My Response to Dr. Rauser's Criticisms

About a year ago Dr. Randal Rauser wrote a series of reviews on chapters for The End of Christianity, an anthology I edited. He wasn’t the only one who did so and I lacked the energy to respond to them all at that time. I don’t feel the need to do so now either. Intelligent readers can decide for themselves. The problem is that most Christians will read Christian reviews of my books without actually reading what I and other atheist authors actually said, which is unfair and prejudicial. I’ll place my books up against any Christian reviewer of them, but you must read them to see for yourself. Then Christians can see how contorted the reasoning must be in order to defend what I consider to be indefensible. Nonetheless, I will oblige Randal who asked me to take a look at what he wrote, only in so far as he offered criticisms of what I said in it. Other authors can do so if they like banging their heads against the wall, like I apparently do. ;-) Here goes:

In Part 1 of his review of my Introduction, which can be read here, Rauser irrelevantly objects to my “boxer-level rhetoric," and "an 'introduction’ that has no introduction.” These are not good criticisms at all.

When it comes to my so-called “self-congratulatory rhetoric” there is nothing problematic with it at all. In an easy to read but very insightful college textbook on critical thinking that I used in a community college class on the subject, the authors tell us quite plainly that “exaggerated, slanted, or misleading language is compatible with perfectly good reasoning. A claim or an argument that is couched in emotionally charged language is not necessarily a false claim or a bad argument. Slanted language should not be a reason for rejecting a claim or dismissing a piece of reasoning, but neither should it be a reason for accepting a position on an issue.” See Critical Thinking, Ninth Edition(Chapter 5 Persuasion Through Rhetoric: Common Devices and Techniques)

Either Dr. Rauser knows this or he doesn’t. If he does, then he was playing to the crowds of people who are ignorant of this fact. If he doesn’t, then, well, he’s ignorant, or rather blinded by his faith to keep him from seeing it for what it is.

When it comes to my choice not to introduce the essays that follow in the book, I can write as I wish about my trilogy of books as a whole, and the key ingredient to them is my Outsider Test for Faith (OTF) which I wanted readers to be aware of if they hadn't read my previous books in the series.

Okay so far? He wanted me to review his review. I’m only getting started. ;-)

The guts of his objections to my Introduction have to do with the OTF, which he mischaracterizes as follows:
(1) If you are the adherent to a religion you should subject your basic metaphysical commitments to skeptical “outsider” analysis.

(2) If you do (1) you will become an atheist.

(3) Thus the person who does (1) and remains committed to their religion did not really do (1).

(4) Atheists don’t have to subject their metaphysical commitments to skeptical analysis because they already did so and that’s why they’re atheists.
The problem is that his re-write of my language in (1) is that it doesn't include a standard of skepticism, the one that believers already use. To change his language to accurately reflect the OTF it would best be described as this:
(1’) If you are the adherent to a religion you should subject your basic metaphysical commitments to skeptical “outsider” analysis in the same way you do to the metaphysical commitments that you reject (I prefer the phrase “religious faiths” to “metaphysical commitments” but that’s probably just a quibble since I use that phrase myself).
The reason the OTF has the force that it does is because it’s pointing out a double standard, one that believers use to evaluate their own faith and a different one when they evaluate the other faiths they reject. This is a difference that makes all the difference.

When it comes to (2) and (3) these things are not actually part of the test itself. They are conclusions I think reasonable people should probably come to though. He simply ignores what I wrote, for I said, “I grant that a religion could pass the OTF.” Turning to (4) that’s not everything I said on the subject, for I also said “All metaphysical claims must pass the OTF before we should believe them.” And the way for someone to test them is through science:
Scientific knowledge has so decisively passed an outsider test that we must examine all religious faiths in light of it. Show me the math and we agree. Show me the experiment and the argument is over. Show me the scientific poll and the case is closed. Show me what we learn from brain science and there can be no dispute. The sciences then are the only way to keep us all from deluding ourselves. So for a religious faith to pass the OTF it must be detectable by the sciences. Period. If believers reject the sciences as a way to know the truth then let them propose a better alternative. What’s the alternative?
Then after some of his own exaggerated rhetoric, *ahem*, he says:
I won’t rehash my objections to this OTF. You can read them in the link above and (in more polished form) in my forthcoming book The Swedish Atheist, the Scuba Diver and Other Apologetic Rabbit Trails
This is a nice creative title for a book by the way! I'll never fault him for not being creative, that's fer sure. We see his creativity in his defense of Christianity as well. I have already responded to his linked objections, which can be read here.

