Thrasymachus focuses on the OTF as premised by Loftus in this post:
1. Rational people in distinct geographical locations around the globe overwhelmingly adopt and defend a wide diversity of religious faiths due to their upbringing and cultural heritage. This is the religious diversity thesis.
2. Consequently, it seems very likely that adopting one’s religious faith is not merely a matter of independent rational judgment but is causally dependent on cultural conditions to an overwhelming degree. This is the religious dependency thesis.
3. Hence the odds are highly likely that any given adopted religious faith is false.
4. So the best way to test one’s adopted religious faith is from the perspective of an outsider with the same level of skepticism used to evaluate other religious faiths. This ex-presses the OTF.
Loftus uses the phrase "the odds are highly likely" in response to the observation that a deductive equivalent of the above is invalid. But as Thrasymachus points out, it still is not clear that (3) follows from (1)/(2).
First, let me clear some fumes: I am assuming that everyone involved agrees that certainty in religious beliefs is unwarranted. I am also assuming that after this is recognized, the religious beliefs in question can be probabilized. This is not always obvious: some claims are not obviously susceptible to forceful probabilities. The doctrine of the Trinity, for example, has other conceptual issues to clear up before this may be done. Instead of throwing up our hands, we can focus on the subset of putative truths essential to Christianity (C) which can be probabilized, e.g. the Resurrection. It is the probability of these claims in conjunction that is represented by prob(C).
Second, (1) assumes that differing religious people are or can be rational, at least in the sense that their beliefs are internally consistent. Else, we have no need of the OTF, as incoherency arguments would more than suffice.
Now we can see what would be required for (3) to follow from (1) and (2). I will set as a threshold that (3)/(4) translate as requiring, at a minimum, that Christianity is not more likely to be true than not, i.e. 0.5>p(C). Denote the religious diversity thesis by Div, the religious dependency thesis by Dep, and p the prior probability of some unspecified Christian.1 The odds form of Bayes' Theorem is as follows:
To get (3)/(4) as I interpret them, we need
In order for this to be the case, we need to know three different quantities. p(C)=1-p(~C), p(Div & Dep|C), and p(Div & Dep|~C). All we can say about p(C) is that it is greater than 1/2, as we are talking about a believer's prior. So we need something at least as strong as p(Div & Dep|~C)>p(Div & Dep|C). But as I pointed out in a previous post, not even this inequality must hold.
At the end of my last post, I asked a question: what would Calvin think of the OTF? It wasn't an idle question. If you are a Christian who believes in the predestination of the Elect and the Fallen world, the fact that your religion is one amongst many is not a surprise. That few have the right faith may not bother you at all. As far as I am aware, nothing about your religion says that it should not appear to an outsider as one among many. Strange then that advocates of the OTF tell you that the existence of other religions discredits your religion. You can reasonably say, "my religion looks like one of many to you? Swell, your point being? We agree about this, and it bothers me not. For chances are that you are not one of the Elect and are not destined for Salvation and understanding. That you and others do not believe as I do does not surprise me in the least; if anything, I would be surprised if outsiders readily understood the Truth and could easily aspire to it, as I understand otherwise."But it gets worse: even in the cases where the requisite inequality does hold, it may not be large enough to require our believer to make further arguments so as to defend his faith. This is because we still need to know what values of p(C) are warranted. Sure, it's less than 1, but is it less than 0.999 or 0.8?
One can argue against such a person, but the appearance of his beliefs to a skeptic should not itself constitute an argument.
The case is different whenever we look at more common evangelical versions of Christianity, in which it is asserted that God intervenes or has intervened to aid Christianity and that the Holy Spirit works on the consciences of most or all to guide them to Truth. Free will. All that jazz. If a supernatural agency is at work in the Christian sociology of Christianity, then it is surprisingly hidden in the actual sociological details concerning Christianity. Here, the fact that Christian belief is largely a function of geography and parenting is very surprising. To a person who thinks that Christianity is a natural phenomenon, it should not be. I think that this is a very powerful argument against evangelical Christianity.
Notice then that there are at least two possible outcomes of "Christianity is like other religions to an outsider": it is irrelevant to some Christians, and it constitutes a challenging argument to others. So what we can not do is treat the motivations for the OTF as legitimizing it against religions generally, since the observations motivating the OTF are in no way an argument against certain religions. To pretend otherwise is to do nothing more than pomo an important, but narrow, point.
And so we come to the reason why I did not attempt to formalize the OTF much earlier: it simply isn't a probabilistic inference; it is a demand about priors. I think this is why Loftus has yet to put an argument about probabilities in terms of formal probabilities, as far as I can find. This is not a case of updating a prior set of rational beliefs to a new probability by reasoned argument. Instead, it is an attempt to force a reworking of priors based on evidence.2 Again, I do not see why Christians need to accept this; intellectual consistency only requires that they account for Div and Dep by calculating their effects on their beliefs through conditioning.
Here we depart from the most accepted form of Bayesianism, i.e. subjective Bayesianism, entirely. We are encountering a curious version of objective Bayesianism. `Normal' objective Bayesians calculate `informationless' priors by equivocating across possibilities. What Loftus appears to want, as I noted in my previous posts, is that we gauge p(C) in something like the following way:
a. p(C)=1/N where N is the number of possible, mutually contradictory religions.
b. p(C)=1/N where N is the number of mutually contradictory religions in human history.
c. p(C)=1/N where N is the number of existing, mutually contradictory religions.
