Friday, August 14, 2015

How Jesus Passes the Outsider Test: Chapter One

Chapter One: “The Outsider Test for Faith”

The Outsider Test, as we have seen, has become a popular, widely-employed argument against Christianity.  But John Loftus attempts in particular detail to develop this argument, and his name is most closely associated with it.  Let us therefore begin by critiquing his version of the OTF. 

In his 2013 book, The Outsider Test for Faith: How to Know Which Religion is True, Loftus summarizes his case in four steps, or theses:

(1) The Religious Diversity Thesis: “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.” 
(2) The Religious Dependency Thesis: "To an overwhelming degree, one’s religious faith is casually dependent on brain processes, cultural conditions, and irrational thinking patterns.”  
(3) Given those two facts, it is “highly likely that any given adopted religious faith is false . . . "
(4) In practice, one should hence test one’s religion “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.”[1]

These four assertions raise all kinds of questions, both theoretical and practical.  First, what does Loftus mean by “religion?”  Does he put his own ideas about the nature of things up for grabs, alongside the beliefs of the Athabascans and Zulus?  Or does he take his opinions as objective and inviolable because they are not what he defines as “religious?”

In other words, if “religion” (whatever that is) depends on irrational “brain processes and cultural conditions,” where do skeptical thoughts come from?  If historical contingency, and glitches in the hardware of our mental circuitry, lead Christians astray, why are the thoughts of atheists assumed to be free of bugs?  Did Richard Dawkins’ brain evolve separately from those of church-going primates?  Or to ask the question historically, have not vast schools of post-Christian thought – Stalinism, Maoism, Objectivism, Freudianism, and so on – shown that atheists often rely on “irrational thinking patterns” with the worst of them?  If “patterns of irrationality” are common to humans in general, why does Loftus only mention those sins of thought when he writes about people with whom one disagrees?  Does this manifest a Manichean desire to set “religious” sinners apart from purer orders of humanity?  (“It’s not my fault!” “The woman (Mom) gave me the apple of religious nurture!”  “The snake (the winding double helix that is to our notions of evolution roughly what the Fates were to ancient mythology) tempted me, and I ate!”

If the OTF is to be of any rational value in helping us find truth, it must take a neutral stance among worldviews, supernatural and secular.  (Human nature being constant.)  Therefore, for the purpose of this test, religion is best defined in what sociologist Peter Berger calls a “functional” sense – in terms of the roles beliefs play in our lives, not their intellectual content.  We all have “ultimate concerns,” to use Paul Tillich’s definition of religion, and the OTF should encourage us to be more objective about judging among those concerns, not to tacitly assume anti-God views hold a privileged status in our inquiry.

Also (back to Loftus’ first premise), in what sense are religions, however we define them, “diverse?”  Does that mean they disagree about everything?  Obviously not.  Skeptics tend to define religion, after all, as belief in supernatural entities, thus conceding that the vast majority of people in all ages and times have agreed at least on one thing – that atheists are wrong.  But if diversity is an argument against the claims that people differ on, does that not make it more probable that whatever unites religions across cultures, is true?  So in offering the OTF, does Loftus make his own beliefs empirically vulnerable, and admit that it yields (already) some evidence for the supernatural?  Or is this a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” sort of argument, in which reality automatically tells against (non-secular) “religions,” whether they agree with one another or not?  A valid argument, like a two-edged sword, must cut both ways.  A mountain slope that takes you downhill in one direction, must take you uphill if you walk in the opposite direction.  The OTF therefore cannot be taken as an argument against religion, if we deny the possibility that agreement between religions on a given question, should also tell against secularism.     

Taken seriously, then, Loftus’ version of the OTF seems flawed even in theory.  Then when we look at the concrete and complex phenomena of how people convert, further problems arise. 

For one thing, ideas, like water, do not flow freely in all directions.  Three drops of water that fall on different peaks in the Three Gorges region of the Himalayas are fated to flow into the Yangtze and Sea of Japan, the Mekong through Vietnam into the South China Sea, or into the Irrawady through Burma and out into the Indian Ocean.  Faiths are also biased (though not fated) by the contours of social and political geography to move along certain paths.  Loftus fails to properly take the effect of this “social geography” into account.  The cheery term “shared heritage” only weakly hints at the barriers people often face in converting to a new religion.  An American who joins the Hare Krishna sect will likely feel awkward putting on saffron robes and chanting outside the library in downtown Chattanooga.  Strictures against conversion to serious Christianity among upper-caste Hindus, Burmese Buddhists, Japanese salarymen, or Danish anthropology professors can weigh even more heavily against conversion.  Group identification (“We Thais love our king and worship Buddha”), while allowing eccentric beliefs in private, usually impedes formal conversion to “foreign” religions, as oil repels water, or as 15,000 foot ridges impede the flow of water from one canyon to the next. 

