Rationalizing the same God

January 16, 2016 § 110 Comments

Without getting into a full blown theory of language – as something expressed in language itself, a full blown theory of language may be intrinsically problematic, at least qua something expressed in language – I will simply observe that we often use words to refer to things out there in reality.

When we refer to a thing out there in reality using language, what we are doing is similar to pointing our finger at a bird, or a rock, a tree, another person, some numbers in a ledger, a book, a diagram, etc. We are concretely acting, using our material corporeal faculties, in order to assist another person in seeing or perceiving the objective thing to which we refer.

In this sense it is manifest that Christians and Mohammedans are both referring to God when we use our various words for God.  The notion that monotheists refer to two different gods when they each use their various words for God is self contradictory. Referring to a thing is not the same as asserting a complete or even partial theory of the thing to which one refers.  When I say “What the Hell is that?” I am referring to something or other by ‘that’: something or other about which I may know very little, and about which I may well have very mistaken beliefs or perceptions.

The question ‘do we worship the same God‘ is therefore malformed, because the emphasis is on the objective referent of ‘God’ not on the meaning of ‘worship’. The phrase ‘the same God’, understood as a reference used by monotheists, contains the contradictory notion within it that there might be more-than-one only-one God. Every monotheist necessarily refers to God when he uses his word for God.

So asking ‘do Christians and Mohammedans worship the same God?’ asserts a contradiction and then asks what follows from that contradiction.  It is no surprise to find that people disagree over what follows based on their own extrinsic commitments and biases. Anyone who reads here regularly should realize by now that a contradiction implies everything and its opposite all at once, and when people reach various conclusions from contradictory premises what they are really doing is rationalizing: presenting a putative justification for something which they believe or assert for reasons entirely extrinsic to the doctrine which they are invoking to justify that belief or assertion.

To rationalize is to present arguments for a belief or assert rhetoric in favor of a belief apart from the actual reasons for a belief.  Rationalization is a kind of lie: it proposes that we should believe Q because of P when P is not an actual reason to believe Q; or that we did Q because of P when P was not actually the reason we did Q.  Rationalization proposes, as true, an actually false causal relation between P and Q.

A truthful, non-rationalizing answer to the question ‘do Christians and Mohammedans worship the same God’ is that the question is self contradictory.  A more interesting question is ‘do both Christians and Mohammedans actually worship God?’

Modern people are post cartesian subjectivists/materialists, so when we use a term like ‘worship’ we tend to retreat to the purely subjective.  What defines ‘worship’ in these discussions tends to be the purely subjective intentions (begging the question in favor of strict post cartesian dualism) of the person doing the ‘worshiping’.  If the person thinks that his actions, including his acting by praying in a certain manner, constitute ‘worship’ in the requisite sense, well then that is ‘worship’.

But there is only one sufficient way to worship God: the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Other people, including non-Catholic Christians, may well ‘worship’ God in a sense. And if they are baptized they belong to the communion of those actually worshiping whether they themselves believe it or not — there is that distinction between subjective belief and objective reality, again.

However just because something is labeled ‘worship’ it does not follow that it has the objective qualities essential to worship. Defective worship may still be worship in a sense, just as a play-acted wedding is a wedding in a sense. A merciful Father may well generously treat something that is not actually worship as though it actually were worship.  Or He may not.

But there is certainly a sense – the most important sense – in which play-acted worship is not really, objectively, worship.

§ 110 Responses to Rationalizing the same God

  • CJ says:

    Those are pretty much my thoughts on this subject [other than the stuff about the Mass 🙂 ]. It’s right there in Acts 17 when Paul tells the Athenians that the God he proclaimed to them is the unknown God that they worship in ignorance.

    I’ve stopped trying to make this point online or in real life, though. People tend to think you’re advocating indifferentism when you do so.

  • GJ says:

    Zippy:

    I find it hard to see how this is not a nitpick of what is (arguably) a careless way of asking ‘Is that which Christians worship that which Muslims worship?’

  • Zippy says:

    GJ:

    I agree that, as a substantive matter, it is a tempest in a teapot.

    The main extrinsic reason that many people emphasize the affirmative side of the self-contradiction ‘the same God’ is to downplay the requirement for objectively correct worship: to make sincerity take away the sins of the world. Ecumaniacal indifferentists naturally gravitate toward that understanding, and think that the same referent God somehow baptizes the practice of Islam.

    The main extrinsic reason that many people emphasize the negative side of the self-contradiction ‘the same God’ is to emphasize the objective wickedness of Islam, including the very real possibility that a real actual angel – a fallen one – actually did recite the Alcoran to Mohammed.

    The reason fewer people focus on the ‘worship’ side of the proposition is because to modern man, if he sincerely thinks X is worship that means that it really is just as good as actual worship: that doing X is just as good as actual worship. Worship is just a private thing between the individual and God: it cannot be allowed to refer to a concrete reality. The idea that what mohammedans do isn’t really worship or is defective worship opens up Pandora’s Locke Box and sends Legion screaming into the darkness. Because if sincerity is not all that there is to say about worship then Jesus is no longer a product on the shelves at Walmart, where you can buy whatever style of Jesus you want, but is actually King of Kings, and perhaps even has appointed Apostolic successors and commanded particular concrete actions: the visible historic Catholic Church and the sacraments.

  • Patrick says:

    I think it just confuses the situation to ask whether Christians and Muslims “worship the same God.” The answer seems meaningless (unless like you said you specifically define “worship”) since “Allah” isn’t God. Many have a problem with it because they think that if someone says Muslims, or other people, are accidentally worshiping the Trinity while trying to worship something else, he’s saying “Allah” is God. But God is a Trinity and “Allah” explicitly isn’t, so these can’t be referring to one Being. Not that there are two Gods…Allah doesn’t exist. He’s a made-up concept.

  • Zippy says:

    Patrick:

    But God is a Trinity and “Allah” explicitly isn’t …

    ‘Allah’ does refer to God though. The Christian understanding of God is true and the Islamic understanding is false; for that matter the Catholic understanding is true and the Protestant false. But it doesn’t follow that when Mohammedans refer to God they aren’t referring to God.

    If Taqiy points at the Harley and says “the motorcycle is propelled by flatulant emissions from the demon Asmodeus” it doesn’t follow that he and I refer to different things by ‘the motorcycle’.

    If you are a monotheist then when you use your word for God you are referring to God, no matter what other weird and wrong ideas you may have about God. That’s what makes the phrase ‘the same God’ – under the assumption of monotheism – self contradictory.

    The further point though is that the fact that both Christians and Mohammedans in fact refer to God when they use the word God doesn’t really imply much of anything important. Taqiy can light as much incense as he wants to please Asmodeus, but the motorcycle isn’t going to run until I put some gas in it.

    As is often the case what interests me – not because it is the most important thing overall, but because it is an area where I have the conceit that I might be able to contribute something meaningful to the discussion, and if not that then at least learn something myself – is the areas that various apparently-opposed parties have in common rather than their differences, at least as I perceive them.

    And one thing that most parties seem to share in common is the assumption that, given monotheism, the concept ‘the same God’ is a coherent predication. I’m not at all sure that it is a coherent predication, and I’ve already explained why modern people prefer incoherent doctrines over coherent ones.

  • Patrick says:

    “If you are a monotheist then when you use your word for God you are referring to God, no matter what other weird and wrong ideas you may have about God.”

    Wouldn’t that be the same as two people saying “the motorcycle,” but one is talking about the motorcycle, and the other is talking about a unicorn?

  • Patrick says:

    Since they’re objectively different. People talk about similarities between God and “Allah” and say that they must refer to the same Being, but they have mutually exclusive, essential qualities.

