Monday, December 28, 2015

Christians, Muslims, and the reference of “God”


The question of whether Christians and Muslims worship the same God has become the topic du jour in certain parts of the blogosphere.  Our friends Frank Beckwith, Bill Vallicella, Lydia McGrew, Fr. Al Kimel, and Dale Tuggy are among those who have commented.  (Dale has also posted a useful roundup of articles on the controversy.)  Frank, Fr. Kimel, and Dale are among the many commentators who have answered in the affirmative.  Lydia answers in the negative.  While not firmly answering in the negative, Bill argues that the question isn’t as easy to settle as the yea-sayers suppose, as does Peter Leithart at First Things.  However, with one qualification, I would say that the yea-sayers are right.

Referring to God

Let me start by rehearsing some points that should be obvious, and which others have already made, but which are crucial for properly framing the question at hand.  First, we need to keep in mind the Fregean point that a difference in sense does not entail a difference in reference.  To use Frege’s famous example, the sense of the expression “the morning star” is different from the sense of the expression “the evening star.”  But these two expressions refer to one and the same thing, viz. the planet Venus.  Similarly, expressions like “the God of the Christians” and “the God of the Muslims” differ in sense, but it doesn’t follow from that alone that they don’t refer to the same God.  By the same token, though the expression “God” is different from the expression “Allah,” it doesn’t follow that God is not Allah, any more than Stan Lee and Stanley Martin Lieber are different men. 

Second, even a speaker’s erroneous beliefs don’t entail that he is not referring to the same thing that speakers with correct beliefs are referring to.  Consider an example made famous by Keith Donnellan.  Suppose you’re at a party and see a man across the room drinking from a martini glass. You say something like “The guy drinking a martini is well-dressed.”  Suppose, however, that the man is not in fact drinking a martini, but only water.  It doesn’t follow that you haven’t really referred to him.  Furthermore, suppose there is a second man, somewhere in the room but unseen by you, who really is drinking a martini and that he is dressed shabbily.  It doesn’t follow that you were, after all, really referring to this second man and saying something false.  Rather, assuming that the first man really is well-dressed, you were referring to that first man and saying something true about him, even though you were wrong about what he is drinking.  And thus you are referring to the very same man as people who know that he is drinking water would be referring to if they said “The guy drinking water from a martini glass is well-dressed.”  Similarly, the fact that Muslims have what Christians regard as a number of erroneous beliefs about God does not by itself entail that Muslims and Christians are not referring to the same thing when they use the expression “God.”

Having said that, it is also true that not anything goes.  As I noted some time back in a post about Peter Geach’s essay “On Worshipping the Right God,” it is possible for someone’s body of beliefs about some thing to be so thoroughly disconnected from reality that he cannot plausibly be said successfully to refer to that thing. 

But exactly when do one’s theological errors cross this line, so that he fails to refer to the true God?  Lydia McGrew says that the reason Christians and Muslims cannot in her view be said to worship the same God is that the differences in the ways they conceive of God are “important” and “sufficiently crucial.”  But this is, I think, too vague to be helpful.  Suppose someone knows that Plato was the student of Socrates but believes the legend according to which Plato was the son of the god Apollo, and also, for whatever reason, thinks that Plato wrote none of the works attributed to him but instead sold gyros and baklava from a cart in Athens.  Such a person has obviously gotten “important” and indeed “crucial” things wrong, but he hasn’t plausibly thereby failed to refer to Plato.  On the contrary, we know he is wrong in part because we take him to be referring successfully to Plato.  We don’t think: “Oh, he’s really referring to some other guy named ‘Plato,’ not the one who was Socrates’ student.”  We think that he is referring to the very same Plato we do, and for that reason that many of the things he says are importantly wrong, since they aren’t actually true of Plato.

Similarly, it is perfectly coherent to say that Muslims are “importantly” and “crucially” wrong precisely because they are referring to the very same thing Christians are when they use the word “God,” and that they go on to make erroneous claims about this referent.  That the errors are “important” or “crucial” is not by itself sufficient to prevent successful reference.  And since Muslims worship the referent in question, it follows that it also is not by itself sufficient to prevent them from worshipping the same God as Christians.

Even errors concerning God’s Trinitarian nature are not per se sufficient to prevent successful reference.  Abraham and Moses were not Trinitarians, but no Christian can deny that they referred to, and worshiped, the same God Christians do.  It might be objected that though they were not Trinitarians, this is only because they did not even know about the doctrine of the Trinity, whereas Muslims do know about it and positively reject it.  But this is irrelevant.  From the beginning of the history of the Church, Christians did not accuse others of worshipping a false God merely because they rejected the doctrine of the Trinity.  For example, those Jews who rejected the claim that Jesus was the incarnation of the second Person of the Trinity were not accused by the early Church of worshipping a false God.  Nor were heretics generally accused of this.  For example, at least some Arian baptisms were considered valid because of the Arians’ use of the Trinitarian baptismal formula, despite the fact that Arians held to a heretical understanding of the divine Persons.  These baptisms could not have been considered valid had the Arian understanding been so radically deficient that “Father,” “Son,” and “Holy Spirit” failed to refer to the divine Persons at all, but instead referred to false deities.

Failure of reference

This brings me to an example which does involve error of a sort sufficient to make successful reference to the true God doubtful.  In the post on Geach linked to above, I cited the 2001 decision of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith that Mormon baptisms are not valid even though they seem at first glance to make use of the correct Trinitarian formula.  The reason for the decision is that the Mormon conception of God is so radically different from the Catholic one that it is doubtful that the words truly invoke the Trinity.  It is not Trinitarianism per se that is the issue, though, but rather the radical anthropomorphism of the Mormon conception of God.  As an article in L'Osservatore Romano summarized the problem at the time:

[T]he Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, according to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, are not the three persons in which subsists the one Godhead, but three gods who form one divinity. One is different from the other, even though they exist in perfect harmony… The very word divinity has only a functional, not a substantial content, because the divinity originates when the three gods decided to unite and form the divinity to bring about human salvation… This divinity and man share the same nature and they are substantially equal.  God the Father is an exalted man, native of another planet, who has acquired his divine status through a death similar to that of human beings, the necessary way to divinization… God the Father has relatives and this is explained by the doctrine of infinite regression of the gods who initially were mortal… God the Father has a wife, the Heavenly Mother, with whom he shares the responsibility of creation.  They procreate sons in the spiritual world.  Their firstborn is Jesus Christ, equal to all men, who has acquired his divinity in a pre-mortal existence.  Even the Holy Spirit is the son of heavenly parents.  The Son and the Holy Spirit were procreated after the beginning of the creation of the world known to us… Four gods are directly responsible for the universe, three of whom have established a covenant and thus form the divinity.

As is easily seen, to the similarity of titles there does not correspond in any way a doctrinal content which can lead to the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. The words Father, Son and Holy Spirit, have for the Mormons a meaning totally different from the Christian meaning. The differences are so great that one cannot even consider that this doctrine is a heresy which emerged out of a false understanding of the Christian doctrine. The teaching of the Mormons has a completely different matrix. We do not find ourselves, therefore, before the case of the validity of Baptism administered by heretics, affirmed already from the first Christian centuries, nor of Baptism conferred in non-Catholic ecclesial communities…

End quote.  The Mormon conception of deity, then, makes of God something essentially creaturely and finite, something which lacks the absolute metaphysical ultimacy that is definitive of God in Catholic theology and in classical theism more generally.  Even Arianism does not do that, despite its grave Trinitarian errors.  To be sure, Arianism makes of the second Person of the Trinity a creature, but it does not confuse divinity as such with something creaturely.  On the contrary, because it affirms the full divinity and non-creaturely nature of the Father, it mistakenly supposes that it must deny the full divinity of the Son.  It gets the notion of divinity as such right, and merely applies it in a mistaken way.  Mormons, by contrast, get divinity as such fundamentally wrong.  Hence their usage of “God” is arguably merely verbally similar to that of Catholics, Protestants, Jews, et al.  They can plausibly be held not really to be referring to the same thing as the latter, and thus not worshipping the same God as the latter.

Now, say what you will about Islam, it does not make of God something essentially creaturely.  That God is absolutely metaphysically ultimate, is that from which all else derives, that which not only does not have but could not in principle have had a cause of his own, etc. is something Muslim theology understands clearly.  Hence from a Christian point of view Muslims clearly must be regarded as like Jews and Arians rather than like Mormons.  They are in error about the Trinity, but not in error about divinity as such

Now, being absolutely metaphysically ultimate, being that from which all else derives, being that which does not have and in principle could not have a cause of its own, etc. -- in short, being what classical theism says God essentially is -- is, I would say, what is key to determining whether someone’s use of “God” plausibly refers to the true God.  If someone affirms these things of God, then there is at least a strong presumption in favor of the conclusion that he is referring to, and thus worshipping, the true God, even if he also says some seriously mistaken things about God.  If someone does not affirm these things of God, then there is at least serious doubt about whether he is referring to and worshipping the true God.  And if someone positively denies these things, then there is a strong presumption that he is not referring to or worshipping the true God.  As Richard Gale once wrote:

The character played by Marlon Brando in On the Waterfront said that he could have been a contender, even the champion; but it would be a violation of the meaning of God for him to have said that he could have been God or for God to say that he might have been a two-bit enforcer for the mob.  (On the Nature and Existence of God, p. 5)

Anything that could have been a two-bit enforcer for the mob could not possibly be God.  And anything that is less than metaphysically ultimate, or which is not the source of all things other than himself, or which could have had a cause of his own, could not possibly be God.  If it turned out that what we’d been calling “God” was something which is less than metaphysically ultimate, had a cause of his own, etc., it wouldn’t follow that God really is all these things after all.  Rather, what would follow is that there really isn’t a God after all.

Trinitarianism and reference

But shouldn’t a Christian hold that some reference to the Trinity or to the divinity of Jesus is also at least necessary, even if not sufficient, for successful reference to the true God?  Doesn’t that follow from the fact that being Trinitarian is, from a Christian point of view, also essential to God?   No, that doesn’t follow at all, and any Christian who says otherwise will, if he stops and thinks carefully about it, see that he doesn’t really believe that it follows.  Again, Christians don’t deny that Abraham and Moses, or modern Jews, or Arians and other heretics, refer to and worship the same God as orthodox Christians, despite the fact that these people do not affirm the Trinity or the divinity of Jesus. 

Or consider the following scenario.  Suppose there is a cause of everything other than himself who is one, eternal, immaterial, necessary, omnipotent, omniscient, perfectly good, etc.  But suppose also that it turned out that the Resurrection of Jesus never occurred, that the apostles perpetrated a hoax, etc.  Would this be a scenario in which atheism turns out to be true?  Of course not, and no Christian would say so.  It would be a scenario in which God exists but did not become incarnate in Jesus, did not cause the Church to be founded, etc.

Or consider another scenario.  Suppose it turned out that there is no such thing as a cause of everything other than himself who is one, eternal, immaterial, necessary, omnipotent, omniscient, perfectly good, etc.  But suppose also that there really was a powerful being who sent Moses to deliver the Law to Israel, who sired Jesus and sent him as a prophet, who imparted preternatural powers to him and to the apostles so that they might found a Church, etc.  But suppose that this powerful being was an extraterrestrial and that the events recorded in the Bible were all caused in something like the way Erich von Däniken describes in Chariots of the Gods.  Suppose this extraterrestrial called himself “the Father” and that he had two lieutenants who called themselves “the Son” and “the Holy Spirit.”  Would this be a scenario in which Christian theism turns out to be true?  Of course not, and (I hope!) no Christian would say so.  It would be a scenario in which atheism is true. 

Notice that the first scenario is metaphysically possible even though God is necessarily a Trinity.  For even though God is a Trinity, he could have refrained from becoming incarnate in Jesus, could have refrained from causing the Church to be founded, could have refrained from revealing his Trinitarian nature to us, etc.  Even on the first scenario, God would (the Christian must affirm) be Trinitarian, but we would not know this about him.  Yet this would not prevent us from successfully referring to him or worshipping him.

Now, the (first, atheistic part of the) second scenario is. I would say, not in fact metaphysically possible (even if it is epistemically possible -- that is, we could find ourselves in a situation where we falsely believe that the scenario holds).  The reason it is not metaphysically possible is that it could not turn out (or so I would argue) that there is no such thing as a cause of everything other than himself who is one, eternal, immaterial, omnipotent, omniscient, perfectly good, etc.  God, if he exists at all, exists necessarily rather than contingently.  Atheism, if false, is necessarily false rather than merely contingently false.  But this has nothing to do with Trinitarianism per se.  And that is true even though God is essentially Trinitarian.  For it is not by virtue of knowing that God is a Trinity that we know that, if he exists, then he exists necessarily rather than contingently.  Rather, it is by virtue of knowing that he is pure actuality, that he is subsistent being itself, that he is absolutely simple or non-composite, etc., that we know that, if he exists, then he exists necessarily rather than contingently. 

What all this shows is that we need to distinguish between how God has to be and how we have to conceptualize God.  What the doctrine of the Trinity entails is that God could not possibly be other than three divine Persons in one substance.  But it does not entail that we cannot conceptualize God other than as three divine Persons in one substance.  To suppose that, because the doctrine of the Trinity entails the former, it must also entail the latter, is to confuse metaphysics with epistemology.

None of this should be surprising given that, as Christianity itself traditionally teaches, the doctrine of the Trinity is not something which human reason could have arrived at on its own, but can be known only via special divine revelation.  We can know that God is Trinitarian only if we first know that he exists and has revealed certain truths (via a prophet, scripture, tradition, or the teachings of the Church).  Naturally, then, we must be able to conceptualize him in a non-Trinitarian way, otherwise we couldn’t ever get to knowledge of the Trinity.   (Note that this does not entail that he could have failed to be Trinitarian.  Again, to suppose otherwise is to confuse metaphysics and epistemology.)

Aquinas on referring to God

As always when looking for philosophical guidance on matters of theology, we cannot do better than to turn to Aquinas.  On reference in general, he writes:

In the significance of names, that from which the name is derived is different sometimes from what it is intended to signify, as for instance, this name "stone" [lapis] is imposed from the fact that it hurts the foot [laedit pedem], but it is not imposed to signify that which hurts the foot, but rather to signify a certain kind of body; otherwise everything that hurts the foot would be a stone… (Summa theologiae I.13.2)

and again:

Whence a name is imposed, and what the name signifies are not always the same thing.  For as we know substance from its properties and operations, so we name substance sometimes for its operation, or its property; e.g. we name the substance of a stone from its act, as for instance that it hurts the foot [laedit pedem]; but still this name is not meant to signify the particular action, but the stone's substance. The things, on the other hand, known to us in themselves, such as heat, cold, whiteness and the like, are not named from other things. Hence as regards such things the meaning of the name and its source are the same. (Summa theologiae I.13.8)

Aquinas’s example of the stone is, unfortunately, not as clear to modern readers of English as it would have been to his contemporaries.  The idea is that the etymology of lapis (“stone”) derived (so Aquinas wrongly supposed) from its hurting the foot (when it is dropped on the foot, say, or when the foot kicks it).  The literal meaning of lapis (again, so Aquinas supposed) is “that which hurts the foot,” but what we intend to signify thereby is not just any old thing which might hurt the foot -- dropped hammers, bear traps, clumsy dance partners, etc -- but rather stones, specifically.  A modern example might be “housefly.”  What we intend to signify by this expression is not any old thing which might fly around the house -- moths, escaped parakeets, the remote-controlled toy helicopter my youngest son got for Christmas, etc. -- but rather a certain specific kind of insect.

Now, what Aquinas is saying is that in some cases, we refer to things by way of some property they have, or some contingent characteristic they have, or some effect they cause, rather than by way of their essence.  To hurt the foot is not the essence of stone, even if we refer to stones as “that which hurts the foot,” and flying around the house is not the essence of houseflies, even if we call them “houseflies.”  What we intend to refer to by “that which hurts the foot” is whatever has the essence of stone, and what we intend to refer to by “housefly” is whatever has the essence of a housefly.  There is a distinction to be drawn in these cases between that by virtue of which we refer to something and that to which we refer.  (As Christopher Martin notes in the chapter on reference in his book Thomas Aquinas: God and Explanations, here Aquinas anticipated a distinction Saul Kripke makes in Naming and Necessity.) 

In other cases, though, we refer to a thing by virtue of its essence.  Aquinas gives heat, cold, and whiteness as examples, and (as Martin also notes) the use Kripke makes in Naming and Necessity of the example of “pain” might be similar to the point Aquinas is making.  Kripke’s idea is that “pain” refers to the sort of sensation we associate with pain, and that the essence of pain just is to be a sensation of that sort.  The sensation is not something that merely follows from pain or is contingently associated with pain.  Presumably Aquinas was saying something similar about heat, cold, and whiteness -- e.g. that being white not only involves having a visual appearance of a certain sort but that this is the essence of whiteness.  (Aquinas’s examples are bound to be controversial in light of the modern physics of temperature and color, but the specific examples are not essential to the point he is making, which is that sometimes we refer to something by virtue of its essence rather than by virtue of some characteristic or effect it has.)

Now, where God is concerned, in Aquinas’s view we refer to him in the first sort of way rather than the second:

Because therefore God is not known to us in His nature, but is made known to us from His operations or effects, we name Him from these… hence this name "God" is a name of operation so far as relates to the source of its meaning.  For this name is imposed from His universal providence over all things; since all who speak of God intend to name God as exercising providence over all… [T]aken from this operation, this name "God" is imposed to signify the divine nature. (Summa theologiae I.13.8)

The idea is that, in this life, we do not have the immediate knowledge of God, or beatific vision, that those in heaven enjoy.  Our knowledge of God is not like our knowledge of pain (if Kripke is right about that) but rather more like the layman’s knowledge of stone or of a housefly, insofar as the layman knows them only by their effects or contingent characteristics rather than (as a chemist or biologist might) by virtue of their essences.  In particular, we know God as that which has universal providence over all things -- that which creates them, sustains them in being at every moment, imparts to them at every moment their power to operate, and so forth. 

Of course, we also know that God’s nature is Trinitarian, because this fact has been specially revealed to us.  But that does not entail that we have immediate knowledge of that Trinitarian nature, the way we have immediate knowledge of the nature of pain (again, if Kripke is right).  We do not have such immediate knowledge.  To borrow a distinction made famous by Bertrand Russell, we might say that we know God’s Trinitarian nature only by description, not by acquaintance.  Hence, even given divine revelation, the Christian no less than the non-Christian has to refer to God by way of his effects rather by way of direct knowledge of his essence.  And where the most general of those effects are concerned (e.g. God’s creation and conservation of the world in being, as opposed to his causing of miracles), non-Christians can in principle know those as well as Christians can.  Hence non-Christians can refer to God just as well as Christians can.  As Aquinas writes:

Hence it is evident that a Catholic saying that an idol is not God contradicts the pagan asserting that it is God; because each of them uses this name GOD to signify the true God. For when the pagan says an idol is God, he does not use this name as meaning God in opinion, for he would then speak the truth, as also Catholics sometimes use the name in the sense, as in the Psalm, "All the gods of the Gentiles are demons" (Psalm 95:5)…

Neither a Catholic nor a pagan knows the very nature of God as it is in itself; but each one knows it according to some idea of causality, or excellence, or remotion... So a pagan can take this name "God" in the same way when he says an idol is God, as the Catholic does in saying an idol is not God.  But if anyone should be quite ignorant of God altogether, he could not even name Him... (Summa theologiae I.13.10)

The idea here is that it is precisely because the pagan in question, no less than the Catholic, can understand that “God” signifies that which is the cause of the world, etc. that the Catholic and pagan can genuinely disagree about whether a certain idol is God.  If the pagan meant by “God” nothing more than “this particular idol,” then there would be no disagreement.  That is to say, if the pagan were using the word in this idiosyncratic way (i.e. if, as Aquinas puts it, he were “us[ing] this name as meaning God in [merely the] opinion [of the pagan]”), then he would be speaking the truth if he said “This particular idol is God,” because that would amount to saying nothing more than “This particular idol is this particular idol.”  It is because the pagan means more than that by “God” that the Christian can say: “No, that idol can’t be God, given what you and I both know God to be.”

Now, if even an idolatrous pagan can successfully refer to the true God when he uses the name “God” -- that is to say, he really is talking about God even if he has gravely erroneous beliefs about God -- then obviously Muslims, who are as well aware as any Christian is that God cannot be identified with an idol, can successfully refer to the true God, despite their gravely erroneous rejection of Trinitarianism.  And since they worship that to which they refer, it follows that they worship the true God.

