The Outsider’s Test and the Golden Rule

The Outsider’s Test and the Golden Rule August 21, 2014

Jerry Coyne shared the cartoon below, which illustrates the tendency we have to consider that the culture, religion, species, and everything else we are brought up with is the best, rather than the more likely scenario which is that we think they are the best because they are what we were brought up with. Ironically, some atheists assume that what is sometimes called the The Outsider Test for Faith (as in the title of the book by John Loftus) leads naturally to atheism. But for some of us, the attempt to look at our own inherited religious tradition as well as atheism from the outside suggests that both have their weaknesses because they are inevitably human worldviews reflecting our limited perspective. I’d argue that the appropriate response to taking the outsider test is to inhabit some human worldview more humbly, with greater respect for those of others (because you understand what they are), rather than adoption of the stance that you have now found the one correct viewpoint, managing to break free of the shackles of human limitations.

To me, this is simply an application of the Golden Rule to our interaction with the views of others. We cannot step outside of our human perspectives. and genuinely view from “the outside.” The most we can try to do is to treat the views of others as we would want ours to be treated.



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  • Darach Conneely

    Speaking as an Irishman, that isn’t how I see the world. I love Irish culture in spite of its flaws, and think we have much to offer the rest of the world. But other cultures have as lot to offer too

    Jerry Coyne is a white American, the dominant culture in the world’s dominant culture. I wonder how much of the assumptions of superiority he sees around him are the result of living in superpower, which Americans are prone to and share with world empires of the past *cough*Rule Britannia*cough*. I don’t think all Americans are like that, or all English, certainly not the ones I know, but the tendency is there which can be whipped up by unscrupulous politicians. Or sports teams.

    • Jerry Coyne barely counts as white, although it can’t be denied that since the rise of the phrase “Judeo-Christian”, Jews (even atheist ones) have been part of the dominant culture of the world’s dominant culture. I’m quite certain many of his views derive from his life in the U.S. and Poland. In any case, the odds of being born in the Greatest Country in the World (the U.S.) are about one in twenty-five and the odds of being born in the developed world are about one in seven. Not very high, but not infinitesimally low, either.

      • arcseconds

        The greatest concentration of people who think the USA is the greatest nation on earth is in the USA.

        The chances of the vast majority of people rightly perceiving the USA’s greatness all winding up in the USA by chance is pretty infinitesimally low…