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Sunday, December 27, 2015

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A belated Merry Christmas, Bill. Thanks for your series of substantive posts on this important topic.

>> A Christian could say this: The God of the ancient Jews and the God of the Christians is the same God; it is just that his attributes were more fully revealed in the Christian revelation. <<

This is a reasonable position for a Christian. Moreover, it appears that at least some orthodox rabbis are willing to consider something like this position.

http://www.religionnews.com/2015/12/08/orthodox-rabbis-letter-calls-christianity-part-gods-plan/

“(W)e acknowledge that Christianity is neither an accident nor an error, but the willed divine outcome and gift to the nations,”

“We understand that there is room in traditional Judaism to see Christianity as part of God’s covenantal plan for humanity, as a development out of Judaism that was willed by God,” said Rabbi Irving Greenberg, a signatory to the statement, titled “To Do the Will of Our Father in Heaven: Toward a Partnership between Jews and Christians.”

"But what if Jews now claim, or even before the Christ event claimed, that their God is non-triune and non-incarnated?"

Most Jews at the time Christianity arose rejected its claims for a triune deity and that the deity had been incarnated in a man. They saw these claims as inconsistent with their scripture (which repeatedly characterizes the deity as One) and their traditions. Perhaps they were wrong, but, then again, maybe those of us who deny that the 14th amendment guarantees a right to abortion are wrong for the same reason - when it was enacted, nobody said that it didn't guarantee the right to abortion. (Yes, I know the analogy is flawed, since nobody claims that God wrote the 14th amendment, but would God have given a revelation that He is One that misled most of the receivers of the revelation about His nature?)

Anyway, whether or not the Hebrew bible's declarations about God can reasonably be construed as consistent with Christian theology, Jews today - of all stripes, not just the Orthodox - do claim that God is non-triune and non-incarnated. It's just about the only religious question on which identifying Jews agree. So I am not sure why you write "what IF Jews make" the claim that God is neither triune nor incarnated. Perhaps you mean to include the so-called "Messianic Jews" as Jews, but Jews, virtually unanimously, don't consider the "Messianic Jews" to be practicing Judaism.

Deuteronomy 13 explicitly precludes the possibility of revelation sequels or the worship of gods unknown by Abraham: http://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/9977

Anything that adds or subtracts from the revelation at Sinai is forbidden -- even if its promoter can perform miracles. This passage denies that "signs and wonders" constitute evidence. Christianity would have us believe that a paradigm shift has occurred, that the miracles of Jesus constitute proof. You have to start with the NT and ignore Deuteronomy to arrive at this conclusion.

Judaism is the unconditional insistence that the Torah received at Sinai is perfect for all eternity. God calls it an “everlasting covenant.” It’s filled with dire warnings about editing, condensing, or expanding it in any way —- even if one can do miracles. It’s not the kind of religion or philosophical system that can be, by its very nature, transitional or introductory. A religion based on a revelation denying the possibility of additions can’t have offshoots.

"God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?" Numbers 23:19

Bill,

I use your blog for a kind of self-study course in philosophy and theology, but I've never sent you a note. Concerning the question of whether Christians and Muslims worship the same God, I'd like to pass along to you a short passage from Maritain's "Seven Lectures on Being,"( Sheed and Ward, 1945). Thus:

"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."

Here's my take on what Maritain is driving at: In Islam there is a profession of faith, called the "shehada". In English it is typically rendered as, "There is no god but God and Mohamed is His prophet." (Actually, Moahmed is His "messenger" would be a more accurate translation.) This rubric is recited at least five times a day as part of the call to prayer. Maritain seems to be saying that it is actually the application of the Principle of Identity -- God is God -- to God Himself, which leads to a metaphysical trap. The conception of the Deity becomes "immured," as Maritain says, in a kind of delimiting transcendence. To escape this trap, Maritain refers to the revelation granted to St. John: "God is Love." Putting that concept at the center of a metaphysical system allows the philosopher to conceive of God as overflowing in being. It also opens the door to a peak at God's trinitarian nature.

Maritain goes on to say that Islam never developed a theology embracing the idea that "God is Love." The closest Islam came to love is found in the "Bismala" or "In the name of God, etc.," which is a formula the devotee may utter throughout the day whenever he or she proposes to undertake a certain action. The taxi driver turning on the ignition of his car might quietly utter, "In the name of God, the Compassionate and Merciful," as he undertakes to take his fare from the airport to the hotel.

Just thought I pass along this text from Maritain to you.

A related note. There is an expression in Islam -- "God has ninety-nine names" -- and not infrequently in an Islamic country can one can see the wall around a school yard or around a mosque with ninety-nine names inscribed in calligraphy: Compassionate, Merciful, etc. Ninety-nine is just short of a hundred, which symbolizes the fact that the finite mind can grasp some of God's attributes, but it cannot grasp His essence. This would seem to be consistent with the Thomistic position which holds that natural reason is capable of proving God's existence as well as describing some, but not all, of God's properties.

Jim Soriano (aren't Italian names beautiful?),

Thank you for that very illuminating text from Maritain. I think the French Thomist has nailed it, and you understand him very well.

God cannot exist in the same way that Socrates exists, and he cannot be self-identical in the same way that S. is self-identical, and he cannot have properties in the same way that S. has properties, and so on for all the entailments of those propositions.

I think Maritain would agree with me if I were to say: If God is truly transcendent, then he must transcend the Principle of Identity as this principle applies to creatures. And so the transcendence of the Muslim God is not full transcendence. The Christian God is so transcendent of creatures that his very identity admits of an internal metaphysical structuration.

Paradoxically, the Christian God is so radically and completely transcendent that his very transcendence allows his 'immanentization,' his entry into the world of creatures.

Thanks, Elliot.

Having studied a book by Soloveitchik recently, I found this intriquing:

“Soloveitchik said very clearly that each faith community is unique and entitled to the integrity of its own positions, which are neither negotiable, nor able to be fully understood by people from other faith traditions,” said Dratch, who added that Soloveitchik understood Jews as a small and vulnerable group.

But where does he say it?

djf,

>>Jews today - of all stripes, not just the Orthodox - do claim that God is non-triune and non-incarnated.<<

That is certainly true if you mean Jews by religion as opposed to Jews by ethnicity. (I know a Jewish woman who describes herself as a Hebrew Catholic.)

One question I was asking was this: BEFORE Xianity arose, was there any EXPLICIT discussion within Judaism as to whether or not God could have an internal metaphysical structure, whether trinitarian or binitarian or whatever, and this while avoiding tri-theism or bi-theism or whatever? That is, while upholding monotheism?

My point was that if the answer to this question is negative, then one could arguably see Xianity as fleshing out the O.T. revelation as opposed to contradicting it.

But now things are different: Jews reject Trinity. To which the Xian can respond: well then, the Jewish God as presently determined does not exist any more than the Muslim God exists.

Petronius,

Thank you for pointing us to Deut 13. I just read it carefully.

You say, >>Deuteronomy 13 explicitly precludes the possibility of revelation sequels or the worship of gods unknown by Abraham<<

No doubt it precludes the worship of other gods. But the triune God, from a Xian point of view, is not other than the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It is the same God more deeply understood. A Xian will have no trouble reading Deut 13 as consistent with his view.

Note also that a prophet is equated with a dreamer of dreams. So a prophet in this context is a false prophet. A Xian will say: Jesus was not a false prophet who was dreaming dreams, and the signs and miracles he performed were not deceptions.

So I don't see any clear and explicit ruling out of the Trinity in Deut 13, though it may well rule out tritheism, which is different.

>>Then their [the Jews'] God does not exist.

But their God is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, no?

Peter Geach, "On Worshiping the Right God", in God and the Soul, has a good discussion of the issue.

Because Jesus said that he was, in fact, the incarnation of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Christians _must_ affirm that they worship the same God worshiped by ancient Jews.

By extension, Christians _may_ say that they worship (*in one sense*) the same God worshiped by modern orthodox Jews, including those who explicitly deny the Trinity. They may say this on the grounds that, in fact, the God who originated Christianity did in fact originated ancient Judaism, which is the historical ancestor of modern orthodox Judaism.

In another sense, modern Jews who explicitly deny the Trinity obviously have a radically different concept of God and in that sense may be said to "worship a different God" than Christians because of this explicit rejection of the Incarnation.

I think that the distinction between these two senses really takes care of the issue of what Christians can say about modern Judaism.

But Christians must _deny_ that the same God who revealed himself in Jesus Christ was also the originator of Islam. Hence, they stand in an asymmetrical relationship to Judaism and to Islam.

The problem with those who raise this "what about Judaism" question as if it were a knock-down is that they seem not to understand (and I have tried repeating it in argument and surprisingly have gotten nowhere, even with highly intelligent philosophers) that there can be more than one "route" to a legitimate statement that two religions worship the same God, but that arguably the case of Islam and Christianity does not meet the requirements of any of these "routes." Moreover, they seem not to understand that there can be an asymmetry between the answers that Christians will give to a question like, "Do Christians and Jews worship the same God?" and the answer that a modern orthodox Jew would give. It is not as though we are bound to agree with either the Muslim or the Jew on these questions.

It seems to me entirely correct that a modern Orthodox Jew stands doctrinally toward Christianity in much the same position that a Christian stands vis a vis Islam. It's perfectly understandable that the unconverted modern orthodox Jew thinks that we Christians worship a different God than he does. If he didn't think that, he'd be halfway to being converted to Christianity!

But that doesn't tell us what the *Christian* should say in answer to the question. The Christian can, and should, hold that both the Muslim and the modern Jew are incorrect. Hence, unbeknownst to the modern Jew, the same God who founded my religion founded his religion originally back in the B.C. period. And, contra the Muslim, the God who appeared to Abraham did *not* appear to Mohammad in the cave.

This means that, even though both Islam and modern Judaism are explicitly anti-Trinitarian and explicitly reject the Incarnation, the Christian doesn't have to say the same thing about them.

All of this really seems to me pretty straightforward.

Ed,

Suppose that there is exactly one God and that he is triune. Then the one God is essentially triune and necessarily non-identical to any God who is not triune. It follows that neither the Jewish God nor the Muslim God exist if they are non-triune.

Is my reasoning correct or not?

Furthermore, if there is one God and he is triune, then Christians succeed in referring to this God with their uses of 'God' (and translations in other languages, including 'Allah' as used by, say, a Coptic Christian), and Jews and Muslims do not succeed when they use 'God.'

