This was easily the weakest presentation so far. Part of that was due to the weakness of the question, to which the answer is obviously, "yes", there could be. The real question seemed to be "Is Christianity the one true religion?".
As usual, my comments are in brackets. The rest of the text is my best representation of what was presented, and I hope it is accurate.
Religion, Prof. Brodland, says (quoting a dictionary), "a belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, esp. a personal god or gods". Most cultures embrace religion because it gives structure and meaning to life, provides moral guidance, tells us how to interact with gods, and describes an afterlife.
Quoting David Pallin, he classified aspects of religion as follows:
Is there a God? - Ultimacy Does he communicate with us? - Agency Does he tell us how to please him? - Personality Can we engage him on our terms or his? - HolinessWe assume, Prof. Brodland said, affirmative answers to these 4 questions.
A priori, there could be more than 1 true religion, or there could be just one true religion. We must look at specific claims of religions to address the question.
Prof. Brodland briefly compared Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism, as follows:
Hinduism, 4000 BCE, 0.9 billion adherents - indigenous to India, no single founder - sometimes called a family of religions - Vedas - holy (revealed), seldom read or understood today - supreme oneness of Brahman, many gods or godesses [sic] - involves yoga, meditation, etc. - cycle of life Islam, 622 CE, 1.6 billion adherents - holy book is Qur'an, prophet Muhammad - devout often memorize & recite it in Arabic - only one God - other important prophets - 5 pillars: belief, worship, charitable giving, fasting during Ramadan, pilgrimage to Mecca - relative weight of good and evil determine heaven or hell Christianity, 30 CE, 2.1 billion adherents - grew out of Judaism - holy book, the bible - God is 1 in three - main focus is knowing God through Jesus - Quote of Sam Pascoe: "Christianity started out in Palestine as a fellowship; it moved to Greece and became a philosophy; it moved to Italy and became an institution; it moved to Europe and became a culture; it came to America and became an enterprise." - Jesus was Messiah, Jesus' death was sacrificial, Jesus rose from the dead "Just-do-your-best"-ism - "If I just do my best..." - "If I just do enough good..."[It wasn't clear to me what the last part was referring to. "If I just do my best", what? I go to heaven? But if one doesn't believe in heaven, then I don't see the point.]
Some options to consider:
- all religions are true
- several are true
- only one is true
- no religion is true
All religions can't be true because their claims contradict each other:
For example, Christianity says Jesus died on the cross, but Islam says he did not.
Hinduism says many gods and godesses [sic], but Islam and Christianity say only one god.
[But Christianity can be viewed as polytheistic, as the Trinity can reasonably be thought of as three gods -- not to mention all the minor deities of Christianity, such as Satan and angels.]
Hinduism says many ways to god, but Christianity says "no one comes to the Father except through me".
These are "fundamental and irreconcilable incompatibilities". So it is not possible to assert "all religions are equally good". [But who asserts that? Certainly not me. I think there is a hierarchy of religions, with Christianity and Islam being among the worst.]
Most religions have an exclusivity assertion.
The possibility that "no religion is true" is improbable given evidences [sic] for god given previously by Prof. Mann. [Even if you accept alleged fine-tuning as evidence for a god, that just leads you to a vague form of deism, not to any particular religion. For all we know, the only true religion is one that has 23 gods on Tuesdays and 37 gods on other days of the week, and demands that we only worship the prime-numbered gods and must ignore the others. And why is it that evangelicals, almost alone among all other English speakers, use "evidence" in the plural? For almost everyone else, "evidence" is a mass noun.]
We expect a theory to explain known data and make testable predictions. How does one "test" something? You can test scientific, economic, political theories. You can test a can opener by using it for its intended purpose. Religious claims all related to God, so tests should, too. But we cannot easily test those kinds of claims, e.g., claims about the afterlife. So we use data from the world where we live.
The "theory" of Christianity claims:
- God reveals himself
- We can talk to him & he speaks to us
- God does things outside the natural realm
[Well, I have tested such claims myself. I was raised as a Christian, but the Christian god never spoke to me or revealed himself. I have never seen any sort of miracle. Furthermore, again and again, reports of claimed miracles turn out to have ordinary explanations or are the result of fraud.]
The nature of faith: God provided enough evidence that we could reasonably choose to follow him, but not so much we are forced to do so. God didn't make the case more watertight so that we could choose to follow him out of our own free will. [On the contrary, the evidence provided for a god is extremely weak, and claims like this try to take the clear lack of evidence and make it into a virtue.]
Why I [Prof. Brodland] am a Christian:
1. My observations compel me to the conclusion that there is a God:
I study the embryo in my research - the complexity of building it says it didn't "just happen".
