More Criticisms of The Outsider Test For Faith Answered

A guy named Joshua has criticized my OTF. Here is what he said and my response to him.

He finds that I am unclear about the test and as such there are not one but five (different?) tests because I'm not clear about it. Joshua is doing three things with me and my test in order to maintain an improbable faith.

1) He’s mistaking my attempts at clarifying and further explaining the OTF as different tests, which is wholly inappropriate rhetoric. 2) He’s faulting me for not writing to the professional philosopher, which, if I did so would not be my target audience. 3) He’s chosen to personally offend me with his rhetoric in hopes that I will not respond so he can have the last word. All in all this is indeed an interesting strategy, but it will not work with me. Leaving aside his many mischaracterizations of my position, and leaving aside the things I’ve already addressed, along with his offensiveness, I’ll briefly respond.
He said: Whether Loftus thinks skepticism is a presumption or a “control belief”, something we start with or something we conclude with, is now wholly beyond me.
Both. I said it is circular but not viciously circular.
He said: This should lead us to “presuppose” skepticism, one of Loftus’s many underdefined terms. But skepticism seems to be a negative term, meaning something akin to “Don’t assume the Bible is true,” or something very much like that. It’s unclear whether Loftus has anything positive in mind for skepticism as an actual investigative methodology for the epistemology of religion.
If he doesn’t know what it means to be skeptical of a positive claim or assertion then he’s being willing obtuse. As Vic Stenger repeats, “absence of evidence is evidence of absence when the evidence should be there and is not.” In my book I argue for Hume’s standards, methodological naturalism, and the scientific method itself. There are no better standards or methods. What are the alternatives if not?
He said: Loftus repeats his book’s claim that sociological data is akin to a “background” fact to be used in assessing religious “truth claims.” It is important for the non-specialist reader to realize that, usually, sociological or cultural arguments are relevant only to the rationality of religious believers themselves. Say Joshua’s only reason for believing in God is because his trusty uncle told him so. This wouldn’t cast doubt on the proposition “God exists,” but it would cast doubt on the proposition, “Joshua believes in God for good reasons.” This is an important distinction that Loftus frequently ignores.
This analogy is disanalogous and even disingenuous, for we’re not just talking about one case of one uncle telling one person to believe in one kind of God. There are myriads of uncle’s telling a myriad of nephews to believe in a myriad number of gods, and these nephews all believe what they’re initially told. And THAT is what I’m addressing with the OTF. Such a situation does indeed cast doubt on what any given uncle tells his nephew such that these nephews ought to be skeptical of what they were told. Why? Because all nephews believe what they were initially told by their uncles, and because at the very least all but one of these uncles must be wrong. They could even all be wrong.
He said: Loftus says certain rather conspicuous things given his own projects, such as “Christian, just ask yourself whether the initial reasons you had for adopting your faith were strong ones.” Yet Loftus doesn’t want us examining his initial reasons for adopting his atheism, and to instead examine the new arguments in his book (and arguments in future books, and on blogs). Remember, not only did Loftus have weak-to-bad reasons for adopting his atheism, but had he been born in Saudi Arabia, he likely would have never become an atheist at all.
I deny I have weak reasons to be an agnostic. That’s the default position. And I deny I have weak reasons to be an atheist once I leave the default position. I claim that when it comes to the truth about these sorts of questions agnosticism is the default position precisely because of these sociological factors. We should all doubt all of our conclusions, and I do. Join me won’t you?
He said: The worst case scenario is that Loftus’s argument yields an infinite regress of Outsider Testing. Shouldn’t we do Outsider Tests with respect to the beliefs that led us to take the Outsider Test? And so on.
This is a red herring. In one sense all tests would fall prey to such an objection. And yet we’re all just mere mortals. Agnosticism is the default position anyway, as I have repeatedly said.
He said: Here he’s trying to argue that we should have skepticism about beliefs arrived at through cultural means. As Alvin Plantinga has shown, this sort of thing reduces to attacking the truth of belief, in those cases where the belief system includes beliefs about how the system came about. For example, Christians will often hold that the spirit of God gets much of the credit for their belief. So if Loftus is correct about cultural determinism, then he actually is objecting to the truth of Christian belief. In any case, I’m not sure I can take Loftus seriously when he says he’s just trying to convince Christians to use skepticism for their further investigations into their beliefs.
Here he uses the word “skepticism” as if he knows what I mean by it, so which is it? Does he or doesn’t he know what I mean by it? If he doesn’t know then he just doesn’t know, right? And if so he cannot turn around and act like he does.

In any case, even if we grant Plantinga’s argument, the fact remains that all belief systems that excuse themselves from scientific testing are belief systems which include beliefs about how the system came about. So there is no way to decide between them. And they are almost certainly culturally caught in the culture of one’s origin. So I see no reason not to be skeptical about all these kinds of belief systems, and I see no reason why the Christian believer wouldn’t want to be skeptical about his own system of beliefs because of this.
He said: But the Christian can just say, “Hi John Loftus. I’ve given arguments for my Christian belief. Therefore I don’t need to apply the Outsider Test to it.” Loftus claims he doesn’t have to test his test, because his test has good grounds for it, despite the indisputable cultural data he keeps talking about, that shows Loftus would not have developed the Outsider Test if he was born on Mars. But the Christian usually thinks she has good ground for her beliefs, despite the indisputable cultural data.
Again, these things all point to agnosticism being the default position. Why can’t he understand that? Because he’s trying his best against the arguments to defend what he was raised to believe and he just cannot bring himself to doubt what he was taught. I’m sure every believer in every different culture would say the same thing as he did here, which I dealt with in my book.
He said: Lastly Loftus should realize that we need to figure out the best way to investigate religious claims. To me it seems to be that proper methodology will be to put ourselves in situations where we would be likely to perceive religious objects – say, God. For example, it would be silly to write off Islamic belief on the basis of reading a book about it, when Muslims claim to have palpable experiences of God. If we really want to investigate Islam so that we can justifiably say it is groundless, we at least need to include some experiential investigation.
Muslims do indeed claim to have done the experimental investigations. And surprise, they have experienced Allah! Maybe he can tell me why the Mormon Church still exists now that DNA evidence has conclusively shown that Native American Indians did not come from the Middle East too? His test comes straight out of William James whose argument only serves to reinforce what one believes. Any believer who approaches his faith as James sought to do would only become more entrenched in what he originally believed.
He said, quoting me:
Let me put it to you this way, if you read everything that I have read and experienced everything that I have experienced, then you would think on these issues exactly the same way I do. Deny this if you can.
I have an even better suggestion. If I became John Loftus, my beliefs would be those of John Loftus. Deny this if you can!
My point, since he missed it, is that this is the case for every single one of us when it comes to all of our beliefs. I don’t claim we cannot be rational. We can. I only maintain that the human mind is extremely malleable and capable of believing a great many different mutually exclusive things. It is a fact that all of us hold to beliefs which cannot all be true and which contradict other things we accept!

