This blog is having an
existential crisis

While I tinker with a new design, I’m also pondering how, what, and why I write here. I don’t know how long that will take, but you’re welcome to email me and see how things are progressing.

Stress-testing the
mind of Christ

Where a recovering ex-atheist rams the Bible into other worldviews to see what breaks (note: Scripture cannot be broken)


notebook
Is Allah actually Yahweh?

It’s a more vexed question than you might assume—but here’s a simple argument that shows he is perhaps not, at least in most cases.

Bill Vallicella tackles the question of whether Christians and Muslims worship the same god. A good summary—and an apt demonstration of why Christians shouldn’t be too quick to make assumptions on this issue. Contrary to popular opinion among good evangelicals, it is not obvious that Allah and Yahweh must be different entities. A lot rides on your theory of reference—how you think names “attach” to the entities they refer to.

But here’s a possible counterargument. This perhaps sidesteps any theory of reference to demonstrate the thesis empirically—if puzzlingly vaguely:

  1. Christian worship is directed principally at Jesus
  2. Muslim worship is never directed at Jesus
  3. Therefore, Christians and Muslims principally worship different gods

17 comments

  1. David White

    Does that imply that Jews and Christians worship different gods?

  2. Dominic Bnonn Tennant

    I think the argument I suggest does lead to that conclusion. Yet it seems counterintuitive because Jewish worship is directed toward Yahweh.

    Perhaps there is an equivocation in the argument?

    Mind you, Jesus does refer to the Jews as a synagogue of Satan in Revelation. Is he suggesting they unknowingly worship Satan while intending to direct their worship toward Yahweh? It is all rather confusing. Which is sort of my original point.

  3. Dale

    Hi Bnonn,

    I think you’re assuming that Jesus and his God are one and the same, numerically one. I think that’s demonstrably wrong (http://trinities.org/blog/who-should-christians-worship/), but let’s go with the assumption.

    If by “Jesus” then you mean the God of Abraham, the Muslim will deny 2. That is the object of his worship, he’ll say. (Of course, that Muslim will deny your assumption that Jesus just is God.)

    But maybe your point is about the object of worship, but about the content of it, about words like “Jesus” (etc.) and about the use of concepts which apply only to Jesus. Muslim worship does not feature that content, and so on that reading 2 would be obviously true. But then, if we interpret 1 as having to do with the content of the worship (use of the above terms and concepts), then 1 and 2 don’t imply 3. The argument would be invalid. Two groups may worship the same god, but refer to him by different terms and concepts. (e.g. Greeks called God “ho theos,” but pre-Islam Arabian Christans called him “Allah”)

    It’s also invalid, I think, if 1 has to do with the object of worship, while 2 has to with the content of worship. 3 wouldn’t follow, because they may in fact be worshiping Jesus (=God) without realizing it, referring to him by other terms (e.g. “God”, Creator) but not by “Jesus” or “Messiah,” etc.

    In sum, I encourage you to come up with a 2.0 version of the argument. If it’s object of worship that’s at issue, then why should we agree with 2? (I’m not saying you can’t come up with a good reason – but only that you haven’t given one.) If it’s rather the content of their thoughts and statements… well it seems to me that argument isn’t valid.

    There’s another problem, a subtle one. 2, interpreted about the object of worship, is (given your assumption that Jesus=God) dangerously close to 3. If someone won’t agree to 3 straightaway, it’s not clear why she’ll agree to 2. But you need an argument to teeth into your opponent (a religious pluralist?) to drag her where she doesn’t want to go.

    One last point: I think the word “principally” in 1 in not needed in the argument. And it raises problems, for one may well think that the main, the central or uttermost object of Christian worship is the Father, who is approached through the mediation of Jesus. But anyway, you can simply cut the word.

    I think you meant to make a point about object of worship in both 1 and 2. So if we fix the above problem in 1 by deleting “principally,” then 1 is obviously true (for nearly all Christians). And so is 2. But 3 doesn’t follow. The argument is invalid.

