Sunday, January 21, 2007

The Outsider-Insider Test

"So let me propose something I call The Outsider Test: If you were born in Saudi Arabia, you would be a Muslim right now, say it isn't so? That is a cold hard fact. Dare you deny it? Since this is so, or at least 99% so, then the proper method to evaluate your religious beliefs is with a healthy measure of skepticism. Test your beliefs as if you were an outsider to the faith you are evaluating. If your faith stands up under muster, then you can have your faith. If not, abandon it, for any God who requires you to believe correctly when we have this extremely strong tendency to believe what we were born into, surely should make the correct faith pass the outsider test. If your faith cannot do this, then the God of your faith is not worthy of being worshipped." -John Loftus


Adding Insult to Injury

"That we are formed and malformed by our environments from birth on is bad enough. It is made worse by those who want to see us as nothing but products of environment. These reductionists of course make an exception in their own cases. It is as if they say to us: "We are able to discern truth, but you are not. What we say expresses our insight, but what you say only expresses your conditioning." That is the injustice of the psychologizer." - Bill Vallicella


"- When once asked if Darwinism was a meme, Richard Dawkins denied that it was. Memes, of course, were an attempt to explain away that pesky intentionality and free will in human affairs, by casting us as deterministically controlled hosts being passively invaded and taken over by parasites, rather than agents that deliberate over the information we receive to form ideas. But he couldn't stomach applying the idea to himself. He, of course, was an autonomous, shining beacon of reason, who arrived at his ideas through powers of rational deliberation that nobody else has. Unlike all the unenlightened, his beliefs are most certainly not memes!

- I'm reminded also of those people who's first and only inclination is look for ways to blame the plights of everyone in the world on Western Civilization in general, and America in particular. I once had a conversation with such a person, who was stretching to explain to me how all the lousy choices made by those in the Arab world over the years traced back to, and were caused by, something Americans did, and were therefore our fault. I asked him, why, then, was it our fault? Isn't the implication of what he said that Americans are themselves victims of circumstance, and that our blame can be shifted to something else as well? Why should the buck stop with us?

The false empathy displayed by such people towards the plights of others is really a form of snobbery. As they see it, their own people with whom they are familiar (which includes themselves) are intelligent, deliberating moral agents like themselves, capable of making choices that have an effect on the world, while everyone else is just a poor, pale shadow cast and determined by their own egos." - "The Deuce" a commentor on Vallicella's blog


Who agrees with Loftus and who with Vallicella and "The Deuce?"


  1. Oh, let me be the first to vote on this, since you're asking. Me!

  2. But.. but.. your argument doesn't make any sense...

    You say that what people believe is based on where they live. You then say:

    "Since this is so, or at least 99% so, then the proper method to evaluate your religious beliefs is with a healthy measure of skepticism."

    However, there is ZERO connection between what you'd just said the "since this is so".

    This is the stupidest argument I've ever heard!

    It amounts to this:

    1. If a belief is affected by your location it should be judged with skepticism
    2. Belief X is affected by your location
    3. Therefore Belief x should be judged with skepticism

    How about this:
    2. Belief in the equality is women is affected by your location
    3. Therefore the equality of women should be viewed with skepticism

    2. Belief that Jews deserve to live is affected by your location
    3. Therefore the right to life of Jews should be viewed with skepticism

    2. Belief that Jews don't deserve to live is affected by your location
    3. Therefore the right to life of Jews should be given the benefit of the doubt

    2. Belief that Christianity is false is affected by your location
    3. Therefore we should be skeptical of all claims against Christianity

    Loftus, you would need to *prove that a belief should be believed by everyone* or else your argument won't get off the ground.

    The Bible often refers to nations being blessed as groups, and in the OT God almost entirely interacted with ONE ethnic group...

    Look, your argument doesn't make sense and it's obvious to everybody else but (or maybe including...) you.

    It's sooo bad Loftus, it makes me cringe!!!!!

  3. 2. Belief in the equality is women is affected by your location

    (2) is true, just go ask the Taliban or many parts of Asia.

    Therefore they should be skeptical of such a viewpoint when there are other parts of the world where women have a greater equality not based upon religious beliefs (which is my point).

