Science vs. religion: the outsider test for faith

According to Anders Jacobsen’s Blog, which republished them, these two maps originally appeared in the Faith Central section of the (London) Times, but they’re now gone.  They’re a bit exaggerated but the point is clear—and true (click to enlarge, and check the link above if you want them as a single figure):

The obvious point is that people’s religious beliefs are almost completely determined by where they happened to be born. This is a central pillar of John Loftus’s “Outsider test for faith” (OTF), which you can (and should) read about here.

The basis for the outsider test has been stated adequately by liberal Christian philosopher John Hick: “It is evident that in some ninety-nine percent of the cases the religion which an individual professes and to which he or she adheres depends upon the accidents of birth.” That is to say, if we were born in Saudi Arabia, we would be Sunni Muslims right now. If we were born in Iran, we’d be Shi’a Muslims. If we were born in India, we’d be a Hindus. If we were born in Japan, we’d be Shintoists. If we were born in Mongolia, we’d be Buddhists. If we were born in the first century BCE in Israel, we’d adhere to the Jewish faith at that time, and if we were born in Europe in 1000 CE, we’d be Roman Catholics. For the first nine hundred years we would’ve believed in the ransom theory of Jesus’ atonement. As Christians during the later Middle Ages, we wouldn’t have seen anything wrong with killing witches, torturing heretics, and conquering Jerusalem from the “infidels” in the Crusades. These things are as close to being undeniable facts as we can get in the sociological world.

Since one’s faith is almost completely an accident of birth, then, one should be highly skeptical about whether one’s faith is correct. The considerations above, and others, led Loftus to the OTF, which he describes as follows:

The outsider test is simply a challenge to test one’s own religious faith with the presumption of skepticism, as an outsider. It calls upon believers to “Test or examine your religious beliefs as if you were outsiders with the same presumption of skepticism you use to test or examine other religious beliefs.” Its presumption is that when examining any set of religious beliefs skepticism is warranted, since the odds are good that the particular set of religious beliefs you have adopted is wrong.

Various people have tried to find fault with this principle, a principle I find eminently sensible, but they’ve all failed.  If you want to see a real exercise in sophistry along these lines, read Alvin Plantinga’s “Pluralism: a defense of religious exclusivism.” And be prepared to get angry.

h/t: Grania Spingies

112 Comments

  1. Nick Evans
    Posted May 3, 2012 at 4:20 am | Permalink

    Nice maps. Sadly, I suspect the Times will get more comments about the fact that they’ve got Sri Lanka and Bangladesh wrong than about the underlying point.

  2. Ken Pidcock
    Posted May 3, 2012 at 4:33 am | Permalink

    If you want to see a real exercise in sophistry along these lines, read Alvin Plantinga’s “Pluralism: a defense of religious exclusivism.”

    He’s invited people to do this before. Don’t do it.

    • Mandrellian
      Posted May 3, 2012 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

      +1

      Sorry Jerry – just the name Plantinga makes me angry. He might not be as execrable as a common fire-breathing fundamentalist but he’s just as deluded, just as easy (for me) to dismiss – and, actually, far less honest.

  3. Michael
    Posted May 3, 2012 at 4:34 am | Permalink

    The second map isn’t just “a bit exaggerated.” It’s a complete fantasy.

    • Michael
      Posted May 3, 2012 at 4:56 am | Permalink

      I take that back. Not awake enough when I looked at that.

    • Posted May 3, 2012 at 5:00 am | Permalink

      So, which of those ideas are not held by the majority of scientists?

      /@

      • Michael
        Posted May 3, 2012 at 5:04 am | Permalink

        Sorry, I misunderstood the second map. If I could erase the comment, I would.

        • Posted May 3, 2012 at 5:22 am | Permalink

          Sorry, I was composing the comment even as you made the retraction. I’ll admit I had the same “But… !” until, a moment later, I actually read the caption… 

          ;-)

          /@

    • doctorrieux
      Posted May 3, 2012 at 9:17 am | Permalink

      I think there are some dubious elements of the first map, actually—though I suppose I could be misidentifying something….

      * No Mormonism category in the west-central U.S.?
      * Bangladesh is Hindu?
      * Scandinavia, Holland, and New Zealand (and South Florida) are “Mostly Protestant”?
      * Iraq is Sunni? (indeed, no “Mostly”s in the Islam categories?)

      • Posted May 3, 2012 at 4:15 pm | Permalink

        Most of Polynesia would be classified as Protestant, except Tahiti and New Caledonia.

        Colouring the whole of Australia with anything is a bit silly (and I’m sure they didn’t intend Antrarctica to be Jewish) but I’d be more more inclined to colour the outback tribal, or tribal and christian.

        In New Zealand “in the 2006 Census, just over 2 million people, or 55.6 percent of those answering the religious affiliation question, affiliated with a Christian religion.”* Half a million identified as Catholic, so “mostly Protestant” is not true.
        “The number and proportion of people indicating that they had no religion continued to increase in the 2006 Census. In 2006, 1,297,104 people (34.7 percent) stated that they had no religion, compared with 1,028,052 people (29.6 percent) in the 2001 Census.”*

        *Statistics New Zealand

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted May 4, 2012 at 1:10 am | Permalink

          I think ‘mostly Protestant’ in NZ actually is true, in the very limited sense that Protestants probably outnumber Catholics by a modest amount. Of the 2 million identified as religious, half a mill were Catholic, most of the rest would be Protestant.

          ‘Mostly Protestant’ meaning ‘almost all Protestant’ would be false.

          I think of those 2 million, a large proportion would be wishy-washy, social Christians rather than deeply committed ones.

          • Roz
            Posted May 4, 2012 at 2:36 am | Permalink

            You’d be right, we don’t get alot of god botherers here. I suspect the biggest church goers would be the samoan community. And whats-his-face..Brian Tamaki of Destiny church who takes peoples KFC and ciggie fund and redirects to his Harley Davidson fund. So despite the intensive ‘Mihinari’ work of the Early Settlers in 19th century, I think religion has fallen out of favour. Anyway, I digress.

            The map is completely accurate, but the point is that it’s all down to what country you were born in as to what you’ll follow.

