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:

1 – 200 of 579   Newer›   Newest»
entirelyuseless said...

I think most atheists would be insulted by the implication that if Mormonism was true, atheism would be true. They mean to deny Mormonism as well. So your scenario with the alien revelation (which is equivalent in all essential ways to Mormonism) would not imply atheism is true, as that is commonly understood.

Scott said...

They probably do "mean to deny Mormonism as well," but not because they mean to deny only and specifically classical theism and regard Mormon theology as an example of it. The scenario in which classical theism is false is a scenario in which atheism of the relevant sort (the non-existence of a metaphysically ultimate, simple, immutable, omnipotent, etc., Source of all being) is true, and would still be true even if Mormon theology were also true.

Glenn said...

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.

In Alfred Hitchcock's North by Northwest, Roger Thornhill is mistaken for George Kaplan. George Kaplan does not exist. But that he does not exist isn't entailed by the fact that Roger Thornhill, who is thought by some to be George Kaplan, isn't George Kaplan.

In Hitchcock's The Wrong Man, Manny Balestrero is mistaken for a thief. The thief does exist. And that Manny Balestrero, who is thought by some to be the thief, is not the thief does not entail that the thief does not exist.

Thus, if it turned out that what we'd been calling "God" isn't God, it would not follow that there isn't a God, only that God, if there is one, isn't that which we had been calling "God".

so, that there really isn't a God after all would follow from there not being anything which is metaphysically ultimate, without a cause of its own, etc., but not from the fact that we what we'd been calling "God" was something which is less than metaphysically ultimate, which has a cause, etc.

Son of Ya'Kov said...

@Scott

I might even venture if Theistic Personalism is true then Atheism is true (i.e the non-existence of a metaphysically ultimate, simple, immutable, omnipotent, etc., Source of all being).

For most Gnus I submit if they want to promote Atheism they might do well to take up the Cause of Theistic Personalist apologetics instead of opposing it.

Jeffrey S. said...

Ed,

I'm puzzled by a number of items in this post:

1) "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."

Huh? What were they accused of? If not worshiping a false God, then what, because they need to accept Christ for salvation and they reject Him. Don't we owe them the courtesy of taking their beliefs seriously enough to acknowledge that we don't believe in the same God and that, crucially, salvation is through Christ alone (whatever the mysterious meaning of God's covenant with the Jewish people still means today.)? Likewise, with Muslims, salvation is through Christ alone -- or to put it another way, believe in the Trinity or risk eternal death. Whatever Muslims are worshiping, they aren't worshiping Christ (i.e. the Trinity) and so to take their own beliefs seriously, we need to be honest with them -- give up your false worship or die an eternal death.

2) "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."

Modern Jews are different from Abraham and Moses -- you said yourself earlier that we can't expect Abraham or Moses to know about the Trinity given that God hadn't revealed Himself as man yet.

3) "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.

[…]

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."

Huh?! Why would we still be Christians if the first scenario is true – wouldn’t we all be Jews instead? How could we know anything about God’s triune nature if He never revealed it to us (or worse, allowed something like the first scenario to play out.) God wouldn’t be the Christian God anymore, would He? Don’t we only know everything we do about the Trinity thanks to revelation (you say so yourself: "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.")

So it appears that how we know something about God is important to our understanding of God. So when we look at Muhammad and how he came to know something about 'God' we can reasonably look at the evidence and say to ourselves, that's not God -- not the God of the Bible that we understand as Christians. Indeed, it appears that it is a false God (maybe even some sort of malevolent force) given what Muhammad did with his revelations. Crucially, how Muhammad and his worshipers act and even understand their God should be evidence for how we understand them.

Jeffrey S. said...

[continued]


4) You want to try and compare Muslims to pagans (and others) who have never been exposed to divine revelation or Christianity -- I think that's the point of the Aquinas quotes and discussion at the end of the post. But that's not the analogous situation with Muslims -- Muhammad knew about Christianity (and Judaism) and rejected them for his own crazed visions. Therefore your comparison doesn't work and it is fair to say that Muslims are indeed worshiping a false and wrong conception of God in contrast to Christians (just like Jews.)


5) You also claim, crucially, that Muslims agree with Christians about the nature of God:

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

How do you know this? Why are we to assume that Muslim understand is the same as Christian understanding?

You used to write about "the abstract and overwhelming Will that is Allah and the similarly impersonal and forbidding God of Calvinism, the Deity in both religions issuing orders that have no basis other than that Will itself."

"http://www.ideasinactiontv.com/tcs_daily/2003/12/does-islam-need-a-luther-or-a-pope.html

And have talked at this blog about the problems with voluntarism:

"The implications of the dispute between intellectualism and voluntarism are many and profound, and I have discussed some of them in various places (e.g. here and here). One of these implications is theological. The intellectualist tends to think of God as essentially a Supreme Intellect, as (you might say) Subsistent Rationality Itself. We might not always understand what he wills and does, given the limitations of our own finite intellects; all the same, in itself what God wills and does is always rational or intelligible through and through, and would be seen to be by a sufficiently powerful intellect. By contrast, an extreme voluntarist conception of God would regard him primarily as a Supreme Will, indeed as (you might say) Subsistent Willfulness Itself. On this sort of view, what God wills and does is not ultimately intelligible even in itself, for he is in no sense bound by rationality. He simply wills what he wills, arbitrarily or whimsically, and there is ultimately no sense to be made of it...

Some of the general theological consequences of these two conceptions of God as they were developed within the context of Christianity have been sketched by Michael Allen Gillespie in his book The Theological Origins of Modernity (which I reviewed here) and by Margaret Osler in Divine Will and the Mechanical Philosophy. They are also relevant to what Pope Benedict XVI had to say about the difference between Christianity and Islam in his famous Regensburg lecture.

6) It seems like the key idea in the entire post for you is the following:

"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."

Back to my earlier questions about modern Jews -- this seems crazy to me and doesn't take Jewish belief seriously. In essence, it seems like you are arguing that the Trinity, and therefore Christ Himself, is not essential to an understanding of God. I get that it is not essential to an understanding of classical theism (even the pagan philosophers understood God) but to deny Christ is to deny God in an important way for Christians, end of story.

Jeffrey S. said...

Meant to say:

"even the pagan philosophers understood God of classical theism."

In other words, the distinction between Christianity and classical theism is indeed important, just like the distinction between Christianity and Islam and Judaism is important -- and I think we need to be careful to tease out the difference and their implications (i.e. modern Jews and Muslims worship a different God than Christians.)

Edward Feser said...

Jeffrey,

I’m puzzled by your comments, all of which seem to me either to beg the question, miss the point, misunderstand what I said, or otherwise simply to ignore rather than respond to the arguments given in my post. So I’m tempted to tell you to go back and read again more carefully. But I’ll reply briefly to your points:

1. Are you saying, then, that the early Christians, and later generations of Christians for that matter, did regard the Jews as worshipping a false god? That’s an interesting claim. I’d like to see some support for it. And when did this magical transformation in the object of their belief and worship take place? Are you saying that a Jew who worshiped the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses worshipped the true God as long as he had never heard of the doctrine of the Trinity or the Incarnation, but as soon as he heard of them and said “No, I reject those doctrines,” then suddenly the referent of his uses of the term “God” changed to something different from what it had been before he said “No”? That’s a very interesting and unprecedented theory of reference. And again, I’d like to see a remotely plausible argument for it, or indeed just any argument at all for it.

Anyway, in answer to your question “What were [Jews, and Arians and other heretics] accused of?” the answer is obvious: grave theological error, including heresy. But not all theological errors or heresies entail worshipping a false god. You merely assume that rejecting the divinity of Jesus must entail (a) worshipping a false god as opposed to (b) worshipping the true God but badly misunderstanding his nature and acts. Since the whole point of the post was to show why it does not entail (a) but only (b), this assumption simply begs the question. So, you owe us an actual argument for why it entails (a) and not just (b), rather than merely asserting this.

2. Yes, modern Jews are in a different epistemic situation from Abraham and Moses, as I said. I also explained why that was irrelevant to the present point -- an explanation you completely ignore. Did you actually read the post before responding?

3. Where did I say that we’d still be Christians in the scenario I described? What I said is that God’s nature would still be Trinitarian , but that we wouldn’t know this since it would not have been (in that scenario) revealed. Hence in that situation there would not be Christians, and in particular no human beings who knew about the Trinity. But the doctrine of the Trinity would still be true.

4. Again, you simply ignore the points I made in response to the claim that whether someone is around before the time of Christ (Abraham, Moses, et al.) or after the time of Christ (Muslims, modern Jews, et al.) isn’t relevant. So this just begs the question yet again.

5. I have never said that being a voluntarist entails worshipping a false god. All it entails is getting God’s nature wrong in a very important way, which is a different sort of error -- or at least, you’ve said absolutely nothing to show (as opposed to merely asserting) that it is not a different sort of error.

And do you think that Scotus, Ockham, et al. were also worshippers of a false god? Good luck with that. Your position seems to entail that anyone who makes a mistake about the divine nature is ipso facto not only guilty of theological error or even heresy, but of nothing less than idolatry. Again, good luck making that plausible. But again, I’d be happy to hear even a bad argument for it, as opposed to yet another mere assertion.

6. Where did I say the Trinity is “not essential to an understanding of God”? Of course it is. Someone who affirms the Trinity has a much deeper understanding of God than someone who does not. What I said is that knowledge of the Trinity is not essential to being able to refer to, and worship (however imperfectly), God. And that is something with which you implicitly agree since you agree that Abraham was not a Trinitarian but still worshipped the true God.

Tapestry said...

Whenever there is a big theological to do on the interwebs i always ask myself what do Ed Feser, Bradon Watson & James Chastek (in no particular order) think about this issue. Glad at least You and James have Chimed in on this. I also would like the perspective of former atheist Dguller. He hasn't been around these parts in a while.

Frank Turek said...

As always, excellent post and discussion, Ed.

For another view, here is what I just received in my inbox from Nabeel Qureshi, a former Muslim who now works with Ravi Zacharias. He admits that the issue is complex, but maintains that Muslims and Christians do not worship the same God. http://rzim.org/global-blog/do-muslims-and-christians-worship-the-same-god.

Perhaps Nabeel would agree with your conclusion given your precise distinctions and your point of commonality being classical theism rather than Trinitarianism. And perhaps your posing of the issue being "referring" to the same God rather than worshiping the same God is also critical.

However for me, even acknowledging your distinctions, the differences seem too great to suggest that the two refer to the same God. While they do refer to some of the same classical theistic attributes, they differ on others (e.g. Allah is neither essentially good nor infinitely loving).

At what point are we referring to the same theistic God or different theistic Gods? Tough question. But 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.

Thanks for keeping the posts coming. Always enlightening. Hope to have you back on the radio program soon. Blessings, Frank Turek

Jeffrey S. said...

Ed,

It is very possible that all of my questions boil down to this precise problem:

"Anyway, in answer to your question “What were [Jews, and Arians and other heretics] accused of?” the answer is obvious: grave theological error, including heresy. But not all theological errors or heresies entail worshipping a false god. You merely assume that rejecting the divinity of Jesus must entail (a) worshipping a false god as opposed to (b) worshipping the true God but badly misunderstanding his nature and acts. Since the whole point of the post was to show why it does not entail (a) but only (b), this assumption simply begs the question."

(b) seems like a semantic word game to me -- 'sure, you [Jews, Muslims, etc.] don't really understand God's nature or how to worship Him or how to achieve salvation; but at least you pray to the same God'???????????

That makes no sense to me and all my questions try to tease out the implications of your arguments to make that somehow make some sense.

Jeffrey S. said...

"3. Where did I say that we’d still be Christians in the scenario I described? What I said is that God’s nature would still be Trinitarian , but that we wouldn’t know this since it would not have been (in that scenario) revealed. Hence in that situation there would not be Christians, and in particular no human beings who knew about the Trinity. But the doctrine of the Trinity would still be true."

Also, this is absolutely fascinating with interesting philosophical implications: does a tree make a sound in the forest if no one is around to hear it? Does God have a Triune nature if He never reveals that nature to man? Seems kind of strange to believe that doctrine given that we are finite beings trapped in time and have already received God's revelation.

Scott said...

Jeffrey S.:

I'm not sure why you need to "tease out" any "implications" when Ed's arguments are made explicitly in the post. Yes, in general but with the individual exceptions Ed has mentioned, Jews and Muslims are referring to, and at least attempting to worship and pray to, the one and only God. So were the "Arians and other heretics" you originally brought up but are now ignoring. And?

On your view, it seems, a Muslim who denies that God became incarnate in Jesus Christ isn't even referring to the real God at all. In that case, of whom is he denying the Incarnation? Zeus?

And why in the world would you think God wouldn't have a triune nature just because He didn't choose to reveal it?

Jeffrey S. said...

Last comment for a bit:

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!!

Anonymous said...

Allah is neither essentially good nor infinitely loving

Do you mean as the Muslims perceive him? I don't think that is true.

It might be worth pointing out that there are theological and philosophical divisions within Islam. The voluntarism being referred to is that of the Ash'arites. This is an important school of Sunni Islam Aqidah, theology, but it shouldn't be equated with the all Islam. Even the Ash'arites would probably not deny that God is good and infinitely loving. The names of God in Islam include the loving, the merciful, and the good.

Scott said...

Jeffrey S.:

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!

No, obviously you don't understand the distinction, because not one speck of that farrago of nonsense follows from it.

Skyliner said...

Greetings, Ed,

My compliments on another fine post, and, on this one, I find myself largely in agreement with you. That said, I have a question for you--if it's too far afield, feel free to ignore it.

Granting that the word 'God' is ultimately comprehensible by virtue of its metaphysical reference and implies such things as being the omni-endowed source and term and ground of all that exists, I'm wondering whether you see *the triunity* of God doing any *metaphysical work*? I ask because your post brought to mind research on Athanasius that I had done several years back, and, in his _Orations against the Arians 2:2_, he argues that if the Arian understanding of the divine (according to which generativity is not intrinsic to the divine nature in se) were correct, God would not have been able to bring creation into existence. In other words, it is *specifically* the eternal, immutable fecundity of the Father which accounts for the fact that the referent of our word 'God' is such as to have the capacity to bring into existence a contingent creation ex nihilo.

To be sure, Athanasius did not deny natural theology or the classical understanding of the divine perfections (though I would argue that he was willing to "dilate" the latter in light of revelation). That said, assuming that my assessment of the passage mentioned above is correct, do you think he may have been on to something? Or, would you argue that the knowledge de deo uno arrived at via natural reason sufficiently covers the world and reality as we experience it? (Or, another option?)

Here is the passage in question:
http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/28162.htm

Best in Christ, and keep up the good work!

Daniel said...

@Ed, thank you for a level headed and sensible post on this topic. It comes at a time I was honestly beginning to lose all faith in US Catholics over this and other topics.

@All, re Jeffrey's last post - isn't that pretty close to what the Israelites in the Old Testament are supposed to have done on occasion?

Jeffrey S. said...

Scott,

You say,

"No, obviously you don't understand the distinction, because not one speck of that farrago of nonsense follows from it."

Thanks so much for the helpful comment.

Daniel,

An excellent point -- I would argue that while God did command the Israelites to destroy certain enemies of Israel and certain people who were doing wicked things, I think we have to argue (ironically because of the nature of God and what we know of His character -- as opposed to what Muslims think of His character) that the Canaanite genocide did not happen as described in the Bible:

http://www.whatswrongwiththeworld.net/2014/08/on_paul_copans_attempted_solut.html

Scott said...

Jeffrey S.:

"Thanks so much for the helpful comment."

Jeffrey, do you seriously need someone to point out to you that killing infidels and slaughtering Jews are murder and that nothing in Ed's argument suggests or implies otherwise to a fair and competent reader?

Pedro Erik said...

Dear Dr. Feser,

I think you focused too much on the trinitarian issue.

Dr. William Craig has a diferente opinion about this subject. He focused on the fact that Allah is not an all-loving God. Allah hates sinners, infidels and apostates.

I remember the passage in Matthew 22:36-40. When Christ explained the two most importante commandments.

Dr. Rémi Brague also did not agree with you. He is Catholic like you. He explained in detail in his book "On the God of the Christians".

Try to focus on love.

Best regards,
Pedro Erik

Jeffrey S. said...

Scott,

I agree -- which is why I find the notion that Muslims worship the same God as me is so ridiculous.

Here is Father Schall with some additional thoughts about Muslim voluntarism:

"Briefly put, Islam, in its founding, is intended to be, literally, the world religion. Nothing else has any standing in comparison. It is to bring the whole world to worship Allah according to the canons of the Qur’an. It is a belief, based on a supposed revelation to Mohammed, of which there is little evidence. Sufficient justification to expand this religion, once founded, to all the world by use of arms is found in the Qur’an and in its interpreters to explain the violent means used, often successfully, to establish, pacify, and rule tribes, states, territories, and empires.

In Muslim doctrine, everyone born into the world is a Muslim. No one has any right or reason not to be. Hence, everyone who is not a Muslim is to be converted or eliminated. This is also true of the literary, monumental, and other signs of civilizations or states that are not Muslim. They are destroyed as not authorized by the Qur’an.

It is the religious responsibility of Islam to carry out its assigned mission of subduing the world to Allah. When we try to explain this religion in economic, political, psychological, or other terms, we simply fail to see what is going on. From the outside, it is almost impossible to see how this system coheres within itself. But, granted its premises and the philosophy of voluntarism used to explain and defend it, it becomes much clearer that we are in fact dealing with a religion that claims to be true in insisting that it is carrying out the will of Allah, not its own."

[http://www.crisismagazine.com/2014/time-take-islamic-state-seriously]

Edward Feser said...

Hi Frank,

Thanks for the comment. Maybe I’m missing something, but I don’t see anything new in Qureshi’s argument. It basically boils down to: “Christians affirm X about God and Muslims deny X, therefore they aren’t worshipping the same God.” And for the reasons I explained in the post, that’s just a non sequitur. I also explained why saying that the differences are “great” is too vague to be helpful. Again, in the example I gave, two people can still be referring to the same person when they use the name “Plato” even though one of them has seriously wrong and indeed bizarre beliefs about Plato.

Re: your remark:

But 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.

There are three problems with this. First, Christ isn’t even addressing questions about reference, how to define the word “God,” etc. in that passage, so I’m not sure how it’s relevant.

Second, I think there’s a lot less riding on this issue than you and other people seem to think. No one here is arguing that Islam provides saving knowledge of God, that anyone can be saved apart from Christ, that there aren’t grave errors of a moral and theological nature in Islam, etc. None of that is even at issue here. The question is simply whether Muslims who use the word “God” succeed in referring to the true God and thus whether, since they worship that to which they refer with the word “God,” they (in that thin sense) worship the true God. That’s all. One can worship the true God in that thin sense and still be guilty of idolatry in other ways. (For example, a sincere Christian might go to Church, believe the doctrine of the Trinity, etc., avoid all heresies, but still have his heart set first and foremost on making money, or achieving power, or what have you, and in that sense be guilty of putting something ahead of God.)

Third, your criterion of “erring on a tighter definition of God” would, if followed through consistently, require treating all theological errors about the divine nature as tantamount to a failure to refer to, and thus or worship, the true God. It would follow that at best, only certain theologians who formulate things exactly correctly succeed in referring to God and thus truly worship God. And there might be no such theologians, because people seldom state complex theological truths in a way that couldn’t stand a little tweaking here and there. I’m sure you would not want to go this far, but then we need some criterion for where to draw the line, and so far I haven’t seen one offered by people who claim that Muslims fail to refer to the true God.

Jeffrey S. said...

Oops. Next paragraph is the best:

"If we are going to deal with it, we have to do so on those terms, on the validity of such a claim. The trouble with this approach, of course, is that truth, logos, is not recognized in a voluntarist setting. If Allah transcends the distinction of good and evil, if he can will today its opposite tomorrow, as the omnipotence of Allah is understood to mean in Islam, then there can be no real discussion that is not simply a temporary pragmatic stand-off, a balance of interest and power."

[my emphasis]

Edward Feser said...

Hi Skyliner,

If I understand you correctly, you’re asking whether we can make sense of creation without reference to something like begetting of the specific sort that the first Person of the Trinity does relative to the second Person. I would respond that there are two problems with that. First, there are (as I have argued in several places) successful arguments of natural theology that get us to God as creator. But those arguments simply make no reference to begetting in that sense. Therefore, it isn’t the case that we need to make reference to begetting in that sense in order to make sense of creation.

Second, if these arguments did lead us to affirm something like begetting in that specific sense, then it seems that it would follow that the Trinity could be known via natural reason, by purely philosophical arguments. But that is not the case, since the Trinity is something we could not have known apart from revelation.

Edward Feser said...

Pedro,

How would “focus[ing] on love” change anything? All the specific points I made in the original post would still apply even if you replaced every reference to the Trinity with a reference to God’s love.

ralspaugh said...

Ed, Ed, Ed. If we are worshiping the same God then how do we know whom to hate? Sigh. I fear you will never understand how the internet works. Good luck with your "logic" and "appeasement" when they take away your Steely Dan.

