Tuesday, September 28, 2010

How to pass the outsider test for faith

 Let's get back to the central point at issue here. You claimed that Christian opponents of other religions either question-beggingly assume the authority of the Bible, or exercise a kind of methodological naturalism with respect to other religions which, if applied to Christianity, would result in the rejection of Christianity as well. Looking at a paradigm case of Christian apologetic response to Islam, we find that this is not the case. We find that Christian apologists compare the Bible and the Qu'ran with respect to manuscript evidence, documentary evidence, and archaeological evidence. Given the fact that, on this reading of the evidence, the evidence supporting Christianity is better than that of Islam, an outsider could choose Christianity over Islam based on the evidence. In fact, as an unbeliever you can accept the claim that the Christian Bible has better manuscript evidence, documentary evidence, and archaeological evidence than has the Qu'ran. The comparison doesn't say what the evidential threshold should be, but it does say that Christianity is better evidenced than Islam. So, an atheist might say the evidence isn't sufficiently "extraordinary" to warrant belief, but even an unbeliever should realize that the Christian Bible is in better evidential shape than the Qu'ran.

I've even made the claim that if you could show me that the situation was really reversed, that the Qu'ran had better evidence, my faith would be in trouble.

Of course, there are many more gods, and more holy books. Do you know of any that would do better than either the Bible or the Qu'ran on these three tests?

So let's take Outsider Tester Joe, someone who has, hypothetically, put all religions, prior to investigation at the same level of epistemic probability. Joe takes each religion's holy books, and runs the three tests on each. The Christian Bible wins by a considerable margin, so Outsider Tester Joe either becomes or remains a Christian. He can only be thought to have failed to employ the OTF if he has treated similar cases differently because he is a Christian insider. But the cases are not similar. There's an evidential difference.

In any event, John, you should either show, specifically, how the comparison site I have referred to somehow uses methodological naturalism with respect to Islam but rejects in with respect to Christianity, thus employing a double standard, or abandon the claim you make in your book that Christian apologists appeal to methodological naturalism in response to other religions.

I should further emphasize that I don't necessarily buy all the arguments in support of the Bible on that site. That's not the point. The point is that it is hard to doubt that the Bible is far stronger than the Qu'ran in the three categories on which it tests the two holy books.

Put up or shut up.

68 comments:

Blue Devil Knight said...

You have produced a good counterexample to the claim that Christians magically become methodological naturalists when it comes to other faiths.

Couldn't Loftus just say that he was making a statistical claim, that this is something that is extremely common among Christian apologists?

Has Loftus even shown that a single popular, well-resepected theologian has employed this double standard in writing? Perhaps it happens more behind pews than spines of books so he cannot find a good example?

You both seem to disagree on
Martin, Geisler, and McDowell, but neither of you have talked about their books in any detail in these discussions, rather you have cited a web source by Jay Smith.

Given the case you have made over the posts you have addressed this, the burden of proof is clearly on Loftus that he is not misreading these guys. Obviously it would be a misreading of Jay Smith.

Joshua Blanchard said...

First, I'm glad that BDK, whoever he is, has taken up my line of questioning, which Loftus finds impossible to answer (Actually, perhaps Loftus has been doing some good post-hoc researching all this time, which would explain his vacuous non-sequiturs).

Second, I worry that Loftus truly doesn't understand what would constitute an example of the error he alleges. Reppert has taken great pains to explain how to avoid the error, even citing an example of where the error is avoided. The next step is to develop examples, perhaps even real example, of where the error is in fact committed.

Then, after doing all of Loftus' preliminary evidential work for him, we can ask him the final question, which is on what basis he makes the generalization that apologists make this error as a practice.

Has anyone seen evidence that Loftus understands the issues involved? Can Reppert for all his magnanimous intellectual charity show that he is taking part in a fruitful engagement?

Anonymous said...

Loftus full of baloney, insults. In other news, sky blue, dogs bark.

Victor Reppert said...

It would be nice if I could get Loftus to admit that he is making a misguided claim here. But given all the noise made on behalf of Loftus's books, and the plaudits it has received from people some of whom I respect a great deal, it is worthwhile to me if I can get some people to get off, or stay off, the outsider test bandwagon.

This is supposed to be the central argument of Loftus's book, the Outsider Test for Faith. It is supposed to be the crowning argument against Christianity, a clear demonstration of the irrationality of Christian believers. Christians, we are told, won't take the OTF because, deep down inside, they know they can't pass it.

But, as I hope I have shown, it's based on baseless bald assertions that cannot stand up under scrutiny. THAT is a fruitful intellectual enterprise, whether the hard core on the other side recognize it or not.

Mike Erich the Mad Theologian said...

The point here is that Mr. Loftus is the one who has put forth the Outsider Test argument as proving something. It is simply not possible to prove that there is no naturalistic premise lurking in the back of a Christian apologist's mind somewhere. Nor would would we expect Christian apologists to admit, "I really do not believe Qu'ran because I really do not deep inside that miracles cannot happen." Mr. Loftus is asserting something that involves barring some kind of major confession by large numbers of Christian apologists is unproved and unprovable. His only hope is the show that there is no other possible way for Christian apologists to reach their conclusions and it is that which Mr. Reppert has answered.

John W. Loftus said...

You really seem desperate about this Vic as if breaking this argument down is essential to your faith.

That's very interesting to me.

You're not alone. Others are doing so as well. It's hard to keep up. None of them think the OTF is a good argument while many atheists, agnostics and freethinkers thin it's a great argument.

Funny, isn't it?

Now it might come to pass that most of how a Christian argues is based on the faulty logic of, "well my religion is true so therefore yours is false."

it would require looking at a lot of Christian tomes aimed at other religions to determine what percentage of the whole argument this part entails. I've looked through a few of these books at your insistence and found that as far as I can tell initially they do in fact argue that way at least 80% of the time.

Having already dismissed that type of argument though as begging the question.

