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What’s Wrong with the World is dedicated to the defense of what remains of Christendom, the civilization made by the men of the Cross of Christ. Athwart two hostile Powers we stand: the Jihad and Liberalism...read more

Islam and the "same God" question

Given our interest in opposing jihad, readers may have been wondering when and whether any of our W4 authors would weigh in on the "same God/god" question that has been doing the rounds of the Internet. For various reasons, I preferred for quite a while to engage in debate on the issue only on my personal blog, where I put up a brief post, or on Maverick Philosopher, where the conversation has been quiet and gentlemanly, though at times rather esoteric. (See here, here, here, here, and here for some of the conversation there.)

I did a little discussion of it on Facebook but found that frustrating. In any event, The Gospel Coalition asked me to expand upon the remarks at my personal blog, and here is the article that I wrote for TGC.

As I said there, it doesn't do for us to ignore the practical implications of the question, "Do Muslims and Christians worship the same God?" and I think we should try to avoid the philosophical fault of defining a sense of some concept that is so "thin" that it cannot possibly be of any real-world relevance, despite the fact that the issue as originally raised obviously does have connections to the real world.

On that front of practical implications, this story just came to my notice yesterday: A pastor in Germany has been investigated (though cleared, how kind) by the prosecutor for "hate speech" for saying that Muslims and Christians don't worship the same God. Obviously, I'm not saying that those who think Muslims and Christians worship the same God are in favor of hate speech laws against those of us who disagree! But what I am saying is that this illustrates the urgency of the issue and the rubber-meets-the-road implications of various answers to the question.

Comments (177)

It's my observation that people who get hung up on the fact that Islam and Christianity make wildly different claims about God tend to be more of the intellectual type. For everyone else, it's just obvious that no, we don't worship the same God. If a sea of irreconcilable differences doesn't matter here, then I don't see any reason why pastafarians should be excluded from ecumenical outreach.

Some other bloggers have pointed out that it does in sense depend upon what you precisely mean by the question. At least Muslims profess to worship the same God, as in the unique creator of the universe. If that is what you mean, then any number of groups could worship the "same" God, from the most orthodox christian to a deist to Obi Wan Kenobi. Heck, even some atheists might be included if they revere a single unifying force as the creator and propagator of the universe.

On the other hand, if by same you mean a particularly identified being, then it is hard to see how we worship the same God. The being they identify does not share much in common with the Being Christians identify for worship. Instead, they are simply using the same name to identify two different beings. As one example put it, if one says Bob is a 5'9" Anglo guy who lives in Hoboken and likes sardines, and another insists that no, Bob is 6'2", a Lithuanian who hates sardines and lives in Poughkeepsie, seems obvious we are talking about two different Bobs, even if each of us claim he is the guy that invented smoked cheddar.

At least Muslims profess to worship the same God, as in the unique creator of the universe. If that is what you mean, then any number of groups could worship the "same" God, from the most orthodox christian to a deist to Obi Wan Kenobi. Heck, even some atheists might be included if they revere a single unifying force as the creator and propagator of the universe.

But I would reply, if one is using such an incredibly thin sense of "worshiping the same God" that it has that consequence, why should anyone care about that sense of "worshiping the same God"? In fact, I'll come right out and say that I don't think anyone *should* care about such a thin sense.

Moreover, a sense that thin can't justify any act of "solidarity" with anyone else, and it's worth bearing in mind that the Wheaton prof. kicked all this off by wearing the hijab to "show solidarity with Muslims" and that it was in _that_ context that the "same God" question came up, based on one of her statements that they do, which she presumably thought had _some_ relevance to her original act of "solidarity."

I would make a few observations, without claiming a specific conclusion falls out from them.

First, suggesting that the referent “God” entails that the being is (a) ultimate, (b) transcendent, etc, as is understood by both Christian and Muslim classical theists, is historically troublesome. Pagans for 4000 years worshiped gods that were neither ultimate nor transcendent. And yet when later Jews and eventually Christians came along and said that there was only one God, the pagans understood the word being used to mean the same thing they meant when they referred to Zeus and Osiris and so on. They responded “you’re wrong”, not “your words have no meaning.” There was a successful communication with the word God, though a dispute about the existence of this or that god. A dispute as to whether Odin ought to be called a god is different from saying that the Danes did not worship Odin as a god, i.e. different from saying their use of the word constituted mis-communication.

Also obviously, various pagans “worshiped different gods”. Thus the claim being made (by a few) that “to worship” just is to refer to (the only) God, is invalidated. Especially if one allows for the supposition of early Fathers, that some (at least) of the pagan gods were actually demons who did impressive wonders to mislead their followers, it would be troubling to say that they were “all the same God” or to say that the ones that were not the true God were, ipso facto, non-existent.

The theories of reference proffered by Bill V. seem to me to be inadequate. I don’t altogether dispute “descriptive” reference, but the fact that it seems to have just as much trouble with fictional reference as the others suggests to me that it’s missing something. Perhaps a marrying of descriptive and “initial baptism” theories would work, I don’t know. (Like Lydia, I am not a fan of the causal theory.)

The descriptivist reference requirement that the two versions of “God” be described the same for “same referent” seems open to the never-ending problem that maybe NONE of the Christians groups believe in the same God, either. Indeed, since (before a person is very, very thoroughly and carefully trained theologically) nearly every Christian has at least ONE wrong notion about God, one might wonder if any Christians at all refer to the same God. To think of the matter formally, (not pragmatically) if “a description” is the basis of sameness, then two people who describe X differently in ANY respect would fail to have the same referent. Nobody really USES language this way, we all agree that there are cases where the referent is "the same", just that one party was mistaken about an attribute. But as soon as you accept this, (If you rely on the descriptivist reference theory) you run into the possibility that there just cannot be a simple answer to “do they refer to the same God”, the answer must necessarily consist of “to an extent yes and to an extent no”.

The argument that two parties’ referent’s for “God” are not “the same” on the ground that one REALLY exists and the other does not seems wrong-headed. Since reference can work perfectly well with or without the real existence of the referent, its existence should not definitively mark a successful coordinatation usage. If Bob knows that Santa Claus “does not really exist” but his nephew does not, this fact does not imply that their using the expression “Santa Claus” in conversation means they fail to refer to the “same thing”. Reference seems necessarily to reflect the intensional relation of the word to what the mind thinks, and the mind need not think “does not exist” in order to intend “Santa Claus” correctly enough to refer successfully in communication with one who thinks he does not exist.

In any case, that argument seems bass ackwards: anyone who already believes that Muslims’ God “does not exist” would already have come to the conclusion that we and they don’t worship the same God. They would not need an argument from the non-existence.

Actually, Tony, descriptivists usually say that the person or the linguistic group (whatever one is talking about) have certain aspects of the description that are treated as essential for usage of the word and others that aren't. This will drop out of the fact that one will say, "Well, I just wouldn't say it was so-and-so anymore if you changed that." So it isn't necessary that two descriptions be identical for sameness of reference. So, for example, I'd say that if you said that my mother was really a shape-changing alien from Mars whose "normal" shape was that of an octopus, you are not really talking about my mother anymore. On the other hand, if you thought that my mother had green eyes when she really had blue eyes, you could still be talking about my mother. So descriptivist theories aren't as wild and rigid as perhaps it has sounded to you at first blush.

I don't really understand why descriptive theories are supposed to have a problem with fictional entities, but I probably won't launch into a treatise on that.

In any event, one thing I've kept asking everybody I can run into is why a causal theory of reference is supposed to be helpful anyway to the "Christians and Muslims worship the same God" crowd. After all, we as Christians presumably don't think there is _real_ causality from the true God to Islam, so why do people talk like this is a descriptivist-causalist debate? I should think a causal theorist would have plenty of beefs of his own with the "same God" conclusion.

The only way I can think of that it might help would be if one's "causal theory" were so incredibly vague that there merely needed to be _some causal connection or other_, including blatant co-optation and piggy-backing, between two uses of a name in order for them to be "referring to the same thing." Hence, in my example in the article of "Lydianism," one could argue that there is "some (vague) causal connection" between Lydian worship and Judaism, since I wouldn't have decided to claim that I'm the God of Abraham if I'd never heard the story of Abraham; hence, Lydians and Jews worship the same God.

But that's absurd. I don't think that anything that bizarre is what is generally held to be the "causal theory of reference." As far as I know.

In general, I'm actually willing to grant that there are more ways than one for it to be significant and meaningful to say that two groups or two people worship the same God. I just don't happen to think that Islam and Christianity satisfy any of those conditions of significant similarity.

I think we should try to avoid the philosophical fault of defining a sense of some concept that is so "thin" that it cannot possibly be of any real-world relevance.

Some philosophical arguments about God do not get us to a "thick" concept and so may not distinguish between the God of Christianity and the God of Islam. I still think these thin concepts can be of real-world use.

I've always thought Muslims and Christians were both *referring* to the same God, but I've never thought that Muslims were *worshiping* Him. I don't see how any Christian could regard Muslim worship as worship of the true God.

Some philosophical arguments about God do not get us to a "thick" concept and so may not distinguish between the God of Christianity and the God of Islam. I still think these thin concepts can be of real-world use.

It depends on what you mean by real-world use. Chiefly, their real-world use should be to take a person a step on the way to believing in the _true_ God, who is the God who sent Jesus to save us from our sin. Otherwise, if a person decides to be a deist, for example, or has nothing more than a vague notion of an impersonal, transcendent First Cause, and never goes any farther, or even stubbornly _refuses_ to go any farther, I have grave concerns that he's going to land in hell in the end. Indeed, some people actually _prefer_ a thinned-out, deist God, a "God of the philosophers but not of the Bible," for various reasons of taste. Richard Dawkins has been making some explicit comments to that effect over the years, including recently. Any non-deistic God's action is, he says, "unworthy of the universe." A very dangerous position to be in, and Dawkins definitely is not alone in his preferences there.

There certainly are no concepts of God broad enough to encompass both orthodox Christian and Muslim thought that are going to give good advice to, say, missionaries to Muslims. (At least I would say there aren't.) Or to those thinking about how to conduct interfaith dialogue. Or to Christian colleges deciding whether to put Muslim prayer rooms on campus. (I've just recently been told that's a "thing" now.)

Some have, indeed, tried to make the distinction you make between referring and worshiping. I suppose one could use "referring" to mean what I would call some sense of "referring to the same God" so "thin" as to be trivial when it comes to comparing religions. That is, you could keep all the significant stuff on the "worship" side.

That's better than those who simply leap right over from some sky-high abstract argument that Muslims and Christians "refer to the same God" because [reasons] and then say, "So of course they worship the same God." (You can find this all over the place in Internet debates on this.)

But I think it would make more sense to back up and ask what sort of idea of "referring" we are talking about in that case and why in the world we should care about it. It would be better to have (in my view) a more robust concept of reference and to say "no" to both propositions.

Lydia,
Below is a response to your article in the Gospel Coalition website. I am forced to respond to you hear since I am blocked from commenting on their articles that are not from their blogs.

If one reads the theological statement made by Hawkins regarding this question, one is forced to ask why Wheaton College finds her statement to be beyond what should be allowable for a Christian faculty member who teaches political science. With regard to whether we, that is Christians and Muslims, worship the same God, Hawkins response is that it depends on the context. If the context involves the trinity, the answer is obviously a 'no.' But if the context involves the nature of God being one and the historical God of Abraham, the answer is 'yes' (see http://drlaryciahawkins.org/2016/01/06/theological-statement-by-dr-hawkins/ )

Now McGrew challenges, whether knowingly or not, this division by asking why are some parts of God are necessary for His proper identification and others are not. But what if we take her approach and ask if Calvinists and Arminians worship the same God. If the answer is yes, then we must ask why the Calvinist conception of God's sovereignty is not a necessary part of believing in God while other parts are. And this is the dilemma we face in terms of being classified as a Christian. For we could ask how could Calvinists who see God as knowing the future because it is based on His decree be the same God as the one worshipped by Arminians who see God as knowing all things because he is like a weather forecaster who never errs. Doesn't this example both touch on a critical part of God and thus meet the Superman/Clark Kent analogy used by McGrew here?

The answer to the question of whether all people are our brothers and sisters poses the same kind of problem. If the context focuses on Adam as being the father of all people, then the answer is 'yes.' But if we are talking about being born again, then the answer is 'no.'

So the question is this: does the context of Hawkins' theological statement make her beliefs acceptable? Here acceptable does not have to mean that her beliefs are inerrant. All acceptable has to mean is that we, despite disagreements or errors we could find in her statement, consider her to be a sister in Christ. After all, the overall context of her actions and statements was that of showing solidarity with Muslims here as a way of supporting those who are being persecuted because of bigotry. And so all she was doing was trying to show ties that we Christians have with Muslism in order to give reasons for fellow Christians not to attack Muslims. And she is giving reasons why Christians should defend Muslims. McGrew's article here attempts to minimize the significance of the context of Hawkins' statement. McGrew's article is an attempt to decontextualize Hawkins' statements.

Curt, Christians do not need Hawkins to give them reasons not to "attack" Muslims. God gives us all we need not to attack. And last time I checked, it was not Christians who were attacking Muslims. Put your wig on straight, man!

But what if we take her approach and ask if Calvinists and Arminians worship the same God.

You could put a typical Calvinist and Arminian in the same room, and both would think your question bizarre since aside from the matters pertaining to the TULIP doctrines of salvation and sovereignty, they agree on the nature of God from personality up to the trinitarian aspects. The delta between Islamic and trinitarian Christian claims is extreme. It is not just the make up of God's being and essence, but a matter of personality. One cannot look at the behavior that Allah tolerates and even through Mohammed permits and commands and conclude that they are the same deity in terms of personality.

It raises a rather simple question. Do you simply dismiss all of the authoritative teachings in Islam on sexual slavery, violence toward non-believers and things of that nature as unworthy of consideration here? Does a deity that allows its followers to pursue peaceful non-believers, murder them, rob them and then take their older girls and women as sex slaves seem to be the same deity as the God of Israel?

Mike,
In my many discussions with those who are Arminian in theology, it hasn't always been the case that Calvinists and Arminians can feel comfortbale in the same room. But more important than that, you didn't seem to read the link to Hawkins' statement which I provided. For the context of her statement consists of more than just the concern that Christians might attack Muslims--something that we cannot confirm has or has not happened.

In addition, saying that we worship the same God in our out of the context provided by Hawkins does not show agreement with everything in Islam. In addition, we might want to ask if worshipping the same God as the Jews means that we always agree with the ethnic cleansing of land as a principle. For that is part of the background support being used by Christian Zionists as it was also used to justify the removing of Native Americans from the land starting with the 1600s.

Yep, Curt Day, I am as you put it "decontextualizing" Hawkins's statements. Or, to put it differently, and more accurately, I am not writing about Hawkins. I have my own off-the-cuff opinions about Hawkins and what her intent is, from what I've heard, but I'm not interested enough to write about those broader opinions and try to defend them in public. I _am_ interested in whether Muslims and Christians worship the same God in _any significant, non-trivial sense_. Hawkins obviously thinks they do in _some_ non-trivial sense, or she wouldn't have bothered to say so and get in trouble for it and wear a hijab to show solidarity with them, etc. That's the only thought of hers that I'm interested, insofar as _that proposition_ kicks off this debate.

And what you say confirms that she does, in fact, think that there exists _a significant sense_ in which Muslims and Christians worship the same God.

To that extent I disagree with her, but I"m more interested in the fact that I disagree with a lot of other people, and I'm debating with them in a few places. The question _in itself_ interests me. Much more than Hawkins and whatever it is she is trying to do.

You ask why the Calvinist/Arminian differences shouldn't be regarded as same-God-destroying differences.

I would answer that it's at least a legitimate question, and that I would like to see a lot more people discuss _those_ questions rather than thinking they can settle the same God question by rolling their eyes, naming somebody, and saying, "Oh, then I bet you wouldn't think that you and Thomas Jefferson/William of Ockham/etc. worship the same God," as if "Oh, come on" is an argument.

I answer you, concerning Calvinists and Arminians, that they share a mass of distinctively Christian creedal content, including the Trinity, the death of Jesus for sin, the simultaneous transcendence and miraculous working of God, and much more that I do not have time to list. In other words, the agreement between Calvinists and Arminians concerning the nature of God is extremely robust, not thin.

By the way, in the article, I answer the "historical God of Abraham" claim. That is radically insufficient and subject to reductio. Not anybody can just come along with a deity with all sorts of radically different properties from the God of Christianity and/or Judaism, co-opt a couple of Bible stories, state that their deity is _really_ the one behind those Bible stories, and magically the name of their deity refers to the one, true, God who was _really_ the one who carried out the actions in the Bible stories. That's so absurd that it continually surprises me that people bring it up. Truth matters. Allah _didn't_ appear to Abraham. He _wasn't_ the "historical God of Abraham," so they _aren't_ automatically "referring to the same God" just because they _claim_ that Allah is really the one behind the Abraham story.

Matt,
In nbot writing about Hawkins, my guess is that you want to speak in terms of absolutes and universal truth. The problem here is that you seem to regard context as being trivial. And in so doing, you are unaware of the context in which you declare that Christians and Muslims do not worship the same God. But what you are unawere of, and perhaps deliberately so, is the fact that within your implied context, you and Hawkins agree.

Also, it is time, and nothing else that has allowed Calvinists and Arminians to recognize each other as brothers and sisters in the faith. And that is regardless of their other agreements. We should note that both Calvinism's belief in the sovereignty of Gos as well as Arminianism's belief carry implications that cause differences in their soteriology. Along with the question of God's sovereignty is a very important issue.

Mike T,

Your comment about ecumenical outreach seems strange. Inthe sense that we should be trying to convert pastafarians, well, yeah. I just disagree with you that it seems obvious to "most people". In fact, when I communicate with muslims about God, they understand what I'm talking about, and disagree with what that entails.

Speaking for myself, I don't think there is any context in which there is any _significant_ sense in which Muslims and Christians worship the same God. One can trivialize that concept and then gerrymander a silly sense of "worshiping the same God" and say that they do, but who cares about that? So, given that Hawkins apparently believes that there is some context in which there is some worthy-to-be-asserted sense in which Muslims and Christians worship the same God, I do not agree with her on that point.

But if the context involves the nature of God being one and the historical God of Abraham, the answer is 'yes'

Well, not really. Not automatically, at least.

Let me put some meat on the outline that Lydia spoke to in this. Muslims regard Jews and Christians as 'People of the Book', according to the Quran. Yet what they ACTUALLY mean by this, is so denatured and denuded of content as to be mere words. For, they postulate that the Scriptures that come down from the Jews and Christians are so corrupted that they are entirely useless as a guide for religion. Their so-called holy book contradicts the Bible in so many important ways that it would be difficult to overstate this: their picture of Abraham is not that of the Jews and Christians. For those passages of the Old Testament that the Quran speaks to directly, it seems that the Old Testament (as we have received in these later times) gets it wrong in all over the place. For those passages of the Old Testament that the Quran does not speak to, Muslims seem to ignore them into oblivion as completely unnecessary for good religion. (Some Muslims point to parts of the Hadith that have Muhammad telling Muslims to respect and revere the older Scriptures. But in point of fact, devout Muslims frequently read and thus memorize their Quran, but none of them say a word about memorizing the older Scriptures).

Allied with this problem is the underlying issue of what they think it is that enables us to account a prophet's words or a book as being God's revelation. In the Jewish and Christian tradition, the prophets combined holiness with God making their predictions come true. The two go hand in hand, and neither alone is adequate. Some claim that Muhammad had his predictions come true, but of his holiness of life there can be no satisfactory claim.

In any event, Muslims depart from the Old Testament enough so that their claim to Abraham as their father in faith is at the very best problematic.

But I think it would make more sense to back up and ask what sort of idea of "referring" we are talking about in that case and why in the world we should care about it. It would be better to have (in my view) a more robust concept of reference and to say "no" to both propositions.

If a Muslim says that God is not triune, how can we say he is wrong if "God" as he uses it does not refer to God (the one that actually exists and is triune)?

I'm not a philosopher (i.e. I have no comprehensive training) and do not have a well-thought-out philosophy of reference, so perhaps I am missing something. It doesn't make much sense to me to say that there is any truth of the matter as regards the nature of Zeus. Zeus doesn't exist and has no nature. We can only speak of what Greeks believed about Zeus and Zeus as a character in (fictional) stories. There may be a truth of the matter about what was legal to say about Zeus in ancient Athens, or what Zeus did in a certain version of a common myth, but it can't be true that Zeus *was* a certain way or *did* a certain thing, since there is no Zeus. So I would say that if words "God" and "Allah" as used by Muslims don't refer to the same God as when Christians use them, then we cannot say that their statements are true or false. So if they say "God is not triune", we could say "Their God, who doesn't exist, isn't triune per their beliefs", but not simply "That's false."

Perhaps I'm missing something, but this is why I see practical value in at least sometimes recognising that Muslim and Christian statements both refer to God (i.e., the same God).

This has me thinking that I need to read more about theories of reference, including the concept of "failure to refer".

For Catholics, the issue is somewhat more difficult to deal with in a direct fashion because of the document from Vatican II, Nostra Aetate, no. 3:

3. The Church regards with esteem also the Moslems. They adore the one God, living and subsisting in Himself; merciful and all- powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth,(5) who has spoken to men; they take pains to submit wholeheartedly to even His inscrutable decrees, just as Abraham, with whom the faith of Islam takes pleasure in linking itself, submitted to God. Though they do not acknowledge Jesus as God, they revere Him as a prophet. They also honor Mary, His virgin Mother; at times they even call on her with devotion. In addition, they await the day of judgment when God will render their deserts to all those who have been raised up from the dead. Finally, they value the moral life and worship God especially through prayer, almsgiving and fasting.

The footnote 5 comes from Pope St. Gregory VII, Ep. 21, to Anzir, King of Mauritania, PL 148, col. 451A.

The except can be found in, The Christian Faith in the Doctrinal Documents of the Catholic Faith, edited by J. Neuner, S.J., and J. Dupuis, S.J. ©1973, Theological Publications in India, St. Peter's Seminary, Bangalore, India. PIN 560055.

In a letter to the Muslim King of Mauritania, referred to in Vatican II, Nostra Ætate #5, the Pope thanks Anzir for gifts he has received from him, as well as for freeing some prisoners and for his promise to free others. He also sends him a delegation as a token of Christian friendship and love and as a proof of his desire to be of service to him "in all things agreeable to our Fathers." The most significant part of the letter is the following extract in which the Pope explains that Christians and Muslims worship the same God. See Epistola 21, PL 48, 450-452.

Christians and Muslims adore the same God.

God, the Creator of all, without whom we cannot do or even think anything that is good, has inspired to your heart this act of kindness. He who enlightens all men coming into this world (John 1.9) has enlightened your mind for this purpose. Almighty God, who desires all men to be saved (1 Timothy 2.4) and none to perish is well pleased to approve in us most of all that besides loving God men love other men, and do not do to others anything they do not want to be done unto themselves (cf. Mt. 7.14). We and you must show in a special way to the other nations an example of this charity, for we believe and confess one God, although in different ways, and praise and worship Him daily as the creator of all ages and the ruler of this world. For as the apostle says: "He is our peace who has made us both one." (Eph. 2.14) Many among the Roman nobility, informed by us of this grace granted to you by God, greatly admire and praise your goodness and virtues... God knows that we love you purely for His honour and that we desire your salvation and glory, both in the present and in the future life. And we pray in our hearts and with our lips that God may lead you to the abode of happiness, to the bosom of the holy patriarch Abraham, after long years of life here on earth. Thou and We are bound, therefore, by this charity peculiar among us, compared to the remainder of the nations, that we believe in and confess one God, although in a different way, Who we praise and venerate daily as Creator of the ages and Ruler of the same world. (Pope St. Gregory VII, Ep. 21, to Anzir, King of Mauritania, PL 148, col. 451A)

The Latin of the bolded portion reads:

Hanc itaque charitatem nos et vos specialibus nobis quam caeteris gentibus debemus, qui unum Deum, licet diverso modo, credimus et confitemur, qui eum Creatorem saeculorum et gubernatorem hujus mundi quotidie laudamus et veneramur.

The Latin is taken from, Migne, Patrologia Latina, vol 48, pgs. 450 - 452. For those who do not know, this is a multi-volume (221 volumes) collection of all of the Latin texts from 200 A. D. to 1216 A. D. that could be collected from Church sources and edited by Fr. Jacques Paul Migne in the 1840s and 1850s. Its full name is, Patrologiae Cursus Completus. Series Latina. There is, also, a series for Greek sources.

Pope Gregory VII (c. 1015 - 1085) was a reforming pope (later canonized). He wrote the letter in 1076 A. D.

Now the Latin:

simply translates as (I'll use Google Translate):

"This peculiar way than the rest of us and you, the nations, we must therefore who has charity , which is one God, though in a different way , we believe and confess , who daily praise and adore him as the creator and ruler of this world."

So, Nostra Aetate says:

..."They adore the one God, living and subsisting in Himself; merciful and all- powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth,(5):

and Pope Gregory VII says:

"...We believe and confess, though in a different way, [that] which is one God..."

Gregory says merely that Moslems are monotheistic. He does not say that they worship the same God, only that they confess and believe in one God. The difference is here:

NA: qui unicum Deum
Gregory: qui unum Deum

unicum = only, sole, single, singular, unique
unum = One, a single

so the passages, without clarification, could both be read as being, essentially, about simple monotheism. Now, any monotheistic God must, by definition, be living and subsisting in himself, so, as such the passage from NA really doesn't clarify much from Gregory VII, whom it cites for its spiritual patrimony. If it is going to cite Gregory with approbation, it can't substantially change what Gregory wrote or meant to write, so read in the light of continuity, all the passage in NA has to say, unless subject to further interpretation by the Magisterium, is that Moslems are monotheistic. It doesn't say that Moslems and Christians worship the same God. If they meant to say that, the Latin would have been, idem Deus or eundem colere Deum, but it says, "qui unicum Deum adorant," - adore [the] one God, which , linguistically, is very ambiguous. It could mean:

adore that particular God
adore a single God

The passage is ambiguous and there has been no clarifying document.

So, for Catholics, I think, from a theological standpoint, the matter is much less certain than people would think.

Apparently, Robert Spencer, the famous blogger and writer about Islam, thinks the same way:

http://www.crisismagazine.com/2012/do-catholics-and-muslims-worship-the-same-god

The Chicken

Chicken, I consider those statements in the Catechism to be rather regrettable (of course, I'm a Protestant), to put it mildly. But I've tried to refrain from alluding to them and have mostly succeeded in restraining myself, because most of my interlocutors are either evangelical Protestants or else Catholic _philosophers_, specifically, and the latter get very touchy if it's so much as suggested that they hold their view and go out and find philosophical defenses for it because they _have_ to believe it because the Catholic Church teaches it. I nearly got into a Prot./Cath. slanging match with an old friend on Facebook who took me to be suggesting that when I even brought up the interesting point that it seems to be mostly Protestants who are taking the strongly "no" line on this question right now and that the Catholic philosophers are pretty much unanimous on the "yes" side despite (what I regard as) the shakiness of their arguments. He was not amused.

I would frankly almost prefer it if a Catholic intellectual would just come out and say, "I have to believe this, because the Church teaches it, so now I'll do my best to give an intellectual defense of it, which some might not find convincing, given that they don't have my other reasons for believing the conclusion."

Jordan, you are giving what is sometimes called the "possibility of disagreement" argument. I didn't have time to get into that one in the main post. The problem with that argument (among others) is that it proves too much.

Suppose that someone believes the following,

"God is the bar of soap in my bathroom, which is named Soap."

Then, he worships the bar of soap in his bathroom under the name of Soap. Now, I think it's obvious that we can say _both_ that his belief is false (bizarrely so) and also that, in worshiping Soap, he is not "worshiping the same God" that we do just because we both say that God is the being whom we worship. We can also say that "Soap" and "God" don't both "refer to the same entity."

In other words, we can say that he is _wrong_ without agreeing that he is either referring to or worshiping the true God.

Why is this?

Well, a rather quick version of the explanation goes like this: His proposition, which he's wrong about, can be restated as saying that a bar of soap exists which is a being worthy of worship. This is a serious falsehood. It isn't a meaningless statement. Just as pagans who worship the sun think that the sun is worthy of worship, this guy thinks that a bar of soap is worthy of worship. That's not meaningless or empty. It's false.

Now, a Muslim will say, "Allah is not triune." Obviously, he doesn't just mean that Allah as a fictional character is not triune (as I might say, "Santa Claus lives at the North Pole.") Insofar as the Muslim means, "Allah _exists_ and is not triune" (which of course is what he does mean), then it's _false_ because Allah, given his conception of Allah, _doesn't exist_.

The use of "God" and the attribution to the Muslim of the proposition, "God is not triune" merely confuses matters here, because it happens to use a _form_ of a name ("God") that might or might not be intended by the speaker/thinker to mean "Allah." But when we realize that it is a Muslim speaking, then of course the Muslim _isn't_ saying, "God, as the Christians mean God, isn't triune." Presumably he knows _that_ is _false_. He knows that Christians think that God _is_ triune. He means, "Allah, who exists and is the one true God, is not triune." That is false, because the Muslim Allah doesn't exist.

Notice, too, that he doesn't have to mean "Allah is not triune" in such a sense that it is true by definition. He can, for example, mean, "The being who created all physical things and revealed himself to Mohammad exists and is not triune." Which is false.

It seems likely to me that Pope Gregory's "they adore [the] one God, though under a diverse mode" is intended to convey that one could only say "they adore the same God" either as an equivocation, or at the least only with a qualification. I.E., "in a sense", but not simpliciter.

