INTRODUCTION: This afternoon we will be debating the topic of the concept of God in Islam and Christianity. Our two debaters are Mr. Shabir Ally, who is on his way in. Mr. Ally is married with four children. He has a BA in religious studies from Laurentian University. He is also the president and founder of the Islamic Information & Dawah Center in Toronto. He is mostly self-taught in the area of comparative religions.
Our other debater will be Dr. William Lane Craig. William Lane Craig is a Research Professor of Philosophy at the Talbot School of Theology in La Mirada, California. He lives in Atlanta, Georgia with his wife Jan and their two children. Dr. Craig pursued his undergraduate studies at Wheaton College, a BA in 1971; graduate studies at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School; he studied at the University of Birmingham in England for his PhD; and the University of Munich, Germany for his Doctor of Theology. From 1980 to 1986 he taught Philosophy of Religion at Trinity, during which time he and Jan started a family.
I would like to thank Campus Crusade for Christ at McMaster, as well as the Islamic Information Center & Dawah Center International for hosting this event. I’d also like to thank Sam who will be moderating this debate. The flow of this afternoon will be as follows: two sides will debate, as explained by our moderator. This will be followed by a 20-minute question and answer period.
MODERATOR: Hi, good afternoon. Well I certainly have a tall order today. I hope you appreciate the position that I am in. My role today is simply to moderate, and I want to make that very clear. I also want to add this is not an MSU event, so the opinions expressed here are not those of the MSU. I want you to keep in mind that the participants have mutually agreed to the format and procedure, so there could be concern out there as to why this format. It was determined before I came along, and it was, as I said, mutually agreed upon between the two debaters—the format, the style, and the procedures.
Keep in mind that—and please insert the word editorially here—I believe this should be a discussion, regardless of the nomenclature. I know there have been various words used—debate, discussion—interpret it as you will. It may be contentious at times, but respect should prevail during the discussion today. To the eye, this may seem like a confrontation, and the way it’s set up might lead you to think that way, but despite the setting, there’s no clear winner today after this debate, in my opinion. I don’t know exactly what is on your seats for evaluations, but in terms of my role as moderator and the MSU, there’s no clear winner today.
I would encourage you to learn about all the faiths at McMaster and beyond. I would encourage future forums to have more than just two participants; that would have other faiths represented as well. But because this was mutually decided upon between the two debaters, we must respect their decision. As I said, there are many faiths and beliefs not represented here today, and as this is an institution of higher learning, I would encourage all of you, as you wish, to become more well-versed and learn others as well so that you can respect other viewpoints and have an appreciation for them.
I appreciate the document that was handed out by the groups that were outside today. I would encourage future forums, as I said, to have as many participants as possible besides just two. So, as moderator today, I’ve been asked to keep questions very clear. Because we are discussing God and the concept of faith, it’s not a very clear cut and dry discussion in debate. So, I would hope that the questions are framed as clearly as possible, that we do not make references to any extraneous events that are not relevant to the debate today, in our world today. So, if people do stray from that format, regardless of whatever part of the room the question is coming from, I’ll have to find that out of order. So, that’s my rule today, and I have no opinion today as well. [Audience laughter] So, welcome.
I’m going to pass things on to start off…
DR. CRAIG:Thank you very much. Boy, Shabir, I didn’t know we were so politically incorrect, did you? [Laughter] Well, I’m delighted to be here today, and glad that you have come to participate in the dialogue and debate today. It’s been my prayer that throughout this week of debates that God would guide us all in our spiritual journeys, and that today’s event might be a significant step forward for you in that journey.
Now, in today’s debate I’m going to defend two basic contentions. Number one: That the Christian concept of God is rationally unobjectionable. And secondly, that the Muslim concept of God is rationally objectionable. So, let’s look at my first main contention, that the Christian concept of God is rationally unobjectionable.
Christians believe that God is an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-holy, eternal, spiritual being who created the universe. Muslims agree with all of these attributes or properties of God. This isn’t really surprising, since Islam, historically speaking, is an offshoot of the Judeo-Christian religious tradition. And so, our understanding of what God is like is in many respects the same. But the major objection lodged by Islam against the Christian concept of God concerns the doctrine of the Trinity.
In particular, Christians believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and shares the same divine nature with God the Father. Muslims reject this doctrine because they believe that it commits the sin they call shirk, which is the sin of associating anything with God. Since God is thought to be incomparable or without peer, he cannot have a Son, as Christians claim. And thus the Qur’an denounces anyone who holds that God has a Son as an unbeliever and consigns him to hellfire for such an assertion.