A qualification

As I said at the beginning, while I think it is correct to say that Christians and Muslims worship the same God, I would add a qualification to that claim.  The qualification is this.  What I have said in this post applies to Christianity and Islam in the abstract and to Christians and Muslims in general.  But it is nevertheless still possible that there are particular individual Christians and particular individual Muslims whose personal conceptions of God differ in such a way that they do not plausibly worship the same God.  To develop a possible example, let’s consider something else Lydia McGrew says in the post of hers linked to above.  She writes:

Christians believe… that the same Being caused the origins of Judaism -- the promises to Abraham, the Exodus, etc. -- and the origins of Christianity -- the resurrection of Jesus, etc.  In that sense, the Christian says that the God of Abraham is the same entity as the God we worship…  But no Christian should believe that the God whom Jesus represented is the same entity who caused the origins of Islam!  On the contrary, we as Christians should emphatically deny this…  [This] distinguishes what the Christian claims about the relationship of Christianity to Judaism from what the Christian believes about the relationship of Christianity to Islam. The point is not that only a Trinitarian can be in some sense worshiping the true God.  Abraham was not a Trinitarian but was worshiping the true God.  But Abraham, we believe, really was in touch with the true God.  The true God really was the source of Abraham's revelations.  The true God was not the source of Mohammad's.

End quote.  Now, I certainly agree with Lydia that a Christian should not regard Muhammad as having had a genuine revelation from God.  But this fact doesn’t do the work she thinks it does.  She is arguing that Christians and Jews worship the same God even if (she claims) Christians and Muslims do not.  Her argument seems to presuppose that by “God,” Jews mean “the source of Abraham’s revelations, etc.,” Christians mean “the one who raised Jesus from the dead, etc.,” and Muslims mean “the source of Muhammad’s revelations, etc.”  Now if that were all that Jews, Christians, and Muslims respectively meant by “God,” then her argument would have force.  For in that case, since Christians hold that the same God both revealed himself to Abraham, etc. and raised Jesus from the dead, etc., but think that God did not give any revelation to Muhammad, they could not regard their God as the same as what Muslims mean by “God.”  The problem is that that is simply not all that Jews, Christians, and Muslims mean by “God,” at least not most Jews, Christians, and Muslims.  For by “God” they also mean “the uncaused cause of everything other than himself, who is omnipotent, omniscient, perfectly good, etc.”  And because there is this considerable overlap in their conceptions of God, it is possible for them to refer to, and worship, one and the same God despite their disagreements, for the reasons given earlier.

However, suppose that some particular Jew, Christian, or Muslim did use the word “God” in the very narrow way Lydia’s argument presupposes.  Suppose, for example, that some particular Muslim said: “No, actually, I don’t much care about all that other stuff.  What I mean by ‘God’ is ‘the source of Muhammad’s revelations,’ and that’s all I mean by the word, and I would still worship God so understood even if it turned out that this source was not the omnipotent, omniscient, perfectly good uncaused cause of the world, but something else.”  In that case, I think you could say that that particular Muslim did not worship the same God that Christians do.

But I think you’d be very hard pressed to find a Muslim who would ever say such a thing, just as I think you’d be very hard pressed to find a Christian who would say that he would still believe the Bible even if it turned out to have been written by one of Erich von Däniken’s extraterrestrials.  But perhaps there are Muslims (and Christians and Jews, for that matter) who are so attached to certain contingent claims about God made by their religion that they would rather give up belief in some essential divine attribute than give up those contingent claims.  In that case there could be the sort of conceptual distance between believers that would entail that they are not worshipping the same God.  So to that extent I would qualify the claim defended in this post.  But the possibility does seem to me fairly remote and academic. 

579 comments:

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afkimel said...

Ed, you argument is supported by what I am learning about Arab Christianity and its apologetic arguments with first millennium Islam. It appears that these Arab Christians did not respond to Islam by arguing that the Allah of Islam is a completely different God than the Allah of Christianity. Rather, following Eastern construals of the Trinity, they spoke of Allah and his Son and the Spirit: https://goo.gl/Avn7P4.

Edward Feser said...

SoCal,

It’s not mysterious. People “worship” God in the “thin” sense when they think and do the things that are typically regarded as stereotypical of worship -- they regard God as worthy of greater reverence than anything else (at least notionally, even if in practice they pay more attention to other things), pray to him, etc. -- but do no more than this bare minimum.

Worship of this sort is superficial insofar as the person doesn’t go beyond this. For example, think of someone who believes that God exists, believes that it is wrong to bow down to idols, goes to church every Sunday, etc. but still ignores many aspects of Christian morality where he finds them too difficult or unpleasant to try to live up to, ignores the needs of family and friends, is filled with envy and hatred for others, occupies his thoughts and time with trivial and worldly things, etc.

Worship in the “thick” sense would be worship that is not superficial in that way. It would be the sort of worship exhibited by someone who strives to live up to the divine law no matter how difficult, tries his best not to let worldly things distract him from devotion to God, etc.

Every Christian is familiar with this difference, whether or not he uses the “thin/thick” language. That is to say, every Christian is familiar with the difference between being nominally Christian, or superficial in one’s religious belief, or what have you. Nobody thinks that the nominal or superficial Christian is an idolater in the strict sense. They might say to such a superficial Christian: “Sure, you might worship the same God as other Christians, but you don’t follow through with what that entails. So your worship isn’t pleasing to God etc.” They might say that even about a Christian politician who takes bribes, or a Christian who commits murder, or what have you. They don’t conclude that there is no sense in which such a Christian worships God. They just think that the worship is superficial, or hypocritical, or otherwise deficient.

Now, in the combox discussion, many people seem to think that the various moral problems they attribute to Islam suffice to show that Muslims and Christians don’t worship the same God. And my point in making reference to “thin” vs. “thick” worship is that even if one wants to say that Muslim worship is deficient in these various ways, that simply doesn’t entail that there is no sense in which they worship the same God as Christians, any more than the fact that the worship of many Christians is superficial entails that that the superficial Christians are in no sense worshipping the true God.

Again, this isn’t mysterious. I think any reasonable person would have gathered that this is pretty obviously what I meant by “thin” versus “thick,” because the distinction captured by that language is pretty familiar. But then, your comments here from the get go have exhibited an amazing inability -- one is tempted to say refusal -- to see the point.

Edward Feser said...

Hi James,

Thanks for your comment. Let me say first that it was only after putting up my post that I came across your own post on the “same God?” issue, otherwise I would have included a link to it. Interested readers can find it here:

https://thomism.wordpress.com/2015/12/26/whether-christians-and-muslims-believe-in-the-same-god/

Anyway, you raise an interesting point both here and in your post, though (I imagine you might agree) it doesn’t really affect the point I was making in my post. To use your example, there is clearly a sense in which both Newton and Einstein are describing the same world, for two reasons. First, they are trying to account for the same phenomena, even if they give different theoretical accounts of it. Second, Einstein’s theory regards Newton’s as in some way a special case. Obviously the “in some way” needs spelling out, but the way the Einsteinian picture regards the Newtonian is not like the way the modern astronomer regards the crystalline spheres. The modern astronomer says “Oh that was totally wrong, there’s nothing at all like that out there in space.” But the Einsteinian says of Newton “Well, what he said is an approximation of the truth given certain background conditions, even if he didn’t get things quite right.”

Now, there are parallels here with the Christianity/Islam case. The Christian and Muslim have in common the idea that God is the creator of everything other than himself, revealed himself to Abraham, etc. That’s like the common phenomena the Newtonian and the Einsteinian are both trying to account for. And the Christian can say that much of what the Muslim says about the divine nature is compatible with these “phenomena” and otherwise overlaps with what Christians say about God, even if the Muslim account is also incomplete and mixed with serious error (just as the Einsteinian regards the Newtonian account as incomplete and mixed with serious error).

The “not the same God” position, by contrast, maintains that the difference between Christian and Muslim accounts of God is like the difference between modern astronomy and the theory of the crystalline spheres. Just as the modern astronomer says that talk of the spheres refers to nothing that actually exists in the physical universe, the “not the same God” position says that Muslim usage of “God” refers to nothing that actually exists, and in particular does not refer to the true God. It claims that Christian and Muslim uses of “God” are equivocal, not analogous or univocal.

JohnD said...

Ed,

20 minutes spent on Jeff means 20 less minutes spent on your new natural theology book!!!

Please don't let him distract you any further. Not that I'm anxiously waiting or anything. . .

=)

Jack Burton said...

Look, if I have a prize-winning, race-winning champion horse that I have named Fred, he exists as a distinct entity (Fred the Horse).

Now, my jealous neighbor may just go out and buy himself a couple bales of hay, some lumber, and horse hide to build himself a "horse simulator." He even names him Fred out of sense that he wants it to be just like my Fred. His Fred is definitely a horse look-alike. He has 4 legs just like my Fred, a tail, and has an oat-bucket hanging off his head just like my Fred. And, he even has the SAME NAME as my Fred.

however, the question is... is he the very same horse as my Fred? No. He isn't. He is just a cheap imitation based upon a jealous desire to have my Fred. It doesn't matter what he is called or named. It doesn't matter how many people believe he is the same as my Fred. It doesn't matter how many books are written about him. It doesn't matter how strong the neighbor really, really WANTS him to be my Fred. He isn't and never will be. Period.

Edward Feser said...

Hello Fr. Kimel,

Re: Bill’s remark, I’d have to read his exact words for myself to know for sure what to say, but based on your summary, while I can see why he might say that Kripke- and Putnam-style causal accounts of reference are irrelevant in this context, I don’t know why he’d say the descriptive account is irrelevant. True, if God is Being Itself rather than “a being” alongside other beings, then we can’t describe him applying the same, univocal senses we apply when describing “beings.” But that doesn’t mean we can’t describe him at all, since (as a Thomist, I would say) we have analogical language at our disposal. Why would that not suffice for a descriptive account of reference?

Re: your remarks about Arab Christianity, yes, just so. The irony here is that many of the people who run around like beheaded chickens when one says that Christians and Muslims refer to the same thing when they speak of “God” seem to be under the strange delusion that they are somehow upholding traditional Christian doctrine and that people who disagree with them are somehow selling out to political correctness, or some such nonsense. (Of course, they will respond “But, but, but… look at all the harsh things Aquinas et al. said about Islam!” And as I keep saying, “Yes, of course, but what does that have to do with the specific question at hand, which is about the theory of reference and theological language?” Nobody here is even talking about whether Islam is true, good, compatible with Western values, etc. And of course the Arab Christians would also have some very interesting things to say about those matters.)

Edward Feser said...

Hi JohnD,

You will be happy to know that the draft of the natural theology book (of around 400 pages) is more or less done. Publication details still being worked out.

BTW, the capital punishment book is also more or less done, and the publication details for that are now worked out. Just some polishing remains. Formal announcements for both to come in due course, beginning with the latter book.

Now it's undistracted full-time work at last on the philosophy of nature book. Well, full time apart from preparing lectures and teaching, blogging, writing up academic articles and conference papers, etc. And trying to remember where I left my wife and kids.

Beyond that there are further book projects planned, two with very specific contents, but I'll wait a while before saying anything more. I'm like the Marvel Cinematic Universe, only I don't know exactly what Phase I'm in just now...

Edward Feser said...

BTW, people who can't understand why I don't respond to every brilliant riposte they think they've made in the combox, or to most of the email I get (requesting detailed answers to various philosophical questions, career advice, suggested reading lists, personal advice, spiritual counsel, advice about how to get their book published, requests that I read through or co-author their books drafts, etc. etc. etc.), or why I sometimes get a little snarky with people who can't be bothered carefully to read what I've spent hours writing but still expect me to plow through their 2500 word smart-ass responses... the above is the reason why.

Anonymous said...

Neither method can Islam claim. Mohammed's personal life - marrying many women including a 9-year old girl - cannot be held objectively up as that of a holy, pure man.

The age of Aisha is debated. There are a few sources that claim she was twelve or even in her late teens. The stress on her being prepubescent seems to come from the desire of those writing about Muhammad's life to prove she was his only virgin wife, and therefore special. It is hard to tell what her actual age was.

Polygamy seems to have been allowed of the Hebrew patriarchs.

Anonymous said...

By the way, Jeffrey, I was one of the Anoni defending Islam from your crude, silly, and confused attacks. But I'm not a Muslim.

Anonymous said...

To all, I don't mean to be anonymous. My name is Anne. I will have to figure out how to get a real name.

I am skeptical about Islam and the notion that it references the "same" god as Christianity. But I am not hostile to the idea. Having read through all of the preceding comments, I believe I understand better what Mr Feser's argument is.

Am I wrong (and if so, correct me gently) to think of this as a question of "necessary but not sufficient?" The qualities of the Divine that Mr Feser describes surely must be necessary, but are they sufficient to conclude identity? I am sincere in my wondering if it is possible that a group of people may be inspired by a demon, or Satan himself, to worship what they believe is God, but is in fact a malignancy. Please don't understand me as saying that Muslims worship Satan. I am curious. And if it is possible, then is the belief of the worshippers that they worship the true God enough for us to say that we refer to the same Being?

I understand that Islam is as complicated as Christianity when it comes to schools of thought, faith interpretations, etc. Muslims must feel, in trying to talk about Islam to Christian laypeople the way I feel when a non-believing friend asks me to explain Orthodoxy vs Roman Catholicism vs Protestantism....not to get into all the moving parts in the latter. One wants to give up and talk about Benedict Cumberbatch instead. :-)

I find this blog very interesting and beg your patience as I get to know its landscape.

Anne

Anonymous said...

Jeffrey, after reading your last comment, I think the Zoolander clip was more apt to describe you than ever. You seem constitutionally incapable of understanding the issues at hand (obviously you analogy of the race horse doesn't work - it is a different horse, not the same horse being referred to but described differently!), yet are so confident you are correct.

Anne said...

Ah, not so difficult.

Scott said...

Anne:

The race-horse post is credited to Jack Burton, not to Jeffrey S.—though if the two screen names did refer to the same real person, that would neatly upend that person's argument.

Scott said...

(At least I'm assuming that the anonymous post between the two Anne posts is also Anne's. I may well be incorrect; the times look awfully close together.)

Anne said...

Nope, wasn't i. I feel thoroughly unqualified to criticize anyone else's work here. Mostly, I like lurking and learning. But I will confess to skipping Jeffrey S' posts. ;-)

Scott said...

Ah. Well, then, everyone please take my previous post as addressing the anonymous 2:27 PM poster who isn't Anne. (Or at least isn't this Anne. Wouldn't be funny, though, if…?)

Anonymous said...

No, I'm not Anna. I apologize to Jeffrey.

Btw, I'm not a Muslim either, despite Jeffrey's claims. Are there any Muslims here except for Omar?

Omer said...


I had mentioned earlier that I was going to respond to the many mischaracterizations that is being leveled against Islam and Muslims.

But in just skimming some of the comments, there are so many of them, that I don't have the time. I will try to respond to a few of them if I find time.

I do have a couple of questions.

1. To those attacking Islam, how many of you have read the entire Qur'an?

It is not a very long book to read. It is a little shorter than the New Testament.

When other religions point to their proof or evidence for the divine origin, they point to what others in the past have said were miracles.

With Islam, the Muslims will walk up to their bookcase and hand their miracle for you to examine.

Why not examine it? Especially if you are going to go and attack Islam as many have done here.

2. And to those same people attacking the Qur'an, how many of you know in a personal close way even one Muslim?

Pew Survey research and other studies show that the level of misunderstanding of Islam drops off greatly if the person knows Muslims in a close way.

SoCal said...

Edward,

I appreciate you expounding on “thin worship,” but you fail to see the point. You’re basically saying “thin worship” is superficial. Let’s just go with that for now.

You wrote:

“And my point in making reference to “thin” vs. “thick” worship is that even if one wants to say that Muslim worship is deficient in these various ways…”

But do you, Edward Feser, view Muslim worship as “thin”, superficial, and deficient? Do you? Is it meaningful to you as a Christian?

In other words, again, how ought the Christian view the “thickness” or “thinness” of Muslim worship? Is it even possible that Muslim worship can be “thick” to the Christian?

That’s a problem.

In Muslim worship, if the God is the same, and the worship is meaningful (to the both Subject of worship [God], and the Christian onlooker) that’s hardly a place any Christian wants to be – when we’re told what worship looks like.

Son of Ya’Kov wrote:

“The Muslims worship the same God as Catholics they merely do it incorrectly and they have made up false doctrines about Him and His Nature (i.e. Unitarianism, Voluntarism).”

Here it appears “thin sense worship” is incorrect worship. (Son of Ya’Kov is on your side )

Translation: The Muslims worship the same God as Catholics, but it's not really worship and they have made up tons of false doctrines about Him and His Nature (i.e. Unitarianism, Voluntarism).”

That sounds so unifying!

Anonymous said...

SoCal, do you have a point in your last post? How does any of this show that you are right that Muslims don't believe in the same God as Christians? Do you have an argument. As others have said, you seem to think that acknowledging that Muslims believe in the same God means granting some legitimacy to the other beliefs of Muslims. Or perhaps you have some argument to show that Muslims cannot be referring to the same God. It would be good if at last you showed up this proper argument, as this thread is already long.

SoCal said...

Additionally, Edward,

You wrote:

“But then, your comments here from the get go have exhibited an amazing inability -- one is tempted to say refusal -- to see the point.”

Must one agree with you, Edward, to see your point? Would any of the other numerous Christians that disagree with you, see your point?

I follow your words (is that seeing your point?), but like I said, I’m not convinced.

Let me ask you this:

If one were to disagree with you, what would that look like?

What would acceptable disagreement look like to Edward Feser on this issue?

DNW said...

" ... suppose that some particular Jew, Christian, or Muslim did use the word “God” in the very narrow way Lydia’s argument presupposes.  Suppose, for example, that some particular Muslim said: “No, actually, I don’t much care about all that other stuff.  What I mean by ‘God’ is ‘the source of Muhammad’s revelations,’ and that’s all I mean by the word ..."

Actually, I think the first part above is all that would be necessary in order to establish different references. Any commitment to the more unconditional allegiance quoted below, one wherein the believer refuses to be disabused of his fealty if it turns out that Muhammad's literary character is not also the God of the philosophers, seems unnecessary, and looks to present a hurdle which need not be jumped.

For if the first part was shown to be a fabrication, then it would follow that the attributes imputed to this imaginary construction, inhered in no referent actually experienced by Mohammad, whether or not they inhered in some other actual referent.

No revelation by Allah, no Allah of revelation. The Allah of the Koran exists if Mohammad had a revelation. Mohammad had no revelation.

Suppose Mohammad claimed to have a revelation from a "Christ". Would the falsification of that claim imply there had been no Jesus Christ in reality? No, but it would suffice to show that whatever "Christ" he was purportedly referring to was not the real and historical Jesus Christ, and that the figure whose attributes were reported by the lunatic prophet as being revealed to him by one he called by the name "Christ", would not refer to the same Christ as the real Jesus Christ just because the pegged some of the same attributes to his Christ, as the disciples of Jesus Christ claimed for theirs.

People who naively followed his ravings would only refer to the real Jesus Christ, if at all, in a confused and largely accidental and reflected manner.






" ... and I would still worship God so understood even if it turned out that this source was not the omnipotent, omniscient, perfectly good uncaused cause of the world, but something else.”  In that case, I think you could say that that particular Muslim did not worship the same God that Christians do."

SoCal said...

Anon,

Look at Edward's first line of the OP. Look at the claim right out of the gate.

What is worship to the Christian?

It's that simple.

laubadetriste said...

@SoCal: "Translation: 'The Muslims worship the same God as Catholics, but it's not really worship and they have made up tons of false doctrines about Him and His Nature (i.e. Unitarianism, Voluntarism).' / That sounds so unifying!"

I presume "That sounds so unifying!" comes with an implicit "/sarc" after it.

Of course, this being a philosophy blog, most people here are primarily interested in the truth. If the truth should be unifying, well then, so much the better for ecumenism, etc. But if it should not, then as scbrownlhrm said above, in a somewhat different context, "It's better to speak of real things as they really are. / If that forces us to land in an ontological topography that is 'complicated', well, that feature just isn't relevant to the proper handling of reality."

Anonymous said...

SoCal, are Muslims not worshipping God in some sense, even the wrong sense? It seems you have fallen back on trivialities. You have given up on the claim that Muslims and Christians aren't referring to the same God, and are now are fussing over the term worship which Feser clearly used in a very broad sense. It is good at least that you appear to have read the first line of the OP now.

Muslims pray to God. They worship him in the broad sense, which is a valid way for Christians to use the term. After all, do pagans not worship idols? If they don't, then what is the problem with idolatry? Certainly, Muslims don't do much that constitutes correct worship for Christians, but it doesn't mean they don't worship God in any sense. This is quite simple stuff, as Feser said.

Omer said...

“The Muslims worship the same God as Catholics they merely do it incorrectly and they have made up false doctrines about Him and His Nature (i.e. Unitarianism, Voluntarism).”

Strange for a Qur'an reader like me to see the implicit allegation that the reason of God is not given enough emphasis.

There is no other book claiming to be revelation that emphasizes the intellect of God as much as the Qur'an. Nothing comes close.