So the powerful human instinct for conforming to the habits of our fellows makes conversion to alien beliefs extremely difficult under ordinary circumstances, even in a “free market” of religions.  And markets are usually not free.  A Saudi living in Mecca had best make out his will before getting baptized publicly (sprinkled or immersed).  Most Afghans are Muslim for the same reason most Albanians once voted for Enver Hofha: they value their necks.  According to David Barrett and Todd Johnson, nine million Christians had been martyred by Muslims by the year 2000[2], while almost 32 million had been martyred by atheists.  Jews have suffered even worse, proportionately, but the demographics of all great faiths, and most anti-faiths, have been shaped by persecution.  Fear of bodily harm, whether from police, neighbors, or evil jinn, is of course an even more powerful constraining force than bourgeois forms of social pressure.

But some countries (mostly Christian and Buddhist) are freer than others (especially Marxist and Islamic).  And some societies (especially western) encourage individuality and freedom of expression, while much of the world (especially societies growing from great ancient rice-growing civilizations of Asia) encourage conformity.  No understanding of human history is valid that fails to take such powerful social forces into account.  If we are to evaluate religious conversion, we must recognize that the dice are generally loaded.  It is foolish to pretend Saudis or even Japanese are as free to decide what to believe as an American college kid away from home at a “university” which displays people and ideas from around the world like so many succulent fruits in a marketplace of ideas.  

More radically still, I think Loftus’ argument hides a fundamental misconception of how Christians understand other faiths.  For one thing, as I have already hinted, "diversity of religious faiths" is genuine, but in some ways superficial.  As Chesterton noted, religions around the world commonly include four beliefs: in "God, the gods, philosophy, and demons."  In years of studying world religions, I have found Chesterton's observation to be largely (not always) true.  Peel away labels, and many beliefs seem to be universal or at least widespread.  People in hundreds of cultures around the world do turn out, as we shall see, to be aware of a Supreme God “outside” the Abrahamic tradition.  Chesterton is also right in supposing belief in inferior spirits, good and bad, to be universal.  Anthropologists also find people who reason systematically about the cosmos even in “primitive” tribes, as Paul Radin pointed out, and as Stevan Harrell, head of the Anthropology Department at the University of Washington and one of my MA supervisors, observed from his study of Chinese religion as well.  Apparent experience of the supernatural is also universal.  (Skeptical proponents of the OTF often point this out themselves, oddly supposing that the widespread experience of miracles, somehow must prove them all false!)  This could be called the "lack of religious diversity thesis,” and should be held in tension with its cousin, the “religious diversity thesis.”  If widespread disagreement renders a religious tenet less credible, then agreement must render it more credible.  (Just as, if one goes downhill from Jerusalem to Jericho, one must go uphill from Jericho to Jerusalem.)  One cannot make the one argument, without implicitly admitting the other as well.

Nor is Loftus' second premise empirically safe.  Often, as he concedes, people do adopt religions they had not been taught as children.  And as a study by the skeptic Michael Shermer suggests, even Americans born into one religion grow up to rationally evaluate their beliefs.  Shermer found that when asked, “Why do you believe in God?,” the top two reasons cited evidence and reason: “The good design natural beauty / complexity of the world or universe” (28.6%), and “The experience of God in everyday life” (20.6%).  (When I asked a smaller number of experienced Christians the same question, this second sort of response often seemed to do with the direct or indirect experience of miracles.)[3]  The third most-popular answer, which garnered only 10.3% of votes, seems less obviously rational: “Belief in God is comforting, relieving, consoling, and gives meaning and purpose to life.”[4]  Yet even in that case, some may mean that Christian faith lends coherence and unity to our understanding of the world around us.  As Augustine said, “Our hearts were made for You, O Lord, and they are restless until they rest in you,” which in Augustine’s case seemed to mean he thought that the nature of man pointed to the reality of God.  Faith in God satisfies our souls, as food satisfies our stomachs, because the heart was made for worship as the stomach was made for food.  (The analogy is prominent in both halves of the Bible.)  Not everyone can articulate their thoughts as eloquently as Augustine, Calvin, or C. S. Lewis (who also argued in this mode), but many theists may be thinking implicitly along similar rational lines, from the nature of man to the reality of his Creator.    

