What do I think of the Outsider Test For Faith? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
So we’re returning again to a look at The Christian Delusion by John Loftus. I recently noticed that he’s not the guy who wrote about the Nazis but apparently, he’s someone who likes to make fun of disabled people, get drunk at conventions, and give the finger to amusement park workers. Anyway, in this chapter, we’re looking at what he calls the outsider test for faith.
The more I look at this, it reminds me of the Mormon test. Loftus is convinced that no faith can survive the outsider test for faith. This is akin to the Mormon claim because if you tell the Mormons that their test didn’t work for you, then the problem is not with the test, but it is with you. You must not have been sincere enough. So it is with the outsider test for faith. If you’re still a Christian, well you must not have been sincere enough in the test.
Basically, the test is to look at your position from that of an outsider. If you were a skeptic of your position, would it uphold? Fortunately, I do this as I regularly read books that critique my position. So far, it’s really solidified me in my position. If this is the best that they have, then Christianity is really looking good.
Loftus points to something Eller has said about how meeting people sincere in other religions is such a problem. Why should it be? Should atheists be concerned when they meet people not of a different religion but of a different worldview? What if I meet someone who is thoroughly convinced of geocentrism or that the Earth is flat? Why should that give me pause about my view?
Loftus also says brainwashed people don’t know they are brainwashed. It’s interesting that Loftus never seems to see this is a two-edged sword. Maybe Loftus is the one who is brainwashed in atheism. Will he deny it? Sure, but that is just because he doesn’t know it! Remember that brainwashed people don’t know that they are brainwashed.
Loftus also says that when we encounter Mormons or Muslims, we start with the idea that our worldview is true and then that the other is false for disagreeing. This is false. Now with Mormons, I do try to uphold the Bible since they claim the same, but I show the differences between the Bible and the Book of Mormon. With Muslims, since I am not an expert on the Qur’an, I choose to just try to uphold the New Testament.
Instead, it is atheists, who like Long in the last chapter, do what Loftus is talking about. After all, if atheism is true, there are no talking donkeys and since one book in the Bible has one, then Christianity is false. Loftus has no problem putting that in his book while telling others that’s not a good way to make arguments.
Loftus also says we adopt methodological naturalism to test extraordinary claims in other religions. This is false. For one thing, Loftus never defines methodological naturalism, which actually can be difficult to do. Second, I have no problem with miracles happening in other religions. Do I test the claims? Yes. I do the same for my own religion.
Loftus also says a believer should subject their faith to the best critiques of it. Done. When are atheists going to do the same? Loftus needs to write this for his own camp. He also asks how we would respond if Mormon faith was said to be properly basic or Muslims had an inner testimony. Simple. I would reject those just like I do for Christians. He also says Pascal’s Wager fails since we must decide what God to believe on. Not at all. Pascal’s Wager is not about deciding which faith is true, but it’s for the person who is considering Christianity but is still hesitant.
On p. 89, we get this delightful gem.
“The only thing we can and should trust is the sciences. Science alone provides consistently excellent results that cannot be denied, which are continually retested for validity. I’m claiming religious beliefs learned on our mama’s knees are in a different category than the results of repeatable scientific experiments, and that this claim is both obvious and non-controversial. We can personally do the experiments ourselves. When it comes to religious faiths, there are no mutually agreed upon reliable tests to decide between them, and this makes all the difference in the world. Besides, as David Eller has argued, Christians are not opposed to modern science anyway. They adopt its methods and conclusions in a vast majority of areas except a few limited ones concerning their faith. So the question is why should they adopt such a double standard with regard to science. Why do they accept the results of science the vast majority of time but subsequently reject them with regard to their faith?”
This is truly something remarkable. Many of us have already spotted one major problem. Nothing in this paragraph is scientific. Not a single word of it. We can do no experiments to verify any of this. Loftus has given a philosophical argument to show that science is the best style of demonstration.
Second, it’s not even true. Science always has tentative results. Some of these are more likely than others so much so that we can call them facts, but the reasoning is inductive at best. The only areas with absolute certainty are mathematics and logic.
Third, we can’t always do the experiments ourselves. Can we do an experiment involving what is found on Mars? Can we do an experiment that will require the CERN collider?
