For those of you who are unaware of a small controversy occurring at Wheaton College (and online), a political science professor has been suspended because of her show of solidarity with Islam on the basis that we are “people of the book” and that “we worship the same God.” Even the Chicago Tribune got in on the action! This has led to many voicing their agreement or disagreement with the actions of Wheaton College.
In this post I will argue that Francis Beckwith’s defense of the “same God” argument is a weak analogy. Beckwith rightly recognizes the etymological history of the terms YHWH and Allah while incorrectly arguing that these identities share the same properties. His main argument is one via analogy, that YHWH and Allah are the same in the same sense that we recognize “Muhammad Ali” and “Cassius Clay” as the same person. Of course, the issue gets a bit more complex when we consider that some people believe these identities have different properties.
Imagine that Fred believes that the evidence is convincing that Thomas Jefferson (TJ) sired several children with his slave Sally Hemings (SH), and thus Fred believes that TJ has the property of “being a father to several of SHs children.” On the other hand, suppose Bob does not find the evidence convincing and thus believes that TJ does not have the property of “being a father to several of SHs children.”
Would it follow from this that Fred and Bob do not believe that the Third President of the United States was the same man? Of course not.
He concludes, “The fact that one may have incomplete knowledge or hold a false belief about another person – whether human or divine – does not mean that someone who has better or truer knowledge about that person is not thinking about the same person.” I agree with him on this concluding principle. However, I fail to see how that applies here.
Allow me to use a counter-analogy. In the USA we have a word we use called “pants.” This refers to an article of clothing that you place your legs through and it covers some of your body. In the UK, they too have a word called “pants.” And, lo and behold, it is also an article of clothing that you place your legs through and it covers some of your body. See definitions of ‘pants’ under the American English and British English entries. Same word, similar properties … different articles of clothing.
So why ought we to think that YHWH and Allah, having some similar properties are similar enough that we should think of them as being the same? Beckwith fails to provide any reasons why we should think they are similar enough, but that wasn’t his intention of his article. This is to say, we ought not be persuaded by his analogy until further evidence is brought forward. I think once further evidence is brought forward to compare the conceptions of god, we will see that Muslims and Christians do not worship the same God.