Powered by Blogger.
getLinks(); ?>

Looking in from the outside

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

One of the seminal approaches that seem to have been knocking around the atheist circuit for a while is the Outsider Test for Faith (OTF) concocted by John Loftus.

"1) Rational people in distinct geographical locations around the globe overwhelmingly adopt and defend a wide diversity of religious faiths due to their upbringing and cultural heritage. This is the religious diversity thesis.

2) Consequently, it seems very likely that adopting one’s religious faith is not merely a matter of independent rational judgment but is causally dependent on cultural conditions to an overwhelming degree. This is the religious dependency thesis.

3) Hence the odds are highly likely that any given adopted religious faith is false.

4) So the best way to test one’s adopted religious faith is from the perspective of an outsider with the same level of skepticism used to evaluate other religious faiths. This expresses the OTF.

The OTF is primarily a test to examine religious faiths […] The OTF is no different than the prince in the Cinderella story who must question forty- five thousand people to see which girl lost the glass slipper at the ball the previous night. They all claim to have done so. Therefore, skepticism is definitely warranted.” (The Christian Delusion)

It is good to treat claims critically, especially since we base our lives on claims. I therefore have questions that the OTF to answer.

1) What is the test for?
Primarily, it seems that it is a mechanism by which people are encouraged to give up their faith. Or it is another shibboleth by which to label those who hold to a particular faith as being uncritical or less "freethinking". It makes the assumption that religious people cannot be skeptics and that atheism is always more rational. It also assumes that the only true skepticism is atheist.

2) What is this thing called "religion"?
The argument for the reliability of the test mentions likelihood which needs to be made rigorous if it is to be worth mentioning. The mathematics of probability requires, in this case, religions to be completely separate quantities. The probability of winning the lottery is about 1 in 14 million on the grounds that lottery numbers are separated from one another.

But religions overlap. Most religions involve the practice of prayer. As a Christian, I believe in one God. So do Muslims, and Jews and other religions, too. So the religious adherent never truly rejects another's religious faith as being wholly fallacious. Loftus wants us to regard religions as completely separate packages which are given names like "Muslim", "Jew", "Hindu" et al. In fact, despite Geography, religions often follow very similar practices and experiences.

I believe that Muslims are wrong to follow their prophet, and the Muslim will believe that I am wrong to worship Jesus as divine - that is the consequence of our different faiths. But we do agree that the materialist account of the universe is incomplete.

3) Is atheism a religion?
Loftus will say no and that he has no faith, therefore the OTF does not apply to atheism. The question is whether "I don't believe in God" is the same statement as "I believe in no gods". There is an apparent difference as the second statement implies the first. Yet to say that one does not believe in God means that one does not believe in any being that would qualify as God. Thus by implication there is a belief that no being qualifies as God. If this is true, then the lack of belief is a belief in a lack. In this case, atheism itself falls under the OTF.

But perhaps this is too semantic. So let us offer another course.

Atheism is certainly a way of viewing the world and making decisions in life. Thus, if it is not a religious viewpoint, it is certainly a philosophical viewpoint.  Let us therefore try a little mutatis mutandis for the Outsider Test for Philosophical Worldview (OTPWV).

1) Rational people in distinct geographical locations around the globe overwhelmingly adopt and defend a wide diversity of philosophical worldviews due to their upbringing and cultural heritage. This is the philosophical worldview diversity thesis.

2) Consequently, it seems very likely that adopting one’s philosophical worldview is not merely a matter of independent rational judgment but is causally dependent on cultural conditions to an overwhelming degree. This is the philosophical worldview dependency thesis.

3) Hence the odds are highly likely that any given adopted philosophical worldview is false.

4) So the best way to test one’s adopted philosophical worldview is from the perspective of an outsider with the same level of skepticism used to evaluate other philosophical worldviews. This expresses the OTPWV.

Thus, we have broadened our horizons to include atheism and agnosticism. We therefore have as good a reason to be skeptical of atheism and agnosticism as we are of any religion.

Even if we regard philosophical worldviews as being mutually distinct (which they are not) the probability of one of them being false is tiny and yet one of them must be the worldview of Reality. It's rather like the lottery: it's of tiny probability that your numbers will come up, but one set of numbers will certainly come up. If that's not a valid use of probability in the OTPWV, then it's not valid for the OTF.

The fact of the matter is that I have assessed my faith critically which is why I sometimes struggle with it. What I have learned is that faith is not something that can always be expressed through philosophical analysis. It must also be there in the heart. If we struggle intellectually or emotionally with God, then it is best to stop and seek silence with Him. It is best to treat God as a being with Whom to engage rather than purely as a philosophical proposition.

When the atheists try and trounce us with their arguments (and even succeed at times) God is there for us in His unknowability but also in His love. Let us learn just to trust Him.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Most Reading

Blog Archive

Blog Archive

Popular Posts