Saturday, December 19, 2015

Donning the hijab

i) I'm going to comment on the issue of whether Muslims and Christians believe in or worship the same God. This is occasioned by the current controversy at Wheaton. I doubt that either Phillip Ryken or Larcyia Hawkins could offer a philosophically solid defense of their respective positions, so my interest is not to minutely analyze the specifics of this particular situation. Rather, I'm just using it to illustrate some general and perennial principles. 

ii) Regardless of whether the administration formulated a philosophically satisfying argument, Ryken's instincts were right. I think he did the right thing. And it's possible to do the right thing even if you can't give a good reason for what you did. Giving a reason is different than having a reason. 

iii) Believing in a God is different than knowing God. A person can believe in a nonexistent God. Indeed, that's what the Bible says about pagan idolaters.

It's possible to have a natural knowledge of the true God (e.g. Rom 1). However, especially in organized religion, the God one worships or believes in is the theological construct of their faith-tradition. In some cases it's continuous with the natural knowledge of God, but goes well beyond that (i.e. Christianity). In other cases, it subverts the natural knowledge of God (i.e. idolatry, heresy).

v) Likewise, believing in God is different than worshiping God. Worship involves a particular attitude towards God. Reverence, praise, thanksgiving, and devotion. A paradigm case is Satan, who believes in God, but his attitude is the antithesis of worshipful. 

v) There are competing theories of reference. Philosophy being what it is, there's no consensus on the right theory of reference. So any position you take will be subject to challenge. The philosophers I've seen defending Hawkins operate with a theory of linguistic reference (e.g. Frege, Kripke) whereas my starting point is a theory of mental representation or propositional attitudes. 

vi) We don't believe in God directly. Rather, the immediate referent is our concept of God: what we think God is like. True or false worship is inextricably bound up with true and false ideas of God. 

Theologically, that's how Scripture distinguishes between idolatry and true worship. A pagan worships a figment of his own imagination. 

I also think that's true on philosophical and psychological grounds:

The Representational Theory of Mind (RTM) (which goes back at least to Aristotle) takes as its starting point commonsense mental states, such as thoughts, beliefs, desires, perceptions and imagings. Such states are said to have “intentionality” — they are about or refer to things, and may be evaluated with respect to properties like consistency, truth, appropriateness and accuracy. 
A propositional attitude is the mental state of having some attitude, stance, take, or opinion about a proposition or about the potential state of affairs in which that proposition is true.
A representational approach to belief, according to which central cases of belief involve someone's having in her head or mind a representation with the same propositional content as the belief.

vii)  I think there's often an equivocation regarding the object of knowledge. The object of knowledge could be a mental representation or what it purports (or intends) to represent. Are we comparing beliefs about God with other beliefs about God, or comparing beliefs about God with God himself? 

A belief about God is not God. A belief about God is a human mental state. So we need some way to draw that distinction. Perhaps we could distinguish between the proximate referent and the remote referent (analogous to the proximal stimulus and distal distal stimulus). The question is whether a particular belief about God corresponds to God. Is God like or unlike my concept of God?

I'd view the referent of "God" or "Allah" as, in the first instance, a mental representation. Beliefs about God. The question, then, is how representational that concept or propositional attitude actually is. If beliefs mediate the referent, then different beliefs have distinguishable referents. 

And a mental representation can misrepresent the object or intended referent. If Muslims and Christians have different mental representations of God, or different propositional attitudes about God, then they don't believe in the same God–if reference is fixed by means of mental content.

viii) I've seen philosophers defend Hawkins by appeal to Frege's distinction between sense and reference. Take the stock example: the Morning Star and the Evening Star mean different things, but share the same referent.

However, that's the case because both designations are based on the same object (Venus), and both are accurate descriptions of the same object, seen at different times under different viewing conditions. Both descriptors correspond to the intended referent. Both are truly about that object. 

If, however, that was not the case, then these wouldn't be coreferential. So we need to distinguish between the intended referent and whether that actually maps onto the object.

Take mistaken identity. If I see a picture of Marlene Dietrich and say that's Rita Hayworth, does it refer to Hayworth? Even if Hayworth is the intended referent, that's not a picture of Hayworth. Even if Muhammad intends for Allah to map onto Yahweh, that doesn't make it so. 

ix) Concepts of God range along a continuum. At one end you had have pagans and heretics. At the other end, theologically astute Christians. And you have borderline cases. I don't think "same" and "different" are adequate to capture degrees of similarity and dissimilarity. It's too dichotomous. 

We need to use more qualified language. It's rather like counterfactual identity, where you take the nearest possible world as a frame of reference. 

With respect to Christians, it comes down to divine condescension. God accepts our sometimes inadequate, inaccurate beliefs about him as if they pick out God. Depending on a person's orthodoxy or theological sophistication, some, many, or most beliefs do map onto God. Ultimately, it's up to God, in his providence, how well any person's theological beliefs track God.

Certainly God's self-revelation in Scripture has given us a reliable basis for true, referential beliefs regarding God. But misinterpretation will produce erroneous beliefs. 

x) Some defenders of Hawkins compare the relationship between Christianity and Islam with the relationship between Christianity and Judaism. There are, however, problems with that comparison:

a) "Judaism" is ambiguous. Judaism isn't any one thing. Does that refer to OT theism, or to the varieties of modern Judaism? 

