January 1, 2017

Books of 2016

Filed under: Annual Book Log,Life — camcintosh @ 1:19 pm

Behold, the list of mostly non-work related books I (slowly) traversed in 2016:


  1. Allison Hoover Bartlett, The Man Who Loved Books Too Much (Riverhead Books, 2010).
  2. Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind (Simon and Schuster, 1987).
  3. Arthur Brooks, The Conservative Heart (Broadside Books, 2015).
  4. Will and Ariel Durant, The Lessons of History (Simon and Schuster, 2010).
  5. Jonathan Edwards, The Nature of True Virtue (University of Michigan Press, 1960).
  6. David Horowitz, Hating Whitey: And Other Progressive Causes (Spence, 1999).
  7. Andrew Klavan, The Great Good Thing: A Secular Jew Comes to Faith in Christ (Thomas Nelson, 2016).
  8. John Lott, The War on Guns (Regnery, 2016).
  9. Michael Lynch, True to Life: Why Truth Matters (MT, 2005).
  10. Mike Martin, Self-Deception and Morality (Kansas, 1986).
  11. Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death (Penguin Books, 1985).
  12. Graham Priest, One: Being an Investigation into the Unity of Reality and of its Parts, including the Singular Object which is Nothingness (Oxford, 2014). Reviewed HERE.
  13. Nicholas Rescher, Philosophical Standardism: An Empirical Approach to Philosophical Methodology (Pittsburgh, 2000).
  14. Jeff Shaara, Civil War Battlefields (Ballantine, 2006).
  15. Christina Hoff Sommers, Who Stole Feminism? (Simon & Schuster, 1994).
  16. Thomas Sowell, Intellectuals and Race (Basic Books, 2013).
  17. Thomas Sowell, Wealth, Poverty, and Politics: An International Perspective (Basic Books, 2015).
  18. Benjamin Wiker, Ten Books that Screwed Up the World (Regnery, 2008).
  19. Benjamin Wiker, Ten Books Every Conservative Must Read (Regnery, 2010).


  1. Ransom Riggs, Tales of the Peculiar
  2. R. R. Tolkien, The Hobbit

Although overall better than 2015’s showing, the uptick in politics probably offsets any gains in philosophy. Maybe that is a reflection of the intensity of the election year. I hope to resume more regular and rewarding reading habits in 2017, a year which will, God willing, see the completion of the ol’ dissertation and moving back to the Southeastern heartland.

I’ve been pretty bad at keeping my book resolutions of previous years. At the close of 2013 I resolved to read more books in 2014 than I did in 2013. Failed. At the close of 2014, I resolved to temper the bibliophilia driving me to acquire books much faster than I can read or even shelve them. Failed. At the close of 2015 I resolved to keep the flame of love for lady philosophy from burning out. I suppose that resolution was met, but cold winds are still blowing. So no resolution this year. Resolutions are for losers, anyway (of which I am proof).

November 15, 2016

What do Philosophers Have to Add to the Political Discussion?

Filed under: Life,Politics — camcintosh @ 3:48 pm

The title of this post is the question my students asked me at the beginning of class the day after Donald Trump won the election. I thought about the question for a moment, decided I didn’t really have anything to say about that, and moved on. But I continued to think about the question over the weekend and shared a few of my thoughts with class yesterday. The following is roughly what I said.

My basic instinct was right: I didn’t have anything to say because, well, philosophers don’t have that much to add to the political discussion, at least as it takes place on the front lines. Academics generally, but philosophers especially, are pathologically inclined to think their opinions are worth astronomically more than they are, especially on matters about which they do not specialize. Their very livelihoods come from publishing their opinions on very specific things, which can easily create the impression in oneself and others that their opinions on things generally carry more weight. But they don’t. So be wary of, for example, the English (and, yes, philosophy) professor who waxes eloquent on politics in class. That being said, take the following with an extra grain of salt.

