The Outsider Test for Faith

Here's an edited version of my Outsider Test for Faith chapter, which I read to the Evangelical Philosophical Society. My book fleshes it out much better and responds to all known objections:



THE OUTSIDER TEST FOR FAITH
by John W. Loftus

The most important question of all when it comes to assessing the truth claims of Christian theism is whether we should approach the available evidence through the eyes of faith, or of skepticism. Complete neutrality, while desirable, seems to be practically impossible, since the worldview we use to evaluate the evidence is already there prior to looking at the evidence. So the question I’ll be addressing today is whether we should adopt a believing or a skeptical predisposition prior to examining the evidence for a religious set of beliefs. I’ll argue that a skeptical predisposition is the preferred one to adopt.

My Outsider Test for Faith (OTF) is just one of several arguments I use to demonstrate that when examining the evidence for a religious set of beliefs the predisposition of skepticism is warranted. There is overwhelming, undeniable and non-controversial evidence for the test itself that can be found in the sociological, anthropological, and psychological data. I’ll start with some of this data that forms the basis for the test. Then I’ll describe the test, provide some examples of what it demands of the believer, and defend it from six major objections.

There is a great deal of discussion among Christian apologists over Bayesian “background factors,” which play a significant role in assessing the truth of Christianity in general, the likelihood of the resurrection of Jesus, the probability of miracles, and the problem of evil. But the most important background factor of all for cognitively assessing the truth claims of religious faith is one’s sociological and cultural background.

The basis for the outsider test has been stated adequately by liberal Christian philosopher John Hick: “It 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.” That is to say, if we were born in Saudi Arabia, we would be Sunni Muslims right now. If we were born in Iran, we’d be Shi’a Muslims. If we were born in India, we’d be a Hindus. If we were born in Japan, we’d be Shintoists. If we were born in Mongolia, we’d be Buddhists. If we were born in the first century BCE in Israel, we’d adhere to the Jewish faith at that time, and if we were born in Europe in 1000 CE, we’d be Roman Catholics. For the first nine hundred years we would’ve believed in the ransom theory of Jesus’ atonement. As Christians during the later Middle Ages, we wouldn’t have seen anything wrong with killing witches, torturing heretics, and conquering Jerusalem from the “infidels” in the Crusades. These things are as close to being undeniable facts as we can get in the sociological world.

Had we lived in ancient Egypt or Babylon, we would’ve been very superstitious and polytheistic to the core. In the ancient world, we would’ve sought divine guidance through divination, tried to alter circumstances through magic, and believed in the dreaded evil eye.

There are a whole range of issues that admit of diversity in the moral and political areas as well, based to an overwhelming degree on the “accidents of birth.” Caucasian American men would’ve believed with President Andrew Jackson in manifest destiny, our God-given mandate to seize Native American territories in westward expansion. Up through the seventeenth century we would’ve believed that women were intellectually inferior to men, and consequently we wouldn’t have allowed them to become educated in the same subjects as men, much less to vote. Like Thomas Jefferson and most Americans, we would’ve thought this way about black people as well, that they were intellectually inferior to whites, while if we were born in the South, we would’ve justified slavery from the Bible. If in today’s world we were born in the Palestinian Gaza strip, we would hate the Jews and probably want to kill them all.

These kinds of moral, political, and religious beliefs, based upon cultural conditions, can be duplicated into a lengthy list of beliefs that we would’ve had if we were born in a different time and place. Voltaire was right: “Every man is a creature of the age in which he lives, and few are able to raise themselves above the ideas of their time.”

Social conditions provide us with the initial control beliefs we use from that moment on to incorporate all known facts and experiences. That’s why they’re called control beliefs. They are somewhat like blinders. From the moment we put them on, we pretty much see only what our blinders will let us see, because reason is mostly used to serve them.

Michael Shermer, a former Christian turned atheist, has done an extensive study of why people believe in God and in “weird things.” He argues: “Most of us most of the time come to our beliefs for a variety of reasons having little to do with empirical evidence and logical reasoning. Rather, such variables as genetic predispositions, parental predilections, sibling influences, peer pressures, educational experiences, and life impressions all shape the personality preferences and emotional inclinations that, in conjunction with numerous social and cultural influences, lead us to make certain belief choices. Rarely do any of us sit down before a table of facts, weigh them pro and con, and choose the most logical and rational belief, regardless of what we previously believed. Instead, the facts of the world come to us through the colored filters of the theories, hypotheses, hunches, biases, and prejudices we have accumulated through our lifetime. We then sort through the body of data and select those most confirming what we already believe, and ignore or rationalize away those that are disconfirming. All of us do this, of course, but smart people are better at it.”

Christian philosopher Robert McKim concurs in some respects. He wrote: “We seem to have a remarkable capacity to find arguments that support positions which we antecedently hold. Reason is, to a great extent, the slave of prior commitments.” Hence the whole notion of “an independent rational judgment” is suspect, he claims. This is not to deny that Christian apologists defend their faith with reasons. Of course they do. These apologists, if they’re good at what they do, will be smart people. But as Michael Shermer also reminds us, “smart people, because they are more intelligent and better educated, are able to give intellectual reasons justifying their beliefs that they arrived at for nonintelligent reasons.”

Psychiatrist Dr. Valerie Tarico describes the process of defending unintelligent beliefs by smart people. She claims, “it doesn’t take very many false assumptions to send us on a long goose chase.” To illustrate this she tells us about the mental world of a paranoid schizophrenic. To such a person the perceived persecution by the CIA sounds real. “You can sit, as a psychiatrist, with a diagnostic manual next to you, and think: as bizarre as it sounds, the CIA really is bugging this guy. The arguments are tight, the logic persuasive, the evidence organized into neat files. All that is needed to build such an impressive house of illusion is a clear, well-organized mind and a few false assumptions. Paranoid individuals can be very credible.” In her opinion this is what Christians do and best explains why it’s hard to shake the evangelical faith. Of course, I don’t expect Christians to agree with her that this is what they do, but then they cannot deny that people of religious faith do this. What else can best explain why there is still a Mormon church now that DNA evidence conclusively proves Native Americans did not come from the Middle East?

I’ve investigated my faith from the inside as an insider with the presumption that it was true. Even from an insider’s perspective with the Christian set of control beliefs, I couldn’t continue to believe. Now from the outside, it makes no sense at all. Christians are on the inside. I am now on the outside. Christians see things from the inside. I see things from the outside. From the inside, it seems true. From the outside, it seems almost bizarre. As Mark Twain wisely said, “The easy confidence with which I know another man’s religion is folly teaches me to suspect that my own is also.”

