Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Victor Reppert and John Loftus’ Outsider Test for Faith


Update: There seems to have been a little mix-up and I was reading the wrong article, but I've since found the correct piece that Mr. Reppert was discussing and have written a new critique. It can be viewed here. Because of this, this post is pretty much obsolete but I'll keep it here to avoid any dead links and to point people to the correct post. Sorry about the mix-up!


Over at Victor Reppert's blog, dangerous idea, he had written a post critiquing John Loftus' argument he calls the Outsider Test for Faith, which is “simply a challenge to test one's own religious faith with the presumption of skepticism, as an outsider.” (Why I Became An Atheist, Loftus, 2008; 66)

I tried to comment on the post several times but my comment never showed up for some reason (I'm guessing it's a Blogger glitch) so I decided to write my thoughts as a blog post and see if Mr. Reppert would mind commenting.

I don't believe his criticism of Loftus' argument is an example of someone truly taking the OTF and for the following reason. The examples given in the post and comments were not truly acts of skeptical inquiry as Loftus' test requires.

Here is the first half of Mr. Reppert's post:


Acknowledging points on the other side doesn't even require granting legitimacy to theism or to Christianity. You made the argument that Christian apologetics in response to other religions either appeals to biblical authority (which is NOT question-begging to the extent that the other religion in question accepts biblical authority), or appeals to methodological naturalism in a way that would undercut Christian apologetics if applied to Christianity. I pointed out, using a fairly pedestrian Christian anti-Islamic website, that this appears to be demonstratably false. There were no appeals to biblical authority, there was no appeal to Humean views on miracles, there was no appeal to the principle that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. No, there was just the argument that, using three evidential tests, the Bible stands on far firmer historical ground than does the Qu'ran. This was a conclusion that an atheist could easily draw and remain an atheist. This was a reason you were giving for why Christianity couldn't possibly pass the outsider test, and it look fairly obvious to me that it flew in the face of the evidence. The website looked clearly to applying the same standard of evidence to each religion. It would hardly be the end of atheism for you to just acknowledge the point. You didn't. In fact you said my claim was laughable. But yet you want to set yourself up as my "guide" in viewing my religious beliefs from an outside perspective, someone who can be truly impartial because he isn't religiously committed? It's like saying Rush Limbaugh can be objective about the Democratic Party because he's an outsider.


Here is my original comment:

If I may I’d like to add my thoughts...

If I understand correctly, the OTF is a method whereby a person looks at all views as if they are an outsider; consider all of the evidence against their beliefs. Well, I can understand how some call this the “Atheist” TF since it seems to lead to atheism. However, what I believe is missing in this discussion is the fact that, despite these people appearing to do some research (I’m unaware of the comparative historical reliability of both books so I’ll just assume it’s true for the sake of argument), the bible is still a horribly flawed retelling of history, even though it may be better than other religions’ books. I agree that at first glance it seems to satisfy the OTF but does it really?

Mr. Reppert made the following claim in his post:


“There were no appeals to biblical authority, there was no appeal to Humean views on miracles, there was no appeal to the principle that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. No, there was just the argument that, using three evidential tests, the Bible stands on far firmer historical ground than does the Qu'ran.” (emphasis mine)


How much time did those Christians put into their research, because the bible is on shaky ground historically. Sure, it contains several verifiable historical accounts but overall it’s flawed. People who are said to have existed in the bible we can find no traces of, such as Moses. All the gospel writers are anonymous. Several events, such as the Exodus, seem to not have happened due to no evidence being found of half a million people wandering in the Sinai. And of course, the central story of Christianity, the resurrection. Again, there is no evidence outside of the bible that any of the things that are purported to have happened. The bible is surely on shaky historical ground, so even though it may be better than another religion’s book the Christians are obviously not looking at their bible with the same skepticism as the Qu'ran and therefore, in reality, their beliefs about their own bible I’d think also fail the test if they looked at it objectively.

A commentator named Fishermage’s made the following statement,


“If that's the case, [Josh McDowell] is punting so something he considers proven, not faith.” (emphasis mine)


Again, how much research did McDowell actually do? With the examples given, neither person/group truly looked deeply into the issue. They had a belief system they wanted to uphold and so they found “evidence” supporting it. But when looked at more closely what would they really find? A very historically inaccurate book ( er... books) with many stories that have no evidential support for them.

So, to end this long comment (my apologies...) I’d say those examples are not representative of the OTF and Loftus’ test still stands.

Update – 10-29-10

Well, Mr. Reppert has responded here and in the following update I shall place the entirety of his post in blockquotes with my comments after in bold. The website under discussion can currently be found here.


During the recent discussion of the Outsider Test for Faith, I had trouble, or at least so I thought, in getting my critique of the Test argument actually addressed. Arizona Atheist has attempted a defense of Loftus' argument which I think really does address the points I was making, and so deserves a response.

