Wednesday, March 14, 2012

DISCLAIMER


Please note that this entire blog is based on a lengthy informal paper—over twenty-two thousands words—of the same title as this blog that I have written concerning John Loftus’ atheistic argument called “The Outsider Test for Faith.”  As such, this blog is meant to be read in the order in which the posts are presented (and please note that the blog continues past this first page into the "Older Posts" Section).  If, however, you would prefer to receive this paper in a Word Document, then please just send me an e-mail (MiksaRD [at] hotmail [dot] com), and I will send it to you as soon as possible.  Finally, please also note that this paper is still a work-in-progress, and as such, I apologize in advance for any stylistic and/or grammatical errors which are sure to appear at some point within the text.  Your understanding of this fact is greatly appreciated.  Thank you.

Sincerely,

RD Miksa  

INTRODUCTION

  
In the past few years, Christian-theist-turned-atheist John Loftus, author and owner of the Debunking Christianity blog, has developed a challenge, titled the Outsider Test for Faith (OTF), which he believes is devastating not only to Christianity, but to all religious traditions.  In point of fact, Loftus is so confident in the power and strength of his so-called OTF that he believes that no rational, honest, and objective person can take his OTF challenge and remain a religious believer (http://debunkingchristianity .blogspot.com/2010/05/can-religion-pass-outsider-test-for.html).  But Loftus is not the only one who professes the utter power of the OTF, for Loftus’ co-patriots believe this as well.  Consider that Richard Carrier, a well-known internet infidel, speaking about Loftus’s OTF chapter in a book called The Christian Delusion—which purports to conclusively and absolutely refute Christian theism—said the following on his blog:  John Loftus contextualizes all of this by reiterating and defending his Outsider Test for Faith, which has been widely hailed as a devastating new argument against religion, and here he confirms its reputation. It's the lynch pin of the whole book [The Christian Delusion], the fulcrum on which every other chapter does Christianity in [sic].” (http://richardcarrier.blogspot.com/2010/04/ christian-delusion.html, emphasis added).  Or consider that even such prominent and popular atheists as Frank Zindler say the following concerning the OTF:  “If John Loftus never wrote anything else he will be remembered a century from now for his Outsider Test for Faith, which figures prominently in this book.” (Quoted on an inside page of The Christian Delusion.).  And finally, note also that it takes very little time of internet searching on atheistic websites and blogs to see the OTF being touted as “devastating” and “compelling” and “potent” by numerous atheist commentators and readers.  So clearly, the atheistic community seems to consider the OTF to be a new, forceful, and persuasive argument for unbelief (full details of the OTF challenge can be found on Loftus’ blog or in his edited book The Christian Delusion). 

So, whatever a person may think of the merits of the OTF, what cannot be disputed is the popular apologetic value that this argument seems to possess for the unbelieving forces on both the internet and beyond.  And it is due to this later fact, that what I propose, and indeed what I wish to argue for, is that rather than arguing against the OTF, theists should co-opt this argument and make it their own.  In fact, theists should simply take this argument over! 

Now the reason that I argue for this course of action is not only for tactical purposes—although these are important as well—but also because of the fact that when properly, honestly, and objectively developed, the so-called Outsider Test for Faith actually supports theism, supernaturalism, and Intelligent Design, all of which are positions that are much more supportive of theistic beliefs, than they are of atheistic or naturalistic ones.  So the co-option of the OTF by theists, supernaturalists, and Intelligent Design proponents should be seen as natural, for the natural end of the OTF truly is one that supports theism, supernaturalism, and Intelligent Design rather than their opposites.  And though this thesis may seem utterly strange, especially given the original intention of the OTF as an anti-religious argument, it is a thesis that is—as is about to be demonstrated—actually true.  This fact, therefore, should not be one that is denied or ignored, but rather it should be a fact that is clearly proclaimed and declared.  Which is precisely what is about to happen.        

THE OUTSIDER TEST FOR FAITH


Before moving on to argue for the thesis under consideration, we must first, of course, understand what the OTF actually is.  In one sentence, the OTF is the idea that a religious believer should approach his particular religious belief as an “outsider,” who thus approaches his own religious belief with the same degree of skepticism as he uses to approach any other religious belief, which, apparently, is a very high degree of skepticism.  Here is Loftus, in some detail, explaining the OTF in his own words:


People in distinct geographical locations around the globe adopt and defend the religion of their upbringing and culture. This is an undeniable sociological fact. Anthropology shows us that human beings are locked inside their own cultures and cannot, without the greatest of difficulty, transcend their culturally adopted beliefs. Psychology shows us that human beings do not examine their beliefs dispassionately but rather seek to confirm that which they already believe. And unlike scientific, political and moral beliefs there are no mutually agreed upon tests to determine which religious faith is true. Therefore it seems reasonable to conclude that the religion a person adopts and defends is overwhelmingly dependent upon the “accidents of birth” rather than on a rational assessment of the case based upon the available evidence. Since this is so we should be just as skeptical of our own religious upbringing as we are with the other religious faiths we reject. The odds are that we’re wrong. We should be skeptical of our religiously inherited faith with the same amount of skepticism as we use to judge the other religious faiths that we reject. Here we have the notion of being “outsiders” to the religious faith in question, and as such it’s called “The Outsider Test for Faith.” (http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/2009/03/answering-dr-repperts-criticisms-of.html)


            Now this paragraph provides us with a rough idea of what the OTF, but it is still necessary to see the OTF expressed in a more rigorous and distinct form.  And Loftus does not disappoint, for here is Loftus’ OTF expressed in a clear format:


1.      Rational people in distinct geographical locations around the globe overwhelmingly adopt and defend a wide diversity of religious faiths due to their upbringing and cultural heritage. This is the religious diversity thesis.


