The Instigator
Thrasymachus
Pro (for)
Winning
7 Points
The Contender
John_Lofus
Con (against)
Losing
0 Points

The Outsider Test for Faith (OTF) is a failure

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Post Voting Period
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after 1 vote the winner is...
Thrasymachus
Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 8/8/2011 Category: Religion
Updated: 5 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 2,720 times Debate No: 17826
Debate Rounds (5)
Comments (21)
Votes (1)

 

Thrasymachus

Pro

John Loftus, overat debunking Christianity has proposed the Outsider Test for Faith. It is covered extensively on his blog, but the 'most mature form' can be found in (Loftus 2010).





      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.



I wish to argue that the OTF is a failure. The argument above does not make its conclusion more plausible. More broadly, the OTF is not a threat to the rationality of religious belief.

R1 accept, no new argument in R5, references in comment thread fine. Any other questions/queries, feel free to get in touch.

Enjoy life,

Thrasymachus

John_Lofus

Con

When believers criticize the other faiths they reject, they use reason and science to do so. They assume these other religions have the burden of proof. They assume human not divine authors to their holy book(s). They assume a human not a divine origin to their faiths.

Believers do this when rejecting other faiths. So dispensing all of the red herrings about morality and a non-material universe, the OTF simply asks believers to do unto their own faith what they do unto other faiths. All it asks of them is to be consistent.

The OTF asks why believers operate on a double standard. If that's how they reject other faiths then they should apply that same standard to their own. Let reason and science rather than faith be their guide. Assume your own faith has the burden of proof. Assume human rather than divine authors to your holy book(s) and see what you get. If there is a divine author behind the texts it should be known even with that initial skeptical assumption.

So the OTF uses the exact same standard that believers use when rejecting other religions. If there is any inconsistency at all it is not with the OTF. It is how believers assess truth claims. For it should only take a moment's thought to realize that if there is a God who wants people born into different religious cultures to believe, who are outsiders, then that religious faith SHOULD pass the OTF.

If Christians want to reject the OTF then either they must admit they have a double standard for examining religious faiths, one for their own faith and a different one for others, or their faith was not made to pass the OTF in the first place. In either case all of their arguments against the OTF are based on red herrings, special pleading, begging the question, the denigrating science, and an ignorance that I can only attribute to delusional blindness.
Debate Round No. 1
Thrasymachus

Pro

John: given you have another account on this website, can you email/message me, put a note on your blog, or similar to confirm this is you?

Here I will show the argument presented as the 'Outsider test for faith' (OTF) is invalid, and so the OTF does not make its conclusion more plausible. I will then reconstruct the produce the strongest valid OTF-like argument (DUD), and show it fails too, to show the OTF is not in principle a threat to religious belief.


The OTF is not a valid argument

To remind ourselves, the OTF is this: (Loftus, 2010)

  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.

From the illatives ('consequently', 'hence', 'so') the argument form seems to be:

(1)

(1) (2)

(1)&(2) (3)

(3) (4)

//(4)

Do the premises follow?

Happily, (2) does follow from (1). This is, in part, because (1) is expressing a 'religious dependency thesis' already ("… adopt and defend a wide diversity of religious faiths due to their upbringing…" (emphasis added)). The move is from 'people overwhelming adopt religious beliefs due to cultural things, so probably your religious beliefs are due to cultural things', which is valid.

Sadly, (3) does not follow from (1), (2), or (1) & (2). This is because it is the genetic fallacy: moving from identifying a casual reason of a belief to a judgement on that beliefs truth or falsehood. This move is illicit: beliefs are true or false independent of the mechanisms of their generation, and so the fact that a religious belief X is dependant on cultural conditions does not make it more likely to be false, any moreso than me brainwashing someone to believe the earth goes around the sun makes heliocentrism less likely. (3) may be true, but the argument for it in the OTF is a fallacy.

(4) doesn't follow from (3) (or (2), or (1)) either. (4) and (3) do not even have passing relevance to each other. That a given belief is probably false doesn't somehow demonstrate Loftus's 'cure' of taking the outsider perspective is the best thing to do. If Loftus had an argument as to why "from an outsider with the same level of scepticism" etc. etc. was the best epistemic bet in cases where your belief is probably false and culturally dependant, then it might follow. But no such argument is offered.

So the OTF falls at the first hurdle for a good argument: validity. Given there is no valid derivation of either (3) or (4), then one shouldn't be convinced by this argument either that religious beliefs are probably false, nor that (4) is what they should do, even if they accept (1) and (2). Consequently, the OTF provides no grounds to believe either of the conclusions, and therefore is a failure.


The OTF cannot be made into a good argument

Is there a way we can deploy the demographics of Theism into an argument against it? Yes, see Malitzen: (Malitzen, 2006)

(5) The religious pattern on earth is better explained on Atheism than on Theism

(6) Atheism is confirmed over Theism by some increment ((5) and prime principle of confirmation)

That religious beliefs show particular patterns over space and time is a much better fit under the model that religious beliefs are sociocultural phenomena, than under something like Theism (why would God make himself clear to Europeans, but not to north Vietnamese? etc.) This argument is valid and, in my view, successful.

But that isn't what Loftus is after with the OTF. Instead of using religious diversity to merely supply evidence for Atheism, he wants to use it to show religious believers are probably irrational. Here is the strongest argument I can come up with that starts with OTF-like premises, and validly gets to OTF-like conclusions.

