Answering Dr. Randal Rauser's Objections to the OTF (Part 1)

Dr. Randal Rauser has recently criticized my Outsider Test for Faith. I appreciate him doing so even if I disagree.

You can read what he wrote about it right here, where he begins by saying:

First a good word. I agree that we ought to think about our beliefs from an outsider's perspective.
JWL: Good, then in some limited sense I have successfully made my case. We are in fundamental agreement. To take the OTF you should Step Outside the Box and See it for What it is. How else is this to be done?

Oh, but wait, here come the objections. Rauser first claims the OTF "goes too far":

What makes the level of a religion's causal dependence on culture "overwhelming"? How would one judge that? This is important because the fact that it's allegedly overwhelming is necessary for the argument to succeed. So my question: What justifies "is causally dependent on cultural conditions to an overwhelming degree" over-against a much more modest and more plausible "is shaped by cultural conditions"?
JWL: David Eller argued in the first chapter of TCD that we don’t see culture, we see WITH culture. It’s like fish in some regards. They don’t see water, they swim in it. This is never so more evident than when it comes to religious faiths that cannot be verified by the sciences. There is no mutually agreed upon scientific test to decide between religious faiths, you see. And so people will be much more inclined to accept the religious faith they were raised to believe. This fact alone shows that religious faiths are overwhelmingly adopted by when and where we were born. This should be obvious and non-controversial. Then there is also the overwhelming empirical evidence of the geographical locations of different religious faiths around the globe. [Q.E.D. May this objection never again be raised against the OTF. It's a clear sign of a deluded person].

I think I sketched out why religion is dependent on cultural factors more so than other things we accept as true, and why such skepticism is warranted when I wrote:
The amount of skepticism warranted depends not only on the number of rational people who disagree, but also whether the people who disagree are separated into distinct geographical locations, the nature of their beliefs, how their beliefs originated, under what circumstances their beliefs were personally adopted in the first place, and the kinds of evidence that can possibly be used to decide between the differing beliefs. My claim is that when it comes to religious faiths, a high degree of skepticism is warranted precisely because of these factors.
RR continues:
Various other things are shaped by our cultural environment. Take vision for example. [Should we] conclude that any given percept (e.g. seeing a red apple on the kitchen table or smelling freshly baked cookies) is likely false? Of course not! So why think this would be true in the case of religion? Why does the "overwhelming" suddenly kick in at religion apart from the fact that Loftus wants it to?
JWL: When it comes to sense perceptions we do indeed see things based on what we expect to find. And our expectations are dependent on our cultural upbringing. It’s when we reflect on our sense perceptions that we interpret them according to preconceived expectations, and ultimately by our respective worldviews. But if our visionary apparatus is functioning properly our sense data forms the basis for our reflections. Should we be skeptical of our sense data? No, I don’t think so, not unless everyone tells us that there is no pink elephant in the room when we claim there is one. No, not unless a neurologist tells us we have a condition known as Synesthesia. However, our expectations are also dependent on the amount of our scientific literacy. This too is both obvious and non-controversial. So while an X-Ray technician will see an X-Ray Tube, a small baby may see a rattle to play with in her hands. It’s the knowledge of science that helps us reflect on what we see better, much better. So this vision analogy of Rauser’s is a disanalogous one, since we should emphatically not be skeptical of our perceptual sense data, only our reflections on this data. And the sciences, unlike religious faiths, provides a much better way to interpret this data.

Rauser also claims the OTF "doesn't go far enough":
Why not also apply it to politics and ethics? Even more importantly, why doesn't Loftus apply it to his politics and ethics? And why stop there? Since science depends on sense perception, we can now replace a realist view of science with a socially constructed, antirealist and culturally relative science. If we don't care to slide down that slippery slope, then again what justifies applying the deconstruction absolutely and only to religion?
JWL: I have already addressed these objections in the very chapter Rauser is writing about. Why doesn’t he respond to my answers? They are there. Maybe he’ll do so in the future, who knows? But until he does I have nothing to respond to for now. Still, this is an apologetic trick that I myself used to play in order to defend my former delusion. Any perceived attack on religion is arbitrarily stretched beyond recognition to other things we accept that are on more solid epistemological grounding. The truth is that the level of skepticism required is best seen on a continuum. On the one hand we have extraordinary claims like miracles, healings, resurrected cooked fish, flying devils, and satyrs. On the opposite hand we have the cogito of Descartes, sense data, and the sciences. Sure, we should be skeptical of everything, but in varying degrees. No one should be skeptical of everything with the same level of skepticism. Different cases demand different levels of skepticism. We have to accept some things as the basis for judging other things. And science produces results. Religion does not. You cannot therefore be as skeptical of the results of the sciences as you do when a virgin claims to have had a baby. Sheesh.

