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:

John W. Loftus said...

Let me simply put it this way, what's wrong with skepticism? What's wrong with demanding evidence? You do that with the religious faiths you reject. If you don't do this same thing with your own culturally adopted faith then why do you operate with a double standard? That's not being intellectually honest. How can you possibly justify this double standard?

kiwi said...

I'm not sure to understand people who oppose this "test"; I think we can all agree that a healthy dose of skepticism is necessary in our life, otherwise we would be a bunch of gullible idiots. This is especially true when it concerns matter for which there is substantial controversy, like religions.

Or is it that some people do agree that we shouldn't blindly believe religious claims, but not because of this "test", but for other reasons?

I mean, I could nit-pick on some details of the "outsider test for faith", but the general idea is hard to argue against.

Anthony said...

"....fails the outsider test"

I started scratching my head after Reppert kept repeating this same reframe. The question kept coming up in my mind, why does he think these fail the test? It is obvious to me that he misunderstands what the outsider test is about. It essentially asks you to objectively test your assumptions why is that so hard to understand.

John W. Loftus said...

You know, the more I read the Christian responses to the OTF, the more I scatch my head like Anthony does. I mean, for crying out loud, what is so objectionable about it that the believer wants to argue against it, deny its validity, or refuse to take the test? It really stands an a non-objectionable test in and of itself. Look at it this way. Wenever we want to test our beliefs we should do so with skepticism. This is the only way to be objective about our beliefs. I mean, what else is there but doubt when we want to see if what we believe is correct? Skepticism is a virtue and helps us weed out the good from the bad. In no other area do we test what we believe with faith or hope or wishful thinking of any kind, that is, if we really want to know the truth. This fact alone should sound like an alarm bell to the believer. If you do not like the test then may I suggest you are denying something that is as obvious as anything you believe to be true, and if that's the case then you really do not want to know whether your faith is true. But then, once you realize this you are closer to the truth than you have been before.

Christian believer, does the alarm bell ring loud in your ears when you're challenged with the OTF? Then that bell is telling you something significant. You know your faith will not be able to stand the test and you also don't want to really know the truth.

Admit it.

Brad Haggard said...

John, my brain is in a code blue right now because of the OTF.

You said yourself that skepticism is a continuum, and I happen to think that you are being too skeptical in your evaluation of the evidence. There is such a thing as solipsism.

And what's more, you note that circumstances affect our beliefs. But you're immune? I went through my own OTF a while ago, but I came back to faith. Do you really think that your arguments are rationally coercive?

John W. Loftus said...

Brad, I'm not being too skeptical here at all. I'm arguing that you ought to be just as skeptical of your own culturally adopted religious faith as you are toward others faiths you reject. How can that be too skeptical?

No, I'm not immune from circumstances affecting what I believe at all. This psychological fact should lead us all toward skepticism. Why do you think it should lead me or anyone toward faith? I don't understand such reasoning if you think this is the case.

And yes, I think my arguments are rationally coercive, as much as any arguments can be across this great divide of ours. I am arguing that we should become skeptics about that which we affirm, all of us, yes. That's again why I am an agnostic atheist. And an agnostic Christian seems to be an oxymoron but that would be the equivalent. Still the fact that we could all be wrong about that which we believe does not grant you permission to turn around using that kind of skepticism and embrace the Christian faith, since this faith cannot survive the OTF.

As I said elsewhere:

Look, we know most people will believe most any tale if it's told by a sincere person whom they respect. WE KNOW THIS! And we also know that once people believe something to be true they will seek to confirm it and they will discount contrary evidence. WE KNOW THIS! One example of this is the Placebo effect. So once again, what exactly is wrong with being skeptical about that which we were taught to believe? Christian, don't say that I must also be skeptical of that which I affirm, because I am. That's why I describe myself as an agnostic atheist. You need to deal with this question and not deflect it back to me. You need to be skeptical about that which you were taught to believe.

guitarstrummr said...

"I mean, for crying out loud, what is so objectionable about it that the believer wants to argue against it, deny its validity, or refuse to take the test?"

Because they could end up figuring out it is wrong (or being forced to admit it) and they - as my brother once admitted - "like it".

guitarstrummr said...

I have found so few believers who actually care about what is true that it is almost sad. They want their faith to be true, so they will find what they want to say it is true. It is about what they want, not what is actually true. Their beliefs give them a comfort and security - like a blanket. A little child may be quite secure without its blanket but you won't be able to get it to submit to a "test" to prove that it can be secure without it!

Plus, most believers are committed to what they believe on a personal level based on interpersonal faithfulness. For them to seriously question the faithfulness of Christ reduces their own character in their own eyes. They are being unfaithful - whether he exists or not. So it probably takes a massive amount of courage - and 'faith' - to honestly question that relationship. Just like being in a long-term relationship and seeing the signs things are not good is not normally enough to make a person seriously address the validity of the relationship.

At the end of the day Christians don't care about truth, they care about comfort. Most of them probably need to know they will be quite comfortable without their faith before they submit to a test like this.

My two cents, anyway.

ahswan said...

John, I don't think you're being skeptical enough- the outsider test also needs to be applied to your own skepticism; or rather, a new kind of test, as you can't use your own methods to prove the validity of your methods.

To quote from your post, "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." Your own sense of logic - in fact, your whole concept of rationalism - is cultural as well. Even to say that your thinking is obviously better than 15th Century or Oriental thought is a modern concept, based in a post-Cartesian worldview.

I think your methods, in fact, have already been shown to be philosophically flawed. They only appear to work if you can convince people to work within your constraints.

Eric said...

The Outsider Test will not be complete until someone attempts to define just what remains when we step 'outside' X, and until someone attempts to defend why what remains need not be subject to such a test itself. Let me clarify this.

Suppose a Christian decides to take the Outsider Test. Obviously, this would entail that he assumes an attitude of skepticism about all of the articles of his faith -- the same level of skepticism he brings to his analyses of other religious faiths or ideologies. The reason for this skepticism, according to John's arguments, is the religious dependency thesis. However, *by far*, most of what our hypothetical Christian believes, *even after we subtract his religious belief*, depends in the very same way as his religious faith on both where and when he was raised. In other words, does the Outsider Test, *if consistently applied*, leave the now skeptical believer with any significant premises to work with *that are not sociologically determined --both diachronically and synchronically -- in the same way his religious beliefs are*? There simply *must* be such a set of premises if the Outsider Test is to survive the onslaught of its own criterion, since it does no good to step 'outside' one's faith because of its sociological dependency if one is still 'inside' some other socially dependent set of beliefs, and using those beliefs as the premises with which he undertakes the test. Until these premises are clearly elucidated, justified and shown to obtain without reference to any sociological dependency (so that they are not themselves subject to the same criticisms they are supposed to be used to address), the Outsider Test remains too vague, too poorly formulated, and too uncritical to be taken seriously.

I want to distinguish here between the notion that one should 'be skeptical' on the one hand, and the Outsider Test on the other. I have no problem with the former, *but the latter cannot be reduced to the former*. The Outsider Test isn't simply the reasonable admonition of skepticism; it's an argument for a specific skeptical approach that is justified by appealing to specific sociological facts. As such, it's obviously possible to criticize it on grounds that cannot be answered with an unthinking, "What's wrong with skepticism?" response. Such a response misses the point; the issue isn't skepticism as such, but the Outsider Test. Ironically, this uncritical response demonstrates that those who criticize the Outsider Test often understand it far better than those who advocate it!

(As a heads up, I'm going to post this response at Victor's blog as well, since the dicsussion began over there.)

guitarstrummr said...

"John, I don't think you're being skeptical enough- the outsider test also needs to be applied to your own skepticism; or rather, a new kind of test, as you can't use your own methods to prove the validity of your methods."

Oh God, that is one of the weirdest arguments I have ever heard. Wow John, people are scraping the bottom of the barrel here...

guitarstrummr said...

Okay, I have to admit I just do not understand the Christian responses at all unless they are simply equivocations.

Either Christianity is true or it is not.

If it is not, it will have all the earmarks of any other religion which Christians reject.

If it has these earmarks, one is justified (and encouraged) to reject it as they have rejected all the other religions.

If one does not reject it then they are being inconsistent, intellectually dishonest, and are not following the golden rule itself.

Super simple. That's it.

John has seen that Christianity looks exactly like all the other religions he "rejected" (Mormonism, Jehovah's Witnesses, Islam, etc.) and feels compelled to reject Christianity too.

He now invites Christians to question their faith the same way they question Mormonism or Islam.

Follow the golden rule Christians and stop equivocating and making stuff up and hemming and hawing. This is a moral issue as much as it is an intellectual one. Morally you are compelled to reject your own religion on the same grounds that you reject your neighbors.

Joe Staub said...

John,

I've done the OTF several times over the years. There is nothing new here. I do this on a regular basis because I am just wired to question everything. In fact, I really like putting myself in the other guy's shoes so that I can try to understand him and to feel what it is like to be where he is. Reading your book was an occassion for such a re-evaluation. I even became a closet atheist for a while, your book being one of several that I read during that time, so that I could be, I thought, fair with the arguments and myself. I see many potential problems with Christianity, but nothing that requires disbelief in the foundamental things - like the resurrection. I could leave the faith, but I don't have a good enough reason, even in the face of competing religions. And, even in the face of competing Atheism. I am sympathetic toward Atheism, but it too falls short of providing enough certainty to embrace it. I maintain that the evidence on both sides can only be stacked up to approximate what you claim. Between the top of the evidential stack and the claim is trust or faith. I realize that you agree with this, but also maintain that the degree of evidence is greatly in your favor. I'll grant you that, but not to tip the scale.

guitarstrummr said...

Joe: that's the best your God can give people?

If Christianity is true, wow... I would expect better.

One would hope that the evidence would be super strong so that no one would be justified in rejecting it.

But its not, even by your own admission.

Its weak. Weak enough it just requires a leap of faith.

How can God then justly send someone like John to hell?

Joe Staub said...

GS, I was wondering if I should even make the comment I made as I merely state a principle without backing it up. LOL. So I agree with you; I didn't give you anything to go on. I am not in a position to give details - while taking a break at work - but here is my response to you. I embrace Christianity on the grounds that it is a coherent world-view that is defensible and compared with other religious belief systems, such as Mormonism, Islam, it has no rival. I am seminary trained and I read a good deal. I don't have John's background, not as refined in my thinking as he is and I am not as well read. But, I honestly do not see a need to believe in evolution as one case in point. It is kind of like the argument over global warming. There are good scientists on both sides and all with good arguments. But, the prevailing popular notion is that mankind is causing global warming and we can stop it. Christianity is a unique religion in its concept of salvation and its answer to mankinds problem of both sin and suffering. On this site, I see a lot of characturizations of the Bible, God, and religious issues. I other words, I see a lot of straw man argumentation. It sounds good and is very convincing for those who don't want to believe in God, but for those who do the dog barks but doesn't hunt.

Mattie said...

Loftus,

Let's grant you that all the relevant counterfactuals about religious beliefs are true, ie. that for me say, as a Christian believer, it will be true that for any religious belief X,

P) Had I been brought up in an Xist community I would've been an Xist.

What follows from this? Not much I think. It isn't obvious that what happens to me in other possible worlds should have much of a bearing on how I currently assess the evidence.

For instance, suppose I hold to the following principle:

S) If it seems to you that p, then you are prima facie justified in believing that p.

Now you can have as many of the relevant counterfactuals as you like, but none of them will change the fact that, in this world, Christianity seems more plausible than the relevant religious alternatives. Why should it?

Maybe you might appeal to a reliabilist epistemology, but plenty of people aren't reliabilists.

Anthony said...

Eric: I want to distinguish here between the notion that one should 'be skeptical' on the one hand, and the Outsider Test on the other. I have no problem with the former, *but the latter cannot be reduced to the former*. The Outsider Test isn't simply the reasonable admonition of skepticism

Eric, the outsider test for faith is an admonition to be skeptical. You are making a distinction where none is needed.

it's an argument for a specific skeptical approach that is justified by appealing to specific sociological facts.

This is the problem. You assume that John is arguing for some type of nuanced view of skepticism, when if fact he is not (if I understand him correctly). The appeal to the psychological, sociological, and anthropological data is to give justification for why a person should examine their religious views from a objective viewpoint.

RD Miksa said...

Good Evening Mr. Loftus,

Just a quick question for you: Is not your very claim, as stated, self-defeating due to its first premise? Let me explain.

You state that: "The amount of skepticism warranted depends on the number of rational people who disagree..."

The problem here is who can objectively claim to determine which people are "rational" and which are not. Furthermore, if skepticism is a virtue and I should be skeptical of various claims, then should I not be skeptical of the very people that claim that they are rational in addition to being skeptical of the very people that claim that they have determined which people are rational or not?

For example, I am sure that the people you would qualify as rational would differ (at least in part) from the people that I would qualify as rational and therefore, you must be skeptical of my "rational group" and I must be skeptical of yours. But then are these people rational or not, or does it just depend on our subjective belief of who we see as rational...which, of course--because it is a belief--must be subject to skepticism, as per your statement. And around and around the circle goes.

Thus, if the above points are valid, then how does your claim ever get off the ground, as it seems that I must be continuously skeptical of the very first premise on which it rests.

Take care.

(This was also cross-posted at the Dangerous Idea Blog)

Victor Reppert said...

I guess we've got to get some clarification on the concept of being skeptical. If what it is to be skeptical is just to entertain skeptical questions about one's beliefs, to subject them to scrutiny, to take seriously possible evidence against them and to ask what reasons can be given for them, then I have been performing the Outsider Test since 1972. When I was an undergraduate I incessantly annoyed my friends with objections to Christianity; in fact, one of my closest friends from that time remarked that I was an expert at finding objections to Christianity, even though I was a Christian.

If this is a reason to reject the maxim of my undergraduate philosophy teacher (an atheist) "You ought to believe what you already believe, unless you have evidence that what you believe is not true," then I wouldn't endorse that kind of skepticism. If I have to try to find a neutral position from which to do all my reasoning, I just don't think there is one.

Is this an attempt to overthrow Reformed Epistemology and accept some sort of classical foundationalism? The problems for the classical foundationalist enterprise are well-documented.

Further, a religion based on special revelation, unless that revelation is written in the skies or something like that, has to be given to one group of people and then spread. That being the case, there are bound to be disparities with respect to who gets the message and who doesn't. That should be no surprise to anyone.

We have to work from our antecedent probabilities (which are admittedly not objective) and adjust based on the evidence. There's no other way to go about it. We are the people we are, not other people, even if we can do the best we can to put ourselves in the shoes of others.

Eric said...

"Eric, the outsider test for faith is an admonition to be skeptical. You are making a distinction where none is needed."

Absolutely false. First, you are treating the notion of 'skepticism' as if it were somehow monolithic. Nothing could be further from the truth. To take the most obvious example, look at the distinction between Cartesian skepticism and the postmodern skepticism off metanarratives. There simply are sundry variants of skepticism, so the notion that the OTF can just be reduced to some amorphous 'skepticism' is patently false.

The second point follows from your next comment:

"This is the problem. You assume that John is arguing for some type of nuanced view of skepticism, when if fact he is not (if I understand him correctly). *The appeal to the psychological, sociological, and anthropological data is to give justification for why a person should examine their religious views from a objective viewpoint*."

Anthony, read that last sentence again, since it's all important. Here, you're referring to John's argument for the OTF. Note, *it's an argument for the OTF*. Already, therefore, we can distinguish it from other variants of skepticism, since it distinguishes itself with the very premises it uses to justify its skeptical conclusion. It's skeptical conclusion also distinguishes it: we are to approach our faith with a skepticism that exhibits qualities that allow it to be categorized as an analysis 'from the outside' of one's set of religious beliefs.

