Is one true religion even possible?

Dr. Walter L. Bradley
Dr. Walter L. Bradley

This is a follow-up to my previous post on Walter Bradley’s lecture about the scientific evidence for an Creator and Designer of the universe. Dr. Walter L. Bradley (C.V. here) is the Distinguished Professor of Engineering at Baylor, and a great example of the integration of Christian faith and a stellar academic career.

Is there truth in religion?

Another one of Bradley’s lectures is on the question “Is There Objective Truth in Religion?“. In the lecture, he describes a book by Mortimer Adler, called “Truth in Religion”. In the book, Adler makes a distinction between two kinds of “truth”.

  1. Trans-cultural truth – also known as objective truth. This is Adler’s term for the correspondence theory of truth. A claim is true if and only if it is made true by corresponding to the state of affairs in the mind-independent external world. It is irrelevant who makes the claim. The claim is either true or false for everyone, e.g. – “the ice cream is on the table”. Either it is, or it isn’t, for everyone.
  2. Cultural truth – also known as subjective truth. This is Adler’s term for claims that are arbitrarily true for individual and groups of subjects. For example, your personal preference for a certain flavor of ice cream, or the cultural preference for a certain style of dress or cooking. The claim is true for the person or group, e.g. – “I/we prefer chocolate ice cream and wearing tuxedos”.

The question that Bradley addresses in the lecture is: are religious claims trans-cultural truth or cultural truth?

Why do people want to believe that religious truth claims are subjective?

People want to believe that religious truth claims are subjective because religious claims differ, and people lack the courage to tell some group of people that their beliefs about the world are wrong. By reducing religion to personal preference, no one is wrong, because everyone who believes in any religion, or no religion, is just expressing their own personal preferences.

But, if religious truth claims are trans-cultural claims, e.g. – the universe began to exist, then some religions are going to be wrong, because religions disagree about reality. It’s possible that no religion is right, or that one religion is right, but it is not possible that they are all right because there is only one reality shared by all people. Religions make contradictory claims about reality – so they can’t all be true.

Suppose religious claims are trans-cultural? How would you test those claims?

I credit E.J. Carnell with a test for truth that I still use today. It is the same test used by Adler and Bradley.

  1. Logical consistency (the claim cannot violate the law of non-contradiction)
  2. Empirical verification (the claim is verified against the external world)

Adler says that other trans-cultural truth claims, such as those from math and science, must all pass the test for logical consistency, as a minimum. And so with religion, if it is like math and science. Once a proposition passed the test of the law of non-contradiction, then you can proceed to step 2 and see if it is empirically verified.

Adler surveys all the major religions in his book, and concludes that only 3 of them – Judaism, Islam and Christianity – pass the test of the law of non-contradiction. He ends the book by recommending to seekers that they proceed to evaluate the historical claims of these 3 religions, in order to see which if any passes the empirical tests.

Conclusion

Bradley concludes with the claim of the resurrection of Jesus could be investigated using historical methods, in order to decide which of these 3 religions might be true, if any. He also mentions the stories of a few people who performed the investigation and changed their initial opinion of the resurrection in the face of the historical evidence.

Related posts

I blogged previously about whether the Bible teaches that faith is opposed to reason and evidence and William Lance Craig’s refutation of postmodern sketicism of religion. I also blogged about scientific and historical evidence that could also be used to test religious claims. My post on N.T. Wright’s view of the resurrection may also prove useful.

Also, a good debate between a Christian and a postmodern relativist on truth in religion is here.

5 thoughts on “Is one true religion even possible?”

  1. Have you ever heard of the elephant analogy?

    Despite my agnostic atheistic belief, I am curious as to how you might respond to this:

    Perhaps god is like an elephant, and every religion is like a blind man touching a different part of it and vocalizing their experience. One describes how the elephant is thin as he touches the tail, another describes it as thick and rough as he touches the tusk…etc All of them have objective truths about this elephant (god), yet the evidence comes from different religions. That would render it impossible to have one true religion; rather, many.

    Perhaps all religions offer a certain objective truths regarding certain issues ie. the resurrection and historical findings of Christ, and accounts from theists and deists alike from African or Hawaiian religions; other minority religions that offer their own historical findings.

    Like

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