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The Christian Delusion 4: The Outsider Test for Faith Revisited


This is Loftus’ biggest argument, and the one that he seems to get the most flack for. My analysis is that he is making an argument from religious plurality. Since there are so many religions that are mutually exclusive, and since the best predictor for one’s religion is the culture and religion of one’s parents, that renders any particular religion highly unlikely to be true. There is a naturalistic rule for inheritance, and although it is possible that one faith is true, we have an explanation that explains the current diffusion of religions. That means that in order to be intellectually consistent, one must subject their religion to whatever skepticism they need to subject other religions to if they want to deny them. Loftus argues that if we do such a thing, no one will be able to rule out all other religions in a way that does not rule out their own. Miracles, good feelings, life transformations, tradition all are used to support mutually exclusive religions, so we need to have something more unique and logical to support our own.

The toughest objection is that this argument is self defeating. I’m not sure how I’d respond to that. Perhaps I can revisit this chapter after I read Why I Became an Atheist. It seems that one can be an atheist even if one applies the OTA to himself. If we doubt our doubt, as Loftus says, we don’t get faith, we get more skepticism. Atheism/agnosticism is the default. A lack of belief in a particular view of the world, especially a religious one, is the necessary default, given the plurality of religions. That means that those who were born into atheism ought to subject their belief systems to the OTA, submitting their beliefs to similar scrutiny as they do to religions they don’t adopt. It would seem that scrutiny would cement their agnosticism, although it may cut away some of their positive beliefs. I’ll have to think about this one in the future.

Kindle Notes:

My argument is as follows: 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.1 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 OTE (940).

Note: How is this valid? How does 3 follow from 1 and 2? Maybe I need to read WIBA to really get it.

There are at least three legs supportive of the first three premises of my argument: anthropological studies, psychological studies, and sociological (or demographic) data. The first two legs have been sufficiently argued for by David Eller, Valerie Tarico, and Jason Long in their earlier chapters. Daniel Dennett sums up the psychological data in these words: “One of the surprising discoveries of modern psychology is how easy it is to be ignorant of your own ignorance” (948).

Cultural anthropology shows us that we don’t see culture so much as we see with culture. We swim in a Christian culture (951).

The third leg of sociological data is easy to come by. For instance, 95 percent of people born and raised in Saudi Arabia are Muslim, while 95 percent of the people born and raised in Thailand are Buddhist. If you were born in India, you’d likely be a Hindu. If you were born in Mexico, you’d likely be a Catholic (956).

All three legs converge to provide overwhelming, undeniable, and noncontroversial support for the OTF by showing that when it comes to religious faith, an overwhelming number of believers adopt and defend what they were raised to believe by their parents in their respective cultures’ (960).

The central thesis of the OTF is a challenge to believers to test or examine their own religious faith as if they were outsiders with the same presumption of skepticism they use to test or examine other religious faiths (972).

how does someone properly investigate whether a claim is true or not? He or she doesn’t do it by only reading the literature of the people who advocate it. He or she does it by also reading the best critiques of the people who disagree with it (1028).

I’m asking believers to change their assumptions and/or become agnostics. This is what I call the “default position” (1036).

The only thing we can and should trust is the sciences (1050).

Note: So why am I trusting you?

Science alone produces consistently excellent results that cannot be denied, which are continually retested for validity (1050).

Note: This, I fear, may be a naive view of science. I suppose a full defense of science is outside the scope of this book, but I wonder where Loftus gets that claim from.

These new converts in different cultural contexts have no initial way of truly investigating the proffered faith (1060).

Note: So Loftus says that they are not really taking the test, although they are outsiders.

The amount of skepticism warranted depends not only on the number of rational people who disagree, 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 (1077).

Note: So science, which tends to get the same results independent of culture an geography is not in as much need to be subjected to the OTF. Politics and arbitrary cultural norms may be reasonably subjected to this though.

“If the pluralist had been born in (say, Morocco) he probably wouldn’t be a pluralist. Does it follow that… his pluralist beliefs are produced in him by an unreliable belief-producing process” too? (1089)

Note: Very good objection.

Many of the things we know are not based on evidence. So why must belief in God be so based (1136)?

Note: He’s right. That’s why I consider it perfectly rational to believe without evidence that God wants me to commit genocide. Thanks Bill!

So as David Mitsuo Nixon has argued with respect to the Matrix: “The proper response to someone’s telling me that my belief could be false is, `So what?’ It’s not possibility that matters, it’s probability. So until you give me a good reason to think that my belief is not just possibly false, but probably false, I’m not changing anything about what I believe or what I think I know” (1144).

Note: But what evidence is there of this world being real? Is such evidence even possible in principle?

When we all equally apply an outsider test to our own answers to existence every one of us should be agnostics about all such metaphysical affirmative claims-all of us. We should all doubt our doubts. But agnostics already do this. The double negative way Keller expresses these things does not lead to faith. It leads to agnosticism (1178).

So when many false beliefs are produced at a very high rate by the same source we have a good reason to doubt any beliefs arising out of that same source (1191).

In fact, most Christian thinkers from Tertullian to Luther to William Lane Craig have all disparaged reason in favor of faith (1259).

5. Stephen Maitzen uses the “uneven distribution of theistic belief around the world” against Christians who argue on behalf of divine hiddenness. In arguing for the best explanation of this data he claims theistic answers to this problem “are less plausible” than naturalistic ones: (1270).

Note: Good argument from best explanation. Naturalism explains the distribution. A fair God doesn’t.

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