            And no I’m not going to read Platinga. My blood pressure is still recovering from William Lane Craig.

          • Posted May 5, 2012 at 2:35 am | Permalink

            “‘Mostly Protestant’ meaning ‘almost all Protestant’ would be false.”
            Or even “more than half Protestant”.

            “a large proportion would be wishy-washy, social Christians rather than deeply committed ones” and if you probed more deeply, they’d say something like “Well I don’t believe in God as such, but some kind of Higher Power, and I accept the teachings of Christ, so I’m a Christian.” (And what are the teachings of Christ?” “Oh, the Golden Rule, and ‘love thy neighbour’…”

            It would be interesting to know how many self-professed Christians actually know that Jesus said not just “love your neighbour” but “love your enemies” and how many think that (a) is a reasonable thing to ask, and (b) means not killing your enemies?

  4. Posted May 3, 2012 at 4:48 am | Permalink

    “It is evident that in some ninety-nine percent of the cases the religion which an individual professes and to which he or she adheres depends upon the accidents of birth.”

    Skeptics: We the 1%.

    • bad Jim
      Posted May 3, 2012 at 5:29 pm | Permalink

      Actually, many of us had skeptical parents.

  5. Posted May 3, 2012 at 5:11 am | Permalink

    Hmm… 

    1. The religionist denies that approach as they are utterly convinced that they are actually right. Mine is the One True Religion™!
    2. The religionist admits that theirs is not the only true religion, but that each religion apprehends The Divine® in a way that reflects cultural norms. And you atheists are still wrong, wrong, wrong.
    3. Oh. You’re right. It’s all a load of nonsense.

    Maybe 40:50:10.

    /@

  6. Matt G
    Posted May 3, 2012 at 5:13 am | Permalink

    This reminds me of the first point in The God Delusion, that we shouldn’t call children: “[religion X] children”, but “children of parents of religion X”.

    • David T.
      Posted May 3, 2012 at 9:07 am | Permalink

      Well since according to Loftus 99% of those children WILL be religion x what difference does it make if you call them that now or in 5 years?

      • Matt G
        Posted May 3, 2012 at 10:47 am | Permalink

        It just means we have to ask kids if they believe what they believe because they actually believe it, or because their parents told them they did.

      • Posted May 5, 2012 at 2:39 am | Permalink

        It has a bearing on things like whether the parents should go cutting parts off the children in the name of the parents’ religion.

  7. Posted May 3, 2012 at 5:40 am | Permalink

    Thanks for this Jerry.

    I’ve used the first map on my blog, but I really like the second one. Prometheus Books has just accepted my proposal for a book on the OTF and I hope to get both maps into it, so thanks for this.

    • Smith Powell
      Posted May 3, 2012 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

      The second map should include “empirical evidence” as a key component on which scientists base their belief.

  8. John K.
    Posted May 3, 2012 at 5:45 am | Permalink

    The realization that there were people out there that had different ideas about religion is what lead me to start critically studying the Bible, which in time made me become an atheist.

    In fact, in high school when I would ask why other people believed differently they knew exactly why: because that is what their parents believed.

    I am not sure why this does not work on more people. It is too bad that in the majority it does not seem to work at all.

    • lamacher
      Posted May 3, 2012 at 6:12 am | Permalink

      A long-time friend of mine, otherwise a smart-enough fellow, says with respect to his religious beliefs – ‘it was good enough for mother, so it’s good enough for me’. His mother was a real-life haridan. Amazing!

      • Posted May 3, 2012 at 7:17 am | Permalink

        Old joke, politics rather than religion, but still…

        Labour supporter [“Democrat”]: My grandfather was a Labour supporter, my father was a Labour supporter, and I’m a Labour supporter.

        Conservative [“Republican”]: And what if your grandfather and father had been Conservatives? What would that make you?

        Labour supporter: An idiot!

        /@

    • elsburymk14
      Posted May 3, 2012 at 6:26 am | Permalink

      “I am not sure why this does not work on more people. It is too bad that in the majority it does not seem to work at all.”

      Insane, isn’t it? One would think that this simple, but powerful, observation would be enough to immediately launch any theist into at least a position of temporary agnosticism or even just deism. I usually don’t find the word ‘brainwashed’ to be very well received when I debate these issues, but what other explanation can there be when this observation doesn’t even give a moments pause to a believer?

      It seriously drives me crazy and makes me realize that there’s just no way to remove most people from their faith. For example there was some brief discussion in the recent post about the book on NDE and seeing Jesus, where some people pointed out instances, such as the “Carlos” hoax or the John Frum cult where even after the myth is exposed people refuse to accept the obvious and continue to believe.

      In light of this, I’ve reaffirmed with myself that mockery and unrepentant criticism is the only way forward.

      • Linda Grilli Calhoun
        Posted May 3, 2012 at 7:02 am | Permalink

        I commented in an earlier thread about Jim Schnabel’s book Round in Circles.

        In the course of perpetrating the crop circle hoax, the two people who were doing it were getting sick of doing it, so they started getting more and more outrageous and dropping bigger and bigger hints, which NOBODY took. The longer it went on, the more sick of it they got, and when they finally came forward, they were not believed. Incredible.

        I highly recommend that book, if you want a really good laugh over believers at their most stupid. L

        • elsburymk14
          Posted May 3, 2012 at 7:39 am | Permalink

          Thanks for the suggestion – sounds like a fun read!

          For future debates I have with people, I think I’m going to save myself a lot of headaches and cut to the chase with a new strategy:

          I’ll begin by citing a number of examples where people strongly believed in fabricated hoaxes and myths and still retained their beliefs after the hoax was dispelled. I’ll then tell my opponent that they are no different than those people and there’s no hope for them to rid themselves of their delusion. If they try to point out some kind of fallacy like false equivocation (or whatever it is), I’ll ask them why the hell they want to have reasoned argument over something they can only feebly defend with ‘faith’ in the first place. Then I’ll tell them we are back to square one and that there’s no point in continuing the discussion.

          I feel that an approach like this would do well to get under the skin of many a believer and does away with all the pointless tit-for-tat debating. I kind of like the approach of, “yeah, you’re so out of touch that it isn’t even possible to have a conversation with you. And even if I did, what would be the point of it?” Perhaps that would give a believer some pause?