Of course Muslims believe that God revealed the Torah and that Jesus received the Evangel (original Gospel of Jesus...what academic Biblical scholars refer to as the Gospel of Q) but God emphasized his reason the most in the Qur'an.

There are so many verses that say that "God knows everything," "God knows what is in the hearts," "God is the most wise of all," etc that I cannot list them.

They are too numerous.

Edward Feser said...

SoTedious,

Why you think I, or Son of Ya’Kov, or anyone else here cares for one moment, for the very specific purposes of the subject at hand, whether the position I’ve been defending is “unifying,” or “meaningful to [me] as a Christian,” etc., I have no idea, unless it is once again a matter of your simply failing to read what I said at all carefully and bringing your own pet obsessions to bear.

Like others, you seem to suppose that all those who take the “same God” position have some desire to be PC, or to embrace religious inclusivism and universal salvation, or some other such thing that I personally have no sympathy for. Despite the fact that I’ve only pointed out 1,234 times now that I’m only concerned here with a certain narrow question in philosophy of language concerning the theory of reference and the meaning of theological terms.

Must one agree with you, Edward, to see your point?

Nah, I’ve got pretty relaxed standards: One must simply read what I actually wrote, address the actual arguments, stop attacking straw men, etc.

If one were to disagree with you, what would that look like? What would acceptable disagreement look like to Edward Feser on this issue?

It would involve giving an actual argument for the opposite position (like Lydia McGrew and Bill Vallicella did in the posts I linked to above), or raising serious objections or doubts that don’t miss the point (as Frank Turek, Skyliner, Tim Finlay, James Chastek, an Anonymous commenter or two, et al. did). Even some of Jeffrey S’s remarks, though too emotional and I think wrong, are not all totally off the mark. E.g. it is perfectly legitimate to wonder whether voluntarism involves a departure from a correct conception of God that is radical enough to undermine successful reference, though for reasons I’ve given, I think the answer is No.

Your problem, SoCal, is that you emit these wispy “Gee whiz, I just don’t see any there there” remarks and then “argue” for them in ways that show you’ve totally missed the point. Repeatedly. And now you resort to the Combox Weapon of Last Resort “Oh you just can’t handle criticism” shtick, despite the fact that I’ve responded now at length and non-polemically to several critics in the course of this thread.

Like I’ve said, I’ve no time for too much of this stuff, so if you want to post further comments I’ll let others handle ‘em.

Jeffrey S. said...

A couple of housecleaning items before getting to the good stuff:

1) now that I know the anonymous cowards are not Muslims, it is even worse -- they are what we used to call, back in the days of communism, 'useful idiots' -- and that is a technical, philosophical term I learned from the Mark Levine show (as an aside -- I do like his schtick, but who listens to him in Chicago since he's on at night? me, almost never)

2) Omer -- you have guts to come on this blog and I admire anyone with guts. To answer your questions, yes, I've read the Koran cover to cover (I have the version I own in front of me: it is Penguin Classic and was translated by N.J. Dawood) and no, I don't know any Muslims in a personal close way (only a superficial, friendly acquaintance kind of way.) The one guy I know best, who is a black convert, did show me his pictures from visiting Mecca -- I would prefer to level the place, but I kind of like the crazy clock tower the Saudis built.

You assume I "misunderstand" Islam -- why assume that? Because we disagree about it's contents or whether or not your "miracle" is a fraud? I know I'm not as polite as folks around here, but I was done being polite about Islam sometime between the smoking wreck of the Twin Towers and the bloody corpses in San Bernardino.

Someone, actually. said...

Some seem to think of Allah (who's nobody else than God the Father in Islam), of a deity far more cruel than God the Father in Christianity.


Always keep in mind that, in Islam, everything Muhammad teaches since the very day when he was first revealed his earthly mission, is to be considered sacred and most of it is God-inspired according to Islam.


And in Islam, what do you find in terms of ethical values ?

Many ethical values absolutely similar to Christian values - coming from Muhammad mainly, in the Hadiths (the second most sacred text in Islam after the Quran), and therefore Allah-inspired.


Among them, you'll find the command not to begin a war : you're only authorized to use violence if you've been unjustly persecuted first.

When a war is inevitable, in Islam, it is then forbidden to you to kill any innocent being (Islam emphasizes this command especially on children and women), to use overly extreme violent means and also to mutilate corpses.

Among them, you'll find the command to take care of orphaned children.

Among them, you'll find the command to be, and to remain a humble man or woman.

Hell, among all the ethical values given by Muhammad, you also find the commands not to kill ANIMALS without any good reason, and to respect nature as well !

As for how to treat your woman, Muhammad (and therefore Allah, though Muhammad), is very clear : contrarily to popular opinion, he very unambiguously commands in the Hadiths to love women.

And adds that even though you do have rights on your wife ; so does your wife on yourself.


According to some notable scholars of Islam who are not themselves Muslim (forgive me as i do not remember their precise names), in the Middle East, under Islam, Jewish and Christian minorities tended to be granted more rights than European Jews under Christian rule !


I know that was off-topic to some extent.

But when i see too much intolerance, and especially when it comes from ignorance - as intolerance so often does - i just cannot help myself but to protest.

Someone, actually. said...

To those of you interested in Islamic ethics, i highly advise you to read some Hadiths for yourself.


As for the Quran; yes it SOMETIMES is disgusting and yes believing EVERYTHING in it to be God-inspired can, therefore, lead to religious extremism.


But hey, aren't some verses of our Old Testament just as bad ?


A text, even a religious one, is always to be read in its context.

That's only when you stop doing that, that you may, potentially, end up in Islamic extremism.


In Lord Christ our Savior,

May God almighty, if so he wills, bring peace upon you and your family.

Anonymous said...

So, Jeffrey seems to have shown his true colors now. Tell us Jeff, do you and your friends have more colorful names for Muslims in private?

Mark Levine.....Why don't you tell us Limbaugh's opinion as well?

Nous Apeiron said...

As a fellow orthodox Roman Catholic, I really enjoyed this post. I had been planning to write my own lengthy post about why, in most cases, Muslims and Christians worship the same God, but now I can just link others to this one.

Thank you very much for your excellent work, Dr. Feser!

Jeffrey S. said...

Brandon,

I could kiss you, you have been so helpful.

Let's review what you have explained to me:

I. In responding to SoCal, I listed what I thought were four separate criteria (which I got from one of Ed's posts) on the content of classical theism:

"1) divine simplicity;

2) He would be absolutely metaphysically ultimate (related to number one, so I'm not sure if we would give it a separate quality);

3) divine conservation; and

4) He would be good [and one would have to be familiar with "certain key metaphysical doctrines characteristic of classical, and especially Scholastic, philosophy, such as the doctrine of the convertibility of the transcendentals, the notion of evil as privation, and the principle of proportionate causality" to understand what is meant by good];

So why does Ed choose (2) in this post to the exclusion of all the other criteria of God according to classical theism -- especially given that when you look at (4) the Muslim idea of God's goodness is very different than the Christian idea (indeed, radically different.)"

You comment on this list as follows:

"He doesn't [choose (2)]; all of your four mutually imply each other under standard scholastic assumptions, which Ed, of course, being a scholastic regards as demonstrable or self-evident under adequate analysis."

II. You also have this great quote about how classical theism shouldn't be thought of as "thin":

"Classical theism is not a thin monotheism, though; it's one of the conditions for having a 'thick' monotheism that is fixed so that it does not slide toward henotheism or pantheism. (And we find the very basic elements of it quite clearly expressed by a famous thick monotheist in Acts 17.) It's also not strictly monolithic but a genus of positions, so what is 'added' to classical theism isn't a separate module but definitive. As grace perfects nature, so Christian faith perfects classical theism, not by addition but by transfiguration."

III. Now let's look at how Ed deals with me bringing up the subject of Muslim voluntarism:

"Third, I don’t know why you keep bringing up voluntarism, since it is completely irrelevant to the subject at hand. Yes, voluntarism is a grave error. How does that show that Muslims who are voluntarist (a) don’t even succeed in referring to, and thus worshipping, the true God, as opposed to (b) refer to, and worship, the true God, but gravely misunderstand his nature?"

(continued)

Jeffrey S. said...

IV. Houston we have a problem

On my reading of your take on classical theism, Muslims are referring to a true God and at the same time referring to a false God. Voluntarism isn't just a question of misunderstanding God's nature -- given the "unity of the transcendentals" in medieval metaphysics, and your own comment, it seems to me that they both refer to the true God when they say God is metaphysically ultimate, etc. and yet refer to a false God at the same time when they say God is pure will and not goodness itself.

It's simply astonishing to me that Ed doesn't see where this is going and that he is so dismissive of the relevance of extreme moral voluntarism to the whole question of whether Islam can be a form of "classical theism." Especially since he has explicitly conceded in his earlier posts from years ago that Islam adopts extreme voluntarism. God must be good (really good) if he is metaphysically ultimate, all-powerful, etc.

At that point you cannot just redefine "good" into a mere word that means nothing in itself but is continuously defined (and could be defined in any way whatsoever) by the arbitrary divine Will. If nothing else, that separates the attribute of God's supreme Goodness from his attribute as supreme Reason.

V. What does Ed say about Muslim theology

"Now, say what you will about Islam, it does not make of God something essentially creaturely. That God is absolutely metaphysically ultimate, is that from which all else derives, that which not only does not have but could not in principle have had a cause of his own, etc. is something Muslim theology understands clearly."

Well, O.K. -- but look up above -- they don't understand God's goodness clearly, which is related to His absolutely metaphysical nature according to your own analysis. How can they understand but not understand? Does not compute.

Anonymous said...

Jeff, even if you are right about voluntarism, that only means those Muslims who are explicitly voluntarists would not be worshipping the same God. All those who are not voluntarists would be worshipping the same God. And all Christians, from Duns Scotus to contemporary Calvinists would also not be worshipping the same God.

SteveK said...

At the risk of revealing my ignorance, it do agree with some of the comments that said we share only a "thin" view of God.

Mr. Feser said:
“The guy drinking a martini is well-dressed.” Suppose, however, that the man is not in fact drinking a martini, but only water. It doesn’t follow that you haven’t really referred to him.

Suppose you say that you admire the man because he is the kind of man who drinks a martini and never drinks plain water (silly, I know). You got two details wrong. Are you referencing the man for who he actually is (the being)? I would say that at some point the answer becomes, no. You are referencing the man, yes, but he is not THAT man.

The former is what I would call a thin view, the latter is a thicker view. The thicker views include more details about the being in question, and the more details you have that are in disagreement the more strained the "thin view" becomes until it breaks under the weight of all the differences.

So let's factor all those details into the mix when comparing the being of Christianity to the being of Islam and see if the thin view can hold up.

Anonymous said...

It is hugely debatable, whether the Koran is itself supports voluntarism. It refers to justice, piety, wrongdoing, and other virtues and moral actions in such a way that seems to imply an objective standard that even unbelievers recognise. Muslim voluntarism seems to have the same roots as that in Christianity: a mistaken feeling that it is required to preserve the omnipotence of God. It doesn't come from the Quran per se. Many Muslims are explicitly moral realists. Others ignore such philosophical issues and just stick to the Koran and Hadith themselves. Only the remainder are voluntarists.

Omer said...

Jeffrey S.

If your definition of having guts means presenting some facts...then like all of your previous comments (or at least most...I don't have as much time like you), you don't make much sense at all.

(I have the version I own in front of me: it is Penguin Classic and was translated by N.J. Dawood)

NJ Dawood was a Jewish Iraqi who admitted he made serious errors in his translation. Read up on his admission.

But it seems you have forgotten 99.9% of what you read and jumbled up the rest of the 0.1%.

"I know I'm not as polite as folks around here"

If you want to be a good ethical person, you should try to be polite.

But if you want to make sense, you don't need to make factual premises and combine them correctly without making fallacies to produce sound conclusions.

Otherwise, you are wasting people's time. Try to keep watching Fox News...at least then, you are not wasting other people's times but just yours.

"but I was done being polite about Islam sometime between the smoking wreck of the Twin Towers and the bloody corpses in San Bernardino."

Hmmm, if you are thinking those evil actions committed by Muslims has anything to do with Islam, then you have probably not read past page 1 in NJ's terrible translation. Even re-reading that translation might help you develop understanding.

Try reading a little bit about modern history, social sciences, geopolitics before imputing your misunderstandings onto the cause of criminal evil actions like the terrorist actions you mention and thinking you are capable of telling those more informed you accept your conclusions.

"no, I don't know any Muslims in a personal close way (only a superficial, friendly acquaintance kind of way.) The one guy I know best, who is a black convert, did show me his pictures from visiting Mecca -- I would prefer to level the place, but I kind of like the crazy clock tower the Saudis built."

Hmmm, that says a lot...you don't know even one Muslim beyond a your admission of a "superficial" way and you have the audacity to think you know how 1.5 billion of them think.

Whoa...your level of arrogance combined with your ignorance is amazing.

May God keep you always in peace and also give you some ethics and intelligence.

Anonymous said...

If Islam is to be judged by ISIS, can Catholicism be judged by Bloody Mary? Catholicism was unpopular in England for a long time partly because it was considered a cruel and persecuting. There was a huge stink kicked up before James II took the throne because it was feared the fires Smithfield would burn again, and the air be thick with the acrid stench of burning flesh. Were the Exclusionists correct? Were the Anglican polemicists? If we are to paint all a faith by such acts, perhaps they were.

Jeffrey S. said...

I hate responding to Anonymous commenters but I'll make an exception for two important recent comments:

1) "Jeff, even if you are right about voluntarism, that only means those Muslims who are explicitly voluntarists would not be worshipping the same God. All those who are not voluntarists would be worshipping the same God. And all Christians, from Duns Scotus to contemporary Calvinists would also not be worshipping the same God."

- Now we are getting somewhere! On the question of different Muslim schools of thought and different Muslim beliefs -- not interested or interesting to me. My objection with the comparison goes deeper.

- I'm simply trying to use Ed's own argument -- which depends on classical theism as the key reference point -- to show its flaw. I don't accept the argument in the first place, for reasons I tried to explain using my Zardoz reductio.

2) "So, Jeffrey seems to have shown his true colors now." -- Wait, what?! You thought I was hiding my true colors before :-)

JohnD said...

Ed,

20 Minutes spent on Jeff, while charitable, is 20 minutes less that you can spend writing the new natural theology book! Some people are itching for it (perhaps myself one of them).

Priorities!!

Anonymous said...

Perhaps you can point out where you made your bigotry quite so clear previously? I'm sure you are holding back now. Why don't you give us your full feelings on Islam and Muslims?

If you pay closer attention, you would realise my statement began with a proviso. I didn't say that I accepted your point about voluntarism.

It is interesting that you say you don't care about the divisions within Islam, and yet seem quite happy to paint all Islam as voluntarist. I hope you don't complain about taqiyya, as you don't seem especially interested in truth yourself.

Jeffrey S. said...

Omer,

This is probably a waste of my time, but just for giggles:

1) I never watch Fox News -- I don't like to get my news from the television (if Scott is still checking in I do watch Netflix quite a bit and would recommend to him both the Daredevil series -- Matt Murdock is Catholic and goes to confession! -- and the Jessica Jones series, even though it has moral problems);

2) "Hmmm, if you are thinking those evil actions committed by Muslims has anything to do with Islam, then you have probably not read past page 1 in NJ's terrible translation." -- Gee, why would I think that? What would give me that idea, Omer?

3) Let me end our little exchange with one question -- do you think Palestinian attacks on civilian Jews in the West Bank (say with knives or cars) are justified? Yes or no?

laubadetriste said...

@Jeffrey S.: " -- I would prefer to level the place..."

This is of course beyond the pale.

(I was about to explain why, but then I thought, if I must review Dresden, Curtis LeMay, Article 33 of the Geneva Convention, etc., to make this point--well, then I am not hopeful that *any* explanation will suffice. Instead I will do you the credit of presuming that your enthusiasm got the best of you, and that upon consideration you would say something else.)

Anonymous said...

3) Let me end our little exchange with one question -- do you think Palestinian attacks on civilian Jews in the West Bank (say with knives or cars) are justified? Yes or no?

For myself, I will answer certainly not. But I will ask you if you think that these civilians and there government taking over more and more of the West Bank for settlement, far beyond that required so Israel might have defensible borders, is justified? How about the attacks by settlers on Palestinians and activists?

Jeffrey S. said...

JohnD,

"20 Minutes spent on Jeff, while charitable,..."

For what it is worth, Ed has spent more time on me than that over the years.

He is gracious, charitable, kind (99.2% of the time!), and a brilliant scholar. I have learned more from him, through reading his blog and his books, than half the professors I've had in college and grad school.

The fact that I disagree with him about this matter changes none of that.

Edward Feser said...

JohnD,

It seems you didn't see my earlier response to you. Scroll up for some comments on that.

Edward Feser said...

Hello Jeff,

First, I don’t think I’ve ever said anything like “Islam is voluntarist, full stop and without qualification.” I’ve said that voluntarism is prominent in Islam, or that the Islamic view of God tends toward voluntarism, or some such.

Second, there are different versions of voluntarism, and it is no good just to say “Voluntarism entails that one does not worship the true God,” unless one is prepared to say whether or not he thinks this is true of anyone who accepts voluntarism in any of its versions. As far as I know you still haven’t answered my question about whether you think Scotus and Ockham did not refer to or worship the true God. If so, then since in that case you think Scotus was an idolater, you’d better alert the Vatican ASAP before the Blessed Subtle Doctor is declared a saint.

Third, re: your remark: “On my reading of your take on classical theism, Muslims are referring to a true God and at the same time referring to a false God”: Obviously that’s not what I’ve said, nor is it entailed by anything I’ve said. I’ve said they are referring to a true God and at the same time saying false things about him. That’s a very different claim. Haven’t we all been through this point a million times now?

Fourth, yes, if someone is a voluntarist, then from the point of view of Thomists like me, he’s going to have a hard time giving a good account of attributes like goodness. But then, we Thomists would say one is also going to have a hard time making sense of any divine attribute -- including goodness -- if one rejects Aquinas’s views about analogical language. And yet Scotists and others reject those views. So, would you say on that ground that they, and anyone else who rejects analogy, must be worshipping a false God?

Fifth, again, how does any of this show in the first place that Muslims or voluntarists fail even to refer to the true God when they use the term “God”? As I‘ve noted, even Trinitarian errors don’t keep Jews and heretics from successfully referring to God. And Trinitarianism is, unlike voluntarism, a matter of dogmatically defined teaching in Catholicism. So why on earth does a Catholic like you want to make voluntarism, of all things, a make-or-break test of determining whether someone can even succeed in referring when using the term “God”?

Sixth, and related to the last two points, you keep ignoring the fact that even serious theological error does not by itself entail even heresy, let alone idolatry. You’ll find us Thomists saying some pretty strong things about voluntarists, deniers of the doctrine of analogy, deniers of the real distinction between act/potency and essence/existence, etc. etc. But you don’t find us running around labeling these people all heretics or idolaters. The reason is not that we’re candy-asses, useful idiots, etc. The reason is that we put a premium on precision in expression, care in argumentation, accuracy in representing the views of an opponent, etc. And theological error by itself simply does not suffice to justify labels like “heretic” or “idolater.” So, to make the case that Muslims, voluntarists, or anyone else fails even to refer to the true God, you need to do a lot more than just keep repeating how they are making this or that theological error.

Finally, re: your most recent comment, many thanks. I hope you saw my comment from earlier today. As I hope that made clear, it’s nothing personal here, Jeff. I just think you’re letting your emotions get the better of you.

Jeffrey S. said...

laubadetriste,

I didn't say anyone would be living there when I dropped my bombs ;-)

If you ever drop by my blog "What's Wrong with the World" you can read some old posts by a guy who calls himself 'Zippy Catholic.' He is the one who opened my eyes to the horrible crimes we committed in Hiroshima and Nagasaki -- believe it or not I used to be more of a hawk way back when! Now whenever those terrible anniversaries roll around I find myself arguing with fellow Catholics (shame on them!) about the morality of dropping those bombs.

So you don't have too much to worry about me -- despite what I assume are our political differences.

SoCal said...

Ed,

You wrote:

“if you want to post further comments I’ll let others handle ‘em.”

OK. You’ve been gracious enough to respond to the extent you have.

I would like to recap though:

1. In my very first comment I questioned your use of God categories and attributes, why some disqualify and others do not, I addressed the martini man example. I thought your case was weak in those areas. I explained why.

2. My “To all readers” comment at 3:33pm on the 29th, I laid out in further detail my issue with the categories and criteria you were using (Criteria A&B)

3. I addressed the definition of “worship” “thin worship” “Christian worship” etc. and got nothing to my follow ups (Christians and Muslims worship the same God). You’d think defining worship would be important. Especially a post on language.

4. This is not about salvation, morality, “unity”, etc. I’ve added some things for flourish : )

So here we are. You are done. You don’t think I’ve been reasonable and that I’ve refused to read.

