« Hate Crimes Against Jews and Muslims | Main | Chris Hedges »

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Comments

Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Both my feet are in Jerusalem this morning, and from there I hear the following words:
"…in these last days (God the Father -db) has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much better than the angels, as He has inherited a more excellent name than they.…" Hebrews 1.2-4.

I am unaware of a Muslim source that would say the same of Allah or of his prophet. I have read that Mohamed taught that Jesus the Messiah was a great prophet, nothing more - but reading above in Hebrews shows a sharp contrast to that thought.

To refer to God, the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, and Allah as the 'same' strains my credulity. The 'stories' of each differ so greatly.

Yes. Good post. And even if one thinks that God is directly encountered through mystical experience and wants to apply some kind of causal theory of reference, since Christians don't think that Mohammad actually had a mystical experience of the true God, then Christians shouldn't say (even if they accept some kind of causal theory) that Mohammad and Christians are referring to the same God. That is, the closest analogue to two women pointing to the same man at a party whom they both see by sense experience is a scenario that, in this case, Christians deny concerning Islam.

Bill, I'm delighted you have decided to weigh in on this fun question. It's been twenty years since I have wrestled with reference and theological language. Retrieving the old data in my memory banks is quite the challenge. :)

You may find of interest my two contributions to the debate, though they obviously lack any kind of philosophical sophistication or depth:

1) https://goo.gl/iK2uHZ

2) https://goo.gl/lnx3GZ

I bid you a Merry Christmas

>>They both talk and write about God. Do they refer to one and same being with 'God' or 'Gott' and differ merely on his attributes? This is impossible. For the Feuerbachian, God is an unconsciously projected anthropomorphic projection. For the orthodox Christian, God is no such thing: he exists in reality beyond all human thoughts, desires, projections. It's the other way around: Man is a theomorphic projection. <<

But 'Frodo is a fictional character' and 'Frodo is a hobbit' are similarly contradictory. But this is only possible if the signification of the proper names is the same.

Dr. Vallicella,

Dr. James Anderson wrote a post related to that topic:

http://www.proginosko.com/2015/12/the-same-god-a-plea-for-precision/

I also link to a vídeo of one of the leading calvinist apologists, Dr. James White, commenting on that same topic:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sYO0RtTOAiA

Best regards,

João Gabriel
Portugal

Bill,

Excellent post. I’ve been very interested in this question (having spent half my life living and working among Muslims, worshiping in Arabic, etc.).

Couple of (random) thoughts.

Given your tentative conclusion in (i) (i.e., the description theory of names), wouldn’t this entail some very unsavory consequences? For example, not only would Muslims and Christians not refer to the same being, but neither would Christians and Jews, since both differ in their descriptions of God. Worse still, neither would Calvinist Christians and Arminian Christians, or Catholics and Orthodox (given the Filioque), refer to the same being. My wife and I disagree on some things about God, so when I take her hand and we pray together, one of us (or both, if we’re both wrong) is actually an atheist who's praying to, well, nothing really. In fact, wouldn’t it follow (from the descriptive theory) that no two theists who disagree in their description of God (which is all theists!) refer to or worship the same God? It seems that the description theory of names (at least in this case) makes atheists of us all. On the assumption that no theist has an error-free description of God (at least an honest thing every theist would want to admit), none of us actually worships anything (at least not with our language).

Perhaps a causal theory of names can be construed which posits a causal chain that extends not to any single event in anyone’s religious history that baptizes a particular name, but which extends us all as divine image-bearers to that divine ground of our being as gifted. (Sounds spooky I know.) In other words, human beings always already are the ‘baptized event’ that unites their religious sense and language (in spite of disagreements). We (in our God-sustained essence oriented always toward the Good as such), not some particular thing or event, are the thing baptized & named.

But then again, maybe it’s not our “answers” that decide whether or not we’re referring to the same being. Maybe it’s the “questions” we posit 'God' in an attempt to answer.

Tom

Thanks for another great post. Interesting topic, too.

Isn't the most obvious discrepancy between (1) Beckwith's analogy involving a disagreement about Thomas Jefferson's siring children and (2) the case of reference to God(s) of Christianity and Islam that (1) involves a disagreement about an accidental property whereas (2) involves a disagreement about something essential to the God(s) in question: namely, the singularity/triunity of God?

If a young child has a shirt with a bunch of shapes on it, and I ask him, "Which one is your favorite triangle?" and he replies, "the one with four sides," I don't think we're having a misunderstanding about a single object. I think we're talking about different things. Why? Because what is at stake in the misunderstanding is what is essential, not what is accidental. Add on the fact that both Christianity and Islam (should) adopt simplicity, and you don't even have any accidents in God at all.

As the Aristotelian principle goes, "[T]o know simple things defectively is not to know them at all."