  • Zippy says:

    Patrick:

    Wouldn’t that be the same as two people saying “the motorcycle,” but one is talking about the motorcycle, and the other is talking about a unicorn?

    No. We are both referring to the actual motorcycle, he isn’t referring to a unicorn. He could be under the impression that the motorcycle really is a unicorn in disguise, and it wouldn’t follow that he is not referring to the motorcycle.

    There is a subtle anti-realist error taking place here, wherein ideas someone has about a thing are being conflated with the thing itself.

    If Taqiy thinks the motorcycle is a unicorn he is wrong about the motorcycle, but he is still referring to it. And his impression that putting beans in the tank is the right way to fuel it doesn’t mean that putting beans in the tank actually is fueling it.

    Mistaken ideas about reality don’t make reality disappear.

  • donalgraeme says:

    Thank you Zippy, for this extra bit of enlightenment today.

  • P.B. says:

    I think its clear that Muslims believe in the true God in a very defective way, but could a monotheism be so defective that the object of its belief isn’t even a mistaken reference to the same entity but rather something else? Say, instead of mistaking the motorcycle for a unicorn, someone is referring to a unicorn that for whatever reason is then confused with the motorcycle? Sorry if this is a dumb question.

  • Zippy says:

    PB:

    I do not believe that the monotheistic concept of God is compatible, strictly speaking, with the question “is X the same God?”

    That is, it is certainly possible to use the word “God” – as any word -equivocally, as a matter of language. But it is not possible for a truly monotheistic concept of God to fail to refer to God.

    If some religion were de facto polytheistic but claimed to worship God then that would be an equivocal use of the word. But I think it is at least clear that Islam is truly monotheistic, as a matter of fact about Islam. So when Islam refers to God it is in fact referring to God despite, as you say, its very defective understanding of God. Someone might object that Islam is really polytheistic or whatever, but I think that objection doesn’t comport with the facts.

    What interests me about the recent debate (or the recent recurrence of the same old debate) on the subject is not so much the pro- and con- of it as how literally unreal it is. People refer to God all the time, but from the way many folks talk it seems like they think they are really just referring to a concept in their own minds when they talk about God. The fact that when people talk about God they are in fact actually talking about God, not some concept in their own minds, really ought to be terrifying. If we really grasped who God is, we’d be terrified to say more about Him than we absolutely must.

  • P.B. says:

    It would be terrible but funny if someone at his particular judgement found they didn’t much care for the God who was meeting them and attempted to conjure up a more “merciful” God with the power of his mind.

  • Zippy says:

    P.B.:

    Yes, although more likely is the dawning of a fuller understanding of the full truth – that true mercy is not the inadequate concept of ‘mercy’ subjectively held. After all, if infinite mercy and justice become one in God then I know that my own concepts of each are inadequate to the reality.

  • P.B. says:

    Indeed.

  • Patrick says:

    Here’s what I don’t understand about this, though I gather I’m wrong since I read that most everyone in Church history disagrees with me.

    “If Taqiy thinks the motorcycle is a unicorn he is wrong about the motorcycle, but he is still referring to it.”

    If he thinks “the motorcycle” is a unicorn, it makes sense that he is referring to a unicorn, not a motorcycle, when he says, “the motorcycle. If he thinks “the cup” is a fork, he’s referring to a fork. If he thinks “God” is a non-Trinitarian entity, then when he says “God,” he’s referring to a non-Trinitarian entity. But God is a Trinity, not a non-Trinitarian entity, so how could he be referring to God?

  • Zippy says:

    Patrick:

    A classic example is the morning star, the evening star, and the planet venus. Two philosophers might disagree that they are the same thing, might have radically different incompatible concepts about them, and may give good reasons for their different concepts. But they are in fact the same thing in reality. Whenever and wherever someone has referred to that actual thing he has referred to that actual thing, however distorted his concept of that actual thing might be.

    It is a subtle kind of anti-realism to disconnect our concepts of things from what those things are in reality. As we’ve seen in discussions here (e.g. rabbits and authority), that which is actual is prior to our concepts of what is actual.

    It isn’t reality that bends; it is you that bends.

    Monotheism as a prior acknowledges that there actually is one and only one God. Anyone who refers to God is therefore referring to that one actual being, that is, to God.

  • William Luse says:

    I think you’re right. But when I first encountered this dispute – probably at Feser’s place – it soon struck me that I didn’t really care about the answer. It seemed a rarified philosophical exercise to prove that the two religions are referring to the same God when, for all practical purposes, the facts on the ground (the fruits of Islam) seemed to indicate that we might as well not be.

  • Zippy says:

    Bill:
    I guess I’d say that the philosophical point is at least mildly important, because the distinction between ideas and the reality those ideas are about is important. But the fact itself is not really significant in this case.

  • Yeah. The idea that we’re NOT talking about the same God seems more counter-intuitive to me than the idea that we are. Consider: I go up to a Muslim and ask “You believe in one God, the maker of Heaven and Earth, the Lord of the Universe, and no other Gods, right?”

    They tell me “Of course”, and I have a conversation with said muslim about God. It seems to me perfectly obvious that while me and said person might figure out during the course of the discussion that our ideas about God are radically different we’re clearly talking about the same being, and perhaps figuring out why we think of such a being in such radically different ways.

    “Boots on the ground” is a separate question.

  • Patrick says:

    I don’t see it. I think people are transporting God and Islam’s god to the realm of ideas, unifying them there via monotheistic conceptual similarities, then bringing them both back to reality as one God with a bifurcated following. Edward Feser listed some people in Catholic history who support the idea that God and Islam’s god are one and the same, but they say things like the two are “practically” or “substantially” the same, not simply one God and they add the Trinity as an add-on. Feser says Thomas Aquinas was was a classical theist and that that means Thomas Aquinas believed them to be one and the same, but Aquinas apparently didn’t produce a proof showing them to be one or Feser would have cited it. To me it looks as if, as ideas, God and Islam’s god are similar enough that Aquinas and Avicenna can philosophize together, but that isn’t the same as saying they’re in reality one and the same. It probably doesn’t matter much in terms of philosophizing, and maybe it’s impossible to prove or disprove conclusively. But if we can’t use any understanding of God expressed as concepts to show why they’re different, then we can’t use monotheistic conceptualization to show that God and Islam’s god must be one. But if we’re going to use concepts, why exclude the fact of the Trinity? From a Catholic perspective “God is a Trinity” is no less reliable than “one God, the maker of Heaven and Earth, the Lord of the Universe” as Malcolm said. The difference is Islam’s god isn’t a Trinity. Mormonism’s god isn’t one God. Hinduism’s pantheon isn’t the Lord of the Universe. If the last two are legitimate reasons to exclude those gods as God, why isn’t the first?

  • Zippy says:

    Patrick:

    I see that you don’t see it. In your view is it ever possible for two people to talk about the same actual real thing, or are we always talking about our hermetically private ideas of things? If the latter, then how is shared meaning, or an external reality for that matter, even possible?

  • Patrick says:

    Yes, people can talk about the same actual real thing. Two people could talk about Islam’s god for example. Or about God.

  • Zippy says:

    Patrick:

    So when you talk about God you are talking about God. When other people disagree with you about God, they are not talking about God.

  • Patrick says:

    If they’re talking about a non-Trinity or a non-Lord of the Universe they’re not talking about God.

  • Patrick says:

    If anyone is talking about God he’s of course talking about God.

  • Zippy says:

    If we can’t talk about something without first agreeing on all the essential properties of that thing, we can never talk about the essential properties of anything without a priori agreement on everything about all of those essential properties. Disagreement about essential properties isn’t even possible.