[Each of the above has an analogue where `religions' is replaced by `Christian sects'.]
d. p(C)=x where x is the frequency of the occurrence of Christians with respect to the general population. (Of the country, or world, or something.)
e. p(C)=A/B where B is the number of rational people and A is the number of rational people who are Christians.
And so on. Before moving on, the first response our Christian might deploy to any combination of the above is a simple one: No.
He is presumed to be rational and he can account for (1)/(2) in the usual way. Sorry to wax tautological, but he simply cannot be convicted of irrationality or unreasonableness whenever he is being both rational and reasonable, as judged by standard philosophical criteria. To go further with this, Loftus will have to mount a convincing attack on Bayesianism itself.
And of course we run into the earlier problem yet again; the argument Loftus presents cannot be probabilized. None of the above statements follows, or can follow, deductively or probabilistically, from (1)/(2).
I could continue on about the other problems, especially as they pertain to Loftus' desire to demand priors about religion but not about secular claims, or that this approach would most likely result in a weaker case against Christianity than the traditional arguments, but I've said this already, and Thrasymachus has done a better job explicating it. I could repeat why `skepticism' is not a sort of default, and that positive claims will be necessary to argue against Christianity. (Otherwise, it's the fallacy of probabilistic Modus Tollens all the way down.) Or, I could reiterate some of Reppert's objections; for example, (1) and (2) are not so undeniably true as Loftus suggests, and Christians may account for differing religions using faith-based claims. The Pharaoh's magicians did not perform wonders so great as Aaron's, but they still made a snake out of a staff. Also, demons and sinful nature.
I pause. Is the argument really this straightforwardly awful? How does Loftus defend it?
One...option for the Christian might be to argue that I have not shown there is a direct causal relationship between RDPT (i.e. the Religious Dependency Thesis) (or 1) and the RDVT (i.e., the Religious Diversity Thesis) (or 2). Just because there is religious diversity doesn’t mean that religious views are overwhelmingly dependent on social and geographical factors, they might argue. Reminiscent of David Hume, who argued that we do not see cause and effect, they might try to argue I have not shown it exists between the RDPT and the RDVT. After all, if Hume can say he never sees one billiard ball “causing” another one to move just because they do so after making contact, then maybe there is no direct causal relationship between the RDPT and the RDVT. Is it possible, they might ask, that just because people have different religious faiths which are separated into distinct geographical locations on our planet, that “when and where” people are born has little to do with what they believe? My answer is that if this is possible, it is an exceedingly small possibility. Do Christians really want to hang their faith on such a slender reed as this? I’ve shown from sociological, geographical and psychological studies that what we believe is strongly influenced by “the accidents of history.” That’s all anyone can ask me to show.Actually, we can ask for a valid argument. This is simply a genetic fallacy. The deductive genetic fallacy remains a fallacy, even if you argue for odds instead of certainties.
What else can I say? Nothing about this argument works, nor could it conceivably be reworked to capture what Loftus wants. There's a reason for this: it isn't actually an argument. It is a symptom of Loftus' assumption that he objectively and most accurately views the world in a culture-transcendent way.
I might have spoken too soon: if a Christian happens to trust Loftus more than God, there may be an opening for the OTF.
One last quibble to anticipate an objection: Loftus may claim that he is not addressing Calvinists, only evangelical Christians. That doesn't change the fact that his argument is not even an argument of that form. For this discrepancy to matter, he must restate his argument so as to account for variations in prior probability and variations in the Bayes factor specific to the religion in which he is interested. That is, he must pursue normal argumentation.
If he does so, I'll be more than happy.
1. It has to be this way, as we are interested in whether or not warrant for religion can be retained, not just how a skeptic feels about religion.
2. This is much weirder than anything attempted by normal objective Bayesians. I do not know of any accepted precedent for an approach like this.
Edit 8/8/11: I've been having a blast with acronyms lately. Please plagiarize the hell out of this excerpt from a comment at Reppert's place:
I should mention that I've seen John's post that he's on a blogging break, so I do not expect any response soon.
To be honest, I don't expect a serious response. Here's what he said to Thrasymachus' post back in January:
"I see nothing here I need to respond to."
Oh, my argument is invalid, cannot be reworked to convincingly get what I want out of it, and my approach in general is a failure. Where's the problem?
Staggering. And this is followed by another unhesitant shift:
"You can insert the word “skeptical” for “outsider” if you wish. And being skeptical means doubting or rejecting anything that the sciences say otherwise."
And we return to the uniqueness problems and question-begging again...
So I'll have fun at his expense until he or others get back to me with a real argument. A satisfactory response will do the following things:
1. Restatement: the precise structure and intended conclusion(s) of the OTF must be clearly stated, along with any contested background assumptions.
2. Support: The structure and conclusions of the argument must be corroborated. Is it deductive? If so, state exactly where and why. Is it a probabilistic argument? Then capture the argument using the formal tools of probabilism and defend it. Is it an argument about prior distributions? Then state clearly why it is that a coherent agent must adopt, prior to evidence, a specific distribution based on an observation which can already accounted for by a religious person or may be calibrated in a traditional, probabilistic manner (conditionalization).
3. Comprehensiveness: Clearly state outstanding objections and why they fail or are otherwise innocuous.
I call it the Simple Test For Understanding, or STFU, because proponents of the OTF should STFU already or move on.