Where David Marshall Goes Wrong, Part 1

In this post I will examine in detail David Marshall's criticisms of the Outsider Test for Faith (OTF). I do think he outlines things very well. I like it when someone tells us how he will proceed and then follows that outline. But it's no substitute for substance.

I'll blockquote his comments and then respond:
I. Faith? In Christian thinking, "faith" is not something that is opposed to reason, as Loftus does here. As far back as Judges, Gideon conducts a rational experiment in faith: "If You are really speaking, God, make the dew rest on this cloth, and everything around it remain dry."…Christian thinkers down through the centuries have usually understood faith and reason as complementary, not locked in some zero-sum battle to the death. This fundamental misundertanding about "faith" undermines Loftus' chapter, and permeates what skeptics who buy his argument say about the matter.
I know what Christians think about faith and reason. I have a whole chapter on it in my book Why I Became an Atheist. So I’ll not repeat myself here. I have simply come to a different understanding. I’ll comment more on this in Part 2 but suffice it to say for now that faith takes believers beyond what the evidence calls for. If there is a 51% chance Jesus arose from the dead then to assert with some kind of psychological certainty that he did goes beyond the evidence. And this is something I reject even granting that probability. With such a probability there would be no reason to commit one’s whole life to Jesus. This best explains why Christians do not act as if they are as certain of this as they verbalize, for they do not act on faith with the same level of certainty they claim. Their behavior betrays their rhetoric.
II. An Outline of Loftus' Argument.

"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."


(a) People also "adopt and defend" a wide variety of skeptical ideologies because of where they were born and how they were brought up. Most young Chinese, for instance, are taught atheism in school, and millions will parrot those teachings back to you, if you ask them their views. (I've heard some do this!) Most young Danes, presumably, will similarly parrot back secular humanist views.
No disagreement.
(b) Religious diversity may not be as great as Loftus assumes. In every culture, for instance, people believe in spirits, and in most cultures, life after death. Not only Christians, Muslims, and Jews (almost half the world's population!), but also many Hindus, Chinese, and Japanese who do not belong to these groups, believe in one Supreme God.
No disagreement.
(c) True, in every culture, only a minority usually converts to some worldview other than what they were brought up in. But usually that is because of social disincentives, not because "intelligent people" have all fairly and honestly considered the evidence for other religions.
No disagreement.
In some Muslim countries, for instance, convert out, and the penalty is death. Mohammed himself approved this penalty, and you often hear of it being carried out in countries like Iran, Afghanistan, and Saudi Arabia. This has also happened in recent years in Hindu countries, and historically in Buddhist and Christian countries as well. The cruelest retributions against conversion out have occured in some communist countries. Most social pressure is less extreme, yet remains effective at keeping people "in the fold."
No disagreement.
So while "rational people" accept a variety of faiths partly because of geography, the intellectual content of those beliefs may not always be as diverse as people usually assume -- G. K. Chesterton's Everlasting Man is good on this. And uniformity of beliefs can be the product of oppression in some cultures.
No disagreement. Of course, one wonders what David is doing here? Does he think somehow that these things affect the OTF? He needs to tell us why this has any affect on it. I didn’t see it. There is a small debate among people about what a culture is. In San Francisco there is an area known as Chinatown. That is a little culture of it’s own in the midst of American society. Chinese people running these businesses and the community of people there affect each others attitudes greatly, despite the surrounding culture of that city and the even bigger culture of America itself. The most influential culture is the one that affects us the most, and in this case, just like with the snake handlers of the South, the smaller the culture then the more influence that culture has on us. Parents and siblings have the greatest influence on us.

So it looks like David agrees with (1), or at least, when better understood he can have no objection to it. This admission all it’s own would demand the OTF.
(2) "Consequently, it seems very unlikely 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

This is similar to my point (c) above. The word "faith" here is misleading, though, as may be the word "religious." It would be more objective to say, "adopting a worldview is usually not just a matter of independent rational judgment." Otherwise we prejudice the issue against certain kinds of worldviews, and sneak in a misconception of why Christians, at least, are supposed to believe.
Worldviews are not equivalent to religious faiths although religious faiths do inform one’s worldview. David does not have the same worldview as a black woman in the South for instance, even if she shares the same exact tenets of his faith. She would have a different understanding of world politics, of the white boy world, of men in general, and of raising children where she lives. The same goes for other Christians, some of whom voted for Obama and others for Bush, some who work on Wall Street and others who work on main street, some who work in Vegas and others who work in the breadbasket, some who are gay and others who are not, some who have never had children and others who are struggling with raising a severely handicapped child. Everything a person believes is part of his or her worldview. And as such, believers themselves do not share the same specific tenets of their faith even though they may agree to the same general creeds. Just listen to Christians debate these things and it’s crystal clear. According to some recently, even William Lane Craig is a heretic!.
Also one must distinguish between free societies and societies in which choice is constrained by government, clan, or family. Most people in non-Christian countries lack freedom and / or opportunity to consider Christianity. In most Christian countries, there is relative freedom and opportunity to consider Marxism, secular humanism, Islam, or Buddhism.
Freedom is important but it’s a cultural value that was not always accepted even in Christian societies. Religious freedom, for instance, is denied in the Bible with threats of death which the Inquisition faithfully administered. People in others cultures today do not value the kind of freedom we have in America. They were taught not to accept such a licentious view of human action from their cultures based on religious teaching. One reason why people in these cultures are embracing freedom is because of the internet, although China has a monopoly on what they allow into their country. So I don’t see how this changes anything regarding the need for the OTF.
(3) "Hence the odds are highly likely that any given adopted religious faith is false."

