A quasi-famous thought experiment which is intended to show why any particular religion is silly is the “Outsider Test for Faith.” I think it was developed by John Loftus.
I think that it is very clever. It may even be the best argument against Christianity I have ever heard. What I’ve enjoyed the most about the experiment is that it provides a rather exhilarating perspective on familiar ideas and habits.
The outsider test for faith essentially proposes that somebody who already rejects all other religions (and presumably the gods worshiped therein), consider their own religion from the perspective of an agnostic (because they already reject all other religions). The idea is that any particular religion, from that agnostic perspective, would be laughably improbable and should therefore be rejected. I think that the test is flawed on a few levels, but those flaws are not the point of this post. I’m more interested in applying the outsider test to logic.
Imagine yourself as an outsider to the practice of logic. You do not believe or know about the law of non-contradiction, you do not utilize syllogisms (explicitly or implicitly), outside of basic counting you know of no mathematics, and outside of trial and error you have no system of testing ideas cognitively outside of physical experiment.
Then somebody comes along who tells you that there is a thing called logic. “Logic is a symbolic, abstract, non-physical reality that can be used to clarify thought.”, they say. You’re told, “Logic can be used to solve problems in mathematics, human relationships, economics, history, crime scene investigation, ethics, philosophy, and so-on. Logic is no where physical like water or light.”
You stand awed and confused.
“Logic is not made of anything like dirt or wood. Yet, despite being no where and made of nothing, it functions in all times and places. It allows for the most complex mathematical calculations,” they say waving a logic textbook around. “Logic”, they say, “gives you the tools to calculate the distance around the earth, between the stars, and to create calculating machines that utilize the powers of lightening.”
The outsider test for logic allows us to see how weird the world is and how convenient simple things like syllogisms, basic mathematics, and the idea that A and not-A cannot be true at once really are.
Now, I do not think that somebody would, I hope they wouldn’t, reject the use of logic based on the outsider test. I think that a convinced religious person (whether for good or bad reasons) would probably find their faith more interesting and astounding after taking the test. Anyway, the outsider test for faith didn’t convince me not to be a Christian, but it did give me a useful tool as a teacher to help students understand how great things like math, scientific method, logic, medicine, school systems, and other things are. It is also a neat tool for evaluating important cultural artifacts like abortion. The outsider test to determine the rationality of behavior for the longevity of civilization is very intriguing as well as the outsider test for how one spends his or her time.
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