As a general rule, I believe instructors should aspire to teach in a fair and balanced manner, and conceal as honestly as they can their own personal beliefs on controversial topics. Students can be very impressionable, and a likable or charismatic professor can have an enormous influence on what students come to believe. Instructors, therefore, ought to take special care to respect their students’ epistemic autonomy in what they say and the way they teach. Many professors are so certain of their moral and intellectual superiority that they intentionally exploit their position of influence to manipulate students into believing what they do. Witness, for example, philosopher Richard Rorty [“Universality and Truth,” in Robert B. Brandom (ed.), Rorty and His Critics (Blackwell, 2000), pp. 21-22]:

I, like most Americans who teach humanities or social science in colleges and universities…try to arrange things so that students who enter as bigoted, homophobic, religious fundamentalists will leave college with views more like our own … The fundamentalist parents of our fundamentalist students think that the entire ‘American liberal establishment’ is engaged in a conspiracy. The parents have a point. Their point is that we liberal teachers no more feel in a symmetrical communication situation when we talk with bigots than do kindergarten teachers talking with their students … When we American college teachers encounter religious fundamentalists, we do not consider the possibility of reformulating our own practices of justification so as to give more weight to the authority of the Christian scriptures. Instead, we do our best to convince these students of the benefits of secularization. … You have to be educated in order to be a participant in our conversation … So we are going to go right on trying to discredit you in the eyes of your children, trying to strip your fundamentalist religious community of dignity, trying to make your views seem silly rather than discussable. We are not so inclusivist as to tolerate intolerance such as yours … I think those students are lucky to find themselves under the benevolent domination of people like me, and to have escaped the grip of their frightening, vicious, dangerous parents … I am just as provincial and contextualist as the Nazi teachers; the only difference is that I serve a better cause.

Many professors agree with Rorty’s modus operandi in teaching, if not with the content of what he teaches, although I suspect they wouldn’t be as honest as Rorty in acknowledging their manipulation. So what, if anything, can students themselves do to respect their own epistemic autonomy and resist being manipulated, especially with respect to their political and religious beliefs?

I think it’s absolutely crucial for young people to try to put their finger on the contemporary zeitgeist: become aware of the popular moral, intellectual, and political theories of one’s day as popular moral, intellectual, and political theories of one’s day. Some degree of susceptibility to groupthink can be resisted simply by becoming aware of what one’s group thinks, as opposed what others think and have thought. Obviously, what is popular is not always wrong, but it ain’t always right, either, and we shouldn’t underestimate the power of peer pressure in a culture that is able to enforce conformity and punish dissent in unprecedented fashion with mass media.

The problem with this recommendation, however, is like the problem of how a fish can know it’s wet. How can we become aware of, and honestly assess, the moral and ideological trends of our day when our thinking is so much a product of them? But there is a solution to the fish problem: the fish can know it’s wet by jumping out of the water. So how do we, as metaphorical fish, jump out of the metaphorical water of our own culture?

Here is a twofold proposal. First, unplug. Radios, TVs, the Internet, video games, music, movies, and other forms of popular electronic media are 5% educational, 5% personally enriching (e.g., soul-building art, valuable social networking, etc.), and 90% entertainment-propaganda (one category) whose subliminal messages are the ectoplasm of the zeitgeist, the source of the stream you swim in. This point is forcefully made by authors like Alan Bloom in The Closing of the American Mind and Neil Postman in Amusing Ourselves to Death. So, jump out of the stream on occasion. How? By reading good books (idem), especially good old books or good books about good old books. This is the second fold of the proposal. Reading such books allows us, albeit temporarily and imperfectly, to swim in a stream different from our own, so that when we jump back into ours we bring something of someone else’s perspective with us. To that effect, I recommended these books:

  • Plato, The Republic
  • John Stuart Mill, On Liberty
  • Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations
  • Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America
  • Will Durant, The Lessons of History
  • Alan Ryan, On Politics: A History of Political Thought: From Herodotus to the Present
  • Thomas Sowell, Wealth, Poverty, and Politics
  • Morton White, The Philosophy of the American Revolution
  • Alan Bloom (ed.), Confronting the Constitution

Afterward a student asked, “If you could recommend just one of these books, which would it be?” And another followed, “Are there Sparknotes on these?” I love my students. :-)

May 11, 2016

A Simple Argument for the Essentiality of Gender

Filed under: Philosophy — camcintosh @ 10:01 am

Here’s a simple argument for the conclusion that your gender is essential to you, your essence, haecceity, or identity.

