Thursday, February 16, 2006

"The Outsider Test" Coming from *Inside* Your Worldview

Earlier I proposed something I called The Outsider Test for your faith, where I wrote: 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.

Does John Loftus really think that his statement “If you were born in Saudi Arabia, you would be a Muslim right now” is one that can be made outside of his worldview? This very statement is imposing his worldview upon the Christian worldview, and negating the Christian worldview. This is no neutral statement. Christianity states that while God may use cultural means of saving his elect, the salvation of his elect is not dependent upon their geographical location. So from the lens of my worldview, I would have to expressly disagree with Loftus’ arbitrary statement that where you live determines your beliefs. It is a statement that he bases solely on his worldview, and has not justified, but still acts as if it is something we can state outside of our worldviews. Loftus is about to explain to us his dandy “Outsider Test.” The basis for its explanation, however, betrays the already exemplified fact that Loftus does not understand the basics of rational debate or internal critiques.

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.

Ok. So what does Loftus have to offer us?

There are so very many things we believe because of when and where we were born that an argument is made by moral relativists based on it, which is known to ethicists as the “Dependency Thesis (DT)” According to the DT our morals are causally dependent on our cultural context. Even if the relativists are wrong in the very end, they make an extremely powerful case which should give the over-confident Christian a reason for a very long pause, if nothing else.

And what does this have to do with he “Outsiders Test”? Someone speaking outside of his worldview would not make such a statement. Loftus continues to speak from within the lens of his own worldview, and forces the doctrines of his worldview upon all other worldviews.

The Christian believes God is a rational God and that we should love God with all of their minds. The Christian is not afraid to examine his or her beliefs by the test of reason because he or she believes in a God of reason. A small minority of Christians even believe Logic and reason presuppose the Christian God.

So what’s the problem here? Why aren’t Christians posting by the droves and saying, “Fine, I have no problem with The Outsider Test?” Why not?

An outsider would be someone who was only interested in which religious or nonreligious view is correct, and assumed from the start that none of them were true–none of them! An outsider is a mere seeker who has no prior presuppositions about any faith, or no faith at all. To be an outsider would also mean we would have nothing at stake in the outcome of our investigations, and hence no fear of hell while investigating it all. These threats could hinder a clear-headed investigation.

The problem, Mr. Loftus, is that there are no outsiders. There is no such thing as a “a mere seeker who has no prior presuppositions about any faith.” We may pretend that we are abandoning our worldview and giving an unbiased survey of all others, but we are simply fooling ourselves. This has already been made evident in your statements here. Even in this little post calling Christians to participate in the “Outsider Test” you have already displayed your presuppositions and forced them upon others.

The outsider test would mean that there would be no more quoting the Bible to defend how Jesus’ death on the cross saves us from sins. Now you must try to rationally explain it. No more quoting the Bible to defend how it’s possibile for Jesus to be 100% God and 100% man with nothing left over, by merely quoting from the Bible. Now you must try to make sense of this claim, coming as it does from an ancient supertitious people who didn’t have trouble believing this could happen (Acts 14:11, 28:6), etc, etc. Why? Because you cannot start out by first believing the Bible, nor can you trust the people closest to you who are Christians to know the truth. You would want evidence and reasons for these things, and you’d initially be skeptical of believing in any of the miracles in the Bible just as you would be skeptical of any claims of the miraculous in today’s world.

Here is where Loftus displays his ignorance of rational discussion and internal critiques. Let me use an example, one that I am sure was in the mind of Loftus as he typed this paragraph. Loftus had a question/argument concerning the coherency of substitutionary atonement. He argued against its rationality, but I responded in arguing for its rationality. In my presentation, I used Scripture citations. Why did I do this? I was not stating that substitutionary atonement is true and rational because the Bible says so. Rather, it was quite evident in Loftus’ comments that Mr. Loftus was ignorant of the basic facts of substitutionary atonement. Logically, in order to argue against the rationality of something, you must know what that something actually is, and Loftus’ arguments would have been completely irrelevant and non-applicable if he simply had a correct understanding of substitutionary atonement.

The same goes for an internal critique. An internal critique does not base the rationality of something simply upon the fact that its foundation considers it to be rational. But an internal critique does start with what the worldview says (e.g, what the Bible says), and then from the framework of the the assumptions of that worldview deduces whether or not it is rational or coherent. But Loftus does not have the ability to distinguish between stating what the Bible says in order to point out the errors in the arguments of the opponent and arguing that something is rational on the sole basis that the Bible claims it. There is a clear difference, and Loftus, for some reason, is blind to this difference.

