Regarding the Faith & Reason Conference. Are all the speakers Christians? If so, how objective can they be? I could only attend if similar speakers are invited (scientists/philosophers/historians) who have no religious convictions. I would then listen to “both sides” so that I can form my own opinion. And not to speakers who are justifying their own belief systems, for the comfort of Christians as this conference seems to achieve? I may be wrongly informed about this conference.
Yes, I think you might be misinformed. The speakers are all Christians. However, allow me to comment on the issue of objectivity.
It would be a mistake to think that only people with no religious convictions can be objective. All people (yes, even the scientist, philosopher and historian) are biased in some way, because every person views the world from a certain implicit or more explicit perspective and goes on to make interpretations and reach conclusions based on their worldview. This includes interpretations and conclusions of a religious nature. Furthermore, everyone holds to religious convictions in a certain sense – even the atheist who claims that no God exists or the agnostic who claims that no one can know if God exists. The atheist and Christian alike have convictions, perspectives on reality – some of which have religious implications.
The search for objectivity is not about trying to view the world from no perspective at all (that is, by the way, what a so-called ‘neutral perspective’ really comes down to) or without any convictions, for that is humanly impossible. A more reasonable approach in an effort to be more objective, is to be increasingly aware of your own worldview and biases and then be mindful to ask and explore, as you are investigating certain things, if and how your own view of the world (or those of others) makes sense of those things. The problem is that not all worldviews explain reality equally well. But wouldn’t you agree that it should be the desire of every thinking person to hold a worldview that reflects reality as it actually is?
Christianity makes certain claims about how reality actually is (as does every other worldview or religious system). We do not ask of anybody to accept these claims at the onset, but at the Faith & Reason Conference we do aim to explore some of those claims and the reasons for making them, in a reasonable way. That means that the speakers at the conference do not employ blind leaps of faith in their reasoning or ask of anybody to accept things that go contrary to reason. You are right, the speakers do want to justify their belief system, but they are not doing so merely for the comfort of Christians as you want to suggest. They do so because they believe it to be true and want to explain why they believe it to be so, that is, they want to explain why they believe the Christian belief system reflects reality as it actually is. (Incidentally, if something is true it often does offer a lot of comfort, except of course, when one doesn’t want it to be true.)
Smithy, I hope you have a slightly better understanding of what this conference is all about. It is definitely not about trashing other belief systems (although no apologies are made for calling on error wherever it is identified), nor is it merely Christians flocking together in a holy huddle (although most people there will be Christians). You are therefore most welcome to attend and contribute to meaningful dialogue by asking questions and offering thoughtful disagreement. In fact, we encourage everyone to come and do so.