I’ll admit that I was surprised to see John Loftus’ new book The Outsider Test of Faith. On one hand, the OTF has been Loftus’ signature argument for six or seven years now. On the other hand, it’s fundamentally a simple argument.
The OTF, boiled down, states that you should evaluate your faith from the outside. As Loftus puts it, “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.”
So, in short, the OTF is nothing more than the golden rule: You should treat your own religion exactly as you treat other religions, and evaluate your beliefs using the same criteria that you use to evaluate others’ beliefs. It’s a sound and powerful argument. Granted, stepping outside oneself and one’s own upbringing is one of the most difficult things to do. Still, do we really need an entire book to explain it?
Answer: no, but we do need an entire book to defend it. Loftus’ first couple of chapters describe the OTF and the thought process behind it. His last two chapters work through the OTF and explain some of the implications. But half of the book is Loftus responding to critics.
Loftus is a magnet for apologists, so he’s got quite a rogues gallery of people to work through. He does a good job of condensing arguments that likely took up long comment threads on one blog or another, but there’s still a lot of ground to cover.
All this does leave me with a problem. The natural audience for this book are people like myself who are stuck in to the world of apologetics and counter-apologetics. This new work gives us a nice handbook where all the likely moves of the debate are spelled out. People who avoid these debates – known in the trade as sane people – might be better off sticking with Loftus’ shorter description of the OTF in the collection The End of Christianity.