Thursday, August 6, 2009

Debunking “The Outsider Test for Faith”, Redux

Over at Debunking Christianity, John W. Loftus posted his “Outsider Test for Faith” with which he proposed that Christians should consider their faith from the “outside”.  Months later, it will seem a little like closing the barn door, but I had some thoughts about the subject in addition to the comments I made at the time.

My original criticisms were:

  1. The notion of “outside” is fallacious.  Although atheist and agnostics both like to consider themselves as have a truly non-biased viewpoint, but this is nonsense.  All “world views” make metaphysical assumptions about the nature of reality. Even relying on rationality makes assumptions.  How do you validate rationality if you can’t make arguments?
  2. John argued that Christianity (and, after I pressed him, all other world views) should be judged by a “presumption of skepticism”.  The flaw in this thinking, apart from the hypocrisy of excluding non-religious world views, is that skepticism is not useful for deriving truth. Skepticism not a worldview, but it is, in fact, a belief, (the belief that something is not a fact). Can we find the truth about something by first assuming it is false. No. Michael Shermer reminds us that, “smart people, because they are more intelligent and better educated, are able to give intellectual reasons justifying their beliefs that they arrived at for nonintelligent reasons.” Since our belief, the “presumption of skepticism”, is coming before the investigation, we will ultimately arrive at the false conclusion. Therefore, skepticism is a poor tool for evaluating worldviews.

But my reason for broaching the subject, again, concerns John’s main reason for proposing the “Outsider Test for Faith”.  Because the circumstances of our birth, parental and cultural, are strong factors in determining what world view we will adopt. Since there can only be one correct world view, any one individual will probably be born into a culture with an incorrect worldview. As far as this goes, I am in agreement with John, but right after that is where he goes wrong.

By “Outsider” thinking, you must first think the thing you think is true, is false, but where does this get you. But now you have to consider that truth, of the presumed falsity, of your original thought, is now false and round and round you go. Certainly, this is no way to get at the truth.  At no point in John’s article does he actually promote testing to see if a belief corresponds with reality. Perhaps his problem with this is, that testing beliefs for their correspondence with reality is right out of the Bible (1 Thessalonians 5:21) and that the Correspondence theory of truth, being part part of the Christian world view, should be judged by a “presumption of skepticism”.

Since world views cannot, and need not, be examined from “outside” of one’s own, another method must be employed. For an examination of word views and how to evaluate them, there are many sources that do a much better job of it, than I can do, here and now (probably ever).  One I will recommend is World of Difference, A: Putting Christian Truth-Claims to the Worldview Test, by Kenneth Samples.

I want to make a distinction  between doubt and skepticism.  As we go through life, we pick up a lot of background knowledge, some correct, some incorrect. So when we are exposed to a new truth claim, we, if we are considerate people, evaluate the new fact in light of our existing knowledge, and if the new fact does not seem to fit, we may doubt it’s validity. This is not skepticism, since our doubting is base on previous knowledge, even is perhaps we are not aware of it, and we can verify the new truth claim by examining it.  Skepticism, on the other hand, is not doubt, but an a priori dismissal, usually because it falls within some unpopular category. It is a prejudice. It is very difficult for a skeptical investigation to come to a correct assessment of a truth claim. Please refer to the Shermer quote, above.

In seeking truth, you can be skeptical, gullible, or considerate.  It is your choice.