Archive for December, 2015

[Original Post: Dec 31]

The internet has exploded from academics around the country over tolerance-tension-large1the Wheaton University’s political scientist Larycia Hawkins who posted on Facebook Dec. 10 that “I stand in religious solidarity with Muslims because they, like me, a Christian, are people of the book. And as Pope Francis stated last week, we worship the same God.”  While her sentiment of standing in accord with Muslims by wearing a hijab was not questioned, it was the last statement of worshiping the same God which caused administration to put her on leave.

To catch up on the issue you can read the Christianity Today article.  As of a couple of days ago, it seems as talks have come to an impasse.  A Washington Post article followed up the story with Wheaton student reactions.  Hawkins has had to reaffirm the Wheaton statement of faith four different times showing a history of “pushing the theological envelope” according to Jay Wesley Richards on a facebook post.

While I am interested in how Wheaton will resolve this issue, the more interesting question is the controversy that has sprung up around the question: Do Muslims and Christians worship the same God?

islam-christianity

Profiles with Christian and Islamic symbols

Many have weighed in on this question.  Here is a listing of just some of the responses:

Francis Beckwith, Catholic philosopher at Baylor University has affirmed that Muslms and Christians do worship the same God:

Beckwith follows up here with a roundu

Michael Rea, Philosophy professor at the University of Notre Dame and the Logos Institute for Analytic Theology at the University of St. Andrews., concurred with Beckwith:

Nancy Pearcey, Houston Baptist University professor of apologetics, quickly responded to Beckwith with a Facebook article:

Former Muslim and author of Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus Nabeel Quershi, emphatically wrote in an opinion piece that “Muslims and Christians do not worship the same God.”

Dr. Michael Brown who holds a Ph.D. in Near Eastern Languages and Literatures from New York University has also weighed in the topic:

Scot McKnight, professor of the New Testament at Northern Seminary, writes his piece of mind”

Richard Davis, of Tyndale University College in Toronto, Ontario and is a graduate of the University of Alberta (BSc in Evolutionary Biology) and the University of Toronto (MA and PhD in Philosophy), recently posted a response to Beckwith and Rea

While not responding the the Wheaton hijab controversy, William Lane Craig has written an article on the topic:

This video is of Dr. Craig’s address to the National Religious Broadcasters annual convention in February 2015 titled “The Concept of God in Islam and Christianity.”:

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Screen Shot 2015-10-30 at 2.36.55 PMAs some of you know William Lane Craig from Reasonable Faith has been developing some quality videos over various arguments for God’s existence (three of them can be found here on my webpage).  Here is his latest video on the Leibnizian Contingency argument:

Further explorations in this particular argument can be pursued here:

“Leibnizian Cosmological Arguments” by Alexander R. Pruss in Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology

The Principle of Sufficient Reason: A Reassessment by Alexander R. Pruss

Argument from Contingency” podcast by William Lane Craig at reasonablefaith.org

Another video a bit longer explaining this argument:

Hezekiah BullaA clay seal stamped with Hezekiah’s name was found recently (actually, it was excavated in 2009, but its significance was just recently discovered).  This royal seal, that would be impressed upon scrolls, is over 2,700 years old.  It clearly has the imprint of Hezekiah’s name upon it, measuring only about a centimeter across. Bible History Daily reports that:

 

The bulla, which measures just over a centimeter in diameter, bears a seal impression depicting a two-winged sun disk flanked by ankh symbols and containing a Hebrew inscription that reads “Belonging to Hezekiah, (son of) Ahaz, king of Judah.” The bulla was discovered along with 33 other stamped bullae during wet-sifting of dirt from a refuse dump located next to a 10th-century B.C.E. royal building in the Ophel.

In the ancient Near East, clay bullae were used to secure the strings tied around rolled-up documents. The bullae were made by pressing a seal onto a wet lump of clay. The stamped bulla served as both a signature and as a means of ensuring the authenticity of the documents.

“Biblical King’s Royal Seal Unearthed in Jerusalem” by Tia Ghose | CBS News Dec 2, 2015

“Seal Bearing the Name of Judean King Found in Jerusalam” by Ilan Zion | The Time of Israel.