By contrast, Shermer found that most people thought other folk believed merely because they found faith comforting, were raised to believe, feared death or needed something to believe in.[5] Remarkably, Loftus quoted Shermer’s study to buttress his dubiously rational belief that belief is dubiously rational:

“Michael Shermer did some extensive research on why people believe in God and other weird things.  Nine out of ten people said that other people are influenced by nonrational factors to believe in weird things, and yet these same respondents turned around and said they were the exceptions to the rule.  How is it possible for nine out of ten respondents to be the exceptions to what nine out of ten of them recognize to be the rule?“[6]

Loftus (and perhaps Shermer, since he gave The Outsider Test for Faith a rave review) are forgetting that people know their own minds better than those of their neighbors.  You may guess why I became a writer, married a girl from Japan, or head to the mountains in winter with cross country skis in my car.  But I have the inside scoop.  What I say about my own motives is testimony.  What I say about why other people believe is speculation.  Speculation is seldom good evidence: testimony often is.

Nor should one conflate “how people come to conclusions” with “why people believe:” the first refers to historical causation, the second to present inference.  For instance, I came to believe that bean plants grow up poles because my father told me so, on raw parental authority.  This belief was sensible: my father had grown beans since his family planted a Victory Garden during World War II.  But I now also believe this folk tale (or Folks’ tale) because I have planted beans myself, and watched them skinny skywards.  “Faith” often begins like a seed, then winds heavenward in light of growing evidence.  As the Samaritans told Jesus, “We believed at first because the woman told us, but now we have seen you for ourselves.” (John 4:41)  So with many who “grow into” Christianity.  Just because we initially accept a belief on partially irrational grounds – this belief, rather than some other, happens to present itself to our minds, backed by authority – doesn’t mean we gain no more rational grounds for holding onto it.  We generally do.  Anyway, that’s how we learn most things: science, history, geography, all sprout from faith in authorities (parents, teachers, books, heaven help us, the Internet).  Then our belief grows or withers, as it finds further nourishment in the soil of empirical experience, and begin to branch out.  (As a language teacher, I am bemused by the thought that, since I studied before I traveled, for all I knew at the time, the French or Russian or Chinese I learned in school could have been imaginary languages invented by my teachers.  What a great practical trick that would have been!  Though not really so practical!)

Also, in most of the world, serious Christian faith is not the default position.  Even most American Christians go to secular schools, listen to secular music, watch secular movies, and (in extreme cases) read the blogs of John Loftus or PZ Myer.  We also stand in our cultural skivvies under that vast cataract of historical cacophony we are taught to call the “Enlightenment.”

Notice, for example, the anti-Christian propaganda in the Princeton Review’s study guide for the AP World History exam for high school students.  (Which I found my son reading).  In that book, there is a section dramatically entitled, in bold, “The Enlightenment: Out of the Darkness, Into the Light.”  This section begins with a word (which I will put in italics for emphasis) that implies that the Enlightenment, and the Scientific Revolution that preceded it, were contemporary and parallel movements:

While the scientists put forth revolutionary ideas, the philosophers and social critics had a revolution of their own . . .

Why was a “revolution” needed?  Because Christianity had been a tool of political oppression:

“During the High Middle Ages and through the Renaissance and Counter-Renaissance, the Church allied itself with strong monarchs . . . Because the vast majority of their populations were Christian, the best way to rule was to align oneself with God.  Monarchs became convinced that God had ordained their right to govern, and that meant that people had a moral and religious obligation to obey them . . . “

Is this good history?  Not a bit of it.  Most of the concepts the authors would likely recognize as enlightened – modern science, democracy, civil organizations that aid the poor and sickly, the overthrow of slavery and liberation of women, even tolerance – had been developing within the Christian civilization they deride here for centuries before the so-called “Enlightenment” began, or even before the Scientific Revolution (also a questionable term, Rodney Stark has recently argued) hit its peak.  (We shall later trace a bit of that influence.)  And it is striking that in search of an “Enlightenment” figure who began writing early enough to allow the authors to use the word “while” here (and imply that Science and the Enlightenment were born at the same time), the authors offer the name Thomas Hobbes.  High school children will not have read Hobbes.  In fact, the man was gung-ho for tyranny: “as in the presence of the master, the servants are equal, and without any honor at all; so are the subjects, in the presence of the sovereign.[7]  Hobbes also criticized the pious scientific pioneer Robert Boyle for testing his theories about gases by experiment.