35 comments:

edson said...

It seems that the Outsider Test of Faith is one of the most powerful arguments of John, or so he thinks, that debunks Christianity.

Now, yes, I do agree that I'm required to be a skeptic and everyone is required to do so, before adopting any faith. And surely, a zealot Hindu, a staunch Muslim or an orthodox Jew, just regards Christianity the way I, as a conservative Christian, regard their repective faiths, that they are false. So how do we proceed from here?

First, this is not a simple scenario. It is kind of a parbale of Jesus where a man which sowed good seed in his field, but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way. But when the blade was sprung up, and brought forth fruit, then appeared the tares also.

So a [skeptic] came and said unto him, Sir, didst not thou sow good seed in thy field? from whence then hath it tares? He said unto them, An enemy hath done this. The [skeptic] said unto him, Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up? But he said, Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn.

Secondly, there are testabe truth claims to Christianity that are necessary for anyone to be a Christian, a skeptic has no excuse on this. By definition a Christian is a disciple of an historical Jesus. Just to learn from what Jesus teaches in the gospels. In the same way a Muslim learn from Muhammad or a Jew from Moses. Of course, if you are a good student you'll be like your teacher. As a result, good Muslims learn from Muhammad to the letter and they become terrorists.

The resurrection accounts on Jesus just plays a vindicative role to Jesus claims, to give hope and at any rate, this is an added advantage on the value of Christianity. Some liberal Christians do believe Jesus was born of a physical father and did not raise from the dead. By definition they are Christians, but the ones without hope (of which Paul was very critical of) If you believe in an historical Jesus of the gospel existed, why dont you believe in his resurrection?

Thirdly, John must realize that his form of skepticism is very rare, so to speak. He assumes that everyone must take a neutral position before making any faith decision. He forgets that this almost impossible and Christianity is an actively proselytizing faith whose many viable members today decided to be Christian out of emotional and spiritual pressure. They joined in without thinking much and "they loved it". And they heard about the Good News when in bad situation, assumed it to be true, accepted it and finally trusted it. And that's what faith means. And that's what he did when he joined in at the first place.

So what I want really to know from John is: If he, himself, affirm that Jesus existed historically - why does he want everybody to be skeptical of this? Well, I know there are some particular things pertaining to Jesus where skepticism is a virtue and that's why we have so many Christianities, but should we really debate over the truth that Jesus existed? I'm really being sincere with this.

edson said...

Anyway, it seems an agnostic, skeptical, position about God is rather assumed to be superior where science is taken to be a natural compass to show as the way.

Now my querry is who is a good agnostic? An exemplary skeptic? I mean there are so many decisions we make in our lives that that are solely based on human instincts, personal intellect, experiences, convictions, personal tastes, chance, etc. In all these Science is not consulted!!

Now when we bring this into religion, that's seems to be the case. Many are Christians because of Chance, personal tastes, etc. Science is not consulted here and in my opinion, its role is very little.

So to any skeptic: Should someone be a skeptical of even his own skepticism? If yes aren't we destroying ourselves and no progress at all in all fields, it implies?

My suggestion is that every decision need to be taken with a bit of risk, optimism and trust. That's how we will move forward. I'm pretty convinced if everyone in this world became a skeptic we will destroy each other for a fraction of a second. We wont do business, we wont fly planes, we wont trust our leaders, we wont even trust ourselves???

Kuade said...

edson - i appreciate your comments and respectful questions, but you clearly haven't read his book. So many issues to point out, but I'll keep it short.

First, the OTF isn't designed in and of itself to debunk anything. It's set up as a framework in which to analyze incoming information. It's designed to be as unbiased as humanly possible (which is almost impossible, but it gives us a good foundation).

Second, it's pretty far fetched to ask, "If you believe in an historical Jesus of the gospel existed, why dont you believe in his resurrection?" If you believe that a historical Elvis existed, why don't we believe that he still roams around today even though many proclaim that he does? Why don't you believe Tupac is alive and in the studio making music although he comes out w/ a new record every six months since he died? Silliness.

Third - "Of course, if you are a good student you'll be like your teacher. As a result, good Muslims learn from Muhammad to the letter and they become terrorists." That's just terrible and goes to show how little you know about the Islamic faith. How about this, "Good Christians learn from the Bible and should all be slave masters, or misogynists, or genocidal, or (input condoned Bible atrocity of choice)" It has to work both ways, right?

"He forgets that this almost impossible and Christianity is an actively proselytizing faith whose many viable members today decided to be Christian out of emotional and spiritual pressure. They joined in without thinking much and "they loved it". And they heard about the Good News when in bad situation, assumed it to be true, accepted it and finally trusted it. And that's what faith means. And that's what he did when he joined in at the first place."

He doesn't forget this. This IS HIS POINT! Are those good reasons to claim the monopoly on truth and eternal salvation? That's the difference between things like personal taste, convictions, and experiences, because two people can hold differences here, but each can still be CORRECT based on preferences and such. According to Christians (if you're right), the "argument from personal taste" won't be enough to save you from an eternity of hellfire and damnation when explained to YHWH why you've been a Buddhist your whole life.

So much more say, but you're clearly arguing from ignorance. At least read the book before criticizing. He also addresses you question of being "skeptical of skepticism" as well.

elbogz said...

Maybe he can tell me why the Mormon Church still exists now that DNA evidence has conclusively shown that Native American Indians did not come from the Middle East too?

I’m a little off topic here, but it amazes me that Christian Apologetics loves to wave this around as a disproof of Mormons. It leads me to the question, doesn’t it also disprove that Noah’s family repopulated the earth? How could there be people that were not descendants of Noah? In 6000 years, DNA isn’t going to change that much is it? *snide laugh*

Rob R said...