2.      Consequently, it seems highly likely that adopting one’s religious faith is not merely a matter of independent rational judgment but is causally dependent on cultural conditions to an overwhelming degree. This is the religious dependency thesis.


3.      Hence the odds are highly likely that any given adopted religious faith is false.


4.      So the best way to test one’s adopted religious faith is from the perspective of an outsider with the same level of skepticism used to evaluate other religious faiths. This expresses the OTF.      


First, and immediately, note that I disagree and object with Loftus’ use of the term religion rather than a more comprehensive term like worldview or beliefs.  To understand why I do so, consider this further quote from Loftus:


The OTF is a test to examine religious faiths, not moral or political beliefs. When I refer to religious faith, I’m referring to beliefs that are essential for a member to be accepted in a particular religious community of faith who worship together and/or accept the same divinely inspired prophetic/revelations and/or those beliefs whereby one’s position in the afterlife depends. The reason for this definition is clear, since the outsider test is primarily a challenge about the religious faith of communities of people. It also applies secondarily in lesser degrees to individual philosophers espousing metaphysical, political, and/or ethical viewpoints who are not guided primarily by communal religious experiences but who are still influenced by the cultural milieu in which they live. (http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/2009/03/answering-dr-repperts-criticisms-of.html, emphasis added)


Given this quote, it is clear that the reason that it is necessary to change the terminology within the OTF from religion specifically, to worldview or beliefs more generally, is because Loftus himself admits that the OTF applies beyond just religious belief.  Indeed, many worldview beliefs can also be as influenced by cultural, sociological, and psychological factors as religious beliefs can, thus subjecting them to the OTF.  Consider that, for example, musical preferences, literature, art, and so on, all of which form important parts of a worldview, can just as easily be influenced by sociological, psychological, and cultural factors as religious beliefs can.  But even further than this, consider a worldview position like naturalism, which is essentially the belief that nature is all that exists, and thus that God and everything like God (meaning souls, angels, etc.) do not exist.  Naturalism, interestingly enough, is a position that is literally a quasi-religion.  Not only does it commit a person to certain firm beliefs, but it also serves to answer the main questions of life, just as any religion claims to do.  Indeed, naturalism answers such questions as:  1) What am I here to do?  2) What created me?  3) What is my purpose?  4) What happens after I die? 5) Is there a God?  6) Do I have a soul?  7)  Is there more than just matter?  Naturalism, therefore, serves, in large part, as a type of religion, and thus the OTF is quite applicable to a worldview position like naturalism in just the same way that it is applicable to a religious faith. 

It is clear, therefore, that just restricting the OTF to religious beliefs, rather than overarching worldview beliefs that are similar in nature to religious beliefs, would simply be a form of special pleading, and of stacking the proverbial deck against religious beliefs, even before the OTF begins.  And such an action, of course, would be fallacious and simply unfair, thus tainting the objectivity of the OTF before it even gets off the ground.  This, therefore, should not, and cannot, be done.  For this reason then, from this point forward I will be using the generic term worldview in place of religion. 

In fact, given these above points, it can be argued that perhaps the OTF should instead be called the OTW (Outsider Test for Worldviews), or the OTB (Outsider Test for Belief), which Loftus does indeed call it from time to time (The Christian Delusion, p. 100).  However, simply for the sake of clarity and proper attribution to Loftus, we will continue calling the argument the OTF. 

Next, and as mentioned in Loftus’ earlier quotation, note that what Loftus is essentially saying in his articulation of the OTF is that it is due to the fact that cultural, sociological, and psychological factors play such an apparently massive role in our worldview belief formation that we require the OTF in order to hopefully sort through these non-rational influences by adopting the position of an outsider to them.  And by adopting such an outsider position, we can hopefully see through the cultural, psychological, and sociological factors that have affected our beliefs.  So this is essentially the goal of the OTF:  to situate ourselves on the outside, to the greatest possible extent, of all cultural, sociological, and psychological factors that might affect us and our worldview beliefs in order to examine those worldview beliefs as rationally as possible. 

            With both of the above points in mind, we can now reformulate Loftus’ earlier articulation of the OTF with these key changes: 


1.    Rational people in distinct geographical locations around the globe overwhelmingly adopt and defend a wide diversity of [worldviews] due to their [sociological and psychological] upbringing and cultural heritage. This is the [worldview] diversity thesis.


2.      Consequently, it seems highly likely that adopting one’s [worldview] is not merely a matter of independent rational judgment but is causally dependent on cultural [and sociological, and psychological] conditions to an overwhelming degree. This is the [worldview] dependency thesis.


3.      Hence the odds are highly likely that any given adopted [worldview] is false.


4.      So the best way to test one’s adopted [worldview] is from the perspective of an outsider with the same level of skepticism used to evaluate other [worldviews]. This expresses the OTF. 