I don’t think I need to say anything more about his criticisms of the OTF. And I took what he said in his book to task in my forthcoming one to be released in April of next year titled: The Outsider Test for Faith: How to Decide Which Religion is True. (Hint: his posts were better than the book chapter on it, which he kindly sent me).

Rauser suggests buying a better but much cheaper product than the OTF at Walmart, and then offers that cheaper version:
Everyone should critically introspect their basic worldview commitments with objectivity and care.

If everyone does this then any OTF is rendered otiose.
We all know what you get when you buy cheap. You get what you pay for. In this case it's not worth two cents. If anyone gives him even that price one should expect some change back.

The problem with this “test” of his is that it is no test at all. I take several alternatives like this one to task in my forthcoming book. Believers already think this is what they do! Just ask them. Just ask any apologist for a different faith or sect within it if they have done so. They have, you see, all of them. But ask them instead to be consistent, by subjecting their own faith to the same level of skepticism they already subject the other faiths they reject, and that will get their attention. It calls for a non-double standard. It’s a fair, consistent, and honest test, one they already use.

Then Rauser criticizes two of my “indefensible" claims. His first critique concerns my statement that, “Skepticism is an adult attitude for arriving at the truth.”

Rauser’s opines:
Epistemologically speaking, this is a dimestore comment, the kind that you expect to hear from undergraduates who are taking their first Intro to Philosophy course and have become enamored with Descartes’ “Meditations”. But try that statement out in a graduate seminar in epistemology. To equate the pursuit of truth with skepticism alone is like rowing on only one side of the boat. A grown up approach to the pursuit of truth involves a richly nuanced balancing act between skepticism and belief, doubt and commitment.
Rauser badly mischaracterizes my point. We were all raised as believers. Whatever our parents told us we believed. We didn’t know not to do so. Children are gullible people. Does the phrase, “It’s like taking candy from a baby” have any meaning at all to it? Sure it does. Skepticism is a learned attitude. That’s the point. It doesn’t come naturally. Adults should have that attitude by critically examining the basis of what they were taught on their mama’s knees about religion. Why? Precisely because all mama’s cannot be correct when they teach their children to believe mutually exclusive religions. Therefore, by virtue of religious diversity alone, skepticism is an adult attitude for arriving at the truth. And Rauser also attributes to me a false radical type of skepticism. What Rauser pictures me saying is that adults should have a type of skepticism that doubts everything. No, that's not reasonable to suppose I meant that at all. A skeptic accepts plenty of things as true. Whatever passes through our adult skeptical filter, whatever has good solid evidence for it--sufficient evidence--whatever has the support of the findings of science, whatever passes through the OTF (or doubt itself), is accepted easily by skeptics.

