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ROSWELL

PAGE 6

THE "EXTRAORDINARY CLAIMS" ARGUMENT

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The following argument is of a kind often presented by skeptics:

 

Skeptic. 253 [vs. 87 ; vs. the argument leading to 87]  While it is true that it strains credulity that Marcel, for instance, could have been mistaken, his testimony and the other evidence in this case, as strong as it seems to be, is not strong enough to allow the inference that the debris was exotic. After all, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. [ 254]

 

254 [vs. 253] Here, the skeptic claim (see 253) that Marcel's testimony, and that of the others, is not strong enough as evidence because extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. But this is false. The "Extraordinary Claims" argument is so vague and so general, that it could probably be used convincingly, but not always legitimately, to dispose offhandedly of any and all evidence for any extraordinary claim whatever. 255 It might be said against the present use of this principle that any good evidence for extraordinary claims is extraordinary evidence, but let us examine the principle more closely.

256 The principle (first articulated by Carl Sagan) is this: Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. 257 But what, precisely, does "extraordinary" mean here? In the phrase "extraordinary claims," "extraordinary" cannot simply mean "astounding" or "fascinating," or even "unexpected;" rather, it can only mean "improbable," and in the phrase "extraordinary evidence," the word can only mean "unusually strong." Thus the principle actually amounts to this:

 

258 Improbable claims require unusually strong evidence.

 

259 The principle seems clearly to be a true principle. 260 But, thus clarified, we can see that it does not apply to these UFO questions, unless there is something improbable about the notion that exotic beings, which would most likely be extraterrestrial beings , are quasi-secretly visiting the Earth. 261 But my argument above (see 252, p. 5), where I point to the way in which the galaxy could've been colonized at less than the speed of light 266.7 times or more, shows that there is nothing improbable about this notion. (In fact, even if there were no UFO reports, the idea that extraterrestrial races were not visiting would seem to be an improbable one.)  262 Therefore, the principle does not apply in this kind of case. [For the general discussion of this principle, see "The 'Extraordinary Claims' Argument" in the Logikon.]

 

 

 

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©Richard Crist, 2007