Saturday, August 28, 2010

L 4.1

Loftus advocates what he calls an outsider test. The idea is for a person to step outside of their belief, particularly Christianity, to objectively and impartially evaluate it. On p. 66 he says "But from the outside, the adherent of a different faith seems blind." What he is saying is that religious people are all saying the same thing about each others’ beliefs; that they’re false. If those same people could remove themselves to a position of non-belief, then they would be better able to appropriately assess the validity of these non-scientific worldviews and most likely would abandon them since they are the product of ancient superstitions. What Loftus fails to mention is that no one, not even agnostics, are devoid of faith.

Non-theism is the belief that naturalism is all there is. It is the faith that science can ultimately explain everything. Scientific methodology is the ultimate authority. Agnostics try to paint themselves as having non-belief or a-belief but, that is in itself a belief. It is belief in restraint from making a statement on either extreme of God’s existence. Agnostics use various means to determine that we either don’t have enough information or can’t know if God exists. That is faith in the means to make such a determination. In one sense, the outsider test for faith is a sham. Does Loftus advocate that a person remove themselves to a position of non-belief in anything in order to assess a worldview? If so, that’s an impossible task. Epistemology just doesn’t work that way. In order to assess beliefs, there has to be a method of doing so. A method is based on beliefs in certain things. Is Loftus saying a person should look at a belief through the eyes of someone who is not an advocate of that worldview? This isn’t much better because if you want to learn how to paint, you don’t ask an engineer. You ask a painter. If you are looking for God, you don’t ask an atheist because they don’t believe God exists.

In another sense, the outsider test for faith is a good idea in that people should constantly evaluate their beliefs objectively. The best way to do that is to be able to accurately reproduce objections to that belief. For the Christian, this means being educated in non-theist thinking so that those points can be paraphrased accurately back to a non-theist and they would agree that the objection has been adequately captured. In fact, the Bible exhorts believers to “test the spirits” in 1 John 4:1. There certainly have been people who don’t follow this admonition but, they do so contrary to what the Bible says.

The outsider test for faith isn’t quite as unique of an idea as Loftus seems to think it is and many, many people have employed it frequently in their lives. If Loftus were honest with himself, he probably wouldn’t be so confident in it’s ability to make atheists out of brainwashed Christians. There have been atheists who investigated Christianity from the “outside” and found Christianity to be too convincing to resist.

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