Monday, June 27, 2011

An Exchange between Matt Flannagan and John Loftus (actually Paul Bennett)

This is a combox exchange between Loftus, whose comments are in italics, and Matt Flannagan, whose comments are not italicized. 

I think the OTF is seen to fail in the mind of those who are afraid of the implications.
This is an assertion backed up by an ad hominen attack on people who disagree with them.
For those interested in the truth, it’s a good test. Believers clearly set a low bar for evidence when it comes to their own supernatural beliefs, but they raise the bar when it comes to other supernatural beliefs and no evidence is sufficient when it comes to any claim which negates their beliefs. The OTF reveals this bias.
Actually I think it does the opposite, sceptics demand that Christians meet an inordinate burden of proof by proposing the OTF, but then they fail to apply this proof in other contexts, particular to premises they use to argue against Gods existence. I note this in the review.
The believer wants to think that the atheists rejects their beliefs for bad reasons, when in fact, atheists reject the believers beliefs for the same reasons believers reject other religions and superstitious claims.
This is an assertion which has been refuted already on this blog. But note you make it without any proof. If I held to the OTF I should be sceptical of this claim until you prove it.
Obviously, people believe in the magical things they do because of indoctrination, confusing correlation with causation, and confirmation bias. Christians can see this readily when they consider Greek Myths or reincarnationists– but their indoctrination blinds them in regards to their own, equally unsupportable supernatural beliefs. If they are indoctrinated well enough, they become too afraid of thinking outside the faith– afraid that they’ll suffer forever if they do so.
Again we see an assertion, involving a string of genetic and ad hominen fallacies, prefaced with the word “obviously”
If you want to insist on the OTF, I should be sceptical of these claims until you prove them. Where is the proof?
Every cult member can tell you why they are sure their religion is the really true truth– but none can tell you what evidence would get them to believe a competing claim– that’s because no evidence would or could suffice. They are brainwashed. Christians can see it with the Muslims and the Scientologists, but their indoctrination makes sure they deny it in themselves. The OTF illustrates this, however– which is why we see so much kicking and screaming around it.
Again another assertion about others being “brain washed” with you expect everyone to accept without proof. Keep the examples coming your proving my point nicely
The OTF is just a tool to help a believer counteract the biases of his indoctrination, so that instead of endlessly trying to prop us his belief, he’s got a brain more willing to consider whether his supernatural beliefs are any more likely to be true than the supernatural beliefs he rejects (such as reincarnation). As far as the empirical evidence is concerned, the answer is “no”.
I note here you limit your claims to supernatural beliefs and insist on empirical evidence. Why? This is an epistemological claim. If the OTF is true I should be a sceptical outsider to claims like this so my default position is to deny it, until you prove it.
I note the only proof you give is an assertion.
Again, thanks for proving my point.
”I understand why this would bother someone more interested in keeping the faith rather than understanding what is real. Magician, James Randi points out that the easiest people to fool are those who are certain they cannot be fooled. I know I can be fooled. And I don’t feel like fooling myself any more. I think those against the OTF are those with a strong interest in continuing to fool themselves.
Interesting, again we have the OTF defended by an ad hominen. This is apparently the only proof needed when it’s your beliefs that are under discussion. When people question the epistemic stance you adopt, you respond by saying they “have an interest in fooling themselves” and dismiss it.
Perhaps you’ll answer the question I put to you last time we discussed this. Take the claim “women and men have equal rights” or “all human beings have equal dignity and worth” can you prove this with empirical evidence? If I had been brought up in another culture I would probably not believe this. So the OTF requires me to be sceptical of it until someone proves it with empirical evidence alone.
I take it you provide empirical evidence for this claim that meets the standard you demand before on believes in theism, then you need to explain to me why you adopt a different standard here?


JSA said...

That exchange appears to be between Matt and someone posting under the name "Paul Bennett", rather than Loftus? Bennett seems to be copy-pasting from previous Loftus quotes, though.

Anonymous said...

Why are you taking John Loftus so seriously? He operates on a double standard, he lies, and in his own book he states that two of the three main reasons he supposedly deconverted were emotional, not intellectual.