Jeffrey S. said...

Jacques Maritain's "Seven Lectures on Being," Sheed and Ward, 1945.

"The formula of the Mahometan -- "God is God" -- means that God is so rigorously one and incommunicable as necessarily to render impossible the mysteries of the Trinity and the Incarnation. It has an exclusive and negative significance. The error here is to apply the principle of identity to God, as it is applied to a creature, delimiting Him and confining Him within Himself. He is a God immured in a transcendence of death. The superabundance of the Divine Being is denied, a superabundance which must be infinite as that Being Itself. Islam denies this superabundance of the Divine Being which, as revelation alone can inform us, is manifested in God by the plurality of Persons and, as unaided reason would have to disclose, by the fact that God is Love, a truth which is also denied by Mahometan orthodoxy. For Mahometans consider that to say God is Love is to ascribe a passion to Him. That is why the mystic Al Hallaj was crucified by the doctors of the Koran."

Jeffrey S. said...

ralspaugh,

You are so clever! You figured me out -- I won't know who to hate if Ed goes on confusing me like this. But don't worry, I know the only way I'll get Ed's Steely Dan when I round him up and send him to the Islamic sympathizer concentration camp is out of his cold, dead hands :-)

ralspaugh said...

An excellent quotation, Jeffrey! It has the substantial point all your previous posts lacked: Maritain claims that Islam does make the same mistake as Mormonism in confusing deity with creature. If that were true, Ed would be wrong about Islam.

But is it true? That is not obvious from a laydown of a decent quotation.

Edward Feser said...

Jeffrey,

First, whether or not you find Scott’s remark “helpful,” it was certainly just, since what you wrote in the comment to which he was responding was indeed a “farrago of nonsense.” So much so that it makes me doubt whether it’s worth continuing our exchange here. Some other reasons for doubt are (a) that you simply keep repeating your disagreement with my claim without bothering actually to engage the arguments I have given for it, and (b) that you also ignore the problems facing your own view that I (and others) have pointed out.

But I’ll take another shot at it. First, as to the farrago of nonsense: Absolutely nothing I said implies what you think it does, and why you suppose otherwise I have no idea, except that you do not seem to read things very carefully before replying. As I said in reply to Frank Turek above, all that is at issue here is whether Muslims who use the word “God” succeed in referring to the true God and thus whether, since they worship that to which they refer with the word “God,” they (in that thin sense) worship the true God. Someone can worship the true God in that thin sense and still be guilty of very grave sins and errors, as the ancient Israelites were, as the Pharisees were, as heretics and many other Christians have been, and so forth.

Second, you ask whether God would really have a Triune nature if he never revealed that nature to us. The answer is Yes, of course he would. Why wouldn’t he? (Are you supposing that for every true proposition p about the divine nature, God necessarily reveals p? Not only is there no reason to believe such a thing, but it has absurd implications. E.g. it would imply that God could not have refrained from creating the world, since without a creation there would be no one to reveal p to. In that case, creation was not a free act -- a conclusion which is heretical.)

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?

Edward Feser said...

Jeffrey,

Thanks for all the quotes, but perhaps, instead of furiously Googling and thumbing through your library to find juicy comments about Islam, you would make better use of your time by actually trying to respond to the criticisms I and others have been raising against you. Or at least, reading that would be a better use of our time...

Jeffrey S. said...

[4] On the other hand, those who founded sects committed to erroneous doctrines proceeded in a way that is opposite to this, The point is clear in the case of Muhammad. He seduced the people by promises of carnal pleasure to which the concupiscence of the flesh goads us. His teaching also contained precepts that were in conformity with his promises, and he gave free rein to carnal pleasure. In all this, as is not unexpected, he was obeyed by carnal men. As for proofs of the truth of his doctrine, he brought forward only such as could be grasped by the natural ability of anyone with a very modest wisdom. Indeed, the truths that he taught he mingled with many fables and with doctrines of the greatest falsity. He did not bring forth any signs produced in a supernatural way, which alone fittingly gives witness to divine inspiration; for a visible action that can be only divine reveals an invisibly inspired teacher of truth. On the contrary, Muhammad said that he was sent in the power of his arms—which are signs not lacking even to robbers and tyrants. What is more, no wise men, men trained in things divine and human, believed in him from the beginning, Those who believed in him were brutal men and desert wanderers, utterly ignorant of all divine teaching, through whose numbers Muhammad forced others to become his followers by the violence of his arms. Nor do divine pronouncements on the part of preceding prophets offer him any witness. On the contrary, he perverts almost all the testimonies of the Old and New Testaments by making them into fabrications of his own, as can be. seen by anyone who examines his law. It was, therefore, a shrewd decision on his part to forbid his followers to read the Old and New Testaments, lest these books convict him of falsity. It is thus clear that those who place any faith in his words believe foolishly.

- CONTRA GENTILES, Book One, Chapter 6

Anonymous said...

Ed, it seems to me that you and Leithart are not that far apart. He analogizes as follows: "Bob believes in a Thomas Jefferson who was not from Virginia, had no hand in writing the Declaration of Independence, never heard if Monticello, was not the Third President; Fred believes in a Thomas Jefferson who was did all these things. As the false beliefs and misrepresentations pile up, we have to wonder if Bob hasn't confused Thomas Jefferson with a pretender." Your position is that the Muslim and Christian worship the same God in the [very, I would add] thin sense that a Plato who is a student of Socrates but who wrote nothing and was the son of Apollo is the same Plato as traditionally understood. But I think that most people understand by the question "Do Christians and Muslims worship the same God?" a thicker sense than this. And I suggest that the correct answer to that question is "Probably not in the sense that you understand." The questions of voluntarism, God's love, etc. are relevant to a thicker sense of the question. Classical theism, shared by traditional Jews and Christians but not by most Muslims [who see the Quran as uncreated] provides the basis of a significantly thicker sense in which one can say that Jews and Christians worship the same God, as do the thousands of mutually shared propositions concerning the Hebrew Scriptures/Old Testament.

Gottfried said...

Reading the comments generated by the recent spate of posts on this topic, I've had to grudgingly admit that leftist accusations of widespread "Islamophobia" among conservatives and Christians are not entirely unfounded. Indeed, arguing that Christians and Muslims worship the same God seems almost as reliable a method as arguing against gay marriage for generating emotionally charged responses that have little, if anything, to do with what was actually being argued.

Thank you for a predictably incisive and thorough take on the subject, Dr. Feser.

Jeffrey S. said...

Ed,

Let's start with the easy stuff first.

1) I just think it is fascinating and quite frankly, paradoxical, to think of a God that has a Triune nature but we never know His nature because He never reveals such a fact to us. Both you and Scott say to me, "Yes, of course he would. Why wouldn’t he?" -- but we only know this because He has revealed His nature to us!!! That is the paradox.

2) On References

O.K., both you and Beckwith make a big deal about the fact that just because Muslims call their God X and Christians call their God Y, doesn't mean we aren't in fact worshiping the same God -- one of us just might have the facts wrong about God. Specifically, you say about 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."

Presumably, this is your attempt to parallel Beckwith's Thomas Jefferson argument: I might think that the third President of the U.S. fathered a daughter with a slave and you don't. One of us is actually right, but that doesn't mean we aren't talking about the same person.

Here is the problem -- we all know (at least I think we all know) that Muhammad made it all up. He was a liar and a tyrant and a fraud from soup to nuts. Who knows what he was worshiping or what the heck he is referring to in the Koran. It is all a lie.

So back to Scott's question to me earlier -- "On your view, it seems, a Muslim who denies that God became incarnate in Jesus Christ isn't even referring to the real God at all. In that case, of whom is he denying the Incarnation? Zeus?" My answer -- who knows? 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.)

Aquinas agrees with me about Muhammad -- that he was a liar and a tyrant who won coverts with his sword (and with promises of women!)

So I think the Church is wrong on Islam -- they should listen to Aquinas and tell Muslims to stop worshiping a meteor!!!

3) On the question of voluntarism -- it seem to me, especially given Father Schall's quote about what truth entails ("The trouble with this approach, of course, is that truth, logos, is not recognized in a voluntarist setting. If Allah transcends the distinction of good and evil, if he can will today its opposite tomorrow, as the omnipotence of Allah is understood to mean in Islam, then there can be no real discussion that is not simply a temporary pragmatic stand-off, a balance of interest and power.") then the qualities of classical theism are being violated by Islam's conception of God (if we want to even bother to take their lies seriously.)

Thanks for responding.

Jeffrey S. said...

I forgot to add --

(1) is the easy stuff!!!

Everything that follows will be contentious :-)

Anonymous said...

Ed,
Al Farabi, Avicenna and Averroes understood Allah as metaphysically ultimate, and that the Quran was created, but their view of Allah and the Quran was rejected. If the Quran is co-eternal with Allah, then it would seem that Allah is not metaphysically ultimate. If so, how can we say that Muslims worship the same God even in your thin sense?

James said...

Good article, thank you!

There is Augustine's well-known remark about the universality of authentic religion, as are Justin Martyr's and Nicholas Cusa's. "in my Father's house there are many mansions." "And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold."

Islam commands the acceptance of the Mosaic and Christian revelations. They are "People of the Book." Both Muhammad and the Caliph Omar showed remarkable examples of this acceptance. Sadly, in the blogosphere ignorance and opinionatedness frequently go hand in hand.

The Divine Logos is necessarily and eternal and universal reality. It is metaphysically impossible that the Logos should have only one possibility of clothing itself formally, or that one form of Its manifestation should alone be possible. Forms may contradict one another and yet converge inwardly and metaphysically, as coming from a common origin, as the boss of a wheel both unites the spokes and determines their divergent directions.

Qur'an 5:48:

For each We have appointed a Law (shirʿa) and a Way (minhāj). Had God willed, He could have made you one community (umma). But that He might try you by that which He hath given you [He has made you as you are]. So vie with one another in good works. Unto God you will all return, and He will inform you of that about which you differed.

See The Covenants of the Prophet Muhammad with the Christians of the World, by John Andrew Morrow.

Bernard Lewis
Multiple Identities of the Middle East, 1998
Pluralism is part of the holy law of Islam, and these rules are on many points detailed and specific. Unlike Judaism and Christianity, Islam squarely confronts the problem of religious tolerance ... For Muslims, the treatment of the religious other is not a matter of opinion or choice, of changing interpretations and judgments according to circumstances. It rests on scriptural and legal texts, that is to say, for Muslims, on holy writ and sacred law.

Norman Daniel
Islam, Europe and Empire (1966
“The notion of toleration in Christendom was borrowed from Muslim practice.”

John Locke: “Letter Concerning Toleration”, 1689:
Christian denominations were free to enact their specific forms of Christian worship if they lived in the Muslim Ottoman Empire, but not if they lived in certain parts of Christian Europe. So:
“Would the Turks not silently stand by and laugh to see with what inhuman cruelty Christians thus rage against Christians?”

NormaJean said...

Thank you for this, Dr. Feser! [especially, your comments in the thread]

Omer said...


Very nice post

In the post sent before Christmas there were a few were on Islam....I was disappointed by them. Those links show a rather radical misunderstanding of Islam from the Qur'an...those authors might be watching the shallow and very inaccurate Fox News too much. But I like the gist of this post.

Many linguists would say that the word Allah is just a contraction of the word Al which means The and ilah which means God...

If you ask Christian Arabs what they use for the word God, it is Allah. In the movie The Passion, Jesus calls God Alaha which is cognate for God in Aramaic.

Similarly, in another semitic language, Hebrew, Eloh is God.

I did not get a chance to read all comments but some in the thread are spreading misinformation about Islam.

I will start with a gracious assumption that they are doing it out of misunderstanding and not out of malice. Of course God knows best.

I will respond to some of those misunderstandings in the next post.

Peace to all.

Female philosopher said...

I think this discussion is analogous to the debate about whether intelligent design arguments refer to the God of classical theism or not. (Presumibly, Dr Feser would argument that they don't).

Let me explain: Muslim's God doesn't love evildoers and sinners. It implies that such a God is not perfect, because His love is conditional and partisan. He lacks a great-making property like "inconditional love" and hence lacks a perfección which implies that He is not God.

This is not merely a difference in sense, it is a difference in the properties of God and therefore a different in the referent. Hence, the Muslim God is not the Christian God.

I find this argument plausible.

In this sense, I'd would ask Feser this: suppose for the argument' sake that God is temporal and has potentialities (as many prominent Theistic personalists argue), in this case the Theistic personalist's "God" refers to the same God of Aquinas (being the difference merely in sense), or rather we should think that Theistic personalists are refering to something different than God (in whose case they seem to be caught in a kind of idolatry)?

Anonymous said...

Gottfried, I must agree with you. It is strange how much the caricatures and strawmen about Islam resemble the sorts of things many atheists say about Christianity, not perhaps in their exact content as in the general distortion and complete lack of charity.

Some of the accusations are just plain wrong. For example, as one of the Anon's noted above, one of the names of God in Islam is Al-Wadud, or the loving. Another of his names is Ar-Rahman, the exceedingly compassionate or beneficent. This name begins many surahs of the Koran. So when Maritain and others suggest that Islam denies that God is love, they need to better explain themselves, at the very least.

As others have pointed out, some of the critiques of Islam here seem to imply that Islam is monolithic. Anyone with a small bit of knowledge about the subject knows this is false. Not only is there the obvious division between Sunni and Shia Islam (and the remaining Ibadis, descendants of the Kharijites), but there are all sorts of traditional Islamic positions on philosophy, theology, spirituality and mysticism, and religious law. An example of the complexity involved in Islamic thought is that the main stream of voluntarist thought in Sunni Islam, Ash'arism, is rejected by the Athari school, followed by many Salafis, because Ash'arism engages in theological speculation and doesn't rely only upon the words of the Koran and Hadith.

Interesting Christian interpretations and criticisms of Islam don't rely on such strawmen.

Omer said...



Frank (if I may or I can call you Dr. Turek if you prefer that),

You are completely mistaken when you say that "Allah is neither essentially good not essentially loving"

Where do you get that from?

Is there even one verse from the Qur'an out of the 6,200+ verses that say that?

There are so many Qur'anic verses that explicitly refute what you say, I honestly don't know where to begin.

God is referred to twice as "The Loving."

God says in numerous times that He is the All-Forgiving.

For example, 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." (Chapter 39)

Every chapter of the 114 chapters except for one starts with "In the name of Allah , the Entirely Merciful, the Especially Merciful."

There is a verse that says God is "the MOST merciful of all who show mercy."

Regarding goodness, there are NUMEROUS verses that speak of God being infinitely good....including explicit verses such as "In Your hand is [all] good. (Chapter 3, verse 26)"

Frank, I have seen some of your youtubes...I greatly respect the clear way you argue for God's existence.

However, I am requesting you to not say anything that is inaccurate regarding Islam. Please refer to the Qur'an but only if you will be diligent in not cherry-picking and not taking any verse out of context.

Frank, we monotheists need to have dialogue with each other. If you would like to dialogue with Muslim professors who have academic expertise on Islam, then please let me know...I can arrange for them to be on your radio program.

Frank, to you and all viewing these comments, peace and blessings to you and your family in 2016 and beyond

I will respond to comments by others later.

Omer

Michael C said...

Pedro says: "Dr. Rémi Brague also did not agree with you. He is Catholic like you. He explained in detail in his book "On the God of the Christians"."

I read Rémi Brague's book twice about a year ago, and I do remember some interesting discussion on the different ways of conceiving oneness (as in "God is One"). But I didn't pick up that he thought that Allah was not God. I think Brague views Islam as speaking about the same God with some errors in its understanding of Him. I'd be happy if Pedro could refer me to a specific part of his book where he denies this.

Anonymous said...

Could Islam produce the jewels of Sufi poetry and spirituality if love were not an important part of the Islamic path?



The whole world is a marketplace for Love,
For naught that is, from Love remains remote.
The Eternal Wisdom made all things in Love.
On Love they all depend, to Love all turn.
The earth, the heavens, the sun, the moon, the stars
The center of their orbit find in Love.
By Love are all bewildered, stupefied,
Intoxicated by the Wine of Love.

From each, Love demands a mystic silence.
What do all seek so earnestly? "Tis Love.
Love is the subject of their inmost thoughts,
In Love no longer "Thou" and "I" exist,
For self has passed away in the Beloved.
Now will I draw aside the veil from Love,
And in the temple of mine inmost soul
Behold the Friend, Incomparable Love.
He who would know the secret of both worlds
Will find that the secret of them both is Love.
- Farid ud Din Attar

Mortal never won to view thee,
Yet a thousand lovers woo thee;
Not a nightingale but knows
In the rose-bud sleeps the rose.

Love is where the glory falls
Of thy face: on convent walls
Or on tavern floors the same
Unextinguishable flame.

Where the turban'd anchorite
Chanteth Allah day and night,
Church-bells ring the call to prayer,
And the Cross of Christ is there.
-Hafiz

Oh! Supreme Lover!
Let me leave aside my worries.
The flowers are blooming
with the exultation of your Spirit.

By Allah!
I long to escape the prison of my ego
and lose myself
in the mountains and the desert.

These sad and lonely people tire me.
I long to revel in the drunken frenzy of your love
and feel the strength of Rustam in my hands.

I'm sick of mortal kings.
I long to see your light.
With lamps in hand
the sheikhs and mullahs roam
the dark alleys of these towns
not finding what they seek.

You are the Essence of the Essence,
The intoxication of Love.
I long to sing your praises
but stand mute
with the agony of wishing in my heart.
- Rumi

O Marvel! a garden amidst the flames.
My heart has become capable of every form:
it is a pasture for gazelles and a convent for Christian monks,
and a temple for idols and the pilgrim's Kaa'ba,
and the tables of the Torah and the book of the Quran.
I follow the religion of Love: whatever way Love's camels take,
that is my religion and my faith.
- Ibn Al-Arabi


Sobieski said...

Dr. Feser,

I agree with you that Catholics and non-Catholics can know the same God metaphysically speaking, but I don't see that Muslims and Catholics, for example, believe in or worship the same God on St. Thomas' view. For Christians, belief proceeds from a supernaturally infused habit which the unbeliever does not have. St. Thomas says the latter can have a sort of opinion in accordance with his will, but the object of his opinion even if it differ from that of a Catholic in one article would not be same object as that of supernatural faith. Regarding heretics, St. Thomas says:

"Neither living nor lifeless faith remains in a heretic who disbelieves one article of faith. The reason of this is that the species of every habit depends on the formal aspect of the object, without which the species of the habit cannot remain. Now the formal object of faith is the First Truth, as manifested in Holy Writ and the teaching of the Church, which proceeds from the First Truth. Consequently whoever does not adhere, as to an infallible and Divine rule, to the teaching of the Church, which proceeds from the First Truth manifested in Holy Writ, has not the habit of faith, but holds that which is of faith otherwise than by faith. Even so, it is evident that a man whose mind holds a conclusion without knowing how it is proved, has not scientific knowledge, but merely an opinion about it. Now it is manifest that he who adheres to the teaching of the Church, as to an infallible rule, assents to whatever the Church teaches; otherwise, if, of the things taught by the Church, he holds what he chooses to hold, and rejects what he chooses to reject, he no longer adheres to the teaching of the Church as to an infallible rule, but to his own will. Hence it is evident that a heretic who obstinately disbelieves one article of faith, is not prepared to follow the teaching of the Church in all things; but if he is not obstinate, he is no longer in heresy but only in error. Therefore it is clear that such a heretic with regard to one article has no faith in the other articles, but only a kind of opinion in accordance with his own will." ST 2-2.5.3c

So the unbeliever does not have the same habit from which proceeds the act of faith.

Sobieski said...

...continued

As regards the Jews, they had correct belief and worship prior to the coming of Christ, but St. Thomas says those who practice the ceremonies of the Old Law after the coming of Christ sin:

"All ceremonies are professions of faith, in which the interior worship of God consists. Now man can make profession of his inward faith, by deeds as well as by words: and in either profession, if he make a false declaration, he sins mortally. Now, though our faith in Christ is the same as that of the fathers of old; yet, since they came before Christ, whereas we come after Him, the same faith is expressed in different words, by us and by them. For by them was it said: 'Behold a virgin shall conceive and bear a son,' where the verbs are in the future tense: whereas we express the same by means of verbs in the past tense, and say that she 'conceived and bore.' In like manner the ceremonies of the Old Law betokened Christ as having yet to be born and to suffer: whereas our sacraments signify Him as already born and having suffered. Consequently, just as it would be a mortal sin now for anyone, in making a profession of faith, to say that Christ is yet to be born, which the fathers of old said devoutly and truthfully; so too it would be a mortal sin now to observe those ceremonies which the fathers of old fulfilled with devotion and fidelity. Such is the teaching Augustine (Contra Faust. xix, 16), who says: 'It is no longer promised that He shall be born, shall suffer and rise again, truths of which their sacraments were a kind of image: but it is declared that He is already born, has suffered and risen again; of which our sacraments, in which Christians share, are the actual representation.' ST 1-2.103.4c

Since worship is founded on faith, those who adhere to Jewish belief about God after the coming of Christ objectively sin gravely and cannot have the same faith as Catholics (cf. also ST 1-2.103.3.ad3) since Christ's definitive revelation to us regarding God's nature is today explicitly rejected by the Jews in a way that it wasn't prior to his coming.