Political and ethical ideas are on this same continuum, but since people over the world disagree we should be more skeptical about them than the results of science, but far less skeptical than a claim that some prophet was air-lifted into heaven on a chariot. In many areas of ethics and politics the sciences do have a role to play, you see, so sometimes people can simply be informed of what these sciences show, unless they are so blinded by a religious delusion they reject these results for religious reasons.

Rauser also claims the OTF is "just self serving":

If it applies to Muslims and Christians, it applies to atheists too….Dang, all we wanted to do was kick some religious people around. So how did we end up here?
JWL: The goal was emphatically NOT to “kick religious people around.” The goal was to come up with a reliable test that could help us know which religious faith is objectively true if there is one. If this test doesn’t help us do that then what Rauser needs to do is propose a better alternative, something he has not done. If a child was raised not to believe in gods or goddesses then she too should verify this for herself just in case she was taught incorrectly. But what better method is there to do this except by subjecting all religious claims to the same level of skepticism, as the OTF bids us to do? Again, there is no better way.

Besides, his objection fails to understand the nature of atheism.

--One the one hand we have believers who claim there are supernatural beings requiring supernatural explanations for natural phenomena, whether it be Yahweh, Allah, Odin, Thor, Zeus, Baal, Ashtoreth, or a number of others. On the other hand there are atheists who reject these gods and goddesses as mythical beings.

--On the one hand we have believers who accept extraordinary claims without the required extraordinary evidence. On the other hand there are atheists who do not think these believers have made their case.

What’s there not to understand about that?

To read Part 2 of my response click here.


Rebel1 said...

This shows just how easy it is to get a PhD in the U.S. The number of logical fallacies in "Dr." Rauser's argumentation is overwhelming. There is no way he is a "Doctor of Philosophy", since he doesn't understand even the most basic principles of philosophy.

EssEff said...

I think his Ph.D. is from Canada, but yes, he is a dumba$$

His objections are dishearteningly similar to those of people who have no advanced education at all. At least he doesn't accuse atheists of not believing in "anything" or of having no reason not to be rapists & murderers.

As the previous chapter pointed out, the more one has invested in a particular belief the more desperate one is to defend it. Someone with a job teaching theology to future ministers can hardly be expected to read a book like this objectively.

Larry Tanner said...

"What’s there not to understand about that?"

What he doesn't get is that the atheist doesn't believe in gods and isn't persuaded by theism.

I'm not trying to be funny or snarky: they really don't get it because they cannot make sense of the world without that theistic anchor holding it all to the grround

John W. Loftus said...

I don't think Dr. Rauser is illogical. I'm not sure what sense to make of this since I've previously argued that Control Beliefs Control. That's my theme song, you see. I do not doubt Randal's ability to think logically or rationally. He's one of the best and brightest. It's just as I've said before right here:

If...we think being rational means following the rules of logic, then rational people can be dead wrong and still be rational. All they have to do is follow the rules of logic to be rational. Rational people can be dead wrong simply because they start with a false assumption. If they take a false assumption as their starting point then they may be perfectly rational to follow that assumption with good logic to its logical conclusion, even though their conclusion is wrong. They would be wrong not because they are irrational, but because they started with a wrong assumption.

So in other words I do not consider Randal and other Christians illogical, only deluded. And I mean this, sorry.

District Supt. Harvey Burnett said...


Wasn't this argument along the same line that Dinesh put you to shame on? I mean this cultural religious psycho-double speak wasn't effective in the debate yet alone on paper.

BTW, most Christians I know consider you deceived and deluded...seriously...sorry about that too.

EssEff said...

^ Sometimes "delusion" isn't a strong enough word.

District Supt. Harvey Burnett said...

In fact, I found that little clip where your assertion was badly overturned rightefully so as a form of the Genetic Fallacy...Here it is again and Yes it's unbelieveable how you handled it then and on paper it looks no better.


John W. Loftus said...

District, you know why Randal did not raise the objection that Dinesh did? It's because he's read my book and knows it's fallacious. I did not have an opportunity to rebut Dinesh's disingenuousness. You see he read WIBA and knows I destroyed such an objection as the genetic fallacy. The bottom line is that I have justified the OTF independently of the conclusions I arrive at when applying the test and I do not claim your religious faith is necessarily false because of when and where you were born. I even admit a religious faith could pass the test. So there is nothing to the objection at all.

DM said...

you DIE TODAY, loftus

DM said...

you FUCKED WITH THE WRONG PEOPLE, you little shit...

District Supt. Harvey Burnett said...


Waith one minute...Whoever this DM is that threatens a persons life should be reported to the authorities...I don't care how we disagree over this, and issues in general, noone should be talking about killing anyone...

I'm sorry, I don't understand that neither do I wish to understand it. All I know is that it is totally uncalled for.

John W. Loftus said...

District, I did, repeatedly. Blogger never does a thing about it. But for the record I reported these two posts repeatedly just now.

