Answering Dr. Reppert's Criticisms of The Outsider Test for Faith (OTF)

Victor Reppert offers some criticisms of the OTF, which I plan on answering here.Victor said:
First, it would be good if the argument could be formulated with premises and a conclusion. Exactly what is he arguing for, and what is the basis for his argument.
Okay, here it 'tis:
1. Rational people in distinct geographical locations around the globe overwhelmingly adopt and defend a wide diversity of religious faiths due to their upbringing and cultural heritage. This is the religious diversity thesis.

2. Consequently, it seems highly likely that adopting one’s religious faith is not merely a matter of independent rational judgment but is causally dependent on cultural conditions to an overwhelming degree. This is the religious dependency thesis.

3. Hence the odds are highly likely that any given adopted religious faith is false.

4. So the best way to test one’s adopted religious faith is from the perspective of an outsider with the same level of skepticism used to evaluate other religious faiths. This ex-presses the OTF.
People in distinct geographical locations around the globe adopt and defend the religion of their upbringing and culture. This is an undeniable sociological fact. Anthropology shows us that human beings are locked inside their own cultures and cannot, without the greatest of difficulty, transcend their culturally adopted beliefs. Psychology shows us that human beings do not examine their beliefs dispassionately but rather seek to confirm that which they already believe. And unlike scientific, political and moral beliefs there are no mutually agreed upon tests to determine which religious faith is true. Therefore it seems reasonable to conclude that the religion a person adopts and defends is overwhelmingly dependent upon the “accidents of birth” rather than on a rational assessment of the case based upon the available evidence. Since this is so we should be just as skeptical of our own religious upbringing as we are with the other religious faiths we reject. The odds are that we’re wrong. We should be skeptical of our religiously inherited faih with the same amount of skepticism as we use to judge the other religious faiths that we reject. Here we have the notion of being “outsiders” to the religious faith in question, and as such it’s called “The Outsider Test for Faith.”

Victor said:
Second, it would be cheating to have a test and just mark our religious beliefs as the beliefs to be tested. Keith Parsons once asked, "Tell me, do you really think that, had you been born Vijay instead of Victor, and if you were from Bangalore rather than Phoenix, AZ, that you would not now be as devoted to Brahma as you are to God?" And the answer is I don't know. If Keith had grown up in the United Methodist church that I did, and had he discovered Plantinga or Lewis before leaving the fold, as opposed to converting briefly to West Rome Baptist Church and hearing weekly hellfire threats as an undergraduate, would he now be a Christian philosopher instead of an atheist? The "what if" game is far harder than it looks to play.
I don’t mean to single out religious beliefs here, although that is indeed my focus. They are just more assuredly determined by one’s cultural upbringing than anything else we can predict. Some things would surely be hard to predict if events had turned out differently. I admit that we are all strongly influenced by the people and circumstances around us. This is what psychological studies show us. With different influences Keith Parsons could've ended up as a Christian philosopher, yes. That’s indeed how malleable the human mind is, his, mine, and Reppert's too. With different influences Reppert could've been an atheist philosopher! This is who we are as human beings. What we think and believe is molded and shaped by all of our experiences and influences, including everyone we talk to or study with, and everything we have ever read or witnessed. We know this even if we may not be able to predict what would’ve happened had something different taken place in someone’s life. I do know that had something different taken place then a particular person would be different in some ways, depending on the event and the impact that event had on him or her. But there are some things that are easier to predict, and one thing seems clearly to be the case that if we were born in different culture and with a different upbringing we would adopt the faith of our upbringing.