  • Patrick says:

    Then it would be just as true to say that the Mormon Father God is God, same as the Muslim god. There’s just a variance in agreement about God’s essential qualities.

  • Zippy says:

    Patrick:
    Sure, there is disagreement about essential properties. The disagreement between monotheists and polytheists is a disagreement over the essential nature of the divine.

    And?

  • Patrick says:

    Therefore, the Mormon Father God is one and the same Being as God?

  • Zippy says:

    Of course not. One god in a polytheistic pantheon is not God understood monotheistically.

  • Patrick says:

    The same is true for Islam’s non-Trinity. It’s just that Muslims have somewhat greater agreement with God’s essential properties.

  • Zippy says:

    Patrick:

    It is trivially true that polytheists refer to God when they say false things about Him. You cannot say anything specific – whether correct or incorrect – about something which actually exists without referring to it.

    That you view this as some sort of reductio – assuming that you do view it as some sort of reductio, and haven’t just come around to agreeing with me that Allah is God (and in fact “Allah” is just the Arabic word for God, used by Arab Christians and Mohammedans alike) – is a symptom of problems with your whole approach.

    I am quite certain that neither you nor I are in possession of a complete understanding of God’s essence and everything about it; and that each of us probably has different, mutually incompatible ideas about God. But it wouldn’t be possible for us to even talk about that or think about that if we were not referring to God. We can’t even be wrong about something without referring to the actual thing about which we are wrong.

  • Patrick says:

    I don’t have a problem saying that Muslims or anyone else in the world can talk about God or pray to God or worship God. The fact that a Muslim or a Mormon or a jungle pygmy polytheist or an atheist prays one day doesn’t mean his false god is one and the same Being as God. Which is what people are saying.

  • Zippy says:

    But when a monotheist talks about God he is in fact talking about God. That he may have wrong ideas about God doesn’t mean that he isn’t talking about God.

    Again, this attempt to resist error by adopting anti-realism is the real trouble with these discussions.

  • Patrick says:

    You just said that a polytheist saying incorrect things about God is talking about God.

  • Zippy says:

    What else would he be saying incorrect things about?

  • Patrick says:

    So he’s in the same situation as a Muslim. But his false god isn’t God, while the Muslim’s false god supposedly is.

  • Zippy says:

    Patrick:

    Instead of cluttering up the combox even more, just answer the following question: When a Mohammedan says that God is not a trinity of three persons, is he talking about God?

    If you find it difficult to answer that question with a simple “yes”, then you know where to start digging to figure out what is wrong with your thoughts.

    If you do answer yes, then you’ve agreed that when Christians and Mohammedans refer to God they are both talking about God.

  • Zippy says:

    Note that affirming that when Mohammedans use the word “God” they are referring to God is not the same thing as asserting a general positive epistemic demarcation criteria. Whatever may be the case, it is clear that getting all of the essential properties of a thing right is not what demarcates referring to a thing from not referring to it. If that were the case then we wouldn’t even be able to talk about a thing’s essential properties.

  • Jeffrey S. says:

    Zippy,

    I’m on the con side, and I think Lydia and (more tentatively) Bill V. have the better arguments. So when you say,

    “When a Mohammedan says that God is not a trinity of three persons, is he talking about God?”

    I have no problem saying the following: the Mohammedan is not referring to the Christian God. His “God” is a different entity, just like Zeus, Baal, etc.

  • Jeffrey S. says:

    To make it simpler, he is not talking about God. Because God, by His very nature, is a trinity of three persons. So whatever “God” the Mohammedan is talking about, it is not the real deal.

  • Patrick says:

    Yeah, I can tell a lot of people are clamoring to get in on this.

    I already affirmed Muslims, and anyone else in the world, can talk about, pray to, or worship God. So I would say yes. It would be the same basic thing if an animist said God is a tree branch. Except no one would say the animist’s false god is God, though.

  • Zippy says:

    Jeffrey S:

    There is a subtle equivocation here:

    the Mohammedan is not referring to the Christian God

    The phrase “the Christian God” either refers to God or it refers to the Christian conception of God. A conception of something is not the thing itself. (That is very nearly my entire point, in a nutshell). That Mohammedans think the Christian conception of God is false is trivially true. That this is not a disagreement about the nature of God is trivially false. There is only one God, so the ‘Christian’ qualifier means that disagreement is over His nature not over whether or not we are actually referring to Him.

    God, by His very nature, is a trinity of three persons. So whatever “God” the Mohammedan is talking about, it is not the real deal.

    If the Arians and Nestorians weren’t disagreeing with the trinitarians about the nature of God it is hard to see what all the hubbub was about.

    I haven’t read Bill V and I only skimmed Lydia’s piece. As a practical matter Lydia is mostly right: the kind of people asserting that Christians and Mohammedans ‘worship the same God’ draw all sorts of unwarranted ‘thick’ conclusions from this. The Devil believes in God too, and if and when the Devil does whatever fallen angels do which is like speaking he is referring to God when he says ‘God’.

    It seems to me that ecumaniacs are trying to do what they usually do, and act ‘inclusive’ toward objective errors. Different ecumaniacs want to draw their ecumeniacal lines in different places. Right-ecumaniacs want the line drawn such that Islam is excluded while Protestantism is included. Left-ecumaniacs want the line drawn to include Islam (at least for now).

    But there is more at stake here, at the meta level, than the political lines between right and left ecumaniacs. What is at stake here is whether man is the measure of all things or if man must conform himself to reality. If all we are ever referring to when we disagree about the essences of things is subjective concepts then reality disappears.

    Most modern people are nominalists, so they don’t understand why that is a bad thing. But if you have to pretend that Mohammedans and Christians are not both talking about God when they disagree about God you’ve disconnected yourself from objective reality and entered the world of anti-realism, where concepts become substituted for the ontologically real.

  • Zippy says:

    Patrick:

    I can tell a lot of people are clamoring to get in on this.

    I am much more concerned about combox quality than quantity.

  • GJ says:

    Zippy:

    I take both the points about correct worship and the anti-realism. However, I still think the original question would be useful and important to answer when properly phrased, ie not using capital G-God which has monotheism and all other types of connotations baked into it.

    On a related note, it may be of interest that in Malaysia there is significant contest over whether Malay Christians can use ‘Allah’ to refer to God.

  • To make it simpler, he is not talking about God. Because God, by His very nature, is a trinity of three persons. So whatever “God” the Mohammedan is talking about, it is not the real deal.

    This line of thinking always struck me as counter-intuitive. We would then need to include that Jews are not talking about God, which just seems silly.

  • GJ says:

    malcolmthecynic:

    This line of thinking always struck me as counter-intuitive. We would then need to include that Jews are not talking about God, which just seems silly.

    The line of thinking follows naturally from the centuries-old philosophical and theological tradition that primarily conceives of God as a collection of abstract attributes, amplified by Modern tendencies to abstract and vigorously define. We have discussed the folly of such an approach elsewhere, and that it leads to the silliness observed is unsurprising.

  • Zippy says:

    GJ:
    Rephrasing the question to “what is wrong with the Mohammedan concept of the Divine” doesn’t have quite the same punch though, and might accidentally reveal that Islamic and Calvinist voluntarism are uncomfortably similar.

    So anti-realism it is: as usual, conservatism sets out to defeat modernity by embracing it.

  • Jeffrey S. says:

    Zippy,

    I knew I was in trouble as soon as I hit “post” —

    “The phrase “the Christian God” either refers to God or it refers to the Christian conception of God. A conception of something is not the thing itself. (That is very nearly my entire point, in a nutshell).”

