Many Roads. One Summit?

Over at Maverick Philosopher, Bill Vallicella has taken on the question, raised by a disciplinary action at Wheaton College, of whether Christians and Muslims worship the “same God”.

I’m not a religious believer myself, but over the past decade or so the naive atheism of my earlier years has withered away to a sympathetic agnosticism, and I have come, far too late, to a mature understanding of the importance and value (and in a Darwinian sense, the adaptive value) of religion in human affairs. (A separate, and diffident, post on the concept known as “Mount Stupid” is probably in order here, but I’ll save that for another day.) Bill addresses here an important religious and social question that is also a vexing and technical philosophical one involving the nature of reference.

Right now you could just go to the Maverick Philosopher homepage and work your way down, but after reading Bill’s posts it seems particularly apt, in order to to keep the reference “successful”, to link them as particulars. So, in chronological order, they are here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. (And there’s also a podcast, featuring Bill discussing all of the above with philosopher Dale Tuggy.)

The series, which among other things examines the “same-God” question for a variety of different belief systems, is becoming quite a philosophical tour de force, and is a fine example of reason in action. It’s a lot to read, and somewhat technical, but some of you will, I’m sure, find it fascinating.

PS: As I’ve studied Islam and its history over the years, my own answer to the “same-God”question has become a firmer and firmer “no”. The reasons are, in essence, the ones that Bill dissects here. I thank him for dissecting and explaining them with a clarity and precision that I never could have managed. (This is the difference between the professional and the amateur.)

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15 Comments

  1. djf says

    The implication of Bill Valicella’s argument is that Jews and Christians don’t worship the same deity, either, because Jews, like Muslims, do not believe in the trinity. He seems to try to avoid this in some of his posts by suggesting that maybe there are some Trinitarian Jews. I don’t know why he does this; aside from the small “Messianic Judaism” movement (most of the adherents of which are not ethnically Jewish), the one thing all Jews agree on – whether Orthodox, in one of the “liberal” religious movements, or secular – is that we do not believe in the trinity.

    Posted January 10, 2016 at 1:26 am | Permalink
  2. Malcolm says

    Vallicella devotes a post to precisely this question, here. As I understand it his point is that nothing in traditional Judaism explicitly ascribes to God the property “cannot be triune”, nor the property “cannot be incarnated” — and so the list of properties ascribed to the God of the Jews can, without contradiction, be understood as a proper subset of that of the Christian God, and Christianity to be a later revelation. (The post has 76 comments, and I haven’t read them yet; you might want to have a look, or even jump in. I don’t know enough about the theological basis of Jewish objections to Trinitarianism to add anything useful here, but I will point out that “not believing X is true” is not the same as “believing X is false”.) I do think that Bill is not particularly assertive here, though, and thinks it quite possible that the Jews and the Christians do believe in different Gods.

    Islam, by contrast, repeatedly and explicitly insists on the unity of God (tawhid), so Bill argues (elsewhere in the series) that the completely instantiated Allah cannot be numerically identical to the Christian God.

    Posted January 10, 2016 at 1:38 am | Permalink
  3. Malcolm says

    Oh — I have begun looking at that immense thread now, djf, and see that you are already involved. In the words of the late, great, Emily Litella: never mind!

    I’ll read along myself.

    Posted January 10, 2016 at 1:56 am | Permalink
  4. For a person who believes in one God, why is it important to discuss whether someone else’s God is really God?

    For a person who believes in a multiplicity of Gods, why should this issue be important to discuss?

    For a person who doesn’t believe in God, why is this an issue he should care enough about to discuss it?

    And if you think there are good reasons for discussing such issues, are there also good enough reasons to kill people over such issues?

    Posted January 10, 2016 at 2:05 am | Permalink
  5. Malcolm says

    Well, Henry, the present discussion came up because someone thought there were good reasons to fire someone over such issues.

    Given that these “issues” are fractal — see, for example, all the historical intra-Christian factionalism regarding the precise nature of the Trinity — I think we’ll need to have a new thread about what constitutes “good reasons”.

    For a person who doesn’t believe in God, why is this an issue he should care enough about to discuss?

    It interests me for two reasons: one, because religion is a titanic historical force, which anyone with an interest in human affairs and the arc of civilizations has to pay attention to; and two, because I enjoy this sort of philosophical sport — both for its own sake, and because it limns some of the boundaries of what reason can do.

