Sunday, July 25, 2010

Scoring the Outsider Test

According to Loftus, “The goal Outsider Test for Faith (OTF) is emphatically NOT to knock religious faiths down.”

Needless to say, the goal of TCD is clearly to knock down the Christian faith. His chapter on the OTF plays a strategic role in his effort to achieve that goal. You can tell how Loftus interprets his own “test” by how he applies it.

“The goal is to come up with a mutually reliable test that could help us know which religious faith is objectively true, if there is one.”

No, the goal is to reduce Christianity to a mere hypothesis.

“The test is a reasonable fair and objective one to judge religious faiths.”

Of course, we’d expect Loftus to say that about his own methods, now wouldn’t we? But he’s not exactly an impartial judge or umpire.

“The whole reason Hays and company object to it is because they know their faith will not pass this test.”

I object to it on two grounds:

i) Loftus applies the Outsider Test selectively and lopsidedly. He only applies it to religion, not irreligion. And even then, his real target is conservative Evangelicalism.

ii) The underlying assumption of the OTF is that no Christian could really know if Christianity is true. Therefore, he should suspend judgment at the outset.

But, of course, that begs the question. Loftus has smuggled his atheism into the OTF. For the unspoken presupposition of the OTF is that no Christian could actually know if Christianity is true. Hence, no Christian can operate from that presumption. No Christian can take that as a given.

But the OTF is not entitled to make that stipulation. That’s something Loftus would have to argue. And if it’s something he has to argue, then the OTF is superfluous.

That’s hardly a standard we apply in all other fields of knowledge. We don’t say that no one can know, going into his examination of rival positions, that his own position is true. We don’t say that a philosopher who examines a brain-in-vat hypothetical must suspend his belief in the external world.

“So cognitive dissonance requires them to argue for their double standard way of judging between religious faiths, one for their faith and a different one for others—-and surprise, with such a double standard their particular brand of Christian faith is judged to be the correct one!”

i) Loftus is simply imputing cognitive dissonance to his Christian opponents. He’s in no position to know that. And he hasn’t shown that we operate with a double standard.

ii) Moreover, to fault us for judging that our “particular brand of Christian faith is the correct one” is absurd on the face of it. Everyone reasons from his own viewpoint. Everyone takes his own viewpoint as the standard of comparison. Loftus is no exception.

“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.”

That’s just a throwaway line to create the specious appearance that Loftus is even-handed. But in actual practice he does no such thing. So Loftus is the one who’s guilty of the double standard. And what is worse, he’s guilty of a double standard in selectively applying his own standard, whereas that was never my standard.

“The outsider is a skeptic in varying degrees.”

No, the outsider is only a skeptic in relation to opposing positions, not his own.

“Skepticism is a virtue if the alternative is being gullible, okay?”

i) Notice the hidden assumption. He could only apply the OTF to Christianity if Christian faith is gullible. But the OTF can’t assume that from the outset. For that would be prejudicial. The OTF can’t specify which beliefs are gullible and which are not. For that, Loftus would need a separate argument–in which case the OTF is superfluous.

ii) No one can be skeptical about everything. We can’t reserve judgment about everything. For skepticism must measure some things by other things.

“The amount of skepticism warranted depends not only on the number of rational people who disagree…”

And Loftus predefines “rational people” as atheists.

“But also whether the people who disagree are separated into distinct geographical locations, the nature of their beliefs, how their beliefs originated, under what circumstances their beliefs were personally adopted in the first place, and the kinds of evidence that can possibly be used to decide between the differing beliefs. My claim is that when it comes to religious faiths, a high degree of skepticism is warranted precisely because of these factors.”

i) Whether or not that’s warranted is irrelevant to the OTF. For his scepticism would only be warranted if he can make a specific, compelling case that geographical distribution, how their beliefs originate, under what circumstances, and the kinds of evidence, undermine religious faith. The OTF can’t predecide that issue. Each of these is a specific objection, calling for a separate argument.

ii) And if, moreover, he were serious about how the OTF is a subset of the OTB, then he’d first need to justify all the non-religious beliefs by which he measures the religious beliefs.