This whole inside/outside perspective is quite a dilemma and prompts me to propose and argue on behalf of the OTF, the result of which makes the presumption of skepticism the preferred stance when approaching any religious faith, especially one’s own. The outsider test is simply a challenge to test one’s own religious faith with the presumption of skepticism, as an outsider. It calls upon believers to "Test or examine your religious beliefs as if you were outsiders with the same presumption of skepticism you use to test or examine other religious beliefs." Its presumption is that when examining any set of religious beliefs skepticism is warranted, since the odds are good that the particular set of religious beliefs you have adopted is wrong.

The OTF is no different than the prince in the Cinderella story who must question forty-five thousand girls to see which one lost the glass slipper at the ball last night. They all claim to have done so. Therefore, skepticism is definitely warranted. This is especially the case when an empirical foot match cannot be had.

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.

Surely someone will initially object that this is quite draconian in scope. Why take such an extreme stance? It’s because that’s how religious people approach all of the other religious faiths but their own. If someone claims she cannot do this because no one can test anything without assumptions of some kind, then this test challenges the believer to switch her assumptions. If she simply cannot do this, then let me suggest doing what RenĂ© Descartes did with a methodological (or hypothetical) doubt, although I’m not suggesting his type of extreme doubt. Hypothetically consider your faith from the perspective of an outsider.

If she refuses to do this then she must justify having such a double standard. Why does she test other religious beliefs differently than her own? For someone to object that what I’m asking is unfair, she has the burden of proof to show why her inconsistent approach to religious faith is justified in the first place.

I’ll grant that what I’m asking is a tough thing to do. That’s because, as anthropologist Dr. David Eller argues, our culturally inherited beliefs are what we use to see with. We don’t see culture. We see with culture. Our culturally inherited beliefs are much like our very eyes themselves. We cannot easily pluck out our eyes to look at them. But we must attempt this if we truly want to examine that which we were taught to believe. Only the honest the consistent and the brave will ever do this.

To the Christian theist the challenge of the outsider test means there would be no more quoting the Bible to defend the claim that Jesus’ death on the cross saves us from sins. The Christian theist must now try to rationally explain it. No more quoting the Bible to show how it’s possible for Jesus to be 100% God and 100% man with nothing left over. The Christian theist must now try to make sense of this claim, coming as it does from an ancient superstitious people who didn’t have trouble believing Paul and Barnabas were “gods in human form” (Acts 14:11; 28:6). The Christian theist must not assume prior to examining the evidence that there is an answer to the problem of horrendous suffering in our world either. And she’d be initially skeptical of believing in any of the miracles in the Bible, just as she would be skeptical of any claims of the miraculous in today’s world supporting other religious faiths. Why? Because she cannot start out by first believing the Bible, nor can she trust the people close to her who are Christian theists to know the truth, nor can she trust her own anecdotal religious experiences, since such experiences are had by people of all religious faiths who differ about the cognitive content learned as the result of these experiences. She would want evidence and reasons for these beliefs.

The outsider test also challenges believers to examine the social and cultural conditions of how they came to adopt their particular religious faith in the first place. That is, believers must ask themselves who or what influenced them and what the actual reasons were for adopting their faith in its earliest stages. Christian, just ask yourself whether the initial reasons you had for adopting your faith were strong ones. Just think about the problems you’ve experienced in your churches along with the intellectual problems you wrestle with in meetings like these. If you could go back in time knowing what you know now about how Christians behave in the church would you still choose to believe? And those initial arguments that convinced you to believe would surely be thought of by you as simplistic and unworthy of your consideration today. Just ask yourself if you would’ve become a Mormon instead, had a joyous friendly Mormon group approached you at that same vulnerable time in your life. Most all of us, most all of the time, do not have good initial reasons to accept our religious faith, which from that time forward acts like a set of blinders with regard to how we see the evidence. We just end up believing what we were taught to believe by people we trust in a Christian dominated culture.

At the very minimum, a believer should be willing to subject her faith to rigorous scrutiny by reading many of the best-recognized critiques of her faith, most of which are written by other professing believers. Evangelical faith, for instance, can be thought of as a small branch out on a limb called Christianity which is attached to a huge tree called religion. The debate should start by settling the question of which Christianity represents true Christianity in our world today. Then too today’s Christian faith bears little resemblance to the theologies and the ethics of the Christianities in the past, and it will bear little resemblance to future Christianities because the Christian faith is like a chameleon, ever changing with the progression of knowledge. But once that debate between Christians is settled, if that’s even remotely possible, the next debate is between Christianity and all other religions on the planet. I claim evangelicals cannot win the first debate, much less the second one. Cultural anthropologist Dr. David Eller is right: “Nothing is more destructive to religion than other religions; it is like meeting one’s own anti-matter twin.” (p. 233).

Nonetheless, if after having investigated your religious faith with the presumption of skepticism it passes intellectual muster, then you can have your religious faith. It’s that simple. If not, abandon it like I did. I suspect that if someone is willing to take the challenge of the outsider test, then her religious faith will be found defective and she will abandon it along with all other religious faiths, like it has me.

Answering Six Major Objections:

One: Religious believers will all object that the OTF does not show their particular religion to be false simply because it’s an overwhelming sociological fact that we believe based upon when and where we were born. William Lane Craig asks, “How does the mere presence of religious worldviews incompatible with Christianity show that distinctively Christian claims are not true? Logically, the existence of multiple, incompatible truth claims only implies that all of them cannot be (objectively) true; but it would be obviously fallacious to infer that not one of them is (objectively) true.” He’s right about this, as are Muslims and Mormons who can say the same thing with regard to their respective faiths. After all, someone can be right if for no other reason than that she just got lucky to be born when and where she did.

But how do you rationally justify such luck? This is why I’ve developed the challenge of the outsider test in the first place, to test religious faiths against such luck. If the test between religious faiths is based entirely on luck, then what are the chances, based on luck alone, that the particular sect within Christian theism that one adheres to is correct?

Two. It’s objected that there are small minorities of people who choose to be Christian theists who were born and raised in Muslim countries and that people can escape their culturally adopted faith. This is true. But these are the exceptions. Christian theists respond by asking me to explain the exceptions. I’m asking them to explain the rule. Why do religious beliefs dominate in specific geographical areas? Why is that?

