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.