Here Loftus takes his most blatantly fallacious step. Problems with this step are numerous:

(a) What does "highly likely" mean? The term is ambiguous for a quasi-deductive argument of this sort.
I cannot quantify this. All I can do is provide examples. It seems undeniable. We initially believe what our parents told us. If David must deny such a basic admission to believe then I really cannot help him take the blinders off his eyes.
(b) Why is the conclusion supposed to follow from the premises?
This is not a deductive argument where the premises logically lead to the conclusion. It’s an inductive one and is only as strong as the first 3 propositions. This is what Christian apologists do all too often. They demand that an argument must prove their faith is false. Barring that they go on their merry delusional way. But why do they demand such a high standard of proof? If there is even a remote chance that they can find a loophole they proclaim victory when instead I'm arguing that the conclusion seems most probable when compared to the alternative. In no other area do Christians rationally accept something that is not probable but is still possible. Think of the implications of this: “Yeah, I see it’s very probable that I shouldn’t invest money in company X, but since you haven’t proven that company X will go belly up I’ll continue investing in it.” That’s what they do time and time and time and time again about a wide variety of important bedrock beliefs of theirs.
(c) A hidden premise that might allow it to follow (and that Loftus defends later, see below) would be, "Culturally derived beliefs are unlikely to be true." But why would one assume that? My culture has taught me many things that I might not believe in, say, ancient Rome, or among the Yali in Papua New Guinea. My belief that Earth circles the sun is "culturally dependent." I was taught this belief in school, and have never proven it scientifically for myself. I believe it by trust in my teachers. Does that mean it is "highly likely" to be wrong? If not, then (3) does not follow from (1) and (2).
My claim is not about culturally adopted worldviews but religious faiths. They all are inherited within one’s culture. People can leave them when they become adults but they don’t seem to do so very much at all, especially if they stay inside the culture they were raised in. Religious faiths proliferate around the globe. That’s a fact. They are taught on Mama’s knees. That’s a fact. My claim is that they all come from the same source, Mama’s knees. Since this is true that source should be questioned because it produces many contradictory religious faiths. So yes, religious faiths are unlikely to be true. One or more similar religious views might be correct but not all of them can be. But if there is a true religion it was communicated in the same way as all of the others, on Mama’s knees. So I’m suggesting that when we become adults and want to think for ourselves about what we were initially taught to believe about religion we ought to treat it just as if there were 45,000 girls claiming to have lost the glass slipper the night before, as in the Cinderella story. We would need to be skeptical of each claim and demand an empirical shoe fit before we should believe. There should be nothing problematic about this at all.
(d) But, you say, someone HAS proven that the Earth revolves around the sun. (If not exactly "circles.") Yes, and are you assuming that no one has rationally demonstrated the truth of the religious belief system in which I was raised? I disagree. Maybe I am wrong, but the analogy derails us from the Outsider Test into conventional apologetics. If there is good reason to believe the Christian faith, then the Outsider Test is invalid as an argument against it. If there is no such reason, then the Outsider Test is unneeded.
We cannot offer a milquetoast test that asks people to weigh the evidence fairly about that which they were raised to believe and defend. What we are enculturated with is who we are. We cannot see the water we swim in. We cannot pluck our eyes out and look at them. So we cannot simply ask people to be objective with the evidence. Believers already think they are being objective because they can't see that they are not! Just look at how confident some Muslims are that they are being objective. Some of them are so certain they're objective about their faith they are willing to fly planes into buildings. Ask them if they’re objective and it would be a no brainer for them. But ask them to subject their own faith to the same level of skepticism they use to reject other faiths and THAT will get their attention. Since we cannot pluck out their eyes we must offer them a shocking test, one that may help get them out of their dogmatic slumbers like nothing else can do. And they will object as strenuously as they can to the OTF because they know their faith does not pass that test. That’s why Christians argue against it just like Muslim scholars would do so for their faith.
(e) Since atheist belief systems are ALSO culturally dependent, does Loftus think it is "highly likely" that they are false, too?
Atheism is equivalent to skepticism in my opinion. Saying “I am a skeptic” is saying the same thing as “I am an atheist,” at least for me and many others. Skepticism is a word used to describe doubt or disbelief. It doesn’t by itself represent any ideas we’ve arrived at. It’s merely a filter we use to strain out the bad ones leaving us with the good ones. So we cannot be skeptical of doubt unless we think doubt is inherently wrong, which would leave us with mere belief in belief. Up until recently in the Occident atheism is always counter-cultural. Atheists had to swim upstream against the culture to disbelieve. The rise of atheism is related to the sciences which are breaking down the walls of superstition around the world.
(f) All in all, this is simply a non sequitur. The conclusion does not follow from the premises. (Even if the premises were clear and plausible.)
So, David accepts the Religious Diversity Thesis, didn’t say much by way of a head on criticism of the Religious Dependency Thesis, and then claims without any justification at all that (3) has not been justified? I simply don’t get it. Maybe he can show us someone who was raised in a tribal religion in Africa who had no outside influence on him from another culture (i.e. no Mormon missionary) who became a right wing Christian Republican? I just don’t see this ever happening. We are all influenced by our cultures to believe because as David Eller has shown, religion is culture. These are the odds, the probabilities. The odds are highly likely that any given (i.e., particular) adopted religious faith is false given the amount of religious diversity and the odds of the Religious Dependency thesis. To dispute these odds he’d have to show us these odds are wrong, that people who are raised to believe are not wrong given religious diversity, and that cannot be done. Does he really think otherwise, that the odds are highly likely (or even likely) that any given adopted faith is correct? How can someone with a straight face claim this given religious diversity? It becomes quite obvious that religions are dependent one one’s cultural upbringing even if Marshall disagrees with Eller. This is what Christians must do. They must continually deny the overwhelming odds to believe, and one reason I could no longer do it. This counter-argument, if you can call it that, is intellectually bankrupt.

Part 2 can be found here.