But here’s the point relevant to Loftus’ argument.  Having been indoctrinated in public schools (and I have seen worse, substitute teaching in rural school districts in Washington State), is it really plausible to describe the products of such education as purely and simply “insiders” to Christian tradition?  May it not be truer to say public school children, the majority of students, are socialized to some extent to despise Christianity?  (And then often get a double dose in college, including from some of Loftus’ “Bright” friends – as we shall shortly see?) 

So cultural dependency in our “Christian” culture may be real, but is by no stretch of the imagination "overwhelming." 

When I raised this objection, Loftus offered a peculiar response: “For a boy who is home-schooled by snake handlers or a girl raised by KKK parents, those are the only cultures they know.”  A paragraph later, he added, still addressing me, “Christian theists respond by asking me to explain the exceptions.  I am asking them to explain the rule.”[8]

By all means, let’s explain the rule before the exception!  Are boys and girls raised by snake-handlers and bigots in white sheets the exception even in American society (still less, say, London), or the rule?  They are such rare exceptions, that in half a century, I have never knowingly met either.   (Well I did meet the red-headed son of a missionary in Hong Kong who lectured us on a snake he’d just caught in the oyster beds, even as it hung onto his thumb by its fangs: “This snake is only mildly poisonous – I need to work its jaw out gently or I’ll hurt it.”  But his peculiar madness was purely scientific.)  Children are raised in homes of many religious traditions and varying intensities, then usually go to secular schools, where they are brainwashed with the biases of the Princeton Review, and where they imbibe a thousand forms of secular influence – rap music, X Box games, The Simpsons, Big Bang Theory, forty hours for every one in church.  That’s the rule, snake-handling KKK home-schooled kids are rare as falling stars.  (Maybe rarer: I have actually handled a meteorite.)  Diversity is not just the presence of other “religious” communities.  It is also a secularist tradition that took root centuries ago in the West, deeply hostile to Christianity, that now holds great influence in the public square.   

A related problem with Loftus’ argument is that atheist worldviews seem as “culturally dependent” as any other.  Loftus claimed that "Atheists do indeed take the OTF.  That's why atheists are atheists in the first place".[9]  But in fact, people also "adopt and defend" skeptical ideologies because of where they were born and how they were educated. (Never mind “brain processes!”)

In the fall of 2011 I surveyed 124 Chinese intellectuals, mostly in northern China, about their religious beliefs.  Among college students who gave clear answers, about two thirds avowed atheism.  But young Chinese who had already graduated from college were far more likely to identify themselves as believers of some sort – especially in Zen, Confucianism, or Christianity – with only one third of those clearly choosing the “there is no God” option on my survey.  So evidently Marxist propaganda succeeds in making young Chinese into atheists, at least until they get out of school and gain wider experience.
Most atheists today live and have been raised in communist countries, where denying religion is expected.  A broader survey showed that about two thirds of Chinese claim no religion—which would mean almost a billion non-theistic Chinese alone.[10]  Combine that with armies of unbelievers in Vietnam, North Korea, communists in Latin America and Europe, those who were brought up to skepticism in Eastern Europe, and skeptics who acquired their atheism through democratic secular humanism constitute at most maybe one in five atheists in the world today. The rest are at least partly the products of anti-religious indoctrination. 

And even among western secular humanists who cast off religious faith in their youth, can we really be sure that they do so for purely rational reasons, not because of cultural influence?  Many atheists in the West are raised by unbelievers.  Others convert in high school or college.  Daniel Dennett and Sam Harris explicitly say this should be a goal of education through the influence of “godless professors,” as Daniel Dennett calls himself.  One finds some such professors at many universities.  A student wrote the following description of Loftus’ friend the best-selling author and philosopher Peter Boghossian at Portland State University:

“His heroes: Dawkins, Habermas, James Randy, Dennett, Pinker, Hitchens, Socrates, Darwin, D. Davidson, Wittgenstein. His hit list: Postmodernism, pseudoscience, religion, superstition, mysticism, fascism/totalitarianism, Sarah Palin. This class will give you an opportunity to live a life free of illusion.”[11]

“Hit list?” No hint of brow-beating young minds there! 

University of Texas political scientist Jay Budziszewski recalls how he was hired:

“Eighteen years ago I stood before the Government Department of the University of Texas to give a talk . . . my here’s-why-you-should-hire-me lecture.  I wanted to teach about ethics and politics, so as academic job seekers do everywhere, I was showing the faculty my stuff. 