But there is something insidious about assumptions. Ask Steve Hays and he'll tell you. Our assumptions almost dictate how we see the evidence. I said "almost." It's hard not to see what we see, you see. And you see your faith as true. So just watch as these apologists for Christ examine the evidence you say supports your faith and you see quite plainly they have that double standard I was talking about. They do not see the evidence for other faiths as good evidence because they have already assumed their faith is the true one. And when they turn back on their own faith they see the paucity of evidence as strong evidence.

That evidence is discussed in Paul Tobin's chapter and it seems quite plainly to me that the evidence for the Book of Mormon is about the same as the evidence for the Bible.

Now you disagree, okay, but I see nothing here from you at all.

As I have argued in WIBA Christians are Methodological Naturalists in many many more areas than previous generations were due primarily to the sciences, especially medicine.

Methodological naturalism isn't something you can place on the table in many cases because you are a methodological naturalist yourself in ways not dreamed of before by your forbearers.

Anytime you assume there is a natural cause for a pregnancy you are doing something different than what we read in the Bible.

John W. Loftus said...

Down the rabbit hole we go. Where we stop nobody knows.

Next up, Vic claims people in the Bible knew how babies were born.

Eric said...

"Anytime you assume there is a natural cause for a pregnancy you are doing something different than what we read in the Bible."

Joseph was initially an outsider, since he began by assuming a natural cause for Mary's pregnancy. He seems to have taken the OTF and come out a believer. ;)

John W. Loftus said...

Eric, ;)

And I should believe this why?

Sounds like Aesop's Fables to me and utterly lacks any corroborating surrounding evidence that encapsulates the story as Paul Tobin shows.

Eric said...

"Next up, Vic claims people in the Bible knew how babies were born."

Ha, I beat Vic to it! ;)

In my opinion, the OTF certainly has some potential, but I just haven't seen a clear, rigorously developed explication of it yet. It's one of those notions that you can seem to grasp, but only inchoately. I admit that developing it rigorously would be extremely hard work, but I think it has enough promise to justify that sort of effort. Until then, though, I can't see it as much more than a thought provoking (look at all the posts and discussions it generates) and promising idea that has yet to be worked out in the sort of detail a serious evaluation would require.

I hope you do that rigorous work in the future, John, for your initial thoughts have certainly got my attention!

Joshua Blanchard said...

Everyone should note that Loftus has still failed to provide an example of the error he alleges, from one of the authors he cites (e.g. Walter Martin).

I suggest that some of the other commenters find some examples, so that we can then move on to the further question: on what basis does Loftus claim that this is generally a strategy?

In this thread Loftus cites the number "80%," with which I assume he means something like "mostly." Alright. Can he provide one example from any of these books of either of the two errors to which he refers?

To repeat from another thread, let's be clear on what an example would look like: Christian apologist uses strategy X to refute alternative religious claim. Christian apologist then asserts claim which fails strategy X. Loftus' other error was mere citing of the Bible, which in an important sense might beg the question. No illustration of this error is needed.

Jim Jordan said...

This sounds like the Archie Bunker Test For Faith to me. I can't see a serious investigator looking closely at the evidence for the truth claims and accept one over the other on faith. If I find the Qur'an incoherent and historically unreliable, why should I believe what it says? It's too full of unresolved contradictions and banal man thoughts that it would be unreasonable to believe our Creator inspired it. That's not applying methodological naturalism, but common sense just as an impartial jury would.
I approached the Bible as a skeptic with the goal of debunking it. After five years I had to admit I found I couldn't convict it on even one count of falsehood.
But if you approach all religions, which propose a transcendental being, with the presupposition that no transcendental beings exist, I guess you're going to be an atheist.

John W. Loftus said...

Blanchard really is ignorant of his own ignorance. When he grows up I hope he revisits these posts to see how much he is.

So let me get this straight. Unless I provide an example of something I never agreed to do he can ignore the fairness of treating all religions the same?

Okay. If that makes you feel better.

Methodological naturalism runs in our veins. We swim with it. It's just that when it comes to one's own faith this is made to be the exception.

Now do I need to prove that? Not here. People here are too blinded by faith (and in Blanchard's case ignorance). I don't dance just because someone tells me to. As much as I rail against Vic I would much rather deal with him than Blanchard.

BTW Vic, did you know that according to that sophomoric Blanchard kid you have written a few chapters for books edited by a snake oil salesman?

Yep, that's what the ignorant Blanchard repeatedly said when speaking of the fact that I studied under Bill Craig. You see, if you don't like someone's views you can always attack his mentor. It also reveals a completely unjustified arrogance for a college graduate wouldn't you say Vic?

Steve Lovell said...

Hi John,

I realise that I'm going down a sideline of the main discussion here, but you said:

Now it might come to pass that most of how a Christian argues is based on the faulty logic of, "well my religion is true so therefore yours is false."

This does not seem like faulty logic to me.

(1) Christianity is true
(2) Proposition P contradicts Christianity
(3) Therefore, P is false

Now this is a valid argument. One might doubt either of the premises, but the logic is as watertight as it gets.

Admittedly this is not an argument for Christianity, and were it the only form of reasoning the Christian had, then Christianity would be in bad shape ... but even then the logic wouldn't be faulty.

This form of reasoning is perfectly legitimate and I agree that apologists do quite a bit of it. It is simply thinking out the consequences of our beliefs, and offering a Christian perspective on other systems of thought.

As I say, if this is all the Christian can offer then Christianity is in bad shape, but it pretty clearly isn't all the Christian can offer. Moreover, if the Christian couldn't or didn't do this kind of thinking then Christianity would still be in bad shape, so I think it's an important part of the apologetic enterprise and that when you eventually find examples of it happening it won't do much to support your general line of reasoning in the OTF.

Steve Lovell

Joshua Blanchard said...

Loftus said in an earlier discussion to which this thread refers, "Martin, Geisler and McDowell's book all assume these New Religious Movements are false exactly as I do and exactly like one would think when applying the OTF. So regardless of the superfluous nomenclature disagreement that is the point. Like me they initially are skeptical of extraordinary claims or extraordinary events. THAT is the point."

