An Argument from Size

The comments in the linked blog post are not new. I see them quite regularly in discussions with Christians. Like the referenced blog post the argument typically hinges on getting things wrong, because if those who made the argument actually made the effort to get their thoughts right, they’d not make the point.

A few quick corrections.

  • Looking for evidence of aliens does not in any way equate to belief in a deity. Extraordinary claims do require extraordinary evidence and someone who claims that there are actually aliens will come under that category. Places where alien life could exist can be measured because we know life requires water and energy so looking for planets with water that orbit a star is a good place to start. Scientists doing this are not worshiping those aliens and nor are they crediting those aliens (if they exist) with creating this world, the conflating of the search for evidence of aliens with religion is bogus and an utter mischaracterisation of the scientific process.


  • Not believing in a god is not the same as believing there are no gods. The state of non-belief is the position between two opposing beliefs. I don’t believe there is a god; that is I neither believe there is a god nor believe there are no gods. I sway strongly towards there being no gods and I will argue that position, but I’m not at the point where I believe it. I don’t believe there are aliens. That is I neither believe they exist nor believe there are none. I sway strongly towards there being aliens somewhere out there and I will argue that it’s likely but I do not have enough information to state with any confidence that they actually do exist.


  • Agnosticism is a position of knowledge, atheism is a position of belief. It is possible to be both agnostic (not having the knowledge to determine if there is a god) and atheist (not having any belief in any god). I identify as both.


  • The universe does not contain any proof for the existence of god. It does however contain proof to answer the question of the existence of aliens. Let’s go searching!

Lyle Duell

An Argument from Size

Once I had an atheist tell me that extraordinary claims need extraordinary evidence.  Now, this may or may not be true, but it does demonstrate something about a number of atheists that I know.  It demonstrates  the inconsistency in their thinking for they say they cannot believe in a God  that they cannot see, for which they point out that there is no scientific evidence. And yet they believe that it is likely that there are alien life forms in the universe, which they have not seen nor do they have any evidence for their existence. I’ll grant that this may change at any time, however, for now it is the truth based on current knowledge.

They say the reasons for their readiness to accept alien life forms are based on the size of the cosmos and probability[1].  However, does not size and probability…

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6 thoughts on “An Argument from Size

  1. All science aside, ‘extraordinary’ is in the eye of the beholder. So one can always say of an ordinary claim ‘oh that will require extraordinary evidence for me to consider it’ or ‘oh that evidence is not extraordinary enough’.

    Then of course when we bring science into the picture, the request for evidence should be consonant with the topic. Requests for scientific evidence in an area that science doesn’t go (the existence of God, for instance, or the existence of the supernatural which would include any actions of a supernatural God) are nothing more than a fallacy, a misuse of the scientific concept.

    And of course this oft quoted line about ‘extradordinary claims requiring extraordinary evidence’ is never presented with any evidence as to the validity of the mantra itself.

  2. Extraordinary claims are a bit of a sliding scale that is directly related to what is typical, normal or expected. What baring the claim has on our perceptions of reality will also come into play here.

    If I told you I had toast for breakfast, you’d more than likely accept it without evidence. There is nothing surprising about that claim, many people have toast for breakfast every day and the truth of the claim has no affect on the wider world. Nothing extraordinary there at all.

    If I told you I ate my toast on a riverbank, you’d probably be a bit more sceptical and you might ask where that was or where I was staying in order to have that experience. There’s still nothing extraordinary about the claim, but it is different enough from the normal that I’d expect you to be at least a little but curious although there is still no broader impact that makes the truth of the claim extraordinary.

    No, if I say that while sitting on the river bank a fish leapt out of the water and landed on my toast, not only that, by the time it landed it was ready to eat. You’d in all probability call that out as needing some validation because that sort of thing just doesn’t happen. It’s extraordinary.

    So there we have it, an explanation by example. Evidence for the mantra if you will.

    The scale by which something is classed as extraordinary isn’t hard and fast and so of course there will be disagreement in the grey.

    With regards to claims of the supernatural. Science may have no method of describing or directly measuring this hypothetical entity often known as ‘God’, or any other supernatural being for that matter. However, claims of interaction with what we can measure can be tested.

    There are multiple miracle claims each year, these can be validated to see if there is actually a natural explanation to cover it. Once upon a time thunder and lightening were attributed to gods. We now know what actually causes them and no one believes in those gods any more.