Lydia,
BTW, my last comment should have been addressed to you, not Matt. I'm sorry about that mixup.

As for your last paragraph, while you consider the hsitorical ties to Abraham to be insufficient because of the other differences, such, again, depends on context. When we look at the whole package, there is merit in your argument. But by contextualizing, Hawkins was not looking at the whole package and thus there is validity in her statements. And again, that she acknowledges that we don't worship the same God in other contexts means that as a whole, she probably agrees with you with the exception of relying on context.

BTW, if us religiously conservative Christians want a Biblical precedent for using context in answering questions and addressing issues, Romans 11:28ff provides such the necessary example.

I'm getting a little bored with the idea that repeated uses of the term "context" are some sort of solution to this.

I don't know how to be clearer. Let's try this: There does not exist some context such that this context makes it truly the case that there exists a significant sense in which Muslims and Christians worship the same God.

Period.

No, "context" does not really help, here.

Then Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, “Men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are very religious; for as I was passing through and considering the objects of your worship, I even found an altar with this inscription:TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Therefore, the One whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you. ... in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring.’

The first thing I would note about this passage is that Paul is not expressing religious solidarity with pagans here. He is, rather, calling them to change their religion. But he is doing so, in part, by appealing to what is nearest the truth in their own religion, including in particular the Greek philosophical tradition that criticized their own, older, anthropomorphic polytheistic tradition and leaned toward monotheism. The statement that He "does not dwell in temples made with hands. Nor is He worshiped with men’s hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things," and "since we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, something shaped by art and man’s devising," would have resonated with (and were clearly intended by Paul to resonate with) anyone with a Hellenistic philosophical education.

So there is a thin, but not gerrymandered, and genuinely useful-in-evangelism sense in which even pagans can worship the same God as Christians. However, that's not the sense in play in the current public brouhaha. "A sense that thin," as Lydia put it,

can't justify any act of "solidarity" with anyone else, and it's worth bearing in mind that the Wheaton prof. kicked all this off by wearing the hijab to "show solidarity with Muslims" and that it was in _that_ context that the "same God" question came up, based on one of her statements that they do, which she presumably thought had _some_ relevance to her original act of "solidarity."

I agree entirely. As to the intended meaning of the question that's actually on the table, Christians and Muslims do not worship the same God. When this question came up some time ago, I took the angle that while they refer to the same God they don't "worship" the same God, because of what I felt was involved in an act of worship. But now I tend to think that angle isn't really the best, because the question can also be put this way: "Is the Christian God the same as the Muslim God?" and a simple Yes to that question is already problematic.

In spite of this agreement, I object to saying there is NO non-trivial sense AT ALL in which Christians and Muslims can be said to worship the same God. That contradicts Paul. Instead I would say that it is a very thin sense and not relevant to the question of religious solidarity, which is really what the public debate is about. And I would stop there and go no further.

Lydia,
The problem goes back to the fact that all of our statements contain context whether the context is explicit or implicit. I know that that rubs against the grain of universal and absolute truth, but sometimes it only does so out of anticipation. Again, the implicit context for your belief that Muslims do not worship the same God we do is the same context in which Hawkins says the same thing. And the trouble here is that the use of context in making statements has a biblical precedent.

In addition, my feeling is that when people want to decontextualize the kind of views that Hawkins expressed, it is sometimes out of fear that too many connections/similarities will be found between the groups being compared. Here, Hawkins concern is that without those connections and without recognizing similarities, it will be too easy for some, not all, of us to minimize the significance and equal status of those from the other group(s). Yes, a black-white, all-or-nothing approach is simpler and more comfortable to employ when talking about groups of which we are afraid. But black-white, all-or-nothing thinking is all too often based on the exclusion of information. Information such as context, for example, could be ignored in order to come to some negative conclusion about the other group while the significance of other information is used to overshadow what is excluded from consideration. We should note that black-white, all-or-nothing thinking is the psychological result of the use of reductionism.

On Paul at Mars Hill, I think Steve at Triablogue has some good comments. I really do _not_ think that Paul actually believed that the pagans at Athens actually worshiped the true God by way of their superstitious altar "to an unknown god." He knew perfectly well what that altar was. He's being rhetorical and, dare I say it, opportunistic. Missiologists can draw their own conclusions, but I don't actually think many or any of his hearers were under any illusions about what he thought anyway as his speech went on. After all, these philosophers weren't dummies. _They_ knew as well as anyone that the altar to teh "unknown God" wasn't to some _particular_ unknown God but was just a cover your rear move. Here are some of Steve's comments:

[T]his pericope opens with the programmatic statement about Paul's stern disapproval of Athenian idolatry. That sets the tone for the rest of the presentation. That's something the reader is privy to, but not the Athenians.

So the discourse reads at two different levels. For Luke's audience, there's a running irony in Paul's statements that would be lost on his pagan listeners.

iii) This is reflected in Paul's backhanded compliment to their religiosity. Paul uses an ambiguous word (deisidaimon/deisidaimonia) that has both positive ("pious") and negative ("superstitious") connotations. A double entendre that would mean one thing to Paul, but something else to his audience.

Some commentators reject the negative connotation because they think that would be off-putting to Paul's audience, but that misses the point. English has no word with the same ambiguity, but Paul didn't have to choose between a flattering word or a pejorative word. His audience wouldn't catch on.

This allows him to preserve a certain distance. Common ground without complicity.

iv) Along with his appeal to an altar to the "unknown god," this is part of Paul's captatio benevolentiae, in which a speaker curries favor with the audience to gain a hearing.

In context, the "unknown god" is not the monotheistic Creator. Rather, erecting an altar to an unknown god is a way for fearful pagans to cover their bets. There are many gods they never heard of. Nameless gods who might be offended if there was no altar in their honor. You didn't want to get on the wrong side of a god or godless, so this is placeholder for all the other heathen deities the Athenians haven't heard of.

Paul cleverly exploits this as a bridge. A tongue-in-cheek way of making a serious point.

[snip]

Paul simply disregards the original setting because he's using this passage as a pretext to smuggle in a witness to the God of OT revelation, culminating in the revelation of Christ.
Yes, a black-white, all-or-nothing approach is simpler and more comfortable to employ when talking about groups of which we are afraid.

Yeah, that must be it. All this black and white thinking is driven by Islamophobia.

I found Feser's and Zippy's posts on the subject to be much illuminating than Lydia's

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2015/12/christians-muslims-and-reference-of-god.html

https://zippycatholic.wordpress.com/2016/01/16/rationalizing-the-same-god/

The Catholic view has much more integrity whereas the evangelical view just seems to be based in little more than modern politics.

"... whereas the evangelical view just seems to be based in little more than modern politics."

Elaborate, please.

I didn't take the time to follow Zippy's links, but I did read his post you linked to, Symeon, and all he is really doing is reframing the question so it is no longer self-contradictory. That's fine if people understand, or can be led to understand, the self-contradictory nature of asking 'do Christians and Muslims worship the same God'. But there's more than one way to do that, and you must not have noticed that Lydia effectively does the same thing, albeit more subtly, in the O.P. by distinguishing between "god" and God.

Sometimes it's better to answer a question *as it is framed.* I'm not saying he's wrong, but Zippy is reframing the question for the benefit of a certain kind of audience, whereas Lydia is leaving the question as is for the benefit of those who honestly want to know whether we serve the same god/God. In showing that we *don't* in fact serve the same God, the self-contradictory nature of the question, as posed, will come out for those genuinely seeking answers and not just feigning genuine curiosity.

Lydia,
Trying to make a rule for all black-white, all-or-nothing statements using the absurd? After all, anyone can make absurd claims. In addition, we know that God sometimes tells us to think in black-white, all-or-nothing terms such as believing that Jesus is the 'only way, truth, and life.'

Quite simply, those who routinely think in black-white, all-or-nothing terms would be afraid of any significant connection lest, by their own reasoning, they would have to conclude that their religion/ideology is too similar to an opposing one. But two can play at that game. I am sure that there are Islamic terrorists who deny any kind of similarity between Islam and Christianity because Christianity has, both now and historically speaking, been the religion of the wealthy, and thus of materialism, in the West. That is true despite the fact that Mohammad himself distinguished btweeen those Jews and Christians who remained pure in contrast to those who sold out to materialism.

Curt Day, this is really not my fight, so I'm speaking a little out of line here, for which I apologize in advance. But I am curious as to what, specifically, you regard as significant similarities between Christianity and Islam that raise the latter to the level of "equal status" with the former? Moreover, what exactly do you mean by "equal status" - those things about Islam that too many of us apparently disregard as insignificant similarities between the two religions - and how far does it extend? Further to the point, do you believe Islam is compatible with Western civilization; are you saying we could all live in peace and harmony together if only we understood and acknowledged our religious similarities? Thanks.

How very interesting that Symeon calls the position that Christians and Muslims don't worship the same God "the evangelical position." I don't take it to be so. You know, it wasn't _always_ in the Catholic Catechism that they do. I somehow doubt that when GKC converted officially he thought he had to recant of the following, written when he was a high Anglican (not an "evangelical"):

The complex God of the Athanasian Creed may be an enigma for the intellect; but He is far less likely to gather the mystery and cruelty of a Sultan than the lonely god of Omar or Mahomet. The god who is a mere awful unity is not only a king but an Eastern king. The HEART of humanity, especially of European humanity, is certainly much more satisfied by the strange hints and symbols that gather round the Trinitarian idea, the image of a council at which mercy pleads as well as justice, the conception of a sort of liberty and variety existing even in the inmost chamber of the world. For Western religion has always felt keenly the idea "it is not well for man to be alone." The social instinct asserted itself everywhere as when the Eastern idea of hermits was practically expelled by the Western idea of monks. So even asceticism became brotherly; and the Trappists were sociable even when they were silent. If this love of a living complexity be our test, it is certainly healthier to have the Trinitarian religion than the Unitarian. For to us Trinitarians (if I may say it with reverence)--to us God Himself is a society. It is indeed a fathomless mystery of theology, and even if I were theologian enough to deal with it directly, it would not be relevant to do so here. Suffice it to say here that this triple enigma is as comforting as wine and open as an English fireside; that this thing that bewilders the intellect utterly quiets the heart: but out of the desert, from the dry places and the dreadful suns, come the cruel children of the lonely God; the real Unitarians who with scimitar in hand have laid waste the world. For it is not well for God to be alone.

As for politics, Symeon and others will perhaps note that my argument is based upon theology and common sense, not politics. If anything, it seems to me that those who are making forced and strained arguments against the grain of the obvious "con" arguments that Muslims and Christians _do_ worship the same God must be motivated by _something_ other than the force of the argument.

Hi Lydia,

I have to say that your article over at The Gospel Coalition has given me pause, and made me rethink the question of whether Christians and Muslims worship the same God. I would certainly agree with your assertion that Allah did not appear to Abraham. (Mind you, a Jew would be equally emphatic that God the Son did not appear to him either, but you addressed that point in your article: even though a devout Jew would not say that Christians and Jews worship the same God, a Christian can correctly say that as a matter of fact, they do: the God Who revealed Himself to Abraham also revealed Himself in the person of Jesus Christ.)

In reference to your claim that "Calvinists and Arminians ... share a mass of distinctively Christian creedal content, including the Trinity, the death of Jesus for sin, the simultaneous transcendence and miraculous working of God, and much more that I do not have time to list," I wonder if there are any comments you wish to make on my 2014 post, "Do Christians worship many gods?" at http://www.uncommondescent.com/intelligent-design/do-christians-worship-many-gods/ , in which I identify no less than 16 key points on which Christians differ about God. These differences are, for the most part, intra-denominational rather than inter-denominational.

Finally, the Vatican II document "Nostra Aetate" does not claim that Christians and Muslims worship the same God. It simply states that they both worship the one God, Who is the Creator of heaven and earth.

Vincent, re. the article you listed: I'm going to be very frank with you (and someday, somebody's going to find this comment, and maybe I'll regret it): I have some beefs with classical theism as it's been, shall I say, shoved down my and others' throats in the intelligent design debate. You will know to what I am referring, I'm sure. The more I've heard of it, the more uneasy it has made me, and in particular the more uneasy I've become about whether, e.g., the absolute insistence that "God is not a person" is, as intended, compatible with either Scripture or accurate epistemology. (You can't just whistle up empirical evidence like a taxi cab when you want it to support Christianity and dismiss it like a taxi cab when you don't want it--e.g., in biology.)

Now, I have written in support of the view that God is atemporal, and I think open theism is a serious heresy. (Very serious.) So in those senses and probably some others I'm on the "classical theist" side. But in some areas, I've more and more come to think it may be the theistic personalists and biblicists who have to "forgive" the classical theists and excuse them in the Christian fold rather than (as your article rather implies rhetorically) the other way around.

Where is all of this going? I think there may be differences about the character of God sufficiently serious among Christians that it would be understandable to say *in one sense* that those who differ on them "do not worship the same God."

But here, _even more so_ than between Christians and Jews, there is another very robust sense in which creedal Christians all _do_ worship the same God, and I notice (interestingly) at a first glance that it doesn't seem to be mentioned in your article: This concerns not only the Trinity (which you do list) but the _acts_ of God in the world. All even moderately orthodox (if that makes sense) Christians agree about the whole salvation history story--God's calling of the Jews, God's bringing them out of Egypt, God's prophecies of the Messiah, God's sending Jesus, the Son, to be Incarnate, Jesus' miracles, Jesus' atoning death, Jesus' resurrection, the sending of the Holy Ghost and Pentecost, and so forth. Think of most of the non-ecclesiological clauses of both the Apostles' and Nicene creeds, and even more.

Now, in the Bible, God identifies himself repeatedly by his acts: I am the God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, and so forth.

I think if we take the whole _mass_ of those acts on which Christians agree and combine it with the whole mass of theology on which they agree (including the Trinity), this constitutes a *very* robust and important sense in which they _clearly_ worship the same God, even if there are other senses in which they have to, as it were, forgive each other for having such seriously messed-up theological views that, so to speak, they don't.

In fact, when I communicate with muslims about God, they understand what I'm talking about, and disagree with what that entails.

I think that there is a whole world of difference between what they think it means and what you think it means if both of you are being true to the understanding of God's nature as taught by each religion. When you say mercy, you think the cross. When they say mercy, they mean something more like the jizya.

ONe thing I find intensely frustrating in this debate in various venues is that, when I will "check off" a given _possible_ way that someone might be "worshiping the same God" and say "nope" concerning Islam, someone will jump on that and imply that I must mean that that is a _necessary_ condition for anyone to be worshiping the same God as Christians. So, for example, I pointed out in the post that Mohammad didn't really get a revelation from God. One philosopher (no less) wrote a response to me in which he jumped on that and said that in that case, I shouldn't think that Protestants worship the same God as Catholics unless I think that Martin Luther personally received a special revelation from God! But that's just, sorry, dumb. I wasn't saying that _every religious movement_ needs to be individually founded by special revelation from the true God in order for its adherents to be worshiping the same God. I was pointing out that that is the _claim_ of Muslims (that they were founded by special revelation from Allah), that they worship the alleged deity who did that, and that that is _false_. In the immediate context of the part he was "responding" to, I was pointing that out in _contrast_ to Judaism!

The point is that one can go through various possible ways for a religious group to be worshiping the same God as Christians (or other Christians) with Islam and say, "Nope, nope, nope," but that doesn't mean that each _one_ of those is a _necessary_ condition. It's just that at any one moment in my argument I am addressing some particular possible route and saying, "Nope" concerning Islam.

This shouldn't be so hard to follow, but apparently it is for some.

For purposes of religious dialogue, which is what MarcAnthony is presumably talking about, two interlocutors can tacitly agree upon some reduced concept and then argue about further properties. For example, if I'm arguing about whether or not my neighbor is an android, the person I'm arguing with and I would tacitly reduce the meaning of "my neighbor" to something like "the cause of our neighbor-like sensations" or something, which is _not_ how we would normally use the word.

Presumably if a Muslim is listening to MA debate whether God is triune, the Muslim takes MA not to be making an analytic statement by "God is triune" but rather to be saying, "The creator of the universe, whoever that may be, is in fact triune. Here, let me show you why you should think that." But neither side _worships_ that extremely minimal, stripped-down version of "God" (the creator, whoever it might be) nor does either side mean that in the usual interactions of daily life when they think and talk of "God" or "Allah."

The phrase, "worship the same God," has two distinct parts: worship and same God. Would it, in any real sense, matter if the God of Christianity and Islam were the same God? Suppose the God were the same. That is a passive statement. Worship, however, is active. The root that the word, "worship," comes from did not come to adapt the meaning of, "reverence to a sacred object," until 1300 A. D., but Gregory VII lived in 1050 A. D., so he would not have used that term. In Scripture, in the Old Testament, worship, shachah, means to bow down (in obedience) and in the New Testament, the word Jesus uses, proskyneo, means to kiss (in reverence), or to bow down in obedience and it is here that the essential differences between Christianity and Islam occur, it seems to me. The word, obedience, from the Latin, obêdire, which means, "to harken to what is heard," implies that one has heard something from the one one is to obey. Now an entity is in a reciprocal relationship with regards to information transfer with another entity. Call the two entities, E1 and E2. Then there are 4 distinct information exchanges taking place: E1(send), E1(receive), E2 (send), E2 (receive). The phrase, "the same God," implies E1 (send) = E2 (send), while, " same worship," implies E1 (receive) = E2 (receive). In order for two religions to be identical, both send up and receive down must be the same. To the extent that they differ, one can define subsidiary relationships such as isomorphic (one-to-one, onto) or homomorphic (many-to-one, onto) mappings of information between the entities.

In the case of, "same God," there may be a core of essential attributes of God that both Christianity and Islam share, but that does not exclude the possibility of there being other attributes tacked on from either side that they don't share, so there can be either total or partial set overlap of attributes. Indeed, that is the case, because Islam considers God's will to be paramount, where Christianity considers God's reason to be paramount, in a sense (taking into account Divine simplicity). Pope Benedict XVI said as much in his Regensberg address. Thus, there is a real sense in which, "the same God," has to be specify the qualification, "in what sense?"

In terms of reception, however, assuming that God has spoken to men, this is where obedience and, hence, worship, comes from. One cannot obey what one has not heard. No one can deny that Christian and Islamic revelation are quite different and contradictory, in places. This does not, necessarily, mean that the same God is not being thought of by both groups claiming to receive the revelation, but it does mean that one or both groups are dealing with an imaginary speech act of God, but that only one group can be dealing with a real and complete speech act of a God (the other group or both groups could, conceivable, have an admixture of real and imaginary, which would default to an impure, partially imaginary revelation).

In other words, worship is not a one-way street, it is a two-way street. If God says nothing, worship becomes nothing but an abstraction; if people don't hear correctly, worship becomes nothing but a fantasy. The problem is, without specifying, the word can refer to limited one-way or two-way communication between the object of worship and the worshiper. I contend that one-way worship is worshiping a philosopher's God. There is no complete relationship with the deity until he speaks.

It is unclear how the words, "adore," or "worship," are used in Nostra Aetate - as one-way or two-way markers. That is part of the unfortunate ambiguity of portions of some of the documents of Vatican II which have not been clarified and allow shelter to liberal interpretations.

To be sure, either Christianity, Islam, or both, are engaged in a partial fantasy in how they worship God - they, logically, have to be. Anyone who claims that Christians and Islam worship the same God is using a very impoverished sense of the words, "God," and "worship," which does not correspond to the reality of lived experiences of the two groups. They are in the situation of two slaves listening to their master's commands over static-laden cell phones as to what to do to a group of refugees. They both claim the same master (although one slave thinks he has red hair while the other thinks he has blond hair), but one slave hears, "fill their glasses," over the phone while the other hears, "kill their lasses." I suppose one could claim that they both worship the same master, but I would hate to be a girl in the refugee camp.

The Chicken

He knew perfectly well what that altar was. He's being rhetorical and, dare I say it, opportunistic.
Well, he's certainly being rhetorical. Opportunistic? I suppose it depends on what you mean by "opportunistic." Was he saying something false?

I agree that Paul's speech is antagonistic toward polytheism, and that he is deliberately ambiguous about them being very religious/supperstitious. This is indeed a backhanded "compliment". I agree that the altar to an unknown God is a supperstitious thing, but what they worship supperstitiously Paul SAYS, he is going to proclaim to them in truth. So pointing out how much Paul opposes the supperstitious character of their worship is not saying anything to the purpose.

the altar to the "unknown God" wasn't to some _particular_ unknown God but was just a cover your rear move.
Yes.
the "unknown god" is not the monotheistic Creator ... this is placeholder for all the other heathen deities the Athenians haven't heard of.

Yes, that's what was in the minds of the Athenians. Yet in spite of this, Paul says "that which you worship in ignorance [superstitiously, falsely] I proclaim to you." How can he do this, if the "unknown god" is not the monotheistic creator? Well, you've already agreed that there is a very thin sense in which Christians and Muslims can use the term 'God' to have a debate. Paul could say what he said because of that thin sense. Their conception of unknown heathen gods Paul utterly rejects, but their vague sense that there is something above man, worthy of man's worship, has a tenuous basis in reality. Taking 'theos' in that thin sense, and factoring out their heathen intentions, Paul says what he says. Which shows that thin sense is not useless in evangelism. How else are we to understand that sentence?

Paul cleverly exploits this as a bridge. A tongue-in-cheek way of making a serious point.

It's not clear what this means. When Elijah said, speaking of Baal, "Call him louder, for surely he is a god ..." he was speaking ironically, saying the opposite of what he believed in order to make a point. But reading Paul's statement that way doesn't make sense. Did he mean he _wasn't_ going to proclaim something to them? But he _was_ going to proclaim something to them, and, together with all the implied denigration of pagan superstitious intentions, he identifies what he was going to proclaim as "whom you worship in ignorance".

If it were you preaching there on Mars Hill, I can imagine you saying much of what Paul says. But the one thing I can't imagine you saying is "whom you worship in ignorance I now proclaim to you." It seems to me your all-out, no-exceptions rejection of any "same God" language would prevent you from talking that way. Because it's there in the Bible you affirm it as an appropriate thing for a missionary to say, but I can't see you talking that way if that verse weren't there.

Oops, I forgot the "blockquote" tag for the antepenultimate paragraph.

The only way I can think of that it might help would be if one's "causal theory" were so incredibly vague that there merely needed to be _some causal connection or other_, including blatant co-optation and piggy-backing, between two uses of a name in order for them to be "referring to the same thing." Hence, in my example in the article of "Lydianism," one could argue that there is "some (vague) causal connection" between Lydian worship and Judaism, since I wouldn't have decided to claim that I'm the God of Abraham if I'd never heard the story of Abraham; hence, Lydians and Jews worship the same God.

But that's absurd. I don't think that anything that bizarre is what is generally held to be the "causal theory of reference." As far as I know.

Yes it is. Not the "merely some causal connection or other." But, rather, the causation involved needs to be _precisely_ the causal story that underlies the "piggy-backing" of reference whereby the referent of a name is transferred from one user to another without the new user needing to believe any descriptive content about it. Hearing the name used by someone: that's exactly the relevant kind of causal connection required by the "causal theory."

No, I probably wouldn't. Then again, I'd be concerned that the philosophers would be misled or confused. Perhaps Paul knew (as I can see in hindsight) that they weren't, for a variety of reasons. One, they knew that he was a Jew, and they knew what Jews thought of polytheism. Two, they probably knew that he knew that the altar was to a polytheistic deity. Three, I think they just appreciated rhetorical cleverness and wit. They could say, "Smooth move" and (as Greeks who liked rhetoric) mentally applaud it without actually thinking that Paul is saying that they are worshiping the true God by putting up an altar "to the unknown god." To that extent, I probably take it a little differently than Steve does in the passage I quoted--I suspect the audience realized better than Steve implies just what Paul, the Jew, was doing by deliberately wresting their worship (and their poets) out of context.

I should also add that I am not a rabbi. Taking things out of context and giving them radically different meanings is classical rabbinic practice. It is alien to my way of proceeding. But I tend to think that it is just as anachronistic and acultural to take Paul to be endorsing the theological proposition that the Athenians were (in some deep sense) worshiping the true God without knowing it as to take him to be attempting to deceive by taking the altar and the poets out of their heathen context and pretending (as one might say) that they referred to the true God. Neither characterization really gets at the rabbinic mind.

Christopher, I've always understood that the causal theory holds that there must be "an appropriate" causal connection for reference to occur and that such an "appropriate" causal connection is both necessary and sufficient for reference.

If trivial and bizarre piggy-backing counts as an "appropriate" causal connection, so that today I could make up a god called Zork who lives on the planet Mars, and make the name "Zork" _actually, successfully refer_ to the true God (aka Yahweh) merely by _claiming_ that Zork is also (surprise!) the deity who spoke to Abraham, then that's such a bizarre notion of an "appropriate" causal connection as to make the theory absurd on its face.

No. That's not a case of transfer of reference, since you made up a NEW name. The "appropriate casual story" concerns the referent of the SAME OLD name used by a new person. So when your use of 'God' is caused by hearing someone use THAT name, your use of THAT name, 'God', and ONLY that name, refers to whatever the previous user referred to, so long as you don't specifically intend to use it differently.

This would seem to make a lot (and I do mean a lot) ride on the mere historical fact that Mohammad happened to choose the existing Arab word "Allah" for the deity he was preaching. Of course, in common parlance in the West now, the usage of "Allah" connotes a specifically Muslim context (though I realize not in Arabic-speaking countries).

In any event, a lot also seems to ride on what would be meant by " so long as you don't specifically intend to use it differently." By the time Mohammad spelled out his putative revelations, it was established that the "Allah" he intended to preach

a) could not be incarnate (not just was not, but could not be)
b) could not be triune
c) could not have a son, so did not send Jesus as his son
d) didn't send Jesus to die on the cross, because Jesus didn't die on the cross (so that even one of the "piggy-backing" stories was changed in a major way, see also c).

Just to name a few things.

That would seem to me to make a pretty strong prima facie case that, in an obvious sense, he didn't intend to refer to "what" the previous users referred to, since what they referred to was a God who had properties (and an historical connection with mankind) directly contradictory to these.

So, I can make up a similar reductio to the "Zork" case (without using a new name) if it *literally doesn't matter* how many out-and-out contradictions the new religion postulates in the character, acts, and nature of the deity to that of the deity in the previous religion, so long as the old name is used and so long as some sort of piggy-backing is done on some version (even a seriously altered version) of one or more stories about the deity from the old religion.

Re: Lydia's raising of the "God is not a person" thing, just so no one is misled: As I've said 1,234 times, when classical theists say that, the emphasis is on the word "a," not on the word "person." This is so for two reasons:

1. What classical theists deny is not that God is personal -- of course He is personal, since He has intellect, will, omniscience, love, is Trinitarian, etc. -- but rather that He is not a mere member of any genus. He is not "a person" in the same sense that he is not "a god," "a cause," "a being," "a powerful thing," "a good thing," etc. Now of course, when saying that God is not "a being," "a powerful thing," etc., classical things don't for a moment deny that God exists, that he has power, that he is good, etc. And for exactly the same reason, when they say "God is not a person," they don't mean that he is not personal. That's just not what the claim is about. It is rather about denying that there is any composition in God of genus and specific difference. God is beyond any genus, and if he were not then he would just be another creature alongside all the others and thus not God at all. (Why Lydia gets upset when we say "God is not a person," but not when we say (e.g.) "God is not a being," I have no idea.)

2. Christian classical theists, specifically, are also concerned to avoid heterodox or muddleheaded formulations, because since God is Trinitarian he naturally cannot be "a person." Rather, God is three Persons in one substance. Saying "God is a person" sounds unitarian... y'know, like Muslims are.

How any of this is incompatible with the Bible, I have no idea. Perhaps Lydia has been converted to Dale Tuggy's point of view or something. Anyway, surely at this late date she knows enough about classical theism to realize that no Christian classical theist thinks God is impersonal (which would of course be unbiblical). I might add that classical theists like Athanasius, Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, et al. knew something about the Bible. Also something about Christianity.

No doubt you really are now sorry you brought it up, Lydia. Sorry to have made you sorry.

One more thing. One reason it is, contra Lydia, important to take note of what she calls the "thin sense" in which Christians and Muslims are talking about the same God is that unless one does, one will fail to see the true nature of Islam as a kind of Christian heresy, a thesis famously developed by Hilaire Belloc. I've discussed this in detail in a couple of recent posts:

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2016/01/liberalism-and-islam.html

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2016/01/islam-christianity-and-liberalism-again.html

As readers of those posts will see, the point has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with worries about "solidarity," political correctness, indifferentism, interreligious dialogue, etc. etc. Quite the opposite in fact.

Terry,
To say that two religions have significant similarities simply means that they have something in common worth connecting over. That doesn't deny the differences. It just means that we have reason to share. The more we share, the less reason to regard each other as enemies.

I see no problem with Islam prospering in the West without changing the West. So I see no problem with Islam and the West coexisting. But realize that the bulk of terrorism is a reaction to Western, especially US, foreign policiies. So another question must be asked. Can the West peacefully coexist with the Islamic world?

Ed, I realize that _you_ have no interest in interreligious dialogue, etc. The fact, however, remains, as I've said elsewhere in comments: As a matter of the connectedness of ideas, if it is true that Muslims and Christians worship the same God in some significant sense, this removes one major objection to various missiological strategies and other practical activities--namely, that they imply that Muslims and Christians worship the same God in some significant sense, and that that proposition is _completely false_. Removing that objection doesn't necessarily imply that those activities are A-okay. But it means that they are more on the table than they would be if the matter were definite, as I think it is, that there is no significant sense in which the two groups worship the same God. That fact is what it is. It doesn't depend on anyone's subjective desires or intentions, or even beliefs. Propositions are connected to other propositions. Ideas have consequences whether we want them to or not.