Is this second stretch of reasoning correct or not?

David Gordon,

Happy New Year. I have the Geach book, but I forgot about that chapter. I will now re-read it.

>>Suppose that there is exactly one God and that he is triune. Then the one God is essentially triune and necessarily non-identical to any God who is not triune. It follows that neither the Jewish God nor the Muslim God exist if they are non-triune. Is my reasoning correct or not?<<
Yes.

>>Furthermore, if there is one God and he is triune, then Christians succeed in referring to this God with their uses of 'God' (and translations in other languages, including 'Allah' as used by, say, a Coptic Christian), and Jews and Muslims do not succeed when they use 'God.' Is this second stretch of reasoning correct or not?<<
No.

I don’t know where Joseph Soloveitchik says this. Interestingly, Rabbi Elijah Zvi Soloveitchik (1805-1881) -- from the same family of rabbis -- seems to have held a different view of the relationship between Judaism and Christianity. He is said to have argued that the two traditions are consistent. (see Kol Kore: The Law, The Talmud, and the Gospel).

Here is an article by professor Shaul Magid from Dec. 2012 on Rabbi Elijah Zvi Soloveitchik.

http://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-arts-and-culture/books/119176/soloveitchik-jesus#undefined

The article cites the following statement from Elijah Zvi Soloveitchik on the doctrine of the Trinity:

"As to the doctrine of the Trinity to which the modern Jew so much objects (which was a doctrine really held by many of the most learned of the Rabbis) it is a very sublime thing, more extended than the circumference of the earth, and more expanded than the sea, and has many sublime principles depending on it, and truly does the Apostle say: ‘Great is the mystery of Godliness’; for not everyone can fathom the depth of that mystery.”

Magid's article continues: "The ostensible division of the Holy Trinity as a compromise to true monotheism is, for R. Elijah Zvi, as well as many for Christians such as Thomas Aquinas, simply an error of interpretation."

Your response to Mr. Soriano regarding the Maritain/Thomist thought seems relevant to the quote from Elijah Zvi Soloveitchik.

>> Paradoxically, the Christian God is so radically and completely transcendent that his very transcendence allows his 'immanentization,' his entry into the world of creatures. <<

Bill,

I am somewhat puzzled. If you maintain that the principle of identity fails to apply to God because of God's radical transcendence, then I do not see how you can maintain at the same time that the Christian God and the Muslim (or Jewish) God are different due to the fact that while the former is triune (or is Incarnate) whereas the later feature neither of these properties. After all, in order to make these claims you need the principle that if there is a property not shared by x and y, then x and y are not the same. But this just is one part of the principle of identity.

Elliott >>not everyone can fathom the depth of that mystery
This looks like what Stephen Law calls the Nuclear Argument

Going Nuclear is an attempt to unleash an argument that lays waste to every position, bringing them all down to the same level of “reasonableness”. Mike might try to force a draw by detonating a philosophical argument that achieves what during the Cold War was called “mutually assured destruction”, in which both sides in the conflict are annihilated.

For example, someone might question whether reason is itself a reliable route to the truth. “But if reliance on reason cannot be justified, then, because every rational justification relies on reason, so no belief can be justified. But if no belief is justified, then, ultimately, everything is a faith position! But then your belief is no more reasonable than mine. Get out of that! … Once Mike plays the skeptical card, all his opponent’s hard work in constructing arguments against Mike’s position counts for nothing. Kaboom! At one stroke, Mike demolishes them all. He lays waste to every rational argument, bringing every belief down to the same level.”

Sorry, link to Stephen Law’s post.

London Ed,

You didn't justify your second answer above.

Elliot,

Amazing. So a learned rabbi held that many learned rabbis espoused the Trinity?

>>>Your response to Mr. Soriano regarding the Maritain/Thomist thought seems relevant to the quote from Elijah Zvi Soloveitchik.

>> Paradoxically, the Christian God is so radically and completely transcendent that his very transcendence allows his 'immanentization,' his entry into the world of creatures. << <<<

That's a new thought for me. Seems worth exploring. If God is truly transcendent, then he cannot be just another being among beings; he must be as Thomas maintained, ipsum esse subsistens. And so he can't be just another self-identical something numerically different from every other one. From this it seems to follow that divine Incarnation cannot be ruled out in the way it would be ruled out if God were transcendent in the sense of strictly diverse from every creature and the whole lot of them.

Paradoxically, then, God is so supereminently transcendent that his transcendemce permits his Incarnation and his entry into this changeful world inter faeces et urinam nascimur. The Unchanging One is so transcendent that his transcendence allows his entry into the realm of time and change and generation and corruption.

But now we are hard by the boundary of the Sensibly Sayable, and perhaps already over the edge.

Should we be surprised? We are talking about GOD, the Absolute, not about a celestial teapot or Santa Claus or God as imagined by the typical atheist languishing in Plato's Cave.

Peter Lupu writes,

>>I am somewhat puzzled. If you maintain that the principle of identity fails to apply to God because of God's radical transcendence, then I do not see how you can maintain at the same time that the Christian God and the Muslim (or Jewish) God are different due to the fact that while the former is triune (or is Incarnate) whereas the later feature neither of these properties. After all, in order to make these claims you need the principle that if there is a property not shared by x and y, then x and y are not the same. But this just is one part of the principle of identity. <<

That's a fair question. My answer is that in this series of posts I am putting myself on the ground of the disputants who all accept that God is a being among beings and therefore subject to the principle of identity just like everything else, and an object of reference like any object of reference.

Those are dubious assumptions and need to be questioned in due course.

Bill >> You didn't justify your second answer above.<<
You claimed that neither the Jewish God nor the Muslim God exist if they are non-triune. Therefore if they do exist, they are triune, yes? (Assuming, as agreed, that there is exactly one God and that he is triune). You then go on to claim ‘Jews and Muslims do not succeed [in referring to the triune God] when they use “God”.’ Why not?

I agree that if you assume some Russellian descriptive theory, according to which the term ‘God’ is descriptive, and refers only if there is an object that satisfies the description, then your argument has more force. Even there, if the description associated with ‘God’ is ‘the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob’, then it follows that Jews and Muslims succeed in ‘referring’ to the Christian God.

Ed,

I'm assuming a description theory.

Now on the Muslim understanding of 'God,' can God have a Son?

The answer is No. So no one thing can satisfy their specific understanding of 'God' and the Christians' specific understanding of 'God.'

There is of course overlap between the two understandings: both Xs and Ms think of God as the uncreated creator of everything distinct from himself. And presumably both understand 'God' in such a way that God is the God of Abraham, et al.

But this undeniable conceptual overlap does not suffice to show that the Xs and the Ms succeed in referring to one and the same God.

You and I can shoot at the same target and perhaps hit the same target while only one of us scores a 'bullseye.' We both fired -- there was no misfire -- but there is no one bullseye such that both of us hit it.

Follow the analogy?

>>I'm assuming a description theory.

Ok we are on the same page then. By 'description theory' we mean the Russellian description theory where the existence of a description satisfier is asserted, rather than presupposed.

Then I come back to the point I made elsewhere. Must we assume a dichotomy between description and acquaintance theories of proper names? Is there not something in between? I.e. where we can coherently say that Jew, Christian and Muslim are in some sense 'talking about' the same being, in a way that is not available to a mere description theory, but where no acquaintance is required?

Response to Ed:

"I agree that if you assume some Russellian descriptive theory, according to which the term ‘God’ is descriptive, and refers only if there is an object that satisfies the description, then your argument has more force. Even there, if the description associated with ‘God’ is ‘the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob’, then it follows that Jews and Muslims succeed in ‘referring’ to the Christian God."

Hold on. That's not at all clear. I _think_ what you would have to be suggesting here (to make this follow from a descriptive theory) is a situation in which Jews, Christians, and Muslims are all saying something like, "What I mean by God *just is* that Being, whoever he might be, who appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob."

But surely that _isn't_ what either Muslims, Jews, or Christians hold as *all there is* to their essential (core) description of God. For example, Muslims also have as part of the confession of faith "and Mohammad is his prophet." You'd never find a religiously serious Muslim who would say that the God he worships *just is* the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob *even if* he never gave any revelations to Mohammad.

By the same token, you'd never hear any orthodox Jew saying that the God he worships *just is* the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob *even if* he never led the children of Israel out of Egypt.

And you'd never find an orthodox Christian saying that the God he worships *just is* the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, even if he isn't triune.

You see the point. If we're going to start talking about descriptions which the adherents of a religion regard as essential to their use of the term "God," we can't cherry pick just one point on which they all claim to agree (namely, that the God they worship did appear to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob), ignore all the points on which they disagree that they treat as core parts of the descriptions, and conclude that they "all worship the same God."

Lydia,

Very good. I agree.

One cannot abstract away from the differences in the competing God-conceptions, focus on what is common to them, and then announce that therefore J, M and X are all referring to the same God.

Analogy: They are all shooting in the same direction but only one of them hits a real being. Only one succeeds in referring.

It seems to me that an argument can be made from Rabbi Elijah Soloveitchik’s statement (assuming he made the statement) to the conclusion that a devout adherent of Judaism can reasonably believe that Jews and Christians worship the same God.

It is said that in the Jewish tradition, the Rabbi is a spiritual exemplar, wise teacher, and authoritative interpreter of theological matters such that his view of God carries weight. Suppose this is the case.

Now, consider the statement from Rabbi Elijah Soloveitchik. Taken at face value, he refers to the Doctrine of the Trinity (DOT) as sublime, and he uses language suggesting that the DOT is transcendent, divine, and mysterious.

Arguably, if a doctrine about God is sublime, transcendent, divine, etc., then it successfully refers to God. In other words, successful reference is a necessary condition for sublimity, etc. So, prima facie, Soloveitchik seems to suggest that the DOT in some way successfully refers to God. And given his position as Rabbi, his view would seem to carry weight in the Jewish tradition.

This point doesn’t prove that the doctrine successfully refers or that Jews and Christians worship the same God. But it does suggest that the theological system of Judaism can support such a claim from one of its authoritative teachers. Arguably, based on an authoritative view within Judaism, a devout adherent to Judaism can reasonably believe that Jews and Christians worship the same God. The Jewish tradition seems to have the resources to support such a belief.

Can the same be said of Islam?

