Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Some More Notes on the Outsider Test

It might surprise some people to know that I actually bring up the Outsider Test when I am teaching classes, especially when I run across people who are fideists. I also bring up the Flying Spaghetti Monster in the same context. If it is a way of helping us to reflect on our beliefs, to not believe them arbitrarily, to see if they really can stand up to a rational test or not, then the OTF is fine.

However, I think the wayLoftus uses the test is slanted against religious beliefs in an arbitrary way. First, I think there are limits on the extent to which we can expect intellectual neutrality or objectivity from people. I don't think we can just throw away our priors and be neutral, nor do I think we should.

For example, I really do think that Christianity has an evidence base that other religions don't have, such as Mormonism or Islam. There are things that make me skeptical of those religions which are not present in the case of Christianity. In other words, if Christianity was a delusion, I think the case against it is a lot trickier to make than the case against other revealed religions. (Eastern religions typically don't make the kinds of divine revelation claims that Christianity does). If I thought that Christianity was in the same shape as those other religions, it would cause some cognitive dissonance.

I also don't think that the step from noticing a sociological influence to doubting the belief in question is as easy as John makes it out to be. In a way, this kind of reminds me of adolescents who think they are being nonconformists and really independent thinkers when their ideas differ from those of their parents. Of course, what they don't notice is how much their beliefs and attitudes conform to the people they care about most, their peers. The academic community puts a huge amount of intellectual peer pressure on religious belief in general and Christianity in particular. You escape one set of sociological influences when you reject your religious beliefs, but you become subject to all sorts of other sociological influences.

C. S. Lewis once called materialism a "boy's philosophy," and in my book I said I cringed when he said it. But I think that nonbelief as a certain adolescent appeal to a lot of people.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Keep in mind it's not as if the choice is as simple as "the major world religions, or atheism". Lewis is especially instructive here, since he demonstrably followed a different path.

Believing a creator of our universe, in minimal theism, in deism, etc, are all live options. And really, given those options, atheism is inevitably close to the dead last of reasonable conclusions.