Let me review what, as I see it, has been going on in this debate so far. First, I am willing to grant that there is something appealing out the Test, in we would like, certainly, not to be guilty of applying double standards to our own beliefs and those of others.


I very much agree with the second paragraph about not applying double standards and that is one area that the OTF succeeds at, unfortunately for Mr. Reppert this very concept refutes his entire argument regarding the supposed example of a christian fact-checking the Qur’an. As I said in my first response the christian author is applying a double standard.


So, on one level, the OTF serves as a kind of intellectual "fairness doctrine." On the other hand, I argued in an earlier set of discussions, that at the very least we ought to be careful not to apply a standard to religious beliefs that we don't apply to beliefs in general. It would be a mistake to be, for example, a classical foundationalist about religious beliefs but a coherentist about other beliefs. The epistemology I learned in grad school, mostly from unbelieving professors, was skeptical of the legitimacy of throwing one's prior probabilities and beliefs away and moving to a neutral corner to begin investigation. Nevertheless, when I was an undergrad, I did ask myself if I had believed in Christianity only because I happened to be taken to a Christian church when I was a child, and I did worry about whether I was believing because of my wishes, and not because I had reason to believe. So I am willing to agree that the OTF appeals to some legitimate epistemic concerns, and can be a useful thought experiment.

Further, Loftus points to psychological evidence of our intellectual frailties. It's extremely difficult to be objective. But here, I think Loftus draws the wrong moral. If we have such frailties, those frailties are not curable by virtue of taking an "outsider test" or by becoming a nonbeliever. Surely, human proclivity towards confirmation bias continues for those who leave the fold. When I go on Debunking Christianity and see pretty much an echo chamber there, I get the feeling that the whole site is one huge monument to confirmation bias on the atheist side.


I agree that the OTF fails to stop humans' natural inclination to be biased, however, one can remain very neutral and unbiased if one really tries. I did it in my investigation and I'm sure others have as well.


But what I then objected to was the confident assertions Loftus was making that no one could remain a Christian if they truly took the OTF. What I find objectionable is not so much the outsider test, which is OK as a heuristic within limits, but what I called the Answer Key or the Outsider Test for Faith Test, the confident assertion that the OTF, properly taken, must be fatal to Christian belief.

The Test, presumably, requires that one have the same level of skepticism of one's own religion that one has for other religions. In other words, if I began being as skeptical of Christianity as I am of, say, Islam, would I be a believer now?

It was my contention that someone could decide that Christianity is true and Islam false, if one were to accept the arguments of this site, which applies three tests to the Bible and the Qur'an, the Manuscript Evidence Test, the Documentary Evidence Test, and the Archaeological Evidence test. The Bible, according to these tests, stands on firmer ground than stands the Qur'an, so if the bar were set at the same level for each religion, Christianity could clear the bar, while Islam would fail to clear the bar. Although I am not sure about some of the supporting arguments the site uses in the area of archaeology, I am inclined to think that the overall comparison of these two sacred books is correct. The Bible is in far better shape than the Qur'an in all three areas.

I pointed to a passage in Loftus' OTF contribution to The Christian Delusion in which he argues that Christian critics of other religions either naively assume that those religions are false because they contradict the Bible, or they investigate the rival religion using a kind of methodological naturalism which, if applied to Christianity, would result in the rejection of Christianity. I believe that the website I referenced refutes this claim by Loftus, and I hoped at the very least that Loftus would acknowledge this much. The site contains no Humean appeals to methodological naturalism, no claim that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Instead, for all intents and purposes it test the two religions by exactly the same three standards, and says Christianity is in far better shape.


I'm confused about Mr. Reppert's claim that this site is an example of a christian not assuming his bible is true.

Right in the article the author writes:


In fact, the evidences for the authority of God’s revelation, which the Bible emphatically produces are completely absent in the Qur’an, namely, that the revelation of God must speak in the name of God, Yahweh, that the message must conform to revelation which has gone before, that it must makepredictions which are verifiable, and that the revelation must be accompanied by signs and wonders in order to give it authority as having come from God. Because these are missing in the case of the prophet Muhammad and of the Qur’an, for those of us who are Christians, it seems indeed that it is the Qur’an and not the Bible which turns out to be the most human of documents.

Right here the author is clearly favoring his bible over the Qur’an and arguing that his bible is god-breathed and the Qur’an is simply a man-made book. And why does he think this? Because, he says, god supposedly gave us signs but here he is assuming his bible is true, and the Qur’an false. However, with the countless manuscript evidence we have, we know the bible is indeed a man-made document, with each writer who had their own agendas and viewpoints. This is why the bible contradicts itself. The many different writers of all the various books often argued amongst themselves and this is seen within the bible. But does the author even consider this? No.