“Hays thinks everyone is an insider to some viewpoint and therefore evaluates his or her own viewpoint as insiders while rejecting all other viewpoints from the outsider’s perspective. I see no reason why he wouldn’t say this is true about Muslims or Orthodox Jews either, or any other viewpoint, like Scientologists or Satanists. We’re all insiders, he would say. And we reject all other viewpoints as outsiders. As such, he claims the OTF is really a test applied to other viewpoints from one’s own insider perspective. Consequently the OTF is really an Insider Test by Infidels. So, does Hays think all of our viewpoints are incommensurable?—that we each live in an intellectual box and there can be no meeting of the minds, or changing of perspectives? Does he think we are locked inside our own boxes?—that we each see things differently and there is nothing that can test between our different perspectives?”

Remember that I don’t accept the OTF. I’m merely judging the OTF on its own terms. Assuming, for the sake of argument, that the OTF is sound, then that principle is universalizable. Indeed, Loftus himself says, albeit disingenuously, that the OTF is a subset of the OTB.

So I’m simply taking the OTF and applying it consistently. But that doesn’t generate a dilemma for my own position. If that’s a problem, then that’s a problem for Loftus, not me, since the OTF is his concoction, not mine.

If Loftus is going to deploy the insider/outsider rubric, then no one is exempt. Everybody is an insider in reference to his own position, to his own viewpoint. If that generates a self-defeating conundrum, then Loftus is trapped in a conundrum of his own devising. I’m just taking his principle to its logical extreme. If that has self-stultifying consequences, then so much the worse for his principle.

“He argues daily on his blog as if this is not the case. He argues as if he can convince people otherwise. But this is not the conclusion to what he just wrote if all we have to judge different perspectives is from the inside.”

i) I don’t have any general expectation about who will be convinced. That’s up to God.

ii) And I’m not absolutizing every individual perspective.

“So how does Hays propose we objectively test our own perspectives? What is his alternative to the OTB/OTF? I see no better one suggested by him or anyone.”

i) The OTB/OTF isn’t a real test. It’s an intellectual shortcut.

ii) You need some reliable criteria to evaluate different positions. The OTB/OTF can’t select for the criteria, since the OTB/OTF depends on certain criteria to get off the ground.

iii) And you can’t begin with formal criteria, for that would degenerate into an infinite regress or a vicious regress.

You have to begin with tacit knowledge. Due to natural revelation and common grace, God conserves a certain amount of tacit knowledge, which can function as a pretheoretical criterion. And that, in turn, can function in conjunction with formal criteria.

In the revelation of Scripture, God confirms our tacit knowledge. God grounds our tacit knowledge. And God reveals other criteria.

“Of course, the question is why anyone in our modern society should desire the viewpoint of ancient superstitious barbaric Biblical people anyway, which is extremely strange to me, and says nothing against a Muslim who wishes to adopt the writings of the Koran.”

i) Which perfectly illustrates the fact that Loftus doesn’t take the OTB seriously. To say the viewpoint of Bible writers is “barbaric” and “superstitious” doesn’t reflect an “agnostic” view of Scripture. It’s not as if Loftus is withholding judgment. No, he judges Scripture by his own culturally provincial outlook. Secular parochialism.

ii) I don’t judge the Koran by methodological naturalism. So that counterexample fails to make a dent in my own position.

“Nonetheless, this method has been defended very well and I see no reason to abandon it when no other alternative is suggested by him.”

Note the bait-and-switch. He starts out by claiming that we should be “agnostic.” But, of course, methodological naturalism is not “agnostic.”

If only makes sense to use a naturalistic methodology if you think the world operates naturalistically. And that’s not something you can know in advance of the fact. At best, that’s only something you can discover by observation and experience. Even then, induction is descriptive, not prescriptive.