I have challenged him repeatedly to come with an example where these authors either apply the double standard he speaks of (using methodological naturalism inconsistently, or just quoting the Bible), let alone any sort of evidence for his highly unscientific claim that apologists do this generally.

In response he now points out that he "never agreed to" provide such an example. Where did I suggest Loftus had "agreed to do" this?

"according to that sophomoric Blanchard kid you have written a few chapters for books edited by a snake oil salesman? Yep, that's what the ignorant Blanchard repeatedly said when speaking of the fact that I studied under Bill Craig. You see, if you don't like someone's views you can always attack his mentor."

If I recall correctly I only said this once, with respect to Craig's highly glib debates, which rely primarily on debate strategy and not substance, as has been repeatedly pointed out by others. In the context of scholarship, Craig has produced serious work. I'm not sure what the issue is here. Also, while I very, very occasionally have stooped to ad hominem against you, this might constitute 1% of my critiques. One can't say the same for your outbursts.

But let's get back to the issue: An example? You just keep saying things like, we all have naturalist blood in our veins. This isn't getting anywhere. If it helps, I think it's quite right that when I go to the store or something, I am acting as if demons are not going to stop me. This is sort of assuming naturalism. However, it is also assuming a car won't hit me, which I accept as clearly possible, but is a possibility well within the confines of naturalism. So this is not really the point. You're being asked to provide evidence for the specific accusation you make against (specific or all?) Christian apologists.

Joshua Blanchard said...

Not that anyone cares or should care, but a long time ago I agreed that calling Craig a "snake oil salesman" was over-dramatic, and perhaps sophomoric, and so deleted the insult from my own blog. I think I also at one point called him a philosophical dominatrix, also deleted. I have never suggested he was brainwashed by his mother, however.

I have generally defended Craig against your own accusations, while occasionally noting that I find quick-and-easy apologetics distasteful.

John W. Loftus said...

Steve Lovell, yes, you're correct. The reason I call it begging the question though, is because Christianity must be accepted because of its merits through the same type of skepticism Christians apply to other religions they reject.

Steve, do you know how much we abhor someone who is supposed to decide between two people who also has a conflict of interest? That person could be a trustee of an estate, a judge, a principal. We want a fair judgment. We want a fair ruling. We want a fair and impartial decision.

What exactly is wrong with that?

This is what makes believers like Vic and everyone else look very bad because we abhor what he is repeatedly trying to argue against.

Again, even this appeals to an outsider. That is, even arguing against the OTF tells an outsider there is something badly wrong with the Christian faith.

Walter said...

When I was a fundamentalist I asked myself what would I believe if I had been born in Riyadh, Tel Aviv, or New Delhi. Would I be just as convinced of my "Truth" as I was as a Baptist Christian living in Alabama? This made me take a step back and look at the evidence for my beliefs as objectively as I possibly could as a biased human being. In my particular case it started the ball rolling towards deconversion from the faith that I inherited as a child.

For me the outsider test just means one should try to assess the evidence as objectively as possible. I would consider the OTF as a good tool to get an individual to examine why they believe what they do, instead of just believing something because your parents and the rest of the herd around you does. Maybe the OTF leads a person to a more "reasoned" faith than that which they may have inherited as a child?

Walter said...

Given the fact that, on this reading of the evidence, the evidence supporting Christianity is better than that of Islam, an outsider could choose Christianity over Islam based on the evidence. In fact, as an unbeliever you can accept the claim that the Christian Bible has better manuscript evidence, documentary evidence, and archaeological evidence than has the Qu'ran. The comparison doesn't say what the evidential threshold should be, but it does say that Christianity is better evidenced than Islam.

Vic, would you say that most Muslims are ignorant of the fact that Christianity has better evidence than Islam? Do you feel that the OTF should lead a rational Muslim to convert to some flavor of Christianity? Would you consider a Muslim, Jew , or Hindu deluded if they still felt that their particular religions were truth even after you presented the best evidential case for Christianity?

bossmanham said...

Very good series of posts showing Loftus' ludicrousness, Dr. Reppert.

Victor Reppert said...

I just prefer to think in terms of correctness and error? I don't like calling people delusional. They may believe fideistically. I could never be a pure fideist, but life isn't all about philosophy and reasoning. People have to live, too.

Thrasymachus said...

I'm not convinced Loftus has developed this sort of argument in the right way. I hope to have a go myself when time permits. There seems to be increasingly diminishing returns as the whole OTF saga has continued (which, I stress, isn't your fault, Victor).

John W. Loftus said...

Vic, what would you say if Christianity passed the outsiders test? What then? Wouldn't you be touting it's praises? I know you would. I know it.

All of the dust you're stirring up about it betrays the fact that you know the test is legitimate. You know this too. For Christianity must pass the outsiders test since there are outsiders who were raised as non-believers who will be condemned to hell if they cannot be convinced to believe.

SteveK said...

Help me understand something. I assume Loftus accepts some of the non-spiritual reports found in the Bible. Reports with details about specific people in specific locations, doing specific things at a specific time in history, etc.

What is Loftus' reasoning for accepting the specifics of these non-spiritual reports as historical truth? And saying they aren't controversial or 'extra-ordinary' is not a valid reason.

Anonymous said...

Bob Prokop writing:

John, I fail to understand why you attach so much sturm und drang to the OTF. I am personally totally convinced that I am greatly affected by my upbringing and cultural environment in matters of faith and weltanschauung in general. But, once acknowledged, I keep coming back to the Great "So What?". I do not see how passing or not passing the OTF can have any meaningful consequence to my thought processes, my beliefs, or my way of life. Why do you keep banging the drum for something that seems so utterly irrelevant? What am I missing?

Anonymous said...

Bob,

What you miss is that Loftus wants to be known for a popular argument, even if the argument itself is pretty crappy, banal, or unoriginal. No publicity is bad publicity for some people (except getting credit for a website you're trying to pretend is someone other than yourself, of course.)

aletheist said...