Victor said:
But I happen to know something about Vijay. Keith and I agree that there is an independently existing physical world. Vijay does not. If either of us had been born Vijay, we would think of the world of experience as maya, or illusion, and we would not see it as ultimately real. So it looks as if external world realism fails the outsider test. Yet I see no reason to be accept external world skepticism because if I had been born in India, I might have been brought up to reject external world realism.
In this case Vijay would have to subject his own religious upbringing to the same kind of skepticism he uses to evaluate Christianity, the most materialistic of religions, as C.S. Lewis claimed. I think if Vijay did this he would end up being a skeptic about his prior held belief that the world is an illusion, or maya, which is a belief of his that goes against all the available evidence. Again, Vijay needs to subject that culturally adopted religious belief to skepticism. And in this regard Reppert is missing the point. Vijay’s views would not represent skepticism at all. His Eastern views are based in his religious faith, and as such I’m asking him to be skeptical of them. With regard to Reppert I'm not asking him to subject his knowledge that there is a real world with the religious faith of a Vijay that the world is an illusion. If Reppert wants to instead talk about some kind of extreme type of Cartesian skepticism which might lead someone to solipsism then he’s attributing to me a kind of skepticism of which I do not embrace at all, which no one can be that skeptical anyway. The OTF does not ask for complete and utter skepticism. It merely asks us to be as skeptical of our own culturally adopted religious faith as we are of the others we reject.

Victor said:
What about moral beliefs? I think that rape is wrong. If I had been brought up in a certain culture, I'm told, I would believe that rape is OK if you do it in the evening, because a woman's place is at home under her husband's protection, and if she is gone she's asking for it. So my belief that rape is wrong flunks the outsider test. This gives me no basis whatsoever for doubting that rape is wrong.
There is a difference between moral and religious beliefs, although they are indeed intertwined in many religions. The OTF is a test to examine religious faiths, not moral or political beliefs. When I refer to religious faith, I’m referring to beliefs that are essential for a member to be accepted in a particular religious community of faith who worship together and/or accept the same divinely inspired prophetic/revelations and/or those beliefs whereby one’s position in the afterlife depends. The reason for this definition is clear, since the outsider test is primarily a challenge about the religious faith of communities of people. It also applies secondarily in lesser degrees to individual philosophers espousing metaphysical, political, and/or ethical viewpoints who are not guided primarily by communal religious experiences but who are still influenced by the cultural milieu in which they live. Hence the OTF will have a much greater degree of force against religious faiths of religious communities than on individual philosophers not involved in a religious community.

So can we apply this same skepticism to moral beliefs? Should I be as skeptical that rape is wrong as I am that rape is morally acceptable? No. Absolutely not. Again, look at the specific criteria I provided. I said:
The amount of skepticism warranted depends on the number of rational people who disagree, whether the people who disagree are separated into distinct geographical locations, the nature of those beliefs, how they originated, how they were personally adopted in the first place, and the kinds of evidence that can possibly be used to decide between them. My claim is that when it comes to religious beliefs a high degree of skepticism is warranted because of these factors.
That’s what I said, and so in this instance as with many other moral beliefs they do not suffer the same consequences from applying the OTF. Beliefs like the acceptability of rape are based on religious beliefs anyway, so they are subject to the outsider test precisely because of the nature and origin of those beliefs, as I said. I know of no non-believer who would ever want to defend the morality of rape, for instance, unlike believers in the past and present who do because of some so-called inspired text. We know rape is wrong, and we also know that this kind of behavior is sanctioned by religious beliefs, as is honor killing. The religious person who thinks rape is morally acceptable should subject that belief to skepticism as an outsider. And when he does this he will begin to doubt his previously held religious/moral beliefs, as I’ve argued. When it comes to Reppert, I think his moral belief that rape is wrong will survive his own skepticism, for there is evidence that as a father of a daughter he would want to help maintain a free society where she can go about her business free from being accosted. If Reppert wants to provide an argument where he can defend the morality of rape I’d like to see this. I would find it very strange if in order to escape the OTF Reppert must defend the morality of rape. That seems too high of a price to pay, but if that’s what he wants to do, then I’m all ears. [Speaking of morality, let me remind the reader that I’ve argued elsewhere that morality has evolved].