Brandon said...

I confess to be utterly baffled by the 'not the same' position. Talk of God in Islam is set by (1) stories about the prophets and (2) natural theology, since Muslims hold that Islam is the religion of reason. The prophet who is mentioned far and away the most often in the Quran is Moses. While the description of Jesus in the Quran is quite far in many ways from the description one gets in the Gospels, what the Quran says about Moses is very, very close to what we get of Moses in Exodus. And obviously in talking about Moses the Quran is usually talking about God's interaction with Moses, and it generally says exactly the sorts of things both Jews and Christians say about God's interaction with Moses. So in what way are they not the same God, no matter what distortions there might be? The same thing comes up with Adam, Abraham, Noah, David, Solomon, Jesus; from a Christian perspective the claims made about God's interactions with them is in varying degrees distorted but they are still recognizable. If you can recognize that when the Quran says Allah gave the Tawrat to Musa it is talking about Moses on Sinai receiving Torah from God, in however distorted a way, that seems to be quite substantive as far as it goes.

The point is quite general. All of the major monotheisms explicitly claim inter-reference: to take the obvious examples, Christians claim to be worshiping the same God as Jews, and Muslims to be worshiping the same God as Christians and Jews, and Sikhs to be worshiping the same God as Muslims, all explicitly in their holy books. And this is backed up by the fact that in each case there is overlap in what they say about God that derives from direct influence. While this may not be definitive, surely the presumption should be against the 'not the same' position. But no arguments I've ever seen really end up being that impressive if one grants the presumption as setting the bar that needs to be overcome. It always seems to me that when people say, "Christians and Muslims cannot be worshiping the same God" that they are confusing this with "Christians and Muslims cannot both be worshiping God the right way". These are very different claims, but one often finds that when you press people on the first that their responses better suit the latter.

laubadetriste said...

@Scott: "The scenario in which classical theism is false is a scenario in which atheism of the relevant sort (the non-existence of a metaphysically ultimate, simple, immutable, omnipotent, etc., Source of all being) is true, and would still be true even if Mormon theology were also true."

Mine is both a proper name and a description, and I approve ↑this message.

(This is not strictly germane to Dr. Feser's post, but I think it important to mention in passing that that *relevant sort* of atheism is neither the current default nor the most popular kind of atheism, as discussed or advocated by atheists themselves. But the *relevant sort* Scott mentioned is philosophically more interesting and ultimately more important, and so other than my I-think-important passing mention, I do not dwell further on the topic.)

@Jeffrey S: [...quotes, etc....]

I am the last person to discourage the use of quotes--my apologies to those I have bored with my own frequent past use of them--but it would be nice if yours gestured in the direction of relevance. Dr. Feser already pointed out the general flaw in your approach December 28, 2015 at 6:48 PM , but let me try to be more specific by focusing on your post December 28, 2015 at 5:48 PM (which of your quotes I pick due to the better discussions contained in Father Schall's own *The Regensburg Lecture* and Robert Reilly's *The Closing of the Muslim Mind: How Intellectual Suicide Created the Modern Islamist Crisis*. Your quote's claims I think can be fairly summarized thusly (by paragraph): 1. Islam intended to be catholic (small "c"). 2. According to Islam, no one has right or reason to be other than Muslim. 3. Islam is expansionist. And 4. (December 28, 2015 at 5:50 PM): Islam effaces the Imago Dei.

Now, clearly items 1-3 could not in principle change the reference of "the true God." (Item 2 comes closest to pretending to be an exception. But item 2 is addressed by the Keith Donnellan example.) That leaves item 4.

Say that "truth, logos, is not recognized in a voluntarist setting." (Reilly is good on this point, BTW.) This would sever a crucial moral link, as you point out. But (as Anonymous says December 28, 2015 at 3:44 PM) "It might be worth pointing out that there are theological and philosophical divisions within Islam. The voluntarism being referred to is that of the Ash'arites." We come down to cases...

...which Dr. Feser addressed in the second-to-last paragraph of his original post. (The one beginning, "However, suppose that some particular Jew, Christian, or Muslim did use the word 'God' in the very narrow way...")

laubadetriste said...

Is a failure of analogy between God's goodness and our own sufficient to break the reference of the word "God"? This is at best a point you have left untried.

@ralspaugh: "But is it true? That is not obvious from a laydown of a decent quotation."

Just so.

(Mill addressed this, in the work I linked to on Christmas Eve.)

@Tapestry: "Whenever there is a big theological to do on the interwebs i always ask myself what do Ed Feser, Bradon Watson & James Chastek (in no particular order) think about this issue."

Yup.

Good work, guys, really. (BTW, Brandon has offered free ice cream to anyone who will help him with his Finnish grammar. First person to wish him Happy New Year wins: "Pystyn syömään lasia. Se ei koske yhtään.")

@Gottfried: "Reading the comments generated by the recent spate of posts on this topic, I've had to grudgingly admit that leftist accusations of widespread 'Islamophobia' among conservatives and Christians are not entirely unfounded. Indeed, arguing that Christians and Muslims worship the same God seems almost as reliable a method as arguing against gay marriage for generating emotionally charged responses that have little, if anything, to do with what was actually being argued."

Yup. But then, some on the right (*cough* Scruton *cough*) make some points requiring admission too, especially after the recent scandal in Rotherham. I do not pretend yet to be able fairly to weigh the one against the other.

@Jeffrey S: "Here is the problem -- we all know (at least I think we all know) that Muhammad made it all up. He was a liar and a tyrant and a fraud from soup to nuts. Who knows what he was worshiping or what the heck he is referring to in the Koran. It is all a lie. / So back to Scott's question to me earlier -- 'On your view, it seems, a Muslim who denies that God became incarnate in Jesus Christ isn't even referring to the real God at all. In that case, of whom is he denying the Incarnation? Zeus?' My answer -- who knows? 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.) / Aquinas agrees with me about Muhammad -- that he was a liar and a tyrant who won coverts with his sword (and with promises of women!) / So I think the Church is wrong on Islam -- they should listen to Aquinas and tell Muslims to stop worshiping a meteor!!!"

It may be the couscous talking (full disclosure: I grew up in the Muslim world), but this seems too cutely inflammatory to be a serious rejoinder. "[M]aybe they are worshiping the meteor for all me know"? Really? These are the kinds of things we can check. It's been a hundred and fifty-odd years since Burton entered the Ka'aba.

(Funny how much "Muslims worship the meteor" sounds like the Protestant canard, "Catholics worship the Saints.")

GoldRush Apple said...

Anyone notice that Muslims are the new darlings of The Left in terms of "the maligned"? Since same-sex "marriage" is now law of the land, standing up for LGBT "rights" is rather passe, so now focus is on Muslims. Such perfect timing.

avraham said...

The Rambam held the are worshiping the same God as Jews but in a mistaken way. I mentioned this to my learning partner, and he said that was before the shift occurred against Ibn Sina and Rationalism.

avraham said...

The Rambam has an idea that people can worship a false representation of God. [He is a kind of predecessor to Kant in that way.] I forget the exact context. But once Muslims stopped worshiping the God of the Universe and instead stated worship the god of the Koran then it is idolatry because it is a false representation.

fr. Thomas said...

This passage from the Summa contra Gentiles seems relevant:

"Whoever is in error regarding something that is of the essence of a thing does not know that thing. Thus, if someone understood irrational animal with the notion that it is a man, he would not know man. Now, it would be a different matter if he erred concerning one of man’s accidents. However, in the case of composite beings, the person who is in error concerning one of their essential principles does know the thing, in a relative way, though he does not know it in an unqualified sense. For instance, he who thinks that man is an irrational animal knows him according to his genus. But this cannot happen in reference to simple beings; instead, any error at all completely excludes knowledge of the being. Now, God is most simple. So, whoever is in error concerning God does not know God, just as the man who thinks that God is a body does not know God at all, but grasps something else in place of God. However, the way in which
a thing is known determines the way in which it is loved and desired. Therefore, he who is in error about God can neither love God nor desire Him as an end" (Bk. III, 118)

"Any error at all completely excludes knowledge of the being". This seems different from the case of the idolater worshipping the statue as God, since presumably his error is not about the nature of divinity as 'metaphysically ultimate' but about the contingent question of whether this divinity has somehow identified itself with a statue or not.

Presumably this passage from St Thomas implies that the Arian or the Molinist, say, are also not thinking about God at least insofar as they are thinking of Him as 'one who has no co-eternal Son' or 'one who has middle knowledge'. At other times they could still be thinking about Him. Thus, the Molinist's belief in middle knowledge is not really constitutive of his conception of God; but while he is actually thinking about 'a being with middle knowledge', he is not actually thinking about God at all. However, the Muslim's belief that 'God has no Son' does seem to be constitutive of his conception of God. The Arian is a perhaps a middle case.

Anonymous said...

Yes, there is Rotherham, but there is also Jimmy Saville and Operation Yewtree, which must also be weighed in the balance. In modern Britain, it has hardly been Muslims alone who have shown themselves capable of such things. Interestingly, although all the Asian youths involved in the Rotherham incidents I know of were from Muslim families, they do not seem to have been devout in general. They were into drinking and drugs and gang life.

Daniel said...

Re Voluntarism, it's worth noting that theologies which emphasis the Divine Will tend also to focus on Love - cf Augustine or Ockham.

W.LindsayWheeler said...

I do not agree with your assessment that Muslims worship the same God as Christians do.

Jesus is also the Revelation of God, "He who has seen Me, has seen the Father". With Jesus saying, "No one comes to the Father except through Me", means that what has gone before is no more. A superior revelation now has come, and all must acknowledge it. Confusion has ended. When Islam was invented in the 7th century A.D., the Faith was pretty well established. Even though there were Nestorian Christian sects in the Middle East, orthodox faith had been fleshed out well before the invention of Islam.

Christ makes it clear; He put a definitive stamp upon the true nature of God. Even Plato recognized the trinitarian nature of God. Christianity grew up under Hellenism and therefore the concept of the trinitarian nature of God was prevalent in Indo-European peoples.

Son of Ya'Kov said...

Apparently Dr. Feser some of your more lowbrow readers are 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".

Also apparently Wheeler is equivocating between "worshiping the same God" with "Being identical religions, with identical truth and being equivalent means of salvation".

I am so tempted to give this people the full BenYachov! Because I find it hard to believe such stupidity can be born of anything other then willful malice.

I am sorry. I try to think well of others, really I dom but I've argued with too many Gnus, Radtrads and fundies it takes a toll on one.

Son of Ya'Kov said...

The Radio Priest's Rumble and Cary said it best. "Mohammedans(i.e. Muslums) do worship the same God as Catholics they merely do it incorrectly."

I would rephrase it this way they worship the same God but have erroneous ideas about Him.

Why is that so hard for the lowbrow crowd?

Jeffrey S. said...

The Gated Community, The Party and The Thief

Ed and Scott live in a wealthy gated community in sunny Pasadena, California. They meet one fine day walking their dogs (Aquinas and Albert) and begin a conversation about which one of their neighbors is held a big party last weekend. Ed is quite sure the neighbor is Bob and Scott is quite sure the neighbor is Dan. The truth is that Brandon held the party (he always holds the best parties.) So we know that they both cannot be right but are indeed talking about the same person – one of them just has the reference wrong (the name of the guy who actually held the party.) Along comes a thief, Jeff, who overhears a bit of their conversation and walks up to them and says something like, “excuse me neighbors, I too was invited to Rob’s party this weekend but I just moved in and misplaced his invitation – could one of you fine gentlemen give me his address?” Jeff clearly misheard quite a bit of their conversation – he thought Bob was “Rob” and he thought the party was this weekend, not last weekend and is looking to crash the party and steal as much as he can. However, Ed and Scott are wise to him and begin asking Jeff some questions about where he lives and how he knows “Rob.” Jeff answers all their questions with one lie after another and creates in his own mind quite a picture of a guy named Rob, who lives in the gated community and who will be holding a party this weekend. The problem? None of it is true – Jeff has created a person in his mind who is a total fiction (although elements of his person do exist – people live in the gated community and they do hold parties.)

(continued...)

Jeffrey S. said...


Muhammad, Joseph Smith and The Thief

Obviously, my story is meant to illustrate the analogous situation with Islam (and Mormonism) – two charlatans create their own religions for nefarious purposes out of existing material and go on to use their creation for conquest and glory. Are the gods they create real? I would argue they are like the thief in my story above – no, they are not real – any resemblance to Jewish/Christian theology is a happy accident and was incidental to their false creation. As Bill Vallicella puts it over at his blog:

"The possibility of worshipping what does not exist is connected with the question whether 'God' is a logically proper name. Geach rightly argues that "'God' is not a proper name but a descriptive term: it is like 'the Prime Minister' rather than 'Mr. Harold Wilson.'" (108) One of his arguments is similar to one I had given, namely, that God is not known by acquaintance in this life. As Geach puts it, ". . . in this life we know God not as an acquaintance we can name, but by description." (109)

God is therefore relevantly disanalogous to the examples Beckwith and Tuggy gave. Those examples were of things known or knowable by sensory acquaintance here below. Suppose Dale and I are seated at one and the same table. I pound on it and assert "This table is solid oak!" Dale replies, "No, it is not: there is particle board where you can't see." Dale thinks that a disagreement about the properties of a putatively self-same x presupposes, and thus entails, that there really is a self-same x whose properties are in dispute. But that is not the case. Disagreement about the properties of a putatively self-same x is merely logically consistent with there really being a self-same x whose properties are in dispute. In the case of the table, of course, we KNOW that the dispute is about one and the same item. This is because the table is an object of sensory acquaintance: its existence and identity are evident. But it can be different in the case of God with whom we are not sensorily acquainted.

Clearly, a Spinozist and a Thomist are not worshipping one and the same God despite the fact that for both Thomists and Spinozists there is exactly one God. One of them is worshipping what does not exist."

Likewise, with the Muslim and the Mormon – they are worshipping that which does not exist.

(continued...)

Jeffrey S. said...

Extending Charity to Our Enemies

‘Man, Jeff, you sure are a mean culture warrior – can’t we all get along?’ ask all of Ed’s fans. But philosophically, Ed is the one who started the “fight” – he wants to exclude Mormons from the club of theists (rightfully so in my opinion) for the following reason:

“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.”

Ed goes on to say:

"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." [My emphasis]

So we have our Ed Feser criteria for reference to God – one must understand 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.” Fair enough, although we’ll get to that “etc.” in a moment. But really, other than Mormon theologians and Islamic scholars -- both of whom it should be emphasized are arguing over lies – who among the faithful has any idea of the theology behind any of this? Ask the average Mormon the following:

“Do you believe that the God you worship 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?” Is Ed’s claim that the average Mormon will say, “nope, that sounds nothing like my God, you don’t understand how God is only one created being among four, etc.” Or will he probably say something like, “that sounds exactly like my God – ultimately powerful and nothing could have created God!” Maybe if he was funny, he’d add, “that’s why they call Him God!” And who knows how the average Muslim would answer? (I suspect something like ‘ask me another question like that infidel and I’ll cut off your head’!!!) But how do any of us know what the average Mormon or Muslim is thinking about God when they pray anyway?

(continued...one more!)

Son of Ya'Kov said...

@Jeffery S

Your simple minded nonsense has 100% nothing to do with the argument here presented by Dr. Feser.

You are an idiot.

Jeffrey S. said...

Muslim Voluntarism

In Ed’s great post on Classical Theism, he deals with the subject of God’s goodness:

“As Davies has emphasized (at length in his book The Reality of God and the Problem of Evil), theistic personalists and classical theists also differ radically in their understanding of what it means to characterize God as good. For the theistic personalist, since God is a person comparable to us, only without our limitations, His goodness amounts to a kind of superlative moral virtue. Like us, He has moral duties; unlike us, He fulfills them perfectly. But for the classical theist, this is nonsensical. Virtue and duty have to do with habits and actions that allow us to realize the ends set for us by nature and thereby to perfect ourselves. But God, being pure actuality, cannot intelligibly be said to have ends He needs to realize or imperfections He needs to remedy. Accordingly, He cannot intelligibly be said to be “virtuous” or to have “duties” He needs to fulfill.

To say that God is good is for the classical theist to say something very different, and something that it is, frankly, not easy to summarize for readers unfamiliar 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 (all of which are explained in my book Aquinas). Briefly, though, according to the first of these doctrines, being is “convertible” with goodness, so that whatever is pure actuality or Being Itself is necessarily also Goodness Itself. Furthermore, evil is a privation rather than a positive reality – the absence of good, as blindness is merely the absence of sight rather than a positive attribute. Whatever is pure actuality, and thus Goodness Itself, therefore cannot intelligibly be said to be evil or deficient in any way. Finally, since according to the principle of proportionate causality, whatever is in an effect must in some way be in its cause (“eminently” if not “formally”), God as the cause of all possible good must have all possible good within Him, eminently if not formally.”

Ed says to me, in bafflement why I keep bringing up 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?”

My answer is simply that I thought by Ed's own definition of classical theism, it was essential to understand that God is pure actuality which just means He is Being Itself which by necessity means He is Goodness Itself. But if you are an extreme voluntarist you don’t believe any of these classic theistic principles about God -- God could be petty, arbitrary, unjust (what we would call unjust), and could just by sheer power declare all these things to be "good." God could also declare it "good" to rape little girls, and voila! It would then be good. But _that_ is consistent with classical theism? Whatever happened to the idea that, in classical theism, God is _really_ all-good, by his nature, in the strong and genuine sense? Whatever happened to the "unity of the transcendentals" in classical theism, that is supposed to make it necessary that ultimate Goodness is united to ultimate Reason?

Now it appears, from this post, that all the above features (qualities) of God are secondary (even though I thought they were essential) to the idea of a metaphysically ultimate God. It doesn't make sense to me.


I hope this extended response helps you appreciate my understanding of the issues.

Jeffrey S. said...

Son of Ya'Kov,

Please, tell me how you really feel about me -- don't hold back.

Son of Ya'Kov said...

@Jeffery S

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).

Why is this hard genius?

Son of Ya'Kov said...

Or to put is another way that is even more simple "Muslims worship the same God as Catholics they merely understand Him both differently and erroneously vs Catholics who understand God correctly".

Again this is not hard.

Son of Ya'Kov said...

Lastly if I may use my vast intellect to simplify Jeffery's nonsense.

He is asking can one be a Classic Theist and hold to the error of voluntarism?

Maybe or maybe not but what does that have to do with anything?

Tim Finlay said...

Ed,
Your argument that the Muslim and the Christian worship the same God depends, by your own admission, on the notion that the person who refers to a Plato, a student of Socrates but not the author of the Republic or any other "Platonic" books, successfully refers to Plato. It is far from clear that this notion holds. Let us say that this person thought Fred wrote what most of us call the works of Plato. Then it could plausibly be argued that this person successfully refers to Plato when he mentions Fred, not when he mentions Plato.

Brandon said...

Obviously, my story is meant to illustrate the analogous situation with Islam (and Mormonism) – two charlatans create their own religions for nefarious purposes out of existing material and go on to use their creation for conquest and glory.

But if this is your analogy, it cuts against your claim; Jeff is quite clearly referring to the person Ed and Scott are referring to. That he is doing so from considerable ignorance or for nefarious purposes is irrelevant to what he is talking about; and that he is lying about that person requires that he be talking about the same person, since he must be saying false things about the neighbor that they are talking about, not merely telling a tall tale about no one. The entire logical precondition of the story is that Jeff is talking about the neighbor and thus is saying something false. Even the phrase "out of existing material" requires material sameness. This is why people are having difficulty taking your argument seriously; you keep making statements that require sameness while repeatedly drawing the conclusion that they aren't.

We run into an analogous problem with your Extending Charity comment -- someone may believe that God is 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 without being sure about the phrase "absolutely metaphysically ultimate, from which all else derives, which not only does not have but could not in principle have had a cause of his own". There's no way to guarantee that the average Catholic will sign onto the phrase; although if they are Catholic in more than name they will believe things that are equivalent to it or imply it on further analysis. They may even believe on both sides, holding things consistent with it and inconsistent with it. (This is in fact extraordinarily common, and can happen entirely innocently and unintentionally, as well as happening more perversely.) You seem repeatedly to be confusing things required for sameness of referent with other components of meaning.

Kevin said...

Dr Feser,
Thank you for writing this post. It has helped me to think through the problem differently than the (my?) typically reactive Protestant mind.

Personally, I think they whole hubbub over this is missing what the _actual_ question is. I believe that this started (recently) with that professor at Wheaton stating that Christians and Muslims worship the same God. While this is an interesting topic to discuss I believe it is ultimately irrelevant, and because I don't believe that it is actually the question being asked.