I have to admit that I find it difficult to understand how a causal theory of reference is even supposed to help here, unless the advocates thereof are willing to endorse such a sweeping concept of a "causal connection" that pretty much any two terms can be made to refer to the "same entity" in virtue merely of the fact that some crazy person decided that they do. (Because he stands in "some sort of causal connection" to the two entities he's trying to connect by saying they are really the same.) If my crazy cousin decides that his parakeet is really Aunt Milly in disguise, one would hope that a causal theory of reference doesn't mean that, voila, "parakeet" and "Aunt Milly" are now objectively "referring to the same entity" and that I should say that when Crazy Cousin Will talks to his parakeet and I talk to Aunt Milly we are really "talking to the same being." On the grounds that, if he'd never heard of Aunt Milly, he'd never have come up with this particular form of insanity. Or something.

I actually don't buy a causal theory, but I would think that if it's to have _any_ plausibility at all, it should be used for those cases (such as the case that Bill discusses in the main post) when two people _really are_ in contact with the _same entity_. But in that case, my crazy cousin cannot just make "parakeet" and "Aunt Milly" objectively refer to the same entity, because he's _wrong_ in thinking that the parakeet is Aunt Milly in disguise.

And by the same token, if Mohammad wasn't really in causal contact with the true God in the visions on the basis of which he founded Islam, the mere fact that he had _heard_ of the true God from surrounding Christians and Jews and was _trying to say_ that the deity he was preaching was that same entity cannot magically make it the case that we and Muslims "worship the same God." _That_ sort of causal connection--the person has heard of one entity and claims that it is identical to some other entity--seems _radically_ insufficient to ground sameness of reference and would seem to have all sorts of absurd consequences (as in the case of Aunt Milly and the parakeet).

Precisely what sort of causal argument that doesn't have such absurd consequences is even supposed to _help_ here to defend the proposition that Muslims and Christians really worship the same God? It would seem like the question of the truth of the matter would become, if anything, even _more_ urgent if one advocates a causal theory of reference.

Josh,

The point about essential vs. accidental occurred to me too. But it is tricky. If God is triune, then God is essentially triune, and also necessarily triune since he exists in every possible world. Same if God is not triune. The question then becomes: could Christian and Muslim be referring to the same being given that the Xian is referring to something that is necessarily triune while the Muslim is referring to something that is necessarily the opposite?

Is that where you are going?

But it is not clear since it seems we could say that the Muslim has a false modal belief about the same God that the Christian has a true modal belief about.

Clearly, we can be talking about the same thing even if one of us has some false beliefs about the things in question.

Suppose two philosophers agree that 7 is an abstract object. Can't they dispute whether that very object is a necessary being or a contingent being?

Tom,

You appreciate the problem. Suppose two believers differ only on the filioque. It seems quite wrong to say that they do not pray to, worship, think about, the same God. (Before trinitarian theologians got around to the question of the procession of the Persons, before they even considered this abstruse question, they were on the same page: they agreed in their conception of God and they were talking about the same God. It would be very strange if they ceased to talk about the same God after the filioque dispute.

But that does seem to be the consequence if (a) 'God' is a proper name, and (b) a proper name refers to x iff there is an x such that x uniquely satisfies the description associated with the use of the name.

I have elsewhere defended the notion that God is not a being among beings, but Being itself. If so, then we cannot expect that a theory of reference that works for beings will have any relevance, except an analogical relevance, to Being itself.

Ed,

Do you agree that *Frodo is a purely fictional character* entails *Frodo does not exist*?

Lydia,

Thanks for the comments. I agree with you that the causal theory of reference is pretty much useless in this particular context. But the description theory is not much better. Or perhaps you disagree.

And a Merry Christmas to you, Fr. Kimel. I will look at your posts.

João Gabriel,

Those are worthwile links. Thanks and Merry Christmas!

>>Do you agree that *Frodo is a purely fictional character* entails *Frodo does not exist*?

Yes.

Jews are permitted to pray in a mosque but not a Christian church because the latter is a place of idolatry. Abraham and Moses did not confer with a trinity.

"Clearly, we can be talking about the same thing even if one of us has some false beliefs about the things in question."

This seems right, but what's the cutoff, Brahma? I'll argue that the trinity is toward the Hindu wing of the building, a long way from Deuteronomy.

Spelling out the argument as far as I understand it.

1. (Ass) N is F
2. (Ass) N is G
3. (Ass) ‘N’ is not ambiguous between 1 and 2 above.
4. (from 1, 2, 3) some F is G
5. (Ass) F and G are contrary, i.e. no F is G
6. (4,5) Contradiction

From this we are entitled to infer that one of the premisses is false. But this could be either 1, 2, or 3. If 3 is false, then we can indeed infer that the name ‘N’ is ambiguous. But equally it could be 1 or 2. E.g. the Muslim or the Christian could be wrong.

Ed,

Are you trying to formalize that portion of my argument in which I mentioned Feuerbach?

No I am now trying to formalise what I think is going on as a whole, and I think I am agreeing with you when you say, regarding V1 and V2 above that “There is no easy way to decide rationally between these two views.” I.e. V1 would correspond to denying premiss 1 or 2 above, on the grounds that they are contrary, on the assumption that premiss 3 is correct.

Your V2 would be (in effect) denial of premiss 3, on the assumption that both P1 and P2 are correct.

But as you imply, there is nothing to choose between them, given that if we reach a contradiction, we are free to deny any of the premises that led to it.

And of course I agree when you say “We have to delve into the philosophy of language and ask how reference is achieved.”

OK Ed, I'm glad you have appreciated the thrust of my overall argument.

My main point is negative: there is no quick and obviously correct answer to the question whether Christians and Muslims worship the same God. The underlying reason being that it involves probably insoluble problems in the philosophy of language.

It is also very interesting how quickly this abstruse question got politicized with liberals wanting to claim that of course Christians and Muslims worship the same God and with conservatives denying it.

You appreciate this has strong similarities with Kripke's famous 'Paderewski' case? Pierre is introduced to Paderewski in two different ways, one as a politician, two as a musician. Believing that no politicians are musical, he assents to both 'Paderewski is musical' and 'Paderewski is not musical', and hence (given other assumptions which I omit here) he believes both that Paderewski is musical and Paderewski is not musical, and so believes contradictory statements.

We can get around this by supposing that ‘Paderewski’ is descriptive, just as some have supposed ‘God’ is descriptive. E.g. ‘Paderewski the politician’ means one thing, ‘Paderewski the musician’ means another. But Kripke gives persuasive arguments against the descriptive theory.

Kripke does not invoke the causal theory in the Paderewski paper ( ‘A Puzzle about Belief’. Meaning and Use, ed. A. Margalit (Dordrecht: Reidel), pp. 239-83). Rather, he talks about the ‘standard meaning’ of a proper name, saying that there isn’t any difference in meaning between ‘Holland’ and ‘The Netherlands’. If you understand them both, you understand they mean the same. Likewise, you could argue that ‘Allah’ has a standard meaning, as does ‘Jehovah’ or ‘Jesus’.

Your lucubrations anent Paderewski are in the queue and will be posted in due course.

Petronius: Abraham and Moses did not confer with a trinity.

Tom: For trinitarians at least, Abraham and Moses did confer with the Triune God (since God is triune and they did confer with him). They just conferred with him without believing him to be triune, which is what makes this all very interesting!

One might want to argue complexities along a timeline of revelation that explain their OT perspective, but I don’t see that it resolves the issue. In any event, none of the Apostles (all being Jews, or an Orthodox Jew in Paul's case) believed that in coming to faith in Christ they were coming to worship a God other than the God they worshiped previously.

I certainly don't think the descriptive theory is "useful" as far as _defending_ the idea that Muslims and Christians worship the same God, though if that statement were true, it would be possible to articulate it in terms of the descriptive theory.

I think that, in fact, the descriptive theory is correct, though, in general.

What I'm truly baffled by is why so many philosophers seem to think that the reason that people (esp. laymen) just don't understand *that* Muslims and Christians worship the same God is because laymen aren't causal theorists! Or something like that. That just doesn't seem correct, at least not without question-begging--that is, without assuming that Mohammad really was _in contact with_ the true God under a different description or something like that. Which (since these are Christian philosophers) I don't think they should acknowledge. And which is in any event what those who disagree with them are disputing!

But of course you can't be called upon to explain why other people think what they think, when it is completely different from your own, more sensible position.

I _think_ perhaps what you mean by saying that "the description theory is not much better" is that it doesn't _settle_ this issue of whether Muslims and Christians worship the same God.

If that's what you mean, I do agree that it isn't decisive, though (since it's the right linguistic theory! :-)) it does enable us on one side of the issue to explain in more precise terms what is wrong with the claim that Muslims and Christians worship the same God.

But ultimately what it's going to come down to (I think) is whether one regards x or y attribute, or some set thereof, as "most important" for the question of "being the same God." I saw an article by Mike Rea in which he literally seemed to be saying that any people who think there is exactly one God must be worshiping the same God *regardless of their concepts*. This caused even some in the conversation who had been previously defending the "Muslims and Christians worship the same God" proposition to demur. As one person said, "One cannot think that God is a bar of soap."

Rea is apparently making the one-ness of God the _one and only_ requirement for sameness of God, which leads to absurd consequences.

Similarly, in a thread at my blog it appears (if I'm understanding him correctly) that Dale Tuggy is saying that it is a sufficient condition for Mohammad to be worshiping the same God as Jews worship if he _thinks_ that the God he preaches is the same being that appeared to Abraham. So now the appropriation of a single important incident in the history of the religion is a sufficient condition for "worshiping the same God." Again, I pointed out that such a low bar has absurd consequences. It does not even require monotheism. If there were a sincere pastafarian, that person might believe that the Flying Spaghetti Monster was really the one who appeared to Abraham. And so forth.

What I think would be helpful would be for those _advocating_ the idea that Christians and Muslims worship the same God to _acknowledge_ that it's going to come down to how important one thinks the various similarities and differences are. Therefore, they should get down off their high horses rather than implying that they can decide the matter with a philosophical flick of the wrist either by alluding to theories of reference or to "classical theism" or by saying airily, "Well, there is only one true God, so how could Muslims and Christians be worshiping different Gods?" or anything of the sort. Such responses to the question are, frankly, shallow.

My own position is that there are several sets of sufficient conditions that two religions might satisfy that would make it the case that their adherents worship the same God, but that none of these are satisfied in the case of Christianity and Islam.

I think the fact that there is more than one set of sufficient conditions is part of what causes confusion in the discussion. For example, if both people (or groups of people) worship the Trinity as taught by Christianity, that seems to be a sufficient condition. But it doesn't follow that Jews and Christians _must not_ be worshiping the same God, because a different sufficient condition is that it is _in fact_ the case that the same real God founded both religions, which is what Christians believe about Christianity and Judaism. So as a Christian I can affirm that in one sense Christians and Jews worship the same God even though Jews are now anti-trinitarian. Islam, of course, satisfies neither of these sets of conditions.

Or one might argue that a Christian heretic such as an Arian and an orthodox Christian worship the same God because it is a sufficient condition that both believe that Jesus was sent from God, rose from the dead, and sent his apostles to found his church. That is, that set of beliefs about the crucial acts of God might constitute a sufficient condition. It is, at least, a plausible candidate, which is why Arianism is regarded as a "Christian heresy." But Islam doesn't satisfy that, either. And so forth.

What keeps happening in these debates is that one will bring up such a set of sufficient conditions and point out that Islam doesn't satisfy it and then be asked (again and again), "What about Jews?" or "What about Christians who don't agree on whether God is timeless?" and so forth, as if the interlocutor cannot realize that those situations satisfy a different set of sufficient conditions which _also_ does not obtain between Christianity and Islam.

Josh: Not sure why the essential/accidental distinction is relevant to the point I was trying to make. Suppose that while doing the DNA paternity testing on the Heming and Jefferson families we discovered that there is evidence that Jefferson may not have been Homo sapiens, that he was, like Kal-El, an alien whose parents sent him to Earth to be the last survivor of his dying planet. Found by the Jeffersons, he was brought up to believe that he was their natural child and thus fully human. So, scientist Jones (who believes that Jefferson is not human) and scientist Smith (who believes that Jefferson is human) disagree on what Jefferson essentially is. Yet, they are talking about the same Jefferson, since there is only one Third President of the Uniited States who wrote the Declaration of Independence. If there is only one God by nature--only one being who can be the eternal, unchanging, infinite, creator of all that exists--then Muslims and Christians worship the same God even if they disagree on something essential, his Ttriune nature. BTW, it should not surprise us that the elements over which they disagree--e.g., Triunity, God's begetting a Son, etc.--are those beliefs that can only be known through special revelation. On the level of general revelation, there is no question of God's identity.

Frank,

Clever example and a good response to Josh. I think you are right as against Josh when it comes to Jefferson and similar cases. But all you have really shown is that if some people have false modal beliefs about x, and some other people have true modal beliefs about x, it does not follow that they are not talking about one and the same x. But the rest of what you say doesn't follow. This is because it is consistent with what you say that there be cases in which the disagreeing parties are not talking about the same item.

You write, >>If there is only one God by nature--only one being who can be the eternal, unchanging, infinite, creator of all that exists--then Muslims and Christians worship the same God even if they disagree on something essential, his Ttriune nature.<<

This ignores the possibility that while the Xian succeeds in referring to the one true God, the Muslim does not succeed in referring to anything. The latter does not succeed because, if orthodox Christianity is true, then there is no God in any possible world who is non-triune. Necessarily, there is nothing for the Muslim to succeed in referring to.

Of course, the Xian and Muslim conceptions overlap on the properties you mention, eternal, etc. But that does not suffice to show that Xian and Muslim succeed in referring to the same God. Please note that anything that exists, including God, must be completely determinate, i.e., must satisfy the property version of the Law of Excluded Middle. So, in particular, the existent God must be either triune or not triune. Nothing that exists can be indeterminate in respect of this property. It follows that, if Xianity is true, that the Muslim God does not exist.

What you can say is this: Christian and Muslim intend to refer to one and the same God, and intend to worship one and the same God, but only one of them succeeds in referring and succeeds in worshiping one and the same God.

So maybe the title question -- Do Christians and Muslims worship the same God? -- is ambiguous as between intention and success.

Worshiping is of course an intentional or object-directed state and it is what it is whether or not the intentional object exists. Furthermore, the intentional objects of finite minds are never completely determinate. Thus if I am staring at a yellow wall, my intentional object need not be determinate in respect of the property *being stucco* even though in reality the wall itself must be either stucco or not. So if a Muslim and a Xian have before their minds an intentional object with just the properties you mention above, then their intentional object is the same.

Do Muslims and Christian worship the same God? Yes, in that they intend to worship the same God. No, in that one of them does not succeed in his intention.

Is this the irenci solution that will make everybody happy and bring peace to the warring parties? [GRIN]

Read 'irenic' for 'irenci' -- which looks like a Turkish word.

Another wrinkle. Does 'worship' have a use in English on which it is a verb of success?

Actually, it isn't clear to me that Muslims and Christians (or for that matter Christians and modern Jews) _intend_ to worship the same entity. Suppose that a Muslim _would not_ worship God if he believed that he even _could be_ incarnate or triune. That is to say, suppose that the Muslim worships God _precisely as_ non-incarnate or not triune.

It is an odd idea that anybody actually _worships_ some kind of bare monotheistic deity. Maybe some deist somewhere does that, but Christianity, Judaism, and Islam are all _highly_ historically instantiated religions. The Jews worship God _as_ the one who brought them up out of the land of Egypt. Christians worship God _as_ the one who sent Jesus Christ to die for our sins. Muslims worship God _as_ the one whose prophet is Mohammad.

And arguably, insofar as historically various religions have developed in contrast with one another, in some of these cases the worship is intentionally directed to "a God with these properties and not those properties." I'm quite sure that a convert from Islam to Christianity is filled with joy to worship a God whom he can come to as his Father rather than "as a slave," as Muslims are to approach Allah. And a strongly self-aware, anti-Christian Muslim may well be worshiping Allah very self-consciously as non-triune.

So I think that this really calls into question the idea even that these groups _intend_ to "worship the same God."

The reason that Christians can still say (but Jews will not want to say) that they and Jews _nonetheless_ worship the same God is just the reason that I gave above--that the Christian affirms that the triune God really is the one who spoke to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses, and hence founded Judaism even though Jews don't know this to be the case. But that sense of "the same God" is of course not available in the case of Islam.

Bill V., kudos on pointing out that Frank's argument appears to assume that Muslims succeed in referring. That is a crucial point that needs to be argued, not assumed. Presumably reference failure is possible on any theory of reference. And indeed, there is to my mind something on the edge of question-begging there, since presumably the position of those who deny that Muslims and Christians worship the same God _is_ that Muslim references to Allah, being to a false god, _fail to refer_. Any argument that assumes the contrary and more or less says, "But whom else could they be referring to, since there is only one eternal, infinite, creator?" is prima facie question-begging as to whether Muslims succeed in reference at all. Which is perhaps what gives the argument such an air of substituting a rhetorical trick for more difficult argumentation over the importance of particular theological properties.

Let me add that I think there are serious reasons to doubt that Islam actually is compatible with "classical theism." Don't get me wrong: I think there are Christians who aren't "classical theists" either (as defined by Ed Feser, for example). I myself do not make "both being classical theists" a _necessary_ condition for "both worshiping the same God." But insofar as Frank's argument hinges (as he has indicated in other places it does) on the statement that Muslims "are classical theists," I think this premise is dubious anyway.

Lydia writes,

>>I _think_ perhaps what you mean by saying that "the description theory is not much better" is that it doesn't _settle_ this issue of whether Muslims and Christians worship the same God.

If that's what you mean, I do agree that it isn't decisive, though (since it's the right linguistic theory! :-)) it does enable us on one side of the issue to explain in more precise terms what is wrong with the claim that Muslims and Christians worship the same God.<<

I do mean that it doesn't settle the issue, but I also mean that the description theory is problematic, at least when applied to God. (Which is not to say that the causal theory is not also problematic, as you well appreciate.)

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

Will you agree that this is a counterintuitive result?

This same argument can be run in different versions with respect to the filioque, the Trinity, and what all else. In fact it is the Trinity version of this argument that shows that Christian and Muslim cannot be referring to one and the same God if we understand reference along descriptivist lines.

Lydia writes,

>> I saw an article by Mike Rea in which he literally seemed to be saying that any people who think there is exactly one God must be worshiping the same God *regardless of their concepts*. This caused even some in the conversation who had been previously defending the "Muslims and Christians worship the same God" proposition to demur. As one person said, "One cannot think that God is a bar of soap."

Rea is apparently making the one-ness of God the _one and only_ requirement for sameness of God, which leads to absurd consequences.<<

Do you remember the title of the article?

If you have accurately reported Rea's view, then his claim is absurd. A Thomist and a Spinozist will affirm that there is exactly one God. But it would be border-line crazy to say that they worship the same God.

Or imagine a little conversation between a Thomist and a Feuerbachian: "You and I are talking about the very same God; it's just you say he exists outside the mind whereas I say he does not but is merely an anthropomorphic projection."

Prof. Beckwith,

Thanks for your response. I suppose your example is enough to show that we can refer to the same object while disagreeing about one or more essential properties *IF* the object in question is distinct from its essence (as Thomas Jefferson is). But none of the monotheistic philosophers you mention in your article hold that God is distinct from his essence. So I still don't think the analogy works.

If you have the time/interest, I would be interested in hearing whether or not you think that Summa theologiae 2-2.2.2, ad 3 has any bearing on this discussion.

Dr. Vallicella,

I am not an analytic philosopher, so you'll have to forgive me if I balk at the "possible worlds" talk (it very well may be that I just don't understand the relevant implications). But it seems to me that God is whatever he is "necessarily" because there is no distinction between his existence and essence. This is not the case for Thomas Jefferson or the number seven (even if the latter is an "abstract object"), I assume.

Thanks again for the stimulating discussion.

Lydia writes,

>>Bill V., kudos on pointing out that Frank's argument appears to assume that Muslims succeed in referring. That is a crucial point that needs to be argued, not assumed. Presumably reference failure is possible on any theory of reference. And indeed, there is to my mind something on the edge of question-begging there, since presumably the position of those who deny that Muslims and Christians worship the same God _is_ that Muslim references to Allah, being to a false god, _fail to refer_.<<

Right, it is question-begging. If the God of Aquinas exists, then the God of Spinoza does not. And the fact that both philosophers use 'Deus' proves nothing. One cannot infer sameness of nominatum from sameness of name. The God of Spinoza is a false god or an idol or a nonexistent god. It makes no sense to say that they both refer to the existent God but differ over his attributes.

The same goes for the triune God and the Muslim God. One of them must be a false/nonexistent god. Either 'Allah' (as used by a Muslim as opposed to, say, a Coptic Christian) fails of reference, or 'God' (as used by a Christian) fails of reference. To say that they both refer to the same existent God, is to say that this same God has contradictory attributes.

Here is the article by Mike Rea.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michael-rea/on-worshipping-the-same-g_b_8840936.html

And here is the relevant quotation:

"Christians and Muslims have very different beliefs about God; but they agree on this much: there is exactly one God. This common point of agreement is logically equivalent to thesis that all Gods are the same God. In other words, everyone who worships a God worships the same God, no matter how different their views about God might be."

The problematic phrase is "no matter how different their views of God might be." Really, no matter *how different*? That seems like a vast overstatement.

Later in the same article Rea appears momentarily to be retracting it, because he later says that he "doubt[s] that the differences in Christian and Muslim beliefs specifically about the nature of God are much more significant than the overall theological differences that divide contemporary Christians from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob." For a moment it seems that he is acknowledging the significance of differences in concept. But then he continues:

" Even if they are, however, the point here is simply that difference alone--even very significant, religion-dividing difference--is not sufficient to guarantee that two parties fail to worship the same God. To justify that stronger conclusion, one would ultimately have to make appeal to a robust theory about semantics, or about the nature of worship."

So differences alone apparently don't decide the matter _at all_, and according to the earlier sentence, this includes very vast differences. The earlier sentence said that "everyone who worships [exactly one] God worships the same God, *no matter how different* their views about God might be." (emphasis added)

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

Will you agree that this is a counterintuitive result?"

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

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

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

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

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

Lydia,

I was a bit sloppy. I mean what you say in your fifth paragraph.

So you bite the bullet, eh? You understand what that commits you to. The Orthodox believer who builds rejection of the filioque clause into his def. description is then failing to refer to God if the filioque is true. And so on . . .

Of course, this does not constitute a refutation of your adherence to a description theory.

That's a great argument for not going overboard in what we include in our definite descriptions. I would say myself that anybody who includes that God is _not_ simple or that the filioque clause is _false_ into what he _means_ by the term "God" is doing something rather over-the-top, wouldn't you?

In that case, the problem lies in his placing overmuch importance on the absence of those properties. And it's quite easy for the descriptivist to point this out and to recommend a different sense as better capturing what is really central to the character of God, to human worship, what a larger number of Christians would be likely to mean, etc.

Dr. Beckwith: "Yet, they are talking about the same Jefferson, since there is only one Third President of the Uniited States who wrote the Declaration of Independence."

This example actually goes contrary to your point, it seems to me, in the way that the first comment points out: the difference is in the story. So, the difference between Islam and Christianity is not like a difference in DNA, but like the difference between affirming or denying that Jefferson was in fact the 3rd President and had anything to do with the Declaration.

And yes, the difference is the truths of special revelation, but both faiths consider the truths of special revelation to be determinative of their worship, as the centrality of confession demonstrates. That is, the central act of Islamic worship is the confession "there is no God but Allah, and Mohammend is his prophet, and central to Christian worship has historically been the confession, like the Apostles' or Nicean Creed. These confessions are clearly in contradiction.

This brings me to another point, about the conclusion of the original post. I am troubled by the idea that this question is so difficult, and depends upon one's philosophy of language, since the implication would be that only those who are professional philosophers can answer this question, when it is one that any individual believer needs to be able to answer, and so the resources for that answer should be found in the materials and sources of faith, not in a completely separate discipline.


Joshua: >>I am troubled by the idea that this question is so difficult, and depends upon one's philosophy of language, since the implication would be that only those who are professional philosophers can answer this question, when it is one that any individual believer needs to be able to answer, and so the resources for that answer should be found in the materials and sources of faith, not in a completely separate discipline.<<

Interesting comment. Welcome to the human predicament! The question is very difficult and to make it worse it is not just a phil of lang question but also one in phil of mind and metaphysics. I would urge that linguistic reference rests on thinking reference or intentionality which brings us to the phil of mind. That the questions are difficult is shown by the deep disagreement of very bright people who are not only very bright but also very serious about getting at the truth.

Don't imagine that an answer will be forthcoming that will satisfy every competent practitioner. No philosophical problem has ever been solved to the satisfaction of all and what we have here are a cluster of philosophical problems at bottom, which then percolate up into bitter political disputes.

I don't see that the ordinary believer needs to answer or even be much concerned with the question whether Muslims and Christians worship the same God. I take it you are a Catholic. You belong to an acient and well-accredited Christian church. Just be a good Catholic: follow the Ten Commandments, avoid the Seven Deadly Sins, and so on. You can't go wrong doing that. Whether Muslims worship the same God as you needn't concern you qua ordinary believer trying to work out your salvation with diligence.

To keep the political bitterness tamped down, I would recommend a moratorium on Muslim immigration.

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

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

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

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

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

Perhaps if that could be admitted on both sides some progress could be made. But I doubt it ever will be admitted on the other side.

Bill, I had just been re-reading your version of this post from last February (I believe), thinking through this issue, when I saw you updated the post. Thanks much!

I agree with your main point, that there is no quick and obvious answer to the question of whether Muslims and Christians worship the same God, and that we must do some heavy-lifting philosophy of language to arrive at a philosophically satisfying conclusion.

I wanted to make two points. First, your formulation of V2 probably needs some chisolming because of the kind of worry that Tom raises above. V2 says, "Christian and Muslim MUST worship different Gods PRECISELY BECAUSE they have different conceptions of God." [my emphasis]

Having a different conception of God is not sufficient for saying that two people worship different "Gods". I have a much more robust conception of God than my two and a half year old daughter, but I take it that we want to be able to say we are worshiping the same God (insofar as two and half year olds can worship...I think they can). It seems to me that, V2 should say something like, "Christian and Muslim must worship different Gods precisely because they have IRRECONCILABLY different conceptions of God."

Secondly, I'd like to say a few things that might help overcome Tom Belt's worries. This is just the beginning of a response. As you note in your brief description of the descriptive theory, expressions vary from one linguistic community to another. It actually gets quite complicated, as a speaker can be part of linguistic communities. So, when Plantinga uses 'God' in the philosophy room, it might be a different concept of God than the one he uses when he goes to church and worships. In the context of the philosophy room, Plantinga attempts to develop his on views about God, but in the context of worship, he conforms his use of "God" to the corporate body's use, or he should--precisely because it is the context of corporate worship. What I'm suggesting is that, in the context of worship, an individual adopts (or should adopt) his worshiping body's concept of God and not his own. By doing this, it may be that Calvinists and Arminians can succeed in worshiping the same God, even if their concepts differ in the theology room. It would be much harder, however, to say that Christians and Muslims worship the same God. In the context of worship, the concept of God in use should not be so thick as to rule out my worshiping the same being as the person in the pew next to me, but it ought to be thick enough to rule out Muslims who do not worship Christ, as I do.

Question: does a correct understanding of references to God in the Old Testament, New Testament and Quran require them to be understood as co-referential? If so, then the question is easily resolved. For example, the Quran recognises the existence of all the texts, speaking of ‘Those who have been given the Scripture’. Thus if a devout muslim reads about Allah speaking to Moses (e.g. Surah 20), their understanding is clearly that ‘Allah’ and ‘Musa’ refer to what ‘God’ and ‘Moses’ refer to in the English translations of the Old Testament. I.e. the presumption is that the references to God in the Old Testament do have a referent, moreover the same referent as ‘Allah’.

London Ed,

If two different names purport -- or are used with the purport -- to refer to one and the same entity, does it follow that they do in fact refer to one and the same entity?

Also, if a name refers to x, does it follow that x exists? I.e., is 'refers' a verb of success?

Suppose a name is believed by its user to be nonvacuous, but is in fact vacuous. Has the user referred to anything?

Spear,

Good to hear from you. You write, >> First, your formulation of V2 probably needs some chisholming because of the kind of worry that Tom raises above. V2 says, "Christian and Muslim MUST worship different Gods PRECISELY BECAUSE they have different conceptions of God." [my emphasis]
Having a different conception of God is not sufficient for saying that two people worship different "Gods". I have a much more robust conception of God than my two and a half year old daughter, but I take it that we want to be able to say we are worshiping the same God (insofar as two and half year olds can worship...I think they can). It seems to me that, V2 should say something like, "Christian and Muslim must worship different Gods precisely because they have IRRECONCILABLY different conceptions of God."<<

Suppose that one person understands by 'God' the unique x such that x created heaven and earth while a second person understands by 'God' the unique x such that x created heaven and earth and might not have created this heaven and earth or any heaven and earth. The second person has a richer, more determinate, conception of God than the first. But surely one and the same entity could satisfy both descriptions. And surely one could worship one and the same entity under either description.

In general: if description D is included in description D*, then anything that satisfies D* satisfies D, but not conversely.

I could define 'inclusion' but I think you know what I mean. It's the relation a Fregean Merkmal bears to a Begiff of which it is the Merkmal.

I take it that this is the point you are making. If so, I agree. And now I see that your criticism is on target. I hope you don't mind if I go back and alter my formulation thereby removing the target of your criticism.

Keep your spear sharp, your powder dry, and have a Merry Christmas!

Spear,

As for your second comment, you have a philosophy room, a theology room, and a church. Do you want three separate spaces -- 'safe' or not -- or only two. As for a mosque, that would presumably not be a 'safe sapce' for the likes of your or me.

I'll assume two: the philosophy room and the church.

You are touching on a very deep and rich topic. When I take communion in church do I really believe that the living Christ, the risen Christ, is really present in the wafer? What does that even MEAN? At that time I don't trouble my head over it; I just pray for Light. I go mysterian. That is not an irrationalist position since no one has ever explained the mind-body relation, when that is something we live and experience all day long. I break my head over the Real Presence in the philosophy room; over it and every other philosophical problem, and come to the conclusion that reason in us is very weak indeed, which is no surprise given how fouled up we are morally and in every other way. Given the infirmity of reason, I cannot be sure it isn't true. Pragmatics does the rest: I'm better off believing it than not believing it; and if I'm wrong what does it matter? But if I'm right, it matters quite a lot!

>>If two different names purport -- or are used with the purport -- to refer to one and the same entity, does it follow that they do in fact refer to one and the same entity? Also, if a name refers to x, does it follow that x exists? I.e., is 'refers' a verb of success? Suppose a name is believed by its user to be nonvacuous, but is in fact vacuous. Has the user referred to anything? <<

That's a somewhat different question which we should address separately.

Regarding sincere believers - let's say Christians and Jews – there can be no doubt about the intended sameness of reference. I am just looking at Mark 1, where Mark begins by talking about ‘the son of God’, then immediately quotes Malachi and Isaiah, who talk about ‘the Lord’. A sincere and reflective Christian absolutely has to believe that whoever Mark is talking about when he uses the name ‘God’ (theos in Greek) is the same as Isaiah's 'Lord'. And thus if they regard themselves as worshipping the one, they must regard themselves as worshipping the other.

A Jew would also understand 'son of God', but would entirely reject the claim 'Jesus is the son of God'. Indeed, in order to reject the claim at all, he would have to accept that both Mark and Isaiah are referring to the same person.

And Merry/Happy Christmas to you! Log fire and Boulevardier tonight. Followed by midnight mass!

Ed,

Mark intends to refer to the same being that Isaiah refers to. But does Mark succeed?

You and Fiona have a great Christmas, and enjoy the Boulevardier before the fire.

What do you call chess players bragging outside the tournament hall? Chess nuts boasting in an open foyer . . .

Let me throw into the mix this essay by Denys Turner: "Christians, Muslims and the name of God" (http://goo.gl/LdJjIi).

I have some questions about the above discussions, especially about the relevance of "successful reference" to the debate. Perhaps I can raise these questions here sometime next week.

And what is Santa's favourite gardening implement?

Ho ho ho.

>>But does Mark succeed?
Later.

Ed,

My cats' favorite digger is Sandy Claws.

Fr. Kimel,

You shouldn't allow your religious and familial duties to interfere with philosophy. (Half-joke)

Bill,
You have understood my first point perfectly. Change-away!
With respect to your second comment, I think assuming two rooms is sufficient, since I doubt the theology room and the philosophy room would differ much with respect to understanding the concept of God. I think there are many other settings where we probably adjust what concept of God we are using, at least at the beginning of a conversation. Examples that come to mind are interfaith discussions, or discussions between religious folks and the "I believe in some kinda force" non-religious folks. I can imagine saying the the latter person, "This mysterious force--let's call that God. Do you think this force creates the universe?"

I sympathize with the your approach to the Real Presence and communion! Sometimes I have to tell myself that it is better to fall in line with those who have gone before me, rather than trust my own feeble capabilities!

A very Merry Christmas to you too!

Assuming that (1) God is Being or the Act of Being and (2) Gid us the unconditioned source of all creaturely existence, and (3) God exists, what does it mean to speak of _successful_ reference? What are the conditions for its success? How do we know when we have succeeded?

I raise this because it seems that all that is needed for success is the intent to refer to _God_ (as defined above).

Am I off-base?

The comments to this entry are closed.

Google Search Engine

My Photo
Blog powered by Typepad
Member since 10/2008

Categories

Categories

June 2017

Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
        1 2 3
4 5 6 7 8 9 10
11 12 13 14 15 16 17
18 19 20 21 22 23 24
25 26 27 28 29 30  
Blog powered by Typepad