          • Sastra
            Posted May 3, 2012 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

            I’d be more afraid that it would give the believer a false sense of security: what you’re doing sounds too much like the comfortable and familiar “everything is faith” trope. People believe what they believe, they don’t change their minds, and there’s no sense in having any argument or discussion — so let’s agree to disagree and move on. Religious people are usually fine with that. It looks like it puts all beliefs on common ground and leaves truth-detection up to individual personality.

            Ask them instead if they care if their belief is true, and would want to change their minds if it wasn’t. If not, then the “there’s no point in having a conversation” is warranted.

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted May 4, 2012 at 1:29 am | Permalink

          Re crop circles, for some truly beautiful and staggeringly complex designs, just type ‘crop circle’ into Google Images. I’m a little bit afraid that some of them may have been cheated though – that they may have been created with the knowledge of the farmer. IMO true crop circles, like true graffiti, is only genuine if it’s created at midnight without the approval of the authorities.

      • Posted May 3, 2012 at 10:16 am | Permalink

        I can recall an incident at a catlick church in town where a parishioner witnessed droplets of water that were apparently coming from the eyes of a large statue of the Madonna that was perched high above the ground and attached to the side of the church building. With a day or so, literally hundreds gather near the side of the church to “witness the miracle.” Before anyone could get a grip on the situation, high scholl bands, prayer clubs and the press showed up to cheer ‘em on. Naturally, serious traffic problems occurred, the streets were block and a couple of people were injured as a result of the traffic problems.

        An explanation was found to the water droplets: a simple old, leaky water pipe was the culprit. The parish priest confronted the crowd and explained what was discovered and asked everyone to go home.

        Did it make a difference? Well, yes, it did. About 80% of the people understood and, like sane people would, went home and on with their lives. But at least 20% of them remained behind to honor the “signs” that “the mother of god was giving to the world.”

        A friend of mine even invited me to “witness the miracle!”

        These are the people who are growing in rapid numbers that we should really be concerned about. These people need drugs and shock therapy. No amount of rational argument, logic or mockery is of any value in their treatment regimen.

    • Sajanas
      Posted May 3, 2012 at 7:09 am | Permalink

      I think a lot of the more liberal people, who don’t want to believe that unbelievers go to hell just for not having the exact same beliefs, tend to imagine that ‘all religions are a path to truth about god’, and some such, instead of ‘all religions are equally wrong’. When I was younger and Lutheran, that’s how I thought about the differences in religion… God would take care of all the good people. Now, one tactic that might work is that *Jesus of the Gospels* and all of church history, until recently, didn’t think that way… its just something made up recently because we can no longer accommodate the horror of the implications of the old ways.

      • eric
        Posted May 3, 2012 at 8:15 am | Permalink

        IMO, that line of thought ultimately leads to apatheism. If God (whatever it is) is going to take care of good people regardless of their flavor of religion, there is no sense in worrying about which religious observances to do at all – just be good as best you understand it, and let the afterlife take care of itself.

        • Sajanas
          Posted May 3, 2012 at 9:11 am | Permalink

          I think you’re completely right… when you meet people that believe God will take care of everyone, how often are they proselytizing to you? How often are they putting pressure on you go to to church? It may not take people out of church on its own, but it certainly enables people to have the right to choose. My siblings are theoretically religious, but they don’t practice, and their kids are all agnostic for the most part… and they seem fine with the children making up their own minds. Which is great for people, but ultimately not successful for the propagation of religions.

      • Posted May 3, 2012 at 8:16 am | Permalink

        Yep, see my second option above, re The Divine®.

        You also remind me of the story in Ethics by Simon Blackburn about a high-powered interfaith panel discussion.

        Each speaker took turns to explain some key ideas of their faith – Buddhist, Hindu and so on – and the response from other panel members was always along the lines of: “Wow, terrific, if that works for you that’s great.” The same response greeted the Catholic priest who talked of Christ and salvation, but instead of being pleased with their enthusiasm “he thumped the table and shouted: ‘No! It’s not a question of if it works for me! It’s the true word of the living God, and if you don’t believe it you’re all damned to hell!’”

        “And they all said, ‘Wow, terrific, if that works for you that’s great.’”

        h/t Julian Baggini in The Guardian

        /@

        • Posted May 3, 2012 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

          I once went to a Hari Krisna meeting under false pretences – the posters never mentioned HK – and we watched a film about one of their gurus (quite a young one) being driven around Los Angeles (well, it was flat and had palm trees) being asked patsy questions. One was “It is said that there are many paths up the mountain…?”
          “False teachings! False teachings!”
          He reminded me of a Presbyterian.

      • Sal Bro
        Posted May 3, 2012 at 10:19 am | Permalink

        IMO, this is where fundamentalism comes in handy. There’s no room for the wishy-washy “all paths”–god is either a bastard, or he doesn’t exist.

        I distinctly remember sitting at an interfaith Thanksgiving service in college. I saw people I knew and respected stand up and take turns reading from their respective holy books. Much of what they said was the same. That’s when it struck me that they were all going to hell, even though they were good people and had grown up in their faith like I had.

        The alternative was that there wasn’t a hell at all. When faced with the two options (the only 2 options in my little fundie brain), it seemed much more plausible that hell wasn’t real.

    • truthspeaker
      Posted May 3, 2012 at 9:46 am | Permalink

      And this is why I think growing up in a neighborhood (and school district) that was roughly 55% Jewish and 45% Christian was a huge advantage for me.

      Having agnostic parents didn’t hurt either.

    • Posted May 5, 2012 at 2:44 am | Permalink

      Thanks to the Interwebs (we may hope) people worldwide are learning that most other people in the world are just as wildly devoted as them to something completely different from what they are wildly devoted to. This “it’s all the same God” nonsense (pace Russell’s gaoler) can only get you so far. In many cases that alone will get them to the realisation that it’s all bullsh|t.

  9. TJR
    Posted May 3, 2012 at 6:02 am | Permalink

    Similarly if you had been adopted by parents of a different religion then you would have a different religion, while otherwise being the same person.

