Dr. Matthew Flannagan Opposes Known Facts Requiring the OTF

Ladies and gentlemen, I humbly submit to you more in the case study of Dr. Matt Flannagan's view of the The Outsider Test for Faith. Here's an example of what cognitive biases do to someone's brain when rejecting the requirement for sufficient objective evidence. He's digging his heels in deeper and deeper into the muddy waters of his faith bias. [See Tag for earlier entries].

This exchange took place on Facebook. I had posted pictures of the Christian apologetics books I own and Flannagan commented.

Flannagan: I am pretty confident that during my education: through secular public school, a public university known for leftist leanings and activism and a secular philosophy department. I studied, read and listened to more atheists and secularists than the average atheist has to Christians. I certainly have read more atheists philosophers than any atheists I know has read Christians.

I had to pounce!

Loftus: You had me up until the bold claim of your last sentence. I think you may know of one such atheist. Even if what you claim is true, it only shows that cognitive biases run wild within your brain. I know this from your review of the outsider test for faith.

The goal of the OTF is to help indoctrinated people to require sufficient objective evidence for their own faith, just as they require it for the faiths they reject. You failed to properly object to the OTF because your brain wouldn't allow you to understand it. LINK.

Flannagan: John I have shown already that the OTF is incoherent, as have many people, calling people “cognitive biased” when they point out your view is contradictory doesn’t make you an open minded free thinker.

Loftus: Thanks for the assertion. If so, answer the questions I had asked. Have you read my book on it?

Flannagan: As you know I have actually argued your position is incoherent in print. But, given the OTF, in this context I can make an assetion, remember the correct stance to take towards disputed positions is the stance of a skeptical outsider, so the burden of proof is on you to prove the OTF from a presumption of skepticism.

Loftus: I made a good case for it in my book. That's all that can be expected. All you seem to be interested in doing is defending your faith by sophistication and obfuscation, rather than understanding what it aims to do. Tell ya what, if nothing else, think of it as advocating the evidentialist apologetic method. That's how Dr. Wallace Marshall sees it, and he endorses it. Now do we have your undivided attention? LINK.

Flannagan: John sorry, but to test your ideas I have to approach what you say from the perspective of a skeptical outsider so I need to presume a skeptical stance towards it and any premises you offer for it.

Accusing people of obfuscation, doesn’t do that. Neither does saying someone endorses your book.

Suppose the only argument I made for Theism was to say one scholar endorsed my ideas, said I had written a book, and suggested you were engaging in obfuscation, what that be enough to overcome the skeptical presumption laid down by the OTF.

Time to be consistent with your beliefs John, please show me, from premises no skeptical outsider would question, that the OTF is true?

Loftus: An outsider is a nonbeliever. Show us why you should not approach your own faith as you do towards the faiths you reject, like Hinduism, Islam, Judaism. Show us why you are not a hypocrite using a double standard of nonbelief towards other faiths than your own. Tell us what you would say to other nonChristian theists who do what you do in reverse, by treating their religions with faith but yours as a nonbeliever? *Shesh* What's wrong with you? You are arguing disingenuously in bad faith, something so obvious I only need to expose what you've said to others.

Flannagan: Unfortunately, as you describe it in your writings the outsider test isnt just a stance of not believing something. (a stance which everyone takes to some propositions and not towards others). It’s supposed to be a method for testing for beliefs. Basically, it contends that whenever an idea is subject to widespread disagreement, both cross-culturally and historically, the default position is scepticism.

The problem is John, I don’t and never have suggested this was the correct way to test *any* religious belief. Whether my own or others, as I have repeatedly pointed out. I think this test is incoherent and entails obvious absurdities, so I don’t endorse it as a test for any belief system.

So repeatedly saying I follow the OTF with other beliefs and not my own doesn’t really prove anything. It is true that I don’t believe in other religions, but the OTF isnt just a stance of unbelief. It is supposed to be a test, and I don’t endorse it as a test, at all, for anything. So there is no inconsistency at all.