His Outsider Test is not original, but he thinks it is going to make his name in Philosophical circles for then next two centuries.

John Loftus is a Legend In His Own Mind.

Prophet Chuck

SteveK said...

The OTF is an embarrassment to the uber skeptical establishment. The pendulum has swung so far as to become a belief in itself.

I just believe in one more God than you do, John. When you understand why I don't dismiss my God, you will understand why I do dismiss all the others. ;)

Victor Reppert said...

It is remarkable how many people think the OTF is a good argument. Actually, it is a version of the "one less god" argument.

JSA said...

"It is remarkable how many people think the OTF is a good argument."

You need to look at the big picture.

It's a three-legged argument: special pleading, genetic fallacy, and bulverism. Alone, any leg would be a logical fallacy that could not stand, but together they form a sturdy stool.

David B Marshall said...

Actually, I think OTF has something going for it -- as a Christian apologetic device. No other belief system has hurdled as many cultural barriers as the Gospel. Wise men and women from many eras and diffuse cultures (Aristotle's "skilful, old, and wise") have recognized the Gospel as the fulfillment of what the deepest thinkers in their cultures were seeking. All else being equal, I think this does render Christianity more likely to be true. (Search "argument transcultural plausibility" for my full argument.)

Perhaps John should give credit for the OTF to G. K. Chesterton, in Everlasting Man. My first mention of it, in an old, little-read book, probably also predates the Loftus.

The more I think about it, the more I'm inclined to think there is some validity to the OTF, and that it provides a good second-tier argument for the Christian faith. Way to go, John!

Eric said...

Professor Reppert, would you agree with me that the OTF is a good way to get unreflective believers to begin thinking about their faith? I share many of your concerns about the OTF as applied to reflective believers, or as being selectively applied (I think that if there's an Outsider Test for faith -- and if this is all John is focusing on, then fine -- then there must, given the logic of the OTF, be Outsider Tests for other culturally influenced beliefs), but I think it's a great way to get unreflective types to think about their faith. It's much more concrete and imaginative, and hence easier to grasp and apply, than admonitions like "be consistent," and it has the added advantage of getting unreflective types to think about religious pluralism. I don't think it's obvious at all that the OTF, if taken sincerely, leads to a rejection of one's faith -- indeed, from what I've read, you seem to me to be a perfect example of someone who has lived, and still lives, the OTF in many ways -- but I do think it's a valuable contribution to the sorts of thought experiments we employ to clarify out thinking in all sorts of areas. (I agree with Bob that we find a version of it in my beloved Chesterton, and I'm sure I saw it somewhere in Aquinas, though I can't find the reference at the moment, but I think John's contribution is not so much in coming up with a novel test, but in how he defends the need to take it, viz. with his appeal to sociological, psychological etc. data.)

David B Marshall said...

And way to go, Victor, for keeping the wonderful term "Bulverism" alive. Bulver's influence will never die

B. Prokop said...


I must disagree with you on this one. Now the way Loftus presents the OTF argument is, of course, biased, uninformed, and incoherent. But the idea of approaching the Faith from an outsider perspective does have merit. After all, Christianity began as and remains today a proselytizing religion. Uncountable people for 2000 years now have come to it from "the outside". Christianity has obviously stood up to the challenge, or we would not be the largest religion in the world today. Secondly, great Christian thinkers have throughout the centuries diligently examined the faith "from the outside", and demonstrated that the Truth of Christian teaching becomes more evident and convincing after having done so.

I do agree that there is no purpose in reinventing the wheel. But this is a battle that has already been won, and the skeptic's arguments have been left to choke in the dust of Christianity's triumph over them.

I say we declare victory, and unashamedly let people know just who has won.

Morrison said...

The remarkable thing is that whenever someone says that they have passed the Outsider Test, Loftus will reply with a "no true Scotsman" fallacy.

i.e., you couldn't have taken it and passed. You must have done it wrong.

His capacity for self deception while he talks about delusion in others is amazing.

Victor Reppert said...

I'm not completely hostile to the basic idea of the OTF. Anyone who engaged in discussion or dialogue wants to know whether what we have to say is convincing to others who don't necessarily begin by agreeing with us. And I do use OTF-ish arguments with students who seem to think that it is a sufficient reason to believe something that they were raised to believe it.