  10. Posted May 3, 2012 at 6:58 am | Permalink

    I am a Christian theologian of religions: I have studied world religions for decades. I showed why John Loftus’ OTF actually supports the Christian faith in three ways, in a chapter in True Reason. We have carried out a friendly debate for a couple years, now; Loftus is wrong on many points. Nor are “pluralism” and “exclusivism” the only or best options.

    You are comparing like to unlike. If you draw a map based on questions like, “Is there a supernatural world?” “Do miracles happen?” “Is there life after death?” and even, “Is there a Creator God?” you will find widespread acceptance of such opinions. Of course, science itself arose in a largely theistic context, even in ancient Greece (as Richard Carrier, of all people, shows), and then again in Medieval Europe. No one claims that the most basic physical laws and patterns manifest in our daily lives are as easy to demonstrate as the nature of ultimate truth behind our mundane daily experiences.

    • Wowbagger
      Posted May 3, 2012 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

      You are comparing like to unlike. If you draw a map based on questions like, “Is there a supernatural world?” “Do miracles happen?” “Is there life after death?” and even, “Is there a Creator God?” you will find widespread acceptance of such opinions.

      Which would be fine if you were a deist. But you’re not; you admit you’re a Christian.

      So, the fact that people answer ‘yes’ to these questions but with thousands upon thousands of different ideas about what kind of being(s) might be responsible means the far more likely explanation is that in the absence of science, people invent religions.

      Had all these different ethnic groups come up with identical god-concepts, dogmas and holy books you might have an arguments. But they didn’t, so you don’t.

      Not to mention that as a Christian, you really can’t claim that a vague idea of worlwide supernaturalism supports your position when your religion makes it very clear that it is the only correct one – to the point of authorising the murder and genocide of those who believe in other gods.

      You’re trying – as so many of your kind do – to have your cake and eat it too. And that just won’t fly.

      • Posted May 3, 2012 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

        Here’s a map Adam Smith created for my new book which is copyright free:

        • Posted May 4, 2012 at 12:35 am | Permalink

          Hmm… are there no scientifically-minded people in Antarctica? They’d actually be majority of the population, no?

          /@

    • Pete Cockerell
      Posted May 3, 2012 at 4:56 pm | Permalink

      If you draw a map based on questions like, “Is there a supernatural world?” “Do miracles happen?” “Is there life after death?” and even, “Is there a Creator God?” you will find widespread acceptance of such opinions.

      Except the results vary enormously depending on the educational level of the subjects, and, amongst scientists, their level of attainment in the academy. Ignorance is the best friend of supernatural belief. (Which isn’t to say all believers are ignorant, but it’s how religions bulk up their numbers.)

      I hate it when people say thing’s like, “Science itself arose in a largely theistic context.” No shit, Sherlock. You don’t think that might have been because of the monopoly the theists had on things like literacy and learning, and jealously guarded it in case any upstart peasant might have gotten ideas above his station? Of course it was the context in which science arose: it was about the only context available! But luckily for us, theistic origins or no, science has been inexorably shrinking the gaps that your God could possibly occupy for the last 400 years.

  11. Posted May 3, 2012 at 7:35 am | Permalink

    Reflecting on my own experience of Christianity living in the USA, I think that many (most?) people don’t subject their religious beliefs to any sort of test, “outsider” or otherwise. They were just raised in a particular religion, their family goes to a particular church, it’s kind of a tradition (like rooting for Da Bears), it just *feels* comfortable and familiar to them, and they seldom encounter people of different religious beliefs to rock their boats. Also, for many people religion just occupies some fraction of their activities in life and any suggestion that there might be something wrong or dangerous with their religious beliefs just seems silly. So they’re just happy to go on living their lives with a compartmentalized mind (and even unaware that that’s the case). It’s only when incidents like 9/11 happen that people begin to experience some cognitive dissonance. And when those awful, noisy, and annoying Gnus start making a ruckus!

    • Sajanas
      Posted May 3, 2012 at 9:08 am | Permalink

      I’d also suggest that most religions make it a point to never, ever fully educate their parishioners on their religion. Which explains why, when people start getting on to a seminary track, everyone starts crying to learn that Moses never existed, and that the Bible is a lot more vile than people would think hearing the same 52 odd Bible verses every year.

      • David T.
        Posted May 3, 2012 at 9:15 am | Permalink

        Its funny how, I used to adapt to the bible and not realize the problems with it. On anything I’d question, I’d just reassure myself that God had a reason for this.

        Ironically it was while preparing for seminary, reading some historical/critical bible introductions that my faith started to crack. Once I didn’t view the bible as entirely inerrant then I could question the absurdities and it wasn’t long after that my christianity crumbled.

        I think this is why Ehrman gives pastors such headaches, he brings the stuff you learn in seminary to the public’s attention and their faith can’t handle it.

      • Sastra
        Posted May 3, 2012 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

        My mother told me that she stopped believing in Christianity when she took a correspondence course on the Bible and learned that the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were not directly written by the eyewitnesses Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. They were stories verbally handed down for generations and eventually written by unknown writers.

        The fact that this had never been mentioned — or even hinted at — confounded her. Plus, she knew how reliable that kind of gossip usually was.

        Earlier, as a teenager she had joined and then dropped out of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. She would listen kindly to the people who answered the door and then wanted to share their religion with her. She thought “these people are happy: how can I be so sure they’re wrong, when they’re so sure they’re right?” A version perhaps of the OTF.

        • Pete Cockerell
          Posted May 3, 2012 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

          I know a lot of Filipinos, mostly devout Catholics, with the odd 7th Day Adventist. When I question the Catholics in particular about the Bible, they invariably know nothing about its provenance, and like your mom before she was educated, assume the Gospels and Paul’s letters are eyewitness accounts of Jesus’ life (even though the most cursory glance at Paul would tell you otherwise). Even when I tell them how the Bible really came about, it makes no difference to them whatsoever. For them, it’s not about the details, it’s all about the 1mm-deep (but impermeable) belief that God is in his heaven and he’s looking out for them and listening to their prayers. This in a country where the standard of living for most people is abysmal by Western standards, healthcare is unaffordable for many, and political corruption is endemic. Maybe they need their God-beliefs and church-based support systems to make it at all bearable.