Put a bit more precisely:

1. If a Rabbi from his position as Rabbi claims that a doctrine about God is sublime, transcendent, and divine, then that Rabbi from his position holds it to successfully refer to God. (A)

2. Rabbi Elijah Soloveitchik from his position claims that the Doctrine of the Trinity (DOT) is such. (A)

3. Thus, Rabbi E. S. from his position holds that the DOT successfully refers to God. (1,2 MP)

4. If a Rabbi from his position holds that a doctrine successfully refers to God, then he from his position believes that the theological system of Judaism supports his view. (A)

5. Thus, Rabbi E. S. from his position believes Judaism supports his view. (3,4 MP)

6. If a Rabbi from his position believes Judaism supports his view that the DOT successfully refers to God, then a devout adherent to Judaism can reasonably believe that Jews and Christians worship the same God. (A)

7. Thus, a devout adherent to Judaism can reasonably believe that Jews and Christians worship the same God. (5,6 MP)


* At this point in the inquiry, I don't mean to defend this quick argument as sound. I am no expert on Judaism or on the rabbinic tradition. But since the premises seem plausible, I forward the argument for the sake of continuing the inquiry. Here's a possible objection: on this line of reasoning, if a rabbi holds a position, regardless of how unreasonable it is, then a devout adherent to Judaism can reasonably hold that position. But this seems absurd. Thus, etc.

Does this objection hold?

Bill,

I agree. The thought that God’s transcendence allows for his incarnation and entry into the world of creatures seems worth exploring.

Some time ago, I was reflecting on the so-called “axiological ought-implies-can” principle. (I recall that you have posted on this principle on your blog.) Roughly, the principle says “If x axiologically ought to be the case, then x is broadly logically possible.”

If this principle is right, it seems applicable to the Doctrine of the Incarnation. Roughly, “Axiologically, God ought to enter His world of creatures and experience life with us down in Plato’s Cave. That would be of great value. Thus, it is broadly logically possible that God do so."

Lydia>> But surely that _isn't_ what either Muslims, Jews, or Christians hold as *all there is* to their essential (core) description of God.
This seems to confuse two things, namely an individual’s conception of God, and the description supposedly embedded in the proper name as part of its semantics. These are utterly different things. Perhaps everyone’s conception of God is different in some respect. If that conception were (weirdly) embedded in the semantics of the proper name ‘God’, it would be impossible for us to be talking about the same thing. It would also be impossible for Jews and Christians to disagree with each other about whether God is triune or not. Each would be talking about their own conception. But the whole point of language is for the meaning of the words to be independent of individual conceptions, a matter of common agreement or imposition.

Lydia>> If we're going to start talking about descriptions which the adherents of a religion regard as essential to their use of the term "God," we can't cherry pick just one point on which they all claim to agree (namely, that the God they worship did appear to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob), ignore all the points on which they disagree that they treat as core parts of the descriptions, and conclude that they "all worship the same God."<<

You have contradicted yourself here. If they agree, as you say ‘that the God they worship did appear to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob’, it follows by logic alone that they agree that they worship the same God. I.e. Christians worship the God that appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Jews worship the God that appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and the God that appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob = the God that appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Ed,

You are making a useful distinction, but I don't think Lydia is confusing its terms. In an older terminology one distinguishes between the subjective intension of a term and its objective intension. The objective intension or sense is what you are calling the description. It is not something idiosyncratic, but communal and intersubjective.

As for your second point, there is no contradiction. The J, the X and the M all have a God concept that includes as a subconcept *appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob* but that is consistent with the J and M worshipping a God that does not exist while the X worships a God that des exist.

Why on earth should the fact that three different conceptions overlap suffice to show that what falls under the conception is one and the same?

Can you explain that?

Suppose you and I agree that the Moon is the one and only natural satellite of the Earth, but you and your lunatic followers add to your description 'made of green cheese' while I and my followers add a codicil to the description that logically rules out being made of green cheese.

Clearly, nothing satisfies your description while something does satisfy mine.

So on a descriptivist semantics you are not referring to anything while I am referring to something, which implies that the referent cannot be the same.

Elliot,

A quick comment. You write, >>1. If a Rabbi from his position as Rabbi claims that a doctrine about God is sublime, transcendent, and divine, then that Rabbi from his position holds it to successfully refer to God. (A)<<

As I have been using 'successfully refer' it is an objective fact if x successfully refers to y.

>>If this principle is right, it seems applicable to the Doctrine of the Incarnation. Roughly, “Axiologically, God ought to enter His world of creatures and experience life with us down in Plato’s Cave. That would be of great value. Thus, it is broadly logically possible that God do so."<<

Fascinating application of the principle. Worth exploring!

>>[The objective intension] is not something idiosyncratic, but communal and intersubjective.
We agree.

>>As for your second point, there is no contradiction. The J, the X and the M all have a God concept that includes as a subconcept *appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob* but that is consistent with the J and M worshipping a God that does not exist while the X worships a God that des exist.<<
Lydia said “they [J, X & M] all claim to agree ... that the God they worship did appear to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob”. Perhaps there is a different way of parsing this, but I am reading this as though J, X & M have all agreed on a statement like “the God we worship appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob”. It follows from this that they agree that they worship the same God.

>>Why on earth should the fact that three different conceptions overlap suffice to show that what falls under the conception is one and the same?<<
This presupposes that the meaning of the name ‘God’ for each person corresponds to the maximal or 'subjective' conception, rather than the minimal and overlapping one. What has to be established is not that the individual (maximal) conceptions disagree – clearly they do, but that the minimal ‘objective intension’ also disagrees.

But this leaves the problem of the Scriptural texts, which we know they agree upon. Quran 5:44 - “Verily, We did send down the Torah to Moses, therein was guidance and light, by which the Prophets, who submitted themselves to God's Will, judged the Jews. And the rabbis and the priests too judged the Jews by the Torah for to them was entrusted the protection of God's Book, and they were witnesses thereto.”

If there are different subjective meanings of ‘Moses’, ‘Torah’, ‘Jews’, ‘God’s book’ etc, then it is very difficult to make sense of that passage. How do we know that the Quran is not talking about a different Moses, a different Torah, and about a different nation of Jews?

This is intimately tied up with Kripke’s account of belief and singular terms. He says that in order for a person to believe that p, then (a) he must assent to the utterance ‘p’ and (b) the words that make up ‘p’ must have their standard or usual meaning – read ‘communal and intersubjective’ meaning. I.e. in order for us to say that Muslims believe that God sent down the Torah to Moses, where I express their belief without quotation marks, and using a that-clause, it must be (a) that they assent to the utterance ‘God sent down the Torah to Moses’, note the quotation marks, and (b) they are using the names ‘God’, ‘Torah’, ‘Moses’ etc with the standard or usual meaning.

You may object that there is no ‘standard or usual’ meaning, but then you have chosen the nuclear option. If there isn’t, how do we communicate at all?

>> So on a descriptivist semantics you are not referring to anything while I am referring to something, which implies that the referent cannot be the same.
On the assumption that there is no ‘communal and intersubjective’ meaning for ‘The Moon’, then yes. But that is the nuclear option.

"Lydia said “they [J, X & M] all claim to agree ... that the God they worship did appear to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob”. Perhaps there is a different way of parsing this, but I am reading this as though J, X & M have all agreed on a statement like “the God we worship appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob”. It follows from this that they agree that they worship the same God."

No, to clarify, that wasn't what I meant. I merely meant that all three groups claim that, in fact, the God they worship appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. I didn't mean to be unclear. I mean to portray a situation in which we are asking whether Muslims, Christians, and Jews all worship the same God, not picturing some exceedingly "ecumenical" group of Muslims, Christians, and Jews who have gotten together and developed what they all call a shared and agreed-upon concept of God.

>> all three groups claim that, in fact, the God they worship appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
This is still ambiguous but I think you mean something like
J: the God I worship appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob
X: the God I worship appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob
M: the God I worship appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob

But what does X say about the God that J worships? Surely he must agree that ‘Yahweh’ as used in the OT refers the same as or ‘Kyrios’ as used in the NT. Thus Yahweh = Kyrios. And if he is to avoid heresy, he must accept the truth of both OT and NT. Since it says in the OT that the Jews worshipped Yahweh, and since Yahweh = Kyrios, it follows that X thinks J and he worship the same Being.

This is logic + avoidance of heresy. M is also in the same situation. So X and M are compelled, on pain of heresy, to concede that they worship the same God as J. Their conceptions of God are radically different, to be sure, but this all follows from the logic of identity. If A=B and B=C, then A=C.

Formally, from what a Christian fundamentalist is compelled to believe:
(1) (Avoiding heresy) all of the Bible (i.e. OT + NT) is true
(2) (Biblical claim) The being referred to in OT as ‘Yahweh’ = the being referred to in NT as ‘Kyrios’
(3) (Biblical claim) The OT says that the Jews worship Yahweh.
(4) (from 1 and 3) the Jews worship Yahweh
(5) (Biblical claim) The NT says that Christians worship Kyrios
(6) (from 1 and 5) Christians worship Kyrios
(7) (from 2, 4 and 6 above) Christians and Jews worship Yahweh (or: Kyrios)
(8) (from 7, EI) Christians and Jews worship a single being

Ed sez: >>This presupposes that the meaning of the name ‘God’ for each person corresponds to the maximal or 'subjective' conception, rather than the minimal and overlapping one. What has to be established is not that the individual (maximal) conceptions disagree – clearly they do, but that the minimal ‘objective intension’ also disagrees.<<

I see no justification for your equating of maximal with subjective and minimal with objective.

Clearly, there is a conception of God common to the three religions. This is the overlapping conception. And we can agree that there is nothing merely personal or idiosyncratic or merely subjective about it. But there is also nothing merely personal or subjective about the orthodox conception of God within each of the religions. It is in each of the three cases objective as compared to the merely private conceptions of Shlomo or Rufus or Ali who veer away from orthodoxy by addition or subtraction.

Now if reference is routed though objective sense/conception/intension, and if the characteristic beliefs of each of the religions are 'loaded into' the objective senses of 'God' as used by religionists of the three stripes, then the reference of 'God' CANNOT be the same for all three religions.

Again I come back to the simple point that an essentially triune God cannot be identical, numerically, to an essentially non-triune God.

You are not equivocating on 'identity' as between numerical and qualitative, are you? I hesitate to impute such a blunder to you.

Same God? We are not asking whether the Gods are very much the same qualititatively, but whether they are numerically the same, one and the same, in reality outside the mind and outside language.