When it comes to these converts, my opinion is that most of them do not objectively weigh the evidence when making their initial religious commitments. They mainly change their minds due to the influence and believability of the evangelist and/or the wondrous nature of the religious story itself. They have no initial way of truly investigating the proffered faith. Which evangelist will objectively tell the ugly side of the Bible and of the Church while preaching the good news? None that I know of. Which evangelist will tell a prospect about the innumerable problems that Christian scholars like yourselves wrestle with in meetings like this? None that I know of. Which evangelist will give a prospect a copy of a book like mine along with a copy of a Christian apologetics book, and ask her to read them both before making a decision? Again, none that I know of.

Three. It’s objected that merely because rational people disagree about something does not justify skepticism about a particular claim. On the contrary, I think it can and it does. The amount of skepticism warranted depends on the criteria I mentioned earlier. Rational people don’t bet against gravity, for instance, because there is evidence for it that was learned apart from what she was taught to believe in a geographically distinct location. She can personally test it. I’m claiming religious beliefs are in a different category than the results of repeatable scientific experiments, and that this claim is both obvious and non-controversial. Skepticism is best expressed on a continuum, anyway. Some belief claims will warrant more skepticism than others. I’m claiming that religious beliefs warrant probably the highest skepticism given the sociological facts. At the risk of offending believers here, religious beliefs, like beliefs in the Elves of Iceland, the trolls of Norway, and the power of witches in Africa, must be subjected to the highest levels of skepticism given both the extraordinary nature of these claims and how some of these beliefs are adopted in the first place.

Four. Someone may object that my argument is self-defeating. They’ll ask: “Do my cultural conditions overwhelmingly ‘determine’ my presumption of skepticism? If so, then, as Alvin Plantinga questions, are my beliefs “produced by an unreliable belief-producing process” too? If not, then why do I think I can transcend culture but a Christian theist can’t transcend her culture?” In answer I think it’s extremely difficult to transcend our culture because, as I mentioned before, it provides us with the very eyes we use to see with. But precisely because we know from anthropological and psychological studies that this is what culture does to us, it’s possible to transcend the culture we were raised in.

[Example] We know that people do not truly see or hear reality as it is. What we see is filtered by our eyes. What we hear is filtered by our ears. We see and hear only a very limited amount of data in the world. But if we saw and heard the whole electromagnetic and sonic spectra we’d basically see and hear white noise. We know this even though we can’t actually see or hear the white noise for ourselves. We also know that the ground we walk on is moving like a swarm of bees on the microscopic level. So it’s this scientific knowledge about the world which leads us to be skeptical about that which we see and hear.

The same thing is can be said when it comes to anthropological and psychological studies that show we should be skeptical of that which we were led to believe, even though we can’t actually see anything about our beliefs to be skeptical about. And the OTF is as sure of a test as we can come up with to examine our culturally adopted beliefs.

The truth is that my argument is not self-defeating at all. It suggests we should doubt what we believe. It’s not self-defeating to say the odds are that we are wrong. After all, we’re talking about the odds here. Agnostic philosopher J. L. Schellenberg deals with this same type of criticism in these words: “Now this objection can be sound only if my arguments do indeed apply to themselves, and it will not take much to see that they do not.” For there is a huge difference between defending a religious set of beliefs as the one and only correct set, and denying that a set of religious beliefs is justified. His claim is that the adherents of any given religious set of beliefs “have not successfully made their case; it bides us to continue investigation . . . because skepticism is always a position of last resort in truth seeking contexts.”

Five. In arguing that one’s religious faith is overwhelmingly adopted by the “accidents of birth,” have I committed the informal genetic fallacy of irrelevance? This fallacy is committed whenever it’s argued that a belief is false because of the origination of the belief.

I don’t think the genetic fallacy is as much of a big deal as people think it is, especially in religious contexts. If someone has a paranoid belief about the CIA spying on him and we find that the genesis (or origin) of his belief comes from him taking a hallucinogenic drug like L.S.D., then we have some really good evidence to be skeptical of his paranoid belief, even though we have not actually shown his belief to be false in any other way, and even though by doing so someone could say we have committed the genetic fallacy. So in a like manner if we can determine that the origins of the earliest Christianities were created purely by ancient superstitious human beings, we have good grounds for skepticism. But even more to the point, if all of our beliefs are completely determined by our environment then that’s the case regardless of the fact that by arguing for this it commits the genetic fallacy.

Still, there is no genetic fallacy here unless by explaining how believers first adopt their faith I therefore conclude that such a faith is false. I’m not arguing that these faiths are false because of how believers originally adopted them. I’m merely arguing believers should be skeptical of their culturally adopted religious faith because of how they first adopted them.

Six. One final objection asks whether this is all circular. Have I merely chosen a different metaphysical belief system based upon different cultural factors? I deny this, for I have very good initial grounds for starting out with skepticism based upon the sociological, anthropological and psychological facts. Methodological procedures are those tests we use to investigate something. How we go about investigating something is a separate issue that must be justified on its own terms, and I have done so here. Someone cannot say of the outsider test that I ought to be just as skeptical of it as I am about the conclusions I arrive at when I apply the test, since I have justified this test from the facts. One must first dispute the outsider test on its own terms.

39 comments:

Former_Fundy said...

John,

I will be very interested to hear what type of comments and questions you get today.

I think you make a strong case.

Good luck

Toby said...

This is such a compelling argument you've put together John. Excellent work!

Not too important, but Valerie is a psychologist (PhD/PsyD) not psychiatrist (MD).

kiwi said...

"If in today’s world we were born in the Palestinian Gaza strip, we would hate the Jews and probably want to kill them all."

I would drop that part.

Anyway, if I would be an apologist, I would simply answer that it is exactly what apologists do; step outside their faith and try to prove Christianity is true using "facts", or intuition, that people generally agree on.

For example, Craig uses facts accepted by skeptics scholar to infer that the resurrection is probable. Or C.S. Lewis uses our moral intuition, which is not a Christian concept, to make a case for God.

So I guess Christians are generally going to agree with you?

Jason Long said...

This so-called genetic fallacy is the absolute best argument against Christianity, especially when it is paired with empirical data showing the fallibility of human reasoning. Knock them dead today.

Also, you may want to consider that the ears and eyes technically do not filter. They send all information through the hypothalamus, which then does the filtering, before relaying the information to the brain to be interpreted.

kiwi said...

"This so-called genetic fallacy is the absolute best argument against Christianity"

How so?

Deist Dan said...

