NB: RDM paper, here
In the current VJT discussion thread on What Evidence is, RD Miksa asks a telling question (slightly adjusted for readability) of naturalistic hyperskeptics:
RDM, 25: . . . the ironic thing to note in terms of comments from the anti-super-naturalist side is how they fail to realize that their very own arguments undermine their own naturalistic position. Indeed, note their use of the poorly-formulated but often used mantra “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”
Note how this mantra is used to claim–in the context of this discussion–how it is apparently more rational to believe that hundreds of witnesses hallucinated or colluded or lied rather than believe that a man levitated. But the problem is, such an argument can be turned right back on the naturalistic.
For example, consider that the biological realm reeks of the appearance of intentional design, as many naturalists themselves admit. But naturalists deny this and claim that neo-Darwinian evolution is reasonable. But this is an extraordinary claim. After all, just like with levitation, I have never seen one type of organism change into another type. I have never seen molecules change into animals than conscious men. But then the naturalists will say that scientists have looked at the evidence and have inferred that neo-Darwinian theory is the best explanation of the evidence at hand.
But suddenly, I retort: What’s more likely, that molecules evolved into men without design, something that no one has ever seen, or that
1) the scientists are lying due to a naturalistic prejudice and/or that
2) scientists are mistaken about their inference, and/or
3) that the scientists are biased in favor of naturalism and this unconsciously skews their interpretation of the evidence, and/or that
4) all the scientists are colluded together to promote evolution to keep their jobs, and/or that
5) people are sometimes honestly mistaken in their inferential efforts and that is probably the case with these scientists, and so on and so forth.
So, it is clearly more likely that [there] is a problem on the part of the scientists rather than that our uniform and repeated empirical evidence that species do not evolve into other species is wrong.
And since extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, I am perfectly rational to not believe in the extraordinary claim that is neo-Darwinian evolution. [ –> NB, March 1: Following up from comment 37 below, a more formal, detailed presentation in a paper by RDM is to be found here. KF]
The reactions to this were unintentionally quite illuminating, leading to an exchange. Let me clip:
MT, 27: . . . Thousands have witnessed Criss Angel levitate and walk on water. Do you think he has supernatural power?
RDM, 28: No, but not primarily because of scientific evidence, but rather because of eye-witness testimony…namely, the eye-witness testimony of Criss Angel who has specifically said that these are all magic tricks and that he has no such powers. Also, the eye witness testimony of numerous other people who testify that Criss Angel is a gifted magician, and thus he would be expected to perform such feats as an illusion. So it is testimony–namely, the testimony of the person that would know best, meaning Criss Angel–that is the evidence that demonstrates that these things are not occurring.
Furthermore, it is indisputable that the testimony of all those people makes it rational to believe that they observed Criss Angel levitate or walk on water. But then, when that testimony is combined with Criss Angel’s own testimony and past history, that factor than makes it more rational to believe that the best explanation of the event, when all the relevant testimony is considered, is that the people in question witnessed an illusion rather than the real thing . . .
G2, 29: Same question to you: Do you believe people can levitate ?
RDM, 33: Expand your thinking a bit. My point was that today, many adults are magicians and illusionists with devices and machines to make illusions seem real. But a three year could not fit such criteria. By the same token, at the time Joseph of Cupertino lived, the devices used to make illusions of such a nature occur were not available either. Hence why in both cases there is the similarity that a wide scale illusion could not be manufactured as it could be by an aduot magician today. Furthermore, there are other cases for levitation than just that one . . . . [34:] now a questions for you: if thousands of people of diverse backgrounds and educations–atheists, naturalists, religious people, etc,– did see a three year old walk on water for a few minutes, then levitate, then walk on water again and there were no indications of fraud, what would you believe about that? Why?
G2, 35: I tend to lend a little more weight to a few hundred years of science and thousands, (millions?) of scientists who have never, never, observed, or had the slightest reason to suppose that walking on water, levitating, etc etc etc are possible. This sort of nonsense violates extremely basic assumptions such as conservation of energy, etc, that Im afraid the ‘eye witness’ accounts from long ago don’t sound very convincing. Its not that science must be obeyed, just where I would bet my money . . . . [37:] I didn’t actually answer your question. You are proposing a current event, which is completely different to an event observed many years in the past. Not the same thing. If its a current event, I would still be very sceptical. It could easily be a magic trick … how could I be sure its not the great Randi (in his heyday) ?
