Contra Paul Manata on the OTF (Part 1)

On February 11, 2006 I first proposed the Outsider Test for Faith (OTF) in response to something Paul Manata wrote. I think this is instructive. There is nothing quite like discussing/debating the issues that divide us. We learn from doing so. Most of the time it helps me understand how to make a better case against Christianity as it did on that day. So Manata and I have a history, he cursing the day he provoked me to propose the test, and me further refining it from additional criticisms. Along the way Manata has repeatedly tried unsuccessfully to disabuse me of this argument. So here he comes again with more failed arguments. Let's see about them.

Again as before, if you haven't already done so, read my responses to the Triablogue online book, The Infidel Delusion beginning right here. I'll not repeat what I've previously written.

Manata begins by saying, "Loftus claims to have taken the outsider test for Christianity. He says he judged Christianity by the same standards he judged other religions false. Christianity did not pass the test."

This is incorrect. In my book Why I Became an Atheist (WIBA) there are three parts to it. The first part shows why the Outsider or skeptical presumption is justified. The last part shares what I think after the debunking is over. But the second part contains the arguments that led me away from the Christian faith even from an insider's perspective. I'm planning on revising that book sometime in the future and I will make that very clear. Again, part two contains the arguments that persuaded me to reject Christianity from an insider's perspective even with the presumption that Christianity was true. Thus Christianity failed the Insider Test for Faith as I said in footnote 9 on page 105 of The Christian Delusion, the book he's criticizing. Every former believer who walks away from the Christian faith will say the same thing. They believed but even from an insider's perspective they couldn't maintain their faith.

So I never actually took the OTF with regard to Christianity. I was already an outsider when I first proposed it at DC. But if I had done so I would have walked away from the Christian faith perhaps a couple of decades earlier. And once we see the objectivity of the OTF then it becomes very easy to reject other Christian and non-Christian sects until all you're left with is simple non-belief or atheism.

Manata claims the OTF is not expressed as a valid argument. Here's my argument:
1. Rational people in distinct geographical locations around the globe overwhelmingly adopt and defend a wide diversity of religious faiths due to their upbringing and cultural heritage. This is the religious diversity thesis.

2. Consequently, it seems very likely that adopting one’s religious faith is not merely a matter of independent rational judgment but is causally dependent on cultural conditions to an overwhelming degree. This is the religious dependency thesis.

3. Hence the odds are highly likely that any given adopted religious faith is false.

4. So the best way to test one’s adopted religious faith is from the perspective of an outsider with the same level of skepticism used to evaluate other religious faiths. This ex-presses the OTF. (82)
He asks, "How does Loftus get to (2) from (1)? (2) has a conclusion indicator, but does not seem to follow from (1). (1) is not a logical truth or a theorem."

Manata must have forgotten that the title to this chapter of mine is The Outsider Test for Faith Revisited. You see I'm revisiting something I had dealt with before, and I also say where, in WIBA. There we read:
One...option for the Christian might be to argue that I have not shown there is a direct causal relationship between RDPT (i.e. the Religious Dependency Thesis) (or 1) and the RDVT (i.e., the Religious Diversity Thesis) (or 2). Just because there is religious diversity doesn’t mean that religious views are overwhelmingly dependent on social and geographical factors, they might argue. Reminiscent of David Hume, who argued that we do not see cause and effect, they might try to argue I have not shown it exists between the RDPT and the RDVT. After all, if Hume can say he never sees one billiard ball “causing” another one to move just because they do so after making contact, then maybe there is no direct causal relationship between the RDPT and the RDVT. Is it possible, they might ask, that just because people have different religious faiths which are separated into distinct geographical locations on our planet, that “when and where” people are born has little to do with what they believe? My answer is that if this is possible, it is an exceedingly small possibility. Do Christians really want to hang their faith on such a slender reed as this? I’ve shown from sociological, geographical and psychological studies that what we believe is strongly influenced by “the accidents of history.” That’s all anyone can ask me to show. [Pp. 74-75]
Is this not a good enough answer?

Next Manata asks, "What justifies the move from (2) to (3), i.e., "it seems very likely" to "the odds are highly likely"? Okay, when I write my book on the OTF I will make this phrase change since he's right, the wording should be the same in each case. I'll change them to "the odds are very likely" in both cases. I don't see much difference though between these two slightly different phrases.

Manata (along with James Anderson) makes a very strange delusional move at this point. They ask why it must be the case that just because the odds are highly likely that any particular religion is false this means that their particular religion is false. Manata sums up Anderson's view when he said "James Anderson points out, even if we assume that all religions, and by implication Christianity, have a low probability of being true, we can still be rational in believing Christianity."