It's set up as a framework in which to analyze incoming information. It's designed to be as unbiased as humanly possible (which is almost impossible, but it gives us a good foundation).



By one of John's own measures, it isn't the most unbiased of approaches. He suggests that religions are suspect on the grounds that the culture you are raised in leads you in the direction you are raised in.

Well, you can make the same case about John's own observation that the presumption you start with is the one you are most likely to end up with. In light of that, it just means that if Jesus is the way, the outsider test of faith will most likely not lead you to the truth. Of course he shores that up in the preceding chapter (that is he shores it up, but he dioesn't really answer this problem) in his book suggesting that if God is truely loving, then he'll make sure his message passes the outsiders test of faith. But in light of the fact that Jesus and the New Testament authors emphasize the importance of faith, we have no reason to think this is so when the outsider's test of faith requires us to be faithless.

Further, I'd repeat all the other concerns about what the outsider's test of faith is considering we are not told how far to apply it. That is we are told to apply it to religion, but apply it to other areas such as ethics and I doubt the results will be good. Apply it to the belief in an external reality (as opposed to solipsism) and your out of luck. solipsism of course is the ultimate skepticicm (well, perhaps a thorough nihilism goes a bit further). The short of it is that there is no objective way to apply an outsider's test of faith without saying too much.

edson said...

Kuade,

Yes. I haven't read his book.

But that's why I gave the first point on how to deal with so many conflicting faith systems. Who is being more superior here, who is being objective? None. So the only solution in these conflicting scenarios is to let the truth win by itself (did John address this point in his book? I'll get it in few months).

Now, if OTF is designed to analyze incoming information, did he also adress the question of necessary threshold required to impart a skeptic with certainty to make a decision about that incoming information? And the variation of thresholds among different skeptics? I mean, if two buddhists are skeptics, who decide independently to investigate informations about Christianity, and one was immediately knocked down by the incoming information and the other remained indifferent, what do we conclude here? Was the defiant being more objective? I really need to hear your opinion on this.

You didn't understand my point about Jesus and his resurrection. I adressed that to liberal Christians who almost trusts everything about Jesus except his divinity and resurrection. My point was that it is a meaningless form of Christianity which is obviously hopeless and has no basis in scriptures. But still they are a good illustration to show that it is utterly nonsense to be agnostic about Jesus a man, because there are some people who decide to be Christians out of mere good teachings and morality of testable historical Jesus without taking a necessary leap of faith on metaphysical claims surrounding Jesus life.

Are you a Muslim? It takes me a different approach when debating about Islam. In short, I can show you one important error of the Quran and Islam is debunked. Yes, I know Muslims are very sensitive about their prophet and they'll do whatever it takes to protect him, but any way, I wont do it here.

No. Our personal reasons to be Christians are not intended to claim monopoly over truth and eternal salvation. But they are good enough to answer everybody who asks me the reasons I'm a Christian. I really dont care if you are convinced or not about them but I believe they are good reasons. And by the way, they are also good reasons to test the claim of truth about another religion. [I will not accept another prophet who comes after Jesus and claim he is a powerful, final and superior prophet over Jesus, when his life has nothing to back those preposterous claims]

The personal tastes is a very important reason. Some people wont be Christians because they see it not fit for their tastes. Some regard Christianity as a pacifist religion and they are bullish. Some regard it selfless and they are selfish. Some sees Jesus was ignorant and feeble but they are heavilly educated and musculine. Some wont be Roman Catholicism priests because they dont want to surrender orgy.

Do you see how personal tastes can draw someone away from Christianity?

Rob R said...

oops, just caught a goof here:

Of course he shores that up in the preceding chapter

I meant to say that he shores it up in the preceding paragraph.

steve said...

But that's why I gave the first point on how to deal with so many conflicting faith systems. Who is being more superior here, who is being objective? None. So the only solution in these conflicting scenarios is to let the truth win by itself (did John address this point in his book? I'll get it in few months).

edson, he did address that. That's the entire point of the Test.

How do you judge what "truth" is in this case? How do you judge which religion is right? Your parable of the wheat and the tares is flawed because there is the implication that one religion is good and the others are not. "It's obvious", your parable says, "which one is good and which is not."

But the choice of religion is not clear cut like that. The question of which religion is the right one is not nearly so obvious as which plant is the right one, the weed or the food crop.

A tool is needed to examine each religion and determine which is the right one, if any. That's what the OTF is.

Your post makes an assumption that John is saying you can't make if you're really going to examine this problem.

Steven said...

Rob,

You've been harping a lot about the solipsism issue lately. I think you've made your point well, but I don't think your objections are as strong as you do, and in fact, I think they undermine the theological position even more so, or at least you haven't shown how it doesn't undermine your position.

So maybe you can clear a few things up for me. Do you consider that your knowledge of god's existence is internally derived knowledge (like mathematical knowledge)? You seem to have implied this, but you haven't really stated it explicitly.

And if you do hold this position, how is it that you derived that knowledge? I think you need to show how you arrived at this conclusion.

In one of the other threads, you made the point that we ultimately have to simply trust that our senses are mostly accurate. I agree with that statement, but I also think that the trust is not wholly unjustified. Evolutionary processes guarantee that our senses should give us a reasonably accurate representation of reality, since if they didn't we wouldn't have survived due to our faulty senses.

From my perspective, if you can't show that your knowledge of God is internally derived, then you are still making an additional leap that I don't have to make.

isom said...

edson - I apologize for misunderstanding your one argument directed at liberal christians. I actually agree w/ your point here.

However, this doesn't take away from the fact that you're arguing against something that you're not even familiar with, so until then, we can't really have a meaningful dialogue about it.

I am not Muslim, but the notion that you could "debunk" someone's entire faith w/ one singular sura or hadith statement is far fetched. That singular item will of course work for you, as a Christian, but it won't work for a Muslim.

The same is true the other way around. To a Muslim, there are more than a few that could probably claim to quote one verse in the Bible that would "debunk" the whole thing. This is the point of the OTF, to look at your own faith from the outside looking in.

"Our personal reasons to be Christians are not intended to claim monopoly over truth and eternal salvation."

Personally, I'm not referencing the Christian intent, just what comes along w/ the territory. By being a Christian, you must reject all other paths to eternal salvation. Christians are claiming to hold the only truth in this regard. If someone claims the only way to reach D.C. is by airplane, and another person claims it's by train only; then the truthfullness of their statements are not based on personal preference.