Bruce Walkte once said in class that because he's an OT professor, people ask him about Judaism, and he tells them that he's not an expert on Judaism because that's a different religion. 

b) It's anachronistic to make OT theism the standard of comparison. You can't just turn back the clock on progressive revelation. 

c) There's a difference between not believing in Trinitarian/Incarnational theology prior to the Incarnation, or the explicit revelation of the Trinity, and rejecting later stages of revelation and redemption. 

d) Of the various religions, Christianity has the most in common with Judaism. But that cuts both ways. If you say that means Christians and Jews believe in or worship the same God, then where does that leave a religion that has less in common with Christianity? Unless you're a religious pluralist (e.g. John Hick), at some point along the spectrum you must draw a line and say they don't believe in or worship the same God. 

For instance, does the Jesus of traditional Mormon theology pick out the same Jesus as the NT? No. The Mormon Jesus is a different kind of being with a completely different backstory. 

It's like comparing Santa Claus to St. Nicholas. St. Nicholas is a historical figure; Santa Claus is a fictional character. Although Santa Claus draws some inspiration from traditions about St. Nicholas, Santa Claus has a different (imaginary) prehistory. Santa Clause and St. Nicholas aren't coreferential.  

xi) I'd say Allah is a fictive construct. A fictional character in a fictional book. I'd classify the Koran as historical fiction. That genre can combine factual elements with imaginary incidents and imaginary characters. 

By contrast, Yahweh/Jesus/the Trinity is real. Assuming that's the case, in what respect do Christians and Muslims believe in the same God? Put another way, how is that different than comparing Jesus to Krishna or Yahweh to Zeus? 

When the specific contention is whether Muslims and Christians believe in the same God, or worship the same God, I don't see how we can avoid the criterion of mental content or mental representations, given that framework. 

Of course, a Muslim would accuse me of begging the question, but I'm not debating a Muslim. At the moment we have an intramural debate between professing Christians (especially evangelicals) who take the truth of Christianity for granted. And if some of them are religious pluralists, then that's a different debate. 

I don't hesitate to use Christianity as the standard of comparison. If this was a debate between a Christian and a Muslim, then I'd have to argue for that presupposition. But I don't shoulder that burden of proof in this particular discussion. 

xii) Francis Beckwith has defended Hawkins:

Beckwith is more consistent inasmuch as Vatican II, codifying Karl Rahner, said:

841 The Church's relationship with the Muslims. "The plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator, in the first place amongst whom are the Muslims; these profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the one, merciful God, mankind's judge on the last day."330 [LG 16; cf. NA 3.]

But that doesn't follow on non-Catholic assumptions.

Keep in mind that Rome wasn't always so ecumenical. Pope Urban II mobilized the First Crusade, Pope Innocent III mobilized the Reconquista, while Pope Pius V mobilized the Battle of Lepanto. 

First, what does it mean for two terms to refer to the same thing? Take, for example, the names “Muhammed Ali” and “Cassius Clay.” Although they are different terms, they refer to the same thing, for each has identical properties. Whatever is true of Ali is true of Clay and vice versa. (By the way, you can do the same with “Robert Zimmerman” and “Bob Dylan,” or “Norma Jean Baker” and “Marilyn Monroe”).
So the fact that Christians may call God “Yahweh” and Muslims call God “Allah” makes no difference if both “Gods” have identical properties.

That's a red herring. It's certainly true that Arab Christians can use "Allah" to designate the Christian Deity. 

On the other hand, "Allah" has different connotations when used by a Muslim or an English speaker. It would be inappropriate to use "Allah" for the Christian God in English discourse. 

In fact, what is known as classical theism was embraced by the greatest thinkers of the Abrahamic religions: St. Thomas Aquinas (Christian), Moses Maimonides (Jewish), and Avicenna (Muslim). Because, according to the classical theist, there can only in principle be one God, Christians, Jews, and Muslims who embrace classical theism must be worshipping the same God. It simply cannot be otherwise.

i) Islam is not an Abrahamic religion. That's Muslim propaganda. 

ii) I doubt Maimonides thought Muslims, Jews, and Christians believe in the same God. And even if he did, it's even more doubtful to suppose he thought they worship the same God.

On the one hand, he viewed Christians as heretics. Idolaters. On the other hand, while he preferred Islam's unitarian monotheism to Christianity's Trinitarian, Incarnational theology, he preferred Christianity's reverence for the OT to Islam, which replaces the OT (and the NT) with the Koran. 

Moreover, it wouldn't surprise me if Maimonides was pulling his punches with respect to Islam. After all, his employer was the Sultan. So he may well have said less than he privately thought. 

