Wednesday, June 15, 2011

A Debunking Christianity exchange on (you guessed it), the OTF

This discussion, on the whole, went rather better than most I have had over there, even though it begins with typical Loftus-style bluster. The following is, I think, my most interesting contribution, although there are other interesting discussion-tracks. 
I object to the idea that you should treat something you don't believe as having the same epistemic status as what you do believe, unless it can be shown that what you now believe is entirely and completely the product of non-truth-conducive causes. That's certainly not the case for me, though I sometimes present OTF-type arguments to students who think that it is a sufficient reason to believe something that they were raised to believe it. I think the OTF is a worthwhile thought experiment (what if I had started out with different beliefs, then what would I think?), but I really don't think it really gives us anything over and above ordinary admonitions to pay attention to evidence and consider opposing positions. Insofar as it places nonbelief as a sort of "default" position on religious beliefs, I think it is committed to some highly questionable epistemology. So I don't think it's the intellectual monument that it is typically hyped to be, nor do I think it provides an argument that demonstrates the irrationality of all Christians and underwrites the familiar delusion charges.  I encountered something like it when I read Russell's The Value of Free Thought. I found that essay very intellectually challenging when i was 18, though I certainly would take issue with a lot of what was in there.

23 comments:

B. Prokop said...

I frequently find the most illuminating thoughts on the so-called OTF in works from decades or centuries ago. These ideas were probably first debated during the time of the Apostles!

Earlier this month, I came across this fascinating passage in one of the more obscure works by Charles Williams, "Flecker of Dean Close" (published 1946), a biography of the first headmaster of Dean Close School in Cheltenham, England.

"A Christian atmosphere in the home has as often revolted as it has attracted the young. This is not to say so much against such a Christian atmosphere as is sometimes thought. The revival of Christianity is likely to be assisted for a time by the atmosphere of atheistical homes. The home is a very great thing, but it often has a centrifugal as well as a centripetal influence, and the centripetal often does not get to work until the centrifugal has had its fling."

Taking Williams at his word, perhaps we should be calling for an "Insider Test for Unbelief" ahead of a so-called "Outsider Test for Faith". Surely an atheist would like to be assured that his unbelief is not merely a natural consequence of his upringing in a faith-centered family? It looks like a case can be made for atheism being a recognizable psychological phenomenon akin to adolescent revolt against one's parents, as opposed to some sort of inherently virtuous self-liberation from a Christian upbringing. It appears that it is the contemporary atheist who must now prove that his unbelief is not dependent upon, and a consequence of, his environment.

John W. Loftus said...

So, B. Prokop, what say ye then to former Muslims, Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, Liberals, Seventh Day Adventists, Deists, Agnostics and Scientologists who are now atheists? Doesn't your explanation require a religious standard? Why then do you think your particular sect of Christianity is the standard as opposed to the many other religions including other sects within your own?

B. Prokop said...

Actually, John, I don't think I anywhere claimed my "particular sect of Christianity" (Catholicism) as the standard. I was even quoting an Anglican!

The fact remains that the atheist must prove that his (lack of) belief is not a psychological consequence of his own upbringing within a religious family (if that be the case), before he can legitimately make any sort of claim to intellectual objectivity. I have yet to hear from you or any of your like-minded co-unbelievers an admission that you are as likely to be influenced by your upbringing and environment as everyone else.

I recall some very unsatisfactory discussions in England with a couple of Hitchens/Dawkins wannabes, and one got the impression that they really do regard themselves as some sort of disembodied intelligences, operating in a rarified realm of pure logic, unalloyed by history, emotion, or desire. Oh, and their motives are pure.

Jason Pratt said...

Personally, I recall John acknowledging in at least one discussion of his OTF that his atheism might even now still be only the result of irrational reaction to his environment.

This happened to be exactly when I was pointing out what the logical corollaries would be if a person actually can make an reasoned assessment sufficiently independent of mere knee-jerk irrational reaction to stimulus to be worthy of the distinction 'rational' compared to 'irrational'. And atheism, as it happens, gets the worse of that corollary. {wry g}

Thus John's admission: he might in fact only be an irrational thinker, too, like us theists (since rational action involves properties inherently beyond what an atheistic reality can be expected logically to provide.)