John,

I agree with Kiwi that you should drop the stereotype of palestinians as being jew haters. Does being born in Israel automatically make one into an Arab hater? They both hate each other for various reasons...many of which are legitimate. Your exhibiting your socially engineered bias here ironically in a speech designed to get people to think outside of theirs. The American media/goverment is known to be jewish/israel biased by those outside of the united states. This was recently demonstrated by the U.S. support of the Israeli slaughter in Gaza and by the forced withdrawal of Charles Freeman as nominee to be Barak Obama's head of the national intelligence council. Check out Charles Freeman's recent interview on CNN with Fareed Zakaria regarding this issue and the 'Israel Lobby'. Walt Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt wrote on the Israel Lobby also, as well as Pat Buchanan, Jimmy Carter and many others.

Aside from that you have a well put together presentation.

Paul S said...

“For example, Craig uses facts accepted by skeptics scholar to infer that the resurrection is probable.”

But Craig already has the presupposition that the resurrection is not only probable, but factual. Christianity isn't based on the assumption that the resurrection may be "probable."

Jeff Howell said...

John, on a personal level, I had this conversation with a friend yesterday. I told them I no longer believe in the Christian god or any god. They were shocked and asked me why. I used your argument, if you were born in a Muslim culture, you would be a Muslim, etc. I really liked this paper, and I'm going to share it with some of my friends. Good Luck!

Harry McCall said...

John,

Great paper and good luck!

My experience has show that evangelical Christianity tends to be too optimistic in its certainty of the truth and its ability to defend it.

I strongly believe you will start your lecture with the audience’s feeling of congeniality; but you may find yourself having ill-will radiated towards you before your days is over.

Remember, your are the Ralph Nader of the Christian world in the GMC Corvair factory whose book and lecture will be equated just as Nader’s Unsafe at Any Speed did to the future of the first American rear engine air cooled car.

Mark said...

I will agree with you that people very likely to adhere to the worldview, of the culture in which they are brought up, but that in no way alters the nature of reality. Going on and on about people's believing the worldview of their culture is only an obfuscation, since your intention is to change the worldview of the culture. What happens if you succeed? Will all of the people coming up in a “non-religious” worldview somehow be more enlightened? I don't think so. They will just be likely adhering to the worldview of their culture. Reality is the way it is, and a person's worldview either compares favorably or unfavorably to that reality.

You talk about investigating your faith, first, from the inside, and then, from the outside, but this is a lot of nonsense. There is no “outside”, at least not in the sense you mean. If you are not “in” the Christian worldview, you are “in” some other worldview. Even the belief that there is no worldview, is a worldview. That makes this whole “Outsider Test for Faith” a nonstarter. Even if there were an “outside”, how do you come to the conclusion that it is a “presumption of skepticism?” The only “outside” that there could possibly be is objectively true knowledge of the nature of reality. I'll take a leap and say that, that is not the “outside” you think your in.

So now we understand that we all hold worldviews that need to be evaluated for their coherence with reality. Is a “presumption of skepticism” the best way to do that? Remember, skepticism not a worldview, but it is, in fact, a belief, (the belief that something is not a fact). Can we find the truth about something by first assuming it is false. No. I will remind you that Michael Shermer reminds us that, “smart people, because they are more intelligent and better educated, are able to give intellectual reasons justifying their beliefs that they arrived at for nonintelligent reasons.” Since our belief, the “presumption of skepticism”, is coming before the investigation, we will ultimately arrive at the false conclusion. Therefore, skepticism is a poor tool for evaluating worldviews.

I will agree with you that, “a believer should be willing to subject her faith to rigorous scrutiny by reading many of the best-recognized critiques of her faith.” This is also what he Bible ask of believers. 1Peter 3:15 “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you.”

My objections to your objections to Six Major Objections are: (They are not all objections)

1.Rationally justify luck? If luck in meaning good fortune, then the existence of good fortune can be tested. Unfortunately, atheism does very poorly on that test.
2.You have examined the exceptions skeptically and therefore, came up with the wrong answer. The case for Christianity can be made using logic, reason and evidence. By the way, the existence of logic and reason are is easily explained by the Christian worldview. Atheism does not fair so well there.
3.Again you assert that skepticism is a method by which truth can be ascertained and again you go wrong. All worldviews can be put to scientific tests as they make objective truth claims about the nature or reality. And are you really going to trot out that tired “extraordinary claims, extraordinary evidence?”. I have not seen any scientific evidence for that.
4.I'm assuming you are discounting any arguments for any worldview other that your own.
5.I think you are correct to say you have not committed a genetic fallacy.
6.You misunderstand how research is done. No drug researcher will say to himself that this drug probably will not work and then spend millions of dollars hoping to be proved wrong. No archaeologist digs in the place he think the ruins are not. Science is done by making observations and designing a model to best fit those observations. Then predictions are made to test the model.

This is fun. Keep it coming.

Anthony said...

I was there at the meeting and enjoyed the presentation. There were 8 individuals who attended and it was well received. No one showed John any disrespect and several were intrigued by the test and asked many questions. A couple expressed disagreement but John can give details of them. All in all it was a successful presentation and I think we got several thinking about the issues.

Anthony said...

Mark,

First, would you mind toning down the polemics a bit and let's have a calm and cool discussion?

Now, let me ask you, as a Christian how do you approach Mormonism or the Jehovah's Witnesses or Islam? Are you not skeptical toward these faiths? Now, approach your own faith with the same skepticism. If you evaluate your faith like you would evaluate those other faiths and it passes muster then fine, if not, then fine as well. Either way you have performed the "outsider test for faith."

The test is to get people to approach their beliefs and assumptions and to question and evaluate them with a certain amount of objectivity which is why skepticism is the way to approach the evaluation. That doesn't mean you remain skeptical. Does that help clarify things?

Mark said...

Hello Anthony,

Actually, no, I do not. If a Mormon or a Muslim makes a claim that that proposes to support their worldview, I evaluate that claim and decide that best way I can if it is true. When someone tells me that information can come into existence without an informer, I do not need to assume it is false, first. I can go to the scientific and historic records and see that it is something that just doesn't happen. I will confess that because I have previous knowledge about some things, I can know, or have a reasonable idea that something is true or not true, but that is a different thing. The minute I form a belief of the truth or falsehood of some new premise, I interfere with my ability to determine the merits of that premise. Shermer is correct, we will use our intelligence to substantiate our beliefs. The answer is to not be skeptical or gullible, but informed and considerate (polite too, but that is not what I meant).

