Recently, Victor Reppert claimed that, “as the OTF [Outsider Test for Faith] is typically presented, it attempts to give a kind of special default status to the denial of religion, and in doing so it starts to engage in anti-religious special pleading.”
This sounds like a fair criticism… but it misses the point that unbelief by default is already the attitude many Christians have to most religions.
To be more specific: many Christians, when they hear non-Christian supernatural claims–or even Christian supernatural claims made outside the Christian canon–are skeptical by default. Some even say so explicitly.
For example: one of my cousins, an Evangelical Christian, once told me that “As a Christian, I believe God sometimes communicates with people and miracles can happen, but if someone claims to be talking to God, they had better perform miracles in front of me, and I had better be able to make sure they aren’t tricking me.”
That attitude doesn’t seem obviously problematic. In fact, it seems obviously right. What’s problematic is that these same Christians are selectively credulous with respect to the supernatural claims of the Bible–more credulous than they ever are with respect to any other supernatural claims.
The Outside Test for Faith, I take it, is just a catchy reminder to check that you’re not doing that. But here’s a funny thing is: some critics have claimed that the Outsider Test, in its most basic form, is so obviously right as to be uninteresting. I doubt, however, that those same people would say it’s an obvious and uninteresting fact that what my cousin’s approach to believing supernatural claims is wrong.
I want to emphasize that I don’t think all Christians are vulnerable to this criticism. Some Christians are uniformly credulous with respect to every tale of the supernatural that comes their way, and just figure the stories that don’t fit with Christian theology must be the work of demons.
There are relatively intelligent Christians who seem to fall into this second category. I think Greg Boyd is an example. This may sound like a criticism of Boyd, but his position is arguably more credible than that of people who engage in special pleading on behalf of Christian claims.
This doesn’t mean that Boyd et al. are off the hook as far as the Outsider Test goes, though. People who take the “demons did it” approach are vulnerable to the question, “why do you believe the claims of Christianity about God, heaven, and hell when you’re so ready to assume the forces behind these other supernatural reports are deceptive?”
Vic has claimed that the Outsider Test for Faith is really the Insider Test for Infidels. To borrow a line from Richard Dawkins, let’s remember that we’re all infidels with respect to most of the gods humanity has ever believed in.