Arizona Atheist makes the case even if the Bible stands on better evidential grounds than the Qur'an, deeper investigation would surely lead us to the conclusion that the evidence for the Bible is insufficient. He writes.

“If I understand correctly, the OTF is a method whereby a person looks at all views as if they are an outsider; consider all of the evidence against their beliefs. Well, I can understand how some call this the “Atheist” TF since it seems to lead to atheism. However, what I believe is missing in this discussion is the fact that, despite these people appearing to do some research (I’m unaware of the comparative historical reliability of both books so I’ll just assume it’s true for the sake of argument), the bible is still a horribly flawed retelling of history, even though it may be better than other religions’ books. I agree that at first glance it seems to satisfy the OTF but does it really?”

OK, so the Bible might be better off than the Qur'an but nevertheless not be believable. The evidence might be better, but still not sufficient. Sure, though I think different rational persons can look at the evidence with different set of intellectual predispositions without anybody being open to irrationality charges.


But isn't the entire point of the OTF is to try to set down any and all predispositions and consider all the evidence at hand or and against some belief? By not doing so, you're not following the guidelines of the test.


Arizona Atheist goes on:

“How much time did those Christians put into their research, because the bible is on shaky ground historically. Sure, it contains several verifiable historical accounts but overall it’s flawed. People who are said to have existed in the bible we can find no traces of, such as Moses. All the gospel writers are anonymous. Several events, such as the Exodus, seem to not have happened due to no evidence being found of half a million people wandering in the Sinai. And of course, the central story of Christianity, the resurrection. Again, there is no evidence outside of the bible that any of the things that are purported to have happened. The bible is surely on shaky historical ground, so even though it may be better than another religion’s book the Christians are obviously not looking at their bible with the same skepticism as the Qu'ran and therefore, in reality, their beliefs about their own bible I’d think also fail the test if they looked at it objectively.”

Well, here is the center of the argument. Arizona Atheist is presenting these points as what any objective investigator will run into if they investigate the Bible "objectively," and these are the telling points which ought to decide the question against Christianity. Anyone who rejects these conclusions just isn't being objective. Surely you can't be looking at the Bible with the same skepticism with which you look at the Qu'ran if you don't draw these conclusions.

Now I can understand coming to this conclusion, but you have to realize that there are a lot of experts out there who don't draw these sorts of negative conclusions about the Bible. Yes, you have your Robert Prices Bart Ehrmans, and Gerd Ludemanns out there, but you also have people like Craig Blomberg, Richard Bauckham, and Joachim Jeremias on the other side. Saying that these guys didn't study the issue very deeply seems implausible to me. (The idea that people who sign inerrancy statements to teach where they do means that they all have their thumb on the scale is not as telling as it might seem at first, and of course Bauckham and many other believing scholars sign no such statements). I personally think that the archaeological and historical confirmation of the latter part of the book of Acts, which I have emphasized on this site, is a far more telling fact than the fact that, strictly speaking, Luke and the other gospel writers didn't put their names on their books. To some extent, in this area, we are reliant on experts, but there is a decided lack of consensus amongst the experts. There's a wide range of presuppositional issues that have to be teased out, and some of these are not matters of Bible scholarship, but rather are philosophical matters. So I would be reluctant to make the argument that anyone who made a serious effort to be objective would perforce come to the same conclusions that I have come to, and I think I would say this whether I were a skeptic or a believer.

In one comment Tim McGrew wrote:

“I'm just trying to sort through the variety of ways that the phrase "outsider test" gets used. I tried, in my question here (which no one has directly answered) to find out whether its primary sense is as a heuristic ("Here, try thinking about things this way, it may help to correct for some hard-to-spot biases") or as a diagnostic ("Once you've taken this test, tell me where you wind up -- and if it isn't where I wound up, you fail").

So far, the answers have strongly suggested that it's the latter. And I think that's a problem, because the attraction and intuitiveness of an outsider test is, I think, largely a function of it's being conceived of in the former way, as a heuristic. The diagonstic use, applied the way that John seems intent on applying it, really does collapse into the Insider Test for Infidels.”


Even if you think your outcome is inevitable, I don't think you can make the outcome part of the test, or use your outcome as a basis for claiming that they other guy didn't REALLY take the test. That, to my mind, is question-begging. And that seems to be what is going on in the OTF debate.


I'm not simply assuming the author of the webpage cited didn't take the test. I read a large chunk of the paper myself and it's clear he did not take the OTF. Why? Because for one, the author assumed his bible was not man-made and did not consider contrary evidence and two, the author on several occasions makes hugely hypocritical statements about the bible and Qur’an. For example, the author states right in his intro.,

”Suffice it to say, that the only real source we have for the Qur’an is the book itself, and what Muslim Traditions tell us concerning how that book came to be created. Because of their late compilations (200-300 years after the event), and the contradicting documentation which we now possess prior to 750 C.E., I find it difficult to consider either of them as valid or authentic
as source material.”