(7) The religious pattern on earth is best explained by cultural inertia

(8) If the religious pattern is best explained by cultural inertia, any given religious believer likely formed their religious beliefs by cultural inertia

(9) Beliefs formed by cultural inertia are unwarranted

(10) For a given religious believer, it is likely their religious beliefs are unwarranted. [from (7), (8), (9)]

By cultural inertia, I mean the sum of environmental and cultural factors that influence belief: upbringing, schooling, social conventions, etc. etc.

Call this argument the "demographic undercutting defeater" (DUD). Besides being valid, all the key premises seem pretty plausible: we can deploy the demographic data to provide support for (7), (8) is a fairly uncontroversial elaboration on what best explanation should entail, (9) is uncontroversial (given cultural inertia leads to mutually contradictory beliefs, it isn't going to pass tracking or p-reliabilism), and (10) follows. So have we successfully argued for the irrationality charge?



Why DUD is dud

Consider these:

a) Skin colour has no moral relevance

b) Naturalism is true

c) All life is descended from a common ancestor

We can use the DUD to attack the rationality of holding any of them. For not-racism, Naturalism, and evolution all show particular demographics of acceptance, and these seem to suggest cultural inertia: were I not raised in the secular west in the last 30-40 years, it is likely I would believe very different things about a-c than I do now. So we have reason to suppose:

(7abc) The pattern of attitudes towards race, naturalism, and evolution on earth is best explained by cultural inertia

And so, with (8) and (9):

(10abc) For any given believer, it is likely their beliefs about race, naturalism and evolution are unwarranted

This is bad news: either we are generally much more irrational then we flatter ourselves to be, or the reasoning in the DUD is wrong somewhere. Either way, religious believers do not come out of it any more irrational than anyone else.

How might we get DUD to show 'selective toxicity' to religious beliefs?

One could say "sure, we should be sceptical at first, but we can demonstrate (abc) by givng good arguments; there are no good arguments that a given religion is true". That simply begs the question against all those who think there are good arguments for their religious belief: if we're willing to hear arguments from abc believers, we should let religious believers have a go too.

One can argue for epistemic privilege: that our own cultural group has better access to the truth than the others who disagree. We can make a pretty good case for (c) like that: western science has an excellent track record, and so this culture has better access to truths over biological origin than others that disagree. Not so for (a) or (b): there is no record of success we can suggest that is not question-begging to those who disagree. No one who is not already convinced by Atheism is going to think the atheism-generating cognitive environments are superior.


Conclusion

The OTF as presented is an invalid argument. There is no way to cash out an OTF-argument that shows religious beliefs as irrational without showing our moral and philosophical commitments to be irrational too. Therefore the OTF is a failure.

What does Loftus need to do to rescue the OTF? At least the following:

  • Provide a valid argument, which moves from religious diversity to religious beliefs being probably false or unwarranted.
  • The conjunction of premises needs to be plausible.
  • This argument needs to be selective for religious beliefs, over other beliefs where there is diversity (like moral beliefs).

Thrasymachus

John_Lofus

Con

John_Lofus forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 2
Thrasymachus

Pro

Blank as forfeit (and CON probably a doppelganger)
John_Lofus

Con

John_Lofus forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 3
Thrasymachus

Pro

As before.
John_Lofus

Con

John_Lofus forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 4
Thrasymachus

Pro

As above. Vote pro.
John_Lofus

Con

John_Lofus forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 5
21 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 10 records.
Posted by Thrasymachus 5 years ago
Thrasymachus
Yep, fake it seems. I'll pop a message across to Innomen. NVM.
Posted by Kinesis 5 years ago
Kinesis
Looks like a fake. Oh well.
Posted by popculturepooka 5 years ago
popculturepooka
It was a copy-pasta job, too.

http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com...
Posted by Contradiction 5 years ago
Contradiction
LOL forfeit. Poor Loftus.
Posted by Thrasymachus 5 years ago
Thrasymachus
I haven't had any reply from Loftus yet. So I put a plea at the top of my R2 (given I want to debate this, it is no great loss if it turns out to be doppelganger). I think if John_Lofus fails to confirm he is the real deal before his response, I'll chat to the mods, 'cos it does seem a bit suspect.
Posted by Thrasymachus 5 years ago
Thrasymachus
R2 refs

Loftus, J. (2010) The outsider test for faith revisited. In: Loftus, J. (ed) (2010) The Christian Delusion: why faith fails New York: Promethius Press. Ch. 4.

Malitzen, S. (2006) Divine hiddenness and the demographics of theism. Religious studies 42 177-191.
Posted by Kinesis 5 years ago
Kinesis
I hope it's really him. As other people have mentioned, he's definitely been on this site before when me and KRF were arguing about the problem of animal suffering.
Posted by InquireTruth 5 years ago
InquireTruth
I read Loftus' book, "Why I became an Atheist," awhile back. He was really honest in his introduction and it made me respect him a lot. I just did not find his arguments very convincing. It would be pretty cool if this was actually him.
Posted by Thrasymachus 5 years ago
Thrasymachus
I've popped an email to John to double check it is really him.
Posted by popculturepooka 5 years ago
popculturepooka
http://www.debate.org...

This the original account he used on DDO a long time ago if that was indeed him. Perhaps he just forgot his password and created a new account?
1 votes has been placed for this debate.
Vote Placed by Cerebral_Narcissist 5 years ago
Cerebral_Narcissist
ThrasymachusJohn_LofusTied
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Total points awarded:70 
Reasons for voting decision: Very good R2 from Pro, one may be forgiven for assuming that P3 logically follows from P2, however it is not actually the case. Though I agree with the basic gist of the OTF, Pro has successfully identified a clear logical fallacy. Con needed to address this specific point but forfeited so by default all votes to Pro.