            This reformulation of the OTF is better and more comprehensive than Loftus’ original, but the fact of the matter is that even this reformulation is weak.  And it is weak precisely because there exists a number of serious objections that can be raised against this particular formulation of the OTF (The Infidel Delusion, Chapter 4, http://www.calvindude.com/ebooks/InfidelDelusion.pdf).  Now, due to time and space considerations, this work is not the place to articulate and examine all these objections.  But because 1) these objections do exist, and 2) because they are unavoidable given Loftus’ specific formulation of the OTF, and 3) because they can potentially weaken the whole idea behind the OTF if the OTF is left in Loftus’ particular formulation, then it is actually necessary to re-work the OTF into a less objectionable format than Loftus’ original.  Thus, the following, I contend, can be considered a less objectionable articulation of the OTF:  


1.      It is both a moral imperative and most desirable to hold objectively true worldview beliefs (no one sincerely interested in truth would argue against this particular premise).


2.      Objectively true worldview beliefs are most likely to be discovered through a rational, critical, and initially-skeptical assessment of different worldview beliefs.


3.      It is undeniable that all individuals, to a greater or lesser extent, accept a certain amount of their worldview beliefs—which they themselves hold as objectively true—due to the non-rational cultural, psychological, and sociological forces that affect and influence them, rather than for rational and critically-assessed reasons. 


4.      Since it is both a moral imperative and most desirable to hold objectively true worldview beliefs, and since objectively true worldview beliefs—which may or may not be the ones that an individual currently holds, but which that same individual believes to be objectively true—are obscured and obstructed by the non-rational cultural, psychological, and sociological forces that affect and influence all individuals, then it is both morally required and desirable for an individual to strive to maximally remove all the non-rational cultural, psychological, and sociological forces from himself in order to permit him to rationally, critically, and skeptically assess his current worldview beliefs in order to provide himself with the greatest opportunity to determine if his current worldview beliefs are objectively true or not. 


5.      The best way for an individual to filter out and remove the maximum amount of the non-rational cultural, psychological, and sociological forces that affect and influence his current worldview beliefs is by viewing, and then rationally, critically, and skeptically assessing, his worldview beliefs from a maximally objective “outsider’s” perspective.  This expresses the OTF (or OTW / OTB).


6.      The amount of initial “outsider” skepticism warranted for a given worldview belief is dependent on how much such a worldview belief can be affected and influenced by non-rational cultural, psychological, and sociological forces.  And this determination can be made by examining the following factors:


a)      How many people disagree with a particular worldview belief:  The more people that disagree, the more initially skeptical we should be of such a worldview belief, for this fact gives us a solid reason to suspect that such a worldview belief is affected and influenced—to a great or lesser extent depending on how many people disagree with it—by non-rational cultural, psychological, and sociological forces.   And this is presumed to be the case due to the fact that the more that other people disagree with a particular worldview belief, then the greater the potential that that particular worldview belief is primarily accepted and believed due to non-rational psychological forces.  For if the worldview belief was accepted for rational reasons, then we would expect most people to agree with it and believe it rather than not.   


b)      Are the people who disagree with a particular worldview belief separated into distinct geographical locations:  For if they are, then the more initially skeptical we should be of such a worldview belief, for this fact gives us a solid reason to suspect that such a worldview belief is affected and influenced—to a great or lesser extent depending on how geographically localized the particular worldview belief is—by non-rational cultural and sociological forces.  And this is presumed to be the case due to the fact that the more localized a particular worldview belief is, than the greater the potential that that particular worldview belief is primarily accepted and believed due to non-rational cultural and sociological forces.  For if the worldview belief was accepted for rational reasons, then we would expect most people, regardless of geographic location, to agree with it and believe it rather than not.


c)      What is the nature of a particular worldview belief:  Is it a seemingly extraordinary or uncommon belief?  The more seemingly extraordinary a particular worldview belief is, then the more initially skeptical we should be of such a worldview belief, for this fact gives us a solid reason to suspect that such a worldview belief is affected and influenced—to a great or lesser extent depending the worldview belief’s apparent extraordinariness—by non-rational cultural, psychological, and sociological forces.  And this is presumed to be the case due to the fact that it is initially assumed that extraordinary worldview beliefs would not survive a rational, critical, and initially-skeptical assessment of them, thus implying that such extraordinary worldview beliefs could only be accepted for non-rational reasons, such as cultural, psychological, and sociological forces.


d)     How did the particular worldview belief originate:  Did the worldview belief come about due to the acceptance of a philosophical argument?  Was it accepted because it was a scientific determination?   The more subjective and personal the initial evidence for a particular worldview belief, then the more initially skeptical we should be of such a worldview belief, for this fact gives us a solid reason to suspect that such a worldview belief is affected and influenced—to a great or lesser extent depending on how subjective and personal the initial evidence of the particular worldview belief was—by non-rational cultural, psychological, and sociological forces.  And this is presumed to be the case due to the fact that while a worldview belief that originates from objective evidence—such as the conclusion to a deductive philosophical argument—can be objectively accepted by all individuals, a worldview belief that originates based on subjective and personal initial evidence is, by its very nature, more tenuous and questionable than the former sort, thus warranting more initial skepticism of it. 


e)      How was the particular worldview belief adopted in the first place:  Was the worldview belief adopted because an authority of some type told you to accept it?  Was it accepted because all your friends believed it and you just wanted to fit in?  For obvious reasons, the greater the chance that the particular worldview belief was initially adopted for non-rational cultural, psychological, and sociological reasons, then the more initially skeptical we should be of such a worldview belief, for this fact gives us a solid reason to suspect that such a worldview belief is affected and influenced—to a great or lesser extent depending on how much influence the non-rational forces had in our initial acceptance of the particular worldview belief—by non-rational cultural, psychological, and sociological forces. 


f)       The kinds of evidence or arguments can be used to decide between different worldview beliefs:  The less objective the evidence or arguments that can be used to decide between different worldviews beliefs, then the more initially skeptical we should be of such worldview beliefs, for it means that the evidence and arguments themselves might, due to their less objective nature, be tainted by non-rational factors such as cultural, psychological, and sociological forces, thus seriously reducing the value of such evidence.  