To illustrate my point, take Carteisian skepticism as an example. It doesn't rest on the sociological fact that people's beliefs are culturally conditioned, but on the fact that it's logically possible for nearly all of our beliefs to be false. Now, any premise Descartes wants to assert as true, or as the foundation of knowledge, cannot fail this criterion -- i.e. it cannot be logically possible that such a belief is false (whether he succeeded is irrelevant). The same is true of John's OTF: if we are to question our beliefs from the 'outside,' then we must be left with some premises to work with. Those premises cannot themselves be culturally dependent, or the subsequent analysis we undertake will not truly be 'from the outside.' It's not enough to say, 'But they're from outside the Christian faith,' for the fundamental issue is that those Christian beliefs must be tested *because they're culturally dependent*. Hence, it obviously cannot be the case, by parity of reasoning, that the premises with which one tests his faith are culturally dependent.

So, before the OTF can be rendered intelligible, one must *clearly* state a set of premises from which a skeptical believer 'on the outside' can reason, one must justify those premises, and one must justify the notion that these premises are not culturally dependent.

openlyatheist said...

Of course, it isn't called The Outsider Test For Science, or The Outsider Test For Politics. You'd think critics would get the gist of what the argument is about by its title.

Andre said...

I wonder John if this is another topic that you'll also soon tire of. I just don't understand what is so hard to understand about the OTF.

Well, I do know how it might/can be difficult for most Christians to do though. It's probably very similar to asking them to suspend their belief that God doesn't exist. I remember when someone told me they didn't believe in God, I couldn't understand what that meant because he was so real to me. I was stunned, shocked and confused all at once. At the time, I'd never met someone who didn't believe. I was sure of God's existence just as much as I was sure my mother was my mother. But now, that moment that I'll never forget, is one I always use to put myself back into one form of a Christian mindset.

For them to question their Christian faith is to question who their parents are. But no one here is saying you should be skeptical about your birth parents (though some do find out later in their life about their "real" parents), this is not "Debunking Parents".

If your religion is telling you that this it is the one true religion, then that is telling you that everyone else is in the wrong one. But the other religions also think they're right, so then that should lead you to wonder on what basis could they possibly think they're right while you think they're wrong. That should make you question if you could be in that same situation.

This was what I did growing up, when I asked my mother, why is it that we were so lucky to have been born into the true church (SDA) and others were not. I wasn't comfortable with her answer that we had the right interpretation. I knew something was wrong, but little did I know then that I only needed to apply the OTF. And this is an example only within Christianity.

You can then decide to question your faith (if you haven't already), and feel like it passed the test. But others can do the same and come away feeling the same also. So it is obviously not as simple as testing and passing that makes it true, since they all can't be true. You can say, but one of us can be. Even if I grant Christianity to be true (and I'm being biased only because I was brainwashed into it), the fact that people adopt the religion of their culture and community for the most part, and at least at first, shows that most Christians would believe anyways even if it is not true, just like everyone else in their religion.

What am I to make of this when I see everyone claiming the right religions? I think I should be skeptical of any truth claims. And I think some people might be stuck on the idea that one of these religions must be the true one. But the truth could also be that none is objectively true. This makes the most sense to me as I see no evidence for any religious claims about God's revelation to man, except man's revelation to man.

Eric said...

"Of course, it isn't called The Outsider Test For Science, or The Outsider Test For Politics. You'd think critics would get the gist of what the argument is about by its title."

I'm sorry, but no rational person evaluates an argument by looking to its title; you evaluate an argument by looking at the argument itself. You can't say that religious belief is dubious because of its culturally dependent origins, and advocate that one test that belief from the outside, unless you can provide some means of testing that belief that does not itself appeal to culturally dependent premises.

Steven said...

Eric,

I find your objections to be amusing and a bit ironic. You keep trying to dismiss the OTF on technicalities (some of which I think are legitimate to a certain degree), but Andre's post right above yours shows pretty plainly why the OTF or something like it is so important. Meanwhile you completely avoid that point of reality, too intent on proving a point of philosophy. You're not seeing the forest for the trees.

Eric said...

"I find your objections to be amusing and a bit ironic. You keep trying to dismiss the OTF on technicalities (some of which I think are legitimate to a certain degree)"

Steven, I wouldn't call the requirements of consistency, intelligibility and clarity 'technicalities,' but we'll just have to disagree there.

"Andre's post right above yours shows pretty plainly why the OTF or something like it is so important. Meanwhile you completely avoid that point of reality, too intent on proving a point of philosophy. You're not seeing the forest for the trees."

That's not true at all. For example, I agree entirely with the sort of skepticism Victor Reppert refers to in his post above; note, however, that the type of skepticism he refers to is not consistent with the OTF *if we take the arguments for the OTF seriously*. And I thought that this is what we're all here to do, viz. take the arguments seriously.

Victor Reppert said...

Yes, it's the outsider test for faith. But isn't it special pleading if the test is applied only to a certain class of beliefs, but not to all our beliefs. Are you suggesting that we should test religious beliefs by a standard we would not dare use in considering our belief in the external world, or our moral beliefs, our political beliefs, or our scientific beliefs? Why treat religious beliefs differently? That's what I said was cheating.

bob said...

I think I have gotten lost in all the back and forth here.

It seems to me that the OTF can be (should be) performed by the person of faith by applying the same skeptical approach to their own personal faith, that they apply to other faiths that they disregard based on skepticism of those faiths. It will be difficult, that process, if not psychologically impossible for many, but it seems completely reasonable to me, to ask the person of faith to honestly attempt this approach. If you disregard other faiths that you are outside of, why not see if your own faith can stand up to the very same skepticism you exercise against those other faiths?

I don't understand why the Christian finds fault in this request.

John W. Loftus said...

Eric, since you are demanding an outside place to stand on in order to judge your own religious faith then there is one good suggestion I have for you. Ever hear of W.V.O. Quine's web of beliefs? In the center of our beliefs are the rock solid ones impervious to doubt. If I remember correctly the core is made up of logical truths. I forget the rest, but may I suggest that surrounding that core are the evidence of the senses, and then beyond that is scientific testing and mathematical equations based upon the evidence of the senses. Included in these scientific beliefs is methodological naturalism which has a massive amount of confirmation to it, after all you use that method to judge other religious faiths, just like you use Hume's standards when assessing the claims of the miracles you reject. Those beliefs can be the core outside standing place for you to judge the religious faith you were born into. What's not to understand about this? And then you can proceed by doing the things I suggested in my original essay by way of applying the OTF.

If that doesn't work for you then realize this: Skepticism needs no method, really. The skeptic, upon hearing of an extraordinary claim merely says "I doubt it, show me." And then he looks for a great amount of evidence to support such a claim, all the while he has a family, a job, and a life, for he's merely assessing the extraordinary claims of something unnecessary for the rest of his day to day life, much like assessing someone who claims to have seen the devil in the sky.

Other than that, I don't know what to say to you, but for all of your learning you seem dense to me. No, blind as a bat. No, brainwashed, yes, brainwashed, for you are indeed a rational person since you think rationally. But that's the best and only way to describe you at this point. Brainwashed.

You simply refuse to pluck out your eyes and examine them. Wait. Here's another example. Let's use glasses instead of eyes here. You see the world through colored glasses, your "God glasses." In order to see what I'm asking you to see you need to put on your "no-God" glasses. That's right! Try them on for a change. See what the world looks like with them on. One way that can help you do this is to immerse yourself in the psychology of beliefs and the psychology of persuasion to see how malleable your mind really is. Another way is to become an anthropologist and live among the aborigines for a couple of years. Barring doing that with several different cultures you could simply read the books of anthropologists who have done that with the various cultures they each studied. Then you will learn through their eyes how it's true we don't "see" culture. No, we see "WITH" culture. Maybe by doing so you'll be helped to transcend your own particular religious culture like I'm asking you to try. But as I said, only the brave the honest and the consistent will ever do this. You need to try.

Have you read my book yet? Are your fearful of reading it? That too is an indicator you don't want to know the truth. And that too should sound the alarm bell that what I'm saying is the case, if you are indeed fearful of reading it.

Cheers.

John W. Loftus said...

Vic, I'm claiming that religious beliefs are the kinds of beliefs that require the most skepticism for all of the reasons specified. While we should be somewhat skeptical of other beliefs we have, like moral and political beliefs, the ones at the core of our web of beliefs are increasingly less susceptible to doubt. If you have a problem with this then you need to articulate exactly what that problem is and why it is that what I wrote in response to your criticisms here are faulty in some way.

Cheers.

Eric said...

John, thanks for the response (even though you called me brainwashed! Heck, I may just be...I prefer Carrier's recent remark about Craig, though, since it universalizes the notion that we're all blinkered in some sense, i.e. self deluded).

"Ever hear of W.V.O. Quine's web of beliefs? In the center of our beliefs are the rock solid ones impervious to doubt."

I will have to consider your proposal of Quine's central beliefs ('deep seated' if I remember correctly) as the place from which to proceed with the OTF. As I'm sure you know, there's a lot there to think about, so I don't want to respond too hastily. However, I must point out that the point of the web metaphor was to provide an alternative to foundationalism, so even if you take Quine as your point of reference, I'm not sure you're beginning with the 'rock solid' beliefs you claim (N.b., I don't think you need to start from such beliefs in the first place. My argument wasn't that they need to be rock solid and undeniable, but that they need to be justified and not sociologically determined).

"Skepticism needs no method, really. The skeptic, upon hearing of an extraordinary claim merely says "I doubt it, show me." And then he looks for a great amount of evidence to support such a claim"

I disagree with this. Skepticism, sans method and standards of evidence, is either arbitrary or a universal acid. Before we even make the choice to be skeptical, we need to determine what to be skeptical of, what counts as evidence, how much is enough, and so on, and this amounts to a method. (Here's a funny story about what the ancients called 'the reduction to babbling' approach to dealing with a certain kind of skeptic. During a philosophical debate, a skeptic would claim that we cannot know that P, but only that it's probable that P. Someone would ask the skeptic, "Do you know it's probable that P?" The skeptic would respond, "It's probable that it's probable that P." Someone else would ask, "Do you know that?" The skeptic would say, "It's probable that it's probable that it's probable that P." As the other philosophers went about their serious discussion, they'd wait for the skeptic to finish his latest response, and call out "But do you know that?" leaving the skeptic in the corner babbling, "It's probable that it's probable that it's probable that it's probable that it's probable...")

openlyatheist said...

I said..."Of course, it isn't called The Outsider Test For Science, or The Outsider Test For Politics. You'd think critics would get the gist of what the argument is about by its title."

To which Eric replied, for some unknown reason: "I'm sorry, but no rational person evaluates an argument by looking to its title"


No one has suggested any such stupidity. That's why I use the word 'gist.' But a rational person WOULD actually read an argument's title, and, upon further examination, recognize that an argument addressing faith is addressing faith.

Which brings us to...

Victor Reppert said: "Why treat religious beliefs differently?"

Wow. If there's any better example of the pot calling the kettle black, or a more brazen display of ignorance toward Loftus' work in particular, it is that statement right there. The Christian claiming that it is the atheist employing a double standard in the evaluation of faith claims. I've seen it all.

Ironically, it is not Loftus judging faith by a different standard than, lets say science. He correctly points out that faith and science really are different: “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…”

The reason creationism is laughed at in the rest of the educated world is precisely because is is a cultural phenomenon. Geologists in Japan have never confirmed a 6,000 year old Earth. If creationism were true, just like if Christianity were true, I would expect to see those following the path of evidence to converge upon that single vector. But that isn’t the vector people end up on when the take the Outsider Test.


As for Christians who are afraid to dip their toes in the waters outside their culturally mandated beliefs, they are just making excuses because they cannot rise to the intellectual challenge. The OTF is a modern take on a test that many have taken before, without whining, and here’s some proof:

I was amazed when I first learned of Gora. Imagine, a man who was born into a high Hindu caste in India, but able to take the step outside of his culture and arrive at atheism.

And how about that Wang Chong guy? Who, rather than towing the Confucionist party line, developed "a rational, secular, naturalistic, and mechanistic account of the world and of human beings" in the 1st century.

Funny how thinkers like these did not step out of their culturally mandated beliefs, both of which would be considered false by Christians anyway, only to find themselves in an ethical and existential void, or become spiritually lost because of a newfound need for a crucified savior. They ended up on essentially the same vector.

Brad Haggard said...

John,

Let me clarify a little. I don't really have a problem with the OTF, I went through it myself. It bothers me that because I came out on the other side of faith than you, somehow I wasn't "honest" or "objective" in my search. (sounds like a fundy line to me)

The main problem that I have is your assertion that Christianity somehow fails categorically the OTF. I am an immediate falsifying example of that notion. And if this were true, then no one would ever come to faith today by missionary work, which surely you know is spreading like wildfire everywhere outside of the West. Unless those people who are "outside" are somehow irrational, but then your argument becomes circular.

Come on, calling someone "naive" or "un-objective" is simply an intellectual bully tactic. And most of the apologists I read were former atheists, such as Moreland, McGrath, and Boyd.

Eric said...

"But a rational person WOULD actually read an argument's title, and, upon further examination, recognize that an argument addressing faith is addressing faith."

And, presumably, a rational person would see that the argument's justificatory premises have implications that reach far beyond faith claims. If X is suspect *because* it is sociologically dependent, then so is any non-X that's sociologically dependent. Since we need to approach X with some non-X -- that is the essence of the test, you know -- you need to provide some non-X that's *not* sociologically dependent if you want to defend the very *possibility* of the test in the first place. Hence my non-trivial point about the trivial nature of an argument's 'title'...

guitarstrummr said...

Joe, Joe, Joe...

sigh

"I embrace Christianity on the grounds that it is a coherent world-view that is defensible and compared with other religious belief systems, such as Mormonism, Islam, it has no rival."

Listen man, by your own admission your primary study has been Christianity. Right?

Smart people can invent explanations to make any worldview appear plausible. Talk to a ufologist.

To an untrained "seminarian" like you, Christianity can look quite stupid. To the outside observer, anyway.

You are an outside observer of Islam and you are untrained in Islam, so Islam looks like it has nothing against Christianity.

So you reject those things you have not studied the most, and you accept the thing you have studied the most.

Umm... that is exactly what the OTF *predicts*.

To an untrained Christian, Christianity can look dumb. To an untrained Muslim, Islam can look dumb. To a trained Christian, Christianity has no rival. To a trained Muslim, Islam has no rival.

That's what the OTF is about.

:)

Scott said...

Mattie wrote: Now you can have as many of the relevant counterfactuals as you like, but none of them will change the fact that, in this world, Christianity seems more plausible than the relevant religious alternatives. Why should it?

First, we had a Republican presidential candidate who was a Mormon. When hired as CEO of the 2002 Olympic winter games, Romney turned a $379 million financial crisis of into a $100 million profit. How could such a well educated person fail to "see" what is apparently so obvious to you? If you are correct, how is this possible? What does this say about religious belief?

Second, to reach the shores of theism, I need a sea worthy ship. Regardless of how many theistic ships are available to me, I will reject each and every one of them if they fail to stay afloat. While Christianity may have fewer holes than others, allowing it to stay above water bit longer, it too eventually sinks to the bottom with the others before reaching the opposite shore.

In other words, even if, for the sake of argument, Christianity is the most plausible among a group of highly implausible religions, why should this justify it's acceptance or belief?

Joe Staub said...

Brad,

An excellent comment! I too have taken the test and am still a Christian. The test is nothing new, because it is simply human nature to question your own beliefs and you have to put yourself in the shoes of the "other guy" to do it right. We are all doubting Thomas' in one degree or another. I have periodically, over many years, stepped back to re-evaluate what I believe and why in the face of new information and in the face of challenges to my faith. I am a natural skeptic, too.

One of the problems I have with what John and others like to do here often is compare the Christian Faith to things like "seeing devils in the sky" and "the flying Spaghetti Monster", "Zues". These are false comparisons and John knows it. As for Mormonism and Biblical truth, even the Smithsonian Institution uses the Bible for historical and archealogical research, whereas they will not use the Book of Mormon, finding it utterly unhistorical. There really is no comparison. Just read the two and you see this. I encourage all Christians to take some form of an OTF. It's a great exercise in faith testing.

Furthermore, Since I mentioned the history of the Bible, I would not argue for Inerrancy of the Bible. That is not "required" for belief in the Christian Gospel or belief in the basic veracity of the Bible. Just take it as any kind of historical record that can contain mistakes for various reasons and you still can have faith in the Christian Gospel.

Joe Staub said...