So, in your view, I could have just said:

“Given Yahweh's and Jesus' insistence on avoiding idolatry and worshiping God in Spirit and Truth, I'm erring on a tighter definition of God when answering the question. “ - Frank Turek

If I had written what Frank Turek wrote you'd be good? Please. You tell yourself that?

So, here we are, Edward.

How should a Christian view Muslim worship? Is it worship at all? Does the Christian God receive Muslim "worship" as valid worship?

Is worship in the eye of the beholder?

Do you know? Will you answer?

OR

Are you done?

Anonymous said...

Your issues with the criteria and categories were confused, silly, and vague, with no apparent attempt to grapple with what Feser actually said. Somehow you appear to have left that off you latest post, SoCal.

Do pagans worship idols?

SoCal said...

Anon,

Yeah. Read what Feser wrote. On and on.

“Do pagans worship idols”

Of course they do.

Idols don’t have a view of worship.

Does the Christian God receive Muslim worship as valid and real praiseworthy worship?

Do you know? Will you say?

Anonymous said...

What has that got to do with anything? Talk about moving the goal posts.

SoCal said...

Anon,

Again,

I want to know more about what is meant by the word “worship”.

We’re talking about language.

Does the Christian God (the same god) receive Muslim worship as valid and real worship?

Do you know? Will you say?

“Christians and Muslims worship the same God”

Do you know?

Anonymous said...

But what does this have to do with the question of reference? You seem to have given up on that completely. Such leaping from one topic to another hardly is the mark of someone looking for truth.

Omer said...

Jeffrey S.,

"This is probably a waste of my time, but..."

Here is the first valid and sound comment you have made. From the lack of civility in your tone and the lack of rationality in your trolling comments, you are not one who is willing to change your mind whatever evidence you are provided with. So yes, you are wasting your time thinking progress can be made with your trolling.

"Let me end our little exchange with one question -- do you think Palestinian attacks on civilian Jews in the West Bank (say with knives or cars) are justified? Yes or no?"

My response NO...it is never justified.

Chapter 5, verse 32 in a book called the Qur'an says,

"Because of that, We decreed upon the Children of Israel that whoever kills a soul unless for a soul or for corruption [done] in the land - it is as if he had slain mankind entirely. And whoever saves one - it is as if he had saved mankind entirely."

So according to God who Muslims believe revealed the Qur'an, killing one civilian, whether Israeli, American, Syrian, Eskimo, etc. is in someways like killing all of mankind.

God also says in the Qur'an (Chapter 60, verse 8),

"God does not forbid you from those who do not fight you because of religion and do not expel you from your homes - from being KIND toward them and acting JUSTLY toward them. Indeed, God loves those who act justly."

Therefore not only is it prohibited by the Qur'an to harm Israeli civilians, the Qur'an implies that Israeli civilians should be treated kindly.

In fact, even if a non-civilian is attacking you simply because you are of a different religion or even forcibly expelling you and your family from your home, even then....even in those circumstances, according to the Qur'an in the verse immediately before, you should not think your enemy is bound to remain as such.

For verse 7 says "Perhaps God will put, between you and those to whom you have been enemies among them, affection. For God is capable (of all things), and God is Forgiving and Merciful."

In fact, the Quran goes beyond saying the Golden Rule by stating explicitly and at times implicitly in multiple verses that “Return evil with Kindness.” (13:22, 23:96, 41:34, 28:54, 42:40, etc.)

God even tells the readers that they should be ready to exert effort to protect not only mosques but also "monasteries, churches, synagogues" (Chapter 22, verse 40).

The above as you indicate a waste time for you but not a waste of time for as God says in the Qur'an many times "those who reflect."

I can quote many, many hundreds of such verses saying the above crystal clearly explicitly and at times implicitly, but I don't have time.

Omer said...


And now that I have answered your question....here is a question for you.

Although Iraq killed ZERO Americans, wasn't it unethical for us to listen to the many conservatives and all neo-conservatives in attacking and invading Iraq and killing directly or indirectly over 600,000 Iraqi men, women, and children civilians (according to the top medical journal studying death certificates before and after our invasion and occupation...

news source http://www.theguardian.com/world/2006/oct/11/iraq.iraq .... go to the journal article if you can comprehend biostatistics.

(of course for every single killed Iraqi civilian killed, many suffered life-long injuries).

and a follow-up question...600,000 Iraqis is proportionately equal to 6 million of us Americans.

If China invaded us although we killed ZERO Chinese and then directly or indirectly led to 6 million of us being killed and totally dismantled our entire police force and state apparatus, would we not expect criminal organizations like ISIS to emerge on our soil?

If Ed had time to read this, I hope he can reflect on this for his liberalism and Islam article he will write.

Again, it is 100% unjustified for any criminal and evil organizations to commit the acts they do and may God destroy all terrorist organizations like ISIS, etc but these are essential questions for those who reflect more than seeing Netflix movies.

Jeffrey, back to you prefatory phrase to your question, "Let me end our little exchange with..."

Yes, it is good to end when you sense you will be refuted every time when you try to spread massive distortions and slander and hate against 1.5 billion people.

Anonymous said...

The US invaded Iraq to topple Saddam, who was oppressing his own people - mostly Muslims (albeit it was the Shia were particularly oppressed by him). We can call this decision misguided and reckless (it was, in fact). But I'm not sure why Muslims should take it personally. Nor do I think it the decision can be called unethical in quite so simple away, with the implication the US and its allies wanted to kill or Muslims or didn't care about their deaths (and the numbers are more like 100,000 than 600,000 - almost all killed by fellow Iraqis or Muslims who came to fight with them).

If there is charity needed on one side, there is also charity needed on the other.

SoCal said...

Anon,

The question of reference? The OP. It’s straightforward. Worship is part of the equation.

You brought up idolatry worship. I responded.

It appears you’re comparing Muslim worship to idol worship or at least drawing inference.

My question stands:

Do you know? Will you answer?

Anonymous said...

What do you mean part of the equation? What equation? I notice you don't actually state the relevance. You seem to just be trolling.

Anonymous said...

You responded that idol worship was worship. It is very hard to see what you are trying to draw from any of the talk about worship.

We can all ask silly questions: Is it only Muslims you dislike or all brown people? Do you know? Will you answer?

But how far does it get us?

Jeffrey S. said...

Omer,

You are interesting -- usually when I bring up the Palestinians to online Muslims is when the mask slips. You on the other hand seem genuinely interested in "reforming" your religion. I'd say I wish you good luck, but I don't think you'll have much success given all those other problematic verses in the Koran and Hadiths you have to deal with (and please -- don't bother arguing with me -- argue with the gang at Al-Azhar) and I'd much rather you convert to Christianity anyway.

As for your question, wonder of wonders, the anonymous at 7:37 PM answered almost exactly how I would have answered with one exception. I don't think our decision to invade was misguided or reckless. I do think, with hindsight, we should have installed another Sunni dictator and quickly left the country -- but that is a story for another day!

Omer said...

By our policy we don't care about other deaths.

Our General in charge of the invasion, Tommy Franks said "We don't do body counts."

And 100,000 civilians killed by us is the lowest amount of estimates. The highest account is more than 1 million.

Even if hypothetically assume we are only responsible for the vastly low figure of 100,000 (although before we invaded them, they killed ZERO Americans), that's equivalent to one 9-11 every single month for 2.5 years. And you have the audacity to think that should not be called "unethical"?!!!

You think that

"almost all killed by fellow Iraqis or Muslims who came to fight with them"

That's one of the most preposterous speculations I have read.

According to the experts, before we left about 1/3 were killed directly by us...by our bullets and bombs blowing up the brains and arms and legs of fathers, mothers, children, and babies.

So yes, 2/3 were killed by the sectarian civil war we created by Pro-Consul Bremer dismantling the entire police force and firing all the soldiers in the Baathist army leaving hundreds of thousands of armed and after Bremer's firing, hungry unemployed soldiers ready to use their training to whoever who pays them....which combined with the Shia death squads we were funding led to the civil war.

Last year, millions of us celebrated in movie theaters watching our American sniper killing 160 confirmed Iraqis (including children) out of 255 claimed killed.

If one of the trained soldiers killed 160, imagine how many hundreds of thousands of our soldiers armed with guns and bullets killed over the 8 years we occupied them.

But don't be surprised if we continue with killing civilians....with people like Jeffrey S. allowed to troll and with Conservatives continuing to spread hate against 1.5 billion people...we are allowing fascists like Trump fool the foolish.

Anonymous said...

What condemns a faith? Are the fires of Smithfield a condemnation of Catholicism as a whole or just an unfortunate accident? Okay, we can all agree that there needs to be toleration and acceptance, and an end to persecution. But why are intolerant strands of Islam used to condemn it but those of Christianity, which have been more cruel and widespread, passed over as non-essential errors? Perhaps the argument is that the allegedly persecuting and intolerant nature of Islam is essential to the faith, whereas persecution is not essential to Christianity, indeed it is antithetical to it. But you'd have to actually make this argument in detail, Jeffrey. You (especially after the clear ignorance of Islam you have shown in this tread) can't just refer vaguely to some problematic passages.

Someone earlier pointed out the irony of those like Jeffrey allowing no nuance or interpretation of problematic passages in the Koran and Hadith, when they'd be up in arms if atheists tried that sort of things with similarly problematic OT passages.

Anonymous said...

We didn't invade them in the sense we wished to attack the Iraqi people. We attacked Saddam and his regime. Saddam was a tyrant oppressing his people. Most of those killed were killed by other Iraqis (or Iranians and other Muslims fighting with the Iraqis). Americans killed some civilians but only a very small proportion of most of those killed.

Yes, it may have been reckless, but I don't think it was the case that the we didn't care who died. Unless you're a pacifist or are vert strongly anti-war, I don't think you can accuse the Americans of being immoral in Iraq in the sense you mean. It is an unhelpful and uncharitable victimhood mentality.

Omer said...


I am not saying that we all said..."whoopy, even though ZERO Americans were killed by Iraqis, let's go murder hundreds of thousands of Iraqi men, women, and children and injure many more hundreds of thousands of Iraqi men, women, and children, many of whom now live with painful and crippling life long injuries."

But it is a wicked lie or a wickedly foolish comment to think that if we send HUNDREDS of THOUSANDS of soldiers armed to the teeth with flesh piercing bullets, and brain vaporizing bombs into a country of 30 million people, that we did not know that we will kill huge numbers of people.

Yes, I don't think we expected that hundreds of thousands would be killed directly by our fingers pushing the triggers and indirectly by our dismantling of a state, but we knew that we would be killing far, far more innocent people than the innocents that died on 9-11.

I am not saying that all Americans knew that we all knew that...many were listening to lying hateful Fox News, or to hate spewed and continuing to be spilled by many Conservatives, but those who knew what war is knew we were going to murder far, far more innocent people than 9-11.

But hey if they are not Americans but just Iraqis, according to many Conservatives, they will think of sophisticated sophistry to justify it.

The ironic thing is that 5% of Iraqis are Christians....so we murdered more (Iraqi) Christians than how many died on 9-11.

Regarding the victimhood mentality....I agree 100% that one should not adopt a victimhood mentality. Even if 600 million Muslims get killed, according to ethics and Quranic commands from God Almighty, that gives ZERO justification to harm others.

The point of me saying these UNDENIABLE facts is that if we don't reflect on it, remorse over it, and DEMAND that our Conservatives stop spewing hate, then it will continue...maybe not in a couple of years but eventually it will happen again.

“That is the key to history. Terrific energy is expended - civilizations are built up - excellent institutions devised; but each time something goes wrong. Some fatal flaw always brings the selfish and the cruel people to the top and it all slides back into misery and ruin.”
― C.S. Lewis

"Those Who Do Not Learn History Are Doomed To Repeat It."

-George Santayana

We must learn not just some facts but the emotions, the lies of of the hate-mongers, the demagoguery of people like Trump and much too many Conservatives, how we can allow cruel mindsets to have a stage and allow exaggerations to spread and yes how we allow victimhood mentality to spread...that eventually leads to more cruelty, misery, evil, and sins and eventually God's punishment in this world or when we have to meet Him and His perfect knowledge of our hearts.

By the way, on many issues such as abortion, etc (although not all issues), I am a Conservative.

Anonymous said...

Omer, you are running together points that need to be separated. Unless You are a pacifist, you surely agree war is sometimes justified, even if civilians will die in it. And it surely can sometimes be good to overthrow tyrants. Perhaps there wasn't quite enough concern for the lives of those so far from us. But that is a perennial blindspot for all nations. But you'd need a lot more evidence for the claims of immorality and contempt for Iraqi lives you are making.

Yes, there is anti-Muslim bigotry in the US. We have seen some here. But such low-level xenophobia exists in all countries. Few though are more welcoming than us. I see no evidence such bigotry was important in the decision to go to war in Iraq.

Edward Ockham said...

Greetings from Beyond Necessity.

Ed: “For by “God” they also mean “the uncaused cause of everything other than himself, who is omnipotent, omniscient, perfectly good, etc.” “

By ‘God’ don’t they just mean the being referred to at the beginning of Genesis “In the beginning GOD created the heavens and the earth”, and who is referred to continuously throughout the old Testament? When any of them uses the name ‘God’, they are using it with the same reference as the text from which they learned it. So it is perfectly rational for a Christian to deny that God (i.e. the being referred to in Genesis et al) is the uncaused cause of everything other than himself. I.e. the proposition ‘God is the uncaused cause of everything other than himself’ is synthetic rather than analytic. But it is contradictory to say that God is not the being referred to at the beginning of Genesis, at least if the use of ‘God’ is intended to continue the chain of reference begun in Genesis and which extends throughout the Bible.

scbrownlhrm said...

Part 1 of 2:

The actual concept of *Reference* seems lost on those demanding statements on worship, which religion is true/false, 21st century geopolitical platforms, and more.

“Reference” is a unique category of language / philosophical unpacking such that the OP begins with these headings:

Referring to God
Failure of Reference
Trinitarianism and Reference
Reference with Qualifications


Our friends SoCal and Jeffrey S. and now our friend Omar too on occasion tend to invent new topics and stray so far afield that Feser has to repeatedly reinvent the wheel. Two quick examples:

[1] “But I’ve already explained why serious theological error per se is not enough to undermine successful reference to the true God.”

[2] “Second, why the hell should I include “anti-Islam polemics” in a post about the theory of reference and theological language? If the blog post were about which religion is true, that would certainly be a context in which to discuss all the many serious errors I think there are in Muslim theology, its claims to revelation, etc. If it were a post about Islamic ethics, relations with the West, etc., that would certainly be a context in which to discuss all the serious deficiencies I think there are in Islamic law and morals, the wishful thinking and intellectual dishonesty of so many liberals vis-à-vis this subject, etc. But it’s neither of these things. Again, it’s a post about the theory of reference and theological language. True, it addresses these topics in the context of Islam, but it’s not discussing matters to which the falsity of Islam or the problems with its political and ethical side, specifically, are relevant. Which is why I don’t address those things.”

Addressing Reference is a *different* category of content than addressing:

[1] the content of worship from Man’s point of view

[2] rationally defining a religion as true or false

[3] the content of worship from God’s point of view

[4] Islamic ethics and/or relations with the West in passing, non-permanent geopolitical contingencies within the pains of Man’s Privation

And so on…… And so on.

Even worse, Reference with qualifications is even further away from #1 - #4 – and so on.

Then, worst of all, still within the margins of the category of reference, the opening essay presents a large array of criteria by which to saturate a tedious array of qualifications, of (if/then)'s, of (given A / we get B)'s, and of (but for X / there is Z)'s, and other clarifications.

Yet -- SoCal takes the time to insist on worship.

Yet -- Jeffery insists that the "SOLE" (his word) criteria used by Feser is “…..the uncaused cause of everything other than himself, who is omnipotent, omniscient, perfectly good……..”

Yet – Omar feels the need to demand the unpacking of #4


Continued......

scbrownlhrm said...

Continued.....

Part 2 of 2

A primary deficiency in all such tangents off-topic is found in an inability to maintain, rather than annihilate, in each and every brushstroke all the real, actual, pesky rigorous distinctions between (real) overlap vs. (real) similarity vs. (real) difference amid Christianity/Islam. All of which simply sums to sloppy metaphysics, category errors, and equivocations.

As alluded to earlier.

By several observers.

Feser's nanometer-slices are, it is obvious now, just too sophisticated for those who want to address issues beyond Reference with their own off-topic, too wide, too hurried, and generally sloppy brushstrokes across the canvas in question.

Yet the opening essay’s precise and tenaciously narrow slices are appropriate *given* Feser's [1] category of reference and [2] goals given that category.

If two certain real things, like, say, Christianity and Islam, really have real subtleties and real overlaps and real similarities (which differ from sameness) and real differences, then Feser is correct to *insist* that every reply speak about those two real things as they really are. Now, that means that his methodology is going to be justifiably wordy and complex and full of all those pesky arrays of qualifications, of (if/then)'s, of (given A / we get B)'s, and of (but for X / there is Z)'s, and other such intellectually aggressive demands – in each and every reply.

Whereas those who want to handle these two real things which have (real, actual, pesky) corridors of (real) overlap vs. (real) similarity vs. (real) difference *WITHOUT* such qualifications and *WITHOUT* such clarifications simply want to change topics, employ sloppy metaphysics, present accusations built atop category errors, and foist equivocations as “arguments” and are actually speaking *not* of two real things but of some *non*-real something.

Such (again, for the thousandth time) finds some of our friends far f-a-r afield in, say, #1 or #2 or #3 or #4 listed earlier, and, (again for the thousandth time) in a hedge, "......equivocating between the propositions "Worship the same God" vs "Holding identical views on God" vs "Equally having a correct view of the true nature of the One God"......and between "worshiping the same God" vs "Being identical religions, with identical truth and being equivalent means of salvation.""

Nigel PJ said...

I've thoroughly enjoyed this discussion and have learnt quite a lot about voluntarism, the theory of reference etc. As to whether I now know whether Christians and Muslims worship the same God, I feel like the judge in the Sufi story:
Nasrudin was appointed to be a judge. It was his first day in court. He was deeply impressed by the counsel for the prosecution and burst out with "I believe you are right!" The clerk of the court tutted audibly. When the lawyer for the defence finished his eloquent plea Nasrudin was again deeply moved, "I believe you are right!"
The clerk of the court said, "Your honour it is impermissible to make such remarks before the jury have considered the matter." Nasrudin replied, "I believe you are right".
Happy New Year to all.

Anonymous said...

@Omer,

Yes, I don't think we expected that hundreds of thousands would be killed directly by our fingers pushing the triggers and indirectly by our dismantling of a state, but we knew that we would be killing far, far more innocent people than the innocents that died on 9-11.

Actually, Americans and their policymakers were justified in believing that the 2003 invasion would be relatively bloodless and result in democratic expansion. The historical cases that expectations were built upon gave favorable indications to those who looked.

The 1991 war gave Americans every indication that Saddam's forces were incapable of defending against American military technology. Because Americans expected the new war to be short, and the Gulf war brought unreasonable expectations of surgical precision from the military, they imagined that American and Iraqi civilian casualties would be almost non-existent. Additionally, the rapid retreat of the Taliban and Al Qaeda from Afghanistan gave them optimism that irregular opponents could be defeated just as easily, and disenfranchised groups would whole-heartedly support whatever democratic reforms they proposed.

An analysis based on the historical occupation of Germany and Japan indicated that people under the rule of austere tyrants would welcome the benefits of democracy and liberal economics. Since Saddam and his forces of repression would be defeated relatively easily, there was no risk that insurgents would set up a shadow regime to coerce the population into defiance as in Vietnam. The benefits of democracy are so obvious, no people could ever reject them.

That this analysis totally missed the mark is irrelevant. How else can policymakers judge the feasibility of different paths without recourse to what has happened in the past?

That their examination of history was superficial now appears obvious. They clearly missed more relevant examples like France in Algeria. But that is unfortunately how historical narratives are used to justify public policies. To blame conservative hate or Fox News is also a superficial analysis that has already to bizarre policy choices during this administration (Iraq withdrawal, Syria, Libya, Arab Spring, etc.). It was after all the liberal media who shaped the narrative of the 1991 war as bloodless, and the ones who portrayed the liberation of Europe as a successful idealistic crusade for liberal ideas.

As to killing hundreds of thousands, clearly the American military has killed civilians, but the vast majority of those were unintentional and those that weren't were criminal acts in contravention of policy. The vast majority of civilian deaths were caused by foreign terrorists, or the Iraqis themselves during sectarian conflict. Certainly, responsibility for the violence can be partly attributed to flawed American policy, but much more so to terrible policy implementation and the killers themselves.

Robert

Jeffrey S. said...

Ed,

On the off chance that you are going to come back here, I will post this comment, more for your readers (and especially Brandon) than expecting any kind of response from you.

But to formally take a stab at your last response to me (12/30, 6:02 PM) , in order of your points:

1) Fine -- for my argument to work, simply refer to that quote from Father Schall way back up thread or take it as given that Muslims are strong voluntarists and argue Allah is Will and therefore, if Allah wills killing little girls and boys at the target range for practice is according to Allah's will, then load up and round up the kids for target practice.