District Supt. Harvey Burnett said...


Those are FBI type crimes depending upon where he's located. If he's across state lines I would say that they may undertake the cause. I know they will for financial crimes, but this is a personal crime and we're witnesses...

Be careful!

Tyro said...

Various other things are shaped by our cultural environment. Take vision for example. [Should we] conclude that any given percept (e.g. seeing a red apple on the kitchen table or smelling freshly baked cookies) is likely false? Of course not! So why think this would be true in the case of religion?

Let me start by being generous and misinterpret (subtly) his argument. I don't see why we wouldn't approach all questions as "outsiders" as John says. Interestingly, Dawkins covers topics very much like this in "The Ancestor's Tale" when he discusses research into whether colours are separated the same way across cultures (and even whether 'race' is perceived in the same way). The answers were very interesting and points to some differences but a surprising commonality. So yes, lets look at how different cultures perceive smells and sights and remember that apple pie doesn't necessarily smell good to everyone.

Of course he didn't say or mean that at all. He actually said that we should question the existence of apples which is idiotic. I think he used this example to show how silly John's point was but it's so outrageously idiotic that he should really have paused and asked "wait, am I really understanding John?" Clearly he didn't do either.

One of the remarkable features of science is its ability to achieve consensus across culture, language, race and time. Theories can be stated precisely and unambiguously and can be examined in detail by people regardless of their cultural backgrounds. That's why we have one theory of gravity, one germ theory, one atomic theory. In religion we see something quite the opposite: religious beliefs are almost entirely dependent on culture and what's worse, the confidence and trust in those beliefs is just as high wherever you go, no matter if they conflict with beliefs that others hold.

Does RR seriously believe that this describes apples in any way? Of course there are some cultural aspects of fruit - some cultures love the taste of durian, others hate it. I'm told that many Europeans can't stand Root Beer while North Americans love it. So yes, tastes and preferences are cultural. Is RR so detached from reality that he imagines that God both exists and doesn't exist, both forbids eating shellfish and allows it, both forbids eating cows and allows it, both resurrected Jesus and did not, all depending on taste or preference? That seems insane, like watching a movie and seeing different events depending on your race or culture. There is an external reality and religion attempts to describe it so you can't have them all be correct. It makes perfect sense to say "durian tastes terrible to me but it tastes good to you"; it makes no sense to say "Jesus was resurrected to me but was not resurrected to you."

And in the ultimate irony, he proposed something like this in scorn & derision yet we're left with something very much like this if we accept revelation as a means of learning about the world.

PS: is there any way to ban DM? Cause damn, that guy is nuts and not even funny nuts.

Randal Rauser said...


Crapola, you get wackos threatening your life on your blog? And I thought I was living dangerously.

You quote one of my questions: “What justifies "is causally dependent on cultural conditions to an overwhelming degree" over-against a much more modest and more plausible "is shaped by cultural conditions"?”

And this is your reply: “There is no mutually agreed upon scientific test to decide between religious faiths, you see. And so people will be much more inclined to accept the religious faith they were raised to believe.”

So you're saying that for any belief we have we need a scientific test for that belief or it follows that it is causally conditioned by cultural factors to an overwhelming degree?

Unfortunately that doesn't follow.

Do you apply your OT test to the atheist born and raised in a highly secular Sweden? Why or why not?

You seem intent on limiting your OT test to religion and I can't see why. There is no test to judge the truth of idealism or soplisism or David Lewis's possibilism. So are these all purely rational or would you subject them to an OT as well?

I sure hope you would because Berkeley's idealism and Lewis's possiblism are pretty bizarre.

On the downside, by conceding this you couldn't arbitrarily single out religion any longer.

Steven said...

Randal, I'm obviously not speaking for John, but speaking for myself, I'm more than willing to soften the criteria to a "mutually agreed upon rational test to decide between faiths" Is that really too much to ask for? I wouldn't necessarily say that it *has* to have "scientific" rigor, although my gut feeling is that any attempt to come up with such a test is highly likely to run afoul of scientific findings (or methods) anyway...

It's also not clear to me that the OTF would apply to atheism. How do you apply a test about a belief to non-belief? The only way it seems to apply is to apply the OTF to all religious beliefs and either accepting one and becoming a believer or rejecting each and remaining in a state of non-belief. It seems that you're implying that atheism has some presuppositions in addition to non-belief in gods that I don't think it has.

That's not to say that there are not a great many things that atheists come to believe that certainly would be subject to the OTF, I won't deny that, but when it comes to specific belief in supernatural beings which atheism rejects, I don't see how it applies.

John W. Loftus said...

Randal, here's one of my favorite videos that you must watch: Putting Faith in its Place.

One of my own posts answering you is called Is It Faith? The Demon, Dream, and Matrix Conjectures, some of which was used in TCD.