GS,

If Christianity looked stupid to the outside observer then why is Christianity a world-wide converting religion? That is, people in other cultures change their belief to embrace Christianity precisely because it makes sense.

Also, I agree with you that it is hard not be an objective and knowledgeable critic of one's own belief system. I have honstly tried. in fact, I think my training and background in compartive religion helps me to do this quite well. I do see problems, as I said, but not enough to "require" change. There is no smoking gun to prove atheism or another religion or to falsify Chrisitianity. Craig once said that if you found the tomb of Jesus and his body was still there, then Christianity would be falsified. I agree and I wait for that evidence.

Scott said...

Eric and Victor,

Apparently, you think John hasn't provided a good enough reason to apply the same skepticism to Christianity that you apply to other religions. Given that such an evaluation wouldn't be a threat to Christianity if was true, it's unclear why such technically motivated objections are being brought forward.

Perhaps we can approach this from a different direction.

Since other religions make claims about objective truth, morality and miracles through revelation, holy texts, etc., you apparently think you have found a good enough reason to exclude Christianity from the same skepticism.

What is this reason? What prevents those of different faiths from using this same reason to exclude their religion from the same skepticism?

bob said...

Joe Straub said: "If Christianity looked stupid to the outside observer then why is Christianity a world-wide converting religion? That is, people in other cultures change their belief to embrace Christianity precisely because it makes sense."

I submit that the reason people convert to Christianity is because they are being evangelized. It has nothing to do with "making sense".

BTW, Mormonism has been growing faster than traditional Christianity. Is it because it makes more sense?

Joe Staub said...

Bob,

I think the reason Mormonism is growing is because it's surface message is so similar to Christianity, so that the message is not much different - on the surface. Also, they are masterful organizers and evagelists. So I agree with you on the evangelism explanation to a point.

The message of Christianity is a world view that has answers to mankind's most troubling problems. That is why it is adopted. Furthermore, to the thinking and rational person it has substance because it is rooted in historical events. When you start going deeper with Mormonism you then see a great distance between the Bible and the Book of Mormon. Christianity is nothing like the "Spaghetti Monster" concept of God.

But, if you have a non-Christian religion where you are part of a believing community (let's call this the faith by accident of birth) and then the Christian message is communicated (evangelized) to you, why would you leave the faith you grew up with and the community you live in if it did not provide answers that your current faith system did not possess? There are probably many different reaons, but I would contend that people, for the most part, leave their faith systems because their faith existentially fails them. They then look for another way to explain reality. This is what happened to John and me too, for a long time. What I have learned is that Christianity is still the most coherent and reasonable world view I know of, despite my bad experiences and problems with it.

Anthony said...

Joe: ...to the thinking and rational person it [Christianity] has substance because it is rooted in historical events.

Joe, for me the clincher for why I ended up rejecting Christianity was due to the problems of historicity. You say that Christianity is rooted in "historical events" and I agree that it's supposed to, but what happens when you begin to realize that many of these "historical events" never happened, especially those that are critical to the message of "salvation history." May I recommend Kenton Sparks book "God Word in Human Words: An Evangelical Appropriation of Critical Biblical Scholarship." Sparks is still an evangelical but the amount of material that he relates regarding the problems of biblical criticism and historicity just swept away the historical foundation of Christianity for me.

Joe Staub said...

Anthony, I will read this book if you will read Bauckham, "Jesus and the Eyewitnesses", which is the latest argument for the historicity of the gospels.

Also, I read several people that try to assert that since the gospels were "biography" they are not history. Probably got this from Ehrman. Biography is history, but the data is selected or shaped to tell a story. All this convinces me of is that the four gospels provide four different perspectives on Jesus. So what. If my wife wrote a biography of me and my son wrote one of me, they would be different, but still a legitimate historical account of me.

Anthony said...

Joe: Anthony, I will read this book if you will read Bauckham, "Jesus and the Eyewitnesses", which is the latest argument for the historicity of the gospels.

Joe, sure I will read Bauckham's book. I have it in my library and have been wanting to read it, I will make it a higher priority in my reading list.

Also, I read several people that try to assert that since the gospels were "biography" they are not history.

I would say with Carrier that history is not really the intention of the Gospel writers, but I will grant your point as biography can still contain history, although history is not its main focus.

I have had several Christians tell me that the resurrection is the clincher for them regarding the truth of Christianity and that everything else will simply fall into place. That is putting the cart before the horse. There are many things that need to be established first before we even get to the question of the resurrection. For example the basic historicity of critical persons and events in the Old Testament, the correctness of the New Testament authors interpretation of the OT Messianic prophecies, after all, if Jesus of Nazareth is not the prophesied Messiah then Christianity is not true. These and many other aspects of the OT need to be settled first then we can begin to look at the New Testament and eventually the question of the resurrection.

Philip R Kreyche said...

Craig once said that if you found the tomb of Jesus and his body was still there, then Christianity would be falsified. I agree and I wait for that evidence.

Of course you've managed to pick the one piece of evidence that could never ever be scientifically decided upon. For example, how would we ever know which grave was the one Jesus was buried in? If we found that it was the right grave, and there was no body, how could it be proven that the body wasn't stolen or desecrated by thieves? If there was a body found, how would we prove or disprove it was Jesus, without DNA to test it against?

You've set up a conveniently impossible test to disprove your faith, and you sit back confidently and claim that it's all one has to do to prove you wrong, despite the fact that there are many many other worthy arguments that can be used against Christianity.

openlyatheist said...

Eric continues to miss the point saying: "you need to provide some non-X that's *not* sociologically dependent"

First; Ironically, atheism is that non-X that is sociologically independent. It is the same conclusion arrived at by an Indian ex-Hindu born in 1902, a Chinese ex-Confucianist in the 1st century, and the owner of this blog, a 21st century caucasian American ex-Christian. That's sociological independence if I've ever seen it.

Second; Neither is it true that skepticism of one's position fails as 'outside,' since we've already established that everyone can doubt the claims of others. Or that atheism doesn't qualify as a robust enough worldview. If someone needed a full blown alternative worldview for any phenomenon questioned, no one would question anything at all.

Finally; If a Christian wants to escape the OTF by claiming that any other religious points of view are culturally dependent, and therefore disqualified as an alternative 'outside,' the Christian is holding other religions to a double standard.


Joe Straub said: "...then why is Christianity a world-wide converting religion? That is, people in other cultures change their belief to embrace Christianity precisely because it makes sense."

Whoops. It is Islam that is the fastest growing religion in the world. And the above is exactly what a Muslim will tell you.


And bob said: "I submit that the reason people convert to Christianity is because they are being evangelized."

One thing's for sure; they aren't converting because Jesus ever appeared to anyone who had not already been exposed to Christian evangelism, or because archangel Michael appeared and wrestled a man in China, or because philosophers throughout history happened to realize, independently, they have been needing a sinless blood sacrifice to reunite them with a triune, omnipotent, creator deity after all these centuries.

openlyatheist said...

Joe Staub said: "Craig once said that if you found the tomb of Jesus and his body was still there, then Christianity would be falsified."

I'm still waiting for Christians to prove there was a tomb.

guitarstrummr said...

"then why is Christianity a world-wide converting religion? That is, people in other cultures change their belief to embrace Christianity precisely because it makes sense"

I think that the very fact that it is mostly uneducated people in other cultures who have never been exposed to Christianity that are the primary converts IS the answer.

They would fall for any more "advanced" religion with smart and kind people as its advocate.

guitarstrummr said...

"Craig once said that if you found the tomb of Jesus and his body was still there, then Christianity would be falsified."

This is a new one! "The needle in the haystack" fallacy.

Joe Staub said...

Philip wrote,

"You've set up a conveniently impossible test to disprove your faith, and you sit back confidently and claim that it's all one has to do to prove you wrong, despite the fact that there are many many other worthy arguments that can be used against Christianity."

Good point. It would be hard to falsify on this kind of evidence. But, I bring this argument forth because Christianity is entirely based on the resurrection of Jesus. You show that he didn't and it all comes crumbling down. And, there isn't any other religion that so ties history to God as Christianity does. The resurrection is just this tie. At the very least you can't compare the Spaghetti Monsters, Imaginary friends, and devils in the sky, with the Christian message. If you want Christians to take Atheists seriously you have to quit making silly comparisons like that.

Now, I agree that I am offering something next to impossible to falsify, so tell me what would falsify Christianity. Is there anything now known that does falsify Christianity.

Joe Staub said...

"They would fall for any more "advanced" religion with smart and kind people as its advocate."


I get your point, GS, but the principle that I am trying to establish is that the OTF claim is that Christianity looked at from the outside will appear stupid, dumb, weird, silly, what ever... As John claims. I don't see it.

Andre said...

Joe said,

"But, I bring this argument forth because Christianity is entirely based on the resurrection of Jesus. You show that he didn't and it all comes crumbling down."

And I guess if Jesus was resurrected, atheism would come crumbling down too. Do you think you can show me/us the evidence of his resurrection please? And I'm not being sarcastic, I'm not close-minded.

Joe Staub said...

Andre, by evidence, of course, you know I refer to the gospel record/accounts. So, in that sense I know you are being sarcastic. That's OK. I did not mean to suggest that evidence would be the "actual empty tomb" or something that could be observable and measurable impirically. My arguments do come down to whether or not the eyewitnesses were truthful, then whether the gospels are relatively accurate about the eye witnesses recollection, and then a relatively accurate transmission of the gospels.

I have read Ehrman on the gospels, and I am quite suprised people find him so impressive. He is saying nothing more than what liberal form/text critics have been saying for a century or more. He is a masterful communicator, he has a creative publisher and he is riding the coat tails of the today's popular atheist movement. But, educated Christians have known his line of reasoning for quite a long time. No new revelation, Bart.

Eric said...

"Eric continues to miss the point saying: "you need to provide some non-X that's *not* sociologically dependent"

No, I've not missed the point at all; rather, you've obviously failed to understand my argument.

"First; Ironically, atheism is that non-X that is sociologically independent. It is the same conclusion arrived at by an Indian ex-Hindu born in 1902, a Chinese ex-Confucianist in the 1st century, and the owner of this blog, a 21st century caucasian American ex-Christian. That's sociological independence if I've ever seen it."

There are two obvious problems here. First, if your standard of 'sociological independence' is met if different people, in different cultures, at different times can come to the same conclusion, then it follows that Christianity passes your test. But the second problem is much more serious, since it evinces a complete lack of serious reflection on your part. Atheism is, at most, the belief that god doesn't exist; at least, it's the lack of a belief that god exists. Now, if you think that either the first proposition or the second position provides one with a sufficient set of premises from which to evaluate *any* proposition P, then you haven't the slightest idea what you're talking about. As I said, you've failed to understand my argument: what you need to provide (if you wish to defend the OTF) is a set of non-sociologically dependent, justified premises that will allow one to undertake the OTF. Not only does "God doesn't exist" fail to get one started, it shows that you don't even understand the OTF, which begins with the presumption of strong skepticism, not atheism. So, no wonder you don't understand my argument; you don't even understand John's argument yet.

"Second; Neither is it true that skepticism of one's position fails as 'outside,' since we've already established that everyone can doubt the claims of others."

You're confused here because you're not thinking clearly. You can't reduce the OTF to some vague conception of 'skepticism,' as I demonstrated earlier. There is an argument justifying the OTF; if that argument establishes standards that cannot be met by one who undertakes the test, then the test is self-referentially inconsistent. That's not a good thing, BTW.

"that atheism doesn't qualify as a robust enough worldview."

I agree, which is one reason why your first remark, viz. "atheism is that non-X that is sociologically independent" doesn't hold water. Not only is it not a robust worldview; it's not even a worldview. And it certainly doesn't provide one with the conceptual resources he would need to undertake the OTF. Oh, and it's not what the OTF prescribes anyway.

"If someone needed a full blown alternative worldview for any phenomenon questioned, no one would question anything at all."

I'm not asking for a 'full blown worldview.' The fact that you think that I am is further evidence that you haven't understood the argument.

"Finally; If a Christian wants to escape the OTF by claiming that any other religious points of view are culturally dependent, and therefore disqualified as an alternative 'outside,' the Christian is holding other religions to a double standard."

First, no one is trying to 'escape' anything. The issue is whether the test is coherent, and, if so, whether it can be clarified. The rest of your comment shows, yet again, that you don't understand the OTF: The *reason* the OTF is necessary, according to John, is precisely because religious belief is culturally dependent. If the fact that X is culturally dependent justifies skepticism about X, then you *cannot* consistently accept as 'outside' any position that is itself socially dependent; if you do, you're evaluating what the OTF categorizes as a dubious claim from a position that is itself just as dubious by parity of reasoning! What good is that?

guitarstrummr said...

"I get your point, GS, but the principle that I am trying to establish is that the OTF claim is that Christianity looked at from the outside will appear stupid, dumb, weird, silly, what ever... As John claims. I don't see it."

And that is because your inside, by your own admission.

You have to step completely outside.

That's the whole point of the test.

Russ said...

Let me share a relevant personal anecdote, and then a comment.

J lurched around and throwing down her paint roller screamed, "Oh my god! I just saw a ghost walk past the door," then wide-eyed in fear she backed into a corner facing the door. She had seen a real ghost with her own eyes just as many others have claimed. The force of her reaction scared me, too.

J is a real person who, among other things, is college educated(MS degree), is a university administrator, and sits on a public school's board of education. But, none of these roles wherein the application of reason predominates prepared her for dealing with her apparition. Here, the language and interpretation from her religious superstitions instantly took hold leaving her nearly paralyzed, and, me, quite taken aback, quite disturbed at how her experience wracked her with fear.

Once I got her back to regular breathing, my naturalism kicked in and I started analyzing for what she had witnessed.

The circumstances were as follows. Outdoors it was dark. There were no window coverings. Three of the four windows were open. The room was bright white with fresh primer. The hallway was dark.

I positioned myself about how and where I remembered her standing when the incident occurred. I stooped slightly to place my eyes approximately where hers would have been. Right away I knew what she had experienced because I could see a "ghost" table in the hallway outside the room we were in. Of course, no such table existed, but I saw it nonetheless. It was in the house next door. A moment later I, too, saw the "ghost."

You see, besides the circumstances outlined above there were a few wonderful coincidences that led to her reaching for the conclusion she did. One was that she had not seen a "ghost," but had instead seen a reflection of the doorway superimposed over a direct line of sight image in the only closed window in the room. Another was that since it was dark we could not see the blue siding on the house next door. Also, the reflection of the door past which the "ghost" had walked aligned perfectly with her line of sight into a window on the neighboring house. And, finally, the neighbor just happened to be dressed for bed wandering about her bedroom at precisely the right time.

I explained to J what she had actually observed, and urged her to watch her ghost in action. Still shaken, she reluctantly stood back where she was during the sighting, and verified that the ghost was actually her decidedly earthly neighbor. I switched off the room lights and the ghost in the hallway disappeared and transformed completely into the woman next door.

There was, of course, one more necessary coincidence for "the woman next door" to be transfigured into "the ghost in the hallway": the mind crying "GHOST!" needed to be steeped in superstitions that promote belief in ghosts as real entities. I shudder to think that her mind might have been inextricably bound to accepting ghosts as part of her world if I had not been there to offer up a skeptic's perspective. This was a simple analysis to make, yet, all of her training and experience with rational pursuits failed her as the lifelong religious inculcation seized her faculties leaving her defenseless and vulnerable. For the rest of her life she might well have been weakly defending the supernatural with phrases like "I know what I saw," "I experienced it firsthand," or "You weren't there; I know ghosts are real."

It's been said that "opportunity favors the prepared mind," but an important corollary is "religion favors the unprepared mind." Indeed, if I had been a credulous sort, I may well have been strongly influenced toward her way of thinking. It makes me cringe just thinking about it. It sickens me to think that Christianity intentionally targets children and otherwise vulnerable people with these flawed interpretations of the world.

Mr. Loftus' Outsider Test for Faith urges persons of faith to, for themselves, learn to play both parts from the vignette above. If you or someone else has seen a ghost, learn to experiment to test an alternative explanation: analyze the sightlines, adjust the lighting, determine reflections, ascertain depth perception, account for preconceived notions, and otherwise, in general, see past the obstacles to correctly assessing the situation.

