The Outsider Test...Again

Earlier I proposed something I called The Outsider Test for your faith, where I wrote: If you were born in Saudi Arabia, you would be a Muslim right now, say it isn't so? That is a cold hard fact. Dare you deny it? Since this is so, or at least 99% so, then the proper method to evaluate your religious beliefs is with a healthy measure of skepticism. Test your beliefs as if you were an outsider to the faith you are evaluating. If your faith stands up under muster, then you can have your faith. If not, abandon it. For any God who requires you to believe correctly when we have this extremely strong tendency to believe what we were born into, surely should make the correct faith pass the outsider test. If your faith cannot do this, then the God of your faith is not worthy of being worshipped.


There are so very many things we believe because of when and where we were born that an argument is made by moral relativists based on it, which is known to ethicists as the "Dependency Thesis (DT)" According to the DT our morals are causally dependent on our cultural context. Even if the relativists are wrong in the very end, they make an extremely powerful case which should give the over-confident Christian a reason for a very long pause, if nothing else.

The Christian believes God is a rational God and that we should love God with all of their minds. The Christian is not afraid to examine his or her beliefs by the test of reason because he or she believes in a God of reason. A small minority of Christians even believe Logic and reason presuppose the Christian God.

So what's the problem here? Why aren't Christians posting by the droves and saying, "Fine, I have no problem with The Outsider Test?” Why not?

An outsider would be someone who was only interested in which religious or nonreligious view is correct, and assumed from the start that none of them were true--none of them! An outsider is a mere seeker who has no prior presuppositions about any faith, or no faith at all. To be an outsider would also mean we would have nothing at stake in the outcome of our investigations, and hence no fear of hell while investigating it all. These threats could hinder a clear-headed investigation.

What exactly is wrong with this? While I know it may be impossible to do, since we all have presuppositions, what's wrong with striving for this as a goal that can only be approximated?

If Christianity wins hands down in the marketplace of ideas, like so many seem to indicate, then why not mentally adopt this test? Christians shouldn't have any problems doing this, right?

The outsider test would mean that there would be no more quoting the Bible to defend how Jesus' death on the cross saves us from sins. The Christian must now try to rationally explain it. No more quoting the Bible to defend how it's possible for Jesus to be 100% God and 100% man with nothing left over, by merely quoting from the Bible. The Christian must now try to make sense of this claim, coming as it does from an ancient supertitious people who didn't have trouble believing this could happen (Acts 14:11, 28:6), etc, etc. Why? Because you cannot start out by first believing the Bible, nor can you trust the people closest to you who are Christians to know the truth. You would want evidence and reasons for these things. And you'd initially be skeptical of believing in any of the miracles in the Bible just as you would be skeptical of any claims of the miraculous in today's world.

The presumption of The Outsider Test would be that since there are so very many religions, and with so many people believing in a particular religion because of “when and where they were born,” that when examining any religious belief, skepticism would be warranted, since the odds are good that the one you are investigating is wrong.

15 comments:

John W. Loftus said...

Speaking of the threat of hell that hinders Christians from truly investigating their faith....

When it came to the afterlife, I had accepted "conditional immortality," (a.k.a, Annihilationism), before I could truly investigate my faith more objectively.

Anonymous said...

John, our whole faith is based on what we read from the Bible. How can you expect one to give you an explaination why they believe without it? Not one person is alive from when it was written, so we go by what they left us with.

Could you give me a concise explaination of how an atomic bomb works if you a)never saw or heard of one b)could not study any books or papers on one c)ask nobody about it?

If you could it would take a lifetime, which is probably why nobody has taken your offer. They have better things to do than explain where and why life has taken them thus far.

The Jewish Freak said...

Anon: Then according to the outsider test you must explain how it is rational to believe the accounts of the bible.

Albert said...

Saudi Arabia in a way might not be a proper example for your argument because Saudi law requires ALL its citizens to be
Muslim.

Jeff Schmidt said...

Anon, all it would take is one person (or a group of outsider researchers) to do the work and present it for others. Since the Christian faith puts a good deal of stock in salvation, you'd think it would be in your interest to make the strongest case you could to ensure your fellow man is "saved". Throwing up your hands and saying it would take a lifetime is a royal cop-out.

If you're going to make extraordinary claims like many religions do, you ought to be prepared to either show why we should believe you, as outsiders, or relegate yourselves to private worship and quit pushing your wacky ideas on the rest of us (not implying you personally do, simply saying that your fellow travellers in faith often do).

John W. Loftus said...

The Outsider Test is no different than the prince in the Cinderella story who must question 25,000 people to see which one of them lost the golden slipper at the ball last night. They all claim to have done so. Therefore, initial skepticism is definitely warranted. This is especially true when the religious question we're asking cannot be solved by an empirical foot match.

John W. Loftus said...

The Outsider Test is merely aknowledging an overwhelming truth, that we have an extremely strong tendency to believe what we were raised to believe. Christians would believe with slave holders in the South prior to the civil war that slavery is justified by the Bible, as I argued for here.

