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When Nothing is Extraordinary: Another Problem with ECREE

Graham Veale
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In 2010’s critically acclaimed drama The Rabbit Hole, when a bereaved mother cannot find spiritual comfort in religion or solace in God, she turns to more “logical” and “scientific” theories of parallel universes. Now, one such theory suggests that we live in an infinite universe, in which everything and everyone in the universe is duplicated an infinite number of times. The film seems to suggest be that we can be comforted with the thought that, “somewhere out there I’m having a good time.”

This is cold comfort. If somewhere out there another “me” is happier, then somewhere else I’m in agony. In some worlds I’ll be killing my children; on others they’ll be killing me. However, let’s set that to one side, and consider the film’s implications  for the slogan “Extraordinary Claims Require Extraordinary Evidence”. The problem is the term “extraordinary”; what exactly does that mean? Although the evidence for parallel universes seems very weak, it no longer seems “extraordinary” to believe that multiple copies of earth exist across an infinitely large universe. Theories about multiple universes have tunneled so deeply into popular culture that they can be a source of comfort to the bereaved. What was once a remarkable hypothesis is on the verge of becoming folk wisdom.

Defining “extraordinary” as “strange” or “wonderful” is a dead end. What is considered extraordinary varies from person to person. And while miracles are “extraordinary”, it is clearly false that “miraculous claims require miraculous evidence”. There is nothing miraculous about the rise of a religious movement in a hostile environment, an empty tomb, and testimony that a dead man has been seen alive again. Yet the combination of this evidence is more than enough to confirm the resurrection of Jesus.

Victor Stenger has another interpretation of ECREE. In a debate with theistic philosopher William Lane Craig, Stenger asserted:

Dr. Craig has made the extraordinary claim that certain empirical facts require supernatural explanations. In order to refute this, all I need to do is provide plausible natural explanations for these phenomena. I need not prove these. If he wants to argue that God is required to exist in order to explain the observed universe, Dr. Craig must disprove all possible natural explanations for these phenomena.

But some naturalistic ideas are as weird and wonderful as any appeal to the supernatural. Take the very idea of an infinitely large universe, containing an infinite number of earths and infinitely many copies of you! This seems a bit counter-intuitive, to say the least. Nick Bostrom has suggested that we seriously consider that our universe is really a simulation running on an alien’s computer. Transhumanists believe (against all experience)that human nature can be given an upgrade through technology; one day superpowered cyborgs will rule the earth!

It is clear that Stenger believes theism is

…the more extraordinary claim–that an unseen power exists that created the universe and responds to human needs.

But science posits unseen powers all the time. We routinely attribute the power of agency to others, and we have all experienced the freedom to make choices. There would be no limits on His power; but if God has the power of agency we are quite familiar with his essential qualities. So what exactly is it about theism that makes it so extraordinary? No clear argument is given. Why, then,  should we prefer an atheist’s educated guesses to a perfectly good theistic explanation? Given the extraordinary claims of some naturalistic theories, we can only assume that this demand for extraordinary evidence is simply a manifestation of atheistic prejudices.