“King Hezekiah in the Bible” by Robin Ngo | Bible History Daily

“A Mark of Power!” by Richard Gray | Dailymail.com

Here is a short video of the archaeologist, Dr. Eilat Mazar, on the discovery:

 

Daily Mail has a good video description of the bulla:

 

 

Here is a Breakpoint audio with Eric MeTaxas discussing the discovery:

I was once sitting in a graduate level seminar when the topic of morality and ethics came up.  One of the doctoral students stated that they believed that societies and cultures struggle through various issue of morality and through that cultural conversation and debate emerges the ethical norms for the community: thus morality is relative to culture.  I remember leaning in and asking, “So, you must think Martin Luther King, Jr. was a wicked individual that deserved what he got?”  Obviously, he expressed surprise and disgust.  “But King went against the culture and societal standard for morality.  He was wrong, because society determined that segregation was ethical, if it is the case that culture determines what is right and wrong.”

It is clear from this example that there is something wrong with moral relativism.  While the majority of philosophers in a recent poll have affirmed moral realism (it seems that the poll results are not available online, but many have referenced: here and here), broader mass culture and society is still steeped in moral relativism.  Dr. Al Mohler recently wrote an article stating that “Moral relativism and the rejection of absolute truth now shape the modern post-Christian mind. Indeed, relativism is virtually taken for granted, at least as an excuse for overthrowing theistic truth claims and any restrictive morality.” Moral realism (the dominant position of philosophers) is the position that there are moral facts that are objective independent of what people might think of them.

Moral relativism is an untenable position that is usually affirmed by sophomores in college, but most reflective individuals can understand that moral relativism is not supportable.

Greg Koukl of Stand to Reason list seven things you can’t do as a moral relativist:

  1. Relativists Can’t Accuse Others of Wrong-Doing
  2. Relativists Can’t Complain About the Problem of Evil
  3. Relativists Can’t Place Blame or Accept Praise
  4. Relativists Can’t Claim Anything Is Unfair or Unjust
  5. Relativists Can’t Improve Their Morality
  6. Relativists Can’t Hold Meaningful Moral Discussions
  7. Relativists Can’t Promote the Obligation of Tolerance

The website http://www.apologetics315.com states that Stephen Meyer adds a bonus with:

  • Relativists can’t complain about the problem of evil

My brother, Sloan Lee (Ph.D. Wayne State University) lists several internal difficulties with moral relativism:

[Moral] relativism faces many internal conceptual difficulties which lead us to think that this position is mistaken or confused.

Objection A: If ethical relativism is true, then it follows that we can no longer legitimately criticize other groups or cultures. Moreover, it follows that we can no longer criticize our own group’s ethical standards. As a result, the notion of moral reform and moral progress become incoherent. Rather than moral reform or progress, the only result that can be achieved is successive moral change or replacement. However, the ideas of moral reform and progress seem to be perfectly coherent and legitimate. Thus, the results of ethical relativism seem intuitively incorrect. Most think that a society that practices slavery is morally inferior to a society that doesn’t practice slavery. Yet, if ethical relativism is true, then people are wrong to think this. The idea of moral progress only makes sense in relation to some objective moral standard. If there is no universal moral standard then it is not possible to measure (or evaluate) the moral development of any culture. The concept of moral progress only makes sense in relation to a moral standard that can be used to evaluate the progress. Without an objective moral standard, all one can achieve is moral change – not moral progress. This give us reason to reject ethical relativism.

Objection B: If the idea of moral reform is incoherent, then the idea of a moral reformer is incoherent. If cultural relativism is true (which is a version of ethical relativism), then Gandhi and Martin Luther King are not moral reformers. They could not be moral reformers. Cultural relativism considers all of the great moral reformers to be wicked people. In order to be a moral reformer (like MLK) one must go against the prevailing moral currents of the day. On cultural relativism, these are wicked and evil people who are flaunting the moral standards of their respective cultures. Yet, any position that could lead to such an absurd conclusion could not be very plausible. Thus, we have excellent reason to reject ethical relativism.

