July 17, 2019

Dr. Chris Gadsden Obfuscates On The Outsider Test for Faith

Dr. Chris Gadsden
I must admit it's kind of gratifying when Christian philosophers take a look at the Outsider Test for Faith (OTF), which I've defended online and in my book. Recently Dr. Chris Gadsden decided to look at it. He has earned two master’s degrees and one PhD in philosophy (University of Missouri). He appears to be some sort of expert on proper belief formation, as seen in his PhD dissertation, Epistemic duties and blameworthiness for belief. He also appears as the kind of guy who doesn't hunker down in the trenches willing to die rather than admit he might be wrong about something. We'll see, because he begins with a misunderstanding by saying, "Lots of internet atheists promote the 'outsider test' (OTF) as a potent weapon against Christians. But how potent is it? Let’s have a look."


Previously I mentioned that if Gadsden considers the OTF to be a "potent weapon", no matter how potent, he's tacitly admitting his faith doesn't have a sufficient amount of objective evidence for it. The OTF is only perceived as a weapon that destroys faith if the evidence doesn't exist. Thoughtful atheists who use the outsider test present it as the best way to find out which religion is true, if there is one. It's a fair way to test one's faith, from the outside as a nonbeliever, just as everyone should reasonably do to the faiths of others. There's no threat here, unless the conclusion of the OTF shows one's faith to be insufficiently evidenced. That's the problem. It's only a threat to insufficiently evidenced religious faiths. If there's a god who demands reasonable belief, the correct religious faith should pass the test of objective evidence. Otherwise, people who don't already share Christian presuppositions cannot be reasoned into becoming Christians. Furthermore, all missionary work should cease since non-Christians, all of them, reason correctly that there isn't enough evidence to become Christians. This should end it.

Gadsden agrees with me "that many people’s religious beliefs are epistemically unjustified." However, he doesn't think this is surprising! For he deflates the impact of such a conclusion by saying:
‘Epistemically unjustified’ just means that the believer lacks whatever reasons or support are required to make their belief rational in the right way. But that isn’t really surprising, since that is true for many of the beliefs people hold. I’m sure it’s true for some of my beliefs. This is not the best contribution of the Outsider Test, since it just means that believers need to do a better job in their thinking.
What Gadsden is doing is obfuscating away the point I'm making. What he misses here, and he misses it very badly, is that most believers feel certain they are born into the correct religious culture, and as such, it would be very surprising for them to accept the basis of the OTF that they might be wrong. Gadsden mentions our mutual friend Anthony Magnabosco, yet fails to understand that Magnabosco's Street Epistemology videos show how difficult it can be to get believers to consider they might be wrong. I think it's a understatement to say a billion believers alive today are psychologically certain their faith is the true one, and would be very surprised, to say the least, to learn their religious beliefs were epistemically unjustified.

Gadsden goes on to dispute my claim that “the odds are highly likely that any given adopted religious faith is false.” This is a conclusion I derive from my arguments in defense of the “religious diversity thesis” and the “religious dependency thesis.” The Religious Diversity thesis 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. The Religious Dependency thesis is this: 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. You'll notice that 2 is a consequent of 1. It is an explanation for 1. But the arguments for 2 bolster the arguments in thesis 1, leading to the conclusion that "the odds are highly likely that any given adopted religious faith is false."

Gadsden objects to this conclusion, saying, "The fact that one’s belief is likely unjustified or irrational in no way implies that it is 'highly likely' to be false." Once again he is obfuscating away the point I'm making with the following example:
Here’s an easy counterexample to Loftus’ claim: I believe that the number of stars in the universe is even, and this belief is based on no good reasons. However, it seems the likelihood of it’s being true is .5. (I’m open to someone giving empirical or mathematical reasons against this.) Here’s another: I believe it is now raining in Madrid. I have no reason to believe this whatsoever. But my lack of epistemic justification has no logical connection at all to the likelihood of rain in Spain. Maybe I’m misunderstanding Loftus, but that seems like a bad inference.
These analogies are bad, so very bad it should be clear that the only way to be a Christian apologist is to obfuscate the truth. I wrote a book to help apologists stop doing this, which can be found here. That book is recommended by Gary Habermas for his PhD apologetics students, and by Christian apologist extraordinaire Chad Meister.

Gadsden leaps from the problematic issue of a wide diversity of religious faiths--and sects within them--to a simple unemotional choice between two options. He's not discussing the point being made. For if he was then the issue of religious diversity is a choice between thousands of religious sects within religions (I'm open to consider the exact number). There is a very wide diversity of religious faiths held with certainty and with a great deal of passion by billions of people. Let me show him this point with a few videos to visualize it. Simple choice? Far far from it.

