Monday, February 15, 2016

Questions for the Outsider Test for Faith

I've always thought that, within limits, the idea of an outsider test is not a bad one. Even if we don't commit ourselves to necessarily giving up any position that every outsider ought to accept, (which to my mind is a bit much), we still need to be aware of biases and be aware of what other people can accept, since we are, after all, talking to other people who do not think as we do. My complaints have always had more to do with what John does with the test than with the test per se. 
The Outsider Test for Faith claims to be able to approach these by identifying biasing factors and factoring them out before investigating. What you learned from mama's knee, or what you prefer to be true are, it is contended, accidental facts about the investigator which don't render your belief more likely to be true, therefore you should try to factor that stuff out before you ask the question of what beliefs are true in the area of religion. But you don't want a method of screening out bias the does only half the job, and screens out only potential biasing factors that tend to lead one in the direction of religious belief. Are there biasing factors which have no epistemic value but lead one in the direction of atheism? Thomas Nagel is a atheist, but he thinks that "fear of religion" is a factor that biases people against positions, such as the idea that mind is fundamental to the universe, that we have good reason to accept.
Even if you don't accept Nagel's conclusions about mind, isn't fear of religion at least a possible biasing factor? And if so, shouldn't any real test concerning religious belief have the capability of counteracting it. If the test only counteracts pro-religious biases but not anti-religious biases, then the test is faulty. 
Loftus maintains that the test commits us to a methodologically naturalistic investigation. Methodological naturalism, if we accept it, as I understand it, makes it methodologically unacceptable to include a supernatural conclusion even if it were to be correct. If our investigation discovers, and does not merely presuppose that the supernatural isn't there, then our methodology would have to have allowed for the possibility of discovering it had it been there.
It's not a test if it can have only one possible outcome.

6 comments:

oozzielionel said...

What is the outsider test for skepticism?

planks length said...

It's not a test if it can have only one possible outcome.

And that's all that really needs to be said.

Except that perhaps besides "fear of religion", here are a few other factors that ought to be weeded out:

- Peer pressure, which could lead to
- Fear of being ridiculed (as advocated by Dawkins), especially in the
- Current climate of aggressive secularism, with its pervasive
- 24/7 Exposure to atheist proselytization

and let's not forget

- Personal sin (didn't Loftus say he wished to "live life to its fullest"?)

There are others, but those will do for now.

jdhuey said...

What is the outsider test for skepticism?

I think it is called 'science'.

Or, perhaps the Who song "Won't be fooled again."

Cal Metzger said...

If one can't accurately describe a position, it becomes impossible to offer valid criticism of that position.

That seems to be a fairly common problem here, but I think the most egregious example is your description of the OTF.

planks length said...

jdhuey,

By "science", did you mean the science of Gregor Mendel (genetics)? Or that of Copernicus (astronomy)? Or maybe Georges Lemaître (cosmology)? Perhaps you were thinking of the science of Louis Pasteur (medicine)? Could you possibly have meant Johannes Kepler (mathematics, astronomy)? Or Sir Isaac Newton (just about everything)? Oh, I know! You were referring to the science of Wilhelm Röntgen (physics). That must have been the "science" you were referring to!

Crude said...

Even if you don't accept Nagel's conclusions about mind, isn't fear of religion at least a possible biasing factor?

Considering Dawkins, Barker and company admit to fist-shaking hatred of the God of the Bible, I'd say yeah, evidence certainly points that way.

And if so, shouldn't any real test concerning religious belief have the capability of counteracting it. If the test only counteracts pro-religious biases but not anti-religious biases, then the test is faulty.

Maybe we should just count anti-theism as religion too, yeah? Makes life easier. In other words, the Outsider Test is ill-equipped to serve as a check on religion, as it's amateurishly rigged (at least as Cowboy Hat espouses it) in favor of one particular religion.

Loftus maintains that the test commits us to a methodologically naturalistic investigation.

Pity that's a blindspot, eh?

You don't need methodological naturalism for science. Hell, you don't need any methodological metaphysical commitment whatsoever. Methodological agnosticism will do just fine.

planks,

I'll add, let's see that scientific test for God's existence - better yet, the one that has been done. Those are always a *riot*.