This, therefore, is my formulation of the OTF.  And I believe that it is indeed a more rigorous formulation than Loftus’ original one, in addition to being less objectionable.  But whatever one’s opinion of which formulation of the OTF is better, the fact of the matter is that at this point, the critical idea behind the OTF should now be utterly clear.  And ultimately, this is the key aspect of this particular section. 

Before continuing to the next segment, however, it should be clearly realized—for the sake of historical accuracy and proper attribution—that it is not as if the essence of the OTF is Loftus’ invention; nor is it the case that the core idea behind the OTF is a novel thought or an idea that has only been proposed by unbelievers.  In fact, although Loftus may have formulated a specific way of understanding the OTF, the ideas behind the OTF have been clearly articulated and encouraged by such religious institutions as the Catholic Church for nearly one hundred years, and have actually been implicitly encouraged by this institution for much longer than that.  Indeed, consider this citation, from the Catholic Encyclopedia of 1911:


It is wise to be on our guard against the prejudices, or opinions, peculiar to a particular time and place, the place of birth or education, the class or party to which our early associations have attached us; but the principles which are self-evident, or which are accepted by the human race, should be exempted from doubt.…Since, then, some things can be known with certitude, some things can be seen to be probable, and some things must remain forever a matter of doubt; and since the human reason is liable to error, the need has been felt for some criterion or criteria by which we may know that we really know, and by which genuine certitude concerning the truth may be distinguished from the spurious certitude of delusion.  The proper test of truth is evidence, whether the evidence of a truth in itself or by participation in the evidence of some other truth from which it is proved. Many truths, indeed, have to be accepted on authority; but then it has to be made evident that such authority is legitimate, is capable of knowing the truth, and is qualified to teach in the particular department in which it is accepted. Many truths which are at first accepted on authority may afterwards be made evident to the reason of the disciple. Such in fact is the ordinary way in which learning and science are acquired.  (http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/03539b.htm, emphasis added)


And elsewhere, Catholic teaching—again from the Catholic Encyclopedia of 1911—admonishes us to do the exact same thing that the OTF essentially wants us to do:  namely, examine all our beliefs and only accept and hold those ones that we have determined to be rational.  Indeed, the Catholic Encyclopedia says and encourages the following:  “Beliefs arising from non-rational or from unknown grounds should either be re-established on rational grounds or discarded. All beliefs should be evident either (1) immediately, as in the case (e.g.) of our belief in external reality, or (2) mediately by inference from known truth, or (3) on the ground of adequate testimony.” (http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/13516b.htm). 

Even the Biblical admonition to “…examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:19-23, NASB) certainly sounds like an incredibly succinct version of the OTF, and one which was written about twenty centuries ago.  And by devout religious believers no less! 

It is, therefore, obviously apparent that the ideas behind the OTF are not some modern discovery, nor are they solely articulated or propounded by self-styled skeptics.  And this historical lineage to the OTF, as well as the fact that the ideas behind the OTF are often encouraged by religious believers as well as unbelievers, should be remembered—for the sake of objectivity, mental accuracy, and truth—as we proceed to examine the implications of the OTF itself.

So, with the OTF as an argument now clear, and with its historical connections also articulated, it is possible to turn to the main thesis of this work, and demonstrate why the OTF is a boon and benefit to theists rather than atheists. 

THE MAXIMALLY OBJECTIVE OUTSIDER

 
I stated earlier that the OTF ultimately supports theism rather than atheism.  The question, of course, is:  How can this be the case? 

To answer this question, we must first digress momentarily and make clear a vital point.  And this point is to realize that even though the OTF needs us to become an outsider to our current worldview beliefs, it is also the case that no matter how much of an outsider we might try to be, we will always be approaching an issue from a given perspective.  Indeed, no matter what outsider position we adopt, that position will be wed to certain ideas that are “insider” ideas to that particular position.  So if, for example, we, for whatever reason, decide to adopt the outsider perspective of an atheist, then we have wed ourselves to the belief and worldview idea that God does not exist.  We would thus be insiders to this particular belief, even as we are outsiders to other beliefs.  So, no matter what metaphysical outsider position we adopt, we will be committed to some beliefs that are inherent to that chosen position.  This is uncontroversial.  However, what the OTF tries to get us to do is to become as much of an outsider as possible to any and all religious or quasi-religious worldviews, including our own.  Indeed, the OTF essentially tries to transform us into a maximally objective outsider. 

            Combined with the above point is also the fact that what the OTF ultimately centers around—as mentioned in the previous section—is the issue of how non-rational sociological, psychological, and cultural factors affect our worldview acceptance.  Indeed, the OTF’s primary concern and aim is to remove these non-rational factors from our minds (and wills) whenever we assess a specific worldview position, thereby allowing us to make the most rational and objective assessment possible.  And thus the ultimate goal of the OTF is to become as much of an outsider to these three specific factors and influences as possible.  This point is crucial.

