craig’s response to the skeptical maxim, “Extraordinary Claims Require Extraordinary Evidence.” Now we will review Mike Licona’s response from his book The Resurrection of Jesus.
Licona reminds us that this was a statement that atheist astronomer Carl Sagan used to frequently utter. He calls it Sagan’s Saw. How does Sagan’s Saw stand up as a paradigm for determining the burden of proof? Licona first looks at landing on the moon.
Landing on the moon in July 1969 was an extraordinary event. It was extremely difficult and had never occurred previously. Yet most people believed the reports when they watched astronauts walking on the moon on their televisions, a medium that often distorts truths and presents untruths, legends and fictions.
The moon events were extraordinary. The reports were believed because they were thought to be credible and the authorial intent to communicate the event as it occurred was known. In neither case was extraordinary evidence required.
Licona continues by hypothesizing his wife coming home and telling him about people she met at the grocery store. Should Licona believe his wife?
Let us suppose that my wife returns from the grocery store and tells me that she saw and spoke with our next-door neighbor while there. Although it is possible she is mistaken, because I know her to be an intelligent and credible witness I have every reason to believe her report without hesitation.
Now let us suppose that when she returns from the grocery store, she tells me instead that she saw and spoke with the president of the United States. I may think this far out of the ordinary. However, if after questioning her further I can have confidence that she is not joking, or put another way, if I am confident that I understand her authorial intent as being truthful, I would accept her report—and drive to the grocery store with the hopes of having a similar experience, provided that I like the incumbent president.
Her claim that she spoke with the president of the United States in the grocery story is extraordinary in a sense, whereas her claim that she spoke with our next-door neighbor is not. The former may give me pause. Yet I am satisfied because of my confidence that the source is credible and that its authorial intent is to describe an actual event accurately. I would not require extraordinary evidence or even evidence in addition to her report before believing that she spoke with the president of the United States in the grocery store. Instead, I am interested in the credibility of the report and the authorial intent.
Even though Licona’s wife meeting the president at the grocery store is extraordinary, he does not require extraordinary evidence. He simply believes his wife’s testimony because he understands her intention to describe the event accurately.
Stories about the next-door neighbor and the president are one thing, but what would happen if Licona’s wife told him about speaking to a person that he doubts even exists, a meeting that, in his mind, is even more extraordinary than the president? We’ll continue to analyze Licona’s reasoning in the next part of the series.