No God But God from Vox Nova by blackadderiv Do Muslims and Christians worship the same God? The answer to the question is controversial. Most Muslims answer yes, following a passage in the Koran that appears to say that both groups do worship the same God. Many Christians, on the other hand, vigorously dispute this claim...
What’s in a Name?
As philosophers ranging from Saul Kripke to Linda Richman have noted, there is a great deal of difference between names and descriptions. Names are what Kripke calls “rigid designators.” They pick out a particular person or thing or kind of thing, and refer always to that thing, regardless of what other attributes the person, thing, or kind of thing may have. Descriptions, by contrast, refer to particular attributes and may apply to a person, thing, or kind of thing at one time but not another. “George W. Bush”, for example, is a name; “President of the United States”, by contrast, is a description. “Holy Roman Empire” is a name; “a holy, Roman empire” is a description.
Most people, I take it, tend to assume without reflection that “God” is a name like “John” or “Steve” or “Sally.” For the scholastics, however, “God” was not a name, but a description, meaning something along the lines of “supreme being,” or, to use St. Anselm’s more precise terminology, “that than which no greater can be conceived.”Whether the claim “Muslims and Christians worship the same God” is true will depend on whether “God” is understood as being a name (e.g. the being who appeared to Moses in the burning bush, etc., or the being who revealed himself to Muhammad in the dessert, etc.) or as a description (e.g. “the supreme being”).
If God is taken to be a name, then the claim will be true de dicto when made by Muslims (who believe that the same being revealed himself to Moses and to Muhammad), false de dicto when made by most non-Muslims (who don’t believe the same being revealed himself to Moses and Muhammad), and false de re (on the supposition that Islam is not the true religion). On the other hand, if “God” is taken to be a description, then the claim would be true de re (since Muslims and Christians both believe in a supreme being, and there is in fact only one such being), and while whether the claim was true de dicto would vary from person to person, the claim would seem to only be false de dicto for someone who was confused or mistaken about the issue.
Personally I am inclined to think that St. Anselm is right, and that the word “God” is not a name like Jesus or Shiva. To use an admittedly very weird example, if it turned out that Jesus was actually a time traveler who used his advanced technology to perform the miracles depicted in the Gospels, we would not say that there was no Jesus but that Jesus was actually a time traveler. But if it turned out that all of the actions and words attributed to God in the Scriptures were actually the words and actions of this time traveler, we would not say that God was actually a time traveler. We would say that there was no God (or, at least, that it wasn’t really God who did all of these things).
As such, I have no problem with saying that Muslims worship the same God as Christians, or that Hindus worship this same God, or that any group that worships a supreme being worship the same God as do Christians. But I recognize that someone might take a different view on this, and so I cannot say that the “same God” question is as open and shut as I had previously supposed. Thoughts? This entry was posted on February 20, 2008 at 11:33 pm and is filed under Blackadder, Islam, Philosophy, Theology. Home About the Contributors About Vox Nova No God But God 11:23 AM