Why would I say that it is irrelevant? Because EVERYONE (Jews, Muslims, Christians, etc.) worships "the wrong God." We all worship a God whom we cannot possible know completely. We will fill in parts we don't understand, make wrong conclusions, and twist our view of God into something that is not accurate. There may be accurate points, but there will be more inaccurate points simply because God's nature is so foreign to us in so many ways. We cannot imagine timelessness because we are temporal. We cannot imagine goodness because our view of good is lacking in almost every way. We cannot imagine non-contingency. In short, everyone's view of God is wrong. However, the hubbub is a hubbub because we equate "worshiping the right God" with salvation.

And therein lies, what I believe, is the problem. This line is question is making "whom one worships" as the lynch-pin when I do not believe Scripture supports this. The Christian perspective (and I don't believe I'm stretching it too much here, nor do I think I'm excluding Protestant nor Catholic nor Eastern here) is that it is your acceptance of God's free gift that is the basis of salvation, not whom you are worshiping. And so when we make "worshiping the right god" the basis of the argument we are, in many ways, arguing a straw man, or, perhaps, arguing how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

So the question of whether Christians and Muslims worship the same God must be a resounding YES! But that is because all of our views of God is wrong and a right view of God is impossible for finite, temporal beings. This makes God's work even more amazing. Not only can we never be good enough to pay for our sinfulness, but we cannot even know who we are trying to pay off?

In the Incarnation we have God himself bridging every divide to bring us to him and His only condition is that we accept the gift. God's standards for entering the kingdom are very low, indeed. And if we make worshiping the correct attribute set one of the conditions then, technically, our barrier is higher than God's.

Does that mean that salvation can be found in Islam? Absolutely not. The 5 pillars point away from Christ. But does that mean a Muslim cannot be a Christian? Again, absolutely not. I have read many stories of Muslims who have accepted the gift and still holding Mohammed high. But they hold Christ as lord and believe that God raised him from the dead. I have trouble thinking of a teaching of Scripture that would disqualify their faith.

(sorry if I rambled too much)

Chris Howard said...

I admit I am wading into deeper water than I should.

I read in your post a bit about the basics of what God is. And I read in your post a little bit about progressive revelation. But I somehow missed the connection I was looking for.

If we agree that the only way to know God is through revelation, and if we agree that revelation has been progressive, it seems to me we then agree that God reveals Himself in some part to differentiate Himself from "false" conceptions.

And if this is the case you can say that People A and People B worship the same "god" in some previously generic sense but when People A accept further revelation and People B reject that revelation, they are no longer doing so.

I am the man across the room. I am the man across the room with black suit. I am the man across the room with the black suit and wearing a purple necktie. If you are still thinking about the man across the room in blue jeans and a brown sweater you aren't referring to me!

Ok, so you avoid this by saying there is only one man across the room so we must be all referring to the same one.

Jeffrey S. said...

Brandon,

"But if this is your analogy, it cuts against your claim; Jeff is quite clearly referring to the person Ed and Scott are referring to. That he is doing so from considerable ignorance or for nefarious purposes is irrelevant to what he is talking about; and that he is lying about that person requires that he be talking about the same person, since he must be saying false things about the neighbor that they are talking about, not merely telling a tall tale about no one."

Huh? I set up the story specifically so that Jeff begins by talking about a person that does not exist -- there is no Rob who is having a party this weekend. There are people that live in the complex, yes, and some have parties, yes -- but none named Rob will be having a party this weekend. Jeff is not just wrong about "the same person", he is wrong about the very person Ed and Scott were talking about and knows almost nothing about Bob and his character. Jeff is telling a tall tale about no one in my story and will soon be arrested for trespassing!

BR said...

I am a bit confused--which is to say nothing more than that I am confused, as I concede that this topic falls outside of my particular wheelhouse. But I'll pose a question that you can hopefully answer so as to reassure me of you argument, much of which I found persuasive.

I think that I understand the central thesis here: that Muslims and Christians worship the same God because, in referencing God, they both imbue Him with His defining characteristic--namely, His divinity, His omnipotence, His absolute exercise of providence over all of mankind. Thus, the different characteristics that they associate with God, while not pedantic, result from differences in descriptive perceptions, not from differences in acquainted perception.

But you still concede that God's divinity is itself nothing more than a perception. Indeed, you say that we cannot know God in His ultimate nature, and that we define Him by His divinity only because His divinity is all that we have to go by. So my question, which assumes your premise, is this: how in the world could we know whether Christians and Muslims worship the same God merely because they both imbue He whom they worship with one similar characteristic?

Let me illustrate the point of my question with an example that you provide. Say, for example, that we know a rock only by the way that it hurts our foot--i.e., we know nothing at all about rocks except that they hurt our foot. Say also that we know nothing about a bear trap except that it hurts our foot. Then doesn't it follow that two people referencing an object that hurts their feet may well be referencing different things?

Or how about this: five guys at a party have black shirts on, and each drinks clear liquid from a transparent paper cup. One guy tells you that his liquid is vodka, and one guy tells me that his liquid is vodka. So we each have immediate knowledge only of their black shirts, and we each have descriptive knowledge of one person's vodka. I might say that the person in the black shirt, the one who is drinking vodka, has a nice pair of shoes on, and you might think that you agree. Yet unbeknownst to both of us, we might refer to a different pair of shoes.

The point, I suppose, is that if I reference something by the one characteristic that I know it has--say, its divinity--then I know too little of that thing to decide whether you refer to the same thing as me when you reference something divine as well. And this point becomes stronger when you and I each attribute a number of distinct characteristics to that divine thing, since neither of us knows which characteristics are actually essential to its nature. So while both Muslims and Christians believe that only one God exists, the fact that each agree on God's essential characteristic--namely, His divinity--is not itself sufficient to determine that we reference the same God, since neither of us has any idea what God's essential characteristics actually are.

SoCal said...

All that’s happening here is that Mr. Feser is asserting which attributes must be applied to God to allow Mr. Feser to make this claim. He could have used fewer words to do this.
Of course, this has much to do with language and how human beings describe things.

Feser writes:

”Having said that, it is also true that not anything goes.”

Why not anything? Feser doesn’t have much going here (e.g. anthropomorphism, creaturely, finite) He doesn’t say why these disqualify, just that they do. He makes an attempt to say these attributes aren’t arbitrary, but doesn’t succeed (omnipotent flying spaghetti monster anyone?). One might even make the case that he backs into his answer.

Much of the flaw in Mr. Feser’s argument can actually be found in Donnellan’s martini man example (which is about semantics by the way).

In that example, what if you refer to a man across the room drinking black tar wearing shorts? But there’s another problem: You’re looking in the direction of a different room. In the original example the glass mattered, the drink didn’t. But why? Because nothing matters – it’s the same person.

In other words, Mr. Donnellan’s example doesn’t fight on fair ground for Mr. Feser’s purposes. They are talking about the same man from the start – a convenience for language distinction not for explaining all Gods are the same God. (as defined by Mr. Feser, of course.)

There just isn't anything here that's convincing.

Brandon said...

Huh? I set up the story specifically so that Jeff begins by talking about a person that does not exist

No, this is explicitly and obviously not the case:

Along comes a thief, Jeff, who overhears a bit of their conversation and walks up to them and says something like, “excuse me neighbors, I too was invited to Rob’s party this weekend but I just moved in and misplaced his invitation – could one of you fine gentlemen give me his address?”

In other words, Jeff refers to the person Ed and Scott were talking about (the person who actually threw the party); he just misheard the name, and has to be talking about the same party ("too") to which they were referring, and "his" is fixed by the party, which is one and the same party referred to by all persons involved. His calling the neighbor 'Rob' is explicitly an arbitrarily designated name he applies to the referent of Ed's and Scott's conversation, to which Jeff then goes on and both lyingly and overimaginatively attaches all sorts of false things.

Pedro Erik said...

Dear Dr.Feser,

It seems to me that your approach is philosophical, maybe excessively.

Don't you think that a God that is all-loving is different from another one who hates.

Could we conceive a real God who hates?
Was Zeus a God like the Christian God?
Best regards,
Pedro

Pedro Erik said...

Dear Michael C.,

I did not mean that Allah is not a god, I and Brague mean that he is not the same Christian God.
Best regards,
Pedro

Glenn said...

Jeffrey S.,

You quoted from a blog post by Mr. Vallicella, apparently with the objective in mind of supporting your inscrutable case.

So, a simple, multiple choice question for you:

Did Mr. Vallicella, in the blog post from which you quoted, write, "And so it is not at all obvious that Jew, Christian, and Muslim are all worshipping the same God.... But this is not to say that Jew, Christian, and Muslim are NOT worshipping one and the same God."

a) Yes
b) No

laubadetriste said...

@Son of Ya'Kov: "Your simple minded nonsense has 100% nothing to do with the argument here presented by Dr. Feser. / You are an idiot."

No no no no no, that's not how you do it. Come, let's try to keep the polemics as interesting as the arguments.

First of all, Jeffrey S. is clearly neither simple-minded nor an idiot. Note his dashes, comma usage, bolded headings, and so on. You've got to have seen such things thousands of times to have standards like that, which means he's got some extensive reading under his belt. Notice his range of reference. You've got to know your tailings to find your gold. And notice his ready creativity. No, his nonsense is not that of a simple-minded person or an idiot.

And anyway, best not to be "essentialist" (as they might put it in the colleges) by insulting a person (as opposed to, say, what that person wrote), because that tends to run your own argument astray. And it makes you sound small as a schoolyard bully.

And when you insult someone, add some spice--some wit, invention, or novelty. (↑"Farrago"--now there's a word I've not heard in a long time... :) )

Tom said...

Interesting, well thought out and argued, and mostly academic -- ultimately and eternally -- discussions from Mr. Feser on down. The BIG question, posed by Christ Himself, is "Who do you say I am?" (Mark 8:29)
To leave no doubt, Christ's answer is "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except by me." (John 14:6)

It's belief in Jesus and a life that reflects that belief -- because, after all, Satan and his demons believe in Jesus -- that count because that determines where we spend eternity.

Philosophize and strain to bring all the faiths together under one roof ('God') to assuage feelings and reduce conflict (like the Pope, to his shame, has tried to do for many years now), but Jesus' identity and what you do with that is all that counts. There is no back door to heaven for those who see God separate from and having nothing to do with His son.

"Whoever denies me before men, I will deny him before my Father in heaven." (Matthew 10:33)

Have a nice day. Philosophical and otherwise.

Timothy Trosclair said...

Thank you for the clarity on this issue. It seems like we could also point to St. Paul telling those at Athens that they were actually worshipping the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob even though they were doing so under the guise of the "Unknown God" as evidence for the fact that a difference in sense does not entail a difference in reference. As St. Paul put it: "for, passing through and beholding your shrines, I found also an altar on which was inscribed, To the unknown God. Whom therefore ye reverence, not knowing [him], him I announce to you" (Acts 17:23).

Gottfried said...

SoCal,

There just isn't anything here that's convincing.

I totally agree!

(You were referring to everything you wrote above that sentence, right?)

laubadetriste said...

@SoCal: "Why not anything? Feser doesn’t have much going here (e.g. anthropomorphism, creaturely, finite) He doesn’t say why these disqualify, just that they do. He makes an attempt to say these attributes aren’t arbitrary, but doesn’t succeed (omnipotent flying spaghetti monster anyone?)."

Dude, you're making atheists look bad. It's embarrassing. The reason why Dr. Feser didn't say is that he already wrote several books addressing that topic, and many posts spanning almost a decade now. And of course, that topic had been addressed before him for over two thousand years. He assumes--rightly, except in the case of the occasional drive-by like yours--that the people on this blog already know that, because *that's just about the main point of this whole blog.*

Jeffrey S. said...

Brandon,

"In other words, Jeff refers to the person Ed and Scott were talking about (the person who actually threw the party); he just misheard the name, and has to be talking about the same party ("too") to which they were referring, and "his" is fixed by the party, which is one and the same party referred to by all persons involved."

No again -- I set up the scenario specifically the way I did because:

(1) it is Dan who holds the party -- that's why Ed and Scott can have their argument over the identity of the person and simply get the reference wrong;

(2) Jeff doesn't just get the name wrong -- he gets the event wrong as well; in other words, he has no idea what is going on except what he thinks is going on.

Jeff is wrong on all particulars -- there is no party this weekend (it already happened) and there is no Rob. Just like Mohammad, he picked up bits and pieces of information laying around ('hey, that big black stone over there that the pagans are worshiping -- I think I'll call that God') and constructed a story that would be useful to him. There is no reason to think that his version of God even exists just like Jeff's version of Rob doesn't exist.

W.LindsayWheeler said...

I am probably out of my league here as well. I am quite simple minded. But instead of using Aquinas or Frege, can we use Socrates. Socrates is much easier.

Socrates in the Doric Elenchus would use the principle of consistency as in "What is the definition of courage that will fit all situations requiring courage."

Socrates doesn't make a distinction between "sense" and "reference" but essence. Essence is what defines things. The Error of Frege is he turns philosophy into philology. Frege is not doing "philosophy" but a study of language which is his "analytics". "Sense" and "reference" is not used in defining something and finding the essence of a subject. When a Muslim says the word "chair" is it a "sense" or a "reference". And does a Christian use a chair the same way a Muslim does? In order to understand what a thing is, is thru definition, i.e. finding the essence. Redo the title of the Post to read "Does a Muslim use a chair the same way a Christian does" and it comes out very clear. Change out Chair with God, and the answer is very clear. A Muslim does not worship the same God for they reject Jesus. If you reject Jesus, you reject God the Father.

Now, when Abraham talked of God, he only had a partiality of God. He did not have the full knowledge of God. It says that Abraham asked to see God, and God showed him his Backside! With Jesus, we see 360 degrees of God, we have the fullness of God. When we see Jesus, as Jesus said of himself,---one sees the Father!

The Jews, the Greeks of St. Paul, and all others saw God in a cloud, murky and only a semblance of Him. But when Jesus was incarnated--That all ended. there is no cloud, no misgivings, nor more ambiguity but concrete knowledge. When St. Paul went to the Areopagus, St. Paul was bringing the full revelation to complete the picture of the unknown God. And all that was made possible by Plato who was a follower of the Doric Greeks that knew, thru the natural law, that all things are divided into three sovereignties. The Trinity was already worshipped by the Doric Greeks. A Three Gods paradigm exists among the Hindus as well (different from the Platonic version). But nowhere in Semitic ideology is there this tripartite paradigm. With Full revelation in Jesus Christ, there is no God anywhere else. God the Father may answer prayers from Heretics and infidels all the time, but nowhere is there commonality anymore existing once Jesus appeared. Jesus was concretized. So knowledge is concretized about God.

SoCal said...

@laubetriste

I’m not an atheist. Not sure why you thought that, other than misinterpretation on your part.

Moreover, I didn’t make any claims. I was just pointing out that this post was relatively weak. My opinion. It’s weak. Period. I appreciate the reasoning from you offered on why Feser is missing things. Fine. However, most times when you’re making a case, you still want to tie things up, no matter how many times you’ve mentioned them before. Things need to stand alone.

Feser obviously has lots of followers on this site (you and Gottfried) that jump to defend him (without real content I might add, just frustration as far I as see). Maybe you’ve used content and arguments before and everyone knows that except drive bys. No need to use it now.

Good luck and enjoy.

Just “driving by”.

Scott said...

Tom:

"Philosophize and strain to bring all the faiths together under one roof ('God') to assuage feelings and reduce conflict…"

Oh, come now. Surely you don't really think that's what's going on in Ed's post.

The very reason there is "conflict" of the relevant sort is that the faiths in question are all successfully referring to the same God and some of them must therefore be getting things wrong about that God.

Jeffrey S.:

In addition to its other flaws (some of which others, including especially Brandon, have pointed out, and more could be educed had we but world enough and time), your thought experiment also suffers from a genetic fallacy, in which the members of a sect or religion somehow inherit the intentions of their founder. It's surely obvious that if a man says that 2 + 2 = 4, someone who believes him believes truly even if he himself thought he was lying.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps I am too low-brow to fully comprehend the argument here, but I have a couple questions. 1) in the Quran, when Allah is described as being loving, merciful, etc, does that apply to infidels? Because it sure seems like Allah does not much care for us, unless we convert; then we're covered. 2) why should we care whether our gods overlap in some sort of Divine Venn diagram, when what we can infer from the barbarity of Muslim behavior is that their god is one who advocates murder, rape and slavery? I cannot possibly hear what they are saying because what they do is so loud.

Finally, and to me fundamentally, What God has revealed clearly of his nature to us is his goodness. God so loved the world...not the Jews, not the as-yet-not-formed Christians, but the world. God shows us what true love is. That is what we can know about God. Allah does not embody love of this nature; I do not see how one could possibly infer that either from Quran or from the martial nature of Islam. So, is it not possible that Muslims worship not God, but a demon who has claimed to be God; and who, knowing something of God, has somewhat successfully imitated Him?

I am none of those things to which some of you refer so derisively--a gnu (to me, an ungulate), a radtrad (sounds like a snow tire to me) or a fundy ( do you mean a scriptural of-based Protestant?). I am Eastern, and we think of God in terms not altogether consonant with the scholastics or later Roman Catholicism. I am not Islamaphobic, whatever that means--but I do think the answer to this question is important and not transparent. Since misrepresentation is allowed in Islam, surely we must be careful of our terms when we have a conversation with Muslim thought leaders.

Anonymous said...

Pardon the typos--my iPad will not allow me to edit. It thinks IT is god.

Daniel said...

A further point: I find it interesting that people are unwilling to grant Islamic Philosophical Theologians the same exegetical leeway they grant Christian Theologians with regards to Scriptural passages which if taken literally would attribute incoherent attributes to God e.g. Anger, possessing nostrils or changing His Mind. Of course (some) Christians may be believe this crude version but we don't base our appraisal of Christianity on that.

@Jeff, re the Old Testament passages would you accept the conclusion that any Christian who held them as true was not worshipping the same God as those who (correctly) take them as false?

Jeffrey S. said...

Scott,

Thanks for your latest comment -- I think it might be help me answer at least one objection to Ed's post (I still think the question of what classical theism entails and how it conflicts with voluntarism is too easily dismissed by Ed.)

So on the issue of the genetic fallacy, let me use another analogy. Imagine I invent a new religion called Zardozism. Obviously, I base my religion on the *cough* great *cough* science fiction epic starring Sean Connery. I have priests called Eternals and I come up with all sorts of crazy ideas. My religion catches on and I gain lots of worshipers. But here is the crucial point -- I insist that my God, Zardoz, has the properties of classical theism that Ed has identified in this post as being the key to the similarity between the Muslim and Christian God. In other words, Zardoz is "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."

So here is my question -- you know Zardoz doesn't exist, I made him up. But I gave him properties of what classical theism says God essentially is. So do my Zardozians and Christians worship the same God?

Scott said...

Jeffrey S.:

Your question begs the original one. I do not "know Zardoz doesn't exist"; on the contrary, I do know that there's a real Being answering to the definition/description you give in your post, even if you (think you) "made him up." That you tried to lie (and failed) is irrelevant to whether I can use the name "Zardoz" to refer to the God Who satisfies your definition/description independently of your motivation.

Scott said...

(Also, for anyone not familiar with the John Boorman film in question, here's something you won't be able to unsee.)

Step2 said...

@Scott
Some brain bleach is needed to remove that horror.

Scott said...

And off-topic though it may be (for now, anyway, but the thread is young and connections may yet be made), let us pause for a moment to contemplate the sheer awesomeness of Benedict Cumberbatch as Dr. Strange. I've been looking forward to this one ever since I heard he'd been cast.

Tim Finlay said...

Ed,
You have said, "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." Does this apply to those Muslim who hold that the Quran is co-eternal with God? Laubadetriste (in comments to this blog) seems to concede that Asharite Muslims may not worship the same God and, if I remember correctly, the Asharites are not the only Muslims who hold this view of the Quran being co-eternal with God. You have already made a qualification that puts a few Muslims in the same category as you put Mormons--not worshiping the same God. Holding that the Quran is co-eternal with God is surely also contrary to the notion that God is metaphysically ultimate. Weren't the Mutazillites correct in arguing that the co-eternality of the Quran would deny the tawchid, the doctrine of God's unity?

Son of Ya'Kov said...

@laubadetriste

>And anyway, best not to be "essentialist" (as they might put it in the colleges) by insulting a person (as opposed to, say, what that person wrote), because that tends to run your own argument astray. And it makes you sound small as a schoolyard bully.

Actually the later is what I was going for since I don't feel the usual suspects are worth anything else.

But I thank you for your advice. Merry Christmas and be assured I say that without irony.

Dean Esmay said...

If you're Catholic, the answer to this question isn't disputable. The answer is "yes," period. The magisterium said so at Vatican II quite clearly, and every subsequent Pope has affirmed it.

Sola Scripturists can decide whatever they want I guess.

laubadetriste said...

@SoCal: "I’m not an atheist. Not sure why you thought that, other than misinterpretation on your part."

Why, I thought that due to your having missed the long-time work of this blog while commenting on it, and due to your having brought up the Flying Spaghetti Monster in apparent seriousness. My mistake. Pity, as you do a convincing impression of a certain species of us.