The Qur’an states, “They are unbelievers who say, ‘God is the Messiah, Mary’s son.’ Surely whoever associates anything with God, God shall prohibit him entrance to paradise, and his home shall be the fire. None shall help the evildoers” (Surah 5:73).
Unfortunately, the Qur’an’s denunciation of the doctrine of the Trinity seems to be based upon a clear misunderstanding of that doctrine. First, a bit of history here. Early Christian creeds had adopted the language of speaking of Mary as the mother of God, because she bore Jesus Christ. Now, to someone not familiar with the theology of the early church fathers, such an expression as “the mother of God” is guaranteed to be misleading. What the church fathers meant is that Mary bore Christ in his human nature, not his divine nature. Nevertheless, Mary could be called the mother of God since Christ was not only human, but also divine.
But Mohammed evidently thought that Christians believed in a Trinity composed of God the Father, Mary, and their offspring, Jesus. It’s no wonder that he rejected such a ridiculous doctrine as blasphemous. Mohammed’s misunderstanding of the Trinity is evident in passages such as the following, found in the Qur’an: “God will say, ‘Jesus, Son of Mary, did you ever say to mankind, worship me and my mother as gods, besides God?’ ‘Glory be to you,’ he will answer, ‘I could never have claimed what I have no right to.’” Or again, it says, “The creator of the heavens and the earth, how should he have a son, seeing that he has no consort, and he created all things.”
The doctrine that Mohammed rejected, namely that God the Father should consort with a human female to sire a son and these three should then be worshiped as gods would be rejected by any Christian. According to the Bible, Jesus is called God’s Son because he had no human father, but was miraculously conceived of a virgin. In the Gospel according to Luke, the angel says to Mary, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and God’s power will rest upon you. For this reason, the holy child will be called the Son of God.”
What makes this ironic is that the Qur’an affirms the virgin birth of Jesus. In the Qur’anic account, the angel says, “’I am but a messenger of your Lord and have come to give you a holy son.’ Mary answers, ‘How shall I bear a son when I have neither been touched by any man nor been unchaste?’ The angel replies, ‘Thus, did your Lord speak, “That is easy enough for me. Our decree shall come to pass.”’” Whereupon, Mary conceives Jesus. Thus, no Muslim can object to calling Jesus God’s Son in the sense of his being miraculously conceived.
So, if the doctrine of the Trinity is not the caricature rightly rejected by Mohammed, what is it? It is the doctrine that God is tri-personal. It is not the self-contradictory assertion that three gods are one god, nor again that three persons are one person. That’s just illogical nonsense. Rather, it is the claim that the one entity we call “God” comprises three persons. That is no more illogical than saying one geometrical figure we call a triangle is comprised of three angles. Three angles in one figure. Three persons in one being.
Perhaps the best way to think of this is to say that in God there are three centers of self-consciousness. I am a being with a single center of self-consciousness. God is a being with three centers of self-consciousness. Each of these three persons is equal in glory and divinity, but we call them Father, Son, and Holy Spirit because of the different roles they play in relation to us. The Father is the person who sends the Son to Earth. The Son is the person who takes a human nature and becomes incarnate as Jesus of Nazareth. The Holy Spirit is the person who stands in Christ’s place until Christ returns.
Now, all this doctrine may seem strange to those of you who are Muslims. I think you’ve got to admit that once it’s properly stated, there is nothing rationally objectionable about it. It is a logically consistent doctrine and seems rationally unobjectionable. In fact, I’d like to finish up my first contention by offering an argument for why I think it’s plausible to think that God is a Trinity.
To begin with, God is by definition the greatest conceivable being. If you could think of anything greater than God, then that would be God. Now, as the greatest conceivable being, God must be perfect. If there were any imperfection in God, then he would not be the greatest conceivable being. A perfect being must be a loving being. For love is a moral perfection. It is better for a person to be loving than unloving. God therefore must be a perfectly loving being.
Now, it is of the very nature of love to give oneself away. Love reaches out to another person rather than centering wholly in oneself. So, if God is perfectly loving, by his very nature he must be giving himself in love to another. But who is that other? It cannot be any created person, since creation is the result of God’s free will, not a result of his nature. It belongs to God’s very essence to love, but it does not belong to his essence to create. God is necessarily loving, but he is not necessarily creating. So we can imagine a possible world in which God is perfectly loving and yet no created persons exist. So created persons cannot be the sufficient explanation of whom God loves.