2) More on this below -- I'm trying to get you to see the problem with relying on using a simple test of "classical theism" for answering the question of reference when it comes to the OP topic. I think this is a misguided strategy from the get-go and someone like Duns Scotus who accepted the divinity of Christ but was confused about certain theological matters fits the idea of worshiping the same God as you and I as opposed to Muslims.

3) "Obviously that’s not what I’ve said, nor is it entailed by anything I’ve said."

This is the crux of my argument and I guess I didn't make it clear. Brandon called me out when I listed four qualities of classical theism as individual, separate qualities of God -- again, he said the following:

"all of your four mutually imply each other under standard scholastic assumptions, which Ed, of course, being a scholastic regards as demonstrable or self-evident under adequate analysis.

One of those qualities is the idea that God is pure goodness. If God is pure Goodness itself while at the same time He is metaphysically ultimate, it seems to me that Muslims who are voluntarists and claim to believe in a metaphysically ultimate God are believing a "X" and "not-X".

From a reference point of view it would be as if we are looking in the distance and I say see that guy with the red hair? You say, yes, the red hair. Now, do you see that he's holding a gun. And then you say, yes, I see the guy with the blue hair is holding a gun. Then I say, no wait a minute -- I'm talking about the guy with the red hair -- there is no guy with blue hair. And you say, yes there is -- I see a guy with red hair and at the same time I see a guy with blue hair -- don't you? And then I start backing away because you sound crazy...

(continued)

Jeffrey S. said...

4) Finally, another apology -- I probably would have expressed myself better to everyone and especially you if I had just clicked on the damn Bill V. link you provided!!! He has actually posted four (maybe five) posts on this subject and I was reading him on my own when you wrote your post. I simply assumed that the later Bill. V. posts I was reading were the ones you were referring to -- which was not the case.

Bill V. in that original post of his gives me -- finally -- the philosophical language to at last describe my own position. I simply find his descriptive theory of language appropriate for God and once we settle on a good definition, it is obvious Muslims don't worship the same God as Christian.

Bill's comments to Lydia are quite good on the question of definition (he pushes back on her) and here is her response:

""Suppose that Bill accepts the divine simplicity but Dale does not. Suppose further that both are description theorists who take reference to be routed through sense in the way I explained in my main entry, and that both attach the very same Fregean sense to 'God,' except that where Bill's sense includes *simple,* Dale's does not. Suppose further that God is simple as Aquinas maintained. Then Dale's God doesn't exist. For nothing in reality 'answers to' the definite description that encapsulates the sense of 'God' as Dale uses the term.

Will you agree that this is a counterintuitive result?"

(continued with Lydia's comment)

Jeffrey S. said...

"Do you mean by this to say that, where Bill's sense includes "simple," Dale's sense includes "and is not simple"?

Because if not, I don't see the problem. As far as I know, a descriptivist is perfectly free to say that one person's description can be a proper subset of another person's description. Maybe Dale just hasn't thought about whether God is simple or not. Or maybe Dale thinks that God isn't simple but doesn't make lack of simplicity a part of his "sense" of the name. (Just as I may believe that John Jones doesn't work for Pfizer but don't consider "and who doesn't work for Pfizer" part of my meaning of the name "John Jones.")

Suppose, however, that Dale does put "and who is not simple" into his list of essential, name-fixing attributes of God. Then it seems to me actually not counterintuitive at all to say that, if God actually is simple, the term as Dale uses it under that description fails to refer.

Of course, we can always go more and less restrictive and discuss various possible senses of a term that would make various statements true or false, and philosophers often will.

A good descriptivist philosopher can easily be found saying something like, "Well, you ask if my mother could possibly be an alien. If by 'my mother' you mean by definition a real human being, then no. It is then analytically false that my mother was an alien. If on the other hand we define 'my mother' much more minimally as 'the personal, intelligent cause, whatever it might be, of my mother-like experiences', then it is possible that my mother was an alien."

I myself don't think that the majority of people _do_ include a lot of stuff that seems ridiculously nit-picky in their _definitions_ of various names, certainly not of God. One certainly needn't, and shouldn't, automatically include everything one believes, which is why I think the "God is not simple" or "the filioque is false" examples are unproblematic. If someone is going to be that darned stubborn about the falsehood of divine simplicity, then he can use the term "God" in that non-standard way if he likes (so that it necessarily includes "and is not simple" and so that _he_ would say that any being who is simple is _not_ the being he means by "God") but why would he? What's counterintuitive in that situation arises from the stubbornness of the definer in such a scenario, not from a descriptive theory of reference.

(continued)

Jeffrey S. said...

(last bit of Lydia's comment)

The reason that this "Do Muslims and Christians worship the same God?" controversy becomes heated and frustrating is because it becomes pretty evident pretty quickly, protestations to the contrary notwithstanding, that those who insist that we do worship the same God are treating those of us who say that the two groups don't as if we were unreasonably including various nit-picky theological details in our definition of the term "God" (like the person who insists on including "the being about whom the filioque is false" in his very definition of the term). This is implicitly a swipe at the importance of things like not only the Trinity but, for those of us who know more about Islam, the falsehood of theological voluntarism, the divine attribute of loving all mankind, and the relationship to man as properly envisaged by fatherhood rather than as master to slave.

To have it implied that we should just _set all of that aside_ when it comes to deciding whether or not we are worshiping the same being is frustrating to say the least.

What is more frustrating to me is the refusal to acknowledge that this is what is going on. Pretty much any of the many posts on this subject will include some disclaimer such as, "Now, this isn't saying that these things about which Muslims and Christians differ aren't really important."

Well, yes. To some extent it is. It is saying they are rather significantly less important than whatever much more limited set of attributes the author has decided _himself_ ought to be definitional of the term."

Kevin Mitchell said...

Anon,

You wrote: "Is it only Muslims you dislike or all brown people?"

Perfect. Now I’m being accused of racism simply because I ask the question of Ed, you, others, on how ought a Christian view Muslim worship. For saying that, you don't even deserve a response.

You point out that we’re concerned with truth. Evidently, you don’t like the question. But just because you don’t like it, doesn’t make it go away. Just because you don’t like it, doesn’t make it irrelevant.

“Christians and Muslims worship the same God”

To say that defining down worship isn’t important is really odd. It’s almost as if certain people don’t like the answer that they will arrive at. It looks like many haven’t even given this serious thought.

So again:

How ought a Christian view Muslim worship?

Does the Christian God receive Muslim worship as valid and real praiseworthy worship?

Do. You. Know?

Scott said...

Kevin Mitchell apparently a.k.a. SoCal:

"Does the Christian God receive Muslim worship as valid and real praiseworthy worship?"

Why are you still yattering about this? The question of what sort of worship is correct or acceptable to God is simply not at issue in the original post, and you don't appear to be seriously entertaining the ludicrous-on-its-face thought that Muslims don't worship Allah in any manner or sense. So why are you so insistent on changing the subject?

What is the source of this zeal?

Do. You. Know?

Josh said...

Dr. Feser,

Thanks for the post. If you have the time/interest, would you care to comment on Summa contra Gentiles 3.118.4 (also cf. Summa theologiae 2-2.2.2)? It seems to me to bear on this discussion in a way that contradicts your position. The rub of it is the Aristotelian dictum that to be mistaken in any way about simple things is to fail to know them entirely.

Thanks.

SoCal said...

Scbrownlhrm,

I’m surprised by you. I know you very well from over at STR (I’m not SoCal over there : ).
Describing Christian worship vs. Muslim worship demands defining. If you disagree, then you’re just misguided.

“Christians and Muslims worship the same God”

If one says, “But what do you mean by worship?” Is the response, “Oh don’t worry about that, it’s not relevant.” Silliness.

So let’s start here:

Not for all, but for many, there is a natural tendency to see worship with “sameness” language by nature of what’s being communicated in the phrase, “Christians and Muslims worship the same God.”

So I'm getting at the question of the very nature of Christian worship – the pleasing of God to His glory. What it does for the soul.

If one gets to the root, the Christian must say Muslim worship is actually sinful.

Scbrownlhrm, is Muslim prayer sinful? (Pretend you’re over at STR if you have to clear your head).

See, that’s the problem here.

If we, as Chrisitans, don’t think it’s necessary to draw distinction between sinful “worship” vs. worship that glorifies God when discussing “Christians and Muslims worship the same God,” we’re kidding ourselves.

Ed and many others don’t like where the question leads them. Instead they go at me personally, saying I need to learn to read, that I’m a racist. Yawn.

So I’ll ask you:

How ought a Christian view Muslim worship?

Does the Christian God receive Muslim worship as valid and real praiseworthy worship?

SoCal said...

Scott,

I think it’s important to clarify this issue as Christians for the Christian.

You wrote:

“you don't appear to be seriously entertaining the ludicrous-on-its-face thought that Muslims don't worship Allah in any manner or sense”

No. I’m not. I’m drawing a distinction. God with all Christian attributes, Father / Son / Spirit, how do we delineate Worship that glorifies Christ vs. worship that absolutely does the opposite.

That’s it.

As for changing subjects, I thought everything was pretty much hit on previously.

JohnD said...

Ed,

Sorry for the multiple comments and thanks for your remarks! I was not clicking on "newer" comments at the bottom of the page so I didn't see the rest of the comments. Please forgive the duplications.

Looking forward to the new releases!

SoCal said...

Again,

If I say:

“All Christians and Muslims worship the same God, but let me unpack the differences between theologies and what worship means from the Christian perspective”

That’s off base?

I have a really hard time thinking there are Christians that wouldn't see the relevance and feel compelled to take the opportunity to communicate the Christian message there (i.e. the Truth).

Even if one thinks it's not apropos it should be, "You're right SoCal on Christian worship, but it's not relevant". Nope. Not even that. Not here apparently.

Scott said...

SoCal:

Ah, now I understand. Yes, there must be lots of Christians reading this thread who need to be told not to engage in Muslim worship. Why didn't you just say so in the first place?

Sometimes I wish I had more than one face and two palms.

Anonymous said...

Kevin, actually I didn't accuse you of racism. I brought that up as a question as off topic as your nonsense about worship. This stupidity has little to do with the original topic of reference and you have not responded to requests to show the relevance. It is transparent you seized on it as some vain attempt to score rhetorical points when your original attack failed.

For what it is worth, I don't think you are a racist. I do think you are a little prejudiced against Muslims though, as is Jeffrey. I don't think this is helpful. There are in fact interesting Christian criticisms of Islam, but the crude caricatures and dark allusions of the critics of Islam in this thread is are no guide to truth.

It is in fact disappointing no critique of Islam has really backed up their points about Islamic ethics. I'd be interested to see how they navigate things like tge distinction between pre-modern Christian views on women or toleration and those of modernity. But instead there has only been vague insinuations, strawmen and ignorance.

Anonymous said...

Kevin, you seen to accept even pagans worship in an univocal sense to Christians. You have abandoned your claims Christians and Muslims aren't referring to the same God. So just what is your point about worship? No one is suggesting that Muslims can worship God fully.

The Masked Chicken said...

Dear Ed,

Thanks to you and all of the authors you cite for engaging in this discussion.

It is not, for the future of civilization, a matter of whether or not Islam references the True God, but rather, how information flows from God to man as to how man should morally act. As Vos points out, the pre-ambles of Faith can be known by reason and are available to anyone who searches for them in good intent, so, even an atheist can be led to the True God, at least, insofar as his existence and basic knowable properties. Man, being man, however, needs relationship and it is in the relationship aspects where Islam fails so miserably with its understanding of God. The phrase, "worship the true God," has two parts: the God and the worship, and while one might concede that they get the first part right, they, certainly, have gotten the second part tragically, wrong.

St. Thomas calls worship, latria (with adoration of the angels and saints being dulia and The Blessed Virgin being hyperdulia), which, originally, meant the state of a hired servant (and the service rendered by him). Now, one may be on a slave ship in the lower decks and have a pipe through which one hears orders from on top. Three servants listen to the orders and one hears, "fill the prisoners," , the other hears, "sell the prisoners," and the third hears, "kill the prisoners." All three are latria to the guy on deck, but which one has heard him, correctly?

That is the essential problem between Islam and Christianity - it goes to the nature of downward revelation, not upward assent. Even knowing the true God by His properties is no guarantee that one will know Him by His revelation and it is precisely in the revelatory aspects where Islam dangerously fails. The most perfect revelation of God is God, which is why if God wished to perfectly reveal Himself, He would become incarnate. Jesus, is the perfect revelation of God, insofar as He wishes to reveal Himself to man (if one holds that Jesus is God). When the perfect comes, why should one listen to the imperfect? Mohammed is not God. He is not perfect. His revelation is not perfect. For Islam, the Perfect has never come, so much so that they must deny the perfection of a Christ, lest He, necessarily, be elevated above Mohammed.

Judaism is mostly incomplete Christianity, while Islam is inconsistent Christianity. Thus, while the focus has been on whether or not Islam has got hold of the true God, the more pressing question is whether He has gotten hold of them. In other words, the question is not whether or not they worship the True God, but whether or not the Worship the true God. That is a much more dangerous question and that word, "worship, " is a weasel word in modern statements on Islam. Worship is a multi-faced thing and one can satisfy some aspects while tragically failing at others. A theologian-axe muderer who follows what he thinks is a God speaking to him can be said to worship the true God, but only just...

The Chicken

The Masked Chicken said...

"the God and the worship, and while one might concede that they get the first part right, they, certainly, have gotten the second part tragically, wrong."

Should, be the reverse, obviously.

The Chicken

The Masked Chicken said...

Opp, I was right, the first time.

The Chicken

scbrownlhrm said...

SoCal and Jeffrey,


I included Jeffrey for obvious reasons.

Reference isn't worship and so worship isn't the concept being discussed.


See my 2 part comments here time stamped 3:04 AM and 3:07 AM.

Part 1 begins with this paragraph:


"The actual concept of *Reference* seems lost on those demanding statements on worship, which religion is true/false, 21st century geopolitical platforms, and more."


*THEN* note this other excerpt as well:

[Off topic distractions] invent new topics and stray so far afield that Feser has to repeatedly reinvent the wheel. Two quick examples:

[1] “But I’ve already explained why serious theological error per se is not enough to undermine successful reference to the true God.”

[2] “Second, why the hell should I include “anti-Islam polemics” in a post about the theory of reference and theological language? If the blog post were about which religion is *true*, that would certainly be a context in which to discuss all the many serious errors I think there are in Muslim theology, its claims to revelation, etc. If it were a post about Islamic ethics, relations with the West, etc., that would certainly be a context in which to discuss all the serious deficiencies I think there are in Islamic law and morals, the wishful thinking and intellectual dishonesty of so many liberals vis-à-vis this subject, etc. But it’s neither of these things. Again, it’s a post about the theory of reference and theological language. True, it addresses these topics in the context of Islam, but it’s not discussing matters to which the falsity of Islam or the problems with its political and ethical side, specifically, are relevant. Which is why I don’t address those things.”

Addressing Reference is a *different* category of content than addressing:

[1] the content of worship from Man’s point of view 

[2] rationally defining a religion as true or false

[3] the content of worship from God’s point of view

[4] Islamic ethics and/or relations with the West in passing and non-permanent geopolitical contingencies within the pains of Man’s Privation 

---------------

So you see, Islam being true/false, and serious theological error, and *worship*, and ethical issues, and the geopolitical issues, and so on, are all acknowledged as important issues -- but such simply are not the concepts under review here.

SoCal said...

I’m signing off. As many will say in unison - "good riddance".

To Ed,

As I've said, while a bit heated at times, I appreciate your ability to engage. Especially as you evidently have a huge workload - putting out tons of work.

Happy New Year to all.

Anonymous said...

Exodus 33:11 states that Moses spoke to God "face to face as one speaks to a friend." Is it really tenable to suggest that he didn't grasp the "true" trinitarian nature of God?

Scott said...

SoCal (and everyone else), happy New Year and a blessed Solemnity of Mary.

scbrownlhrm said...

Dr. Craig discusses how the concepts of God in Islam and in Christianity radically diverge and also Dr. Craig discusses Why Christianity rather than Judaism or Islam?. These seem to focus on the questions or concerns of several of our friends here such as SoCal, Jeffrey, and perhaps Omar. Regarding those conceptual constructs and this entire project (or essay, etc.) here by Feser on *Reference*, all three essays (the two by Craig and this one by Feser) are all fully compatible.

Anonymous said...

So you see, Islam being true/false, and serious theological error, and *worship*, and ethical issues, and the geopolitical issues, and so on, are all acknowledged as important issues

Acknowledged by whom? It isn't important to the main point of the OP, as you say, but these ethical issues keep getting mentioned. It seems like a very interesting point to me, but the presentation of these issues in this thread has been dire, for all the sinister allusions to them.

There's also an interesting phenomena in which the conservative Christian seems to blend his criticisms of Islam with those of secular liberals, without disentangling these two viewpoints. Complaints about the treatment of women that just about any pre-modern Christian or Jewish authority would have found bemusing are thrown at Muslims with the utmost vehemence, with no real explanation of the foundations of the criticism.

Interestingly these state of affairs only counts for Islam. We have seen in this thread the avowedly patriarchal Confucianism claimed as akin to the universal, traditional morality espoused by Christianity and Judaism and allegedly not by Islam.

Brandon said...

The reason that this "Do Muslims and Christians worship the same God?" controversy becomes heated and frustrating is because it becomes pretty evident pretty quickly, protestations to the contrary notwithstanding, that those who insist that we do worship the same God are treating those of us who say that the two groups don't as if we were unreasonably including various nit-picky theological details in our definition of the term "God" (like the person who insists on including "the being about whom the filioque is false" in his very definition of the term).

This attempt to shirk responsibility for the course of the discussion would perhaps have more effect if this weren't your sixth comment (particularly given that several of the prior comments had been two or three parters):

So if I understand your distinction between "(a) worshipping a false god as opposed to (b) worshipping the true God but badly misunderstanding his nature and acts; as long as I believe that God is “the uncaused cause of everything other than himself, who is omnipotent, omniscient, perfectly good, etc." then I can go off and kill infidels, marry multiple wives, slaughter Jews, etc., etc. and I'm just guilty of grave theological error (including heresy!) but I can rest easy that at least I'm worshipping the true God of the Christians! I wouldn't want to make that mistake!!

Yes, of course the reason why the controversy becomes heated and frustrated is that your opponents are mistreating you.

Jeffrey S. said...

scbrownlhrm,

You say,

"Addressing Reference is a *different* category of content than addressing:

[1] the content of worship from Man’s point of view

[2] rationally defining a religion as true or false

[3] the content of worship from God’s point of view

[4] Islamic ethics and/or relations with the West in passing and non-permanent geopolitical contingencies within the pains of Man’s Privation"

Yes, I understand -- but the question remains -- the reference must have content. I think Bill V.'s post (the one Ed linked to! -- although he's now written a bunch more) does a great job of laying out a descriptive theory of language which I think we need to use to talk about God as Christians. Muslims aren't referring to our God as a result.

avraham said...

The deity of the Koran is a violent terrible wicked deity. It is not the God of Avraham Isaac and Yaakov.


If we could admit to many -powers- angels--archangels or what every you want to call them then this could not be an issue. This issue only begins if one thinks there is no spiritually except God. But if you accept there is a kind of anti spirituality-- a sitra achra-a dark side-then it is easy to see what Mohamed was worshiping was not God

Jeffrey S. said...

Brandon,

I was hoping you would come back to respond to me, but I kid you not, I literally have no idea what you are trying to say to me with your 9:19 AM comment. I'm stumped.

I posted a long and what I thought was an interesting comment from Lydia, taken from Bill V's blog, related to the question of whether or not it makes sense to use descriptive language when referring to God. That's what I thought her quote is about.

A Nanny Moose said...

Almost 300 comments here and no one has really put their finger on the correct answer, or even the correct question!
Here is how I would word the question: When two people of very different religious beliefs refer to “God”, are they referring to the same concept? (not necessarily even the same entity – an atheist can refer to “God” as a concept while not believing that such an entity exists).
Here is the answer: If two people are both referring to “the uncaused cause of everything other than himself,” then they are obviously referring to the same thing. Why? Because it is logically impossible for there to be more than one entity that is the uncaused cause of everything other than himself. To say that Bob refers to “an uncaused cause of everything other than himself” and Ted refers to a different entity which is also “an uncaused cause of everything other than himself” makes no logical sense.
Now, if someone’s concept of “God” does not include “the uncaused cause of everything other than himself” then they perhaps are not referring to the same entity. Say a religion teaches that “God” is an omniscient being but not the uncaused cause. It is logically possible for an omniscient created being to exist. Therefore such a concept is not the same concept of “God”
I don’t see why people here are having such trouble with this.

Scott said...

A Nanny Moose:

Almost 300 comments here and no one has really put their finger on the correct answer, or even the correct question!

Well, that sounds promising. Do enlighten us.

Here is how I would word the question: When two people of very different religious beliefs refer to “God”, are they referring to the same concept?

Aaaand thud. The ordinary use of words, and the relevant use in this case, is to "refer" not to concepts but to things. Indeed the question itself presumes that we're talking about two concepts of God that differ formally and not merely numerically (as in "my concept vs. your concept").

Therefore such a concept is not the same concept of “God”
I don’t see why people here are having such trouble with this.


They aren't. The question is rather whether, and under what conditions, people with two different concepts/understandings of God may nevertheless be referring to the same real entity. I daresay you haven't fulfilled your boast about having the "correct answer" to that question.

A Nanny Moose said...

OK, fine. Change my wording to "When two people of very different religious beliefs refer to “God”, are they referring to the same thing?" The answer is still the same. If that "thing" is "the uncaused cause of everything other than himself," then logically they are referring to the same "thing". And if an atheist is referring to an uncaused cause, he is referring to the same "thing" (even though he will claim that no such "real entity" exists).

You seem to have totally missed my point. This is a question of language, not theology.

Scott said...

More precisely, it's a question of reference—indeed the very one on which Ed "put [his] finger" before the 300 posts even started. And your answer is also essentially the same one on which he "put [his] finger" to begin with, so changing the question doesn't seem to have accomplished much, especially since you're now changing it back.

Moreover, some intellectually responsible objections remain even after the chaff is winnowed out, so it's not quite as oh-so-simple as you seem to be saying it is.

Scott said...

(My last couple of posts seem to me to be pretty tame by the standards of this site's usual genial slugfests, but in the context of this rather heated thread they may well come across as more confrontational than I intend them to be. Pax.)

A Nanny Moose said...

Scott,

It seems that you and I agree with each other and with Ed, so I don't see any reason to belabor the point. It just seems to me that the controversy here is this: How different can two different concepts of God and still be referring to the same thing? My reply is the same as Ed's, but I tried to put it in a nutshell rather than a long post. The heart of the matter is that two people are referring to the same thing with the word "God", as long as their concept of God includes "the uncaused cause of everything other than himself." As long as *that* is what what is understood by the word "God" they must be referring to the same thing. Why? Because it is logically impossible for there to be more than one such entity. That was the point I was trying to make. Ed makes the same point, of course, but I'm not sure he made it clear why *that particular attribute* is the key attribute that ensures that two people are referring to the same thing. All other attributes one may or may not associate with God are, of course, extremely important from a theological viewpoint, but not as a point of language reference.

Jeffrey S. said...

Nanny Moose,

Let me ask you the same question I asked Scott:

Please find my comment in which I detail my new, made-up religion (I'm telling you, right now, I made it up) called Zardozism -- would you bite the bullet and tell me that Zardozians refer to the same God as Christians? One belief of Zardozism is that Zardoz is the "uncaused cause of everything other than himself."

Thanks.

A Nanny Moose said...

Yes, of course. In the same way that an atheist can be referring to the same thing by the word "God" if he understands the word to mean "the uncaused cause of everything other than himself," even though he does not think such a thing exists.

Brandon said...

I posted a long and what I thought was an interesting comment from Lydia, taken from Bill V's blog, related to the question of whether or not it makes sense to use descriptive language when referring to God. That's what I thought her quote is about.

This is why it's dangerous to post other people's comments, particularly long multi-comment ones set off only by quotation marks rather than some more robust quotation-marker like italics; I simply missed the parenthetical remark that it was a continuation of the endless quotation rather than finally a commentary.

Scott said...

A Nanny Moose:

"It seems that you and I agree with each other and with Ed, so I don't see any reason to belabor the point."

Same here. Sorry if I seemed to picking a fight; in fact I was just nitpicking, which isn't all that much more helpful anyway.

Brandon said...

Josh said:

If you have the time/interest, would you care to comment on Summa contra Gentiles 3.118.4 (also cf. Summa theologiae 2-2.2.2)? It seems to me to bear on this discussion in a way that contradicts your position. The rub of it is the Aristotelian dictum that to be mistaken in any way about simple things is to fail to know them entirely.

I don't know what Ed's view is, but it seems to me that both passages are specifically about faith, which complicates the issue. No one is claiming that Muslims believe in God with Christian faith, nor that Muslims are in any way exempted from the universal obligation to believe in God with right faith, which are the kinds of things in view in these passages.

Scott said...

(Had you been sitting here in my living room having the same exchange as a live conversation, we'd both have been smiling—or at least, if you weren't, I'd have changed my approach in response.)

Scott said...

Oops, a post from Brandon appeared while I was typing. Of course my previous post is an addendum to my previous previous post to A Nanny Moose.

A Nanny Moose said...

Scott,

No problem. I didn't mean to come across as a know-it-all, which I certainly am not. It's just that it's frustrating to read the comments when so many people are making this out to be a question of theology, when it isn't.

Scott said...

Good. I figured you'd take my replies in that spirit, but in view of the contentiousness of some of this thread I thought I'd better be extra careful.

Scott said...

(And I understand your frustration.)

Mr. Green said...

Out of curiosity, I have some questions for those who deny that Christians and Muslims worship the same God:

• Does no Muslim worship God, or is it rather that some really do, and others do not?
• In a line-up, whom would Muslims point out as the object of their worship if not God... Zeus? Odin? Osiris? Vishnu? that entity from Star Trek V?
• Whom would Aristotle point out? Plotinus? Moses? Maimonides? Arius? Avicenna? Mitt Romney? Donald Trump? John Shelby Spong? little Susie (the average Sunday-school five-year-old)?
• Do Muslims think they worship God, even though you would claim that really they don’t? In which case, whom or what do they actually worship?

Mr. Green said...

P.S. I also meant to ask: suppose it turns out that Muslims do indeed worship the one true God? Then what?

Anonymous said...

Nanny Moose and Scott,
You both accept (with qualifications that Scott has spelled out) that the Zardosians refer to the same God as Christians, and also that atheists successfully refer to God when they say, "God does not exist" (assuming that their concept of God is the uncaused cause of everything other than Himself).
Would you agree that a hymn to Zardos saying, "Zardos commands us to hate the Jews! Zardos commands us to sacrifice virgins! Great are the commands of Zardos!" is not an act of worship?
It is not proper ascription of worth to the uncaused cause.
If you do agree, then just because Zardosians successfully refer to the same God does not automatically imply that they worship the same God because they may not be doing worship at all.
I think others, including Jeffrey S, have raised this point before but it has not been answered.

Nolin said...

As lengthy as this post is I find Nabeel Qureshi, the former Muslim now Christian apologist for RZIM to have a much more compelling argument. He also addresses the nuance of the language and has the added insight of formerly living as a devout Muslim scholar very knowledgeable with the Qur'an. From a coherent and cogent argument Mr. Qureshi clearly shows that the God of Islam is not the same as the God of Christianity. Here is a link to his thoughts http://rzim.org/global-blog/do-muslims-and-christians-worship-the-same-god.

Jeffrey S. said...

Mr. Green,

It seems like I remember you as a regular around here and anyway, I like the cut of your jib, so here are my answers to your questions in order:

1) I think Muhammad created the Muslim religion -- he made it all up. So I think all Muslim worship the wrong God -- they do not refer to the Christian God when they pray to God.

2) Here's how I would re-phrase your question -- in a line-up, I would put a crucifix and statues of Zeus, Odin, etc. Then I would say, "As you know, God is Triune, and came to Earth as Christ and died for our sins. Now tell me which one of these figures is a representation of God?" I'm assuming the Muslim will say, none of them.

3) Most of your list would pick out the crucifix, as I've re-phrased the question above. Aristotle and Plotinus are trickier because how does someone represent the god of classical theism in a line-up? If you want to stick with words, then yes we could describe the "uncaused cause of everything", and we can say they believed in the God of classical theism, who is the same God as the Christian God. Likewise with Moses and Maimonides, although in their case we can say more, given that they believe in the God of the Old Testament, uncorrupted by Muhammad's stories.

4) Yes. I'm not sure, but I suspect it is some sort of demonic force if they are worshiping whatever inspired Muhammad.

5) - the P.S. - then I'm wrong about the descriptive theory of language. Maybe I send Scott and Brandon big bottles of whiskey for dealing with me in this thread? I already owe Ed more than whiskey...

Omer said...

Nolin,

I agree with Qureshi that "Truly, the Trinity is antithetical to Tawhid (Tawhid means the one-ness of God).

However, he has a history of many distortions of Islam. He was never a "devout Muslim scholar." He was never and is not now a scholar.

Indeed, most Muslims do not consider that Qureshi ever was a Muslim.

Qureshi was born as an Ahmadi. Ahmadis consider themselves to be a sect of Islam and most Muslims consider outside of Islam because Ahmads believe that someone named Mirza Ghulam Ahmad to have been another prophet of Islam although the Qur'an states that the Prophet Muhammad is the last of the prophets. Ahmadis also believe that Mirza Ghulam Ahmad was also the second coming of Christ. Thus, most Muslims say that Qureshi converted from Ahmadism to Christianity.

After Mirza Ghulam Ahmad died his movement split into Ahmadis and Lahoris. Lahoris do not believe Ahmad to be a prophet but a mujaddid (which in Sunni Muslim tradition refers to a renewer).

You can see a relatively recent and interesting debate between him and Dr. Shabbir Ally at

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FWpqqqZn7Kg

The title of the debate is : What is God Really Like: Tawhid or Trinity (In Islamic Theology, Tawhid refers to one-ness of God)

As the title indicates, this debate is very relevant to Ed's post and forum participants would benefit much from viewing it.

As you indicate, Qureshi works for Ravi Zakarias who is Qureshi's mentor.

Ravi Zakarias has recently been exposed for many years and likely decades to have been dishonest about his credentials. He has been claiming to be doctor and also a visiting scholar to Cambridge University.

Cambridge University has stated that he was never a visiting scholar and his doctorate from some other university was just honorary degrees that he was given...none of them were a real academic doctoral degree.

You can see this at

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q2KSBk9Anqw

Dennis said...

Happy new year! Good tidings to you wherever you are. Good tidings for Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Hi Omer,

There's only one thing I have to ask, I'm in no way supporting Jeffery here. I consider anyone replying to him and continuing conversation on their way to sainthood. And Jeffery, I hope you see what exactly is at hand.

The main charge against Islam is that it never had a unified interpretation or a method of unified interpretation. So when people say that x isn't, wasn't ever a qualified interpreter, I'm unsure as to what a qualified interpreter of Islam is supposed to look like.

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has a PhD in Islamic studies from the Islamic University of Baghdad. However, I've seen tons of Muslims scholars critique him! But someone I know raised a point about unified the method of interpretation, my question is, since I'm not that well versed here, is this correct? If not, what is the proper non-arbitrary method by which we interpret Islam and where does it come from?

Thank you.

Scott said...

"Would you agree that a hymn to Zardos saying, 'Zardos commands us to hate the Jews! Zardos commands us to sacrifice virgins! Great are the commands of Zardos!' is not an act of worship?"

I would agree that it's not an act of correct worship. I would not agree that it's not intended to be an act of worship, even though it's misguided.

Anonymous said...

Dennis, it is certainly true that there has always been a certain pluralism in Islam. There has always been a mix of views on topics like theology, philosophy, mysticism, exegesis, and religious law. In general most traditional Islamic scholars have recognised and accepted this. One thing that marks out the Wahhabis and similar movements is their rejection of this traditional pluralism.

I guess to have some understanding of Islam you will need to look at the Quran and Hadith and to take a look at the very major currents within Islam, as well as the historical debates within Islam. This will give a good appreciation of Islamic thought.

Anonymous said...

Hate the Jews? Yes, in the last century, with the Israel-Palestine issue, Muslim-Jewish relations haven't been good (though the fault here doesn't lie with Muslims alone). And yes, at times they haven't been good in the past. But compared to the history of Christian-Jewish relations, they have tended to be positively harmonious.

Do you feel a constant need to make bigoted, ignorant comments Jeffrey? There is nothing wrong with your zeal to present and further Christianity. It is a shame you sometimes have less than total regard for truth whilst doing it. There are plenty of interesting and meaningful criticisms of Islam you could make, but ignorant smear aren't a part of them.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry, I thought Scott was replying to Jeffrey as it was Jeffrey that brought up Zardos. It seems it was an Anonymous who mentioned hating the Jews. So, assuming that this Anonymous isn't Jeffrey, I apologize to Jeffrey.

Omer said...


Hi Dennis,

May God give you and your family a joyous New Year.

Anonymous at 7:21 makes very good points.

Just for your info, I feel more comfortable attending only Sunni mosques but I don't like to identify myself as a Sunni but just a Muslim.

I also take a more skeptical view of hadiths than most Muslims but I don't reject hadiths from the outset. I don't use only the Qur'an but I always use the Qur'an as the Criterion. The Qur'an describes itself as the criterion.

Shia Muslims do have a unified interpretation under the Imams who are descendants of Prophet Muhammad. There are divisions within Shia Muslims but one main group.

I guess you can say that in that regards Sunni Islam is a little bit like Protestantism but I get the impression that Sunni Islam is in some ways more unified than Protestantism.

Dennis, the Qur'an is much more clear than the Bible. The Bible is a library of books and some books within the New Testament has teachings within the letters of Paul that are in clear contradiction to the Tanakah (Old Testament) regarding Paul's view that Jesus is the son of God. If the New Testament did not teach that Jesus was the son of God, then it would not be in clear contradiction to the Old Testament.

These contradictions and different books over hundreds and thousand(s) of years would splinter into many different interpretations without a unified interpretation or without a specific method of interpretation.

Now this does not validate a specific unified interpretation to be correct but...a specific unified interpretation can still be completely wrong but it would obviously limit the number of interpretations if there is a unified interpretation.

The Qur'an is not a library of books but one book revealed by God through the Angel Gabriel to one person, Prophet Muhammad.

Please check out the Qur'an. My favorite commentary is with Muhammad Asad (Leopold Weiss) or Abdullah Yusuf Ali but I have heard that the new Study Qur'an by Harper Collins is very good. The Harper Collins Study Qur'an commentary is by a committee of Western Academics and has Sunni, Shia, and Sufi interpretations in the commentary and many appendixes on different topics (some that pertains to your question) written by experts on Islam.

I'm not so sure how unified Catholicism is in practice. I mean is it not the teachings of the Catholic Church that Muslims worship the same God as the Catholics or Christians...the Creator and Sustainer of the Universe and Who is the cause of everything?

Dennis, please ask any question you have about Islam.

Peace and blessings,

Omer

Anonymous said...

Scott,
There are several reasons why a speech-act might misfire; failing the sincerity condition is only one of them. If the content of the speech is inappropriate to the type of speech-act intended, then the speech-act is not performed even if sincerely meant. I would say that though the Zardosian intended to worship God, he failed to so. Am I wrong?

Jeffrey S. said...

Scott,

Since we are back talking about Zardoz, this would be an excellent time to respond to your earlier comment to me when I listed all those elements of the Zardozian religion and you said:

"I'm telling you that given your own statement about what Zardoz "essentially" is, we can, should, and arguably must treat that list of flaky-or-worse "requirements" as things that certain peoplebelieve Zardoz requires and not necessarily as providing information directly about Zardoz. Any Zardozian believer who genuinely accepts your statement about what Zardoz essentiallyis can nevertheless be wrong about what a Being of such a nature requires.

To put it the other way around, a supposed god who did impose such requirements might not be (and, I would say, demonstrably is not) the God Who "essentially" is what you said He was."

To me this reads as you saying that my set of qualities for Zardoz of being self-existent, the cause of everything, the creator, etc. (which I borrowed from Ed's post) are "the essence" of Zardoz and that all the other things (hating Jews, etc.), are non-essential "facts about" him.

But I don't concede that. What if what I mean by the name "Zardoz" (and I'm the one kicking off this religion, so presumably I should be allowed to tell other people what I consider a sine qua non for my application of the name of my own god!) includes at least several of these zany things. They are part of what makes Zardoz the "wonderful" deity that all of you want to worship. In other words, I and my followers would say that Zardoz just isn't the real Zardoz if he loves Jews. He just isn't Zardoz if he doesn't require the sacrifice of virgins. Etc.

It seems like the qualities that you (and Ed) want to make the most important aspects of theism are identical to the qualities you (not me) are stating are "of the essence" of Zardoz, and that the others are inessential, is something your smuggling in. Indeed, my entire point is that that distinction is arbitrary. I question the idea that the "classical theist" properties of Zardoz are somehow "more important to who he really is" than the others. Just as I am doing the same with our Lord.

Jeffrey S. said...

Anonymous at 7:36 PM,

No apology necessary -- sadly it is true. Zardoz hates the Jews and demands the same from his followers. Just like some other religious people I've heard about:

http://www.jihadwatch.org/2015/12/survey-shows-jew-hatred-rises-with-muslim-religiosity

Anonymous said...

Jeffrey, what do you mean just like? You implied argument here is as dire as most of your attempts at arguments. That Muslims today don't like Jews (almost entirely a product of the convoluted Israel-Palestine issue) is not on its own proof Islam itself demands hatred of Jews. If your argument wasn't obviously fallacious, how the heck would you would ever avoid the conclusions that Christianity demands hatred of Jews, given the Christian West's far worse treatment of Jews down the centuries? Is it only attitudes to Jews today that are somehow important in determining whether a faith hates Jews?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christianity_and_antisemitism

Joseph Keil said...

Offtopic: Relatively interesting interview with Fr. Norris Clarke: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oMt6juNMijk

Also: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iLx1yzaKTlo

James said...

Do Muslims and Christians Believe in the same God?–http://faith.yale.edu/sites/default/files/shah-kazemi_final_paper_0.pdf

afkimel said...

NannyMoose writes: "The heart of the matter is that two people are referring to the same thing with the word "God", as long as their concept of God includes 'the uncaused cause of everything other than himself.'"

I quite agree. It is precisely this point I have tried to make in various ways over at my blog. The activity of divine creation (should we add creatio ex nihilo?) must be the decisive definite description that establishes reference, for the distinguisment between Creator and creature is fundamental for Christianity and the two other Abrahamic religions.

And this is why, I suggest, that in the first millennium apologetic engagements with Islam, Arabic Christianity did not simply say "Allah" is a completely different Creator than the One we worship. There can be only "one" transcendent source of all being, and the Christian and Islam communities both insisted that the God they worshipped was this God. This is not like saying, Odin exists but not Zeus. The situation is far odder than that.

afkimel said...

To continue my thought above:

"God"/"Allah" is the One who accounts for why the universe exists, rather than nothing.

Obviously, both traditions will want to say a heck of a lot more than the Creator, but for purpose of reference, the above would seem to be sufficient. It excludes all the pagan deities, as well as the Mormon "God." It also excludes pantheism, as well as most Platonic construals of deity.

And this is why David B. Hart can write a book titled The Experience of God, and we can all read it, know what he is talking about, and perhaps nod our heads in agreement.

Scott said...

To all who care, and for that matter to all who don't: my best wishes for a blessed Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God.

Scott said...

(I know it's off topic, but please let me add that she is most amazingly gracious.)

Jeffrey S. said...

Scott,

Best wishes to you as well. I got up this morning to say the rosary and I included a prayer for everyone who was kind enough to respond to me on this blog.

Mr. Green,

It just occurred to me thinking again this morning about your police line-up that the metaphor from the get-go is a problem for you. In thinking about the use of language and the idea of reference, from what I've learned over the past week, we can both refer to someone across the room (or someone we can't see like Thomas Jefferson) and get details about that person wrong, but still be referring to the same person. So I might look across the room at the "martini man" and say 'that guy looks like he's enjoying his martini' and you come up to me and say 'that guy isn't drinking a martini, it is ginger ale.' You wouldn't say, 'there is no person in this room drinking a martini - the guy over there is drinking ginger ale out of a martini glass.' Or maybe you would say that but as Brandon schooled me the only way you could even say that is because we are both referring to the same person.

In the case of a police line-up though -- there would actually be separate individuals lined up and we would have to choose among the individuals. I don't know why, but suddenly the light bulb went on for me and I realized this is the perfect metaphor for how I think Muslims, Jews and Christians think of God -- there is a police line-up in front of us all and we can describe His characteristics and pick out our respective versions to the exclusion of the others.

Scott said...

Jeffrey S.:

"I got up this morning to say the rosary and I included a prayer for everyone who was kind enough to respond to me on this blog."

That is far more important than any comparatively superficial disagreements any of us may ever have. Everyone who participates in this forum is permanently on my list of rosary intentions and I wish and hope on this Solemnity of Mary that all of you know the Blessed Mother loves every single one of you just as though you were her only child. God's blessings and Christ's peace on you all, and thank you always for your support.

Tony said...

The heart of the matter is that two people are referring to the same thing with the word "God", as long as their concept of God includes "the uncaused cause of everything other than himself." As long as *that* is what what is understood by the word "God" they must be referring to the same thing.