Rob R said...

post 1 of 2

Steven


I think they undermine the theological position even more so, or at least you haven't shown how it doesn't undermine your position.

These considerations are aimed at very specific claims that theists need not share and most of them don't. One is that the senses are the arbiter of truth, so if we can't arrive at the justification of belief in God through the senses, then we shouldn't believe in God. So here, pushing this argument consistently leads us to solipsism as the senses cannot prove an external reality. Second is the idea that we can have knowledge without faith. The belief in an external reality is one such item of faith that the senses cannot prove... that insisting on proof from the senses cannot eliminate the possibility of solipsism. Well, faith is not seen as problematic in Christianity.

Do you consider that your knowledge of god's existence is internally derived knowledge (like mathematical knowledge)? You seem to have implied this, but you haven't really stated it explicitly.

I try to go for holistic approach in these matters. The internal parts of knowledge, intuitions, presuppositions, etc don't stand alone for building a world view but work in tandem with experiential and empirical knowledge. no one type of knowledge can cover all the grounds, and what is subjectively available is just as important as what is alleged to be objective and one of the objective aspects of this picture is making sure that all parts are coherent or logically consistent (granted even that is a limited endeavor considering that logic is something that we continue to develop, we have different skills in it and we have different levels of training). Furthermore, knowledge must be developed at the level of the community as well as puerly individualistic epistemologies just can't work. And in all of this, I bite the bullet, I accept and embrace that much of what I believe cannot be proven beyond all doubt as this requirement makes virtually all knowledge impossible. And this entails that I'm not going to be able to convince all peoples of my point of view. In other words, as we Christians have been saying, choices will have to be made. But it's not like the promotion of a world view is what drives the spread of the gospel anyhow. It's important, but more importantly is living a life of love as Jesus described and building the kingdom of God that was inaugurated by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

In short the answer to your question is no. Does this mean that the problem I cited leading to solipsism applies to me? No, that's a problem for people who 1) are overly restrictive on what constitutes sufficient grounds for knowledge (in ways already described elsewhere) and 2) needs knowledge to be absolutely undeniable, or in other words, without faith.

Rob R said...

post 2 of 2



In one of the other threads, you made the point that we ultimately have to simply trust that our senses are mostly accurate.

Well, maybe, but I wouldn't use exactly those words, that our senses are accurate (maybe I did, but here I'm clarifying). It's not that they are accurate that I emphasize, but rather, they effectively communicate an external world to us.

I agree with that statement, but I also think that the trust is not wholly unjustified.

You are right. It's not unjustified. That's my whole point. Trust/faith can be very justifiable if you allow for example existential concerns to have weight in considering truth. But the senses do not justify themselves in their display of an external world.

Evolutionary processes guarantee that our senses should give us a reasonably accurate representation of reality, since if they didn't we wouldn't have survived due to our faulty senses.

If evolution is the most reasonable explanation of the "facts" it is still just part of the narrative delivered by the senses that cannot stand alone to justify themselves hence it cannot be used to justify belief in an external reality.

FYI, Alvin Plantinga has an argument for God from evolution (though it could also be used against evolution as well). He notes that if beliefs or tendencies toward beliefs evolved, they didn't evolve because they are true but because they have survival value. This is a problem since false beliefs can have survival value. He gives an example of a a person who has evolved the desire to be eaten by a tiger combined with the false belief that every time he sees a tiger, it won't eat him, so he runs away from it. Perhaps an even better example of the potential for evolution to erode our capability of knowing truth is from Mike Judge's comedy, "Idiocracy." The setup for the movie explains the principle in a crude but humorous way. Plantinga's argument is that we are capable of perceiving truth is evidence that God guided the process.

So the idea that we evolved the capacity for truth is just one more area where faith is required (whether you believe God was involved or not). You might counter to suggest that this belief isn't unjustified, and I would say, but of course because faith is reasonable part of justification.

From my perspective, if you can't show that your knowledge of God is internally derived, then you are still making an additional leap that I don't have to make.

While I'm going a few extra steps, it's not so much that I'm making an unreasonable leap as it is that I am working from a richer and more robust epistemic approach, one that as been assailed on faulty grounds such as it's controversial or it can't be justified by the five senses or science.

edson said...

isom,

I'm arguing against something I'm not familiar with? Which one? I didn't get your point here.

As regard to Muslims, you obviously don't understand Islam. But I agree with you that Muslims view Islam the way I way view Christianity.

I'm not that arrogant to claim that I'm being more objective with the facts than Muslims, and that's why I said that the ultimate way of knowing the truth over falsehood is to let the time for truth to win over falsity. Do you find this difficult?

Apparently, you are falling in the tempatation of misusing and overhyping the OTF. And you obviously, like John, are misapplying skepticism. How sure are you that I'm not looking at my own faith from the outsider's view point?

"By being a Christian, you must reject all other paths to eternal salvation."

Are those other paths certain?

Does Buddhism preach God and promise eternal salvation?

Does Hinduism philosophy have anything to do with eternal salvation?

I've studied Islam and I'm not willing to risk my life to a guy who could not get things right with simple historical facts (such as that of crucifixion of Jesus) and could not live a moral life, let aside those complex issues pertaining to life, death and eternity.

I've studied Judaism and it's too selfish and not consistent.

Logically speaking, as far as I'm concerned, Christianity is the right and the ONLY right path to eternal salvation. It is consistent, centred on a credible man who showed consistently how it is possible to attain eternal salvation.

RobWalker said...

Edson, the part you’ve italicized is exactly the point. As far as you’re concerned. It doesn’t mean it’s true- it means you think it’s true. Now, had you come from a different place, you likely would be defending Islam with the same zeal. With all due respect, I find it hard to believe you studied all these faiths to the degree that you can claim extensive (or even elementary) knowledge of.

isom said...

edson -

Ultimately, we will agree to disagree. As far as arguing to something you don't understand, I'm speaking to the OTF. In my mind, I'm clarifying, not overhyping, because you haven't even read the OTF.

Using your logic for rejecting Islam, I could argue that I don't trust my life w/ someone who couldn't even get his divinely inspired simple eye witness testimonies to a single event to not contradict themselves.

At the end of the day, I'm glad you are comfortable with your path and do hope that you eventually pick up John's book. Thanks for the dialogue.

Chuck O'Connor said...