[Except that we know there is a process to create "order" and "function" through perfectly ordinary means: namely, evolutionary algorithms. "Beauty" is more intangible, but very simple processes can create complicated images, such as the Mandelbrot set, that people often find beautiful. Nobody says it "just happen[ed]"; instead, we try to figure out exactly how. Positing some supernatural being doesn't explain anything, because it explains everything. It makes no predictions and offers no help in solving scientific problems.]
2. Credibility of the bible. When I [Prof. Brodland] read a scientific paper or book, I look for
references to other work
maturity of thought
consistency of meaning but differences in perspective, details, and text [in other accounts]
The same things apply to the Bible. [Not really. The Bible, by its very nature, is not like a scientific paper or book; it is part history, part mythology, part narrative account, part fabrication, part injunctions about how to behave, part psychedelic ravings. It has not been "peer reviewed" in any reasonable sense.]
3. Dialogue between us and God (and his works).
4. Personal experiences:
- answers to prayer
- restoration of hearing
- other actions of God [unspecified]
[Why doesn't god heal amputees? Why does the Christian god content himself with extremely minor miracles like restoring hearing, but does not do a damn thing for the thousand of children who die each year of starvation and disease? For the millions who died in the Holocaust? Frankly, I think it is a bit self-centered to think that a god that is the creator of the universe concerns himself with our minor illnesses. And any such god that cures minor illnesses but does nothing about really serious problems is evidently a moral monster unworthy of our attention.]
5. It best fits the pieces together.
[Well, I would strongly dispute that. Christianity and its claims seem wildly at odds with the world we see. Polytheism, by contrast, seems much more reasonable, as does a single psychopathic god that delights in torment. What kind of god would create both the speedy deer and the speedy cougar to eat the speedy deer? A god that enjoys blood sport, I guess. Or maybe two different gods, the god of speedy ungulates and the god of speedy felines.]
Prof. Brodland closed with a parable: God came to earth and lived in a cabin in the woods near a highway. He would send his son Josh, who would talk to people who stopped along the highway and said, "Do you want to meet my father?" Some people said yes, but after learning there was no easy road to the cabin, would give up. Others agreed to follow Josh, but when the road became muddy, they gave up. But people who were humble got to the cabin and met God."
[I don't see what being "humble" has to do with it. It seems the very opposite of humility to think that you are important enough for the Creator of the Universe to be overly concerned with you or your sex life or your fate.
Nor does accepting the claims of the majoritarian religion of your country make you humble. Frankly, if I was approached by some guy at a rest stop who insisted that I follow him on a difficult path through the woods to meet God, I'd back away slowly and get in my car.]
That concluded the presentation. This time I was able to stick around for the question-and-answer session.
Q. Doesn't evolution account for some of the claims you made [presumably about order, function, etc.]?
A. People who study evolution recognize difficulties with that point of view, just like people who advocate creationism recognize difficulties with it. I don't want to go into that debate here.
Q. Isn't religion unfalsifiable?
A. I've seen things that are evidences [sic] of a supernatural being. As Francis Schaeffer says, we have excellent reasons for accepting Christianity, but not proof. We can accept Christianity and not be idiots. Science deals with things on an impersonal basis, so it is not the right tool.
Rob Mann, in the audience [who gave lectures 1 and 2 in the series], agreed that naturalistic claims are falsifiable and supernatural claims are not. But, he said, the lines are not so clear in the social sciences.
[I then asked]
Q. We know that the claim of Christianity that prayers will be answered has been rather definitively refuted by the scientific literature on intercessory prayer, which has found either no result or very tiny effects, with some people even getting worse when they are prayed for. [One of the studies that found positive effects, by Cha-Wirth-Lobo, later turned out to be fraudulent.] Can you name a single claim of Christianity that has been verified in the scientific literature?
A. No, because Christianity's claims related to the supernatural world, not the natural world. [Well, that doesn't really answer the question. First, we don't know there is a supernatural world. Second, if the supernatural world were completely divorced from our world, it might as well not exist. The whole debate revolves around how the supposedly supernatural world interacts with our world. But if it does interact with our world, those effects can be tested. They have occasionally been tested, and they have largely failed.]
Q. How about followers of other religions? Do they go to heaven?
A. It's a hard question. For example, people who lived before Jesus were saved because Jesus' saving power works retroactively. But Jesus says, "Nobody comes to the father except through me."
[Answering such a question leads to a dilemma. Hard-core evangelical Christianity demands that the answer is "no", but this answer is not politically palatable, so often the question is met with evasion. Most people's sense of justice suggests to them that people who haven't heard of Jesus shouldn't go to hell, but the Bible makes no exceptions. The choices seem to be (a) either agreeing that the bible is mistaken, or at least not the last word or (b) taking the hard line that, yes, some innocent people are going to hell, thereby implicitly agreeing that the Christian god is a moral monster or (c) claiming that the evidence is so strong that you have no excuse not to believe, even if you haven't heard of Jesus.]