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Are there any Extraordinary Claims for which Extraordinary Evidence has been discovered?

Yes! In fact, a great many of the claims now accepted by science would once have been thought extraordinary, but they are accepted because there is an extraordinary amount of evidence to support them. The transmission of sound and video via radio waves, for example, would have seemed at least as extraordinary as the claims of clairvoyance prior to the groundbreaking experiments of Hertz, Marconi, Baird and other scientists and inventors. Although we now take these inventions for granted, the first telegraph, radio, and television transmissions were regarded as quite astonishing in their time. This extraordinary evidence rapidly persuaded the world of the reality of wireless communication.

Other notable extraordinary claims for which extraordinary evidence exists include:

  • Relativity Theory. There can be nothing more extraordinary than the claims made by Einstein’s special and general theories of relativity. “Time and distance are relative to the observer”; “gravity warps space and time”; “E=mc2“- these are claims that few of Einstein’s predecessors could have countenanced. Yet the evidence has matched the claims in its extraordinariness: from the observations of light bending as it passed the sun that first confirmed the general theory of relativity, to the horrific demonstration of Einstein’s famous equation at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, to experiments showing atomic clocks running at different rates at different altitudes (important for GPS), countless experiments have produced  results inconceivable without relativity theory.
  • Evolution. Creationists are right about one thing (this may be all they are right about): the theory of evolution is an extraordinary claim, and should not be believed without extraordinary evidence to support it. The idea that the incredibly complex and almost perfectly functioning systems found in all living beings could have developed through the blind operation of natural processes is difficult to believe – which is one reason it took someone with the brilliance of Darwin to come up with the idea. But the evidence which Darwin was able to draw together points emphatically in favour of his theory, and the huge mass of evidence gathered since, from fossils to DNA and beyond, shows overwhelmingly that the theory of evolution is correct. The evidence here is extraordinary in (at least) two ways: it is extraordinary in the sheer amount of consistent evidence from a broad array of sources and discipline; and it is extraordinary in how unlikely such evidence would be if the theory of evolution were false.
  • Plate tectonics. Here is a theory so extraordinary that, in the absence of extraordinary evidence, was largely rejected for half a century after it was proposed. When Alfred Wegener proposed the theory of continental drift in 1912 (others had suggested the idea as early as 1596), he had little evidence to support his hypothesis beyond a remarkable similarity between the coastlines of Africa and South America, and some suggestive fossil evidence. But without much better evidence, the theory was regarded as outlandish by the majority of Wegener’s peers, because it simply seemed impossible for something as large as a continent to move around, absent a plausible mechanism. But by the 1960s, strong new evidence of drift emerged through the study of mid-ocean ridges and magnetic striping, along with plausible mechanisms for crustal movements, and the scientific community came to accept the new theory of plate tectonics. Moreover, the evidence for plate tectonics has continued to grow as scientists learn to probe deeper into the Earth’s crust.
  • Global Climate Change. The idea that humans could, by their collective actions over many years, fundamentally alter the climate of the planet is perhaps the most extraordinary claim of our age. After all, for most of human history, only gods were thought capable of controlling the weather. it is for this reason that the current consensus among  nearly all of the world’s climatologists that mean global temperatures are steadily rising as a result of human activity was a consensus that took a long time to build. The evidence, in this case, is extraordinary in its breadth and in its detail. This evidence comes in the form of terrestrial temperature records from all over the globe, satellite measurements of temperatures in the lower troposphere, and other records such as receding sea ice, showing a significant recent increase in average global temperatures. To this evidence is added a large body of evidence, using multiple methodologies, used to reconstruct a temperature record going back millenia, and sophisticated models used to project future tends. All of these sources of evidence combined indicate that the recent warming pattern represents an extraordinary departure from historical trends, which would be inexplicable if the hypothesis of anthropogenic global warming were not correct.
25 Comments leave one →
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  7. magufo permalink
    November 18, 2012 2:44 AM

    This post is a cherry picking.

  8. françois loranger permalink
    May 17, 2012 5:45 PM

    As Greame rightfully said “science processes of peer review and repeatable testing are the basis for the evidence. One person’s opinion or interpretation of any given evidence is not enough”.