Right out of the gate in his introduction you can clearly see the author is not conducting his search as an outsider since his own book contains many of the same problems, but he rejects the authority of the Qur’an on that basis alone, all the while accepting his book despite similar problems. This is just the introduction and he’s already proven himself to be biased towards his own book. This one example is all I really need to show where the author's intentions are but there is more.

”As Christians, this question is important. The Bible, by contrast is not simply a book of rigid rules and regulations which takes a particular historical context and absolutizes it for all ages and all peoples. Instead, we find in the Bible broad principles with which we can apply to each age and each culture (such as worship styles, music, dress, all of which can and are being contextualized in the variety of cultures which the church finds itself today).

As a result the Bible is much more adaptable and constructive for our societies. Since we do not have a concept of Nazil revelation, we have no fear of delving into and trying to understand the context of what the author was trying to say (the process of historical analysis). But one would expect such from a revelation provided by a personal God who intended to be actively involved in the transmission of His revelation.”


So, his bible is able to be applied to today's world while the Qur’an can't? Hmm... alright, let's see here. I guess we should begin taking disobedient children and stoning them to death (Deuteronomy 21:18-21); slavery is legal and regulated (1 Peter 2:18, among several others); wives should submit to their husbands (Ephesians 5:22), and the list goes on. So, how many people would like to begin to include these “laws” into modern society? Anyone?

Obviously, the author is not considering his own book's cruel and unjust laws that would not go over well in today's world. In both books there are the good and bad verses but the author doesn't seem to realize those in his book.

Two other forms of hypocrisy, which are by no means the only other ones, is this comment:


”It is understandable, then, why so many people in the West see Islam as an archaic and barbaric religion, which forces people back into the mentality of the middle ages, where women had no rights or freedoms to create their own destiny, and where men could do with their wives as they pleased.”

His own bible also has several verses that ban women from speaking in church, commanding her to obey her husband, etc. Even throughout history laws have been passed mirroring those laws in christian societies:

In 1632 an English law, influenced by christian teachings, summarized the role of a woman and this mindset also carried over to the early colonists in what would become america. It said,

"In this consolidation which we call wedlock is a locking together. It is true, that man and wife are one person, but understand in what manner. What a small brooke or little river incorporateth with Rhodanus, Humber, or the Thames, the poor rivulet looseth her name...A woman as soon as she is married, is called covert...that is 'veiled''; as it were, clouded and overshadowed; she hath lost her streame. I may more truly, farre away, say to a married woman, Her new self is her superior; her companion, her master..."

Under the heading titled, “On Errors Which Contradict Secular and Scientific Data” the author writes,


”In sura 18:86 it states, “Until, when he reached the setting of the sun, he found it set in a spring of murky water: Near it he found a people: We said: O Dhu al Qarnayn! Either punish them,or treat them with kindness.” It is well known that only the superstitious in the age of Muhammad believed that
the sun would set in a muddy spring.”


The author could easily say the same thing about those who lived in the 'superstitious in the age of Moses' because there are several unscientific claims in the bible. A few examples,

1 Chronicles 16:30 makes the statement that the world is immovable and is stuck in place. We all know this is untrue.

Leviticus 11:6 claims that rabbits chew the cud, when that is not accurate. They do not regurgitate their food and eat it.

In Matthew 12:22 it appears to state that deafness and blindness was due to demon possession, when obviously this is untrue.

Throughout the author's entire paper were his own biases upon display and claims and criticisms about the Qu'ran that could easily be said about his own bible. The author failed to compare the two books as an outsider and his “research” was nothing but one-sided. My statement wasn't question-begging in the least. As I've shown the author ignored the same issues in his own book that he criticized the Qu'ran for and thus this is not an example of the Outsider Test for Faith.


Update - 10-30-10

Mr. Reppert has responded to my latest reply here.

I will once again copy Mr Reppert’s entire reply and place them in blockquotes with my comments after.


Thank you for your response. First of all, while I think the OTF, used as a heuristic, can help us try to escape our biases, I have serious doubts, based on my training in epistemology, that real, genuine, freedom from bias is really possible. In the real world, we have to chip away at our biases, as opposed to performing some miraculous operation that will eliminate them entirely. As Steven Jay Gould once said, "We don't know what our biases are, because if we did, we'd eliminate them." Interesting enough, in the Christian Delusion Loftus emphasizes all the sources of bias that we fall prey to, which suggests to me that we aren't going to achieve intellectual liberation with one simple test, or just by "being careful." Intellectual sainthood is about as rare as moral sainthood, as I see it. And, I really don't believe in the existence of "neutral ground."