(i) Take Kripke’s essentiality of origins thesis: your origin is essential to you. You could not have originated from a different set of parents. That a particular sperm and a particular egg united at a particular moment (i.e., conception) is essential to you. Had a different sperm or egg united at that moment, you would not have existed. (ii) You originated at conception. Your origin and conception are, in fact, the same event. (iii) Gender is determined at conception. The moment a sperm fertilizes an egg, gender is set. It might be protested at this point that the argument confuses biological “sex” with “gender.” But the arguer need not assume human persons are essentially biological organisms; only that their biological origin is essential to them, and that they have certain essential properties in virtue of that origin. But if human persons are possibly not biological organisms (e.g., they can exist disembodied, or at least with a non-biological body), then they possibly lack a biological sex. What would it mean to say you’re biologically male while lacking a biological body? So either the distinction between “sex” and “gender” is illegitimate, or what is essential to you in virtue of your biological origin is gender, not biological sex. It follows that (iv) gender is constitutive of your origin. Part of what made your origin/conception the very event it was, was what occurred in that event; what occurred in that event was the creation of a gendered zygote. (v) If x is constitutive of y, and y is essential to S, then x is essential to S. So, (vi) your gender is essential to you.

May 4, 2016

Pipe Sesh 5.0: Flashback

Filed under: Life,Pipe Sesh Post,Politics — camcintosh @ 12:29 am

Once upon a time there was a man named Joseph Smith. Joe was a very charismatic man. But he was also a treasure-seeking, duplicitous, sexist, power-hungry, moderately intelligent, manipulative, swindling scumbag. For all his vices, Joe managed to convince many credulous Christians that he was not just a Christian, but a timely Christian prophet. He wasn’t, of course. He was, in reality, just a treasure-seeking, duplicitous, sexist, power-hungry, moderately intelligent, manipulative, swindling scumbag. Sadly, though, many believed in his message. So they gave him treasure, power, and license to change accepted standards of Christian morality. OSBTrue Christians saw him for who and what he was, which forced him to start a new sect. Non-Christians also saw him for who and what he was, which reinforced their rejection of Christianity for what it wasn’t.

Today’s reflection was brought to you by Old Shenandoah’s Bootlegged. It is described as wonderfully aromatic and bite-free, with soft, nutty Burleys blended with good portion of silky black Cavendish and accented by the addition of some lemon Virginia.

April 11, 2016

Review of Priest

Filed under: Philosophy,Reviews — camcintosh @ 5:13 pm

OneHere is a pre-print of my review of Graham Preist’s most recent book, One: Being an investigation into the Unity of Reality and of its Parts, including the Singular Object which is Nothingness (Oxford, 2014), forthcoming in Philosophy in Review.

It was a fun and engaging book to read, though I disagreed with almost every assertion made in it. But that’s OK. Part of the pleasure of reading it was in appreciating the power and elegance of a view so radically different from my own. I aspire to be able to defend my views with as much ingenuity, clarity, wit, and verve as Priest does his.


March 27, 2016

Easter Thoughts

Filed under: Life,Philosophy,Philosophy of Religion — camcintosh @ 6:20 pm

Christianity, unlike most other religions, is a religion grounded in a particular historical event that either did or did not happen. That event—resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth—is susceptible to historical investigation just like any other. Attempts to place the resurrection beyond the reach of falsification by taking it out of the messy, gritty realm of concrete, objective, investigable fact and putting it into the “safer” realm of subjective, spiritual, internal experience is dishonest in the extreme.

