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Friday, February 20, 2015


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reasons thus:

"Islam and Christianity are both monotheistic.
So if Christian and Muslim worship different Gods,
then one is worshipping a nonexistent God,
or, if you prefer, is failing to worship the true God."

Non sequitur!
Why does the conclusion not follow
from the premises?
Because a person can believe that
exactly one God exists (= be monotheistic),
without regard to how many Gods exist.
This seems to be an enthymematic argument,
but what the unstated premise is, is not clear.
It could be
[1] Exactly one God exists, or maybe
[2] No more than one God exists, or maybe
[3] Either the Christian's belief or the
Muslim's belief is correct.

The person who wrote this is well trained
in syllogisms, so it looks like he inadvertently
said something he did not mean to say.
-- Mark Spahn (West Seneca, NY)

Rev. Dr Mark Durie has written an entire book on this subject.

His blog is a useful resource.

Thanks for the references. And Durie's thesis in a couple of sentences?


You're right: my argument as it stood was enthymematic. But as it now stands it is not: I supplied the tacit premise.

Thanks for reading carefully.

Dear Bill,

it seems to me that there are some more considerations to be made.
First, an alternative to be pondered is that "God" is a Kripkean proper name whose reference has been fixed not through baptism but by means of a description (like "Jack the Ripper"). (This seems to me actually to be the case, more or less.)

Furthermore: even if we go for the descriptive theory, it need not be assumed that any properties that a given religion ascribes to God actually enter the meaning of the name "God", i.e. serve to pick out the referent. Otherwise we would have to say that on the descriptive theory Aquinas, Scotus and Ockham did not worship the same God (since their notions of God are incompatible), or worse: that at best one of them actually worshipped the true God.

My view on this matter is that it is in fact a pragmatic matter how a reference of a given term is fixed: the speaker decides. One can use a name so that he intends it to apply to whomever satisfies certain description in any possible world (a non-rigid, Russellian use), or, one can use it so that he intends it to apply in all possible worlds to the individual that satisfies certain description in the actual world (a rigid use, yet mediated by a description), or one can use is to apply in all possible worlds to the individual that is located at the root of the Kripkean causal chain, or perhaps some other possibilities (in fact, I believe that the third alternative reduces to the second, since having a name refer to the individual located at the root of the causal chain is nothing else than having it refer to the individual satisfying the description "the individual located...etc."). In other words, rigidity or non-rigidity is pragmatic, both descriptions and proper names can be used either way (which is an empirical fact, IMHO).

So, IMO it is not in fact a matter of deep questions of philosophy of language, but of the intentions of the authoritative speakers of the given religions. It all boils down to the question: if an authoritative representant of a given religion came to believe that God does not posses a given attribute A after all, would he interpret it as "I was mistaken about God's attributes", or as "I believed in a wrong God"? If the former, then A does not enter into the description by means of which the reference of "God" is fixed for that religion; if yes, it does. And then we just have to see whether the resulting descriptions are compatible or not.



Thank you for the good, challenging comments. For now I will respond to one point.

>>even if we go for the descriptive theory, it need not be assumed that any properties that a given religion ascribes to God actually enter the meaning of the name "God", i.e. serve to pick out the referent.<<

For example, Aquinas ascribes to God the property of being simple, while Plantinga does not. Presumably you want to say that being simple, while an attribute of God, is no part of the sense of the definite description through which the reference is routed when Aquinas refers to God.

This is not clear to me. For when Aquinas argues for the simplicity of God he proceeds a priori by conceptual analysis and not by an empirical inspection of God's attributes. For example, Aquinas proves that God is not a body by arguing that (i) God is the unmoved mover; (ii) no body moves unless moved by another; ergo, (iii) God is not a body. From there he concludes that there is no matter-form composition in God since every body has both matter and form.

My point is that Aquinas proceeds by adding step by step to the sense of 'the first cause' or 'the unmoved mover' so that being simple becomes part of the very sense of 'God' for Aquinas.

Now if Aquinas means by 'God' a simple being, then Aquinas and Plantinga mean different things by 'God' despite the considerable overlap of their God-conceptions.

I may be going wrong. Where exactly?

Dear Bill,

Thanks. I think that a priori detection of necessary attributes of an object referred to by an expression by means of a concept does not necessarily involve "adding to the sense" of that expression, or "adding to the comprehension" of that concept.

The expressions "(eucleidic) triangle" and "(eucleidic) polyhedron whose angles add up to 180°" have different senses, although their senses are implied in each other and can be a priori cross-proved about each other. Even if we know a good lot about triangles, we need not cram all that stuff into our working concept of triangle that serves as the sense of the term "triangle". Senses are hyper-intensional, not just intensional items, and so their logical equivalence does not entail their identity (nor does their entailment imply parthood).

This is especially important for reasoning about God - for otherwise even the slightest error in our knowledge about Him would cause our notion of God to be inconsistent (assuming that God has all His properties necessarily). I doubt that would leave any human at all to succeed in referring to God.


I agree that one need not import into one's concept *Euclidean triangle* everything that can be proven a priori about such triangles. But a fully explicit concept would contain all that information. And so one could add to one's concept all that information.

Suppose there are two master geometers, one Euclidean, the other non-Euclidean. Each, unlike you and me, has a complete concept of triangle. It is just that one concept includes the Fregean mark (Merkmal) *has interior angles that sum to 180 degrees* while the other doesn't, (and all the entailments of those different marks).

Clearly, these two different concepts cannot be instantiated by one and the same object.

Aquinas, let us assume, has thoroughly thought through his concept of God and has added to it everything that he thinks can be proven about God philosophically. So he adds simplicity to the marks of the concept. Plantinga, let us assume, does the same, but adds the complement of simplicity to his concept.

Clearly, no one entity can fall under both concepts. Suppose God in reality is simple. Then God as conceived by Plantinga does not exist, and Plantinga worships a nonexistent God.

Perhaps what I am trying to say is this. The description theory of names entails the view that existence is instantiation. So the existence of God is just the instantiation of some concept. But God is an individual, so the concept must be an individual concept that is complete. Now no one thing can instantiate both Aquinas' and Plantinga's complete concept. So there is no one existing object that both concepts are concepts of.

Please define 'hyperintensional.'


Ad "hyperintensional": well, I think that in this context I could go for something like this: An item is hyperintensional iff it cannot be substituted by a logically equivalent item salva veritate.

I don't see why description theory of names entails the view that existence is instantiation.

I agree there may be, or in a sense that there is, a complete Aquinas-God-concept and a complete Plantinga-God-concept. But I deny that these concepts must be the concepts that serve as the respective senses of the name "God" as these people use them; and I very much doubt that they actually are/were.

Of course Aquinas might think that he has thought through his concept of God thoroughly and that he has all his divine attributes correct. But suppose he wanted to discuss natural theology with Plantinga. In order to be able to do so, he would have to choose such a concept of God that would (1) identify God as the object of discourse, and yet (2) be sufficiently "thin" so that Plantinga would not object that no such entity exists. Do Aquinas and Plantinga disagree about the attributes of one and the same individual, or do they disagree about existences of two different individuals? I think that they would both confirm the former option - which implies that the senses they assign to "God" are not their incompatible "thick" notions of God, but a common "thin" concept of God.

How do you define a "complete concept"? There are many different concepts that uniquely identify God as an individual and still are infinitely far from describing Him completely. Some of them commonly serve as the sense of "God" for various speakers. And there is only one consistent complete notion that could be remotely regarded as a notion of God - this is why it would be unwise to use the complete (or any "too thick") concept of God as the sense of "God". The danger of failure of reference would be unnecessarily high, given our fallibility.

Thanks from France for your blog and this brilliant analysis;but you shouldn't say "abrahamic religions".So far i know,this expression comes from Pierre Massignon,a christian typically "ismaelophile"(oops!)and Islam denies Sarah his wife; she isn't "a beverage in the hands"of Abraham;Leibniz,and you too,could explain that.(excuse my bad English;probably you speak better french...)


Your English is better than my French.

I believe you mean Louis Massignon. You may be right that I ought to stop referring to Islam as an Abrahamic religion. I'll have to look into that.

Thank you for the comment.

>>Ad "hyperintensional": well, I think that in this context I could go for something like this: An item is hyperintensional iff it cannot be substituted by a logically equivalent item salva veritate.<<

Can you give an example? What is the difference between 'intensional' and 'hyperintensional'?

Well: a proposition conceived Carnap-wise as a function from possible worlds to truth-values is intensional. All logically equivalent propositions are identical.

On the other hand, a proposition qua that item which is the object of propositional attitudes (e.g. belief) is hyperintensional.

1 + 1 = 2 and i^2/i^2 = 1 expres one and the same Carnapian proposition (the one that maps all possible worlds to TRUE) but two different hyperintensional senses (as my son believes the former without believing the latter).

Thank you, Lukas. I see your distinction but I frown upon the terminology.

To me it is absurd to maintain a view that implies that *2 + 2 = 4* is the same proposition as *7 + 5 = 12.* That is because I incline toward a Fregean view of propositions acc. to which a proposition (Gedanke) is the sense (Sinn) of a declarative sentence (Satz) from which all indexical elements, including tenses of verbs, have been extruded.

They are not the same (identical), they are different, but logically equivalent, where logical equivalence is the necessitation of material equivalence.

I would say that they are EXTENSIONALLY equivalent across all logically possible worlds.

We seem to be making the same distinction but couching it in different terms. My extensional/intensional distinction is your intensional/hyperintensional distinction.


It is a pleasure talking philosophy with you.

Bill, you said to Lukas,

Suppose there are two master geometers, one Euclidean, the other non-Euclidean. Each, unlike you and me, has a complete concept of triangle. It is just that one concept includes the Fregean mark (Merkmal) *has interior angles that sum to 180 degrees* while the other doesn't, (and all the entailments of those different marks).

Clearly, these two different concepts cannot be instantiated by one and the same object.

I don't understand how 'completeness' of concept figures in this, but if you are contrasting the two concepts,
T1: three-sided polygon whose interior angles sum to 180 degrees, and
T2: three-sided polygon,
why can't both these concepts be instantiated in one and the same object, for example, a triangle?


They can. My contrast is not between (T1) and (T2), but between a Euclidean triangle and either a hyperbolic (Lobachevskian) triangle or an elliptical (Riemannian) triangle.

Now unless I am making some mathematical mistake, for which you will correct me, nothing, such as a portion of the Earth's surface, can be both a Euclidean and a Riemannian triangle. (I. e. can have the geometrical properties of both).

One way I approach the question of 'sameness' is this: are the 'stories' of the god(s)-in-question the 'same' stories?

In general, the story of the God worshiped by Christians is like this:
Creation→Fall→Israel→Jesus Christ→The Church. I think those are the necessary 'plot points' that all Christians could agree on. Any other story would not be 'the same'. There are, of course, billions of sub-plots!

It is not a very sophisticated approach, but I like it for its usefulness: everyone knows what a story is, after all, and comparing stories, comparing plot points, brings into sharp relief whether we are talking about the 'same' Author.

Thank you Bill, I see now. This is a very interesting example. Arguably, both your geometers have the same concept of triangle---three sided polygon---and the same concept of side---segment of a straight line---and the same concept of straight---distance minimising. But these concepts are relative to, or presuppose, some concept of space, be it flat (Euclidean) or curved (Riemannian, say) so that no instance of triangle relative to a Euclidean space has the same properties as an instance of triangle relative to a Riemannian space.

What you call 'completing' a concept I would prefer to call 'refining'. The conditions that are being added, such as the requirement that the interior angle sum be 180 degrees, are not intrinsic to the concept triangle. Extra premises, extrinsic to the concept triangle, in this case the flatness of space, are required in order to derive such conditions. So we arrive at three refinements of the concept triangle: triangle-in-flat-space, triangle-in-elliptic-space, and triangle-in-hyperbolic-space. But an instance of each refinement is still an instance of triangle.

A quick follow-up to my post re: 'stories' above.
If I was discussing the question of the 'same' God with a Muslim (as in fact I have), I could give the short story as follows, avoiding metaphysics to a great extent:
"The God I'm talking about created the universe and all that is in it including mankind; and pronounced it all 'very good'.
The representative Man, Adam, chose to sin and therefore gave up his high calling, and as a result of this Fall, sin infected the human race like a disease, which explains both the glory and the misery of humans. This Fall also affected the creation itself, according to St. Paul.
The call of Abraham was the beginning of God's healing the creation/mankind. Thus eventually Israel came to be, and was given the privilege of bringing God's love to the world. Apparently, they failed. It's right there in the scriptures.
God sent His Son Jesus in the fulness of time, the last Adam, Who accomplished in Himself what Adam and Israel did not. Those who are joined to Jesus in truth and in spirit become the Church, whose high calling and responsibility is to live and love their neighbors, and spread a new but good 'disease' - the love and spirit of God.
The Church has the first four acts of a five-act play - Creation, Fall, Israel, Christ - and is called upon to divine the Author's intent and methods, and act out the final act.(To be followed by a much greater Story, so we're led to believe)."
That is scandalously abbreviated of course - but I could ask my Muslim friend - is that the story of Allah? Is The Father of Jesus Christ, as understood by Christians, the SAME as Allah?
That's why I think the story approach can be useful.

I should add a quick note: I mentioned that Israel 'failed' - the Hebrew scriptures do state that - but St. Paul goes to great lengths to say to Jews and Gentiles - 'we are all in the same boat, don't boast, and don't think you are better than the other group."

Bill: Yes, I agree (thanks for the compliment and /rereading my posts/ apologies for my terrible English!). I've been under the impression that "extension across possible worlds" is the standard meaning of "intension". ("Proposition" is notoriously polysemous.)

Apologies in advance for posting this link here. I do so for two reasons. One, you do not allow comments on your posts related to matters Islamic. And two, as much as i respect and have learned from you, your passions, it seems to me, get the better of you when it comes to Muslims. so, here: http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2015/02/what-muslims-really-want-isis-atlantic/386156/


Scroll down and you will see that I have already linked to that very article, and I quote from it!

good sir,

it isn't. the article i linked to is a response to the one you quote from and linked to.

Sameness can vary depending on what you are trying to do with it. For example, Sally & Nancy each ask a friend about the handsome man in the corner. Nancy's friend says that his name is Thomas; he is a player but good in the sack. Nancy is interested. Sally's friend says that his name is Jake and that he's quiet & sweet. Sally is interested. At least one of them is going to be sadly disappointed.

Are the descriptions talking about the same man? In one sense, yes; they both purport to describe "the handsome man in the corner", who for the purposes of this example is a well defined (!) entity. But the descriptions are widely divergent; at least one clearly does not represent reality. But our basis for concluding this - knowing nothing else about the man - is grounded in the singularity of the man about whom they are making claims! If they were clearly speaking about two different men, they would not be inherently contradictory.

Same with Allah and YHWH. To claim that they are interchangeable is nonsense. But the overlapping nature of the claims provides a common starting point for discussion that is absent when discussing with a panthiest or athiest

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