            Now Loftus claims that the maximally objective outsider position—what he calls the “default” position—is one of agnosticism (The Christian Delusion, p. 88).  Loftus claims that for the OTF—which is to be used primarily for the examination of religious or quasi-religious views—agnosticism is the true outsider position.  But is he correct?  I will argue that given the OTF’s own criteria, Loftus is demonstrably incorrect in claiming that agnosticism should be reviewed as the default position.  In fact, I will argue that if the goal of the OTF is to view all worldviews from a metaphysical outsider’s perspective, and if the factors which you want to maximally get outside of are sociological, psychological, and cultural factors, then the most objective metaphysical outsider position to adopt is:  strict philosophical deism.  Indeed, deism—which can be summarized as the belief that a Supreme Creator Intelligence exists, but that this Being does not interact with the world, or provide revelation to human beings, or concern Himself with human affairs—not agnosticism, is the maximally objective outsider position to adopt for the OTF.  And by understanding why deism is the maximally objective outsider position to adopt for the OTF, we will simultaneously be able to understand why the OTF ultimately supports theism. 

So, to demonstrate why this is the case, let me provide a number of reasons to support the position that deism, not agnosticism, is the maximally objective outsider position for the OTF:

  

1.  First, nearly no person is brought up in a deistic home where family, or siblings, or peer-pressure might affect that person to such a degree that he adopts the strict deistic position primarily for psychological, sociological, or cultural reasons.  By contrast, people are often raised in homes where their parents, siblings, or friends profess agnosticism, thus meaning that the agnostic position in such cases might be adopted due to psychological, sociological, and/or cultural reasons.  So, given this information, and in a comparison between strict deism and agnosticism, it is clear that the deistic position holds less potential to be affected by these psychological, sociological, and cultural factors than agnosticism is.

  

2.  Unbelieving proponents of the OTF often point to the fact that parents “indoctrinate” their children into a religious belief as a clear example of the strength of psychological and sociological factors in the adoption of religious views.  But the fact of the matter is that it is a known truism that in many institutes of higher education, atheism and agnosticism are also positions that are pushed on students by teachers and peers, thus meaning that agnosticism may also be a position that is adopted due to pressure from authorities or peers.  Consider, for example, this quote from Phillip Johnson:
 

Although most Americans are at least nominally theists, and a substantial proportion build their lives on theistic principles, naturalistic philosophy rules the academic roost absolutely. Scientific naturalism is taken for granted in the natural science departments, and its only rival in the humanities is a relativistic naturalism that goes by names like postmodernism and multiculturalism. The idea that God might really exist is rarely seriously considered. In the minds of some academic authorities and judges, as we have seen, to suggest this possibility in a classroom is academic misconduct or even a violation of the constitution.  At the same time, classroom advocacy of atheism is common, and everywhere assumed to be protected by academic freedom. Many philosophy professors make a career of fashioning arguments that support or assume atheism, and students frequently tell me about courses that incorporate heavy-handed ridicule of theistic religion (http://www.veritas-ucsb.org/library/johnson/AAUP.html, emphasis added).


Deism, by contrast, is a position that does not suffer from this type of pressure, since it is not that popular in any arena of life, nor is it a position that is often evangelized.  And thus again, strict deism seems to be, for the OTF, a more ideal outsider position than any other due to the fact that it is indeed not aggressively promoted or pushed like many other positions are. 



3.      In the past and/or present, no cultural group, as a whole, has ever been deistic in the strict philosophical sense, thus highly mitigating the affects of cultural factors in the determination of this metaphysical position.  By contrast, many cultures today—especially in Western Europe, like Sweden, for example—see themselves as culturally atheistic or agnostic in outlook.  This means that in such cases, the acceptance of agnosticism as a worldview might be affected by cultural factors, which is exactly what the OTF wishes to avoid.  By contrast, deism does not suffer from these cultural affects in the way that agnosticism potentially, and sometimes actually, does. 



4.      Today, strict philosophical deism is a position which would be, unlike agnosticism (see Point 3), an outsider position in every cultural milieu on earth.  This, therefore, can provide us with some confidence to see deism as more of an objective outsider position, strictly from the cultural perspective, than agnosticism. 

  

5.      Deism, as a worldview, was usually held by individuals who were, by virtue of being deists, in contradiction to their culture’s main beliefs.  This thus provides us with some confidence that deism has often been, and often is, an outsider’s position.  A deist, for example, would be as much of an outsider in Christian America as he would have been in the atheistic Soviet Union.  But the same is not true of agnosticism, for an agnostic would be very much an insider in a highly secular country like Sweden or Denmark, whereas a deist would not be so—at least not to the same extent as the agnostic.  Indeed, to continue with our earlier example, an agnostic might by as much of an outsider as the deist in Christian America, but he would be more of an insider than the deist in the former atheistic Soviet Union.  So in this sense, deism once again has an advantage over agnosticism.

  

6.      Deism is a position that is often adopted later in life—as attested to by the lives of deists—which lends credibility to the claim that deism is a position which requires the deist to break out of the sociological, psychological, and cultural moulds that were once in place in his mind.  Think of famous atheist Anthony Flew, who only became a deist after extreme reflection and consideration.  This fact therefore provides us with some confidence that deism is a position often adopted in spite of psychological, sociological, and cultural factors, rather than because of them, thus showing it to be a solid outsider’s position.  Agnosticism, by contrast, is, in today’s day and age, often seen as popular and trendy, meaning that there is a cultural force behind it pushing for its adoption.  Agnosticism is, furthermore, often adopted by teenagers and young adults, which are the types of individuals who can be the most affected by psychological, sociological and cultural factors.  Indeed, many atheists and agnostics adopt such positions in their formative teenage years—years which are of course strongly influenced by psychological, sociological, and cultural factors—and simply never look back, which makes one wonder if their agnosticism was ever an outsider position to begin with, or rather simply a initially trendy cultural position which they have not seriously considered since.  And so, all these facts once again provide us with some confidence that deism is simply more of an outsider’s position than agnosticism is, at least in today’s society. 