  12. eric
    Posted May 3, 2012 at 8:18 am | Permalink

    John Loftus’ OTF sounds a lot like a quote by Stephen Roberts: “I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.

  13. Posted May 3, 2012 at 8:41 am | Permalink

    I find the Axiom Of the Unordered Pair makes for a particularly difficult object of skepticism.

  14. Posted May 3, 2012 at 9:04 am | Permalink

    Thanks for pointing me to this guy’s OTF paper/talk. I found his reasoning to be particularly incisive and likely to be of great value in arguing with Christian apologists. I think I want to read his book.

  15. Schenck
    Posted May 3, 2012 at 9:23 am | Permalink

    To stir the pot, in a bit of an obvious way, what the map is saying is that irrational beliefs are strongly associated with history/locale, so if a belief tracks with location, then it’s probably held irrationally.
    Atheism is largely confined to the anglo-gothic parts of the West (the rates of Atheism in, say, France, or Texas, are probably comparable to the rates of Christianity in India, and so it doesn’t violate the basic idea here).
    So, while I’ll agree that a case can be made that atheism is a rational idea, and not a religion like some people tend to say, surely there is a historical/contingency (or even a “fad”) aspect to the spread of atheism?

    ” it’s kind of a tradition (like rooting for Da Bears),”

    Indeed, the tendency to play Football and Baseball versus Soccer and Cricket surely tracks with location, rather than an objective evaluation of the facts, and is thus more like religion than atheism.

    • TJR
      Posted May 3, 2012 at 9:36 am | Permalink

      Not in the last case. Football and cricket *are* objectively better than american football and baseball, as any fule kno.

      • Sajanas
        Posted May 3, 2012 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

        You know, I’ve asked a few British folks what the rules are for cricket, and the best answer is “you buy a bottle of wine, take your seat, and watch the game”.

        • Wowbagger
          Posted May 3, 2012 at 3:57 pm | Permalink

          In Australia – where it’s warmer – we prefer beer. Or a Pimm’s.

        • Clive
          Posted May 4, 2012 at 3:22 am | Permalink

          In my experience at school in London – if the ball is coming anywhere near you, duck. (Similarly, rugby, where people jump on you if you have the ball: if the ball is coming near you, run to the other side of the pitch).

        • bernardhurley
          Posted May 4, 2012 at 3:33 am | Permalink

          The rules about how you play cricket are reasonably simple. The difficult part is how you decide who has won.

    • darrelle
      Posted May 3, 2012 at 11:18 am | Permalink

      So, while I’ll agree that a case can be made that atheism is a rational idea, and not a religion like some people tend to say, surely there is a historical/contingency (or even a “fad”) aspect to the spread of atheism?

      Well, I doubt the fad aspect accounts for a sizeable percentage, but sure, it very likely accounts for some. There are followers in every crowd.

      To my mind, I wouldn’t consider a person who has no supernatural/god beliefs, and has never encountered and confronted such beliefs before to be an atheist. If a person hasn’t confronted and thought about such things, how can you tell. Not until they say something like “how silly, no one really believes that do they?”

      It seems to me that there are many people who have never really thought about religious belief. In many cases intentionally. Due to discomfort, apathy, lack of interest, or it just isn’t on their radar. I used to be like that, until the believers forced me to take notice. Didn’t take long, a few pages into the KJB before I could say that I was an atheist, even though I had never believed in god in my life.

    • Ajh
      Posted May 4, 2012 at 12:15 am | Permalink

      France and Texas – you what?

      Like all rich Western countries except the US, France has a very high proportion of “No Religion” people – Wikipedia informs me that atheists/agnostics together generally come out circa 30% in most surveys but there are some studies asserting the real number is closer to 50% – pushing Catholicism into second place at 42%.

      Of course, the boundary is fuzzy because of all the same factors the Dawkins survey revealed about Christians in the UK.

      And, even if we take a high end figure of 50% of the French identifying as Catholic, only a fraction of those actually practise.

  16. Notagod
    Posted May 3, 2012 at 10:51 am | Permalink

    The “Traditional and Tribal” outlined by “Protestant” is the prettiest. God botherers, since you’ve noted that one god is just as good as another, would you mind (pretty please!) adjusting your faiths accordingly?

    By the way, isn’t that Jesus with skullcap and brain appropriately removed? Disembrained head, arms and belly in Canada with the naughty bits hanging around in USA, legs and whatnot missing due to christian over indulgence in the Roman Catholic areas?

  17. Posted May 3, 2012 at 10:55 am | Permalink

    Various people have tried to find fault with this principle, which I find eminently sensible, but they’ve all failed.

    See now that’s just bizarre to me. It’s not surprising to me that people would claim to be applying the Outsider test, and find their religion satisfactory anyway (“I have thought about what Christianity must look like to an outsider, and my conclusion is that I would have no choice but to come to Jesus had I been born in a different faith!”). But it’s bizarre to me that people would disclaim the very validity of the test.

    • Pete Cockerell
      Posted May 3, 2012 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

      Sure, it’s what Dinesh D’Souza says all the time. He’s thought long and hard about it, and wouldn’t you know it, has come to the conclusion that his particular brand of Portuguese missionary-inspired Catholicism is the One True Faith. Funny that!

  18. scmeyers
    Posted May 3, 2012 at 11:07 am | Permalink

    After several decades of living I’ve come to the simple conclusion that religion isn’t going anywhere. At best, some nations will become similar to European countries in which many (or most?) people are quasi-religious. And maybe that’s the best we can hope for? But then again I’m not sure I want to live in a society of nothing but Unitarians….I do find most a wee bit tedious.

  19. Sastra
    Posted May 3, 2012 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

    I think that second map is one reason why so many religious and spiritual people buy into pseudoscience. They want science to be more like religion. It really bothers them when there appears to be a consensus among scientific experts: that would be like fundamentalists imposing one view.

    So they insist there is no consensus: Brave Maverick Scientists who think Outside the Box and reject the Western hegemony are pushing in different directions. Thus, they love things like Traditional Chinese Medicine, which uses different physics, chemistry, biology, and anatomy than plain old ordinary medicine. It helps persuade them that attempts to study reality objectively are no more likely to succeed than the objective search for agreement in religion.