Moreover, we know from science that created persons have not always existed from eternity, but God is eternally loving. So again, created persons alone are not sufficient to explain who the other is to whom God’s love is necessarily directed. It follows, therefore, that that other to whom God’s love is necessarily directed must be internal to God himself. In other words, God is not a single isolated individual, as Islam holds. Rather, God is a plurality of persons, as the Christian doctrine of the Trinity holds. On the Islamic view, God is not a triad of persons, he is a single person who does not give himself away in love essentially to another. He is focused essentially only upon himself. And hence, he cannot be the most perfect being.
But on the Christian view, God is a triad of persons in eternal self-giving love relationships. Thus, since God is essentially loving, the doctrine of the Trinity is more plausible than any Unitarian doctrine of God, such as Islam. Why? Because God is by nature a perfect being of self-giving love.
In summary of my first contention, then, we’ve seen that the classical Muslim rejection of the Christian concept of God is based upon a drastic misunderstanding of the doctrine of the Trinity, and that once that doctrine is properly understood, it is not only rationally unobjectionable, but quite plausible as well. And therefore, we can conclude my first contention, that the Christian concept of God is rationally unobjectionable.
But that brings us to my second contention, that the Muslim concept of God is rationally objectionable. Now, in claiming this, I’m not trying to put anybody down or attack someone personally. I’m just saying that it seems to me that the Islamic conception of God has real problems which render it rationally objectionable. Let me share just one of those deficits. Namely, Islam has a morally deficient concept of God.
We’ve seen that Muslims and Christians agree that God is, by definition, the greatest conceivable being, and that besides being all-powerful, all-knowing, all-present, and so forth, the greatest conceivable being must also be morally perfect. That means that God must be a loving and gracious being. Therefore, God, as the perfect being, must be all-loving, and this is exactly what the Bible affirms.
The Bible says, “God is love. And this is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his son to be the sacrifice for our sins.” Or again, it says, “God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”
Jesus taught God’s unconditional love for sinners. We see this in his parables about the prodigal son and the lost sheep, in his practice of table fellowship with the immoral and unclean, and in his sayings, like those of the Sermon on the Mount. He said, for example,
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father, who is in heaven. For he makes the sun rise on the evil and on the good and sends his reign on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the pagans do the same? You, therefore, must be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect.”
The love of the heavenly Father, then, is universal, impartial, and unconditional. What a contrast with the God of the Qur’an. According to the Qur’an, God does not love sinners. This fact is emphasized repeatedly and consistently like a drumbeat throughout the pages of the Qur’an. Just listen to the following passages drawn from random Surahs: “God loves not the unbelievers.” “God loves not the impious and sinners.” “God loves not the evildoers.” “God loves not the proud.” “God loves not transgressors.” “God loves not the prodigal.” “God loves not the treacherous.” “God is an enemy to unbelievers.”
Over and over again, the Qur’an declares that God does not love the very people that the Bible says God loves so much that he sent his only son to die for them.
Now, this may seem paradoxical in light of the Qur’an’s calling God Ar-Rahman, Ar-Rahim—the all-compassionate, the all-merciful—until you realize that according to the Qur’an, what God’s mercy really cashes out to is that if you believe and do righteous deeds, then God can be counted on to overlook your sins and reward your good works. And thus, the Qur’an promises, “Work, and God will surely see your work. Every soul shall be paid in full for what it has earned. Those who believe and do deeds of righteousness and perform the prayer and pay the alms, their wage awaits them with the Lord.” According to the Qur’an, God’s love is thus reserved only for those who earn it. It says, “To those who believe and do righteousness, God will assign love.”
So, the Qur’an assures us of God’s love for the God-fearing and the good-doers, but he has no love for sinners and unbelievers. Thus, in the Islamic conception, God is not all-loving, his love is partial and has to be earned. The Muslim God loves only those who first love him. His love thus rises no higher than the love that Jesus said even tax collectors and sinners exhibit.
And in his website, Shabir Ally admits this. In dealing with the question, If God is loving, kind, and merciful, why would he punish one in hell? Listen to what he says in response to that question: “Due to a misunderstanding, many people see this as an irresolvable contradiction. The misunderstanding begins with the assumption that God loves everyone, even sinners. It then becomes difficult to explain why God would punish sinners.” He says, “To quote from Matthew’s gospel, ‘You have heard that it was said, “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I tell you, love your enemies.’” He says,
“Now this passage indicates it is a good thing to love one’s enemies. It follows then that God, being infinitely good, must love his enemies too, but then why would he punish them? The Qur’an resolves this problem by indicating quite clearly that God does not love sinners who refuse to change.”