Fourth, I think there are many areas atheists disregard science. Consider the case of abortion. The science is in that life begins at conception. Many atheists deny this and go to philosophy and try to argue that what is in the womb is not a person.
Loftus also asks later on which evangelist will tell the ugly side of the Bible while preaching the good news or give a copy of a book alongside of Christian apologetics to read. As I’ve said earlier, when I do read Christian apologetics and scholarship, they interact with their opponents. Most atheists don’t. Also, where in this chapter does Loftus present the best scholarship for say, the resurrection of Jesus? Where does he talk about mass slaughters in the 20th century done under atheism?
He also says he liked Bill Maher’s movie Religulous. I can’t say I am surprised. I did review it and found it incredibly lacking.
Loftus also says that he knows the material world exists and the scientific method is the only sure way for assessing truth claims. Again, nothing in that is scientific. Second, could he give a scientific test to show that the material world exists? Anyone with a more Hindu world could do the same and just say this is how the illusion is about us. Peter Kreeft has talked about a professor of Christian Science who taught chemistry. He would say his religious beliefs tell him that this world is all an illusion and not real, but the illusion fits incredibly well and he’s going to describe it.
Loftus also says the idea we are living in the Matrix cannot be taken seriously by any intelligent person. We are sure that Nick Bostrom is happy to hear that he is not an intelligent person. While disagreeing with the Matrix idea, there are plenty of brilliant Eastern thinkers who would say the material world is an illusion.
Loftus then goes on to say that if it’s silly to say we are living in the Matrix, saying God is real should be silly too. Why? Your guess is as good as mine. Loftus never gives any reason for this.
Loftus also says it’s patently false to say atheism is a worldview or a religion. It would be like saying not collecting stamps is a hobby. Yet if one goes to the first big question of a worldview on God and answers in the negative, is not such a person taking a view on the world? The world is one in which God does not exist. How is this not a worldview?
Loftus also says saying someone is an atheist doesn’t tell you much about what they believe. Absolutely. An atheist can be for all intents and purposes living like a saint. They can also be Joseph Stalin. Neither one of them is violating atheism.
Loftus goes on to say that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence and religious beliefs are extraordinary. Why? Because they believe one more thing than what atheists believe, that God exists. Why should atheists be the standard? Could I not say that atheism is an extraordinary claim since it claims to know there is no God and that all of existence is just chance? That’s extraordinary. Hence my problem with this idea. Extraordinary is too subjective.
Loftus replies that this is not extraordinary due to the outsider test. It’s worth noting he’s regularly given excuses for why he doesn’t need to apply it to his own position. Note that this assumes his position is the correct one which is the presuppositional atheism I have talked about.
When he looks at the counter-arguments of Victor Reppert, he says that he was not just taught to think the external world exists, but he experiences it daily. Such an argument would not be at all convincing to an Eastern mind or someone like Bishop Berkeley. He also says it would deny science. Again, Eastern thinkers would not think such a thing at all.
Loftus also says he knows of no skeptical person who wants to justify rape. If they are not there, give it time and it will come. Some do though, or else they wouldn’t commit rape. We can see Richard Dawkins providing some excuses for mild pedophilia. Loftus also says the same about Democracy. After all, only some religious believers want a theocracy. After all, we know the former Soviet Union, atheistic as it was, were all big time fans of Democracy.
He goes on to quote Carrier presenting his answer to Reppert saying that any rational 15th or 16th century man presented with all that we have today would agree that Democracy is better. Therefore, Democracy is better. The same applies with rape being wrong. Well, there you go. Let me make an argument then.
Any 5th or 4th century BC man presented with the evidence we have today for Christianity would be a Christian. Therefore, Christianity is better. Hence, we should all bow down and accept Jesus as Lord.
It’s easy to say your position is rational when you say that only rational people who you have no access to would agree. We can’t jump in our time machines and see if the 15th or 16th century man would agree with Carrier. Why should we go by what we can’t see, especially since Loftus has been all about scientific testing.
Reppert finally says that he has been putting his faith to the test since 1972. Loftus replies that he doesn’t think any religious faith can pass the test. And there you go. We have entered the realm of the Mormon test. Why does Reppert not count? Because no position can pass the outsider test. Therefore Reppert wasn’t sincere or something like that because the test has to be true.
There’s a reason Loftus isn’t really getting all the attention he desires much any more.