What i said above, that is how I evaluate Christianity, even now, and how I did it when I was an atheist.

I want to reiterate, there is no "outside". We all have a worldview, making none of us outsiders. Until someone makes a case that there is in outside that humans can occupy, there is no outsider test for faith.


Does that help clarify things?

I'm glad the talk went well. Was that in Wheaton, il?

Mark

Drew Mazanec said...

Hey John. Thanks for speaking at the EPS conference. It looks like the picture came out well, too.

http://img24.imageshack.us/img24/1747/img0030t.jpg

Harry McCall said...

Mark: If you are not “in” the Christian worldview, you are “in” some other worldview.

As Anthony has pointed out, Mormons; Jehovah Witnesses; Seventh Day Adventists and Fundamental Baptists go from door to door in neighbors looking to convert anyone who is not of their sect’s belief system.

So exactly what is a Christian Worldview?

The New Testament believers had an eschatological worldview that the whole system was ending in their own life time with the return of Jesus.

Likewise, Mormons, Jehovah Witnesses, Seventh Day Adventists and Fundamental Baptists are all sects based on an apocalyptic eschatology and all three sects have had members state personally to me that any "so-called Christian" group that is not of their doctrinal stand is of Satan.

Thus, any Mormon who attends Bob Jones University will not be allowed to attend the LDS Ward or they will be expelled from the University.

So, again, Mark: Exactly what is a Christian Worldview?

Mark said...

Hello Harry,

I do not think that what you are driving at, is what Anthony was trying to point out.

I am refuting "The outsider Test for Faith" by pointing out that there is no "outside", that the case was not made that a "presumption of skepticism" is an objective position for evaluating worldviews, and that skepticism is not useful for getting at truth.

If the point you are trying to make is that Christianity is undefinable, perhaps you also take issue with it blog owner, who seems to think that Christianity is defined well enough to debunk?

If you want to make a blog posting about the apparent contradictions of the church, I'll happily comment on those.

Mark

Chad said...

Thanks for the presentation, John. It was a pleasure seeing you again!

Much of what I take issue with is brought up nicely up Mark:

The “outsider test of faith” posture, presumption, method, or what have you, is at worst either (a) self-refuting, given that it rests on presuppositions that by its own lights need justification from the outside, or at best (b) unjustified, given that it is not obviously a neutral, self-justified presumption. Regarding (b), as at one point you seemed to admit, the “outsider test of faith” is really no different than methodological naturalism.

Perhaps I’ll read your paper and formalize my thoughts on my blog.

Chad McIntosh

Deist Dan said...

Mark said...

"You talk about investigating your faith, first, from the inside, and then, from the outside, but this is a lot of nonsense. There is no “outside”, at least not in the sense you mean. If you are not “in” the Christian worldview, you are “in” some other worldview. Even the belief that there is no worldview, is a worldview. That makes this whole “Outsider Test for Faith” a nonstarter."

The "outsider test" idea is not to remove oneself from all worldviews and start from scratch with a blank slate. It means to be willing to examine Christianity from the perspective of a non-christian, hence the outsider.

Yes this assumes that christians hold some basic critical thinking skills, which may be assuming to much.

Mark would you rather people naively believe everything they are told? Do you not understand that people analyze all the information they hear as reasonable or unreasonable? Do you not understand that outlandish (being generous here) claims require more scrutiny that normal claims?

Do you not understand that saying "jesus was raised from the dead" is not the same as saying "jesus went to the store"?

Is it unreasonable to ask/challenge Christians to try to analyze the belief system that many of them were indoctrinated with from birth, to see if they have any rational reason to believe such?

Mark said...

"So now we understand that we all hold worldviews that need to be evaluated for their coherence with reality."

Um, do you seriously think anyone here did not know that already?

Last I checked Christians have long agreed with laws of logic, and critical thinking and endorse such as accurate ways to account for truth and reality.

Do you seriously think it is problematic to ask religious believers to step out of their bubble and use those agreed upon logical principles to analyze whether they believe what they believe for rational reasons, or because they were indoctrinated with it and accepted such beliefs uncritically.

Mark you appear threatened by John's challenge and are trying to justify not taking part. I think you are afraid of what you would find if you did step out of your christian bubble, and objectively analyzed the evidence (actually lack thereof) for Christianity.

You can bury your head in the sand if you want.

John W. Loftus said...

Deist Dan hit the nail on the head when he said: "Mark you appear threatened by John's challenge and are trying to justify not taking part. I think you are afraid of what you would find if you did step out of your christian bubble, and objectively analyzed the evidence (actually lack thereof) for Christianity."

I was a bit disappointed in the turnout but like Anthony said we got 'em thinking. Still, it was an honor to be asked.

CodewordConduit said...

I like this argument.

Tight.

Good stuff.

:)

Mark said...

Hello,

First for Dan,

Hi Dan,

So if not from the "outside" (BTW outside the bubble is the same thing), then from where? Do I pretend to be a Atom follower before I can investigate some claims about Christianity? Oh, you mean atheist! Who (Sorry, What) made you the decider?

What you are asking is circular. You ask me to evaluate, as an atheist, an argument that says I should evaluate arguments atheistically.

I don't need to be an atheist, to see that there is no better explanation for the for the evidence surrounding the Resurrection, than Jesus being raised from the dead. I don't need to be a Christian to see that naturalism has no, good explanation for the size and complexity of the genetic code. That one was the first chink in my atheist armor. I could see, as an atheist, that atheism wasn't working.

As far as the Extraordinary claims issue goes, you are going to have to do better than relying on atheist dogma. Cough up a proof, some evidence, something.

Hey, when you evaluate my arguments, do it as a Wiccan, that would be great, thanks (unless you find that threatening).


For John

Hello John,

No, not threatened, I am just evaluating the your argument, on its own merits. But wouldn't you want me to evaluate and atheist's argument from a Christian POV, as you would have me evaluate Christian argument from an atheist POV?

I'm glad your talk went well, even if the turnout was poor.

Thanks for the Post.

Mark

John W. Loftus said...

Mark, I'd like for you to read my argument again if you would, please. I think a closer reading of it will answer your arguments.

You wrote, But wouldn't you want me to evaluate and atheist's argument from a Christian POV, as you would have me evaluate Christian argument from an atheist POV?

This is where you go wrong. I'm not arguing for atheism, which is understood by me as the rejection of all gods and goddesses. I'm coming up with a test to examine the claims of people who think such entities exist. I'm arguing on behalf of skepticism which needs no method. The skeptic simply doubts and says, "Show me."