Professor Matt McCormick, who wrote a Blurb for TCD, has two important posts along the same lines. One is called Open the Floodgates, and the other is called Are We Proving the Negative Yet?

I think these links more than adequately answer most of what you wrote, although I'll confess that it will disappoint you to learn you must wade through them. Take your time, but if you do it'll be worth it.

The sciences are our best shot at understanding our existence. Again, what is YOUR alternative? Without a better alternative you cannot merely take pot shots at scientific reasoning found in the sciences. What? You think faith is the answer? Come on now. That is no method at all and is used to justify anything. The gaps in our knowledge cannot justify your beliefs. There will ALWAYS be gaps in our knowledge. If gaps can justify your faith they can justify anyone’s faith.

As to an atheist being skeptical of atheism, sure, bring it on. I think I more than adequately answered that in my book, even though it appears you don't understand atheism. Agnosticism is the default position. Once you feel the force of agnosticism you will not be able to move off the default position in either direction very far at all, leaving us with either an "agnostic atheism" or some kind of pantheism or even a deistic creator who may or may not even be good.

What you're doing is placing an examination of extraordinary claims on an equal footing with ordinary claims. What you end up doing is saying we should be equally skeptical of ordinary claims as we are about extraordinary ones. But there cannot be any epistemological parity with regard to these types of claims. To blur the huge gap between them is an apologetic trick I myself once used. The atheist merely says that the extraordinary claims of religions do not have enough evidential reasoning for them. That’s it. How in the world could you even think of placing those kinds of extraordinary claims on an equal par next to claims that I can’t know I’m typing right, now is truly bizarre to me.

For your information I was once persuaded as you are that there are propositions we believe for which there can be no evidential reasoning for them. Now I demur. All of the scenario’s from being nothing but brains in a vat, to having been created five minutes ago are extremely improbable to the point of merely being bizarre thought experiments on the fringes of what might be possible and that’s it. These are mere possibilities to which I say, “so what!” I have no reason at all to think any of them are probable, and THAT'S the point. Evidence leads us to probabilities or there is no reason to take any bizarre scenario with any amount of seriousness at all.


Randal Rauser said...


It seems to me that the whole discussion of outsider tests of faith is a rather ad hoc attempt to marginalize people who profess organized religion. But as I have repeatedly argued, we all need to exercise appropriate doxastic virtues.

So here's my simple proposal. Drop the OTF and adopt in its place a virtue epistemology in which you trumpet intellectual virtues like open-mindedness and objectivity. (See Loraine Code or Linda Zagzebski's work for starters.) These are virtues that apply to EVERYONE and thus don't implausibly single out one group.

John W. Loftus said...

Randal, skeptics are truly the open-minded ones, haven't you heard? ;-)

Before I drop my baby on the concrete for unjustified reasons, answer me something please. The OTF calls upon believers to test or examine their own religious faith as if they were outsiders with the same skepticism they use to test or examine other religious faiths they reject.

Now aside from all of the obfuscation, red herrings, begging the question, false dilemmas, non-sequiturs and nitpicking at minutia tell me this: Do think you should take the OTF? I would really like to know. It's a very simple question which should result is either a yes or no. Qualify your answer if you'd like to afterward, but answer the question.


Randal Rauser said...

Brother John,

I have long strived for objectivity in my beliefs. It is that commitment that has led me to revise my views on various issues including, as you know, the OT accounts of herem genocide as well as the doctrine of hell and many other issues. My forthcoming book is devoted to this topic. (You can also consider my book "Faith Lacking Understanding" where I focus on Christian beliefs which appear to be illogical, immoral, or implausible.)

But I think that what is called for is not some test for a subset of the population. Rather, all people should strive to exercise intellectual virtues including (as I noted) objectivity, fairness and openmindedness. On that last virtue, it is sad to see how dogmatic many atheists are in their views.

So to sum up, I seek to accomplish the best that your OTF strives for but I do it by pursuing intellectual virtues.

Randal Rauser said...

By the way, note the first two responses in the thread. People insulting me not by engaging with the arguments but simply by claming that there is an "overwhelming" number of "logical fallicies. And then suggesting that I am a "dumb ass". That's a pretty depressing level of intellectual engagement, I must say.

At least those two individuals didn't threaten me with bodily violence.

Steven said...


You keep making these accusations that atheists are dogmatic, and yet you haven't made the case for this. All you've done is make accusations while claiming to strive for intellectual virtues.

Please explain how the OTF isn't striving for intellectual virtue? Why do you keep evading that question? How exactly are atheists being dogmatic when they are just asking for you to clarify how you know what you know in terms that conform to the usual rigorous standards that we all agree upon under non-religious circumstances and to do so without equivocation or evasion?

