Thursday, February 12, 2009

Islam and Arminianism

Reppert linked to a post that takes some claims from the unscholarly work of Geisler on Islam and then proceeds to quote-mine from that book and quote-mine from Calvin and Calvinists in order to show that the two positions are similar.

Of course, no care was taken to show the context or meaning behind quotes centuries apart. It is also safely assumed that the author of the post Reppert linked to has studied neither Islam or Calvinism. The smart money is that he grabbed his two Geisler books (Crescent and Cross and Chosen but Free) and slapped some similar sounding statements next to each other and then let the careless reader infer some sort of identity between the two. So, we're off on a bad foot already.

But besides this, Reppert makes the correct point that, "I am not sure of the value of this line of argumentation in a critique of Calvinism, however. First, a similarity to something is Islam is not an automatic problem. Muslims do get some things right." Right. As if either author will now denounce the Kalam cosmological argument because of its associations with Islam. Indeed, both Islam and Arminianism deny that man is actually affected by original sin, prevenient grace having swept that problem under the rug.

Reppert says, "The Calvinist responses here seem to involve theological voluntarism, which is certainly a natural inference from some things Reformed theologian say, but I don't think is essential to Calvinism." Not only is it not shown that voluntarism is a "natural inference", Reppert knows that I have linked to a paper that discusses this very point in detail. I know Reppert popped off a couple responses to that, but I showed him where in the paper his rebuttals were answered. Reppert gives the impression that he only skimmed Sudduth's paper, at best. Indeed, when I showed his response to Sudduth, the reply was, "Paul, didn't I cover that in the paper?"

Lastly, Reppert says, "I did say at some points in my exchanges with Calvinists a few months back that I thought that the theodicy moves they were making could as easily be made on behalf of Islam as well as on behalf of Christianity." Of course this claim gains its force by the shared level of ignorance on both Islam and Calvinism.

For example, if we want to wax contemporary, I recently interviewed a Muslim Imam (PhD at Leeds in Arabic) and he told me that Islam taught that man had libertarian free will and that Allah has only revealed what man is to do and not do, it is up to man to do it. He makes the same moves Arminians make, viz., Allah is loving and merciful, he could not cause people to sin. The Koron uses the words "choice" and so it must be read as affirming determinism, etc. He said the teachings some of thought implied determinism or fate just mean God has exhaustive foreknowledge. Muslims have just expressed this in ways foreign to some Western ears, i.e., "write their deeds in a book." Dr. Sahibzada said this means only that he knows all they will do.

But if we need to wax historic, how about the Mu'tazili school of Islam? In the 8th century Mu'tazili argued that evil is the result of free will. Islam has its "Arminians" just like Christianity has its Arminians. But those who want quick and easy refutations of another religion are loathe to represent it in all its various sophistications. It is known that Islam makes room for a variety if views. In the interest of time, I cite the unscholarly, but useful-on-the-fly, Wikipedia:

"From early days of Islamic civilization, and because of both internal factors including intra-Muslim conflicts and external factors including interfaith debates, several questions were being debated by Muslim theologians, such as whether the Qur'an was created or eternal, whether evil was created by God, the issue of predestination versus free will, whether God's attributes in the Qur'an were to be interpreted allegorically or literally, etc. Mu'tazili thought attempted to address all these issues."
Here another Islamic scholar used the FWD:

And from the Quran we can understand that Allah has given humans free will, in order to test them to prove who is better in good deeds:

*{Every soul shall have a taste of death: and We test you by evil and by good by way of trial; to Us must ye return.}* (Al-Anbiyaa' 21:35)

One consequence of freedom is that humans may choose evil instead of good. But if they are forcefully prevented from choosing evil, there will not be any freedom.
Another Muslim writes,

As for your question regarding the will of Allah, each human being has been given the ability to choose his/her own path in this life and to follow either what is right or to follow what is wrong. If a person chooses to do something good and is able to follow through and perform that deed, then it is only because Allah has allowed it. The same is true if a person has chosen to perform a bad deed. He/she is only able to perform that deed if Allah allows it to happen.
Here an Islamic scholar addresses the issue and sounds very Arminian. He appeals to an "age of accountability," and makes the traditional "foreknowledge does not imply determinism" arguments used by so many Arminians:

Therefore, according to the post Reppert linked to, using the same logical form, we can test for validity by counter-example and claim that Islam and Arminianism have many things in common when it comes to free will and theodicy, therefore Arminianism must be "naughty."

So, we have, yet again, another poor attempt to undermine Calvinism. And yet again, we see that Calvinism has no undefeated defeaters.

Calvinism doesn't get treated charitably. Its opponents typically want to malign it and dismiss it as fast and as easy as possible. I have seen Arminian philosophers take more care to make sure that physicalism or atheist philosophers are represented charitably than I have seen care to make sure Calvinism is represented properly. Bertrand Russell is defended and let off the hook easier than Calvin. In this we find common ground with Jesus. His fellow Jews sought to defend and let off Barabbas over him. His fellow Jews strove to misrepresent him and his teachings, searching for quick ways to dismiss him before the people. Calvinism walks this road too.


  1. You didn't think Geisler's work on Islam was very good? Don't mean to sidetrack you or take a lot of time, just curious.

  2. R,

    There were of course some good things in it. Hardly anything completely lacks substance. I think the best part was more in his defense of some of the basics of Christianity against nislamic challeneges.

    Upon reflection, I don't think we should be surprised. Almost all his material (theology, when skeptics ask, when cultists ask, etc) is fairly week.

    I think he pressed critiques as absolute while in reality the Muslim could have a way out, another alternative. I know how it is when Arminians try and critique us without being aware of the details of our theology. I know how it is when atheists critique the bible while being ignoramouses regarding exegesis and hermeneutics. Same is the case with Islam. I of course don't believe Islam is true, but I'm willing to bet many critiques we make are at the level of straw man. (This is not just Islam, though. recently Sudduth corrected me regarding many misunderstandings and weak critiques I used to hold, make, and think worked against Buddhism.) So, Christians need to make sure that they treat others as they want to be treated. We pull out the original Greek on atheists who claim there's some problem. I assume the Muslim can pull out the original Arabic (indeed, traslations of Koran are not Koran, so they say). Also, there's the personal variable nature of apologetics. Muslims have some diversity as we do. Some atheists might critique Christianity as a whole because of something that is only a defect given Arminianism. Likewise, some our our critiques, Geisler's, etc., may only work against some versions of Islam. So, I think more care needs to be taken.

    All Muslims agree that we can be right before God without the righteousness of Jesus Christ. They all agree here. And this is a massive problem. The Muslim I interviewed said "God just forgives." I find this their most significant problem. The upside is that they all agree and so I don't need to worry about attacking straw men. Of course there are other problems, but this issue is the touchstone. They also need to deal adaquately with the evidence for the resurrection, and their claims that the torah, psalms, prophets, and some of the NT are inspired. Geisler was correct on these points too.

  3. I suspect that you would not be able to make that kind of a case against Calvinism prior to 9/11. That is, a similarity between Islam and Calvinism would not have been a reason to reject Calvinism had some people on the lunatic fringe of Islam hadn't flown planes into the Twin Towers.

    IIRC, the Mutazilites were condemned as heretics fairly early on, and I suspect the history of Islam would have been rather different if they had remained a force within the religion. But that has more to do with the interpretation of the Qu'ran and the role of philosophy than it does with their acceptance of predestination.

    I decided that this site would be target practice for you or Bnonn, and I almost said it in my post.

  4. "I suspect that you would not be able to make that kind of a case against Calvinism prior to 9/11. That is, a similarity between Islam and Calvinism would not have been a reason to reject Calvinism had some people on the lunatic fringe of Islam hadn't flown planes into the Twin Towers."

    Arminians have made this argument long before 9/11. Anyway, one could reason that since many crazed cult leaders have believed in libertarianism, then Arminianism is problematic. Could I make the same argument as your link in a post Branch Davidian world?

    "IIRC, the Mutazilites were condemned as heretics fairly early on, and I suspect the history of Islam would have been rather different if they had remained a force within the religion. But that has more to do with the interpretation of the Qu'ran and the role of philosophy than it does with their acceptance of predestination."

    Not for reasons having to do with libertarianism. Also, it was demonstrated that the issue was debated early on. Furthermore, I cited numerous contemporary orthodox Muslims, not the "lunatic fringe," who hold to libertarian free will.

    At any rate, Muslims appeal to a FWD. So your comment about Calvinist theodicies is a zero sum game.

  5. Sounds like we have some common ground to work from now. :-)

  6. I find the comparison of (relatively minor) Christian positions, such as Arminianism or Calvinism, with the behemoth intellectual construct that is "Islam" thoroughly unhelpful. For one thing, one can find almost any idea imaginable in the writings of some Muslim thinker somewhere, and thus arguments of affinity with Islam become somewhat meaningless. If you take a good look at some of the more extreme works of the Shi'i ghulat sects, you encounter images of redemption through semi-divine sacrifice that closely parallels many Christian conceptions of Christ's death on the cross. But does the battle of Karbala or the reign of al-Hakim really enhance our understanding of the Crucifixion? Probably not... Furthermore, quoting the Mutazili school as representative of Islam is equivalent to representing Christianity by the doctrines of Origen or John Philoponus. Would you quote Origen's De Principiis, and then suggest that any protestant sermon on youtube really represents the precisely the same belief system?...