    2. Belief that Jews deserve to live is affected by your location

    (2) again this is true. Ask the Palestinians.

    So they should be skeptical, since there are great numbers of people who disagree, and they do so not based upon religious beliefs (which is my point).

    2. Belief that Christianity is false is affected by your location
    3. Therefore we should be skeptical of all claims against Christianity

    Well, actually I should have a healthy skepticism about all of my religious beliefs, even my non-belief, and I do. But (2) is not as sure as (2') Belief that Christianity is true is affected by your location. There are several reasons for this. They have to do with how one becomes an unbeliever, and how one becomes a believer. It has to do with the values of reason over faith, the fear of hell, and the nature of the believing community, since many non-believers chose not to believe on any individual basis.

  4. The outsider test applies with a much greater force against shared religious beliefs, especially since there isn't a mutually agreed upon scientific test to help us decide about such beliefs, and especially when there is a threat of hell. It has a greater force against religious faiths that appeal to a set of purported inspired ancient writings rather than to reason itself. It also has a much greater force against religious beliefs since these beliefs demand an ultimate commitment and a complete faith for fear of hell. Such commitments will not allow the adherent to think dispassionately about the reasons for their faith. And likewise, when these adherents believe things about the Jews or women or differently colored people based upon these writings, rather than dispassionately thinking and reasoning about them, then the political, environmental and social pressures of "when and where they were born" will all have a much greater influence on what they believe.

  5. LOL, John.

    I think your cowboy hat is on too tight.

    You'd be so much more respected by atheists like me if you'd admit that this "test" of yours is a ridiculously bad argument.

  6. Hi John,

    Actually you've gone on record admitting that "the outsider test" equally applies against all people.

    You wrote,

    "And my particular attack on religious faiths is to consider how we gained out presuppositions in the first place. We do so because of when and where we were born. Go here and scroll down to the Outsider Test, to see yourself. This is the biggest background factor of all when it comes to religious faiths..when and where we were born. So basically you're using an accident of geography to adopt your view of logic, and that's it."

    To which James Anderson replied,

    "If that's the case, then so are you and all your secularist colleagues. Nice work! By your own lights, you've just transformed all the "logical argumentation" of Debunking Christianity into little more than a public display of Western atheistic introspection. :)"

    To which you said,

    "Yes, I'll admit this."

    The above exchange can be found here:

    And so John, you've admitted that your outsider test commits you to relativism. But then you think you can transcend this. This is what Vallicella and The Deuce point out. So, it looks like they're right after all. :-)

  7. Paul, do you see what I see when I look at the distribution of religions around the globe? This is a geographical fact. Based upon this undeniable fact it strongly suggests that we believe in a particular religion based on when and where we were born. Now enters reason. Each apologist for these respective religions will defend what they believe. Engage them and you'll see this to be an undeniable sociological fact. Each one of them believes they have the truth and will defend what they believe. This is known as the problem of religious diversity, and it's a problem for religious beliefs. My outsider test is based on these undeniable facts.

    All I claim is that since these above things are undeniable we should have a healthy skepticism about what we believe such that we should approach what we believe about religious beliefs with skepticism. How can you deny this?

    Now, I am a skeptic, true. I also admit I could be wrong. I continually check and re-check what I believe against other ideas. I've concluded that I am right about what I reject, but I have not concluded that I am right about what I believe. I could still be wrong.

    However, the Christian sees doubt as opposed to the need to please God with faith. So they do not have this same kind of healthy skepticism.

    Not you charge we with inconsistency. Where is it? I think the outsider test applies differently to religious beliefs that are communal, exclusive, based upon an ancient text, that requires faith, and where there is a fear of hell. All of these things hinders a dispassionate investigation. None of these things hinders me.

    Furthermore, since there is no mutually agreed upon scientific test to settle these issues, then what a person believes about them will be largely controlled by the social world he is raised in. That best explains why there is such a geographical distribution of religions around the world, and it best explains how we use reason in defense of beliefs that we came to accept prior to examining them.