    This means that claims relating to Creationism, Astrology and Ghosts and the existence of Gods, for instance, cannot be scientifically demonstrated. They are unscientific. They are pseudoscience. Even Socrates would not discuss those subjects 2500 years ago. They are scientifically uninteresting. It surely is not science business to tell believers what they should believe or not. Science can only tell them what is scientific and what is not. However, the big problem is that some believers claim that their unscientific beliefs are actually scientific, with absolutely no scientific proofs to support their claims.
    What is even worse is that some of those believers are scientists and are infecting some peer-reviewed journals with pseudoscience. This is upsetting. Sadly many believers are confusing personal beliefs and science, personal opinions and scientific demonstrations. Ordinary scientific evidence does not support magic, Creationism, Astrology, Ghosts and the existence of Gods. Sadly, it so happens — but very rarely — that some scientists fall asleep when they review some lunatic papers.

  9. Devlin permalink
    May 8, 2012 3:14 AM

    If god were real, wouldn’t he have some sort a talk show on prime time by now? Seriously, religious people who come here, you’ll either open your eyes for real or stay blind and bump your head over and over again.

  10. visitante permalink
    January 17, 2012 5:27 AM

    Edward Jenner no needs extraordinary evidence. The principle of Hume, popularized from Sagan its a false science principle. If skeptiks argue the famous principle as real, is fiction.

  11. September 6, 2011 1:50 PM

    any sufficiently advanced science would seem like magic to a technologically primitive people

    Star Trek the Next Gen took delight in the idea of con artist aliens passing off their technology as god-abilities

  12. Francois Loranger permalink
    January 2, 2011 7:47 PM

    I have to criticize the statement Extraordinary Claims require Extraordinary Evidence. This statement is surely not acceptable to many religious believers. They can easily object : Why two rules? This does not seem fair. And of course they do, with some reason.

    I would suggest we replace this statement with this one : Science Claims Require Scientific Evidence. This because I think the most important thing is to make people aware when their thinking is not scientific. Creationists, for instance, claim that their theories are scientific, yet they are not. They are denied by the international scientific community. If then, despite scientific evidence, they decide to go on with their unscientific thinking, this is their choice and no one could ever convince them that they are wrong. Science has to be distinguished from religious and political beliefs. This is a very important first step in clearing confusion. One important argument would be that all scientific theories have concrete applications. Creationism, for instance, has no application whatsoever. It is not a scientific theory.

    I would then add a second statement : Ethical Claims Require Ethical Evidence. This means, for instance, that when religious believers say it is good to stone adultery women, to mutilate female genitals or jail people for blasphemy, they should also state why this is good. If they reply : we do this because we believe in an Infinitely Loving God, this would obviously make no sense to ordinary people. And if they answer : we do this because our ancestors did it, then they would have to explain why it is that they now do so many things their ancestors never did, like watching television. Do they really think they should go back to the life of their ancestors?

    The same reasoning would apply to History Claims. Those claims all require Historical Evidence according to modern standards. For instance, modern historians cannot be positive about the physical existence of Socrates. This does not make a problem to me. The physical existence of Shakespeare is also a matter of debate. No problem either. The physical existence of Jesus is yet another a problem in history. I accept that. However, in this particular case, the debates often turn sour. What if I just believe the philosophy attributed to Jesus makes sense to me, sounds to me as good as does the thinking of Socrates, no matter who wrote the words?

    Science is Science. Ethics are Ethics. History is History. Beliefs are Beliefs. Some beliefs are scientific. Others are not. Some beliefs are ethical. Others are not. Some facts can be proven. Others are doubtful.

    François

  13. Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker permalink
    December 10, 2010 2:44 PM

    RandomCapitalizations:

    1. The only ones who believe in greedy reductionism are HEP types and their claque. Oh, and Steven Chu who wanted to zap the life out of the Gulf of Mexico with a gamma-ray laser. Like Feynman he also flunked BIO 101. He has gone back to harnessing windmills, kites, and
    will-o’-the-wisps for all the green energy he can offer to Gia.

    2. Polanyi the peace activist as Noble prize winning weapons designer, that’s priceless. Thanks!

    3. MWI is not a hypothesis, it’s a belief. No proof required, extraordinary or otherwise, just like god and atheism. I don’t know any physicist who doesn’t buy into MWI but your mileage may vary.

    4. Sure, big tobacco has long pointed to similar ‘scientific’ data to lay claim that smoking prolongs your life.

    5. Surrogate measurements! That’s hocus pocus, body and blood nonsense. Real IgNoble stuff! Can I nominate you or The Center? BTW, a correlation of r = 0.89-.90 is far worse than the superlative of bad, but then you knew that, eh!