7.      An interesting case can be made that agnosticism, which seems to revel in its claims to not be certain of anything, is so popular today because it is in large part a cultural by-product of the more general and overall relativism that pervades much of modern society.  But if this is the case, or even if it is only partially the case, then this means that agnosticism is affected by certain cultural forces—due to its connection to the pervading cultural relativism of our age—that do not beset deism.  And so, once again, deism seems to be the more ideal and objective outsider position.     



8.      One of the most important points in this discussion is that agnosticism is—for all its high and noble pretences—often just a front for atheism.  Indeed, agnosticism is frequently seen as a coward’s form of atheism.  Consider these quotes from famous atheists and agnostics that attest to this fact:


“I am an atheist, out and out. It took me a long time to say it. I've been an atheist for years and years, but somehow I felt it was intellectually unrespectable to say that one is an atheist, because it assumed knowledge that one didn't have. Somehow it was better to say one was a humanist or agnostic. I don't have the evidence to prove that God doesn't exist, but I so strongly suspect that he doesn't that I don't want to waste my time."
(Isaac Asimov / 1920-1992)


So here Asimov admits to having really been an atheist, but outwardly claimed he was an agnostic.  Such a position is not one of a true outsider, nor is it very honest. 

Next:

"An atheist, like a Christian, holds that we can know whether or not there is a God. The Christian holds that we can know there is a God; the atheist, that we can know there is not. The Agnostic suspends judgment, saying that there are not sufficient grounds either for affirmation or for denial. At the same time, an Agnostic may hold that the existence of God, though not impossible, is very improbable; he may even hold it so improbable that it is not worth considering in practice. In that case, he is not far removed from atheism."
(Bertrand Russell / 1872-1970)
 

Here Russell is tacitly admitting that even though an individual can call himself an agnostic, he is essentially an atheist.  And in fact, in following Russell, Richard Dawkins, who is perhaps seen as the world’s most renowned atheist, also claims that he is ultimately only an agnostic (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2105834/Career-atheist-Richard-Dawkins-admits-fact-agnostic.html).  So we can see in all these cases that agnosticism really just serves as an atheistic front, not as an actual, honest, and clear position.  But atheism, as well as any form of agnosticism that is really just a concealed atheism, is ultimately not a true outsider’s position, for atheism is often adopted or believed for psychological, sociological, and cultural reasons (see Point 11 for details).  Deism, by contrast, does not serve as a front for any type of position.  And unlike an agnosticism-that-is-really-a-cover-for-atheism, strict deism is as hostile to atheism as it is to religious beliefs in general.  So once again, deism seems to be a better, and more honest, outsider’s position than agnosticism.    



9.      Given Point 8, we can also come to understand that deism seems to be the most fair and middle-of-the-road position.  For if agnosticism often does serve just as a front for atheism, then, on a sliding scale between atheism and theism, agnosticism seems to be too far to the side of atheism to really serve as an objective and middle-ground position.  Deism, by contrast, seems to be more in the middle of this atheism-to-theism scale, for deism concedes very little to full-blown theism, while definitely not serving as just a front for atheism, which agnosticism often seems to do.  For this reason, therefore, deism can simply be seen as a fairer starting point for the OTF.   



10.  It is the case, as shown, that agnosticism often serves simply as a front for atheism.  Yet it is also the case that atheism—especially in the Western world—is quite literally synonymous with naturalism—the position that both God and nothing at all like God (souls, angels, ghosts, etc.) exists.  And it is also the case, as articulated in the previous section, that naturalism is a worldview that is quasi-religious, for like traditional religions, it provides the answer to many religious-type questions.  But then if this latter fact is true, which it is, then naturalism is most definitely not the ideal outsider position for the OTF, for it too, given its quasi-religious status, is affected by many psychological, sociological, and cultural factors.  But given agnosticism’s link to naturalism through atheism, as described above, it is thus arguable that agnosticism, as a maximally objective outsider position, is essentially tarnished, for it cannot escape its ultimate connection to a position (meaning naturalism) that is definitely not an ideal outsider position.  Indeed, since agnosticism is often used just as a front for this position of naturalism-through-atheism, then its objective outsider status is clearly both sullied and questionable due to this connection.  By contrast, philosophical deism is a worldview that is the least “religion-like” of any worldview, nor is it connected to any other worldview the way agnosticism arguably is.  Thus deism serves as a clearer and less tarnished starting point from which to launch the OTF. 



11.  Again remembering agnosticism’s use as a front for atheism, it is also possible to note how much atheism, and the agnosticism that often fronts for it, can just as easily be influenced by sociological, psychological, and cultural factors as any other worldview belief can be.  Indeed, this can be better understood when it is made clear that 1) atheism and agnosticism are often beliefs that people are simply raised to believe in, and that 2) people are often pressured by peers, superiors, and the social culture to adopt atheistic and/or agnostic beliefs, and that 3) these are beliefs that are often self-adopted for psychological rather than rational reasons—such as for wish fulfillment purposes.  To demonstrate these points, consider these excerpts from an article by Benjamin Wiker titled “Emotional Atheism”:  


Epicurus argued that our lives are ruined by the continual dread of the gods, either zapping us in this life for crossing their entirely fickle wills, or if we escape that, torturing us in Hades after death. The cure? Epicurus invented a universe in which the gods couldn’t exist. He was the first atheist to use materialism to god-proof the cosmos.   Atheists tell us that it was human fear that created religion. But for Epicurus, fear of the gods created atheism.  But fear isn’t the only emotion that creates atheism.