He then goes on to list the people whom God does love, and he concludes with a prayer that we might become deserving of God’s love.
Now, don’t you think that this is an inadequate conception of God? What would you think of a parent who said to his children, “If you measure up to my standards and do as I say, then I will love you”? Some of you have had parents like that, who didn’t love you unconditionally, and you know the emotional scars you bear as a result.
As the greatest conceivable being, the most perfect being, the source of all goodness and love, God’s love must be unconditional and impartial. Of course God loves those whom his justice demands that he punish. Therefore, the Islamic conception of God seems to me to be morally deficient. I cannot therefore rationally accept it.
MODERATOR: Thanks, Dr. Craig.
I’d like to turn the floor over to Shabir Ally, who also has 18 minutes, equally, for his opening remarks.
SHABIR ALLY:Thank you very much, everyone. I begin by praising God, and I thank him for this wonderful opportunity to explore our faith together. Certainly, after September 11th, we have had to see the world through different eyes. And it became clear to me more than ever before that we need to understand each other more than ever before.
Our dialogue tonight should not be perceived as an attempt to attack each other or to demean the faiths of each other. In fact, in my humble study of the world’s major religions, I have come to understand my own faith a little bit better than I’ve ever before. And I can only hope tonight that by sharing our thoughts together, we can each look at our own religions through the lenses that are presented by the speaker for another religion.
We can try to understand the God that we believe in by listening to what other people perceive God to be. It may be that someone else has a perception, has a notion that was not familiar to us. Maybe there was something there in our faith that we have neglected to look at carefully, and someone else may lead us to an insight that makes us more perceptive of something that was there in our faith all the time, but we never noticed it quite enough.
So, I looked at this dialogue as a positive thing, not something negative, and something that should actually build friends. I hope that as we leave this hall today, we will leave as friends. And the ideas that are discussed at this podium will be ideas that we can continue to discuss among each other as friends. I expect that in this spirit of academic inquiry, to find out who exactly is God, and how should we understand God? All of us will be much more enriched and all the better off for coming here and not for opposing an academic forum such as this one.
Well, let me begin, then, to look at What is the Muslim conception of God, and how does that relate to the God of Judaism and Christianity? The Qur’an was revealed to the prophet Mohammed, peace be upon him, some fourteen-hundred years ago, and this Qur’an insists that the God it speaks about is the same God that is believed in by Jews and Christians. In fact, in Surah 29, God tells Muslims to tell the people of the book, namely Jews and Christians, that the God that they believe in and the God that we believe in is the same God.
It so happens that our perceptions about this one God is different in Judaism, in Christianity, and in Islam. It could be noticed that the perception of God in Judaism is very similar to the perception of God in Islam in the sense that both the Jews and Muslims will insist that there is only one God, and beside him there is no other. That faith is deeply rooted in the Old Testament books, in particular, in the Torah. In the book of Deuteronomy, in chapter four verse 39, it is stated that there is only one God, Yahweh, and beside him there is no other.
Now, you notice here that God is called “Yahweh” in the Old Testament. In the book of Isaiah in chapters 43, 44, and 45, there are repeated statements that Yahweh is the only God and besides him there is no other. In fact, what Muslims might think about as a kalimel or the creed or declaration of faith for Jews is what is repeated in Deuteronomy in chapter six, verse number four: “Hear O Israel, the Lord your God, the Lord is one.” If we were to look at the New Jerusalem Bible, which preserves the name Yahweh, it will say that Yahweh, your God, is the only God, or something to that effect. In other words, the Bible repeatedly says that apart from Yahweh, there is no other God.
Now, Isaiah 42 says something interesting. It says that Yahweh will send his servant, his elect one. The New Testament speaks about this servant, and Matthew’s gospel identifies this servant of Yahweh as Jesus. Jesus, as far as I can understand from the New Testament, spoke about this Yahweh again as the only true God. In Mark’s gospel, which is said to be the earliest of the four gospels that we have now preserved for us in our Bibles, we read that a certain Jewish scribe came up to Jesus in Mark chapter 12, and he asked Jesus, “Of all of the commandments, which is the greatest?” And Jesus answered him, as says Mark 12:27 and forward, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord your God, is Lord alone.” You notice here that Jesus was repeating the same declaration that is there in the Old Testament in Deuteronomy in chapter six, verse four. And so I see that the original faith that was preached by Moses is also preached by Jesus. This man said to Jesus, “You’re right, teacher. There is only one God, and besides him there is no other.” And as the man went away, Jesus praised this man for his wisdom and insight.