I largely agree with what you’ve said here about how human beings are naturally biased and how it’s not possible to get rid of all bias, though I do believe that it’s possible to reduce any bias you may have as much as possible and to keep it in check by forcing yourself to double check this claim and that claim, and remain aware of any emotions you may have as you read something that you either agree with or not. I believe emotions can be clues telling you that you’re not being completely rational about something you’ve been told if you feel anger or fear, etc. Take for example, some christians’ revulsion at the thought of evolution being true. They argue all these horrible outcomes will take place if it is indeed true, but these are purely emotional reactions, not rational ones. I hope I’m making myself clear, and I’m trying to think back to any emotions I may have had during my search. The only one I can recall is wondering, if god is real, would he forgive me for being so angry at him when I was a teenager? But I worked through these feelings and pressed on with my search looking at the evidence in front of me with no emotional attachment to either idea.

I also suppose with my lack of religious upbringing and the fact that I was completely new to all things related to science, religion, etc. I truly was an outsider and had that working for me since I essentially had a blank slate to work from and no real bias one way or the other.

I don’t think we can fully wipe our biases away but I think it’s possible (not to mention intellectually honest) to keep them in check as best we can and look at all the evidence for and especially against one’s position.

I do not believe the christian who wrote the article did this by any means. Most of his article was about the alleged contradictions of the Qur’an; the “absurdities”; scientific errors, etc., all of which can be pointed out in his own bible as well.


Second, there may have been passages in the site which I referenced which indicate a Christian bias. Unfortunately, the link to the page is now broken, so I couldn't check the passages to see if, in full context, your reading of them was correct.


Hmm... odd. I just checked it this afternoon and it worked just fine. If it still doesn’t work for you I saved a copy of it and I can send it to you if you’d like to check it out. Just ask and I’ll email it to you.


But, even if they fell into question-begging at certain points doesn't mean that the central argument of the site begs the question. The site, as I saw it, was primarily concerned with comparing the manuscript evidence, the documentary evidence, and the archaeological evidence for the Bible and the Qur'an. Suppose they had stuck to just those comparisons. It looks to me as if those comparisons can be made, and that, in fact, the Bible does come out better if you compare on those grounds. I don't expect any investigator to be perfectly unbiased, but this site did set of a format which, if they stuck to the format, would show a legitimate difference between the Bible and the Qur'an. Thus, so far as I can see, evidence does exist that gives us better reason to believe that the Bible is revelatory than to believe that believe that the Qur'an is. So at least some of their content falls into neither category that Loftus mentioned: either assuming methodological naturalism on the one hand, or assuming the truth of the Bible on the other. And my claim is that it looks perfectly possible to find reasons to believe in Christianity that one cannot find for Islam.


Despite the author trying to compare both books, which he did and I’m not disputing that, it’s just that he failed to do so as an outsider, while at the same time trying to limit his biases. I did see a few attempts at this, but mostly saw the author make arguments that could easily apply to his own book, which is why I argue he wasn’t taking the test as an outsider and allowed his personal beliefs about his own book to give him tunnel vision. He could see all the errors in the qur'an but not the bible. These facts I pointed out in my last reply with a few examples.

I do not understand your comment here,


Thus, so far as I can see, evidence does exist that gives us better reason to believe that the Bible is revelatory than to believe that believe that the Qur'an is


The author is clearly assuming that what his god did and said in the bible is true, but discounts all that the qur'an says. Here is a quote from the section discussion the “revelation of the Qur'an”:

Left unsaid is the glaring irony that the claim for nazil revelation of the Qur’an, comes from one source alone, the man to which it was supposedly revealed, Muhammad. There are no outside witnesses before or at the time who can corroborate Muhammad’s testimony; nor are miracles provided to substantiate his claims.

In fact, the evidences for the authority of God’s revelation, which the Bible emphatically produces are completely absent in the Qur’an, namely, that the revelation of God must speak in the name of God, Yahweh, that the message must conform to revelation which has gone before, that it must make predictions which are verifiable, and that the revelation must be accompanied by signs and wonders in order to give it authority as having come from God. Because these are missing in the case of the prophet Muhammad and of the Qur’an, for those of us who are Christians, it seems indeed that it is the Qur’an and not the Bible which turns out to be the most human of documents.


As a true outsider looking in on the comparison between the supposed revelations, the christian author is assuming the signs that are told in the bible are true. I’m not sure what signs he was referring to specifically but some christians argue the following are ways god has revealed himself to man:

1. Nature God has revealed certain truths about Himself through nature or the created order. Psalm 19:1-6 states, “The heavens are telling of the glory of God; and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands.” Nature tells everyone about God’s glory and that everything is made by Him. Romans 1:18-21 declares, “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.” According to this text, nature reveals that God exists and that He is powerful. This testimony is so powerful that no person can claim that he or she knows nothing about God.