What's the basis for this kind of doubt? Sociological/demographic evidence, like religions being separated into distinct geographical areas around the globe; anthropological evidence that shows us what we believe is so ingrained within us that do not see culture but we see "with" culture. And there is psychological evidence that suggests we have a very strong tendency to confirm what we already have come to believe--that we have a confirmation bias, as Shermer and Tarico indicate.

Given this overwhelming data I'm suggesting we should do the honest, the consistent and the brave thing by plucking out our eyes and taking a good hard look at them (proverbially speaking).

All I hear you doing is making excuses because you simply do not want to know the truth. Why object to a method that can help you know the truth?

Anthony said...

Actually I think I am beginning to understand why Mark says what he does. The problem for him is he cannot escape his worldview nor think objectivity from an outsider perspective. So, for example, when it comes to Mormonism, the Jehovah's Witnesses, Islam, (insert any other religious perspective or worldview) it's not that Mark rejects them because he is skeptical that they are true, he rejects them because they are not Christianity.

It also appears that for Mark the term "skepticism" denotes "atheism."

Is this not how you see things Mark?

Mark said...

John, you are trying to arrive at a destination in a car that doesn’t run.
I am sorry to keep dragging everyone back to the original argument, but here is where OTF fails.

1. Atheism or not, there is no “outside”. You are not outside of a worldview, just in a different one. You were going to “propose and argue on behalf of the OTF, the result of which makes the presumption of skepticism the preferred stance when approaching any religious faith, especially one’s own”, but then never did. You just assumed it to be superior, and then went on. Can I include you when you add “especially one’s own?”

2. You have not shown that a “presumption of skepticism” is useful for testing religious belief. The only reason you gave for valuing skepticism was that a particular religious belief was probably wrong, but again, you start at the end by proclaiming that the “particular set of religious beliefs you have adopted is wrong.” Using skepticism to promote skepticism is circular. Nor have you confronted my objections to skepticism, that it is a belief and therefore not useful for evaluating truth. Please refer back to the Shermer quote to so thoughtfully provided.

You stay “Why object to a method that can help you know the truth?” Because the method you propose if fallacious. And so far nobody has even attempted to refute my arguments, just gone on about my being Christian and not understanding. Nor has anyone tried to refute the superiority of my method of evaluating truth claims, when I said “The answer is to not be skeptical or gullible, but informed and considerate.” (Is it tactless to quote yourself?)

Oh, and Anthony, no, I have explained twice (now three times) what skepticism is. It is OTF that proposes “presumption of skepticism” as “outside,” which has to be some kind of worldview.

Deist Dan said...

Mark said...

"Atheism or not, there is no “outside”. You are not outside of a worldview, just in a different one."

Yes so examine christianity from a different worldview. How about a muslim worldview, they believe in a god, they believe miracles are possible, but they are skeptical about the new testament documents. They believe corruptions of the documents took place and their literal historical claims in them cannot be verified.

So examine the arguments for the new testament documents with your mind open for the first time in your life, or do you think assuming they are true and infallible is a better move?

You do not need to assume there is no god, or that miracles do not happen, to skeptically consider the evidence for christianity or specifically the resurrection of the dead.

Most people that believe in a god and miracles, obviously do not believe that all miracle claims are true, or that god is behind every supernatural claim. Even william lane craig concedes that natural explanations should be used first when interpreting a given phenomena.

Mark said...

"You have not shown that a “presumption of skepticism” is useful for testing religious belief."

Is the presumption of truth a better option? Mark are you thinking about what you are saying, or simply just trying to argue?

Mark do you just walk around believing everything you hear is true until proven otherwise? Obviously not since you reject scientology, mormonism, islam, etc. So on what grounds do you reject those "faiths" as false? Were you being skeptical?

Greg Mills said...

In John's argument there seems to be a collorary is the inane divine watchmaker parable (only in John's case, the argument is coherent).

You are walking in a field, and you come across a book you aren't familiar with. The title reads simply "The Bible".

You sit down and read it there in the field, without discussing it with another soul.

Surely, this book is the product of men. It's a book for goodness sake. Do you, based upon your reading, accept the authorship of the book as divine? How could you?

John W. Loftus said...

Mark said...Atheism or not, there is no “outside”.

There is an "outside" to Islam. You're it! There is an "outside" to Mormonism. Again, you're it. Such an outsider perspective is a skeptical one, as I said. That's all it is...it's a position of skepticism otherwise known as agnosticism, where one questions all religious entities and explanations.

Mark said...You are not outside of a worldview, just in a different one.

Skepticism isn't a worldview and neither is atheism. No one cannot predict in advance what an atheist believes just by knowing s/he doesn't believe in any god.

Mark said...Can I include you when you add “especially one’s own?”....Using skepticism to promote skepticism is circular.

I dealt with that kind of objection and there is no parity here at all. Skepticism makes no claims so there is nothing to be skeptical about skepticism. It merely doubts the claims of others. It's the best and only way to come to the truth. Think of it this way: what is your first reaction to someone who claims he can fly through the night to different parts of the earth? Skepticism? Me too!

How can one be skeptical of skepticism? To be skeptical of skepticism would result in us being gullible, or in believing everything told to us. But that is patently wrongheaded.

Mark said...Nor have you confronted my objections to skepticism, that it is a belief and therefore not useful for evaluating truth.

What is there about skepticism that makes it a belief? A belief in what? It's merely a very effective critical thinking tool that filters out all of the less than adequate beliefs that don't have much of a chance to be true.

Mark said...“The answer is to not be skeptical or gullible, but informed and considerate.”

What makes someone informed and/or considerate? Not being gullible, that's for sure. Rather this best describes someone who questions and demands good reasons to believe.

Chad said...

"Still, it was an honor to be asked."

You asked the EPS.

John, are you going to discuss the objections that were brought up in the Q&A at the reading?

Mark said...

Hello John,

You said...There is an "outside" to Islam. You're it! There is an "outside" to Mormonism. Again, you're it. Such an outsider perspective is a skeptical one, as I said. That's all it is...it's a position of skepticism otherwise known as agnosticism, where one questions all religious entities and explanations.

So where is the "outside" of OTF if not the "presumption of skepticism? " Are you now saying a "position of skepticism" or agnosticism is the worldview of OTF? I really think this is an important clarification you need to make.