Wiker continues:

Aldous Huxley, the grandson of Charles Darwin’s “bulldog” Thomas Huxley, said candidly of his atheism, "For myself, as, no doubt, for most of my contemporaries, the philosophy of meaningless was essentially an instrument of liberation. The liberation we desired was simultaneously liberation from a certain political and economic system and liberation from a certain system of morality. We objected to the morality because it interfered with our sexual freedom; we objected to the political and economic system because it was unjust. The supporters of these systems claimed that in some way they embodied the meaning (a Christian meaning, they insisted) of the world. There was one admirably simple method of confuting these people and at the same time justifying ourselves in our political and erotical revolt: we could deny that the world had any meaning whatsoever."  For Huxley and friends, the desire for sex untethered to morality demanded that God be cut loose from the world.


But past atheists and agnostics are not the only ones that we can refer to in order to prove the particular point currently under consideration, for Wiker also provides us with some modern examples.


But our present-day atheists appear to be making the same mistake. Richard Dawkins seems especially cranky that Judaism and Christianity have moral prohibitions in regard to sex—so much so, that to a proposed set of Atheist’s Ten Commandments, he offered an amendment commanding us, “Enjoy your own sex life (so long as it damages nobody else and leaves others to enjoy theirs in private whatever their inclinations, which are none of your business).” Not very catchy, and definitely hard to chisel in stone.  And Christopher Hitchens? “Clearly, the human species is designed”—by evolution, mind you—“to experiment with sex.” Indeed, Hitchens assures readers, “The relationship between physical health and mental health is now well understood to have a strong connection to sexual function, or dysfunction.” In other words, inhibited sex makes us dysfunctional; it is downright unhealthy. “Can it be a coincidence,” Hitchens complains, “that all religions claim the right to legislate sex?”  Nature demands complete sexual experimentation; religion demands moral restrictions on sex; therefore atheism, which denies the divine and hence divinely-mandated moral laws, is natural, right, good, and true. So goes Hitchens' logic.  One has cause to wonder if the libido is steering his argument to a pre-determined conclusion.

Yet sexual desire is not the only irrational factor that seems to promote atheism and/or agnosticism; sometimes it is just plain wish fulfillment.

Witness the words of philosopher Thomas Nagel, who confessed in The Last Word to a “fear of religion itself.”  "I speak from experience, being strongly subject to this fear myself: I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that. My guess is that this cosmic authority problem is not a rare condition and it is responsible for much of the scientism and reductionism of our time. One of the tendencies it supports is the ludicrous overuse of evolutionary biology to explain everything about life, including everything about the human mind. Darwin enabled modern secular culture to heave a great collective sigh of relief, by apparently providing a way to eliminate purpose, meaning and design as fundamental features of the world."  That’s about as clear of an expression of Theo-phobia as one could want. The “cosmic authority problem.” Perhaps that is the source of atheist Richard Dawkins' zeal in his defense of Darwinism? One only wishes that he—and Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, and Daniel Dennett—were as candid about the emotional source of atheism as Thomas Nagel. (http://www.ecatholic2000.com/ezine/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=213&Itemid=2)


And these types of quotes and points from atheists could easily be multiplied.  So clearly, atheism and agnosticism are often adopted, or at least partially adopted, for irrational psychological reasons.  Now, in contrast to this, consider deism.  Deism—since it is a position that initially denies interaction between the Supreme Creator Intelligence and human beings, but does not necessarily deny the possibility of such interaction—is most definitely a position which does not fulfill any of the psychological desires that can be associated with theism or with agnosticism/atheism.  Once again, therefore, from a psychological perspective, deism definitely seems to be more of an ideal outsider position than agnosticism, thus once again showing deism to be a better default position for the OTF.



12.  The next-to-final point that I wish to articulate in defense of my claim that atheism and agnosticism are not—due to the potential psychological, sociological, and cultural factors that can affect them—the best outsider positions for the OTF, is based on the fact that Loftus (the actual creator of the OTF) agrees with me.  Indeed, in a blog post titled “Should Atheists Take the Outsider Test for Faith?” (http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/2010/06/should-atheists-take-outsider-test-for.html), Loftus states the following:


What about people raised as atheists in Sweden?  Were they enculturalted?  Probably so.  Should these atheists test what they were taught by being objective, fair and open-minded?  Sure, yes.

So Loftus agrees with many of the points that have been made above, and also admits that atheists and agnostics should apply the OTF to themselves.  For Loftus, however, the problem is that he claims that there is no potential outsider position for the atheist or agnostic from which to test his beliefs from.  Indeed, Loftus continues,


Should they [atheists] test what they were taught as outsiders? How can they? What is the outside perspective for them? Is it the perspective of a young earth Christian creationist or a young earth Jewish orthodox perspective?  Is the outside perspective that of a Wiccan, or a Scientologist? How can atheists choose the correct outsider perspective from the many available? Which religious perspective do objectors to the OTF propose we use when being outsiders?
 

And Loftus knows just where to lay the blame for this fact that atheists and agnostics have no outsider perspective from which to test their beliefs.
 