J's biggest obstacle to grasping what had actually happened was her religious upbringing with its make-believe ghosts, visions, angels, demons, etc. Once provided a correct framework, she saw right away that her "ghost" was no such thing.

Regarding the application of OTF to Christianity, Mr. Loftus is not asking most Christians to do something they do not already do. There are nigh onto forty thousand Christianities in the world, and most of those actively apply the OTF to Christianities other than their own. Fact is, all Christians are hellbound by the lights of some other Christianity. None are exempt. No one need step outside Christianity for the OTF to be applied. Ironically, many Christians reserve their biggest doses of skepticism for other Christianities.

The critics of the OTF on this thread, notably Victor and Eric, if they are themselves Christians, will partake of some particular brand of Christianity. Every dogma a Christian embraces puts him in direct opposition with those Christians who do not. Every dogma a Christian rejects puts him in direct opposition with those Christians who hold it dear. By adopting a given subset of the myriad Christian dogmas, doctrines, tenets, practices, observances, a specific Christian has already applied the OTF to all the other Christianities and declared them wanting.

We also see OTF being employed by Christians to evaluate, and skeptically reject, various Christianities when the Christian goes church shopping.

Ask that Roman Catholic theological mastermind, the Pope, if it is possible to find salvation if one is not RC. The Pope has applied the OTF to all non-RC Christianities and regularly states in his public addresses that each and every one of them is beyond hope.

(It sorta pisses me off that if the Pope is correct - and, of course, he always is - that I'll spend eternity with the likes of Dist. Supt. Harvey - who is, of course, also always correct. To make matters worse, we poor wayward atheists like Loftus, Dawkins, Hitchens and me, won't be able to razz Harvey and his ilk since we will all have been damnedably wrong. On the other hand, maybe the right one is Joseph Smith, so Harvey and the Pope can spend eternity debating transubstantiation or some other proven malarkey.)

Mr. Loftus' OTF is quite appropriate for skeptically assessing one's own version of Christianity. How do we know? Regardless of which Christianity one finds oneself in, lots of other Christianities using the approach of OTF are putting it to the test and giving it a big thumb's down.

Joe Staub said...

"And that is because your inside, by your own admission.

You have to step completely outside.

That's the whole point of the test."

But I have stepped outside. If you read my previous comments you will see that. That's my point. I think I was being fair and I tried to step outside. If you are saying I "can't" step outside because I am too biased then the whole test concept fails. It's meaningless. I'm granting that a person can, like me, step outside and look at Christianity from another person's world view. I did I and can do it. I just don't agree with the claim because the claim that Christianity looks silly to an outsider failed with me. Furthermore, I suggest that it doesn't work with people from other cultures and faith systems because they have found Christianity to be cogent, coherent, and satisfying. Not all, but the proof is in the 2000 year spread of Christianity among the world's population. They all gave it up for Jesus. And yes, people have converted from other religions to Islam, etc... It still proves my point that the claim is itself is silly.

Joe Staub said...

Russ said,

"There are nigh onto forty thousand Christianities in the world, and most of those actively apply the OTF to Christianities other than their own."

Russ, I think this is one of those hyperbole's that is thrown around so much that people just accept it without question. Everyone agrees that Christianity from it's inception has been split, slivered and shredded in to a variety of sects. However, the implication is that there are 40 thousand different gods. I have read Karen Armstrong's "A History of God" and she does a masterful job actually laying out the various expressions of Christianity over the course of 2000 years. However, it is more accurate to see the variety as shades of differences and experiences. If you have siblings they will all experience your father in a different way. When asked to describe him they might even describe him as slightly differnet than you would describe him. But, there is only one father between you and your siblings. This analogy does not explain everything, but my point is that there is an objective Christ and a subjective Christ. The subjective does not negate the objective. I think even the more liberally minded Karen Armstrong would agree with this. What you are describing really only sounds convincing to those looking for reasons to reject Christianity.

Andre said...

OK Joe, would you be able to show me evidence for as you say, "My arguments do come down to whether or not the eyewitnesses were truthful, then whether the gospels are relatively accurate about the eye witnesses recollection, and then a relatively accurate transmission of the gospels."?

And do you realize what you and I are admitting? Since you agree with Craig "that if you found the tomb of Jesus and his body was still there, then Christianity would be falsified", you are admitting the evidence you think you have currently of his resurrection could be false, whether or not it really did happen. (You can turn it around on me an say likewise, but I can be like a kid an say, you hit me first with that, so I hit you back with that.) But what if the body you found you believe to be his, turns out not to be? You would realize even more how wrong your beliefs could be.

The point is as you admitted also, it would be hard to falsify your faith based on such a high standard. Neither can you falsify my claim that Christianity is not true by giving me evidence.

Anyone can say the reason why someone's body can't be found is because they ascended up into the sky. But you only believe it happened to one person 2000 yrs ago, and deny every other possible reason why someones dead body may not be found.

Victor Reppert said...

At this point I don't so much object to the OTF, as much as I think it is less than perfectly clear what asks me to do. From the minute I had a conversion experience in 1972 I've been as aggressive as anyone in asking tough questions of my faith. I'm the guy who majored in philosophy because if there were any arguments good arguments against Christianity, I wanted to hear about them while I was still and undergraduate, as opposed to finding out about them when I was older. I would have to say that right up there with the works of C. S. Lewis, I would have to put Russell's The Value of Free Thought as one of the essays that has influenced my intellectual life the most, and I read that in 1972 also. I've been as skeptical of Christianity as anyone I know, unless skepticism requires actual disbelief.

But I'm skeptical about a few other things, like the human ability to be completely neutral in evaluating anything. We often go wrong when we assume that just because we stop believing something that some of our peers still believe, that somehow this is due to our intellectual superiority or something like that.

I also am convinced that people should continue believing what they do believe unless there is evidence that suggests they should give up their belief. I have doubts about how far it is possible to make ourselves "outsiders" to our own belief systems, be it Christian, Jewish, atheist, or what not. That is why I am very reluctant to issue diagnoses of intellectual dishonesty or stupidity or what have you. However, our belief systems should be open to evidence, positive and negative, concerning what we believe.

We're all in Neurath's boat, and I think taking all the culturally conditioned planks out is going to cause the boat to sink. I'm pretty convinced by the arguments against classical foundationalism, even when the Cartesian quest for absolute certainty is abandoned. If I were to describe my epistemology, I would describe it as subjectivist Bayesian. We start with whatever we confidences we have, and we adjust those confidences based on the evidence has we encounter it. Bias is gradually eliminated in this way, and over time, if the evidence is strong enough, the prior are swamped and everyone agrees. This may take awhile for religion, not because there are a bunch of brainwashed Christians out there, but because of the sheer complexity of the issue, and the emotional involvement of both sides in it.

A good discussion to get into related to this came up with the idea of "freethinker." Russell defined "freethinker" in terms of the methods people use to decide their beliefs, and Jeff Lowder argued in a paper "Can a Christian Be a Freethinker" that we have no good reason to believe that a Christian couldn't meet those criteria. Unfortunately, in one passage in his essay, Russell presumes that if a university were to hire a Christian in its philosophy department, that person could not be a freethinker.

What I fear is that there is an outcome-based criteria for whether someone has really applied the Outsider Test, and that is if they leave the fold. Otherwise, they couldn't possibly have applied the test, now could they?

Victor Reppert said...

How could the Outsider Test be presented to someone who believes in subjectivist Bayesianism as an epistemology? Are we being asked to accept a set of evidence against all religious beliefs?

guitarstrummr said...

Brilliant post, Russ. That is dead on.

Joe: I'm really curious what type of Christianity you ascribe to. Its so hard to tell these days what a person means when they say they are a Christian. It could mean anything from a person who is a fundamentalist and biblical literalist to a person who has invented their own Christianity that is so metaphysically out of reach that no argument could be applied to falsify it.

What exactly do you believe, and what *reasonable* thing would convince you it is false?

Personally, I don't think your original concept of a person finding the tomb of Christ with the body in it is reasonable. At all.

Its quite silly, honestly. That's like a Muslim saying that he will leave Islam when someone finds the body of Muhammad.

So silly!

Eric said...

Victor: "What I fear is that there is an outcome-based criteria for whether someone has really applied the Outsider Test, and that is if they leave the fold. Otherwise, they couldn't possibly have applied the test, now could they?"

Exactly. In the absence of the sort of details and criteria I've been requesting, this is all we're left with. John pretty much admits this here:

"And yes, **I think my arguments are rationally coercive**, as much as any arguments can be across this great divide of ours. I am arguing that we should become skeptics about that which we affirm, all of us, yes. That's again why I am an agnostic atheist. And an agnostic Christian seems to be an oxymoron but that would be the equivalent. Still the fact that we could all be wrong about that which we believe does not grant you permission to turn around using that kind of skepticism and embrace the Christian faith, ***since this faith cannot survive the OTF***."

Christian faith *cannot* survive the OTF, and John's arguments are, he believes, rationally coercive. That's as close to an outcome-based criteria as you can get, eh?

I think there is a problem with this as well:

"I am arguing that we should become skeptics about that which we affirm, all of us, yes."

The quote above is itself an affirmation. Should we be skeptical about it? I think this sort of position fails for the reasons Plantinga gives when objecting to the 'abstemious dissenter' in his arguments for religious exclusivism.

I also don't think that the notion of an agnostic Christian is at all oxymoronic. It would amount to a person who claims to believe the fundamentals of the Christian faith to be true, and could even include the belief that those fundamentals are justified, without a claim to knowledge.

John W. Loftus said...

Victor said..."What I fear is that there is an outcome-based criteria for whether someone has really applied the Outsider Test, and that is if they leave the fold. Otherwise, they couldn't possibly have applied the test, now could they?"

For the record that is not my position at all, although as I've suggested I think one would be an agnostic at best if s/he actually did take the test. This is something Joe and Eric are debating here with others I suppose. And like others I do find it incredible that a conservative Bible so-called Bible believer would remain as one if in fact s/he took the test. Tell me this Joe, if the Koran spoke of talking snakes, or donkeys, or of ax heads that could float, or men who could walk on water would you believe that?

If you'll look at my original essay I applied the OTF and suggested what it means to actually take the test. Re-read that essay and tell me if you can look yourself in the mirror and say you have actually taken the test. That's all that's required of you even if many of us won't believe you. Who cares what we believe at that point?

Or, you can (and must) dispute how I applied it.

Cheers.

Edward T. Babinski said...

Vic, read your skeptical comments over at DB concerning the "outsider test."

I know you're even skeptical of the Christian doctrine of "eternal hell," which means that perhaps you don't fret as much as many "eternal hell" believers do over whether or not your religious beliefs are correct. Therefore "tests" of your beliefs probably don't matter as much to you emotionally as they might to someone who believes with far less doubt in an "eternity of hell torments."

Secondly, speaking of Bayesianistic probabilities, I have difficulty believing that religious doctrines and dogmas are on the same scale as other beliefs I entertain. Don't unproven grandiose metaphysical systems and beliefs merit more skepticism than other types of beliefs? A "god-man," "spilling blood as substitutionary sacrifice," a "trinity," a "life after death," an "inspired holy book?" How can such things be proven or even be made to seem AS REASONABLE AND "GIVEN," as the countless other more mundane beliefs I presently entertain that seem to me to be based on less questionable grounds?

And speaking in terms of "hell" (whether eternal or not) how exactly can I be held accountable for not finding religious doctrines and dogmas sensible/rational?

Lastly, you need not be an atheist to have questions/doubts as both you and John Loftus agreed. All you have to have in the case of someone who leaves a religious fold are more questions than answers. I daresay, there are even some agnostic Christians out there who may still attend church or even preach, but who have more questions than answers, and whose "Christian faith" is closer to ingrained habit based on soothing repetition than on actually claiming to have answers. And John is probably not going to force such people out of their church group world any more than you and your AFR are going to convince them that God exists and all of the Chrisitan doctrines and dogmas are true. That person's religious life coupled with their questions is all part of the spectrum of human habits and emotion. But as such, such people living in such situations only heighten my own skepticism and certainly doesn't make me wish to return to church.

Likewise, I've read that generally speaking, the older a person gets, the more set in their ways they become. That too is part of what John is speaking about concerning the outsider test. In fact one evangelical poll indicated that every year past 20 a person lives without "receiving Christ as their personal Lord and savior," that the odds of them doing so later in life begin to decrease dramatically.

These are generalizations based on polls and some personal experience. There are exceptions. But if the polls fit the circumstances in general then isn't the Divine Being kind of messing with us? Do we really have to believe all that stuff. And do those who believe religious dogmas and doctrines really have to believe it in their teens, or dramatically increase their risk of eternal damnation as the polls would indicate if you indeed believe that is what they are risking by not becoming Christians?

Again, more reasons for me to question such matters.

Lastly, you never proved a thing concerning the AFR, not even probability wise. You have not proven what matter and electricity and quantum mechanics are capable of or not capable of. I am not saying that I know either. And it certaintly appears to me that consciousness itself lay along a spectrum in nature, as well as reasoning abilities. Whether or not a singular personal creator God exists or not does not appear capable of being proved. Your argument only considered atoms moving as atoms do, but you never considered all the ways atoms moved in relation to all the ways nature moves, for instance atoms and electons in the brain move in relation to the senses in contact with nature, it's a feedback loop system and quite a necessary one as well since total sensory deprivation for extended produces hallucinations and insanity. So how can you say the cosmos of nature that scientists study with its "matter-energy" is unable to account for reasoning? You have no proof except your definitions of the natural cosmos of matter-energy which you define in the beginning as EXCLUDING the evolution of any conscious beings. Reasoning, it's evolution and practice, requires the connectivity system in nature that I mentioned, rather than reason existing in some supernatural realm that's outside of nature.

No, I'm not attempting to prove atheism, just attempting to help you recognize, if possible, that the AFR is not proof of anything. There are even, as we both know, Christian philosophers who disagree with you concerning the AFR and who accept the brain-mind as a self-contained natural entity.

Russ said...

Joe,

The last year that I got the World Christian Encyclopedia was 2000. At that time they listed about 34000 denominations, and other sources listed the annual increase at that time as over 800. Princeton Theological Seminary in early 2008 had the number at 38300 denominations growing at 900 denominations per annum. So the numbers are in no sense hyperbole.

Your sibling analogy fails if you consider that Christianity also includes many atheist congregations. Additionally, there are Christianities worshipping a god that sends people to hell; there are Christianities worshipping a god that does not send people to hell; there are Christianities with no hell; and, there are deist Christianities with no miraculous interventions by deities.

Can those all be the same god? No, of course not. Without a doubt, the manifold Christianities are polytheistic. Among the parishoners of one congregation you might possibly get a description of their deity that is consistent - thousands of repetitions can get lots of people to burp out the same vocalizations - despite its being logically incoherent, but broaden your reach even a little bit and the notion of god becomes not only incoherent but inconsistent as well. Christianites do not have a God; Christianities have gods.

There are Christianities that do not consider Jesus to have been divine.
There are Christianities that do not believe that Jesus performed miracles. There are Christianities wherein Jesus is alive and well right this very minute. There are Christianities that do not believe that Jesus resurrected, ascended into heaven, or will ever return to judge the quick and the dead. Christianities are not mono-Jesusistic; Christianities are poly-Jesusistic.

Obviously, Christianity is not even close to monolithic in doctrine or practice. Wherever Christianity has marketed itself - the marketing reps often call themselves missionaries -the natives have more adapted Christianity than adopted Christianity. Throughout the world Christianity has marketed itself through whatever means the locals would allow. Christianities range from mellow(most United Methodists in Vermont) to malevolent(Roman Catholic "aid" workers in AIDS-ravaged Africa) to macabre(Nigerian Pentacostalists killing and maiming their own children for being witches[is your faith strong enough, Joe, that you would pound a spike into your own demon-possessed child's head?]).