By the way, Ed, I'm _extremely_ disappointed in your dismissal of the voluntarism objection to the proposition that Islam is compatible with classical theism. At this late date, as you say, I thought I _did_ know something about what you mean by that phrase, but now I'm not so sure. If "classical theism" as you are now using the phrase is compatible with extreme moral voluntarism, so that the "unity of the transcendentals" could mean no more than that God is "good" in the etiolated sense that he could make it "good" to torture little girls and rape them tomorrow, so that the "absolute will that is Allah" (I believe that was your *own* phrase from 2010, or one like it) can be Goodness Itself, then, as Flannery O'Connor once said in another context, the hell with it. Classical theism as you teach it used to at least have some *attraction*, though I had my doubts about it. But now? Talk about messed-up priorities! God forbid (literally) that anyone should say that God is a person (only *personal*, which is an _entirely_ different matter). Worshiping a God who is a person is worshiping a false god, not the true God of classical theism. But an absolute will who can make any heinous thing whatsoever "good" by sheer fiat?? Hey, that's no problem for worshiping the true God of classical theism.

To say that I find this version of "classical theism" an arbitrary and philosophically utterly unsatisfactory position is putting the matter as politely as possible.

Lydia,

I’ve re-read your first paragraph several times and I confess that I don’t really understand what point you are trying to make there. So I’ll just reply to it the best I can.

Whether it is “completely false” that Christians and Muslims worship the same God in some “significant” sense is, of course, part of what is in question. So it’s kind of pointless just to assert that repeatedly and vehemently, no? Anyway, maybe your hang-up is on the word “worship,” specifically -- I do address that in my most recent post at my own blog -- but I’m not really terribly interested in it myself for present purposes. My focus in this recent debate has been on the “same” part of the phrase “worship the same God,” and on questions about reference, so I suggest we focus on that.

Now, on the missiological issue, if you’re going to evangelize someone, you need to start somewhere and in particular with some kind of common ground. If someone is willing to acknowledge that there is such a thing as a cause of the world, that’s a pretty good place to start -- whether that person is a Jew, a pagan Greek philosopher, or a Muslim. He’s got that much right and we can go from there and try to explain to him what he’s got wrong. Hence if he is in fact successfully referring to the same thing as Christians are when he uses the word “God,” that’s pretty significant and a missiological plus, not a minus.

People like Augustine (who was brought over to Christianity by way of Neo-Platonism) and Aquinas (who devotes a big chunk of the Summa Contra Gentiles to arguments for a divine cause which someone could accept whether or not he later goes on to accept the Trinity) obviously agree, and I would think that any defender of natural theology -- such as yourself -- would agree. For unless what you get the non-Christian to accept via a first cause or design argument really is the true God, then you won’t be talking about same thing with him when you try next to get him to accept that this God is also Trinitarian.

Re: your second paragraph, about voluntarism, you are evidently reading a ton of stuff that you have conjured out of thin air into what were nothing more than some brief remarks I made in a combox exchange with Jeff S. As I said to Jeff there, the expression “voluntarism” covers a range of different views, so that it won’t do to make sweeping claims about the compatibility of voluntarism and classical theism. I never said that just everything that goes by the “voluntarist” label is compatible with it. I merely said that not everything that goes by that label is incompatible with it. E.g. and as I said to Jeff, Scotus was in some sense a voluntarist but also a genuine classical theist. Furthermore, and as I also pointed put to Jeff, it is too glib to say that “Islam is voluntarist, full stop.” Rather, there is a tendency toward voluntarism there but not all Muslim thinkers follow it out or follow it out in the same way. All I was telling Jeff is that we need to disambiguate these possible views rather than making sweeping claims about all views that have been called “voluntarist.” I never said anything about voluntarism like what you are attributing to me.

And speaking of attributing silly things to me, I have never said or implied anything remotely like the claim that “Worshiping a God who is a person is worshiping a false god.” That is a sheer figment of your imagination.

Nor, I might point out, have I ever said that theistic personalists don’t succeed in referring to the true God, despite what I regard as their extremely grave theological errors. The reason is not that I am being polite or politic. The reason is that I think it takes quite a lot for someone’s conception of God to be so degenerate that it fails even successfully to refer to the true God. And most theistic personalists haven’t gotten that far in my opinion. Some have, maybe, but not all, and not just by virtue of being theistic personalists. But by the same token, all I have been saying is that Muslims don’t fail to refer to the true God simply by virtue of being Muslims. Some may fail, but not merely for that reason alone.

Ed, I won't try to go on at much length to talk about the missiological strategies and interfaith practices I have in mind in my first paragraph. I'm a little surprised you found it so hard to understand. Here's just one easy example: Getting together with Muslims and all praying to Allah in an interfaith prayer service. Now, again, don't say or think that I'm saying that you or anyone _in particular_ is _advocating_ this on the grounds that we "worship the same God." (Though the professor who kicked all this off _did_ advocate "showing solidarity" with Muslims on the grounds that we "worship the same God," so there's another example.) The point is that a practice like that (praying together to Allah) is *totally out*, knock-down, period, no ifs, ands, or buts, if there is _no_ significant sense in which we worship the same God. Saying that there _is_ such a sense removes a knock-down objection to such practices. Hence it is relevant to them regardless of whether someone intends it to be relevant. Another missiological practice would be encouraging Muslims that they can, literally, be both Muslim and Christian. No, I'm not making that up. It's called the "insider movement" in missiology. Again, there is a connection of _relevance_ there between the proposition that Muslims and Christians worship the same God and the appropriateness of such practices even though it doesn't automatically follow that they are appropriate.

As for your staged version of natural theology, there is a big difference between trying to convince someone else that there exists some x (God, for example) such that x has y property and asserting that this person, merely in virtue of some overlap between what he calls "God" already and what I call "God" already, is already either referring to or worshiping the same God whom I talk about and worship. Overlap is not the same as sameness of reference. Indeed, one could offer fairly easy counterexamples to such a thesis. So the possibility of the staged used of natural theology does _not_ entail or imply that Muslims and Christians refer to or worship the same God.

Concerning voluntarism, theistic personalism, and the same God question, I admit to being rather astonished at your assertion that you don't think theistic personalists worship a false god. You have repeatedly said (I'm sure you can find the quotations) that theistic personalist movements "lead people away from the true God" to a concept of God that is like Zeus or some other polytheistic deity. You have made the comparison to Zeus over and over again in the context of the ID debate as your reason for thinking such arguments completely wrong-headed and unacceptable. Perhaps your point now is that such things merely have (in some vaguer sense) a _tendency_ to cause people to worship a false god but are not fully successful in it? Usually you are not inclined to criticisms of that kind, and I'm quite certain that you would bristle greatly if something about a "tendency" were leveled as a criticism against your own classical theism.

In any event, I take it that this means that you think classical theism is not a _necessary_ condition for worshiping the true God, which is interesting and, to me at least, surprising. I can't help wondering what _other_ conditions for worshiping the true God you think obtain for theistic personalists, since they are (by definition) not classical theists.

Nonetheless, your original argument concerning Islam is that it is a _sufficient_ condition (and hence since Islam is a form of classical theism, etc.) If you have some _other_ argument (other than that Islam is classical theism) for saying that Muslims and Christians worship the same God, either you haven't written about it or I have missed it.

Concerning voluntarism, in no less than two of your posts from several years ago you seemed to be not just conceding (as if unwillingly or reluctantly) but spontaneously asserting a significant strain of precisely the sort of extreme voluntarism I am talking about in Islam. I seem even to recall that you used the term "extreme" in one such post. That, at any rate, is an extremely reasonable reading of what you wrote then. And indeed in one of those posts you spoke of Allah in such language that I seriously thought you might very well come out on the other side of the "same God" question and was surprised to see otherwise. Now you are leaning rather hard on historically questioning any such connection between Islam and extreme moral voluntarism. This, again, is surprising. Do you at least agree that if wide swathes of Muslims are extreme moral voluntarists then they are not classical theists? And if so, is there some _other_ reason that you think that they either refer to or worship the true God? (As I've pointed out in multiple venues, including upthread here, there are _other_ reasons for thinking that any Christians who are extreme moral voluntarists worship the same God as non-voluntarist Christians, but these other reasons don't apply to Muslims.)

On the staged natural theology point: It is extremely important to distinguish not affirming that there exists a God with some property (such as being triune, incarnate, or all-good in a robust sense) and affirming that there exists a God who _does not_ have that property. Staged natural theology involves arguing that there exists a God who has one property or set of properties, then adding other properties in later stages. The use of such a strategy says _nothing_ about whether someone is referring to the true God if he has _some_ properties of the true God correct but _explicitly denies_ other properties and states that the deity that he worships _lacks_ those properties or has properties incompatible with true, essential properties of the true God.

This distinction is often elided. For example, I recently saw a different philosopher talking about someone who converted from mere theism to Christianity and asking (with incredulity) whether that person switched from referring to one God to referring to a different God when he converted. But the "same God" controversy here is about Islam, _not_ about some sort of mere theism. It makes a big difference, since Islam _expressly_ affirms that God _cannot_ be triune, incarnate, etc.

The urge to treat Islam as if it is equivalent to generic monotheism with a few regrettable add-ons is what I've come to call the Mr. Potato Head view of theism. Generic theism is the potato, and Islam just happens to have the wrong mustache or whatever. But this is highly problematic, since Islam expressly contradicts essential properties of God, which seems obviously relevant to whether Muslims refer to the true God.

Lydia,

Re: missiology, OK, now I see what you’re getting at, and I agree that (a) interfaith prayer services are a very very bad idea, (b) the “both Muslim and Christian” approach is an absolutely insane idea, and (c) denying that Muslims and Christians refer to the same thing when they use the word “God” would have the effect of undermining both of these foolish practices directly. It doesn’t follow, of course, that they don’t in fact refer to the same thing, but I know that you weren’t saying it does follow, only that the issue does have these important consequences. Fair enough.

I also agree that overlap per se doesn’t entail sameness of reference. But it can entail it, depending on what the overlap is. One thing many people in this debate seem to miss is that it isn’t a quantitative matter of how many predications overlap, nor even about whether the predications are in some vague way “important,” but rather whether, specifically, they reflect the core of the idea of God. And I would say that the core is the notion of metaphysical ultimacy, of being the source of all things. This is true both in classical philosophical theology and also in the Christian creeds. E.g. the Nicene Creed starts with “I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth…” That’s how we identify God -- as creator -- and then we go from there. Who is Jesus? The only begotten Son of this creator. Etc.

So e.g. if someone claims that his god Z is omniscient and all-loving but also that Z had a cause of his own and has not always existed, then that is good reason to doubt that he’s referring to the true God, despite his reference to omniscience and being all-loving. But if he says that Z is the eternal uncaused cause of all things other than himself but doesn’t think Z is omniscient and has to learn things over time by observing us, then that is reason to think he might be referring to the true God but badly misunderstanding His nature. But either way, knowing with any confidence would really require getting into what else he says about Z, and in particular whether he says things that very deeply conflict with the core idea of God.

Re: theistic personalists, yes, I have said that their philosophical premises entail a conception of God that is too similar to finite beings like Zeus (though I have never said that their conception is actually just as crude as the idea of Zeus is). But those philosophical premises don’t exhaust their conception of God. There’s lots of other good stuff in their minds too that they’ve inherited from the Christian tradition -- what they read in the Bible, the creeds, etc. They don’t realize that the philosophical stuff they affirm doesn’t sit well with the Bible and creeds, but that’s another issue. Because they know that God is the uncaused cause of all things other than himself, creator of heaven and earth, revealed himself through the Bible, etc., they succeed in referring to and worshipping the true God even if they also, without realizing that they are doing so, say things when they do philosophy that don’t sit well with God’s being uncaused cause of all things (e.g. they deny divine simplicity, which follows from God’s being uncaused).

So, they aren’t worshipping a false god but rather worshipping the true God while misunderstanding his nature in various ways. Or at least that’s true of many of them. And I don’t think I’ve ever said anything different from this. That is, I’ve never said “Theistic personalists are worshipping a false god and leading other people to do the same” but rather “Theistic personalists are leading people to a grave misunderstanding of God’s nature.” That’s a different claim.

I’ve also never said that “Islam is a sufficient condition for worshipping the true God.” I’m sure there are individual Muslims whose conception of God is so whacked out that they fail to refer to the true God. And there could be Christians whose conception is deficient enough to prevent them from successfully referring (e.g. if they think God is a material thing which evolved over time or some such). When I’ve been making claims about the reference of the term “God” in Islam or Christianity in general, what I have in mind are the most sophisticated mainstream expressions of each religion. I’m thinking of people like Avicenna or Al-Ghazali, not the uneducated psychotic who blows up a pizzeria in Jerusalem. I think that’s only fair, but some people seem to insist on only talking about the uneducated psychotic. (I’m not saying you are doing that, but some of the folks who’ve been showing up in comboxes are like that.)

Re: the posts on voluntarism you’re referring to, even I don’t remember what specifically you have in mind -- I have written a lot of stuff -- and your own description is pretty vague and seems to rely on impressions you got rather than anything you can actually quote. And with all due respect, I don’t think your impressions of stuff I write on classical theism vs. theistic personalism are always very accurate. So I don’t know that there’s any point in trying to hash out what I said or what I meant in such-and-such a post from years ago until you let me know exactly what posts you are talking about.

But anyway, I don’t know that it much matters, because I imagine that I wasn’t in the first place addressing the “reference” issue there, since I haven’t really addressed it at any length at all before my post of a few weeks ago. It seems to me you are jumping, from what I have said about certain theological views, to conclusions about what I must think or should think about the question of reference. E.g. you think that since I am very critical of theistic personalism and voluntarism, then I must think that theistic personalists and voluntarists don’t succeed in referring to the true God. And you apparently suppose that since I think that Christians and Muslims do refer to the same thing when they use the term “God,” then I must not be as critical of Islam as I am of theistic personalism or voluntarism in general.

But none of those inferences is correct. I am most definitely no more a fan of Islam than I am of theistic personalism or voluntarism. I just don’t think that, in any of those three cases, the problems with the views necessarily entail a failure of reference.

Lydia,

Re: your comments about the difference between e.g. (a) merely not affirming the Trinity versus (b) explicitly and vehemently rejecting the Trinity, two comments:

1. As I’ve said several times in my own earlier comments in this debate, anyone who claims that (b) suffices to undermine successful reference to God either (i) owes us an explanation of why other positive errors about the divine nature don’t undermine reference, or (ii) will have to swallow the absurd consequence that, since most people no doubt have some erroneous beliefs about God, very few people actually succeed in referring to God.

2. As I have also pointed out many times, claiming that (b) suffices to undermine reference to the true God does not square with what Christians have actually believed historically. E.g. Jews after the time of Christ and heretics like the Arians denied the Trinity, but Christians did not accuse them of referring to a false god as a result. Rather, they held instead that they were talking about the true God but getting his nature seriously wrong. (As Belloc and Besancon -- who I have quoted in my most recent posts over at my blog -- have pointed out, the earliest Christians who encountered Islam said the same thing about it, insofar as they regarded Islam as essentially a Christian heresy. They didn’t say, after the fashion of some of the combox theologians I’ve been encountering in recent weeks, “Them Mohammadens is worshippin’ some idol they found in the Kaaba!” Rather, they held that, like other heresies, Islam began with the idea of the true God and introduced errors.

3. As I’ve pointed out, even the creeds don’t begin with the Trinity, but with the idea of God as creator. The Trinity comes into the creed as a spelling out of further truth about this creator. Furthermore, Trinitarianism is truth about the creator that we cannot have gotten without revelation, whereas knowledge of God as creator is something we can have apart from revelation, via natural theology. It is part of what Aquinas calls the preambles of faith. So, God-as-creator is a kind of conceptual anchor. Metaphysically speaking, in his own nature God is of course no less Trinity than he is creator. But epistemologically speaking, we know God as creator before we know him as Trinity. So, there cannot fail to be a sense in which someone who knows God only as creator knows the true God at least in a minimal way, even if this knowledge is limited, mixed in with error, and insufficient for salvation. Whether he never has heard of the Trinity, or has heard of it but rejects it, is irrelevant to that specific point.

Okay, so you're saying that being a classical theist is not a necessary condition of worshiping the true God, right?

Now, let's suppose that extreme voluntarism is incompatible with classical theism. And suppose that Islam historically has a strong connection to such extreme voluntarism. As you said here


To these considerations we might add the oft-noted parallels between the abstract and overwhelming Will that is Allah and the similarly impersonal and forbidding God of Calvinism, the Deity in both religions issuing orders that have no basis other than that Will itself
(emphasis added)

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

Would Muslims in that case be classical theists? If not, on what basis would one (specifically, would you) argue that they refer to the same God that Christians refer to? Since they don't have, as Calvinists and Christian theistic personalists do, all that other "good stuff" in their concept of God that you rightly refer to concerning Christian theistic personalists and Calvinists.

Jesus, speaking in Mt. 21:25 to the chief priests and elders, questioned them: "John’s baptism—where did it come from? Was it from heaven, or of human origin?". Following Christ's example I ask this question of professing Christians: Mohammad's revelation of the Koran, was it from heaven, or of human origin? If it is not from heaven and if it consists of untruths, contradicting the Bible, to what extent would you consider it possible that it is from the prince of this world?

It should be noted that monotheism does not save you. In his epistle 2:19 James writes: "You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder."

Lydia asks:

Okay, so you're saying that being a classical theist is not a necessary condition of worshiping the true God, right?

As a merely descriptive claim (as opposed to a normative claim), sure, there is a sense in which that is true. Just as there is obviously a purely descriptive sense (as opposed to a normative sense) in which, even by your own admission, being a Trinitarian is not a necessary condition for worshipping the true God. E.g. Abraham worshipped the true God but was not a Trinitarian. However, everyone who worships the true God ought to be a Trinitarian, and in the same way, everyone who worships the true God ought to be a classical theist.

Also, let me say yet again that I am not in the first place primarily even addressing the "worship" side of the question, but rather the question of linguistic reference, i.e. of what the term "God" refers to in Christianity and Islam. The "worship" in question need only be very thin, e.g. honoring, praying to, etc. It has nothing to do with salvation, which I'm not addressing at all.

Lydia also asks:

…abstract and overwhelming Will that is Allah [etc.]… Would Muslims in that case be classical theists?

It depends on what else the Muslims in question say. If they say “I also think of God as the eternal uncaused cause of everything other than Himself etc.” then I would be inclined to say “OK, we’re talking about the same God here, so now let me tell you why you’d better give up the voluntarism.” If they say “We don’t care about that eternal uncaused cause stuff so much; what really matters is God as sheer overwhelming will, and we’d hold onto that even if we had to abandon the other stuff” then I’d suspect that they are not talking about the same god. But I doubt you’ll find many Muslims of the second sort.

William Wilcox wrote:

It should be noted that monotheism does not save you etc.

I don't know if this was directed at me. I hope not, because this is also something I've said myself about 1,234 times now.

So, if it was directed at me, I'd advise you actually to take the trouble to read what I've written on all this over at my own blog before commenting.

But if it wasn't directed at me, fine, OK, peace and carry on.

did not accuse them of referring to a false god as a result. Rather, they held instead that they were talking about the true God but getting his nature seriously wrong.

Well there are good reasons for that:

1) Traditional Christian teaching on the nature of God is an expansion upon Jewish teaching, not a wholesale replacement theology. It tells us that their perspective is not wrong, except in the sense that it is wrong because it is an incomplete knowledge assumed to be complete.

2. Islam is a replacement theology for a great many things ranging from the history of God's involvement with man, to moral commandments, to its concept of "salvation."

3. When you compare the nature of Allah to the God of Israel, it is rather striking how evil Allah often is from the Jewish and Christian perspective.

Islam in many respects is an efficient metaphysical system for causing people to commit mortal sin in every way from its view of sex, to its views on violence, to its general approach to dealing with outsiders. So in a hypothetical sense you may be correct about some of the other things you said, but it is almost certainly impossible to say that in a meaningful sense what Islam says about the character of God is compatible with the other two Abrahamic faiths.

It depends on what else the Muslims in question say. If they say “I also think of God as the eternal uncaused cause of everything other than Himself etc.” then I would be inclined to say “OK, we’re talking about the same God here, so now let me tell you why you’d better give up the voluntarism.”

I'm a little confused here. I asked, more specifically, whether they would be _classical theists_. And I postulated specifically, what if classical theism is incompatible with extreme moral voluntarism such as I described above. (And I think you should consider very seriously the argument that it is. I think they are, in fact, incompatible, and that that's important.) It seems that it would follow that they couldn't be classical theists, wouldn't it? Or are you envisaging a sense of "classical theism" in which someone can actually _be_ a classical theist while actually believing things that are completely incompatible with classical theism? How would that work? Why call someone in that situation a classical theist? If believing in the eternal uncaused cause is sufficient for being a _classical theist_, even while believing other things incompatible with classical theism, wouldn't that make theistic personalists classical theists, too, just inconsistent ones? Yet you have always--rightly, I would say, as a sheer matter of conceptual clarity--spoken of classical theism and theistic personalism as mutually exclusive.

Ed,

Nope, my comment was not directed at you or any one person specifically. But I appreciate any comments in response.

Lydia,

I take classical theism to be the thesis that the core of the idea of God is that he is metaphysically ultimate and thus must be absolutely simple, absolutely necessary, uncaused even in principle, etc. The issue of voluntarism doesn't directly touch on that, though it may do so indirectly. The most obvious way in which it does so indirectly, though (and as I discussed in a post at my blog some time back), is by way of the implicit denial of PSR an extreme voluntarist position may have. For if PSR is false, then the world is not ultimately intelligible, and thus God cannot be thought of as the ultimate source of the intelligibility of things, etc.

What you keep bringing up, though, is the specifically ethical implications of an extreme voluntarism, as if those are in some special way at odds with classical theism, or as if I had somewhere said that they are. I don't know why, because I don't recall ever having said such a thing.

I also am not clear on why there would be some glaring incompatibility. Suppose somebody says "God is the absolutely simple, necessary, uncaused cause of everything other than himself. Also, he decrees by sheer fiat that torturing babies is bad but could have equally well decreed that torturing babies is good." Now, the second sentence is certainly a very grave theological error, but it is not manifestly at odds with the first sentence. Showing that it is at odds with the first sentence can be done, but it would take a lot of argumentation -- more argumentation than it would take to show that, for example, God cannot be a material object, consistent with the first sentence.

So, again, I'm not clear why you keep focusing on the moral implications of extreme voluntarism as in some special and glaring way (as opposed to a more subtle and indirect way) at odds with the main themes of classical theism.

William,

OK, I understand, thanks!

but rather whether, specifically, they reflect the core of the idea of God. And I would say that the core is the notion of metaphysical ultimacy, of being the source of all things. This is true both in classical philosophical theology and also in the Christian creeds.

Ed, I have been cautious to stick an oar into these discussions so far, but here I have to question something.

When we use language, we use terms all the time whose full, complete, and perfect definition would elude us, but for which we are entirely correct in applying in given situations. Socrates shows when he asks, in "Meno", for a definition of virtue. All of his hearers knew what virtue was, roughly speaking, but none of them could state a definition in so many words. You can see the same thing, if you ask 10 people for what the word "justice" means, or "intelligent". Or, as Aristotle considers in the Physics, "motion".

In the process of going from the state of "everyone knows what it means, but can't define it" to actually having a good definition in hand, (which is what Aristotle tackles) we eventually have those following the discussion say "yes, that's what we meant by the word all along". But they were unable to say that at the BEGINNING. So, in those hearer's minds, the final definition as stated entails more development, more determinacy, more resolution, to the word than they had to begin with. And, to speak broadly, people who are young or uneducated or unreflective will usually have more sparse, more incomplete concepts of difficult things than those older and wiser. Yet in so doing they are still able to communicate with others, correctly using the words that are in common parlance, successfully intending in its bare bones the very same underlying concept that a wiser, more educated person holds in a more fulsome manner. In following this process of locating the definition, Aristotle and ST. Thomas usually starts with a kind of a root sense and work from that. Thus, in tackling "happiness" he starts with "all men desire" as a basic point. If this is what you mean by "core" as used above, I think that's fair, but I would point out that it sometimes must be only a very, very rudimentary notion, as we will see below, and thus need not mean "ultimate" for God.

In this current debate we seem to have landed on "reference" as that phonomenon. A 5-year old Christian who says "God" somehow refers to the same referent that a 60-year old Christian philosopher does, even though the latter intends so much more.

My question is whether in this discussion so far the expression "reference" and its relative "referent" somehow manage to disguise something important here? Aristotle and St. Thomas talk about a word FIRST pointing at a concept, and only through that do they point at a further something. The mind, when it knows a real thing, knows it in virtue of holding a concept that is the form of the thing, intellectually. But the word points first to what is held in the mind, not the real thing, because we can have concepts for what does not really exist. Indeed, we can have deformative, deranged concepts of what cannot even in principle exist, because we can make errors. (Just look at some of Hegel's nonsense!)

When St. Paul argued with Athenian pagans, using the term "god", he could not have MEANT by that word, precisely and exactly, "the single ultimate metaphysical reality", because he was communicating with pagans and that's not what they meant by the word. He would have had to intend something more like the meaning of the word as it had come down to him and the Athenians from 3000 years of civilization (of sorts), which at the time included calling beings like Zeus and Athena "gods". That there was successful communication proves a commonality of _reference_, but that commonality of reference needed only the barest minimum concept to be common, perhaps something like "what is worthy of being adored". Or better "what can do terrible wonders if I don't keep it appeased". Such a concept - and the Greeks and Egyptians and Persians certainly had some such concept at the time - DOES NOT entail "ultimate" and does permit "more than one." Hence, successful common reference under the expression "God" did not seem to necessarily entail a concept developed enough to include "ultimate" within it.

(Perhaps, due to change in culture, the word "god" can no longer be used the way the pagans used it. Maybe now the concept intended by all in the modern world includes "ultimate" and through that also "unique" (though animists and Hindus might disagree).)

I have not attempted to sort through all of what this would imply in terms of Christians and Muslims use of "God" in their speaking. But we can say a few things. Obviously, having a sufficiency of meaning for "god" to successfully "refer" to the concept "what should be worshiped" was not enough for Paul and the Athenians to refer to the SAME god when they said "He whom I should worship". What Paul had in mind when he said "whom I should worship" and what an Athenian meant by the words (presumably, Athena) would have differed in number - but they would both have known the same concept "whom I should worship" differed in identity for the different speakers, even while BOTH recognized a relational aspect to the concepts "god" and "worship". If, however, Paul used the word "Athena" for "the god whom Athenians worship" he was successfully communicating, and therefore successfully accomplishing a commonality of reference, even though he also mentally attached to the concept the rider "is not a real god" and they did not. Clearly, that rider did not make his use of "god" a failure to communicate with Athenians. His use of the word "god" with them continued to refer to substantially the same concept AT SOME LEVEL. And that level is enough to validate a commonality of reference. And leaves vast room for difference of worship.

Lastly, C. S. Lewis makes a claim in the Narnian Chronicles (The Last Battle) that those who had "worshiped Tash", if they worshiped in truth and light, were actually worshiping Aslan. And those who claimed to follow Aslan, if they did so in the darkness of self and sin, actually did not worship Aslan. I am not a big fan of Lewis as the deepest of thinkers, but he picks up on a point that ought to be considered by Catholics at least. For quite some time (explicitly, since Feeneyism was denounced), the Church has said that those who have not heard of Christ can still theoretically be saved, if they follow God as their best understanding gives them. This much is implied by St. Thomas:

“But when he [any person] begins to have the use of reason, he is not entirely excused from the guilt of venial or mortal sin. Now the first thing that occurs to a man to think about then, is to deliberate about himself. And if he then direct himself to the due end, he will, by means of grace, receive the remission of original sin … [snip] … For the first thing that occurs to a man who has discretion, is to think of himself, and to direct other things to himself as to their end, since the end is the first thing in the intention. Therefore this is the time when man is bound by God's affirmative precept, which the Lord expressed by saying (Zech. 1:3): "Turn ye to Me . . . and I will turn to you."

Directing himself to “the due end” will be under his best understanding of the highest end of man qua man, (cf “begins to have the use of reason”) but need not be under the distinct notion “the God of the Christians” or even "the one single God, the ultimate being" - not distinctly. And that grace of the remission of original sin is one and the same as sanctifying grace by which man receives the indwelling of God – in which the virtues of faith, hope and love necessarily participate. He would be said to have the habitual state of faith (and hope and love) even if he is without the express understanding of the usual body of particular propositions of the faith. I hesitate to speak too forcefully, but I would suggest that we should not easily and readily say of anyone who has this grace that they "do not worship the same God", even if they are materially in error about the nature of God. Even seriously in error. Nor would I readily say (without heavy qualification) "he worships the same God" if he does hold grave errors about God - such as a Hindu in this condition.