BTW, skepticism is not agnosticism. Though, further down in the very same comment, you do get it right. You say "it (skepticism) merely doubts the claims of others." From your own words you see that skepticism is a belief, (the belief that something is not a fact). Other wise, why doubt it? So we now see again that Shermer's quote, "smart people, because they are more intelligent and better educated, are able to give intellectual reasons justifying their beliefs that they arrived at for nonintelligent reasons,” (Emphasis added)
applies to skepticism, and disqualifies it, as a tool, for any serious search for truth. Don't worry, the irony is not lost on me.

Lacking a better method, I will stick to NOT be skeptical, and NOT being gullible, but informed and considerate, which is perfectly compatible with questioning and demanding good reasons to believe.

I'm glad we finally got the “wheels up”, on this discussion.

Mark

Deist Dan said...

Mark,

You are right, it is perfectly reasonable to believe that a palestinian jew was born of a virgin, turned water into wine, walked on water, healed the lepers/sick, cast out demons, argued with demons, got tempted by a demon, raised the dead, provided an all you can eat lunch for 5000 and then 7000, calmed storms, got resurrected from the dead, and flew up into heaven where he sits on a throne and answers the prayers of millions of people.

What reason can anyone possibly have to be skeptical of that?

After all we have a few anonymous manuscripts from over a hundred and fifty years after the fact that said it happened. What more proof does a person need?

John W. Loftus said...

Chad, people submit papers to conferences like this one and so did I. They invited (asked) me to read mine at their conference.

Remind me of any objection you thought was a good one, or list a few of your own.

And while you're doing so tell me why one should NOT be skeptical of that which we were taught to believe? I don't see any reason for not being skeptical. To argue against the outsider test should be a huge indicator that you are brainwashed and that you don't want to actually consider the merit of that which you were taught to believe.

Do you think a Mormon or an Orthodox Jew or a Muslim or a Hindu should take the outsider test? You do don't you? You think they shouold be skeptical about that which they were taught to believe. Why then do you exempt yourself?

Mark said...

Oh Dan...

And just when I though we were on our way, we crash back to the runway.

:-(

Brian said...

This is an interesting topic. Here are a few observations and questions about Loftus' view.

Suppose we have a set S of propositions. Under what conditions (according to Loftus) should we subject belief or disbelief in S (i.e. non-skepticism about S) to an Outsider Test (OT)? Loftus suggests it is appropriate to have something like a "spectrum" of skepticism, depending on the nature of S. He clearly thinks that religious belief requires a (nearly maximal) skeptical OT. He hasn't given us a clear criterion of why this should be, but it looks as if the fact that there is significant disagreement about religious beliefs warrants the (strong) OT. So perhaps it's just that: if there is significant disagreement about S, then anyone who takes a non-skeptical position on S must do so only after applying an OT, where the "outside" view is one that, whatever else it is, presupposes agnosticism with respect to S.

We're not told explicitly what will count as the relevant kind or manner of significant disagreement. For instance, can diachronic disagreement be sufficient to warrant an OT? (I.e. some number of people at time t1 held a view about S that is incompatible with the view held by some number of people at time t2, where t1 and t2 are distinct)? If so, does it matter how much temporal distance lies between t1 and t2? Or must disagreement be (only) synchronic? How large should the number of people in each group be before we demand an OT? Does the proportion matter?

Or perhaps disagreement will count as significant (enough to require an OT) only when some further condition is met, for instance when there is some suitably high correlation between the epistemic attitude (belief, disbelief, non-belief, withholding belief, etc.) taken toward S, and some (putatively) epistemically irrelevant fact, like geographical location or historical epoch. (Of course, relevance should be fleshed out a bit in a non-question-begging way.) Or perhaps we can apply Loftus' "counterfactual test" to a given set of persons' beliefs concerning S: would they have believed differently concerning S if some (putatively) epistemically irrelevant fact had been different? Still here we'll need to restrict the principle considerably (I would think), since I can think of hardly any interesting beliefs that could survive this unqualified test.

Secondly, when we apply an OT, what can we legitimately hold fixed as "background evidence" (B) with which to assess S? Presumably, a minimal requirement is that B presupposes agnosticism about the set of beliefs in question (S). But what else can we accept in B? Won't this be highly controversial? Presumably it should include (all? only? plus obvious entailments? etc.?) basic beliefs - beliefs that have a source of warrant or justification non-inferentially (i.e. not in virtue of other beliefs). But there has been, and still is, significant disagreement (certainly in the philosophical, and even scientific, community) about which belief-producing sources can confer warrant in the basic way. Indeed, as Loftus is I'm sure aware, there are those theists who claim that certain types of theistic belief might be "properly basic." There is disagreement about this claim, but can Loftus give us a non-question-begging argument for excluding it in this dialectical context? (By analogy: imagine if a skeptic about whether memory can ever be a source of justified belief insisted that one subject memory beliefs to an OT, and that one couldn't (therefore) include memory beliefs in B. Assuming, as seems obvious, that memory can be a source of at least some (defeasibly) justified beliefs, how would this be shown, given the stricture that memory beliefs must be excluded from B?)

Thirdly, does Loftus consider himself merely "lucky" to have been born in an era and in a place where, roughly speaking, the scientific worldview is considered authoritative, and where rational inquiry is given (epistemic) pride of place? He might have been born at times or in places where not all - or none - of these things were true. Does Loftus owe us a "rational justification" for this luck (whatever that might amount to)? If not, why is Loftus justified in holding those things - the privileging of scientific and rational methods - as somehow fundamental in a way that makes them immune from the "luck" objection? I suspect his answer will reveal what he might be assuming are properly taken to be *basic* sources of justification; I suspect further that his answer will beg the question against theistic belief. But I'm happy to remain agnostic about it until I hear more about his views.

David said...

If John is merely claiming that Christians should subject their faith to rigorous evidential scrutiny, then I find nothing particularly controversial with such an assertion.

Of course, not all Christians will agree that having evidence is necessary for their beliefs to be justified. And not everyone will agree on what sort of evidence is relevant for justifying such belief.

But at face value, his argument is fairly straightforward, and need not represent a particular threat to Christian belief.

John W. Loftus said...

Brian said…Suppose we have a set S of propositions. Under what conditions (according to Loftus) should we subject belief or disbelief in S (i.e. non-skepticism about S) to an Outsider Test (OT)?

I had already written an answer when 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."