    Which is why I bothered to post the second comment — I agree with you about essentials and I’m a big fan of Weaver’s Ideas Have Consequences — I think this debate is really about the philosophy of language. Are you correct when you say the use of the word “God” automatically requires Muslims to be talking about the real God, or is the other side correct (what Bill V. calls the descriptive theory of language) and that because God is a word that carries a certain descriptive content, when Muslims use the word with descriptive content that doesn’t match the real God, they are referring to a different entity. In other words, we can argue all day long about “Thomas Jefferson” the third President of the U.S. and whether or not he really did father children from his slaves — there is an objective reality that matches the truth and the fact that one of us might have the details wrong about Jefferson doesn’t mean we aren’t both arguing about the third President of the U.S. Unless, one of us suddenly says, I’m not talking about the President — I’m talking about my neighbor down the street named Thomas Jefferson!!!

  • Jeffrey S. says:

    FYI,

    Here is Bill V’s latest post which summaries Lydia’s latest piece and sort of walks through (and links to) some of his thinking on the matter:

    http://maverickphilosopher.typepad.com/maverick_philosopher/2016/01/lydia-mcgrew-on-the-same-god-debate.html#comments

  • Zippy says:

    Jeffrey S:

    It is possible to make two kinds of mistakes when it comes to “Thomas Jefferson,” because in fact there is more than one Thomas Jefferson. So we can fail to designate the correct Thomas Jefferson in the first place, or we can make errors in attribution about the particular Thomas Jefferson in question once we’ve designated him.

    There is in reality only one God though; so error in designation, the first kind of error, is impossible. It is certainly possible to incorrectly attribute things to God, but it is not possible for a monotheist to fail to refer to God when he refers to God, because in fact there is only one God. When a polytheist refers to his gods he is not referring to God at all, other than by implicitly denying God’s existence. But even then his implicit denial is a denial of the actually-existing God: he is implicitly designating God and incorrectly attributing non-existence.

    To deny designation of God – distinguished from incorrect attribution of properties, actions, or what have you – by all monotheists is to ignore the minor matter of God’s actual existence.

    By engaging in various language games man destroys his capacity to think about actual reality. He builds a tower toward Heaven to try to become like God, but in the end discovers that he has only confused his language and become trapped in his own make believe stories.

    You might find Saul Kripke’s Naming and Necessity interesting (as food for thought not as doctrine). It is a relatively short and easy read. Kripke is one of the authors that Oderberg criticizes in Real Essentialism.

  • Jeffrey S. says:

    Zippy,

    This is where the rubber hits the road:

    “There is in reality only one God though; so error in designation, the first kind of error, is impossible. It is certainly possible to incorrectly attribute things to God, but it is not possible for a monotheist to fail to refer to God when he refers to God, because in fact there is only one God.”

    We agree there is in fact only one God — whether or not it is possible for a monotheist to fail to refer to God when he refers to God is the issue. Again, I think Bill V. makes a strong case that Spinoza’s God is not the same God as Aquinas’ God:

    http://maverickphilosopher.typepad.com/maverick_philosopher/2016/01/do-aquinas-and-spinoza-refer-to-the-same-god.html

    Thanks for the Kripke recommendation — I’ll add it to the list!

  • Zippy says:

    Jeffrey S:

    whether or not it is possible for a monotheist to fail to refer to God when he refers to God is the issue

    Quite.

  • Zippy says:

    And again, when someone says “Spinoza’s God” and the like what he is referring to is Spinoza’s conception of God. It is equivocal to treat this reference to a conception as the same thing as a reference to the actual object – unless the actual object is, itself, merely a conception. So while the argument that Spinoza’s conception of God is incompatible with Aquinas’ conception of God is all well and good, it is equivocal to refer to anyone’s conception of God as if a human conception could actually be God. Human conceptions of God are about God, they are not God.

    This conflation literally makes an idol of human concepts.

  • c matt says:

    I can’t understand the confusion. If there is only one God, and someone says they are talking to, referring to, believing in, etc. the one God, what else on earth and in heaven could they be talking about? If there is only one Tom in the entire universe, and you are referring to him, whatever you think or say believe about him is irrelevant to the fact you are talking about the one and only Tom. You may have just about EVERYTHING wrong about the one Tom, but everything you have wrong is about the one Tom.

  • Zippy says:

    c matt:
    Be careful, or you are likely to be branded a “naïve realist”, which is philosopher-speak for “sane”.

  • Zippy says:

    But Aristotle’s sun isn’t Copernicus’s sun.

  • King Richard says:

    And Zippy posts this, robbing me of mine own example-to-be.
    O! Such fate!

  • RichardP says:

    Consider those things that are true by definition and those things that are true because they exist.

    1. True by definition = truth that mankind creates. One plus one = two. This is a noun, this is a verb (we have created the words ‘noun’ and ‘verb’, and math truths, etc.).

    2. True because it exists = my neighbor, the color of my hair, the moon, nano-particles.

    I can be certain I know the truth of Point 1 if I have learned the definition. The more definitions I learn, the more Point 1 truths I can know for certain.

    By contrast, there are relatively few Point 2 truths I can ever know for certain out of all of the Point 2 truths that exist. For they exist regardless of my ability to perceive them. And I can only encounter a few things first-hand over the course of my life out of all of the things that actually do exist.

    If I am to accept or “believe” Point 2 truths when I have not proved their existance by encountering them personally, I may accept their existance by faith. That is, I can choose to believe as true that which someone has told me is true – by faith, not because of proof.

    In the example of Tom – while he is still alive, he can be produced and experienced first hand by many people. Thereby proving the existance of Tom. (Ignoring the fact that people who encounter him may have no ability to verify that he is in fact Tom, and not Dick or Harry.)

    We cannot do that with God. Everything we know about God has come through reading what someone else has said. We choose to believe what we have been told or what we have read. But that is not the same as knowing that only one God exists because we have searched all of time and space and only found one God.

    Because this is true, I have trouble with the following words that were used up-thread, and other words like them:

    “There is in reality only one God though;… If we really grasped who God is, we’d be terrified to say more about Him than we absolutely must.”

    We cannot possibly know that these words are true by personal experience with the “reality” expressed in each of those quoted sentences.. All we can do is choose to accept, by faith, that what we have heard or read about those two quoted sentences is true.

    That is, we are believing in something that is true by definition. We aren’t actually believing in something that is true because it exists – because we have not proven that it exists. Unlike Tom, whose existance we can “prove” simply by producing “Tom” (assuming that the person produced is actually Tom and not Dick or Harry).

    Neither Muslim nor Christian nor Jew can produce the God they believe in (the Point 2 God) – that he might be compared with the God that the others produce to see if they are the same. All they can produce is the Point 1 God – the definition of God that they believe, by faith, is true.

    So – all we can do is compare the Muslim and Christian and Jewish definitions of God and ask if they are the same. We can’t assert that the real Christian God is different from the real Jewish God is different from the real Muslim God – because no one can produce those Gods for examination in the same way that we can produce Tom. All we can produce for examinations are our definitions.

    And the Muslim and Christian and Jewish definitions of their God are not the same. That is immediately obvious to anyone who reads through the definitions.

    … we know that, when he shall appear, we shall … see him as he is. (1 John 3:2 KJV) … Now I know in part; then I shall know fully … (1 Corinthians 13:12 NIV)

    Spoken because we don’t see him now. We only know of him and about him, imperfectly, through the definitions that he has left in the written and spoken word. So – definitions are all we have to compare. Point 1 reality, not Point 2. And how do we prove that our definition is more correct than someone else’s? (That question is not saying that all definitions are equally valid.)