None of them think the OTF is a good argument while many atheists, agnostics and freethinkers thin[k] it's a great argument. Funny, isn't it?

This goes both ways. Atheists, agnostics, and freethinkers generally do not think that the traditional "proofs" for the existence of God are good arguments, while many Christians, Jews, and Muslims think that they are great arguments. Atheists, agnostics, and freethinkers generally do not think that presenting the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus is a good argument, while many Christians think that it is a great argument. Funny, isn't it?

steve said...

John W. Loftus said...

"You really seem desperate about this Vic as if breaking this argument down is essential to your faith."

Loftus really seems desperate about this, as if defending this argument down is essential to his infidelity.

"All of the dust you're stirring up about it betrays the fact that you know the test is legitimate. You know this too."

All of the dust Loftus stirring up about it betrays the fact that he know the test is illegitimate. He knows this too.

Clearly Loftus is a crypto-Fundy.

(Nothing like instantly reversible Freudian analysis.)

Eric said...

(I posted the following at Debunking Christianity earlier today):

I wouldn't say that I argue against the OTF, or that I object to the OTF: My complaint, for the most part, is that I don't think it's clearly developed enough to know how to take it, if you've taken it, and if you've 'passed' or 'failed' it (i.e., if you've taken it properly, whatever the result).

I've been toying with different ideas to avoid some of the problems people have raised about the way the OTF has been explained in various contexts. So far, the most promising 'soundbite' way of putting it that I've been able to come up with is this:

If you're a Christian, ask yourself what it would take for you to believe that Islam (or any other religion) is true. Now look at those requirements: Can your Christian faith meet them? If not, you should not be a Christian, and your faith has failed the OTF. If so (and if it really is so, and you're not fooling yourself), your faith has passed the OTF (for now), you are epistemically consistent, and you are warranted in your belief that Christianity is true (if, that is, your requirements themselves are tenable).

John, would you say that that's an accurate way of putting the OTF to someone?

Joshua Blanchard said...

Eric nobly attempts to rescue the OTF from either triviality (i.e. We shouldn't beg questions! or We shouldn't be hypocrites!) or irrationality (i.e. We should ignore the evidence we do have, on purpose) as follows:

"If you're a Christian, ask yourself what it would take for you to believe that Islam (or any other religion) is true. Now look at those requirements: Can your Christian faith meet them? If not, you should not be a Christian, and your faith has failed the OTF. If so ... your faith has passed the OTF (for now), you are epistemically consistent, and you are warranted in your belief that Christianity is true."

A few comments in response.

(1) For most Christians, I assume that to be convinced of Islam they would have to have (a) their reasons for being Christian undermined and (b) parallel defenses for Islam. For example, maybe they would need someone to show that the Quran is less reliable than the Bible. Also, they may require some religious experience in the context of Islam more palpable than those they've had thus far. In general, it will have to be a collection of things.

(2) Part of being an outsider is being an agnostic - that is, you don't have access to relevant first-personal evidence. On the other hand, if the outsider just is someone who is privy to all the reasons they would have as an insider, then they would just immediately reemerge as an insider.

(3) Loftus and other may notice a third option in (2), which is that we may stipulate that the outsider is privy to all the reasons each insider would have, including (somehow) access to each one's religious experience, whole cumulative structure of reasons, and so on. At this point, the issue will reduce to just evaluating which faith is the most probable on third-personal evidence (weirdly, third-personal evidence that somehow includes access to religious experience).

So once again, it seems that the OTF at best reduces to just using standard procedures of intellectual honesty and objectivity. There's nothing new here, except for confusing rhetoric and various inflections from Loftus. At worst, the OTF is advocating for patent irrationality - that is, the religious believer should evacuate everything she knows and see what she concludes.

Eric said...

"(1) For most Christians, I assume that to be convinced of Islam they would have to have (a) their reasons for being Christian undermined and (b) parallel defenses for Islam."

Joshua, I agree. I think this is one of the problems with the OTF, i.e. it focuses on how we view other religious claims and, it seems to me (and I may be wrong; again, the issue for me has been that the OTF isn't clearly developed enough for a serious evaluation), more or less ignores the positive reasons we may have for believing our own religious views are warranted.

"(2) Part of being an outsider is being an agnostic - that is, you don't have access to relevant first-personal evidence. On the other hand, if the outsider just is someone who is privy to all the reasons they would have as an insider, then they would just immediately reemerge as an insider."

Again, I think this is right on the money. I've toyed with defining an outsider in this way to make sense of the notion: S is an outsider with respect to a belief B iff S lacks the belief B. This seems to capture what John is getting at when he refers to outsiders. But clearly, as you nicely put it, a Christian (or whatever) cannot actually be an outsider, so the OTF seems to require that a Christian adopt the attitude of an outsider toward the claims his faith makes. But this seems fraught with problems, which is why I'd like to see the OTF rigorously developed, and all these knotty issues untangled and clarified.

"(3) Loftus and other may notice a third option in (2), which is that we may stipulate that the outsider is privy to all the reasons each insider would have, including (somehow) access to each one's religious experience, whole cumulative structure of reasons, and so on. At this point, the issue will reduce to just evaluating which faith is the most probable on third-personal evidence (weirdly, third-personal evidence that somehow includes access to religious experience)."

Yeah, this one is tough. I don't think the "ideal outsider" helps much.

"So once again, it seems that the OTF at best reduces to just using standard procedures of intellectual honesty and objectivity. There's nothing new here, except for confusing rhetoric and various inflections from Loftus."

I think that what is new is the emphasis on how one use the "standard procedures of intellectual honesty and objectivity," but I agree that the procedures themselves are the standard ones. But sometimes a new way of considering the uses of the standard methods sheds some new light on the issue; I think the OTF has the potential to do just that if it's properly developed, and that seems to me to be a decent contribution to the discussion.

Eric said...