Brian said…Loftus suggests it is appropriate to have something like a "spectrum" of skepticism, depending on the nature of S. He clearly thinks that religious belief requires a (nearly maximal) skeptical OT. He hasn't given us a clear criterion of why this should be, but it looks as if the fact that there is significant disagreement about religious beliefs warrants the (strong) OT.

See above. Because religious belief falls on the wrong side of every one of the above criteria we should have the most skepticism about our culturally adopted religious beliefs.

Brian said…Or perhaps we can apply Loftus' "counterfactual test" to a given set of persons' beliefs concerning S: would they have believed differently concerning S if some (putatively) epistemically irrelevant fact had been different? Still here we'll need to restrict the principle considerably (I would think), since I can think of hardly any interesting beliefs that could survive this unqualified test.

As I said, there are levels of skepticism. If none of our beliefs survive the outsider test without qualification then all of our beliefs should be subject to some level of skepticism. But we can still accept many of our beliefs. I do not require Cartesian certitude. That goal is illusive and unfounded. It’s just that many of them we should hold provisionally or tentatively. What’s the problem in that? Skepticism is a virtue in my opinion. Gullibility is not.

Brian said…Secondly, when we apply an OT, what can we legitimately hold fixed as "background evidence" (B) with which to assess S?....Indeed, as Loftus is I'm sure aware, there are those theists who claim that certain types of theistic belief might be "properly basic." There is disagreement about this claim, but can Loftus give us a non-question-begging argument for excluding it in this dialectical context?

Again, the level of skepticism depends on the criteria mentioned above. There are some things which we simply hold to tentatively and provisionally. After all, my memory might fail me. I might actually be nothing but brains in a mad scientists vat. I might be dreaming now, or in some kind of matrix. But I don’t think so at all, and I have good reasons not to think so.

Brian said…Thirdly, does Loftus consider himself merely "lucky" to have been born in an era and in a place where, roughly speaking, the scientific worldview is considered authoritative, and where rational inquiry is given (epistemic) pride of place?....Does Loftus owe us a "rational justification" for this luck (whatever that might amount to)? If not, why is Loftus justified in holding those things - the privileging of scientific and rational methods - as somehow fundamental in a way that makes them immune from the "luck" objection?

In answer I would have to say that yes, I was lucky to have been born when and where I was born to know what I do in order to offer the OTF as a critique of religious faith. We have experienced an explosive growth of scientific knowledge that has produced the modern world. Unless I could’ve come up with this vast amount of knowledge myself then I wouldn’t know any different than someone who was born in 4000 BCE if I too was born then. So the rational justification for this luck is to be found in science itself and with it the acknowledgement that skepticism about causes is a virtue and progresses our knowledge about the world. Even now we must still hold to that which we know tentatively and provisionally, but such things as gravity don’t leave much for doubt.

The Jesting Fool said...

John,

Thanks for posting this article. My own experience with religion makes it easy for me to relate to what you say regarding social and cultural conditioning, or the 'accident of birth'. The OTF seems to be a very practical way of examining one's beliefs; indeed, my own method of rejecting Christianity was very similar in its general skepticism--although I wasn't very aware of the actual process at the time, and still struggle to define it. In this, your thoughts are very helpful.

I also read your response to Reppert, and I quote a statement from it that made me smile:

"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."

Five years ago I would have confidently lambasted this proposition. Now I concur.

I read a large portion of the comments to this post (not all of them, simply because of their massive quantity) and I noticed extended debates apparently founded on the confused idea that 'skepticism' is just another 'worldview' to be doubted. Hopefully I am correct to understand it rather as a neutral position of evaluation.

In short, I enjoyed reading this post. Thanks again.

TJF

Scott said...

You ask the christian theist to examine and or back up their claims without using the Bible as their resource and they will see the downfall of their faith. You also ask them to read your recommended readings in order to see the truth. Ironically by the very core of your argument you act the very same way. Intellectually you say that the writings or books you recommend hold any more weight or truth than the other. How could you ask any Theist to back up his or her position without the evidence in the writing of which they believe including yourself. You said it yourself (Critical scholarship is what we should all try to attain. Critical scholars “are prepared to interpret the text against their own preferences and traditions, in the interest of intellectual honesty.”) This statement nullifies your argument stating that truth should revolve around self. Therefore placing you as the authority for truth. If so, this theory breaks down for anyone outside of you because it different for each "self".

Breckmin said...

Michael Schermer - "smart people, because they are more intelligent and better educated, are able to give intellectual reasons justifying their beliefs that they arrived at for nonintelligent reasons.”

My problem with this statement is not only that it is general and doesn't deal with anything specific (any specific intellectual reason for justifying what is logical and rational to agree with), but it IRONIC in that it does not address "smart angels."

I have had the above statement given as a response to my explanations in theodicy...but the one statement that university professors seem to through out that bothers me is "explaining it all away."

What is the difference between explaining it? and explaining it away?

We can use 10's of thousands of examples of things which are historical which their knowledge of is passed down from generation from generation. It doesn't determine truth. It is a red herring to look at the fallacy of argumentum ad populum as though the children of the populum have
anything more or less to do with the fallacy.

mdg583 said...

An assumption made is that we all see the same evidence. The people of the world 3000 years ago could have told Israel that their belief in God was just a matter of the sociological upbringing. Try telling that to them as they crossed the red sea on dry ground, or as the sun moved backwards through the sky at a man's request. Do you think the disciples, who saw Jesus resurected, would have passed this test?

I think another assumption here is that science is the more reliable source of truth.

Apart from that, I am not sure what to say. God's word does address these sorts of discussions. Here is something:

2 Thessalonians 2:10
The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders, 10and in every sort of evil that deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved.

That shows a few things. First, it kind of counters my own argument - miracles are not the final source of truth. And it points out something about the kicker being whether people love the truth. For at least some, it is more a matter of will than evidence.

John 14
9Jesus answered: "Don't you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, 'Show us the Father'? 10Don't you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. 11Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves.

Here again, miracles are secondary, but are valid.
So what Jesus suggests (obviously) is that there is a valid and convincing reason to believe him. In John 5:31 to the end of the chapter Jesus claims that his testimony is valid, and goes on to explain that the issue is the hearts of the people who are listening. God testifies to the Son, but there are many who don't hear it.

And John 10:37, same sort of thing:
37Do not believe me unless I do what my Father does. 38But if I do it, even though you do not believe me, believe the miracles, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father."


"If in today’s world we were born in the Palestinian Gaza strip, we would hate the Jews and probably want to kill them all." This is a seperate issue, but I think that is a bad picture of the average palestinian, even in Gaza.