  • Zippy says:

    RichardP:

    I’ll just suggest that you are stealing several bases, starting with this:

    True by definition = truth that mankind creates. One plus one = two.

    I don’t agree that mathematical truths are created by man. If I created them in my mind, then it wouldn’t be possible for me to be wrong about them.

    By contrast, there are relatively few Point 2 truths I can ever know for certain out of all of the Point 2 truths that exist.

    This is all quite beside the point. Making reference to something that exists is not the same thing as explaining it, understanding it to a certain degree, etc. This was all discussed upthread.

    …all we can do is compare the Muslim and Christian and Jewish definitions of God and ask if they are the same…

    The existence of something does not depend on anyone having an adequate definition or understanding of it. Many tangible and intangible things clearly exist, and are clearly referenced by people who disagree about their essential qualities. Indeed people disagree about the nature and essential qualities of mathematical objects as much as about physical objects.

  • Jeffrey S. says:

    Zippy,

    You say,

    “And again, when someone says “Spinoza’s God” and the like what he is referring to is Spinoza’s conception of God. It is equivocal to treat this reference to a conception as the same thing as a reference to the actual object – unless the actual object is, itself, merely a conception.”

    Quite right. So because Spinoza and Aquinas don’t agree on what God is all about, one of them is literally worshiping, or if you prefer, believing in something that doesn’t exist. Just like the Athenians who believed in Athena (or Zeus) or in the long combox thread over at Ed’s place I developed a reductio example of the god “Zardoz” — Zardoz has all the features of the classical theist God (i.e. the real God) but is also full of crazy additional features (e.g. he hates Jews and wants his worshipers to hate them, Zardoz loves sacrifices of virgins, etc.)

    I think words have meaning and the content of the meaning of the word “God”, as He exists in the real world (i.e. from a Christian perspective) doesn’t match how lots of folks use the word God (Muslims, Mormons, etc.) Those people are literally referring to something else.

  • Zippy says:

    Jeffrey S:

    I think your and my concepts of language and meaning are radically incompatible. But I think we are both referring to language and meaning when we use the terms ‘language’ and ‘meaning’.

  • I’d also think it worthwhile to point out – though nobody has made this specific error yet – that it makes absolutely no difference that Jesus was not incarnate yet when Moses was around. Either God is a Trinity or He isn’t. By this logic, when the Jews worshipped God, they were in fact worshipping not-God because their concept of God was wrong – factually wrong, even if they didn’t know it yet.

    I know I keep hammering this point, but…it is just really difficult to wrap my head around the idea that the Jews have in fact never worshiped God, even though they spoke to Him and were His chosen people.

    Something about that is just wrong.

  • William Luse says:

    Jeff,

    “So because Spinoza and Aquinas don’t agree on what God is all about, one of them is literally worshiping, or if you prefer, believing in something that doesn’t exist.”

    I don’t get this. Spinoza did believe that God exists. He was wrong about God’s nature and attributes. As are Muslims. I don’t mean that getting these things wrong isn’t a serious matter. Obviously it is. But it seems to me like the case of two men, one with good eyesight and one with bad, looking at the same tree being blown by the wind. The man with good eyesight can describe the tree accurately in all its particulars, while the man with bad eyesight sees a dangerous, many-armed creature hoping to snatch up whoever walks by. (I forgot to add that he’s also superstitious.) But they’re looking at the same tree.

    Did you get the name Zardoz from that science fiction movie starring Sean Connery?

  • William Luse says:

    Zippy,
    Aren’t RichardP’s points 1 and 2 an attempt to divide reality into abstractions and concrete objects? Confining God to Point 1 renders him forever abstract. A thing belonging to Point 2 is “True because it exists.” But God exists. Love is an abstract noun, but love exists, as do courage and any number of other things. Maybe he needs to redefine his points, e.g., a thing is “Real because it exists” (in the physical world), or “Real because it can be demonstrated by logical or mathematical proof.” Logic and math and nouns and verbs are real, as far as I know, else why would we try to make use of them? Does the fact that some things are known only by the intellect mean necessarily that those things don’t exist? If so, there’s a lot going on in our minds that isn’t real.

    Furthermore, when he moves from the philosophical grounding of his two points to this: “Neither Muslim nor Christian nor Jew can produce the God they believe in … All they can produce is the Point 1 God – the definition of God that they believe, by faith, is true” – he moves from philosophy (what man says about God) to revelation (what God reveals to man), and which I think is causing a lot of confusion in this debate.

    I can give a very concrete description of a unicorn, but will not be able to “produce” one to convince you of its existence. But I am reluctant to treat unicorns and God as similar sorts of reality.

  • fmshyanguya says:

    You may all find interesting my exchange with Santiao [starting here: http://www.onepeterfive.com/islam-101-crash-course/#comment-2435524372%5D over at 1P5 under the article Islam 101 – A Crash Course.

  • Zippy says:

    Bill:

    Aren’t RichardP’s points 1 and 2 an attempt to divide reality into abstractions and concrete objects? Confining God to Point 1 renders him forever abstract. A thing belonging to Point 2 is “True because it exists.”

    Yes, that appears to be some form of post Cartesian anti-realism. As I understand it, a disproportionate number of mathematicians are platonists, because they recognize that when they make discoveries in mathematics they are discovering something real: something about which it is possible to have wrong or incomplete ideas.

  • King Richard says:

    RichardP,
    You wrote,
    “Everything we know about God has come through reading what someone else has said. ”
    This is incorrect in and of itself as well as being contrary to the core tenets of Judaism and Catholicism, as well.
    While not self-evident, any reasonably intelligent person with a solid understanding of logic can deduce not just that the existence of a singular God is necessary but also several attributes God must have.

    You continued,
    “But that is not the same as knowing that only one God exists because we have searched all of time and space and only found one God.”
    Reason and logic dictate that there can be only one God.

    You also seem to have an incomplete knowledge of the Jewish and Christian conceptualizations of God.

  • GJ says:

    malcolmthecynic:

    This line of thinking always struck me as counter-intuitive. We would then need to include that Jews are not talking about God, which just seems silly.

    On further thought, I was reminded of a conversation with a woman who was convinced that certain OT passages claimed that Scripture was closed. She could not be shaken out of it even though the obvious problem (that such a reading rules out the NT as Scripture) was pointed out to her. This was so because for her one of the main reasons that Mormons were not true Christians was because they considered later works as Scripture.

    So I arrived at the conclusion: Everyman needs clear criteria to demarcate Us Good True Believers from Them, the Other. And such a need is much more important than logical consistency, and leads to the silliness observed.

  • […] who insist that when Mohammedans refer to God they are not referring to God have become confused, or perhaps in some cases are sowing confusion for rhetorical purposes, about […]

  • Patrick says:

    God is much more mysterious and strange as a non-concept. Makes you wonder who you are. People develop or accept a concept, then bang that concept into other concepts (the Christian God into the Muslim God), and it feels like you’re getting something accomplished, but in reality you’re like an inmate in a padded cell, to borrow Zippy’s phrase, banging two toys together. It’s tempting in this case because the Church says reliable things about God, so a Christian’s concept might have more features that the real God has (now more lifelike!) than a Muslim’s concept, but “the Christian God” is still just as much of a concept as “the Muslim God.” A lot of people who think that Muslims are worshiping a concept, not the true God, are themselves worshiping a concept, not the true God. I’m not sure exactly how this relates to other things, like authority or marriage or other people. I imagine if you can replace God with a concept, you can replace a human person with a concept.

  • Jeffrey S. says:

    Bill,

    Yes on Zardoz.