    Posted January 10, 2016 at 2:14 am | Permalink
  6. I understand there are good reasons to learn about religion because it has played an important role in human relations for millennia. But my questions are regarding the specific discussion having to do with whether or not God for Jews is or is not the same God for Christians and if Either of Those is the same as the God that Muslims worship.

    Why should anyone care, especially since the existence of God is a matter of faith? What is the point of arguing whether or not person A’s faith in God is directed to the same Deity that person B’s faith is directed toward? All such beliefs are matters of faith; how can they possibly be disambiguated? They are individual personal beliefs based on faith.

    Posted January 10, 2016 at 3:50 am | Permalink
  7. djf says

    Yes, Malcolm, I raised this point with Bill, and he did not really explain why he prefers not to acknowledge that Judaism emphatically rejects the trinity (since Christianity arose, anyway), other than referring to a person he knows who calls herself a “Hebrew Catholic.” As for whether pre-Christian Judaism rejected the Trinity, there was no Trinity to reject then, of course, since the concept developed out of Christianity. While there was no systematic Jewish philosophy until the Medieval period (after the rise of Islam), the Jewish sources before and after the New Testament insist on God’s unity, and rejected the Trinity (emphatically) after the rise of Christianity. If this means that Jews and Christians do not worship the same deity, so be it. A more interesting question, in my view, is whether Jews and Muslims – who both affirm God’s absolute unity – worship the same deity.

    Posted January 10, 2016 at 3:51 am | Permalink
  8. Whitewall says

    I have been trying to follow some of the conversations over at Mav-Phil and I must confess to being quite at a loss. Regarding the Christian God and the God of Islam, I wonder why we were told for years by the media that “Allahu Akbar” meant “God is Great”, only to recently be corrected to understand the meaning to be “God is Greater”. That is a qualifier that sets Allah above any and all gods as lower entities. If that more precise translation is true, then the matter is settled as far as Islam is concerned. In real life, the aggressor sets the rules.

    Posted January 10, 2016 at 9:05 am | Permalink
  9. Whitewall says

    BTW, how do you guys stay awake until the wee hours? I never could. Not even in college.

    Posted January 10, 2016 at 12:25 pm | Permalink
  10. Malcolm says

    Robert, I’ve always been a “night owl”. But I’m a late riser, too, when the world permits. (Keep in mind that Henry is in California…)

    Regarding “Allah akbar”: I’ve always thought of it as “God is supreme”.

    Posted January 10, 2016 at 1:18 pm | Permalink
  11. Since “supreme” means “superior to all others”, that excludes the possibility of identity.

    Game. Set. Match Tourney.

    Posted January 10, 2016 at 6:35 pm | Permalink
  12. Malcolm says

    But Henr, if the case is that it’s actually the same being that is referred to by Muslims and Christians (i.e., identity), the Muslim could just say that the God they both believe in is supreme, but that the Christians just have mistaken beliefs about him.

    Posted January 10, 2016 at 8:38 pm | Permalink
  13. Whitewall says

    Malcolm, by the way, good luck on your surgery tomorrow. Mend quickly and well.

    Posted January 10, 2016 at 9:12 pm | Permalink
  14. OK, then, consider the following: Based on the principle of restricted choice, there is a 60% probability that 2 of the 3 beings are the same and the 3rd is different. Here is how it’s computed:

    Given 3 beings A, B, and C, who may or may not be the same being. There are 5 possibilities:

    (1) A, B, and C are all different.

    (2) A, B, and C are all the same.

    (3) A and B are the same; C is different.

    (4) A and C are the same; B is different.

    (5) B and C are the same; A is different.

    Note that there is only 1 way in which all 3 are different; 1 way in which all 3 are the same; but 3 ways in which 2 out of 3 are the same.

    Hence, there is 1/5 (20%) chance all are different; 1/5 (20%) chance all are the same; 3/5 (60%) chance 2 of the 3 are the same being and the other being is different.

    QED

    Posted January 10, 2016 at 9:16 pm | Permalink
  15. Good luck tomorrow, Malcolm. I will ask my God (who may or may not be the same as your God) to watch over you.

    Posted January 10, 2016 at 9:23 pm | Permalink