Edson you said,

"Logically speaking, as far as I'm concerned, Christianity is the right and the ONLY right path to eternal salvation. It is consistent, centred on a credible man who showed consistently how it is possible to attain eternal salvation."

Can something devoid of observable evidence be logical? Help me out.

Steven said...

Hi Rob,

In short the answer to your question is no. Does this mean that the problem I cited leading to solipsism applies to me? No, that's a problem for people who 1) are overly restrictive on what constitutes sufficient grounds for knowledge (in ways already described elsewhere) and 2) needs knowledge to be absolutely undeniable, or in other words, without faith.


I think your holistic approach has a little too much hand waving involved for my tastes. I think you still need to provide a means for showing that your community/culturally based "knowledge" is veridical when compared with what comes from other communities/cultures. While that won't be difficult for some things, I don't think this is an easy task for religious beliefs.

As for Plantinga's argument. I'm aware of it, but I think it fails. While Plantinga correctly notes that behavior derived from a false belief could have survival value, his argument neglects to account for the obvious point that behavior derived from a true belief would have an even greater survival value. The person that believes that tigers are afraid of fire, and uses that to ward off the tigers, has a better chance of surviving than the person that simply runs away (and might get run down by the tigers as he is running away).

Plantinga's response to this objection is bizarre. It appears as though he's trying to shift the burden of proof by saying that we can't assume that this hypothetical person has the same cognitive faculties that we do. However, we're not making any assumptions here, we're explaining how reliable cognition could arise. To make this argument stick, Plantinga needs to show the implausibility of reliable cognition arising from evolutionary processes, and he hasn't done that.

So, if there is an external reality, I think it is a good bet that our perception of it is reliable if not 100% perfect, barring a knock-down response from Plantinga. ;)

While I'm going a few extra steps, it's not so much that I'm making an unreasonable leap as it is that I am working from a richer and more robust epistemic approach, one that as been assailed on faulty grounds such as it's controversial or it can't be justified by the five senses or science.

We'll have to agree to disagree on this. You may be working from "richer" epistemic approach, but I'm not at all convinced that it is more robust.

Rob R said...

I think you still need to provide a means for showing that your community/culturally based "knowledge" is veridical when compared with what comes from other communities/cultures.

community/culture? I'm not sure you know what I'm talking about when you pair those two. first of all, it isn't "my" community/cultureally based epistemology. Most "modern" knowledge and most knowledge we have that forms our worldview must be founded in the community. Case in point. Science. If you don't rely on community, you can't have much science beyond boiling water. This here is another world of faith that is required. No, this isn't my community based epistemology. It's yours, it's everyone who wants to claim any scientific or historical knowledge. And I extend this to religion as well.

Now to your claim that I need to show that my picture is veridical when compared to some other "cultural/community" approach, I've already shown that my picture lacks several of the problems that would arise from the views espoused here. As for the others, what do you have? See, the problem is that when you hover in generalities, you get nowhere (accept you get what might look like good arguments for atheism like "gee, there are so many religions, they must all be wrong" only in so many more words). What are the competing truth claims?

Admittedly, I've focussed on the negatives of epistemic claims expressed here and I've said only a few positive things for my view most recently in my last post. And the reality is, it's not going to happen in the space of this one blog.

I'll point out that I think one of the most productive approaches to demonstrating the validity of Christianity is given in N T Wright's book "simply Christian" where he points to four aspects of human existence, the cry for justice, our social nature, our love of beauty and the near universal spiritual nature of humanity (granted, there is that aberration of materialists in the west). He points out that these aspects lend themselves very well to the interpretation that they are echoes of the divine, they are signs pointing to our creator. In the rest of the book, he explains the Christian message and how it fits these echoes. I also would note that there are other echoes of the divine, of course none of them non-controversial.

As for Plantinga's argument. I'm aware of it, but I think it fails.

I don't. but the important thing that I said about your comments on evolution came right before I discussed his view. What I say doesn't depend on his argument from evolution so I'm not concerned to twist your arm into seeing it my way on this.

edson said...

Now, had you come from a different place, you likely would be defending Islam with the same zeal. With all due respect, I find it hard to believe you studied all these faiths to the degree that you can claim extensive (or even elementary) knowledge of.

It is an unsubstantiated claim with tendentious nihilistic reasoning.

What about those people who were born Muslims but converted to Christianity during their adult stages of their lives?

They were once insiders of Islam who viewed Christianity from the outside persepective. They are now insiders of Christianity who are now capable of speaking of Christianity and Islam under both perspectives.

And you don't have to find hard to believe what I've written about other faiths. As an outsider of these faiths (assuming it is the case), just study those faiths yourself and tell me what's wrong with the conclusion I came about above.

I'm glad you are comfortable with your path and do hope that you eventually pick up John's book.

I'm troubled by the way you shove John's book down on my throat. If you believe you are doing John a favor of marketing his book, then it is a poor marketing strategy. But thanks for the dialogue too.

Chuck O'Connor said...

Rob R,

You wrote, "I'll point out that I think one of the most productive approaches to demonstrating the validity of Christianity is given in N T Wright's book "simply Christian" where he points to four aspects of human existence, the cry for justice, our social nature, our love of beauty and the near universal spiritual nature of humanity (granted, there is that aberration of materialists in the west). He points out that these aspects lend themselves very well to the interpretation that they are echoes of the divine, they are signs pointing to our creator. In the rest of the book, he explains the Christian message and how it fits these echoes."

Why can't "echoes of the divine" be by-products of mental processes and therefore why can't Christianity just be an invention of these processes like a work of art? Why do I have to accept as fact your "echoes"?

Chuck O'Connor said...

Edson,

You said, "I'm troubled by the way you shove John's book down on my throat. If you believe you are doing John a favor of marketing his book, then it is a poor marketing strategy. But thanks for the dialogue too."

ID's version of Darwin, William Paley said that the shortcut to ignorance is contempt prior to investigation. Why are you so willing to remain ignorant?

Rob R said...

chuck, what isn't the result of a mental process? There isn't anything that can be thought or known outside of having a corresponding mental process.

Wait, I take that back for the absolute redundancy that it is. thinking and knowing is a mental process.