"(1) For most Christians, I assume that to be convinced of Islam they would have to have (a) their reasons for being Christian undermined and (b) parallel defenses for Islam."

Joshua, I agree. I think this is one of the problems with the OTF, i.e. it focuses on how we view other religious claims and, it seems to me (and I may be wrong; again, the issue for me has been that the OTF isn't clearly developed enough for a serious evaluation), more or less ignores the positive reasons we may have for believing our own religious views are warranted.

"(2) Part of being an outsider is being an agnostic - that is, you don't have access to relevant first-personal evidence. On the other hand, if the outsider just is someone who is privy to all the reasons they would have as an insider, then they would just immediately reemerge as an insider."

Again, I think this is right on the money. I've toyed with defining an outsider in this way to make sense of the notion: S is an outsider with respect to a belief B iff S lacks the belief B. This seems to capture what John is getting at when he refers to outsiders. But clearly, as you nicely put it, a Christian (or whatever) cannot actually be an outsider, so the OTF seems to require that a Christian adopt the attitude of an outsider toward the claims his faith makes. But this seems fraught with problems, which is why I'd like to see the OTF rigorously developed, and all these knotty issues untangled and clarified.

"(3) Loftus and other may notice a third option in (2), which is that we may stipulate that the outsider is privy to all the reasons each insider would have, including (somehow) access to each one's religious experience, whole cumulative structure of reasons, and so on. At this point, the issue will reduce to just evaluating which faith is the most probable on third-personal evidence (weirdly, third-personal evidence that somehow includes access to religious experience)."

Yeah, this one is tough. I don't think the "ideal outsider" helps much.

"So once again, it seems that the OTF at best reduces to just using standard procedures of intellectual honesty and objectivity. There's nothing new here, except for confusing rhetoric and various inflections from Loftus."

I think that what is new is the emphasis on how one use the "standard procedures of intellectual honesty and objectivity," but I agree that the procedures themselves are the standard ones. But sometimes a new way of considering the uses of the standard methods sheds some new light on the issue; I think the OTF has the potential to do just that if it's properly developed, and that seems to me to be a decent contribution to the discussion.

Joshua Blanchard said...

Eric, thanks for the response.

There might be one practical item in favor of the Outsider Test. That is, referring to a person's view of some other faith might be a kind of useful heuristic for particularly unthoughtful religious believers. So, although you could just say something like "Don't beg the question against Islam, mate!" maybe it helps pedagogically to say, "But aren't you begging the question? Hmm? Think of your own faith! Don't beg the question against Islam, mate!"

I very much doubt this is all Loftus wants to do, although recently he has spoken in disturbingly instrumental and evangelical terms, indicating that he wants people to accept agnosticism by any psychological means necessary, including pure mockery. An odd strategy for someone who has taken a strong stance against something he thinks is called "brainswashing."

Jake Elwood XVI said...

It looks like you guys are developing the new OTF - Objective Test of Faith. Well Done

Victor Reppert said...

I have no problem with the OTF as a thought experiment. I think it is not only part of questioning one's own faith, I think it is something that occurs to most Christians who are starting to think seriously about the rationality of religious belief. In performing the thought experiment myself, I claim Christianity comes out just fine. I think there are some epistemological reasons for doubting that everyone who decides their faith doesn't pass the OTF has to deconvert. Are they morally obligated to do so? I'm not even sure they're epistemically obligated to do so.

John says my religion has to pass the OTF since my faith says people will go to hell who don't believe. I thought I made it very clear that I am an inclusivist with some sympathy with universalism. Steve Hays is an exclusivist, but then he's a Calvinist who thinks that people who are lost were reprobated to begin with. So it wouldn't be any skin off his nose either.

What I object to are the pontifications about who has really taken the test, the psychoanalysis that goes on if someone says what I just did. Why not just say you evaluate the evidence differently, and be done with it?

John, I want to say I am a little surprised by your comment that the evidence for the Bible is no better than that of the Book of Mormon. Even if Tobin's highly tendentious analysis of the Bible is correct (and it seems to me to be highly tendentious, and demonstratably false on a couple of counts), you still have to admit that the Israelites, the Canaanites, the Amalekites, the Egyptians, the Babylonians, the Assyrians, et al did exist, whereas there is absolutely no evidence that the Book of Mormon peoples even existed at all. There is nothing in the story of the Book of Mormon peoples that matches the enormous detail with which Acts 13-28 has been corroborated by archaeology. This is something that even Price admits to (of course, with dismissive sarcasm, but he does admit it.

http://dangerousidea.blogspot.com/2010/08/selling-farm-or-price-is-right.html

I think most of my complaints about the Outsider Test for Faith are actually complaints about the Outsider Test for Faith Test. How does Loftus decide for other people whether or not they have really take the OTF, or taken it properly? The only criterion I can see is deconversion. If they deconvert, they took it, if they don't, they didn't really take it. When I think about that, it makes me agree with Steve Hays that it isn't the outsider test for faith, it's the insider test for infidels.

Wherever you go, there you are. There's no real outside.

Eric said...

"There might be one practical item in favor of the Outsider Test. That is, referring to a person's view of some other faith might be a kind of useful heuristic for particularly unthoughtful religious believers."

Again, I think you've highlighted another serious problem with the OTF that simply has to be worked out: While I can, from what I've read from John so far, at least see an outline of how it might be applicable to 'unthoughtful religious believers,' it's not at all clear to me how or why it's applicable to people like Victor, Plantinga etc. I'm not saying that it can't be directed at people in that category, but that I can't yet see how or why it is.