“Methodological naturalism” is just a euphemism for “methodological atheism.” But that’s hardly impartial or noncommittal. Rather, that’s presumptive. What is more, that begs the question of what the world is really like. After all, this is the very issue in dispute.

“Of course it does, that’s why agnosticism is the default position. Saying ‘I don’t know what to affirm’ is a reasonable thing to do when there seems to be no clear decisive way to decide between all of the various religious and non-religious perspectives. We seem to live in what John Hick describes as a religious ambiguous universe capable of being rationally interpreted by a number of different religious and non-religious perspectives. Why is that? And how cocksure can one be in such a universe about affirming the answers to why we exist?”

i) See how Loftus is tipping his hand. “Agnosticism” is not a neutral position. To say there’s no way of knowing is hardly neutral position. Rather, that’s a specific claim, to the exclusion of contrary claims. That represents a conclusion. So that’s not something we can presuppose at the outset.

ii) And, of course, it goes beyond that. It’s not as if Loftus is reserving judgment.

“Hays (and later Jason Engwer) takes issue with my saying they evaluate other religious faiths using just David Hume‘s evidentiary standards along with a methodological naturalist viewpoint. Any reading of Christian literature on the so-called ‘cults’ will show this statistically. They claim to evaluate these other religious faiths and miracles as if they are demon produced. Really? How is that anything by way of an objective standard? Yep, demons can account for these other faiths and their miracles.”

i) Notice the bait-and-switch. He initially accused Christians of applying methodological naturalism to other religions, while exempting Christianity. But when we point out that this is not the case, he changes the subject.

He now takes exception to the fact that we do allow for the possibility of supernatural factors in other cults or religions, because he takes issue with the type of supernaturalism we invoke. But that’s a different issue entirely.

ii) He then asks how that’s an objective standard? But that’s a question, not an argument. We might as well ask how that’s not an objective standard. How does he define “objective,” anyway? By recourse to methodological naturalism, per chance?

iii) Is it because he denies the existence of demons? But he can’t very well stipulate that recourse to demonic agency is not an objective standard. For that he needs to furnish an argument.

iv) Moreover, other religions and cults frequently acknowledge the existence of demons, so they make that standard available to “outsiders.”

“Demons are everywhere. Hays and Engwer can even demonize their opponents, even most other Christians. Such a view is scary to me for certainly they think I am possessed of demons. Yeah, that solves everything when you cannot answer a man’s arguments. Demonize him. Demonize them all.”

i) Once again, Loftus opens a window into his persecution complex.

ii) There is also the blatant equivocation, as he shifts from literal demonization to figurative demonization. Is Loftus so caught up in his persecution complex that he can’t tell the difference any more?

“This is such a barbaric view to me. Nonetheless, my OTF eliminates this as any kind of objective standard for evaluating other viewpoints.”

The OTF can’t eliminate the demonic explanation, for the demonic explanation is a substantive claim. That’s hardly something which Loftus can simply presume is out of bounds. If he’s going to reject that category, then he needs to present a real argument. His viewpoint is not the baseline for my viewpoint. That’s not something he can impose on me as a given.

“Muslims claim the same exact thing. They say the reason Christians believe is because demons are deceiving them. Where does that get anyone? I’ll tell you where—nowhere as in NO WHERE.”

i) Once again, see how Loftus is changing the subject. His originally accused Christians of applying methodological naturalism to other religions, while exempting their own. The way to refute that allegation is to point out that Christians do not. It’s that simple. At best, he overstated his case. So that’s sufficient to rebut the allegation.

i) Notice how he’s now reversing himself. He initially faulted Christians for applying methodological naturalism on other religions, to the exclusion of their own. When, however, that is challenged, he turns around and faults us for failing to apply methodological naturalism on other religions.

So he’s trying to play both sides of the fence. But that runs the risk of impaling himself on a picket fence. It isn’t pretty.

ii) There is also the elementary difference between making a claim, and making good on a claim.

iii) He also acts as if Islam and Christianity are symmetrical. Yet that’s obviously not the case. For instance, Muhammad treated the Bible as the standard of comparison. He invited doubters to ask Christians and Jews to vouch for his prophetic credentials. But that’s hardly reversible. It’s not as if Bible writers ever invited Mohammedans to judge the Bible by the Koran.