Interestingly, it isn't necessarily the case that by the word "God" one means and could only mean "the uncaused cause of everything other than himself."

Take St. Thomas's proofs for God's existence. The structure of the proofs is that (a) a certain sort of being must exist, and (b) that being is what people mean by "God".

Therefore it is necessary to arrive at a first mover, put in motion by no other; and this everyone understands to be God.

Therefore it is necessary to admit a first efficient cause, to which everyone gives the name of God.

Therefore we cannot but postulate the existence of some being having of itself its own necessity, and not receiving it from another, but rather causing in others their necessity. This all men speak of as God.

Therefore there must also be something which is to all beings the cause of their being, goodness, and every other perfection; and this we call God.

Therefore some intelligent being exists by whom all natural things are directed to their end; and this being we call God.


And yet, at the time of the preaching of the Apostles, people in general DID NOT mean "an uncaused cause of all else" by using the word "God". They thought Zeus was a god, and Aphrodite was a god, and so on. They laughed in scorn at the IDEA of a so-called "god of all". To them, saying something like "your 'god' isn't a real god because he didn't cause everything else just didn't make sense. Obviously, a god who was the son of Jupiter and Juno didn't "cause everything else", he was himself caused.

And still, the Apostles were able to talk about God, and about gods, and eventually make sense to the pagans. One of the obvious discussions is to use the pagan idea of a god, one who controls part of reality, and show that if such a being is worthy of worship, how much more worthy of worship is a god whose providence is universal, extends to all? So much more, that if there is such a god, then he deserves the name "God" in a way that neither Mars nor Jupiter nor Saturn could claim. That is, by forcing the "godly" attributes into applying only to the ultimate case or condition. It is only after such a position on "what is a god" has become common that Thomas could say "and this being we call God" in the exclusive sense that he was using (rather than saying "and this is a characteristic of a god").

Still more interestingly, the Apostles and Fathers never suggested that the pagans and Christians worshiped the same God. They said otherwise. Largely, they associated the pagan gods with demons. Which raises an interesting question: if the pagans did not know that their gods were demons, but only knew that their gods (at rare times) performed some wonders beyond nature, were they formally worshiping demons, or rather were they worshiping "that which is capable of beyond-the-natural order"?

Even if a pagan put all his eggs in one basket and said "the only god that should be worshiped is Zeus, all other gods are deficient as gods", in opposition to all the pagans around him, that wouldn't have made his worship of Zeus into a worship of the one true God, would it? For he would still be worshiping a created thing, a limited, non-transcendent thing, one given to evil actions at times, etc.

Step2 said...

Even if a pagan put all his eggs in one basket and said "the only god that should be worshiped is Zeus, all other gods are deficient as gods", in opposition to all the pagans around him, that wouldn't have made his worship of Zeus into a worship of the one true God, would it?

This more or less describes the historical emergence of Yahweh so the answer is yes.

laubadetriste said...

@Jeffrey S.: "[To Scott:] But I don't concede that. What if what I mean by the name 'Zardoz' (and I'm the one kicking off this religion, so presumably I should be allowed to tell other people what I consider a sine qua non for my application of the name of my own god!) includes at least several of these zany things. They are part of what makes Zardoz the 'wonderful' deity that all of you want to worship. In other words, I and my followers would say that Zardoz just isn't the real Zardoz if he loves Jews. He just isn't Zardoz if he doesn't require the sacrifice of virgins. Etc."

I was speculating just why this seems to me like the setup to a "gotcha" question, as opposed to the preface to a genuine question. And I think the reason why is that the absurd-seeming or distasteful "bite the bullet" results you think you have gotten are the philosophical equivalent of "garbage in, garbage out." This seems clearest in the context of something James Chastek said on his blog:

"[Closer to the truth is that] the reality that contemporary persons want to signify by the word 'religion' is simply absurd. This is not because there is no such thing called 'religion' but rather because when we group together all that we want the term religion to signify, we end up trying to unify contraries. / Words are tools made by the practical intellect, and like any tool they can be broken and abused. There is no impediment to one of our terms corrupting to the point of absurdity, and 'religion' seems to be such a term. I believe that we contemporary persons wanted the term 'religion' to have a meaning that ended up identifying one thing with its opposite. [...] One possible explanation of this is that religion is irreducibly relates to justice, and one simply cannot talk about justice without some reference to good and evil. We, on the other hand, want a definition of religion that makes no value judgments (as we call them) but it is not clear that such a definition is possible."

When you are (e.g.) "kicking off this religion," you are introducing absurdity on the front end, so to speak, and should not be surprised, nor think you have discovered something significant, when you wring absurdity out the back end.

Anonymous said...

This more or less describes the historical emergence of Yahweh so the answer is yes.

You mean this more or less describes the conjecture of secular minded historians who begin by assuming some such development must have occurred.......

Omer said...


Scott and Jeffrey S,

Thank you for your prayers for everyone on this blog.

I pray also for us all as well.

God, please continue to shower your blessings on us all.

Please protect our families from all harm whether in nature or from the words or deeds of mankind.

Please let 2016 and beyond be a time for us to get ever closer to You in love and gratitude.

Expand our minds and especially our hearts and remove misunderstandings, assumptions, and sophistry, bigotry, and superficial self-serving biases that lead to hate and violence and misguidance.

Please bless all those Patriarchs, Prophets, and Saints such as Prophet Jesus and his mother, Mary for their efforts and goodness in trying to teach us the truth.

-Wishing everyone a joyous, productive, and a blessed 2016 and beyond.

-Omer

Anonymous said...

Some quotes from the Quran:
Fighting is enjoined on you, and is an object of dislike to you; and it may be that you dislike a thing while it is good for you, and it may be that you love a thing while it is evil for you, and Allah knows, while you do not know (Surah 2:216)
Whoever fights in the way of Allah, then be he slain or be he victorious, We shall grant him a mighty reward (Surah 4:74)
They desire that you should disbelieve as they have disbelieved, so that you might be (all) alike; therefore take not from among them friends until they fly (their homes) in Allah's way; but if they turn back, then seize them and kill them wherever you find them, and take not from among them a friend or a helper (Surah 4:89)
And prepare against them what force you can and horses tied at the frontier, to frighten thereby the enemy of Allah and your enemy and others besides them, whom you do not know (but) Allah knows them (Surah 8:60)
O Prophet! strive hard against the unbelievers and the hypocrites and be unyielding to them; and their abode is hell, and evil is the destination (Surah 9:73)
O you who believe! fight those of the unbelievers who are near to you and let them find in you hardness (Surah 9:123)

You will find no such quotes in the New Testament that Christians are to behave this way to unbelievers. In the Old Testament, Israel's holy wars were limited to the Canaanite tribes and the Amalekites. For 2,000 years, Judaism has not practiced holy war on unbelievers. Within Christianity, many Christians think that the Crusades are contrary to Christian teachings (I know of no Muslims who argue that the Muslim conquests in the century after Mohammed were against Islam). Those Christians who defend the crusades do so not on the basis that they are doing holy war as prescribed in the Old Testament but to rescue their Christian brothers in the East, and that the crusaders were meant to obey the rules of just war (very different from OT holy war against the Canaanites/Amalekites).

Allah might be called the Merciful one many times in the Quran, but that is contradicted by commands like the ones I have listed (and I stopped looking after 9 Surahs). I don't see anything like "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you" (Matthew 5:44) in the Quran. I may be wrong, but if there is a verse like that in the Quran, please point it out to me.

Anonymous said...

There is no context or concern with the long and complex interpretative traditions of Islam in the quotes you give.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quran_and_violence#Warfare

After one considers all the context and interpretative issues, one could still make a respectable argument that Islam is wrong here.

Muhammad was a warrior, unlike Jesus in the New Testament. Islam, at the very least, does enjoin Muslims to sometimes defend themselves and others from oppression and persecution. But Muslims are not ashamed of this. They consider that this to be a valid side of man. It can be noble to fight a just war justly and bravely, with complete trust in God. Muslims are far from alone in recognizing this. Even Christians have done. You yourself mention those who defend the Crusades as a means of freeing Christians from persecution (although the Crusaders actions towards Eastern Christians were often oppressive).

The original conquests of the Islamic armies took place against a very complicated background. It would be hard to say that the attacks on Persia and the Byzantines were unprovoked, as both of these empires had long meddled in Arabian affairs and oppressed Arabs. They even used Arab tribes to fight proxy wars. The Arab armies often seemed to have been more or less welcomed in Byzantine Levant and Egypt, especially by non-Chalcedonian Christians, Jews, and minority sects. The Arabs were seen as less oppressive than the Byzantines and more tolerant of other religions.

Anonymous said...

"You do not do evil to those who do evil to you, but you deal with them with forgiveness and kindness." -Sahih Al-Bukhari

"Say, "O My servants who have transgressed against themselves [by sinning], do not despair of the mercy of Allah . Indeed, Allah forgives all sins. Indeed, it is He who is the Forgiving, the Merciful."" - Surah 39, 53

Omer said...


I have a question for those on this forum who think that Muslims are not worshipping God like Christians.

If there was a religion which thought that God is a substance which has 4 persons or 8 persons instead of 3 persons or any other number, would they think that that religion was worshipping the same God the Christians are worshipping.

Let's make it more concrete.

Assume there is a religion called The Eight Hundred and Twenty Three-ians, for short "The 823-ians" who interpret their religion to say that God is a substance with 823 persons.

Are you saying that in contrast to the Muslims, The 823-ians are worshipping the same God as the Christians?

Anonymous said...

I realize that the quotes from the Quran were not given a context. If you can tell me how traditional Islam has understood those verses, and point me to the classical sources, that would be very helpful. I am quite prepared to admit that they may not indicate what I think they indicate, but suspect that some at least of them are close to their face value.

Thanks for the quote from Al-Bukhari. Is there anything comparable to that in the Quran? [By the way, in English, this quote is ambiguous--it could be a command stipulating how Muslims should act. Or it could be a statement about how a group is acting. Is this definitely a prohibition against fighting/killing those who do evil to you? If it is, and if Al-Bukhari is considered authoritative for Muslims on this point, I retract much of what I have written] Surah 39:53-54 shows that Allah forgives those who repent, and this is indeed similar to what is found in the Old and New Testaments. However, it is not a parallel to Matthew 5:44. The Al-Bukhari quote is a possible parallel.

Anonymous said...

Omer,
Do you think that Christians and Muslims are worshiping the same God? Presumably, if you do, you would think that the 823-ians are also worshiping the same God.

Omer said...


Dear Anonymous,

This is how God tells us to respond:

And do not argue with the People of the Scripture except in a way that is best, except for those who commit injustice among them, and say, "We believe in that which has been revealed to us and revealed to you. And our God and your God is one; and we are Muslims [in submission] to Him." (29:46)

Say: O People of the Scripture! Come to a common word between us and you: that we shall worship none but God, and that we shall ascribe no partner unto Him, and that none of us shall take others for lords beside God. And if they turn away, then say: Bear witness that we are they who have surrendered (unto Him). (3:64)

So do I believe that Muslims and Christians worship the same God.

Whenever we are in pain and suffering emotionally, physically, spiritually, and we reach out to the One Whom we believe is the Ultimate Cause of all existence and Who is perfectly good, then I believe we are worshipping the same God whether Unitarians, Trinitarians, or 823-ians.

I would say that the Trinitarians and the 823-ians are worshipping in grave theological error but they are both referencing the same God if they say He is the uncaused cause of all existence and He is perfect in always including perfectly good.

Anonymous said...

Omer,
Thanks for answering my question. I think that you and Ed are right. However, I think that those who think that Muslims do not worship the same God as Christians would also think that the 823-ians would not worship the same God either.

Anonymous said...

Sahih Al-Bukhari is one of the main collections of the Hadith. It was compiled by Muhammad al-Bukhari, and is considered one of the three most trusted collections of Hadith.

Here is the full Hadith:

I met Abdullah bin 'Amr bin Al-'As (RadhiAllahu 'anhuma) and asked him:

"Tell me about the description of Allah's Messenger ﷺ which is mentioned in Torah (i.e. Old Testament.") He replied, 'Yes. By Allah, he ﷺ is described in Torah with some of the qualities attributed to him in the Quran as follows:

"O Prophet ! We have sent you as a witness (for Allah's True religion) And a giver of glad tidings (to the faithful believers), And a warner (to the unbelievers) And guardian of the illiterates. You are My slave and My messenger (i.e. Apostle). I have named you "Al-Mutawakkil" (who depends upon Allah). You are neither discourteous, harsh Nor a noise-maker in the markets And you do not do evil to those Who do evil to you, but you deal With them with forgiveness and kindness. Allah will not let him (the Prophet) Die till he makes straight the crooked people by making them say: "None has the right to be worshipped but Allah," With which will be opened blind eyes And deaf ears and enveloped hearts."


I do not think Christianity holds you cannot fight those who do wrong, by the way. It holds that forgiveness is important, and as is to hold no desire to harm in revenge or oppress others. But Christians have not tended to interpret Christ's words in a pacifist sense, at least as concerns most people in most situations. At least some traditional interpretations of Islamic teaching say much the same thing.

The wiki is as good a place to start investigating the issue as any:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quran_and_violence

Anonymous said...

I think that Quranic passages that enjoin mercy and forgiveness, and speak of Allah as forgiving, are relevant. They show that Islam strongly emphasises these virtues. Yes, this isn't quite the same as Jesus' call to turn the other check, but this call has a complex place in even Christian teaching, and unless your argument is that it should be interpreted as suggesting we all should be non-violent in all situations - not the usual interpretation - a good argument can be made that it isn't too far from the perspective of Islam.

Scott said...

You say salaam, I say shalom;
You say Allah, I say Elohim.
Salaam, shalom;
Allah, Elohim;
Let's call the whole thing off.

Anonymous said...

Scott, you slay me (in a good way)!

Merry Christmas brother!

P.S. I will also add the Fesersphere in my daily rosary intentions.

Omer said...


Scott,


Ed's blog is such a fine blog that it appalls me to see it soiled with such distortions, malice, and ignorance.

I read most of Ed's posts but usually not many comments on the posts. I have noticed your name a lot in comments on the posts and you must be very involved with his blog.

With all due to respect to you, I must say that it is premature to close this post with many dangling hateful and nonsense allegations against Islam and Muslims.

I mentioned before that I would like to respond to the charges but then later said, that there are too many false statements for me to respond to.

I responded to a few and I will respond to some more....

Omer said...


Voluntarism...Really?

Regarding the many comments based on misunderstanding that Islam has an understanding of voluntarism with respect to God which can also imply that God is capricious, this is completely misunderstood by some of my Christian brethren on this forum.

The Qur'an's says so clearly, so often, and so unequivocally that God does everything with reason that if one take the time to do a careful reading of this Divine final testament, one will see it flowing out in abundant surplus.

In fact, in the very beginning of the Qur'an, there is the narration or parable of angels asking God as to why God is creating mankind since they will do corruption and bloodshed...see what is said right there in the very beginning of the Qur'an (seems like the few who say they have read the Qur'an really haven't):

And, when your Lord said to the angels, "Indeed, I will make upon the earth a steward." They said, "Will You place upon it one who causes corruption therein and sheds blood, while we declare Your praise and sanctify You?" God said, "Indeed, I know that which you do not know." And He taught Adam the names [the ability to conceptualize and define things and phenomena] - all of them. Then He showed them to the angels and said, "Inform Me of the names of these, if you are truthful." They said, "Exalted are You; we have no knowledge except what You have taught us. Indeed, it is You who is the Knowing, the Wise." He said, "O Adam, inform them of their names." And when he had informed them of their names, He said, "Did I not tell you that I know the unseen [aspects] of the heavens and the earth? And I know what you reveal and what you have concealed." (2, 30-33)

Notice how God is telling the Angels that he has created man for a purpose and that even the highest of angels no nothing of God's knowledge except the small fraction that He has taught them.

A statistical analysis was done on the words that are used in the Qur'an. By far, God was most common and also very common were attributes of God such as Merciful, Omnicient, All-Wise, All-Aware, The Just, The Generous, The Oft-Forgiving, The Beneficient, The Loving, etc.,

After God, the next group of words most common are those with reason. Indeed, according to Muslim tradition, the very first words revealed to the blessed final messenger of mankind Muhammad (may peace be upon him and all the prophets) were
Recite in the name of your Lord who created -Created man from a clinging substance. Recite, and your Lord is the most Generous -Who taught by the pen -Taught man that which he knew not. (96, 1-5)

Scott said...

Omer:

With all due to respect to you, I must say that it is premature to close this post with many dangling hateful and nonsense allegations against Islam and Muslims.

I'm puzzled by this statement. I'm not aware of having made any hateful or nonsensical allegations against Islam or Muslims.

Scott said...

It also occurs to me that you might not have recognized the reference in my post to a famous song.

Glenn said...

(Since the OP deals with reference, and what is below does too, what is below is not (entirely) off-topic.)

The following can be found in the MaverickPhilosopher's People, Guns, and Reference:

[Dale Tuggy] got off a neat comparison...:

Just as guns don't kill people, but people kill people using guns, so too words don't refer to things, but people refer to things using words.


In addition to the comparison being neat, I think it is also clever.

I also think the comparison's conclusion may be a misleading truncation of something larger and more encompassing.

For just as words don't refer to things, but people refer to things using words, so too paint brushes don't paint walls, but people paint walls using paint brushes.

Now, I could paint a wall using a toothbrush, even though using a toothbrush to paint a wall is somewhat less efficacious than using a paint brush. **

And I could refer to what others understand to be an apple by using the word 'hoosegow', even though using the word 'hoosegow' to refer to what others understand to be an apple might be somewhat less efficacious than using the word 'apple'.

But if I should care that others might know what it is I am referring to, I might want to give some consideration to making use of an efficacious word -- just as I might want to give some consideration to making use of an efficacious brush when it comes time to paint a wall.

I surmise that the idea behind calling attention to the notion that "words don't refer to things, but people refer to things using words" may be to emphasize if not the role of the people involved, then the people themselves who are involved when a reference is being made.

That is, and more briefly, I surmise that the idea behind the comparison is that animate people matter more than inanimate words.

I can agree that animate people matter more than inanimate words.

I would add, however, that since animate people matter more than inanimate words, it is a simple act of courtesy to choose efficacious words, with the idea in mind of minimizing the risk of causing confusion and consternation of the cerebral kind in others, and that this simple act of courtesy can be facilitated by giving due consideration to just what it is that the words one intends to use actually refer to.

- - - - -

** It must be noted, ere it be subsequently pointed out (and, ahem, I in turn bristle), that the most relevant part of some paint brushes is actually quite smaller than the most relevant part of many toothbrushes.

Glenn said...

(Oy vey, yikes and holy smokes. My only defense is, fortunately, quite unimpeachable -- it took considerably more than 30 minutes to compose my comment, and at no time during those considerably more than 30 minutes did I peek.)

Omer said...

Hi Scott,

I was not referring to you....

There have been multiple hateful and completely false statements such as the following:

Muhammad was living in Arabia and absorbing all sorts of interesting ideas at that time -- we know the Kaaba has a black meteor inside -- maybe they are worshiping the meteor for all me know. Most of them are crazy (or I should say the ones who take Islam seriously.)

I will be referring to some of these statements.

Scott, I have not read most of your comments and I don't know your attitude to people and issues but assuming that you have a just and charitable character....

This is what the Qur'an says about Christians in general....

"...and nearest among them in love to the believers will you find those who say, 'We are Christians,' because amongst these are men devoted to learning and men who have renounced the world, and they are not arrogant" (5:82).

I hope you are one of those.

Scott said...

"I hope you are one of those."

I hope so too.

Omer said...


Nice song....I like it....too bad songs these days are not like that.

By the way I am a great fan of all the songs in the wonderful movie Sound of Music based on the beautiful story of that Catholic family. :)

Glenn said...

So,

When the dog bites, when the bee stings,
when I'm feeling sad,
I simply remember my favorite things,
and then I don't feel so bad.

Anonymous said...

"Also, we simply CANNOT say that they did not know of the Trinity. As for Abraham: "He had a vision of the Lord, too, in the valley of Mambre, as he sat by his tent door at noon. 2 He looked up, and saw three men standing near him; and, at the sight, he ran from his tent door to meet them, bowing down to the earth."

I'm sorry but this is just a gross misreading of the text which does not have the words "He had a vision of the Lord too." They simply aren't there. Clearly, he saw three men as the text says. It strikes me as irresponsible (or hugely ignorant) to reinvent the text in order to graft on a foreign (and mistaken) theology onto it.

Ron Cram said...

Ed, I always think of you as a rational person but this post is not your best work. Christians and Muslims do not worship the same God. The God of the Bible has a Son. The God of the Koran does not. The God of the Bible loves sinners and unbelievers. The God of the Koran says sinners and unbelievers should be killed. The God of the Bible says you have to accept by faith. The God of the Koran says "convert or die." The God of the Bible respects women. The God of the Koran says women are not as valuable or trustworthy as men. Nothing of the essential elements of God's personality or his plan of salvation is the same.

It seems to me that only Catholic scholars are thinking improperly about this. I'm a little confused about why Catholic scholars are coming up with the wrong answers here.

Omer said...


Ron Cram,

All you wrote is wicked rubbish.

Please have the honesty to not spread patently false statements against 1.5 billion people.

Yes the God of the Qur'an like the Tanakh (Hebrew Old Testament) does not have a Son.

However the Qur'an does NOT say that sinners or unbelievers should be killed.

The Qur'an does NOT say that you should convert or die.

In the Qur'an, women are considered fully equal with men and are respected far more than the Bible. I can give you numerous verses of the Qur'an and the Bible to demonstrate this.

If anyone believes in Perfect Being Theology...that God is perfect, then God's final testament, the Qur'an is THE book which describes and emphasizes this repeatedly and clearly and eloquently and effectively and beautifully.

Please produce one verse that is not out of very specific context that says what you claim.

If you are Protestant, than Martin Luther was not too kind with everything in the Bible...he wanted to throw away the Epistle of James (Book of James in the New Testament)...ironic because academic biblical scholars say that the true successor to Jesus was his brother James and not Paul who never met Jesus and who had serious disputes with the few apostles of Jesus he claimed to have met and Paul of Tarsus said vicious things about the apostles of Jesus.

Anonymous said...

Ron, by thinking you improbably you seem to me not coming up with conclusions you agree with, because your actual arguments, like most of the other, are dire. You do nothing to actually refute a thing Feser says, and don't begin to show why the belief in the incarnation is enough to mean Christians are referring to a different God. Like many other critics of Islam here, you also refer to (without showing the relevance to the issue of reference) on hugely controversial distinctions in the ethical teachings of the faith, without argument and clearly without any intent to form a proper knowledge of Islamic teaching and history.

This thread should be an eye-opener to any Christian who thought that there weren't many Christians who are just as ready argue as badly, ignorantly, and uncharitably your average New Atheist. This seems especially the case for evangelical Protestants, who seem to make up a large proportion of the Islam-bashers.

Edward Feser said...

Ron Cram,

You must be at least the third person now to make a comment along the lines of "Golly gee whiz, Ed, this just isn't very good etc." ... and then proceed simply to re-iterate, as if they were something new, variations on bad arguments that have already been criticized by myself and others many times now, with no attempt actually to answer those criticisms.

So yes, there's something odd going on here. And it ain't with me...

seanrobsville said...

@ Omar

"However the Qur'an does NOT say that sinners or unbelievers should be killed.

The Qur'an does NOT say that you should convert or die."


So, how about "when the Sacred Months have passed, then kill the mushrikûn wherever you find them, and capture them and besiege them, and lie in wait for them in each and every ambush." (Ayah 9.5)

Admittedly the Quran does not say ALL unbelievers should be killed. The mushrikûn women and children may be used for sex slavery, as was done, with full Quranic justification, to the Yazidis.

Anonymous said...

http://www.quranicstudies.com/law/myths-about-the-verse-of-the-sword/

This verse is problematic, certainly, but it far from clear cut that it does in fact represent a call to kill all polytheists (not just unbelievers). It is much like some Biblical passages in this regard. Here is a fuller context for the quote, which changes its hue somewhat:

A proclamation from Allah and His Messenger to people on the day of Greater Pilgrimage that Allah is clear of the polytheists, as is His Messenger. If you repent that is better for you but if you turn away then know that you are not beyond the power of Allah. And give [O Muhammad!] glad tidings of a painful chastisement to the disbelievers. (Ayah 9.3) Except those of the polytheists with whom you have a treaty and they did not break its terms or aid someone against you, so abide by their treaty until their term. Allah loves the pious. (9.4) When the Inviolable Months have passed away, kill the polytheists wherever you find them. Seize them, besiege them, and wait for them at every place of observation. If they repent, observe prayer, and pay the obligatory alms then let them go their way. Allah is forgiving, merciful. (9.5) If anyone of the polytheists seeks your protection [O Muhammad!], then protect him so that he may hear the Word of Allah, and escort him to his place of safety. That is because they are a people who do not know. (9.6) How can there be a treaty with Allah and with His Messenger for the polytheists, save those with whom you [O you who believe!] made a treaty at the Inviolable Mosque? So long as they are true to you, be true to them. Surely, Allah loves the pious. (9.7) How [can there be any treaty for the others] when if they would get an advantage over you they would not honor any relation or treaty with you? They satisfy you with their mouths while their hearts refuse. Most of them are backsliders. (9.8) They have purchased with the verses of Allah a little gain, so they have turned away from His way. Surely, evil is what they do. (9.9) They do not honor any relation or treaty with a believer; these are the transgressors. (9.10) But if they repent, observe prayer, and pay the obligatory alms, then they are your brethren in religion. We detail Our verses for the people of knowledge. (9.11) If they break their oaths after their treaty and assail your religion, then fight the heads of disbelief. Surely, they have no binding oaths, so that they may desist. (9.12) Will you not fight a people who broke their oaths, set out to drive out the Messenger, and attacked you first? Do you fear them? Allah is more worthy of your fear, if you are believers. (9.13)

Omer said...


Dear Sean Robsville,

I hope you read the link sent by Annonymous immediately after your comment that explains how you are mistaken about that verse. If I find time, I will try to extract relevant passages from that link but please read it as it is short but comprehensive.

I can understand your misunderstanding as that verse has been distorted much by two groups...terrorists like ISIS and many Conservative writers.

I completely sympathize with you regarding your outrage over what happened to the Yazidis. Thank you for speaking out and writing about them.

Having seen your writings on Buddhism, I assume you are a Buddhist. Peace to you and your family. I want to say that I am not 100% against the evil terrorists such as Al Qaeda, ISIS, etc. who have no regard for human life, whether nonMuslim or Muslim (if it does not go with their variety and if it allegiance is not given to them).

According to Quran (60,8), it is 100% against the Qur'an, as to what happened against the innocent Yazidis.

Did you ever take a moment and ask yourself why small Yazidi community existed for all these centuries and it is now that they are being treated in a wickedly evil way by the ISIS terrorists who claim to be Muslim? Why did not the Muslim Caliphs and other rulers do what the evil ISIS terrorists did before?

The vast majority of these ISIS soldiers are young like 17-20 yr olds. According to the Washington Post, "almost all of the leaders of the Islamic State are former Iraqi officers"

Do you think these former Iraqi Officers are Islamic? These Baathists were killing Islamic leaders...they know zero about Islam. As the top civilian administrator of the former Coalition Provisional Authority, Bremer was permitted to rule by decree. Among his first and most notable decrees were Coalition Provisional Authority Order Number 1, which banned the Ba'ath party in all forms[14] and Coalition Provisional Authority Order Number 2 dismantled the Iraqi Army.[15]

He fired all the Baathists and helped turn them to join the eventually almost destroyed Al Qaedi in Iraq terrorists to become the ISIS terrorists.

Do you know the environment under which the Al Qaeda in Iraq terrorists and their fathers grew up the last 25 years? After the first Gulf War, the sanctions we placed on them killed over half a million Iraqi children (UN stats)...proportional to 5 million US children killed. Then according to detailed population studies done by top researchers published in Lancet (top medical journal alone) by 2006, our invasion, attacks (remember shock and awe), and occupation and dismantling of the Iraqi police and other forces and arming the Shia death squads created Al Qaeda in Iraq and ISIS....that's the environment they grew up in ...being deprived of adequate nutrition or healthcare or as children and having many of their family member be blown up directly by us or by the sectarian war we unleashed by destroying the state...although the Iraqis killed ZERO Americans before we attacked them with Conservatives leading the . These terrorists know only distortions about Islam. The terrorists are only evil gangs.

daurio said...

Perhaps if Dr. Feser changed the title of the post to "Is Islam idolatrous, or is it blasphemous?" far fewer people would object to his argument.

Anonymous said...

Except Muslims, presumably.

thomas_h said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

A few questions
1. It would seem that Muslims do not believe that Jews or Christians believe that we all worship the same God Allah or the Muslims would not be killing us as infidels. Doesn't what Muslims believe matter?
2. It would seem that believing in a particular God would require some kind of communication with him. If Muslim's engage in a faulty communication with him and misunderstand everything about him are they really worshipping the same God? Are they really communicating with the same God? I would think not.
What is the real difference between Muslims and Mormons in your argument? Both believe in the God of Abraham and then digressed on their own from the same Christian path that started from Jesus. Jews have the same God as Christians but missed out on more recent communication with him. The Jews at one time did at one time have true communication with him. Mormons and Muslims have simply plagiarized
Jewish history to gain credibility. Otherwise people would think Smith and Mohammed were just making things up.

Omer said...

Anonymous,

Muslims would object when their religion is misrepresented. Do you think Christians would object when their religion is misrepresented?

How do Christians feel when ignorant Muslims think the Trinity is equivalent to Tri-Theism?

...which is a heresy according to the Catholic Church and I assume according to Protestants.

If some Muslim blogger read some writings of Calvinists and interpreted that they and thus Christianity tend towards Voluntarism, how would Catholics or non-Calvin Christians feel about that?

I assume that Calvinists themselves would object that they believe God in line with voluntarism.

If some Muslim blogger read some writings of Scotus and Ockham and interpreted that Christianity tend towards Voluntarism, how would Christians feel about that?

Most Muslims don't even know what Asharism is.

All Asharists did not believe in Voluntarism.

Shia Muslims are even more against voluntarism than even Catholics.

Sufi Muslims and Sunni Muslims are against Voluntarism.

They don't give a hoot to some arcane writings of a few Ashari medieval scholars who were in argument with their Sunni Mutazilite, Maturidi Sunnis, other Sunnis, and Shias and trying to think they need to emphasize God's omnipotence.

There are also some Arabian pre-Islamic tendencies towards fatalism which has crept into Muslim thought but it has ZERO to do with the Qur'an.....the Qur'an emphasizes God's reason above any other revelations.

Muslims believe God is PERFECTLY GOOD.

Omer said...

thomas_h,

if you are a "simple man," then I have a simple link with you to see what Jesus himself used to refer to God....

taken from the movie The Passion...

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BTSG0YzlGB8

Jesus (may God's peace be upon him and his mother) called God as Alaha in reference for that Being who is Uncaused Cause of everything in Aramaic...

Omer said...

thomas_h,

your fruit of the tree comment and comments on Prophet Muhammad are wicked ignorance and arrogantly making public comments without being informed...it is a combination of laziness of wanting to do the reading that is needed, bigotry, and lack of respect for intelligence.

it is getting tiring to respond to these lies...but if i get a chance, i will do so.

Peace to you and may God remove the ignorance, arrogance, and hatred from your simpleness and may you rise above yourself and understand compassion, discernment, and knowledge.

Anonymous said...

Do refer me to the place in the Gospels referring me to the Youtube.

thomas_h

Anonymous said...

Oh, give me a break.

I've read the Hadiths and the Kuran. What a monstrous character must have been the author of the latter and the hero of the former.

Besides, I have spent years in the Middle East and North Africa. Only a fool and liar can deny the perfect causal connection between these "holy books" and the pathology which is the islamic civilization.

thomas_h

Edward Feser said...

I’m a rather simple man

Evidently, since you seem unable to give a single non-question-begging argument, or indeed any argument at all. And since you don't even bother trying to respond to the arguments I and others have given here. And since you are also unable to see that the question under discussion here has absolutely nothing to do with whether Islam has the various defects you list. As I keep saying, it's only about the reference of the word "God" as used by different speakers. It's got nothing to do with salvation, with how religions compare in terms of their moral codes, etc.

Indeed, like some others here, you seem incapable, or at lest unwilling, to do much more than stamp your foot and say "You're wrong! You're just wrong!"

But being simpleminded is the least of your problems. Your comments are utterly lacking in justice or charity. Which is sinful, last time I checked. Being an arrogant hothead who shoots his mouth off without knowing what he's talking about is also sinful. Just sayin'.

Anonymous said...

@ E.Feser

I'm not saying Islam has "various defects". I'm saying Islam is totally evil. It's a completely different thing. And being totally evil its god can't have anything to do with God. So once again, the Gospel's parable of the good and bad tree and its fruit applies perfectly here. If it doesn't apply here then it doesn't apply any other place.

thomas_h

Anonymous said...

@ E.Feser

"Your comments are utterly lacking in justice or charity."

Please show where.

thomas_h

Omer said...


Ed,

"Your comments are utterly lacking in justice or charity. Which is sinful, last time I checked. Being an arrogant hothead who shoots his mouth off without knowing what he's talking about is also sinful. Just sayin'."

Thanks much!

Omer

Anonymous said...


@Edward Feser

"Your comments are utterly lacking in justice or charity."

Well, that's in itself is question begging assertion.

But the question still is: do the Christians and Muhammedans worship the same god"? I have once again read the Pope Benedict XVI Regensburg Address and I'm glad to see that nothing in his address indicates even slightest similarity between God and Allah.

thomas_h

Edward Feser said...

thomas_h:

Yes, the Regensburg Address was a wonderful, courageous, much-needed document, with which I agree. As a matter of fact, I have a forthcoming post about it. It's also completely consistent with everything I've been saying. As Pope Benedict himself said in a 2009 address:

Christians and Muslims... often live, work and worship in the same neighbourhood. Both believe in one, merciful God who on the last day will judge mankind.

Benedict would agree with me, not with you.

If you'd actually start thinking and read carefully what I've actually written, instead of responding emotionally, you'd see that the claims are perfectly consistent and that to say that Christians and Muslims worship the same God entails far less than you seem to think it does.

Anonymous said...

"Both believe in one, merciful God who on the last day will judge mankind."

And where does it say that the respective judgement of God and Allah will be identical?

thomas_h

Anonymous said...

@ E. Feser

Well, it's 2:30am where I live. I'm looking forward to your reply - if there will be one. I'll check tomorrow.

thomas_h

Mr. Green said...

Scott: I would agree that it's not an act of correct worship. I would not agree that it's not intended to be an act of worship, even though it's misguided.

And more than that, I would say it is an actual act of worship (that is, actual worship of the actual God), because surely if you intend to worship, God then you do worship, no?

If, for example, you wanted to worship me (unworthy though I be, but to be fair, I can understand the temptation...), you could try but you might fail — because, say, I wasn't present. You might think you were worshipping me, but perhaps it was really Jeffrey disguised as me (in order to try to filch some of my worship for himself). Even though physically your speech or actions may have been directed in Jeffrey's direction, you couldn't have been worshipping him; you didn't even know he was there. In fact, I'm not sure that you didn't succeed in worshipping me, since that was your intent; though it won't do you any good, since it was lost on me in my absence.

God, however, is present everywhere, and knows perfectly our inmost thoughts and intentions, so it is impossible for any worship directed at Him to miss its target. Of course, that doesn't say anything about the quality of the worship — it is equally impossible for an insult against God to go astray. But it seems to me that if the object of said worship is reasonably identifiable as God, then it must succeed as worship of God, independently of how defective it may or may not be in terms of suitability.

Mr. Green said...

Jeffrey S.:1) I think Muhammad created the Muslim religion -- he made it all up.

Thanks for your responses. Muhammad is of course a unique case, and we do not know exactly what case that was, but one thing that is sure is that it wasn't all made up — Islam clearly and explicitly refers to the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, and expressly claims to refer to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. So whatever Muhammad himself may have believed, the Muslims who followed him were quite specifically intending to worship the one and only God.

2) Here's how I would re-phrase your question -- in a line-up, I would put a crucifix[...] I'm assuming the Muslim will say, none of them.

But that's not just a rephrasing, that's a different question! I admit to granting myself some poetic license in presuming to put God in a line-up, but I wanted to avoid the very problem your new question suffers, namely, relying on an explicitly non-Muslim representation of God. Perhaps I should have phrased my question in terms of what description a Muslim would give to pick out God — and of course many of them would immediately choose a metaphysical description that any classical theist could support; others might refer to "the God Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob", or so on. Rephrasing the question to make it explicitly Christian defeats the point (or begs the question).

3) Aristotle and Plotinus are trickier because how does someone represent the god of classical theism in a line-up? If you want to stick with words, then yes we could describe the "uncaused cause of everything", and we can say they believed in the God of classical theism

Surely that makes them less tricky (given the original question). What about little Susie, who has no training in classical metaphysics? She is a sincere, baptised Christian, yet any description of God she comes up with will pale in comparison to the sophisticated response of a classical theist like Avicenna or Averroes. Are you really saying that Susie does not worship God when she prays? There's just no way to gerrymander the boundaries of who believes in God and who doesn't that will include Susie but exclude A & A (other than arbitrarily drawing it at "are you a Muslim or not?").

4) Yes. I'm not sure, but I suspect it is some sort of demonic force if they are worshiping whatever inspired Muhammad.

But this is obviously false, as much as the flippant remark that "maybe they worship a meteor". As noted in my comment to Scott, if you try to worship God, then you are worshipping God. Even if you think a demon was involved, you are surely not claiming that ordinary Muslims think they are worshipping a demon or intend to do so? It's not even as though they could be worshipping a different "ultimate God", because (to come back to the central theme of Ed's post) there is only one ultimate God, only one Ground of Being, one Creator of the whole universe, one God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

5) the P.S. - then I'm wrong about the descriptive theory of language.

Fair enough!

Chris said...

Thomas h,

I find it hard to swallow that a tradition that produced the likes of a Jalaluddin Rumi is evil. Oh, and that doesn't make me a terrorist or America hater or whatever. Just sayin.

afkimel said...

Oh my. The discussion here has certainly degenerated in this thread. I'm confused why people continue to confuse the question of reference (Do Christians and Muslims refer to the same divine reality by the words 'God'/'Allah'?) with the question of theology (Do Christians and Muslims agree on the nature and character of God?). If I am reading Dr Feser correctly, he believes that the answer to the first question is yes and the answer to the second question is no. So what's all the hubbub? It's not as if (unless one is a Barthian, and I'm not even sure about that) anything theologically significant is at stake in giving an affirmative answer to the first. Neither gospel nor dogmas are surrendered. The Church will continue to evangelize Muslims and the world as she has for the past 2,000 years.

Edward Feser said...

thomas_h, if the burning question you think demands an answer is:

Please show where.

The answer is obvious. So obvious that I did not regard it as worthy of a response. Indeed, so obvious that even a "simple man" would understand, at least if he were not a self-righteous fanatic. But since I am evidently not dealing with that kind of "simple man," here's your answer: It is unjust and uncharitable for you to:

(a) characterize what some person has said as "charade, arrogance and... sin" and "motivated... [by] vanity not love of truth"

while at the same time:

(b) giving no evidence that you have even understood what the person actually said, and completely ignoring the arguments the person gave for his claims and his responses to various criticisms.

If you're going to make charges of kind (a), then justice and charity require you to back them up by responding to what the person actually said rather than attacking some figment of your imagination. The "I'm a simple man" shtick doesn't excuse you. If you sincerely think you are too simple to understand something someone has said, then genuine humility would have told you shouldn't be criticizing it. And if you don't really think you are to simple to understand it, then the "I'm a simple man" stuff is just faux humility, which is a kind of pride -- also a sin, by the way, though of course you know that, being an expert on the subject and all.

Anyway, there's your answer, tough guy. No need to thank me!

Edward Feser said...

afkimel wrote:

The discussion here has certainly degenerated in this thread. I'm confused why people continue to confuse the question of reference (Do Christians and Muslims refer to the same divine reality by the words 'God'/'Allah'?) with the question of theology (Do Christians and Muslims agree on the nature and character of God?). If I am reading Dr Feser correctly, he believes that the answer to the first question is yes and the answer to the second question is no. So what's all the hubbub?

Yup, exactly right, Fr. Kimel. An extremely easy point to see, unless one is sitting on his high horse -- and much too comfortable up there to step down for a moment and take a closer look.

Edward Feser said...

Hmm, just noticed that thomas_h also asks:

And where does it say that the respective judgement of God and Allah will be identical?

Thanks for proving my point further, thomas_h. Where on earth did I (or Benedict XVI for that matter) say anything remotely like the claim that the Christian and Muslim conceptions of divine judgment are "identical"?

Again, you obviously do not even understand what it is I have been arguing for. And I'm obviously wasting my time. See ya.

Anonymous said...

Omer, I think you should also be charitable. In your last post on the subject you gave the worst interpretation of America's recent forays into the Middle East and their outcome. The attitude to portrays Westerners, Americans in particular, as Islam-hating imperialists who intervene just to harm the people of the region, especially Muslims, is as uncharitable a position as that of the anti-Islamic bigots.

None of this means that the War in Iraq wasn't folly, or that at times American's have been self-serving and reckless in their adventures in the region. It doesn't even rule out a low-level prejudice (I'm still waiting for a half-decent attempt to explain the supposedly huge ethical gaps between Christianity and Islam).

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