Be that as it may, does it not concern you at all that from outside your own personal version of Christianity, but still under the Christianity marquee, other Christians see you as hell-worthy? According to the profound emanations from sincere, pious and devout Christian theologians outside your particular congregation, denomination, or sect, you, and those unfortunate enough to be too much like you, are damned to hell. Let this sink in, Joe: lots of other Christians, from Christianities every bit as authentic, every bit as "True," as yours, know - they are absolutely certain, mind you - that you...are...going...to...hell. Beyond all doubt, you...are...going...to...hell.

It is worth noting that theologians, even the ones who make the rules that will land you in Hades, really know this stuff, and, simply for being theologians, they are always right...otherwise no one would listen to them, now, would they(oh, that's right, there are lots of Christian theologians that you have so little respect for that you completely dismiss all they have to say, too). If you're not, say, Roman Catholic, the Vatican has a whole menagerie of professional theologians with you in the crosshairs, and, if you are RC, the Denver Seminary will prove that your eternity will be uncomfortably warm and a bit acrid. Some Christianities go so far as to guarantee heavenly ring-side seats where the saved can watch and revel as the damned - count me in that bunch, if you please - burn and roast and wriggle and writhe forever. That's a dandy perk, right there. Membership does have its privileges.

The fact that most Christians, apparently you among them, Joe, do not take seriously the threats of hellfire spat at them by those from other Christianities - you clearly do not believe many of them any more than any arbitrary atheist would - should put everyone at ease. No one needs to believe any of it. You, Joe, clearly don't believe other Christians when they lay their threats on you, so anyone outside Christianity can safely ignore all the Christianities you do, and, since other Christianities ignore you, too, outsiders can reject every last Christianity.

Most of the persons kicking up dust about Loftus' OTF on this thread are not being forthright. Christians know well those they count as enemies among same-named Christians. During Sunday-go-to-meetin' fellow Christians pursuing their own meaning and purpose through differing Christianities are vilified from pew and pulpit alike.

Truly, John's OTF provides an effective model for assessing the meritworthiness of the numerous Christianities based on the relative outsider status, that is, what other Christians are themselves willing to believe or reject about them. If an outsider rejects all those notions rejected by one or more of the extant Christianities, then that same outsider will by default reject all Christianities. There is literally nothing but trivialities like the name common to all Christianities. God, Jesus, Original Sin, and all the rest, gone, as per the suggestion of one or more Christianities.

Joe, if I had a religious epiphany, if I saw the error of my ways(maybe if I saw Francis Collins' frozen waterfall) and asked you which Christianty I should adopt, merely by suggesting one you would be endorsing one version while rejecting thousands of others that are very different. Try as you might you can't put you, me, or anyone else on a path to salvation accepted as such among all the different Christianities. Woe is me. All is lost.

Eric said...

I think I've just realized what the 'real' problem is with the OTF.

Assume, for the sake of argument, that all of my previous concerns with the OTF have been addressed to my satisfaction. Now suppose that a Christian undertakes the OTF and comes out the other side of this experience with his faith intact. It's now that we get to the 'real' problem, which isn't 'The Outsider Test,' but 'The Outsider Test-Test' (OTF-T). In other words, the problem is with the 'test' that follows the OTF and which determines whether a Christian (or any theist) has properly undertaken the OTF. What is that test? Well, it's not simply the question of whether the Christian's faith is still intact (though, oddly enough, it would seem sufficient to pass the OTF-T if he rejected his faith). The test seems to be something like this: The Christian who claims to have undertaken the OTF and come through as a Christian must be able to persuade those among his epistemic peers who are not Christians either that (1) His Christian faith is true, or (2) His Christian faith is reasonable (i.e. something along the lines of 'probably true'). If the Christian's reasons fail to persuade the atheist of (1) or (2), the atheist will claim that the Christian has failed the OTF-T, and thus hasn't properly undertaken the OTF. Now, this standard is obviously ridiculous (well, I hope the reasons are obvious), so my question for all those who advocate the OTF is this: What are the criteria of the Outsider Test-Test, if not (1) or (2)?

Victor Reppert said...

I think there are some sensible things that you can say under the guise of the Outsider Test, and some things that aren't so sensible. It is something like Russell's The Value of Free Thought in that respect.

I think you have to look at some different epistemologies, like the one that I expounded above, and ask what kind of outsider test you want to use.

If it is just an exhortation to take into consideration that there are other, perfectly intelligent people who don't believe as I do, that's hardly news to me. Being "skeptical" doesn't tell me a whole lot.

The danger here is that the test will be used to establish some strong polemical claims against Christianity on a "hard" reading, but under cross-examination the "test" retreats to its "soft" interpretation.

On the other hand, if someone objects to the "test" that person is told that they are brainwashed and refusing to raise questions about their faith, because they are refusing to absorb the "sensible" point the test makes. The "sensible" point about subjecting religious beliefs to intellectual scrutiny is one that I wholeheartedly accept. That I somehow should think of orthodox Christianity as no more probable that Mormonism when I begin investigating the issue is, in my view, not sensible, basically because I believe in the Decline and Fall of Classical Foundationalism, and I think it requires an artifical neutrality that should not be required of anyone, Christian or not.

Joe Staub said...

John, you wrote,

"If you'll look at my original essay I applied the OTF and suggested what it means to actually take the test. Re-read that essay and tell me if you can look yourself in the mirror and say you have actually taken the test. That's all that's required of you even if many of us won't believe you. Who cares what we believe at that point?"

Please go to this link for my response.

http://joestaub.blogspot.com/

Joe Staub said...

John, you wrote,

"Tell me this Joe, if the Koran spoke of talking snakes, or donkeys, or of ax heads that could float, or men who could walk on water would you believe that?"

First, you dismiss the miraculous outright because of your theory of miracles (Hume). But, I think it is possible to be skeptical and still believe in the miraculous.

Second, my examination suggests to me that the Koran does not meet the same standard of historical documentation as the Bible. Also, the Koran is written as poetic literature. I would not take everything in the Poetic literature of the Bible as literal, but figurative.

Axe heads and walking on water. Well, it all seems absurd, but I find nothing "requiring" denial of the historicity of these events. They don't come in conflict with my understanding of the possibility of miracles, either.

Joe Staub said...

John,

Let me modify what I just wrote above. I think I am getting tired!

I am skeptical of my own faith all the time. I feel a strong affinity toward vigilance when it comes to the truth. At least I think I do! I don't want to be fooled and I don't want to fool myself. So I am on the look out. However, I still think a degree of faith is required of my world view and also for naturalism, if that is your world view. As I said before, the evidence is there, but it can't get me all the way there. Faith must bridge the gap. Sure, you can sort of be on the fence or just remain a floating skeptic. But, thinkers want to explain reality comprehensively and that is why we build or adopt a world view. I think mine is coherent and rational, just not acceptable to you.

Also, it occurs to me when I hear you and many critical atheists comment about Biblical miracles, you paint them with such sarcasm that anyone would consider them as rediculous and silly. It is a form of reasoning that says, "I am going to make it sound so silly that no one will want to believe it." Humiliate the belief and it will detract from its believability. Hitchens is the master at this. I enjoy very much listening to his caracatures of the Bible, by the way! But, it doesn't carry any weight with me because I take it for what it is. Perception or perspective on events really do matter. John, as a former pastor who preached the Bible as truth so you know exactly what I am talking about. Perception becomes reality. You use it well when trying to blast the Bible, but I'll bet you were equally good at uplifting the Biblical miracles as glorious works of God, so that people would want to believe them.

Brad Haggard said...

GS: "it is mostly uneducated people in other cultures..."

This type of arrogance shows what it as the root of this "skepticism". GS, do you really think you're somehow above 90% or more of the world? Are you going to somehow "save" the poor, uneducated people? This is classic cultural imperialism.

What's worse is that it is false. In China Christianity is growing faster in urban areas now, among professionals. So much so that there are more believers in China than in the USA. They send over missionaries to us!!! This is true all over the world. That is why saying Christianity fails the OTF categorically is just wrong, and probably arrogant.

Joe Staub said...

Russ wrote,

"Can those all be the same god? No, of course not. Without a doubt, the manifold Christianities are polytheistic."

This is where you lose me, Russ. Look, I share you concern and critical observation about the varieties of Christianity. It looks like truth cannot be found in Christianity. But, consider my account for these varieties.

First, I don't agree that varieties mean complete difference. Let's be fair. My analogy does work, because it shows that you can have different views of the same God and you can still be in fellowship. This is just reality, Russ. For instance, I have many Christian friends who differ in their views about theology. We attend different kinds of churches and we have some different convictions. But, we consider each other to be "Christians" with some differing convictions. I think this is the subjective expression of Christianity I was referring too. This accounts for a lot of the distinctions. And, I admit that a lot of things influence these differences, which I address below.

Second. Jaroslav Pelikan wrote, "Jesus Through the Centuries", where he explains how Christianity adapted to the needs and cultural mileu of its time in history. As a case in point, this explains the predominance of the Ransom from Satan Theory of the Atonement in early Christianity and the later predominance of the Penal Substitution Atonement. The church rose out of a slavery culture so the Ransom idea was predominant because it fit one's experience.

Third, unlike you, I can account for the distinctions in Christianity by the usual Christian suspects: The World, The Devil, and personal sin. These three are potential deceptive influences upon the Chrisitan and its leadership. John likes to attack Christianity in part by the failure of the Holy Spirit to do his job of teaching a consistent Christianity to the church. But, the Christian accounts for inconsistency by the counter influences of sin, Satan and the world.

Joe Staub said...

GS wrote,

"Joe: I'm really curious what type of Christianity you ascribe to. Its so hard to tell these days what a person means when they say they are a Christian. It could mean anything from a person who is a fundamentalist and biblical literalist to a person who has invented their own Christianity that is so metaphysically out of reach that no argument could be applied to falsify it."

I know what you mean by metaphysically out of reach. I saw the Hitchens/Sharpton debate. I had always considered Sharpton a boob, but he was actually quite good and gave Hitchens fits. The problem with Sharpton, however, was that you could never pin him down on what he believed about God. Hitchens was arguing against the Judaeo-Christian God and Sharpton had some personal indescribable mystical god that could not be touched with reason. Hitchens was in a no-win situation.

In sum, I am a Nicean Creed Christian. I do believe in the historicity of the Bible. But, I do also account for exaggerated dates, numbers, events, etc.

bob said...

Along the lines of Russ's story of a friend who exclaimed: "Oh my god! I just saw a ghost walk past the door,", I have a similar story.

I mature Catholic lady, and avid amature photographer, whom I had done some photography work for, wanted me to see some vacation photos she had taken in Europe while visiting a shrine. In two of the photos was a picture of a statue of some female saint, or perhaps it was Mary, I can't remember. In one photo, it looked as if the statue was looking downward. In the next photo, taken from the same angle, just a second later, the statue looked as if her gaze had shifted, looking now toward the camera. After I studied the photos for a few seconds, I looked at my friend. She was almost in tears, with a faint smile on her face. She was sure I, being an expert photographer, could see what she saw, which was the miraculous shifting gaze of a saintly statue. I didn't have the heart to tell her that in the first picture her flash went off, causing catch-lights reflected in the statue's eyes, but when she took the second picture the flash had not had time to recharge, so that exposure was made with the existing light, which captured the shadow areas around the eyes. I could see it so plainly. It was evidence of a perfectly common occurrence. When photographing with point-n-shoot 35mm cameras, people often don't wait for the flash to recharge before taking the next picture.

This lady, successful, world traveler, raised two children who were now off to college, found in her photos confirmation of what she already believed.
I am guessing that if I had of mustered the nerve to offer my expert, rational opinion of what she was actually seeing in her photos, if she did accept my explanation, it would not have made a dent in her faith. So, I halfheartedly faked amazement, and left.

I think most Christians are not interested in the truth concerning their faith. If one believes they already have the truth, how can one then honestly look for the truth (OTF), if in doing so they risk disturbing what they so enjoy believing?

Years ago I made a resolution (which did not last long) to abstain from debate with believers, because THEY ARE NOT LOOKING.

I remember reading in a blog somewhere that WL Craig was asked, if he could travel back in time, and sit outside the tomb of Jesus, and wait for him to arise from the dead, if after a week, and Jesus still had not appeared, would he (Craig) renounce his faith? He answered - No!

I have never dialogued with a believer that offered to renounce their faith in light of evidence. I understand. For evidence was not necessary for them to become a Christian.

Joe Staub said...

Bob, you wrote something very interesting to me,

"I am guessing that if I had of mustered the nerve to offer my expert, rational opinion of what she was actually seeing in her photos, if she did accept my explanation, it would not have made a dent in her faith. So, I halfheartedly faked amazement, and left.

I think most Christians are not interested in the truth concerning their faith."

I don't know you, but I respectfully suggest that you just might be projecting your own treatment of truth and honesty upon Christians. After all, you appear to be willing to support ignorance judging by your treatment of this woman. So, you think that Christians do the same. I know you meant well with this woman, and you probably think Christians mean well as they do the same as you. I suggest it is normative that Christians do want to know the truth and that is why they have embraced Christianity.

Just wondering is this is the case???

John W. Loftus said...

Joe said, "In sum, I am a Nicean Creed Christian."

Hmmm. Then surely you know the history of the Nicene Creed and you also know that the creed you think is the Nicene Creed is not the one created at Nicene, correct?

For some grusome historical details to the fights between Christians over this creed you should stop everything and read When Jesus Became God.

Order it right now. Then read through it, okay? No more ignorance. You can believe if you need to, but don't rely on ignorance to do so.

Cheers.

Anthony said...

John, thanks for the book recommendation, I went on and ordered me a copy.

Joe Staub said...

"Hmmm. Then surely you know the history of the Nicene Creed and you also know that the creed you think is the Nicene Creed is not the one created at Nicene, correct?"

Yes, I do know John. What is the point? So there was conflict over doctrine? Even harsh conflict. But, as a former Church of Christ Pastor, you "highly" valued going back to the original New Testament church and you can trace that genuine faith back. It was essentially the Nicean Faith. Right?

But, I wouldn't even be as strict as a Church of Christ theologian. I think that people were true believers with different shades of doctrine. Even controversial doctrine. Still do. It is an acknowledgement that we are flawed creatures.

Russ said...

Joe Staub said,

I don't agree that varieties mean complete difference.


Joe, let me share an e-mail excerpt with you (I've been permitted to share this). This is from Harry T. Cook who has been active Episcopal clergy for more than forty years. He can be contacted at revharrytcook@aol.com. Please let me know whether this means complete difference.

I asked,

You don't appear to exalt Jesus as divine, a position more similar to we atheists than the run-of-the-mill Christians, so how do you characterize your thoughts about supernaturalism, especially as it
relates to religion?


Harry responded,

Supernaturalism is phony-baloney stuff. Nature is enough for human beings to deal with. I give it no thought whatsoever.


Now, seriously, Joe, is this mere variety or is this significant difference?

When I asked about his views concerning Jesus and his divinity he replied,

Jesus didn't believe Hillel the Elder was sacred (or maybe you mean "divine.") And neither did most followers until the fathers of the Nicene Council decided by majority vote that such was so. There are plenty of us in the clergy who, on the basis of evidence and its research, think that "Jesus" as he is variously depicted in the gospels is a fiction -- ok, a "sacred" fiction if you want.


Once again, Joe, is this mere variety or is this significant difference?

To my question,

Do you consider human morality to have a supernatural source?

Harry answered,

I do not consider morality or ethics to have a supernatural source. The celestial hand proffering the etched tablets to Charlton Heston (apparently unarmed at the time) is a metaphor representing the much longer and more difficult process the ancient Hebrews endured in figuring out how to keep people from killing each others. They figured out that if you made stealing taboo, fewer people would kill to get. And if you made envy taboo, few people would steal. Since it was the elders in the early tribes who figured out that stuff, it was necessary to mandate the honoring of father and mother, and after those early generations passed away, successor elders transferred the tribal honor to the spirits of the dead elders and, finally, to an unseen god whence the elders had come in the first place.


Really, Joe, does this sound like just a subtle variation on what the label "Christian" suggests to you? Maybe it really is the case that as you wrote, "It looks like truth cannot be found in Christianity."

