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Come Reason's Apologetics Notes blog will highlight various news stories or current events and seek to explore them from a thoughtful Christian perspective. Less formal and shorter than the Web site articles, we hope to give readers points to reflect on concerning topics of the day.

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Showing posts with label Michael Shermer. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Michael Shermer. Show all posts

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Unhinging the Extraordinary Claims Require Extraordinary Evidence Mantra

As it is Easter season, skeptic Michael Shermer has an article in appearing in Scientific American entitled, "What Would It Take to Prove the Resurrection?" Shermer writes that as a skeptic, there are propositions he can accept as true, such as the number of pages in a magazine, the extinction of the dinosaurs, and the origin of the universe by a big bang. Unsurprisingly however, Shermer can think of nothing that would count as enough evidence for the resurrection for that particular proposition to be considered true. He claims this is due to the "principle of proportionality," something that "demands extraordinary evidence for extraordinary claims. Of the approximately 100 billion people who have lived before us, all have died and none have returned, so the claim that one (or more) of them rose from the dead is about as extraordinary as one will ever find." 1

So, Shermer has fallen back to the old canard that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. But what does he mean "extraordinary evidence?" The phrase sounds good, but is truly fuzzy when one thinks about it. As I've stated before, evidence is either strong or weak; categories like extraordinary don't really fit here. But it isn't as though we have no evidence. Shermer himself brings up eyewitness testimony, quickly dismissing them as possibly being superstitious or seeing "what they wanted to see." But what evidence has Shermer offered for those motivations? He's offered nothing except the claims "The principle of proportionality also means we should prefer the more probable explanation over less probable ones, which these alternatives surely are."2

Extraordinary claims don't only deal with miracles

One problem with Shermer's use of the "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence" trope is he is inconsistent in using it himself. Remember I said that Shermer holds to the universe as having a beginning. But ask him who was ultimately responsible for that beginning, and Shermer dismisses the idea of God out of hand. In a previous article, he wrote, "For millennia humans simply said, ‘God did it': a creator existed before the universe and brought it into existence out of nothing. But this just begs the question of what created God—and if God does not need a creator, logic dictates that neither does the universe."3

Here Shermer makes an obvious category error, one that has been brought to his attention several times in debates with Christians. Yet, he persists in believing the universe (or possibly some kind of universe-generating machine) has come into existence from nothing. But isn't this an equally extraordinary claim? If his statement "Of the approximately 100 billion people who have lived before us, all have died and none have returned, so the claim that one (or more) of them rose from the dead is about as extraordinary as one will ever find" is the criteria for an extraordinary claim, then the universe beginning from nothing is surely even more extraordinary. In all of human history, there has never even once been anyone who has observed something coming into existence from nothing at all. Not once. Even quantum fluctuation/quantum foam is not nothing, for it has specific attributes and potentials. None of those 100 billion people Shermer points to will bolster his claim for an uncaused universe. Yet, he isn't skeptical about that proposition. In fact, he prefers it.

If the principle of proportionality were to be applied consistently, Shermer would have to admit that the evidence for a personal cause for the origin of the universe is much more probable than an uncaused universe popping into existence out of nothing. Is Shermer guilty of what he claims about the eyewitnesses of the resurrected Jesus? Is he only seeing what he wants to see or perhaps superstitious or credulous? I don't think he would admit to any of these. But if Shermer's principle of proportionality fails here, then perhaps it isn't the last word on how to discern the truth for events like the resurrection, either.


1. Shermer, Michael. "What Would It Take to Prove the Resurrection?" Scientific American. Scientific American, 08 Mar. 2017. Web. 11 Apr. 2017.
2. Shermer, 2017.
3. Shermer, Michael. "Much Ado about Nothing." Michael Shermer. Michael Shermer, May 2012. Web. 11 Apr. 2017.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

An Atheist's Bait and Switch on Morality

In the 1988 comedy Coming to America, Eddie Murphy plays an African prince who seeks a wife by trying to blend in with the "regular people" of New York. One way he attempts this is by taking a job at a hamburger shop named McDowell's. Part of the joke is that McDowell's advertises with some familiar golden arches and red and white color schemes, hoping to capture an unsuspecting customer desiring a Big Mac. In the film, owner Cleo McDowell explains: " and the McDonald's people got this little misunderstanding. See, they're McDonald's...I'm McDowell's. They got the Golden Arches, mine is the Golden Arcs. They got the Big Mac, I got the Big Mick. We both got two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles and onions, but their buns have sesame seeds. My buns have no seeds."

