A Muslim Defends His Worldview

What's Your Worldview?I was gratified to receive the following message via the Contact form:

Sir, I’m a Muslim, and I’ve read the Islam section in your book What’s Your Worldview. However, to say the least, I haven’t found any of the objections therein to be tenable:

He goes on to give brief responses to two of the “objections” I raised. (In the book, I really presented them only as food for thought, as prompts for readers to think more critically about the Islamic worldview. But still, it’s fair to call them objections.) In this post, I’ll reproduce the relevant sections from What’s Your Worldview? along with his responses, and then reply to them. (In the quotations from WYW, I’ve omitted the endnotes, most of which provide references to verses in the Quran.)

Objection #1

From WYW, pp. 65-66:

One of the central teachings of Islam is that there will be a final day of judgment. On that day, all of our words and deeds will be weighed in the balance of divine justice. Those who have believed in Allah and lived good enough lives will be rewarded with pleasures in paradise, while the rest will be punished with torments in hell.

Muslims don’t think that you have to live an absolutely perfect life to enter paradise. They insist that Allah is compassionate and merciful, and can forgive the sins of those who believe in him and love him (though no one should ever presume upon Allah’s forgiveness). However, there seems to be a tension within Islam between the justice and the mercy of Allah. If justice is to be satisfied, every violation of the law should receive its just penalty. Therefore, an absolutely perfect judge would ensure that no crime goes unpunished. According to Islam, however, Allah simply chooses to overlook some people’s sins. How, then, can he be an absolutely perfect judge? Does Allah consistently uphold his own just laws? The problem for Islam is that, unlike Christianity, it has no doctrine of atonement that could explain how God could forgive human sins without violating his own principles of justice.

Our Muslim friend responds:

1. “First, anyone who acts unjustly towards any person or being would fall short of being perfectly good. So, if there are cases in which God needs to prioritize being just over being, say, forgiving, God’s perfect goodness requires him to do what is just in that case. Second, justice reflects the balance and harmony between God’s moral attributes. Hence, the cases in which God deems it more appropriate to be forgiving over treating people as they deserve, He concedes justice and acts mercifully. However, in those cases, justice is at work in a different way, as God judges it to be more harmonious or appropriate to be forgiving over doing what justice––in its first sense––requires to do.” – Seyma Yazici: Is God perfectly good in Islam?

John Murray on the Christian State

Some readers will be aware that I have criticized the Two Kingdoms (2K) view of Christianity and culture in a few places. In 2019, I gave a lecture in which I argued that three distinctive tenets of a Reformed worldview (a biblical revelational epistemology, the absoluteness of God, and the lordship of Christ) point us away from a “Two Kingdoms” paradigm and toward a “One Kingdom with Different Administrations” paradigm — basically a Kuyperian “sphere sovereignty” paradigm but expressed in terms of Christ’s kingship.

John MurrayBrandon Smith, archival editor at Westminster Magazine, recently brought to my attention a 1943 article by John Murray entitled “The Christian World Order” (originally published in The Presbyterian Guardian).1 Murray is best known for his deeply exegetical approach to systematic theology, with a particular focus on Christology and soteriology, and not often as someone who pronounced on matters of political theory and contemporary cultural engagement. But in this remarkably forthright and lucid article, Murray sets forth an indisputably Kuyperian vision of the three societal institutions of family, church, and state. The entire article is worth your time, but I was particularly struck by the section on the state, which makes essentially the same argument I made in my 2019 lecture, albeit with Murray’s characteristic elegance and economy of words. I’ve taken the liberty of reproducing that section here (but read the whole thing).

Everything below the line is from Murray’s article, although I’ve emboldened parts of the text for emphasis.2

  1. The article can also be found in Collected Writings of John Murray, Volume 1: The Claims of Truth (Banner of Truth Trust, 1976), pp. 356-66.
  2. Note that Murray’s position should not be confused with “Christian nationalism” as the term is commonly used today (whether by its defenders or its detractors). There is nothing ‘nationalist’ about Murray’s view of the state.