His attempt to reply to my argument that, in effect, any rational application of the OTF (even in favor of atheism), if any such application is possible, actually testifies in favor of theism vs. atheism (or more simply that ultimately I believe Christianity to be true because I believe in the rationality of atheists) was typically amusing. (There should be links at that post, and in the comments, to threads at the Cadre and at DebunX before and after that post, for readers interested in tracing the discussion.)

JRP

Anonymous said...

Dear Victor,
I read your recent paper on the arg from reason in the blackwell natural theology volume. There you subdivided the argument into 6 arguments, the last of which had to do with the reliability of our faculties. Have you written anything on that last sort of argument? If so, could you give me some references from your work?

Mr Veale said...

Bob

Paul Moser would argue for something like an "insider test". A maximally perfect being, worthy of worship, would be morally and existentially challenging. Any genuine experience of such a being would be a deeply personal and transformative experience.

I think Christian faith needs to pass an "Insider Test" and an "Outsider Test".


Graham

John W. Loftus said...

Graham, yes, I have revised my book WIBA which should be out in the Spring of 2012. It is a massive re-write. I separated out two parts in it, the first is "Christianity from the Outside," and the second, is "Christianity from the inside."

JS Allen said...

Great exchange over on DC. It's so difficult to keep things on-topic over there, but people did a good job on that thread.

John W. Loftus said...

B. Prokop, objectivity? Is this your point? That's my point. Because we're not all that objective we should be skeptics. Surely you don't mean to suggest that because we're not all that objective we should be gullible? That's headed in the wrong direction.

William said...

It seems to me that some of the disagreement about outsiders, insiders, and skepticism has to do with where the burden of proof lies. John wants via the OTF to place the burden of proof on the insider, via taking the default view of the outsider.

I wonder though if the burden of proof should not simply belong to the the one who is trying to change another's current views, not on the insider by default.

John W. Loftus said...

So William, do you assume the burden of proof when you doubt someone's claim that he had been abducted by aliens?

Keep in mind that a skeptic is not making any claims. I wish people would at least recognize this plain simply obvious truth.

Are you making any claims when you demand evidence for any number of assertions? Then you know what skepticism is.

William said...


So William, do you assume the burden of proof when you doubt someone's claim that he had been abducted by aliens?


No, but I do when I explain to someone who believes that the man was in fact abducted why they need not believe in such abductions.

And I do not consider that burden unreasonable. Do you?

John W. Loftus said...

William when you give reasons why you don't believe something you have not shouldered a burden of proof at all. You are simply giving reasons why you don't believe a particular claim.

The bottom line, something which I find inescapable, is that the person making a claim, any claim, much more so an extraordinary claim, has the burden of proof.

In my book, WIBA, I argue in part 1 that the believer has the burden of proof.

William said...

Sorry, John, maybe you misunderstand what I intended to express.

I was not attacking pyrrhonian skepticism in general.

I was suggesting the burden of proof was on the person who is attempting to convince another to change the other's belief.

John W. Loftus said...

William, then we're talking passed each other.

Anonymous said...

I think that should be, "talking past each other."

Papalinton said...

No, they were actually walking in opposite directions in the street when the comments were made.

toddes said...

Yet, for some, the extraordinary claim is that this universe and everything contained within is the result of impersonal, undirectional force(s).

Mr Veale said...

John

Background knowledge.Used to assess beliefs. Epistemology. Philosophy of Science. 101. Google.

Graham

Mr Veale said...

I think someone should examine "zombie debaters". No matter how you shoot them down, they get back up and try to devour you.

In popular culture zombies are difficult to kill...something to do with the lack of activity in the cerebral cortex.....

Mr Veale said...

http://www.dilbert.com/2011-06-03/

Anonymous said...

And the third part of Lofty's book will be entitled "Christianity from the Far Side."

Jason Pratt said...

Mr. Veale,


BRAAAAAIIIIINNNNNSSSS!!!


{g}

JRP