2. Providence God reveals Himself through His moment-by-moment control of the world. This is often referred to as “providence.” God’s providence can be seen in His gracious giving of sunshine and rain to everyone (Matt. 5:45), His providing of food, rain, and gladness for people (Acts 14:15-17), and His installation and removal of world rulers (Daniel 2:21). Providence is one of the ‘quiet’ ways in which God manifests himself. But as we look at history we can see the hand of God if we take the time to notice. The survival of the nation Israel is one such example of God’s providence in action.

3. Conscience God has revealed Himself to everyone through an internal sense of right and wrong. Romans 2:14-15 states that every person has the Law of God “written in their hearts.” This internal compass that alerts us to what is right and wrong points to the Ultimate Lawgiver who determines right and wrong.

4. The Lot The casting of lots, at times, communicated God’s will to man (Prov. 16:33). How was the replacement for Judas determined? You guessed it. The disciples cast lots and Matthias was chosen as the new “twelfth” apostle (Acts 1:21-26).

5. The Urim and Thummim The Urim and Thummim were those two precious and mysterious stones on the breastplate of the high priest. They were sometimes used to determine the will of God (Ex. 28:30; Num. 27:21; Deut. 33:8; 1 Sam. 28:6).

6. Dreams Dreams were often used by God to communicate information (Gen. 20:3; 31:11-13, 24; 40-41). God sent Jacob the dream of the ascending and descending angels on the latter (Gen. 28:10-15). God also gave King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon important dreams about the coming empires of human history. Daniel interpreted the dreams and the rest is—well, history (see Dan. 2).

7. Visions God often used visions to communicate important truths. Isaiah saw a vision of the Lord “sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted.” Ezekiel saw various visions (Ezek. 1:3). The apostle John saw glorious visions of the end-times while in exile on the island of Patmos (see Rev. 4–22). The recipients of visions were often overwhelmed by the glorious sights they were seeing.

8. Audible voice Sometimes when God wanted to get His messages across, He did so Himself by speaking audibly. When God wanted Samuel to be His prophet, He simply spoke to Samuel out loud (1 Sam. 3). No, it wasn’t what Samuel ate that night—it was really God. When God wanted Peter, James, and John to know that Jesus was truly God’s Son and that they should listen to Him, He simply told them in an audible voice (see Luke 9:35).

9. Theophanies A theophany is a manifestation of God. God, for example appeared before Moses in the form of the burning bush (Exod. 3:2-6). Before the incarnation of Christ, God sometimes manifested Himself as the Angel of the Lord to communicate His divine message to the people (Gen. 16:7-14; Ex. 3:2; 2 Sam. 24:16; Zech. 1:12).

10. Angels Angels, at times, were God’s special messengers. Remember when Joseph was getting ready to leave Mary after he found out she was pregnant? That’s right. An angel communicated to Joseph in a dream that Mary was with child through the power of the Holy Spirit. Angels proclaimed the birth of Jesus (Luke 2:10-11). Gabriel, in particular, appeared to be the special angelic messenger of God. He was the one who relayed important truths to Daniel (Dan. 9:20-21). He also told Mary that she would be the earthly mother of Jesus (Luke 1:26–38).

11. The Prophets The prophets of the Bible, who acted under direct inspiration from God, were a primary means through which God revealed His messages. Isaiah, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Daniel, Joel, Zechariah, and others played a major role in revealing truths about God and His plans in the Old Testament. They focused particularly on warning the nation Israel and detailing the coming kingdom that would be established by God’s Messiah. The New Testament prophets played a foundational role in the establishment of the church (Eph. 2:20). They also revealed previously undisclosed truths about the “mystery of Christ” (Eph. 3:5).

12. Miracles and Supernatural Events God sometimes used miracles and supernatural events to reveal Himself. The Ten Plagues of Egypt showed Pharaoh and the Egyptians that the God of the Hebrews was truly God and that the ‘gods of Egypt’ were no match for Him (Exod. 7–11). Jesus did many ‘sign miracles’ to point the way to Him and His message.

13. Jesus Christ As great as the previous twelve forms of revelation were, the greatest form of revelation took place with the person of Jesus Christ. As Heb. 11:1–2 states, “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last
days has spoken to us in His Son” (Heb. 11:1-2). Jesus Christ, the primary manifestation of God, reveals many things:

a. John 1:1 He is the “Word” because He is the complete revelation of the Father.

b. John 1:18 He reveals what the Father is like.

c. John 5:36-37 He reveals the Father’s compassion.

d. John 6:63; 14:10 He reveals that the Father gives eternal life through the Son.

e. Matthew 11:27 He reveals who will know the Father.

14. The Bible The Bible is God’s written revelation to humankind. Complied by various men under the guidance of the Holy Spirit (2 Pet. 1:21), the Bible is the very Word of God. Most of what we know about God, including the person and work of Jesus, is found in the Bible. It reveals all the doctrine, rebuke, correction and guidance that is needed for godly living (see 2 Tim. 3:16-17).