RDM, 39: Reference your comment: Perfect. And by argumentative parity, when it comes to neo-Darwinian evolution, I place more weight in the testimony of every single human being who have ever lived (including all scientists) and who have never seen one type of species evolve into another (nor have ever seen molecules evolve into man without guidance) rather than believe a comparatively few scientists who are biased and prejudiced in favour of naturlaistic explanations and, at best, simply making an inference about the evidence at hand, and could be lying, could be colluding, etc.
So.once again, as I said, the naturalists argument can be used against him to good effect. And in most cases, his only objection is essentially special pleading. As they say, what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.
VJT, 42: You write: “Thousands have witnessed Criss Angel levitate and walk on water. Do you think he has supernatural power?”
Here’s my answer: show me how a seventeenth century magician could have duped thousands into thinking that he was levitating in the air, several meters above ground, for hours on end and without any support such as a stick, and I’ll start taking your objection seriously.
Fascinating, and utterly revealing.
To round off, let me again cite Harvard Law School professor and founding father of the modern school of evidence, Simon Greenleaf:
KF, 1: . . . I draw attention again to the following from Simon Greenleaf’s Treatise on Evidence, Vol I ch 1:
Evidence, in legal acceptation, includes all the means by which any alleged matter of fact, the truth of which is submitted to investigation, is established or disproved . . . None but mathematical truth is susceptible of that high degree of evidence, called demonstration, which excludes all possibility of error [–> Greenleaf wrote almost 100 years before Godel], and which, therefore, may reasonably be required in support of every mathematical deduction.
Matters of fact are proved by moral evidence alone; by which is meant, not only that kind of evidence which is employed on subjects connected with moral conduct, but all the evidence which is not obtained either from intuition, or from demonstration. In the ordinary affairs of life, we do not require demonstrative evidence, because it is not consistent with the nature of the subject, and to insist upon it would be unreasonable and absurd.
The most that can be affirmed of such things, is, that there is no reasonable doubt concerning them.
The true question, therefore, in trials of fact, is not whether it is possible that the testimony may be false, but, whether there is sufficient probability of its truth; that is, whether the facts are shown by competent and satisfactory evidence. Things established by competent and satisfactory evidence are said to be proved.
By competent evidence, is meant that which the very-nature of the thing to be proved requires, as the fit and appropriate proof in the particular case, such as the production of a writing, where its contents are the subject of inquiry. By satisfactory evidence, which is sometimes called sufficient evidence, is intended that amount of proof, which ordinarily satisfies an unprejudiced mind, beyond reasonable doubt.
The circumstances which will amount to this degree of proof can never be previously defined; the only legal test of which they are susceptible, is their sufficiency to satisfy the mind and conscience of a common man; and so to convince him, that he would venture to act upon that conviction, in matters of the highest concern and importance to his own interest. [A Treatise on Evidence, Vol I, 11th edn. (Boston: Little, Brown, 1888) ch 1., sections 1 and 2. Shorter paragraphs added. (NB: Greenleaf was a founder of the modern Harvard Law School and is regarded as a founding father of the modern Anglophone school of thought on evidence, in large part on the strength of this classic work.)]
If the sort of selective hyperskepticism you are seeing were applied across the board science, law, courts, management and general common sense guided conduct would collapse.
That is already a sign that something has gone deeply wrong.
Of course, we now too often see the notion that an aphorism popularised by Sagan allows us to take hyperskeptical liberties with evidence that is inconvenient for the now so boldly presented a priory evolutionary materialist scientism you are challenging. That is little more than willfully obtuse question-begging. So, instead a sounder approach would be to acknowledge that prejudice and hyperskepticism should be set to one side and that reasonable and adequate evidence should be shown some respect.
At least, by the reasonable.
And of course, on levitation, I must point out that there are enough witnesses around and there is enough record that there should be no doubt that it is real. Of course, in my own experience, I have reason to acknowledge that the source of such can be suspect, and I am acquainted with a case where the greater miracle being witnessed was in suppressing the degree of levitation and then breaking the hold of destructive forces.
Last but not least, your discussion has direct bearing on hyperskepticism in response to the life and work of Jesus of Nazareth; underscoring to me the sheer unreasonableness of far too many who indulge in such dismissiveness.
Those indulging such should take sober pause as they ponder the implications of the elevatorgate scandal.
RDM has clearly put his finger on a quite serious matter, and it will bear reflection. END