Is that not the question?

I suspect that we have not sufficiently clarified the exact sense of the question.

Bill said: "Suppose you and I agree that the Moon is the one and only natural satellite of the Earth, but you and your lunatic followers ..."

Don't think for a minute that we missed the Moon...LUNAtic connection. :-)

lu·na·tic
Origin

Middle English: from Old French lunatique, from late Latin lunaticus, from Latin luna ‘moon’ (from the belief that changes of the moon caused intermittent insanity).

Google dictionary

>>You are not equivocating on 'identity' as between numerical and qualitative, are you? I hesitate to impute such a blunder to you.<<
Of course not.

>>Now if reference is routed though objective sense/conception/intension, and if the characteristic beliefs of each of the religions are 'loaded into' the objective senses of 'God' as used by religionists of the three stripes, then the reference of 'God' CANNOT be the same for all three religions.<<
I agree with this. And your modus ponens is my modus tollens. If the reference is the same, it follows that the characteristic beliefs of each of the religions cannot be 'loaded into' the objective senses of 'God'.

So we need a separate criterion to determine sameness of reference. I have argued above, and repeatedly, that we can only use the criterion that a fundamentalist must apply. A fundamentalist Christian must believe that the being Mark refers to as ‘God’ (or rather ‘theos’) in the first chapter of his gospel, is numerically the same as the being referred to by the Hebrew ‘YWWH’ in the Old Testament. I.e. he must understand them as having the same reference, and he must do so in order to avoid heresy.

You may argue that this applies to fundamentalists only, and that other kinds of Christians have narrower conceptions of God which would rule out this sameness of reference, but I am not sure what kind of Christians they are. As a Christian you have to believe, for example, that Isaiah prophesied the coming of Christ as is written in the book of Isaiah, that God told him this, and that Jesus is his (God’s) son. That’s essential to the Advent message, and is one of the core beliefs of Christianity, namely Christ being the one that Isaiah and Malachi were prophesying about. “The people who walk in darkness have seen a great light" etc.

Focusing here on where we agree:

>>Again I come back to the simple point that an essentially triune God cannot be identical, numerically, to an essentially non-triune God.

I agree.

>>We are not asking whether the Gods are very much the same qualititatively, but whether they are numerically the same, one and the same, in reality outside the mind and outside language.

I agree.

>>Clearly, there is a conception of God common to the three religions.

I agree.

>>But there is also nothing merely personal or subjective about the orthodox conception of God within each of the religions.

I agree.

How does this conflict with the points I have been making? I am not talking about our 'conception' of God, of course. I am focusing on what an orthodox Christian must believe, by way of numerical identity. He must believe, for example, that whoever Mark and Matthew are referring to, when they say 'God' or 'the Lord', is numerically identical with whoever Isaiah 8:5 is referring to, in saying "The Lord spoke to me again". That is what a Christian must believe. That is all.

Thanks for your response, Ed. I read the post from Law. It's an interesting and helpful catalogue of "nuclear" moves.

I'm inclined to doubt that Rabbi E. S. was a skeptic about knowledge or about reason, or that he was a relativist about truth. I'm also inclined to doubt that he would pull the "mystery card" as a ruse to avoid facing a difficult philosophical problem.

It seems to me that some degree of confusion is being caused by looking only at the semantics at not at the pragmatics of the meaning of the statement "Christians and Muslims worship the same God". Lydia is surely right in saying that the question -- that is, the question that not just philosophers of language, but a wide, interested public, is engaged in asking -- cannot be settled by an analytic flick of the wrist.

Yet from my vantage point the semantic question is just that easily answered. It seems quite clear to me that Christians and Muslim's disagree about the nature of God. Christians say God is triune and Muslims say God is not triune, and for this to constitute a disagreement, the term 'God' must refer to the same thing if it refers at all. Otherwise it would be as if I said James (meaning the brother of Jesus) did not become King of England, and you said James (meaning the King of Scotland) did become King of England. And this analysis still holds even if one of those two individuals never existed.

So I conclude that this question in philosophical semantics is not the question that people who aren't philosophers of language are asking in the public square. The intent of the Wheaton College prof., and of her public defenders, was to say something expressive of a kind of (more or less qualified) religious solidarity with Muslims. But the fact of sameness of reference doesn't have that significance. To give what I regard as a more apropos analysis of Lydia's example: If your crazy cousin thinks Aunt Millie is a parakeet, what he means by 'Aunt Millie' is the same as what you mean, otherwise his statement wouldn't be crazy: i.e., if he just happened to use 'Aunt Millie' as a name for his parakeet, that wouldn't be crazy. A bit of an eccentric thing to name a parakeet, but not crazy. What's crazy is to think Aunt Millie herself (the person we know to be human) is a parakeet. Even if someone thought that God is a bar of soap, nothing prevents the term 'God' as he uses it from referring to God.

But surely we don't want to say that such a person "worships the same God" as we do. We _could_ say that if we surrounded it with a context that made it clear that we were saying something technically (pedantically?) accurate, but something that does NOT have the significance that, apart from such context, any ordinary person will attribute to it. But if we have anything of relevance to say to the public debate now raging, we need to take into account more than semantics. We need to look to what the speech-acts of public figures who say "Christians and Muslims worship the same God" are intended to accomplish.

Mr. McCartney,

You are right to raise the question of the relation of the phil questions about reference to the 'public square' question.

As I see it, it is something like this. There is much that is involved in worship and related attitudes, but at a bare minimum, one cannot worship that to which one does not refer, whether in public or private, either in overt speech or by verbally unexpressed thinking.

One can refer to God without worshiping him, but one cannot worship God without referring to him.

I think we can safely say that worshipping X presupposes referring to X. If so, then the wild and woolly hot-button 'public square' question necessarily leads us back to the technical semantic-cum-epistemological-cum metaphysical questions that philosophers qua philosophers get excited about.

But perhaps we will disagree about this as well.

>>Yet from my vantage point the semantic question is just that easily answered. It seems quite clear to me that Christians and Muslim's disagree about the nature of God.<<

So you are saying that while the public square question is not easily answered, the reference question is. Whereas I tend to think that the public square question is not easily answered and is perhaps insoluble in part BECAUSE the underlying philosophical questions (which are not merely semantic) are not easily answered and perhaps insoluble.

Christopher: Quite. I have made the same point above, and so does Feser in his post, citing Aquinas: patet quod Catholicus dicens idolum non esse Deum, contradicit Pagano hoc asserenti, quia uterque utitur hoc nomine Deus ad significandum verum Deum. “It is clear that the Catholic denying that some idol is God contradicts a Pagan asserting this, because both of them use the name ‘God’ to signify the true God. Aquinas is clearly alluding to Aristotle, who says that affiirmative and negative propositions are contradictory when they have the same subject and predicate, adding that the identity of subject and of predicate must not be 'equivocal'.

>> Lydia is surely right in saying that the question -- that is, the question that not just philosophers of language, but a wide, interested public, is engaged in asking -- cannot be settled by an analytic flick of the wrist.
I disagree, but it is difficult to explain (thinking of the comments on Feser’s blog) how so many people have got it so wrong. Perhaps the explanation is that we can approach God either from the standpoint of natural theology, where we start from first principles and without reference to any revealed text. From this standpoint, it seems reasonable to deny that the Muslim conception of God is consistent with the Jewish or Christian conception. Or we can approach it solely from the sacred texts. Here, it doesn’t matter what the ‘essential characteristics’ of God are. God is simply whoever is referred to in the revealed texts. In a more secular age, when people are taught to regard all historical texts merely as sources, possibly containing errors and mistakes, the former approach is more natural. Just an idea.

Here are two more statements that I agree with:

1. If Christians worship a God who is triune, and Jews worship a God who is non-triune, then Christians and Jews are not worshipping the same God. (But I leave it an open question whether Jews worship a God who is non-triune).

2. The ‘core Christian conception’ of God is inconsistent with the Jewish ‘core conception’. The core Christian conception has to include something like: (1) God created Adam (2) Adam sinned against God (3) Adam’s sin was inherited by all humans descended from him (4) God sent his son Jesus to redeem humans from Adam’s sin.

So Bill, where are we disagreeing? Is your point that ‘God is the Father of Jesus’ is analytic, rather than synthetic? In which case it is hard to see how the Jewish and Christian conceptions overlap in any way at all. They can’t overlap in (1) – (3) above, because Jews do not believe that the Father of Jesus created Adam, nor that Adam sinned against the Father of Jesus.

London Ed writes,

>>How does this conflict with the points I have been making? I am not talking about our 'conception' of God, of course. I am focusing on what an orthodox Christian must believe, by way of numerical identity. He must believe, for example, that whoever Mark and Matthew are referring to, when they say 'God' or 'the Lord', is numerically identical with whoever Isaiah 8:5 is referring to, in saying "The Lord spoke to me again". That is what a Christian must believe. That is all.<<

You are saying that an orthodox Xian must use 'the Lord' as it occurs in Mark and Matthew with the intention of referring to the same thing that 'the Lord' refers to in Isaiah.

But is that the question? Isn't the question whether the Xian's use of 'the Lord' or 'God' successfully refers to the God referred to in Isaiah?

It seems to me that there is a difference between intending to refer to X and actually referring to it, e.e, successfully referring to it.

Around here there are so-called 'Dutchman hunters.' These are people who believe in the Lost Dutchman Goldmine (LDM) and search for it. It is my opinion that they are searching for what does not and indeed cannot (geologically) exist in the teritory where they search for it (the Superstition Wilderness).

If I get into a conversation with these dudes, I use 'LDM' as they do. I have the intention to use 'LDM' in the same way that the Dutchman Hunters use it. For example, I use it to refer to a mine and not a mere cache. Are we talking about the same thing?

In one sense, yes. We are using the term in the same way. In another sense, No. For there is nothing to talk about. (That is my considered opinion; suppose it is correct.)

Are we referring to the same thing? Yes and No assuming that 'referring to the same thing' = 'talking about the same thing.'

Now Ed, what do you mean by 'refer'? Is it a verb of success or not? I think you use 'refer' is a sort of intralinguistic way: all that's necessary for you and I to refer to the same thing is that we use the same word or phrase in the same sense. The reference needn't be successful.

Or have I misunderstood you?

