Thomas Talbott Replies

I have found most of the criticisms of the Outsider Test for Faith (OTF) are asking it to be something that it is not. The rest are based in a lack of understanding, probably because of the need to believe and defend what cannot be defended. The OTF is expressed to believers that they should examine their own faith with the same level of skepticism they use when examining the other religious faiths they reject. This has annoyed believers, since what it asks is that there should be no double standards when evaluating religious faiths, one for your own culturally inherited religious faith and a different one for the other religious faiths you reject.

The most common objection is why I single out religious faith for this kind of test. Why not treat all beliefs in the same way? Talbott expresses this objection: “the OTF is but a specific instance of the more general Outsider Test for Beliefs (OTB).” As such “Both employ the idea of an outsider test, and both are relevant to a question that I, for one, would like see answered clearly: Just what, exactly, would count as passing an outsider test in any context, whether it be moral, political, metaphysical, or religious?” Then he says:
So when you ask whether one should use the OTF to decide whether to molest children, I presume you mean to ask whether one should use the OTB to decide this issue. That is, should one adopt the perspective of an outsider--the perspective of someone who rejects the moral point of view altogether--and try to decide from that perspective whether to molest children? And the answer to that question, as I’m sure you will agree, seems clear: “Of course not!” But don’t you see that this answer undermines the whole strategy of trying to adopt the perspective of an outsider, particularly if the outsider’s view of the world is already radically different from yours, as a means of testing your own beliefs? Is there any reason whatsoever why modern scientists, for example, should restrict themselves to evidence that might appeal to some outsider, such as an African Bushman?

In effect Talbott is asking that if believers should examine their own faith with the same level of skepticism they use when examining the other religious faiths they reject, then why shouldn’t we examine our own anti-rape ethic with the same level of skepticism we use when examining a rape ethic that we reject? Why not examine our own anti-molesting ethic with the same level of skepticism we use when examining a molesting ethic that we reject? Why not examine our own belief in a material world with the same level of skepticism we use when examining the belief in Idealism (that there is no material world) that we reject? And incredibly he suggests why not examine our own scientific understanding with the same level of skepticism we use when examining the non-scientific beliefs of an an African Bushman that we reject? This list could presumably be extended.

I have met this objection head on in two ways. In the first place I have argued that the level of skepticism warranted for a particular belief depends on several criteria. On page 91 of The Christian Delusion:
The amount of skepticism warranted depends not only on 1) the number of rational people who disagree, but also 2) whether the people who disagree are separated into distinct geographical locations, 3) the nature of their beliefs, 4) how their beliefs originated, 5) under what circumstances their beliefs were personally adopted in the first place, and 5) 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. [Call these items with inserted numbers the “amount of skepticism warranted criteria”, or ASWC.]
Then on page 93 of The Christian Delusion I said:
I’m arguing that religious faiths warrant the same level of skepticism that other similar beliefs require, like beliefs in the elves of Iceland, the trolls of Norway, and the power of witches in Africa. They must all be subjected to the same levels of skepticism given both the extraordinary nature of these claims and how some of these beliefs were adopted in the first place.
So based on ASWC and the extraordinary claims of religionists, debates about rape and molesting (if there can even be such things) are in a different category than debates about religion, and hence do not meet the same criteria as the OTF. There are plenty of differences.

Secondly I have argued that even if these beliefs are in the same category, which they are not, that an anti-rape ethic and the belief in a material world can be more than justified from an outsider perspective, that is, there are good arguments for thinking this is so. I can think of no better response.

Anyone who tries to justify a rape ethic or a molesting ethic fails the criteria of the ASWC on every single item. I know of no rational person, not one, who would presume to justify either rape or child molesting, except perhaps in the case of rape where it is justified from a religious standpoint, something the OTF targets. If this is not a red herring then what is? Such anti-ethics are additionally not making extraordinary claims about supernatural beings and forces, something that best defines a religion. These are not similar beliefs. Our beliefs about rape and molesting do not require the same level of skepticism as those who oppose them. Neither do our "beliefs" about science, so Idealism additionally fails science, as I’ve argued.

Which brings me to science. One cannot doubt empirical evidence for it is the strongest evidence we can have about something. To suggest or hint that we should question science from the perspective of an African Bushman, which it seems Talbott did, actually gives the game away. For it shows the depths that a believer will go in order to defend his faith no matter what. If this is not a case of a smart person who is made dumb by his faith, then what is? It shows the disingenuousness of Talbott’s arguments, for behind them all he is throwing up smoke screens in order to deflect the force of the OTF. In order to do this he finds it necessary to denigrate science. That’s typical of believers. All believers must denigrate the sciences in some places in order to believe.