“I understand why you wish to reject the standard that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”, but it is a valid standard nonetheless. If I were to claim that I can fly, and if I had written affidavits from three friends who said they had seen me fly, would you accept that I can fly?”
There are two arguments being made by Pendergrast, and we will try to deal with them accordingly.
A first response would be that I disagree that the “extraordinary evidence” standard is a “valid” one. My contention is that evidence for a specific claim, extraordinary or not, requires sufficient evidence. If sufficient evidence is enough for an ordinary claim then it should be enough for an extraordinary one (unless one opts to maintain a double standard). For instance, an extraordinary claim may very well be the best explanation for a set of ordinary data and if so it would be very silly to simply dismiss it. Moreover, what Pendergrast essentially does it to raise the bar of what constitutes evidence so high that it merely dismisses all evidence that doesn’t agree with his own atheistic presuppositions. So whenever he is confronted with evidence that threatens his atheism he will simply retort that the evidence is not “extraordinary enough.” I would challenge that such a methodology is hardly openminded to evidence and reason.
What undergirds Pendergrast’s claim is that the reasons proposed from historical evidence, as well as arguments, is not good enough to establish that Jesus was actually resurrected from the dead. However, this can be answered through an appeal to probability. Philosopher William Lane Craig powerfully argues that it is far more probable that Jesus was resurrected given the historical data surrounding his death, namely, that of the empty tomb and post-mortem resurrection appearances. On the other hand, it is far less probable that Jesus was not resurrected given this same historical data surrounding his death. Therefore, as Craig persuasively concludes, it is far more probable that Jesus was resurrected than him not being resurrected. Craig therefore explains that given the widely accepted facts surrounding Jesus’ death such as the empty tomb, and post-mortem experiences to the disciples, groups on diverse occasions (on 12 occasions and to 500 people at once), skeptics (James), and enemies (Paul) alike, “It is highly, highly, highly, improbable that we should have that evidence if the resurrection had not occurred” (1).
Now, turning our attention to his flying analogy. What I suspect he tries to do is to undermine Jesus’ resurrection because it is an extraordinary claim with unconvincing, if at best ordinary, evidence. Now, we could even grant him that the evidence is ordinary and show, as I did above, that his conclusion does not follow. Ordinary evidence, I’ve argued, is good enough to establish Jesus’ resurrection as probable given the “ordinary” (according to Pendergrast) evidence. My personal view, as a theological rationalist, is that the evidence and arguments, though not absolute, is persuasive in favour of the resurrection hypothesis. I take it to be more probable, given historical evidence, than its negation of which Pendergrast proposes. That is why I have remained a Christian over the years.
Nonetheless, Pendergrast asks, “If I were to claim that I can fly, and if I had written affidavits from three friends who said they had seen me fly, would you accept that I can fly?” to which I would respond with a no. Why though? Why would I deny Pendergrast’s claim but accept the claims concerning Jesus’ resurrection? Simple, because of evidence and arguments.
When it comes to Pendergrast the way he phrases the alleged evidence in favour of his flying, “I had written affidavits from three friends” sounds suspicious. Unlike Jesus, for whom we have historical evidence for concerning his ministry from our New Testament, I know next to nothing about Pendergrast. For all I know he could be trying to recruit followers to join his flying cult. He could have bribed or colluded with his friends to make up such claims as to give him credibility. I simply do not know enough about Pendergrast, nor his friends, to be aware of his motives. However, historians widely know of Jesus’ motives, as well as the motives of his earliest followers. Jesus was utterly convinced that he had God’s favour and was doing God’s will on Earth, that he came to save sinners from righteous judgment, as well as pronounce the inbreaking of the Kingdom of God. In fact, he was so convinced of his God ordained mission that he took himself to the cross on which he was sacrificed. Going to such lengths gives us warrant to consider his claims. He may have been mistaken but no-one can rightfully undermine his sincerity. What about Pendergrast? What’s he willing to give up, and sacrifice, for his claim that he can fly? And regarding his “three friends,” are they willing to undergo persecution and face the prospects of death, like Jesus’ disciples did, in order to back up Pendergrast’s claim that he can fly?
Secondly, who witnessed Pendergrast’s flying? Was it 500 people (1 Cor. 15:1-11) like who witnessed Jesus? Did Pendergrast fly on numerous occasions or is it just this one occasion with only him and his three friends present? According to our historical evidence Jesus was witnessed in his resurrection body on 12 different occasions by several groups, and even up to 500 at one time. Does Pendergrast’s claim remotely come close to that?
What about enemies? According to Pendergrast it was only his friends who witnessed his remarkable ability to fly. But with Jesus we have an enemy, the Apostle Paul, who persecuted the early Christian movement that Jesus founded. After an experience, in the midst of a travelling crowd on the way to Damascus, in which Jesus appears to Paul, Paul is radically converted. Has an enemy of Pendergrast’s who not only hated Pendergrast but also hated everything that could fly end up believing that Pendergrast really did fly? And not only believe this but go to his death proclaiming it? What about skeptics? Our gospels tell us that James, Jesus’ brother, rejected Jesus and his message. However, Jesus appears to James and he is likewise converted. Not only does James convert but he is later martyred for the proclamation of Jesus resurrection. Has Pendergrast convinced any skeptics of late who have been willing to go to death?
Thirdly, what expert investigators agree to the basic facts surrounding the claims of Pendergrast’s three friends? Are investigators, on evidential grounds, convinced that in one moment Pendergrast had two feet on the ground, and that at the next he was in the air 50 feet up? Historians, however, widely affirm the basic facts that Christians are able to use as an apologetic for the resurrection. The majority of historians affirm  Jesus’ crucifixion,  his burial,  that his tomb was found empty,  that his earliest followers, enemies and skeptics alike had resurrection experiences. What consensus does Pendergrast boast?
Fourthly, is Pendergrast’s claim consistent with the life he has led? When it comes to Jesus, what we find is a single Jewish man who convinced thousands of onlookers that he was a miracle worker and an exorcist, convinced of his own God ordained mission, believed that he was equal with God the Father, who underwent intense rejection from his own family and followers as well as persecution (from the Jewish and Romans authorities), and was so convinced that he went to his death because of this. Thus, it is no small wonder why as truth seekers we are to, at minimum, consider Jesus’ remarkable ministry, claims, and alleged resurrection from the dead. What, however, can Pendergrast give us to provide credibility of his claim that he can fly?
Technically, we could go on to show just how bankrupt Pendergrast’s challenge to the resurrection evidence is, but I think the case is made and that this will suffice. Moreover, I believe that this brief analysis should actually strengthen one’s faith in the historical fact of Jesus’ resurrection. This analysis shows just how persuasive the evidence is when combined holistically, as well as just how unlikely and improbable it is that the resurrection is simply a lie.
1. Craig, W. 2012. Stephen Law on the Non-existence of Jesus of Nazareth.