Extraordinariness is in the Eyes of the Beholder
by Martin Truther on Friday, February 11, 2011 at 8:07am
When people argue against UFOs with me an cite the Carl Sagan quote, "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence", I like to point out that extraordinariness is in the eye of the beholder.
I think it would be extraordinary if the Earth were the only planet in the universe with intelligent life. By definition, really. There's never been any extraordinary evidence that we are alone.
I think it would be extraordinary to suppose Earth's intelligent life was the most advanced in the universe when other solar systems had 4-5 billion year head starts (our Sun is a second generation star, made from the remnants of exploded first generation stars). There's never been any extraordinary evidence that our civilization is the most advanced in the universe.
I think it would be extraordinary to suppose that none of the more advanced intelligent civilizations, many of which could be BILLIONs of years more advanced than ours ever figured out how to travel faster than the speed of light when our own theorists are already working on the problem and our civilization could barely fly and couldn't even break the speed of sound a mere HUNDRED years ago. There's never been any conclusive extraordinary evidence that faster-than-light travel is impossible.
I think it would be extraordinary if, given the ability to travel faster than light and millions of years of freedom to travel that none of these advanced civilizations ever visited Earth for resources, anthropological studies, perhaps even experimentation-- or even just curiosity or compassion. There's never been any extraordinary evidence that Earth has NOT been visited.
So, don't talk to me about "extraordinary evidence". I insist on a level intellectual playing field. If you permit expert opinion on one side, you have to accept in on both sides. If you allow the testimony of multiple credible witnesses to stand on one side of an argument, you have to allow testimony of multiple credible witnesses on both sides. Whatever your epistemological discipline, be it the journalist's multiple independent corroborating sources, or the detective's process of gathering evidence and witness testimony or the historian's reliance on artifacts and documents or the much vaunted chemist's "reproducible results"-- whatever standard you allow for truth in other realms of your intellectual life, you should be open to the same standards in the subject of UFOs.
Sagan is also widely regarded as a freethinker or skeptic; one of his most famous quotations, in Cosmos , was, "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence" (called the "Sagan Standard" by some). This was based on a nearly identical statement by fellow founder of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, Marcello Truzzi, "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof." This idea originated with Pierre-Simon Laplace (1749-1827), a French mathematician and astronomer who said, "The weight of evidence for an extraordinary claim must be proportioned to its strangeness."