Most of these arguments make use of the bible and assume the bible is true and make the assumption, thus begging the question, that the supernatural is real. It seems to me that the christian’s entire paper was begging the question since he assumed so many things about his own bible (and ignored much) while discounting the qur’an for much the same things.

Mr. Reppert, it seems to me that you are begging the question yourself since you are assuming revelations are even possible without even giving any hint as to why you believe in them. And I imagine you believe because (and please correct me if I’m wrong) of your belief that god is real and the supernatural is real, but these things are not proven facts by far. At least from my perspective as an “outsider.” Of course, I can give you my reasons why I disbelieve in the supernatural so you know I’m not simply dismissing them out of hand.

May I ask for what reasons you believe in god/ the supernatural, Mr. Reppert? I haven’t read much of your blog so if you’ve addressed this before I apologize.

Update #2 - 10-30-10

Mr. Reppert, thanks for responding.


First, it looks as if the author is presuming that the Muslim and the Christian both presuppose that God spoke through the prophets of Israel, and hence if one religion fits with those prophecies, and the other does not, then we have better reason to believe the Christian revelation as opposed to the Muslim revelation. So I think the authors thought that they were appealing to something that Christians and Muslims believe in common. This isn't exactly question-begging; however, the the authors should have recognized that Muslims hold that the written text of the OT suffers from distortion, and so the straightforward application of Old Testament criteria for revelation can be circumvented from an Islamic perspective. So I don't read this as an assumption that the Bible is revelatory, I take it as an appeal to what the author thought was a common belief between the two religions that the Old Testament is revelatory.

The site on the ways God reveals himself looks to me like a theology site rather than an apologetics site. So that site assumes Christianity but is not arguing for it. Rather, it is addressed to an audience of evangelical Christians.

I'm starting to wonder if you and I are looking at the same site. Could you include a link in your next post?


Sure, the website is right here. It sounds like the same one. It just seems that you and I are examining the same arguments in different ways. I’ll try to clarify my position below.

Yes, the author is arguing from the standpoint that both books claim to be revelations from god, but that’s not my point. My point - as it’s always been - is that the christian analyzing these two belief systems is not doing so as an outsider, as the OTF requires. He is assuming his own bible speaks of true revelation, when these things have not been proven. Because the author assumes the supernatural (not to mention the author’s assumption the bible is even giving him an accurate portrayal of his belief system and how it came about) is real he is making assumptions about his own book. He is stacking on assumptions about his belief system and basing those judgments on those assumptions. Therefore he’s not attempting to examine his belief system as an outsider; without bias or predispositions.

Hopefully I was more clear this time around. Discussing these complex issues over the internet I’ve found just invites miscommunication and misunderstanding.


As for why I consider revelation possible, I do think there are some good reasons to believe in God, and I have defended one of them, the argument from reason, in print. However, I think this is independent of the issue in the outsider test. All the outsider test requires is that you approach each religion with the same level of skepticism. It doesn't tell you how high or low to set the bar, it just says you have to set it at the same level for every religion.

Do you really think that the Qur'an has the same level of support from archaeology that the New Testament does? Does the Book of Mormon?


I didn’t realize you had written a book on the issue. What is it called? Perhaps I’ll even write a review/ attempted refutation of it sometime ;- ) [I am known for writing long, detailed rebuttals to various christian apologists, etc.] But seriously, I am curious to learn of your reasons and am very interested in taking a look at your book. Even though I firmly believe what I do I still look at books by those of the opposite point of view to see if there might be anything that could change my mind. Speaking of books, are there any you’d recommend? The biblical scholars you mentioned in a previous post I’ve already got some of their books on my very long list of books to buy.

As for archaeological support, I’ve read that a vast majority of the bible has been shown to be unhistorical, or the events - if historical at all - are embellished. There are several archaeologists, such as Ronald Hendel, who are unlike many christian scholars, admits that “[a]rchaeological research has -- against the intentions of most of its practitioners -- secured the non-historicity of much of the Bible before the era of Kings.”

I don’t consider the book of mormon to be anything but the work of a known fraud. It’s been proven that he was a fraud and made everything up. The only difference between the many unbelievable stories in the bible and those of Joseph Smith is the fact that Smith wrote at a much later date (1840's) so we have more evidence for the unfactual nature of the book of mormon than the christian bible since two centuries have lapsed since the founding of christianity.

But, to answer your question, I think the christian bible would be more ‘historical’ than the book of mormon simply because Smith is a known fraud who made up a religion for who knows why...perhaps a need to feel important and have power. At least in the bible there is some verifiable historical events, even though some of them are obviously embellished. As for the qur'an I don't know hardly anything about it so I wouldn't know one way or the other.