I don’t think this implies that “Muslims and Christians worship the same God”, not at all. At least, not automatically. If a person is “worshiping the true God” not in virtue of what Islam teaches them but because of grace received in spite of errors taught by Islam, then there would be a sort of distortion to calling this an example of “Muslim worshiping the true God”, for the "true" part of that would be completely accidental to the "Muslim" part of it. Yet, Islam is not wrong about some of the basics, so at least with regard to learning those basics, his belief would not be wrong in virtue of his Muslim training. But what I am really wondering is this: Take a young Muslim who happens to have made the wholesome choice at the time of reaching the age of reason and received grace. If the more deeply he delves into what his religion teaches, the more fully he is drawn away from the Truth and into darkness that would eventually deaden his soul, would this be adequate grounds for saying that Muslims qua Muslim do not follow the same God? If the best hope of such a young Muslim is to be protected from the withering _effect_ of his religion's teaching is to remain ignorant of Islam in its depths, what would we say of this? (Whether this condition actually obtains depends largely on historical and contingent realities that might be difficult to establish one way or another, and I am not claiming the condition does actually obtain.)

My understanding is that classical theism is deeply bound up with perfect being theology. That, in fact, is what's supposed to make classical theism both so cool and so important. You get one of the omnis, you get 'em all. On the "unity of the transcendentals," it's not possible for there to be an ultimate First Cause who is weak, or evil, or ignorant. It's all bound up in one, amazing, metaphysical package, and _necessarily_ so. Being Itself must be Goodness Itself must be Reason Itself, etc. This is supposed to help to answer the Humean idea of an extremely limited natural theology that doesn't get us to a being worthy of worship. You and I have discussed this repeatedly. It means that classical theism, as I have always understood you to teach it, has a kind of austere grandeur to it. You don't just get this thin, meager theism from natural theology, as Hume thought, but a robust, meaty theism with all kinds of amazing properties wrapped up in one, and necessarily so, for it is not possible for them to come apart. As I have understood you, you've pretty much devoted your life's work to teaching this kind of extremely robust natural theology. (I've just been talking to someone reading The Last Superstition, and that was what struck him as well about it--the amazingly rich content you were attributing to "the God of classical theism.")

Now, if extreme moral voluntarism is true, then prima facie Goodness Itself is *not* necessarily united to Reason Itself. Or, to put it differently, a bait and switch would have been pulled in that case on the very meaning of "Goodness Itself," making it a mere word.

You may not think of this as a "glaring" incompatibility. It depends on who is looking for the glare. But I think it should be pretty glaring for _you_, given what you have previously taught about the content of classical theism. And also pretty important. A "classical theism" that is compatible with extreme moral voluntarism pulls the rug out from under anyone who thought that "classical theism" was the way to get, in one fell swoop as it were, and by pure metaphysical reasoning, a God of natural theology that has all these properties rendering him worthy of worship.

So, again, the question arises: Can someone be a classical theist while believing things (as an important part of his theology) that are logically incompatible with classical theism? And if so, and if he is not a Christian or a Jew--in other words, doesn't have these _other_ reasons in history, creedal content, etc. for saying that he worships the true God--then what argument is left for saying that such a person worships the same God that Christians worship?

As far as Acts 17 goes, I don't think that even the Catholic Church says that "all religions worship the same God." I find Steve at triablogue's interpretation persuasive.

Tony,

You’re certainly correct about there being a difference between an inchoate understanding of “God” and a more worked out, systematic understanding. And we can better judge whether the former really entails reference to the true God by seeing how the latter ends up going. Hence, suppose two people, A and B, agree that by “God” they mean something like “that which is most worthy of honor.” Over time A works this out systematically and arrives at the idea that God must be uncaused, immaterial, eternal, etc. Meanwhile, B over time works this out and arrives at the idea that God must be literally like a big Grandpa in the sky, literally an old man with a white beard, a little grumpy but lovable, not always attentive but will eventually answer if you keep pestering him long enough, etc. We might end up concluding that A had the true God in mind all along, but B did not, even though A and B started with what superficially seemed to be the same concept.

Now, in the case of Islam, suppose it turned out that later, post-Muhammad generations of Muslims ended up thinking of Allah as some tribal Arab god, attributed a material body to him, thought of him as living on a certain distant mountain, thought of him as having a wife, etc. Then we would plausibly say that they never really had the true God in mind at all, despite having made reference to the God of Abraham etc. But in fact that’s not what happened. Islamic thought ended up with an essentially classical theist conception of what the creator of the world must be like -- infinite, absolutely simple, necessary, etc. etc. While they rejected what can be known by divine revelation (e.g. Trinitarianism) they did pretty well in arriving at what I called above the “anchor” notion of God as creator, as knowable via natural theology. That plausibly makes Islam in general more like person A rather than person B in my example above.

Regarding the young Muslim of your example, I’m not sure what to say, for two reasons. First, you are talking about the state of his soul vis-à-vis salvation, but as I keep saying, I am not and have not been addressing at all the question of salvation or related matters like invincible ignorance. That’s just not on the radar screen here; we’re just talking about the reference of the term “God” in Christianity and Islam. Second, I’d need to know what specifically you have in mind by his being led away from truth the further he delves into his religion. If, when he further delves into it, he becomes convinced that God is eternal, simple, immutable, etc., why would that lead him away from truth? All that stuff is in fact true.

If instead you have in mind some bloodthirsty jihadist who starts murdering people, it depends. Surely he is not someone who is plausibly invincibly ignorant or likely to be saved, but again, I’m not talking about questions of salvation here at all. If he is someone who thinks “God is the one, eternal, absolutely simple, uncaused cause of the world” but also goes on the think “And God wants me to blow up this mother and her child,” then I would say he is both (a) referring to the true God but also (b) very gravely wrong about what God wants of him, and in for a very unpleasant surprise when he meets his Maker.

Lydia,

Sure, classical theism is bound up with the idea that the transcendentals are convertible, so that by virtue of being Being Itself God is also Goodness Itself, and so that all the other stuff you’re talking about follows. Yes indeed. And it is also true that there is a necessary connection between all of that and rejecting a voluntarist divine command theory of ethics. Yes, I would certainly say all of that.

However, my point in the remarks made above is that the connection is not as direct as you seem to think it is. It needs argumentative unpacking. One reason for this is that there is a distinction to be made between goodness as such in the abstract -- the sort of thing everything can exhibit (healthy trees, healthy animals, well-drawn triangles, etc.) -- and moral goodness specifically -- the sort of thing human beings can exhibit but animals, plants, and inanimate objects cannot. Once you’ve got the unity of the transcendentals in place, it’s pretty quick work to show that God is Goodness Itself. But explaining the relationship of that to moral goodness specifically, how the divine will relates to moral obligation, etc. takes a lot of philosophical unpacking. The connections are in my view necessary but they are still less direct.

That’s why I say that the conflict between classical theism and voluntarism is less manifest than the conflict between classical theism and (say) the thesis that God is mutable, or material, or what have you. Also, as I’ve said before, there are different views that go under the “voluntarist” label, so one can’t paint with a broad brush but has to work through the details of the specific version of voluntarism in question.

This is why, much to the consternation of us Thomists, there have been classical theists who are in some sense voluntarists and also theologically orthodox (e.g. Scotus). We don’t say to just every single voluntarist: “Hey, you are known as a ‘voluntarist,’ ergo you must be worshipping a false god, or are heretical, or think God could have made it OK to torture babies etc.” That’s just not fair or correct, because the issues are more complicated than that and require careful argumentation. Depending on the voluntarist, we might say instead: “Well, this part of your view has this implication, and if you take it in that direction then it will lead you to this other thing, which together with this further thing is not going to be compatible with classical theism for such-and-such a reason etc.” I know people like to accuse us Thomists of being humorless doctrinal commissars ready to excommunicate at the drop of a dunce cap, but it just ain’t the case. We are pretty insistent on the importance of certain things, while at the same time allowing that not all of them are blindingly obvious or that disagreement entails heresy or apostasy or the like.

So, again to appeal to the descriptive/normative distinction, I would say that any classical theist ought not to be a voluntarist, but it doesn’t follow that there haven’t been classical theists who were voluntarists.

We might end up concluding that A had the true God in mind all along, but B did not, even though A and B started with what superficially seemed to be the same concept.

I suppose that we might in theory, but that is just what I suggest we DON'T say. If they both start thinking "there is some best thing worthy of honor" and that sums up the content of their concepts (each, individually), so that they actual start with the same concept per se, then later on we should not say that B started with a concept that superficially seemed the same but was wrong all along. We should say that his root concept was valid and he later ran into error.

Now, clearly St. Paul and Athena worshipers had a great deal more in mind than merely

most worthy of worship in saying "God", but a 7-year old Athenian might not, especially if he were, say, an orphan raised rather haphazardly or barely at all. If St. Paul and the boy were to speak about "God", they would both be using the word to signify the same basic concept, "one worthy of worship" or they would fail to be communicating at all. If the boy then went on to absorb some true things from St. Paul but did not accept all of it, and instead came to a nutty idea like "only Zeus is a god, all the rest are not", he would still have had a ROOT concept of god that meant he and St. Paul signified the same concept by the word. And that is sufficient for "reference".

That’s just not on the radar screen here; we’re just talking about the reference of the term “God” in Christianity and Islam.

I was trying to shed light on a particular problem with what to say about reference, by looking at what we would say about a particular case, insofar as the WHOLE of Islam affects the boy's concept of "God", regarding worship. (It could be asked more generically, about Hindus or other religions too). And by the by showing that the "reference" problem must be a distinct problem from the "worship" question, so that we might have to answer yes to "do they signify the same concept by 'God' : and no to "do Muslims following Islam per se worship the true God"?

Ed, if I'm understanding you correctly, you are defining a sense of "being a classical theist" such that a person is a "classical theist" in this sense if he believes a minimal "core" set of ideas, which you take to be "metaphysical ultimacy... being the source of all things," _even if he believes other things that are inconsistent with that core_, with the caveat that the inconsistent propositions he holds are not those you would take to be easily or obviously inconsistent with the "core." You include extreme moral voluntarism among the un-obvious inconsistencies (though you agree that it's inconsistent with classical theism), so that belief in it doesn't preclude someone's being a "classical theist" in this defined sense.

By the way, I'd really appreciate it (I'm not being sarcastic) if you would inform Frank Beckwith that you agree with me that extreme moral voluntarism is inconsistent with classical theism. In conversation with him on Facebook he was pretty definite (as I understood him) that there's no inconsistency between them whatsoever. He'll listen to you on that. He certainly won't listen to me on it, as I'm not the expert on what is or isn't inconsistent with classical theism.

Now, if I've got all of this right...

I think that this really supports what I said in the Gospel Coalition piece to the effect that it is quite easy for reasonable people to disagree that _that_ set of properties (_especially_ just the more minimal "core" as you've defined that and its _obvious_ entailments) is insufficiently robust to sustain a significant statement that Muslims and Christians refer to the same God. Maybe it would have some value if it came _along with_ something else, like belief that Jesus was the Son of God and came down and died on the cross for our sins (as open theist Christians believe), or belief that Jesus died on the cross and rose again (as Socinians believe), and so forth. But that _all by itself_, it's just too darned minimal to overcome the major differences in conceptual content between the two religions and support the conclusion that they both are "about" the same God. These differences include not only the strong influence of extreme voluntarism, but also the claim that every man must come to Allah only "as a slave," the denial that Jesus died on the cross, the insistence that God _cannot_ be triune or incarnate, the denial that Jesus is the Son of God, the imperative (supposedly from Allah) of jihad, and so forth.

You have now got a really whittled down set of sufficient conditions for a religion's adherents to be referring to the true God. Even the original claim that Muslims are classical theists has turned out to mean something less than I at least would (sincerely) have taken it to mean, so that it is compatible with their believing things incompatible with classical theism, as long as they are (as you see it) insufficiently obviously incompatible.

This is an extremely thin core that we are left with at that point.

Would you at least agree that a) it is quite understandable that others would not draw the line where you draw it on what is "enough" for the same God question and b) there is no clear philosophical argument that requires the line to be drawn _just there_?

Tony, I think it is possible that you are mistaking the existence of _some overlap in concept_ with "signify the same concept by the word" and moving thereby to "that is sufficient for reference."

It's pretty easy to counterexample the idea that if there is merely overlap between two concepts, then the people using the concepts are signifying the same concept. For example, if someone tells me that I was, unbeknownst to me, raised by an android, and he calls that "your mother," I would say that he isn't really talking about what I call "my mother," even though he is making a claim about the cause of a certain set of sensations that I had. He and I have an _overlap_ in our concepts (namely, the cause of that set of sensations), but if I became convinced that I was raised by a non-sentient, humanoid android, I would no longer call it "my mother" except with extreme irony and scare quotes. What I would call "my concept" of my mother, even pared down to a fairly bare set of essentials, just contains more than that overlap. It would be possible for my mother to have had blue eyes instead of brown eyes, but not (as I use the phrase) to have "been an android."

Lydia, I am looking at the matter more formally. A word signifies a thought, or a concept. (I would prefer to say it signifies a concept if the word is a common noun rather than a proper noun.) If a pagan signifies by the word "god" something along the lines of "that which ought to be worshiped", and St. Paul talks to him knowing full well that what he signifies is limited to just that an no further, the St. Paul too - at first - means to signify "that which ought to be worshiped" when he talks generally about things like a "god".

It is completely true that "that which ought to be worshiped" has lots of attributes we can think about. And, through natural theology we can arrive at quite a bit of knowledge about such a being (except we eventually arrive at the knowledge that we shouldn't say "a being" because that's an equivocation :-)). But before people like Aristotle came along and DID that natural theology, (and for quite a long time after) that body of ideas was not general knowledge, and the word was not used to signify all that other stuff, it was used to signify a more limited concept. In the context where virtually everyone was pagan and nearly everyone in different cities worshiped a different god or other, and they all knew that, TO THEM the word did not signify anything like "the ultimate metaphysical ground of being". It signified little more than "what someone thinks they should worship". (This is, at least as Plato depicts it, the large share of the reason the Athenians put Socrates to death - because he thought "god" must be something much more than ANY of the gods they worshiped, something beyond his ability to depict, and they thought that meant he didn't worship one of the gods.)

So when St. Paul means to proselytize these pagans, and he starts out talking about "god" to them, he either signifies the same thing they do when he uses the word "god" to them, or he merely equivocates and fails to communicate. But failing to communicate is no part of bringing the Gospel to new people. He wants to RAISE UP their understanding of God, but to do so he starts out using the word the way THEY use it, and then gets them to broaden their horizons for what the word can mean. In order to do things like get them to realize that "a god should not be the sort of thing that is jealous or lusting", he has to be able to TALK about "gods" that do such things, and doing so implies using "god" to signify the same thing they already use it to signify. He can't even say "a god that lusts after humans is not much of a god..." if he means to signify by "god" exactly the ultimate ground of all being.

Speaking formally, a word points to _the_thought_it_signifies, so if at least at first he is intending to use the word "god" the way they are using it, he too is intending to signify "that which ought to be worshiped" AND NOTHING MORE. This is not an _overlap_, but simple commonality of reference: they are using the word the same way. This is what good communication demands, and there is no reason to think they were failing to communicate. Sure, he intends to eventually use the word in a more developed sense to signify all that he thinks when he says "God", but like any teacher he is capable of using language the way the student is already using it and drawing the student forward.

Lydia, on Maverick Philosopher you described the following hypothetical:

I say that Yahweh has given me new revelations and made me his prophet. I say that the Yahweh I'm preaching is the same one who spoke with Abraham and made promises to him in the Bible story. But ... the "Yahweh" that I'm preaching, I say, is an alien from Mars. He had a father, and he is created. He didn't create all things. ... He's part of a pantheon. The Jews just got all that part wrong, because "Yahweh" hates Jews, really, and was messing with their heads by teaching them monotheism. And, by the way, the ten plagues were an illusion, and "Yahweh" actually led the Israelites around the Red Sea somehow. He didn't part it. ... But "Yahweh" _really was_ the one "behind" Abraham's experiences of God's talking to him, and also those of Moses.
Suppose I provide this scenario to someone who knows basic Christian truths, but doesn't know any philosophical semantics. Instead of asking about "reference", I give him the following multiple choice question:

About whom did she claim that he is an alien from Mars?
a) about Yahweh
b) about Baal
c) about Socrates
d) about some other entity.
e) about nothing

What would be the most natural prima facie response? (a) seems natural to me. (d) and (e) seem on the surface to be wrong. I can see someone coming to believe on the basis of Russellian arguments that (d) or (e) is the right answer, but it's not just obviously so. Kripke would claim to have identified some dubious premises in those Russellian arguments.

The key thing to realize is that when a causal theorist makes claims about "reference" this is all he is saying. The use of a proper name N in an utterance of the form 'N lives on Mars' is said to refer to x just in case x was the one about whom the speaker asserted that he lives on Mars.

To those making "flick of the wrist" arguments about Muslims and Christians worshiping the same God, I'm saying that this humble notion of reference can't do the work they are trying to make it do. And a more conceptually robust notion of reference would not be the sort of "reference" that Kripkean theory was intending to address.

Ed Feser,

You say,

"(As Belloc and Besancon -- who I have quoted in my most recent posts over at my blog -- have pointed out, the earliest Christians who encountered Islam said the same thing about it, insofar as they regarded Islam as essentially a Christian heresy. They didn’t say, after the fashion of some of the combox theologians I’ve been encountering in recent weeks, “Them Mohammadens is worshippin’ some idol they found in the Kaaba!” Rather, they held that, like other heresies, Islam began with the idea of the true God and introduced errors.)"

I resemble that remark :-) I'm enjoying the debate as it has progressed!!!

Christopher,

I find your last 10:21 PM comment intriguing. I would agree with your answer (a), but that is not the real question at hand. The more relevant question remains -- does Lydia worship the same God as Christians? I think the answer then is clearly no -- and now descriptive theories of language come in handy as we need to refer back to what exactly does Lydia think she is worshiping. On the other hand, I don't know if you've been following the comments over at Zippy Catholic's blog. He argues that the very phrase "same God" is in some sense self-contradictory, because God is real and essential and when we talk to God we are necessarily talking about the real God. This, quite frankly, makes no sense to me, but I might not be doing justice to his argument. Here is the link to at least one of his responses to me:

https://zippycatholic.wordpress.com/2016/01/16/rationalizing-the-same-god/#comment-31456

There are more if you are interested :-)

The use of a proper name N in an utterance of the form 'N lives on Mars' is said to refer to x just in case x was the one about whom the speaker asserted that he lives on Mars.

Given the extent to which I imagine altering the content of the concept of x in this case, it seems rather ridiculous to me to say that, in my scenario, my assertion is actually _about_ the Biblical Yahweh. I've just scooped up the name and tagged it to _some aspects_ of _some stories_ about Yahweh as revealed in the Bible, while directly contradicting others! It is utterly arbitrary to say that, because I happened to choose that name and decide to co-opt some aspects of some stories, the real Yahweh is the one "about whom" I am talking. If we chose to focus on "parted the Red Sea" or "loves the Jews" rather than "spoke to Abraham," then we'd come up with a different answer--namely, I'm explicitly _not_ asserting "about" the being who parted the Red Sea that he lives on Mars. This is not just a _humble_ concept of reference, it's a bizarre one. What if I utter statements about someone named "Paul" that happen to be true of two different people named "Paul," both of whom actually exist? Which one's existence "fixes" the reference of my comments? Does it depend on my intentions? But in the scenario envisaged, the _intention_ of my followers is to talk about a being who, as it turns out (unbeknownst to those I have duped), doesn't exist--namely, a being who spoke to Abraham, lied to the people of Israel, and faked the plagues of Egypt.

Tony, the thing is, though, if we imagine the pagan thinking, for example, that a god is physically embodied and does "dwell in temples made with hands," then his concept contains some attributes of the true God (that he is worthy of worship) and some that contradict it. So it's not "nothing more than" that which should be worshiped.

I don't think Paul fails to communicate, but I think he very directly contradicts the faulty aspects of the pagan concept of God. (It's interesting that the Mars Hill discourse gets brought up as an example of Paul's tact, but he's actually pretty directly challenging their views. He even tacitly warns them that the true God may punish them if they don't change, that the time of God's "winking" at idolatry is passing.)

This would be a clear signal that he isn't using "God" in the same way that they generally use it in day-to-day discourse. Which means that, at the most, he is depending on partial overlap and explicitly signaling the areas of non-overlap, not implying that his use of the term "God" actually refers to the _same entity_ that their use of "god" refers to.

Lydia,

Re: Frank, I think I’ll be seeing him later this year, so I’ll try to convince him then!

Re: whether the core I identify is too thin to secure reference to the same thing, naturally I don’t agree that it is. One reason to think that it is not is that when you unpack the implications of metaphysical ultimacy, absolute simplicity, etc. it turns out that there cannot even in principle be more than one such God. (This is one reason it is so important to see that God is not a member of any genus -- if he were, then the claim that there is at most one God even in principle could not be secured.) So, if A and B are both talking about a classical theistic God, then since there couldn’t in principle be more than one, there can be no doubt that their reference converges on the same thing. There just couldn’t be two or more members of the class to which they each might be referring, because there is no such class as “Gods” of which more than one thing might be a member.

(Some people in this debate have raised the “There’s only one God” idea in defense of the claim that Christians and Muslims are referring to the same thing, but as far as I can tell they haven’t done so effectively because they haven’t emphasized the point that the uniqueness follows necessarily and in principle from the key theses of classical theism. It’s not a matter of both religions saying “Oh there just happens to be only one,” in which case it wouldn’t follow that it’s the same one.)

In other words, wondering whether two classical theists are talking about the same God is like wondering whether two mathematicians are talking about the same number 3. If they agree that it comes between 2 and 4, that it is odd, etc., then they are definitely talking about the same number 3, whatever else they go on to say about it.

Hey Jeff,

Actually, I wouldn’t necessarily claim such a “resemblance” -- in fact, there were one or two other guys I had in mind when I wrote that!

Although I accept the truth of classical theism, I too resist the attempt to make of it the core of the Christian conception of Deity. It's both too thin and too thick. Too thick when it goes beyond understanding God as the transcendent creator (which Moses knew) and includes a philosophical working-out of that notion in Aristotelian terms. As an Aristotelian myself I agree that that development is a correct one, but Abraham Isaac and Jacob could not have understood the notion that God is pure act with no admixture of potency. When God revealed himself to Moses as 'I Am', it is psychologically impossible that a late bronze/early iron age Semite educated in the royal house of Egypt could have understood that as a claim that God is ipsum esse subsistens. Although I am sympathetic with the idea that that text is pointing in a direction that eventually blossoms into classical theism, the conceptual background for classical theism as such was simply not there for the ancient Israelites.

It's too thin because it does not include the historical particularity that is at the core of how the Bible represents God: he is the God of Abraham Isaac and Jacob. He is the God of the Covenant, the God who brought Israel out of Egypt. These are absolutely central to the Biblical witness. They are of course contingent: God didn't have to choose Israel. But that's no barrier to their being religiously central in the following way: When a Christian is asked to identify which "God" he worships, the core of his response should include both a description of a transcendent creator and an description of his covenant relationship with his people Israel. Anything that requires a background in Aristotelian philosophy can't be _that_ central.

Jeffrey S.,

I would agree with your answer (a), but that is not the real question at hand.
Agreed. I've contended all along that the question of semantic reference of 'God' is not releant to what ordinary people actually mean by the claim that Christians and Muslims worship the same God.
The more relevant question remains -- does Lydia worship the same God as Christians? I think the answer then is clearly no
Agreed.
and now descriptive theories of language come in handy as we need to refer back to what exactly does Lydia think she is worshiping
I don't think so. First, we already know what adherents of "Lydianism" _think_ they are worshiping. They _think_ they are worshiping Yahweh. But perhaps you meant to say something like "How does she think of what she worships". I say semantics isn't involved in answering this question. To be sure, our answer will be "descriptive" in the sense that we will be describing how Lydians describe their god. But this won't be a descriptivist _semantic_ theory, because we won't be loading any particular description (or cluster of descriptions) onto any word they use like 'Yahweh', or 'God'. We won't be trying to figure out which of their many beliefs about God are essential to determining the referent of the name 'Yahweh' as they use it, because we don't think that's how proper names work. Instead we're just asking, what things do they believe about their god? And describing _any_ of their beliefs about their god answers that question, though of course some are more important than others.

d) didn't send Jesus to die on the cross, because Jesus didn't die on the cross (so that even one of the "piggy-backing" stories was changed in a major way, see also c).
I've just scooped up the name and tagged it to _some aspects_ of _some stories_ about Yahweh as revealed in the Bible
You're misunderstanding how the "piggy-backing" is supposed to work on the causal theory. The idea is NOT that I take some descriptive content believed by previous users and "piggy back" on that. You are fundamentally still thinking of the causal theory as if its a kind of descriptive theory. It's not. On a pure causal theory, proper names don't have any descriptive content at all. The piggy-backing intent is simply the intent to use the name to refer to the same person previous users refer to. And those previous users aren't determining the referent by means of associated descriptions. They're using as a proper name, which means (on the causal theory) it has no descriptive content for them either: they may tend to have certain thoughts when they use it, but those thoughts play no role in the semantics of the word. The referent is determined by the chain of transmission (not by a description of the chain of transmission, but by the chain itself - those historical events of one person hearing the name and passing it down to another, regardless of whether we know about them).

I get the impression you haven't read _Naming and Necessity_. Your knowledge of Kripke is second-hand? If so, I recommend reading it. He uses the semantics he develops there to defend an argument for dualism. Which I imagine you'd be sympathetic with. It's my impression that his argument was largely responsible for the wane of the mind-brain identity version of materialism.

Gnostics claimed that the Father of orthodox Christianity is actually the demiurgos, not the creator. To them, we were deluded. That is another possibility beside what Ed is bringing up here. Just because you think the object of your worship is the ultimate creator, doesn't mean it actually is.

Consider all of the claims about Islam's "revelation," the character of Allah and Mohammed. It sounds thoroughly satanic. A deity that would send a thieving, mass-murdering, child rapist to be his messenger sounds an awful lot more like the Satan/Anti-Christ relationship than anything else.

Atenism is another example. The Egyptians became vaguely aware that there was a supreme creator, but identified that deity in Aten, one of their gods. That does not mean Atenism's worship is directed at God, but rather that they think one being (Aten/a demon posing as Aten) is actually God.

The piggy-backing intent is simply the intent to use the name to refer to the same person previous users refer to. And those previous users aren't determining the referent by means of associated descriptions. They're using as a proper name, which means (on the causal theory) it has no descriptive content for them either: they may tend to have certain thoughts when they use it, but those thoughts play no role in the semantics of the word. The referent is determined by the chain of transmission (not by a description of the chain of transmission, but by the chain itself - those historical events of one person hearing the name and passing it down to another, regardless of whether we know about them).

Going back, ultimately, to knowledge by acquaintance? What happens then if somebody later in the chain thinks one person did what two people actually did and intends to use the name to refer to what previous users mean by "Paul" when it's actually two different "Pauls"? Which "Paul" is then referred to?

There are a gazillion problems with this. Including the fact that it arbitrarily leaves out the changes between the "Yahweh" who actually spoke to Abraham and the (non-existent) "Yahweh" who faked the plagues of Egypt.

But I would reply, if one is using such an incredibly thin sense of "worshiping the same God" that it has that consequence, why should anyone care about that sense of "worshiping the same God"? In fact, I'll come right out and say that I don't think anyone *should* care about such a thin sense.

I totally agree. It is a completely useless thing to ask. It is only pushed in order to feel all ecumenical and all. It is, like many things religious leaders espouse, rather pointless. The real question to ask is whether a given group is accurate in its identification of God's attributes, and what He requires of us. That is what the "worshiping the same God" pretends to ask, but doesn't really. It allows for ecumenical cover while dodging the real question.

I didn't take the time to follow Zippy's links, but I did read his post you linked to, Symeon, and all he is really doing is reframing the question so it is no longer self-contradictory.

Which, ironically, just shows that although people are using the same words, they really mean different questions. Some use the "worship" question to mean the trivial point - i.e., God is a common referent; some to ask the non-trivial question whether our beliefs about the common referent are sufficiently similar to warrant continued dialogue along certain paths, or if other paths need to be forged.

Or, to put it bluntly, "Do we worship the same God" is a pointless question - the real question should be "is Christianity or Islam or Judaism true/correct/accurate in what each says about God and what He demands of us?" But if you ask that question, that means two of the three are wrong, and that makes for awkward cocktail parties.

Ed,

In other words, wondering whether two classical theists are talking about the same God is like wondering whether two mathematicians are talking about the same number 3. If they agree that it comes between 2 and 4, that it is odd, etc., then they are definitely talking about the same number 3, whatever else they go on to say about it.

Although I still wouldn't be at all convinced that "classical theism" is sufficient for a significant sense of "same God" in these contexts, I would be somewhat more sympathetic to this as, at least, a worked-out position with its own internal unity if it weren't for the fact that apparently things can be included (as we've discussed) in someone's so-called "classical theism" that are inconsistent with the object of his reference's being the number 3 (to use the metaphor), as long as they aren't "too obviously" inconsistent. You seem to want to have and make use of the wonderful unity of classical theism in the argument above but to de-emphasize it at other times in order to allow people to be called "classical theists" who are inconsistent with classical theism!

Aside from that, the statement that there cannot be more than one God who meets the description of classical theism does not move me towards saying that two such people must be referring to the same God, in part because I (like you) regard the essence of the true God as including more than the properties ascribed in classical theism and its entailments (_much less_ only its "obvious" entailments). If someone _denies_ some of those additional, essential properties (not just fails to affirm them), this creates to my mind a strong prima facie case that he is not talking about the same God I am talking about. I'm sure you realize that it would be mere sophistry to imply that, by making that argument, I am saying that there are really two different Gods and thereby betraying my own monotheism! (Others have done this in their arguments, not you.) That's not the point at all. The point is rather that, since it is of course possible for reference to fail and for someone to (without realizing it) talk about something that doesn't exist, someone who attempts to refer to a God (Allah) who is both (say) metaphysically ultimate _and_ could not be triune or incarnate seems to be talking (without realizing it) about someone who doesn't exist in the real world. But since the true God, my God, does exist in the real world, he's not talking about my God. And there is no true historical sense (such as exists between Christianity and Judaism) to be brought in at that point to supply a different significant sense of "referring to the same God."