“So what did I tell them?  Two things.  The first was that we human beings merely make up the difference between good and evil; the second was that we aren’t responsible for what we do anyway.  And I laid out a ten-year plan for rebuilding ethical and political theory on these two propositions.”[12]

Budziszewski asks, in retrospect, whether this was the right plan for getting a job teaching the young, or for “getting committed to the state mental hospital.”  He now thinks not only were both propositions wrong, but that he knew they were wrong at the time, and was deceiving himself with sophistry.  But it concerns him that such a program would win him a position at one of the world’s top universities, teaching America’s future political leaders how to think about ethics!  “Morality is an illusion, we have no choices.”  Is this how the faculty at the University of Texas desires to shape the souls of future mandarins at the Department of Justice?  Nor is this a rare bias in academia.  Perhaps the real question is, how do so many bright young people survive such propaganda with their faith intact? 

Yet another flaw in Loftus’ argument is logical in nature, but points to the empirical value of the OTF, if it can be corrected for the many weaknesses described so far.

Strictly speaking, does John's initial conclusion--point three–really follow from the premises that precede it?  If we adopt certain beliefs because we have been taught them, does that mean they are probably false?  Obviously not.  My belief that the earth circles the sun is "culturally dependent."  If I grew up in ancient Carthage, or among the Yali in Papua New Guinea, I would probably not believe in heliocentrism.  I believe it because teachers told me this, and have never proven it for myself.  However many intriguing models of the solar system may exist in other cultures, the fact that mine is also culturally-conditioned, in no way means it is wrong. 

Loftus seems to be committing a version of the genetic fallacy, here, the idea that the origin of an idea discredits it: "Mario is Italian, so of course he thinks olive oil is healthier than corn oil!"  Maybe Mario’s cultural bias does incline him to favor the olives; but that doesn't mean olive oil isn't genuinely superior, or even that Mario doesn't hold his view for sound medical reasons as well.

Skeptics commonly reply, “But you don’t have to take heliocentrism or the health benefits of olive oil on faith–you can prove them scientifically–unlike religion!”  But who does?  How do I know that electrons circle the nuclei of atoms?  That Earth contains an outer core of molten iron and nickel?  Or even that I have two lungs?  If we had to prove everything personally by the scientific method, we might as well toss our hands in the air, break off a tree branch and go club a slow-moving marsupial for dinner.  Not having to “prove everything scientifically” is one of the advantages of civilization.  (And even if you do an experiment, you still rely on human testimony – in the form of electronic impulses between neurons of your brain – when you relate your results five minutes later.)  We are human.  There is no escaping absolute reliance on our five senses, cognition, and reports from people we trust, beginning with ourselves. 

At a Neolithic town site in the Fertile Crescent, archeologists found seeds from more than a hundred different plant species.  These seeds represented a cumulative knowledge of edible plants that had been tested and handed down from generation to generation, and would ultimately pave the way for civilization. 

Aristotle, an heir to such Neolithic technology, pointed out that aside from direct, scientific proof, it is rational to accept beliefs by attending to the “undemonstrated dicta and opinions of the skillful, the old, and the wise,” who over generations serve as gatekeepers of truth in every tribe.  Indeed, had his ancestors not already been doing that for millennia, Greek civilization could not have produced Aristotle to help invent science.     

Why is the fact that an idea about the cosmos is accepted in the modern West, more impressive than the fact that it was accepted by, say, Sawi headhunters in Papua New Guinea?   Obviously, because modern western ideas – scientific or religious – have faced far more critical tests, by better-informed thinkers, over a wider range of conditions, than the stories jungle-dwelling headhunters tell in their straw huts at night.  Sorry if that sounds patronizing or politically suspect.  If it’s any consolation, I will later argue that the headhunter may well know something worth listening to.  But it is a simple fact that a John Frum aircraft made of bamboo will not fly as well as a Cessna or Boeing.  And as we shall see, it is also a simple fact that like “western” science, Christianity has passed a far more stringent and impressive series of “outsider tests” in the process of becoming international.  

So what is the Outsider Test good for?

Given all these problems – the difficulty of defining “religion,” the complexity of religions agreements and disagreements between them, the subtle and often indirect ways that evidence acts on belief, and beliefs filter evidence (for skeptics as well as Christians and Buddhists), the complexities of cultural biases and individual motives, the social component in conversion, including official propaganda, legal strictures, and mob violence – can the OTF tell us anything at all about the truth of religious claims?  Or is it simply an Ad Populum argument in a cowboy hat off the rack of the Fort Wayne, Indiana Walmart? 