"Moreover, I didn’t make any claims. I was just pointing out that this post was relatively weak."

That would be a claim. Which my response addressed, as you kindly acknowledge.

"Maybe you’ve used content and arguments before and everyone knows that except drive bys. No need to use it now."

I disagree, as that "content" is essential to understand what is under dispute here, and also this blog generally, and also the history of philosophy. I would recommend starting with "So you think you understand the cosmological argument?" at http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2011/07/so-you-think-you-understand.html

Scott said...

Tim Finlay:

"You have already made a qualification that puts a few Muslims in the same category as you put Mormons--not worshiping the same God."

By the same token, though, that qualification also allows that there may be individual Mormons who do worship the same God.

(I think I know one personally. I have a good friend who was raised Catholic, left the Church in his mid-twenties, and became a Mormon about ten years ago; I don't believe for one moment that he did so because of LDS-vs.-Catholic teachings on the nature of divinity.)

Some of the fuzziness here is surely due not to the problem of reference itself but to the difficulties inherent in determining just what an institution "officially" or "authentically" believes, especially one that has no authoritative teaching body.

laubadetriste said...

@Son of Ya'Kov: "Actually the later is what I was going for since I don't feel the usual suspects are worth anything else."

Ah. :) Well then, by all means proceed. I withdraw that part of my comments.

"But I thank you for your advice. Merry Christmas and be assured I say that without irony."

Thank you, and likewise in return.

Jeffrey S. said...

Scott,

Thanks again! You are getting me to a clearer understanding, which is all I ever wanted from the beginning.

So you answer to me is the following:

"Your question begs the original one. I do not "know Zardoz doesn't exist"; on the contrary, I do know that there's a real Being answering to the definition/description you give in your post, even if you (think you) "made him up." That you tried to lie (and failed) is irrelevant to whether I can use the name "Zardoz" to refer to the God Who satisfies your definition/description independently of your motivation."

Fair enough -- but I didn't tell you about all the other stuff Zardoz revealed to me (remember, I came up with all sorts of crazy ideas). Let me list some other beliefs of Zardozism:

1) You must hate Jews;

2) statues of Donald Trump must be erected in all cities and people must bow to the statue when walking by on penalty of death;

3) you need to always pray in a Sean Connery diaper;

4) there will be virgin sacrifices once a month, (they are to be collected from each state and thrown off the Freedom Tower in New York) but only after the Eternals get to spare their favorite virgins for ritualistic orgies;

5) etc.

Multiply the craziness as necessary. BUT, never forget that Zardoz also has the essential property of being "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."

Now do you think I failed to lie? That Zardoz really exists because he has this one crucial property of God? That this property of Zardoz is just *more important* than all the other crazy stuff I am attributing to him as far as whether Zardoz is the "same God" as the real God. But why should that be the case? Why think that?

Incidentally, this is the question that SoCal asks when he drops by:

[quote]

Feser writes:

”Having said that, it is also true that not anything goes.”

Why not anything? Feser doesn’t have much going here (e.g. anthropomorphism, creaturely, finite) He doesn’t say why these disqualify, just that they do. He makes an attempt to say these attributes aren’t arbitrary, but doesn’t succeed (omnipotent flying spaghetti monster anyone?). One might even make the case that he backs into his answer.

Much of the flaw in Mr. Feser’s argument can actually be found in Donnellan’s martini man example (which is about semantics by the way).

In that example, what if you refer to a man across the room drinking black tar wearing shorts? But there’s another problem: You’re looking in the direction of a different room. In the original example the glass mattered, the drink didn’t. But why? Because nothing matters – it’s the same person.

[end quote]

Are you really saying that nothing else matters about Zardozism except that Zardoz has the properties of God I outline above? Are you really going to bite the bullet on the reductio. All kinds of totally kooky religions can then be made up with this kind of thin, theistic "preface," and then all the rest of it is just arbitrarily declared to be unimportant add-ons. Come one, come all. Everybody with this theistic preface "really" worships the same God, even if their religion is obvious kookery and charlatanism.


Jeffrey S. said...

"And off-topic though it may be (for now, anyway, but the thread is young and connections may yet be made), let us pause for a moment to contemplate the sheer awesomeness of Benedict Cumberbatch as Dr. Strange. I've been looking forward to this one ever since I heard he'd been cast."

As a fellow comic book geek, I cannot wait for this film.

May the Eye of Agamotto shed light and wisdom on you as you rest in your Sanctum Sanctorum!

Scott said...

Jeffrey S.:

"Now do you think I failed to lie?"

Actually, in my haste I phrased one point incorrectly: if you said something you believed to be false, then you lied even if what you said turned out to be true accidentally, as it were. What I meant, of course, is that in making your statement you didn't succeed in saying something false.

Which also, of course, doesn't mean that none of your other statements succeed in saying anything false. Unfortunately the ones you've listed also don't succeed in saying anything about Zardoz, either, so I'm not sure what work they're supposed to be doing.

But suppose that to your statement that Zardoz is, essentially, "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." you had added that He also happens to be, say, blue and spherical and about six inches across. Then yes, you'd have said something false, something that demonstrably contradicts what you've already acknowledged as what God essentially is. And it would be false precisely because you were making the statement about God, not because there's nothing in the entire universe that's blue and spherical and about six inches across.

Now, sure, pile on enough of those silly falsehoods and I'll begin to doubt whether you really believe the definition/description you said was essential. But so what?

"Are you really saying that nothing else matters about Zardozism except that Zardoz has the properties of God I outline above?"

I am very obviously saying no such thing. Why in the world are we back to this nonsense again?

SoCal said...

@laubadetriste

I brought up the flying spaghetti monster in context of this piece and the unthoughtful atheist retort only to show how we must have distinctions that matter when using language to describe God.

As a separate matter, one as to ask, “Why are people so passionate about making this case?"

Look at the comments. Some almost have the, “How dare you think we’re all not worshipping the same God!” attitude. Why the zeal?

Whether you believe it or not, the zeal is very odd. Where is the significance in this zeal?

I know Jesus Christ died for my sins. He is my Savior. My zeal is there.

By the way, I came here through an external link.

Glad to see others are welcome as long as they’re respectful.

Jeffrey S. said...

Scott,

"Now, sure, pile on enough of those silly falsehoods and I'll begin to doubt whether you really believe the definition/description you said was essential. But so what?

"Are you really saying that nothing else matters about Zardozism except that Zardoz has the properties of God I outline above?"

I am very obviously saying no such thing. Why in the world are we back to this nonsense again?"

You ask me "so what" and when I try to explain the "what" you chide me for it! Did it ever occur to you that I'm just making a mistake and not being clear? Sheesh.

Let's try again.

If I create a Zardoz that has the property of being "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." but at the same time is obviously a created fiction (which is the point of listing all that madness) then what I've created is fake. That's the point of the 'nonsense' -- I am creating a false religion that happens to get one thing about God correct. But why is that one thing so important that we have to say "when Christians and Zardozians worship, they worship the same God" even though you know Zardoz (given all the craziness I've listed above) does not exist except as the crazed creation of my deluded cult mind.

That's why it matters -- are you telling me that nothing about what Zardoz requires of his followers ("Which also, of course, doesn't mean that none of your other statements succeed in saying anything false. Unfortunately the ones you've listed also don't succeed in saying anything about Zardoz, either, so I'm not sure what work they're supposed to be doing.") give us any information about what kind of God Zardoz is?

Let me make it clearer -- suppose I said Zardoz hates Jews, which is why he requires his followers to hate them. Zardoz enjoys the company of virgins, which is why he wants us to sacrifice them. Etc. Now I'm tying each requirement of the Zardozian faith to a property of Zardoz -- in addition, of course, to the essential property of Zardoz that he is "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."

Now how do you feel about Zardoz -- do Christians and Zardozians worship the same God?

Jeffrey S. said...

I know Ed doesn't want me posting lots of quotes, but I just can't resist posting this one as I just came across it on long time friend of this blog The OFloinn's place and it cuts against my argument:

"[F]or Almighty God, Who desires that all men shall be saved and that none shall perish, approves nothing more highly in us than this: that a man love his fellow man next to his God and do nothing to him which he would not that others should do to himself.

This affection we and you owe to each other in a more peculiar way than to people of other races because we worship and confess the same God though in diverse forms and daily praise and adore Him as the creator and ruler of this world. For, in the words of the Apostle, 'He is our peace who hath made both one.'

This grace granted to you by God is admired and praised by many of the Roman nobility who have learned from us of your benevolence and high qualities.[. . .]

For God knows our true regard for you to his glory and how truly we desire your prosperity and honor, both in this life and in the life to come, and how earnestly we pray both with our lips and with our heart that God Himself, after the long journey of this life, may lead you into the bosom of the most holy patriarch Abraham."

-- From Letter XXI of Pope St. Gregory VII (†1085) to the (Muslim) King of Mauritania

Anonymous said...

Jeffrey, there is some irony in you asking for people to interpret your points charitably. You singularly lack charity (not to mention knowledge) in your comments on Islam.

Anonymous said...

As a separate matter, one as to ask, “Why are people so passionate about making this case?"

Look at the comments. Some almost have the, “How dare you think we’re all not worshipping the same God!” attitude. Why the zeal?


Perhaps, but it must be said that those here against recognising that Muslims worship the same God have been even more passionate, even vociferous, not to mention uncharitable and ignorant. Indeed, you bring up the FSM, and there is something not unlike internet atheists in some of the stronger Islamic commentators here - they would be up in arms if the same sort of distortion, uncharitableness, and ignorance were shown towards Christian beliefs.

Edward Feser said...

Hello Tim,

The issue that you (and Anonymous, further up the thread) raise about the Quran being co-eternal with God is interesting, but I don’t see that it affects the point. Obviously I think the claim is not only false but a serious theological error. But I’ve already explained why serious theological error per se is not enough to undermine successful reference to the true God. So what matters is whether the claim that the Quran is co-eternal with God is the sort of error which could undermine successful reference.

You suggest that the reason it might be is that it would compromise God’s unity. But that raises two questions: First, does it really compromise divine unity? Second, if it does, does it do so in a way that would undermine successful reference? The answers to both questions depend on how we interpret the claim that the Quran is co-eternal with God.

Now, surely what is meant is not that some literal material book is co-eternal with God, but rather that the content of the book is. Suppose that this is interpreted as meaning that the Quran exists eternally as an object of divine thought. This would be reminiscent of the Augustinian doctrine that the Platonic Forms or Ideas exist as archetypes in the divine intellect. Now, this Augustinian doctrine certainly does not compromise God’s unity. And if the claim that the Quran is co-eternal with God is interpreted in this way, then it is not obvious how it would compromise divine unity either. (Again, that doesn’t mean that the claim is not a serious error -- it is. What is at issue is whether the error is, specifically, a matter of compromising divine unity.)

Or suppose instead that the claim is understood as holding that the Quran eternally derives from God in something like the way Christians hold that the Father eternally begets the Son. Now, obviously no Christian can say that the latter claim is incompatible with God’s unity. But then, if the claim about the co-eternality of the Quran is to be interpreted in an analogous way, then once again it is not obvious how it would compromise divine unity either.

On both of these interpretations, the claim puts the Quran “inside” the Godhead, as it were. Suppose we interpret it as putting the Quran eternally “outside” the Godhead, though. This would more plausibly compromise divine unity. But would it do so in a way that undermines successful reference to the true God? That is not as obvious as you seem to suppose.

Consider first that, as I’ve already noted, Arian heretics did not fail to refer to the true God, and this was so despite their having compromised divine unity insofar as they took the Son to be a lesser divinity. So, if the claim that Quran is co-eternal with God is interpreted as analogous to the Arian view about the Son, then it seems that the error would not be such as to undermine reference to the true God.

Of course, the Arians took the Son to be created, and those who hold the Quran to be co-eternal with God take it to be uncreated. But even this claim requires interpretation. Suppose what is meant by this is that the Quran has no temporal beginning but still eternally depends upon God. Then it seems that those who say that the Quran is co-eternal with God are not attributing full divinity to the Quran but rather, again, taking something relevantly analogous to the Arian view. And in that case, again, is seems that the error is not of a sort to undermine reference.

On this latter interpretation, the claim might be read as comparable to the Neo-Platonic idea that Intellect and Soul emanate from The One. Now, it is certainly arguable that the Neo-Platonists were referring to the true God despite their errors -- Augustine seemed to think so, and I would argue so. So, if the claim that the Quran is co-eternal with God is understood in this way, then, once again, it seems that the error is not sufficient to undermine reference to the true God.

Neil Parille said...

I've never seen the entire letter from Pope Gregory VII.

I think what motives (in part) the "Christians and Muhammadans don't worship the same God" view are the pastoral concerns. Do JW's and Christians worship the same God? What about the Bahai? What about covering up crucifixes or joint prayers with Muslims or who knows what, which have become increasingly common. And I imagine we've all heard of mixed marriages with Catholic women and Muslim men, with predictably tragic results.

Anonymous said...

Anon writes I cannot possibly hear what they are saying because what they do is so loud.

Looking at the history of Christianity and the history of Islam and comparing them, it is not apparent that the former has been much better (or worse), in terms of barbarity, inhumanity, and intolerance. In fact, to our shame, the treatment of Jews and non-believers, for example, was generally worse in pre-modern Christendom than the pre-modern Islamic world.

Perhaps there can be an argument made that Islam is inherently more barbaric and inhumane that Christianity, but you and your fellows will have to put a lot more effort into showing this than a few uncharitable, hypocritical, and largely unsupported allegations.

Allah does not embody love of this nature; I do not see how one could possibly infer that either from Quran or from the martial nature of Islam.

Ditto. Again, this is simply not apparent. It is not apparent that Islam suggests Allah despises infidels or doesn't love all. And it is also the case one can construct harsh opinions against unbelievers and sinners from the Bible. You may not ultimately be wrong, but you will have to do some work to show this, not just assert with no hint of real knowledge.

You also bring taqiya, or permitted lying in Islam, with no seeming knowledge that this is largely a Shia doctrine. It is also about escaping persecution, not about lying in general, even for the Islamic faith.

Edward Feser said...

Hey Scott,

That Zardoz pic should be on the Index of Forbidden Links...!

Anonymous said...

Jeffrey S's point about the connection between theological system and ethical system is an important one. The ethical systems of Judaism and Christianity have a very substantial overlap. The ethical system of Islam (and here I am not talking about Muslim reformists that do not agree with Shariah law, such reformists I have a tremendous respect for) is radically different from the ethical systems of Judaism and Christianity. I am not an expert in Buddhism, Confucianism, Daoism etc., but it would not surprise me that these ethical systems are much closer to those of Judaism and Christianity than the ethical system of Islam is. The Appendix to C. S. Lewis's The Abolition of Man contains many quotes from these Eastern ethical systems but none from Islam. If "not anything goes," why does the ethical system associated with what God decrees count for nothing in determining whether a person is worshiping the same God or not? It would seem that many Mormons are closer to worshiping the same God than many Muslims.

SoCal said...

Jeffery,

I think you’re spot on for the most part.

Using the criteria I’ve seen provided here, in your example it sounds like Christians and Zardozians would be worshiping the same God. Just different understandings.

To all those criticizing you, it’s not about Jeffery being uncharitable to Muslims, that’s beside the point. He’s simply asking for acceptable criteria to make this judgment. He’s been given that criteria. Now, others don’t like how he applies the criteria he’s been given even though he’s being consistent.

HINT: That’s a sign the argument needs work.

By the way, saying something is nonsense isn’t an argument.

Jeffery is just repeating the argument that’s been given to him. If you don’t like it coming from him, there’s a reason you don’t like it.

Scott said...

Jeffrey S.:

"Did it ever occur to you that I'm just making a mistake and not being clear?"

Yes. Did it occur to you that that's precisely why I was chiding you? ;-)

"[A]re you telling me that nothing about what Zardoz requires of his followers…give[s] us any information about what kind of God Zardoz is?"

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 people believe Zardoz requires and not necessarily as providing information directly about Zardoz. Any Zardozian believer who genuinely accepts your statement about what Zardoz essentially is 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.

And I think that's where you're getting hung up, because that way of putting it looks at least superficially like the claim you're trying to defend.

But no one here has disagreed with it. There's a difference between (a) believing in what you've described as the essential Zardoz and nevertheless being mistaken about what He requires, on the one hand, and (b) believing in the false or nonexistent god who allegedly imposes those requirements and mistaking him/her/it for the God of your "essential" statement while not actually believing in that God at all, on the other.

Both kinds of error are possible, but you seem to conflate the two and acknowledge only one. That, I think, is the basis of the disagreement.

Anonymous said...

Isn't the Koran held to be the logos? This is what is meant by calling it uncreated.

Edward Feser said...

Hi again Tim,

Re: your earlier question about the Plato example, three points. First, all that I need in order to make the specific point I was making in that passage is an example in which someone makes important errors vis-à-vis the thing he purportedly refers to, but still successfully refers to it. And I gave such an example. What you are doing is asking about a somewhat different example, which is fine, but whatever we say about that different example, it doesn’t show that the original example fails to show what I claimed it shows.

Second, the most that your Plato/Fred example shows is that the person in question refers to Plato when he says “Fred.” It doesn’t show that he doesn’t also refer to Plato when he says “Plato.” (What’s really going on is that he doesn’t realize that the person he calls “Fred” and the person he calls “Plato” are one and the same person.) Now, if he’s still referring to Plato when he says “Plato,” then it isn’t even a prima facie counterexample.

Third, even if your proposed example were a problem for my claim, that would not be enough to save the “It’s not the same God” position. For as I keep saying, anyone who takes that view had better give us an explanation of why it is not the case that every error about the divine nature entails a failure of reference. And that will require acknowledging that getting things wrong about God is consistent with successfully referring to him. In which case we’re owed a non-question-begging, non-ad hoc explanation of why Muslims somehow fail to refer when Jews, heretics, et al. do not

Anonymous said...

To all those criticizing you, it’s not about Jeffery being uncharitable to Muslims, that’s beside the point.

He has been told several times that voluntarism is not the position of Islam itself but one of its divisions. He ignored this. He also ignored those, like Daniel, who pointed out the complexities of voluntarism and what this means for things like divine love.

You clearly have a very different reading of his attempts to assess Dr. Feser's criteria, than me.

Anonymous said...

Taqiya has certainly been used much in Shia circles to prevent persecution by Sunnis where Shia are in the majority. But it was practiced by Muhammad in the Meccan period when his followers were not a strong force and is also permitted for Muslims in general when they are in a situation where dissembling about their religion is advantageous.

Anonymous said...

Anon, on what grounds do you suggest that Judaism is ethically more like Islam than Christianity? Superficially, ethically, ritually, even theologically, Rabbinic Judaism seems closer to Islam than Judaism.

And what are these ethical criticisms of Islam you are referring to? Are you talking about Islam in its entirety or do you mean Wahhabism or the likes of the Taliban/ISIS? Also are you criticizing Islamic ethics and sharia according to Christian ethics or a mixture of Christian and modern, liberal ethics? It is interesting how many conservatives end up sounding like modernists and liberals when they criticize Islam.

Anonymous said...

Taqiya doesn't refer to dissembling in general. It refers to hiding your true beliefs in the face of persecution. Whatever one thinks of this, to conclude from it that a Muslim may lie for his religion as he pleases - even that Muslims are lying about their belief in a loving God or that they believe in the God of classical theism - is an unwarranted leap.

Scott said...

Ed:

"That Zardoz pic should be on the Index of Forbidden Links...!"

That's where I found it. ;-)

There's a curious parallel here with the question at hand. Sean Connery said, as I recall, that he was giving up the role of James Bond so that he could be taken more seriously as an actor. Then he made this film. Does his behavior entail that his original statement didn't succeed in even referring to his career?

SoCal said...

Anonymous,

Again, Jeffery is using the criteria (that’s been given the stamp of approval here) and applying it to a false god.

He’s asking why he’s wrong for doing so.

He’s not been given an answer as far as I can tell.

Max_W said...

Tim Finlay,

You argued that Muslims who hold that the Quran is co-eternal with God do not worship the same God as Christians because holding that the Quran is co-eternal with God is contrary to the notion that God is metaphysically ultimate.

But, this argument seems invalid. From John 1, Christians know that the word of God is co-eternal with God. So, if Muslims believe that the Quran is the word of God, then they could believe that it is co-eternal with God. (Note that I am not arguing that the Quran is co-eternal with God or that it is the word of God. I am only arguing that if Muslims believe that the Quran is the word of God, then it would follow that they would reasonably believe that it is co-eternal with God. So, even if they are mistaken in this belief, it would be a mistaken belief about the same God that Christians worship.

Neil Parille said...

Ed. You write:
_____

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

___________

But doesn't this go back to the question of what Mulims "really" believe and that's an empirical question which I don't think I'm qualified to answer. What people I know who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan have told me, the hatred of women seems to be the organizing principle of Islam.

Many Muslims who have converted to Christianity have said that they did not worship God prior to their conversion. Are there recollections merely "academic"?

