I've been having a go around, or a brouhaha, or maybe a hubbub, with atheist John Loftus concerning his "outsider test of faith" in his book The Christian Delusion. This is a challenge he poses to people who are committed to a religion and it seems to function a bit like a hazing ritual to get admitted to the frat house.
It has bothered me that John has been attempting to focus the outsider test on "faith" (though in the essay he concedes, in response to criticism, that there could be a broader "outsider test for beliefs" which would encompass other areas).
I find the whole picture of outsider tests for faith, belief and the rest, very unsatisfactory, and not only because of the perceived double standard (e.g. we Christians submit our beliefs to rigorous objective testing in the blazing summer sun while the atheists sip pints of ale on the shady porch).
What bothers me most perhaps, is how inadequate a single "test" is for the doxastic (belief) virtue that John presumably wants to inculcate in people.
Fifteen years ago I got my PADI license for scuba diving. (I took scuba diving for phys-ed credits at university.) I dived a few times back in 95' and then never again. But here's the thing: with my PADI license I'm certified for life. That's crazy! I don't remember a thing about scuba diving at this point but I still have a lifetime license to do it.
That's what worries me about the outsider test for x (whatever x is). The suggestion is: pass this one test of belief introspection and once you're done, go forth and shine your glowing rational countenance on the shadowy realms of irrationalism because YOU'RE RATIONAL BABY!
Well maybe today, but what about tomorrow? And what about next year? What if you pass the outsider test for x today but in three years you've fallen into an increasingly subborn irrationalism?
I know many Christians like that and I know many atheists like that. What mechanism does John Loftus have to haul these people back in for further recertification? We need to get their PADI licenses renewed.
Here's the really scary thing. Imagine me leading a scuba expedition or writing a book on scuba diving. (Hey, back off buddy, I got my license!)
Well yeah, you got your license (I'm talking to myself here) but you don't remember a thing. And I think, how many self-assured secularists have their "OTF Certification Card" who are out there leading expeditions and writing books and yet have fallen into irrational intransigence?
So as I've been saying in this blog, there is a simpler solution, one that is equitable because it applies to EVERYBODY and which keeps us all thinking:
Strive to exemplify intellectual virtues like fairness, objectivity, and openmindedness. And do so every day. Wake up in the morning and say "I'm going to be fair, objective and openminded in my beliefs today!"
Our recertification is ongoing because when it comes to intellectual virtue, we're all works in progress.