On a slightly different note, I have a question: Let's say there are one hundred mutually exclusive accounts of speciation; must I examine each account as an outsider before I can justifiably conclude that one is more or less correct? Suppose I have concluded that have good reasons for believing that one particular account is true, say contemporary evolutionary theory. Now it seems to me that if I have good reasons for believing that this one account is true, and if it and the ninety nine competing accounts are mutually exclusive, then I have good reasons for believing that the ninety-nine competing accounts are false *even if I've never examined any of them*. But if this is so, then why would the OTF apply to people like Victor and Plantinga? Atheists never tire of saying that there are thousands of mutually exclusive religions in the world; but if they are mutually exclusive, and if someone with the knowledge and intelligence and expertise of a Plantinga or a Reppert concludes that his particular religious beliefs are true, why is he obligated to investigate the competing religious claims as an outsider? I may be way off with this line of thought (e.g. different standards in science and philosophy, the lack of a consensus in with respect to philosophical conclusions vis-a-vis many scientific conclusions, etc.); if I am, I hope someone will let me know!

SteveK said...

Vic,
My prior comment asked a question of Loftus that could be thought of an outsider test limited to one religion. An internal version of the outsider test, if you will, to see if any double-standards are at work.

What is the standard for accepting some of the claims found in a particular holy book as true, while disbelieving other claims?

Does Loftus believe the apostle Paul existed? If so, why, and can that same method/standard be applied to the resurrection event?

What do you think?

Victor Reppert said...

I don't speak for JWL. Thank God.

Anonymous said...

Can we please stop calling merely trying to objectively evaluate one's beliefs "the outsider test for faith"? It's like trying to place a trademark on water or something. It's been around well in advance of Loftus.

SteveK said...

Victor,
I know you don't speak for John. Just wanted your thoughts on the idea. I think is serves to demonstrate that it's not as simple as Loftus makes it out to be.

Eric said...

"It's like trying to place a trademark on water or something."

Reminds me of this.

RD Miksa said...

Good Day to All,

Just one quick point here. Mr. Loftus constantly and continuously contends that as Christian believers, we are all methodological naturalists in daily life, except when we examine our own faith.

He states:

“Methodological naturalism runs in our veins. We swim with it. It's just that when it comes to one's own faith this is made to be the exception.”

Yet for the believer in Classical theism (which Christians should be), this is actually false. Classical theism contends that God sustains and maintains the existence of the world from moment to moment, and without this sustainment, the world would cease to exist. The continued existence of the world is, therefore, a type of on-going miracle. Furthermore, in light of this fact, the believer in Classical theism is thus not a methodological naturalist in his daily life, but a theistic-regularist (for lack of a better term). This means that the believer acknowledges that God sustains the world in a miraculous fashion from moment to moment, but also keeps the laws of nature regular and uniform for 99.9% of the time during this sustainment. This idea is far from being a methodological naturalist.

All this to say, that one of Mr. Loftus’ major contentions and accusations against Christian believers therefore falls flat and is rendered utterly ineffective. This is another blow to an already weak argument.

Take care,

RD Miksa

RD Miksa said...

Just as a side-note, it is also worth pointing out that the Outsider Test for Faith can be handled dismantled via a Pre-Suppositional Apologetic approach.

Such questions as:

Given the outsider assumption of a naturalistic-agnosticism, on what basis could you trust yourself to be a real outsider to biological, environmental and social forces? Or on what basis could you trust yourself to know truth? Or to trust your sense faculties? Or to trust that the external world actually exists? Or to trust the truthfulness of the evidences being presented? And so on and so forth.

Miles Collins said...

Anonymous said:
Can we please stop calling merely trying to objectively evaluate one's beliefs "the outsider test for faith"? It's like trying to place a trademark on water or something. It's been around well in advance of Loftus.

Exactly. It's an ancient idea that shouldnt' be news to any thinking adult, but he has managed to put it in an utterly repugnant new dress. I've never seen a trivial idea presented in such an abominable way.

That atheist fundamentalist needs to read Plato, the Pyrrhonians, Sextus Empiricus.

Walter said...

Just one quick point here. Mr. Loftus constantly and continuously contends that as Christian believers, we are all methodological naturalists in daily life, except when we examine our own faith.

I agree with John here. Most Christians that I know of will not reject medical treatment when they come down with a serious illness. Wouldn't a true theistic "supernaturalist" simply place their faith in God to heal them? Or wouldn't a true theist accept any disease or affliction as the will of God and simply say, "Thy will be done"?

Most believers will go running to a man of science to save them just like a methodological naturalist would. Reminds me of the joke where if your loved one gets better, Praise Jesus! If your loved one dies, sue the doctor.

Anonymous said...

It's an ancient idea that shouldnt' be news to any thinking adult, but he has managed to put it in an utterly repugnant new dress

LMAO

Loftus excels in the art of taking a piece of gold and slathering feces all over it.

Fishermage said...

@ Walter:

There is no reason to assume metaphysical naturalism as the starting point for science.

Science merely explains HOW God makes the world, and so on.

One's belief in science is in no way dependent on metaphysical naturalism, just as science itself is not.

I have faith in God, faith in the rational universe he created, and faith in science.

"Goddidit" is the theological answer. How did God do it? is the scientific question.

I never need to go anywhere near metaphysical naturalism for any of this.

Victor Reppert said...

I am thinking that my problem is not with the outsider test for faith so much as it is with the outsider test for faith test, or the OTFT. It's testing people on whether they have really taken it if they don't agree with Loftus on Christianity. It reminds me of litmus-testing Christians who are constantly trying to figure out if you're really saved, particularly if you don't agree with them theologically.

Anonymous said...

I agree with John here. Most Christians that I know of will not reject medical treatment when they come down with a serious illness. Wouldn't a true theistic "supernaturalist" simply place their faith in God to heal them? Or wouldn't a true theist accept any disease or affliction as the will of God and simply say, "Thy will be done"?

Funny. Anyone ever notice that God is responsible for absolutely everything that comes to pass by the atheist's measure - every malicious act by a serial killer, every victim of drowning, every time an (even atheistic!) government has people killed? Each and every one of these is attributed to God acting in and through the world.

Ah, but when a scientist does something good, or a praiseworthy individual does something positive.. clearly that's not God acting. No way! That's SCIENCE. That's HUMANITY. That's anything BUT God, and God deserves no credit whatsoever!