If Jesus didn’t actually come back to life with a body that could be poked and prodded by skeptics or embraced and kissed by friends, I don’t give a damn what heart-warming lessons can be drawn from the story. But if he did, nothing else could have more profound existential ramifications. The following passage from Wright’s magisterial book on the resurrection is worth quoting at length:

The early Christians saw Jesus’ resurrection as the action of the creator god to reaffirm the essential goodness of creation and, in an initial and representative act of new creation, to establish a bridgehead within the present world of space, time and matter through which the whole new creation could now come to birth. Calling Jesus ‘son of god’ within this context of meaning, they constituted themselves by implication as a collection of rebel cells within Caesar’s empire, loyal to a different monarch, a different kyrios. Saying ‘Jesus has been raised from the dead’ proved to be self-involving in that it gained its meaning within this counter-­imperial worldview. The Sadducees were right to regard the doctrine of resurrection, and especially its announcement in relation to Jesus, as political dynamite.

Once again we must not confuse ‘meaning’ in this sense with ‘referent’. Just as ‘Jesus has been raised from the dead’ does not refer to the fact that ‘my sins have been forgiven’, even though it means that within its wider world of implication, so that same sentence does not refer to the fact that the true god disapproves of brutal tyranny, even though it means that. Some recent books, eager to bring out the political implications of the resurrection, have allowed this political ‘meaning’ to take over entirely, and have supposed that this argument is strengthened by suggesting that nothing much happened on the third day after Jesus’ death. Get rid of the original referent, and (so it appears) you allow the implication to take its place. But this misses the point the early Christians were eager to make, the point that brought them quickly into confrontation with the authorities both Jewish and pagan. To imply that Jesus ‘went to heaven when he died’, or that he is now simply a spiritual presence, and to suppose that such ideas exhaust the referential meaning of ‘Jesus was raised from the dead’, is to miss the point, to cut the nerve of the social, cultural and political critique. Death is the ultimate weapon of the tyrant; resurrection does not make a covenant with death, it overthrows it. The resurrection, in the full Jewish and early Christian sense, is the ultimate affirmation that creation matters, that embodied human beings matter. That is why resurrection has always had an inescapable political meaning; that is why the Sadducees in the first century, and the Enlightenment in our own day, have opposed it so strongly. No tyrant is threatened by Jesus going to heaven, leaving his body in a tomb. No governments face the authentic Christian challenge when the church’s social preaching tries to base itself on Jesus’ teaching, detached from the central and energizing fact of his resurrection (or when, for that matter, the resurrection is affirmed simply as an example of a supernatural ‘happy ending’ which guarantees post-mortem bliss).

…The resurrection constitutes Jesus as the world’s true sovereign, the ‘son of god’ who claims absolute allegiance from everyone and everything within creation. He is the start of the creator’s new world: its pilot project, indeed its pilot.[1]

That being said, as a Christian doing graduate work in philosophy, I often wonder what non-Christian philosophers would make of arguments for the resurrection, whether the historiographical treatments of Wright[2] and Licona[3] or the more philosophically rigorous formulations of Swinburne[4] and the McGrews[5], especially in light of how the standard Humean objection to miracles has been shown to be demonstrably fallacious.[6] Philosophers read and think about stuff all the time. It is their job, after all. Given the monumental significance of the resurrection, if true, don’t non-Christian philosophers owe it to themselves to read at least a few good books on the topic, and to devote some honest thought to how good of a case there is for it?[7] Some have done that, to be sure. But they are few. Most non-Christian philosophers are, I imagine, blissfully unaware that serious arguments for the resurrection even exist. But I suppose their lot is understandable. They’re no doubt too busy tackling the really important questions, like whether the principle of substitutivity of identiticals holds when substituting codesignators within the scope of temporal and modal operators.

March 22, 2016

Juicy Quote XIV

Filed under: Juicy Quotes,Politics — camcintosh @ 11:51 am

thomas-sowellWhether in Europe, Asia, Africa or the Western Hemisphere, a common pattern among intellectuals has been to seek, or demand, equality of results without equality of causes—or on sheer presumptions of equality of causes. Nor have such demands been limited to intellectuals within the lagging groups, whether minorities or majorities. Outside intellectuals, including intellectuals in other countries, have often discussed statistical differences in incomes and other outcomes as “disparities,” and “inequities” that need to be “corrected,” as if they were discussing abstract people in an abstract world.