His second critique concerns the following statement of mine:
I agree with the Protestant criticisms of the Catholics as well as the Catholic criticisms of the Protestants. I agree with the fundamentalist criticisms of the liberals as well as the liberal criticisms of the fundamentalists. In addition, I agree with the Hindu, Muslim, and Jewish criticisms of Christianity, as well as the Christian criticisms of their religions. When they criticize each other, I think they’re all right.
Rauser says this is a “baldly incoherent, reckless, and indefensible claim.” He writes:
Let’s think about this for a moment. Christians criticize Muslims for denying the historical crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. According to John, since this is a criticism of Islam he agrees with it. In other words, he agrees that Jesus was crucified and rose again! But before you get too excited note that Muslims criticize Christianity for calling Jesus God since there is no God but Allah. Since this is a criticism of Christianity John agrees with it and thus believes there is no God but Allah. And Hindus critique Christianity and Islam for rejecting the doctrine of reincarnation so John must agree with that as well. But of course Christians and Muslims critique Hinduism for accepting the doctrine of reincarnation so John must accept that as well.
No, no. no. I have read some of Rauser’s more scholarly stuff and what he usually does is to go through a few possible interpretations of an argument leading up to the most charitable interpretation before criticizing it. I know this is the blog world but he didn’t try to do anything like that with my argument, so let me help him. I meant that when they criticize the basis for each other’s faith I agree with their conclusions, and quite probably their reasoning as well. It doesn’t mean, nor should it, that I both agree and disagree with the claim that Jesus did not die on the cross. I cannot possibly believe all of that which these mutually different religions believe. That is definitely NOT being charitable with what I intended to say. If he really thinks I did, then I find it extremely odd he would ever consider co-writing a book with someone as ignorant and inconsistent as he portrays me, but he did.

When I say that I agree with the criticisms of other religionists against each other, I never said I agreed with all of them, no siree Bob, just the fatal ones. When Orthodox Jews argue against the Christian belief that Jesus arose from the dead, I agree with their conclusions and quite probably agree with their reasons for rejecting it as well. When Christians argue against Mohammed flying through the night on a winged horse, or that the Koran is not the divinely inspired text it claims, then I agree with their criticisms too. Such things like that. That is, when these different religions are skeptical of other mutually exclusive extraordinary religious claims of supernatural powers, answered prayers, and claims of miracles, I agree with them all. Comprendo? When they are being skeptics then I agree with them.

In the same line of thought, Rauser writes:
Ironically, on the very next page John critiques “liberal” Christians: “all they do is pick and choose what parts of the Bible to believe….” (20) Talk about the pot calling the kettle black! John critiques liberals for picking and choosing how to read the Bible when he will “pick and choose” any argument to critique any religion.

And John has the gall to challenge others to introspect their beliefs? Physician, heal thyself!
Wait just a minute, Rauser! What I did on that very page was to offer an example of what I meant when I said, “I agree with the fundamentalist criticisms of the liberals as well as the liberal criticisms of the fundamentalists.” Here’s the full paragraph (notice the words “for instance”):
For instance, I don’t say much by way of criticizing liberalism because I don’t have to do so. Christian fundamentalists do that for me. Their criticism of the liberals is my criticism, which centers on why they even bother with the Bible at all. Why not the Koran, the Bhagavad Gita, or Mary Baker Eddy’s Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures? The liberal deconstruction of the Bible has put an end to Biblical studies, as has been argued most effectively by professor Hector Avalos. If believers no longer accept the historical underpinnings of their faith they should look for a different one or none at all. It’s the intellectually honest thing to do. To me, liberalism is like a pretend game much like M. Night Shyamalan’s movie, The Village. In my opinion liberals should stop pretending.
I have not bothered to read the comments below this post of his, since I only grabbed the text of the post itself to comment on. After reading such a dismal OP I see no reason to do so.

I'll end with two questions, one for Christians reading this exchange between us (be sure to read what he wrote as well), and one for Randal.

Christian, Dr. Rauser is clearly one of the brightest apologists for evangelical Christianity on the planet. If he can think and reason so very badly in defense of his faith, as I've just shown, then why do you only read what Christian apologists write and ignore the writings of atheists themselves? My claim is that the more educated Christians are then the MORE not LESS blinded they are with regard to their faith. That's why if you only read their writings you will think atheists do not have a case at all. The reason why they make it sound this way is because they are MORE blinded by their faith, not less. Because of this they cannot possibly see what you do, the average Christian. Once in your life read one of my books. I recommend this one, The End of Christianity, and then read Rauser's lame critique of it. Do it just once. You just might see the same things I see as shown here.

To Randal, do you really want me to continue? ;-)