But doesn’t Christianity affirm that God is a Trinity while Muslims deny it? Wouldn’t this mean that they indeed worship different “Gods”? Not necessarily. Consider this example. Imagine that Fred believes that the evidence is convincing that Thomas Jefferson (TJ) sired several children with his slave Sally Hemings (SH), and thus Fred believes that TJ has the property of “being a father to several of SHs children.” On the other hand, suppose Bob does not find the evidence convincing and thus believes that TJ does not have the property of “being a father to several of SHs children.”
Would it follow from this that Fred and Bob do not believe that the Third President of the United States was the same man? Of course not. In the same way, Abraham and Moses did not believe that God is a Trinity, but St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, and Billy Graham do. Does that mean that Augustine, Aquinas, and Graham do not worship the same God as Abraham and Moses? Again, of course not. The fact that one may have incomplete knowledge or hold a false belief about another person – whether human or divine – does not mean that someone who has better or truer knowledge about that person is not thinking about the same person.

a) An obvious problem with that illustration is its failure to distinguish intrinsic properties from extrinsic properties. Jefferson would still be Jefferson without his kids; by contrast, the Father would not (and could not) exist apart from the Son. 

b) In addition, Beckwith is effectively imputing to Hawkins an understanding that there's no reason to think she shares. Does she really have a sophisticated theory of reference?Beckwith is arguing on her behalf by making a case for her claim that I seriously doubt she'd be able to make on her own. So we need to distinguish between whether the claim is defensible and her own motivations. 

xiii)  Gene Green said "Dr. Hawkins and others want to follow the example of Jesus, who went to those who were discriminated against," he said. "He ate with people whom others rejected. Jesus calls us to love our neighbors, and the Muslims are our neighbors."

a) In the USA, discrimination against Muslims is statistically negligible, 

b) The greatest danger to Muslims is other Muslims. 

xiv) Hawkins said she'd don the hijab "to stand in religious solidarity with Muslims." 

That's a cheap, morally confused gesture. Whenever Muslims commit some atrocity on American soil, which occurs with increasing frequency, you always had people who rush to the defense of…Muslims. Their reflexive reaction is to express solidarity with Muslims, even though Muslims were the perpetrators. That's always their first impulse. 

What about showing solidarity with the Jewish and Christian victims of Islam? Heck, what about showing solidarity with Muslim women by undergoing a clitorectomy? Obviously she won't do that because that would really cost her something. 

Sure, she can take a stance against the mythical persecution of Muslims in the USA, but it's morally blind to show solidarity with Muslims rather than victims of Muslim social mores. There's no consistency to her position. It's just radical chic posturing.


  1. "
    However, that's the case because both designations are based on the same object (Venus), and both are accurate descriptions of the same object, seen at different times under different viewing conditions. Both descriptors correspond to the intended referent. Both are truly about that object."

    I agree. And that would be true even if the person had some other false belief about the morning star or the evening star. For example, suppose that the person believes that the morning star _isn't_ the evening star. Still, his use of the term is occasioned by experiences that are, in fact, caused by the same entity that causes other people to talk about the evening star.

    In contrast, we should not say that Mohammad's experiences that caused him to develop Islam and its concept of Allah were caused by the same entity that caused the origins of Christianity! Very much to the contrary.

  2. Take mistaken identity. If I see a picture of Marlene Dietrich and say that's Rita Hayworth, does it refer to Hayworth? Even if Hayworth is the intended referent, that's not a picture of Hayworth. Even if Muhammad intends for Allah to map onto Yahweh, that doesn't make it so.

    Not to hijack the thread, but I think this is correct, and maps onto the golden calf Aaron fashioned for the Israleites while Moses was on Sinai, and likewise maps onto representations (images, statuary, et al) of Christ.

  3. "Because, according to the classical theist, there can only in principle be one God, Christians, Jews, and Muslims who embrace classical theism must be worshipping the same God. It simply cannot be otherwise."


    I think this is a little facile. Say a Jehovah's Witness says he is a classical thiest, or a SDA (I've met some who claim that orthodox Monotheism has been perveted by Greek philosophy) or Masons (they believe in the "Grand Architect of the Universe") claim they worship the God of the Bible.

    It seems to me that there is a contiunum here. Some non-christians may worship the God of Christians but some might not.

  4. I saw this on National Catholic Register (where people like Mark Shea hang out) - it's an interview with Germain Grisez:


    What was the result of not developing that more fully?

    Since Vatican II, the kingdom of God is hardly mentioned, and no one is talking about what you need to do to get into the Kingdom.

    What do we have instead? A kind of almost-universalism: Everyone gets into heaven. If everyone gets into the Kingdom, you don’t have to think about it anymore. The general assumption is no one’s going to hell. When do you remember any pope or bishop talking about hell as a real thing?

    So there’s a problem: Vatican II left hell out. Since then, hell has been omitted from preaching and teaching, even by John Paul II. John XXIII wanted to present the faith in an attractive way, and that was understood to mean that we don’t want to talk about these bad or discouraging things.

    After Vatican II, you get people like [Hans Urs] von Balthasar saying, “We have to hope that everyone is saved.” Well, we have to hope that each individual is saved, but you don’t have to hope that everybody — collectively — is going to be saved, because you don’t deal with people collectively. You don’t love them collectively. When Jesus says many people will want to enter the Kingdom but won’t be able to, we have to believe he was telling the truth.

    Read more: