He started by comparing his method for ascertaining truth in the laboratory with how he ascertains truth in his faith:
In his lab:
1. start with data (theory, experiments, computer simulations)
2. Sometimes he doesn't like the data and struggles to explain it
3. Employs "circularity" and seeks the best fit for jigsaw-puzzle pieces
4. Strives to constantly update his understanding
5. Submits his understanding to peer review
6. Tries to advance knowledge
7. Prefers simple closed-form answers.
In his faith:
1. start with data (Bible, experience, personal conversations)
and then 2 through 7 are the same.
Prof. Brodland claims he uses the same approaches to ascertain truth in the lab and his faith. [I don't think this is the case at all. For one thing, in science we try very hard to disprove our hypotheses, by setting up experiments to test them. What are the corresponding experiments Prof. Brodland has done to try to disprove his faith? None that he spoke about; if anything he seems extremely willing to take personal experiences as confirming of his faith, even if they are quite tenuous; see below. For another, "peer review" means submitting your work to reviewers that are often hostile, not just talking about your faith with friends who share the same opinion. Where is the evidence that Prof. Brodland has explored Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, Islam, and so forth with equal research that he has done on Christianity?]
Prof. Brodland went on to discuss the tools used for data collection and analysis. He divided these tools into three parts, which he called "body", "soul", and "spirit". By the "body", Prof. Brodland means the five sense and scientific instruments that detect physical phenomena. By the "soul" Prof. Brodland means "logic to organize ideas and make inferences" [which seems like a very strange definition of "soul" to me]. And in the last category, "spirit", Prof. Brodland refers to "communication from the supernatural realm". Naturalists or Deists, he claimed, only recognize the first two. whereas Christians are more "broad-minded" because they allow another kind of information, namely information from the supernatural realm, to influence them. [Prof. Brodland could be even more broad-minded by allowing information from Zeus, Bigfoot, and extraterrestrials to influence him. In other words, it's not clear to me that being "broad-minded" in this sense is a virtue.]
He then compared Jesus to Einstein, Fourier, and Pasteur. They all risked their credibility and changed the world with their ideas. For Einstein, it was relativity; for Jesus it was "love your enemies" and "I am the truth and the life". He then presented many passages from the New Testament that showed that Jesus claimed to be the son of the Christian god.
Who was Jesus? Prof. Brodland claimed he is the son of the Christian god and the only other possibilities are that he was (a) self-deluded (b) a liar (c) just a good teacher or (d) just a legend. He dismissed (d) as implausible by saying that there are "lots of extra-Biblical sources" proving Jesus' existence. [This is false or misleading. There are a handful of extra-Biblical sources, and not one is contemporary. Some of these extra-Biblical sources are widely acknowledged to be Christian fabrications, such as certain passages in Josephus. And these extra-Biblical sources are clearly just reporting what they have heard from others and are not first-hand, independent sources.]
He dismissed (c) by saying that if Jesus was not the son of the Christian god and yet taught that he was, he could not be a good teacher. [This also seems quite unreasonable. Has Prof. Brodland never been mistaken in something he taught? Then I guess he is not a good teacher, either, by this criterion. On the contrary, it is perfectly possible to be a good teacher and still be mistaken, even about fundamental claims.]
Prof. Brodland dismissed (a) and (b) by saying that Jesus' claims are validated by his resurrection. [He did not consider the other obvious possibilities: Jesus was misquoted, or Jesus was misunderstood, for example.]
Prof. Brodland gave three claims he felt were good reasons to believe in the resurrection:
1. The disciples were despondent and a triumphal re-appearance of their leader was not on their minds.
2. They were feeling defeated and not likely to have hallucinated his return.
3. In ancient times it was believe that the soul was good but the body weak or corrupt, and hence resurrection was not part of their thinking.
[None of these seem like even slightly good reasons to me. On the contrary, if the disciples were despondent they would be very quick to grasp any way to be less despondent. All they needed was one person who claimed to see Jesus and many followers would be quick to glom on to this as a "miracle". Furthermore, it is simply not true that resurrection was not in the minds of people of the ancient world. Some say Asclepius was resurrected by Zeus after being killed by him, for example.]
Did Jesus rise from the dead? Prof. Brodland said we could test this hypothesis against the null hypothesis by considering data in 3 areas:
- the empty tomb
- reports by witnesses to his being alive
- change in the witnesses' attitude after resurrection
The tomb: all 4 gospels report an empty tomb, some written only 30 years after the event, when eyewitnesses were still around. The eyewitnesses would have complained if inaccurate reports had circulated. Since they didn't, the reports must be accurate. [How does Prof. Brodland know there were not eyewitnesses who took issue with these reports? There could well have been, but since we have so few documents from that time and place, how would we know? Furthermore, there would have been great pressure at early church meetings to suppress any such documents, if they existed.]
Also, secular sources don't challenge the fact that the tomb was empty; instead they put forward alternative explanations for it. [Well, one alternative explanation is that the disciples went to the wrong tomb. So the "real" tomb might not be empty.]
No body was ever produced and no shrine was built. If there a body, there would be a shrine there. [Prof. Brodland seems to have inadvertently supported the most obvious explanation: the body was removed by enemies of early Christianity, fearing that the resting place would become a shrine.]
Reports by witnesses: there were over 500 witnesses that reported seeing Jesus. [This is quite misleading. There were not 500 individual witness reports; instead there is a claim by Paul to that effect, a claim that is not substantiated by the existence of the supposed reports.]
Changes in Jesus' followers: disciples "suddenly" started appearing in public; many died horrific deaths because of their beliefs. If they had just made it up they would not be so willing to die. [Again, this is very misleading. Most of the people "willing to die" probably did not experience the resurrection themselves but were simply told about it by others, and believed it. Many people died willingly as followers of cult leader Jim Jones, but that doesn't make Jim Jones's claims true.] The Church grew quickly, even where the government wanted it suppressed. Today, many report personal experiences of Jesus. [Yes, and many report other kinds of extraordinary experiences, but it doesn't follow that these experiences correspond to reality. Does Prof. Brodland believe in Bigfoot, extraterrestrials, and Elvis still being alive?]
Prof. Brodland concluded by telling about his personal experiences. He suffered from deafness and stated that doctors said he had nerve damage and would be deaf for life. However, after he started praying and asking for friends to pray for him, "Jesus healed me". An audiologist confirmed that his hearing improved. "Those are the facts. When I asked Jesus to heal me, he did. This is powerful personal evidence that Jesus is alive and he did respond. I have the records to show. This is such a strong piece of evidence and you can test my claims." [How does he know it was Jesus? This is a classic case of the post hoc, ergo propter hoc fallacy. A scientist should know better.]
I had time to ask one question. I said that I too, have suffered from hearing problems. I too visited doctors and had tests and the doctors said there was nothing they could do. But the problem has largely resolved itself with time, and my hearing is much better -- all accomplished without prayer. I said that I had not prayed, but if I had (say) prayed to Zeus and gotten better, would this be evidence of the existence of Zeus?
Prof. Brodland did not really address my question. To paraphrase his answer, he said that he had his story and he was sticking to it. That well may be, but it is not very good evidence for Jesus when there are spontaneous improvements in nerve damage all the time. It even happens in hearing loss, although apparently it is rare (I don't claim to be an expert). This page, on the other hand, claims spontaneous remission is common! Prof. Brodland certainly should understand the extremely weak status of personal anecdotes as evidence. Good evidence would be to test many people, each with similar conditions, some of which pray (or have friends pray for them) and some don't. That would be an example of the scientific method that Prof. Brodland claims to follow. Unfortunately for Prof. Brodland, studies of intercessory prayer do not provide much confirming evidence at all.
All in all, this was just another exercise in Christian evangelism, full of fallacies and incorrect claims. It does not surprise me, though: the case for Christianity always has been extremely weak.