Gadsden goes on to the heart of the matter by saying,
I think the real contribution of the Outsider Test lies in pointing out a kind of hypocrisy among religious believers (shocker). So in addition to moral and spiritual hypocrisy, we also commit epistemic hypocrisy! Here’s what I mean. If Johnny smokes weed, but then criticizes Timmy for smoking weed, Johnny (all other things being equal) is a moral hypocrite. Johnny applies a standard to Timmy that he is unwilling to apply to himself. Thus, he sees his own actions as OK and sees Timmy’s as bad. Crazy.

Now imagine Johnny believes in Christianity “by faith,” but then criticizes Timmy for believing in Islam “by faith.” He thinks Timmy is deluded or somehow deficient in his belief. Johnny applies a standard to Timmy that he is unwilling to apply to himself. Thus, he sees his own belief as OK and sees Timmy’s belief as bad. Crazy, right? So, to purge ourselves of this hypocrisy, or inconsistency, we need to (try to) take a different stance toward our worldview.
Well, yes okay! Unreasonable? Yes! Delusional? Got it! [I'll just note Christianity is not a worldview and move on.] The question is which stance (or attitude) is the best to take if we want to come to the truth about our religious beliefs? Gadsden suggests using a Rawlsian thought experiment involving the veil of ignorance.
Philosopher John Rawls argues that the only way to fairly choose the principles of justice that will govern a society is for the choosers to be behind a “veil of ignorance.” That is, they don’t know anything about themselves or how the principles might affect them. They don’t know if they are black or white, rich or poor, healthy or ill, male or female.

So imagine an epistemic veil of ignorance, behind which a person examines a (religious) claim, not knowing whether the truth or falsity of the claim would benefit them in any way. They don’t know whether they are a Muslim, a Buddhist, etc.. “In such a case, a totally impartial agent who is presented with a defeater for his belief that p would have some doubt about p, assuming that he doesn’t have overwhelming evidence in favor of p.” In other words, if you examine a belief from an “outsider” perspective, you would be more likely to weigh the evidence and counter-evidence (defeaters) fairly and accurately. This is especially hard to do from an “insider” perspective on religion because it is (generally) in your self-interest that your current beliefs are true.
I'm pretty sure Gadsden has not read my book on the OTF, or read many of my online essays in defense of the OTF. If he had, he would see I've considered the Rawlsian approach and don't think it's better at getting to the truth than approaching each religion as an outsider, a non-believer.[1]

What's wrong with the Rawlsian original position behind the Veil of Ignorance? Believers who are certain of their faith and who believe nonbelievers go to an eternal hell, would almost certainly want to come to the same faith when they emerge from behind the veil. I see no reason to think they wouldn't, especially since the stance we take behind the Veil doesn't change how the world works. It would merely reinforce what most believers already believe. It would also do the same for skeptics and atheists. For I would want to emerge from behind the veil valuing science and skepticism.

I might be misunderstanding Gadsden's approach on Rawls here. This is to be seen. I suspect to the degree I agree with Gadsden will probably be the same degree he's not following Rawls. Otherwise, I think he may be advocating an epistemic blank slate, which is impossible. Again, I look forward to his response.

Here is Dr. Gadsden's discussion of the Outsider Test for Faith. Have a look and see for yourselves.


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[1] I considered Rawls' Veil of Ignorance along with other precursors to the OTF on pages 24-29 in chapter 1 of my book, along with this footnote on page 235:
19. There are other precursors. One precursor might be akin to the “original position” argued by John Rawls for impartially evaluating fundamental principles of justice, only extended to the investigation of religious faiths. We could imagine ourselves in the “original position” behind a Rawlsian Veil of Ignorance, one where we know some general facts about psychology, economics, biology, and other social and natural sciences, but we don’t know in advance our own personal, social, or historical circumstances in life. Most importantly, we don’t know when in history or where on earth we’ll be born. Then, from behind the veil, tell us how you would objectively test the religious options available. See John Rawls, A Theory of Justice (Cambridge, MA: Belknap, 1971). Mathematics professor James East suggested a thought experiment in which we’re told that when we wake up tomorrow, we’ll be randomly changed into a person with a different religious view or even an atheist. But before we go to bed we’re allowed to write a letter to ourselves offering some general advice on how to investigate the religious options without saying anything about which one to accept. He asks, “How would you advise yourself?” See Reasonably Faithless, “The Outsider Test for Faith and the Veil of Ignorance,” Reasonably Faithless, http:// skepticink.com/reasonablyfaithless/2012/11/10/the-outsider-test-for-faith-and-the-veil-of-ignorance/ (accessed November 29, 2012). While I recommend these two ways of looking at the problem of religious diversity, without the non–double standard that the OTF provides, people will more than likely sneak in their own sectarian views as much as they can.

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