More Criticisms of The Outsider Test For Faith Answered

A guy named Joshua has criticized my OTF. Here is what he said and my response to him.

He finds that I am unclear about the test and as such there are not one but five (different?) tests because I'm not clear about it. Joshua is doing three things with me and my test in order to maintain an improbable faith.

1) He’s mistaking my attempts at clarifying and further explaining the OTF as different tests, which is wholly inappropriate rhetoric. 2) He’s faulting me for not writing to the professional philosopher, which, if I did so would not be my target audience. 3) He’s chosen to personally offend me with his rhetoric in hopes that I will not respond so he can have the last word. All in all this is indeed an interesting strategy, but it will not work with me. Leaving aside his many mischaracterizations of my position, and leaving aside the things I’ve already addressed, along with his offensiveness, I’ll briefly respond.
He said: Whether Loftus thinks skepticism is a presumption or a “control belief”, something we start with or something we conclude with, is now wholly beyond me.
Both. I said it is circular but not viciously circular.
He said: This should lead us to “presuppose” skepticism, one of Loftus’s many underdefined terms. But skepticism seems to be a negative term, meaning something akin to “Don’t assume the Bible is true,” or something very much like that. It’s unclear whether Loftus has anything positive in mind for skepticism as an actual investigative methodology for the epistemology of religion.
If he doesn’t know what it means to be skeptical of a positive claim or assertion then he’s being willing obtuse. As Vic Stenger repeats, “absence of evidence is evidence of absence when the evidence should be there and is not.” In my book I argue for Hume’s standards, methodological naturalism, and the scientific method itself. There are no better standards or methods. What are the alternatives if not?
He said: Loftus repeats his book’s claim that sociological data is akin to a “background” fact to be used in assessing religious “truth claims.” It is important for the non-specialist reader to realize that, usually, sociological or cultural arguments are relevant only to the rationality of religious believers themselves. Say Joshua’s only reason for believing in God is because his trusty uncle told him so. This wouldn’t cast doubt on the proposition “God exists,” but it would cast doubt on the proposition, “Joshua believes in God for good reasons.” This is an important distinction that Loftus frequently ignores.
This analogy is disanalogous and even disingenuous, for we’re not just talking about one case of one uncle telling one person to believe in one kind of God. There are myriads of uncle’s telling a myriad of nephews to believe in a myriad number of gods, and these nephews all believe what they’re initially told. And THAT is what I’m addressing with the OTF. Such a situation does indeed cast doubt on what any given uncle tells his nephew such that these nephews ought to be skeptical of what they were told. Why? Because all nephews believe what they were initially told by their uncles, and because at the very least all but one of these uncles must be wrong. They could even all be wrong.
He said: Loftus says certain rather conspicuous things given his own projects, such as “Christian, just ask yourself whether the initial reasons you had for adopting your faith were strong ones.” Yet Loftus doesn’t want us examining his initial reasons for adopting his atheism, and to instead examine the new arguments in his book (and arguments in future books, and on blogs). Remember, not only did Loftus have weak-to-bad reasons for adopting his atheism, but had he been born in Saudi Arabia, he likely would have never become an atheist at all.
I deny I have weak reasons to be an agnostic. That’s the default position. And I deny I have weak reasons to be an atheist once I leave the default position. I claim that when it comes to the truth about these sorts of questions agnosticism is the default position precisely because of these sociological factors. We should all doubt all of our conclusions, and I do. Join me won’t you?
He said: The worst case scenario is that Loftus’s argument yields an infinite regress of Outsider Testing. Shouldn’t we do Outsider Tests with respect to the beliefs that led us to take the Outsider Test? And so on.
This is a red herring. In one sense all tests would fall prey to such an objection. And yet we’re all just mere mortals. Agnosticism is the default position anyway, as I have repeatedly said.
He said: Here he’s trying to argue that we should have skepticism about beliefs arrived at through cultural means. As Alvin Plantinga has shown, this sort of thing reduces to attacking the truth of belief, in those cases where the belief system includes beliefs about how the system came about. For example, Christians will often hold that the spirit of God gets much of the credit for their belief. So if Loftus is correct about cultural determinism, then he actually is objecting to the truth of Christian belief. In any case, I’m not sure I can take Loftus seriously when he says he’s just trying to convince Christians to use skepticism for their further investigations into their beliefs.
Here he uses the word “skepticism” as if he knows what I mean by it, so which is it? Does he or doesn’t he know what I mean by it? If he doesn’t know then he just doesn’t know, right? And if so he cannot turn around and act like he does.

In any case, even if we grant Plantinga’s argument, the fact remains that all belief systems that excuse themselves from scientific testing are belief systems which include beliefs about how the system came about. So there is no way to decide between them. And they are almost certainly culturally caught in the culture of one’s origin. So I see no reason not to be skeptical about all these kinds of belief systems, and I see no reason why the Christian believer wouldn’t want to be skeptical about his own system of beliefs because of this.
He said: But the Christian can just say, “Hi John Loftus. I’ve given arguments for my Christian belief. Therefore I don’t need to apply the Outsider Test to it.” Loftus claims he doesn’t have to test his test, because his test has good grounds for it, despite the indisputable cultural data he keeps talking about, that shows Loftus would not have developed the Outsider Test if he was born on Mars. But the Christian usually thinks she has good ground for her beliefs, despite the indisputable cultural data.
Again, these things all point to agnosticism being the default position. Why can’t he understand that? Because he’s trying his best against the arguments to defend what he was raised to believe and he just cannot bring himself to doubt what he was taught. I’m sure every believer in every different culture would say the same thing as he did here, which I dealt with in my book.
He said: Lastly Loftus should realize that we need to figure out the best way to investigate religious claims. To me it seems to be that proper methodology will be to put ourselves in situations where we would be likely to perceive religious objects – say, God. For example, it would be silly to write off Islamic belief on the basis of reading a book about it, when Muslims claim to have palpable experiences of God. If we really want to investigate Islam so that we can justifiably say it is groundless, we at least need to include some experiential investigation.
Muslims do indeed claim to have done the experimental investigations. And surprise, they have experienced Allah! Maybe he can tell me why the Mormon Church still exists now that DNA evidence has conclusively shown that Native American Indians did not come from the Middle East too? His test comes straight out of William James whose argument only serves to reinforce what one believes. Any believer who approaches his faith as James sought to do would only become more entrenched in what he originally believed.
He said, quoting me:
Let me put it to you this way, if you read everything that I have read and experienced everything that I have experienced, then you would think on these issues exactly the same way I do. Deny this if you can.
I have an even better suggestion. If I became John Loftus, my beliefs would be those of John Loftus. Deny this if you can!
My point, since he missed it, is that this is the case for every single one of us when it comes to all of our beliefs. I don’t claim we cannot be rational. We can. I only maintain that the human mind is extremely malleable and capable of believing a great many different mutually exclusive things. It is a fact that all of us hold to beliefs which cannot all be true and which contradict other things we accept!