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Tuesday, January 05, 2016

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To see if I understand.

1. If a Christian utters 'God is triune' and a Muslim utters 'God is non-triune', and if there is some x such that each successfully refers to x using the term 'God' (call this the identity condition), then they have contradicted each other. If there is some x and some y such that x not = y (call this the non-identity condition), and the Christian refers to x and the Muslim refers to y, then they have not contradicted each other. Otherwise there is reference failure on one or or both sides (reference failure condition).

2. If the Christian's and the Muslim's utterances express their respective beliefs, and the identity condition is met, then they have beliefs about the same thing. If the non-identity condition met, then they have beliefs about different things. If there is reference failure on one or both sides, there is a question whether there is belief at all.

3. If the Christian and Muslim both utter 'I worship God' and the identity condition is met, then both worship same thing. If non-identity condition met, they worship different things. If reference failure, I am not sure what is going on.

So everything hangs upon the notion of 'successful reference'. Or rather, success in one's aim of referring to x. If you refer at all, clearly you have also successfully referred.

I also agree that the notion of successful reference is a difficult one. Against Feser, Beckwith and Tuggy, I agre that the issue is not easily resolved, almost entirely because its resolution depends on the solution of hitherto unsolved problems in the philosophy of language.

Does this give us a green patch of agreement, amidst the forest of darkness and confusion?

>>If you refer at all, clearly you have also successfully referred.<<

I deny it! You must distinguish between reference and referent. A successful (singular) reference is one that (a) has a referent; (b) has the right referent; (c) has exactly one referent.

Shooting analogy. (TRIGGER WARNING! Politically incorrect example coming up! Crybullies out of the room!) Imagine being at a shooting range. A successful act of shooting, or shot, is one that hits a target; hits the right target (the one aimed at, not the one the guy to your right is aiming at); hits exactly one target. (Suppose a sniper wants to kill a jihadi but wants to miss his wife, who is shorter, who is standing behind him. He attempts a head shot. If his high-powered round passes through jihadi and wife killing both, then his shot is unsuccessful.)

Clearly, one can refer without successfully referring.

A reference to Santa Claus fails if there is no Santa Claus.

Suppose I mistakenly think that The Flying Dutchman is a world-class Dutch marathoner. I say, 'The Flying Dutchman wears Nikes.' My intended reference fails by targeting the wrong item, a ship.

A reference to an iron sphere fails if there happen to be two iron spheres with all the same intrinsic and relational properties. (I have in mind Max Black's famous balls of iron.)

OK. Importantly: do you agree with my inference from what you are saying? One can proceed by identifying areas where there seems to be disagreement, or by identifying areas of agreement. The latter is often more fruitful. Reasons (1) initial avoidance of conflict (2) identification of the key areas where the real and interesting battle may be fought. Think of the generals on each side trying to work out the best place where battle may be engaged. Obviously there's a secondary kind of warfare involved there, too, e.g. a good general may try to draw the enemy into a battle location more favourable to him than his enemy. E.g. in the miners' strike in the 1980s Thatcher deliberately provoked the union into going on strike in the spring time, when demand for fuel was falling. My friends on the Left consider that one of the defining moments of the struggle.

But I digress. Are we agreed that 'successful reference' is key to the issue we are discussing?

Let me see if I understand you:

Now suppose there exists exactly one Clark Kent and that Clark Kent is Kryptonian. Then Batman's understanding of "Clark Kent" will be satisfied, and his reference to Clark Kent will be successful. But Lois Lane's reference to a non-Kryptonian Clark Kent will fail. The reason for this is that there is nothing outside the mind that satisfies her characteristic understanding of "Clark Kent."

So, therefore, Batman and Lois know different Clark Kents.

I'm not sure that we're asking the right question, here: it seems to me that "Do Christians and Muslims worship the same God?" is not asking whether Bob and Carol, for example, in their individual acts of Catholic and Presbyterian worship, succeed in referring to the same entity as Malik and Safa do when they engage in their Muslim prayers.

Isn't the real question something more like "Is the God described in the Bible the same God as the God described in the Qu'ran (and Hadith)?"

I mean, the success or failure of individual acts of reference will presumably depend on the specific intentional context of each such act, and will so far forth be resistant to some kind of general evaluation (e.g. Bob might be appealing to the being that his grandfather told him about as a child, and whom he thinks of as a kind of powerful and benevolent octogenarian, while Carol is offering an encomium to the being whose essence is to exist. Ditto, mutatis mutandis, for Safa and Malik.)

I've always understood the query to be, where the rubber hits the road, whether or not the being described as God by the Old and New Testaments possesses a sufficient number of the same essential properties as the being described as God by the Qu'ran and Hadith. (The criteria could perhaps be expanded to include some core of putatively definitive historical/dogmatic scholarly or ecclesiastical commentary and clarification of those texts.)

Of course, that may not turn out to be any more tractable a problem than that of (sense and) reference, but it seems at least to have the twin virtues of generality and independence from recondite questions of linguistic philosophy (for which it substitutes recondite questions of metaphysics, I guess.)

I suppose, also, that the first question could be phrased in terms of the second, as a kind of idealization: Assuming that Christians and Muslims intend to worship the being described as God in the Bible and the Qu'ran (and Hadith), respectively, are they worshipping (would they succeed in referring to) the same God?

Frank,

Doesn't this fall into the mistake the Bill pointed out earlier: that knowledge by acquaintance is a poor analogy for our references to God?

Ed writes, >>So everything hangs upon the notion of 'successful reference'.<<

Yes.

Frank (if I may),

It seems to me that you are begging the question if you assume that the Clark Kent - Superman case is a good analogy of the Christian God - Muslim case. After all, we know that Clark Kent = Superman who hails from the planet Krypton. There is no question about that (within the context of the fictional story). So it is natural to say that Lois Lane refers to the same individual as Batman does when each use 'Clark Kent,' but that Lois Lane has a false belief about Kent, namely that he hails from Earth like the rest of us.

Since we KNOW that Clark Kent = Superman, it would be false to say that Lois Lane and Batman refer to, know, or admire different Clark Kents.

But if you use this analogy then you question-beggingly assume that the X-God = the M-God.

The question is whether the M and X worship the same God. They do only if they successfully refer to the same God. If they do, then you can say that either the M or the X fails to understand the divine nature properly. If Xianity is true, then God is triune essentially, and indeed necessarily. Now Muslims explicitly deny that God is triune. So you can say that they have a false belief about God -- but only if you assume that they are successfully referring to one and the same God.

But that is the very question! So are begging the question just as you did with your TJ example in the *Catholic Thing* article. Tuggy too begs the question with his GW example.

I maintain that it is reasonable to say that X and M are not successfully referring to the same God, that the M is referring to a God that doesn't exist.

Compare the Spinozist and the Thomist. Both maintain that there is exactly one God. Would you say that they both successfully refer to the same God, but that one of them has false beliefs about God?

If you say No, then why do you think that the X and M successfully refer to the same God?

Remington,

That's right.

>>But if you use this analogy then you question-beggingly assume that the X-God = the M-God.

What are you referring to by the terms 'X-God', 'M-God'?

Oh scrap that last question. You mean 'whichever god Christians worship', and 'whichever god Muslims worship', right?

There seems something badly wrong with your reply to Francis, but can't put my finger on it.

>> words don't refer, people refer using words, and they don't need to use words to refer. <<

I agree. This seems clear. Arguably, this is why it's technically incorrect for an instructor to comment on a student's paper as follows:

"The essay argues x"
"The paragraph discusses y"
"The sentence claims z."

And it's strictly incorrect for someone to say "The newspaper says the President will speak at 8 PM ET tomorrow" although one might say this in a loose sense.

Actually, the student argues, discusses, and claims, not the paper or the words therein. And the writer of the newspaper article makes the claim, not the newspaper or the mere words written inside.

Ed,

I've used this notation before. 'X' for 'Chi.' Christian God, Muslim God.

Apparently you haven't understood what I've been saying over several posts if you think something is wrong with my reply to Beckwith.

Remington gets it.

Elliot,

Exactly right. Outside of philosophy one needn't be so precise, but in philosophy one must be because it all hinges on subtle distinctions.


John Doran,

I thought I had made it clear that I am not concerned with the private understandings and misunderstandings of particular Christians and Muslims. This is why I spoke in this and other entries of orthodox/normative Christians/Muslims.

You also must bear in mind that words by themselves do not refer.

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

Moreover, they don't need to use words since at bottom all reference is mental reference as I explained above.

>>Isn't the real question something more like "Is the God described in the Bible the same God as the God described in the Qu'ran (and Hadith)?"<<

Actually, your question would be better formulated if you replaced 'Bible' with 'N.T. and O.T. interpreted in the light of the N. T.' I say this because the question is whether Christians and Muslims worship the same God.

But my main problem is that, strictly speaking, the Bible doesn't describe anything for reasons I've already given.

>>I've always understood the query to be, where the rubber hits the road, whether or not the being described as God by the Old and New Testaments possesses a sufficient number of the same essential properties as the being described as God by the Qu'ran and Hadith. (The criteria could perhaps be expanded to include some core of putatively definitive historical/dogmatic scholarly or ecclesiastical commentary and clarification of those texts.)<<

Sufficient for what purpose?

>>Of course, that may not turn out to be any more tractable a problem than that of (sense and) reference, but it seems at least to have the twin virtues of generality and independence from recondite questions of linguistic philosophy (for which it substitutes recondite questions of metaphysics, I guess.)<<

There is nothing wrong with asking a different question. Perhaps you want to ask the question: Are their sufficient similarities between the God of the Christians and the God of Muslims to make it worthwhile to have an inter-faith dialog with the goal in mind of reducing tensions, fostering toleration, and promoting comity?

While there is nothing wrong with asking a different question, it seems to me that there is something wrong with changing the subject. The subject is the question, Do Christians and Muslims worship the same God? And this question, as I have made clear to my own satisfaction, leads in a step or two to difficult questions about reference, questions which involve phil. of lang, phil of mind, and metaphysics.

You may wish to ask a question that does not entangle us in thorny questions about reference, but then you are asking a different question than the one on the table.

I recommend you give a listen to Tuggy's latest podcast. He does an excellent job of contextualizing all of this starting with the controversy involving Dr Hawkins at Wheaton College.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8_P31pv9vB0&feature=youtu.be&list=PLMCt15e8gG-g7t7wo9MCq9KSDSsvGNcsm

Listened to your podcast with Dale Tuggy last night. It's a good listen, but I have to say it is absolutely wild that he thinks the Spinozist and the Thomist are referring to the same object when they say Deus sive natura and ipsum esse subsistens, respectively. But I guess that's philosophy. "It ain't obvious what's obvious", and so on...

Josh,

Dale needs to think about that more carefully. But suppose we leave out the ipsum esse subsistens bit. Do Plantinga and Spinoza worship and refer to the same God? Obviously not.

But now here is a toughie: Do Plantinga and Thomas refer to the same God? After all, a God who is Being itself is VERY different from a God who is a being among beings.

Bill,

Thanks for the response.

Would it be possible for me to flip you an email about this? I'd like to run some thoughts by you without having to worry about the combox being closed before I have the time...

I understand if you're not comfortable giving out your email address, but I thought I'd ask.

Regards,

- jd

Bill V.

If you head over to Ed's post on this subject and scroll all the way down to the end of the comments (around number 450) you'll find an interesting four part response to this post. I'm not sure I can make any sense of it, but I thought I'd bring your attention to the 'analysis' anyway.

I've absolutely loved your series of posts on this subject, but then I'm closer to your position than Ed's, while accepting the fact that this is a hard problem with many fascinating philosophical issues involved!

jd,

The combox will remain open for some time, so please send your rejoinder here. You can get to my e-mail address via About near the top of the sidebar to the right.

Thanks, Jeffrey. More to come.

The "same God" claim seems to suggest what David Wiggins calls the Relativity of Identity Thesis (R). In Sameness and Substance Renewed (2001), Wiggins distinguishes R from the thesis that identity is absolute. He characterizes R as follows:

a is the same F as b, but a is not the same G as b.

In other words, identity is relative to the language we use to sort things.

Applied to the "same God" claim, R would seem to be:

"The Muslim God is the same God as the Christian God, but not the same God incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth as the Christian God."

"The Muslim God is the same God as the Christian God, but not the same triune God as the Christian God."

Wiggins denies R on the basis of the Leibniz principle of the indiscernibility of identicals: if a is identical to b, then whatever is true of a is true of b and vice versa. He defends the thesis that identity is absolute.

My basic intellectual approach is as a historian, not a philosopher, so I may be missing something. However, it does seem to me that the scriptural evidence is very clear that when the evangelists, St. Paul, and Christ himself referred to "the God of Abraham" and just "God" as synonyms. I don't see any justification for supposing that Abraham knew that God is triune.

If it were established that Christ himself says that Christians worship the God of the Jews, would that change your opinion about whether the God of the two religions is the same?

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