Why the “Outsider Test” is an Abject Failure

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The Outsider Test for Faith was popularised by John Loftus, a former pastor. His argument is quite simple:

“Tell believers to examine their faith critically and almost all of them will say they already do. But tell them to subject their own faith to the same level of skepticism they use when examining the other religious faiths they reject and that will get their attention.”

Loftus thinks that this constitutes an argument against Christianity. He simply assumes that when such a sceptical attitude is adopted, faith in Christianity is no longer possible. Of all the objections to the Christian faith, this is one of the weakest. A Christian could examine her faith critically, but come to be convinced of the evidence for the resurrection. Now, no other system of belief can explain the evidence for the resurrection. So both the Christian’s scepticism towards other religions, and confidence in her own faith are warranted.

But Loftus insists that people defend different religious faiths simply because they have different cultural heritages. The argument would seem to be that “beliefs that we receive from our culture are unreliable.” But this is much too sceptical. Some cultures tolerate totalitarianism, despotism and genocide. Western culture does not. Should we be intellectually neutral towards genocide simply because we have been raised to abhor it? Western civilization has developed and defended the concept of human rights. Should we be sceptical of all human rights claims because some cultures do not have the concept?

Of course not. We need to evaluate the arguments on their own merits. Yes, we inherit biases and preferences from our own culture. But Loftus needs to specify why my culture prevents me evaluating my my religious beliefs in a rational way. It is shameless buffoonery to argue that a Mormon in Salt Lake City, an animist in Southern Sudan, a priest of Amen-Re in ancient Egypt, and an atheist in North Korea all face the same obstacles when evaluating religious beliefs.

What is it about my culture that prevents me from assessing the evidence for Christianity in a reasonable manner? Loftus does not have a convincing answer; so it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the Outsider Test is a shameless attempt to avoid facing the arguments for Christian belief.

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