Finally, it's a little hard to avoid the name calling when (to my eyes) you're acting like a hypocrite. I find it depressing that you're trying to take the high road in this discussion, but all you've successfully done is complain about the OTF and a couple of insults while avoiding saying anything really substantive. And then you are bewildered when people start jeering at you? Come on!

John W. Loftus said...

Randal I think both you and Victor Reppert have long striven for objectivity in your beliefs. In some sense you are both models of this goal, both of you, and I applaud you for this.

But neither of you have undercut my argument with regard to the OTF.

If you cannot fully embrace the OTF then why do you think your double standard is justified? Why the double standard?

John W. Loftus said...

Randal said, "it is sad to see how dogmatic many atheists are in their views."

I am no more dogmatic when I reject the Christian set of extraordinary claims as you are when you reject Islam or Hinduism.

Randal Rauser said...

I have never said "atheists are dogmatic". And I certainly don't believe John Loftus is dogmatic. He's one of those amiable fellows that wants nothing more than to have open and honest dialogue.

The point is a simple one, and (to my mind at least) a rather obvious one. You can be dogmatic about your belief system, whatever that belief system happens to be. It is POSSIBLE to be a dogmatic atheist. That's it.

Steven, I agree that the OTF aims for at least one specific intellectual virtue: objectivity. My point on this is threefold:

1. There are a range of intellectual virtues to strive to exemplify.
2. We do not achieve them through one test but in an ongoing way every day.
3. The challenge for exemplifying intellectual virtue is one that extends to all people.

As I said in my blog, it isn't like we pass one outsider test for something and then we're stamped "rational". Rather:
"Our recertification is ongoing because when it comes to intellectual virtue, we're all works in progress."

Edward T. Babinski said...

Hi Randall and John,

I'm butting in here, but here's a thought experiment. Compare a map showing the majority religious beliefs (and majority denominational beliefs) in different countries and regions of the world, with a map of disagreements in scientific hypotheses round the world. Why is it possible in the first case to delineate majority religious beliefs geographically, but scientific beliefs are spread far more evenly among educated people round the world (with the notable exception of RELIGIOUS opposition to particular scientific theories that their holy scriptures happen to oppose--as they interpret them)?

I'd also like to butt in an add that John finds no more reason to believe in one revealled religion/holy scriptures/set of dogmas/holy rites, than another, and that Christians are not truly engaging with deep methodological and metaphysical questions.

The Christians who do engage such questions deeply usually wind up admitting that they choose Christianity for existential reasons, or ad hoc interpretations of what's behind the metaphysical curtain. Even Plantinga and other Christian defenders admit all they are trying to do is make room for Chrsitianity to POSSIBLY be true, rather than demonstrating its truth. But that's exactly what members of all other religious defenders of whatever religion/denomination are also attempting to do, none of them coming to agreement as to what lay behind the metaphysical curtain.

Randal Rauser said...


Thanks for "butting in". I don't think the issue you propose is quite the same as what I am here concerned with. I am arguing that an OTF is rendered otiose if we focus more fundamentally on developing intellectual virtues. As I put it in my blog, the OTF is to intellectual virtue as an 8 track tape player is to an IPOD. The IPOD already has all the tunes and plays them better.

Now to your point. Does that apply to atheism as well? Because if you're born into Sweden today you're likely to become an atheist.

Also, it is said "you're a Christian because you were born into a Christian home." How many atheists are atheists because they were born into a Christian home? (I.e. how many crappy Christian homes make atheists?)

These are questions we should all be asking, Christian, atheist, conservative, liberal, tall, short, black, white, man, woman...

Randal Rauser said...

By the way, I enjoyed your essay in "The Christian Delusion" though as you may expect, I'm going to draw somewhat different conclusions from the same data (though I understand why reasonable people draw your conclusions).

Steven said...


I'll go ahead and concede that there are, broadly speaking, other intellectual virtues, however, if you're not making an attempt to put those other virtues into a coherent epistemology which is necessarily based on as objective approach as possible, then you're just blowing smoke, and the other virtues you speak of are on shaky ground. I think I'm certainly well within my rights to question any conclusions that you may draw on the basis of these other virtues if you haven't dealt with the fundamental rational basis for the other virtues in the first place.

You've brought up the point again that the OTF should apply to atheism, but you still haven't really made it clear how. If I'm an agnostic atheist, I'm in about as neutral a state as possible, meaning that I don't have any religious beliefs to apply the OTF to in the first place. To say that the OTF applies to my agnosticism is like saying that I'm lying when I say that I don't hold to any religious beliefs. Now, I may be in error about one or more of my basic core beliefs, but that becomes an issue of basic epistemology, and while a kind of OTF might be applied to that, I think that is in a different and more fundamental category.

That Sweden is a largely atheist country only means that they have started out (as a culture) in a neutral position and applied the OTF to all the religious beliefs they've encountered and discarded them. Now you are certainly within your rights to question that (as you are doing now), but I don't think you're asking the right questions yet (if there are any to be asked) to make the OTF really work in that context.