I have repeatedly however offered *arguments* against the OTF . I have pointed out for example that: (a) almost no philosophical claim of any substance whether religious or secular can be proved from premises which are not contested by some rational person. So OTF entails that you should reject almost everything you believe, including all most every premise you appeal to in arguments against religion. (b) I also pointed out the OTF is incoherent, it itself affirms a contested conclusion about how best to test ideas. Almost no one today endorses it as a test. Anyone who accepted a Bayesian or a hypothetical deductive model of confirmation would reject it as a test, as would people who advocate coherence as a test of truth. Seeing it is a contested position, if it is true, we should be sceptical of the OTF.

Now, John, you haven’t answered these arguments, you have affirmed the OTF, you have falsely, claimed to follow it for other religions. ( I don’t) And you have attacked my motives, declaring I am arguing in bad faith, and so forth. But none of those actually address my arguments.

John, you make a name for your self as a sceptic, you demand people test their beliefs, that they adopt a stance of scepticism towards contested ideas and not believe them without proof. I am just asking you to provide me with the proof you have for the OTF. The fact you don’t offer it tends to prove my point that your position is self-contradictory.

Demanding people accept without any proof the contested claim that you shouldn’t accept any contested claim without proof is mildly amusing, but not really a serious coherent thesis.

Loftus: Let's start over, at the beginning. What is incoherent or self-contradictory with what I write in my book?:

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.

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. [To read the rest click here.]

Loftus: You haven't read my book on it. The goal in it is to solve, if possible, the problem of religious diversity. Nothing has worked so far. That's because no one has tried, really tried.

Flannagan: The incoherence is shown by the arguments I have presented already. But let’s put it this way: Widespread religious diversity goes hand in hand with widespread philosophical diversity, where there are diverse views on ethics, metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of science, and so on.

So here is the question, should we also take the outsider test for every answer to every philosophical question? Or is it a test you only wheel out when the diversity is religion.

That leads to the second question, isn’t the outsider test “itself” a contested answer to a philosophical question?

Loftus: I deal with the first objection in my book. Yes, we should subject every belief about the nature of nature, its origins and behavior to the test of objective evidence. The really good thing about the OTF is that it helps eliminate, as far as possible, the influences of cognitive biases so we can see the objective evidence.

As far as a noncontested argument goes, that isn't a realistic criterion. All we can ask for is a good argument, and I've provided that.

Flannagan: “As far as a noncontested argument goes, that isn't a realistic criterion. All we can ask for is a good argument, and I've done that“

I don’t think you can make this response. Arguments for the truth of a given belief always appeal to premises , which are other beliefs.

So if you have to test “every belief” with the OTF then we must adopt the stance of a skeptical outsider to the premises of every argument we offer.

On the other hand if this is “unrealistic” and we can focus on “good” arguments, even though they rely on contested premises, then your claim we should test “every belief” by being a skeptical outsider towards it, is false.

What you cant do is claim we should adopt the OTF when you want to attack Christianity and then say its an “unrealistic” test when its premises you want to appeal to, to attack Christianity. Thats just special pleading.

This is one reason I think the more traditional coherence test for truth is more plausible. You dont don’t test beliefs by adopting a skeptical stance towards them, you test them by adopting them for the sake of argument and then seeing if the perspective gained is coherent. That is how truth testing functions in almost every other field.

Loftus: You attribute to me an extreme skepticism in order to escape your responsibility to fairly evaluate your own faith, as you do others, by eliminating your cognitive biases as much as possible. The problem is religious diversity. This is not about test every belief we have, although since you asked, I do think we should test every belief about nature, its workings and even origins with evidence, which is hindered in some cases like religion due to cognitive biases. How can we best solve religious diversity? By adopting the default position, as best as possible, of an informed nonbeliever who understands the fact of wide religious diversity in the world, and the fact that we adopt and defend the religion we are taught in our religious culture. There is an overwhelming amount of data supporting this from anthropologists, neurologists, and psychologists. Our brains are hard-wired to believe. They did not evolve to know the truth. We prefer the ideas of our social communities and tribes over objective evidence. In fact, the brain treats foreign ideas like physical attacks. LINK.