Greg Welty on Alvin Plantinga

Greg Welty’s book Alvin Plantinga hits the bookstore shelves today. I’m sure you’re dying to hear what I think about it, so here’s my endorsement:

Alvin Plantinga by Greg WeltyAlvin Plantinga is one of the titans of contemporary Christian philosophy and it would be almost unforgivable to omit him from P&R’s Great Thinkers series. His writings over the course of a six-decade career combine an astonishing degree of creativity with rigorous analytical precision, a delightful sense of humor, and a refreshingly uncomplicated Christian piety. Until now, there has existed no reliable introduction to Plantinga’s work that I could enthusiastically recommend to students, pastors, and other interested readers. That deficiency is now remedied with the publication of Greg Welty’s Alvin Plantinga, a superlative addition to an already excellent series. As a seasoned teacher-scholar with advanced degrees in theology and philosophy and a firm commitment to confessional Reformed doctrine, Dr. Welty was the ideal person to write this book. In a concise and eminently readable style, Welty clearly explains Plantinga’s major contributions and argues that, despite Plantinga’s own deviations from the Reformed tradition at points, his most valuable contributions can be comfortably accommodated by that tradition. I would never suggest reading only one book on Plantinga, but if it must be one, make it this one.

If you want to find out a bit more about the book and its distinctive contributions, I recommend this interview with the author.

The book is available from the publisher at a significant discount right now ($10.39 instead of $15.99). So what are you waiting for? Go order a copy!


Spanish Translations

I don’t speak Spanish, other than a few handy phrases I picked up while vacationing in Majorca many years ago, such as ¿Hablas inglés? and Una cerveza por favor. However, Valentín Alpuche and the good folk at Valle de Gracia know the language very well and have kindly translated some of my articles into Spanish:

More to come, Lord willing!

Philosophy after Christ: A Short Review

Philosophy after ChristTony Flood was kind enough to send me a copy of his latest book, Philosophy after Christ, and I promised I would post a brief review. As the introduction explains, the title of the book is inspired by Colossians 2:8, where the apostle Paul contrasts two kinds of philosophy: philosophy that is “after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world,” and philosophy that is “after Christ” (KJV). The English word ‘after’ translates the Greek preposition kata, which in this context might be better rendered ‘according to’. As such, Flood’s agenda is not to expound a philosophy that is subsequent to Christ or beyond Christ, but rather according to Christ. Since Christ is “the wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:24, 30) only a philosophy founded on Christ and his Word can succeed. Philosophy after Christ is thus a spirited and invigorating defense of a truly Christian approach to philosophy and apologetics. As the author notes, the material in the book is not entirely new but consists of revisions of essays written between 2018 and 2021, some of which began life as articles on Flood’s website. However, it is useful to have them collected and systematically arranged in one volume; the assembled whole carries more force that the sum of the parts.

Part I (“Basics”) makes the initial argument that Christian philosophy must be conducted self-consciously in the context of biblical Christian worldview, and, more provocatively, that even non-Christian philosophies tacitly depend on a Christian theistic worldview for their very intelligibility. Flood rightly recognizes that there can be no such thing as an autonomous or worldview-neutral philosophy:

If philosophical problems are embedded in a worldview, then the adjudication of worldview-conflict cannot be such a problem. The attempt to address such conflict also operates at the level of worldview. There is no worldview-neutral stance from which to undertake such a task. (p. 4)

Flood proceeds to argue that if Christ is indeed the Wisdom of God (1 Cor. 1:24) and the Word of God (John 1:1) then no philosophy that is anti-Christ can ultimately stand, and if autonomous thought must be shunned then philosophers need to recognize their dependence upon divine revelation. As Flood vividly puts the point (with acknowledgements to Scott Oliphint), Christ is “our philosophical GPS” that not only supplies our map but also (crucially) tells us our position. Developing further this recognizably Van Tilian line of thought, Flood contends that the God of the Bible is “under the floorboards” of every argument, even those arguments leveled against God. Moreover, since God’s existence is not only evident (Rom. 1:19-20) but “the very ground of evidence-seeking,” atheists have no excuse for their unbelief.

A Brief Statement on Muslim Apologists

Paradox in Christian TheologyIt has been brought to my attention that some Muslim apologists have been citing my writings on theological paradox to support their arguments against the doctrine of the Trinity, especially in debate with Christian apologists. Since that’s directly contrary to my own views and arguments, I thought I should issue a statement to clear up any confusions.

In Part I of my book Paradox in Christian Theology, I argue that the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity is paradoxical in the sense that it presents us with an apparent contradiction. However, I reject the conclusion that the Trinity is really contradictory. In Part II of the book, I develop and defend an epistemological account according to which (1) the doctrine of the Trinity is a merely apparent contradiction and (2) Christians can be rational in believing the doctrine, on the basis of divine revelation, despite its paradoxical nature.

It is true that I claim (in PCT and elsewhere) that there is currently no satisfactory solution to the so-called logical problem of the Trinity. (That’s why we find it paradoxical!) But it doesn’t follow that there cannot be a solution to the logical problem, or that the doctrine of the Trinity is illogical, incoherent, or nonsensical. In fact, since I deny that there are any true contradictions, I think there must be a solution to the logical problem, even if it turns out that that God alone can comprehend it. I don’t argue that we will never understand how the doctrine of the Trinity is logically consistent. Perhaps we will gain that understanding in the eschaton; I can’t rule that out. All I argue in my book is that there are good rational grounds for believing the doctrine of the Trinity even in the absence of a satisfactory solution to the logical problem. In other words, it’s rational for Christians to believe that there is a solution, even if we can’t specify that solution. (Compare: it’s rational for physicists to believe that there is a solution to the apparent conflict between relativity theory and quantum mechanics, even though no one has figured out that solution.)

All this to say, my book taken as a whole is a defense of rational belief in the Trinity. If you encounter Muslim apologists citing it against the doctrine of the Trinity, you should know that they are not representing my views and arguments responsibly. They’re citing my work selectively and not giving the full story and context. That’s rather like the critic who quotes some New Testament scholar saying “There have been tens of thousands of changes to the text!” without also mentioning that most of those changes are trivial and make no difference to the meaning of the text.

What is the Problem of Induction, and Why are Christians Uniquely Situated to Answer It?

[From a short article written for the ILIAD Forum.]

The problem of induction is a notorious philosophical problem concerning inductive inferences; more specifically, whether that form of reasoning is generally reliable or rationally justified. An inductive inference aims to draw a general conclusion from a series of particular observations. For example, if I observe one thousand swans, and every one of those swans is white, I can infer inductively that probably all swans are white, and on that basis predict that any future swans I observe will (probably) be white. Unlike deductive inferences, in which the conclusion follows necessarily from the premises, inductive inferences cannot deliver absolute certainty—for example, the possibility of observing a non-white swan in the future cannot be decisively ruled out—but all else being equal, the greater the number of past observations confirming a general law or pattern, the stronger the inductive conclusion becomes.

Inductive inferences have been widely used in scientific research to discover laws of nature. To take one example, Newton’s universal law of gravitation was inferred inductively from empirical observations of the attractive forces between two masses. We haven’t observed the forces between every pair of masses in the universe at every point in time, of course, so we don’t have direct and infallible knowledge of a universal law. Nevertheless, we have made enough observations to be confident that they are instances of a universal law, and we can make reliable predictions about future events by positing that the universal law holds.

Continue reading…

To Err is Humorous (2022 Edition)

I’ve finally finished all the grading for my Spring semester classes, so it seems fitting to celebrate by cracking open a bottle of Irn-Bru and posting a new collection of amusing typos drawn from various student assignments over the last five years. (For previous editions, see here and here.)

Once again, it’s only fair to repeat the qualification I included with the earlier postings:

I should emphasize that most of these are innocent mistakes and no reflection on the abilities of the students who wrote them. Some of them appeared in otherwise excellent papers. They’re the sort of errors any of us could make, and many of us have made, especially when under the pressure of a deadline or ambushed by the AutoCorrect feature of our word processors. So enjoy them, but don’t forget that these are human errors — and we’re all human.

In case anyone has doubts, let me assure you that all the following are 100% genuine. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.