>>But is that the question? Isn't the question whether the Xian's use of 'the Lord' or 'God' successfully refers to the God referred to in Isaiah?<<

Two points here. First, this looks rather like another nuclear option – hinting at the possibility of radical reference failure such that only the terms used in historical texts refer, without the possibility of us ‘hitching a ride’ on that reference. But then I note you are using the proper name ‘Isaiah’ there. Who are you referring to here? Your token of the name does not occur in the Biblical text, so are you not hitchhiking yourself. As it turns out, your reference is successful – I know which Old Testament prophet you are talking about. And if that is OK, why can’t anyone refer to Isaiah, and then refer to God by description as the being who spoke to Isaiah.

Second point, what is meant by ‘successful’. You mean that there is reference to something which exists, right? But we can have successful reference to what does not exist. Question: which well-known fictional detective was said to live in a flat in Baker Street? If you can answer correctly, then my reference has been successful – even though the detective is fictional. If not, then my reference is not successful, but that is nothing to do with existence. It is successful when I am able to communicate to you which person I am talking about.

" So X and M are compelled, on pain of heresy, to concede that they worship the same God as J."

But the X and the M are not compelled, on pain of heresy, to concede that *each other* worship the same God as J. That is to say, a Muslim can say that the Christian really worships an idol, because the Christian believes in the Incarnation and worships Jesus, so the Christian is an idolater and worships a God who cannot exist--namely, a God who is able to be incarnate. Hence, the Muslim can say that Christians have so gravely distorted a concept of God that they do not (even though they think they do) worship the real being who appeared to Abraham, since that real being (on a Muslim view) has radically different essential attributes from the (imaginary) being the Christians are religiously devoted to.

Similarly, a Christian can say that the Muslim directs his worship to a non-existent being--a God of pure will, who requires all men to approach him as slaves, who could make what we call "good" into "evil" and vice versa, who is incapable of being triune or incarnate. No such ultimate being, worthy of worship, exists, so the Muslim does not worship a real ultimate being, and we do not worship the same God. Hence, the Christian can say (in similar terms to those I attributed to the Muslim above) that the Muslim does not succeed in directing his worship to the real being who appeared to Abraham and founded Judaism.

This is all consistent with the fact that both the X and the M each say that the God _they_ wish to proclaim and preach was in fact the being who appeared to Abraham and hence originated OT Judaism and is, *in that sense*, the God worshiped by Jews.

I didn't know much about that mine, but it turns out there is even a Wikipedia article about it.

That was the mine you were referring to, yes? (Watch how you answer that!).

Christopher, I would like to address the "possibility of disagreement" argument. I think that it proves too much, if successful, so there must be some problem with it. Here's how it proves too much: Suppose that someone says, "The Flying Spaghetti Monster is God," and I say, "No, the Flying Spaghetti Monster is not God."

Pretty much no one in this debate (with the possible exception of Dale Tuggy, who seemed to bite the bullet in an exchange at my personal blog) wants to say that the phrase "Flying Spaghetti Monster" (with the ordinary meanings attached to those words) can refer to the same being as the term "Yahweh" (or for that matter "Allah"). Yet it is possible for two people to disagree about whether the FSM is God.

So it cannot be that merely the possibility of disagreement makes it the case that the two different terms involved (in this case, "Flying Spaghetti Monster" and, say, "Yahweh") _really refer_ to the same being. Similarly, my argument about Aunt Millie and the parakeet was meant to show that my cousin's crazy ideas do not make it the case that the terms "Aunt Millie" and "parakeet" _really refer_ to the same entity.

Now, your argument seems to be that, in order to have a disagreement, the people involved would have to have an agreed-upon meaning for the _similar_ term they are arguing about--such as "Yahweh" or "Aunt Millie."

So, in the "FSM is/isn't God" debate, the term "God" would have to have some agreed-upon meaning, perhaps something very, very general, like, "The one and only being worthy of worship."

It seems to me that this really is the answer to your point, and here's how it goes: If I and someone else disagree about "whether or not ______ is God," we can be doing so on the basis of an _extremely_ generic meaning of "God," so generic that it doesn't really express what they themselves normally mean by the term or that they would associate with the being they really intend to be worshiping.

A descriptive theory of reference takes care of this pretty well. Suppose that I'm debating someone over whether my neighbor Jim is an extremely lifelike android or not. Under normal circumstances, when I use the term "Jim" (meaning my neighbor) I mean _by definition_ someone who isn't an android. I incorporate into the very essential aspects of my description of Jim that he is a genuinely sentient, sapient being, a personal being, with real thoughts, who knows me and interacts with me. However, for purposes of debating this silly idea that Jim is really a non-sentient android, programmed to appear sentient, I and my interlocutor are tacitly using some much more limited meaning for "Jim," something like, "That entity, whatever it is, that is the cause of the sensations and interactions I have previously attributed to my human neighbor." Then we debate about whether that entity is an android or not.

Note that this doesn't mean that this is what I normally mean by "Jim" or that my interlocutor and I are really both "talking about the same being" when we each go around otherwise talking about Jim. Because when I go around talking about Jim outside of the context of this specific, strange disagreement, I mean something much more normal and much richer by the name "Jim."

While I find these exchanges fascinating and interesting, I also find myself somewhat confused. I recommend the following readings that might perhaps be helpful. I found them so.

1. Professor James Anderson: "The Same God? A plea for Precision"

2. Referring To, Believing In, and Worshiping The Same God: A Reformed View; Jeroen de Ridder and Rene van Woudenberg. (Referenced in Anderson's essay: Below is the link to a PDF copy of the article. It is certainly worth reading.)

http://www.renevanwoudenberg.nl/assets/de-ridder-2014-referring-to-believing-in-and-worshipping-the-same-god-faith-and-philosophy.pdf

Lydia: so the statement 'Jim is not an android' is true in virtue of the meaning of the words? And 'Jim might be an android' is analogous to 'a square might be round', 'a married batchelor is a possibility'?

But then you say:

>> However, for purposes of debating this silly idea that Jim is really a non-sentient android, programmed to appear sentient, I and my interlocutor are tacitly using some much more limited meaning for "Jim," something like, "That entity, whatever it is, that is the cause of the sensations and interactions I have previously attributed to my human neighbor." Then we debate about whether that entity is an android or not.<<

So 'Jim' in the narrow sense refers to a being numerically different from Jim? And if the entity you are debating about really were an android, then there would be two Jims, the android and the real Jim. Really?

Lydia wrote:

>> Because Jesus said that he was, in fact, the incarnation of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Christians _must_ affirm that they worship the same God worshiped by ancient Jews.<<

It occurred to me that the argument from the authoritative view of a rabbi can be made regarding Jesus Himself. According to the Gospels, Jesus was a rabbi (cf. Mark 11:21 and John 4:31). He was unique among rabbis, scholars and pharisees because he had an authority that other experts lacked (cf. Matthew 7:28-29 and Mark 1:21-22). He was also called "rabboni" (Mark 10:51, John 20:16), a term which seems to have referred to a great or master rabbi.

If the view of a rabbi is authoritative, a fortiori for the view of master rabbi Jesus (assuming rabbis in 30 A.D. held the intellectual status that modern rabbis hold).

Jesus certainly held that the Jews and his own disciples worshipped the same God.

By the way, the point that Jesus was a rabbi in the Jewish tradition is a key factor that distinguishes Christianity from Islam. The founder of Christianity is a Jewish master rabbi who claims from within the Jewish tradition to reform and fulfill the law and the prophets (Matthew 5:17). Not so for the founder of Islam.

I think we are deep in Witt's 'language-game' territory? Can one be 'correct' on this question of 'sameness' in a coffee-shop conversation among non-philosophers, and also 'correct' in preparing a Sunday school session for the laity , and yet again 'correct' in the serious peer-reviewed publishing environment?

Another distinction between Christianity and Islam is that the founder of Christianity -- the rabbi Jesus of Nazareth -- is documented in the Gospels as having engaged in the public teaching, preaching, and defending of his views. Jesus did this from within the Jewish tradition. He taught in synagogues (Luke 4:15, Mt. 4:23), in the Temple in Jerusalem (Luke 2:41-52, 19:47, 21:37), and out among the people of Judea (Mt. 5-7). He also engaged in public debates with Jewish intellectuals (Mt. 22, John 8) in order to argue and defend his views. The revelation of Jesus is “incarnated” in the sense that Jesus took his views to the streets, so to speak, and defended them against intense pressure from the theological experts of his time. Some of his efforts are documented in the Gospels (assuming they are historically accurate).

I’m not aware that the same can be said for Islam.

Of course, this doesn't definitively answer the "same God?" question. But it does lend credibility to the Christian claim that Jesus taught about the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

My Modus Ponens

1. If reference is routed though objective sense, and the characteristic beliefs of each of the religions are 'loaded into' the objective senses of 'God' as used by religionists of the three stripes, then the reference of 'God' CANNOT be the same for all three religions.

2. Reference is routed through objective sense and the characteristic beliefs of each of the religions are 'loaded into' the objective senses of 'God' as used by religionists of the three stripes.

Therefore

3. The reference of 'God' CANNOT be the same for all three religions.

London Ed makes a modus tollens of my modus ponens. He denies (3) while accepting (1) and concludes to the denial of (2. Given a descriptivist semantics, Ed's view is that the characteristic beliefs of each of the religions cannot be 'loaded into' the objective senses of 'God' as used by religionists of the three stripes.


London Ed, no, I don't think you're following my position.

To put this in broad terms: We use different definitions of terms in different conversational contexts. In the vast majority of conversational contexts, given the way that normal people (including me) use the name of a neighbor, the statement, "Jim is a sentient being" would be analytically true--true in virtue of the meaning I attach to "Jim."

However, in an unusual conversational context where I am trying to debate a weirdo who says that Jim is an android (if I wanted to debate such a person), I would use a greatly stripped-down definition of "Jim" so as to have the discussion. And in that case, by that unusual, stripped-down definition, "Jim is an android" would be a contingently false rather than an analytically false claim. Similarly, if my weirdo friend normally means "an android" by his use of Jim, he's not using the word in that way here, or else he'd just be uttering a tautology when he says, "Jim is an android." Rather, by "Jim" for purposes of this debate, we both mean something like, "The cause of our various sensations that look like a person living in that house over there." But nobody bothers with such a stripped-down definition of "Jim" in other normal, real-world contexts.