In the real world, McDowell's wouldn't stand a chance in a court of law. They've intentionally mislead customers to think their experience is going to be one thing, when it is in fact a cheap imitation. That's the feeling I had this morning reading the latest article by Michael Shermer in today's paper. Entitled "The influence of science and reason on moral progress," Shermer claims that we are "living in the most moral period in our history" and then makes a bold assertion:
To what should we attribute this moral progress? Understandably, most people point to religion as the primary driver, given its long association with all matters moral. But the evidence shows that most of the moral development of the last several centuries has been the result of secular forces, and that the most important of these are reason and science, which emerged from the Enlightenment.1

Substituting a Cheap Imitation of Natural Law

The article has a huge number of problems, like trying to classify the writings of Immanuel Kant, John Locke, and Thomas Jefferson as exercises in empirical science. He writes, "Enlightenment natural philosophers (we would call them scientists today) such as John Locke, Thomas Jefferson and Immanuel Kant placed supreme value on reason, scientific inquiry, human natural rights, equality and freedom of thought and expression."2 Actually, no one calls them scientists. One doesn't study Kant or Locke in Life Science class. Go to any college or university and you will find analysis of their works in the philosophy department. Shermer is astoundingly wrong here.

In reading the article, Shermer is dead set on substituting the real arguments made by men like Locke and Jefferson with his own cheap imitation.  He takes the phrase "natural philosophers" and "natural law" and equivocates on what the word "natural" means. He portrays it to mean "only dealing with nature," that is the material world. But such an assumption is like substituting a tofu patty for 100% pure beef. The Natural Law that Locke appeals to is based on the created order. Locke states:
To understand political power right, and derive it from its original, we must consider, what state all men are naturally in, and that is, a state of perfect freedom to order their actions, and dispose of their possessions and persons, as they think fit, within the bounds of the law of nature, without asking leave, or depending upon the will of any other man.3

Appealing to God for Equality

One can easily see that Locke is using the term "naturally" to talk not of biology or material aspects of human beings, but of the right of each person to be free. Locke says that this state of nature derives from the Natural Law or law of nature. He goes on to specify the source for that law:
In transgressing the law of nature, the offender declares himself to live by another rule than that of reason and common equity, which is that measure God has set to the actions of men, for their mutual security; and so he becomes dangerous to mankind, the tye, which is to secure them from injury and violence, being slighted and broken by him (Section 8)…

that every man, in the state of nature, has a power to kill a murderer, both to deter others from doing the like injury, … and also to secure men from the attempts of a criminal, who having renounced reason, the common rule and measure God hath given to mankind (Section 11)…

I doubt not but it will be objected, that it is unreasonable for men to be judges in their own cases, that selflove will make men partial to themselves and their friends: and on the other side, that ill nature, passion and revenge will carry them too far in punishing others; and hence nothing but confusion and disorder will follow, and that therefore God hath certainly appointed government to restrain the partiality and violence of men (Section 13). 4
So, in arguing that government has authority to punish evil men, Locke appeals to God and his created order. That is, the natural state of man means God created him with freedom, but also the warrant to protect himself from others. Since men tend to play favorites, the Government must judge all men impartially, and again the government is given this authority by God (ref Romans 13:1-7).

Of course, Shermer doesn't have to be a Lockean scholar to understand this. All he needed to do was read the Declaration of Independence where Jefferson clearly spells it out in the words "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed." That's a pretty fair summation of Locke and the word Creator is right in the middle of it.

Part of Shermer's problem is he sees everything through his scientism/materialist worldview. He forces the word nature to mean something that Kant, Locke, and Jefferson didn't intend it to mean. He hasn't simply "left off the seeds," he's changed the entire main course. Shermer's morality is a bait and switch that no nutritional value whatsoever.


1. Shermer, Michael. "The Influence of Science and Reason on Moral Progress." Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 27 Jan. 2015. Web. 27 Jan. 2015.
2. Shermer, 2015.
3. Locke, John. "Chapter II. Of the State of Nature." The Second Treatise of Civil Government. N.p.: Public Domain, 1690. Constitution Society. Web. 27 Jan. 2015.
4. Locke, 1690.

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