The important matter is that we have faith that our mental processes can correspond to reality. granted to balance against credulity, the mental processes of scrutiny should be developed, but the way it has been developed by some atheists is over board and counterproductive (see just about most of my posts made previously to this effect). Scrutiny doesn't equal doubt (contrary to the OTF) though it may involve it and doubt is not and cannot be the default position of rationality. Only belief can be the default position because knowledge cannot come from the vacuum of passive neutrality.

Why do I have to accept as fact your "echoes"?

got me. it's a matter of faith and if you refuse faith (though inconsistently so if you think you can know much of anything important or at all without it) you can't, but it is similar to the faith in an external reality. All of our senses tell us that there is an external world. they are very strong signposts to the extent that you have to be trained or have discussions like this one to realise that you've taken that trust for granted. Again, the echoes are signposts of transcendence, that there is more to us than mere molecules and biological structures, that the significance that we assign to each other and to the majesty of life aren't just phenomena that we have because they somehow increased our survivability, but rather, they speak directly to truth. And likewise, our grief over the tragedy of the world isn't just there to motivate us to act in ways to preserve our genes but that sorrow is true and it is to be trusted that tells us that there world is NOT the way it ought be, and that what was lost was deeply sacred and valuable, not just a means to pass on genes or a byproduct. And of course the flipside is true, that if the world is not the way it should be, there is a way that it ought to be, so here, to our normal human response to grief, we have a correspondence in the Christian message that it is true that there is a way that the world ought to be and that God has a rescue plan to bring it all about. And not only can we have a future hope, that hope is born today that today we have it within us through the power of Christ to bring a great deal of order, that we can put things to rights as Jesus described confronting evil in the world by compassion, by turning the cheek, by comforting the afflicted and meeting the needs of the poor and restoring our souls through repentance and worship. We may live out our mortal lives before it is completed, but the process is not pie in the sky for tomorrow but it is for today as well.

isom said...

"I'm troubled by the way you shove John's book down on my throat. If you believe you are doing John a favor of marketing his book, then it is a poor marketing strategy."

I only said this as a direct response to your statement that you already intended to pick up his book "in a few months".

Ryan Peter said...

This has been an incredibly interesting dialogue.

Rob R's last comments about grief are very interesting, for the simple fact that it's a very good point in debunking the whole idea that humankind formed religion out of necessity to deal with death etc.

Why form a religion to deal with death? Why be grieved at all?

GK Chesterton could probably lend something important to this debate:

"Mysticism keeps men sane. As long as you have mystery you have health; when you destroy mystery you create morbidity. The ordinary man has always been sane because the ordinary man has always been a mystic. He has permitted the twilight. He has always had one foot in earth and the other in fairyland. He has always left himself free to doubt his gods; but (unlike the agnostic of to-day) free also to believe in them. He has always cared more for truth than for consistency. If he saw two truths that seemed to contradict each other, he would take the two truths and the contradiction along with them. His spiritual sight is stereoscopic, like his physical sight: he sees two different pictures at once and yet sees all the better for that." (GK Chesterton - Orthodoxy).

The thing is that Rob R is claiming to have a more holistic approach to acquiring knowledge or truth. The mystic approach is far more credible than a straight objective/materialist approach, simply for the fact that it can account for two contradictory truths, whereas, the OTF, for example, assumes that an objective-only view is the correct way to acquiring truth.

As said elsewhere, it cannot work when applied to itself, which makes it somewhat suspect.

Steven said...

Rob,

community/culture? I'm not sure you know what I'm talking about when you pair those two.

I'm not sure you do either. You are correct that scientific progress is a community effort, but do you really understand how that works? There are two things that bind the scientific community together, trust in other members of the community, and trust in the methodology. We even have methodologies for determining the level of trust that are given to the findings of members of the community.

In contrast, where is the methodology that the religious community uses? Its very convenient that your holistic approach isn't well defined, isn't it? That way it's possible for you to say pretty much anything you want and avoid getting terribly concrete about it, even resorting to sophistry with solipsism.

You've been critical of atheists for being too narrow about what constitutes knowledge, but you seem to be playing such a generalist game, that your concept of knowledge may very well be meaningless. Unfortunately for you, these details of what constitutes knowledge matter to a lot of religious people, so much so that people have become violent over it, and even died for it. So any methodology for acquiring knowledge within your community clearly has some serious problems with it, and an appeal to faith is not a good response, it only makes your holistic approach look even more circular.

Rob R said...

Thanks for the thoughts Ryan Peter. I would not describe myself as a mystic though.

I would say that some times we do have to hold together two contradictory ideas such as science sometimes requires such as with the former conflict (at least I've been told it's no longer an issue) that light should be understood as a particle and a wave even though these were contradictory. Both communicated some kind of truth but that they contradicted each other indicated that our work wasn't done. Compromises had to be made cause both models couldn't be completely true. Again, I understand that compromises have been made and issue has been resolved.

We are faced with such a situation again with the conflict of relativity and quantum mechanics, but here, it isn't clear where the copromises should be made, if they both must be altered or if one is true through and through though the other must be interpreted as superficial and usurped by a better equation.

Contradiction tells us that we have a kink in the works and need to develope these things further.

God and much about our world is truely mysterious and we are to celebrate that mystery, and yet mystery can sometimes cover up what is in fact bad doctrine that needs to be developed or abandoned.

Gandolf said...

Ryan Peter said..."Why form a religion to deal with death? Why be grieved at all?"

I often try to stay out of these educated type discussions,because i know im not a very well educated person.Infact i know im pretty thick about many things.

Just ignore me if what i say is stupid.

But back in the old days when family members were even more important to tribal survival etc,i would imagine that maybe death and loss of special family members who helped so much with tribal survival would have been very sad and disheartening.

These would have been very depressing times when the morale of the tribe overall became very low.

At time such as this sad people would have wondered why do we bother with life?,at times it just seems hardly worth it!.

To try to make people feel better is it impossible that people might have dreamt up ideas of hope to try to make themselves somehow feel a little better to help there morale to give more reason to carry on.

Just a simple thought from a simple guy.

And John with regards to this guy Joshua and what his opinion and others is,can i suggest maybe you try not to let it dishearten you to much.

Whether your ideas be right or wrong good or bad or not too bad etc,atleast remember many many other people are giving you credit for the effort you obviously deserve credit for.And plenty have said they like it.Ive seen it and i know many others have too.

How many people do you know that are able to always please everybody?.

Not many if any,i dont know anybody

Rob R said...

post 1 of 3


Steven,


I'm not sure you do either.