Evan May.


  1. This is insanity, or at least the gateway to it. If I agree to accept the challenge of the Outsider Test, the first thing I must do is refuse to accept the challenge of the Outsider Test.

    As an outsider to Loftus' viewpoint, I must approach his test with the same extreme skepticism he himself applies to Christianity. I must therefore refuse to a priori accept the Outsider Test as an epistemically sufficient test of any worldview, and I can't trust Loftus because he is an insider of his worldview.

    What traction, then, do I have from which to launch a critique of the Outsider Test? Since I can't accept the Outsider Test as its own canon without invalidating the whole concept, I'll have to critique it using some other metaphysic. The only one I've got handy is my own Reformed-informed Christian theology.

    So Mark: shall I critique the Outsider Test as a Christian? Surely you're not suggesting that. Unfortunately, the only other option you leave me is to plant my feet firmly on nothing and attempt to move your boulder.

    Not very sporting of you, old chap.

  2. The presumption of The Outsider Test would be that since there are so very many religions, and with so many people believing in a particular religion because of “when and where they were born,” that when examining any religious belief, skepticism would be warranted, since the odds are good that the one you are investigating is wrong.

    The test is no different than the prince in the Cinderella story who must question 25,000 people to see which one of them lost the golden slipper at the ball last night. They all claim to have done so. Therefore, initial skepticism is definitely warranted. This is especially true when the religious question we're asking cannot be solved by an empirical foot match.

  3. Okay. On what basis do you suggest that I critique your Outsider Test? Or does the test only apply to "religion" and not to other metaphysical constructs?

  4. The Outsider Test is merely aknowledging an overwhelming truth, that everyone should acknowledge, and that is we have an extremely strong tendency to believe what we were raised to believe. You would believe with slave holders in the South prior to the civil war that slavery is justified by the Bible. I have a post on this.

    Then it merely asks us to respond in the approprite manner. To approach what we believe with a measure of outsider skepticism.

    It doesn't state in advance what you might come to believe upon applying that test. But to critique that test would be to argue that our beliefs are not dependent much at all based upon our coultural conditions. Can you do that?

  5. You can say it's based upon an "overwhelming truth," but appeal to your own perception of reality hardly constitutes an argument. The existence of a thriving underground church in China, in a cultural climate utterly hostile to the Christian worldview, offers a significant challenge to your hypothesis. Can you account for the Chinese church within your theory? If all you can say is, "They're an exception," all you've demonstrated is the inability of your "overwhelming truth" to adequately explain reality.

    So far you haven't offered a significant defense to my initial challenge, other than to tell me it's self-evident (to you, maybe). How am I, as an outsider on the search for truth, supposed to adopt your Outsider Test without violating its own skeptical foundation? And if I am to critique it, from what metaphysical foundation am I to launch my critique?

  6. Almost alone among my contemporaries I have not been a sceptic about Liberty; but I recognise the materials for scepticism in the discussion about liberties. The difference between the liberties valued by one community and those valued by another is doubtless very great. The vulgar modern argument used against religion, and lately against common decency, would be absolutely fatal to any idea of liberty. It is perpetually said that because there are a hundred religions claiming to be true, it is therefore impossible that one of them should really be true. The argument would appear on the face of it to be illogical, if any one nowadays troubled about logic. It would be as reasonable to say that because some people thought the earth was flat, and others (rather less incorrectly) imagined it was round, and because anybody is free to say that it is triangular or hexagonal, or a rhomboid, therefore it has no shape at all; or its shape can never be discovered; and, anyhow, modern science must be wrong in saying it is an oblate spheroid. The world must be some shape, and it must be that shape and no other; and it is not self-evident that nobody can possibly hit on the right one. What so obviously applies to the material shape of the world equally applies to the moral shape of the universe. The man who describes it may not be right; but it is no argument against his rightness that a number of other people must be wrong.