…there is no worthy religious contender from out of the myriad number of religions for an atheist to examine his own views on religion as an outsider. But that is not the fault of the test either. The fact that there isn't one religion that succeeds in being the one lone contender over all of the other religions as the rightful outsider position from which to judge my atheist conclusions about religion is not the fault of the test itself. The test is a reasonable, fair and objective one. Whether on this side of the fence or the back side of it, the fact that Christians object to the test because no revealed religion can pass it on the one side, and that there is no worthy religion that can legitimately be considered as an outside perspective for the atheist, is not the fault of the test.  It's the fault of religion.


Actually, the real fault lies in both Loftus’ imagination and lack of intellectual rigor, for if he had really thought about the issue, he would have realized that, as argued here, strict philosophical deism is the ideal outsider position.  This is especially the case given the fact that as Loftus himself admits, atheists and agnostics can indeed be partially forced into their beliefs by cultural pressures.  So if Loftus, as an atheist, wants a position from which to apply the OTF to himself and to other atheists, then deism is clearly a suitable candidate that answers all of his objections.  Not only that, but since deism is not subject to the same amount of cultural pressures as atheism and agnosticism often are, then this once again gives us a reason to see it as a more ideal outsider position than agnosticism.

  

13.  The final reason—and one which is linked to Point 12—for why deism  is the ideal outsider position is because even atheists and agnostics admit that deism is a rational belief with many good reasons and strong arguments in its favor.  Indeed, even arch-atheist Richard Dawkins admits as much (http://www.spectator.co.uk/melaniephillips/2543431/is-richard-dawkins-still-evolving.thtml).  And if this is the case, then deism would appear to be a rational position which could thus be appropriately used as a starting point for the OTF.  In addition, even Loftus admits that, in his opinion, a deistic position would pass the OTF:  The Outsider Test for Faith (OTF) calls upon believers to test their own geographically inherited faith with the same level of skepticism they use to test the religious faiths they reject. The only kind of religion that might possibly pass this test is one that embraces some kind of nebulous god…. (http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/2010/05/can-religion-pass-outsider-test-for.html).  Loftus elaborates on this idea in The Christian Delusion:


If God exists and he doesn’t care which religion we accept, that kind of god might survive the OTF, but then we would end up believing in a nebulous god with no definable characteristics, perhaps a deistic god or the “god of the philosophers.”  But this god is much too different from the God of any full-blown Christianity or any specific revealed religion though, and can be safely ignored (pg 84).


But even though Loftus claims that a deistic-type deity can be ignored, why is this so?  After all, from a truth-seeking perspective, knowing whether a deistic deity exists or not, or whether it is rational to believe that he exists or not, is an issue of major importance.  In fact, it would be an utterly important issue from a truth-oriented point of view, and definitely not one which should be ignored.  It is, furthermore, also the case that it might be that Loftus wishes to safely ignore the deistic position, which he himself admits might pass the OTF, because doing so provides him with the psychological protection of not having to consider that perhaps the deistic position is the best outsider position for the OTF.  In addition, Loftus might not want to face the psychological repercussions that would arise from admitting the fact that deism would serve as precisely the position that an encultured atheist should use as the starting point for his own OTF.  But if this is the case, and if the OTF is meant to be a challenge that strives to eliminate the psychological factors that affect us, then Loftus may need to submit himself to the OTF just as much as any religious believer does, if not more so.  So, to conclude, the fact that 1) deism is considered, even by atheists, to be a position which can be rationally adopted, and given that 2) even the creator of the OTF believes that deism might pass the OTF, then these two points mean that we have solid reasons to see deism as an excellent outsider position for the OTF.  And when these facts are combined with all the previous points already made, it is clear that deism is—even if only slightly—more of a maximally objective outsider position than agnosticism or atheism.    

       

For all these reasons and more, therefore, it is clear that the outsider position which avoids, to a maximal degree, the influences of sociology, psychology, and culture, is the deistic one.  And this is still both true and critical for the OTF and the maximally objective outsider position even if you only consider deism to be slightly more objective than agnosticism—and I contend that given the points already presented, no one could legitimately deny the truth of this latter conclusion.  Thus, the best, most honest, and ideal outsider position to adopt, and the one point of view that should be considered the OTF’s default position, is deism, not agnosticism.  Deism, not agnosticism, should indeed be the starting position for everyone taking the OTF challenge. 

But deism is ultimately a species of theism, albeit a highly specific and uncommon one.  Yet regardless of this, it still means that the OTF provides us with a reason to believe that the most rational and reasonable outsider position to hold, at least before the OTF is completed, is deism.  Indeed, this means that the OTF provides us with a good reason to see a species of theism as the most initially objective position to believe in, as well as the most objective position to hold at the beginning of our quest to examine various worldviews through the OTF lens.  And thus, in this way, the OTF supports theism. 

So the OTF gives us a reason to start our test with an initial worldview of deism, and this fact ultimately serves to support theism over atheism.  And this thus demonstrates the truth of the first portion of this work’s thesis, which was to show precisely what has just been shown:  that the OTF supports theism.  The second major issue, however, is whether the OTF supports supernaturalism or not, and this is the issue to which we now must turn.  (And please note that even if, for whatever reason, you actually do not agree that deism is a better outsider position than agnostic—although I do not see how this position is tenable given the above points, but regardless—such a belief will not affect the remainder of the points being brought out in this work.  So even if agnosticism is still held by someone as the maximally objective outsider position, this will not weaken the coming arguments concerning supernaturalism and/or Intelligent Design.)