Fine. I understand this and I grant it. Even though their particular brand of Christianity has a low probability to it they could still have the correct faith after all. At this point though, they are talking about possibilities. Their faith could still be true even though the odds are their faith is wrong. This is sort of like winning the lottery when there are 44,000 different religious tickets to draw out of a barrel. The odds are 1 in 44,000 but that doesn't give either one of them pause. Even if we pare the major religions down to about 4,200, acknowledging the rest are sects within these religions, this still doesn't change much of anything, nor would it give them any pause. Why? Because they have done a dance that I now call The Delusional Sidestep (TDS). Since the consequences of the demographic data are quickly recognized by them to require the OTF they make a quick sidestep to avoid it by claiming they could still be right despite the odds. Wait just a minute!? What about the odds? Ahhh, just ignore them we're told. There is nothing to see here. Move along. We prefer our delusion to the actual probabilities.

Finally, Manata asks how (4) follows from the above three premises. "The conclusion seems totally unrelated to the premises," he claims. "Indeed, a better conclusion would be, "Therefore, your faith is probably false."

Well, granted, I could have written the conclusion like this, it's just that I didn't have to for two reasons. In the first place, the conclusion of the argument is stated in (3): "Hence the odds are highly likely that any given adopted religious faith is false." That's a good enough conclusion I think, and it also implies Manata's conclusion that "Therefore, your faith is probably false." I think Manata's conclusion is self-evident from (1-3) and doesn't need to be stated. Again, it's implied, and is no fault of the argument itself that is wasn't stated. In the second place there is the word "So" in (4) that begins the sentence and could be read like this: "Given the conclusion of (3) the best way to test one’s adopted religious faith is from the perspective of an outsider with the same level of skepticism used to evaluate other religious faiths."

So what we have here is quibbling, even though I must admit to not having expressed myself better. So let me do so now. Basically 1-3 is the argument. 4 presents what I argue believers must do when testing the probability that their faith is false which I argue is the best and only way to test the conclusion expressed in 3 (along with what is implied). That's what I argue. Based on 1-3, 4 is how we should test our inherited religious faiths. What is Manata's suggested alternative given the arguments of 1-3? I argue that my alternative, 4, is the only reasonable one to embrace given 1-3. For him to argue against 4 he must give us a better alternative for testing one's faith. I have never seen him do so, nor have I seen anyone else do so who objects to the OTF.

Manata then argues: "But if (3) is true, then why take a test? You have a probabilistic defeater for your faith. No need to test it."

What? Does he really think this? Didn't we see him earlier dance TDS with regard to the probabilities by saying he can basically disregard them? And if not, and I already have a probabilistic defeater for his faith, then he should simply walk away from it, and I think he should even as an insider once he recognizes what (3) entails. The problem is that since he recognizes this and still maintains his faith despite the low odds of being right, I must further argue for the OTF. He refuses to acknowledge the one shoe dropping because of TDS so I'm going to try to make him acknowledge the other shoe dropping. Still, he sees none of this, not the one, and not the other.

Given what I just wrote, much of what Manata said about the validity of the OTF from the bottom of page 50 through to the top of page 52 is irrelevant.

But I want to make a few points anyway. Our tastes are indeed culturally adopted to a large extent. So what should we do about this fact? We should not insist that our diet is the only correct one or that our way of eating is the only correct way to eat--that we should not be dogmatic about tastes. We should adopt a more tolerant and even agnostic view of which diet is the correct one (given basic scientifically known essential nutrients, of course, but then the sciences once again enters the picture and saves the day). Now go apply this analogy to your Christian faith, Manata.

Finally Manata asks about applying the OTF/OTB equally to 1) philosophical beliefs (like the world is nothing but maya, or an illusion) and 2) moral commands (like not torturing babies for the fun of it). I had already dealt with these objections in my book. Did he read it? He adds nothing new to Victor Reppert's same objections along those lines and he said nothing against my responses to those objections.

Nonetheless, let me state for the record that there is a close relationship between one's religious faith and philosophical, political and moral beliefs. Manata would acknowledge this I'm very sure. There is a reason why conservative Christians are also conservative politically and morally. And there is a reason why Christians defend philosophical ideas because of the need to defend their faith. Take for instance JP Moreland who tries and fails to defend substance dualism. The only reason for doing so, given the utter failure of these attempts, is because of his faith. This seems to me to be a given. What the relationship is between political, moral and philosophical beliefs is hard to articulate, but I'll try when I write my book on the OTF.

So yes, let's subject all of these ideas to a measure of outsider skepticism warranted by the nature of those ideas, how they were first adopted, and so forth. And yes, let's subject the religious basis for all philosophical, political and moral beliefs. Methodological naturalism is the method for doing so along with David Hume's evidential standards.

My response is continued right here.


WAR_ON_ERROR said...

It is really bizarre that Manata's counter examples included the use of taste preference as though truth criteria wouldn't have an impact on the validity of the counterexample. I read that and was like, "He is NOT going with that...Oh wow...he IS."

And his defense of philosophical solipsism (as though there's no reason to have good arguments for our positions on morality and politics), makes me anxious about humanity in general. Do people actually listen to this stuff? "I deeply value x and therefore have the right to not evaluate my value like an outsider." WTF? That's just scary and speaks volumes on where they are coming from. It's like, "Oh, *that's* why you rarely make sense. You don't think you actually *have* to make sense in any kind of impartial way at a fundamental level." Why are they even attempting to convince anyone of anything? "We're Just Expressing Our Insufficiently Critical Christian Selves at Infidels Who Call Us Names" should be the title of their counter-book. I'm surprised anyone would publicly admit to the kinds of things Manata said, but other Christians seem to be applauding. I suppose your OTF really brought that "right to assert conclusion" out of them.

I'm only on page 87 of TID, but it's amazing at how superficial a lot of it is. I don't know if that's just how they are intellectually, or if they are angry/offended and just looking for any way they can to make you look bad as quickly as possible knowing many Christians won't probe too deeply or what the deal is.

Steve Hays' incredibly bizarre objection to skeptics not being able to criticize Bible cosmology AND the Flood at the same time just plain boggles my mind. I see he downplayed it from his blog post to the book, but it definitely still made the cut. It's like nearly the worst observation I've ever seen coming from someone who is supposed to sound intelligent. And his inability to not use shades of gray (or the concept of a falloff) when it comes to beliefs based on appearances as though Babinski was ever claiming ancients were SO stupid they wouldn't get that objects aren't literally getting bigger when they come closer. Or how apparently most ancient people were totally on the ball when it came to cosmology because Hays just so happens to know all the subtle indicators that COULD be used to figure things out. I don't know why other Christians aren't constantly reprimanding Hays for this level of inanity.

I suppose we could go with the delusional theory. So far I'd only recommend the Jason Engwer sections and a few tidbits here and there from the others when they do happen to make a decent point. Engwer seems to be the only one interested in communicating rather than retaliating. I find most of his points constructive even if still mistaken ultimately in one way or another.


Rob R said...

Their faith could still be true even though the odds are their faith is wrong. This is sort of like winning the lottery when there are 44,000 different religious tickets to draw out of a barrel. The odds are 1 in 44,000 but that doesn't give either one of them pause.

This way of analyzing things is valid yet incomplete.

It is an initial statistic to merely merely state the probability as 1 divided by the number of possibilities. But as we learn more, the odds of certain possibilities may be reduced while others increase. The number of faces on a piece of dice may be 6, but the probability of any one side landing up is only one in six provided that all of them are equal. Well, they may not be equal. The dice could be loaded, and knowledge to that will drastically skew the probabilities.

When you suggest the OTF on the basis of this shallow initial assesment of probability, for many of us, you are asking us to turn our back on a lot of knowledge. And this is nothing short of irrational.

Jeffrey said...

>When you suggest the OTF on the basis of this shallow initial assesment of probability, for many of us, you are asking us to turn our back on a lot of knowledge.

No he's not. This other knowledge is what you look at while taking the OTF. You only ignore this knowledge if you don't take the OTF.

If your other knowledge consists of actual facts that legitimately points to your faith, and to a great enough extent to make up for the fact that your faith looked improbable before looking at the evidence, then your faith passes the OTF.

If, on the other hand, those facts only point to your beliefs when you begin by assuming that your beliefs are true, then this is another way of saying that these facts don't actually point to your beliefs. And then your faith flunks the OTF.

For example, think about the ideas behind the Theory of Relativity, and how it came to be accepted. The ideas are so crazy that they should start out as crazily improbable, before looking at the evidence. But it repeatedly made extremely accurate predictions that couldn't be made with other theories.

The claim that the sunlight was bent during the eclipse is objectively true, even to people who don't accept the theory yet. And similarly with other experiments. And so the theory passed the Outsider Test for Beliefs. Subjecting it to the Outsider Test hardly involved ignoring knowledge.