Similarly, by my normal use of "God," the statement, "The Flying Spaghetti Monster is God" is analytically false. But if I decided to debate the question of whether, in fact, the FSM is God with an FSM worshiper, we would explicitly or tacitly use some greatly stripped-down definition of "God" like "The being deserving of worship." And so would he. In that way, my interlocutor is not uttering a mere tautology and saying, "The FSM is the FSM" when he says, "The FSM is God." So we can have a disagreement and a discussion

Similarly, my (and arguably the vast majority of Christians' and Jews') usual meaning for the word "God" is sufficiently rich that, "The Muslim Allah is the Christian God" is analytically false by that ordinary language meaning of "the Christian God."

However, if I'm debating someone who says, "Allah is God," I will tacitly use a stripped-down definition similar to the one with the FSM-worshiper: Something like, "The being whom we should worship." Hence, I can disagree with the Muslim when he says, "Allah is God." He's not just saying something tautological: "Allah is Allah."

When we ask, "Do Christians and Muslims both refer to the same being?" or "Do Christians and Muslims both worship the same being?" we aren't talking about a conversational scenario in which, *in the very nature of the case*, the debaters have agreed upon some definition of "God" that is so greatly watered-down, so generic that they can get on with discussing which one of their _particular_ deities is the real entity that answers to that more general description. We're asking about the _particular_ entities and whether we are referring to the same being when each of us talks in our ordinary way and thinks in our ordinary way about (and worships) our particular deities.

And in that context, it is (to put it mildly) far from obvious that we are directing our worship to the same being.

This explains why the mere _possibility of disagreement_ over, e.g., whether Allah is God or whether the Flying Spaghetti Monster is God doesn't give a resounding "yes" answer to the question of whether Muslims and Christians are really "talking about the same being."

A Happy New Year to Bill and his readers, from London. Here is Prince Buster, and here is Horace.

>> London Ed makes a modus tollens of my modus ponens.
Yup. Obviously (2) is false. Why should ‘God is triune’ be analytic? We need to approach the problem via the question of ‘successful reference’.

I am surprised no one has yet brought up the principle, cogently argued by Locke, Mill, Geach and Kripke, that no singular proposition can be analytic, unless it is one of identity. I.e. ‘Socrates = Socrates’ is true by virtue of its meaning, but with any other predicate it is synthetic. I will dig up the references, but Mill says somewhere that while the name ‘John Smith’ suggests an Anglo Saxon bearer, this is not true in virtue of its meaning. A cat could be called ‘John Smith’. Kripke is famous for a very similar doctrine.

Lydia: I see what you mean. You are saying that ‘Jim’, in your example, has two meanings, the usual one and the stripped down one. Under the first meaning, ‘Jim is an android’ is self-contradictory, i.e. analytically false. Under the stripped down, it is synthetically false, i.e. false, but not in virtue of its meaning.

But even when you are using it in the standard way, the weirdo understands what you mean. You say ‘Jim is coming out of the house’, and he knows who you are referring to. And perhaps he says ‘he is an android’, using pronominal back reference that hitchhikes off your use of the name. So you are both referring to the same individual, yes?

In the particular case of Jim, the neighbor, there is a "pointing" event that takes place. Both the goofy guy and I are able to point to the cause of our sensations, and (let's presume) we do both do so. We sit on my back porch debating whether Jim is an android while watching poor, oblivious Jim mow the lawn next door.

That example merely illustrates the possibility of two rather radically different meanings for a name or word (because one is so much more stripped-down), to answer the "possibility of disagreement" argument.

In the case of God, it would be question-begging for a person who is arguing that the Christian and Muslim worship the same God to assume a "pointing event" in which the Christian and the Muslim (or the Apostle Paul and Mohammad, etc.) are both "looking at" God (or using some analogous religious sense), having some sort of experiences, and referring to the cause of those experiences, *which is the same cause for both of them*. The person taking the "no" position is obviously going to deny that Muslims are doing anything like "pointing" at a being which is the cause of their religion, or their religious sensations, or Mohammad's religious sensations, who is the same being that caused a Christian's religious experiences, or the origin of Christianity, etc.

If we wanted to sketch out a scenario with objects of sensation that is more like the "God" case, we might talk about a case where two astronomers are talking on their cell phones and trying to decide whether "the star you're talking about is the same star I'm looking at right now" or something, perhaps even adding that one astronomer is lying and isn't really looking at a star at all and that the extreme divergence of their descriptions eventually cues in the other astronomer to the fact that something wacky is going on. But trying to compare descriptions of God to descriptions of the objects of sensation is an extremely shaky business in any event, which is why I haven't tried to spin out a lengthy, sensory example that is meant to be really similar in all or even most respects to the Islam/Christian situation.

So the purpose of the "Jim" example was not to agree that two people arguing about which of their deity descriptions matches the true God are both "pointing" at the true God as a cause of their experiences. That aspect of the "Jim" example is not replicated in the case of a disagreement about who is the true God. The purpose was just to show that the normal or richer vs. exceedingly (even excessively) stripped-down definition of a term, the latter being adopted for purposes of some particular debate or disagreement, explains the phenomenon of disagreement without meaning that two people in radically different religions are "worshiping the same God."

“Pure” Descriptivism is Radical Perspectivism

Much of the discussion in this thread presupposes a "purely" descriptivist account of reference. Both Bill and Dr. Lydia McGrew say so explicitly. However, I believe that a "purely" descriptivist account of reference leads to devastating consequences as to the conditions (necessary and sufficient) that determine when worshiping a god or believing in a god are instances of "worshiping the same God" or "believing in the same God".

According to a purely descriptivist account, two instances of worship/belief are instances of worshiping or believing the same God depends on whether "all" or "some" or some "fundamental" descriptions associated with the name 'God' are shared by the two parties. Clearly, the "all" requirement is too demanding whereas the "some" requirement is too lenient. So the only reasonable requirement is that "some fundamental" descriptions must be shared. But, this middle ground positions naturally raises the thorny questions "Which ones?" and "How is that determined?” I venture to say that no adequate criteria can be given on a "purely" descriptivist account of reference to either question.

On this thread, and elsewhere, some commentators insist that since “being triune” and “being incarnated in Jesus” are fundamental descriptions of God, those who affirm that these descriptions are truly applicable to God cannot worship or believe the same God as those who deny them (i.e., Jews and Muslims). So from the Christian perspective triune and incarnation-in-Jesus are fundamental, whereas from a Jewish and Muslim perspective they are fundamentally not characteristics of the true God. But, now consider the question whether followers of the Greek Orthodox Church worship and believe the same God as the followers of the Roman Catholics Church. The doctrinal debate here is whether the third person of the trinity, the Spirit, proceeds from both the Father and the Son (the Roman Catholic creed) or only from the Father (the Greek Orthodox Church). Since this doctrinal question is (partially) responsible for the split between the two Churches, the doctrinal dispute is fundamental. Yet, one is clearly inclined to hold that adherents of both Churches worship and believe in the same God (provided, of course, that there is a God). Similar cases can be multiplied all over.

I believe that pure decriptivism leads to an unacceptable form of radical perspectivism according to which the conditions that determine the application of “worshiping/believing the same God” are determined by internal doctrinal features of each creed and, therefore, these conditions hold only from this or that perspective. Thus internal doctrinal elements within each creed become ontological determinant of what constitutes the “same God”. Clearly, an unwelcome consequence. If there is a monotheistic God, then the ontology of this being cannot be determined purely in terms of doctrinal features internal to each creed. There better be some objective element that determines the identity conditions of this being; o/w the lack of such conditions alone would suffice to doubt its very existence.

Finally, consider the following question: Are Geocentric and Heliocentric theories about the same universe, but differ on fundamental features of this universe, or are they about two different universes? I suggest that the proper answer is that the geocentric and heliocentric theories are about the same universe, although the former is fundamentally false, whereas the latter is fundamentally true. But given these fundamental differences, what makes them about the same universe? I suggest that the answer is that they are both causally linked to the same universe and their adherents offered alternative theories about this same universe, one false and the other true.

I suggest that only a causal theory of reference (or ontology) supplemented with a moderate form of descriptivism can be the basis of settling these issues. And this is precisely the conclusion that Ridder and van Woudenberg’s article, to which I linked to in my previous comment, arrive at. While I do not endorse all their claims, I endorse their fundamental approach.

@Lydia – you are jumping around a bit. My point was that you and the weird person are both referring to Jim, which you now seem to agree. Likewise, when Mark opens his gospel with the claim that Jesus is the son of God, he is referring to that God who spoke to Isaiah. Likewise, when the Quran (33:7) says 'We made a covenant with you, as We did with the other prophets, with Noah and Abraham, with Moses and Jesus son of Mary’, the pronoun ‘we’ refers to the same God. Also ‘Noah’ refers to Noah, ‘Abraham’ refers to Abraham, ‘Moses’ to Moses, ‘Jesus’ to Jesus and ‘Mary’ to Mary. Of course it can be objected that Mohammed made this up. Equally, I can invent a story about how Kim Jong-un phoned me up last night. “Hi Ed”, he said “We want to make you an important minister in our government”. Of course it’s made up. This does not alter the fact that ‘We’ and ‘our’ refer to Kim. Indeed ‘Kim’ as I have just used it, refers to Kim.

This seems too obvious to be discussing, yet we are.

Peter says “The doctrinal debate here is whether the third person of the trinity, the Spirit, proceeds from both the Father and the Son (the Roman Catholic creed) or only from the Father (the Greek Orthodox Church).” Both agree that ‘the Father’ refers to God, and that ‘the Son’ refers to Jesus. Surely this is obvious?

Lydia says: “The person taking the "no" position is obviously going to deny that Muslims are doing anything like "pointing" at a being which is the cause of their religion, or their religious sensations, or Mohammad's religious sensations, who is the same being that caused a Christian's religious experiences, or the origin of Christianity, etc.”

But no one is doing any pointing, nor does anyone need to, as they have their scriptures. When the Quran 33:7 uses the name ‘Noah’, it is referring to Noah. No pointing needed. When I used the italicised term ‘Noah’ just now, I was also referring to Noah. I didn’t point. The only requirement for successful (hearer) reference is that you all have read the relevant texts, or are familiar with the standard meaning of the name ‘Noah’. It’s very simple. You know which OT character I am referring to, right?

" Likewise, when the Quran (33:7) says 'We made a covenant with you, as We did with the other prophets, with Noah and Abraham, with Moses and Jesus son of Mary’, the pronoun ‘we’ refers to the same God."

