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This is part of a series of notes in response to "Why I Became an Atheist" by John W. Loftus
Chapter Four: The Outsider Test for Faith
I was somewhat amazed when I read of John's original invention (I believe?) called the "Outsider Test of Faith" (OTF). Why? Because when I originally began to doubt and started researching, what immediately came to my mind as one of the surest ways to establish the truth or falsehood of Christianity was to suppose it was false and try to "re-prove" it to myself. I have been heavily criticized for this in my believing circles and I do understand at least where they're coming from; however, at the time it seemed completely reasonable. This is how I have gone about tons of research endeavors. How to choose the best Linux distro, choosing task managers, note taking software, buying a house, what kind of car/van/digital camera/guitar/road bike to buy and so on. I have read reviews, tested my pre-conceived notions against other opinions and facts, and tried to suspend bias I was aware of in the process.
Take my purchase of a Pentax K-x this past Christmas as a family present to replace my wife's burned out Kodak Easy Share as an example. She wanted a "semi-professional" camera to replace her point-and-shoot and after some foot dragging I conceded. Then began the research. I read and read and read. I sought out Amazon reviews as well as respected "official" review sources like Photography Blog and dpReview. I established comparable models in the entry digital SLR category and compared features and prices. We asked some others knowledgeable about cameras. In the end, I went with the Pentax. Honestly I knew nothing about Pentax and our visit with a very knowledgeable employee at a local camera store was primarily steering us toward Nikon. A semi-professional friend of ours shoots Canon and swore by them and no other. My wife valued her opinion more than any others. But to aim at objectivity, these opinions could not sway the scales too much. I tried to keep name out of it for the most part and simply pay attention to evidence: what were the features, what were actual consumers reporting going well or not going well with their cameras, etc. I came out extremely confident that I got the best camera for the money in our range.
Repeat this general process to arrive at my conclusions to buy a Mazda MPV, Morgan acoustic guitar, 1984 Schwinn Prelude, and so on. Each time I've read and thought and talked until I was confident in my choice and that I had explored as many options for evidence as possible/reasonable.
I did the same for faith. With something like a purchase, if you decide that Huffy bikes rule beforehand and then read some reviews, you'll be shaken out of your pre-conceived notions quite quickly. Why not do the same with religion, I thought? Why would my predisposition affect the outcome of a search? I don't want to make it seem like I completely chose to disbelieve. I had already read quite a bit of literature presenting some problems I considered to be challenging to Christianity and did not have a difficult time, for whatever reason, supposing that I might have been believing in a myth the whole time. For most I've encountered since then… I've found that even considering that they might have been believing a complete myth is either near impossible or actually impossible. My Myers-Briggs type ([I/E]NTP) suggests that I tend to be a pretty hard rationalist and don't side with authority for authority's sake. I go where the evidence and arguments are. Once I encountered arguments I found legitimate, I guess I just didn't have a difficult time suspending belief.
In any case, I write all of this to simply say that it was quite refreshing to encounter someone suggesting the same thing. I was actually shocked that someone had already come up with an established name for this "experiment."
From my standpoint now, I will admit that there's been quite a bit of flak sent John's way about the OTF and I'm unresolved about whether it truly "succeeds" in a definitive manner. Some have simply shrugged it off as a given that individuals are predisposed to believe what they already believe and that's fine; they evaluate everything else from that standpoint but can be persuaded if enough "shakes the cage" to make them reconsider.
Another objection is whether atheism is excempt from such an evaluation. I tend to think that it's not but will probably meet heavy disagreement. I think if one is raised as an atheist without evaluating at least some amount of material examining the existence/non-existence of god then they are just as susceptible to an auto-pilot basis for their belief system as un-examined Christians.
In any case, I'll close by saying that at least preliminarily, I find the OTF quite satisfying. It at least forces one to ask, "What are other people saying about my beliefs?" I found it frustrating to ponder the fact that Christianity, while supposedly head and shoulders above all other faiths with respect to its inherent and evidential truth-possessing-qualities, is dismissed with ease by so many throughout the world. If it's so true, why are so many able to simply shruge it off and say, "Yeah, I've got an apologetic response for that." It's the exact same response that Christians provide to others. Surely someone is wrong and I think it's reasonable to suggest that one plausible method is to take a step back from the whole realm of the supernatural and look things from outside the bubble for a change.
I've found this extremely helpful. Is there compelling evidence for miracles? If god helps me find my lost cell phone, why couldn't he heal person x or feed population y? Are all other miracle claims of other faiths delusions or the "true god" acting incognito? Questions like this begin to emerge in a way that I don't think is readily accessible without first being open to doubt and think critically. Typically there's quite a layer of Kevlar surrounding our beliefs and the OTF, if experimented with, helps peel that back for at least some thought experiments.
To Ch 6: The Lessons of Galileo, Science, and Religion >>