Joe, I am not trying to dissuade you from partaking in your faith community, but I would like you to understand that your beliefs are held by only a fraction of those calling themselves Christians, and that many of those "Christian" beliefs are diametrically opposed and mutually exclusive as well as mutually damning. Truth - as opposed to the trite uttering of words like "I accept as true..." or "I believe ..." - has the important characteristic that different paths in its pursuit actually converge to an observable focus. Christianities are nothing like that at all. As time goes on the paths traversed by distinct Christianities are ever more divergent, as competing Christianities become more and more dissimilar.

By dismissing as "varieties" the literally overwhelming diversity of belief that is labeled Christianity, you ally yourself with some rather seedy company. If there is nought but a hint of difference between you and other Christians, then you are to be pitied, Joe.

I would truly like to know, Joe, are you Benny Hinn, Kenneth Copeland, T. D. Jakes, and Oral Roberts? Are you the Nigerian Pentacostalists pouring acids on their own children to rid them of demons? Are you one of the hundreds hacking their children to death, pounding spikes into their skulls, or crushing them by driving over them with a car for the same reason? Are you the Catholics perpetuating a plague, destroying whole societies, and orchestrating the orphaning of millions of children by denying people, legal adults, mind you, access to lifesaving condoms? Are you "God Hates Fags" Westboro Baptist Church leader Fred Phelps? Are you, Joe, of the Creation Science type who would let your child die right before your eyes while you deny them proven therapies? Is that really just a variety? No complete difference? Do you reject whole branches of science because you're convinced that those whiz-bang intellectual paragons who wrote the Bible somehow tucked everything you will ever need to know into its less than a million words?

Joe, these are very real differences with very real and all too often completely morally reprehensible consequences? Know this: today, right this very minute, people are dying due to the differences between Christianities that you contend are not "complete difference." Some of those will be children dying by the hands of their own parents whose minds are so corrupted by religion that they can no longer pursue the best interests of their children.

With all sincerity, Joe, I hope that between you and the many truly malevolent Christianities, there are not just variations, but real and complete differences.

bob said...

Joe said - "I suggest it is normative that Christians do want to know the truth and that is why they have embraced Christianity."

And I suggest that if prospective Christians really wanted to know if Christianity were based on "truth", they, every one of them, would exhaust every avenue of research before committing their lives to following and defending the teachings of Christianity. But, you and I both know that very, very few prospective Christians do that. Most will offer their emotionally driven assent to the Christian message with very little, if any, serious questions concerning the validity of the Christian message.
I have never personally met a Christian who became a Christian based on a careful study of the facts. I have dialogue with a few who claimed to have, but upon careful questioning, it was obvious that their conversion was based on emotions. Truth is not necessary for a person to convert from non belief to belief. Faith, by it's very nature, is independent of reason.

Joe said - "...you appear to be willing to support ignorance judging by your treatment of this woman."

Or, I had the feeling that it would not end well if I offered my thoughts? She did not ask my opinion, but had she of, I probably would have shrugged my shoulders and fained ignorance. I could discern that she was probably not interested in finding out that her experience was perfectly natural. So, honestly, why bother?
Joe, do you really think that I am willing to support ignorance...really?, just because I did not feel it was my place to upset some Catholic ladies apple cart?

Joe Staub said...

Russ, Bob and John,

Regarding your comments criticizing the diversity of doctrine and various concepts of Christianity. If you want me to do a count of those that I think are real expressions of Christianity and those that are not, then I can't, or won't. Otherwise, I stand on my previous comments as an answer. I'll point out one problem with this whole line of reasoning, though. It is that you are using anecdotal evidence against Christianity. We can do this tit for tat all day and it won't prove anything logically. This debate will go nowhere, because what you point out proves nothing for either side. I cannot establish the veracity of Christianity from the history of the church, even if there were no conflicts. And, you cannot disprove its veracity with the same kind of evidence. I thought you guys didn't give much weight to anecdotal evidence?

John W. Loftus said...

Joe said...I cannot establish the veracity of Christianity from the history of the church, even if there were no conflicts. And, you cannot disprove its veracity with the same kind of evidence.

Proof talk is pretty strong here since anyone who requires that I disprove his beliefs before he will no longer believe has already admitted the evidence is not on his side. He's looking for any slim possibility his faith might escape from being disproved, so if there is such a slim possibility he can still believe.

But I do think I have shown your faith is improbable, very improbable, from the history of the church. Tell us, did you just skip over chapter 8 in my book? Did you likewise fail to read especially pages 195-196, plus page 198?

I'll assume you read that chapter and those final pages. Then what have you to say about it? I am really really interested.

Cheers.

openlyatheist said...

Oh Eric, what a mess you’ve made. Let’s look at some of what you wrote:

Eric said: “First, if your standard of 'sociological independence' is met if different people, in different cultures, at different times can come to the same conclusion, then it follows that Christianity passes your test.”

You haven’t the vaguest idea what you just said. There is no such thing as people independently becoming Christians absent prostelyzation from prior Christians, or at the very least a Bible lying around. With the exception of Christianity’s genesis, which was arguably formed from the remnants of other religions, Christianity is a socially transmitted belief system. Skepticism, and as I’ve shown, atheism, are not socially transmitted. Back on track now?

And Eric said: “But the second problem…”

There wasn’t a first.

And Eric said: “…which begins with the presumption of strong skepticism, not atheism”

Ah, so you do understand where the OTF starts, but you don’t think strong skepticism provides enough ‘method’ or whatever because you earlier said, “Before we even make the choice to be skeptical, we need to determine what to be skeptical of, what counts as evidence, how much is enough, and so on, and this amounts to a method.”

Sorry Eric, but you’re just getting caught with your pants down here. For if these factors were really important to you, you would have implemented them before you became a Christian, which would mean you would have the non-X you’ve been looking for all the time, the one you used to establish what counted as evidence for Christianity. Did you go through that process before you became a Christian? Something tells me no. Something tells me you are just trying to justify your intellectual paralysis. You can’t take this test, because it doesn’t do your work for you, so the test must be faulty, eh?

And Eric said: You're confused here because you're not thinking clearly.

No, you’re just being childish because you’ve been caught with you pants down, and now it is easier to accuse others of not understanding than to do some understanding yourself. Look how badly you botched the concept of 'sociological independence.'

And Eric said: “Not only is [atheism] not a robust worldview; it's not even a worldview. And it certainly doesn't provide one with the conceptual resources he would need to undertake the OTF”

So you reject atheism as a starting point because it is not a full blown worldview. Roger.

But then Eric said: “I'm not asking for a 'full blown worldview.”

WHAA??? I don’t think you know what you’re asking. You want something that is culturally independent, to help you determine “what to be skeptical of, what counts as evidence, how much is enough, and so on,” that will “provide one with the conceptual resources he would need to undertake the OTF.” And whatever this thing is, you didn’t use it to become a Christian, otherwise you’d have it, but you want it provided for you before you’ll question your position now. And despite other human beings, in other times, with no relation to each other, being just as capable as John Loftus of putting themselves in the shoes of an unbeliever and saying "I doubt it, show me," somehow you can’t. This tells more about you than any test.


Amazingly, Brad Haggard said: “I don't really have a problem with the OTF, I went through it myself.”

Maybe Brad Haggard can tell Eric what voodoo chants he used to take the OTF. Santeria perhaps? Or could it be that we just have one Christian rationalizing his beliefs by claiming the test is un-take-able, and another rationalizing his beliefs by claiming the test isn’t?

Joe Staub said...

John, I try to argue logic, evidence, history, and "bald" facts with you guys because they are all you will accept. I am more of a presuppositionalist than I let on, but if I am going to talk to you I can't use fideism, which you so strongly condemn. I am willing to play the game here by your rules. But I'll say it now, what I see is that God's existence is evident and plain to me. Paul in Romans 1:21 says that even the unbelieving suppress that which they know to be true about the existence of God. OK, you don't accept this, but I do. Furthermore, God does not expect me to believe blindly, he says that the creation of the world is evidence to me for his existence. So, when I stack up evidence with you and the DC atheists I am not resting "my" case on evidence alone. I don't have a little faith because I have little evidence. I have faith, period, despite what might be called incomplete information. I wish there was more evidence. I admit that, but what I have is enough and the evidence is substantial enough. More or less, I am here to defend my faith against what I would consider hyperbole, straw man arguments, misinformation, etc. I will say that I honestly tried to take the OTF seriuosly. In fact, I was quite "draconian" when I did it. For several weeks I was an atheist. You should talk to my wife about it. It scared the bejesus out of her. I really put myself in the shoes of an atheist. Having been on both sides of the fence I see that it is a lot about perspective. it's true we tend to take a position and then find arguments to support it. I submit that you do, too. I can actually see, John, you returning to Christianity some years down the road like a phoenix rising. You were an ardent apologist for the Christian Faith at one time and I can picture you in my minds eye reasoning the pants off people about the truth of Jesus resurrected. You are now that way with Atheism. I would not be surprised at all to see you return. Another Anthony Flew?

I will read your recommended pages again when I get home from work.

Peace Pastor John,

Joe

John W. Loftus said...

"Pastor John," eh? It does have a ring to it, although "Father John" seems more, well, authoritative.

Joe every now and then I think of the crowds I could attract and the money I could have if I became an evangelical again and started a ministry. Minister becomes atheist becomes minister. That might attract the crowds!? Sort of a temptation of mine, even. heh. heh. But then some idiot will come up to me in front of everyone and ask me to refute the arguments in my book, and, well, damn it, I can't. Until I can I'm stuck. But as I said it's better over here, atheist Joe. ;-)

Joe Staub said...

"But I do think I have shown your faith is improbable, very improbable, from the history of the church. Tell us, did you just skip over chapter 8 in my book? Did you likewise fail to read especially pages 195-196, plus page 198?"

OK, I re-read it. Now, I ask you to read, "If Christ Had Not Been Born" by D. James Kennedy. It will give you a another perspective on the 2000 year history of the church that you completely ignore. But you will not be fair with the information so as to list the positive outcomes that Christianity brought to the world, will you? There is no comparison between you and someone like Karen Armstrong, who probably isn't a Christian at all, but at least is fair with the information. Now she is a scholar people respect because of her genuine respect for truth. You are just finding the kind of information that supports your position.

Maybe we need a book that presents the Christian view defending the existence of God and the Atheist view defending the non-existence of God in a kind of side by side fashion. Or, an anthology of some kind. A place where we can get all the relevant information, not this spin doctor stuff. John, you can write the Atheist position and Craig can write the Theist position. You edit it with chapters, including questions at the end of each chapter topic, like a text book. And then call it the Outsiders Test of Faith Text Book. Or something like this. That is, if you really want a true test.

Victor Reppert said...

Bob wrote: I have never personally met a Christian who became a Christian based on a careful study of the facts. I have dialogue with a few who claimed to have, but upon careful questioning, it was obvious that their conversion was based on emotions. Truth is not necessary for a person to convert from non belief to belief. Faith, by it's very nature, is independent of reason.

VR: What kind of evidence would it take to convince you that someone's conversion was based on evidence?

Eric said...

"You haven’t the vaguest idea what you just said."

If that's true, then it speaks more to you than to me, since all I did was apply your criteria, which were implied in your examples, to another category of belief. You will of course want to claim that that's not what I've done, but hold on -- there's an assumption you're making that you're obviously not aware of -- a false assumption -- that's relevant to this issue, and I'll address it below. First, however, I want to poke some more holes in your position.

"There is no such thing as people independently becoming Christians absent prostelyzation from prior Christians, or at the very least a Bible lying around. With the exception of Christianity’s genesis, which was arguably formed from the remnants of other religions, Christianity is a socially transmitted belief system."

Let's suppose that X is socially transmitted. What follows from this? Well, not much. No scientist today has independently verified all the data and assumptions he works with; they're largely *socially transmitted*. Or, look at historical data. Much of it is socially transmitted. Does anything interesting follow from this conclusion? Now, I know that you're going to say, "But we're talking about *whether* Christianity and atheism are socially transmitted!" Um, no. You are (now), but I am not and was not (and you weren't either, in your earlier post). That brings me to my next point.

"Skepticism, and as I’ve shown, atheism, are not socially transmitted."

You've shown nothing of the sort. All you've done (earlier) is provide examples of individuals from different cultures at different times coming to the same conclusion. To say that that conclusion is therefore 'sociologically independent' is to commit a gaping non sequitur. (Okay, pay attention to that shift from 'social transmission' in my comments above to 'sociological independence' in my last comment -- it's kinda important!) Why? Okay, here's where we get to that false assumption you're relying on:

(1)If S reaches conclusion C, and C isn't directly and intentionally transmitted socially to S, then C is not sociologically dependent.

Did you catch that? (In case you want to dispute my 'directly and intentionally' qualification, let's look at your own words: "There is no such thing as people independently becoming Christians absent prostelyzation [intentionally] from prior Christians, or at the very least a Bible [directly] lying around.")

Let me spell it out for you.
Your *false* assumption (and I do hope it's obviously false to you) both lies behind your claim, and rests on an equivocation, one which I made clear above by distinguishing 'socially transmitted' (which *you* were talking about in your last post, 5:55 PM, March 27) from 'sociologically dependent' (which *you sand I* were talking about in your earlier post, 3:02 PM, March 26). Now, let's concede that atheism isn't intentionally and directly socially transmitted (this is dubious in itself, but I'll let it go for the sake of argument). Does it follow that it's sociologically independent? Nope. Let me provide a counterexample.

No one has ever directly and intentionally told me (i.e. 'socially transmitted') that 'relephants'
don't exist (a relephant looks like an elephant-sized rabbit with African elephant ears); does it follow that my belief, "Relephants don't' exist" is sociologically independent? Not at all. My belief about the nonexistence of relephrants follows from a host of (directly and indirectly) socially transmitted epistemological, scientific, historical, geographical, etc. beliefs. Hence, my belief that relephrants don't exist isn't sociologically independent, *even if the content of the belief itself isn't socially transmitted*. Now, apply the same reasoning to atheism.

So, as I said before -- though for different reasons (e.g. its paucity of content, etc.) -- it's not the case that 'atheism' suffices as a 'sociologically independent' position from which to undertake the OTF. To claim that it is is to beg the question, since you're supposing that you've reachd it with those very premises I've been requesrting, and which the OTF demands.

"For if these factors were really important to you, you would have implemented them before you became a Christian, which would mean you would have the non-X you’ve been looking for all the time, the one you used to establish what counted as evidence for Christianity."

Huh? Keep your eye on the ball. We're talking about the coherence of the OTF, and whether it's self referentially inconsistent. Now, one could come to theism in any number of ways, but none of them in themselves would affect my argument in the slightest. At best, you may be able to take an example and provide me with the set of premises I've been requesting. If you provide those premises, my argument doesn't fail, since I'm only arguing (here) that the OTF *requires* such premises, *not* that such premises don't exist. You're defending the OTF; what you've said above (and earlier, though you were wrong, as I've just shown) suggests that you think there is such a set of premises. Why not educate me by laying them out clearly?

"Look how badly you botched the concept of 'sociological independence."

I'm sorry, but in light of what I've demonstrated above, I have to quote that one again:

"Look how badly you botched the concept of 'sociological independence."

Okay, now that I have that out of my system...

"So you reject atheism as a starting point because it is not a full blown worldview. Roger."

Wrong. I said it's not a worldview -- which it isn't -- *and* it doesn't provide the conceptual resources required to undertake the OTF. That lil' ol' conjunction 'and' does a lot of work in that there sentence, *especially* when you consider the fact that I've never asked for a worldview.

"You *want* something that is culturally independent, to help you determine “what to be skeptical of, what counts as evidence, how much is enough, and so on,” that will “provide one with the conceptual resources he would need to undertake the OTF.”

No, no, no! The more you say, the clearer it becomes that you're just too confused to take part in this discussion seriously. It's not about what I 'want'; it's about what the OTF demands! My argument against the OTF takes all its premises *from* the OTF. If the argument for the OTF concludes -- as it does -- that we must be skeptical of religious belief because it's sociologically dependent, and that we should therefore question it *before* accepting it as either true or reasonable, then it follows that the premises we use to engage in this enquiry cannot themselves be sociologically dependent; if they are sociologically dependent to a similar degree, then *they* are *just as suspect as the beliefs we're questioning*! And if I'm not justified in accepting theism because of its sociological dependence, then why am I justified in accepting them (the sociologically dependent 'outside' premises)? What we get is an infinite regress of Outsider Tests until we get to those premises.