For Loftus, the OTF does look at times like a rhetorical gambit by which to persuade Christians to cast a gimlet eye at the Gospel:

We must offer them a shocking test, one that may help get them out of their dogmatic slumbers like nothing else can do.  And they will object as strenuously as they can to the OTF because they know their faith does not pass that test. That’s why Christians argue against it just like Muslim scholars would . . .[13]

Clearly one must be cautious with the OTF.  It is no magical wand.  It is at best a tool, limited in scope, and requiring careful handling.  A strong argument for any general interpretation of reality should also rely on the best in philosophy, science, and all the evidence that can be gleaned from history about miracles and the lives of founders and saints. 

But despite all the cautions and problems described above, I believe there is a core of sense to the concept.  It is wise to let the world be our auditor, to help screen our personal and societal biases.  Of course Secular Humanism has to go into the kitty, too.  Whether children are raised in the Hitler Youth or the Soviet Komsomol, taught Reformed catechism or politically correct liberalism, we do tend to copy errors and prejudices as well as insights and wisdom from our elders.  It is therefore wise to take the full counsel not just of the “skillful, old and wise” within a single culture, but of humanity as a whole.  It is sensible to search for a faith that includes great insights of many times and places, the fullest picture of reality from men and women most widely recognized as admirable.  Seeking a view of life that retains what our folks have found true, and that also helps explain insights from other branches of humanity, is a valid and important way to test belief systems.  I am delighted that John Loftus and his skeptical colleagues have issued this challenge.  When the OTF has been debugged and polished up, I propose that the Gospel meets and answers it most fully. 

So I don’t think Christians need to “argue against” the Outsider Test for Faith.  Following Chesterton, I would rather ask skeptics to open the window, to sail to the South Seas, to take the world of religions more seriously, not less so – then look for Jesus in Samoa, Sichuan, or Swaziland.

We must, however, reformulate the four theses Loftus offers for the OTF in more plausible terms.  So let me close this chapter by tentatively proposing a more careful formulation of the OTF:

(1) Unity within Diversity Thesis: “People who live in distant regions of the world tend to adopt different beliefs, some of which conflict, some of which agree.  While no sure proof – there may be structural or mental reasons for us to adopt similar false beliefs, while true beliefs may arise uniquely from a single location – universal beliefs that agree are more likely to reflect universal realities in some fashion than those that are solely created by individual cultures.”

(2) Ideological Dependency Thesis: “All thought is conducted by fallible human beings and is therefore subject to error – that of atheists no less than that of Anabaptists, Buddhists, Wiccans or Zoroastrians.  Thus it is wise to pay particular attention when the wisest men and women in diverse cultures agree.”

(3) Double-Skepticism Thesis: “One interesting result of a fair application of the OTF may therefore be to cast a little doubt on atheism itself, since awareness of divine realities is almost universal, and is generally recognized by the wisest within most great civilizations.”

(4) Fulfillment Thesis: “One should, therefore, test great faiths not with blind skepticism, but looking for areas of common agreement, transcendent insight, and intellectual tapestries that synthesize important threads of insight from many traditions.”

This latter, I will argue, provides us not only with a powerful argument for the Christian faith, but a remarkable new way to read human history, that brings great civilizations, eras, and peoples together in a unified, and perhaps divinely inspired, search for truth.  

Note: Now here's Chapter Two, in which I make the argument that Loftus and his fellows seem so determined to concentrate on -- a concentration of mind that has not, however, resulted in clarity of thought, so far.

[1] John Loftus, The Outsider Test for Faith, 15-17
[2] World Christian Trends AD 300-AD 2200
[3] David Marshall, The Truth Behind the New Atheism, 24
[4] Michael Shermer, Why Darwin Matters: The Case Against Intelligent Design, 37
[5] Ibid, 37 
[6] Loftus, The Outsider Test for Faith, 208
[7] Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, Chapter 18, 81
[8] Loftus, The Outsider Test for Faith, 96-7
[9] John Loftus, The Christian Delusion, 97
[10] Carson Menchen, Byron Johnson and Rodney Stark, “Final Report: The Empirical Study of Religions in China”
[11] Rate My Professors, at
[12] Jay Budziszewski, The Revenge of Conscience, IX
[13] Loftus, ‘Where David Marshall Goes Wrong, Deconstructing Christianity Blogspot, January 2, 2011 and following. 

No comments: