Contra Steve Hays and Jason Engwer on the OTF

I'm in the process of assessing Triablogue's online book against The Christian Delusion. Since I don't want to repeat myself if you haven't already done so read my first response.

The goal Outsider Test for Faith (OTF) is emphatically NOT to knock religious faiths down. This is implicit in how they argue against it in their replies. The goal is to come up with a mutually reliable test that could help us know which religious faith is objectively true, if there is one. The test is a reasonable fair and objective one to judge religious faiths. The whole reason Hays and company object to it is because they know their faith will not pass this test. So cognitive dissonance requires them to argue for their double standard way of judging between religious faiths, one for their faith and a different one for others—-and surprise, with such a double standard their particular brand of Christian faith is judged to be the correct one!

Hays begins his criticism of the OTF by claiming it is arbitrarily selective because it targets religious faiths. Why not propose an Outsider Test for Beliefs (OTB), he suggests.

Since he read my chapter he already knows I do just that. There is an OTB that is larger and more encompassing than the limited OTF. The OTF is therefore a subset of the OTB. The outsider is a skeptic in varying degrees. Skepticism is a virtue if the alternative is being gullible, okay? 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.”

Hays continues that my OTF is formulated from the perspective of an insider, i.e., an atheist. Later he opines: “Agnosticism is only the default position if you happen to be an agnostic. So that reflects the insider perspective of an agnostic.”

Hays thinks everyone is an insider to some viewpoint and therefore evaluates his or her own viewpoint as insiders while rejecting all other viewpoints from the outsider’s perspective. I see no reason why he wouldn’t say this is true about Muslims or Orthodox Jews either, or any other viewpoint, like Scientologists or Satanists. We’re all insiders, he would say. And we reject all other viewpoints as outsiders. As such, he claims the OTF is really a test applied to other viewpoints from one’s own insider perspective. Consequently the OTF is really an Insider Test by Infidels.

So, does Hays think all of our viewpoints are incommensurable?—that we each live in an intellectual box and there can be no meeting of the minds, or changing of perspectives? Does he think we are locked inside our own boxes?—that we each see things differently and there is nothing that can test between our different perspectives? He argues daily on his blog as if this is not the case. He argues as if he can convince people otherwise. But this is not the conclusion to what he just wrote if all we have to judge different perspectives is from the inside.

So how does Hays propose we objectively test our own perspectives? What is his alternative to the OTB/OTF? I see no better one suggested by him or anyone.

And he complains twice about using the standard of methodological naturalism, saying that "James McGrath imposes methodological naturalism on Biblical historiography. Yet that imposition hardly reflects the viewpoint of the Bible writers.” Of course, the question is why anyone in our modern society should desire the viewpoint of ancient superstitious barbaric Biblical people anyway, which is extremely strange to me, and says nothing against a Muslim who wishes to adopt the writings of the Koran. Nonetheless, this method has been defended very well and I see no reason to abandon it when no other alternative is suggested by him.

Hays objects that “The OTF accentuates the socially conditioned character of religious belief. But, of course, that cuts both ways. We can also cite statistical correlations to show the socially conditioned character of atheism.” Of course it does, that’s why agnosticism is the default position. Saying “I don’t know what to affirm” is a reasonable thing to do when there seems to be no clear decisive way to decide between all of the various religious and non-religious perspectives. We seem to live in what John Hick describes as a religious ambiguous universe capable of being rationally interpreted by a number of different religious and non-religious perspectives. Why is that? And how cocksure can one be in such a universe about affirming the answers to why we exist?

Hays (and later Jason Engwer) takes issue with my saying they evaluate other religious faiths using just David Hume‘s evidentiary standards along with a methodological naturalist viewpoint. Any reading of Christian literature on the so-called “cults” will show this statistically. They claim to evaluate these other religious faiths and miracles as if they are demon produced. Really? How is that anything by way of an objective standard? Yep, demons can account for these other faiths and their miracles. Demons are everywhere. Hays and Engwer can even demonize their opponents, even most other Christians. Such a view is scary to me for certainly they think I am possessed of demons. Yeah, that solves everything when you cannot answer a man’s arguments. Demonize him. Demonize them all. This is such a barbaric view to me. Nonetheless, my OTF eliminates this as any kind of objective standard for evaluating other viewpoints. Muslims claim the same exact thing. They say the reason Christians believe is because demons are deceiving them. Where does that get anyone? I’ll tell you where—nowhere as in NO WHERE.

Hays also claims Christians don‘t necessarily assume human rather than divine authors. A Christian apologist, he claims “will demonstrate that fact.”

Right. First he assumes something and then thinks he has demonstrated his assumption as a fact. He does not approach the texts in the Bible in the same way. Others who do so conclude it’s a fact that the Bible was written by human rather than divine authors, like I do. So why the double standard, Hays? The reason you have it is because you were brought up in a Christian culture and adopted what your culture led you to believe, probably starting with your parents. You were never reasoned into your faith so you will probably never be reasoned out of your faith.