So, have you found those premises yet?

(Given your tone, I had initially included a number of insulting remarks in my response, but I went through it and removed them. You can insult and sneer if you want; I'm going to stick to the arguments.)

Victor Reppert said...

Apparently, you think John hasn't provided a good enough reason to apply the same skepticism to Christianity that you apply to other religions. Given that such an evaluation wouldn't be a threat to Christianity if was true, it's unclear why such technically motivated objections are being brought forward.

Perhaps we can approach this from a different direction.

Since other religions make claims about objective truth, morality and miracles through revelation, holy texts, etc., you apparently think you have found a good enough reason to exclude Christianity from the same skepticism.

What is this reason? What prevents those of different faiths from using this same reason to exclude their religion from the same skepticism?

VR: I have subjected Christianity to a severer intellectual test than most atheists have, and it has passed.

However, I think, with respect to all beliefs, including those of the Mormons, the atheists, the Jews, the Muslims, the Satanists, and the Pastafarians, and Icelandic elf-believers, that they have have a rational right to believe what they already believe unless good counterevidence can be shown to exist. I am not a classical foundationalist. I am a thoroughgoing Bayesian subjectivist in epistemology. That's my problem with the outsider test. If I understand it correctly, I am asked to throw my priors away for no reason. That is not rational.

Victor Reppert said...

Atheism is not socially transmitted? Spend one day in a secular philosophy department, spend one day a militantly evolutionist biology department, and then look me in the eye and say that. Think of all the effort that is spent making Christians feel retarded. Do you think that isn't social peer pressure? Academics play the "who's in, who's out" game far more effectively than high schoolers, and in many cliques being a Christian is enough to make you "out."

openlyatheist said...

Eric said something about: “by distinguishing 'socially transmitted' from 'sociologically dependent'”

And Victor likewise said: “Atheism is not socially transmitted? Spend one day in a secular philosophy department, spend one day a militantly evolutionist biology department,
(You mean a REAL biology department. Haw haw!) and then look me in the eye and say that. … Do you think that isn't social peer pressure?”

Well, I admit I must have said something unclear if two people inferred the same misunderstanding. Too bad Christians like to talk first and ask questions later. Come on, fellas, I never meant to imply that atheism CAN’T EVER be sociologically transmitted. If you had asked I would have said that it can. I merely pointed out examples of atheism (and skepticism) arising indigenously. Something that can’t be said for Christianity. So all the following points:

pay attention to that shift from 'social transmission' in my comments above to 'sociological independence'

rests on an equivocation, one which I made clear above by distinguishing 'socially transmitted'

socially transmitted epistemological, scientific, historical, geographical, etc. beliefs. Hence, my belief that relephrants don't exist isn't sociologically independent,

etc, etc,


are all based on sloppy interpretations of what I said. I can understand why someone might think I was equivocating and talking about two different things. I just wasn’t. I’m talking about an Outsider test, right? So it stands to reason I’m talking about dependence, and transmission, relative to an OUTSIDE position, not ones OWN, yes? I figured anyone would be able to see that. Why the hell would I be talking about ‘sociological transmission’ within a society, when we’re talking about something called the Outsider Test? Whatever. Let’s try and sweep up another mess:

For instance, when Eric said, “"Relephants don't' exist" is sociologically independent? Not at all. My belief about the nonexistence of relephrants follows from a host of (directly and indirectly) socially transmitted epistemological, scientific, historical, geographical, etc. beliefs.”

this doesn’t address whether Eric means that his belief follows from a host of other beliefs from INSIDE or from OUTSIDE his society/religion/paradigm/culture/family/whatever.

So now, if belief about the nonexistence of relephrants is X, then I say:
1. If Eric concluded X on his own, then X is Sociologically Independent of an outside influence, not, of course, independent of his own culture, and not Socially Transmitted from Outside
2. If Eric arrived at X because of a-relephant prostelytizers, then X is Sociologically Dependent on an outside influence and likewise Socially Transmitted from Outside
3. If people in different places, at different times, all conclude independently that there are no relephants, then X is Sociologically Independent of an outside influence relative to each person and need not be Socially Transmitted from an outside to an inside
4. If X can be Socially Transmitted from culture to culture, but still appear independently, then that means it is still sometimes Sociologically Independent of an outside influence
5. If X can be Socially Transmitted from culture to culture, and can never appear spontaneously, then that means it is always Sociologically Dependent of an outside influence

Etc, etc. I can’t imagine anything more tedious than having to write out definitions for what ought to be clear. But some people just assume they know what they’re readin’ about and off they go!

Eric said: “it's about what the OTF demands!”

Correction: its about what you declare the OTF to demand. A demand that two Christians on this thread must have missed before they took the test and came out with their faith intact. Did they take it wrong? Are they liars?

Eventually, Eric asked: So, have you found those premises yet?

Oh, not me brother. Those are your pink elephants to find. You made them up, you declare they are demanded by the test. You want me to look for them cuz you can’t, or perhaps they aren’t there. You certainly haven’t given an example of a premise that provides “conceptual resources” at all. - You never said what conceptual resources lead one to Christianity, so I have no proof you aren’t just making crap up. That’s the OTF in a nutshell! - I looked over on Joe Staub’s blog and didn’t see them, just some presuppositionalist apologetics. But he says he’s taken the test repeatedly. Ask him, “Have you found those premises yet?”

John W. Loftus said...

openlyatheist said...If X can be Socially Transmitted from culture to culture, and can never appear spontaneously, then that means it is always Sociologically Dependent on an outside influence

Excellent distinctions of this type. My claim is that if X is a religious faith, then most all X's never appear spontaneously, which means most all of them are always sociologically dependent on an outside influence. Christianity in particular would almost never appear appear spontaneously. Atheism can regularly appear spontaneously.

Eric said...

"Well, I admit I must have said something unclear if two people inferred the same misunderstanding. Too bad *Christians* like to talk first and ask questions later. Come on, fellas, I never meant to imply that atheism CAN’T EVER be sociologically transmitted."

Too bad *you* (not *atheists*; just, in this instance, *you*) prefer to talk first, understand later (never?). Hello, I didn't misunderstand you -- heck, I went so far as to grant you, for the sake of argument, the *strongest possible reading* of your words in order to show that *even then* your argument fails. Here's what I wrote:

"Now, let's concede that atheism isn't intentionally and directly socially transmitted (this is dubious in itself, but I'll let it go for the sake of argument)."

You go on to say,

"I merely pointed out examples of atheism (and skepticism) arising indigenously."

Again, you did nothing of the sort. You have yet to show that atheism has ever arisen sans sociologically dependent premises. I granted it may arise without being socially transmitted, but that's not the issue, as I went to great pains to point out.

"I’m talking about an Outsider test, right? So it stands to reason I’m talking about dependence, and transmission, relative to an OUTSIDE position, not ones OWN, yes? I figured anyone would be able to see that. Why the hell would I be talking about ‘sociological transmission’ within a society, when we’re talking about something called the Outsider Test? Whatever. Let’s try and sweep up another mess"

Not so fast -- the mess is your own, and you've yet to sweep it up, or even recognize that it is indeed a mess. Please, if you're "talking about dependence, and transmission, relative to an OUTSIDE position," which no one has ever said you're not, then please, *please* elucidate the premises that the outside position you're referring to comprises. That's all I've asked for, and that's what you've consistently failed to deliver. Again, you keep on claiming that such a position is possible, but you've yet to provide either an argument or an iota of evidence to support it. Let's see more arguments and evidence, and fewer assertions, eh?

"this doesn’t address whether Eric *means* that his belief [about the existence of relephrants] follows from a host of other beliefs from INSIDE or from OUTSIDE his society/religion/paradigm/culture/family/whatever."

What? Of course it does. My whole point was -- as I made abundantly clear -- that such a belief *is* sociologically dependent, even if it's not socially transmitted. If it's sociologically dependent, it follows from 'inside' beliefs. If you can show me the 'outside' beliefs from which I could derive such a conclusion, then you'll be delivering what I've consistently been asking for, and what you've been consistently claiming exists, yet what you've been consistently failing to provide.

"1. If Eric concluded X on his own, then X is Sociologically Independent of an outside influence, *not, of course, independent of his own culture*, and not Socially Transmitted from Outside"

This is far too vague to make any sense of. I take you to be saying that I've concluded that P on my own, i.e. it hasn't been directly transmitted to me, but that it's also not arrived at independently of my culture, and thus isn't sociologically independent. Is that right? (Not that it matters much; these distinctions don't even touch upon the issue, as I'll make clear below, but I'll play, for the moment.)

"2. If Eric arrived at X because of a-relephant prostelytizers, then X is Sociologically Dependent on an outside influence and likewise Socially Transmitted from Outside"

Agreed.

"3. If people in different places, at different times, all conclude independently that there are no relephants, then X is Sociologically Independent of an outside influence relative to each person and need not be Socially Transmitted from an outside to an inside"

Okay, so *how* is this belief arrived at independently? That's the question I've been asking! You're wasting your time providing irrelevant distinctions instead of explaining what's at issue.

"4. If X can be Socially Transmitted from culture to culture, but still appear independently, then that means it is still sometimes Sociologically Independent of an outside influence"

Again, *how* is it arrived at independently? And how can you keep missing the fact that it is precisely this 'how' that is at issue?

"5. If X can be Socially Transmitted from culture to culture, and can never appear spontaneously, then that means it is always Sociologically Dependent of an outside influence"

I don't know what to make of this. First, the grammar is confusing. But more importantly, if something can be socially transmitted, but can never appear spontaneously, then how could it ever be arrived at in the first place? Is there an eternal race of beings that has always known that P?

"Correction: its about what you declare the OTF to demand... You made them up, you declare they are demanded by the test. You want me to look for them cuz you can’t, or perhaps they aren’t there."

As John would say -- sheesh! I haven't 'made them up,' or 'declared' the OTF needs them: I've provided an **argument** that the OTF requires them, an argument that you've yet to refute -- you haven't shown me that a single premise in my argument is false; you haven't shown me that my reasoning is fallacious; and you haven't shown me that there are any problems with my terms (e.g. that they're equivocal, vague, ambiguous, etc.). In fact, you haven't even *attempted* to show me any of these tings. I can go even further -- in asserting (in your five distinctions above) that certain conclusions *can* be arrived at *independent* of sociological influences, you've conceded that such premises exist. Why don't you clarify them? I can only conclude that either you can't adequately respond to my argument, or that you don't understand the mechanics of recognizing, formulating and criticizing arguments.

"You certainly haven’t given an example of a premise that provides “conceptual resources” at all. - You never said what conceptual resources lead one to Christianity, so I have no proof you aren’t just making crap up. That’s the OTF in a nutshell!"

Huh? This is incoherent. How in the world would it follow from the fact that I've yet to provide an example of the conceptual resources that would lead one to accept a sociologically dependent belief (such as Christianity; assume for the moment that it is sociologically dependent) that it's therefore the case that I'm 'making up'(again, pay attention -- not 'making up,' but 'arguing') the notion that the OTF demands conceptual resources that are not sociologically dependent?

John wrote: "My claim is that if X is a religious faith, then most all X's never appear spontaneously, which means most all of them are always sociologically dependent on an outside influence. Christianity in particular would almost never appear appear spontaneously. Atheism can regularly appear spontaneously."

John, what is at issue is whether those 'spontaneous appearances' are sociologically dependent, even if they haven't been socially transmitted. It won't do to point out examples of different people, in different times, and from different cultures reaching the same conclusion, and that they the conclusion wasn't socially transmitted. What you must show is that they reached their conclusion by way of premises that are not themselves sociologically dependent. Again, that's what the OTF demands if you follow the logic of the argument for it through to the end, and that's what no one has yet been able to provide. Again, I'm not arguing that there are no such premises; I'm arguing that the logic of the OTF demands them, and that until you can provide them, or at least show that they're possible, the OTF is at best incomplete, and at worst self referentially inconsistent (by requiring a standard it cannot itself meet).

John W. Loftus said...

Eric, you are really kicking up a lot of dust here. Even Vic admits there is nothing wrong with the OTF (with nuances). What is your problem?

You wrote...What you must show is that they reached their conclusion by way of premises that are not themselves sociologically dependent. Again, that's what the OTF demands if you follow the logic of the argument for it through to the end, and that's what no one has yet been able to provide. Again, I'm not arguing that there are no such premises; I'm arguing that the logic of the OTF demands them, and that until you can provide them, or at least show that they're possible, the OTF is at best incomplete, and at worst self referentially inconsistent (by requiring a standard it cannot itself meet).

Listen Eric. There are at least three legs supporting the OTF: sociological (or demographic) data, anthropological data, and psychological data. They all converge to provide very strong evidence that when it comes to religious faith believers adopt and defend what they were raised with. That's YOU!

I am not, I repeat, I am not asking for a neutral vantage point when it comes to examining religious faith, as sort of a blank slate type of condition. I don't think such a position is possible, as I admit. Based upon these three legs I'm asking you to switch your assumptions, to switch your glasses, to switch your very eyes from a gullible believer to a skeptic, and/or an agnostic when it comes to religious questions. I have already dealt with ethical and political and scientific beliefs above.

Based on the three legs I think you should switch your presuppositions. You should be skeptical as an "outsider" to the very faith you are defending with the same type of skepticism you use to examine the religious faiths of others you reject.

You need to deal with what I am actually saying, and while misunderstandings abound between us on both sides, the process of this discussion helps to clarify our respective positions. From my position you simply do not have a leg to stand on.

Eric said...

John, my problem isn't with some vague notion that we should all be skeptical of our beliefs -- of course I'm in general agreement with that (and I particularly like the way Victor put it) -- *but with your specific argument for the OTF*. Let me put my argument in the form of a series of 'assumptions' that I'll formulate as questions to you (none of this is meant to be disrespectful in any way; I'm just trying to be thorough).

I'm assuming we agree that you have an argument for the OTF, right?

I'm assuming we agree that your argument attempts to justify the need for the OTF, right?

I'm assuming that your argument makes that attempt at justification by appealing to the religious dependency thesis, which comprises the "sociological (or demographic) data, anthropological data, and psychological data," right?

I'm assuming that you're asking theists to question their beliefs because the religious dependency thesis renders them dubious, right?

I'm assuming that any belief or set of beliefs that are similarly dependent on the sociological, anthropological and psychological factors you refer to must be, by parity of reasoning, dubious as well, right?

I'm assuming that you'd agree that it's absurd to propose that one test a dubious belief (or set of beliefs) with a belief (or set of beliefs) that are just as, or almost as dubious as the belief(s) he's testing, right?

I'm assuming that if it it is indeed absurd to test beliefs in this way, then the OTF cannot be undertaken with premises that are sociologically dependent in such a way that they are, by parity of reasoning, just as or almost as dubious as the beliefs they're being used to evaluate, right?

I'm assuming that if the OTF cannot be undertaken with such premises, for the reasons I mentioned above, then it must be undertaken with premises that are not sociologically dependent in such a way as to render them as dubious or almost as dubious as the beliefs they're being used to evaluate, right?

I'm assuming that since you are claiming that the OTF can be undertaken, that therefore such premises must exist, and that you must have some idea of what they are, right?

I'm assuming that if such premises exist, they can be justified without appeals to premises that are sociologically dependent in such a way as to render them as dubious or almost as dubious as the beliefs they are being used to evaluate (and so on for premises used to justify the justificatory premises themselves, and so on), right?

Finally, I'm assuming that if you cannot provide such premises and justify them without appealing (anywhere down the chain of justification) to premises that are sociologically dependent in such a way as to render them as or almost as dubious as the premises they're being used to evaluate, then either they don't exist, and the OTF is self referentially inconsistent, or that you haven't yet worked the OTF out as completely as its logic demands, right?