I'm always willing to learn.

There are two things that bind the scientific community together, trust in other members of the community, and trust in the methodology.

yes indeed. it takes trust ie faith. When do we get to the part that I don't understand?

In contrast, where is the methodology that the religious community uses?

the religious community? It's not a monolithic group.

Nevertheless, just as is the case with our understanding of scientific methodology, which has some basic parts that find it's way into highschool text books (and never gets further than that in college even in science classes unless you actually take a class in the philosophy of science or or a class that heavily involves it) is open ended is still under developement. That basic idea hypothesis, experimentation, revision until eventual theory is still around and describes a great deal of what goes on in science, and yet that picture just isn't enough to describe how the scientific community progresses as a whole or just what it is that science has to say about reality and knowledge. There's been alot more going on with ideas being kicked around from Popper to Kuhn and the later guy observed that the assumptions behind science (very influential in what goes in the methodology) changes but go through periods where they just aren't challenged until the contrary data becomes too much (as some large scale theories, paradigms in Kuhn's language are actually very resistant to contrary data) and another picture comes along to replace the old one. Science was for example once very deterministic, that was an assumption, in the methodology, not just part of the conclusion, and then quantum mechanics happened.

But back to your question, if we may ask a more realistic question, say about religious scholars as opposed to some monolithic community that doesn't exist and more specifically the leaders of the best of the orthodox (orthodox with a small o, not community, integrity with scripture is important, connecting with the tradition as the Church of Jesus Christ has always existed contrary to some fundamentalists who virtually think they rediscovered Christianity by just sticking to the bible, logical coherence, and interaction with experience. Furthermore, while these four considerations (called the Weslyan quadrilateral) give us a broad picture of the guides we are to use for progress in our understanding of God and humanity and the way we should live, I don't know that all other considerations fit neatly into these categories. The sciences of course are important and affect us though they do not determine these issues. People will obviously think of the creation evolution debate here which is actually a smaller issue than it is made out to be. But it has been helpful, and while I am a skeptic of evolution, I appreciate those theistic evolutionists who've driven the community to look at Genesis more deeply to find a richness there that goes beyond the question of whether there were six literal days of creation. Science has been more positively useful as well as the social sciences have been a help in deepening and correcting our understanding of scripture. And of course, beyond science, historical studies are also essential. Our understanding of Paul for example has been greatly advanced because of the social sciences, but even more so because of historical scholarship, which has significantly affected the church. I've had discussions with pastor from a relatively liberal way of thinking and many with my own who is generally more conservative and both have been influenced by this movement called the new perspective on Paul.

Rob R said...

post 2 of 3


Its very convenient that your holistic approach isn't well defined, isn't it? That way it's possible for you to say pretty much anything you want

not well defined? I have offered many good aspects of definition. I think you just want something that's overly simplistic and inflexible. And it's a good thing that I know enough about these matters to say what I want to say. You sure couldn't fault me on being arbitary though. You'd have to ignore everything I've just said even prior to this post.

and avoid getting terribly concrete about it,

epistemological concerns are generally abstract. But in this last post, I've provided some concrete examples that fit my way of thinking. Course I do that every now and then. You just haven't read everything I've written.

even resorting to sophistry with solipsism.

Now who's hand waving? But if you call my discussion on solipsism hand waving, I can only assume you don't understand what I said. If that's the problem, I can't help you out if you can't continue to interact with what I said. If you can't do that, then your ability to advance the discussion is waning.

You've been critical of atheists for being too narrow about what constitutes knowledge, but you seem to be playing such a generalist game,

you haven't been more specific than I have gotten plenty of times.

that your concept of knowledge may very well be meaningless.

then you will have to interact with what I said to explain this. I don't know how I haven't been clear, accept I don't think knowledge is a simplistic thing.

Unfortunately for you, these details of what constitutes knowledge matter to a lot of religious people, so much so that people have become violent over it, and even died for it.

there's the real generalists game. Because some religious perspective is a distortion of humanity, that somehow reflects badly on all religious perspectives. This looks like as good a claim as any to apply that ole intellectual doubt.

So any methodology for acquiring knowledge within your community clearly has some serious problems with it

I don't follow your reasoning at all here. That some methods don't work doesn't mean none of them will. That's a fallacy. But it's not all about knowledge anyhow. Knowledge of truth is essential to Christian thinking, and yet the knowledge is not the most important end but more so one means to an end of having a loving relationship with God and with others.

Rob R said...

post 3 of 3,



So any methodology for acquiring knowledge within your community clearly has some serious problems with it

I don't follow your reasoning at all here. That some methods don't work doesn't mean none of them will. That's a fallacy. But it's not all about knowledge anyhow. Knowledge of truth is essential to Christian thinking, and yet the knowledge is not the most important end but more so one means to an end of having a loving relationship with God and with others.

and an appeal to faith is not a good response,

It's not all faith as described in the epistemic sense (again, faith as paul spoke of goes beyond knowing but is also about living a certain way). And I've already explained what else is involved.

Just writing this though seems to me though that we could derive epistemic anchors in Paul's 3 great virtues of faith, hope, and love. As we've seen (and virtually admitted by you) faith is of course a necessary aspect of knowledge. Love brings us to the ethical dimension of knowledge, and hope is necessary for establishing that knowledge is worth pursuing at all. I'm not attempting a whole epistemology from that and I don't know that that hashed out in the best way, but hey, it's good to have an open ended epistemology. It's all about allowing for progress and it isn't enough to have progress along a rigidly defined means towards gaining knowledge but also to improve our ability to gain that understanding by refining that means.

it only makes your holistic approach look even more circular.

and if that is so, you will have to explain why my approach becomes problematically circular where yours which is no less dependant on faith is not.

But as I have sympathies with coherantism (which happens to be a fruitful philosophy of science that isn't so narrow that it defeats itself) which is the epistemology that says that an alleged item of knowledge is justified by virtue of being consistently connected with the rest of the system of belief, it turns out that there is a circularity to this. But coherantists contest that this is not to be confused with problematic circular reasoning as these networks of belief have the ability to develop, and can and have been abandoned for good reason, thus they don't have the insular problems that arise from circular reasoning that is an issue in specific argumentation.

Rob R said...

Ow, I just read my own first post and I apologize that I didn't at least proofread that one.

I hope it's understandable enough.

Just thought I'd correct one thing though.