The corrections being urged are seldom corrections within the lagging groups, such as Hume urged upon his fellow Scots in the eighteenth century. Today, the prevailing tenets of multiculturalism declare all cultures equal, sealing members of lagging groups within a bubble of their current habits and practices, much as believers in multiculturalism have sealed themselves within a bubble of peer-consensus dogma.

There are certain possibilities that many among the intelligentsia cannot even acknowledge as possibilities, much less try to test empirically, which would be risking a whole vision of the world—and of themselves—on a roll of the dice. Chief among these is the possibility that the most fundamental disparity among people is in their disparities in wealth-generating capabilities, of which the disparities in income and wealth are results, rather than causes. Other disparities, whether in crime, violence and alcohol intake or other social pathology, may also have internal roots. But these possibilities as well are not allowed inside the sealed bubble of the prevailing vision.

One of the consequences of this vision is that blatant economic and other differences among groups, for which explanations due to factors internal to the lagging group are not allowed inside the sealed bubble of the multicultural vision, must be explained by external causes. If group A has higher incomes or higher other achievements than group B, then the vision of cosmic justice transforms A’s good fortune into B’s grievance—and not a grievance against fate, the gods, geography or the cosmos, but specifically a grievance against A. This formula has been applied around the world, whether turning Czechs against Germans, Malays against Chinese, Ugandans against Indians, Sinhalese against Tamils or innumerable other groups against those more successful than themselves.

The contribution of the intelligentsia to this process has often been to verbally conjure up a vision in which A has acquired wealth by taking it from B—the latter being referred to as “exploited,” “dispossessed,” or in some other verbal formulation that explains the economic disparity by a transfer of wealth from B to A. It does not matter if there is no speck of evidence that B was economically better off before A arrived on the scene. Nor does it matter how much evidence there may be that B became demonstrably worse off after A departed the scene, whether it was the Ugandan economy collapsing after the expulsions of Indians and Pakistanis in the 1970s, the desolation in the Sudeten region of Czechoslovakia after the Germans were expelled in 1945, or the continuing urban desolation of many black ghettoes across the United States, decades after the riots of the 1960s drove out many of the white-owned businesses that were supposedly exploiting ghetto residents.

Not only is empirical evidence that A made B poorer seldom considered necessary, considerable evidence that A’s presence kept B from being even poorer is often ignored. In Third World countries whose poverty has often been attributed to “exploitation” by Western nations, it is not uncommon for those indigenous people most in contact with Westerners in port cities and other places to be visibly less poor than indigenous people out in the hinterlands remote from Western contacts or influence.

To think of some people as simply being higher achievers than others, for whatever reason, is a threat to today’s prevailing vision, for it implicitly places the onus on the lagging group to achieve more—and, perhaps more important, deprives the intelligentsia of their role of fighting on the side of the angels against the forces of evil. The very concept of achievement fades into the background, or disappears completely, in some of the verbal formulations of the intelligentsia, where those who turn out to be more successful ex post are depicted as having been “privileged” ex ante.

—Thomas Sowell, Intellectuals and Race (Basic Books, 2013), pp. 50-52.

January 21, 2016

Juicy Quote XIII

Filed under: Ethics,Juicy Quotes,Life — camcintosh @ 11:31 am

“An increase of pride diminishes gratitude. So doth sensuality, or the increase of sensual appetites; which coming more and more under the power and impression of sensible objects, tends by degrees to make the mind insensible to any thing else. Those appetites take up the whole soul; and, through habit and custom, the water is all drawn out of other channels in which it naturally flows, and is carried as it were into one channel … Genuine virtue prevents that increase of the habits of pride and sensuality, which tend to diminish the exercises of the useful and necessary principles of nature. And a principle of general benevolence softens and sweetens the mind, makes it more susceptible of the proper influence of the gentler natural instincts, directs every one into its proper channel, determines the exercise to the proper manner and measure, and guides all to the best purposes.”