Again, my problem is with your argument -- period. It's not with skepticism, it's not with the idea that I should question my beliefs, etc. I'm making a technical point about your argument. I know that you want your arguments to be as solid as possible, so you should welcome challenging, detailed criticisms like this. If you can show me that I've gone wrong, or if my criticism helps you either to shore up some part of your argument that was not as tight as it should've been, or helps you to formulate responses to new kinds of objections, then we're helping each other by engaging the sort of reasoning and dialogue that promotes the search for truth, right?

John W. Loftus said...

Eric, what follows if all of our beliefs are sociologically dependent? What then? Your faith loses and agnosticism wins, which I claim is the default position.

Nonetheless, remember me speaking of W.V.O. Quine's web of beliefs earlier? There are indeed facts which are not dependent on sociological, anthropological, and psychological factors. Religious faith is in a different category altogether than scientific thinking. If you want to question modus ponens, or my sense of sight, or a scientific experiment because there are minimal sociological factors involved, then go ahead. But I won't join you with the same kind of skepticism as I would religious faiths.

There is indeed an outside perspective and I am it! Skepticism is not a religion, nor is agnosticism, nor is atheism. You are an atheist with regard to the other religions you reject, and a skeptic. So am I. I just reject one more religious faith than you do for the same reasons and with the same skepticism you reject the others. Period.

Take, for instance, an outsider perspective on the existence of Elves and transfer that same skepticism toward incarnational Trinitarian penal substitutionary resurrection faith and see what you get, okay? What is the outsider perspective when coming to test the existence of Elves? It's skepticism. It’s Hume's standards for assessing a miraculous claim. It's methodological naturalism. That best represents the skepticism from the outside and these things are very well defended as not being sociologically dependent, but rather scientifically dependent. The fact that some cultures are not scientifically literate who may not accept science means nothing and cannot be used to say that science is sociologically dependent in any way related to the sociologically dependency of religious or extraordinary claims.

I wish I had the words to convince you, but it seems I don't. Of course, I could never convince my teenage daughter of some things either. Nor should I expect to convince a brainwashed person. What I argue for is non-controversial and obvious. The outsider perspective is not a vacuous black slate perspective. It’s the same perspective you have when testing other religious faiths, and you do that with Quine, Hume, and methodological naturalism.

Maybe you think atheism is a worldview. NOT AT ALL. But even if so I’m not arguing for atheism anyway. I’m arguing for skepticism as an outsider with the same standards you use…..


Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh forget it. I’ve said all I want to say to you on this.

bob said...

I said - "I have never personally met a Christian who became a Christian based on a careful study of the facts."

VR asked - "What kind of evidence would it take to convince you that someone's conversion was based on evidence?"

Please don't misunderstand me. I did not say that no one ever converts based on facts. I said I have never personally met one who did. Again, I have met a few who claimed they converted based on facts, but their words exposed the fact that it was the emotional experience they had when they "realized" that they were lost in their sins and that Jesus died in their place on the cross. My own conversion at 17 was an emotional experience. No facts was ever presented to me. I needed none. I became convinced because of the emotional appeals of those who were witnessing to me. Then, over the next 25 years that I spent as bible believer, every person whom I witnessed accepting Jesus as their savior, did so with out any evidence being presented. And the experience left them, and those of us around them, emotional.

I guess my point is this, since most people (the vast majority who convert) become Christians without the need of any evidence, why do apologists spend so much effort honing their skills, skills that will be spent on the very few who will not accept the bible message without some kind of convincing evidence?

openlyatheist said...

I wonder which is true?:

A) The OTF is fundamentally flawed, and the Christians who took the test were not as smart as the Christians who saw the test was un-take-able.

B) The OTF is fine, and the Christians who saw the test as un-take-able are not as smart as the Christians who took the test.

C) They're all full of bologna.

Mmmm... bologna. :)_

openlyatheist said...

BTW, John, there is a good thread about the OTF over on Daniel Florien's blog, Unreasonable Faith.

Agnosis00 said...

For those who are interested, here is an example of someone applying the OTF in the Spectator: "Studying Islam Has Made Me An Atheist."

John W. Loftus said...

Thanks Agnosis, I'll read that. It looks good.

Agnosis00 said...

Hey John,

No problem. Glad you could use it.

kilo papa said...

I noticed Bauckhams "Jesus and the Eyewitnesses" mentioned earlier on this post. There is an excellent chapter by chapter critique of this book over at vridar.wordpress.com. Neil Godfrey very effectively dismantles this books premise.

Perezoso said...

The OTF is a good thing, though I doubt the OTF in itself will cause biblethumpers (or koranthumpers) to examine their beliefs and their church from a skeptical POV, nor will it have much impact on theologians or religious "philosophers". There may be too much at stake for doubts, whether of say the Resurrection, or theology business itself.

A Doc Reppert's meal ticket depends on Christendom, and Plantingas, the supposed inerrancy of scripture, and his favorite Rapture chants from the Book of Rev.

Anthony said...

Eric: I'm assuming that you're asking theists to question their beliefs because the religious dependency thesis renders them dubious, right?

Come now Eric, no one said that simply because religious faiths have such dependencies (sociological, anthropological, and psychological) does not automatically render them dubious. It should however render them suspect which is the purpose of them test.

Eric said...

"Come now Eric, no one said that simply because religious faiths have such dependencies (sociological, anthropological, and psychological) does not automatically render them dubious. It should however render them suspect which is the purpose of them test."

Let me make one thing clear from the start: this is not a response to John; it's a response to Anthony!

First, let's deal with my claim about dependency.

The following quote is from, "Why I became an Atheist" (Page 67Chapter Four):

"The **basis for the outsider test** challenge can be found in a statement by John Hicks: "[I]t is evident that in some ninety-nine percent of the cases **the religion which an individual professes and to which he or she adheres ***depends*** upon the accidents of birth**."

Here's another that refers specifically to the religious dependency thesis (from page 69):

"The outsider test is based on the religious diversity thesis, which leads us to the *religious dependency thesis*, ***which in turn leads*** to the *presumption of skepticism*."

Note, it is the religious dependency thesis which leads to the presumption of skepticism, i.e. the outsider test.

What kind of skepticism does the test require? First, let's see the definition of the term I used (and which you objected to): 'dubious.'

du·bi·ous
Function: adjective
Etymology: Latin dubius, from dubare to vacillate; akin to Latin duo two — more at two
Date: 1548
1: giving rise to uncertainty: as a: of doubtful promise or outcome b: questionable or suspect as to true nature or quality
2: unsettled in opinion : doubtful
synonyms see doubtful

Now, let's see if this jibes with what John says about the nature of the skepticism the outsider test requires:

Here's a quote from page 67:

"She [an outsider] would have to assume that her culturally inherited religious faith is **probably false**."

To say that we should be skeptical of something, or that it is *probably false*, is to say that it is dubious (see definition above), not merely suspect.

(Okay, here's one thing for John, since it undercuts one of his claims about my understanding of the outsider test.)

See, John? I do demonstrably understand at least some things about the outsider test better than one of your team members!

(BTW, Anthony, that is not meant, in any way, as an insult; there are plenty of things I'm quite confident that you understand far better than I do. I'm just stating a fact about our respective understanding of this aspect of the outsider test to undercut a claim John had made earlier about my understanding of it.)

Anthony said...

Eric,

I have noticed from your various posts that you like to major on minute details and emphasize very specific meanings. Okay, I will grant that the word "dubious" can be understood to mean "suspect", but in its normal, everyday usage "dubious" has a very negative connotation that basically says that if something is dubious, then it is untrue. Now, if you want to use the word "dubious" with a very specific meaning then you should indicate that is how you are using it.

I do understand John's point that one should assume their culturally inherited faith is "probably false" and hence should undertake the OTF.

All I'm trying to get at is that the OTF does not by the nature of the test, assume that all religious faiths are necessarily false. It asks you to treat them as suspect and to investigate them.

Eric said...

"but in its normal, everyday usage "dubious" has a very negative connotation that basically says that if something is dubious, then it is untrue."

Anthony, dubious means doubtful, not untrue! I was using the word in accordance with the definition you'll find in any dictionary. And the only people who use 'dubious' to mean 'untrue' are those who don't know what 'dubious' means! I'm sorry, but this criticism of yours holds no water whatsoever. Now, to say that something is dubious may indeed have a negative connotation, since it calls into question its truth; however, to call the truth of something into question is to be skeptical of its truth, not to say it's untrue!

"All I'm trying to get at is that the OTF does not by the nature of the test, assume that all religious faiths are necessarily false."

I agree with you entirely, and have never said anything to the contrary.

"It asks you to treat them as suspect and to investigate them."

I think it goes beyond treating them as suspect. If we distinguish weak skepticism (a belief may be false), strong skepticism (a belief is probably false) and radical skepticism (we can never know what's true), the OTF is calling for a presumption of strong skepticism (note my quote above from John's book -- the outsider is to assume that his belief is probably false). However, to say that something is suspect to say that it's open to suspicion (note the same root); this is consistent with weak skepticism. The OTF, however, calls for strong skepticism, according to John.

Perezoso said...

Another approach to this issue, sort of Lord of the Flies variation:

Imagine some children raised in some sealed environment--perhaps on a space ship--and no mention was made of ANY religion, western or eastern, but they were given a proper education (granting the difficulty of not mentioning any religion). So they have by 18 or so well-developed quantitative, analytical and qualitative skills. There are no religious people on the craft (perhaps it's all bots), and no attempts to proselytize.

Then they are exposed to a history of religions course. Which religion do they choose, if any? Given that they are rational human beings, they would have to weigh each according to rational and scientific principles. Ergo, they would most likely not choose to follow any religion which was not in accord with those principles.

That was sort of the point of the secularist Founding Fathers: there's no way to assess religions except by Reason, and when one does that, they all seem to have irrational and supernatural elements.

Scott said...

Victor wrote: If this is a reason to reject the maxim of my undergraduate philosophy teacher (an atheist) "You ought to believe what you already believe, unless you have evidence that what you believe is not true," then I wouldn't endorse that kind of skepticism.

The problem with applying this maxim to a particular religious belief is the means in which you've acquired that belief and the inability to provide clear evidence that your belief is not true. It's as if you've thrown up your hands and claimed you're stuck with your belief since there is no other method in which you could attempt to identify whether it is factual or not.

But, before deciding to stick with a particular religion because, of out all you've encountered it was the first which "resonated" with you, doesn't it seem prudent to consider at all of the factors that caused this particular religion to be encountered first?

The chronological order of presentation in one's formative years, geographical location and popularity in one's local culture all seem to be strong factors that would influence which religion would first be encountered.

For the most part, Christianity has already gone though it's enlightenment period. When Islam goes though such a similar period in the future, perhaps you would have found it more appealing had you been born 50-100 years later? The same question could be asked if it was Islam, instead of Christianly, that first became enlightened.

Once acquired, it's not clear what would entail having positive "evidence that what you believe is not true" due to they way God is defined. Furthermore, if your metric of what is reasonable for God to do, say and reveal to human beings is defined by what your religion deems reasonable, then it appears that what you consider reasonable in the case of one religion, but not another, is determined by the religion "you already believe."

Are we being asked to accept a set of evidence against all religious beliefs?

Given that other religions us the same technique to determine your religion is "unreasonable", it seems to bring into question our ability to determine the nature of God and how we interpret our experiences as revelation.

John has brought up these issues before.

If, in maters of importance - such as our very eternal salvation - we cannot come to a reasonable agreement on what God wants or demands from us, then how can we expect to know anything specific about God's nature?

If we must depend on faith to define God's nature, then why have faith in a God that judges our choices based on incomplete information? Why have faith in a God that eternally exiles us from his presence without a chance to learn from such an exile? Why have faith in a God who found the smell of burnt offerings "pleasing" or demanded the violent death of a God-Man, before he would forgive us of our own nature, which he himself supposedly created?

Sure, in the last thousand years, elaborate theologies have been created to attempt to make sense of these events, but why should this be necessary?

Ehrman has made a strong case that the very the nature of the Abrahamic God's and the supernatural balance of power has evolved as a means to explain suffering and events we simply could not understand at the time. Why should we, in this day and age, accept this "explanation" as a valid definition of God's nature?

Because it part of our tradition or culture? Because we grew up with it or it was he first religion we encountered that "made sense" to us at the time?

Personally, I don't know if a God-like being or power exists or not. However, it seems highly unlikely that it fits any of the descriptions we've created or that he is an active agent in our day to day lives. In the spirt of Flews invisible gardner, how does a gardner who's nature we cannot determine differ from an imaginary gardner or no gardner at all?

Victor Reppert said...

Victor wrote: If this is a reason to reject the maxim of my undergraduate philosophy teacher (an atheist) "You ought to believe what you already believe, unless you have evidence that what you believe is not true," then I wouldn't endorse that kind of skepticism.

Scott replied: The problem with applying this maxim to a particular religious belief is the means in which you've acquired that belief and the inability to provide clear evidence that your belief is not true. It's as if you've thrown up your hands and claimed you're stuck with your belief since there is no other method in which you could attempt to identify whether it is factual or not.

VR: No. I have considered evidence for and against theism, and for and against Christianity. I just don't know if real neutrality is possible.

I think naturalism is self-refuting because it is inconsistent with the fact that human beings perceive logical relationship and act on that basis. If they were purely physical systems in a purely physical world, this would not be possible. We could not literally do mathematics, which is the very foundations of the science on which naturalism rests its case. If naturalism is true, then there are no scientists, and there is no scientific method, and we're all epistemically screwed.

In fact it's a little amazing to me that someone could accept the outsider test for faith and not accept the argument from reason against naturalism. The OTF says that if our religious views have sociological causes, they aren't rational, which suggests to me that atheists must have purely rational causes for their beliefs. But if naturalism is true, then everyone has natural, physical causes for all beliefs, and this got to be ten times more damaging than sociological causes. If naturalism is true, then there is no real mental causation, just physical causation that mimics mental effects.

I think that Christian theism has some problems in the area of the problem of evil, but these are not worse problems than naturalists have in explaining consciousness, for example. Atheists argue that if theism is true, then there would be no suffering, but if naturalistic atheism is true, there can only be pain behavior, not real pain, because pain is a subjective qualia that has no place in the naturalistic world of objective physical states. Hence, if naturalistic atheism is true, then there should be no suffering either.

I am amazed at how monotheism could have taken hold of the mind of the people of Israel, after a long struggle with paganism, and that the little nation of Judah could have escaped dispersion from the Assyrians, which would have destroyed that nation's identity permanently. To the ancient mind, it was a lot easier to be a polytheist than to be a monotheist. How could this have been reversed in an tiny and otherwise nondescript country like Israel, when it did not happen anywhere else? Not in Greece, not in Egypt, not in Babylonia, and not in Rome.

I have yet to see an account of the beginnings of Christianity that is any better than the one that Christians offer. If there were not miracles, then how do you get a bunch of people firmly convinced that Jesus rose from the dead and getting in the faces of the Jewish and Roman establishment to spread that belief? What happened to these people? How could Jews start accepting an incarnate deity? How could they change the Sabbath, and not try to apply the Jewish Law to Gentile converts? Mass hallucinations, and then their biggest persecutor, Saul of Tarsus gets one? Just a coincidence?

How do you explain the intimate, detailed familiarity that Luke shows with the Mediterranean world if he was never a companion of Paul and didn't see what he wrote about? I don't even know how many people are on the city council of the nearby cities of Avondale or Glendale here in the Phoenix area. But Luke provides this kind of detail, and the archaeology backs him up time after time. No other religion has the kind of archaeological support that Christianity does. Have they found that battleground in Palmyra, New York, where the book of Mormon says a huge battle took place? Thought not. Is there a good DNA match between Jews and American Indians? You mean they look more like Orientals? Who witnessed Muhammad reciting and transmitting the Qu'ran?

I even think that there are present-day miracles that provide evidence for God. We had some discussion of that on Dangerous Idea as well.

Now if you say "Anything but the Supernatural" this may all seem irrational to you. But maybe some naturalists need to take the Outsider Test and see how things look from the perspective that miracles are possible. I could argue that you have been brainwashed by the scientific establishment to rules these possiblities out. But I won't.

The world just makes more sense from the perspective of Christian theism than it does from any other perspective.

John W. Loftus said...

On Vic's latest comment read my response here.