Extraordinary event, extraordinary evidence September 9, 2013Posted by ubi dubium in Rants.
Tags: atheism, Chelyabinsk, evidence, meteor, reason, religion, Skepticism
I’ve been thinking lately about standards of evidence. I see a lot of people make colossally outrageous claims (usually religious or pseudo-scientific), with little to nothing to back them up. And they are taken aback when challenged that an ancient book or a feeling in their “heart” doesn’t suffice to convince anybody else.
So I wanted to look at an actual extraordinary event, and the evidence pointing to it having happened.
As my example, I’d like to use the meteor that struck Chelyabinsk in February.
Small shooting stars are a regular thing, often predictable, and nothing to write home about. A meteor that reaches the surface is less common, but does happen on a regular enough basis that nobody automatically thinks you’re crazy if you claim to have witnessed it. They might, however, want pictures.
But a fireball of the size that struck Siberia is a very rare occurrence. This happens maybe only once every hundred or two hundred years. If you were to claim to have seen something like this, but could produce no other corroborating evidence to back up your claim, we should disbelieve you. With no other evidence, it’s more likely that you were seeing things. But in this case the evidence is overwhelming! Just take a look, for instance, at the number of sources cited in Wikipedia, and that’s just a fraction of the total documentation for this impact.
This event was caught on multiple dashboard cameras! It blew out windows, sent people to the hospital with injuries from flying glass, and cellphone networks and twitter buzzed with the news. The event was photographed from space, and global monitoring stations picked up the blast on seismographs and infrasound sensors. We have large areas of damage, and lots of fragments of the meteorite itself. The evidence for this event is so overwhelming at this point that it would now be an extraordinary claim to say that nothing interesting happened in Siberia that day.
And while this event is pretty darn unusual, this sort of thing is known to happen once in awhile. It’s not a miracle, or any violation of natural laws, or anything near as extraordinary as many of the claims made by religionists, or various other true believers in whatever. For me to believe something that’s vastly more unlikely than this meteor strike, I need evidence that’s even stronger than we have for the meteor. A bunch of preachers who can’t agree on the basics of what their god wants, faith healing that’s no more reliable than a placebo and an occasional appearance on a tortilla simply do not measure up to a level comparable to the extraordinariness of the claims made.
When people ask me what it would take to get me to believe in their god, I tend to mention things like “the stars rearranging themselves”, or “bibles growing on every tree”, and I really mean that. I am well aware that human perceptions are flawed, and that an experience I have personally that’s not witnessed by anyone else is more likely to be a malfunction in my own brain than evidence for a miracle. Convincing evidence for a really extraordinary claim needs to be on a scale and documented by so many people that it’s more likely that the event happened than that I am having a hallucination. So when the stars start arranging themselves into a different dot-to-dot bible verse every day, and everybody who prays for mountains to move gets results, and all the amputees grow their limbs back overnight, and it’s all on the evening news, I’ll take the claims of theists more seriously.