Monday, July 26, 2010

Justified rape

Hays begins his criticism of the OTF by claiming it is arbitrarily selective because it targets religious faiths. Why not propose an Outsider Test for Beliefs (OTB), he suggests. Since he read my chapter he already knows I do just that. There is an OTB that is larger and more encompassing than the limited OTF. The OTF is therefore a subset of the OTB. The outsider is a skeptic in varying degrees.

Several problems:

1. Loftus only conceded the OTB under pressure from Victor Reppert.

2. His concession is a throwaway argument. For Loftus doesn’t really think the OTB is on a par with the OTF. For instance, Loftus recently said:

Assuming an outsider position in order to defend what we think is true is incumbent on everyone on every issue. It's the attempt to be as objective as humanly possible with regard to our disagreements. It's to have a disinterest in the outcome as best as possible.

But it applies more forcefully to religious faiths, that's why it's called what it is. Why? Because religious believers do not dispassionately evaluate their faith. Why? Because they have such a vested personal interest in defending what they believe. Why? Because they assume what needs to be proved. Why? Because they do not have any good evidence for them. Why? Because they amass many possible arguments together in a pile then conclude they have a probable case, which is a huge non-sequitur.

By contrast atheism is not about faith. I think I explained that in my chapter for The Christian Delusion. Atheism is based on the probabilities. And I explained there is little or nothing we can know about an atheist simply because he is an atheist, except that said person does not believe in supernatural beings and forces, nor does he think supernatural explanations have the weight of evidence for them.

The sciences are the paragon for outsiders. Show me the math and we agree. Show me the experiment and the argument is over. Show me the scientific poll and the case is closed. Show me what we learn from brain science and there can be no dispute.

So his thumb is on the scales from the get-go. To say that it’s incumbent on a believer to take the OTF in a way that’s not incumbent on an atheist to take the OTB because “they have such a vested personal interest in defending what they believe…because they assume what needs to be proved…because they do not have any good evidence for them,” &c., begs the question every step of the way. His invidious comparison could scarcely be more prejudicial or tendentious.

3. And there’s another problem. Before you’re qualified to take the OTF, you’d first need to take the OTB. And that’s because we could only test religious beliefs against another set of beliefs which we treat as unquestionable.

So before Loftus can administer the OTF, he needs to both identify and justify a set of test beliefs or key beliefs which function as an answer key to correct religious beliefs. And in order to do that, he must justify his entire worldview. That’s a tall order!

4. Of course, another problem with this procedure is the tacit assumption that your religious beliefs are detachable from your other beliefs. Religious beliefs are just an add-on.

Let’s take a concrete example of his bias. In TCD, he says:
Beliefs like the acceptability of rape (and honor killings) are based on religious faiths and ancient texts, so they must be scrutinized with the skepticism of the OTB because of the nature and origin of those beliefs are religious in nature (100).

So they should be scrutinized because of their religious origin. For Loftus, if a belief has a religious origin, then that ipso facto renders it suspect. But that hardly represents an “objective” assessment. Rather, that’s a direct reflection of his atheism.

5. He goes on to say:
The same claims thing goes for claims that challenge democracy. Only religious believers in today’s world are defending the notion of a theocracy (100-101).

But, of course, that’s reversible. Only unbelievers in today’s world are challenging the notion of theocracy. So what Loftus has explicitly done here is make secular ideology the standard of comparison. He lays emphasis on how theocracy looks to an outsider, but he lays no emphasis on how democracy looks to an outsider.

My immediate point is not to debate the pros and cons of democracy and theocracy. I’m simply drawing attention to the way in which Loftus is camouflaging his atheism under the “objective” guise of the OTF. He is superimposing his parochial, ethnocentric values on everybody else.

6. He continues
So subjecting such a theocratical political system to the OTB would be to undercut such a belief, especially considering the harm it does to human beings (101).

Assuming, for the same of argument, that a theocratic regime is even harmful (which is something Loftus needs to demonstrate, not assume), that objection would only take hold if it’s wrong to harm human beings. “Harm” is a value-laden category. Since, however, a number of secular thinkers, including some contributors to TCD, reject moral absolutes, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with harming human beings–even wantonly. At best that would be a culturebound social convention.