    Supernatural claims can be tested.

  3. I believe if you were to read my blog more carefully you would see that I was not affirming or denying the existence of alien life. I was simply making the point that there is no real evidence for the existence of alien life. Belief in it is based on probability not scientific evidence. Saying that there are planets that have water and oxygen is not proof or even evidence that there is life on them. There are many more factors involved in the existence of life as we know it than water and oxygen.

    Your remarks seem to infer that I had something against science seeking alien life forms. I have no problem with science seeking alien life as long as that life is peaceful and nonthreatening to the human race. Of course, I preferred that they use someone else’s money to fund their research. You said, that the universe contains proof to answer the question of the existence of aliens. Nice statement of faith, maybe you can share with us some of those proofs or were you just speaking of hypothetical proofs that we might have in the future?

  4. I am aware that you were not making a comment on the likelihood of alien life, I wasn’t suggesting that, I was commenting on you equating religious belief with believing aliens exist or even suggesting they might.

    The scientific position is “we don’t know”. We don’t have enough evidence either way.

    I didn’t make any statement with regards you suggesting we should not be looking for alien life. You appear to have read into my comments something that isn’t there.

    Yes I did say that the universe contains evidence to answer the question on the existence of aliens. It’s also not a statement of faith, it’s a statement of fact. If aliens exist, they have left evidence of that out there, much like humans have left evidence of their existence on earth. It’s not possible for a species to exists and not leave any evidence. The reverse is also true, if there are no aliens out there, then the universe will contain no evidence for them and everything out there will be entirely natural. No faith is required to appreciate that that is an either / or scenario.

    I never said I had access to any proofs either way for aliens. If I did have that proof, this blog post would have been very different. On the subject of the existence of aliens the truth isn’t here yet, it’s out there, that’s why my final sentence was “Let’s go searching!”.

  5. Mainstream science disagrees with you:

    “Science doesn’t draw conclusions about supernatural explanations Do gods exist? Do supernatural entities intervene in human affairs? These questions may be important, but science won’t help you answer them. Questions that deal with supernatural explanations are, by definition, beyond the realm of nature — and hence, also beyond the realm of what can be studied by science.” Science Dept — University of California at Berkeley
    “science describes and explains the natural world: it does not prove or disprove beliefs about the supernatural” — American Anthropological Association
    “no aspect of science can address supernatural questions…..supernatural entities by definition operate outside of natural laws and so [truly] cannot be investigated using methods of experimentation” — American Association For the Advancement of Science
    “Science is not based on faith, nor does it preclude faith” — American Astronomical Society
    ” theologians may also be interested in the physical world, but in addition they usually believe in a metaphysical or supernatural realm inhabited by souls, spirits, angels, or gods, and this heaven or nirvana is often believed to be the future resting place of all believers after death. Such supernatural constructions are beyond the scope of science” — National Academy of Sciences
    ” science is precluded from making statements about supernatural forces because these are outside its provenance.” — National Science Teachers Association
    “Explanations employing nonnaturalistic or supernatural events, whether or not explicit reference is made to a supernatural being, are outside the realm of science …. all of science, is necessarily silent on religion and neither refutes nor supports the existence of a deity or deities.” National Association of Biology Teachers

  6. I’m not sure you fully understood what I meant Tim.

    I pretty much agree with all of those statements. Science can’t conclude the supernatural, the closest we can get from an experiment is that we don’t know what happened. Science can explain a fully natural phenomena though, and that by definition means it’s not supernatural.

    The point I was trying to make, and maybe wasn’t clear enough, is that if you make a claim that god did something. Lets say cured you of cancer as an example. Science can test that claim and come to the conclusion that actually the cancer was ‘cured’ when the surgeon removed it from your body, so nothing supernatural there. The claim was tested and found to be false. Or maybe the cancer wasn’t actually cured and only in remission and comes back to get you ten years later. Again, science can measure that and conclude that no, the cancer wasn’t cured and so no god could have cured it and the claim is again false.

    Claims of the supernatural can be tested. Yes of course there are limits, I wasn’t denying that then and I don’t deny that now, but when someone claims that a supernatural entity acted on this natural world, that claim can be tested to see if there is in fact a natural explanation after all.

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