Another relevant point is that, unlike the number 3, God does things in history, and these are extremely important. It's impossible to imagine denying or affirming one of the crucial acts of the number 3 in history, because there aren't any. When one group says that the God it wishes to teach about has _not_ done certain acts in history which are central to another group's teaching about God, it is legitimate to ask at what point and in what sense they are "talking about the same God." Conversely, when two groups have enormous overlap in the historical acts they attribute to the God they teach about, this can support a significant sense in which they are "talking about the same God" even in the presence of some important theological disagreement (as between Calvinists and Arminians).

c matt,

You say, "Or, to put it bluntly, "Do we worship the same God" is a pointless question..."

No, only in "Zippy world" is it pointless. For Lydia and myself and many others it is a perfectly valid question. And once you answer no, then the same implications of your other question follow -- if we don't worship the same God then one of us worships in vain. Obviously a Christian will say the Muslim worships something that does not exist and therefore fails to worship the true God.

Another problem with the quoted letter of Pope St. Gregory VII in Nostra Aetate no. 3 in support of the idea that Christians and Moslems worship the same God, only in different ways, is the astounding fact that the Koran had not even been translated into Latin (the universal language of the Church) at the time that Gregory wrote his letter! The first translation, really a summary, of the Koran, was made in 1143 A. D., 58 years after St. Gregory's Letter. The summary included a refutation of Islam. The first complete translation into Latin was done in 1698. Not knowing Islam in detail, St. Gregory probably assumed, because of their actions in regards to an almighty God and the somewhat reverence of Jesus as a prophet, that Islam was a Christian heresy and was, thus, able to speak of worshiping the same God, although in different ways, as one might say for any Christian sect.

Thus, using this letter as a referent is a bit problematic. The prevailing way of speaking about Islam through the early 1800's was as a false revealed religion. It seems that the focus was on revelation and not dogma. If one wants to find some common ground between Christianity and Islam, one can look at the very thin commonality of the Godhead, but ignore the elephant of revelation in the room of that Godhead speaking to man.

Finally, since God is simple, and all or most of His attributes are contained in that statement, my question (which I don't know the answer to) is: does Christianity and Islam share in the Divine simplicity? If not then they are not referencing the same God; if so, then they, probably, are.

The Chicken

Lydia writes:

…if it weren't for the fact that apparently things can be included (as we've discussed) in someone's so-called "classical theism" that are inconsistent with the object of his reference's being the number 3 (to use the metaphor), as long as they aren't "too obviously" inconsistent.

This simply mischaracterizes the situation. Voluntarism (for example) isn’t part of classical theism per se, not even according to those classical theists who are voluntarists. So it isn’t “included in” anyone’s classical theism. Rather, it is a further, additional thesis which some classical theists would take on board and others (rightly) would not.

(You might as well say, “Lydia, who is a Christian, likes coffee. Therefore, liking coffee is ‘included in’ her Christianity, but not ‘included in’ the Christianity of coffee-hating Christians.” This just mischaracterizes the situation because liking or not liking coffee is no part of Christianity per se but rather some additional element with which it may or may not be conjoined.)

Re: the number 3 not doing things in history, that isn’t relevant, because although God has done things in history, he need not have done so, yet we still could have referred to him even if he hadn’t (by means of the arguments of natural theology). And the descriptions by which we could have referred to him (being metaphysically ultimate, being simple, being uncaused, etc.) can, I claim, suffice to guarantee sameness of reference whatever different people end up saying, correctly or incorrectly, about what God has or has not done historically.

So you’re missing the point about the number 3 comparison. The point of the comparison is that there are metaphysical truths in each case (God and the number 3) which, if two people A and B know them, suffice to guarantee that they are talking about the same thing, because the truths in question guarantee that the thing is absolutely unique. Hence they guarantee reference whatever false claims of a contingent sort A and B might believe. (E.g. if someone falsely believed that the number 3 is my favorite number, that wouldn’t change the fact that he really is referring to the number three in his utterances of “3”; and if someone falsely believes that God did not cause the Church to be founded, that doesn’t change the fact that he really is referring to God in his utterances of “God.”)

This is what you get when I have a long flight and no way to do other work. :)

TL;DR: Christians and Muslims necessarily believe in and worship the same God. I find the arguments about other attributes, voluntarism, etc. to be unsatisfying. None of that changes what we have to do -- the question is really a distraction.

To it, then.

Definitions: Unless used metaphorically, "god" or "God" refers to a being. To a monotheist, "God" means the being that created all that exists. Christians, Muslims, and Jews are all monotheists.

When a monotheist says "God", meaning the being that created all that exists, there is no conceivable thing that he can be referring to other than God. If there is such a being for him to actually refer to, there can only be one. There are no actual different Gods for different monotheists to refer to.

Monotheism may not be the only defining criterion for this issue, but it is surely *a* defining criterion, because it identifies a particular class of entity, and that class has only one possible member. Any reference to any member of that class necessarily refers to God.

Thus, when a Muslim says "God", there is no conceivable thing that he can be referring to other than God.

Before continuing, let's consider other terms that necessarily refer to one and only one thing: say, "everything" (i.e., the set of all things). When one person says, "everything acts only according to natural laws that can be described by mathematical equations" and another says "everything acts according to God's will, which can be capricious", they can't be talking about two different "everythings".

In fact, asking, "Do they believe in the same everything?" is kind of a weird question. Of course they believe in the same everything. There is no other everything to be talking about. (I believe this to be Zippy's point, by the way.)

Different uses of "god" and "God" can confuse the issue, but they don't change the point. "Thou shalt have no other gods before me" is gibberish if "god" means "all-powerful creator of everything that exists." But that's not what it meant; it meant something like "non-human entities whom you adore and sacrifice to". That is an identifiable class of entities, and God, Odin, Vishnu, Baal, and others are all in it.

However, Odin, Vishnu, and Baal were never beings that created all that exists. That is a different class, and they are not in it. Therefore, when we refer to Odin -- whether he exists or not -- we cannot be referring to God. Eternally existing laws of physics are not a being, and thus are not referring to the being that created all that exists, and thus are not God (even if no "other" God exists).

On the other hand, Aristotle's God is clearly a member of that class. There's also no other conceivable thing that he could be referring to other than God. He may have believed in other, lesser gods, too, for all I know, but among all the gods, only one could possibly be God. That's why Aquinas could build on Aristotle's work: because Aristotle spoke about and believed in God, too.

The argument regarding voluntarism and other attributes doesn't work for me, because it's conceivable that there would be other entities (or no entities, even if God exists) to which those attributes could be attributed. Odin could be the person who determines what's moral and what's not; once you accept voluntarism, there's no necessity behind who is calling the moral shots. God could conceivably be triune (or dual, or whatever) or a single person. God could pay attention to humans or not, interfere with the physical world or not, become incarnate or not.

But if he's the creator of all that exists, he can't be anyone other than God.

As for worship (technically Catholics would call it "adoration"), I think that it's intentional, and therefore internal. You worship when you intend to worship: Aquinas said you can eat to the glory of God. It's possible to intend badly (which is different from having bad intentions), and you can perform acts that are objectively not to the glory of God, but I'm not in the worshiper's head, and I don't know what God will accept as worship from them.

To bring that closer and make it clearer: Catholics, of course, feel that the Mass is the full and sufficient form of worship. But I hope that God accepts Protestants' forms of worship, too, even though I'm pretty sure they're objectively inferior, and if Catholicism isn't true then I hope God accepts my worship from the Mass, even though it would then objectively be idolatry. But don't tell me I'm not worshiping, and I won't tell you you're not. We are.

Now, why does any of this matter?

For the cases Lydia has talked about, it mostly doesn't. Wearing a hijab shows solidarity with *Islam*, which has a particular and distorted view of God, not just with God himself. A "thin" agreement that we're referring to God when we say "God" doesn't eliminate the necessity of fighting against jihad.

And that means the question is a distraction more than anything else. I think Matt C. was spot on in classifying the question as a dodge in many cases, steering away from the question of whether we have the *right* conception of the God we worship. We expect our wars to bbe uncomfortable, but we don't like uncomfortable cocktail parties, so we move on.

So, to sum up: I think the question is a little funny, but to the extent that it has an answer, the answer must clearly be "yes". That "yes" doesn't really change anything that we have to do.

But if he's the creator of all that exists, he can't be anyone other than God.

I'm sorry, Jake, but this is _exactly_ the kind of argument that Ed has tagged as a poorly done version of the argument, and all sorts of repetitions won't make it anything else. And as I said above, to Ed:

If someone _denies_ some of those additional, essential properties (not just fails to affirm them), this creates to my mind a strong prima facie case that he is not talking about the same God I am talking about. I'm sure you realize that it would be mere sophistry to imply that, by making that argument, I am saying that there are really two different Gods and thereby betraying my own monotheism! (Others have done this in their arguments, not you.) That's not the point at all. The point is rather that, since it is of course possible for reference to fail and for someone to (without realizing it) talk about something that doesn't exist

I'm afraid you are committing precisely this error when you say,


If there is such a being for him to actually refer to, there can only be one. There are no actual different Gods for different monotheists to refer to.

It shouldn't even need to be said, it should be extremely obvious, but nobody on the "nay" side is saying that there _exist_ multiple "Gods." Now, it may be that a demon caused Mohammad's visions. But that doesn't mean that the demon is "a God." Just that, if one uses a term like "Allah" to refer to "whatever the cause was of Mohammad's experiences," that cause might be a demon. But that isn't necessary to assert in any event. When one says that Muslims and Christians _either_ refer to _or_ worship "different Gods," one is _quite obviously_ using "refer to" in such a way that it doesn't entail the existence of an object. For example, I could lie and convince my child that an entity exists whom I just made up. Then the innocent child could go around referring to that entity, talking about that entity, because he thinks it exists. But it doesn't.

This is elementary.

Now, obviously one can think that the Spirit of the Flying Spaghetti Monster created the whole physical universe. This "no content counts except the statement that there is only one God, because I said that's the only thing that counts" is just incredibly facile.

I'll at least say this much for Ed Feser, much as I disagree with him, that he requires _somewhat_ more content than that.

Ed,

This simply mischaracterizes the situation. Voluntarism (for example) isn’t part of classical theism per se, not even according to those classical theists who are voluntarists. So it isn’t “included in” anyone’s classical theism. Rather, it is a further, additional thesis which some classical theists would take on board and others (rightly) would not.

I'm sorry, that was a mere infelicity of word choice on my part. I am perfectly willing to word the objection more like this: On your view, propositions incompatible with classical theism (and even rather important propositions about the character of God incompatible with classical theism, such as an affirmation of extreme moral voluntarism) can be included _in someone's overall theology_, while such a person still gets dubbed a "classical theist" on the basis of the portions of his theology that are compatible with classical theism. And the same mutatis mutandis for large groups, theological schools of thought, etc. I find this highly counterintuitive. It is as if two different meanings of "classical theist" are floating around. One of them refers to a person who understands the grand structure of classical theism as you have taught it, with its unity, the interconnectedness between the properties of God, etc. At least to a person who doesn't affirm anything *at odds* with that. The other meaning refers to a person who holds a much more minimal set of propositions which, worked out with consistency, you hold *would* entail the others, even if such a person (or group) holds important propositions that are at odds with that, as long as they aren't (in your view) "too obviously" at odds with it. To me, this appears quite ad hoc and unsatisfactory. And when I think the propositions in question (such as extreme moral voluntarism) are extremely important to the character of God, it makes it even less attractive to use this more minimal sense of "classical theist" as a way to decide the "same God" question.

Now, a couple more points: The trinity is part of the *nature* of God. It isn't even an action of God in history (though, see below, I don't think those should be ignored in this debate). Some people even think that one can discern by pure reason that God must be a Trinity. I _think_ Thomas Aquinas denied this and said that it could be known only by special revelation, but I'm not certain on that one way or another. In any event, since it is being excluded from "classical theism" here, it apparently falls into a category that doesn't even apply to the number 3 at all--that is, it is a matter of the _essence_ and _nature_ of God which cannot be discerned by sheer entailment from his necessary properties.

It makes (to my mind) perfect sense to say that if a person or group _emphatically denies_ some aspect of the _nature_ of the deity that they teach and worship that another person or group emphatically affirms, they aren't talking about the same God. Obviously, Ed, you disagree, but I don't think the number 3 analogy helps you here, since there is no good analogue for the Trinity concerning the number 3.

Or (to cover all the bases), if the Trinity _can_ be derived by sheer reason from "the ultimate creator of all things" (which I very much doubt and do not think is your position), then it's just _another_ of the facts of classical theism (in the robust sense) that can be explicitly and emphatically denied by someone while he still gets dubbed a "classical theist."

Now, concerning acts in history: The point I was making is that the number 3 analogy is extremely limited in usefulness, and even somewhat problematic, because "acts in history" are not even the _kind of thing_ that can apply to the number 3. The "is my favorite number" analogy is really poor, because it is a Cambridge property of the object, and it isn't a Cambridge property of God that he parted the Red Sea or sent Jesus to die on the cross for our sins.

This gets us into the whole "importance" issue. I think that at root, this is a dispute about what properties of God are most important for saying that someone refers to the true God. Given the vast importance of God's acts in history, and especially the acts of salvation history by which God himself sometimes defines himself ("I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt"), it is _reasonable_ for a person to hold that someone who _denies_ one of these crucial, defining acts of God in salvation history is talking about a different (and non-existent) God from the true God--namely, e.g., the One who _didn't_ send Jesus to die, etc.

We disagree on whether that is the right way to approach this, but I think it would be good for philosophers who take the "mere classical theism" approach to acknowledge at least the reasonableness of those who include crucial acts of salvation history in their non-negotiable notion of the true God for purposes of "referring to the true God," at least in one extremely crucial sense of that concept. (See my discussion of Judaism and the historical sense, which is different, but which is not available to Islam.)

But your response to Ed was wrong. If we refer to things for which there is only one possible referent -- I'll again use everything, i.e., the set of all things -- your response to him looks something like this:

If someone _denies_ some of those additional, essential properties (not just fails to affirm them), this creates to my mind a strong prima facie case that he is not talking about the same everything I am talking about. I'm sure you realize that it would be mere sophistry to imply that, by making that argument, I am saying that there are really two different everythings and thereby betraying my own mono-everything-ism!... The point is rather that, since it is of course possible for reference to fail and for someone to (without realizing it) talk about something that doesn't exist.

But if someone is making errors while talking about everything, they're not talking about some imaginary thing that isn't everything. They're talking about everything. And we know they're making errors precisely because they're talking about everything, and not some imaginary everything that isn't everything.

Pick another example: The US economy. There is only one of those. There are people who have incredibly wrong ideas about how the US economy functions. But when those people make statements that demonstrate how wrong they are, e.g., denying that the laws of supply and demand don't work, they're not talking about some imaginary US economy. They're talking about the US economy. And we know they're wrong, because they're talking about the US economy.

Pick a third example: The collection of all laws of physics. There is only one of these. If someone makes whacko statements about the laws of physics (and when they do, it's hilarious), they're still referring to the laws of physics, not some imaginary collection of imaginary laws of imaginary physics. Note that in this case, the whacko statements could even include individual laws that are wrong (just as someone could make wrong statements about God), but when they refer to "the laws of physics", they're still referring to the laws of physics. There's nothing else for them to refer to.

Of course I'm not saying that that you believe there *are* multiple Gods. That would be as stupid as you make it sound. :)

If anyone actually believed in the Flying Spaghetti Monster as the being that created all else that exists, I would engage that argument. As it is, Aristotle provides a suitable example of an actual belief in an actual creator God, and yes, he believed in God.

I should add that this was a bad formulation:

When a monotheist says "God", meaning the being that created all that exists, there is no conceivable thing that he can be referring to other than God. If there is such a being for him to actually refer to, there can only be one. There are no actual different Gods for different monotheists to refer to.

That should read that there are no possible or conceivable different Gods for different monotheists to refer to.

If someone says, "The U.S. economy is a canary in Brazil" and really means it literally (it's not some elaborate metaphor about the connection of a canary in Brazil with the U.S. economy), then he is not talking about the U.S. economy. He has something radically different in mind from what people normally use that term to talk about. One just has to use a wild enough imagination to envisage a true difference of reference between people's usages of "the U.S. economy." To analogize the "same God" debate to the use of "the U.S. economy" in, "The U.S. economy is such that the laws of supply and demand don't apply" comes close to question-begging.

If you're going to bite the bullet on the Flying Spaghetti Monster, then I think you've just accepted a reductio of the "one God means same God" position, if held without further refinements and caveats. Again, Ed's position is more defensible, because he would (as far as I know) _not_ agree that someone who thinks that the Flying Spaghetti Monster is "the one God who made all else other than himself" is referring to the same God as Christians, even though such a person would be (in a debased sense) a "monotheist."

Of course, I also would (under some highly unusual circumstances) be willing to argue with a sincere pastafarian (if any existed) over whether the FSM made everything other than himself. But arguing over the truth of the proposition "The FSM made everything other than himself" doesn't imply an acceptance that "the FSM" refers to _the true God_ and that the sincere pastafarian gets some things wrong _about_ the true God.

"The US economy is a canary in Brazil" isn't a conceivable economy. The person isn't speaking about the US economy or some made-up economy; he's speaking gibberish.

"The US economy moves up or down because of the movement of the wings of a canary in Brazil" is a conceivable economy. The person is speaking about the US economy, and he's wrong.

I didn't say I'd "bite the bullet" on the Flying Spaghetti Monster. I specifically said I wouldn't engage it. As it stands, the FSM is a pure hypothetical, used only to refer to nothing -- to no thing -- and thus doesn't seem like a good example for my position or yours.

If someone said "The U.S. economy is a canary in Brazil," I would assume that he didn't think "economy" means the same thing that I use "economy" to mean. Perhaps he thinks "economy" means "something that everyone loves" or whatever.

Similarly, if someone says, "Allah, *by his very nature*, cannot be triune," I conclude that he is using "Allah" to talk about a deity that is different in essential nature from what I mean when I talk about God--and, in fact, a deity that does not exist. For there is no deity such that he both made all things and also, by his very nature, cannot be triune.

Jake, I misunderstood you. I took you to mean by, "If anyone actually believed in the Flying Spaghetti Monster as the being that created all else that exists, I would engage that argument" that you would engage in an argument with that person about whether the FSM created all things.

As far as my attempted use of it as a reductio, I think you _should_ engage _my_ argument, even though it is a wild hypothetical, because it helps to get at the nature of the issue--e.g., what _besides_ being "only one entity" and "making everything else" does this deity need to have in order for you to say that someone who refers to him is referring to the true God? Sometimes weird hypotheticals are especially helpful for focusing down on a person's position, how far he will go with it, etc.

Let me put very simply why I keep coming back to the moral voluntarism issue: It's because it has to do with whether or not the God referred to and worshiped by a group is good! Good in some meaningful sense. Good as something other than just a word.

I doubt that most Muslims, Christians, or Jews have ever given a moment's thought to whether God is "simple." Speaking for myself, after years of doing philosophy, including philosophy of religion, I'm still not sure even what it _means_ to say that God is "absolutely simple." So that would be one of the _last_ properties I would emphasize as necessary to be attributed to God for a person to be referring to the true God.

But if someone believes in a deity who is not _good_, really good, good in a robust sense such that it is *contrary to his very nature* to declare raping innocent girls to be "good," then it seems to me dead obvious that this creates a prima facie case that he and I don't worship the same God. If it turns out that this person is a Christian (there are some Christian moral voluntarists, though I think it's unfair to Calvinists to say that most Calvinists are moral voluntarists), I may, with some reservations, admit that he and I do worship the same God because of some other argument concerning our robust creedal agreements on other matters.

But the point is that the goodness of God is front and center. It's primary. It's got to be important to the "same God" issue. Anybody who consigns the divine property of goodness, of all things, to some peripheral realm vis a vis this issue so that it's literally beside the point when it comes to deciding whether someone is talking about the true God is watering "God" way, way down in a pretty problematic way.

I think it's unfair to Calvinists to say that most Calvinists are moral voluntarists.

Indeed it is. (says the Calvinist)

Jake, I misunderstood you. I took you to mean... that you would engage in an argument with that person about whether the FSM created all things.

Yeah, and I just realized that I wasn't so explicit when I "explicitly" said I wouldn't engage. Sorry about that.

I don't particularly feel like engaging on the FSM because it's a conception of God that nobody believes in. It's a cheat, in a way. It’s too easy to confuse the FSM conception of God and other, believed-and-believable conceptions of God, as if the invented nature of the one precludes it from being in any way like the non-invented nature of the others.

But, as long as I've said that much, I may as well take it the rest of the way.

Here's what the Pastafarians have to say about "how our world was created":

We believe the Flying Spaghetti Monster created the world much as it exists today, but for reasons unknown made it appear that the universe is billions of years old (instead of thousands) and that life evolved into its current state (rather than created in its current form). Every time a researcher carries out an experiment that appears to confirm one of these “scientific theories” supporting an old earth and evolution we can be sure that the FSM is there, modifying the data with his Noodly Appendage. We don’t know why He does this but we believe He does, that is our Faith.

Based on this, we can probably agree that Pastafarianism is a concept set up in opposition to the creationist conception of God.

We agree that creationists worship God, so we can further agree that the creationist conception of God refers to God.

To be in opposition to the creationist conception of God, Pastafarianism posits an entity, the FSM, that takes the place of God in the creationist conception of God.

Thus any reference to the FSM is also a reference to the creationist conception of God, which is thus also an indirect reference to God.

It seems to me that there are two possibilities here.

One is that we take Pastafarianism to be a mockery only of a specific conception of God, rather than of God himself. We would say, in that case, that anyone talking about the FSM isn't talking about God, but only about the creationist conception of God. People who call the FSM a blasphemy are mistaken, in this view. But if that's true, then nothing I've said has anything to do with the FSM: I've been talking about how conceptions of God refer to God the entity, not about how satirical concepts relate to conceptions of God.

The other is that we take Pastafarianism to itself be a conception of God, set up in opposition to the creationist conception of God. If that's the case, then the FSM refers to God because creationism refers to God, and Pastafarianism is modeled on it. If that's the case, your reductio turns out not to be a reductio at all, but the simple truth: Pastafarianism refers to God, just as much as "the Jewish [conception of] God" and "the Christian [conception of] God" do.

Interestingly, none of this results from the FSM being an all-powerful creator deity -- which just goes to show you that monotheism isn't the only line in the sand, even if it is a line in the sand.

Let me put very simply why I keep coming back to the moral voluntarism issue: It's because it has to do with whether or not the God referred to and worshiped by a group is good! Good in some meaningful sense. Good as something other than just a word.

This just seems like question-begging to me. Earlier you said, "This 'no content counts except the statement that there is only one God, because I said that's the only thing that counts' is just incredibly facile." Why is this anti-voluntarism -- which you admit might be compatible with, though suboptimal for, someone else's worship of God -- more important than monotheism?

If someone said "The U.S. economy is a canary in Brazil," I would assume that he didn't think "economy" means the same thing that I use "economy" to mean. Perhaps he thinks "economy" means "something that everyone loves" or whatever.

Yes, and if words don't mean anything then we may as well thensleen cordulous brevem.

Similarly, if someone says, "Allah, *by his very nature*, cannot be triune," I conclude that he is using "Allah" to talk about a deity that is different in essential nature from what I mean when I talk about God--and, in fact, a deity that does not exist. For there is no deity such that he both made all things and also, by his very nature, cannot be triune.

Or he could just be wrong about God's very nature. That's not hard to do.

Someone could believe the proposition that "Everything, by its very nature, must exist in finite space." Someone else could believe that "Everything, by its very nature, must exist in infinite space." At most one of them is right, and I don't know which one. It's clear, though, that these conceptions are different in essential nature from each other. Yet it's also clear that they both refer to the same everything. Because everything is everything -- regardless of what they think about it -- and they both refer to it.

Lydia,
I agree with you that the doctrine of God’s goodness is very important, and that extreme voluntarism is morally repugnant because it effectively denies that doctrine. I also agree that salvation history matters when evaluating the extent one could say that two groups worship the same God. Like you, I strongly disagree with the actions of Professor Hawkins at Wheaton, and I strongly oppose Christians in a Western context joining with Muslims in an ecumenical worship service to Allah. [Arabic-speaking Christians and Arabic Bibles do use the term “Allah” to refer to God; it predates Islam and it is not the word that is the problem but the religio-political ideology that is Islam. What Arabic Christians attribute to Allah is very different from what Muslims attribute.]
In addressing the “Do Christians and Muslims worship the same God” question, it seems to me that we have to distinguish two separate questions: “Is it the same God to which Christians and Muslims address their religious devotion?” and “To what extent, from a Christian perspective, can Muslim religious devotions be considered worship?”
I see nothing inconsistent between an affirmative answer to the first question and yet a denial of any devotion that involves Muhammad as a prophet, or any devotion that implies voluntarism, or any devotion that ascribes to God any untrue attribute, as counting as worship of God. This would likely rule out the majority, perhaps the vast majority, of Muslim religious devotions as actual worship of God.
It would also mean that some Christian devotions would not be worship as well, but the majority of Christian devotion would be genuine worship. Judaism would be in between Islam and Christianity. A Jew who sincerely praised God for bringing Israel out of Egypt would be genuinely worshiping God. This, it seems to me, would be true even if the Jew was one who explicitly denied the Trinity etc., so long as that denial was not part of that particular act of worship i.e. the Jew is not thinking “O God, who art not a Trinity, praised be Thou who brought Israel out of Egypt.”
This approach gets around the difficulty you seem to be having with whether to regard Christian voluntarists as worshiping the same God. Yes, it is the same God that they address their devotions toward, but any act of devotion praising God for His ability to legislate through sheer will what counts as good would not be an act of worship. It also explains why some Christians who are exclusionists concerning salvation may nevertheless concede that Jews and Christians worship the same God but would balk at the notion that Muslims and Christians worship the same God. A far greater proportion of what is stated in Jewish worship services counts as worship than their Muslim counterparts, for the very reason you emphasize—the importance of salvation history. Similarly, a Trinitarian worship service that emphasizes the supremely important salvation-historical events that God accomplished through Jesus is that much richer a worship of God.
How far apart are we?

Lydia,

There are a gazillion problems with this.

That many, huh?

I doubt either of us in inclined to go over carefully in this venue each one of those "gazillion" putative problems and figure out if it's an actual problem, or only an apparent one, and if actual determine whether Kripke's theory can be reasonably "fixed" so as to deal with it.

In a situation someone would naively describe as one in which a person said a bunch of radically false things about Yahweh, and denied virtually everything everyone has hitherto believed about Him, one possible non-bizarre view is that the naive description is correct: one has in fact made claims about Yahweh. There are sensible objections to this view. There may well be sensible responses to those objections. Objections that seem very powerful from a descriptivist position seem far less compelling from a Kripkean perspective. And Kripke has arguments against the descriptivist position and for his own. But there may well be sensible responses to those arguments. I haven't been propounding those arguments because my intention in this venue is not to settle the question of which semantics is correct, but only to clarify what the theory is, to urge that it is not bizarre on its face, and that there are reasons within the theory that push in the direction of saying that Christians and Muslims use 'God' with the same semantic referent.

To do more than this would be off-topic from my perspective. We are, after all, both agreed, I think, that we can refute those who claim that Kripkean semantic considerations show that Christians and Muslims worship the same God by saying, "even if Kripkean theory is both true and entails that the word 'God' as used by Christians and Muslims has the same semantic referent, the proper conclusion to draw from this would be that "semantic reference" is irrelevant to the theological, missiological, and practical questions that we really cared about in the first place."

There may also be other ways to refute them. Maybe it's possible to refute them by showing that Kripkean theory is false. But to do that _adequately_ would require wading deep into the weeds of philosophical semantics. Kripke is not going to be refuted by a flick of the wrist either.

Jake,

This is where (I think) I get tripped up in your evaluation of the position Lydia is trying to defend:

"The other is that we take Pastafarianism to itself be a conception of God, set up in opposition to the creationist conception of God. If that's the case, then the FSM refers to God because creationism refers to God, and Pastafarianism is modeled on it. If that's the case, your reductio turns out not to be a reductio at all, but the simple truth: Pastafarianism refers to God, just as much as "the Jewish [conception of] God" and "the Christian [conception of] God" do."

This language you use: "conception of God" seems to me to once again be question begging -- why does it have to be the one true Christian God that the Pastafarians are still talking about when they describe the FSM and not some sort of different entity -- an idol if you will (or some other imaginary creature that might take a feature or two of God), but is not the same thing as God? You insist that everyone who models a deity is anchoring that deity in the real Christian God (or using God as a reference when they refer to their God) but again, I ask why can't they be referring to something totally different -- something made up like Zeus or Zork or the FSM?

Jake, I just use the FSM as a convenient shorthand for a set of properties that every reasonable Christian knows are radically at odds with the true properties of God. *Of course* in the actual history of our world, it's all just a mockery of Christianity. But I specifically mentioned a hypothetical sincere pastafarian, and I even said that none of them actually exist. In other words, take the properties attributed to the FSM and imagine somebody who (never mind how) came to believe that _that_ is the "one true God" who "made heaven and earth." Then, my point is just that you have to do _more_ than require that someone worships a deity who (he says) is the only deity (monotheism) and who made everything other than himself (creator) in order to rule out the reductio ad absurdam that a person who actually worships the FSM is, when he talks about his god, referring to the true God!