Russ said...

John said he thinks you

have long striven for objectivity in your beliefs.

John is being far too kind here.

You do not exhibit objectivity, nor does your curriculum vitae suggest that you have ever given serious consideration to the idea that Christianity might not be true. You were reared Christian and then pursued graduate degrees in Christian studies.

On tentativeapologist your profile says "Dr. Rauser's career as both professor and author has been shaped by his passion for developing a biblically sound apologetic theology that meets the challenges of secular western culture." Does this in any way bespeak a dedication to truth? No. Does it suggest that you have given serious critical thought to counter-Christian arguments other than as mocking and dismissive apologetics? No.

As John has repeatedly pointed out your defense of your Christianity rests precariously on the vague hope that it is possibly true, and, then, only to the same extent that other Christianities and other religions are imagined to be true. That is, as a thing you desire to be true, you find or dream up tools and tactics to defend it.

Christianity is not true. It is not even known if Jesus was a real person. At the time Jesus is claimed to have lived there were many deities who shared his litany of life: prophesied birth, virgin birth(by the way that is a regular occurence in the human community; sperm often find their way whether or not a penis has entered a vagina) - at the winter solstice - no less, crucified or hung on tree, descended into hell, resurrected - at the spring equinox - surprise!, and then retired to Valhalla. No one knows if what was written in Mark and subsequently plagiarized is anything other than an account of Dionysius' fabled life history with the preferred name of Jesus substituted in. The objective account is: We do not know. That is not something you seem to have ever come to understood.

It is quite possible and quite plausible that for the Jesus myth to be easily perpetuated, it was necessary to give your fabled savior the same catchy and quirky traits born by its competition. The Jesus cult would likely have been a mere passing fancy in the marketplace of ideas, like so many of the other contemporaneous "gods," had his human scriveners not imbued him with some engaging and interest-grabbing traits.

Objectively, Jesus was only sacrificed if you ignore the Bible and accept the myriad of often-conflicting apologetics. Coming back to life is not a sacrifice. It's more like a hiatus. Coming back to life and returning from whence you came is not a sacrifice. That's more like a bad vacation.

Beyond that, human sacrifice is morally barbaric, again except as the ruse of the apologist.

Objectively, if you are not a denier of evolutionary theory, there were no Adam and Eve; there was no need for atonement. Evolutionary theory explains quite well, with oceans of corroborating evidence, why not all people are mindlessly obsequious to the unsupportable claims of Christianity and other religions. It explains well why there is a broad spectrum of empathy among humans. Gods and saviors are not needed, and they serve only to impede human moral progress, despite religious claims to the contrary. Recall that it was not until we stopped considering gods, yours for instance, as reliable explanatory tools that we discontinued publicly burning or eviscerating people as witches, killing them with the then-theologically-sound bloodletting, and caging them or chaining them to walls for what naturalism showed us were all-natural afflictions with all-natural causes, things like diabetes, epilepsy and various mental disorders. Gods offered no insights and no explanation. Hell, Christian evangelicals in Africa regularly kill or maim their own children due only to Christian thought, and again, no gods coming to the rescue.

Russ said...

Your lack of objectivity extends beyond religion proper. You said,

By the way, note the first two responses in the thread. People insulting me not by engaging with the arguments but simply by claming that there is an "overwhelming" number of "logical fallicies. And then suggesting that I am a "dumb ass". That's a pretty depressing level of intellectual engagement, I must say.

If you desire a high level of intellectual engagement, why do you not take your arguments to the man in the pew? I know why. Make these arguments from the pulpit and all you will get from the congregation will be glazed stares and sleep. The practicing Christian does not give a shit for your theological nuance. They just don't care. For the practicing Christian, religion is not about belief; it's about the social aspects of gathering with similarly minded persons. Christians gather as Christians to plot the overthrow of the US and other countries. Christians gather as Christians to plan their hangings of Jews or black people. Christians gather as Christians to celebrate not being atheist or Jew or Muslim or Hindu or Buddhist.

It is objectively the case that outside the few thousand Christian seminary students around the world, Christians don't read the Bible; they don't study their own Christianity or their own Christian theology. That's even true for clergy. They just don't care about it. They don't study it; they don't know it; so, they certainly don't care about it. Behaviorally Christians demonstrate a far greater allegiance to video games, watching sports, and internet porn. That is an objective fact which you will ignore because "that's not your Christianity," right? One more twist on confirmation bias with some No-True-Scotsman thrown in.

Randal, you are not objective in pursuit of truth. Jesus is not truth. Christianity is not truth. You said,

I have long strived for objectivity in my beliefs.