    As for the bigger issue — first let me say that now another guy, Christopher McCartney has brought up Kripke’s book. Here is how he describes the basic idea of “causal theory”, which it seems to me Zippy wants to use for the word God:

    “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 don’t think this theory makes sense, for all sorts of reasons, and would argue that because God is real, if you are referring to “God” but describe an entity that is made up, you are no longer referring to the same thing as people who actually refer to the real God (and worship the real God, etc.) I just think that content matters for language. I get it (based on Zippy’s latest post) that he thinks this means I’m trapped in my post-Cartesian mind and I’m sowing confusion, etc.

    I’d like to read a back and forth between Zippy and Bill V. (or Lydia) on this subject though — they are much smarter than me and would be able to engage him at a much higher level.

    Zippy,

    So a challenge to you — head over to W4 or Bill V.’s blog and explain your theory to either of them and engage real philosophers on this question.

  • Zippy says:

    Patrick:

    God is much more mysterious and strange as a non-concept.

    Reality is much more mysterious and strange as a non-concept, that is, as reality. As the ultimate grounding of all reality, it wouldn’t be crazy to say that this is especially true of God.

  • Zippy says:

    Jeffrey S:

    head over to W4 or Bill V.’s blog and explain your theory to either of them and engage real philosophers on this question

    “Lets you and him fight”. “real philosophers”.

    I don’t have a theory, BTW. I’ve learned a lot from reading all sorts of different theories, and I have criticisms of some crazy theories.

    I didn’t endorse Kripke, I suggested that you read him to get a grasp of why other people might have very different views from yours. As a modern (as opposed to classical) essentialist, with views closer to those of analytic post cartesians, you might connect with Kripke better than you have with Feser. You aren’t going to get a sense of what motivates Kripke’s understanding, etc – independent of where he is right and where he is wrong – from a paragraph gloss on the web.

  • Zippy says:

    I’ve mentioned this before but it may be worth mentioning again.

    To the extent I have any theory at all, it is a kind of mild Platonism. (Not ‘strong’ Platonism). But I would not put my theory, such as it is, ahead of reality.

  • King Richard says:

    Jeffrey S.
    You wrote both,
    “Head over to W4”
    and
    “Real philosophers”
    I am not saying anything here I have not said to the posters i specifically mean directly: Lydia, etc. at W4 lack the basic education to understand philosophy when it is presented to them. If you are reading these people as actual philosophers I urge you to take an actual course (auditing is great) at a local university and begin learning actual logic and philosophy.

  • Jeffrey S. says:

    Zippy and King Richard,

    I think you misunderstood me — I consider you, Zippy, a real philosopher (at least certainly in comparison with me) and would find it interesting and perhaps educational if you engaged with someone who I consider to also hold in high esteem. Someone like Lydia, who has published in philosophical journals (even though her doctorate is in English) and who reads the philosophical literature — especially the analytic philosophical literature.

    Your views on this question seem strange to me, although to be fair, so do Ed Feser’s. But at least Ed thinks the original question “do Muslims and Christians worship the same God?” actually makes sense, even if he answers the question in the affirmative. I suppose as a result you accuse Ed of being some sort of modern essentialist or a “post Cartesian subjectivist/materialist” even though Ed would disagree with such a characterization. So it seems like something is screwy with your thinking on this question.

  • […] the One Bob’, but because of their different understanding of Bob’s nature they have very different understandings of feeding.  The Neeches feed the One Bob by making him a sufficiently nutritive meal, according to […]

  • Zippy says:

    Jeffrey S:

    It is no secret that I think there are problems with AT metaphysics at least as articulated by Ed Feser and David Oderberg. The record on this is public, our discussions have been public. People talk about ‘scholasticism’ all the time, but scholasticism is not a positivist theory of everything, or even a positivist theory of metaphysics. But it is true that I am probably more Platonist than Aristotlean, which will of course put me at odds with Aristotleans on some points.

    Ed’s usual hammer in discussions like the present one is to say that if you adopt AT metaphysics (as he understands it), you have no problem and here is the solution.

    I don’t necessarily have an issue with that in this case, except to add that you don’t have to adopt AT metaphysics (as articulated by Ed etc) in order to reject the ‘not the same God’ assertion. If you combine any sort of metaphysical realism with monotheism the ‘not the same God’ business just falls apart, unless you want to forfeit epistemic access to objective reality entirely.

    Kripke probably won’t have a solution that you like, but as a modern post cartesian analytic philosopher himself he may be able to help you better understand the problem, given that you don’t seem to see the problem.

  • King Richard says:

    I am reminded of an older saying.
    “When the wise man points at the moon the fool looks at the wise man’s finger.”
    Jeffrey S.
    I may be treading ground Zippy is already walking down elsewhere.
    Pentecostals are Christians; self-professed and accepted by other Christians as such.
    Some are Trinitarians; others are Unitarians. Do the Unitarian pentecostals worship the “same God” as the Trinitarian Pentecostals?
    The two branches both think they do; so do other Christian sects. They see the difference as a difference in “description” even though the difference leads to rather different theologies.

  • I’m late to the discussion, but I’d like to point out something Patrick did waaaay at the top. He said:

    If he thinks “the motorcycle” is a unicorn, it makes sense that he is referring to a unicorn, not a motorcycle, when he says, “the motorcycle. If he thinks “the cup” is a fork, he’s referring to a fork. If he thinks “God” is a non-Trinitarian entity, then when he says “God,” he’s referring to a non-Trinitarian entity. But God is a Trinity, not a non-Trinitarian entity, so how could he be referring to God?

    Notice the usage of definite articles (“the”) and indefinite articles (“a”, “an”). If he thinks the motorcycle (a real motorcycle, say, that he and I can point to) is a unicorn, then he is incorrectly categorizing the real motorcycle as an instance of the abstract type unicorn.

    So when he refers to the motorcycle as “a unicorn”, he is not referring to a unicorn. He is referring to a motorcycle — a specific motorcycle — the motorcycle.

    Similarly when he thinks the cup is actually a fork and so on. The real thing to which you’re pointing is what you’re giving a label; you may or may not be giving it a correct label.

    (Zippy can correct my language by making it about Platonic forms if he likes.)

  • This leads me to consider an implicit part of the discussion so far. Zippy says, “it is not possible for a monotheist to fail to refer to God when he refers to God”.

    When a monotheist says “God” in reference to the entity he worships, by definition he is referring to single, all-powerful God.

    There are plenty of other things we can argue about here. We can argue about whether said entity exists. We can argue about whether this conception of it is logically coherent. We can argue about the characteristics of said entity. We can even argue about whether or not the person speaking is truly a monotheist!

    But one thing we can’t dispute is that when a monotheist refers to “God”, he is referring to a particular type of entity. If that particular type of entity exists, he is referring to it. Not to his idea of it, but to it, itself, the entity.

    Which means Jeffrey’s argument has to fall down. He said, “So because Spinoza and Aquinas don’t agree on what God is all about, one of them is literally worshiping, or if you prefer, believing in something that doesn’t exist.” No, they are both worshiping something that does exist. They have different ideas about other characteristics about it, but if they’re both talking about the single, all-powerful God, then they have to be referring to the same thing.

    Jeffrey S. also said,

    because God is real, if you are referring to “God” but describe an entity that is made up, you are no longer referring to the same thing as people who actually refer to the real God (and worship the real God, etc.)

    The entity is not made up. The ideas about the entity might be, but the entity is not.

    Similarly with Zippy. Zippy is real. Zippy is the entity that blogs here.

    If I believe that he is an atheist and former nun with a minor in philosophy who likes to troll the True Believers on the Internet, then I have incredibly wrong ideas about him — I hope — but I am, nonetheless, referring to Zippy when I say “Zippy posts this stuff because she hates you.”

    Even if Zippy is not actually a person — say he is a collection of people, or a computer — then I have even more fundamentally wrong ideas about him/them/it, but I am still referring to Zippy when I say “Zippy posts this stuff because she hates you.”

    So if you are referring to “God” and are a monotheist, you are referring to the same God that Jews, Christians, and Muslims believe in, no matter how screwed up or incomplete your ideas about him might be, or their ideas are, or anything else. The one thing you all agree on is that there’s one single, all-powerful God.

    The Jews and Muslims might argue that you’re not a true monotheist. I’m open to that argument. But Christians have no call to say that the other two aren’t monotheists, and thus they have no reason to say that they’re not referring to God when they say “God”.

  • Jeffrey S. says:

    Zippy,

    This is interesting:

    “If you combine any sort of metaphysical realism with monotheism the ‘not the same God’ business just falls apart, unless you want to forfeit epistemic access to objective reality entirely.”

    Not sure what you mean by this — do you mean you can answer the question: “do Christians and Muslims worship the same God?” with a ‘yes’ answer or do you mean the question makes no sense?

    Ed insists that once you have monotheism, the reference is there and the question can be answered in the affirmative. All people like Lydia and I are doing is saying it seems to us that monotheism is not enough to describe the God of the Bible (i.e. the Christian God) and that there are all sorts of other potential gods out there that don’t fit the Christian basics (versus, to answer King Richard, differences among Christian sects) that would cause us to say people are worshiping false gods or other entities or fictional entities (however you wanted to characterize their worship.) But they fail to refer to God, the real God of the Christian Bible.

  • Jeffrey S. says:

    Jake,

    I’m sorry but you are in the same place Ed Feser is in, arguing that monotheism is the key to the same God question (and I guess you disagree with Zippy that the question doesn’t make sense?)

    When you say, “When a monotheist says “God” in reference to the entity he worships, by definition he is referring to single, all-powerful God” I think you are just begging the question with respect to the issue of the Christian/Muslim debate — why does monotheism have to be the line in the sand with respect to how we define the reference for God? Ed gave an interesting answer to this question when Lydia challenged him on it over at W4, but I think her counter-arguments are better. So we are back to square one.

  • Zippy says:

    Jeffrey S:

    do you mean you can answer the question: “do Christians and Muslims worship the same God?” with a ‘yes’ answer or do you mean the question makes no sense?

    Strictly speaking the phrase “the same God” is self contradictory, because it implies that there can in principle be more than one [monotheistic] God and that there is only God – the one God – at the same time. It is a phrase like ‘wet dryness’: a phrase which contradicts itself under any non-esoteric meaning of the terms.

    The question could be coherently rephrased as “do both Christians and Muslims worship God?”. That gives rise to the problem of the multivocity of the term ‘worship’, which I discuss in the OP. The definite reference to God is there, but ‘worship’ remains to be unpacked before an unequivocal answer can be given.

    A different but related question is “when Christians and Muslims use the word ‘God’ are they both referring to God?”

    Ed insists that once you have monotheism, the reference is there and the question can be answered in the affirmative.

    I agree, with respect to the matter of reference, that is, the latter question. Worship is another matter, again as discussed in the OP.

    I didn’t go into it in lots of detail, but for certain understandings of ‘worship’ – as an insufficient activity – the answer is yes. However only the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is sufficient worship, and only Christians with valid sacraments have that.

  • Zippy says:

    Jeffrey S:

    and I guess you [Jake Freivald] disagree with Zippy that the question doesn’t make sense?

    I don’t see where either Jake or Ed disagree with me on the question of reference, once we’ve resolved the question to be a coherent one.

  • I didn’t see that Lydia had written things at W4 until I had already read stuff here. I have quite a bit of reading left to do at W4, and I won’t get to it today, but it appears to me that we agree that there’s at least this “thin” way in which they worship “the same God.”

    why does monotheism have to be the line in the sand with respect to how we define the reference for God?

    I’m not begging the question. The intent of my original comment was just to make explicit something that others had left implicit.

    That said, maybe monotheism doesn’t have to be the line in the sand, but it is certainly a line in the sand, because it’s something that establishes the referent as a specific thing that either does or doesn’t exist. If this single, all-powerful God exists, and two people refer to it, then they’re referring to the same thing no matter how different their conceptions of it may be. It’s impossible to have any other thing that “the other” single, all-powerful God could conceivably be.

    In that sense, Zippy’s right: There’s no sense to talking about “the same God” because it’s not like “the same bicycle”, where it’s possible that there could be more than one. I don’t mind the colloquialism, but he’s correct to point out the confusion if it helps prevent people from falling into the language trap that they’ve fallen into.

    The question, “Do Christians and Muslims worship the same God?” is a little like saying, “When you talk to me, are you talking to the same me that Zippy is?” There’s no other me for Zippy to be talking to, no matter how different your two ideas about me are. Just so, there’s no other all-powerful God that they could be referring to.

    A different take: Remember the commercial?

    “You’ll be my favorite brother….”
    “I’m your only brother, now leggo my Eggo!”

    Sometimes two different family members have radically different ideas about another family member. But even knowing that, if the girl in the commercial had a sister, wouldn’t it be weird for her to ask, “Do we plead with the same brother?” Even if they had vastly different perspectives about him, there’s only one brother for them to plead with, so it’s impossible for them not to be referring to the same annoying brother.

  • Zippy says:

    Jake:

    Don’t miss c matt’s comments in the W4 thread.

  • Those three are quite good. Thanks.

  • Zippy says:

    It may be worth noting that “worship the same God” is being used by left-ecumaniacs in a form of weaponized nihilism. This is a very typical tactic, elsewhere referred to as the ‘motte and bailey’ strategy and probably others of which I am unaware.

    As usual, lots of people (especially right-ecumaniacs) are falling for it — and end up embracing all sorts of other silly errors in the scramble to avoid admitting that yes, in fact, Mohammedans and Christians are both referring to God when they use the word “God”.

  • Jeffrey S. says:

    Jake,

    Lydia’s whole point is that drawing the line at monotheism is arbitrary, so when you say,

    “If this single, all-powerful God exists, and two people refer to it…”

    Again, I say, that begs the question unless we understand more about what you mean by “it” (i.e. unless you provide more descriptive content.) The “it” for Muslims is not the “it” for Christians is my argument, and Lydia’s.

  • Zippy says:

    Jeffery S:

    And again, if Muslims aren’t referring to God at all then whatever you are doing when you disagree with them it is not a disagreement about God. It is just a misunderstanding about referents (“Oh, you meant that Thomas Jefferson”). Instead of succeeding at showing the gravity of the disagreement you trivialize it.

  • Jeffrey S. says:

    Zippy,

    You say, “Instead of succeeding at showing the gravity of the disagreement you trivialize it.”

    On the contrary, if they aren’t worshipping a real God, but something false, then they are in big trouble. Their problem is acute and serious and needs Christ if they hope to end their error. Like the Athenians that Paul took to task at Mars Hill — they need to repent and stop worshipping idols.

  • Zippy says:

    Jeffrey S:

    You seem fairly confident that telling lies about God is not as bad as making a mistake of reference. I’ll just say that I don’t share that assumption. Are you suggesting that if Mohammedans are in fact successfully referencing God they have no need to repent? That their need to repent is somehow less acute than (say) a Mormon’s need to repent? That telling lies about God telling you to cut off the heads of infidels is morally better than having an imaginary friend Allah who tells you to cut off the heads of infidels?

    Whatever the case, the idea that a mistake of reference is more morally grave than false attribution is far from obvious, and at the same time is beside the point.

    I summarized briefly here why the implicit theory of reference that many in this broad discussion are invoking is ultimately circular.

    Maybe you’d like to propose your own demarcation criteria for when a monotheist using the word ‘God’ is and is not talking about God. But be sure that it isn’t circular. Then we can apply your methodology to other real things and see how well it works as a general methodology for positively demarcating successful reference from a mistake of reference.

  • Zippy says:

    Idolater:
    Mistakenly gives to Bob the prayers and tithes due to God. (Error of reference).

    Mohammedan:
    Massacres infidel children and rapes infidel women in the name of God. (Correct reference, error of attribution).

    Which is worse, really? I suggested above that successful reference to God should be more fear-inspiring, not less.

    Whatever motivates this, it isn’t any actual objective implications of acknowledging successful reference. The answer to “Muslims and Christians worship the same God” ought to be “OK, so what?”

    And the next time some idiot liberal puts on a hajib after a Mohammedan terrorist attack, y’all have my permission to say to the liberal “hey, that’s a nice bucket of crap you are wearing”. No charge.

  • William Luse says:

    “…that begs the question unless we understand more about what you mean by “it” (i.e. unless you provide more descriptive content.) The “it” for Muslims is not the “it” for Christians is my argument, and Lydia’s.”

    There you go again, trying to slip the differences between two revelations into a dispute about a philosophical reference. I wish the “worship” in the original question could be deleted.

  • I don’t beg questions. I demand them. Will to power and all that.

  • Here’s a relevant excerpt of what I said at W4 this morning.

    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.)

  • Zippy says:

    Jake:

    That’s great stuff.

    As far as the Flying Spaghetti Monster goes, I have no problem with saying that the Flying Spaghetti Monster is a reference to God. Indeed that is its very point: to craft a blasphemous and silly concept of God as a rhetorical way of trying to justify disbelief in Him. It wouldn’t be blasphemy if it weren’t referencing God.

  • Zippy says:

    I think there are a lot of people who are successfully referencing God who will be, in the long run, quite surprised at the consequences of their success in referencing God.

  • You’re right that FSM refers to God, and you’ve helped me clarify my thinking on it: I didn’t want to engage because it’s too easy to confuse the FSM conception of God and other, believed-and-believable conceptions of God, and to have that confusion while talking about God himself. I can already do what I need to with “the Christian [conception of] God” and “the Muslim [conception of] God”, so I don’t need the FSM to clutter that up.

  • Zippy says:

    Jake:

    I don’t need the FSM to clutter that up …

    That is true, you don’t need it for your own argument. But the fact that your interlocutors apparently view the FSM as a reductio – that they have to deny that this obvious and deliberate blasphemy of God actually even manages to reference God – is a pretty strong counter-reductio. If denying that a deliberate and obvious blasphemy of God manages to reference God at all is where that way of thinking leads, it means that that way of thinking has just refuted itself.

  • […] had a post up recently addressing the concept of “the same God.” Worth a […]

  • Erin says:

    The editorial below from Touchstone magazine confused this matter further for me. I’m not including the link because I’m asking you to read it, but only because the precis below is directly from the article. Do you have any comment on the idea below? I have no clue how to work with this idea and yours in any meaningful way.

    In the gospels the disciples recognized Jesus as God not from rationalizing from his human actions to his Godhood. They called Him God once they recognized His identity as God. Since Christ is part of the identity of God, denial of the sameness of Christ with God means that the denier is worshiping not-God.

    http://www.touchstonemag.com/archives/article.php?id=29-02-003-e

  • Zippy says:

    Erin:

    Suppose I fail to recognize that the morning star, the evening star, and the planet Venus are in fact all the same thing. Suppose further that I am under the mistaken belief that the planet Venus is made of green cheese.

    Some astronomer might claim that when I talk about Venus I am not even making reference to ‘the same Venus’ to which he is making reference.

    But this assertion refutes itself: if I am not referencing the same Venus that he is referencing then he has no basis upon which to claim that the things I am saying about it are wrong.

  • […] serve their master with the same monotheistic devotion of the followers of Mohammed.  Although their god is the same god as the god of leftism, their simple minds fail to grasp that he is a trinity, simultaneously one and […]

  • Conor Foran says:

    Please excuse my amateur muddling, but I do have a question about this very matter.

    While still admitting that substances (the “real things” that words point to) have real existence, not merely contingent and imaginary existence, is it not still possible to admit that there are still at least two possible types of errors one can make with language and the meaning of words?

    Say, for example, that there is a small child. He points to an animal. “Look, Mommy, Cat!” he says.

    “No, honey, that’s a dog,” the mother says in reply.

    In this case, the child, through a defect of knowledge, uses the wrong word, pointing to the wrong substance, because the accidents of “dog” and “cat” are similar. He really means “dog” when he says “cat”.

    Let us take a second case. There is a man who has lived all his life on a small island with a cat. He has never seen any animals other than the cat (and fish, of course). One day, a shipwrecked sailor washes up on his island. The two begin talking, and eventually the sailor tells the island-dweller about his dog. The island-dweller builds up an image in his mind of a dog, but that image happens to be of the only kind of animal he has ever seen except different in a few particulars that he learns from a sailor.

    Thus, the island-dweller’s image of the dog is mistaken in its accidents – a dog is not merely a cat that barks, wags its tail, and fetches sticks. But can anyone deny that when the island-dweller refers to a “dog”, he really means “dog”, and not “cat”? He references, regardless of his mistakes of knowledge, the substance of “dog-ness”, regardless of any mistakes he has made about its attributes?

    Now let us take a third case. Suppose there is a mother whose child comes into her house and says, “I saw a cat today!”

    She says, “You saw a cat? That’s great, honey!”

    But the child did not see a cat. He saw a dog.

    Now, when she says “cat”, is it a mistake of the first category, or the second?

    I submit that if by “cat” she means first or primarily “the animal that my child saw today” she makes a mistake of the second category. She refers primarily to a historical event in visible reality. It is not a cat, but a dog, that she references; but the word “cat” really means and points to the actual animal “dog” that her child saw, and has meaning insofar as it participates in “dog-ness”. She is merely mistaken about the exact accidents of the “cat”.

    I submit further that if by “cat” she means “a cat that participates in ‘cat-ness’” and only secondarily “the animal my child saw today” then she makes a mistake of the first category, not the second. She means primarily an invisible reality, that is the substance of cat-ness, and only secondarily the actual animal which her child saw today. She says “cat” but the creature she refers to is not a cat. It is a dog.

    So, in reality, there are Mohammedans who bow down and worship the Creator of the Universe, the Lord of Creation, the Source of Law, God in their hearts… and merely suffer from a defect of knowledge as to the exact attributes and actions of God. They commit an error of the second kind, and worship the same Being, God, that Christians worship in the fullness of spirit and truth.

    Also, in reality, there are Mohammedans who bow down and worship the lord of the angel of light who appeared to that hypocritical pedophile brigand, Mahomet, and gave commandment to convert by the sword, to enslave, to murder, rape, and kill the infidel wherever they be found. The say God with their lips and Satan in their hearts.

    Is there something that I am missing, here? In other words, why not both?

  • Zippy says:

    Conor Foran:
    That is a reasonable discussion as far as it goes. But the failures of reference you are discussing involve failed communication via accidents – “no, I mean the red ball not the blue one” – or are not failed reference but rather failed attempts to get at a thing’s essence through essential properties. When a child points at a dog and says “cat!” the child has still successfully made reference to the dog. It wouldn’t be possible to perceive and correct his misapprehensions about catness and dogness if he had failed to make reference to that animal.

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