    • Sajanas
      Posted May 3, 2012 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

      Well, and if you look at both the Koran and the Bible, there are spirits, demons, and magic going on (even magic not directly caused by god, like the sorcerers of Pharaoh).

      So, again, if you accept the Bible as being accurate, you have to imagine that stuff is still around in some way or another.

  20. Posted May 3, 2012 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

    To continue with the hunger argument, in India, they spice their food with curry, in England, they’ll have mint sauce with their lamb while in Mexico, they’ll mix black beans with salsa and chicken with jalapenos in their tortilla…

    In other words, hunger is universal but the way you’ll appease it is cultural and changes with time. But hunger is hunger since humans are humans…

    It i just normal that the concept of God changes with cultures and time. That religion can also become a political and a national instrument complicates things when it comes to “who got the real message”…

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted May 3, 2012 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

      Let me apply the outsider test: “It i just normal that the concept of science changes with cultures and time.”

      Um, no. Religion fails as a claim on reality, however much you excuse it.

      • Posted May 4, 2012 at 8:29 am | Permalink

        It wouldn’t be normal that science changes with culture and time because science is something objective. Culture isn’t something objective. But it exists for real. Even if it is not measurable. To decide that God has to be exclusively an objective matter is an opinion. If God exists, it is expected that it would be beyond our grasping, beyond the objective1subjective duality.

        • Wowbagger, Madman of Insleyfarne
          Posted May 4, 2012 at 4:59 pm | Permalink

          If God exists, it is expected that it would be beyond our grasping, beyond the objective1subjective[sic] duality.

          Expected by whom? I certainly don’t ‘expect’ that to be true; in fact, it seems that such assertions exist entirely to handwave away the lack of evidence for gods.

          • Posted May 4, 2012 at 5:49 pm | Permalink

            Certainly not expected by those who can’t believe that an uncreated conscious process is at the basis of the universe, but let’s say that for one minute you allow yourself to consider that option, it would be honest to presume that this no-thing called God is certainly not limited as we are by our finite condition and because of that, its understanding is out of reach, like a bi-dimensional being wouldn’t be able to grasp what a 3rd dimension is even if he is surrounded by 3-d…

            • Wowbagger, Madman of Insleyfarne
              Posted May 4, 2012 at 6:03 pm | Permalink

              …it would be honest to presume that this no-thing called God is certainly not limited as we are by our finite condition…

              I hardly consider making presumptions, concocted specifically to avoid the problem of a lack of evidence, ‘honest’.

              You, like everyone else, have no idea whatsoever about what qualities a god (if it exists) might or might not possess; until you have to evidence or argument to support your assertions to the contrary, you’re going to have that pointed out to you.

              • Posted May 4, 2012 at 9:46 pm | Permalink

                And I’m quite comfortable with this. That is why the 2-d vs 3-d analogy is relevant. We grasp the world in a certain way. Let’s say it is a 2d way and that God only shows in a 3-d way. Well, it doesn’t mean that God doesn’t exist. It only tells that you have to do a little job yourself to get to the 3-d. The 2-d world is fine by itself. But the problem is that there a constant echo coming from the 3-dworld that is all around you. You can feel it but you can’t see it…

              • Wowbagger, Madman of Insleyfarne
                Posted May 4, 2012 at 9:57 pm | Permalink

                And I’m quite comfortable with this.

                Your level of comfort ≠ evidence.

                Let’s say it is a 2d way and that God only shows in a 3-d way.

                Let’s say God is a giant weasel named Stan who enjoys the films of Cameron Crowe; it has as much significance to this discussion, because claims without anything to support them are irrelevant, no matter how cute you might think the analogy is.

                Well, it doesn’t mean that God doesn’t exist.

                No, but it makes the assumption that he doesn’t far more reasonable than the alternative.

                You can feel it but you can’t see it…

                If you can feel it then it must have a physical component, even if that’s just a reaction in your brain. Have you tested this theory of yours with any equipment to see if anything else might be the cause of it?

              • Posted May 4, 2012 at 10:10 pm | Permalink

                The problem with an equipment is that it can only measure what is measurable. By reducing truth exclusively to what can be measurable, you are excluding all the subjective world. Now, if God exists, you have to accept that it deals with the subjective world because at its core, it means that consciousness would be a uncreated phenomenon. Not o forget that there can’t be any measure taken without a (subjective) subject. The moment consciousness is involved, subjectivity is implied, objectively speaking, if you know what “I” means.

              • Wowbagger, Madman of Insleyfarne
                Posted May 4, 2012 at 11:05 pm | Permalink

                By reducing truth exclusively to what can be measurable, you are excluding all the subjective world.

                Since no-one has ever successfully demonstrated dualism, we can safely assume that if you can sense it on any level it all it is measurable, since it would at the very least trigger a response in your brain.

                Now, if God exists, you have to accept that it deals with the subjective world because at its core, it means that consciousness would be a uncreated phenomenon.

                Another baseless assertion. Why, exactly, do we have to accept this? How did you come by this information, and how would you know if you were wrong about it?

              • Posted May 5, 2012 at 6:46 pm | Permalink

                The Buddha himself told his disciples to not just believe him but to experience what he is talking about. That is the paradox with the eastern traditions: they are mystical because they are pragmatic. In the East, faith is necessary in order to put you on the path that will lead you to experience another mode of grasping so you can realize that our average mode is a certain mode and that this mode isn’t absolute.

                Another paradox is that in the eastern traditions, our average mode of grasping is called a dual mode. Only when you reach a non-dual mode, only then you can see how we are mislead by our intellect.

                What is called dualism in the West is not quite the same thing. Descartes was a philosopher, a man of science and a mathematician. He was a product of his culture too. The way we are referring to dualism now is in reaction with what Descartes stated. But the eastern conception doesn’t work like that. In the east, it is by reaching a non-dual perspective that you can overcome your egotic perceptions. That means that you are able to grasp the world beyond the opposites that we usually use to make sense with our reality (language is a dual mode of communication btw). By doing so, you can see that the dual opposition mind vs matter is not relevant. What it is can,t be described or measure, it can only be experienced. It is normal since it deals with perception and perception is a subjective matter. Well, when you are trapped in a dual mode. perception can become superjective (subjective AND objective) when it is not done through a dual egotic lens…

            • Notagod
              Posted May 4, 2012 at 8:19 pm | Permalink

              Forcing a supernatural creature to arise from nothing is a step too far to speculate without any basis to suspect such a creature could exist, the fact that you are a puppet to your own delusions is not evidence of existence beyond your own mind.