“Hays also claims Christians don‘t necessarily assume human rather than divine authors. A Christian apologist, he claims ‘will demonstrate that fact.’ Right. First he assumes something and then thinks he has demonstrated his assumption as a fact. He does not approach the texts in the Bible in the same way.”

i) Notice the implicit bias in the OTF. Logically, you’d only treat all religious texts equally if, in fact, all religious texts are coequal. For instance, it would make sense to treat all religious texts equally if all religious texts are equally false.

Yet that’s hardly an equitable operating assumption. Rather, that’s a very biased assumption. Yes, it treats them all the same, but under the assumption that all of them are wrong. And that bias is clearly unilateral. It’s not as if an atheist assumes the falsity of his own views.

It would only make sense to treat the Bible the same way if the Bible is the same. And how could Loftus know that? That’s not something he could know at the outset of his investigations. So he can’t very well lay down a ground rule which anticipates his conclusion.

ii) The unspoken assumption governing Loftus’ objection is that a Christian can’t know the Bible is true. Hence, a Christian can’t use the Bible as a yardstick to measure other religious texts. He can’t take the Bible as a given, going into his evaluation of other religious texts.

Yet that assumption can’t function as a methodological assumption, for that prejudges the status of the Bible. It’s illicit for mere methodology to make these substantive judgments.

“Others who do so conclude it’s a fact that the Bible was written by human rather than divine authors, like I do.”

That’s obviously false. You have people who come to the Bible without any prior investment in the Bible. Indeed, some of them were hostile to the Bible. Yet as they study the Bible they come to faith.

“The reason you have it is because you were brought up in a Christian culture and adopted what your culture led you to believe, probably starting with your parents.”

This illustrates another weakness of the OTF. It postulates a one-size-fits-all biography for religious adherents, as if we all have the same background. Needless to say, that has no basis in fact. It’s something that Loftus posits, not because it is true, but because he needs it to be true.

“Hays also opines: ‘Moreover, if you have good reason to believe that your own position is correct, then, by definition, a contrary position is wrong. Everybody does that.’ Yep. They do. But this is typical of what believers do. They assume they are correct; then they find arguments that lead them to think they are correct; then they beg the question by claiming all others are wrong.”

i) Compare his paraphrase of what I said with what he quoting me as saying.

I said: “if you have good reason to believe that your own position is correct, then, by definition, a contrary position is wrong.”

He said: “But this is typical of what believers do. They assume they are correct; then they find arguments that lead them to think they are correct. That’s a great method for knowing the truth about religious faith, isn’t it?”

But that’s clearly not equivalent to what I said. Did I say we begin by assuming that we’re correct, then find supporting arguments?

No. I said, “If you have a good reason to believe that your own position is correct…”

But since he brings up the issue, what is typical of unbelievers?

Take the average apostate. They publish deconversion testimonies in which they tell us how they lost their faith. They state the initial factors which caused them to lose their faith.

Having decided that Christianity was false, they then bone up on all of the stock arguments against the faith. But, of course, most of the reasons they now give to justify their apostasy were not the precipitating factors. Rather, this is an ex post facto attempt to vindicate their apostasy.

We see this pattern in Loftus himself. His lost his faith, mainly because he felt betrayed by God and mistreated by his church after his fling with the stripper. And ever since then he’s been ransacking the literature for additional reasons to justify his defection from the faith.

ii) Moreover, there’s nothing inherently suspect about looking for other, supporting arguments for something we initial believe apart from the supplementary reasons. For instance, I may have an experience which gives me good reason to believe something. Over and above my personal experience, there may be other lines of evidence which corroborate my experience.

Suppose I remember seeing a lunar eclipse. Suppose I confirm my experience by reading a newspaper account of that event. Is there something wrong with my methodology? No.