Why is this anti-voluntarism -- which you admit might be compatible with, though suboptimal for, someone else's worship of God -- more important than monotheism?

I have said it is compatible with someone else's worship of God _only_ if there are other strong reasons to think that he is referring to the true God--such as if he affirms the Nicene Creed or something like that. It _does_ create a prima facie case against it. Indeed, I might even go so far as to say that it creates an "in one sense, no, in another sense, yes" case such as I have stated concerning modern Jews.

I don't say that it is _more_ important than monotheism. I say that it is _as_ important as monotheism. That is to say, prima facie, someone is worshiping a false God both if he denies that the deity he worships is one and if he denies that that deity is good. As to _why_, I've tried to answer that repeatedly: I think it is trivializing of the true God to say that someone is unambiguously referring to and worshiping the true God if he doesn't affirm that God is good in a robust sense. Moreover, as my FSM argument is meant to show, mere monotheism with any old properties at all is _deeply_ trivializing of the notion of the true God.

Someone could believe the proposition that "Everything, by its very nature, must exist in finite space." Someone else could believe that "Everything, by its very nature, must exist in infinite space." At most one of them is right, and I don't know which one. It's clear, though, that these conceptions are different in essential nature from each other. Yet it's also clear that they both refer to the same everything. Because everything is everything -- regardless of what they think about it -- and they both refer to it.

I cannot for the life of me accept the idea that there is anything remotely enlightening about making an analogy between talking about God and talking about "everything that exists." "God" is a name. It is intended to refer to a determinate entity with real properties. "Everything" is inherently indeterminate. There really is no more to be said about this analogy. It's just unhelpful in the extreme.

Branston, it is certainly possible to refer (in one sense) without worshiping--atheists do it all the time. I don't see how it is possible to worship without (at some point in one's life) referring--where "referring" is not a success verb but means something more related to Fregean "sense." That is, I don't think it's possible to worship a being about whom one has no concept.

Also, it seems reasonable to say that if Abdul is a Muslim and John is a Christian, and if they both refer to the same being in their daily religious life (not just in some artificial context of debate where they are agreeing about a deliberately super-narrow set of properties), then they *attempt to direct worship to* the same being in their prayers, etc.

Now, I take it that your suggestion is to treat "reference" as not necessarily a success verb such that if you refer to someone or something, he or it necessarily exists. But you seem to be (if I'm understanding you) suggesting that "worship" be treated as a success verb, so that someone cannot be worshiping that which does not exist. This would seem to explain the way you are carving things up.

I think this is a little artificial from the ordinary-language perspective. That is, I think people tend to treat "worship" as "direct their worship toward." That is certainly how I would be inclined to use the word casually. And as you seem to be saying, if Muslim and Christian concepts of God and Allah are sufficiently similar that they can be regarded as both referring to (in the sense of "conceiving of" or "thinking about") the same entity, then it makes sense to take it that they are both directing their devotions to the same entity.

Given all that you and I agree about, one has to ask why most orthodox Muslims and most orthodox Christians should be taken to be directing their worship toward the same being.

One relevant point here, I think, is the trouble Islam itself takes to distance itself from Christianity. There is the insistence that Allah can have no son, that Allah cannot be triune, and so forth. Mohammad and his followers have made a big deal about these things. I find it rather surprising in the light of this as a sheer historical fact that it should really be that controversial that they are not *trying* to direct their worship toward the same Being whom Christians worship. Their theology is in many ways developed in direct reaction and opposition to Christian theology.

Jeffrey, this is why I didn't really want to address the FSM. The case of Pastafarianism confuses the issue, because its mode of reference is different from Islam's.

This response assumes you chose "the other option", which you quoted above. Remember that I'd also be willing to say that Pastafarianism only refers to a conception of God (in which case it's not really relevant to the conversation). But if this is the path we want to take, let's take it.

First, though, note that you confuse the issue when you talk about "anchoring that deity in the real Christian God" or "the one true Christian God". We could just as easily say "the one true Jewish God", because all three phrases refer to the same entity.

"But," you might say, "the Jewish God isn't the true one. The true God is Christian."

Well, then you have to decide: Do Jews worship God, or some imaginary being? If the former, then "the Jewish God" refers to the same actual entity that "the Christian God" refers to. The difference between "the Jewish God" and "the Christian God" isn't that they point to two different beings, but that they indicate different conceptions of the same being. "The Jewish God" is shorthand for "the Jewish conception of God" or "the Jewish understanding of God", and likewise for "the Christian God".

Now look back on our discussion. We're (at least, I'm) not talking about what conceptions of God the word "God" refers to. We're talking about whether or not it's God that the word "God" refers to.

"Do we worship the same God?" doesn't ask "Do we have the same conception of God?" It's asking if our worship is pointed at the same being. It's asking what we're referring to.

Therefore, I'm not "anchoring the deity" in "the real Christian God". What I'm saying is that when someone refers to God, they're actually referring to God -- whether they're referring to a true conception of God or not, whether it's the Christian conception of God or not.

Are the Pastafarians referring to God? Well, yes, because the Christians they're mocking are referring to God. (It's not a purely Christian thing, either: The mocking works equally well against any Creationist Jews.) They can't mock the belief in something without referring to it.

If they were mocking idol worshippers, they would be referring to idols, and I don't think we'd be arguing whether they were referring to real things, because idols are real. If they were mocking Norse pagans, they'd be referring to Norse gods, and we wouldn't be arguing whether they were referring to real things, because the Norse gods aren't real.

They can't be referring to Zeus, because Pastafarianism doesn't mock Greek gods. They can't be referring to Zork, because they're not mocking Zorkians.

We can tell what they're mocking because they're referring to God.

Again, the FSM clutters things up because the argument is different from that of Islam. Pastafarianism, for instance, isn't clearly monotheistic. If Christians, Jews, or Muslims discovered that there were entirely new universes, we would all know that God had created them. Pastafarianism isn't that rigorous. Go figure.

Well, then you have to decide: Do Jews worship God, or some imaginary being? If the former, then "the Jewish God" refers to the same actual entity that "the Christian God" refers to. The difference between "the Jewish God" and "the Christian God" isn't that they point to two different beings, but that they indicate different conceptions of the same being. "The Jewish God" is shorthand for "the Jewish conception of God" or "the Jewish understanding of God", and likewise for "the Christian God".

I addressed the "What about the Jews?" question in the article linked in the main post.

Pastafarianism, for instance, isn't clearly monotheistic.

What about a sincere, monotheist pastafarian? You have to do more with this. You have so far not even tried to distinguish between believing in a being who *by his very nature must be one and only one* (because he's conceived as "metaphysically ultimate" or some such phrase) and a being who *just is the only deity* in your use of "monotheism." I suspect that this is because you want to keep on saying that content really doesn't matter except for "monotheism," so you want to keep even your definition of "monotheism" as unspecified as possible. Hence, the value of the FSM example for pressing precisely on how minimal you want to make your monotheism.

Again, Jake, I think Ed's position, though incorrect (in my view) is a lot more defensible than the yet-more-minimal version you seem to be trying to promote. For example, he compares talking about God to talking about the number 3 for his analogies, not to "everything." At least the number three is a determinate entity (if you're a Platonist, anyway). I think there are problems with comparing talking about God to talking about the number 3 (I've gone into some of them in the above answers to Ed), but it's a better type position to defend if you want to say "yea" on the "same God" question.

I wrote what follows before seeing your last comment, Lydia. Note that my previous comment had been directed to Jeffrey.

I really do think the FSM is a dead end. You won't agree. We're arguing at an intuitive level on some of this, and neither of us seems willing to give up his intuition.

Because of that, I'll start by accepting your explanation of your anti-voluntarism, even though I still disagree with it.

I'll move to the "everything" analogy. I think our different reactions to it mean something, though I'm not sure what. It's an excellent analogy. The word "everything" is a term that, contra your claim, names something very specific: The set of all things that exist. If you point to something, I'll be able to tell you whether it's everything (no) or part of everything (yes). There are things that I can't point to, but that I can still identify as part of everything. I can't comprehend everything, or even the scope of everything, but that doesn't mean I can know nothing about everything. I can have true and false ideas about everything. And there is exactly one set of all things that exist, and necessarily so. In all of those ways, talking about everything is very much like talking about God.

(Professor Feser, if you'd like to comment on whether you think the analogy is terrible or good, I'd be interested in knowing your opinion.)

The fact that I find this appealing, and you don't, points to something about how we're thinking about it differently. Remember when you said, waaaay up at the top, "I would frankly almost prefer it if a Catholic intellectual would just come out and say, "I have to believe this, because the Church teaches it, so now I'll do my best to give an intellectual defense of it, which some might not find convincing, given that they don't have my other reasons for believing the conclusion."? I'm not a Catholic intellectual, but I literally don't see reasons to believe your conclusion. The way you speak about it seems condescending (though I know you, and know you don't mean it that way). I don't find your original article compelling, nor most of the specifics you're arguing.

I don't know if there's something about Catholic and Protestant formation generally that leads to this situation, but it's interesting.

Okay, to the last and stickiest part.

Then, my point is just that you have to do _more_ than require that someone worships a deity who (he says) is the only deity (monotheism) and who made everything other than himself (creator) in order to rule out the reductio ad absurdam that a person who actually worships the FSM is, when he talks about his god, referring to the true God!

I don't really know why you think this is a reductio. Or, if it's a reductio, it's not a reductio in the way you think.

All of us have incomplete and faulty understandings of God. What magical threshold do we have to trip over before we go from talking about God to talking about not-God? If it's not binary, then at some fuzzy level you can decide that it's not worth talking about the believer as if he believes in anything resembling a God, but there's still some fuzzy amount of reference to God as well.

But I know this:

If I'm talking to Norse pagans, I'm going to tell them that Odin and Thor and so on don't exist. Maybe the closest I get is telling them that the idea of the All-Father is the weak shadow of a greater truth, a truly omnipotent and all-loving God that created all things. "Odin is not the All-Father," I might say. "Let me tell you who that truly is."

If I'm talking to a sincere Pastafarian, I'm not going to tell him that his god doesn't exist. I will tell him that I think he uses a terrible name that leads to all kinds of erroneous thinking, and that "God" is a better term to use, but I will agree with him that there is a creator who made everything other than himself. His Noodly Appendage doesn't exist, because he's generally not corporeal (though I'll have to say that with an eye to talking about things like the Burning Bush, Jesus, and the Eucharist later on). I will point out to my friend that the vast majority his ideas of the creator are mistaken. "This is God we're talking about," I might say. "And he's so much better than you've imagined so far."

To you, that seems wrongheaded. I don't get why.

Lydia,

Yes, you addressed "What about the Jews?" in your article, and you believe that Jews do worship the same God, which means "the Jewish God" and "the Christian God" refer to the same entity, which means the rest of my point stands: They are conceptions of God, and using "the true Christian God" when you mean "God" actually muddies the waters rather than clarifying them.

Whether the Pastafarian believes that God is necessarily one or just happens to be the only one isn't really important. He could just be wrong about the nature of God. Do you think that a Christian with a defective understanding of the ultimate nature of God isn't a Christian?

Lydia,
You claim, I think, that because Muslims argue that Allah cannot be triune etc. so they are not trying to direct their prayers/hymns to the God Christians worship. I am not sure that you are correct about this. I have the impression that Muslims would say that Christians are people of the book and that Muslims worship the same God that Christians do but that Christians misunderstand the nature of God. Why is it not possible for Muslims to direct their prayers/hymns towards God but that the content of said prayers/hymns on many occasions is such that they fail to worship God?

You acknowledge in one of your articles that you link to that there is an important sense in which Jews and Christians worship the same God, and another sense in which they do not. There are theists that do not accept any particular special revelation. If they pray to God and the content of their prayers is correct even if incomplete, I would say that they are worshiping the same God Christians worship but that this worship is not as rich as the worship involving the salvation history recorded in the Old Testament. The same could be true of a Muslim, although the Muslim might be more likely than the theist to include material that does not attribute proper worth to God.

I want to end on another point of agreement. Those of us who think that it is the same God that Christians and Muslims direct their prayers/hymns toward but who regard the ethics in the Koran and Sharia law as horrifically different from Judeo-Christian ethics (and who think that there is such a thing as Judeo-Christian ethics, despite Christian distinctives in certain areas) are fundamentally on the same side as those who think that this entails that Christians and Muslims do not direct their prayers/hymns toward the same God. Thank you, and your colleagues, for this blogpost, for providing courageous critiques of Islam and of progressivism, consequentialism, postmodernism, fideism and other disturbing trends.

And another thing...we routinely hear of Muslim men raping Christian girls, calling them "wives", and forcing their conversion to Islam. Meanwhile, the Christian Scriptures teach that Christians should marry none but another Christian. Does anyone really think the purported deities behind the two religions are one and the same?

Since the modern world began in the sixteenth century, nobody's system of philosophy has really corresponded to everybody's sense of reality: to what, if left to themselves, common men would call common sense.
-GKC

Some questions on this subject seem to be talk about the talk about the talk. Maybe I'm a boor, in many respects I don't get it. Some of the questions on the question seem to me like treating the existence of sound as one of many competing theories of hearing.

Is it really that nuanced of an issue? Islam doesn't just fudge a little here and there on what one ought to mean by "God." By Christian standards their beliefs are heretical at best. Can one be a heretic and in any meaningful sense of the word "same" be said to worship the same God as Christians? This isn't a matter of degrees, nor one of thickness and thinness.

It doesn't seem that God will deal judgment based on degrees of some esoteric quality of _richness_ in religious devotion. In the final analysis one comes to God through His Christ, or one doesn't.

If I'm talking to Norse pagans, I'm going to tell them that Odin and Thor and so on don't exist. Maybe the closest I get is telling them that the idea of the All-Father is the weak shadow of a greater truth, a truly omnipotent and all-loving God that created all things. "Odin is not the All-Father," I might say. "Let me tell you who that truly is."

If I'm talking to a sincere Pastafarian, I'm not going to tell him that his god doesn't exist. I will tell him that I think he uses a terrible name that leads to all kinds of erroneous thinking, and that "God" is a better term to use, but I will agree with him that there is a creator who made everything other than himself. His Noodly Appendage doesn't exist,

Jake, based on the rest of this quote, I think you intended to have a "not" in the first sentence there. I'll proceed on that assumption.

Now, here's an interesting thing immediately. A number of people, including Prof. Feser, have had as an immediate reaction to this whole thing that there is something odd or even uncharitable about anyone's (like my, for example) saying that there are _practical issues_ to which this debate is relevant. I give Prof. Feser credit, though, in this very thread, for acknowledging the type of point I was actually making after I spelled it out further, above. I wish I could say the same for others (a philosopher who goes by the handle Parableman, for example) in the Gospel Coalition thread and other venues. It seems that some of a more philosophical bent of mind really are at least initially inclined, and sometimes even inclined upon reflection and debate, to think of the "same God" issue as _totally abstract_ and having _no_ relevance to any practical issues.

What you say here, I think, illustrates the point on the opposite side I have been making all along.

Yes, I think that would be a very bad idea, and I think so because, in fact, Thor, Odin, and the Flying Spaghetti Monster _don't_ exist, and I think it's important to tell the truth on this and not to give rise to confusion. On a day when you were not having this debate, I'm pretty certain you would normally and in an ordinary-language sense give a "no" answer if someone asked you, "Does Odin exist?"

The Old Testament is _chock full_ of statements that the gods of the heathen are idols, that they aren't real, etc. This is explicit in the duel between Elijah and the prophets of Baal. The whole point is that Baal isn't real, that he is nothing, and that this is why he can't send down fire on the altar but Yahweh can. I think this is also explicit in many missions stories where the missionary says that the spirits worshiped by the animists cannot kill him by a curse. To give a Catholic example, I think it is implicit in St. Patrick's allegedly chopping down the sacred tree of the Druids, which is either true or else an ancient legend indicating that he was pointing out that the gods of the druids were non-existent, false idols.

Do you think that a Christian with a defective understanding of the ultimate nature of God isn't a Christian?

That depends _entirely_ on the nature of the defect. If he thinks God is not timeless when actually God is timeless, but otherwise believes the rich creedal content of trinitarian Christianity, there is no problem at all. (Muslims don't do that, of course.) If he isn't a trinitarian at all, he isn't a Christian, specifically, because trinitarianism is by definition part of even the merest of mere Christianity. Such a person may nonetheless believe in the true God because, for example, his beliefs are like those of the Jews I've repeatedly discussed. Interestingly, there are some problems with anti-trinitarian heresy among some Messianic Jewish groups, partly because in an attempt to contextualize the message of Christianity and lead Jews to believe in Jesus the Messiah, some messianic Jewish missionaries have deliberately downplayed or even set aside the Trinity as offensive to their audience. But if some person claims to be a Christian and is, say, a liberal Episcopalian and just thinks God is a "life force" at most, doesn't believe Jesus really rose from the dead, and basically treats Christianity as a vehicle for left-wing politics, then he _definitely_ isn't either a Christian _or_ a believer in the true God.

It all depends on the specifics.

I am not sure that you are correct about this. I have the impression that Muslims would say that Christians are people of the book and that Muslims worship the same God that Christians do but that Christians misunderstand the nature of God.

It probably depends on which Muslim one is talking to and what their goal is, but Tony made a good point, above, to the effect that (he didn't put it this way) Abraham is changed into a Muslim rather than Islam's accepting the story of Abraham. Or to give another example, Islam expressly teaches that Jesus did not die on the cross! So even the stories that are being piggy-backed off of are being changed. The shared story-content is pretty much the _only_ basis for a Muslim to make a "same-God" claim, and even that is changed pretty radically. So, for example, Issa is a prophet, not even the Son of God (even an Arian believes that Jesus is the Son of God!), because Allah can have no son, and Issa doesn't even die on the cross, much less physically rise from the dead. So both the essential nature and the acts of God are emphatically different, and taught to be different.

Here's a thought experiment that I think would be enlightening. It is based on the fact that the fundamental Muslim creed is, "There is no God but Allah, and Mohammad is his prophet."

Would a Muslim say that one would still really be talking about Allah, the Allah to whom he directs his worship, if one insisted that the deity one was talking about _did not_ reveal himself to Mohammad and is a trinity? Would he agree that the God in question would "still be Allah" even if those things were different? I very much doubt it.

It would be like telling a Jew, "I'm really talking about the same God as your Yahweh, only he didn't choose your people, he didn't bring Israel out of Egypt, and oh, by the way, he's also a trinity." What good, Orthodox Jew would agree that you're talking about the "Yahweh" to whom he directs his worship? He really shouldn't agree.

Jake,

This is helpful:

"Now look back on our discussion. We're (at least, I'm) not talking about what conceptions of God the word "God" refers to. We're talking about whether or not it's God that the word "God" refers to.

"Do we worship the same God?" doesn't ask "Do we have the same conception of God?" It's asking if our worship is pointed at the same being. It's asking what we're referring to."

I agree with the part I highlighted and just think that in the end, Muslims and Christians are pointing to a different being. One is real (the Christian God) and one was made up by Muhammad.

Lydia, no, I didn't mean to have a "not" in the first sentence. I will absolutely tell people that Odin doesn't exist. Baal, Vishnu, etc. as well. Buddha did exist, of course, as did Ras Tafari, but they were not God.

I would not tell a sincere Pastafarian that his god doesn't exist. And that's why the Pastafarian example is such a stupid distraction: Because it's absolutely ridiculous to try to imagine a sincere (and monotheist, per your thought experiment) Pastafarian. The urge is to say, "No, the FSM doesn't exist!" because it's such a ridiculous caricature of God.

But it *is* a caricature of God. And something that's a caricature refers to the thing of which it's a caricature.

Interestingly, that's something the Pastafarians and I agree on. Here's their website:

Some Pastafarians honestly believe in the FSM, and some see it as satire. I would just make the point that satire is an honest, legitimate basis for religion. Satire relies on truth to be effective. If it’s a joke, it’s a joke where to understand the punchline you must be conscious of underlying truth.

They say "conscious of", while we're talking about reference. However, if someone is actively and sincerely worshiping the Flying Spaghetti Monster, their worship is directed toward an entity. They're not just conscious of something, they're referring to it -- to the "underlying truth".

You wanted me to imagine, so I did. But I can't stop at the "that's just a stupid thing to believe in" stage. Of course it's a stupid thing to believe in. It's even a stupid thing to talk about believing in. But if I'm going to do it, I have to imagine a person who believes sincerely that the FSM is the creator of the universe, that he actually does intervene with his Noodly Appendage, that he believes in the "positive values" that the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster is allegedly trying to instill in its followers.

This is a stupid thing for me to do.

But if you insist that I do it, I'm drawn to the same conclusion: This Pastafarian guy has a seriously screwed up view of God.

But it's a view of God.

By the way, Lydia, your argument is actually much better with Islam than you are with (a strictly monotheist) Pastafarianism. The former has a great deal of content, and the latter almost none.

If your assertion that differences of opinion about characteristics means that the reference fails to refer to the same entity, then Pastafarianism gives you almost no differences of opinion to work with. That's the whole point, actually: The main specific difference between the FSM and the creationist God* is the Noodly Appendage. There's almost nothing else there to say.

* Specifically, the creationist view of God that indicates that evidence of an older universe or Earth is planted by God to test our faith, or manipulated by God, or something of that sort.

Jeffrey, we'll continue to disagree on that point, but at least we understand each other better. :)

I came back to say that I agree that this is not a completely abstract question, but I didn't address that because you were arguing against the guy missing a "not" in his first paragraph rather than me. :)

Then I realized I screwed up here:

Do you think that a Christian with a defective understanding of the ultimate nature of God isn't a Christian?

You answered well, and I agree completely with what you said. Unfortunately, what I meant to say was, "Do you think that a Christian with a defective understanding of the ultimate nature of God doesn't worship God?"

And then I saw this:

Would a Muslim say that one would still really be talking about Allah, the Allah to whom he directs his worship, if one insisted that the deity one was talking about _did not_ reveal himself to Mohammad and is a trinity? Would he agree that the God in question would "still be Allah" even if those things were different? I very much doubt it.

It would be like telling a Jew, "I'm really talking about the same God as your Yahweh, only he didn't choose your people, he didn't bring Israel out of Egypt, and oh, by the way, he's also a trinity." What good, Orthodox Jew would agree that you're talking about the "Yahweh" to whom he directs his worship? He really shouldn't agree.

With both of these examples, Lydia, you're basically saying that if people thought like you, they'd think like you.

You use the term "the same God" as if it's not a little weird. You speak as though it matters whether one believes that he's worshiping "the same God". You're giving an example that violates your intuition and asserting that your Muslim and Jew will likely also have violated intuitions, while you have actual people on this thread and in other places who are in the same situation whose intuitions are violated when you go the other way.

Your thought experiment only reinforces existing intuition. It doesn't bring anything new to the table. Nothing wrong with that, but we should be clear about it.

Jake, can you seriously envisage an extremely Orthodox Jew (imagine a Hasid or something) encountering someone (this is an imaginary religion) who says, "I worship the same Yahweh you do, but I say that he didn't choose the Jewish people or bring them up out of the land of Egypt, plus he's a Trinity" and nodding his head and saying, "Okay, I understand and agree that you worship the same Yahweh I do, but you just have some wrong ideas about him"?

I can't imagine that happening. I really can't. Judaism is _highly_ historical in its understanding of who Hashem/Yahweh is. (I'm inclined to think that this is a good instinct on their part.)

And I think that an orthodox Muslim would have a similarly incredulous reaction to someone who said, "I worship the very same Allah you worship, but I say that he didn't appear to Mohammad, plus he's a trinity."

By the way, Lydia, your argument is actually much better with Islam than you are with (a strictly monotheist) Pastafarianism. The former has a great deal of content, and the latter almost none.

If your assertion that differences of opinion about characteristics means that the reference fails to refer to the same entity, then Pastafarianism gives you almost no differences of opinion to work with. That's the whole point, actually: The main specific difference between the FSM and the creationist God* is the Noodly Appendage. There's almost nothing else there to say.

That reaction is surprising to me. Generally in this debate, there's been a big emphasis on the yea side (at least in one camp of it) on the metaphysical nature of Allah as conceived of by Muslims. Obviously, having a noodly appendage means being a physical being, which raises all kinds of questions about how a FSM can exist eternally, etc. The non-physicality and general non-creatureliness of Allah is supposed to be an advantage on the yea side, which makes a certain amount of sense. I've never encountered anyone else who thought that, if concepts matter, the FSM concept is _closer_ to the truth than the Muslim concept, and that seems pretty dubious to me.

Of course, from my perspective it's a somewhat moot question, because from my perspective _both_ concepts have such vast differences as to render them such that adherents aren't talking about the true God.

I wish I could take the quoted comment, Jake, to indicate a slight movement on your part on the meta-issue of the relevance of conceptual content, but probably that would be over-reading it. :-)

Unfortunately, what I meant to say was, "Do you think that a Christian with a defective understanding of the ultimate nature of God doesn't worship God?"

It's pretty easy to modify my response so as to answer that as well, and again, it entirely depends. A Christian who thinks God is in time (which IMO is incorrect) is worshiping God--see reasons given above. In fact, almost anybody who counts as an orthodox Christian in a creedal sense will be worshiping the true God because of what is included in the creedal content of Christianity. But a lot of that stuff isn't included in Islam, so there isn't the same argument for Muslims.

In general, I myself place a lot of emphasis upon historical truth about God's connection with man. So if someone has that stuff right, that covers a multitude of theological "sins" about Perfect Being theology (for example).

But Islam doesn't have that stuff right. And obviously a sincere FSM worshiper has pretty much everything wrong--both as to divine character and nature and divine historical interactions with man.

I'm willing to accept that there could be a variety of ways in which one could end up directing one's worship to the true God. I just don't think Islam satisfies any of them.

if we don't worship the same God then one of us worships in vain.

There are really two different possibilities: We could, as you say, profess to worship different beings, and in such case, one of us would be worshiping in vain. I assert to be worshiping the One True God, someone else could assert to worship Satan, because he is such a rebel and all and allows him to do what he wants. Clearly, we are referring to two different beings as the object of our worship - two different referents, and one of us would be worshiping in vain.

Or, we could both assert to worship the One, True, God, but a Jew says to worship Him you must believe He is not triune, must do so in synagogue, be circumcised, and stay away from shellfish. A Catholic says you must be baptized, assist at Mass, believe in transubstantiation, etc. A Muslim says you must believe Mo was his prophet, pray five times a day, visit Mecca, etc. Each references the One, true God, yet 2 of the three worship in vain.

Even St. Paul agreed that if Christ did not rise from the dead, our worship is in vain - not because Christians did not seek to worship the one God, but because they would have been mistaken about Him. St. Paul was certainly seeking to worship the One True God, wasn't he? And he recognized he could be mistaken if Jesus did not rise, just as he believed the Jews of his time professed to worship the One God, but were mistaken that Jesus was not in fact that God incarnate. Thus, one or the other, Jews or Christians, were worshiping in vain, although that worship (both the vain and the fruitful) were directed to the one God.

Therefore, that is why I maintain that, at least as among those professing monotheism, the "do we worship the same God" question is trivial. Worshiping the same God doesn't really benefit much. What matters is what we believe about the attributes of God, how He wants to be worshiped, and what He expects of us. In other words, simply because we worship the same God, it does not follow that any old type of worship is fruitful. Otherwise, dedicating my Sunday morning sports watching event to the one God should be just as fruitful as a high pontifical Mass. This much more important discussion seems to get befuddled by the hangup on whether we worship the same God. We do. Now let's move on to the important thing of how He wants to be worshiped so our worship is not in vain.

C. Matt, if you were a missionary to Muslims you would find yourself confronting fairly early on the question of whether or not you should tell your prospective converts that you already worship the same God they worship. In fact, it would be almost impossible to avoid the question. It is a question of how you present the starting point between the two of you.

Even missionaries to Jews have to confront this question, precisely because of what I have referred to as "in one sense, yes, in another sense, no." I have spoken with a very orthodox Jew who was very angry at what he regarded as the deceptive practices of messianic Jewish missionaries. I'm not sure whether I would agree with him (he was giving a pretty biased account), but the question of being clear/truthful and the possible tension with "building bridges" really does arise in those contexts, especially if a missionary is from an ethnically Jewish background and presents himself in that light first. At what point does he make it clear that he is a Christian? Or does he (as some do) eschew the "Christian" label altogether?

So, really, in missiology there end up being extremely live issues related _directly_ to the "same God" question.

Jake, can you seriously envisage an extremely Orthodox Jew... nodding his head and saying,

Who needs an extremely orthodox Jew? I couldn't envisage you nodding your head to any of this stuff! :) But why does what they think or say have anything to do with this? We're talking about what is, not what other people would say.

Obviously, having a noodly appendage means being a physical being, which raises all kinds of questions about how a FSM can exist eternally, etc.

I'd be a hypocrite to say that the FSM can't exist eternally with a mere Noodly Appendage, while Jesus can exist eternally with a complete human body.

I've never encountered anyone else who thought that, if concepts matter, the FSM concept is _closer_ to the truth than the Muslim concept, and that seems pretty dubious to me.

"Closer to the truth" is an interesting way of speaking, and I'm not sure I'd use it. The FSM concept has less content; it's a blunter instrument to use in making a reference.

Your argument seems to be that Muslims can't be referring to God when they say "God" because, despite the similarities, their reference involves all of this disqualifying content: "God" can't be a Trinity, "God" can't be incarnate, "God" makes something good by willing it, and so on.