Hays also opines: “Moreover, if you have good reason to believe that your own position is correct, then, by definition, a contrary position is wrong. Everybody does that.” Yep. They do. But this is typical of what believers do. They assume they are correct; then they find arguments that lead them to think they are correct; then they beg the question by claiming all others are wrong. That’s a great method for knowing the truth about religious faith, isn’t it? Such a method leads people of different faiths to conclude what they do. They are doing the exact same thing Hays does but it leads them to reject his faith.

Hays concludes (as does Jason Engwer) : “There‘s nothing wrong with claiming divine self-authentication if, in fact, a believer does enjoy the witness of the Spirit. That‘s a variant on the argument from religious experience, and there‘s nothing inherently wrong with that appeal. There‘s nothing wrong with making the claim as long as the claim is true.”

Every believer claims to have some kind of self-authenticating religious experience. How does the Scientologist know his faith is true? Because he’s experienced its truth. The question is how can we test whether or not our religious experiences are true? I've written about this before.

Engwer asserts: “the idea that God, if He exists, can only persuade people by means of objective argumentation is absurd.”

I grant him this. If God exists then he can do this by other means besides using objective argumentation. But how likely is it that there is a God who does this in the first place? The evidence of billions of non-Christians who have adopted what they believe based on where they were born speaks like a megaphone against his existence or of him doing just this.

Engwer writes: “If we‘re going to use such negative initial observations to frame our judgment about religion, why not also allow positive initial observations to frame it, such as the apparent reasonableness of a person who commends a religion to us, the general trustworthiness of eyewitness testimony such as Christianity claims to have for some of its central beliefs, etc.?”

He just doesn’t get it, does he? How do we know that we have eyewitness testimony? There is a huge difference between seeing a miracle take place before our very eyes in which we can determine it was not a trick of the eyes, from hearing a story that stems from one source which is repeated told by different people for decades across different lands in a ancient pre-scientific culture. This fails the test of Lessing’s Broad Ugly Ditch, and is no basis for believing in any miraculous claim in the past. Yesterday’s evidence is not evidence for me today. A story told even in my day in another part of the globe is not evidence for me. The problem is compounded by the fact that we're dealing with the past. This is not any basis to believe.

I do appreciate Engwer saying that “There‘s some truth to what Loftus is saying"; and, “There is merit to questioning one‘s beliefs.”

But here’s the problem.

As human beings we are not like the Spock in Star Trek. We don't think logically. This is the human condition. But precisely because of the human condition we should try to be as objective as possible with what we think is true.

If human beings reason so badly that we implicitly adopt what we were taught to believe in our respective cultures so much that they become like blinders on our eyes, and if we’re that bad at weighing the claims of beliefs that have little or no evidence for them to decide between differing ones, then we cannot offer a milquetoast test that asks people to be objective and fair about that which they were raised to believe and defend. What we are enculturated with is who we are. We cannot see the water we swim in. We cannot pluck our eyes out and look at them. So we cannot simply ask people to be objective and fair. Believers already think they are being objective because they can't see that they are not! Just look at how confident some Muslims are that they are being objective. Some of them are so certain they're objective about their faith they are willing to fly planes into buildings. Ask them if they’re objective and it would be a no brainer for them. But ask them to subject their own faith to the same level of skepticism they use to reject other faiths and THAT will get their attention. Since we cannot pluck out their eyes we must offer them a shocking test, one that may help get them out of their dogmatic slumbers like nothing else can do. And they will object as strenuously as they can to the OTF because they know their faith does not pass that test.

It's just too bad they are really not interested in objectively testing whether their faith is correct. That's a sign of a delusional person.


Brad Haggard said...

John, didn't you say earlier that to start the OTF you had to assume that Christianity was false? Isn't that begging the question?

Robert Oerter said...

Good response, John. I have some further remarks at my blog:

Jayman said...


Of course, the question is why anyone in our modern society should desire the viewpoint of ancient superstitious barbaric Biblical people anyway

A further question is why you believe methodological naturalism will ever allow you to objectively investigate the supernatural claims of a religion when it rules out supernatural explanations from the start.

and says nothing against a Muslim who wishes to adopt the writings of the Koran.

The Christian does not need to appeal to methodological naturalism to argue that the Koran is not the word of an omniscient deity.

Nonetheless, this method has been defended very well and I see no reason to abandon it when no other alternative is suggested by him.

How about a Bayesian analysis that does not rule out the supernatural from the start?

How do we know that we have eyewitness testimony?

It's addressed in TID and its footnotes.

A story told even in my day in another part of the globe is not evidence for me. The problem is compounded by the fact that we're dealing with the past. This is not any basis to believe.

In my experience, the weight that theists and atheists give to testimony is a huge reason that they disagree with each other regarding the supernatural. Both seem to accept that testimony is a valid means to acquire facts about the natural while only theists accept that testimony is a valid means to acquire facts about the supernatural (granted this is a generalization).