    Scientific opinion is always subordinate to judicial law which factors into consideration those issues that are beyond the limitations of science in establishing the jurisprudence that separates us from our inner ape.

    6. String theory is a bigger hoax than god, some airy-fairy supernal tosh that could only be of interest to a god if that’s possible.

    PS
    You’re not by any chance Stephen Colbert up here spying on Canadian elites, are you?

  14. RandomCapitalizations permalink
    December 9, 2010 2:53 PM

    Humphrey:

    1. Feynman was just saying that biology is based on chemistry, and chemistry is based on physics. Don’t read more in to it.
    2. Polanyi was just saying “Here’s a really useful tool.” Would I be a fool for saying hammers are useful just because you can hit people with them?
    3. There’s no evidence for the many universe theory; it’s just a currently untestable hypothesis. Ditto for string theory. It doesn’t mean they’re wrong.
    4. This is actually a hypothesis based on observations; dock workers that handled uranium lived longer than a cohort of non exposed dock workers, for example. Also, people can live in Ramsar, Iran, with no apparent ill effect. It is also being demonstrated in vitro. That being said, it is still a hypothesis, but that’s how science works.
    5. This is called using a non invasive surrogate measurement, and it has been studied extensively. One example of many: J Stud Alcohol. 1993 Jan;54(1):17-22. “The correspondence between saliva and breath estimates of blood alcohol concentration: advantages and limitations of the saliva method.” where the author concludes: “The results of regression analysis indicated that the saliva strips and the Breathalyzer gave reasonably close estimates (r = 0.89-.90) of blood alcohol concentration.”
    6. See 3 — it’s a not-yet-testable hypothesis, but not useless, as it is an attempt to understand how the forces may be unified.

    I agree with the spirit of this campaign: let’s see some proof, or at least give it some critical thought.

  15. -X- permalink
    December 8, 2010 8:40 AM

    …and not to mention eugenics wasn’t ethic… And ethics is a big part of science today. If your work methods aren’t ethic or if your study is discriminating or includes any encouragement towards inequality – it isn’t viewed seriously by most of the scientific community.

  16. -X- permalink
    December 8, 2010 8:32 AM

    By the current understanding of (social) science there are many weak things in eugenics. For example it didn’t note for socialization or social contructivism (that is thoughts under the notion that subjects, people, are constantly shaped by their surroundings). Nor did it note the influences of social stuctures under capitalism (that is thoughts under the notion that the current form of society upholds certain established class-identifications). It could be argued that the capitalist market based economy will always have somekind of class-structure and all eugenics would do is eliminate the current members of the lower class only to have new people fill their places soon after.

    It is good to note that social sciences and natural sciences are different fields, and today both views are just as important. Eugenics didn’t hold up in social sciences, so it was discarded by the scientific community. It’s just too bad that some mad men jumped to conclusions too quickly.

    And by the way… Even if eugenics would have hold up (which it doesn’t) it would still no way prove the existance of anything supernatural. To dismiss science based on eugenics or other such dead-ends after further study, is a kind of ad hominem towards science. It makes mistakes, finds them out, admits them, and moves on.

  17. Atheism 'R Us permalink
    December 7, 2010 8:27 PM

    In the first half of the last century John Maynard Keynes, Karl Pearson, and Roland Fisher, all of whom were Cambridge educated statisticians, championed the new discipline of eugenics as contrived by the biometrist Francis Galton (a relative of Darwin). This program of eradication of the unfi t via class- and race-based natural selection was defended in the early 1930′s in an historical exchange with the Bayesian Harold Jeffreys, a professor of physics at Cambridge who favored evidence-based hypotheses, on the basis that it was grounded in science, in the laws of biology. The movement spread to North America but because of its adoption by the Nazis it became politically incorrect to be promoted openly but continues to attract adherents in its various guises within a mode of dissemination called cryptoeugenics (or some such). Is this ideology as scientifically sound as it was at once believed by these eminent scientists (Jeffreys excepted) ?

  18. Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker permalink
    December 7, 2010 3:27 PM

    Here are some extraordinary claims made by science, physics specifically. In each case they would appear to lack extraordinary supporting evidence.