Victor said:
What about political beliefs? I think that representative democracy is a better form of government than monarchy. If I lived in 16th Century Europe, or in other parts of the globe, I probably would not believe that. So my belief in democratic government flunks the outsider test. However, this gives me no reason to have the least doubt that democracy is better than monarchy.
The same things can be said about political beliefs as I said about moral beliefs. Listen, there are a great many political and moral beliefs which we think are essential to a human society but which are not necessary at all. Democracy is one of them. People have done fine without democracy from the beginning when a dominant male lion or ape ruled the others and had free reign with a harem of females. That being said I think there is evidence that supports the fact that as rational animals we are happier when we have a say in how a country is run. And we have also found ways to include minority thinking too, with some proper checks and balances. And when people around the world vote with their feet they sail, fly and run to a democratic government. Further evidence for this is the crumbling of dictatorial socialist communist governments. But once again, I would find it very strange if in order to escape the OTF Reppert must deny that democracy is a better form of government than a monarchy or dictatorship. That seems too high of a price to pay, but if that’s what he wants to do, then I’m all ears.

Victor said:
What about scientific beliefs? If I had been born in the Islamic world, or in some Christian churches, I would have been taught to reject the theory of evolution in its entirety. So it looks like the theory of evolution fails the outsider test. Nevertheless, this in itself is insufficient grounds for the slightest doubt about evolution.
Here it becomes obvious that Reppert does not know what the OTF is about. Scientific thinking is in a different category altogether from religious faiths (see the specific criteria mentioned above). We do not learn about science merely from our parents, although hopefully we do. We can personally do the experiments ourselves. So scientific testing is independent of what someone tells us to believe and so it does not require the same level of skepticism about its conclusions. There are mathematical and experimental results that are independently verified time and again. But when it comes to religious faiths there are no mutually agreed upon reliable tests to decide between them, and this makes all of the difference in the world. With regard to Reppert’s example, the OTF requires religious believers to subject their creationist theories to the skepticism of the scientist, theories which were learned on their Mama’s knee and tenaciously defended because some ancient superstitious pre-scientific set of writings say so. Science and scientific thinking is the best and probably only antidote to these creationist religious myths, myths which other religions differ about.

Victor said:
Finally, a certain natural conservatism with respect to changing our minds about matters of world-view, or any other issue for that matter, is both natural and rational. I thought the lesson of things like Cartesian foundationalism is that if you throw out all sort of beliefs as unjustified and load the burden of proof onto those beliefs, it's hard to stop and have anything left. Most people thought that Descartes had to cheat to get his world back. If we have to be skeptics about all of our sociologically conditioned beliefs, I am afraid we are going to be skeptics about a lot more than just religion.
Well, it’s certainly the case that conservatism is natural with respect to people not wanting to change their beliefs. It’s so natural to us that we as human beings will go to some extreme lengths to defend what we want to believe. So I see nothing about this conservatism which is justified, otherwise, at some extreme level we’d still believe in Santa Claus, or that our fathers can do anything, or patriots would still defend America “whether right or wrong” in their later years. This also undercuts the whole notion that such conservatism is rational as well. The rational thing to do, which we humans are not too good at, is to grow and learn and think and investigate and follow the arguments and evidence wherever they lead. That's the rational thing to do despite wanting to hold on to beliefs which cannot be reasonably justified.

Besides, I see no reason at all for thinking the OTF should lead us to complete and utter skepticism. None. It’s merely a test to critically evaluate one’s culturally adopted religious faith with the same type of skepticism s/he uses to evaluate other religious faiths. As I have argued, the kind of skepticism involved here is a reasonable one and something we should all adopt about religious faith, especially one’s own. The more outlandish and extraordinary the claim is then the more evidence we should require to support such a claim. This is very reasonable and I see no reason to think otherwise at all.

When it comes to skepticism in general though, it should be thought of as resting on a continuum, anyway. Some claims we should be extremely skeptical about (“I saw a pink elephant;” “the CIA is dogging my steps”), while others on the opposite side will not require much skepticism at all (“there is a material world;” “if you drop a book it will fall to the ground;” “George Washington was the first President of America”). I do indeed think we should have a healthy amount of skepticism toward all of our beliefs on this continuum. Skepticism is virtue. What's wrong with that?

112 comments: