John Loftus’ favorite argument against religious belief is his Outsider Test for Faith (or OTF) which is a slight variation of the problem of many religions. He says, “The presumption of The Outsider Test would be that since there are so very many religions, and with so many people believing in a particular religion because of “when and where they were born,” that when examining any religious belief, skepticism would be warranted, since the odds are good that the one you are investigating is wrong.”
He formulates his argument as follows:
Premise 1-- Religious diversity around the globe is a fact—many religions can be found in distinct geographical locations in the world.
Premise 2--There are no mutually agreed upon tests to determine which religion is true.
Premise 3--Religious apologists all claim they are correct and they reject all other distinctive religious beliefs but their own.
Premise 4--All religions seek to answer life’s most important questions in a believing communal social environment where the adherent is encouraged to believe and discouraged to doubt.
Therefore-- It’s probable that people adopt their religion based upon when and where they were born.
My first impression of the OTF is that it has a strong Midwest feel to it in that it assumes that most people are born into religion as Christianity is much more prevalent in the Midwest and the South (perhaps I get this sense because I know that John comes from Indiana and grew up in a Christian family). How does John account for people like me who grew up in atheist families, in the relatively secular Pacific Northwest (or the Northeast or Europe), but became Christians later in life? What about people who grew up in one religion but convert to another? I want to dig further into this argument and critique each premise of his argument.
There is indeed a great deal of religious diversity in the world and I think this could point to the Argument from Desire:
Premise 1--Every natural, innate desire in us corresponds to some real object that can satisfy that desire.
Premise 2--But there exists in us a desire which nothing in time, nothing on earth, no creature can satisfy.
Premise 3--There must exist something more than time, earth and creatures, which can satisfy this desire.
Therefore--This something is what people call "God" and "life with God forever."
The pervasiveness of religion indicates that mankind senses that there is something beyond nature that it desires to interact with. As C.S. Lewis said, “"If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world."
I think we can view religions as different hypotheses to answer to mankind’s great questions such as how did we get here; why are we here; why is there so much suffering in the world; is this life all that there is? Religions also seek to meet our innate desire for something beyond this world. Religions like hypotheses can all be tested. John is right to say that there is no universal test to evaluate the validity of religions, but I think that Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli have developed some good criteria: (1)
1. Are they true? (Can we verify their claims?)
2. Are they good (moral)?
3. Are they salvific? (Can they save you?)
4. Are they educative?
5. Are they useful?
Using these criteria we could test the different religions. Perhaps, in a later post, I can explain why I believe that Christianity passes these criteria.
It’s not really true that all religions completely reject the ideas and morals of other religions. The Abrahamic religions Judaism, Islam and Christianity are closely tied. Judaism splits from Christianity in that Judaism says that Jesus is a fraud Messiah whereas Christians say He is the Messiah, but both religions believe that you should love God with all your heart and love your neighbor as yourself. Islam says that Jesus was a major profit, but not the Son of God.
The Eastern religions are much more accepting. Kreeft & Tacelli write, “A Hindu can believe everything, including Christianity, as partial truth, or a stage along the way to total truth. Even contradictory ideas can be accepted as true; the stumbling block of East-West dialogue is the law of noncontradiction (2).”
Most religions have some formulation of the golden rule; do unto others as you would to have done to you. The golden rule is even accepting in secular settings.
If religions are so good at getting their adherents to cling to their beliefs and doubt other religions then why are there so many conversions? Wikipedia has a long list of people who have converted to Christianity from various religions and beliefs. In my case, converting from atheism/agnosticism was a fairly painless process as far as my family goes, sure there were some awkward times, but I had it pretty easy compared to people who leave Islam to go to another religion because they can be excommunicated from their family or even killed. William Lane Craig talks about a Muslim man who contacted Craig because he lost his faith in Islam and was considering converting to Christianity after studying its claims. Craig writes, “Before we wrapped up our conversation, he [the Muslim man] said, ‘You understand that this is not my real name. In my country, if I were to believe in Christ, I would be killed (3).’” If the stakes are so high for Islamic people why did the man convert? The only answer is that he must have really believed in the claims of Christianity.
Christianity itself was born out of another religion, Judaism. Jesus and all the disciples were Jewish. Jesus’ audacious claims of being the Son of God and the Messiah angered the Jews, who thought he was blaspheming, so much that they had Him crucified. Three days later Jesus’ tomb was empty and he began appearing in bodily form to the disciples and hundreds of people. Jesus eventually ascended up to heaven, but the movement didn’t end there—it just began. Jesus’ disciples began proclaiming that Jesus is the Messiah and Son of God even though they faced intense pressure from Jerusalem and Rome. All of Jesus’ 12 disciples but John were executed for proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus, the risen savior. Out of this difficult environment Christianity has spread all over the world.
While it may be true that the majority of people in the United States claim to be Christians and that most people in Saudi Arabia are born into Islamic families I don’t think that we can conclude that all faiths are false. My objections have shown that mankind has a desire for God, that we can test religions; there are some overlapping features in religions; and people do convert form one religion to another. We should not throw out all belief; we just need to be careful about what we believe. Christians do not need to fear the OTF because we can test the claims of Christ with historical evidence and see that they are true.
1. Kreeft & Tacelli, “Pocket Handbook of Christian Apologetics,” (2003), 122.
2. Kreeft & Tacelli, “Pocket Handbook of Christian Apologetics,” (2003), 122.
3. William Lane Craig, “Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics Third Edition,” (2008), 400.