Get cancer from an X-ray machine? God did it.

Get cured of cancer by chemotherapy? God had nothing to do with it.

Objective evaluation, indeed.

Walter said...

Get cured of cancer by chemotherapy? God had nothing to do with it.

This is the typical response that I run into: God gave us doctors!

The point was that doctors seek to treat people using the tools of science, i.e. methodological naturalism. Also, if God is the one that originally gives you the cancer, then why fight against the will of God? Why seek treatment at all? If it is your time...

Walter said...

Fishermage says:I never need to go anywhere near metaphysical naturalism for any of this.

I was agreeing with a comment made by Loftus concerning methodological naturalism, not metaphysical naturalism.

Fishermage said...

@ Walter. My bad, sorry.

However the mindset I was referring to leads to a scientific method that is NOT methodological naturalism either, strictly speaking, yet is fully in line with the scientific method and it's purposes.

Science doesn't need methodological naturalism at all.

We can believe in miracles, God, and our religion, and still assume we live in a rational universe where miracles are rare and thus, one of the last things we invoke, if not the last one.

Also since everything is technically a "miracle," it's not important for science as such.

Making it the last choice, or a choice that needs clear evidence of such, is neither methodological naturalism nor is it irrational or unscientific.


However, when evaluating miracles, of Muslim faith or Christian or Hindu, one never needs to be a methodological naturalist.

One can judge them all relatively impartially, as one can judge any inquiry, and weigh the evidence, assuming that miracles are possible.

I just don't see naturalism is EVER needed, in method or in metaphysics. Assumption of transcendence in no way hinders unless it is used as an explanation, which is a waste of time in most areas.

Just because people who believe in transcendent reality aren't walking around going God did this! God did that! doesn't mean they are employing methodological naturalism.

In fact I see science as being a product of a rational mind in a rational universe ordained by God. God never leaves the building.

Every part of the method is HIM in us.

Fishermage said...

RD Miksa said it better than I did.

Walter said...

Science doesn't need methodological naturalism at all.

Science does not require one to believe in metaphysical naturalism, but science requires methodological naturalism, as there is no epistemic methodology for gaining knowledge of the "supernatural."

A quick definition of meth. naturalism:

It is an epistemological view that is specifically concerned with practical methods for acquiring knowledge, irrespective of one's metaphysical or religious views. It requires that hypotheses be explained and tested only by reference to natural causes and events.

Fishermage said...

By that definition, one can't judge the religious claims of ANY religion, since the thing you are testing for is the thing you have to ignore.

This is leading me to think that maybe even metaphysical naturalists, if they want to be honest with themselves, can't and don't use meth. naturalism when testing religious claims.

It seems to me we all use some OTHER method when evaluating transcendence and when and how it intersects with us and what evidence it leaves.

Blue Devil Knight said...

I think methodological naturalism is now part of science, but it didn't have to be. If prophets roamed the world and performed miracles, at will and reproducibly, and they actually wanted to be studied by scientists. In such scenarios science would not be naturalistic. We would constantly have to wonder if there was a supernatural explanation of something (especially if these prophets told us there was, and actually provided evidence via their miracles, e.g., by causing evolution to go in a certain direction).

Science is methodologically naturalistic as a contingent fact that now seems necessary. This is because the alternate was such an abject failure, in more ways than getting it wrong so often that it was simply let go as a reasonable approach to explaining how nature works. Of course the Bible was rejected as a source of reasonable hypotheses about how nature works as well (e.g., firmament theory, posession theories of behavior, species origins, geology). It was also realized that it had nothing to offer new fields such as the study of electricity, neuronal function, etc..

Of course, nowadays most respectable antinaturalists don't typically use the Bible to justify a novel theory or rejection of another view. They know that has only dissuades anyone from taking them seriously in science. Hence, on the surface they focus on the phenomenon itself and claim that there is no natural explanation available in principle. And this is what atheists do too who are antinaturalists (e.g., many dualists are atheists).

Since methodological naturalism has so much going for it in science, and going against it doesn't have any obvious benefits, it will take an earthquake to change it at this point. E.g., the prophets scenario I outlined above.

Walter said...

This is leading me to think that maybe even metaphysical naturalists, if they want to be honest with themselves, can't and don't use meth. naturalism when testing religious claims.

It seems to me we all use some OTHER method when evaluating transcendence and when and how it intersects with us and what evidence it leaves.


How would you describe this other method, and is this other method capable of determining a true proposition from a false one?

IOW, if faith is the OTHER method for determining the truth of metaphysical claims, then how does the faith method work in determining the supposedly "true" claim that Jesus resurrected from the "false" claim that Muhammad or Joseph Smith received a revelation from God? Both sets of believers will simply call on faith as the method they employ to justify their "transcendental" claims.

Fishermage said...

Well, since we are looking for evidence FOR faith, I would still say we aren't really using faith as our method, but a method that allows for a preponderance of a evidence to lead one to faith.

Either way I don't think methodological naturalism is what is going on ANY time one evaluates miraculous claims, because to use meth. naturalism means one will NEVER get to the bar.

No, something else is going on. It is methodological, but it's never naturalism.

Methodological transcendentalism? I don't know of a word to describe this, but one isn't using faith as evidence for faith.

John W. Loftus said...

I think in the end the OTF disallows faith when examining the reasons to accept a religion. It unfairly exempts one's own adopted religion from an objective evaluation.

What this means is that when examining Christianity a person who is already a Christian cannot punt to faith since this is disallowed due the the OTF.

One cannot claim to evaluate Islam or Orthodox Judaism in the equally fair manner as he evaluates his own religion if his thumb is on the scales, the thumb of faith.

One is left with reason and evidence. No more saying "ya gotta have faith." No more using the omniscience escape clause either.

And no, William James's arguments are worthless since they could justify anyone's faith.

John W. Loftus said...

Vic admitted: I am thinking that my problem is not with the outsider test for faith so much as it is with the outsider test for faith test, or the OTFT.