Tim Finlay said...

Ed,
Thanks for your long and thoughtful response to my question. Perhaps the best way to answer the question "Do Christians and Muslims worship the same God?" is to say, "Christians and Muslims both acknowledge the existence of a metaphysically ultimate being and so can in that sense be said to worship the same God. There are other thinkers who do not belong to any of these religions that can also be said to believe in the same God. However, there are so many theological and ethical propositions that are shared by Judaism and Christianity but which are radically opposed by Islam that it makes sense to speak of a Judeo-Christian worldview that is radically different from a Muslim worldview. The notion of a peoples-of-the-book worldview is mistaken, because Jews and Christians have as much in common with Plotinus, say, than Islam concerning the nature of God and they have more in common with Confucius and Daoism concerning ethical behavior." Would this be an accurate statement?

Anonymous said...

Jeffrey is applying these criteria in silliness and confusion. He has been completely unable to demonstrate how his position would see a difference between Zeus and a non-Christian, such as a Muslim, worshipping the God of classical theism, as Muslims do.

Scott said...

SoCal:

"Using the criteria I’ve seen provided here, in your example it sounds like Christians and Zardozians would be worshiping the same God. Just different understandings."

That's what it sounds like to me too. It's Jeffrey who says otherwise.

"Again, Jeffery is using the criteria (that’s been given the stamp of approval here) and applying it to a false god."

Since you've already said that the Zardozians in his example would be worshipping the same God as the Christians, why do you now think we're entitled to assume his Zardoz is a "false god" after all?

I think it's also fair to ask: can you give a more precise statement of the criterion you think has "been given the stamp of approval here"?

SoCal said...

To all readers:

The criteria for making the assessment that Feser has made here need to be described in more detail. Let’s call that criteria, Criteria A.

What are these criteria? Once listed, one needs to make the case of why they are included. Why aren’t they arbitrary and subjective?

In my view, a more challenging task is to list all the other criteria (let's call them Criteria B) that are secondary or inconsequential to the question at hand (not inconsequential per se, but just to the question of whether or not Christians and Muslims are worshiping the same God).

The problem listing Criteria B (different from Criteria A’s subjectivity problem) is that one cannot possibly give a coherent reason as to why these criteria aren’t significant enough to merit abandoning the whole belief that they are the same God.

Would 10 Criteria A’s supercede 1,000 Criteria Bs? What about a million Bs? Etc. etc.

The fact of the matter is that I haven’t seen anyone do the work here.

But again, I’m just "driving by" : )

Again, a disclosure for anyone not reading - I am a Christian and follower of Jesus Christ.

Anonymous said...

What people I know who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan have told me, the hatred of women seems to be the organizing principle of Islam.

Ah, you mean almost like a war on women? Perhaps it would be best to take such claims with a pinch of salt and to dig a little deeper to find the overall Islamic view of women.

George LeSauvage said...

Ed, thanks for this. I've tried defending this position (OK, not so well as you and others here do, but as best I can) and have been surprised at the vitriol in many responses. It does make me wonder just how far one can go toward a personalist or anthromorphic conception, without ending up not worshipping the same God as the Church does. Of course I don't refer to children or unreflective people who anthromorphize while intending to do as the Church does. (If we all must attain St Thomas's level of understanding, to be saved, Heaven will be pretty sparsely populated.) But do Catholics worship the same God as Calvinists? I sometimes wonder.

Anonymous said...

SoCol, it is almost as if you haven't bothered to read the OP or take much of the discussion on board. No wonder you are accused of a drive by.

Anonymous said...

Above I meant to say Rabbinic Judaism seems more like Islam, superficially, than Christianity, and was asking why another Anon was suggesting the reverse, without giving any real detail or support for his claim.

Tom said...

Scott:
You said --
The very reason there is "conflict" of the relevant sort is that the faiths in question are all successfully referring to the same God and some of them must therefore be getting things wrong about that God.

No, they're not referring to the same God since there are significant differences in the nature and commands of the 'God' they worship. Beyond those basic differences, and most important, you don't just "get things wrong about God" with regard to Jesus. Not in determining where you spend eternity, which is really the point in determining who God is and is not. Unlike academia, Jesus doesn't grade on a curve when deciding who joins Him in eternity. You are either with Him or against Him (Luke 11:23).

Anonymous said...

However, there are so many theological and ethical propositions that are shared by Judaism and Christianity but which are radically opposed by Islam that it makes sense to speak of a Judeo-Christian worldview that is radically different from a Muslim worldview.

Tim can you be specific on these claims? It seems to me that superficially at least, Judaism is closer to Islam, ethically and theologically, than to Christianity. Judeo-Islamic seems to make at least as much sense as Judeo-Christian.

I recall once, when I was a member of a large Muslim forum, someone posted a poll about whether Judaism was closer to Christianity or Islam. Many Christians argued it was closer to Christianity, but the Muslims there, most Jews, and almost all followers of other faiths and of no faith thought Judaism was closer to Islam than Christianity. This proves nothing on its own, but it would nice if those making claims like yours could give some sort of support to them.

And just what do you mean by Confucianism et al being ethically closer to Christianity than Islam? Just what are these seemingly nefarious ethical beliefs of Muslims that you and others are alluding to but not specifying?

Anonymous said...

Rather, I meant a member of a large religious forums.

Scott said...

Tom:

"Not in determining where you spend eternity…"

…which, as has been repeatedly noted, is not at issue in Ed's post or subsequent elaboration thereof. If you think it should be, perhaps you can explain why without begging the question; you certainly haven't done so in this post.

You might as well claim that in the end, when even the souls in hell confess Jesus as Lord, they're not really referring to Jesus since they're not with Him but against Him.

Edward Feser said...

I have to say that several of the critics here (not all, but several) bring to mind the "But why male models?" scene in Zoolander:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sLhVNtuwzQ0

Jeffrey S. said...

Scott,

"Since you've already said that the Zardozians in his example would be worshipping the same God as the Christians, why do you now think we're entitled to assume his Zardoz is a "false god" after all?"

Um, how about because I told you I made it all up and it is by happy accident (well, not really, but you get the idea) that my concoction of lies includes the key criteria that God is "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."

SoCal,

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Ed,

Stay classy. I'm sure your sense of humor will help when you are begging for your life at the hand of a Saracen sword.

SoCal said...

So far I’ve been called or have been accused of:

-Being an atheist (not true - but not Catholic)

-Just driving by (linked from another site on this very issue - is that legal?)

-Not reading the OP (read and reread)

What all of those have in common is they’re heavy on the personal, but lacking in content. I'd ask those that have commented to go back and reread my questions and critique of Feser's piece, but at this point I don't think it will do any good.

Setting aside my intellectual issues with the argument (which still stand), on a pure surface note, one can say arsenic and aspirin are the same – they both come in tablet form, they can both look the same, white substance, you can take both orally, etc. They just have other differences.

But it’s the differences that matter. One helps pain, the other kills.

When it's all said and done, Christianity and following Christ save. Islam does not.

Anonymous said...

I don't think it is personal to suggest you haven't read the OP. You keep making points as if they weren't addressed by the OP. You talk of criteria A and B shows no attempt to take on board or at least refute what the OP has said about the relevant criteria.

I think we can all agree about your intellectual issues, but are we are all referring to the same thing!

SoCal said...

And just a note to itchy fingers before you respond: the point above about saving doesn’t specifically apply to Feser’s piece. I know he attempted to address that. OK?

You know, before you personally jump all over me.

The whole Feser piece is still weak as I've pointed out.

Anonymous said...

SoCol, can you link to where you've pointed this out? It sure wasn't in this combox. In this combox all you have done is talk about things Feser has addressed in the OP, without taking any notice of the OP. Do you think anyone is convinced by this?

Edward Feser said...

Jeff wrote:

I'm sure your sense of humor will help when you are begging for your life at the hand of a Saracen sword.

SoCal wrote:

When it's all said and done, Christianity and following Christ save. Islam does not.

See, fellas, that's your problem -- you keep trying to bring up stuff that is completely irrelevant to the very specific issue being discussed here. Which explains why you keep missing the point, reiterating bad objections that have already been answered, etc.

Whether Islam is a threat to Western civilization, how Islam compares to Christianity and Judaism ethically, whether liberals are naive in dealing with Islam, that salvation is through Christ alone, etc. -- all of those are extremely important issues. The problem is that they just don't have anything at all to do with what I said in the post or with what the debate is about.

You're like that kid in the back of the class who won't stop bringing his pet idea into every discussion. Mellow the hell out already. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, and sometimes a philosophy blog post is really just a philosophy blog post and not a new front in the "culture war."

Anonymous said...

Jeffrey writes,

Um, how about because I told you I made it all up and it is by happy accident (well, not really, but you get the idea) that my concoction of lies includes the key criteria that God is "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."

But why should the fact you lied not mean you were referring to the same God? Are you suggesting this lying person doesn't believe in the God of classical theism at all? But why should this mean he can't refer to it? Can the atheist not refer to God? You seem to be equivocating between reference and faith here, and drawing consequences you need to better support.

Are these the sort of unaddressed points SoCal keeps boasting about? I think confused points would be more accurate.

Anonymous said...

And to be fair to Muslims, in the long history of conflict between Muslims and Christians, I don't think that one can say the Muslims stand out particularly as the more cruel and barbaric side.

Edward Feser said...

Hi Tim,

Yes, I'd more or less agree with that, especially the part about the "Judeo-Christian worldview that is radically different from a Muslim worldview. The notion of a peoples-of-the-book worldview is mistaken."

Scott said...

Jeffrey S.:

"Um, how about…"

My question was to SoCal and it was specifically about the discrepancy between his reading of your scenario and his later statement about it. He acknowledged, as you do not, that in your scenario the Zardozians seemed to be worshipping the same God as the Christians but with a different understanding of that God. I wanted to know how he reconciled that with his later free assumption that Zardoz is a "false god."

"…because I told you I made it all up and it is by happy accident (well, not really, but you get the idea) that my concoction of lies includes the key [criterion] that God is '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.'"

That's no more relevant now than it was the last three or four times I addressed it. You tried to make a false statement, but it turned out to be true anyway; whatever your own intentions in making the statement were, it must refer successfully to reality in order for it to be true. At any rate there's no reason why anyone else who believes your statement should inherit your intentions; if other people believe you, then those other people believe truly.

Since no counterargument appears to be forthcoming and we're now officially going in circles (again), I'll leave it at that and we can go back to looking forward to Doctor Strange.

Anonymous said...

Are we largely arguing over semantics here? Scott, and presumably Ed, agree that the sense in which it is true that "Christians and Muslims worship the same God" applies to Zardosians also, and look how ridiculous that system is. It doesn't imply that Islam is better than Buddhism or Mormanism as a whole, merely that it has one aspect of reality right.

Anonymous said...

I have a question. Granting that it is the same God that the Muslim bows down to and that the Christian worships, can the Muslim be said genuinely to worship God? Worship means to show appropriate worth. When someone ascribes what is not true to God, that person is not worshiping God. So recitation of the Quran is, from a Christian perspective, not worship of God. How much of a Muslim service is genuine worship of God?

SoCal said...

Now you respond, Ed?

I already acknowledged salvation wasn’t the point or issue in your piece yet you decide to base your response around as if I intended it was? Was it because it was easy? Did you read that I mentioned that it wasn’t germane in my very next comment? I almost deleted that part of my comment because I knew someone would erroneously pounce on it. My note to itchy fingers wasn’t enough I see.

In any event, what you have done is ignore the relevant objections to your piece that came earlier. The objections that many others in the Christian community have (Criteria A and B). Of course, you’re under no obligation to respond to everything. You’re in a tough position to do that, I know.

Let’s be clear, just because you’ve addressed an objection, it doesn’t mean you’ve addressed it sufficiently or well. You know, Ed? Saying, “But I addressed that!” doesn’t mean you have done so satisfactorily. Of course, we all know that.

If I’m like the kid in class that keeps bringing up his pet idea (what’s up with the personal stuff?), what idea would that be? That I’m not convinced by your case? Sometimes the kid in class is right, professor.

When it’s all said and done, I just believe you haven’t made your case well. That’s it. I’m not convinced and I’m not alone. That’s not news. It’s all about Criteria A and B. You haven’t convinced me I should accept your classifications and, by extension, your view. That’s it.

I could list a who’s who of others in the Christian community that would find your case lacking as well. That doesn’t mean you’re wrong, but that does mean thoughtful minds reject your position.

Anonymous said...

The problem, SoCal, old friend, is that you give no substantive reason why you reject Feser's case. Your talk about criteria is vague and confused and shows not the slightest indication of grappling with the points about reference and the criteria that the OP brings up.

I'm open to being corrected, but I can't recall anyone agreeing with you in this thread who wasn't similarly confused, like Jeffrey.

Jeffrey S. said...

Ed,

You say,

"See, fellas, that's your problem -- you keep trying to bring up stuff that is completely irrelevant to the very specific issue being discussed here. Which explains why you keep missing the point, reiterating bad objections that have already been answered, etc."

I'll be blunt -- you have treated me like a jerk and with contempt and it is disappointing to say the least. You asked me to slow down, read your arguments more carefully and then respond to you instead of quoting my sources. I did that. What do you do in response? Ignore me until you decide to make a funny joke at my expense. Is that how you handle students in your classroom who are having problems understanding a philosophical concept?

I have done nothing but try to respond to your argument as best I can -- maybe I'm making bad arguments, maybe I'm confused, maybe I don't understand your points (or Scott's or the various asinine anonymous commenters who are having fun insulting me), but I'm trying to understand the argument.

In return you insult me? Shame on you.

Now I know how Lydia feels when you go around in circles with her on the subject of ID and the God of classical theism. If anything this exchange as opened my eyes to her concerns and made me much more sympathetic to people like Jay Richards and Lydia who seem to go around in circles arguing with you. And quite frankly, Lydia has the finest analytical philosophical mind I have ever had the pleasure of knowing -- and she treats her opponents with respect.

Now on to the arguments.

Scott,

You say to me:

"My question was to SoCal and it was specifically about the discrepancy between his reading of your scenario and his later statement about it. He acknowledged, as you do not, that in your scenario the Zardozians seemed to be worshipping the same God as the Christians but with a different understanding of that God."

I didn't acknowledge anything (or at least I didn't to you) -- I wanted you to answer the following query, which to my knowledge you never did:

"Let me make it clearer -- suppose I said Zardoz hates Jews, which is why he requires his followers to hate them. Zardoz enjoys the company of virgins, which is why he wants us to sacrifice them. Etc. Now I'm tying each requirement of the Zardozian faith to a property of Zardoz -- in addition, of course, to the essential property of Zardoz that he is "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."

Now how do you feel about Zardoz -- do Christians and Zardozians worship the same God?"

So answer it -- do Christians and Zardozians worship the same God? SoCal says yes, given Ed's criteria (in other words, SoCal bites the bullet) -- do you?

Tony said...

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,...

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.

I doubt that one could establish that any of the Apostles positively "affirmed" the hypostatic union, or transubstantiation (or the "Trinity" for that matter), in so many words, but we do not say of the Apostles that they "didn't believe" in these truths.

Ed, I really appreciate your clarification of the issues of "reference" and metaphysical vs epistemical identity. However, your examples here are very, very unhelpful. It should never be suggested that Moses and Abraham "were not Trinitarian", or in any way claim that they were uninformed about God's nature. First, because faith - real, living faith, saving faith - is faith in the entire truth necessary for salvation, all at one blow, by reason of being faith in Him whom causes that assent of faith, and in His salvation. And it is, precisely, faith that Abraham is credited with.

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.

And for Moses, (a) he wrote the above passage, and (b) he wrote "Let US make man in OUR own image..."

Other references, obscure but real, to the persons (plural) of God are in the Old Testament in other places: Psalms - "the Lord said to my lord", by which David signified that his descendant would be divine. Isaiah, etc.

Generally, I think that we must say that Abraham and the patriarchs and prophets believed in the Trinity implicitly at the least. And that nothing prevents that they might have believed explicitly, even though they did not hand down to posterity a clear declaration that they so affirmed these beliefs as such.

Anonymous said...

Ed, does the Judeo- in Judeo-Christian for you refer to the Christian (Catholic) understanding of the OT patriarchs and prophets or to Rabbinic Judaism? If the latter, I think the idea that there is a Judeo-Christian worldview that is radically different from the Islamic one, whilst defensible, would take a bit of work to justify. If you mean the former, then this is an more easily defensible position, but obviously this depends upon the Christian interpretation of the OT being correct, and it doesn't necessarily cover Judaism after Christ.

Scott said...

Jeffrey S.:

"I didn't acknowledge anything (or at least I didn't to you)[.]"

Nor did I say you did.

"So answer it -- do Christians and Zardozians worship the same God?"

I've answered it twice. My answer (basically, yes with certain qualifications, clarifications, and exceptions) was just more nuanced than you were prepared to accept, partly because some of the presuppositions involved in your question were the very points at issue and partly because the question itself so successfully avoids the vice of hyperprecision.

Now, I've said I'm done here, and I'm replying this time out of courtesy. This exchange isn't going anywhere helpful as far as I can tell.

James said...

The notion of a peoples-of-the-book worldview is mistaken, because Jews and Christians have as much in common with Plotinus, say, than Islam concerning the nature of God and they have more in common with Confucius and Daoism concerning ethical behavior." Would this be an accurate statement?

People of the Book (ahl al-kitab), patently refers to the three Abrahamic monotheisms. It is not a mistaken notion. It is a self-evident one. "Book" is synonymous with "Revelation." When the Muslims first entered the Indian subcontinent, they thought Hinduism was polytheism pure and simple. In time, it was also accepted as a "Book."
--------------

Seyyed Hossein Nasr: In commemoration of Louis Massignon: Catholic, Scholar, Islamist and Mystic. University of Boston, November 18, 1983 in: Présence de Louis Massignon-Hommages et témoinages Maisonneuve et Larose ed. Paris 1987

Missionary of Africa Father Maurice Borrmans: "Aspects Théologiques de la Pensée de Louis Massignon sur l'Islam". in: Louis Massignon et le dialogue des cultures. Paris 1996

Georges Anawati. "Louis Massignon et le dialogue islamo-chrétien." in: Louis Massignon et le dialogue des cultures. Paris 1996

As for your notions concerning Taoism and Confucianism, one has to avoid dilettantism in the very serious sphere of religion and therefore of the sacred.

Jeffrey S. said...

Scott,

You won't respond, but I guess I'm not the only one confused around here:


"Jeffrey S.:

"I didn't acknowledge anything (or at least I didn't to you)[.]"

Nor did I say you did.


SoCal:

"Using the criteria I’ve seen provided here, in your example it sounds like Christians and Zardozians would be worshiping the same God. Just different understandings."

That's what it sounds like to me too. It's Jeffrey who says otherwise.

Reconcile the italicized statements -- seems to me like you were claiming I was acknowledging something when you said "It's Jeffrey who says otherwise."

----

I'm glad you finally bit the bullet on my reductio, which I hope at least shows some folks reading how crazy it is to use this one criteria (that God is "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.) as the sole basis for determining whether or not someone is worshiping the Christian God.

----

SoCal,

I like your post at 3:35 PM. Indeed, I know you aren't Catholic and I don't know if you have read a lot of Ed's stuff, but he has written quite a bit on classical theism. Take this post for example:

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2010/09/classical-theism.html

This is sort of his summary, definition post. But notice that Ed lists a lot of qualities that the classical theistic God would have:

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.)

Anonymous said...

SoCal, here again we have an instance of Jeffrey's uncharitableness and distortion. what radically different idea of goodness is he referring to? (I notice he now doesn't say that Muslims don't believe God is just, that being shown to be obviously false).

Brandon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Brandon said...

Jeff is wrong on all particulars -- there is no party this weekend (it already happened) and there is no Rob.

No, again, and this is precisely the point I made the first time: you keep saying things that require the opposite position of the conclusions you claim should be drawn. Jeff is not wrong on all particulars: he is right that they are talking about someone, and that this someone is the thrower of the party they are talking about, and he explicitly refers to that particular person and that particular party under incorrect descriptions. The reason we can say that Jeff is wrong on so much is that there is a particular person he is talking about, about whom he can actually be wrong, and a particular party he is talking about, about which he can actually be wrong. Again, as I pointed out before, you seem to be confusing reference with other components of meaning. While there are conditions under which reference can be confused or problematic, the case you gave does not have them, and without those conditions, referring to the same thing as someone else is a very easy threshold to reach.

Jeffrey S. said...

Brandon,

I don't understand this:

"he is right that they are talking about someone, and that this someone is the thrower of the party they are talking about, and he explicitly refers to that particular person and that particular party under incorrect descriptions."

Uh, no -- for the third (maybe fourth) time -- he is not referring to the person who threw the party since makes up a person that doesn't exist and is supposedly throwing a party this upcoming weekend that is not happening. He is not referring to "that particular person" and "that particular party" -- for one, the party already happened, it is not getting ready to happen. For another, he makes up a person that does not exist! The fact that he happens to know that people do exist in the gated community and that they do throw parties is a happy accident -- kind of like Muhammad hanging around Arabia in the 7th Century and learning about elements of Judaism, Christianity and paganism when he went into the cave (or wherever) to make up his false religion.