    For the sake of argument let's say that everything [EVERYTHING] we believe is based upon our genes and social environment, okay, which isn't what I'm arguing, although there is a real force to such an argument. Think about this. What if? Again, what if everything we believe is because of when and where we are born? It could be, couldn't it? Now exactly how is this assertion logically inconsistent? You say it's because by claiming this is claiming to know something that is objectively true, which I cannot say unless I give up the notion that everything we belive is "determined." So what? It could still be the case. And if I claim this is the case, I just got lucky to be right about it even if I have no other reasons for this claim of mine than that I got lucky to believe it based upon my social conditions. Again, it could be the case. I don't think you understand this. You cannot refute relativism like you do. In fact I don't think relativism can be refuted, do you now see why? Again, just because someone might believe everything is relative does not render his belief in relativism inconsistent or logically contradictory in any way shape or fashion. It could still be the case regardless of his socially and genetically caused reasons for believing it.

    If relativism is the case then by your own reasoning we could never know that it is, and hence you are excluding as impossible what might still be the case.

  8. Anonymous. Here's what atheist Richard Carrier said about the outsider test: The logic of it is insurmountable, IMO, even by
    a so-called reformed or "holy spirit" epistemologist.

    Here's what Chris Halquist said: Loftus solidifies an idea that has floated around in much skeptical rhetoric for some time. He opens up the possibility of consistently applying an idea that has so far only been applied haphazardly. When this is done, the effect is utterly devastating to religious belief. The Outsider Test should earn Loftus a permanent place in the history of critiques of religion.

    So, while you may disagree with them (and me) you cannot say it is "ridiculously bad argument," at least not until you read what I wrote about it and how I defended it from objections in my book. If you have read it, then offer your criticisms of it and let's take a good look at why you think so.

  9. John,

    I have no clue who "Hallquist" is.

    As far as Carrier's statement goes, if the "logic is insurmountable" you wouldn't mind putting it in a formal argument, would you?

  10. The short version of the argument begins with these four propositions:

    1) Religious diversity around the globe is a fact—many religions are located in distinct geographical locations in the world.

    2) There are no mutually agreed upon tests to determine which religion is true.

    3) Religious apologists all claim they are correct and they reject all other distinctive religious beliefs but their own.

    4) All religions seek to answer life’s most important questions in a believing communal social environment where the adherent is encouraged to believe and discouraged to doubt.

    These four facts form the basis of the argument. Okay so far? I think these facts are undeniable.

    So if you want a deductive argument expressing this inductive argument of mine, here it is:

    p -> q:
    If 1-4 is true, then it’s probable that people adopt their religion based upon “when and where they were born.”


    .: q:
    Therefore, it’s probable that people adopt their religion based upon “when and where they were born.”

    Based upon 1-4, it's highly probable religious adherents will not investigate their faith dispassionately. They will use reason to solidify and support religious beliefs arrived at prior to rationally examining them. And because there isn’t a mutually agreed upon scientific test to determine the truth of any religion, therefore social/political and geographical factors heavily influence what religion one adopts.

    This conclusion is the strongest in those communally shared religions where doubt places the adherent in danger of hell, as well as the fear of losing the friendship of the religious community he or she is involved in.

    This conclusion leads to the presumption of skepticism when investigating any religious faith, including one’s own religious faith; for it’s probable that the adherents merely adopted their faith based upon “when and where they were born.”

  11. Actually I think Loftus is the one who has no idea who *Hallquist* is, as Loftus is the one who misspelled his name.

  12. Hi John,

    Your argument is a non-sequitur.

    You've done nothing to tie the consequent to the antecedent.

    It's like if I argued:

    If I brush my hair, I'll get dates tonight. I brushed my hair. Therefore, I'll get dates tonight.

    There's no connection between hair brushing and date getting.

    Same with your conditional.

    As I said, John, the argument is ridiculously bad.

  13. Listen Anonymous,

    I stayed up all night on Dec. 14, 1998 thinking this up one night over a few dozen beers. If Richard Dawkins says the logic is insurmountable, well, what does your opinion matter? I mean Richard Dawkins is a genius. And at least I attach my name to my arguements, not like some little whiners here at T-boob...