JSA said...

BTW, Chesterton used a form of OTF in 1908, in "Orthodoxy"

B. Prokop said...

To JS Allen:

And Chesterton wrote a book-length treatment of the subject in "The Everlasting Man" (published 1925).

If you haven't read it yet, do so! It is one of the finest books on Christianity from the last century.

Eric said...

The following is from Chesterton's "The Everlasting Man":

"THERE are two ways of getting home; and one of them is to stay there. The other is to walk round the whole world till we come back to the same place; and I tried to trace such a journey in a story I once wrote. It is, however, a relief to turn from that topic to another story that I never wrote. Like every book I never wrote, it is by far the best book I have ever written. It is only too probable that I shall never write it, so I will use it symbolically here; for it was a symbol of the same truth. I conceived it as a romance of those vast valleys with sloping sides, like those along which the ancient White Horses of Wessex are scrawled along the flanks of the "'hills. It concerned some boy whose farm or cottage stood on such a slope, and who went on his travels to find something, such as the effigy and grave of some giant; and when he was -far enough from home he looked back and saw that his own "farm and kitchen-garden, shining flat on the hill-side like the colours and quarterings of a shield, werre but parts of some such gigantic figure, on which he had always lived, but which was too large and too close to be seen. That, I think, is a true picture of the progress of any really independent intelligence today; and that is the point of this book.

"The point of this book, in other words, is that the next best thing to being really inside Christendom is to be really outside it. And a particular point of it is that the popular critics of Christianity are not really outside it. They are on a debatable ground, in every sense of the term. They are doubtful in their very doubts. Their criticism has taken on a curious tone; as of a random and illiterate heckling. Thus they make current and anti-clerical cant as a sort of smalltalk. They will complain of parsons dressing like parsons; as if we should be any more free if all the police who shadowed?"

Eric said...

"It is one of the finest books on Christianity from the last century."

I couldn't agree more. Indeed, I'd go farther: Read as much Chesterton as you can get your hands on! (I'm sure Bob would agree!)

JSA said...

@Bob - I rarely read anything pro-religious, but I own and have read pretty much everything Chesterton wrote, including "Everlasting Man". I agree that it's superb. Lewis and Ratzinger are the only others I liked enough to buy and read all of their work I could get my hands on. That's saying a lot, since I have significant theological disagreement with all three.

David B Marshall said...

I love Chesterton, but some of his political essays have aged quite a bit. Aside from Everlasting Man and Orthodoxy, my favorites are his "biographies" of Dickens and Aquinas, his magnificent poem, Lepanto, and "the Rolling English Drunkard made the rolling English road." His autobiography is good; wouldn't put Father Brown near the top of the list.

Speaking of Lewis, though -- Victor, have you read his history of English lit in the 16th Century? After lifetime of reading Lewis, I'm finally getting to this monumental and brilliant work.

B. Prokop said...

JS Allen: I've read 4 or 5 books by Pope Benedict/Ratzinger, and they are weirdly divided into two very different groups: the first, uber-scholarly and somewhat over my head (like his two volume "Jesus of Nazareth"), and the second, almost simplistic in their pastoral bent (such as "The Apostles"). being Catholic, I have no significant objection to anything he has to say. I rarely learn anything new (to me) from his work, but frequently find fresh ways of expressing old truths.

My personal favorite "Christian writers" (I dislike that term. It's like calling Bach "Christian music") are Charles Williams and Dante.

Matt said...

I actually think in a pluralistic world the way one should dialogue is using the insider test of the faith.

What I mean is this, one needs to understand the others position on their terms, understand the assumptions they make, the presuppositions they accept, and then reason conditionally, asking what would follow if one accepted these presuppositions for the sake of argument what would the implications be.

Would this position answer important questions and provide explanations for various things, would it be internally consistent, would it cohere with our existential experience.

Can a person who accepts these premises defend them against objections and defeaters which utilise premises which have a claim on them and so on.

Those who raise the argument of evil do precisely this they suggest that if God exists evil would not exist, evil exists therefore he does not. I don’t think this is a sound argument but it’s the right kind of question to ask.