    As I say, the same childish argument is now extended to ordinary morality or decency. It is insisted that, because the decorum of a Roman matron is not exactly the same as that of a Sandwich Islander, therefore there can be no superiority in the one over the other; no possible way of deciding which is the better of the two; and, ultimately, no meaning or value in dignity or propriety at all. The conclusion is so unnatural that, even if the argument were apparently logical, we might be excused for suspecting it of being sophistical. But, as a matter of fact, the argument is not logical enough to be called a sophistry. It is simply transparently untenable; for it rests on the same fallacy: that one man cannot be right because a number of other men are wrong. In this case, of course, it is true that the question is conditioned by different circumstances and that the principle must be applied in different ways. In this case it is true that we cannot say that the whole world is alike, in the sense that we can say that the whole world is round. It is true, but this fashionable argument does not prove it to be true. So far as that argument goes, there might be one costume suitable to all mankind, as there is one custom of washing suitable to all mankind, though some men neglect it and are dirty. All we complain of, in that aspect, is that the sceptic always refuses to be a rationalist.

    But the point here is that, if this argument is fatal to faith or modesty, it is a thousand times fatal to liberty. If we simply say that this or that practice is tolerated in this or that place, if we refuse to look for any moral or metaphysical principle by which the differences can be tested, we shall find the definition of liberty dissolving into a dust of differentiations and exceptions. And I very much fear that this is exactly what the definition of liberty will really do. I am very much afraid, as things are going at present, that the next generation will have quite as little idea of what their fathers meant by dying for liberty, as the last generation had of what their fathers meant by dying for religion or sound theology or the true faith. There is already a large number of modern writers who talk as if the old notion of independence, national or personal were something simply inconceivable as well as impossible; exactly as the champions of liberty, a hundred years ago, spoke of the mysterious dogmas of the Church. Indeed, it is quite as easy, by the methods of the rationalistic heckler, to suggest that freedom is nonsense as that faith is nonsense. It is a great deal too easy. That is what made me suspect it from the first in both cases. But, anyhow, it is perfectly true that variation gives the sceptic an opportunity in both cases. It is easy to show that liberties are local; it is much less easy to prove that Liberty is universal.

    For instance, I am writing these words in a country which many of my countrymen regard as utterly crushed by a system destructive of every liberty. There is no doubt that Italy has restrained the liberty of the Press; it can easily be argued that it has restrained the liberty of the people. But it is quite certain that the people enjoy, and take for granted, quite definite forms of liberty that do not exist in England at all. The Italians would think Mussolini was mad if he forbade Lotteries, as the English law forbids Lotteries. It would seem to them very much what forbidding Lawn Tennis would seem to us. The whole Latin world regards the notion of not being allowed to drink beer between three and six very much as we should regard the idea of not being allowed to eat buns on Tuesdays and Thursdays. It is quite inadequate to call it tyranny; because they would call it lunacy. Now I have argued often enough upon these points elsewhere, and I am not going to dwell on these particular points now. I am merely using them to point out that, even where we imagine there is a clear-cut issue against liberty, there is a considerable complexity when we come to argue about liberties. If the costume of the Sandwich Islander is an argument against abstract decency, then certainly the liberty of the lottery is an argument against abstract liberty. If the thousand and one religions make a case against religion, then the thousand and one liberties make a case against liberty. And I am very much afraid that, in the present mood of mankind, that case may carry weight. It will be very useful to the monopolist, or modern tyrant, who carries most weight in the modern world; and when he has taken away all English freedom from the Englishman and all Italian freedom from the Italian, he will smile broadly and say that, after all, men have never agreed about the definition of being free.

    -- GK Chesterton, "On Liberties and Lotteries" (1936).

  7. G.K. Chesterson has thought my argument is worthwhile enough to rise up from the grave and speak. Cool!

    He says, " rests on the same fallacy: that one man cannot be right because a number of other men are wrong."

    Hmmm, but G.K., that says nothing much at all against the test I have proposed. I'll agree with you here, because I never said no one can be right because a number of others are wrong.

    You see, I think I am the one who is right. And I think The Outsider Test is a good one, even if I were not a skeptic.

    I'm willing to accept it, even if I am not a skeptic, for it has some solid grounding to it. Why are believers here so hesitant to accept it?

  8. Here's why. You mistakenly believe that there exist "my beliefs," "your beliefs," and a neutral middle ground of proofs we can both accept as valid. You're asking me to step onto that neutral middle ground of evidence, and make a judgment on my faith.

    In reality, there is no middle ground. What I will accept as proof or disproof depends upon my irreducible presuppositions about Scripture and the God revealed therein. What you will accept as proof and disproof depends upon your irreducible presuppositions about empirical evidence and man's ability to accurately judge spiritual truths. So in reality, there is no middle ground of proof upon which we can both stand in a mutual quest for truth.

