David Marshall On the OTF Again

A new Christian ebook has hit the #2 spot of atheism categorized books on Amazon, True Reason: Christian Responses to the Challenge of Atheism eds., Carson Weitnauer and Tom Gilson. The reason I was interested in looking at it was because David Marshall has a chapter in it on my Outsider Test for Faith (OTF). I wanted to see if Marshall did any better in his chapter for this book than what I saw on his blog which I subsequently reviewed in 4 parts. [Warning: Spoiler Alert. He didn't.] ;-)

I will say though that I appreciate Marshall taking this test seriously. I also appreciate his respectful tone toward me, which I will try reciprocating here. And I would have to say that for the most part he gives the test a fair hearing, as fair as one might expect from a person of faith. Marshall writes in a witty sort of way too. Just take this statement about me:
One New Atheist I have enjoyed talking with, though, has been former pastor John Loftus, who has written and edited several books attacking Christianity. Loftus sees himself as a sort of missionary to the working classes. Usually shown in his trademark cowboy hat, John wears his heart on his sleeve, being passionately self-promoting in an oddly humble way.
I had to laugh at that. "Passionately self-promoting in an oddly humble way"? What's that? ;-)

While Marshall takes issue with the OTF on several fronts, in the end he approves of it and claims his particular brand of evangelicalism passes the test. That’s oddly refreshing since so many other Christian intellectuals have rejected it outright. More on this later, after looking at a few of the supposed faults Marshall finds with my defense of the OTF.

The first premise of the OTF is the Religious Diversity Thesis: “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."

Marshall claims that while the "diversity of religious faiths" is genuine, it is also “deeply ambiguous.” And he notes G.K. Chesterton as saying that religions around the world commonly include four beliefs: in "God, the gods, philosophy, and demons." I’m not sure what philosophy has to do with this but yes, if we define a religious faith then it includes the belief in supernatural forces and/or beings. The diversity comes when defining their characteristics and qualities, which is the point. The diversity is about distinctive religious faiths spread into geographically distinct areas around the globe, not that religions by definition believe in supernatural forces and/or beings, which is obvious.

The second premise is the Religious Dependency Thesis: "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."

Marshall says this is not obvious since many of us live in pluralistic cultures. He says cultural dependence is not overwhelming but nonetheless he admits, it “is real.” Now this depends on what we consider to be a culture. For a boy who is home schooled by snake handlers or a girl raised by KKK parents those are the only cultures they know. This is the smallest level of culture, one’s immediate family and relatives. And although the internet allows different perspectives to be heard, some countries limit what the people in their countries can access. There are many Christians who don’t have any friends or relatives who are not Christians themselves. But the fact is that the culture we are a part of greatly influences what we think. Just take four babies and raise one in China the other in Saudi Arabia the third in Kentucky and the fourth in Russia and you will see clearly how cultures influence us all. And it’s never more pronounced than when it comes to religion. Even in a pluralistic culture like America we are all becoming more and more pluralistic. This sociological fact is indeed obvious: our respective cultures have an overwhelming influence on us.

Based on the Religious Diversity and Dependency theses I argue “it is highly likely that any given adopted religious faith is false.”

Marshall questions this. He rhetorically asks, “If we adopt certain beliefs because we have been taught them, does that really mean they are probably false? Obviously not. The general form of Loftus’ argument is: 1) Ideas about X vary among cultures; 2) The beliefs one adopts about X originate in one's culture, and in that sense depend on it; 3) Therefore one's beliefs are probably wrong.”

No, no, no. It depends on the nature of that which we were taught. As I said in “The Christian Delusion”:
The amount of skepticism warranted depends not only on the number of rational people who disagree, but also whether the people who disagree are separated into distinct geographical locations, the nature of their beliefs, how their beliefs originated, under what circumstances their beliefs were personally adopted in the first place, and the kinds of evidence that can possibly be used to decide between the differing beliefs. My claim is that when it comes to religious faiths, a high degree of skepticism is warranted precisely because of these factors.
That which we were taught to believe based on science is on the surest grounding we can share. You won’t see one scientist in one distinct part of the globe providing evidence that the earth is 6000 years old, and another one in a different distinct part of the globe providing evidence that demons cause sicknesses, and still another one elsewhere on the planet providing evidence that the sun revolved around the earth, and still another one somewhere else providing evidence that hell exists in the center of the earth. Why? Because the evidence is not there. But that’s what we have seen from religion. Given that religionists have so many unevidenced beliefs taught to them on their mamma’s knees they should be skeptical of those beliefs when becoming adults.