If I lie about someone or something but get lucky about some particulars related to the truth, how can one say that I'm talking about exactly the same "reference"?

This is the point of making up a religion -- and I'm glad I finally got Scott to bite the bullet on this question. Essentially, what I think you, he and Ed are saying; is that no matter what false creation I might concoct, as long as I have a 'correct' belief about the God of classical theism thrown into the mix, then I'm worshiping the same God as the God of Christianity. I might be a heretic, I might be making grave theological errors (as Ed acknowledges Muslims are making) but when it comes to the philosophical question of whether or not I'm worshiping the same God as the God of Christianity, then the only question is the question of whether or not God is "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." Even if I create God from a fictional John Boorman movie.

I think this idea is incorrect, but at least (I think) I have a better understanding of what Ed and his fans are trying to say here.

Brandon said...

So why does Ed choose (2) in this post to the exclusion of all the other criteria of God according to classical theism

He doesn't; 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.

Tim Finlay said...

Anonymous,
That Judaism is closer to Christianity than to Islam on many important points (with the admittedly significant qualification that both Judaism and Islam deny the doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation) is shown first of all by their common acceptance of the Hebrew Scriptures with all that that implies. Although Islam believes that Abraham, Moses, David and others were prophets, their understanding of those characters is considerably different to their portrayal in the Tanakh/Old Testament, as is their understanding of Adam and Eve, Satan (Iblis), Ishmael and Isaac etc. Second, their understanding of jihad, taqiya, treatment of unbelievers, treatment of women etc implies a very different ethical system to the natural law affirmed by Judaism, Christianity and elsewhere. [This would take time to defend and would involve examining how Muslims traditionally resolve tensions between Surahs from the Meccan and Medinan periods of the Quranic material.] Third, the voluntarism in much of Islam (not all of it) is so strong that it is as if Allah recreates the world at every moment. This allows for no understanding of natural objects having an essential nature and inherent teleology, or for God's will to in one sense be bound by God's intellect as to what is inherently good for those objects. The theology of Rambam (aka Maimonides, the most important figure for understanding systematic Jewish theology, just as Rashi is the most important figure understanding Jewish exegesis of Torah and Talmud) is much closer to that of Aquinas in Catholicism or Turretin in Calvinism or C.S. Lewis in Anglicanism than it is to Islamic theology (the situation would be somewhat different if we considered Ibn Sina or Al Rushd, but those views, under the influence of al Ghazali and others, were rejected). This is obviously too short a reply but I hope it helps.

Brandon said...

Uh, no -- for the third (maybe fourth) time -- he is not referring to the person who threw the party since makes up a person that doesn't exist and is supposedly throwing a party this upcoming weekend that is not happening.

No, again, this may be what you intended your scenario to say, but it is not what your scenario said; it said the opposite. He did not make up a "person who doesn't exist". He overheard Ed and Scott talking about a neighbor who threw a party, who did exist, and misheard the (incorrect) name given by one of them, and misheard the details of the party. Your scenario description was explicit about the mishearing. He then enters the conversation referring to the person who threw the party as 'Rob' and mischaracterizing the party as happening in the future. You explicitly claimed that he was wrong in so doing, and you have quite clearly characterized this wrongness in terms of the person and the party Ed and Scott in the scenario had been talking about. If he were not referring to the person and party they were talking about, he would not have been wrong, he would have simply said something entirely irrelevant to the discussion he overheard, and there would be no difference between the scenario you gave and one in which he just walked up to two people who had been completely silent and said exactly the same thing. It would just have been changing the subject. But to be wrong in what you say about something requires that you be saying something about it -- which means that to be wrong about the party and the person throwing it, Jeff in the scenario must be saying something about them, or in other words referring to them. You were also very explicit about the overhearing being the cause of what he says, which means that the prior discussion between Ed and Scott, about a particular party and a particular person, must be relevant to interpreting what he means in saying it (as well as whether he is wrong in saying it). The entire scenario as you have characterized it first establishes clearly that Jeff, in referring to what Ed and Scott have been talking about, says many wrong things about that very subject they were discussing, through mistake, lies, and excessive imagination. It's a bad scenario for what you are arguing; it cuts exactly the opposite way you claim.

Essentially, what I think you, he and Ed are saying; is that no matter what false creation I might concoct, as long as I have a 'correct' belief about the God of classical theism thrown into the mix, then I'm worshiping the same God as the God of Christianity.

No, this is entirely wrong. You have Ed backwards. Here is, very roughly, Ed's position: Christians believe in God; and there is only one God and none other possible. If you make claims or have beliefs that are actually about God, whether right or wrong, you are making claims or have beliefs, whether right or wrong, about the God in which Christians believe. What kinds of claims are actually about God and not merely about something that happens, misleadingly, to be called 'God'? Claims that can be said to be about the metaphysically ultimate, etc. (Why might we think this? The arguments underlying classical theism.) Can someone whose religion is filled with falsehood and even evil make claims, right or wrong, about this very God? Obviously. Does this argument in any way imply that such religions are therefore not filled with falsehood and evil? No; it's not even the right kind of argument to discuss any false and evil things about God; it merely establishes that they are about God.

I, on the other hand, have said nothing about the subject beyond what is contained in my very first comment and my pointing out that your arguments make claims that require the 'same' position while you are drawing conclusions from them that require the 'not the same' position.

Edward Feser said...

Jeff,

If I’ve offended you, I’m sorry. That was certainly not my intent. However, my not replying to most of what you have posted today has nothing to do with my being a “jerk” or having “contempt.” It has to do with the fact that you and others have posted a ton of comments today and I, as usual, am busy as hell with various things and don’t have time carefully even to read most of the comments, much less reply to them.

In case you are wondering, the reason I did make time to reply to Tim’s comments at length is because he is a close personal friend. Also, his comments were not just variations on objections I’ve already answered, but added interesting new angles on the issues we’ve been discussing here. Yet his comments hadn’t yet been replied to by anyone else at any length. So, I thought responding to them myself was in order. In your case, by contrast, Scott, Brandon, and others have already been responding, and I had nothing to add to what they said. And your comments seem in any case to be variations on things you’d already been saying yesterday. I simply can’t reply to everyone, and in any case I had already replied to you at length yesterday anyway.

Once you cool down you might also keep in mind that you were the one who started out yesterday in a somewhat polemical way. So, I think you should be a bit less quick to take offense. Your comments in this thread have from the get-go been, it seems to me, surprisingly emotional and poorly argued compared to what I’m used to seeing from you. And when you reply to a throwaway remark of mine that wasn’t even directed at you specifically with this over-the-top stuff about being killed by a Saracen sword etc. -- as if that has anything to do with what is essentially an issue in philosophy of language! -- I fail to see how you could possibly blame me for suggesting that you are being emotional and letting irrelevant political concerns cloud your judgment.

And as if to prove my point that your emotions are getting the best of you, now you hit me with this “Maybe Lydia and Jay have a point after all about ID and classical theism, so nyah nyah” stuff. Really, Jeff, this is silly.

Margaret Davis said...

The best exploration of this is found in fiction: "Tash" vs "Aslan" as the crux of the last Narnian book, "The Last Battle."

Michael C said...

I'd like to comment on James' statement:
"People of the Book (ahl al-kitab), patently refers to the three Abrahamic monotheisms. It is not a mistaken notion. It is a self-evident one. "Book" is synonymous with "Revelation." When the Muslims first entered the Indian subcontinent, they thought Hinduism was polytheism pure and simple. In time, it was also accepted as a "Book." "

Dr Remi Brague, in "The God of the Christians" explores this concept of "people of the book" at some length, and finds it unhelpful and misleading. Among other things, he points out that the Jews did not rely on a "book" for the first 1000 plus years of their history. From the time of Exodus, they had a priestly tribe and later they had a kingdom and a temple. The Babylonians destroyed the whole system but the Jews rebuilt the temple and restored the priesthood and the sacrifices. It was only after Rome destroyed their nation about 70AD that they settled on a canon of their scriptures, but they aren't "sola scripture" people, because they also have a teaching about unwritten traditions passed down from rabbi to rabbi.

Prior to Protestantism, Christians belonged to a Church, and the bible was something the Church used more for worship than for proof-texts. For authoritative teaching, Christians looked to their bishops. As well, Christians have always had a direct personal relationship with Christ, and a belief that God acts upon us through the sacraments.

Brague thinks the title "people of the book" is more appropriate for the Moslems themselves, but ironically in Moslem usage it hasn't been a self description - it is a description of Christians, Jews, and other non-Moslems who may present with a book.

Brague doesn't find the term, "Abrahamic", useful either. Judaism is Abrahamic by physical descent, Christians claim descent from Abraham because they share his faith, and I forget how Brague analysed the position of Abraham in Islam, but it had its own character, which differed from the other two.

I think the uselessness of the term "people of the book" is apparent when James writes that the Moslems extended it to the Hindus. No doubt if they had conquered China the meaning could have been extended again.

laubadetriste said...

@SoCal: "I brought up the flying spaghetti monster in context of this piece and the unthoughtful atheist retort only to show how we must have distinctions that matter when using language to describe God."

Quite true.

"Whether you believe it or not, the zeal is very odd. Where is the significance in this zeal?"

A suggestive question. Likewise suggestive is the point made by Anonymous December 29, 2015 at 2:27 PM.

"Again, Jeffery is using the criteria (that’s been given the stamp of approval here) and applying it to a false god. / He’s asking why he’s wrong for doing so. / He’s not been given an answer as far as I can tell."

He has been given several answers. Regarding "a false god," I suggest starting with Scott's answer December 29, 2015 at 3:33 PM, paragraph 5.

"The criteria for making the assessment that Feser has made here need to be described in more detail. Let’s call that criteria, Criteria A. / What are these criteria? Once listed, one needs to make the case of why they are included. Why aren’t they arbitrary and subjective? / In my view, a more challenging task is to list all the other criteria (let's call them Criteria B) that are secondary or inconsequential to the question at hand (not inconsequential per se, but just to the question of whether or not Christians and Muslims are worshiping the same God). / The problem listing Criteria B (different from Criteria A’s subjectivity problem) is that one cannot possibly give a coherent reason as to why these criteria aren’t significant enough to merit abandoning the whole belief that they are the same God."

Of course, this work ("Criteria A") has already been done, and you will find it under "Blog Archive," on the right of your screen. You did say, "No need to use it [the "content"] now." But I did disagree, and gave you a place to start in "So you think you understand the cosmological argument?"

"Criteria B" have not been listed, but then that list would be infinite, so I don't blame anybody for that.

"Would 10 Criteria A’s supercede 1,000 Criteria Bs? What about a million Bs? Etc. etc."

The sorites paradox is really not helpful here.

laubadetriste said...

"You know, before you personally jump all over me."

Oh, cut with the self-pity. What you were met with was mild even for this blog, and this blog is mild by internet standards. Some of what you think you were met with wasn't even really critical (e.g., "being an atheist").

"The whole Feser piece is still weak as I've pointed out."

...and that's a baseless assertion, as others have both pointed out and requested explanation for (e.g., Anonymous December 29, 2015 at 4:58 PM, other Anonymous
December 29, 2015 at 6:26 PM, and other Anonymous December 29, 2015 at 3:45 PM...

[BTW, could the Anonymi please get accounts and pick names for yourselves? Referring to y'all is as pointlessly difficult as talking with a mouthful of peanut butter...])

"Let’s be clear, just because you’ve addressed an objection, it doesn’t mean you’ve addressed it sufficiently or well. You know, Ed? Saying, “But I addressed that!” doesn’t mean you have done so satisfactorily. Of course, we all know that. / If I’m like the kid in class that keeps bringing up his pet idea (what’s up with the personal stuff?), what idea would that be? That I’m not convinced by your case? Sometimes the kid in class is right, professor. / When it’s all said and done, I just believe you haven’t made your case well. That’s it. I’m not convinced and I’m not alone. That’s not news. It’s all about Criteria A and B. You haven’t convinced me I should accept your classifications and, by extension, your view. That’s it. / I could list a who’s who of others in the Christian community that would find your case lacking as well. That doesn’t mean you’re wrong, but that does mean thoughtful minds reject your position."

Here's the thing: Dr. Feser and others spent (depending upon the case) anywhere from several paragraphs to hundreds of pages defending certain claims. Along you come and say you are not convinced. "Sometimes the kid in class is right, professor." Well, yes, that is true. But abstract possibility doesn't count for much. Sometimes that kid is right--but sometimes he is huffing glue. And either way, the facts aren't determined by *his* (your) being persuaded.

Anonymous said...

Tim Finlay, it is a start. At least you have tried to defend your claims, as others have not. However, I don't think you really carry the point. The point about Scripture is interesting, but on its own far from enough to show Judaism is closer to Christianity.

I will respond more fully when I have the chance. I will add you are exaggerating the voluntarism of Islam. Ash'rism is a major school of Sunni
Islam. But it is hardly the case that dissenters from voluntarism in Islam are rare. Ash' arism is comparable to Augustianism in Christianity. And voluntarism is hardly absent from Christianity or Judaism. It is a pitfall of monotheism.

Anonymous said...

I mean comparable to Augustianism as a division, not necessarily in other ways.

Anonymous said...

In the Quran, God is called al-Rahman over 114 times. Any speaker of arabic knows Al-Rahman means the one who is lovingly all-merciful whose mercy is unrestricted and unlimited - just like agape in Christianty.

Anyone on this thread who claims the "Muslim God" doesn't love uncondtionally should be quiet because that's what Al-Rahman and Rahmah mean - loving compassion.

Secondly, Avicenna is a classical theist and his concept of God was taught in standard Muslim madrasas texts for centuries (until very recently). So muslims as a whole are classical theists.

Now there are further divisions in Islamic theology for sure, but reproaching Muslims for believing that the Word of God is eternal and uncreated is like a Christian criticizing a Christian for believing the Logos (Word of God) is eternal and uncreated.

Kyle said...

Couple of questions:

First, given the subtlety of the points in question, so much so that even professional philosophers find room to differ, isn't it likely that even *within* Christianity or *within* Islam, there may well be more than a single God (in each) being worshiped?

Second:
"Abraham and Moses were not Trinitarians,...

Does the plurality used in Genesis 1:26 -- "Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness,... -- have any relevance here?

Tony said...

That Judaism is closer to Christianity than to Islam on many important points (with the admittedly significant qualification that both Judaism and Islam deny the doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation) is shown first of all by their common acceptance of the Hebrew Scriptures with all that that implies. Although Islam believes that Abraham, Moses, David and others were prophets, their understanding of those characters is considerably different to their portrayal in the Tanakh/Old Testament, as is their understanding of Adam and Eve, Satan (Iblis), Ishmael and Isaac etc.

I would go even further than saying "considerably different". The Jews and Christians understand the Hebrew Scriptures to be God's word, and in so understanding it adhere to the belief that we hold those Scriptures effectively undamaged, uncorrupted. Muslims believe that they were severely corrupted. (So do the Mormons.) As a result, effectively, they don't believe in the Hebrew Scriptures. Any time there is any kind of a conflict between their beliefs and Scripture, their beliefs win out without having to explain the conflict other than by saying "it's corrupted." So effectively their faiths are not molded by any important conformity with the Scriptures that Jews and Christians accept. You can see this in action with Mormons, who (in my experience, at least), (A) are completely unfamiliar with any fine nuance in Christian Scriptures, and (B) are completely unready and unwilling to try to answer objections to Mormonism from Scriptures. I have not run into Muslims who practice their faith, so I don't know what they do in practice.

This stems from an epistemic divorce as well: Jews and Christians accept and receive the canon of Scriptures by virtue of an unbroken tradition, a continuity of teaching and handing down of what was received. They thus hold Scriptures with a trust in the truth as handed down. Muslims (and Mormons) depart from that trust. They reject that what Moses handed on was faithfully received as of the time of Christ, and as of the time of Mohammed. They reject that God, in revealing Himself to the writers of Scripture, so exerted Himself to keep Scripture as handed down true and valid. Hence Muslims (like Mormons) SHOULD NOT be considered a people "of the book" in the same sense Hebrews and Christians are. Muslims effectively jettisoned the book, and made up a new one to justify their radical departure from what was already revealed by God.

Anonymous said...

Tim Finlay, your remaining point, about the difference in ethics between Judaism and Islam, and the closeness of the former with Christianity, is the most interesting one you make. But as you point out, it requires more work to make it work as an argument. I also think it is very important to be charitable and actually try and understand Islamic doctrines, rather than paint them in as sinister a light as possible whilst whitewashing Christian and Judaic practice and teaching. I hope you will do this (as much as the list of dubious Islamic teachings you bring up sets off alarms bells).

There are also some clear problems with it that would need to be overcome. The first is your must address the distinction between the actual tenets of the three faiths and the practices of some historical societies that have espoused these faiths. Are you making use of these historical examples or relying only upon a stricter idea of the ethical standards of the faiths? This is important, because the relationship of, say, the Taliban and their treatment of women to the views of the Islamic faith as a whole is not straightforward. And if the Taliban can invoked to show Islam's treatment of women, can the numerous examples of Christian intolerance and mistreatment be used to show Christianity's views on how unbelievers should be treated?

You also need to distinguish between Christian views and modern or liberal views, though here the distinction between strictly religious tenets and more loosely related cultural and historical practices would have to be navigated.

Before modern times, few representatives of any of these three faiths would have subscribed to the modern view of the complete social and political equality and emancipation of women. Indeed, someone mentioned C. S. Lewis Tao and Confucianism and Taoism, and I don't think any representative of this Tao accepted the modern view on sexual equality. Whether this was an oversight or it is in fact the case it is not morally necessary for women to have complete political and spiritual equality, I leave for others to pronounce on. I do not think that Muslim teaching or society treated women noticeably worse than any pre-modern society, in general. Islam affirms the spiritual equality of men and women. This equality is not carried over to the political or social, but the Koran and Hadith teach a respect for women, and give to women quite a lot of independence and rights for pre-modern societies, such as the ability to keep their property should they divorce. Now, Christianity, unlike Judaism, does not have the same sort of religious law (which is a point I will return to below). You can argue that the Christian treatment of women in pre-modern Christian societies is not according to Christian teaching, though it must be said that Christianity doesn't explicitly suggest modern ideas of sexual equality and in fact can more easily be used to justify traditional, respectful distinctions. In Judaism - Rabbinical Judaism, not Reform movements or other highly deviationist sects - there is a similar kind of respect and spiritual equality of women affirmed whilst also again not affirming complete political or social equality. Women are not allowed to bear witness in Rabbinical courts, separation of men and women in the synagogue, and so on. In general I think it would be hard to significantly differentiate the treatment of women by pre-modern Jewish, Christian, and Islamic societies. Rabbinic Judaic and Islamic teaching seem closer, but a good argument can be made that Christianity isn't that different.

Anonymous said...

Continued......

I won't go into the other ethical areas you bring up, but will stress that a lot of work would need to be done. You have to assess Islamic teaching properly, rather than caricatures of it, as some here have offered. You'd have to work out the distinctions and complexities I mentioned, such as how much weight is due to historical example compared to strict appraisal of religious teaching, and what they mean for understanding the teaching of all these faiths. To highlight the complexities involved - it is Christian societies have arguably been more intolerant and barbaric to unbelievers, or even those they considered heretics, than Islamic ones, at least until to modernity (and the relationship of modern toleration to Christianity is itself very complex).

Finally, you leave off two important points. I mentioned above belonging once to a popular religious forum where the topic of whether Judaism is closer to Christianity or Islam was discussed. Almost everyone, except Christians, including all Muslims, most Jews, and almost all those of other faiths and no faith thought Judaism was closer to Islam. They seemed to think this for two main reasons. One is theology. Islam and Judaism, on the surface at least, are strictly monotheist and reject the trinity and incarnation. The other reason was about ritual and religious law. Rabbinic Judaism and Islam have a strong body of binding religious law, including many areas of human conduct and relations. Christianity doesn't have the same sort of sacred law. Superficially, these points seem to mark great similarities between Judaism and Islam, and to me seem to imply a greater similarity than that between Judaism and Christianity. But this may not be the case, under greater scrutiny, but you'd have to do a lot of work, I think, to show that it was not the case.

Anonymous said...

Tony, it isn't quite the same, but isn't the case that Christianity interprets the OT through the eyes of the NT? This leads to quite a radically different way of viewing the OT from that held by the Rabbinic tradition. I think it is far to say many Jewish authorities have held Christian interpretations to often be far-fetched and distorted. Christians have a very different idea of what OT Judaism meant than Jews do. To (Orthodox) Jews the Pharisees are an important link in the Jewish tradition, for the Christians they its utter distortion.

I think the point about Muslims rejecting the OT and Christians not an important one. I don't think it can support the entire weight of the claim Christianity is closer to Judaism than Islam.

Anonymous said...