This is nothing but a lie. Defining yourself as an apologist is an admission that objectivity is no longer warranted since you've arrived at your terminus of "truth." Your life profile points only to carefully managed confirmation bias. Christian this and Christian that and Christian other. In your less than forty years it's not possible for you to have adequately dealt with the thousands of distinct variations on Christianity, much less all the thousands of other religions with truth claims every bit as compelling as yours to those who already believe them for social reasons.

You have a version of Christianity which you defend thereby implicitly proclaiming that you know other Christianities and other religions to be somehow objectively wrong, when in fact you have no justification to make such a claim. You are not objective.

Your claim to objectivity would require you to knowingly account for why it is that atheists are not compelled to believe by Christianity's claims and threats. Why do we not fear what you say about your god's judgements? Why are we not compelled as you seem to suggest Christians are? Your claim to objectivity would require that you be able to factually state why it is that non-Christian religious scholars are not compelled by the arguments, yours or others, justifying Christian belief, though they have studied them far more deeply than have almost all Christians.

So, Randal, your claim of attempting objectivity is completely unfounded. Your apologetic stance and statements like "Randal does not despair of finding truth, for he believes that in a profound sense Jesus Christ is the truth" and "For Randal, being like Jesus means knowing the truth, loving the truth, and living the truth" are overt contentions that you possess "truth" and must defend what you take that "truth" to be. When you say things like "He is driven by apologetic concerns" we know that objectivity is the last thing on your mind.

Randal Rauser said...


I have a coherent epistemology. I published a 300 page book with Oxford University Press defending a moderate foundationalism.

Randal Rauser said...


There are two issues here. (1) Whether what I've said is correct; (2) whether I am consistent with what I say. These are different issues.

Let's deal with the first. I've changed my views on many many issues over the years by exercising certain intellectual virtues. It was careful reflection and an evaluation of all the data -- biblical, theological, philosophical, et cetera -- that led me to reject doctrines like eternal conscious torment and divinely commanded genocide.

And I share and teach my views widely to conservative Christian audiences. This past February I delivered a series of talks at a Christian school teachers convention on atheism. One of the sessions was focused on how Christians marginalize the atheist community and it got a great response. Many evangelicals are really tired of the "dukes in the air" form of apologetics that they've been fed for years.

Now to the second issue. I haven't seen you address my claim that the OTF is properly embedded in a pursuit of intellectual virtue and when one does so, special appeal to OTF becomes otiose. I'll take that silence as assent to my argument.

Russ said...

You said,

There are two issues here. (1) Whether what I've said is correct; (2) whether I am consistent with what I say. These are different issues.

I know of many Christians with vastly differing theologies who are consistent in what they say while being consistently incorrect. Embracing consistency at the expense of correctness is not at all virtuous, but it does allow one to imagine that their personal conception of Christianity accurately reflects the world their version of a god created. What is correct is far more important than the triviality of consistency which can be found in abundance in video games and novels, in addition to the unjustifiably religiously self-assured.

If from the first of the two issues above, "(1) Whether what I've said is correct," you believe that you are correct then you have contradicted yourself when you you said,

Let's deal with the first. I've changed my views on many many issues over the years by exercising certain intellectual virtues. It was careful reflection and an evaluation of all the data -- biblical, theological, philosophical, et cetera -- that led me to reject doctrines like eternal conscious torment and divinely commanded genocide.

I think it's great that you have not been so mentally ossified so as to be impervious to moving your stance on an issue based on evaluation of evidence and argument. I also like that you steered clear of saying your god told you the answers. However, in your statement, "evaluation of all the data -- biblical, theological, philosophical, et cetera," you cited biblical and theological, two sources that would have been, and always have been, observably otiose as inducements to moral growth, individually or socially, and you cited philosophy. None of these three is data in any meaningful way, so I hope your et cetera was a really big one, especially considering that you claimed to have assessed "all the data," and considering that the task of locating all the extant Christian writings related to the topics listed in languages you might be fluent in would have been an extraordinary undertaking by itself.

Bibles, of course, are data only as a string of characters using spaces to delimit words. Christians ignore the Bible almost all the time, and as societies we have intentionally rejected much of what the Bible commands as punishments for perceived transgressions. For the most part, Christianity is "Bible based" only in the imaginations of those who wish it was so. It's uselessness is underscored no better than by observing the laundry list of literary elements that are applied to it by the differing Christianities, even as it is held out as "true." Genesis is literal. No! Genesis is metaphorical. Oh, that's poetry so it's not to be taken as true; it's just emotive. Bibles are not true in any useful way. Bibles say what apologists are predisposed to make them say, nothing more.

Christian theology motivates a Nigerian mother to protect herself from her demon-possessed child by dousing him with concentrated sulfuric acid. Christian theology informs Baptist Reverend Fred Phelps to create the Christian circus he runs. Christian theology permits complicity in millions of AIDS-related deaths per annum. You needn't respond to these observations, but know that it is Christianity itself in practice that reveals Christian theology for the body of useless notions that it is.