—Jonathan Edwards, The Nature of True Virtue (University of Michigan Press, 1960), pp. 93, 97.

January 4, 2016

Books of 2015

Filed under: Annual Book Log,Life — camcintosh @ 1:51 pm

In keeping with my blogging tradition of posting an annual book log, here is my 2015 showing:


  1. Lynne Rudder Baker, Naturalism and the First-Person Perspective (Oxford, 2013).
  2. Jeff Guinn, The Last Gunfight (Simon & Schuster, 2012).
  3. Steve Sheinkin, Lincoln’s Grave Robbers (Scholastic, 2012).
  4. Richard Carwardine, Lincoln: A Life of Purpose and Power (Vintage, 2007).
  5. Chris Kyle, American Sniper (Harper, 2013).
  6. Peter Kadzis, Blood: Stories of Life and Death from the Civil War (Thunder’s Mouth, 2000).
  7. David Roberts, Alone on the Ice: The Greatest Survival Story in the History of Exploration (W. W. Norton & Co., 2014).
  8. Mitchell Zuckoff, Lost in Shangri-La: A True Story of Survival, Adventure, and the Most Incredible Rescue Mission of World War II (Harper Perennial, 2012).
  9. Richard Taylor, The Disciplined Life (Bethany House, 1962).
  10. Antonio Mendez, Argo: How the CIA and Hollywood Pulled Off the Most Audacious Rescue in History (Penguin Books, 2013).


  1. Orson Scott Card, Earth Unaware
  2. Orson Scott Card, Earth Afire
  3. Orson Scott Card, Earth Awakens
  4. H. G. Wells, War of the Worlds
  5. Gary Paulsen, Brian’s Winter
  6. Gary Paulsen, The River
  7. Gary Paulsen, Brian’s Return
  8. Gary Paulsen, Brian’s Hunt
  9. Richard Adams, Watership Down
  10. Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

CoPAn abysmal list, really, as far as philosophy is concerned (Cf. 2013 and 2014). What can I say? The ‘game’ of professional philosophy and its star players disgust me more than ever. As a not-completely-subconcious act of personal protest, I’ve turned to other outlets to scratch inquisitive, creative itches. I still dutifully read the tenure files and enjoy my work. But that’s what it has become. Work. I never saw it that way before. Maybe that’s why I was better at it then. Anyway, the challenge I face this next year will be to keep that original flame of love for Lady Philosophy burning, and to not let the cold drafts of academia blow it out entirely. Here’s to 2016.

December 17, 2015

Pipe Sesh 4.0: No, Muslims and Christians do not Worship the Same God

Filed under: Pipe Sesh Post — camcintosh @ 3:41 pm

Recent controversy at Wheaton has reminded us of one of the most cherished nuggets of contemporary wisdom, positively golden for its heart-warming conciliatory sentiment. Yes, you have heard it said, “Muslims and Christians worship the same God.”

But you don’t have to bite down very hard on that nugget to discover it’s fool’s gold, sold by bullshitting Western journalists whose infatuation with Islam is matched only by their contempt for conservative Christians. Sadly, even many Christians have invested in the worthless pyrite. And they really should know better. They should know that the Christian God and the Muslim God have different essential properties, which entails that our concepts of them cannot possibly denote the same God. If A and B are essentially different, and we were aware of those differences, our concepts of A and B cannot possibly denote the same thing. If (per impossible) Hesperus and Phosphorus had different essential properties, and we were aware of those differences, our concepts of each could not possibly denote one and the same object.

The Christian and Muslim concepts of God do share certain properties in common. Both Gods are omnipotent, omniscient, created the world, and sent prophets, for example. Both are even referred to by the same name; i.e., “God.” But it hardly follows from this fact that they are therefore the same. This is the Dumbo fallacy. I have ears. Dumbo the elephant has ears. It doesn’t follow that I am Dumbo the elephant. And don’t fall for the equally elementary ‘same word, same referent’ mistake. Words refer to concepts and concepts denote things. We can use the same word to refer to different concepts that denote different things. So the “’Allah’ is just the Arabic word ‘God’” defense goes precisely no distance in showing the concepts referred to are the same, much less the objects the concepts denote.