    1. Feynman, after claiming that “everything that animals do, atoms do” went on to assert that this was “the most important hypothesis in all of biology.” Given that atoms have to be told which way is up but to fauna and flora it comes quite naturally, what was Feynman’s proof for this extraordinary claim?
    2. Polanyi, the Pugwash peace activist, showed how a chemical laser could be built for the betterment of mankind. In view of the fact that it is the basis of high-energy directed weaponry in widespread use by the US military in the war on terror and such does this constitute extraordinary evidence for his extraordinary initial claim?
    3. In the 1950′s Hugh Everett III proposed the extraordinary claim that our universe is but one of an infinite but countable class of many universes. Many physicists, including Hawking, subscribe to this view. What is the extraordinary evidence for this extraordinary claim?
    4. Some radiation physicists have made the extraordinary claim that a little bit of ionizing radiation is good for you, a phenomenon referred to as hormesis, like homeopathy. What is the extraordinary evidence for this extraordinary claim?
    5. The RIDE program is in full swing given the season. The manufacturer of the device used to check whether one is over legal limit of 0.08 mg/L of blood actually measures via infrared detection the levels of alcohol in the breath not blood. What is the evidence for the worldwide acceptance that this machine while measuring one quantity (mg/L breath) can be used to infer another quantity (mg/L blood) that is not measured but which is the legal measure as specified in the highway traffic code?
    6. Name any extraordinary claims of string theory as held to be true by the world community of high-energy physicists and cosmologists and the corresponding extraordinary evidence for such claims?

  19. greame permalink
    December 7, 2010 1:28 PM

    @Erik

    “I urge you to learn more about the matter. You have a highly idealistic view of what “science” (more properly, the scientific establishment, i.e. the academies and scientists themselves) really is, and frankly, that’s not the case in reality.”

    That’s a very nice assumption. It doesn’t surprise me that you would come to such a concrete conclusion about my views after reading 2 or 3 comments on an internet page. How do you know that I don’t have friends or family that work in the scientific field? Hell, how do you know I don’t work in the scientific field myself? It would seem to me that its you who does not have much of an understanding of the “scientific establishment”, when you jump to conclusions so fast, given little to no evidence. So again, it doesn’t surprise me that you believe in books that were written by primitive men in an attempts to control an ignorant population. (The primitive men who wrote the book however, were obviously very successful if they can still take advantage of the ignorant 2000 years later.)

  20. greame permalink
    December 7, 2010 1:06 PM

    @ Erik

    hahaha. Oh man. First off, Catholic or Christian, there is no difference to me. Christian and fundamental Islam. No difference. Jew, Pagan, Astrology, it’s all the same to me. Second, I find it funny that you can throw words like truth and reality around. I AM looking for the truth. And I can tell you it’s not in your gawd. Trust god? give me one reason why I should? I trust what I can see evidence for.

  21. December 7, 2010 11:18 AM

    greame: I urge you to learn more about the matter. You have a highly idealistic view of what “science” (more properly, the scientific establishment, i.e. the academies and scientists themselves) really is, and frankly, that’s not the case in reality.

    You will be shocked. You will be disappointed. That much I can promise you.

    You will also learn to stop trusting men and begin to trust God instead.

    That is, if you are open to the possibility, and embark on a genuine search for truth. Hopefully that’s you.

  22. greame permalink
    December 7, 2010 11:16 AM

    @ Erik Walker,

    I really don’t know why bible thumpers like you come to these sites. No one is going to listen to you.

  23. greame permalink
    December 7, 2010 11:14 AM

    @Erik Walker

    “Evidence doesn’t speak for itself. It must be interpreted. You interpret things based on your worldview”

    Yes, that is why sciences processes of peer review and repeatable testing are the basis for the evidence. One persons opinion or interpretation of any given evidence is not enough. Nobody here is saying that it is. Only you seem to be.

  24. Bryan permalink
    December 6, 2010 6:11 PM

    There is little evidence to support that Global Climate Change is the result of humans. If you have the evidence, please provide it in detail. Many scientists around the world would be interested to know about it. As climate change research becomes less about politics and more about science, the list of those who disagree with the claims related to human causes, only grows and grows.

    As for Evolution, the extraordinary evidence is not there, that is why evolution has been re-vamped (punctuated evolution, etc.) several times to accommodate parts of the theory that were just plain wrong.

  25. December 6, 2010 3:47 PM

    Read up on the Fallacy of Reification.

    Evidence doesn’t speak for itself. It must be interpreted. You interpret things based on your worldview. Ergo, if your worldview is false, your interpretations of the evidence will be false.

    That’s why evolutionists will always get the wrong answer. They have the wrong starting point, and as we know, False Premise + Logical Reasoning = False Conclusion.

    Kudos. Now you know.

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