    God bless,
    Dale

  4. Dominic Bnonn Tennant

    Dale, as I said, it’s puzzlingly vague. That’s largely because I’m appealing to religious practice rather than philosophical reference. I don’t have much stake in the argument and I’m not a student of the philosophy of language, so I’m not much inclined to spend more time on it.

    I’d simply observe that Muslims and Christians both know that Jesus is not Allah. And since Christians principally (as in, most often) direct their worship to Jesus, most of the time it seems that Muslims and Christians are worshiping different gods.

    Btw, characterizing Jesus as numerically one with God seems to beg the question against the Trinitarian by presupposing a univocal concept of numerical identity. Obviously a Trinitarian is well within his epistemic rights to think there is an unstated (and unknowable) equivocation in our concept of identity that makes it inadequate for representing God.

  5. Dale

    We can stare at the practice by itself all day, and I don’t think we’ll be able to answer the question you posed.

    I’m happy if you take the route of a consistent trinitarian and deny that Jesus = God. But I have observed that many evangelicals do, at least sometimes, believe that j=g. But then, they’d have to worry about this argument: (j is Jesus, g is the god of Abraham, and a is Allah)

    1. j = g
    2. g = a
    3. j = a

    In fact, I think that many do worry about it, which is why some evangelical leaders loudly deny 2. But 2 is a central teaching of Islam, so you’re not going to convince any Muslims just by loudly insisting on the point. And you might think they can refer to the one God by descriptions like “Creator”, “God of Abraham,” or even “God who sent Jesus.” That would be a reason to think 2 is true, even though you think that Islam teaches many falsehoods about God.

    When you say “Muslims and Christians both know that Jesus is not Allah.” I agree, and many others will, but Christians who use “Jesus” as the proper name of the Christian God will be saying something that some Muslims deny.

    If you think that God is not Jesus, or the Father, but rather the Trinity, you can argue like this.

    1. g = t
    2. not (a = t)
    3. Therefore, not (a=g) (1,2)

    That is valid, and trinitarians ought to agree with 1. Muslims will of course accept 2. But they’ll never accept 1.

    They’ll reason instead like this:

    1. not (a = t) (They agree with the trinitarian about this.)
    2. g = a
    3. Therefore, not (g=t)

    This is also valid. But a trinitarian isn’t going to accept both 1 and 2. If she accepts 2, she’ll deny 1. And if she accepts 1, she’ll deny 2.

    Yeah, I just don’t see any easy way forward…

  6. Remington

    Jesus indicates that there is a link between knowing him (as the Messiah) and knowing the father. See the discourse in John 8. In verse 19 the logic is that if you know Jesus you know the Father. This, by itself, does not entail that if you do not know Jesus you do not know the Father. So maybe some know Jesus and, thereby, know the Father and maybe some know the Father but don’t know Jesus. However, the context of the dialogue strongly suggests that the reverse is also true: if you know the Father you know Jesus. In verse 41 the Jewish leaders claim to have God as their father. Jesus denies this by saying that “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me” (cf. vss 44 & 47). And in verse 55 Jesus says plainly that they “have not known him [God]”. And the entire context of Jesus’ denial of their knowledge is their rejection of him (Jesus) as the Messiah.

    The Jewish concept of God is closer to the Christian concept of God than the Muslim concept is to the Christian. If the Jewish concept of God does not pass the bar of knowing God while denying who Jesus is as the Messiah, a fortiori, the Muslim concept of God does not pass the bar of knowing God while denying who Jesus is as the Messiah.

  7. Remington

    Dominic,

    I see. I didn’t read Vallicella’s article, only your own. I think focusing on the referent question itself misses the point of those who are wont to claim that Muslims and and Christians are worshipping the same God. The real concern is something like religious pluralism, not a theory of language. I think my argument addresses the concern of what the vast majority of people are concerned with when they ask whether Christians and Mulsims worship the same God.

    As for Vallicella’s concern I would be curious about how we can refer to a thing we don’t have knowledge of. If I lack key propositional facts and relational knowledge of a thing, how can I be unwittingly referring to that thing? Granted I still haven’t looked at Vallicella’s post… :) I’ll do that in the morn’

  8. Jim

    I have been asked the question posed. I have had lively discussions with other Christians concerning this. But I always ask this question, “If Allah has provided his followers with his words in the Koran, and Yahweh has provided, for others, another book, which we call the Bible…Then He has done a most excellent job of confusing millions of people. He has therefore created an atmosphere of hatred and confusion. Can this be?