9 comments:

  1. I read this on Vic's Blog I think. Thanks so much!

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  2. I have responded here:

    http://dangerousidea.blogspot.com/2010/10/arizona-atheist-defends-otf-argument.html

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  3. Thank you for your response. First of all, while I think the OTF, used as a heuristic, can help us try to escape our biases, I have serious doubts, based on my training in epistemology, that real, genuine, freedom from bias is really possible. In the real world, we have to chip away at our biases, as opposed to performing some miraculous operation that will eliminate them entirely. As Steven Jay Gould once said, "We don't know what our biases are, because if we did, we'd eliminate them." Interesting enough, in the Christian Delusion Loftus emphasizes all the sources of bias that we fall prey to, which suggests to me that we aren't going to achieve intellectual liberation with one simple test, or just by "being careful." Intellectual sainthood is about as rare as moral sainthood, as I see it. And, I really don't believe in the existence of "neutral ground."

    Second, there may have been passages in the site which I referenced which indicate a Christian bias. Unfortunately, the link to the page is now broken, so I couldn't check the passages to see if, in full context, your reading of them was correct.

    But, even if they fell into question-begging at certain points doesn't mean that the central argument of the site begs the question. The site, as I saw it, was primarily concerned with comparing the manuscript evidence, the documentary evidence, and the archaeological evidence for the Bible and the Qur'an. Suppose they had stuck to just those comparisons. It looks to me as if those comparisons can be made, and that, in fact, the Bible does come out better if you compare on those grounds. I don't expect any investigator to be perfectly unbiased, but this site did set of a format which, if they stuck to the format, would show a legitimate difference between the Bible and the Qur'an. Thus, so far as I can see, evidence does exist that gives us better reason to believe that the Bible is revelatory than to believe that believe that the Qur'an is. So at least some of their content falls into neither category that Loftus mentioned: either assuming methodological naturalism on the one hand, or assuming the truth of the Bible on the other. And my claim is that it looks perfectly possible to find reasons to believe in Christianity that one cannot find for Islam.

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  4. First, it looks as if the author is presuming that the Muslim and the Christian both presuppose that God spoke through the prophets of Israel, and hence if one religion fits with those prophecies, and the other does not, then we have better reason to believe the Christian revelation as opposed to the Muslim revelation. So I think the authors thought that they were appealing to something that Christians and Muslims believe in common. This isn't exactly question-begging; however, the the authors should have recognized that Muslims hold that the written text of the OT suffers from distortion, and so the straightforward application of Old Testament criteria for revelation can be circumvented from an Islamic perspective. So I don't read this as an assumption that the Bible is revelatory, I take it as an appeal to what the author thought was a common belief between the two religions that the Old Testament is revelatory.

    The site on the ways God reveals himself looks to me like a theology site rather than an apologetics site. So that site assumes Christianity but is not arguing for it. Rather, it is addressed to an audience of evangelical Christians.

    I'm starting to wonder if you and I are looking at the same site. Could you include a link in your next post?

    As for why I consider revelation possible, I do think there are some good reasons to believe in God, and I have defended one of them, the argument from reason, in print. However, I think this is independent of the issue in the outsider test. All the outsider test requires is that you approach each religion with the same level of skepticism. It doesn't tell you how high or low to set the bar, it just says you have to set it at the same level for every religion.

    Do you really think that the Qur'an has the same level of support from archaeology that the New Testament does? Does the Book of Mormon?

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  5. No this is not the same site. The site was written by someone named Jay Smith; this is by Joseph Smith (not, I take it, the founder of Mormonism). It is from the same set of sites, but it is not the exact same site. The correct site is entitled "The Bible and the Qu'ran."

    With Old Testament archaeology, I used to hear Christians saying that the OT was very strongly supported by archaeology, and then I have heard the minimalist views that very little is supported. I do know that in Tobin's chapter of the Christian delusion he says that there is no evidence of enough political development for the kingdoms of David and Solomon to have been a reality, and yet they did find a fortified wall from that time suggesting that they had to be pretty well-developed.

    I know a little more about New Testament archaeology, and there I know that, particularly when it comes to the latter part of the book of Acts, Luke apparently knew the exact political structure of numerous cities of the time, and so could name accurately the titles of many of the political leaders before whom Paul appeared. There were also studies done of the shipwreck story which strongly suggest this is a highly realistic account written by a non-seaman.

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  6. Mr. Reppert,

    Hmmm... I feel a little silly we've been talking about two different articles. Too bad the other one isn't there anymore. Since I can’t read it for myself there’s no point in debating something I haven’t read. Anything else you'd like to discuss? :- )

    The wall you are referring to...are you talking about the Hazor, Megido, or Gezer gates by any chance?

    By the way, I found your book on Amazon and I plan on getting it soon. Looks interesting.

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  7. Nothing like a broken link to ruin a good debate.

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  8. The site seems to be back up.

    http://debate.org.uk/topics/history/bib-qur/contents.htm

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  9. Hi Mr. Reppert,

    Thanks for the link. I'll look it over when I can and get back to you.

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