OK, I appreciate that this is a very, very, very narrow interest of mine but the comment thread on Vox Day’s blog about whether Muslims worship the same god as Christians is something I’ve found to be fascinating reading.
One of the come backs from theists regarding Richard Dawkins’s (and others) refutations of the existence of god is the lack of attention Dawkins pays to theology. I don’t think that is a sound counter-response to atheism but what I found fascinating is the extent to which the comment section at Vox’s blog are poorly equipped to debate the issue. Apart from Malcom the Cynic’s comments most are struggling to unravel their own thoughts on it. However, in the process you get to see a comment section that usually only does canned preprocessed arguments engage in attempts at more independent reasoning.
Here is one favorite that raise a tricky conundrum for theists:
114. wrf3 January 07, 2016 9:43 PM
It is also instructive to ask, “what God do atheists not believe in?” If it’s the Christian God they reject, then why is their wrong knowledge of God somehow different from the Islamists wrong view of God? And if it isn’t the Christian God they reject, which one are they rejecting? Is it the somewhat bizarre case that they actually don’t believe in a false god?
🙂 of course it isn’t really a difficult conundrum to unpick (atheists don’t believe in any gods and if there are true and false gods then we don’t believe in either of them) but it does help illustrate a relevant point: many commentators really aren’t sure what god they believe in and consequently when faced with an argument like this they struggle to clearly express the identity of the god that they specifically believe in. It also raises the possibility that a person who believe contradictory things about a god might actually be accidentally worshiping more than one god (nobody has gone there yet in the comments).
There is an inevitable trinitarian dispute around Catholic doctrine of the Holy Trinity and the question of whether the god of Judaism is the same god as that of Christianity comes up. Pretzel knots are then achieved as people struggle with Judaism as practiced in the Old Testament (which is doctrinal worship of the same god in Christianity) and modern Judaism, which some commentators see as not worshiping the same god for reasons. Nobody ended up mentioning Mormons.
Vox Day didn’t say much in the comments. Politically he naturally falls into the denial that Muslims worship the same god as Christians but his adoption of Thomas Aquinas as a key theologian makes his position a bit absurd. For a Thomist it is possible to pinpoint a specific identity for god independent of doctrine i.e. it makes sense to say that Plato, Aristotle, Ibn Rushd, Maimonides were all discussing the same identity although (for the Christian Thomist) each of those people were of the ‘wrong’ religion.
The main argument employed is that different religions have gods with different characteristics. This is the Sherlock Holmes adaptation argument, or if you prefer the James Bond argument (is the person played by Daniel Craig the same person as played by Sean Connery).
The problem with that argument is that it is trivially easy to apply to the Bible itself.
- The Elohim/Yhwh distinction – different preferred names of the biblical god by different (hypothesized) writers.
- The shifting polytheism/monotheism of the bible. Parts of the Bible read as if there is a supreme god among many whereas later parts are more openly monotheistic (there is only a single god – particulalry by the New Testament).
- The early god of Genesis is concerned primarily with creation.
- Noah’s god is subtly different – in a story that might count as character growth but that notion is a bit at odds with a transcendant being.
- Abraham’s god is a personal god that moves from place to place. There is even a passage that implies the town of Bethel is named by Abraham using the name of his god (i.e. that the specific god Abraham is doing deals with is called Bethel). The focus of this god is very specific (one guy). This god also blasts the cities of Sodom and Gommorah directly when they upset him.
- Moses’s god. This god is a more cthonic style of god – a god associated with a specific spot of earth. In this case Moses god is the god of a specific mountain (Mount Sinai). When Moses god acts in some location other than that spot he does so via an agent (Moses) and later by virtue of the Hebrews carrying around the Ark of the Covenant. One of the fascinating bits of the Bible is that scene where Moses and YHWH first meet plays with this notion as the burning bush gives evasive answers finally identifying itself as “I am what I am”.
- The less-interventionist god of the later Old Testament. As the historical aspects of the OT continue into what looks more like actual history the gods do less. At the start God (as a character) creates a whole universe, his next big act is a worldwide flood, then later he blasts a couple of cities, then via an agent he sends plagues to Egypt – all impressive but at each step the scale of power is a notch below and done more indirectly. The later god of the OT acts primarily via prophetic warnings given to prophets (putting aside the Book of Job which seems to be yet another god altogether who has the devil as a member of his court).
- The god of Jesus i.e. the kind of god that Jesus discusses in the New Testament. This god is an ethically very demanding god who will judge your thoughts as well as actions but is also loving and forgiving and doesn’t blast whole cities into dust, turn people into salt or kill the eldest child of every family.
- The god of the start of the Gospel of John – the Word/logos
- The post-Jesus god i.e. the Paulian god that includes Jesus as part of the godhood.
Now I’m not trying to belittle people who see these evolving conceptions of god as being the same or even those who believe that it is possible to regard the Bible as being theologically consistent. What I’m trying to illustrate is that the notion that different characters = different god is shaky ground for anybody who regards the Bible as a book about a single god. The differences in belief about the nature of god between Jews, Muslims and Christians (or between Christians) are small compared to the difference within the traditions themselves.