    “For God is not a God of confusion but of peace.” 1 Corinthians 14:33 (ESV)

  9. Jim

    If there is an Allah and a Yahweh, we have two gods. Which one do we follow? If Allah and Yahweh are the same then we have a god of confusion.

  10. Dominic Bnonn Tennant

    Remington and Jim, I agree with what you’re saying, but I think you’re missing the point of Vallicella’s article.

    I think all Christians would agree (at least on reflection) that Muslims don’t know God, because of the high bar the Bible sets for knowledge. It isn’t just propositional (although they do deny key facts about him), but also relational. Muslims do not have a relationship with God because that is only possible through faith in Jesus.

    The question is, even though Muslims don’t know God, do they nonetheless refer to God when they talk about Allah? Are they unknowingly praying to Yahweh five times a day?

    As Vallicella notes, the answer to this question seems to depend on which theory of reference turns out to be true. It may not be a question we can answer definitively.

  11. Andrew

    As I noted in the comments on Bill’s article, there’s a lot of confusion about what we mean by same, most of it pure distraction. Both the Christian and the Muslim say “there is one God, who is a being, and this is what he is like”.

    Imagine I am describing a statue outside a particular public building. I say “It is an elephant wearing a fez”. You respond, “No, it’s a hippo and it’s wearing a bowler hat.”. Now, one possibility is that we’re describing two different statues, either because there are two statues there or because we’re describing two different buildings. But if we both agree that we’re talking about the same building and that there is a single statue in front of that building, then we’re describing the “same” statue, for it is a single entity. It’s not that there are two different statues, or that the one statue appears different depending on who interacts with it; rather, at least one of us is describing it falsely.

    YHWH and Allah are described differently and worshipped differently, but their respective followers are making a claim about a single entity.

    I think it’s helpful to acknowledge this. Why? Because it lowers the threshold required for meaningful conversation. Returning to the statue analogy, it’s a lot easier to discuss the true nature of the statue if we both agree that there is a statue, rather than a small grove of trees (pantheism?) or an empty pavement (atheism?), or whether the building exists at all. However, to acknowledge this is not to suggest that one statue is much the same as another, or that the differences are less important than the commonalities.

    YHWH is not identical to or interchangeable with Allah. But we are making claims about the same entity and on the same philosophical space.

  12. John Coombes

    I am a simple guy, who takes scripture literally. Jesus claimed His divinity as a statement of fact not conjecture. If He claims to be not only the only way to the Father, but also objective Truth then only He can lead humanity to eternal life with the Father.
    So, who do Jews and Muslims worship if Jesus is excluded and not the object of that worship? The only alternative to Jesus is Satan himself. Satan is the father of lies, whose sole purpose is to deflect mankind away from Jesus. Doubt is all he needs and has used and continues to use it as his primary weapon.
    Jesus must be exclusively the object of our worship. Anything (or -body) else cannot be God.

  13. John Coombes

    Maybe i am comfortable being simplistic. Am i to understand that if i worship Allah, that i am (in my mind) worshiping God (Elohim)?
    The Jews indeed worship Yahweh, but that is of no use; they have rejected their own Messiah. So if Jesus is God and i do not worship Him, then whom do i actually worship?
    There is only one God; He tolerates none others. And He clearly states the only possible path – Jn 14:6
    If we as Christians do not defend this truth, then we leave unbelievers in their unbelief. If they are indeed worshiping God and not satan, then why change to Jesus?
    No doubt many will come to know the Way; i never underestimate the power of the Holy Spirit and the Gospel. But i do not understand (simplistic, non-intellectual) how worship of anyone other than God can be God and not satan; surely that is the deception.

    But i’ll leave it at that; i did not mean to be argumentative or demeaning.

  14. John Coombes

    There is only one ‘force’ in my understanding. All power belongs to Yahweh (thanks for the correction – i actually should have known better) alone. He delegates a restricted amount to satan (sorry, i don’t afford caps to the bad guy). What other force can there possibly be (obviously you do not mean the natural forces – they are ‘inanimate’).

