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.