The outsider test for faith

I decided to start the discussion on why people believe in god with an atheist argument, John Loftus’ outsider test for faith, simply because it is relevant to the entire discussion.

The test is simple, not really designed for use in a debate, but things don’t always turn out as they were intended. The outsider test is more of a reflective exercise for religious people to take, in order to test whether their beliefs are worthwhile.

The test would involve a believer asking themselves what they think the good reasons for their belief are, and would they accept the same arguments if they were presented for another deity. If the answer is no, then the believer has already rejected it as a good reason, and would either have to accept their reasoning as inconsistent, or would be compelled to acknowledge they don’t have any good reasons for believing it. This would normally result in disbelief, but people do cognitive dissonance quite well, so it wouldn’t always happen.

Obviously using someone’s own argument against them is a powerful debating tool. There are arguments out there designed around this idea, and they can be very strong. I plan on using a specially designed one later.

It is possible, of course that some people believe all gods to be the same, but revealed through different people, in which case I’m not sure if the test would work. But this idea is pretty absurd anyway.

Christianity teaches salvation by faith, with actions not being good enough, many other religions are based entirely on ones actions when it comes to whatever form of judgment they have. Both of these positions are strongly supported fundamentals of the belief systems, and thus a conflict here, would make the theory contradictory, since one of the basics people need to understand about god, purpose and salvation two different, and mutally exclusive things.

Of course, polytheism isn’t really compatible with montheism either, and the theory seems to disregard polytheistic claims. This is likely because the ecumenical idea is very western, which is traditionally monotheistic.

We can toss the idea around a bit in the comments if anyone needs clarity, feels they can better explain things, or disagrees.

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6 thoughts on “The outsider test for faith”

  1. Except that Christianity also teaches that Judaism is partially correct and has a covenant with God. As I have pointed out, repeatedly, the idea that salvation is via faith in the sense of belief without action is unique to evangelicals. James sates that to have faith one needs to have works, Paul says that the gentiles are justified by their works but still require the grace of Christ for what their consciousness condemns them for. All say that we are judged according to our works. It is only the evangelicals that take one piece from Paul out of context of the rest of what Paul says to mean that faith is just belief and that just belief is all that is needed for salvation. Going to the words of Christ Himself obviously destroys the view that belief alone is necessary (not everyone that says Lord, Lord and etc.)

    Monotheism comes via philosophy, specifically Greek philosophy and was adopted by Judaism and then Christianity after the fact. Only Wisdom of SIrach can rightly be called Monotheistic, and it is highly likely that Wisdom of Sirach doesn’t appear in the version of the Bible that you use (though the Catholics use it). Some books are nearly polytheistic, some approach monotheism, many are henotheistic, most are monolatrists. The original claim against Christianity was that it was polytheistic and this by the pagan Greeks and Romans as it claims to have the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, coupled with a claim that maybe it is atheistic as it didn’t seem that any of them fit the ideal of unmoved mover. Also the existence of the devil does complicate things, which is often swept under the rug.

    The idea that “the Lord doth grant unto all nations, of their own nation and tongue, to teach his word, yea, in wisdom, all that he dseeth fit that they should have; therefore we see that the Lord doth counsel in wisdom, according to that which is just and true” doesn’t seem absurd to me at all.

    1. Perhaps James was wrong, perhaps he misinterpreted.

      Yes, the lord god, not the lord gods, as experienced first hand by polytheists everywhere.

      So, even after the whole bit on polytheism, you still insist it’s montheistic.

      And then, perhaps the quote was simply a misinterpretation.

      I realise that the Holy Spirit helps people discern the truth, he’s just smart enough to give people enough of a conflicting truth to cause wars.

      So, let’s go all the way back to Genesis 3, where God punishes mankind for gaining moral awareness, what more evidence do you need that this coupled with multiple conflicting revelations, is good evidence for an evil god. It is more economical too, since I don’t need to assume a devil this way.

      1. If you are serious then you have moved from one gnostic position (evangelical) to another one (evil god/demiurge).

        Genesis 3 is interpreted very differently by my faith.

        The Spirit isn’t the one causing the wars.

        Where do I ever insist in Monotheism? I am very much a monolatrist, and that only because the divine council is united as one supreme council otherwise it would be trilatrrism (which I don’t think is actually a thing but would be the only way to describe it). Of course Heavenly Mother does complicate the picture, but not enough has been revealed on Her to really say so still monolatrist.

      2. I’ve interpreted it in a way that seems to fit the character of the diety depicted in the Old Testament, and incidentally the New, unless you don’t consider consuming people with fire “cruel and unusual.”

        The position that ALL cultures are under your one God, or perhaps your council, still reduces the number of deities actually experienced by other cultures. You’re still rejecting their experience, since they have experienced more than one god.

        I will be doing the argument from personal experience soon, typed most of it, but getting off to bed soon.

      3. By the way, of course I’m not serious, I’m simply offering a Biblically supported interpretation, which shows how vague the Bible actually is, you can really do with it what you will. Not very useful, not what you’d expect from omniscience.

  2. The outsider test seems like a good start to helping theists see a larger space of possibilities. (Though clearly it can get derailed if your interlocutor focuses on ‘what beliefs might be necessary for salvation’, instead of ‘what beliefs are true’.)

    Ultimately, I’d want people to realize they’ve been ignoring hypotheses like Slaughterhouse Five, Harry Potter-style time travel that we’d have to consider before most Abrahamic deities, if for some reason we rejected the standard atheist model of reality. But you might have to start with the outsider test, to get them to see that the bare fact of belief doesn’t give us enough evidence to warrant ignoring the first theory or class of theories and talking about the second. (Never mind the fact that someone, somewhere on Earth, almost certainly believes we came into existence through time travel.)

    I foresee some reader (if this comment gets enough of them) thinking that obviously the above ignores arguments for God’s existence like the one from ‘morality’ or religious experience. Well, reader, you should really practice coming up with clever objections to your own arguments. Think about what a smart person who disagrees with you would say. But I’ll indulge you: think about a ham sandwich that provides a basis for morality. This may seem absurd, because nobody believes it or has spent centuries defending it. Certainly it’s arbitrary. But the claim that God could justify morality seems just as arbitrary to me. I don’t see authority as fundamental, so I don’t see how any external source could provide a basis for morality. If one can, I don’t see why it would have to be a person.

    HP Lovecraft took philosophical, mystical and theological attempts to describe a ‘divine’ reason for ethics, and showed what they might actually look like given our universe. The result was his “demon-sultan” Azathoth. Never mind whether the God of the Bible is better or worse, let’s focus on the question of whether any deity could provide a basis for morality. I say that to show any morally significant difference between Azathoth and another deity, one would need to invoke values like love and joy and beauty and reason – all those values that atheists share. You’ll still need to assume these are good. The “God” part of the hypothesis adds nothing.

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