Then it merely asks us to respond in the approprite manner; to approach what we believe with a healthy measure of outsider skepticism.

It doesn't state in advance what we might come to believe upon applying that test. But to offer an "internal critique" of that test would be to argue that our beliefs are not dependent much at all on our cultural conditions. So be my guest if you think you can do this. If not, abide by that test.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Lofton,

Let me understand this... you want me a person to put themselves in a neutral state and test the Christian faith. If it passes the test then a person can believe it. If not they should reject it.

So how does that work when the Bible says that there is no neutrality. Aren't you denying Christianity even before you have "put it to the test?"

Anonymous said...

Jeff, I am not throwing up my hands. There is obviously nothing I could say to anyone on this blog, that has not been presented at some point in history, that would convince them otherwise. What I am saying is that 90% of the people in the world are driven by some motivating force to believe in a supernatural being. Out out of those 5.4 billion people 2 billion have chosen Christianity. Now I'm not suggesting that the shear numbers give us any reason to believe it is the correct religion. What I am saying is that with this many choosing Christianity does not correspond to what John L. says.

"The presumption of The Outsider Test would be that since there are so very many religions, and with so many people believing in a particular religion because of “when and where they were born,” "

There are not 2 billion people in the western world. So this make his premise questionable at the very least.

Now I am suggesting that while a lot of folks are "born" into the Christian faith, many are not. In fact some Christians in this country (the good old USA) came from secular homes. So, many people at some point in their lives find "reason" to believe. For some of these it may have been a sudden change and others an accumilation of various points in their life. Most likely none would satisfy your qualifications.

Jeff, I could write a book on my life and how I became a Christian and it would not make a dent in your philosophy, that will have to be up to God. I also am not trying to push my faith on you or anyone else here. I am just replying to John's post, and I agree that I have no "reason for you to believe, but there is plenty of "reason" for many to believe.

One more thing before I go. This Outsider Test can be requested both ways. Does anyone really think they could give enough "reason" for a "strong" believer to deconvert? And by the way is this what this blog is aimed at? If so, who pushing their beliefs on who?

John W. Loftus said...

Anon,

The Bible does say you should not be neutral when it comes to your commitment(God or money, faith vs unbelief). But what I'm talking about is putting yourself in a mental frame of mind prior to that commitment, as much as possible, and from there deciding between all of the religious and nonreligious options available.

Ron O said...

Isn't the Outsider Test precisely what Lee Strobel did when he was still an atheist, and then subsequently wrote about in "The Case For Christ", "The Case For Faith", and other similar titles?

Michael said...

RonO,

No, I don't think so. Lee Strobel was already a committed Christian before he set out to write the book.

In other words, he was already biased in his source selection before he even penned a word. If you don't believe me, read the introduction to his book again and then look at his list of "scholars" whom he quotes throughout the book. They are (insert statistic here) Christian.

Lastly, notice how he doesn't cross-examine them when they tell him something. Why would he? He already agrees with them and is intent on providing an apologetic for Christianity, not in substantiating a point/counter-point between the faithful and the faithless.

What a sham, this Strobel guy.

davek said...

John,

Is this still an active forum? It seems the most recent post on this thread is almost 3 years ago.

I'm a Christian and absolutely LOVE your Outsider Test. It is a disgrace that so many Christians do not know how to defend Christian theism outside of citing the Bible. Using the authority of the Bible to defend the authority of the Bible is a classic case of begging the question (circular reasoning). The ignorance of most Christians regarding the scientific, historical, and logical basis for Christian theism is startling to me. My college roommate was an atheist, so 30 years ago I got into this stuff big time. Now, my former roommate is a professor of philosophy of science and a theist (but he's no fundamentalist!).

Keep in mind that the Outsider Test must be applied to atheism and agnosticism. I think one homework assignment we all need to do is google "logical fallacies" and carefully learn them. I learned them 30 years ago in college (thanks to my roommate issue). So many discussions on these issues are laced with logical fallacies (both sides). The Outsider Test presumes that sound arguments are used (that's one reason I like it so much). Personally, I evaluate my religious views with the same rigor I use as I conduct cognitive science research (I'm a researcher and teacher at a large state university).

If this is an active thread, I'd be happy to outline the reasons why I am a (non-fundamentalist) Christian.

I hope to hear from you.

Dave K.

John W. Loftus said...

Hi davek, I addressed the question of atheists taking the OTF right here.

Cheers,

Chuck said...

John,

I think you're onto something with this approach (I'm agnostic myself) but it has severe problems in its application - for example...

1. Are we truly capable of looking at our religious/social/cultural upbringing as an outsider? Can we truly disrobe ourselves in this fashion?

2. What about the human need for conformity? Don't we all look for something that has "worked for others" rather than re-invent everything ourselves?

3. If we all customized our faith, don't we also make our lives more difficult? If we have to frequently explain our dissenting opinions, could this cost outweigh the benefits of a clarified view?