“Such a method leads people of different faiths to conclude what they do. They are doing the exact same thing Hays does but it leads them to reject his faith.”

Except that he’s not describing my methodology. He swapped in a deliberate caricature of what I said.

“Every believer claims to have some kind of self-authenticating religious experience. How does the Scientologist know his faith is true? Because he’s experienced its truth. The question is how can we test whether or not our religious experiences are true? I've written about this before.”

i) To begin with, that’s clearly false. To take just one example, Al Ghazali suffered a crisis of faith because he didn’t have a religious experience, much less a self-authenticating religious experience. That’s why he turned to mysticism.

ii) Loftus doesn’t believe the Scientologist has experienced its truth. For he doesn’t believe that Scientology is true. And if it isn’t true, you can’t experience the truth of Scientology.

iii) We all have private experiences which may be sufficient to justify our belief in something. I remember a dream I had last night. Am I not justified in believing that I had a dream?

Now, what’s adequate for my justification may be inadequate for your justification. My firsthand experience isn’t your firsthand experience. If you didn’t have the same experience, then you might not be justified in believing it. The argument from experience isn’t meant to be convincing to a second party. It doesn’t have to be. That’s irrelevant. What I’m justified in believing, and what you’re justified in believing, are separate issues.

That’s why, in Christian apologetics, we also turn to public lines of evidence. But the fact that an argument from religious experience may have no traction if you lack the requisite experience hardly means it can be discounted for those who do have that experience.

iv) At the same time, it also depends on the credibility of the witness. All of us rely on secondhand information.

v) If somebody falsely claims to have a self-authenticating experience, then that somebody knows he didn’t have the experience in question. He may not admit it, but so what? Short of torture, you can’t force anyone to admit they were wrong. That limitation isn’t distinctive to the argument from experience.

vi) Not all veridical experiences are testable. Is my recollection of a dream testable? No. So what?

“Manata (along with James Anderson) makes a very strange delusional move at this point. They ask why it must be the case that just because the odds are highly likely that any particular religion is false this means that their particular religion is false.”

That’s a silly way of casting the issue. Let’s take a comparison. For every correct answer to a math question, there exist an infinite number of wrong answers. Should we therefore be agnostic about the right answer? No. The raw odds are irrelevant to whether or not we can know the answer.

There’s an obvious difference between saying there’s a one in a thousand chance that something is right, and saying there’s a one in a thousand chance of knowing which one is right. Loftus confuses the two. If there’s a one in a thousand chance that Gustav has a rare blood disease, this doesn’t mean there is only a one in a thousand chance that his doctor can correctly diagnose the disease. There could be a test that’s 99% accurate.

“So, the OTF is NOT about worldviews. It's not asking that a person gives up everything he or she believes. It only concerns religious faiths. Worldviews are larger than religious faiths. Believer can abandon their religious faith like I have without it affecting that much of anything else they accept from their culture for the most part, although it can affect quite a bit. So I'm not asking believers to questing everything they believe about everything, you see. That is impossible. So the major obstacle to the OTF is that believers think I'm asking them to question everything they think about everything at the same time.”

i) But, of course, this reinforces the implicit bias in the OTF. For we evaluate religious claimants in light of our worldview. You have to plug concrete criteria into the OTF, which derive from your worldview.

So, before you take the OTF, you have to take the OTB. And that's a tall order. He has to settle on the right worldview before he can take the OTF.

Yet the insider/outsider rubric applies with equal force to worldviews. So what's the frame of reference?

ii) Loftus is also assuming that one's religious views are detachable from one's worldview. But what if one's religious views undergird one's worldview?


  1. Steve Hays: “Methodological naturalism” is just a euphemism for “methodological atheism.”

    That is such a great sentence.

  2. I haven't read the whole post, but I've pondered this pomo argument for a while. A simple rhetorical question that would reduce the OTF to absurdity would be:

    If you were born in the West Bank, would you believe in the Holocaust?