(orthodox with a small o, not community,


besides forgetting to close my parentheses, what I meant to mention are orthodox scholars meaning those with a relatively traditional understanding of Christianity, not necessarily scholars from the Orthodox church.

admittedly that is a broad group and I don't think that all of them are good scholars.

Chuck O'Connor said...

Rob R.,

Thanks for the answer to my questions and the charity in which you answered them. I am practicing the concept of charit in debate and find it useful.

I can understand the rationale you provide for a propitiate savior god and how that pertains to the pain of life and human suffering but, do not see that as anything other than metaphor.

Again, it seems like "echoes" from your mind based on an agreed upon cultural heuristic. Christianity is a useful story to help people make sense of randomness but it does not work to inspire compassion in me.

My distrust of it comes from its history and the incoherency around the theological idea of total depravity. That concept leads me to conceive of god as nothing more than a cruel and narcissistic authoratarian. That god concept fails to meet an idea of unconditional love. Ultimately the demands that grace be balanced by wrath seem nothing more than artifacts of primitive minds and not an insightful or compassionate philosophy.

Christianity seems to be one way people have tried to find balance in the midst of the chaos life often is but, it hasn't worked for me.

I feel much more peaceful and much happier putting aside notions of original sin and propitiate grace.

Peace to you.

Rob R said...

Thanks for the answer to my questions and the charity in which you answered them. I am practicing the concept of charit in debate and find it useful.

Very good then. It's a virtuous thing to do and it's always best to deal with opposing views on their best terms. And I could probably grow in this area myself.

Again, it seems like "echoes" from your mind based on an agreed upon cultural heuristic. Christianity is a useful story to help people make sense of randomness but it does not work to inspire compassion in me.

I might agree that it is a cultural heuristic (if it's what I think it means). I just don't think that means that it isn't a reliable path to truth.

furthermore, that it is useful should be considered epistemically positive feature. Pragmatism is an element behind our assumptions in science after all .the assumptions which can't be proven on scientific grounds are nevertheless useful for our scientific investigations and their goals of revealing the universe (or at least thus far the patterns of consistency in the universe) and bettering our lives with technology.

My distrust of it comes from its history and the incoherency around the theological idea of total depravity. That concept leads me to conceive of god as nothing more than a cruel and narcissistic authoratarian. That god concept fails to meet an idea of unconditional love. Ultimately the demands that grace be balanced by wrath seem nothing more than artifacts of primitive minds and not an insightful or compassionate philosophy.

Well I've had a similar concern which I spoke about in the most recent thread about Anthony. I know how depravity was used by Calvinists to justify reprobation, the doctrine that people, creatures graced with God's image and still show the beauty of that even through their fears and desires and need to be loved and their yearning for significance (though so much more can be said about this and yet so much escapes language), are certainly going to be damned for eternity with no chance whatsoever for redemption which is established before they ever get to live morally significant lives and even as they are infants adored and hoped for by their mothers. Well, they are depraved and haters of God through and through so the calvinist says and so the reprobation unto eternal torture is deserved.

I read the bible and found confirmation of this, and I almost lost my faith over the absurdity of it. I persevered prayerfully and even angrily with God through this and through much study, I've come to see that that picture is not really true to scripture at all. I won't say much more about this because I'm not going to hijack the thread into a polemic against calvinism, but my point is that though I may not have the same issues with depravity that you did, I'm very familiar with the despair and abuse from that doctrine.

A better understanding is that we are broken, we don't reflect the image of God as we should. While depravity can and has been used to make people worthless, I would think that the image of brokenness allows for hope and for the recognition that we are all deeply valuable but need to and can be set right.

I'm glad that you have peace, but it's my hope that you will know the peace that you have the level of value and worth that mere materialism can never support and are loved by God.

Chuck O'Connor said...

Rob R,

Thanks again for your charity.

John suggested practicing charity could be fruitful and doing so seems to prove that it is.

I am not a strict materialist. I am too emotional for that. I also am willing to live in the grey. I attend a bible based church with my wife because she finds meaning there and also involve myself in a small group bible study with her. I take the role as the agnostic contrarian in that group but sincerely find friendship with the people there. The best I can do is admit agnosticism. I also am shocked by the level of ignorance many current Christians have in regards to the horrors done by good Christians throughout history. The defense of these things usually becomes finger-pointing saying that atheists or scientists have done worse without ever admitting that world-views like Calvinism have a sordid and bloody history. It is sad.

So, I am not a complete materialist but am choosing to examine the morality claims of Christianity from a historical perspective and find that the "in-dwelling of the Holy Spirit" lacks efficacy when considering the actions of those who claim it.

Rob R said...

Chuck, the ignorance of Christians or anyone is bad in and of itself, but it doesn't necessarily reflect on the truth of Christianity, but only on the personal commitments of those Christians including their willingness to learn of their faith including down through the ages.

As for denying the mistakes of Christians in the past, well, many of us take seriously Jesus claim that many would claim to follow him and yet wouldn't, and we have many litmus tests for whether one actually is a Christian. Jesus said that the world would know his disciples by their love. He said that bearing fruit was a signifier, but that wasn't a litmus test for who his people were as grace was extended for a time for the growth to occur before the axe was taken to the trunk. He explained that our devotion to him would be born out in our compassion through the account of the seperation of the sheep and the goats.

Do Christians do bad things? yes, but some of the horrid things that are done could be indicative that the person doesn't really follow Jesus.

The presence of the holy spirit is a guide, but it doesn't remove free will and there will still be trials and temptions that are opportunities to grow, but where there is also the risk of failure including the death of authentic faith.

If a persons faith dies in reality, it doesn't mean that they don't continue with a mask that deceives themselves as well. This is not just a band aid that we put on the tragedies of history placed at the feet of the official institution called the church by outward measures but it is consistent with the Christian narrative extending into scripture where there have always been wolves in sheep's clothing from the false prophets to the pharisees to the heretics and so on. And even amongst the faithful, from King David to so many in the church who were addressed by the apostles had their struggles and failures which needed repentance.

Chuck, some of us Christians do stupid things to subdue and muzzle the role of the holy spirit in our life. I remember in the second grade when I accepted Jesus and shortly after, I told myself that I would not share this experience with my classmates at the public elementary school as I was a very private person even then. I sometimes wonder how different my life would have been had my commitment been full at that time without reservations.