Margaret,

As much as I like Lewis and Narnia (and Chesterton), I really don't agree Lewis, or Chesterton before him, treated Islam fairly. They seem to have relied on crude caricatures of sinister, fatalistic Easterners. Dare I say there is even a little bit of dislike of swarthy, bearded, turban wearing foreigners in such depictions

Tony said...

Tony, it isn't quite the same, but isn't the case that Christianity interprets the OT through the eyes of the NT? This leads to quite a radically different way of viewing the OT from that held by the Rabbinic tradition.

@ Anonymous of 3:31:

It is my understanding that before Christ there was more than one Rabbinic tradition interpreting the Scriptures of the OT. Of those, some there were that interpreted them much as Christians later did, though without any explicit admission of a Trinity of course. The Jews of the late 1st century, in conscious decision to distance themselves from the dirty, upstart Christians who were receiving all sorts of unwelcome attention from Rome, chose to reject those Rabbinic traditions consistent with Christianity and adhered instead to those that formed a greater distance. Hence, the fact that Jews later have a different interpretation of the OT (or, who have many different interpretations of the OT since they have splintered and have no authoritative teaching office and no prophets either) from Christians does not imply that the Christian - Jewish divide is similar to the Judeo-Christian - Islamic divide.

In addition, pay attention to the hermenuetic in which Christians and Jews receive the OT, as compared to that of the Muslims. Both Jews and Christians believe that we have received the words of the Torah, the prophets, and the Wisdom books accurately. We accept and embrace them as received. Together, we do not dispute our differing theology based on different views of what the authentic _text_ actually says, we both start with the same text and differ in interpreting its application. Not so Muslims. For Muslims, they dispute that the text we have now conforms to the message of God's word as given, they reject the accuracy of the biblical texts themselves.

This follows also from the method by which God's word came down to us during the time of the Hebrew and Christian writers of Scripture, versus that of Islam. For the Hebrews, the major prophets were men of pure hearts and clean spirit. Their gift of prophecy was attested by an internal and an external witness. The internal one is that of a holy life attended by willingness to suffer to give God's word and keep to it in spite of great personal loss (including their lives, often). The external one is that of their prophecies coming true, ones that claimed prosaic future FACTS that came true within hours or days, visibly seen by those who heard the prophecy directly with their own ears. Factual events that no normal person could accurately predict or even guess at. The Wisdom books, alternately, came down through generations of the people, and were tested by those generations and approved as revealed via that passage of the generations: i.e. a consensus formed by tradition.

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. Though he did initially suffer for his claims, it was because he was not believed that he suffered, and when enough people came to accept his claims he benefited greatly in his personal life.

Tony said...

I think the point about Muslims rejecting the OT and Christians not an important one. I don't think it can support the entire weight of the claim Christianity is closer to Judaism than Islam.

I am unmoved by the question concerning whether Christianity or Judaism is "closer" to Islam, and my point about Muslims not being people "of the Book" in any univocal sense with Jews and Christians wasn't intended to address that question. I am perfectly fine with the prospect that the Jews of today (to the extent you can approximate any kind of central core out of the many varieties now extant) are closer to Islam than Christianity is, if there is any objective sense to "closer" to begin with. All I am saying is that claims of Islam being in continuity with the Judeo-Christian trajectory before it - based on respect for "the Book" - are unfounded. They made a radical, decisive break, hermenuetically as great a one as that of the Mormons in the 1800's.

Jeffrey S. said...

Ed,

1) Yes, you did offend me with the Zoolander clip. That was it's intended point wasn't it? To say to me -- hey, Jeff (and couple of your other critics), you are being an idiot and don't understand anything anyone is saying! Ha, ha -- you are so funny idiot! So I responded with my own little (lame) joke.

2) I know the drill on this blog Ed -- you don't owe me a single response and I don't expect one from you given the demands on your time. You didn't even have to respond at length the first time. But then when you do come back into the conversation after a long absence only to insult me -- I'm entitled to anger at that point.

3) Apology accepted -- thank you. And since Brandon has picked up the argument, I will continue the conversation with him.

4) One last point on Islam and polemics -- isn't it interesting that when you don't include any anti-Islamic polemics in your blog post (i.e. reminding your readers that Islam is wicked and wrong and false, etc.) you bring out of the woodwork all of the anonymous Muslim cowards who think you are an ally and show up to bash me?

Jeffrey S. said...

Brandon,

Thanks for having the patience of a saint to deal with me!

1) "this may be what you intended your scenario to say...The entire scenario as you have characterized it first establishes clearly that Jeff, in referring to what Ed and Scott have been talking about, says many wrong things about that very subject they were discussing, through mistake, lies, and excessive imagination."

I understand the problem now -- I wanted the creation by Jeff (here known as Rob) to be a fictional person that doesn't exist but have real-world characteristics. Instead, because he refers to a real person, I screwed up. Mea culpa.

2) "Here is, very roughly, Ed's position: Christians believe in God; and there is only one God and none other possible. If you make claims or have beliefs that are actually about God, whether right or wrong, you are making claims or have beliefs, whether right or wrong, about the God in which Christians believe. What kinds of claims are actually about God and not merely about something that happens, misleadingly, to be called 'God'? Claims that can be said to be about the metaphysically ultimate, etc. (Why might we think this? The arguments underlying classical theism.)"

This is also helpful, as it is concise and clear, but in this case it merely helps me refine my objections to Ed's position:

a) As the discussion with Scott showed, then I was indeed correct in claiming that anyone could create any religion they want to from fiction, out of their imagination, etc. and as long as their claims about their God are claims about the "metaphysically ultimate, etc." then they are now claims about the Christian God. As I said earlier to Scott:

"All kinds of totally kooky religions can then be made up with this kind of thin, theistic "preface," and then all the rest of it is just arbitrarily declared to be unimportant add-ons. Come one, come all. Everybody with this theistic preface "really" worships the same God, even if their religion is obvious kookery and charlatanism."

My friend Lydia calls this the Mr. Potato Head view of theism. Some kind of thin monotheism is the potato, and everything else is just the accessories that get stuck on. Something seems wrong.

(continued)

Jeffrey S. said...


b) Now we have SoCal's objection -- why should "claims that can be said to be about the metaphysically ultimate" be our sole criteria for determining what separates the Christian God from the fakes?

i)Ed's answer is that arguments from classical theism do the work. But go back to my fictional religion and imagine talking to a ancient Jew about this religion (I'm assuming we both agree that the Jew and Christian believe in the same God).

Imagine telling an ancient Jew, "I worship a deity named Zardoz. He didn't bring you up out of the land of Egypt. He never spoke to Abraham. He isn't the God of Israel. In fact, Zardoz is pretty anti-Semitic. However, you say that Yahweh made all things and is the uncaused creator and is good and the ultimate ground of being and the only true God. I say all those things about Zardoz. So we really worship the same God."

The ancient Jew would say you were nuts. Yahweh in the OT is _repeatedly_ identifying himself to the Jews with his earlier acts: I am the God who brought you up out of Egypt. I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

It is to my mind quite dubious, even aside from the question of whether Muslim theology is "classical theism," to make a deity's foundational acts, which religious adherents themselves hold to be central to their religion, completely irrelevant to the question of whether two religions "worship the same God."

ii) Let's stick with classical theism as our criteria -- earlier you tell me I'm mistaken about my four separate elements of classical theism -- they are all one and the same:

"...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."

Great -- now we are finally back to one of my favorite topics -- voluntarism. Because, as Ed's own quotes quite clearly show, he thinks Muslims have a strict voluntaristic concept of God. But then that implies that they do not believe in the classical theistic concept of God, if all four mutually imply one another! And Ed is the one who keeps asking me why I bring this up!!

scbrownlhrm said...

Point of clarification:

Metanarratives require thinking beyond temporal becoming, as the Church herself within temporal becoming is *not* our (proper, metaphysical) explanatory stopping point.

"......husbands, submit to your wives. Wives, submit to your husbands. Husbands, love your wives to the point of giving -- losing -- your entire Self -- life -- for her......"

While some make astute observations elsewhere, they (on occasion) slightly lapse and, say, make the mistake of using some contour of reality other than Scripture's meta-narrative to describe "Christianity". As if (Privation's pains) historical abuses of women or African Americans define Scripture's (actual) definitions, rather than Scripture's meta-narrative defining the pains of privation. Such a slip ends up defining both women and reality from the contingent and mutable upward despite the fact that every bit of reality is defined from the Necessary and Immutable downward.

Love's ceaseless reciprocity amid the unavoidably triune instantiates (at some ontological seam somewhere) in the Adamic vis-à-vis the Imago Dei.

Full stop.

Whereas.....

The language of lording-over, of domination, comes only in and by privation.

How unsophisticated to define "Christianity's statement on women" (then) by abuses within temporal becoming, by Privation, rather than by that which both precedes and out-distances said privation.

That the NT's semantics begin to echo those very contours which outlive Man's privation is not an "accident".

Christ obtains in us. Now in part. Up ahead in full. And so on.

Our definitions of people, of relational interfaces, of reality period, do not end in Privation's corridors, as such is just sloppy metaphysics. The bit about husbands submitting fits into a far wider canopy and statements about what "Christianity" has made about women (or whatever) which cannot endure the entire breadth and width of said canopy are ipso facto *incomplete* statements.

*Meta*-narratives are pesky that way. The A and the Z in fact are the meta-narrative's factual, real, ultimate explanatory terminus, all our definitions necessarily (therefore) being derivatives thereof.

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

On Islam and Christianity, 3000 years of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob certainly cannot count for *all* (same God), but it certainly counts for more than *nothing* (not the same God).

Similarity cannot (rationally) count for true sameness, and, just the same, overlap cannot (rationally) count for true difference.

Real things in the real world really have *subtleties*. As another already stated, the intellectually unsophisticated are found (at times, not always) 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" with "Being identical religions, with identical truth and being equivalent means of salvation.""

Feser (apparently) dissects with a nanometer scalpel to avoid such equivocation, to avoid the constant danger of the conflation.

It seems, on reflection, that that sort of logically rigid demand for precision, for lucidity, for constant qualification, and for tedious clarification is the correct approach.

Carefully selecting our terms, tenaciously distinguishing between overlap vs. similarity vs. difference, being clear about our premises and their ontological stopping points, and tediously incorporating *subtitles* within our brushstrokes rather than annihilating subtlety with huge, hurried brushstrokes across the canvas are all pains we cannot avoid in arenas such as this.

Scott said...

Jeffrey S.:

"Reconcile the italicized statements -- seems to me like you were claiming I was acknowledging something when you said 'It's Jeffrey who says otherwise.'"

I don't see that there's anything to reconcile. The statements in question are pretty obviously from two different subdiscussions/contexts, and I don't know why you'd take me to mean that I had never, ever said that you had ever, ever acknowledged anything anywhere in any context whatsoever rather than just in the post to which you had apparently been referring yourself.

If your statement about your not having acknowledged anything was intended to refer to my earlier remark in that other context, then I misunderstood you and I apologize for my part in that misunderstanding. If that was your intent, though, you might have been clearer.

Nor have you somehow "finally" gotten me to "bite the bullet" on your alleged reductio. There was never any question about my response in the first place and in any case I answered you well before you seem to think I did. (Nor do I agree that your question involved a reductio ad absurdum anyway, but that's another discussion.)

Brandon said...

My friend Lydia calls this the Mr. Potato Head view of theism. Some kind of thin monotheism is the potato, and everything else is just the accessories that get stuck on. Something seems wrong.

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.

scbrownlhrm said...

Jeff,

It's not so much that you're wrong. In fact you make important points.

Rather, it seems that Feser simply incorporates and maintains real, factual subtlety by making narrower slices than you (perhaps) seem comfortable making.

The need for tedious qualifications and clarification isn't a sign of sloppy metaphysics. Rather, the presence of such narrow slices, of such (painful) precision, is evidence of breadth and depth and therefore of applicability.

Trying to get to a hard and fast:

[A] Same God!
[B] Different God!

....may be desirable, but if we have to sacrifice real, factual subtlety or if we have to equivocate (both described in last comment) in order to "get there", then reality as it (really) is is against us.

If/Then, and, Given A / We get B, and, But for X / We find Z, and so on are unavoidable *if* our goal is to *distinguish* between (real) overlap vs. (real) similarity vs. (real) difference.

If those three (real) things (really) exist in this particular arena, then the move to make a statement which is *not* constituted of said qualifications and clarifications is to make a statement about some *non*-real something.

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.

scbrownlhrm said...

Jeffrey S.,

I referred to you as "Jeff" in my last comment. Apologies for that.

Also, my earlier comment was referenced but it was for this section:


On Islam and Christianity, 3000 years of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob certainly cannot count for *all* (same God), but it certainly counts for more than *nothing* (not the same God). 

Similarity cannot (rationally) count for true sameness, and, just the same, overlap cannot (rationally) count for true difference. 

Real things in the real world really have *subtleties*. As another already stated, the intellectually unsophisticated are found (at times, not always) 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" with "Being identical religions, with identical truth and being equivalent means of salvation.""

Feser (apparently) dissects with a nanometer scalpel to avoid such equivocation, to avoid the constant danger of the conflation. 

It seems, on reflection, that that sort of logically rigid demand for precision, for lucidity, for constant qualification, and for tedious clarification is the correct approach.

Carefully selecting our terms, tenaciously distinguishing between overlap vs. similarity vs. difference, being clear about our premises and their ontological stopping points, and tediously incorporating *subtitles* within our brushstrokes rather than annihilating subtlety with huge, hurried brushstrokes across the canvas are all pains we cannot avoid in arenas such as this.

Scott said...

scbrownlhrm:

"…tediously incorporating *subtitles* within our brushstrokes…"

Heh. I know you meant "subtleties" here, but some paintings really would be more accessible if their brushstrokes had subtitles.

scbrownlhrm said...

Scott,

Errrr - yes - spelling AGAIN ~~~

DNW said...

We all recall Ayer's smart-alecky and intended bit of misdirection prefacing his answer to the question as to whether there could be a "private language" - yeah sure, creators of codes do it all the time.

But that as he acknowledges was not quite to the point intended.

What an Aristotelian "Arabic" philosopher said is one thing. Knowing just what is empirically implied by the God of Mohammad - or Islam - the everyday jihadist's mental model is, as I see it more problematical.

Nonetheless, in giving us some place to work from, I think most Christians have heard their own preachers warning the congregation of worshiping a false god in practice in the form of an unwarranted projection, or an "idol".

Islam is the product of the Koran. A work which it is impossible to take seriously on it's own terms. What historical accidents might align some of its followers more or less straightly with more intellectually valid if highly abstract theistic conceptions are just that: accidents.

Place Trinitarianism aside for the moment. When it comes to God The Father, versus God the Slave Master, I cannot see how anyone could imagine that for the multitudes, they are referring to the same ostensible object, no matter how imperfectly. And in that regard, I am confident that Feser doesn't imagine so, either.

Edward Feser said...

Jeff writes:

Yes, you did offend me with the Zoolander clip. That was it's intended point wasn't it? To say to me -- hey, Jeff (and couple of your other critics), you are being an idiot and don't understand anything anyone is saying! Ha, ha -- you are so funny idiot! So I responded with my own little (lame) joke…

You didn't even have to respond at length the first time. But then when you do come back into the conversation after a long absence only to insult me -- I'm entitled to anger at that point.

No, Jeff, that was not its intended point, and like I already said, that remark -- which didn’t even mention you -- was not directed at you, specifically, in the first place. If you must know, the person whose remarks reminded me of Zoolander was Tom, who wrote in his comment of December 29, 2015 at 4:17 PM: “No, they're not referring to the same God since there are significant differences in the nature and commands of the 'God' they worship...” etc. As anyone who has read my post and the ensuing discussion can see, that was a very Zoolander-ish remark, since Tom was glibly tossing out a criticism I already dealt with at length in the post and which had at that point already been hashed out ad nauseam in the combox.

Having thought of Zoolander because of Tom’s remark, it occurred to me that some other commenters (such as SoCal) were also saying things that also kept missing the point. And it is true that I did think that some of your remarks -- particularly your initial remarks of two days ago, rather than those you made yesterday -- were among those of the point-missing variety. So I decided to make a general reference rather than picking on Tom specifically. But it was not your remarks that I primarily had in mind.

So, I didn’t come back into the conversation for the purpose of insulting you. For one thing, had Tom -- not you, Tom -- not made the remark he made, I wouldn’t have made the Zoolander reference at all. For another thing, I had already come back into the conversation for the purpose of replying to Tim Finlay, and had simply noticed Tom’s remark as I scrolled through the latest comments.

Perhaps now Tom’s own tender feelings will be hurt and I’ll have to spend my afternoon making amends. Or maybe not, since in fact Tom could probably figure out that his comment is what had prompted my remark, yet he didn’t start whining about how mean I was being nor indeed make any reference to my Zoolander remark at all. Anyway, it’s pretty damn mild as combox snark goes, for goodness’ sake.

Anyway, I’ve now devoted twenty minutes or so to a dissection of the thought process that led to my posting a throwaway link to Zoolander yesterday. I hope at least you find it of interest even if the other readers are bored out of their skulls. But the reason I do it is precisely out of esteem for you, Jeff, and hopefully to make it crystal clear to you that you are overreacting and need to step back a bit and bring less emotion to what is -- as I have said -- essentially a discussion of a topic in philosophy of language, of all things. Jeez!

(continued)

Edward Feser said...

(continued)

Which brings me to this remark of yours:

One last point on Islam and polemics -- isn't it interesting that when you don't include any anti-Islamic polemics in your blog post (i.e. reminding your readers that Islam is wicked and wrong and false, etc.) you bring out of the woodwork all of the anonymous Muslim cowards who think you are an ally and show up to bash me?

First of all, I don’t know exactly who all these “anonymous Muslim cowards” are who you seem to think have swarmed the combox (no doubt typing with the tips of their “Saracen swords”). But then again, as I have said, I haven’t been reading all the comments carefully. Looks like I‘ve been missing out on some exciting stuff.

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. (I notice that you’ve never gotten upset when I have failed to include “anti-pagan polemics” or “remind[ers to my] readers that [paganism] is wicked and wrong and false” when discussing Aristotle, Plotinus, et al.)

Perhaps you’ll be happy to know that I’ve got a post on liberalism and Islam in the works -- one I began before this one, actually, but which got sidelined by this one because of the timeliness of the “same God?” issue. I am certain you will be more sympathetic with its content, though I can’t promise any ranting and raving. You seem to think this is The Mark Levin Show or something. I would have thought that after years of reading you’d know that this is actually a philosophy blog.

James Chastek said...

Hi Ed,

I have nothing to say about this post so far as it is a broadly Analytic discussion of sense and reference, but I'm puzzled about your use of STA. My reading of ST 1.13.10 is that when there are contrary accounts of some name, a name with the false account is spoken analogously to the name with the true account. The sort of sameness STA is speaking of whenever there are contrary accounts of God is therefore analogical sameness of pros hen or proper proportion, with the false accounts being more or less near the true one. St. Thomas uses the example of idol worshippers since their contrariety to the true God is more evident, but his argument applies to any two (complete) accounts of God that cannot both be true.

If this is right, then asking whether both Jesus and Allah are the true god is like asking whether substance and accidents are true being, or whether scalpels and healing skill are both truly medical. The reason for the analogy will be different in the Jesus and Allah case (in this sense, it would be better to compare it to the question whether Newton and Einstein both describe the same world) but the riddle of the question would arise from overlooking the fact that our orientation to truth makes anything false, as such, analogous to the true.

SoCal said...

Another thing:

“Thin sense worship”

The word worship first appears in the first line of Feser’s OP and numerous times in the thread.

We all know this whole discussion is about language, so it’s important to define terms.

Feser writes to multiple commenters (Frank and Jeffery), “worship in that thin sense”. What is “thin sense” worship? Is it misguided worship? Is it worship that’s mechanically wrong? Is worship that’s misguided but thin because the worshipper thinks it’s worship? Is it unwelcome or unknown worship (like a boy worships a crush or a supermodel)? Is thin sense worship even worship at all?

An uncharitable view of “thin sense worship” would be that it’s a convenient term that doesn’t mean anything at all and represents a shortcut to not call it worship that’s not meaningful.

We know Feser won’t say it’s “no worship at all” because everything folds up. So what is happening from a Christian perspective? How ought a Christian view "thin sense worship"? For that we'd need a definition.

Do Christians and Muslims “thin sense worship” the same God? Perhaps only Muslims can “thin sense worship”?

As far as I can see Feser hasn’t defined “thin sense worship” from a Christian perspective or at all for that matter.

afkimel said...

Ed, I just want to thank you very much for this clear, well-reasoned post. You have made a number of points that I thought might be true, must be true, but which I do not have the philosophical intelligence and training to have put well into words.

I was wondering if you might comment on a throw-away remark by Bill Vallicella over at his blog. In the comments he states that if the classical tradition is correct that God is Being, not a being, then both descriptive and causal theories of reference, when applied to God, are irrelevant (not his words, but mine). This seems right to me, on an intuitive level. Any thoughts?

«Oldest ‹Older   1 – 200 of 579   Newer› Newest»