The FSM has no such disqualifying content. If we assume a sincere, monotheist version of Pastafarianism, you have literally no content to serve as a reason to disqualify "Flying Spaghetti Monster" as a reference to God. (At least, not one that wouldn't also disqualify "Jesus".) Meanwhile, you do have one rock-solid reason to qualify it as a reference to God: It's a monotheistic creator god.

I'm just taking your idea seriously. That may or may not be a good idea. :)

Well said, C. Matt.

(At least, not one that wouldn't also disqualify "Jesus".)

Not at all. God the Son was not incarnate from all eternity. The Incarnation itself occurred in the womb of the virgin Mary circa 6 B.C. It was a miracle at a certain place in time. The body of Jesus of Nazareth had a beginning, just as your body and mine had a beginning. (Only his was a miraculous beginning without a biological father.) So the doctrine of the Incarnation in no way requires an eternally _past_ existent, pre-existent (before all other things), physical entity. Indeed, some pretty good metaphysical arguments for the existence of God assume that everything finite (including any physical body) begins to exist and requires a prior cause.

Lydia,
You say "The shared story-content is pretty much the _only_ basis for a Muslim to make a "same-God" claim." I disagree. Consider a theist who accepts no divine revelation but who through philosophical reasoning about various things in nature has come to realize that an uncaused cause, say, must exist and who directs prayers toward that metaphysically ultimate Being. Does such a theist and the Christian worship the same God? I say yes. I am fairly sure that several atheist converts to Christianity went through a phase when they were theists but not yet Christians. I think C. S. Lewis was one. Were they worshiping the same God during their basic-theism phase? I say yes.

Is the major disagreement between us that you think even basic-theists don't worship the same God as Christians do or is it the additional false doctrines in Islam the crucial factor?

Lydia, please cite for me the Pastafarian doctrine that says the Noodly Appendage existed eternally.

Heck, please cite for me the Pastafarian doctrine that says the Noodly Appendage is physical.

Consider a theist who accepts no divine revelation but who through philosophical reasoning about various things in nature has come to realize that an uncaused cause, say, must exist and who directs prayers toward that metaphysically ultimate Being. Does such a theist and the Christian worship the same God?

But that person isn't a Muslim! My comment to which you were responding concerned Muslims, not "mere theists."

Is the major disagreement between us that you think even basic-theists don't worship the same God as Christians do or is it the additional false doctrines in Islam the crucial factor?

The latter. In fact, I think a _major_ part of the problem in this debate is what I call the Mr. Potato Head view of theism, on which some kind of "mere theism" is the potato, and everything else is accessories. Islam is seen on this view as being just a version of "mere theism," as having the "same potato" but just adding some wrong accessories. I see the different properties of God, and his acts in history, as forming a much more importantly unified picture, and the fact that Islam strongly denies crucial aspects of this picture means that Allah is different in both essence and defining acts in history from the true God. Islam isn't mere unadorned, non-trinitarian theism, to the extent that such a thing is ever instantiated among real people. (It occasionally is, but generally only in individuals, as in your example of C.S. Lewis for a short time in his life. I've never heard of its being the content of an entire religion of a group of people.)

I would apply this as well to a distinction between theism and deism. There is to my mind a great gulf between a mere theist who doesn't deny that the God he believes in can or ever would perform miracles, but just hasn't yet decided that there is enough evidence for miracles, and a deist who insists that God _never does_ and _never would_ perform miracles. Arguably, the former could be speaking of and directing his worship to the true God, but the latter is very plausibly _not_ doing so.

Jake

Lydia, please cite for me the Pastafarian doctrine that says the Noodly Appendage existed eternally.

Well, if the FSM is the cause of everything physical other than himself, then we have to have _some_ sort of story about his body. If it came from somewhere else, then we have a contradiction. If it popped into existence from nowhere, we have a metaphysical problem. Of course, if it existed eternally, there is also a metaphysical problem. So FSM worship with the FSM as the creator has severe first cause metaphysical problems that Islam doesn't take on as baggage, nor does Christianity.

Heck, please cite for me the Pastafarian doctrine that says the Noodly Appendage is physical.

Hmm, weren't you the one upthread saying something about whether words have meaning or not? I'm pretty certain the people making up pastafarianism intend the rest of us to picture the FSM as having a physical body. I was just porting that over and imagining a sincere person who believed in that being for real. Not sure what it would mean to talk about a non-physical noodly appendage. Sounds a bit like a non-physical blue elephant--a contradiction in terms. In any event, assume that in this thought experiment I've been talking about a physical FSM.

Well, if the FSM is the cause of everything physical other than himself, then we have to have _some_ sort of story about his body.

...just like we have some sort of story about Jesus's body. Please feel free to cite any Pastafarian content that gives that story in a problematic way.

But this...

If it came from somewhere else, then we have a contradiction. If it popped into existence from nowhere, we have a metaphysical problem. Of course, if it existed eternally, there is also a metaphysical problem.

...is chockablock with assumptions. To name one obvious example out of an infinity of them, it assumes that the FSM isn't Trinitarian, and that one of the members of that Trinity didn't become incarnate and descend to Earth just like Jesus did, and that that is where the Noodly Appendage comes in.

There's no doctrine that says this happened, but neither is there doctrine that says it didn't. There's less content in the religion. There isn't even content about how to tell what content is in the religion!

So, please feel free to cite the specific Pastafarian content that tells you what problems, metaphysical or others, we need to solve. This is very important, because if you're telling me that metaphysical problems are what cause you to believe that FSM isn't just a badly named reference to God, you also need to identify what those metaphysical problems are.

Otherwise you're just waving your hands.

So FSM worship with the FSM as the creator has severe first cause metaphysical problems that Islam doesn't take on as baggage, nor does Christianity.

As I just said, you've assumed this without citing any specific metaphysical problems based on the content of the religion. You're making it up.

Even if you weren't, different baggage doesn't necessarily mean worse baggage. It's just different.

Moreover, even significant metaphysical baggage need not disqualify "FSM" from being a reference to God. There are metaphysical problems surrounding the Trinity: A simple god that is three persons, one of which existed eternally yet has a physical body that exists in time, and yet is of the same essence as the other two persons. That isn't just a "problem" -- it's a mystery. Clearly very important to the definition of the religion and this religion's concept of God. Yet this new baggage apparently doesn't stop the Christian God from referring to the same God as the Jewish God.

Heck, please cite for me the Pastafarian doctrine that says the Noodly Appendage is physical.

Hmm, weren't you the one upthread saying something about whether words have meaning or not? I'm pretty certain the people making up pastafarianism intend the rest of us to picture the FSM as having a physical body.

I'm not talking about what those dolts intended us to picture. I'm talking about what a sincere, monotheist Pastafarian might think. Without specific guidance saying that the Noodly Appendage is physical, a sincere, monotheist Pastafarian might come to believe that the appendage is metaphorical, a way of describing his god's means of interacting with the world. Just as a sincere, monotheist Christian can think that Noah's Flood or the Tower of Babel is a metaphor or parable.

There's no doctrine that says it's this way. There's no doctrine that says it's not.

There are images of the FSM, but none claim to be the actual deity. Also, they all have more than one noodle-like feature, so I'm not sure whether any of them are the Noodly Appendage, or whether they are all noodly appendages that serve as models for the Noodly Appendage.

So sure, the Noodly Appendage might be physical. Or not. There's no doctrine that says it's one way. There's no doctrine that says it's the other.

In any event, assume that in this thought experiment I've been talking about a physical FSM.

If you keep making the FSM into what you want him to be, we'll no longer be referring to the real Flying Spaghetti Monster. We'll be referring to some other, meta-imaginary Flying Spaghetti Monster. ;)

Seriously, though, you're laying your own image of what the FSM is on top of what actually exists as content of the religion. It's a very serious defect in your argument.

If I may be so bold as to interpose:

Lydia's purpose in bringing up Pastafarianism was to show that the mere fact that a religion is monotheisic cannot establish that they worship the same God as we do.

Her point was to make a reductio: if monotheism were sufficient then a totally crazy religion with massively false ideas about what they call "God", such as that he's literally made of pasta, etc. would qualify. And since that's absurd, monotheism alone can't be determinative of whether it's the true God they are referring to.

In order for her criticism of your argument to succeed Lydia doesn't have to stick with "real" Pastafarianism. Sincere Pastafarianism is already a mere hypothetical, so if it is so devoid of content that it isn't a great example, she can just change the example by making up a hypothetical religion that does work in the reductio. Define MPastafarianism as a religion that denies all the things Islam falsely denies about God, doesn't affirm any of the true things Islam affirms about God except the minimal core of monotheism, and also says that God is literally made of Pasta.

Lydia,
Thank you for clarifying.
I am glad that you agree with me that there is a sense that theists and Christians can worship the same God. I misunderstood your comment regarding the shared-story being the only possible basis for the same God hypothesis. I am a theist because I believe that there are sound metaphysical arguments for theism. I am a Christian because I believe that, from a background that assumes theism is true, an examination of the evidence concerning the empty tomb, the evidence from the burial of Jesus, the "apparitions" of the risen Jesus experienced by many on several occasions, the change in behavior by the disciples (and such an examination requires an assessment of the reliability of the Gospel accounts) is overwhelmingly in favor of the hypothesis that God raised Jesus from the dead. Works by Craig Evans, N. T. Wright, Richard Swinburne and others, including you and your husband, I find very convincing. But--in theory at least--this evidence is defeasible. If at some time in the future, archeologists were to find somehow (and this will never actually happen) overwhelming evidence of the bones of Jesus, then that would falsify the Gospel accounts, and Christianity with them. I have Christian friends who disagree with this. They say that even if they became convinced that the bones of Jesus are still around, this would not affect their faith in the resurrection of Jesus. I totally disagree with this fideism that makes a mockery of what the New Testament authors were striving to convey--accurate information concerning, among other things, that nowhere outside the glorified resurrection body of Jesus do the bones of Jesus exist. [Sidepoint: a person in my epistemological situation would have to give up Christianity and belief in the New Testament in the situation above, and although this would not entail giving up trinitarianism, it would mean that there would be no grounds for believing in trinitarianism.]
Why do I bring all of this up? Because if--completely contrary to actuality--it were to happen that I became convinced that Jesus's bones still existed in Israel and there never was a resurrection, then I would give up my Christianity but that would not affect the metaphysical arguments for theism.
There are surely some Jews and Muslims that would have an analogical parallel to my situation. There are surely Jews who also accept that there are sound metaphysical arguments for theism and who would concede that if they became convinced that Abraham and Moses never existed, say, then that Judaism was false but that this would not affect their belief in God, merely their understanding about Him. (I know that many reform and reconstructive Jews would say that belief in the stories about Abraham and Moses etc are not that important to Judaism and they may even go so far as to say that belief in God is not that important for Judaism either. And there are depressingly many Christians that would say something similar; and many Muslims who have no commitment to Islamic theology or practices in their own lives but would not formally deny being a Muslim either, so as not to upset anyone or even receive a death threat. I would say that none of these are genuine Jews, Christians and Muslims as traditionally understood.)
My claim is that there are Muslims in this category also. I would say that al-Farabi and Avicenna both advanced sound metaphysical arguments for God's existence. I presume that they would say that if there was overwhelming evidence that Muhammad was not the prophet of God, then they would give up Islam but that they would still believe in God. And I presume that there are Muslims in that situation today. I acknowledge that because of the rejection of philosophy in al-Ghazali that there are proportionally far fewer Muslims in this category than in either Judaism or Christianity. But I am personally acquainted with one Muslim who sides with al-Farabi and Avicenna against al-Ghazali and I presume that he would be in the situation I mentioned.
My claim is that at least those Muslims whose belief in God does not depend on Muhammad being his prophet or the truth of the Koran can be said to worship the same God as Christians do, at least in their prayers that succeed in ascribing appropriate worth to God. And, to reiterate a previous post, the Muslim is in a WORSE position than the basic theist, because he has so many false views about God.
Certainly not all Christians see it the way I do. Barth would say that there is no natural theology and no theism that is not trinitarian. But I don't hold to that and neither do you.

My claim is that at least those Muslims whose belief in God does not depend on Muhammad being his prophet or the truth of the Koran can be said to worship the same God as Christians do, at least in their prayers that succeed in ascribing appropriate worth to God.

Branston, I'm not at all sure that follows. It's an interesting position, and I thank you for laying it out. But I'm not convinced that your argument is going to get you to the conclusion you want to draw.

First, suppose that (per overwhelmingly unlikely) I became convinced that Christianity is false. At that point, I might become a religious Jew, not a mere theist. Supposing, for example, that I thought the arguments for Judaism beyond mere theism held up. I would presumably abandon my trinitarianism in that case. (I cannot concur with those who hold that the Trinity is a truth of pure reason, by the way.) And I would no longer believe, as I now believe, that the same God who appeared to Abraham and brought the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt also send Jesus. I guess I'd be concluding that Jesus was a fraud, or insane, or something. (This takes us to the whole Liar, Lunatic, or Lord trilemma.)

Now, I tend to think that it would make _perfect sense_ for a religious Jew to say that he and I don't worship the same God. He's not going to agree with my "historical sense" on the substantive issue (even if he thinks it's a legitimate way to approach the matter), because he doesn't think God sent Jesus and founded Christianity. So if, in this hypothetical scenario, I revert to being a Jew, I'm going to _deny_ the Trinity. I'm not just going to "not get to" the Trinity or something like that.

So on the substantive merits of the case, a Jew and a Christian probably should give different answers to the question, "Do Jews and Christians worship the same God?"

Now, let's take a different scenario. Suppose that I also abandon Judaism. Let's imagine that I think that God didn't do _any_ of that historical stuff _and also_ is not a Trinity.

Well, again, I'm not just "not believing" in the Trinity. I'm presumably denying it--at least on the basis of insufficient grounds. The same for other distinctive Christian doctrines (like the Incarnation). And I'm not just failing to have the evidence presented to me for God's acts in history. I'm in that scenario saying that I've looked at that evidence and found it wanting.

At that point, what do I have? I have a silent God. I'm somewhat better off than a deist (see my comments above on deism) if I say that God _could_ speak and that I'd _like_ God to speak, but I just think he hasn't.

So I have a silent God who has done nothing to redeem man, and what other properties does he have? Well, that depends in part on how robust a concept of God you think can be defended by natural theology. Is he all-good? Is he omniscient, omnipotent? Did he create man? Did he give man commands? Did man fall? Is there _any history at all_ that connects this God with love for mankind or a connection with mankind, or is man just the result of chance processes, kicked off at the outset, while an unmoved deity sits on high and watches with interest as it works itself out, let the chips fall where they may?

See, the thing is, here we all are: Human beings, sinners, etc. I think it's going to be difficult--maybe not impossible, but difficult--to work out a "mere theism" under those circumstances that doesn't start to look after a while a lot like a deism with an uncaring God.

I've gone on at such length in order to argue that what a person would _retain_ if certain beliefs or arguments are taken away, and the fact that he would retain some version of theism, is not, I think, a good guide to deciding what God he is referring to and worshiping given what he _does_ believe right now. It is entirely plausible that, in various ways and by various routes, if you were to "delete" some part of his present belief or evidence, he would continue believing in a being with *some of the same properties* as the God he presently directs his worship to, but a being *vastly different* across such a wide spectrum (including both essence and acts) that it would be perfectly reasonable to say that he would have changed to directing his worship to a different God.

Christopher at 4:05 p.m., thank you. Yes, that's the point. That's how the reductio works.

Lydia,

I haven’t followed the whole thread here either before my last comment or since then, and it’s hard for me to keep up this exchange given all the stuff I’m trying to get done this week. So, I apologize in advance if you’ve addressed this already somewhere. But let me make one more point in response to the latest of your comments addressed to me, in the hope of clarifying things. As I’ve pointed out several times now in this debate (here and at my own blog), anyone who is going to claim that a rejection of Trinitarianism suffices to undermine Muslims’ reference to the true God when they use the term “God” faces two problems:

(a) Even the most conservative Christians have historically acknowledged that Jews who have lived after the time of Christ (and who have rejected the Trinity) and heretics like the Arians (who also rejected the Trinity) nevertheless refer to the true God rather than some false god when they use the term “God,” and

(b) If a rejection of Trinitarianism suffices to undermine reference to the true God, then we need an account of why other errors about the divine nature wouldn’t also undermine reference to the true God, and in particular (given that probably most people have some erroneous beliefs about God’s nature) why it wouldn’t turn out that relatively few people ever successfully refer to the true God.

Now, as far as I can tell, you haven’t addressed these problems (correct me if I’m wrong). But you would need to do so before reasonably asserting that my position is “ad hoc” (as you claim it is) or that Trinitarianism and other distinctively Christian claims are necessary for successful reference. For in allowing that even serious error about the divine nature is compatible with successful reference, I am merely taking the same position that has always been taken by Christians who allow that Jews and heretics can successfully refer to the true God, and that ordinary believers and theologians who make various errors about the divine nature can also successfully refer to the true God. So, if you agree that their position is not ad hoc, it is hard to see how you can accuse mine of being ad hoc. Indeed, your own position would in that case be the ad hoc one. Why deny that Jews, heretics, and Christians making honest errors can successfully refer to the true God, but Muslims cannot? The burden of proof is on you to justify this double standard as a non-arbitrary one, not on me to show that it is not justifiable.

But maybe you think that Jews, heretics, and/or Christians making honest errors about the divine nature do not in fact successfully refer to the true God, any more than (in your view) Muslims do? Is that your position? If so, making that explicit would greatly clarify your position and also clarify exactly where our disagreements lie.

Lydia,
This post is very helpful and I need to modify my position somewhat in your direction. Before doing so, I note another point of agreement--that the Trinity is not a truth of pure reason.
If, contrary to actuality, it were the case that overwhelming evidence against Christianity existed and the New Testament was thereby falsified, I would probably become some sort of Karaite i.e believing Tanak but not that the Talmud was the interpretative model for Tanak. I would not need to regard Jesus as a lunatic or liar, because if the New Testament is false, I would not need to believe that he claimed to be God. There is no argument that shows the Trinity to be impossible, so I would not need to be an explicit denier of that doctrine. I would not deny that Christians worshiped the same God as me.
So that would be the fallback position and only if I had good reason to reject the reliability of the Old as well as the New Testament would I fall back on theism.
More on this tomorrow.

Lydia's purpose in bringing up Pastafarianism was to show that the mere fact that a religion is monotheisic cannot establish that they worship the same God as we do.

I'm starting to think that Zippy is right to continually pound home the idea that "worship the same God as we do" is the sticking point.

I agree that that's her point. Her point is still wrong.

"To worship something" implies that there's an object of that worship. There is something that I refer to when I say "Oh God, I worship you."

If, as in the case of Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Baha'i, Zoroastrianism, etc., the specific name isn't the issue -- if you could use "God" to replace "Jesus", "Allah", "Yahweh", "God", "Ahura Mazda", etc. without changing the object of your worship...

...and if you intend, by your reference to "God" or the god's name, to refer to the supreme creator of the universe...

...then you are referring to the supreme creator of the universe.

The Flying Spaghetti Monster isn't a reductio. Stupid, even evil, ideas about the supreme creator of the universe don't change the fact that they're referring to the supreme creator of the universe. You know how I know? Because, if asked, the sincere monotheist Pastafarian would say, "I'm referring to the supreme creator of the universe."

It's hard not to refer to the thing you're referring to.

Lydia and Christopher seem to want to say that they're referring to "the supreme creator of the universe BUT...." Perhaps it's "the supreme creator of the universe-prime". And then they want to identify *that* entity with an object of the worshiper's imagination.

I understand why that idea is appealing. But the worshiper is referring to the supreme creator of the universe. Saying "I don't agree with the following list of things you say about the supreme creator of the universe" cannot change the fact that that's who they're referring to. Don't believe me? Ask them.

God is the supreme creator of the universe, and if you refer to the supreme creator of the universe -- no matter how stupidly -- you are still referring to him.

And if you're referring to something as the object of your worship, then you're worshiping it.

Ed, yes, I've addressed the "What about the Jews" question in various venues, most notably in the Gospel Coalition article that kicked off this particular thread. I'll quote what I said there. (Actually, this is quoting the way the TGC editors published it, but close enough.)

Finally, there’s the “What about the Jews?” argument. This is often trotted out as a knock-down response to any mention of the Trinity in this context.

It is vitally true that Jesus was a Jew, that all of the apostles were Jews, and that Christianity originated in the context of first-century Judaism. It is vitally true that Jesus came to reveal the God who chose the Jews as his people and that Jesus was the promised Messiah, sent by Yahweh himself. The God of the Old Testament is, Christians affirm, the God of the New Testament. Doesn’t this mean Christians worship the God of the Jews? Then, some ask, how can Trinitarianism even be relevant to the question of whether Muslims and Christians worship the same God? After all, Abraham didn’t believe in the Trinity, and modern orthodox Jews reject the Trinity.

But here, philosophy can be helpful, because one thing philosophers do well is making distinctions. And the answer is that in one sense Christians and modern religious Jews worship the same God; in another sense they don’t. Old Testament Jews, of course, didn’t reject the Trinity and the incarnation, since those doctrines hadn’t been revealed. If one emphatically rejects these truths about God, however, and explicitly worships God as non-triune and non-incarnate, then this makes a pretty good case that, in one sense, such a person does not worship the same God whom Christians worship.

In another sense, however, Christians can say to modern religious Jews:

"The true God who called your forefathers out of the land of Egypt, who gave the law at Sinai, who chose you as his beloved, chosen people, really is the one who sent Yeshua the Messiah to die for our sins. We worship the God who really did found Judaism thousands of years ago, who really did give the Torah. And we are here to tell you more about him."

In this historical sense we can say the God we worship is the God of the Jews, though those who haven’t accepted Jesus don’t (of course) agree. But notice: Nothing like this is true of Islam. God didn’t really reveal himself to Mohammad. Mohammad was not a prophet of God. It isn’t enough that Muslims think the Being who revealed himself to Abraham also spoke to Mohammad. Truth matters, and since that isn’t true, there is no real historical connection—in the acts of God himself—between the Allah of Islam and the one true God. But there is a real historical connection in the acts of God between Judaism and Christianity.

There is therefore a fundamental asymmetry between Judaism and Islam. When Christians affirm that (in one sense) religious Jews and Christians worship the same God, it shouldn’t be because we’ve watered down the concept of God to a generic monotheism, which we then have to recognize in Islam. Far from it. The fact that the God who chose the Jews is the same God who sent Jesus the Messiah—the incarnate second person of the Trinity—is not a fact of philosophy or one that flows from abstract monotheism. It’s a fact of revealed, biblical, gospel truth. The “What about the Jews?” argument has an answer, then, that makes the sharpest possible distinction between the God of Scripture and the God of Islam.

As I've said repeatedly, there is more than one way, in my opinion, to be worshiping the same God as orthodox Christians. Islam just doesn't make it by any of them.

Because, if asked, the sincere monotheist Pastafarian would say, "I'm referring to the supreme creator of the universe."

"I'm referring to the supreme creator of the universe who, essentially, is made of pasta."

But that being, as it happens, doesn't exist. To cut it off just before you get to the wrong and stupid essence stuff is arbitrary. It looks like gerrymandering it: Here, I'll cut off this answer just after the true stuff, and then I'll say they are successfully referring to the true God, because there is one real God, and only one, who satisfies the part I've included.

I would not need to regard Jesus as a lunatic or liar, because if the New Testament is false, I would not need to believe that he claimed to be God.

Branston, don't forget that the New Testament is not a black-box, all-or-nothing set of documents--all that it affirms all true or all false. For example, one wouldn't have to conclude that Jesus never existed even if one concluded that Christianity is false. (Lots of historians are non-Christians but think Christ-mythers are nuts.) By the same token (approximately the same token) one wouldn't necessarily have to conclude that the reports of Jesus' teachings (about himself inter alia) in the gospels are unreliable and legendary. Christianity is false if Jesus existed, went around saying approximately what is attributed to him, died, and never rose again. Then, the L-L-or-L trilemma is still at least a relevant consideration. It's one of the interesting things about the trilemma that it is independent of the specific evidence for the resurrection. I just throw that into your apologetic grab bag both in order to refine your current thoughts about where one would be who concluded that Christianity is false and also because it's an interesting point in itself for the apologist.

Picture this discussion with the Pastafarian:

W4: "You are not worshiping the same God I am."

Pastafarian: "I thought you worshiped the supreme creator."

W4: "I do."

P: "So do I. When I worship, ze's the object of my worship."

W4: "No, you don't, and no, he's not. You worship a thing made of pasta, and the supreme creator isn't made of pasta. The object of your worship is something else -- a fiction."

P: "Of course the supreme creator is made of pasta. And you can't tell me that the supreme creator is a fiction!"

W4: "The supreme creator is not. The Flying Spaghetti Monster is."

P: "But they're the same thing! I start my dinner grace, 'Oh supreme creator, we thank you for this gift of seminola...'"

W4: "When you say that, you're referring to a fiction, because you believe that the supreme creator is made of pasta."

P: "So when I say, 'Oh supreme creator,' I'm not referring to the supreme creator?"

[THAT is the reductio in the room. But we grow them stubborn around here, so...]

W4: "That's right."

P: "Then what am I referring to?"

W4: "A fiction made of pasta."

P: "Because I'm wrong about the true nature of God?"

W4: "Yes, exactly. Well, I might say you're wrong about the nature of the true God, but close enough."

P: "Huh. Tell me, what do you know about atoms?"

W4: "Um... They're very small particles of matter. Why do you ask?

P: "Well, the word atom comes from the Ancient Greek adjective atomos, meaning 'uncuttable'. 19th century chemists began using the term in connection with the growing number of irreducible chemical elements. They would refer to, say, 'carbon atoms' when discussing these basic particles."

W4: "Yes, yes, so what?"

P: "The fundamental feature of these 'atoms' is that they were solid, indivisible particles. Yet, as it turns out, these atoms are not indivisible, are mostly empty space, seem to be made of some substance that has characteristics of both a particle and a wave, and behave probabilistic laws almost wholly unrelated to the classical laws that people believed they should follow. So, I have to ask, how do you feel about the fact that people of the 19th century were referring to fictions when they said things like 'carbon atom'?"

W4: [Please, feel free to fill in the response. And unless someone wants me to reengage, this will be my last comment -- I'm sure people are tired of me repeating myself in different ways.]

Jake:

Lydia and Christopher seem to want to say that they're referring to "the supreme creator of the universe BUT...." Perhaps it's "the supreme creator of the universe-prime". And then they want to identify *that* entity with an object of the worshiper's imagination.

Not me. I agree with your position. Actual monotheists all refer to the true God. But I think Lydia has shown that your _argument_ for that position fails. I mean the one she was attacking with her reductio. You've said other things along the way in the discussion that are more promising as arguments.

I like your atomic chemistry argument. I think it's successful.

I should say that my ending there wasn't meant to be rude or to flounce. I knew the rest of the argument, so I could do some justice to the W4 side in the first part. I just have no idea how anyone would respond to that question, and I don't want to put stupid answers in anyone's mouth. This is not a "gotcha", but a final statement.

I mean, it's successful in showing that one can get "a whole lot" wrong and still be referring to the true divine nature, and that's sufficient to show that actual monotheists probably refer to the true divine nature. It might still be possible (as far as the argument goes) to get so much wrong that you fail to refer to the true divine nature, and MPastafarians might get that much wrong. But since they don't really exist it doesn't matter.

Lydia,

I’m afraid that doesn’t clearly address the problems I’m raising, for several reasons. First, in the TGC passage, you frame the issue in terms of whether Christians and non-Christians “worship” the same God. But as I’ve said, I’m talking about the reference of the term “God,” and I am putting questions about what “worship” involves to one side for present purposes. So at the very least your repeated reference to “worship” threatens to muddy the waters.

But it’s worse than that, because your point seems crucially to depend on bringing questions about “worship” into it. You say that “in one sense Christians and modern religious Jews worship the same God; in another sense they don’t.” Well, I suppose that’s a defensible claim given ambiguity in the word “worship.” But suppose instead we frame the question, as I have been doing, in terms of reference. In that case your claim would be read as: “In one sense Christians and modern religious Jews refer to the same God when they use the term ‘God’; in another sense they don’t.”

But that is not a plausible claim, or at least not one that helps your case. Surely they either refer to the true God or they don’t; there’s no middle ground, no plausible answer like “Well, in one way they refer to him, in another way they don’t really refer to him.” But even if there were some middle ground -- suppose you meant that some of their utterances of “God” successfully referred to the true God but other utterances, for some strange reason, fail to refer to him -- that would be enough to make my point. For in that case you would be admitting that at least some anti-Trinitarians do at least sometimes successfully refer to the true God, in which case the burden of proof is on you to explain why Muslims don’t.

So that’s one problem. A second problem is that, whatever we think about this first issue, your way of spelling out the “in one sense they worship the same God” option entails exactly the sort of problem I’ve raised for your position. For you say that a Christian can say to a modern Jew: “The true God who called your forefathers out of the land of Egypt [etc.]… we are here to tell you more about him.” But that sort of sentence will convey something true to the Jewish listener only if, despite his rejection of the Trinity, he will properly understand the reference of your term “God,” and will be referring to the same thing if he gives an answer like: “Well, it’s interesting that you should say that there is more about God that you know but that I am not aware of. Let’s talk about that.”