In the case of religion we're not simply counting spoons. We have a highly emotional reaction when asked to consider we were raised incorrectly. That knee jerk reaction must be countered if we are to clearheaded and be rational about it. So we must want to know the truth enough to approach our culturally adopted faith as if we were nonbelievers, people who were not raised to believe it in the first place.

I argue the OTF is the best way to mentally consider one's faith given these things. In chapter 4 of my book I examined six other proposed tests for religious truth and find them faulty.

Flannagan: “You attribute to me an extreme skepticism in order to escape your responsibility to fairly evaluate your own faith, as you do others,”

No, I dont attribute it to you, i suggest extreme skepticism is an implication of your position. I don’t think you hold to extreme skepticism. That is the point of the argument it is a reductio ad absurdium. It is that your position has implications which you dont don’t accept and couldn’t rationally accept.

“ by eliminating your cognitive biases as much as possible. The problem is religious diversity. This is not about test every belief we have,”

Seeing skepticism is one of the positions in the game, you don’t eliminate cognitive bias by making it the default position.

But your comment proves my point here, you limit the test to “religious beliefs” due to “religious diversity”. But as I pointed out, the very same diversity occurs in other spheres of life. There is philosophical diversity, epistemological diversity, meta-ethical diversity, moral diversity, diversity in political philosophy, diversity in hermeneutics and so on. Hence, your position means you should be skeptical about every substantive, philosophical premise.

Note that every time this refutation of your position is made, you simply hand wave and suggest those who disagree with you have cognitive biases. That isnt how you refute a reductio.

Loftus: No one says we can eliminate cognitive biases. But we must do everything we can to minimize them if we want to know the truth. When there's a good reason to doubt then we should doubt. There are degrees of doubt. We should think exclusively according to the probabilities and then proportion our beliefs according to the objective evidence. The amount of objective evidence required depends on the nature of the claim. Given the extraordinary nature of religious faith claims, which far too many believers accept without evidence, and the sheer number of adherents who believe different religions with certainty based on the accidents of birth, we should doubt what we were raised to believe. Add to this what we know about the nature of our brains that are hard-wired to believe despite objective evidence, and the existence of known cognitive biases that prevent our brains from evaluating what we were taught to believe in our social environments, intellectually honest believers would want to test their religious faith in this way if they only heard of it.

How we test a truth claim has a great deal to do with the kind claim we're testing. Sometimes a poll can settle one type of claim. Other times we can settle a different claim by traveling somewhere. Counting spoons can test a certain type of claim, while sitting on a fluffy pillow can test a different one. Logic and/or math can test other types of truth claims. In testing some types of claims we rely heavily on one discipline of learning, while testing other claims we rely heavily on other disciplines of learning. Some claims demand testing from several different academic disciplines. It depends on the type of claim we're testing that determines how we test it.

A few years back I spoke to a group of students (including two ministers) at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Indiana. I started by asking them this question: "How many of you know which religion is true?" A few hands were raised. I continued, "How sure are you that your religion is true?" The overwhelming response was "100%". It's the typical response when it comes to religious faith because faith has no method for determining truth. With faith anything can be believed or denied without any evidence at all.

The OTF is the type of test geared to test religious faith just as geologists test the age of the earth with rock samples, just as neurologists test brain states with CAT scans, just as economists test economical theories with the results of economical policies. You cannot test the age of the earth with a CAT scan, nor can you test economical theories with rock samples. We develop appropriate tests for each different truth claim being tested. The goal of the OTF is to help eliminate cognitive biases so one can clearly and honestly evaluate his or her religion. It's that simple.

It may not be over yet, since the Force/Faith is strong with that one! No matter how it goes from here, he's already lost this debate. LINK.