The Outsider Test for Faith (OTF) is based on the following progression of four steps, precursors of which stem back in time to many thinkers, including Anthony Flew, Robert Ingersoll, David Hume, and even Socrates:
- People who are located in distinct geographical areas around the globe overwhelmingly adopt and justify a wide diversity of religious faiths due to their particular upbringing and shared cultural heritage, and most of these faiths are mutually exclusive. This is the Religious Diversity Thesis (RDVT).
- The best explanation for (1) is that adopting and justifying one’s religion is not a matter of independent rational judgment. Rather, to an overwhelming degree, one’s religious faith is causally dependent on brain processes, cultural conditions, and irrational thinking patterns. This is the Religious Dependency Thesis (RDPT). From (1) and (2) it follows that:
- It is highly likely that any given religious faith is false and quite possible that they all could be false. At best there can be only one religious faith that is true. At worst, they all could be false. The sociological facts, along with our brain biology, anthropological (cultural) data, and psychological studies, lead us to this highly likely conclusion.
- The only way to rationally test one’s culturally adopted religious faith is from the perspective of an outsider, a nonbeliever, with the same level of reasonable skepticism believers already use when examining the other religious faiths they reject. They expresses the Outsider Test for Faith.
The OTF is based on the same kind of data that cultural relativists use when arguing that, because moral practices and beliefs do in fact vary from culture to culture as well as at different times in history, morality is not the result of independent rational judgment but rather is causally dependent on cultural conditions. All we have to do is insert the phrase “religious faith” in place of the world word morality, with one caveat. I’m not arguing that all religious faiths are false because of religious diversity or that they are completely dependent on one’s cultural upbringing. I’m merely arguing that believers should be skeptical of their own culturally inherited faith because it is overwhelmingly the case that one’s faith is dependent on one’s cultural upbringing.
The Outsider Test for Faith One More Time for Clarity
- We are all raised believers. As children, we believed whatever our parents told us, all of us.
- We were raised in our respective families and cultures to believe what our parents told us about religion.
- Psychological studies have shown that people have a very strong tendency to believe what they prefer to believe. Cognitive bias studies show this.
- Psychological studies have shown that most of us, most of the time, look for that which confirms what we believe rather than that which disconfirms it, even though the latter is the best way to get at the truth. This is known as confirmation bias.
- Neurological studies have shown that people have a sense of certainty about the beliefs they have that is unrelated to the strength of the actual evidence, as Robert Burton argues in, On Being Certain: Believing You Are Right Even When You’re Not.
- Skepticism is not usually an inherited characteristic. We must acquire the capacity to doubt what we were raised to believe. Skepticism is the adult attitude.
- When there billions of people who are certain of an inherited faith they all learned in the same manner, who live in separate geographical locations around the globe, who all prefer to believe what they were raised to believe, and who seek to confirm that which they were raised to believe, it should cause them to doubt what they were raised to believe.
- All believers who are certain of their faith will fallaciously argue that this data allies to atheists, too. If that were the case, then which faith should atheists adopt — all of them? You see, this argument does nothing to solve the problem of religious diversity, since believers still have not come up with a method that can solve their own differences. Atheists are doubters. We are skeptics. Knowing this data causes us to require hard, cold evidence for that which we can accept.
- Skepticism is a filter that adults use to help sift the wheat of truth from the chaff of falsehood. We cannot doubt that filter! There is no other alternative.
- The Outsider Test For Faith is the best and only way to get at truth if you want to know the truth. Examine your own faith with the same skepticism you use when examining the other religious faiths you eject. We cannot merely say to people that they should be skeptical without offering a standard of skepticism. . Why? Because if we ask believers who are certain of their faith to test it with doubt then, to a person, they will say they have, and that their faith is sure. But ask them to test their faith with the same level of skepticism they use when examining the other religious faiths they reject, and that will get their attention.
A Few Questions
If anyone disagrees, I have five sets of questions to be answered:
- Do you or do you not assume other religions shoulder the burden of proof? When you examine Islam, Orthodox Judaism, Hinduism, Scientology, Mormonism, Shintoism, Jainism, Haitian Voodoo, the John Frum Cargo Cult, Satanism, or the many African or Chinese tribal religions, do you think approaching them with faith is the way to test these religions, or would you agree with the OTF that a much fairer method is by assuming they all have the burden of proof, including your own?
- Do you or do you not think that a consistent standard invoking fairness is the best way to objectively come to know the correct religious faith, if one is?If not, why the double standard?
- Do you or do you not think that if Christianity is true, it should be supported by the sciences to the exclusion of other, false religious faiths?
- Do you or do you not admit that if you reject the OTF, then your God did not make Christianity such that it would lead reasonable people who were born as outsiders to come to believe it, and, as such, they will be condemned to hell by virtue of where they were born? If not, and if outsiders can reasonably come to believe, then why is it that you think the OTF is faulty or unfair?
- Do you or do you not have a better method for us to reasonably settle which religious faith is true, if one is? If so, what is it?
Let the Debates Begin
If religious believers accept the OTF and claim their faith passes the test, then at that point we have an agreed-upon standard for debating the merits of faith. If the test does nothing else, that is a good thing.
Let the debates begin.
— How to Defend the Christian Faith: Advice from an Atheist by John W. Loftus, How to Know Which Religion to Defend, pages 106-108 and 114-117
Purchase the books mentioned in this quote:
How to Defend the Christian Faith: Advice from an Atheist by John W. Loftus
On Being Certain: Believing You Are Right Even When You’re Not by Robert Burton
Other books by John W. Loftus
The Outsider Test for Faith: How to Know Which Religion Is True
Christianity is not Great: How Faith Fails
The Christian Delusion: Why Faith Fails
The End of Christianity