    For example, you say that we should examine the Bible's miracles with the same skeptical eye we examine claims of the miraculous in today's world. What you fail to understand is that I'm not cautiously skeptical about the miraculous due to a middle ground of personal experience and empirical observation: I'm cautious because of what Scripture reveals about the nature and purpose of miracles. The Marian apparitions fail the scriptural test of a miracle's nature and purpose. Partial and temporary healings fail the scriptural test of a miracle's nature and purpose. Plus, I know from Scripture that miracles are exceedingly rare and tend to cluster around key events in God's economy of salvation. So although you and I share skepticism regarding reports of the miraculous, our reasons for skepticism are widely divergent. They are, in fact, driven by our worldview presuppositions.

    Since moving me outside of my presuppositions will not land me on neutral territory, what you're asking me to do is:

    (1) abandon my presuppositions,
    (2) adopt another set of presuppositions,
    (3) and draw a conclusion about Christianity.

    Think about it for just a moment. You're asking me to examine my faith as if I were an outsider with no personal investment in Christianity. In other words, I'm not to judge the reality of my faith based upon Scripture's construct of reality. I'm now supposed to judge Scripture based upon...what? If I'm to abandon my canons of reality, by whose standards shall I judge the Christian faith?

    The answer is clearly, yours. You're asking me to adopt a criteria of proof which you believe is common sense and mutually acceptable. Then, using your criteria of proof, I'm to judge my faith. What you fail to recognize is that your worldview drives your criteria; you reject Scripture as self-sufficient evidence, for instance. So in attempting to meet your standards of proof, I necessarily must adopt the presuppositions upon which your worldview rests. In other words, I've got to adopt canons of proof which you find acceptable before you'll be satisfied with my judgment.

    You claim that the results of the inquiry aren't predetermined, and you may actually believe that. But if I adopt your assumptions, I'll necessarily come to your conclusions. If I adopt your presuppositions about the Bible or God or Christian morality, I will necessarily end with your conclusions, and start a blog called "Debunking Christianity 2." Maybe someday I'll start a blog called "Debunking Christianity with a Vengeance" as well, but I digress.

    The problem stems from what Steve initially said. You are not really an outsider. You are inside your own distinct worldview, complete with presuppositions about God, Scripture, man, sin, human history, morality, ethics, etc. Those presuppositions drive your criteria of judgment, whether you recognize it or not. Have you become an outsider to your own worldview and critiqued it, using a set of criteria from the Christian worldview?

    Of course not, because you've a priori assumed that your standards of judgment are common sense and, therefore, correct. In that, you are more blinded by your own dogmatism than any Christian on this blog. I'm willing to acknowledge my dependence on my worldview, my irreducible presuppositions which are inherent to my identity as a Christian. You are unwilling to acknowledge your own dependence on a worldview which is every bit as irreducibly presuppositional as any believer's. In claiming the status of outsider, you fail to recognize that you are fully enclosed in your own set of presuppositions. You are, in fact, an insider.

    And this is where your real trouble begins. You problem is not merely intellectual, but ethical and moral. In constructing and defending a construct of reality antagonistic to the Scripture's revelation, you have unwittingly shifted from speculative seeker to committed traitor. You reject the God you inherently know, and use the mind he gave you to build a personal kingdom of skepticism that can't even recognize its own implosive force. I challenge you, Mark, to read Scripture not as an academic exercise, looking for ways to overturn it according to the dictates of your worldview. Are you willing to take your own Test, assuming Scripture to be true for the sake of argument and testing your world according to its dictates?

    Or is it all a big academic game to you, something fun with which to tweak Christians, but not worth the effort in your own life?

  9. Btw, I apologize for calling you Mark. I have a good friend named Mark Loftus, and my half-cocked brain can't keep "John" and "Mark" straight in my head. Sorry about that.

  10. nwc,

    I had just written something for my Blog and then I noticed the link at the bottom of my page to come here, and I did, where I read you saying this:

    The problem stems from what Steve initially said. You are not really an outsider. You are inside your own distinct worldview, complete with presuppositions about God, Scripture, man, sin, human history, morality, ethics, etc.

    Your was a very well written post. I appreciate dealing with someone like yourself, and look forward to this level of discussion in the future.

    But I have anticipated your objections, here.

    Respond there if you wish to.