Similar the arguments for Gods existence can be understood this way. As claims that if one accepts that God exists, then one can answer certain questions about the nature of morality, its authority, the origin of the universe, the contingent existence and so on.

The counter question would be to then ask if naturalism is true can we answer these same questions in a more plausible or better way.

That’s what I see EAAN and the argument from reason doing, assuming naturalism for the sake of argument and it fails to answer certain challenges or entails certain things which undermine rationality.

Interestingly, this does allow one to adopt a neutral position, shared by most people. We can’t all affirm the same basic assumptions, but most of us can address conditionals such as “if this assumption were true would Z follow” a naturalist for example can ask, the question if God exists does he explain Y, or if God exists does it entail evil does not, and so on.

A theist can ask if naturalism is true how would one explain moral obligation.

What destroys dialogue is the insistence everyone bracket controversial assumptions and reason only those foundations that are shared by all. That leads to the kind of sceptical problems that are highlighted.

It also inevitably means one perspective pretends its assumptions are uncontroversial neutral and seeks to define itself as the default position, as Loftus does.

Loftus has it completely wrong, it’s the insider test not the outsider test which is the way to discuss these issues.

Eric said...

"I love Chesterton, but some of his political essays have aged quite a bit."

I agree (if we distinguish -- well, try to distinguish -- political issues as such from social issues with political ramifications; with respect to the latter, Chesterton often sounds as if he's writing today), but even there you will almost always find gems of insight into a host of fundamental issues. And, of course, he's just a pure delight to read.

Victor Reppert said...

Matt: Yes, indeed, I think that is what the bottom line is here. It is an attempt to wrangle a "default" position for Loftus' own view, forcing the believer to accept the burden of proof, and maintaining that whatever the person taking the test believes about the result, the person has failed the test if Loftus is unsatisfied with his conclusion.

Walter said...

I'm generally loath to comment on these OTF threads, but I have to agree with Victor that the basic idea is good. It makes you ask yourself whether you have good reasons to believe the fantastical claims of your faith tradition. Do Muslims have a good reason for believing that Muhammad ascended to heaven, or that the Koran is a revelation from God? Do Mormons have a good reason for believing in magical underwear? Do I have a good reason for believing some of the implausible claims found in the bible? So I agree with a commenter above that the OTF should cause us to really reflect on why we believe some of the seemingly crazy things that we do.

JSA said...

@David - I kind of like Chesterton's "kill the oligarchs" message from "what's wrong with the world" :-) Very relevant to today's situation.

I have a copy of Lewis's 16th century literature tome. It's really good; lots of historical insights that have nothing to do with literature, too. There are few scholars like that left today, and the number shrinks every year. Maybe I would put Robert Alter in the same category..

David B Marshall said...

Allen: I confess I haven't read a single book Lewis talks about in the first 400+ pages so far. I really shouldn't be enjoying the thing, but I am.

Your profile intersted me. I've become interested in Gobekli Tepe as well. Looking on Google Earth, it appears to be a long morning walk from the city that used to be called Edessa -- some say Abraham's hometown. I mention the place in a book I'm writing; tempted to try to work in a visit. Here, later, wheat and barley were domesticated, also cattle and sheep.

Do you work with autistic kids? My Japanese nephew is autistic; he just started school.

JSA said...

@David - I had some sort of mirror neuron disorder as a child, and one of my kids has a fascinating form of synaesthesia. And I've had several colleagues with Asperger's. So it's a long-term interest of mine, going back to when I was a militant atheist.

It makes me very happy to be alive during the time that Gobekli Tepe is being excavated. I'm especially fascinated by the fact that 2 or 3 successive generations apparently buried their totems and then rebuilt later at another site.

David B Marshall said...

Allen: What I find amusing is that the monuments seem to appear at their height of artistic development, then slowly decline over what, a millennia?

So we get decline even before we get a rise?

JSA said...

@David - Exactly! That apparent downward trend is quite suggestive. The archaeological consensus could all change in the next 50 years, since it has changed a lot in the last 30. But if the downward trend is confirmed, I think that's an impressive discovery that has great significance for our understanding of the OT.