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)
(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.
"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)
(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.
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.)