Over at Debunking Christianity, Loftus (who recently has a new book out, mine is currently en route!) has received tons of flak for his Outsider Test of Faith (OTF). I’ve previously argued that I think it is one of the more convincing arguments against theism, and that it should be adopted by any rational person. However, lately a slew of Christian thinkers and philosophers have taken it to task, and they all seem to play the part of skeptic about the coherency of the OTF. Thomas Talbott originally questioned it by postulating a skepticism of rape ethic, and now Dr. Matthew Flannagan is posturing a similar criticism.
The main point of contention seems to be that this skepticism, if taken seriously, should lead all thinkers to be equally skeptical about the moral and epistemological claims we make as well. Matthew Flannagan wrote an article for Philosophia Christi, reviewing the book that the OTF originally appears in. Here’s Flannagan (emphasis mine):
Given that  is inferred from , if Loftus’ argument is valid then analogues of  must apply to Loftus et al’s own moral, epistemological and scientific beliefs. But then parity of reasoning would entail that their readers should adopt the same skepticism towards science and critical history as they hold towards the myths and superstitions of primitive cultures. Similarly, readers should adopt the same skepticism towards Loftus et al’s beliefs that anti-Semitism, killing heretics, committing genocide and burning witches is wrong as they hold towards the moral beliefs of cultures that practice and endorse these actions.
This conclusion is obviously absurd; but, more importantly, if it were embraced it would undercut the very premises the authors in the book use to argue against Christianity. In numerous places Loftus et al appeal to science, canons, critical history and the immorality of certain actions to critique Christian belief. They do not attempt to justify these beliefs from premises which would be accepted by a skeptical outsider from a radically different culture. But these are the kinds of beliefs which analogues of  and  apply to, and hence, are the kind of beliefs the OTF says we should be highly skeptical of. If the OTF is correct we should, in fact, treat Carrier and Price’s critical history with the same skepticism we currently treat miracles in Herodotus. We should treat Babinski’s appeal to modern cosmology with the same skepticism we treat ANE cosmological myths. We should treat Avalos’s appeal to the wrongness of slavery with the same skepticism we treat appeals to the permissibility of genocide.
Essentially, Flannagan seems to be arguing that we ought to have the same sort of skepticism towards the very methods of critique as the targets themselves. Flannagan goes on to argue that Loftus is essentially engaging in special pleading by assuming that our culture “has got it right with regards to science, epistemology and morality.”
Here’s where Flannagan gets it wrong: our modern conceptions of science, epistemology, and morality are being constantly put under the scrutiny that the OTF asks of the religious! Not only is the conclusion not absurd, but it seems patently obvious! The more we peel back the unknown mechanisms of the universe, the further we revise the central concepts in science and epistemology. As an ethical naturalist, the same goes for my own understanding of morality: the more we understand about the way the physical universe works, the better our understanding of human well-being becomes. In my post about Wrongology, I showed that our modern system of gaining knowledge is being constantly revised under conditions of evidence. If this isn’t scrutiny of current scientific and epistemological knowledge, than I’m not sure what could possibly qualify.
We no longer hold that theres is phlogiston, as we’ve seen a pile of evidence to the contrary. We no longer subscribe to the four humors, as we’ve encountered evidence that steers us away from that conclusion to germ theory. The list goes on and on.
Unfortunately, religious knowledge is not open to the same scrutiny, which is the very attitude Loftus is targeting. He’s arguing that these beliefs ought to be on the playing field at the level of the individual. The same skepticism we hold towards science, epistemology, and most notably, other religions, ought to be applied to the culturally ordained religious belief.
If the religious insist on moving the goal posts every time we encounter new information (That pesky evolutionary theory is true? Throw out Adam and Eve. They’re metaphorical!), then the special pleading is not coming from the mouth of the critic, but the one who keeps pushing religion out of the door of critical examination.