              The building blocks for life exist before the chemical reactions occur that eventually build the products of life. Whereas, supernatural constructs only appear within the minds of mostly deceptive and manipulative people.

              Incidentally, why are you coming to this website to set your own agenda instead of participation in the topics that are presented by the host? Such as without prompting and contrary to the theme of WEIT, you, JF Fortier, start your introductory comment with:

              To continue with the hunger argument

              Which you then attempt to weave, as you have on previous pages, into some convoluted association with a god in your head but it could just as easily be associated with a unseen supernatural banana in your pie producing hole.

              Are you too ashamed to present such nonsense on your own site or is it, justifiably, really lonely over there?

              • Posted May 4, 2012 at 10:02 pm | Permalink

                Why own site is a musical site and though it is in french, it is all about what I’m saying here…
                The reason why I like to comment on this site is because it addresses philosophical and religious matters with a materialistic bias that I used to embrace. I really thought that spirituality was just a crutch for weak people and that science could provide THE real objective picture.
                Atheism is the default state of mind where I live and it is no big deal. So I was more than shocked when it appeared to me that this perspective wasn’t that objective, that it was culturally and biologically driven, if you know what “I” means.

                As for the God label, you’ll understand that if it exists, it can’t be supernatural but just super natural so there is no way we can force a supernatural creature to arise anywhere since God would be an uncreated conscious process that never started so it can never end.

                As for the hunger argument, it is the owner of this blog that introduces it to me, and the more I think about it, the more I like it. It is a smart one. You could admit it no matter how atheist you are.

              • Notagod
                Posted May 5, 2012 at 7:50 am | Permalink

                So you aren’t will to clutter up your music website with junk so instead you spew it on a respected biological and atheistic website. You seem to be a very self serving person, not someone I would want as a friend. I’m wondering though, does your god talk to you? Can you reproduce one sentence that it recited to you (only one mind you)? Do you accept any of the christian saviors, sometimes referred to as jesus christs, as your own? If not, why doesn’t your god preach to christians instead of to you?

                You could admit that there is an unseen super natural banana in you pie producing hole. As an incentive, if you do, I will consider admitting your hunger argument.

              • Posted May 5, 2012 at 6:26 pm | Permalink

                I don’ know why you bring Jesus and a talking God in the picture. I defined God as an uncreated conscious process. That’s it.
                But if I had to choose one religion that would fit with my idea of God, it would be buddhism. But wait a minute, buddhism is an atheistic religion! The main reason is that buddhism teaches that you can go beyond the egotic, dual perception of your self and see for your self that at its core, your sense of “I” is fueled by an uncreated awareness. To get rid of that egotic sensation is really hard because it is happening for real. Unless you can experience a non-dual perception, only then you are able to see that you are grasping the world with a certain mode, a dual mode, and that it isn’t an absolute mode…

              • Posted May 5, 2012 at 6:30 pm | Permalink

                As for the hunger argument, it doesn’t need a supernatural banana to be accurate, it stands by itself, on its own. That is why it is brilliant. It doesn’t prove it is true but its logical architecture is solid. That is why I like it. That is why I like the theory of evolution btw…

    • Pete Cockerell
      Posted May 3, 2012 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

      I think people are much more versatile when it comes to food compared to religion. I was raised on bangers and mash but now love Indian curries and Chinese and Mexican food. (I still like sausage sandwiches, though.) Changing your diet doesn’t make you an apostate :)

      • Grania Spingies
        Posted May 3, 2012 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

        And whether you like a narrow or broad variety of food has nothing to do with your grasp of reality.

        • darrelle
          Posted May 3, 2012 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

          Are you sure? What about Vegemite?

          • Pete Cockerell
            Posted May 3, 2012 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

            Yes, it’s true. You’ve never tasted real food unless you’ve had Marmite on toast, or, as Dame Edna once suggested, kiwi and Vegemite croissants (“You’ll be amazed what people will choke down if they’ve never tried it before. Think about that for second,” was her follow up line.)

            • darrelle
              Posted May 3, 2012 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

              . . . as Dame Edna once suggested, kiwi and Vegemite croissants . . .

              Sounds . . . . interesting.

      • MadScientist
        Posted May 3, 2012 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

        What if you’re muslim and you have pork chops and bacon?

        • truthspeaker
          Posted May 3, 2012 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

          With a beer.

  21. emmageraln
    Posted May 3, 2012 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on emmageraln.

  22. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted May 3, 2012 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

    Since we just have had a discussion about “dissing” philosophy, I note that ironically philosophy fails spectacularly (though arguably) on the skeptical outsider test for faith as well, re continental vs british philosophy:

    “The term “continental philosophy,” in the above sense, was first widely used by English-speaking philosophers to describe university courses in the 1970s, emerging as a collective name for the philosophies then widespread in France and Germany, such as phenomenology, existentialism, structuralism, and post-structuralism.[12]”

    The “diss”cusion is on!?

  23. bernardhurley
    Posted May 3, 2012 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

    If you were born in Belfast what you believe depends on which road your family lives in.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted May 4, 2012 at 1:48 am | Permalink

      So a guy is walking through Belfast one night when he suddenly feels something hard pressing in his back and a voice says “Are ye catholic or protestant?”
      And he thinks, “Oh shit, I’m going to get mugged”. But being quick-thinking he says, “Actually I’m Jewish”.
      “Oh bad luck. Ye just met the only Arab in Belfast”.

  24. Clive Durdle
    Posted May 3, 2012 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

    1000 CE Europeans may not have been catholic – they may have been orthodox

  25. Gordon
    Posted May 3, 2012 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

    Could one just make the point that the list of beliefs based on logic etc are not only held by scientists but by logical, reasoning and critical people generally!

  26. MadScientist
    Posted May 3, 2012 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

    I can’t imagine how anyone would think the “outsider test” could be sensible in any way – after all, their religion is the One True Religion. Anyone who would think the outsider test was sensible is likely to have already ditched their religion because of the numerous inconsistencies and incredible claims (though perhaps they still pretend to belong to that religion due to some fear).

