John Loftus proposes that religious insiders should test their own religious beliefs with the outsider test. He recently presented this argument to the Evangelical Philosophical Society, which is a brave deed. I’m amazed he got out alive.
What is the outsider test? It’ll take you 13 paragraphs to get to it, so I’ll highlight it for you:
The outsider test is simply a challenge to test one’s own religious faith with the presumption of skepticism, as an outsider. It calls upon believers to “Test or examine your religious beliefs as if you were outsiders with the same presumption of skepticism you use to test or examine other religious beliefs.”
Its presumption is that when examining any set of religious beliefs skepticism is warranted, since the odds are good that the particular set of religious beliefs you have adopted is wrong.
This is how religious people evaluate other religions. It’s why they think they are all absurd — well, all except for their own.
When we are on the outside of a religion, we see its errors and absurdities as obvious proof of its falsehood. But when we are on the inside, we attribute those same errors and absurdities — if we admit them at all — to our own limitations.
Here is the challenge of the outside test to Christians:
To the Christian theist the challenge of the outsider test means there would be no more quoting the Bible to defend the claim that Jesus’ death on the cross saves us from sins. The Christian theist must now try to rationally explain it. No more quoting the Bible to show how it’s possible for Jesus to be 100% God and 100% man with nothing left over. The Christian theist must now try to make sense of this claim, coming as it does from an ancient superstitious people who didn’t have trouble believing Paul and Barnabas were “gods in human form” (Acts 14:11; 28:6).
The Christian theist must not assume prior to examining the evidence that there is an answer to the problem of horrendous suffering in our world either. And she’d be initially skeptical of believing in any of the miracles in the Bible, just as she would be skeptical of any claims of the miraculous in today’s world supporting other religious faiths.
Why? Because she cannot start out by first believing the Bible, nor can she trust the people close to her who are Christian theists to know the truth, nor can she trust her own anecdotal religious experiences, since such experiences are had by people of all religious faiths who differ about the cognitive content learned as the result of these experiences. She would want evidence and reasons for these beliefs.
Christian, just ask yourself whether the initial reasons you had for adopting your faith were strong ones. Just think about the problems you’ve experienced in your churches along with the intellectual problems you wrestle with in meetings like these. If you could go back in time knowing what you know now about how Christians behave in the church would you still choose to believe? And those initial arguments that convinced you to believe would surely be thought of by you as simplistic and unworthy of your consideration today. Just ask yourself if you would’ve become a Mormon instead, had a joyous friendly Mormon group approached you at that same vulnerable time in your life.
Most all of us, most all of the time, do not have good initial reasons to accept our religious faith, which from that time forward acts like a set of blinders with regard to how we see the evidence. We just end up believing what we were taught to believe by people we trust in a Christian dominated culture.
If more people were willing to honestly submit themselves to the outsider test, I think our debates and conversations would be far more intelligent and productive. Don’t you?