This week Justin Brierley’s popular UK radio show “Unbelievable” featured part 1 of a debate between John Loftus and David Marshall on Marshall’s new book How Jesus Passes the Outsider Test: The Inside Story which provides a critical response to Loftus’s own “Outsider Test for Faith.” (You can listen to the show here.)
After some introductory discussion with Marshall, Brierley invites Loftus to explain what the outsider test for faith is. After rambling a bit, Loftus begins to get to some substance at 9:37 into the show:
“we should approach our own inherited faith from the same standpoint as we approach the religions that we don’t believe…”
He then summarizes the position as follows:
“The outsider test for faith is simply a non-double standard for examining religious faiths and it gives the standard: the same things that you would require of another religion you should require of your own faith.”
At this point Brierley notes that Loftus previously appeared on “Unbelievable” with myself a couple years ago (you can listen to that earlier interview here) at which time I pointed out that the outsider test ought to be applied to atheistic beliefs as well. (As I observed in that program, the outsider test is too limited in scope on two points: first, it limits critical analysis to religious beliefs and second, it limits epistemic self-assessment to one discrete test. In fact, one ought to strive for the same epistemic virtue in all one’s beliefs regardless of whether one is religious or secular, and one ought always to strive for this objectivity rather than limiting it to a single discrete test.)
Here we see Brierley inviting Loftus to reply to the point I raised earlier that any outsider test ought to apply to non-religious (e.g. atheistic) beliefs as well. Instead of offering a rebuttal to the point, Loftus launches into a rant that attacks me personally as well as Matt Flannagan. Here is the rant beginning with Brierley’s question:
I’d prefer just to ignore this shameful display. However, given the personal nature of this attack I find myself compelled to respond.
Note first, as I already pointed out, that Loftus refuses to answer Brierley’s direct question. Instead, he “thanks” David Marshall for engaging his argument before directing his umbrage to other philosophers who have been more dismissive of his work:
“There are, um, a lot of, um, a lot of Christian philosophers who have ignorantly in my opinion rejected the outsider test for faith, Randal Rauser being one of them, Victor Reppert being another, Matthew Flannagan who wrote the worst possible review you could ever imagine in a Christian journal. It was just blatantly dishonest if you ask me.”
This is quite the rant indeed. Loftus begins by claiming that Victor Reppert, Matthew Flannagan and myself have all ignorantly rejected his argument. Note that he provides absolutely no evidence that we are ignorant of anything, and thus this is nothing more than his empty opining.
But then things get much worse as Loftus accuses Flannagan of being “blatantly dishonest” in his treatment of Loftus’s argument. Needless to say, this charge ups the ante substantially by directly attacking Matt Flannagan’s character. And yet, once again no evidence is offered to substantiate this serious charge.
Shortly after this, Loftus turns back to attacking me. The line he takes is interesting, for he accuses me of being inconsistent and then launches a direct personal attack at my character:
“So I find Randal Rauser’s, basically, um debating himself here because like you said in that earlier program he was questioning the value of the outsider test for faith and he has rejected it. He maintains that it has no validity. Now he’s, um, he’s endorsing David Marshall’s book. Ha ha. That’s like … my opinion of Randal Rauser is that he’ll do and say anything …”
I won’t dignify Loftus’s bizarre claim that I will “do and say anything” with a response. I do want to respond, however, to his claim that my provision of an endorsement for David Marshall’s book is somehow inconsistent with my dismissal of Loftus’s outsider test. At David Marshall’s request, I read the manuscript and then provided the following endorsement:
“Delightful riposte . . . rhetorical wit and the cosmopolitan vision of a true world citizen!”
This statement offers a comment on the discursive and rhetorical quality of David Marshall’s book and says nothing about whether I think John Loftus’s “outsider test” is a good argument or not. So there is no inconsistency here whatsoever.
What is more, a few years ago I provided an endorsement for Loftus’s edited volume The End of Christianity and I did so at Loftus’s request. Obviously Loftus knew when he requested the endorsement that I was a theist and thus that I would not agree with the arguments in the book. In other words, he knew that I could provide an endorsement of a book without agreeing to all the contents within the book.
While Loftus knows this, in his rant here he assumes that my provision of an endorsement of Marshall’s book does commit me to agreement with the book. To put it bluntly, he offers a completely spurious charge of inconsistency to deflect a reasonable question initially posed by Justin Brierley.
And that leads me to the following conclusion: while Loftus accuses others of being inconsistent and dishonest, if anybody is acting inconsistently or dishonestly, it is Loftus himself.