Post Author: Bill Pratt
In part 2 of this series, we started discussing Mike Licona’s analysis of Sagan’s Saw, as he calls it. Licona offered two examples of his wife coming home from the grocery store and telling him about people she met there. We saw that even if she told him about the extraordinary event of meeting the president of the United States, he would not require extraordinary evidence to believe her.
But how would he react if his wife told him about meeting a person that he doubts even exists?
Now let us suppose that my wife returns from the grocery store and tells me she saw and spoke with an alien. In this instance, I have a serious tension between the evidence, which may be good, and my understanding of reality. Should I reject the evidence or adjust my understanding of reality?
Let us also suppose that my neighbor then telephones and provides a report similar to my wife’s. I then turn on the television and observe a number of reports of alien sightings presently taking place around the world. If I am satisfied that the sources are credible and I am secure in my understanding of authorial intent, I may still pause, since I presently regard the existence of aliens as dubious. But I should then reexamine my reasons for believing in the nonexistence of aliens in light of the evidence before me that they do. Perhaps I would be less hasty to reject all of the reports of alien sightings. I should not require extraordinary evidence but additional evidence that addresses my present understanding of reality or my horizon, which may be handicapped and in need of revision.
Licona’s worldview is such that he doubts that aliens exist, but he must look more critically at that worldview given the evidence that aliens do exist. Perhaps his worldview is wrong and it needs to be revised. Licona argues that
The worldview of one historian does not place a greater burden on the shoulders of others. It is the responsibility of the historian to consider what the evidence would look like if she were not wearing her metaphysical bias like a pair of sunglasses that shade the world. It is not the responsibility of the evidence to shine so brightly that they render such glasses ineffectual.
With regard to miracle accounts,
If the evidence for the occurrence of a particular miracle is strong—that is, the historian can establish that the authorial intent of the sources is to report what was perceived as a miracle, the event occurred in a context that was charged with religious significance, the report possesses traits that favor the historicity of the event and no plausible naturalistic theories exist—then a requirement for extraordinary evidence is unwarranted.
Some historians may require additional evidence supporting supernaturalism before believing since the event is foreign to their present [worldview], but no greater burden of proof is required for a miracle-claim. There is a difference between demonstrating the historical superiority of a hypothesis and convincing a particular historian to give up a deeply held view.
[Sagan's saw] fails since only additional evidence is required and that by certain historians for whom the conclusion challenges their horizon. We observed that the evidence is not responsible for satisfying the biases of the historian; rather, the historian is responsible for setting aside his biases and considering the evidence.
In an extended footnote, Licona also looks at why Sagan’s Saw would fail even if we accepted its truth. We will cover that material in part 4 of the series.