So, there's nothing wrong with the test, eh? Great! Then why the previous posturing?

You have a problem once you admit the OTF is neither faulty nor unfair, and once you admit the scientific data that forms the basis for the test is correct.

You can no longer punt to faith in order to defend your faith (per above comment). At that point we have an agreed upon standardized test in assessing the grounds for any religion based in reason and evidence. At that point the debate can begin. Prior to this there isn't a debate at all but the two opposing sides talking past one another. The problem of who has the burden of proof will have been solved as well. Who has the burden of proof? The one making an extraordinary claim about supernatural agents and forces, or at least the kind of supernatural agents and forces under investigation just as you would expect of Muslims and Jews.

You must seek to justify what you consider the facts apart from faith. Now you might not me engaging you in this argument after you recognize the validity of the OTF if you want to, but if you truly wish to be an outsider to your own faith to evaluate it properly then an outsider like me can be of extreme value to you.

John W. Loftus said...

My final corrected paragraph again:

You must seek to justify what you consider the facts apart from faith. Now you might not like me engaging you in this argument after you recognize the validity of the OTF all you want to, but if you truly wish to be an outsider to your own faith then to evaluate it properly an outsider like me can be of extreme value to you.

So, let me be of service. ;-)

Victor Reppert said...

I don't know that it does any of that. That, I believe, confuses truth with justification. The law of non-contradiction says that contradictory beliefs cannot be true. It does not say that contradictory beliefs cannot be weakly or strongly justified. If I am a Christian, then logically I must believe that Islam is false. I need not believe, however, that no Muslim is epistemically justified in believing in Islam.

Every belief system runs into things that it has trouble explaining. What you do in cases like that is that you lean on the other table-legs of your belief system and assume that, with further knowledge, there is an explanation you don't currently possess. Christians do this with what you are calling the omniscience escape clause, and naturalists punt to future science with respect to things like consciousness. Now, you may have confidence in science to eventually get things right, but you do not know what the future of science is going to be like. No one does. Who knew that quantum mechanics would undercut determinism in microphysics? Who knew that the leading theory in cosmology would point to an absolute beginning of the universe? So, you punt, and we punt. It's faith, in a sense, indeed the sense Lewis was talking about in Mere Christianity. But it is a faith that every atheist has as well as every Christian.

Eric said...

"The law of non-contradiction says that contradictory beliefs cannot be true. It does not say that contradictory beliefs cannot be weakly or strongly justified. If I am a Christian, then logically I must believe that Islam is false. I need not believe, however, that no Muslim is epistemically justified in believing in Islam."

This is an excellent point. I think that reading it has cleared up several issues I'd been considering. Thanks, Victor!

Victor Reppert said...

No. That's where you start turning the Outsider Test for Faith into an Insider Test for Infidels. The OTF is a thought experiment, nothing more. Just because you invented the term for the test (the idea has always been around in some form or another), doesn't mean that you have the answer key in your desk drawer. I'm not even convinced that there is any rational obligation to make one's faith depend on passing it. The argument you present in your book for why religious beliefs must pass the OTF is full of holes.

In one sense, you really never do get outside. When you go from theism to atheism, atheism becomes inside and theism becomes outside.
I think the presuppositionalists have this much right; I don't think there is any real neutral ground.

But it is healthy to ask the question "What if I had come into all of this with a different experiences and background than what I in fact have?" But that's a question I have been asking since I was 18, and it's part of why I majored in philosophy. That's part of the good faith effort to be intellectually honest.

In particular, I don't believe in the Feldman-type argument where we have to stop holding positions because our epistemic peers disagree. I think that kind of thing stultifies thought, and as I understand the philosophy of science, I think it would stultify science.

I take it that cognitive science shows us that rationality is difficult. Of course, I've been arguing that rationality isn't even possible if naturalism is true, an argument you somehow don't feel any need to even respond to. But setting that aside, if it is difficult to be rational, then the OTF, or the deconversion the OTF is supposed to engender, is not going to make people automatically rational. It is one tool among many that we might use to help us become rational, nothing more.

There is an appeal to intellectual honesty and fairness which is legitimate, but not an overwhelming argument against Christianity. What gets loaded on top of it, though, is what concerns me: a lot of unrealistic and questionable epistemology, a lot of highly questionable psychologizing, and an evaluation of the available evidence which is very different from mine. That's what I object to: The Outsider Test for Faith Test, based on how closely your answers fit Loftus's answer key.

awatkins69 said...

Loftus=Epic Fail

Steven Carr said...

VICTOR
We find that Christian apologists compare the Bible and the Qu'ran with respect to manuscript evidence, documentary evidence, and archaeological evidence.

CARR
Translation.

Not one person in the first century ever wrote a document naming himself as having heard of Judas, Thomas, Laarus, Jairus, Bartimaeus, Joseph of Arimathea, Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Salome, Simon of Cyrene.

Yet somehow Victor thinks these people are better attested than the characters in the Book of Mormon despite the fact that they no more exist outside the pages of the Gospels than the characters in the Book of Mormon exist outside those pages.

Just how bad does the evidence have to be before Christians stop boasting about it and start explaining why outsiders should not expect evidence for Gospel characters and that sceptics are fools or trolls to think that Gospel characters should be historically attested?

Dan Lower / KKairos said...

It's as impossible as it can be for me to be an outsider.

I can doubt my own experiences of God but in the end...

In the end it only does so much.

But having been in the grip of what Chesterton calls "that final skepticism" that can't find a floor for the universe, and having felt that skepticism living inside of me and almost having felt as if it overtook my conscience...I never went quite into the wilderness all the way, always keeping one foot in the church (with maybe one or two hours total of exception.)

Dan Lower / KKairos said...

Not sure what the heck happened there but there was supposed to be a thing at the end.

At any rate I came back a Catholic. Didn't leave quite that way but that's how I came back. Did I pass the OTF? Quite possibly not. Have I, to a degree, stopped caring? Yes.