7. Continuing with Loftus:
People have done fairly well without democracy from the beginning when a dominant male lion or ape had free reign with a harem of females and ruled over the others, although we’ve subsequently learned democracy is much better (101).

Two elementary problems:

i) How does that contention even begin to show that rape is intrinsically evil? In fact, couldn’t an evolutionary ethicist conclude from his premise that rape is justifiable? That’s what alpha males do. Hominid boys will be boys. Playmates for primates.

ii) To say that democracy is “much better” is a value judgment. Yet contributors to TCD (e.g. Avalos, Eller) reject moral realism. Indeed, the OTF is, itself, a recipe for moral relativism via cultural relativism.

8. Loftus then quotes Richard Carrier:
Reppert’s error appears to lie in neglecting the role of information in decision making: any rational 16C man who was given all of the information we now have (of the different outcomes of democratic v. nondemocratic nations over along period of time) would agree with us that democracy is better. Hence, democracy passes the OTB, Similarly any rational would-be rapist who acquired full and correct information about how raped women feel, and what sort of person he becomes if he ignores a person’s feelings and welfare, and all of the actual consequences of such behavior to himself and his society, then he would agree that raping such a woman is wrong. Hence, our ethic against rape will also pass the OTB (101).

Well, Reppert can speak for himself, but Carrier has failed to expose an error in Reppert’s thinking on that score:

i) While empirical data regarding the outcome certain behavior may well be useful in moral valuations, the empirical data is not, itself, morally prescriptive or proscriptive. The empirical data is, at best, a description of the status quo, and not an indicator of the way things are supposed to be.

ii) Likewise, you can only evaluate the morality of certain consequences if you already have a moral norm. But, by definition, moral relativism can’t furnish that criterion. It can’t adjudicate between good and evil consequences.

9. The argument of Carrier and Loftus also carries the revealing implication that rape was justifiable prior to the advent of modern science.

This is also ironic since apostates like Loftus attack OT ethics on the grounds that the OT sanctions rape in certain cases. As I’ve argued elsewhere, that reflects a malicious distortion of what the Mosaic law regulates in the case of war brides.

However, let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that the OT does, indeed, sanction rape in some situations. Yet, according to Loftus and Carrier, an OT rapist was justified, for he acted in a condition of diminished responsibility, given his lack of modern scientific knowledge regarding the consequences of rape.

And this is not just a question for “primitive” peoples. Given all of the mitigating circumstances which Carrier has built into his explanation, it would be nearly impossible to convict a modern rapist. For a modern rapist, including a serial rapist (or serial killer, for that matter), could always plead innocent on the grounds that he hadn’t “acquired full and correct information about how raped women feel, and what sort of person he becomes if he ignores a person’s feelings and welfare, and all of the actual consequences of such behavior to himself and his society.”

In order to defend the OTF, Carrier and Loftus have given the reader an argument for justified rape. So that presents a choice: we can either accept the OTF thesis, with the corollary “ethic” of justified rape–or else can reject the “ethic” of justified rape, with the corollary thesis of the OTF.

This could be a selling point for a certain demographic group. Perhaps Prometheus Books should market TCD as preemptive, affirmative defense for date rape. It could even hire some incarcerated serial rapists to do TV spots promoting TCD.


  1. Loftus is God's way of bringing Calvinists and Arminians together. Praise Him! (God, that is).

  2. What I've noticed time and again with the OTF (and this would apply to the OTB as well) is that it really doesn't come across as some simple, important way for a person to evaluate their beliefs or faith. The TCD impression is that someone needs to be there, holding your hand every step of the way, making sure you do it right. It just so happens that "doing it right" requires a whole host of shaky assumptions, philosophical commitments and value commitments at the outset, which the OTF proponents struggle to smuggle in unspoken, and get really worked up over if it's suggested those things need to be argued for.

  3. Yup. That's the problem I see with the OTF. It is presented as a "fair and square test," but it is in fact loaded with highly questionable epistemological assumptions which stack the deck in favor of unbelief. It's as if decades of religious epistemology never happened.