    Anyway, Dominic, i regret your worries about me and other Christians. I am unable to think outside the box the way you do (and that is meant respectfully). I’ll stick to Yeshua and leave the idols to someone else. By God’s grace i may just be an instrument some time in leading someone away from their idols to the Truth.
    Sola scriptura; Solus Christus

    Be blessed

  15. Dominic Bnonn Tennant

    The only alternative to Jesus is Satan himself.

    Well, no. There’s a difference between the worship of Allah being of Satan, and the worship of Allah being to Satan. Islam may be a deception ultimately traceable to Satan, but that doesn’t mean that Muslims worship Satan himself. On the face of it, you’re drawing an obviously false dichotomy.

    A false religion might simply worship a non-existent god; a figment of their imagination. Or it might worship other beings who are not Satan—it is not as if he is the only option (cf Deut 32:17).

    Moreover, you have the problem of Jews who explicitly identify the object of their worship as Yahweh, the god revealed in the Hebrew scriptures. By your lights, that seems to imply that Yahweh is Satan. So while I have no problem with keeping things simple, I think you have slipped off the edge into simplistic.

  16. Dominic Bnonn Tennant

    Am i to understand that if i worship Allah, that i am (in my mind) worshiping God (Elohim)?

    Elohim is not the name of God. Yahweh is. Elohim sometimes refers to Yahweh, and sometimes to other beings. But let me answer your question with another: if one worships God, but one believes that God is not triune, and that his name is Allah, is one really not worshiping God, or is one simply worshiping God wrongly?

    The Jews indeed worship Yahweh, but that is of no use; they have rejected their own Messiah. So if Jesus is God and i do not worship Him, then whom do i actually worship?

    You’re confusing the issue. If the Jews worship Yahweh, and Yahweh is God, then the Jews worship God. They do not worship Satan. Their worship may not be right—like Muslims, they have the wrong idea about God. But it is a heck of a leap to go from “The Jews worship God wrongly” to “The Jews worship Satan”.

    There is only one God; He tolerates none others. And He clearly states the only possible path – Jn 14:6. If we as Christians do not defend this truth, then we leave unbelievers in their unbelief. If they are indeed worshiping God and not satan, then why change to Jesus?

    Again, you’re confusing the issue. I have never claimed, and never would claim, that worshiping God wrongly is salvific. One cannot be saved just because one believes that God exists, even if one is correct on every point of his nature (which the Jews and Muslims aren’t). One is saved by faith in Jesus, not by worshiping God in some way.

    But i do not understand (simplistic, non-intellectual) how worship of anyone other than God can be God and not satan; surely that is the deception.

    Suppose that Allah is not a skewed conception of Yahweh. Suppose Allah is a different entity altogether. How do you get from that, to “Allah = Satan”? I mean, how would you even start to prove that? You’re simply assuming this massively false dichotomy; that any being that pretends to be God, but isn’t, is Satan. Well..huh? Where do you get that from? It could be any other demon. It could be non-existent; a mere invention of human imagination.

    Frankly, I think you’re giving Satan a great deal too much credit. It worries me when Christians talk in ways that see Satan everywhere. As if the only two forces in the universe are him and God.

  17. Remington

    Andrew,

    If we agreed that we were talking about the same building and we both said there was a single statue in front of the building but I said it was an elephant wearing a fez and you said it was a hippo wearing a bowler hat I would actually seriously doubt that we are talking about the same statue. I would say that your description is so radically different that either you’re crazy and delusional or I am or I’d be inclined to think that we must have gotten confused at some prior step, like maybe we need to go back and examine whether we are talking about the same building or same space of the building.

    What is not obvious, from your illustration, is that we are referring to the same statue. At best, the Muslim and the Christian can be said to be referring to the same kind of being (the kind of being that is ultimate), in the same way that you and I are referring to the same kind of being in the statue (the kind of being that is an animal).

  I don’t post ill-considered articles and I don’t sponsor ill-considered comments. Take a moment to review what you’ve written…