Objection C: If ethical relativism is true, then genuine moral disagreements seem to be impossible, because different groups (or individuals) all possess correct moral standards. It would make no more sense to criticize a group for possessing their moral standard than to criticize someone for having a favorite color or favorite flavor of ice cream. There would be no moral fact of the matter. However, this runs against our intuitions. It certainly seems that people in different cultures have real disagreements on many issues. If not, then ethical relativists owe us an explanation. Why are they not disagreeing when it seems so clear that they are disagreeing!? Until the relativist can give us an explanation, we have good reason to disbelieve ethical relativism. When the German officers said that it was morally right to exterminate the Jewish population, most people do not think that the officers are just expressing a personal preference (for example, “I like to take long naps.”). Rather, people think that they are saying something false. They disagree with the German officers. However, if ethical relativism is true, then it makes no sense to say that their assertions are false, because there is no real disagreement. This counts as another reason to think that ethical relativism is false.

Objection D: Cultural relativism makes praising another culture impossible. If there is no objective ground upon which to judge the moral judgments of another culture, then there are no grounds for praising the moral judgments of another culture. If we can praise another culture’s morality, then we should think that ethical relativism is wrong.

Objection E: Cultural relativism makes cultures morally infallible. Yet, this clearly runs counter to our moral intuitions. We don’t want to say that the practice of genocide is an infallible moral decision on the part of any culture. If ethical relativism entails this (and it does), then we have excellent reason for rejecting ethical relativism.

Objection F: Cultural relativism gives us no adequate concept of a culture — at least not adequate enough to resolve the moral difficulties it raises. Suppose you were a Black Jewish Communist living in Bavaria during Hitler’s reign. What would be your true culture? The Jews? The Communists? The Nazis? Who? We all belong to many different cultures and it is often the case that there seems to be no way of establishing which culture is primary. So, if we cannot identify our true culture, we can’t use cultural relativism (as a form of ethical relativism) to answer our questions about moral theory.

I hope the student is beginning to see that moral relativism has next to nothing to be said for it. Thus, the surest way to progress in one’s thinking about issues of ethics is to give up the illusions of ethical relativism – to come out of the cave of appearances and to begin looking for the truth.

Books, Articles, and Videos:

Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Midair by Grek Koukl and Francis Beckwith (Baker Books, 1998)

A Refutation of Moral Relativism by Peter Kreeft (Ignatius, 1999)

Ethics and Moral Reasoning: A Student’s Guide by C. Ben Mitchell (Crossway, 2013)

“Rejecting Moral Relativism: There is Such a Thing as Moral Truth” by Michael W. Austin in Psychology Today (Jan 23, 2012)

“Philosophical Problems with Moral Relativism” by Francis Beckwith, Christian Research Journal

Roger Scruton, senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C., and visiting professor in the philosophy department at Oxford University, provides a talk on the problems of moral relativism at the Common Sense Society at Café Gerbeaud in Budapest, Hungary:

 

William Lane Craig on the livability of moral relativism:

 

 

 

Great video by Nabeel Qureshi, former Muslim and author of Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus.

I posted about Nabeel before here when he debated on the Trinity.

He is on staff with RZIM:

Nabeel Qureshi is an itinerant speaker with Ravi Zacharias International Ministries and bestselling author of Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus. Since completing his medical degree in 2009, he has dedicated his life to spreading the gospel through teaching, preaching, writing, and debating.

Dr. Qureshi has lectured to students at over 100 universities, including Oxford, Columbia, Dartmouth, Cornell, Johns Hopkins, and the University of Hong Kong. He has participated in 18 public debates around North America, Europe, and Asia. His focus is on the foundations of the Christian faith, the early history and teachings of Islam, and the interface of science and religion.

Dr. Qureshi holds an MD from Eastern Virginia Medical School, an MA in Christian apologetics from Biola University, and an MA in Religion from Duke University. He is currently pursuing a doctorate in New Testament studies at Oxford University where he lives with his wife, Michelle.