Why Demanding Extraordinary Evidence Makes Little Sense

aseMany skeptics approach “the evidence” for Christianity with a closed mind. Hobbled by a number of presuppositions, they typically end up where they begin: convinced that God simply would not have made himself so difficult to detect. Many will back up their position with a challenge – because Christian claims are so “extraordinary,” they say, only “extraordinary evidence” will be sufficient to persuade them. Upon reflection, however, it should be soon apparent that this is a rather odd – and self-defeating – way to go about the task of acquiring knowledge. Odd because it demonstrates a misunderstanding about the way evidence works. Self-defeating because reviewing evidence is supposed to be done so that one can arrive at “the truth” about what occurred, and when one option – a creator God – is set “off limits” at the beginning, there is only one result that can be reached. This may give the atheist comfort – his views remain unchallenged – but it is difficult to describe this as a meaningful search for the truth.

Consider: “evidence” can mean a variety of things, but as it relates to historical events – which, after all, is the basis of Christian belief – it refers to the existence of certain facts which directly or indirectly tend to prove that the event in question occurred. Whether it’s Jesus life – was he real or fictitious? – his death – did it occur on the cross?- and, most significantly, his bodily resurrection from the dead, the process of discernment requires a consideration of all of the evidence to determine whether one can conclude with confidence that the event did in fact occur. Consequently, in assessing the weight and persuasiveness of the evidence, it may appear that certain pieces of evidence line up as probative or not probative, relevant or irrelevant, weighty or weak. But refusing to consider evidence unless it first meets the standard of “extraordinary” reflects a bias against ever reaching a conclusion. Far from being a rational position, it is the abandonment of reason, for reason does not impose upon itself such artificial restrictions. This demand for “extraordinary” evidence is, upon reflection, also rather ironic. Christianity is in fact based on “extraordinary” evidence. It is “out of the ordinary” and “exceptional” and “not commonplace” that

  • 66 books written over dozens of centuries by a variety of unrelated authors could be assembled into a coherent whole, one that tells an overriding message of man, his problem, and the solution God set in motion. The books of the Old Testament presage and predict Christ, and the books of the New Testament demonstrate the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies;
  • the concerns and beliefs of a culture separated from us by thousands of years could still resonate as relevant today, and join via a common system of belief cultures from all across the globe and spanning every conceivable age since Christ walked the earth;
  • the early followers could be so convinced of the truth of what occurred that they were willing to face death rather than deny what they would have known to be false, if indeed they were fabricating a story;
  • a variety of predictions – hundreds by some counts – could find fulfillment in one historical person;
  • modern archeology repeatedly confirms so much of what is written in the texts;
  • items of scientific interest relating to astronomy and physics (for examples, check out the work of the scholars over at www.reasons.org) appear to be embedded in books such as Job;
  • the claims of multiple miracles that were witnessed by numerous people;
  • and probably most significantly, a man who preached a radical message of universal brotherhood to a subjugated people who were expecting and hoping for a conquering king could change a world and still be regarded – and embraced – as relevant today.

This is just a partial list. Indeed, entire books and ministries have been devoted to making this case. And while the skeptic can challenge various pieces of evidence, it is difficult to gainsay both the amount and the quality of the evidence upon which Christians base their faith.

This is not to say that Christianity is not about faith – it certainly is. As Paul says in Hebrews, faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the convictions of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1-2) No one can see heaven or preview what eternity with God will entail. Faith provides the assurance that what Jesus promised is true; we can rest confidently in the knowledge that things not seen will be as he promised. But we don’t have “blind faith” that he once lived, or that he has the authority to carry out what he promised. That knowledge is based on the evidence provided by those early witnesses. These men and women lived in extraordinary times and witnessed extraordinary things; sadly, many suffered extraordinarily for their convictions. But what they left to posterity, the evidence of what they saw and heard and experienced – whether or not it rises to the level of “extraordinary” – was certainly sufficient. And it remains so today.

Posted by Al Serrato


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