An example may help. My uncle Mark proudly drives a pickup truck. My grandpa Bill proudly drives an 18-wheeler. And they playfully make fun of each other for their respective vehicle of choice. Sure, they know both vehicles have much in common. Both have engines, wheels, can haul stuff, are referred to as “trucks,” etc. But my uncle and grandpa are also keenly aware of the essential differences. How absurd, confusing, and downright foolish it would be if I went up to them strumming a conciliatory note on my guitar and said “You know, guys, you really drive the same truck,” my kumbaya attitude notwithstanding.

How, then, does the Christian God and the Muslim God essentially differ? Again, easy: the Christian God is trinitarian. God is three persons. The Muslim concept of God is unitarian. God is one person, not three. So if either a Christian or a Muslim thinks they’re worshiping the same God, they have simply failed to understand the concept of the God in whom they claim to believe. If a Christian is worshiping the same God that a Muslim is, one or the other is worshiping the wrong God. In fact, one doesn’t exist. Christians and Muslims believe there is room in reality for one and only one God. If the Christian God exists, the Muslim God doesn’t (and vice versa).

As I said, the “Muslims and Christians worship the same God” line is usually peddled by dishonest salesmen who like the sentiment it expresses more than the truth. But well-meaning, thoughtful people have bought in, too. Witness Francis Beckwith:

But doesn’t Christianity affirm that God is a Trinity while Muslims deny it? Wouldn’t this mean that they indeed worship different “Gods”? Not necessarily. Consider this example. 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. In the same way, Abraham and Moses did not believe that God is a Trinity, but St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, and Billy Graham do.

The problem with Beckwith’s example is that Fred and Bob are disagreeing over which non-essential properties Thomas Jefferson has. It is not essential to Jefferson either that he is or is not the father of several of Sally Hemings’ children. And of course we can talk about the same thing while disagreeing about which non-essential properties it has. But that is not like the present case. So here’s a better example. Fred and Bob are disagreeing over the essential properties of tables. Fred insists that essential to a table is that it have a surface. Not only does Bob disagree, Bob insists that tables essentially do not have surfaces. Fred is right and Bob is wrong. But the point is that whatever Bob’s concept denotes, it does not denote a table, and Fred’s and Bob’s concepts cannot possibly denote the same thing. So don’t go around saying Fred and Bob are talking about the same thing, because they aren’t—regardless of whatever other properties their concepts have in common and regardless of whether they’re using the same word.

Saying “Muslims and Christians worship the same God” promotes confusion, not solidarity. And as Jonathan Edwards rightly observed, “it is much the more hard to think right when speaking so wrong.” There is more to say about this, but that’s enough for now. Go in peace, and worship God in spirit and in truth.

EMPToday’s reflection was brought to you by Dunhill’s Early Morning Pipe. The description reads, “Sweet Oriental carefully blended with Bright and Red Virginias, pressed and lightly stoved. Great as the ‘first pipe’ arousing the palate for the further pleasures of the day.” Indeed.

*Update: The claim that Muslims, Jews, and Christians all worship the same God seems demonstrably false to me for the reasons I outlined in the post. But I am genuinely open to it being true. The principles I appealed to to justify denying the claim (e.g., “If A and B are essentially different, and we were aware of those differences, our concepts of A and B cannot possibly denote the same thing”) could probably be Chisholmed to account for prima face counterexamples. However, the only way I can see how it could turn out true is if interesting philosophy of language considerations are brought to bear on the topic. There is a recent paper on this I’ve been meaning to look at. Here’s the reference if anyone’s interested: Jeroen de Ridder and Rene can Woudenberg, “Referring to, Believing in, and Worshipping the Same God: A Reformed View,” Faith and Philosophy 31/1 (2014), pp. 46-67.

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