Tuesday, January 12, 2016

God and Allah: A lack of logic

So it looks like Professor Hawkins of Wheaton College is going to be fired for making this statement:"I stand in religious solidarity with Muslims because they, like me, a Christian, are people of the book. And as Pope Francis stated last week, we worship the same God". I want focus on the logical mistakes several Christian commentators have made about the alleged similarity between the God of Christianity and the God of Islam, in response to this recent controversy

A valid argument, needs both clear terms and true (corresponding to reality) premises. Often we summarise our arguments, assuming our terms are clearly understand and hoping our premises correspond to reality. In this recent controversy Christian commentators have displayed a lack of logic by jumping to theological arguments about whether or not the gods of Islam and Christianity are the same , without making their terms clear or the premises accurate. Here are some reasonable observations about this controversy.

  1. You can observe linguistic similarities: Arabic, like English has a word for god. "Allah"
  2. You can observe historical similarities: Islam is a seventh century derivative of Christianity
  3. You can observe sociological similarities: both religions have ethical standards, meeting places and religious leaders
  4. You can observe religious similarities: both religions have theological discussions about who God is and how he saves
So what shape would a valid argument take? You would start by making your terms clear, by comparing individual Islamic and Christian definitions of God. You would then need to show if those terms accurately represented wider Islamic and Christian theology. Finally, you'd then need to connect the dots and show how your argument was bigger than a mere sociological observation but proved a profound ideological similarity. I've yet to see this. 

Now, here are some examples where Christian commentators have blurred an unclear observation about Islam and Christianity with a half-baked theological argument, leading only to disappointing confusion.

John Stackhouse
"What she [Hawkins] could have meant, and what makes sense in the context of her long-time affiliation with Wheaton College, is that she believes that the same God is the object of much and normative Islamic piety as is the target of much and normative Christian piety."
Miroslav Volf
"Most Christians through the centuries, saints and teachers of undisputed orthodoxy, have believed that Muslims worship the same God as they do."
Tevin Wax
"Timothy George – Is the God of Muhammad the Father of Jesus? The answer is surely Yes and No." 
Mark Gali
"For example, theologically there is indeed a limited way in which we can say Muslims and Christians worship the same God, but in larger and more substantive ways, we don't. That issue needs careful parsing."
Note that a valid Christian argument would need to distinguish between Muslims learning true things about God in-spite of Islam, as opposed to Muslims learning true things about God because of Islam.