Okay, so I'm assuming that the "we" here is some sort of "royal we" that Allah is supposedly using in this verse, right?

Obviously this is meant to be a _claim_ that the same God who made a covenant with Noah, Abraham, Moses and Jesus also made a covenant with Mohammad.

It seems to me, if I am not mistaken, that you are taking it that, "The God who made a covenant with Abraham, Moses, Noah, and Jesus" is somehow fixing the reference of "God" here, and indeed of the Muslim's "Allah," so that the Christian is bound to agree with the statement that, "Christians and Muslims worship the same God" solely on the grounds that Muslims claim that Allah made a covenant with some of the same people whom Christians agree that the true God made a covenant with.

Correct me if that interpretation of your position is wrong.

If it is right, then that just absolutely doesn't follow. Indeed, there is a problem right on the face of the fact that that verse itself refers to Jesus as a prophet on a par with Moses, Abraham, and Noah and says that God "made a covenant with him," similar to those made with them, whereas Christian doctrine says that Jesus was God himself, the eternal Son. So even setting aside the question of Mohammad, for a moment, even the content of this verse concerning the people that Christians have in their own Scriptures contains _significantly_ different claims, claims that are relevant to the essential nature of God, concerning those people.

But aside from that, the mere _claim_ that the same Being who appeared to Abraham also appeared to Allah is radically insufficient to make it the case that "Muslims and Christians worship the same God" or that "Allah" as uttered by a Muslim and "God" as uttered by a Christian refer to the same being.

For such a strong claim about the ease with which Muslims and Christians can be referring to the same God is subject to a fairly simple reductio, which is that someone could believe that a _radically_ different being (the Flying Spaghetti Monster, for example, or a Raelian alien) or even a god like Baal whom the Judeo-Christian scriptures _explicitly_ contrast with the true God, was actually, unbeknownst to Jews and Christians, the Being who had dealings with Noah, Abraham, and Moses. Or I could invent some crazy religion in which I claim that *I* am the one who actually dealt with Noah, Abraham, and Moses. But if I get some followers to worship me, that doesn't mean that "Lydia" and "Yahweh" *successfully* refer to the same being at that point! My followers just erroneously believe that "Lydia is the same being whom others have called Yahweh."

So it cannot possibly be a sufficient condition for Muslims and Christians to refer to and worship the same God _merely_ that the Muslim Scriptures claim that their Allah (who they allege also made a covenant with Mohammad) is the same one who actually dealt with some of same people we believe to have been prophets of the true God.

Ed,

I am not sure what is the point of your comment that " Both agree that ‘the Father’ refers to God, and that ‘the Son’ refers to Jesus."

If you read my whole post then you should have understood my point of the example. The point is that there is a doctrinal difference as well as doctrinal agreement between the Roman Catholic Church and the Greek Orthodox Church. On a purely descriptivist account, it is not clear which doctrinal tenet is fundamental so as to decide whether they both worship and believe in the same or different God.

Lydia, you wrote, "Here's how it proves too much ...it cannot be that merely the possibility of disagreement makes it the case that the two different terms involved (in this case, "Flying Spaghetti Monster" and, say, "Yahweh") _really refer_ to the same being. ... your argument seems to be that, in order to have a disagreement, the people involved would have to have an agreed-upon meaning for the _similar_ term they are arguing about--such as "Yahweh" or "Aunt Millie.""

Right. That's my argument. At first I thought you were going to say my argument proves too much because it would prove that those _different_ terms would have to have the same referent. But you seem to understand that that's not the shape of my argument. So in what respect do you think my argument proves too much?

Your response in part grants both my premises and my conclusion. When they are debating, you agree that their use of the term 'God' has the same referent. However, you deny that their use of the term has the same referent in ordinary contexts. So, when the crazy cousin says crazy things about "Aunt Millie," when he's not having a debate with anyone, he isn't actually saying anything false about Aunt Millie, since his use of the term (when he's not debating) doesn't refer to her.

But my premise (let me now clarify) is that certain claims made by the Christian and certain claims made by the Muslim are directly contradictory, regardless of whether there is a debate occurring. In some ordinary context a Christian says "God is P" and, in some other ordinary context the Muslim says, "God is Q" where P and Q are logically incompatible predicates. Those statements, I claim, already constitute a directly contradictory pair. From that premise, sameness of reference follows in ordinary contexts by the argument in my initial comment.

I suppose you could deny the premise, as clarified. You could say that, although the Christian and Muslim disagree about many things, that particular _statement_ the Muslim made doesn't directly contradict the Christian's statement because the Muslim wasn't talking about God. I think this would have the consequence that, except when they are arguing with non-Muslims, Muslims hardly ever say anything false about God. This seems like a strange thing to say.

I agree with Ed, "Indeed ‘Kim’ as I have just used it, refers to Kim. This seems too obvious to be discussing, yet we are."

You said, to him, "such a strong claim about the ease with which Muslims and Christians can be referring to the same God is subject to a fairly simple reductio, which is that someone could believe that a _radically_ different being (the Flying Spaghetti Monster, for example, or a Raelian alien) or even a god like Baal whom the Judeo-Christian scriptures _explicitly_ contrast with the true God, was actually, unbeknownst to Jews and Christians, the Being who had dealings with Noah, Abraham, and Moses."

But no one is making a claim that entails that 'Baal' or 'FSM' refers to the Being who had dealings with Noah etc. What we (Thomas Aquinas, London Ed, me, et al.) are claiming is that when such people use the term 'God', when their intent is to refer to (1) the God who had dealings with Noah etc., and/or (2) a being greater than any other, their use of _that term_ refers to God. Nothing follows concerning their use of _other terms_, especially if those other terms contain false descriptive elements.

It would be absurd to say that "the God of the Yahwistic Pastafarians is the Being who had dealings with Noah etc." Taken as a theological statement (which is the sensible way to take it) that's false. You clearly have the better of the argument when it comes to the theological question of whether Christians and Muslims have the same God. But London Ed clearly has the better of the argument when it comes to the semantic question of the reference of 'God' as used by Muslims.

Look at it this way: suppose we take the absurd theological claim ("the God of the Yahwistic Pastafarians is the Being who had dealings with Noah etc." ) and _insist_ on interpreting it as a mere statement of the semantics of their use of the term 'God'. All the statement says under this (strained) interpretation is that the Being referred to by the term 'God' when they use that term (a Being who, in spite of what they think, may actually be radically different from their "Flying Spaghetti Monster") is the Being who had dealings with Noah. But this is no absurdity. This is just equivalent to the claim that they are saying crazy things _about God_.

Peter, you say “I am not sure what is the point of your comment that " Both agree that ‘the Father’ refers to God, and that ‘the Son’ refers to Jesus”, and you say that “On a purely descriptivist account, it is not clear which doctrinal tenet is fundamental so as to decide whether they both worship and believe in the same or different God.” Are you not contradicting yourself here?
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Lydia, I think I understand your point now, and it is absolutely fundamental. I think you are saying that in the cases we are worrying about, any sentence of the form ‘N is P’, where ‘N’ is a proper name, and ‘P’ is a predicate, contains two separate claims. (1) that ‘P’ is satisfied by the referent of ‘N’ and (2) that the referent of ‘N’ is identical with some other referent. I.e. ‘Noah built the ark’ consists in not just the claim that the referent of ‘Noah’ built the Ark, but also the claim that the referent of ‘Noah’ here is the same as the referent of ‘Noah’ in the Bible.

This is precisely what I deny, since I claim that the identity of referent is presupposed, not asserted. Otherwise there are a number of problems.

1. The problem of quoted passages from the Bible. The English translation of Exodus 4 reads ‘Moses threw it [his staff] on the ground and it became a snake’. The version in the Quran (20:20) reads ‘Moses threw it down, and thereupon it turned into a slithering serpent’. Is the reference of ‘Moses’ different in the Quran from that in the Bible? If so, how can we accurately quote any passage from the Bible, given that the passage as we quote it may be about different individuals?

2. We use Biblical names in this kind of discussion all the time. E.g. above you use the name ‘Abraham’. Are you making the claim that your referent of ‘Abraham’ is identical to the referent of that name as used in the Bible? How do I verify or test that claim? Is it down to same mental intention of yours? But I am not a clairvoyant.

3. How could you confirm your claim? For example, you could say ‘When I use the name ‘Abraham’, my intended referent is identical with the referent of the name as it occurs in the Bible’. But in order to do this you had to use the definite description ‘the referent of the name as it occurs in the Bible’. Are you now making yet another claim that the referent of this definite description is also identical with the referent in the Bible?? And doesn’t this lead to an infinite regress? The problem is that any claim that we are referring to N must itself refer to N.

Christopher McCartney >>I agree with Ed
Gasp of astonishment at this point. (Someone agrees with me? Unheard of)

FWIW, I agree with Christopher’s post in its entirety.

FWIW I also agree with what I think is Lydia’s underlying viewpoint, namely that we should not be endorsing “some exceedingly "ecumenical" group of Muslims, Christians, and Jews who have gotten together and developed what they all call a shared and agreed-upon concept of God.”

I bought my present copy of the Quran in the aftermath of 9/11, in order to understand what it said, and to put this in context of people flying aircraft into tall buildings shouting ‘God is great’. My children were at that time in a Church of England primary school (5-10 age group) with a benign ecumenical sort of headmaster, an ordained Anglican minister, who taught the Bible but who also taught that the God of Islam, the God of the Hindus and Buddhists was essentially the same Deity-by-conception, that all religions teach peace and love and kumbaya etc etc. This is not the whole truth.

I should also add that I took a diploma in theology a few years after that, which involved careful study of the Old Testament, in particular Jeremiah and Ezekiel. This put me off Christianity somewhat, too.

Ed,

No, I am not contradicting myself.

The Roman Catholic Church (RCC) and the Greek Orthodox Church (GOC) agree on the following doctrinal proposition: "'The Father' refers to God and 'the Son' refers to Jesus." They disagree on the following doctrinal proposition: "The Spirit "proceeds" from both the Father and the Son."

According to moderate pure-descriptivism reference is determined by a subset of descriptions; namely, the so-called "fundamental" ones. The example of the dispute between RCC and the GOC is to illustrate that certain fundamental disagreements may result in the conclusion that the adherents of the RCC and GOC, respectively, do not refer to the same God by the phrase 'the Father', etc. Why? Because the disagreement between them is sufficiently fundamental so as to exclude a common reference. If you respond that despite the fundamental doctrinal disagreement they agree on a "more" fundamental description so as to fix a common reference, my question will be: what determines that the description upon which they agree is "more" fundamental"? and Why the description upon which they disagree is not sufficient enough so as to exclude a common reference? I contend that any principled way of answering this question within a purely descriptivist account of reference is vulnerable to yet other counterexamples.

Therefore, I contend, a causal theory of reference supplemented with a suitable descriptivist component must be the foundation of determining whether there is a common reference to the term 'God' in locutions such as 'worshiping the same God' or 'believing in the same God'.

Peter: so it's a sort of reductio of pure-descriptivism reference, yes? So we can capture this by the following aporetic triad:

1. The Roman Catholic Church (RCC) and the Greek Orthodox Church (GOC) agree that 'The Father' refers to God.

2. Pure-descriptivism reference is correct

3. If pure-descriptivism reference is correct, the adherents of the RCC and GOC, respectively, do not refer to the same God by the phrase 'the Father', etc

Is that it?

Christopher, I think it will be most efficient for me to focus on this paragraph:

"When they are debating, you agree that their use of the term 'God' has the same referent. However, you deny that their use of the term has the same referent in ordinary contexts. So, when the crazy cousin says crazy things about "Aunt Millie," when he's not having a debate with anyone, he isn't actually saying anything false about Aunt Millie, since his use of the term (when he's not debating) doesn't refer to her."


Let's start with the statement that their use of the term "has the same referent." In the case of a being like Aunt Millie that two people can both point to, I think this has a straightforward causal meaning, and we can all agree on it. (Similar to what I said about pointing at Jim, up above.)

I would say that if two people debating reduce, for purposes of their debate, their description of "God" to something exceedingly generic like "The one being deserving of worship," they have the same description. But nobody is pointing to God. Nobody is saying, "That being over there." If someone says, "Allah is God" that person is making a propositional statement such as, "The being who revealed himself to Mohammad is identical to the one being deserving of worship." What does it mean at that point to say that the phrase "the one being worthy of worship" (or the term that has been reduced to that extremely limited meaning) _refers_ to the one and only _real_ being worthy of worship? Is that the case? I question it. There's nothing causal going on, so the causal theorists don't have much of a leg to stand on. It's not as though one is pointing to the cause of one's sensations. One is just making a propositional statement that there exists a being who revealed himself to Mohammad and that that is the one being worthy of worship. It happens to be a false propositional statement. End of discussion.

Now, let's move on to the crazy cousin: Actually, under a descriptive theory (which actually gives us a lot of good and flexible resources to deal with weird situations like the crazy cousin), the use of a term involves the statement that someone answering that description exists. So if I say, "King Edward is bald" I'm asserting, inter alia, that there exists some entity who answers to what I mean by "King Edward."

So, if the crazy cousin normally _means_ something like "The being who is both a bird and the cause of my and others' ordinary 'Aunt Millie' sensations," then the crazy cousin _is_ saying something false in his daily statements, e.g., "Aunt Millie baked some cookies": He's saying, inter alia, that Aunt Millie as he conceives her (as someone who is essentially both a human and a parakeet) exists.

Similarly, when a Muslim talks about "Allah" and means thereby something like, "The being who appeared to Abraham and is also pure will, must be approached as a slave, made all things, and also has Mohammad as his prophet..." he is saying something false in virtue of the very assumption that any such being exists at all who answers to that description.

London Ed, you suggest that I am saying that,

" any sentence of the form ‘N is P’, where ‘N’ is a proper name, and ‘P’ is a predicate, contains two separate claims. (1) that ‘P’ is satisfied by the referent of ‘N’ and (2) that the referent of ‘N’ is identical with some other referent. I.e. ‘Noah built the ark’ consists in not just the claim that the referent of ‘Noah’ built the Ark, but also the claim that the referent of ‘Noah’ here is the same as the referent of ‘Noah’ in the Bible."

Certainly not _any_ sentence of that form, for sometimes there is no other referent alluded to. But if I am attempting to co-opt or piggyback off of some other text or some other religion's beliefs, then presumably I'm attempting to say that the same entity I'm talking about is the entity they are talking about. But if I simultaneously *radically change* the very essence of that being, then I am going to fail to piggy-back successfully. So, if I say that the God who appeared to Abraham in the story in the Bible is really a Raelian, and I invite people to worship _that being_ whom I have described, then when I worship that God, I am not worshiping the same God as those who worship the God who really appeared to Abraham in the Bible, because I have radically, essentially changed his nature.

Similarly, if I say that Abraham himself was an alien from Mars who came down and incarnated himself as an ancient man in the land of Ur, and I treat that as part of my meaning of "Abraham," then *at that point* my attempt to say something about "the Abraham in the Bible" ends up failing actually to talk about the Abraham in the Bible.

But I'm not saying that the Muslims are changing the meaning of Abraham (though they are saying radically different things about Jesus). I am saying that they are trying unsuccessfully to co-opt the _God_ who appeared to Abraham, but are radically changing his nature and attributing to him essential properties that are not his as well as foundational religious acts (e.g., speaking to Mohammad) that are not his. Hence, their usual use of "God" does not successfully refer to the same being that Christians and Jews are talking about.

Dr. Lydia McGrew writes:

“I would say that if two people debating reduce, for purposes of their debate, their description of "God" to something exceedingly generic like "The one being deserving of worship," they have the same description. But nobody is pointing to God. Nobody is saying, "That being over there." If someone says, "Allah is God" that person is making a propositional statement such as, "The being who revealed himself to Mohammad is identical to the one being deserving of worship." What does it mean at that point to say that the phrase "the one being worthy of worship" (or the term that has been reduced to that extremely limited meaning) _refers_ to the one and only _real_ being worthy of worship? Is that the case? I question it. There's nothing causal going on, so the causal theorists don't have much of a leg to stand on. It's not as though one is pointing to the cause of one's sensations. One is just making a propositional statement that there exists a being who revealed himself to Mohammad and that that is the one being worthy of worship. It happens to be a false propositional statement. End of discussion.”

1. It appears that in this passage Dr. McGrew criticizes a causal theory of reference according to which the reference of the term ‘God’ (in this case) is fixed by a causal-historical chain going back to some baptismal ritual that introduces the term into the language (Kripke). Her objection appears to be that even if debating partners associate with the term ‘God’ the same description; such as for instance “The one being deserving of worship”, sharing this (“generic”) description does not secure sameness of reference and that a causal theory is unhelpful here because “…nobody is pointing to God. Nobody is saying “That being over there.””

It is not clear to me why Dr. McGrew thinks that the (Kripkean) causal theory requires one to point to, or even be able to point to, the referent as a condition of securing reference. No such requirement is imposed by the causal theory of reference. Sameness of reference is secured, according to the causal theory, by a historical chain of uses that goes back to some original baptismal ritual that originally introduced the term. There is no requirement, according to this causal theory, that on each occasion of use, the speaker should be able to point to the referent, if there is one; such a requirement is impossible in a vast majority of cases. While I agree that a generic description such as “The one being worthy of worship”, even if shared, is insufficient to secure sameness of reference, this is so not because the shared descriptions are somehow too “thin”, but because of the general failure of descriptivism as a theory of reference fixing for names such as ‘God’.

2. Suppose a Muslim says the following: “God is (a) the one and only existing being; who (b) revealed himself to Mohammad; and (c) is the only being worthy of worship.”

Dr. McGrew maintains that the statement by the Muslim “happens to be a false propositional statement. End of discussion.”

And why exactly is this a false propositional statement? Which clause of the conjunction of (a)-(c) is false? and why?

Looking through the discussion in this and the previous thread, I am mostly struck by the confusion of it all. Part of the problem is that even to talk about it we are forced to use referring expressions of our own, raising the question of what we are referring to. Consider e.g. the comment by Lydia in the other thread, where I have highlighted the key referring expressions.

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… if I am attempting to co-opt or piggyback off of some other text or some other religion's beliefs, then presumably I'm attempting to say that the same entity I'm talking about is the entity they are talking about. But if I simultaneously *radically change* the very essence of that being, then I am going to fail to piggy-back successfully. So, if I say that the God who appeared to Abraham in the story in the Bible is really a Raelian, and I invite people to worship _that being_ whom I have described, then when I worship that God, I am not worshiping the same God as those who worship the God who really appeared to Abraham in the Bible, because I have radically, essentially changed his nature.

But I'm not saying that the Muslims are changing the meaning of Abraham (though they are saying radically different things about Jesus). I am saying that they are trying unsuccessfully to co-opt the _God_ who appeared to Abraham, but are radically changing his nature and attributing to him essential properties that are not his as well as foundational religious acts (e.g., speaking to Mohammad) that are not his. Hence, their usual use of "God" does not successfully refer to the same being that Christians and Jews are talking about.
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I am struck in particular by the comment that Muslims are attributing to him essential properties that are not his. Both of the pronouns (‘him’ and ‘his’) refer back to the God that Lydia aims to be talking about. Yet she also says that Muslims are ‘attributing’ certain essential properties to that very same God. How on earth are they doing this? Perhaps by some sentence of subject-predicate form, e.g. 'God spoke to Mohammed'. Here the linguistic predicate ‘spoke to Mohammed’ is affirmed of the linguistic subject ‘God’. The predicate for Muslims represents an essential property, since they hold Muhammed is a prophet of God. But who does the subject ‘God’ refer to? Well, if Muslims are really attributing to him essential properties that are not his, where both pronouns, as used by Lydia, refer to her God, then Muslims use of ‘God’ must also refer to him. If not, i.e. if their use of ‘God’ does not so refer, then they are not ‘attributing to him essential properties that are not his’.

Do you all see the problem?

Peter, I agree with your comments about the causal theory, except that Kripke adds the requirement that when we use a name with the same intended as the one we received it from. This is to avoid the problem that you could call your pet aardvark ‘Napoleon’.

Of the three parts of the conjunction (“God is (a) the one and only existing being; who (b) revealed himself to Mohammad; and (c) is the only being worthy of worship.”), I think Lydia would say (b) is false.

But then I think you have the problem I alluded to above. If the Muslim is saying that the one and only being worthy of worship revealed himself to Mohammad, i.e is predicating ‘revealed himself to Mohammad’ of the one and only being worthy of worship, then the Muslim really is referring to the God that Lydia is referring to. But if not, then he is not “radically changing his nature and attributing to him essential properties that are not his”.

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