Extraordinary Claims and Extraordinary Evidence

Extraordinary Claims and Extraordinary Evidence January 25, 2023

I have quoted, commented on, reviewed, and in other ways engaged with Carl Sagan here on the blog in the past. Today I’m sharing a recent comment of mine on Facebook in response to someone who had been pushing back against his classic axiom “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” He said it more than once, but this time it was in a meme in the context of a larger quote from his 1980s TV series Encyclopedia Galactica: “What counts is not what sounds plausible, not what we would like to believe, not what one or two witnesses claim, but only what is supported by hard evidence rigorously and skeptically examined. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”

Here is what I wrote in response to the person who said that the final sentence is objectionable and involves selective moving of the goalposts:

If someone says they saw a sparrow on their way to the car you probably take them at their word. If they say they were whisked away to Venus in a flying saucer where Venusians revealed the meaning of life to them and returned them to Earth without more than a few seconds having passed, you’d be skeptical. Carl Sagan isn’t wrong. You probably just have beliefs that you’d prefer to shield from his point. Yet you’d be as skeptical as Sagan of claims made on behalf of another viewpoint. If you won’t accept Sagan then how about Jesus? Treat the views of others the way you wish your own to be treated, and treat your own views as you would those of others.

There is also a great piece on what balanced skepticism is, in between the extremes of gullibility and denialism.

Below are some of my previous posts in which I quote the axiom, discuss its application, or otherwise engage with Carl Sagan:

Mythicism isn’t Skepticism

Is Your Idea of God an Abomination?

Are Creationists and Mythicists Similar? You Be The Judge

The Brilliance of Mythicism

The Myth of Mythicism and Undebunkable Skepticism

It is Better to Live with Questions than Give Bad Answers

Misquoting Ehrman?

Advice for those buying a used religion

Looking Under the Hood of Your Religion

Here is the meme that I commented on on Facebook, in case anyone is curious or wants to share it:

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