The First Few Pages From "The Outsider Test for Faith"

There's a great deal of misunderstanding about my book, The Outsider Test for Faith: How to Know Which Religion Is True (OTF). Look at the subtitle. It's proposing a test to know which religion is true. With the proliferation of a diversity of religions and sects what can be wrong with providing an objective test to know which one is true, if there is one? Nothing. Nothing I can see. Nothing at all. If you don't like this test propose a different one. My hunch is it'll look exactly like this one, if it's both reasonable and based on sufficient objective evidence. It's unbelievable that most believers object to it, or eviscerate its power to get at the truth. The reason must be they instinctively know their faith won't pass the test. THAT should say something significant! They should come out in droves to embrace it instead. That would get our attention. But they don't. The OTF allows no double standards. It requires sufficient objective evidence. It requires shouldering the burden of proof. No wonder believers don't like it, since all they have is fallacious reasoning based in special pleading, gross mischaracterization, a boatload of non-sequiturs, red-herrings, begging the question at every crucial juncture, and so much more. Herer are a few high recommendations of it.

The Outsider Test for Faith

 The problem this book addresses is the massive amount of world­wide religious diversity, why it exists, and how to solve it, if it can be solved at all. The goal is to help readers know how to tell which religion is true, if any of them are. My claim is that if we keep on doing the same things, we will get the same results. So far nothing has worked because believers have not considered what their faith looks like to an outsider, a nonbeliever in their particular religion. So why keep on doing the same things? I see no reason why we should. This book presents a sustained case that the only way to settle this problem is with the Outsider Test for Faith (OTF).

Inside these pages is my final understanding about the test. If someone finds any inconsistency with something I say in this book when compared with my previous writings or blog posts, then I have either learned from my critics how to better express myself or I have changed my mind, and that’s a good thing. I’ve written this book as if it is the only one my readers have ever read from me, just in case that’s the case. So sometimes you’ll find me using the exact words I used in my previous books.

When it comes to assessing the truth claims of Christian theism (or religion in general) the biggest question of all is whether we should approach the available evidence through the eyes of faith, as an insider, or with the eyes of skepticism, as an outsider, a non­believer. Complete neutrality, as sort of a blank-slate-type condition, while desirable, is practically impossible, since the cultural glasses we use to see the available evidence are often already religious, and they’re already there prior to looking at the evidence. So I argue that we need some sort of objective, unbiased, non-double-standard type of test in order to investigate what we were taught to believe.

My argument is as follows:

(1) People who are located in distinct geographical areas around the globe overwhelmingly adopt and justify a wide diversity of reli­gious faiths due to their particular upbringing and shared cultural heritage, and most of these faiths are mutually exclusive. This is the Religious Diversity Thesis (RDVT). The sociological facts are easy to come by. If we were raised in Thailand we would probably be Buddhists. If we were raised in Saudi Arabia we’d probably be Muslims. If we were raised in Mexico we’d probably be Catholics. The main thing religious diversity shows us is that not every religious faith can possibly be true. In fact, given the number of mutually exclusive religious faiths in the world, each of which claims exclusive access to religious truth, it’s highly likely, given the odds alone, that the one we inherited in our respective culture is false. This is a problem that believers must take seriously. It cries out for a good explanation.

(2) The best explanation for (1) is that adopting and justifying one’s religious faith is not a matter of independent rational judg­ment. Rather, to an overwhelming degree, one’s religious faith is causally dependent on brain processes, cultural conditions, and irrational thinking patterns. This is the Religious Dependency Thesis (RDPT). 

From brain biology we know that humans have inherited from our animal ancestors an innate capacity for detecting patterns (like faces) in random data and for seeing personal agency behind random forces in nature. In the animal world, where any hesitation in fleeing from a predator could lead to being eaten alive, these senses of patternicity and agenticity (as they are called) are beneficial for survival. Human beings transformed these survival mechanisms into seeing divine beings active behind the scenes, orchestrating such natural and human-made phenomena as thunderstorms, droughts, victory or defeat in war, births of sons, bumper crops, and so forth.2  

Anthropological data have shown us that we overwhelmingly adopt what our respective cultures teach us and that we are unable to see our own cultural biases because we are completely immersed in our inherited culture. Culture has an overwhelming impact on what we think and believe.3  

From conclusive psychological studies we have learned that people, all of us, have a very strong tendency toward believing what we prefer to believe and toward justifying those beliefs. Once our minds are made up, it is very hard to change them. We will even take lack of evidence as evidence for what we believe. Almost shockingly, these studies have shown us that encountering information that goes against our point of view can actually make us more convinced that we were right to begin with.4

From (1) and (2) it follows that:

(3) It is highly likely that any given religious faith is false and quite possible that they could all be false. At best there can be only one religious faith that is true. At worst, they could all be false. The sociological facts, along with our brain biology, anthropological (or cultural) data, and psychological studies, lead us to this highly likely conclusion.

So I propose that:

(4) The only way to rationally test one’s culturally adopted religious faith is from the perspective of an outsider, a nonbeliever, with the same level of reasonable skepticism believers already use when examining the other religious faiths they reject. This expresses the Outsider Test for Faith (OTF). ­

The OTF is a self-diagnostic test to aid honest believers in exam­ining their inherited religious faith. It is for believers who, upon becoming adults, wish to test their inherited faith. Learning a reli­gion upon Mama’s knee is an unreliable way to gain the “correct” religious faith, since a wide diversity of religions are taught to chil­dren in the same exact way, only one of which, at most, can be true. The odds are that the religious faith you were taught to believe is false, given the number of faiths handed down by parents in separate geographical regions around the globe.

I want people to see the OTF as a solution to the problem of reli­gious diversity, a problem that needs a solution. No other methods have worked before. If people cannot find solutions to problems within a business, they hire solution specialists who offer ways to solve them. Mediators find ways to bring people together by offering ways they can see their differences in a better light. That’s what the OTF does. The goal is to offer a fair test to find out which religion is true, if there is one. To be a fair and objective test it must allow that any conclusion could result, and the OTF does just that. The OTF grants that a religious faith can be reasonable and asks believers to test their faith with it, just as it grants that nonbelief can be reasonable and asks nonbelievers to consider the religious options available. It also grants the possibility that one particular religious faith could pass the test, just as it grants the possibility that none of them might pass it. It offers the only objective non–double standard for doing so.

Believers can respond to the OTF in four ways: (1) object to (or mitigate) the facts of the RDVT and the RDPT that form the basis for the test; (2) object to the OTF by arguing that it is faulty or unfair in some relevant manner; (3) along with objections (1) and/or (2), provide a better alternative to reasonably judge between religions; or (4) subject their religion to the test, as it has been described here, in which case it either (a) passes or (b) fails intellectual muster. It’s that simple. If, in the end, believers can neither find fault with the OTF nor propose a better alternative, and if they find that no religion can pass the test, then that’s not the fault of the test. Rather, the problem is with the religious faith(s) being tested.

One way to look at the OTF is to see it as involving three separate stages. The first stage involves establishing the sociological, biolog­ical, cultural, and psychological data that form the basis of the test. The second stage involves demonstrating that the OTF is required by these facts and that it offers the only way for believers to rationally test their faith. The third stage involves believers and nonbelievers using the OTF as a basis for arguments about which religious faith is true, if there is one. 

Some believers may largely agree with the basis for the test, the first stage, but disagree with the second stage, the test itself, by finding fault with it and proposing what they consider a better test. But as you would guess, I think both of the first two stages in my whole case are unassailable, based on sound reasoning from the scientific data. Other believers may agree with the first and second stages but go on to argue in the third stage that their particular faith passes the outsider test. At that point believers have agreed to the standard of the test itself, and that’s a good thing. For then we have a foundation for all future debates about religion. In the absence of accepting the test, believers and nonbelievers are condemned to talking past one another.

As a nonbeliever, I use the outsider test, in the third stage, to argue against religion in general and Christianity in particular. I suspect that if believers are willing to take the challenge of the OTF, they will find that their faith fails the test, and they will be forced to abandon it like I did mine. I argue that religious faiths do not pass the OTF. I argue that by its very nature faith cannot pass the OTF because faith is always unreasonable. I argue that the problem is faith itself. With faith as a foundation, anything can be believed, so informed people should reject faith altogether. Faith-based rea­soning is belief in search of the facts. Faith, as I argue, is an irrational leap over the probabilities. Probabilities about such a matter are all that matter. We should think exclusively in terms of them.

Again, it is possible that there could be a religion that passes the test. That’s to be determined based on the test itself. But I argue, in the third stage, that because of the nature of faith, no faith passes the outsider test. Sufficient evidence just doesn’t exist for any faith. Christianity, for instance, could have passed the outsider test if God had provided the evidence needed to justify belief. But I argue he didn’t do so. Given the fact that those of countless contradictory reli­gious faiths believe and defend what they were raised to believe, and most of them are certain about their faith, until one of them steps up to the plate and offers something more by way of evidence than the other faiths, it’s not reasonable to have faith in any of them.

That I use the OTF in this way does not undercut it at all, since a believer could argue for the test exactly as I do and then, in the third stage, argue that his or her particular faith passes the test. So someone cannot be skeptical of the OTF simply because I use it to argue against religious faith. For the first two stages can be justified independently of my conclusions in the third stage.

I’m expressing these things with believers in mind because non­believers are, after all, already outsiders. Nonetheless, nonbelievers should also want to know which religion is true, if there is one, espe­cially those who were raised as nonbelievers.

If God created us as reasonable people, then the correct religious faith should have sufficient evidence for it, since that’s what reasonable people require. Otherwise, if sufficient evidence does not exist, then God counterproductively created us as reasonable people who would subsequently reject the correct faith.

The OTF calls upon believers to examine their own religious faith from the perspective of an outsider, a nonbeliever, with the same level of reasonable skepticism they already use to examine the other religious faiths they reject.
To believers who demur, they need to answer five questions:
1. Do you agree that a consistent standard invoking fairness is the best way to objectively come to know the correct religious faith, if there is one? If not, why not?
2. Do you agree that the default attitude of informed skepticism is the fairest way to objectively examine religious faiths? If not, why not? What’s the alternative? How can this alternative method solve the problem of religious diversity in our world?
3. Do you agree that if your faith is true then people born into dif­ferent religious cultures should reasonably be able to become insiders to your faith despite their initial skepticism—a skepti­cism that they were born into?
4. If you object to the OTF, be honest, is it because you think your faith cannot pass this test? If so, would you agree that such an objection is based on emotions rather than logic, that you are afraid to doubt, afraid to know the truth? What are you afraid of?
5. When you examine the truth of the religions you reject, whether they be Christianity, Islam, Orthodox Judaism, Hinduism, Scientology, Mormonism, Shintoism, Jainism, Haitian Voodoo, the John Frum Cargo Cult, Satanism, or the many African and Chinese tribal religions, do you have a rea­soned or informed skepticism? If so, do you agree with the OTF that a fairer method, involving a non–double standard, is to assume your own faith should be evaluated with that same type of skepticism?