Russ said...

Do you think it is ever the case that empirical results overrule philosophical argument, however long-embraced, subtle, nuanced, or cherished those arguments might be? Of course, philosophy has some merit, but understand that simple empirical results can, and should, send to the dust bin, any and all related philosophical reasoning and argumentation, even from the most esteemed. That's not what is observed in philosophical pursuits, however. The marketing ploy called Intelligent Design is a good example. Philosophy has the potential to be a powerful tool, but it is more often employed in propping up predispositions, and outright lying.

I do hope that science was a significant part of your et cetera. Surely, when you suggest that you strive for objectivity, you must also maintain that you have sufficient scientific understanding to evaluate the related issues. Realize that science has the capacity to determine if Christian's claims of religiously induced benefit are true. It has done so and found most Christian claims of benefit unwarranted. Atheists have lives of joy, happiness, meaningfulness and goodness, as have some Christians.

Religions rose to being the predominant means of explanation, for everything, only because reliable empirical results were rare, and, when available, they were often suppressed in favor of religious explanation.

Today we live, not only in an Age of Reason, but more importantly in an Age of Empiricism. Reason is no longer the only means at our disposal to wrestle with gnarly propositions. When Christians make silly claims of miracles and answered prayers, we can ignore them since empirical results show that, if a god exists, he likes the atheists of Sweden as much or more than he does the Christians of the US. If a god was at work we'd see it.

You said you "reject doctrines like eternal conscious torment and divinely commanded genocide." Realize that you must have thought them true at one time to have now changed your mind about what your god really meant. Realize further that it was you who decided what your god really meant while other Christians see it differently and still others more different yet. Now, your version of Christianity, the purest distillation of which is in your head, has a different god than the one you have decided is wrong. That god which sends the seventeenth century ten year old to hell for missing one mass, is rather different from the god which does not.

Concerning the OTF you said,

I haven't seen you address my claim that the OTF is properly embedded in a pursuit of intellectual virtue and when one does so, special appeal to OTF becomes otiose.

Randal, I agree with the statement as it stands, but special appeal to OTF is quite necessary since Christianity in no way encourages "pursuit of intellectual virtue," and in fact it does quite the opposite. John's Outsider's Test of Faith is an appeal for the faithful, Christians in particular, to exercise the virtue of intellectual honesty and integrity they appear to have abandoned to intellectually make room for their Jesus and their God.

You might like to make it appear as though you embrace laudable intellectual notions like justice, empathy, intellectual courage, honesty and integrity, confidence in reason, autonomy and perseverance, but if you're practicing these virtues, you know full well that only the tiniest sliver of those represented by the Christian pie ever give these ideas a second thought. At the typical Christian church you will find arguments from tradition, ignorance, guilt, revelation, emotion, authority, and, of course, the ever-popular, fear. While intellectual virtue might be the cream, it almost never makes it to the top, and among the faithful, it's not recognized as a valuable trait.

Russ said...

Fact is, anti-intellectualism is a mainstay among the vast majority of Christians, including the Roman Catholic half of Christianity and nealy all fundamentalist and evangelical Protestantisms. John's OTF is offered as an antidote to the poison of Christian intellectual dishonesty. Listen to that theological paragon, the Pope. Listen to Pat Robertson. Listen to the Falwells, Haggards, Warrens, Osteens and Creflo Dollars. The lack of intellectual virtue which justifies John's OTF is held up as a mark of faith. Peruse the comments on this blog sometime and soak up what comes out of the fundamentalist contingent of COGIC preachers together with literalist seminary students and teachers, and Roman Catholic layman and would-be priests. Little in the way of intellectual virtue, much in the way of stereotypical street preacher conversion tactics and cringe-making Christian theologies and doctrines. Still, if Christianity lived up to its claims, such dishonorable approaches would be unnecessary; we would see its worth.

Do you actually think that the exchanges taking place in your classrooms are common among the Christian laity? Do you truly think them to be so common that the OTF is otiose? If you do, then take some time to go to Christian churches, not as Randal Rauser, esteemed and much sought after Christian speaker, but as Randal Rauser, fly on the wall. You'll learn that a vast intellectual abyss separates your Ivory Tower Christianity from crude Christian praxis.

John's OTF is a fine intellectual challenge for anyone willing to openly undergo it, while at its core, it's a call for the intellectual virtues you admire, with a plea that the intellectual honesty, so feared among the Christianities, to be held above the intellectual mockery called faith. Honest assessment of religious claims in the past were often accepted, provided the end result of keeping the faith was assured. Today, you might not be burned for critically evaluating religious claims, at least in the First World, but loss of family and friends for apostasy, even when being virtuously intellectually honest, can be devastating. For Christianity to survive, intellectual virtues must go by the wayside.