    • Mandrellian
      Posted May 3, 2012 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

      That’s why I think it’s valuable – it probably won’t work at all on a True Believer, but to open-minded moderates and fence-sitters I think it shines a valuable spotlight on the hereditary nature of faith and the lack of reason – the absence of choice – inherent in most peoples’ faith.

      In fact, the fact that the OTF won’t be taken up by a True Believer is probably its greatest strength. To refuse to partake in a simple, reasonable hypothetical – to my mind, anyway – displays a marked fear of finding out something you don’t want to know.

      And if a TB (or even an open-minded moderate) does take up the OTF but “reasons” his way back to his old comfortable religion, that again would be illuminating.

  27. Mandrellian
    Posted May 3, 2012 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

    Further to my reply to 25:

    I just realised presuppositionalists like Sye Ten Bruggencate (aka the most irritating Christian on the internet) already have an answer (of course!) to the OTF:

    You get your reason and logic from God.

    No God: no reason, no logic.

    You need to use your reason and logic to take the OTF; THEREFORE:

    If you take the OTF you PROVE GOD EXISTS.

    Yes. That, in a nutshell, is Sye’s pre-sup bollocks – “you think, therefore God.”

    But don’t seek him out if you want to retain your dental integrity. His “philosophy” is so unassailably circular and he so unassailably smug you’ll grind your teeth to fangs in minutes.

    • Pete Cockerell
      Posted May 3, 2012 at 4:33 pm | Permalink

      OMG, I read a thread of about 400 comments between that Sye Ten guy and several others on Ken Ham’s or some such creationist’s site, when I suddenly realized I’d wasted a good hour reading the most repetitive inane nonsense of my life. If someone’s argument is “I’m right because God told me and you’re wrong because you can’t use logic unless you accept it comes from God,” this isn’t a person to engage with in a debate, I think!

      He still managed to pwn PZ, though, even if you accept PZ’s explanation that the video was highly selective.

      • Mandrellian
        Posted May 3, 2012 at 5:17 pm | Permalink

        Pwnd PZ eh? Not having seen the video I can’t comment on that, but what I will do is repeat the old adage: “Don’t argue with idiots – they’ll drag you down to their level and beat you with experience.”

        Apologists are very good at eloquently defending their special pleading and circular arguments – so good that it surprises people sometimes, regardless of whether those arguments are valid, supported or even coherent. I’ve seen many a smart opponent be rendered utterly speechless – in all likelihood due to the amazing bald-faced gall it takes to confidently present pure flaming circular stupidity as show-stopping, unassailable philosophificationry.

        • Pete Cockerell
          Posted May 3, 2012 at 5:50 pm | Permalink

          Basically PZ was unprepared to counter Bruggencate’s onslaught of circularity that he used to claim reasoning itself is circular (unless it comes from God). PZ wasn’t rendered speechless so much as rendered sweary, which of course the religionists lapped up.

          • Mandrellian
            Posted May 3, 2012 at 9:44 pm | Permalink

            Ah. Well, it’s pretty easy to rile up a rationalist – talk a bunch of goddamn nonsense and be a condescending prat for long enough; eventually someone will use a curse-word then you can claim the high ground.

            But it’s rank hypocrisy, considering STB’s entire premise and style is flatly offensive to reason, a grievous insult to human intelligence and utterly without any respect for the intellectual tradition he obviously wishes he were a part of.

          • Posted May 5, 2012 at 3:05 am | Permalink

            Yes, we’re using reasoning to validate our reasoning, but so is he. If he uses reasoning, why can’t we? But as the woman tried to say, we use reasoning because it works – and because (apart from certain subtle paradoxes that slip past naive reasoning) we can see HOW it works. Their “faith” doesn’t even work when they say it works, most of the time. Where is the Venn diagram that will enable us to determine when a prayer will be answered?

    • Kevin Alexander
      Posted May 4, 2012 at 2:45 am | Permalink

      ‘No god, no reason, no logic’?
      That’s like saying you get your nose from god. If you don’t believe in god then you’re hallucinating that thing on your face.

  28. rhaguirrem
    Posted May 4, 2012 at 8:10 am | Permalink

    How do you make the outsider’s test for skepticism, since skepticism is the base of the test itself? ;-)

    • Posted May 5, 2012 at 3:06 am | Permalink

      Well there aren’t 5000 different incompatible skepticisms. Absence of Thur is the same as absence of Tangaroa.

  29. Kevin
    Posted May 5, 2012 at 4:28 am | Permalink

    “As Christians during the later Middle Ages, we wouldn’t have seen anything wrong with killing witches, torturing heretics, and conquering Jerusalem from the “infidels” in the Crusades.”

    These statements are so farcically fatuous it is impossible to take the rest of the posting seriously.

    I will also hazard a guess that most secularists in history grew up in a secularizing environment, such as the forcible dissolution of monasteries and stripping of the altars.

    • Posted May 5, 2012 at 4:35 am | Permalink

      Kevin, it’s one thing for a lone Christian to do wrong in the name of God a time or two or more. It’s quite a different thing for an institution claiming divine sanction to do wrong for three centuries or more. That’s three centuries. That’s a divine institution. So what I said is very probable. Remember to always insert the word “probable” into any statement since nothing is certain and you’ll do just fine.

      Cheers.

  30. Piero
    Posted May 6, 2012 at 6:19 pm | Permalink

    Most people lead their lives guided by reason. If the bus fare is 50 pence and I give the driver one pound, he/she will give me 50p back, whether he/she is a Muslim, a Christian, a Shintoist, a Buddhist, a Hindu, an animost or sn atheist. Hence, the second map is true but misleading: even Bin Laden used reason to select a hiding place

    The point is not really abour people using reason (they all do), but for what emotional causes they decide to use their reason in a certain way.


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  1. [...] following two charts come from Anders Jacobsen by way of Jerry Coyne and very effectively highlight the fact that people’s religious beliefs are almost entirely [...]

  2. [...] Science vs. religion: the outsider test for faith | Why Evolution Is True. Like this:LikeBe the first to like this post. [...]

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