In other words, the very conversation you are describing presupposes that Jews and Christians really are referring to the same thing when they use the word “God,” despite their disagreement about the Trinity. Now, the problem is that you don’t give any good reason why the Muslim isn’t in the same position as the Jew; indeed, you give a good reason to think that he is in the same position. You would say to the Muslim: “God revealed himself to Abraham but didn’t really reveal anything to Muhammad.” But for the Muslim properly to understand that claim, he has to understand properly what you are referring to when you refer to “God.” If, when he responds, “No, you’re wrong, God really did reveal himself to both men,” he won’t be saying anything that conflicts with what you say if he isn’t referring to the same thing you are with his utterance of “God.” Your very disagreement presupposes common reference.

Your claim that there is no common background historical content that can secure reference in the case of the Muslim speaker is also simply false, for Muhammad had contact with Jews and Christians, from whom he learned various doctrines and stories. And though he garbled those things in various ways, he didn’t get them totally wrong. Just as someone can successfully refer to George Washington even if he believes various false things about him (e.g. the cherry tree story), so too -- for all you’ve shown -- Muhammad, and Muslims since, can successfully refer to God by virtue of having gotten these stories and ideas from his Jewish and Christian interlocutors, despite garbling them and adding errors to them.

Not that such historical content is really necessary, though you seem to imply otherwise. That is, you seem to be saying that some reference to past biblical history has to be a feature of anyone’s concept of God, if he is successfully to refer to the true God. Now, if you were some kind of “Bible only” fideist, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear you say that. But you are, I think, a proponent of natural theology, right? And if so, you have to acknowledge that someone can successfully refer to the true God by way of philosophical arguments for God’s existence, even though these make no reference to revelation, biblical events, etc. Now the Islamic tradition includes such arguments. So why can’t Muslims successfully refer to the true God by virtue of their utterances of “God” being associated with such arguments?

Finally, you haven’t addressed the point about Christians who make mistakes about the divine nature. If someone has a seriously erroneous understanding of omniscience, or omnipotence, or the like, does that show that he fails successfully to refer to the true God? Is it, then, only fancy theologians who frame things with precision who can successfully refer to God? I imagine you would answer that question in the negative. But then, if someone can successfully refer to God despite an error of this sort, why not when he commits the error of denying the Trinity?

Ed, I would have thought that you could pretty successfully transfer what I am saying when I happen to use the question as framed in the public debate concerning worship over to the question of reference. Yes, I would apply the same "In one sense, yes, in another sense, no" answer *to the question of reference*. You may think this is nuts or something, but I think there are two answers there, as well, concerning Jews. (But not concerning Muslims.)

But suppose instead we frame the question, as I have been doing, in terms of reference. In that case your claim would be read as: “In one sense Christians and modern religious Jews refer to the same God when they use the term ‘God’; in another sense they don’t.”
But that is not a plausible claim, or at least not one that helps your case. Surely they either refer to the true God or they don’t; there’s no middle ground, no plausible answer like “Well, in one way they refer to him, in another way they don’t really refer to him.”

Yes, I think there is _precisely_ such an answer. In one sense, modern Jews (who deny the Trinity) successfully refer to the true God (because of facts of history about who founded their religion) and in another sense, they don't (because they expressly deny an important part of his essential nature).

In other words, the very conversation you are describing presupposes that Jews and Christians really are referring to the same thing when they use the word “God,” despite their disagreement about the Trinity.

In that part of the quotation, I'm describing the "yes" sense, a sense grounded (in my view) in the _actual fact_ that the true God founded _their_ religion (as well as ours) by progressive revelation.

So of course that conversation presupposes that (in that sense) they are referring to the same thing, despite their disagreement about the Trinity! That conversation is describing the "yes" side of my two different answers.

Now, the problem is that you don’t give any good reason why the Muslim isn’t in the same position as the Jew;

Yes, I do. I state explicitly: God really founded Judaism and Christianity. God didn't really found Islam. So, though both Islam and Judaism claim to have been founded by overt, revelatory, special acts of God (as does Christianity), the claims to that effect by Christianity and Judaism are true, but those of Islam are false.

Take it, then, that I am defining an "historical sense" that is a sufficient condition for two groups to be referring to the true God (in that sense). Something like this:

Two religious groups refer to the true God in their normal religious utterances in the historical sense just in case each of them believes that the true God founded their religion and x is the true God and x founded both of their religions.

Now, frankly, I think the historical sense should probably be _balanced_ by the other, even more robust sense, in which I would say that modern Jews do _not_ worship the same God. That way, we see both truths--the importance of their explicit denial of the Trinity in their concept of God, and the actual historical connection in the _real_ acts of God in founding both Judaism and Christianity.

Islam does not satisfy the requirements of the historical sense. Therefore, some other argument must be found.

That is, you seem to be saying that some reference to past biblical history has to be a feature of anyone’s concept of God, if he is successfully to refer to the true God.

No, I have never said that. I have indicated that belief in the crucial historical acts of God throughout salvation history may be a _sufficient_ condition for successfully referring to the true God. I have pointed out that Islam lacks this and therefore needs some other argument. And I have suggested (in this thread) that _definitely and explicitly denying_ God's saving acts in history casts some doubt upon the reference by religious adherents to the true God in their religious utterances.

Your claim that there is no common background historical content that can secure reference in the case of the Muslim speaker is also simply false, for Muhammad had contact with Jews and Christians, from whom he learned various doctrines and stories. And though he garbled those things in various ways, he didn’t get them totally wrong. Just as someone can successfully refer to George Washington even if he believes various false things about him (e.g. the cherry tree story), so too -- for all you’ve shown -- Muhammad, and Muslims since, can successfully refer to God by virtue of having gotten these stories and ideas from his Jewish and Christian interlocutors, despite garbling them and adding errors to them.

I address the "God of Abraham" argument in the article. You can read that, replacing "worship" with "refer" for your own interests.

In any event, my point concerning the historical sense between Christians and Jews was _not_ "sharing some generic common background historical content" but rather was an allusion to what I have defined here as the historical sense of common reference. I think, myself, that that was clear enough in the original article, but I've tried to spell it out yet more explicitly here.

As for George Washington, I think one could _sufficiently_ garble one's historical content concerning someone whom one named "George Washington" that one would no longer be talking about the real George Washington. Obviously, one can't think that George Washington was an alien who spent all his life on the planet Xenon. Somewhere between "Everything else about him that people usually think of is true, only he didn't really cut down the cherry tree" and "George Washington was an alien who spent his whole life on the planet Xenon" there presumably lies a "reasonableness belt" where everyone has enough content more or less right that we are all talking about the same guy.

As for Mohammad, I think he "got enough wrong" (or, as I think was actually the case, deliberately _changed_ enough) concerning the alleged "God of Abraham," both in character and in history, that, in fact, his followers are definitely not talking about the same essential entity.


But you are, I think, a proponent of natural theology, right? And if so, you have to acknowledge that someone can successfully refer to the true God by way of philosophical arguments for God’s existence, even though these make no reference to revelation, biblical events, etc. Now the Islamic tradition includes such arguments. So why can’t Muslims successfully refer to the true God by virtue of their utterances of “God” being associated with such arguments?

Because Islam is not mere theism. Because they _expressly deny_ other essential properties of God and crucial historical acts.

Finally, you haven’t addressed the point about Christians who make mistakes about the divine nature. If someone has a seriously erroneous understanding of omniscience, or omnipotence, or the like, does that show that he fails successfully to refer to the true God? Is it, then, only fancy theologians who frame things with precision who can successfully refer to God?

It's funny that my allusions to the importance of biblical Christianity set you to asking whether I deny the importance of natural theology and that my allusions to Islam's _express denial_ of essential features of the character of God sets you to asking whether I think only fancy theologians can successfully refer to God. Surely my suspected tinge of biblicism from which the first of these questions arose should point the way to my answer to the second!

Once again: I think there are _multiple possible routes_ by which one could be said, in a non-trivial sense, successfully to refer to the true God. One is historical. See above. One is by getting a whole, huge, boatload of a lotta super-important stuff right in one's concept of God (e.g., by being a really good theologian or having excellent theological instincts). (Islam doesn't have #1, check. Islam doesn't have #2, check.) Another would be by affirming basics of Christian creedal content, such as in the Apostles' or Nicene Creed, or some Protestant version of a statement of distinctively Christian faith. (Islam doesn't have #3, check.) Another might be by affirming a core of important truths about God (yes, that would include divine goodness in a robust sense, so not your slimmed-down version of "classical theism") *and not denying* other truths about the divine essence. (Islam doesn't have #4, check.)

Now, you can surely see that non-intellectual Christians could readily satisfy #3, or som passable version thereof, even with faulty concepts of God. So could (shudder) even open theists, heretics though they be. So could Calvinists and Arminians, despite their differences. Orthodox Jews could satisfy #1. Some non-Christian theists (but not deists, for which I don't apologize) could satisfy #4.

But Muslims don't have any of these.

I hope this is all clear now. I'm not saying that 1 or 2 or 3 or 4 *by itself* is a necessary condition for referring to the true God in _some_ non-trivial sense. In any event, I'm pretty confident that the disjunction of 1-4 is a necessary condition. Repeatedly my interlocutors have seized on the fact that I'm pointing out that Islam doesn't satisfy *one or the other of these* conditions and then confidently pointing out some other group that satisfies another of them. That is a misunderstanding of my position. I have even seen one philosopher say that I shouldn't think Lutherans worship the same God as Catholics because *one* of the points I was making was that God didn't really reveal himself personally to Mohammad, and presumably I don't think God personally revealed himself to Martin Luther.

I'm not going to re-argue the Pastafarian thing, but I feel compelled to say that your agreement with Lydia's "reductio" on the one hand and my atomic theory argument on the other strikes me as bizarre, since my arguments are essentially the same in both cases.

If Lydia and I were talking about physics, you might have stepped in to say, "if [whatever criterion] were sufficient then a totally crazy [physical theory] with massively [different] ideas about what they call "[atoms]", such as that [they're] literally [particles and waves at the same time], etc. would qualify. And since that's absurd, [whatever] alone can't be determinative of whether it's the true [atom] they are referring to."

I might argue that classical physics with solid atoms and quantum physics are as different as the Christian conception of God and the Pastafarian (or Lydia's version of it), with irreconcilable metaphysical differences and practical ramifications galore.

Neither here nor there on the actual issue we've covered, but I find that very interesting.

I think it's plausible to say that that atoms that Democritus hypothesized are not the same things as what we call atoms today.

Lydia,
I agree with you that the proposition that Christianity is false, and hence that the New Testament is wrong about some pretty important things, does not entail the proposition that Jesus did not claim to be God. However, it does imply that the proposition that Jesus did not claim to be God is a genuine live option. My earlier post that "I would not need to believe that he [Jesus] claimed to be God" is surely defensible.

I found your most recent reply to Ed very helpful also. [I loved the shudder at accepting open theists.] I do think that a minority of Muslims would satisfy your option 4 i.e. there are a minority of Muslims that accept not only the omnipotence, omniscience, etc. of God but also a robust non-voluntarist sense of God's goodness. If so, would you concede that these Muslims successfully refer to God even if they get many crucial aspects about God's nature wrong?

Yes, Christopher, but it's the same argument because even if you take that position, it is *not* plausible that when scientists said, "Today, I'm going to experiment with carbon atoms," they failed to refer to the actual carbon atoms they were experimenting on, regardless of how different the atoms were from what they believed. Indeed, the only way they could learn the true nature of those carbon atoms is by performing experiments on them, and the only way they could share their results is by writing about them, and the only way people could understand what the write-ups meant is if the write-ups referred to them. So it's the exact same argument, and the reductio still clearly doesn't work on it.

I do think that a minority of Muslims would satisfy your option 4 i.e. there are a minority of Muslims that accept not only the omnipotence, omniscience, etc. of God but also a robust non-voluntarist sense of God's goodness. If so, would you concede that these Muslims successfully refer to God even if they get many crucial aspects about God's nature wrong?

Branston, I really don't see how they could be in any meaningful sense _Muslims_ while _failing to deny_ that God is a Trinity. I included "not denying other truths about the divine essence" in order to exclude religions and religious positions that have not just _not considered_ truths about God's essence (such as the Trinity) but those that have considered them _and reject them_. Islam _fundamentally_ denies the Trinity and Incarnation. It's I suppose possible to call anybody a "Muslim," including somebody who doesn't even believe that God revealed new revelations to Mohammad, but at that point it's a bit like calling an Episcopalian Wiccan priest a "Christian." It's just a sort of social convention with no tie to the theological basis and history of the religion-designating term.

Jake, your latest comment gets us into the issue of knowledge by acquaintance vs. knowledge by description. Presumably the person who is experimenting is literally pointing to the atoms in question. While I'm pretty much a descriptivist down to the bone, I can at least *understand* why someone would say that there is _some_ sense or other in which two people talk about the same thing if they are literally both in sensory contact with it. (I'm still not sure I would grant reference, if one thinks that the "Jake Freivald" he's at work with is an android and not even sentient, but I understand why someone would say otherwise.) But obviously that can't apply to Allah and the Christian God, because it's not like Muslims claim that Allah is walking around and they are pointing to him and experimenting on him, nor would/should Christians acknowledge any such sensory contact between Muslims and the true God.

Jake, you may be confusing my claims about what I think this or that argument accomplishes with claims about what is a reasonable position to take.

It seems to me unreasonable to deny the following: When a Pastafarian says "God is made of pasta," the word 'God' refers to the true God and the statement he made is false precisely because He, the true God, is not made of pasta. When an Pastafarian (or a Muslim) says "God created the universe" the word 'God' refers again to the true God, and the statement he made is true because the referent of his use of 'God' is the true God who did create the universe. When the Pastafarian made that statement, he was thinking false things in his head, for he thinks of God as a being made of pasta, etc.. But he didn't _say_ those things. What he _said_ is true. The reference of our terms (when we are speaking literally*) depends on the conventions of the language in which we speak, not on our private opinions about the things of which we speak.

Because I think this way, in one sense I do not "agree with" Lydia's reductio. Her way of thinking seems like a sophomoric confusion regarding basic matters of how language works. But there are lots of incredibly intelligent people who have carefully studied the question and come down on Lydia's side. So even if I'm right (and I think I am) and Lydia's position is in some sense a "basic confusion" it is not sophomoric. In philosophy, this happens all the time: one side thinks the other is making a really basic mistake and the other thinks the one is saying things that are utterly bizarre. Saying so doesn't help move the discussion forward. It is possible to give arguments that move the discussion forward. In making these arguments we have to lay aside our assumptions that tempt us to think the other's view is just stupid.

Now, I can see how someone who hasn't spent any time thinking about how language works could hear the statement, "Surely Pastafarians aren't referring to the same God as Christians. That's absurd. The Flying Spaghetti Monster is such a radically different thing from the Christian God," and think, yeah that seems right. You can see that too, I hope? The person is making a naive mistake, confusing differences in how the two religions conceptualize God with differences in the referent of the term; but it is in a sense a reasonable mistake to make: it's not surprising that someone would make that mistake if they haven't thought carefully about certain other things.

But from Lydia's perspective it is we who are mistaken about those other things. Setting aside our way of thinking about those other things, what Lydia said looks plausible. That plausibility serves as evidence, from her perspective, that how we conceptualize God is determines the referent (if any) of the term as we use it. To have a fruitful discussion we have to take that possibility seriously even if we think ultimately it is a confusion. She has given a good reason for her view. Not ultimately good, but good in the sense that she has made a "good move" and we have to refute it. And making claims about what "real" Pastafarianism says doesn't do that, because that's irrelevant to how the reductio works.

Your atomic chemistry argument is likewise a good move, and even she should admit it if she is willing to give the same kind of consideration to views she is tempted to think absurd as I want you to give to her views. She already grants that one can get some things wrong and still be referring to the same thing. Your example shows, even from her perspective, that one can get a whole lot wrong. It remains possible, from her perspective and as far as that one argument goes, that one could get even more things wrong to such an extent that you wouldn't be referring to the same thing.

However, Christopher, even on philosophical theories of reference, if I've understood you correctly here and elsewhere, you hold to a type of Kripkean theory that would permit *even monotheism* to be "morphed" out of the descriptive content of "God" while maintaining a causal chain that secures reference. Not in cases of deliberate deception, but just by some accident. (Think a giant game of telephone.) Hence, the philosophical theory of reference you favor (though thinking it may not be significant for the public debate) is not precisely what Jake is advocating. Jake's view, as I understand it, is a kind of uneasy hybrid of descriptive and causal theories, because he _does_ want to retain some extremely minimal concept of monotheism as a descriptive sine qua non.

Dare we say--dare we not say--that these 160+ posts are indication that we have bumped up against the impassable limitations of philosophy to answer the "same God" question! Look at all the ink spilled--and have any positions been changed? Perhaps it doesn't have to be this difficult, this tangled.

I recently heard the Muslim cleric in Germany laying blame for recent sexual assaults by refugees against the indigenous women. He actually blamed the women, the victims of the crimes, for immodest dress and perfume. Jesus, quite contrary, holds men accountable for their lust. Now, suppose we wonder if the deities of both religions is one and the same. That God of a multiplicity of religions would have to accept responsibility for creating mass confusion between the religions. And Christianity, at least, insists on a God who is no creator of confusion (1 Cor. 14:33).

Where is the philosopher? Where is the scholar? Where is the debater of this age? Hasn’t God made the world’s wisdom foolish? For since, in God’s wisdom, the world did not know God through wisdom, God was pleased to save those who believe through the foolishness of the message preached.

Well, actually, in order to avoid introducing even more complexity into this multifaceted mess, I've been ignoring the distinction between proper names, like 'Yahweh', and descriptive terms, like 'Creator'.

Given my semantic assumptions, the question to ask is: What are the conventions of the English language with regard to the noun 'God'? London Ed thinks it is a proper name. I have doubts about that. I think it might perhaps be primarily a descriptive term, although it can be used as a proper name too. If it's a descriptive term then its referent is determined by its descriptive content defined not by the idiosyncratic theologies of individuals or groups of speakers, but by English lexicographic convention. And it's reasonable to think the English language is such that 'God' with a capital 'G' means a monotheistic deity.

Lydia,
My mistake--I overlooked your "and not deny" clause, so no Muslims would qualify in this category. However, category 1 does not have a "and not deny" clause, so why should category 4 have to have one. If you allow a sense in which "Jews and Christians worship the same God" under category 1 even though there is a sense in which they don't because Jews deny essential divine doctrines such as the Trinity, why can't there be a category 4a of those who affirm a core of truths about God including God's goodness in a robust, non-voluntarist sense. This would exclude the majority of, but not all, Muslims. Moreover, even for those Muslims of whom it could be said that there is a non-trivial sense in which they worship the same God as Christians it would still be true that there is another important sense in which they did not (because they denied crucial doctrines).

One other question. Am I correct in assuming that Jehovah's witnesses and Mormons do worship the same God via category 1?

What are the conventions of the English language with regard to the noun 'God'? London Ed thinks it is a proper name. I have doubts about that. I think it might perhaps be primarily a descriptive term, although it can be used as a proper name too.

Christopher, there is no doubt that in its roots, English encompasses using the spoken word "god" as a common noun. It was as used applied to more than one being, and they didn't need to be ultimate. The idea or concept therein was not understood as unique, it was capable of multiplicity. It is only due to English gradually morphing as the underlying culture became thoroughly Christian, so that in the culture it became no longer appropriate to refer to any sort of thing other than the one god (the ultimate being) of monotheism by the term of "god". So that by conventional usage it BECAME a proper noun, relying on an agreed theology of Judeo-Christian monotheism. As a proper name, it is of course intended not to permit multiple referents, only one. The use of capital letters (i.e. lexicography) for proper names, I believe, came later. Somewhere along the way we got the widespread theology built into the lexicograpy reflecting a narrowed usage of the word via a cultural shift.

If you are speaking rather than writing, the only way you can convey that you are speaking of "god" in the sense of the non-capitalized common noun is by adding some kind of qualifier to your speech, such as by saying "a god". This shows that the language morphed to make "God" ( the capitalized proper noun) the presumptive meaning of the spoken word.

As such, there is indeed something slightly wrong in English to say "Muslims and Christians don't worship the same God", rather than saying one of the following: (1) Christians worship God and Muslims don't; or (2) Christians and Muslims don't worship the same god; or (3) what the Muslims worship is not the Christian God. By using the capitalized proper noun, you are ALREADY referencing the being as under the aspect of singular, unique. (Not all proper noun names are absolutely unique, of course, but God got this word to become a proper noun because of His absolute uniqueness.) Using "same" in that context is funky, because "same" is a relational term wherein you are relating two terms, a "this" and a "that," under the aspect of separate (even if they are actually not separate, the word notionally represents them as if separate). So saying "same God" rather than "same god" is a muddled expression in English.

If I remember correctly, William Lane Craig had addressed this question perfectly, but I can't remember if it was in a podcast or a Q&A session after some debate. The gods of Islam and Christianity are linked by historiography (both have Abrahamic origin), however they are entirely different in their constitution! The Islamic Allah, devoid of boundless love and grace, is a deficient god.

However, category 1 does not have a "and not deny" clause, so why should category 4 have to have one.

Branston, in my opinion, the answer is *because God actually founded both religions in category 1 by a divine, deliberate act or set of acts*. That's incredibly important. I'm talking about orthodox Jews who really stick to being Jews, who have a credible claim, both in belief and behavior, to be following the religion of Moses. Now, they're _wrong_ that that requires them to deny the Trinity, but in fact the Trinity isn't included in the religion founded by God's giving the law at Sinai, and they are following that.

The fact that they are wrong, and are denying future progressive revelation by God, is the reason why I said that I think the historical sense needs to be balanced by a more robust sense in which one has to say that they are _not_ worshiping the true God--to get at the importance of both truths.


One other question. Am I correct in assuming that Jehovah's witnesses and Mormons do worship the same God via category 1?

No, absolutely not. Mormonism is _clearly_ founded on a claim of _new_ revelation (to Joseph Smith), which is a false claim. It involves a radical reinterpretation even of the alleged shared affirmations with Christians. It involves the claim that the Bible is radically corrupt and that we have no idea what the truth of the stories in the Bible are from the texts we have. (Mormons will attack the Bible in much the same way as total atheists will.) "Heavenly Father" in Mormonism is a polytheistic graduated man. God did not found Mormonism.

JWs are not Jews. They are some brand of unitarians. God did not found their religion, as God founded Judaism. They even deny the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ, so they aren't even "Christian heretics" in the same sense as some more robustly miracle-affirming Arians and Socinians.

You would have to invent some additional sense to work in Arians or other "Christian" heretics who deny the Trinity, because they don't have the claim that orthodox Jews have to be just following a religion God originally founded, nor do they have the orthodox Christianity affirmed in #3, and they _deny_ basic aspects of God's real character. I admit that I'm not highly motivated to do so. But if you did, to make them _Christian_ heretics, it should include not just some weak, vague, historical "connection" to Christianity but rather a robust affirmation of at least the _historical_ founding miracles of Christianity (Jesus' miracles and esp. Jesus physical resurrection). In that way you could, if you wanted to, work in some of the more "conservative" Socinians and Arians that have existed in history. (Yes, believe it or not, there has been a conservative/liberal split in Unitarianism.) As I said, I'm not highly motivated to do so. But if you didn't have them actually affirming the historical acts of God in history that founded Christianity, and if you didn't have them _being_ Jews, and they are _denying_ essential truths of God's divine nature, then at that point I cannot see any significant sense in which they are directing their worship to the true God. Basically, any attempt to include "spin-offs" of Christianity is trying to piggy-back on Christianity without the orthodox Christianity and even with explicit denial of orthodox Christianity. That seems to me like a tough needle to thread, and it could easily fall off into triviality without at a minimum a robust tie-down to the real Jesus Christ and what he really did to reveal the Father to mankind. All the less so if the heresy is more than just a heresy (that is, an incorrect interpretation of the _original_ Christian revelation) but is actually an entirely new claimed revelation with its own elaborate, false theology. I think in that case you just obviously have a new (false) religion.

Ladies & gentlemen. Mark Durie, an Anglican pastor, has posted a great essay on this subject and he cuts through all of the intellectual fog. See his essay at www.meforum.org

Mark Durie's article on "same God" is over at www.meforum.org and is titled, Does Christianity and Islam worship the Same God.

It explains the matter very clearly. Of course, if one studies the scriptures and the Koran, it is blindlingly obvious that the subject matter of the Koran cannot be the God of the Bible.

Suppose I was an atheist in ancient Greece who never heard of the Old Testament and couldn’t possibly had heard of the New Testament or the Koran. But one day I would meet theist philosopher who would prove to me that there is the “first mover”, or creator of all there is, omnipotent, all knowing and sustaining of all existence. He would refer to the being as God and so would I of course.
The philosopher would also believe that these attributes on no way lead to the conclusion that this God cares about man more than he cares about a bacteria, or a flake of snow. Man is created by god, he lives and dies but, with the exception of the fact that God created man, the two don’t interact.
I should think that if that was the case I would care as little about God as I thought he cared about me. It certainly would have never occurred to me to worship him. Indeed that would be totally meaningless – if not absurd. I would believe in existence of omnipotent god, but it wouldn’t mean I was a religious person and without it a worship wouldn’t be possible.

I think to worship god, love and fear him would first require an introduction - in other words an expression of interest from the side of god followed by his commandments, his satisfaction with my obeying them, or his wrath when I fail to do so. Abraham for all we know could have believed in the first mover, or omnipotent creator of All, but it didn’t make him follower of God any more than Aristotle - until God “contacted” him. The series of contacts that followed the first one not only formed the unique character of the ensuing from them two Abrahamic religions, but gave Jews and Christians idea(s) about God that are much more intimate and powerful than the necessary attributes of the first mover. These Jewish and Christian understanding of God’s nature expressed itself most intimately in the character of the Jewish and Christian worship of God.

The same with Islam. Muhammad could have been in total agreement with Aristotle about the “first mover”, but it was series of contacts initiated by Allah that, again, not only started the unique worship of Allah, but formed idea of Allah’s character in moslem minds. I believe that intuition, or perception, for lack of a better word (I’m not native English speaker) of the Divine, be it true or false Divine, finds its expression in its worship.
Now a Christian or Jew even superficially acquainted with Koran is struck noticing how clashingly different is Allah and God as we know Him from the OT, NT and through our worship. A difference explicitly expressed by Islam and Christian history.

One more thing. When reading OT and NT not only does one get impression of God, but the impression of God’s disposition for man, which clearly is a disposition of a loving Father and friend. He can be trusted more than man can trust himself.
But Koran’s Allah appears as a cruel, sadistic and utterly unpredictable slave owner. He is beyond predictability and rationality. He is beyond truth and goodness. He owns the two and can do what he wills with them. For Muslims that moral unpredictability is an attribute ensuing directly from Allah’s omnipotence.
No, Allah doesn’t love us while God does. In this most important sense God and Allah are as different as good and evil.

Once again: I think there are _multiple possible routes_ by which one could be said, in a non-trivial sense, successfully to refer to the true God.

I think, here is where a lot of people are talking past each other. Lydia seems to be arguing/asking/answering whether Christians and Muslims are referring to the same God in a non-trivial sense. Others (myself included) take the question to mean referring to the same God in any sense, trivial or not. My position has been that both Christians and Muslims refer/direct/aim their worship to the same God in a trivial sense. Maybe not very exciting or fruitful or a particularly useful point, but nonetheless true (in the sense of being accurate). Lydia's question - whether we worship the same God in a non-trivial sense, is, without a doubt, a far more important question, but it seems to me a different question. The trivial question provides enough ecumenical, politically correct cover, so it is the one that gets bantied about in fashionable circles, allowing one to avoid the more important question as framed by Lydia.

Simple question to ask yourself regarding the myths of Abrahamic unity or Judeo-Christian values:

For Muslims: Does Allah have a Son?

For Jews: Does YWHH have a Son and has the Messiah already arrived?

Nothing beyond that needs to be asked.


@Ajax

Which Judeo-Christian values will be exposed as myth if the Jews respond to your question with "no"?

Tweeeeet.

Don't feed the Ajax troll.

I'm sorry. I thought Ajax was a serious person. Will ignore him in the future.

If “Muslims and Christians worship the same God” means (P and Q) where

P = “All beings worshipped by Christians qua Christian are beings worshipped by Muslims qua Muslims”
and
Q = “All beings worshipped by Muslims qua Muslims are beings worshipped by Christians qua Christian”;

then (P and Q) is false if R “No beings worshipped by Christians qua Christians are beings worshipped by Muslims qua Muslims” is true.

Here is an argument with premises accepted as true by both Muslims qua Muslims and Christians qua Christians which entails the truth of R:

1. No beings worshipped by Muslims qua Muslims are beings identical to Jesus.
2. All beings worshipped by Christians qua Christians are beings identical to Jesus.
Therefore,
R. No beings worshipped by Christians qua Christians are beings worshipped by Muslims qua Muslims.

If R is true, then P is false; and if P is false then (P and Q) is false, and if (P and Q) means “Muslims and Christians worship the same God” then the claim “Muslims and Christians worship the same God” is false.

I meant to add to the introduction to the previous post:
"I'm wondering if this line of reasoning is reasonable.
Thanks :)

I think that line of reasoning definitely has prima facie force, TM.

Of course, then there are the counter-moves and counter-counter moves, and we're off to the races. E.g. If Lois Lane loves Superman but doesn't know that Superman is Clark Kent, does Loi Lane love Clark Kent? Is this analogous to the Christian God and Allah. And so forth.

I think the main point is that an argument such as yours easily creates a prima facie case that Muslims and Christians don't worship the same God, and the question then is whether the opposing side has been able to make a good counter-case. One thing I have found frustrating is the sense that some (not all) on the opposing side write as if there *is* no prima facie case against their thesis, as if they bear no burden of proof.

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