Marshall opines that
Skeptics like Loftus commonly reply, “But you don’t have to take heliocentrism or the health benefits of olive oil on faith; you can prove them scientifically, unlike religion!” But who does? How do you know that electrons circle the nuclei of atoms? That earth contains a core of iron and nickel? Or even that you have two lungs? If we had to personally prove everything by the scientific method—no peaking at Wikipedia! Nothing on the web, or in books, or in classrooms, or even in academic journals, is itself “scientific evidence!”—we’d all toss our hands in the air and remain ignorant savages.
What did he just say? Wow! No wonder I say Christianity is a delusion that makes otherwise intelligent people stupid. Is he really suggesting that non-scientists like myself, who have never done the experiments themselves, have to take the findings of science on faith? I find that ridiculous since scientists agree on a vast accumulated amount of findings and because in areas where I have checked for myself scientists are right. So should we be skeptical to accept that the earth revolves around the sun until we can test such an idea for ourselves? Well, in one sense I see no harm in it. As we test that which we were taught to believe there will come a point, very quickly I might add, where we learn to embrace the scientific method. We will also become more scientifically literate in the process, and as we do we'll come to trust science even in those areas where we haven’t tested what we were taught to believe. I would welcome this. It could eventually cause us to reject our inherited religious faiths.

So based on my arguments I maintain one should test one’s religion from the perspective of an outsider with the same level of skepticism used to evaluate other religious faiths. This is the part that Marshall approves irregardless of how I defended it.

Nonetheless, Marshall goes on to make some more irrelevant observations. He claims that converts are hard to make. Asking believers in certain parts of the globe to take the OTF and leave their faith will lead them to be tortured and killed. This is very unfortunate, but so what? How is this any type of criticism at all? Yes, it can be made hard by the social realities of life, but the realities have nothing whatsoever to do with the merits of the OTF itself.

Marshall also presents what I call the Gamaliel Test for Faith as found in Acts 5 when advising the Sanhedrin what to do about the budding Christian sect: “A Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, who was honored by all the people, stood up in the Sanhedrin and ordered that the men be put outside for a little while. Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.”

This is ignorant superstition. No one in their right mind should ever conclude that if a religion succeeds in getting a sizable following it must be true. Just think Buddhism, Islam, or even Scientology. But that’s exactly what Marshall does, who wrote: “Christianity is one of just a few belief systems that can be said to have passed the OTF, and to have done so most spectacularly...The real intellectual challenge is, how do skeptics explain the unique empirical success of the Gospel?”

Two words: Superstitious people. The fact that a religious faith has succeeded in a society says nothing about whether it passes the OTF, otherwise Scientology has passed the test. The question is whether any faith can reasonably pass the OTF.

Marshall also thinks that I make a fatal mistake when I say, “At best there can only be one true religion in what we observe to be a sea of hundreds of false ones . . .” Appearing to be an enlightened Christian he claims “the first premise of Christianity is that Judaism is true. After all, the Bible has two halves, and the first half is longer. That makes at least two true religions. This principle can be extended, to some extent, to the deepest truths in other spiritual traditions as well.” And he says, “Jesus came to fulfill, not destroy, the most fundamental foundations of African religion.”

Come on now Marshall. You simply do not believe your own rhetoric. You can’t. It’s empty. Empty rhetoric. Judaism denies Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God. Yet you believe that's who Jesus is. Your faith is opposed to Judaism at a fundamental level. You cannot deny this. And the same thing goes for the many other religions around the world. You do not share their faiths even though you might find agreement about this or that in one religion and that or this in a different one. The only thing they all agree on is that supernatural forces and/or beings exist, and that’s it.

In the end Marshall is one who approves of the OTF with the above quibbles and irrelevancies. He joins Victor Reppert on that score.

Now all he needs to do is to do it. For as I have already said, 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. 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.

Marshall thinks his faith passes the OTF but that’s to be seen. No more special pleading, begging the question, empty rhetoric, or non-sequiturs. No more punting to faith or using the omniscience escape clause. No more quoting the Bible to solve an intractable problem like the atonement or trinity or incarnation. Marshall will now have to make rational sense of them. No more explaining away the barbarisms committed by Yahweh. Now he will have to explain them.

Let’s see how he does and hold his nose to the grindstone, shall we? Let's help keep him honest. It'll do him good. That's what he approves of too.