The Qur’an came along and declares again that there is only one God, the same God that was spoken about by Moses and by Jesus is declared to be the only God. The Qur’an calls him Ar-Rahman and Ar-Rahim, The Beneficent and The Merciful One. In Surah two, the Qur’an says, “[Quote in Arabic]” Your God is only one God, there is no God besides him, The Beneficent, The Merciful One. So, the Qur’an now is calling us to the same faith in that one God who is referred to as Yahweh in the Old Testament, and who was spoken about again by Jesus.
Is the belief in this God objectionable? Dr. Craig thinks that this God is morally deficient because this God does not love everyone. His love is not unconditional, and it is given only to those who, in turn, love God. In particular, Dr. Craig objects to statements in the Qur’an that says that God hates this or that person. For example, he quoted the Qur’an as saying, “God loves not the evildoers.” But what if I point out to you, folks, that there is a verse in the Bible that says something very similar? It says, “God hates evildoers.” And that is found in Psalms chapter five, verses number six and seven.
In fact, Dr. Craig pointed out that there is a series of statements in the Qur’an saying that God does not love this or that person. But I noticed in the Roget’s Thesaurus of the Bible—a very useful reference tool for the Bible, by the way—that in fact there are several statements in the Bible as well, indicating that God does not love this or that. For example, in Ecclesiastes chapter three, verse eight: “There is a time to hate.” But more to the point, Leviticus chapter 20, verse 23: “Because of these customs, God abhorred them.” Deuteronomy chapter 18, verse 12: “Whoever does these things is detestable to the Lord.” Leviticus chapter 26, verse 30: “I will loathe you.” Psalms 11:5: “The Lord hates him that loves violence.”
And we can go on and on, but the idea is there that God loves everyone in a basic way in the Islamic understanding. God has created all human beings on what we can the dean (sic) of Fitra, or the natural religion, with a natural inclination to know God, to have a relationship with God. It is as if God has put us all on a single highway leading to paradise. This highway has many exits, and God warns us in advance, Do not take the exits. And some people will take the exits. God sends prophets and messengers to call them back to the right path, back to that straight highway that will lead to this paradise. Some people will listen to the message and come back to that straight highway. Some will stay where they are because they are comfortable, they’re happy with what they are, they’re addicted to their sins, they love being who they are—they have decided to turn their backs on God.
Now, God in the Qur’an offers promise and threat, and Muslim scholars hold that the promises of God have to be true. What God says he’s going to give us, he must fulfill. But if God gives a threat, he does not have to carry out that threat. He can say, “If you do that, I’ll whip you.” But he does not have to actually whip you, even if you do that. But he threatens people who need the threat, in order, in fact, to bring them back to the right path. In a similar sense, there are verses in the Qur’an which say that God does not love certain individuals. This too is taken in that general concept of Tarheeb, or warning to people. Stop doing what you’re doing, otherwise you’re not within the love of God. Come back to the right path, God will love you. You really want God to love you? Come back to the right path.
So, the basic understanding is that God loves everyone in a basic way, he has created all of us for his mercy, but he has given us the free will to turn away from that mercy, and some people will. I think the difficulty Dr. Craig has with this understanding is because Dr. Craig starts with the understanding that human beings are all created doomed from the start, and we need the love of God to flow to everyone, to give everyone that chance to be rescued and saved. But notice that we’re speaking about that basic love of God as being extended to human beings from the start. So, our default situation is not that we’re born in sin, but that we’re born in the grace of God, all ready and ripe to receive his mercy.
So, it seems that in the end we’re saying the same things. Yes, as Dr. Craig said, even on my website where I repeat these statements from the Qur’an about God hating certain persons, the conclusion is, as I have stated and Dr. Craig has quoted, “If God loves these people then why would he punish sinners?” And finally, “God does not love sinners who refuse to change.” So to put it all in a nutshell, God loves everyone, gives them the possibility of changing if they so choose, and God calls them back to the right way so that he could love them even more, but if they refuse, then God does not love those who refuse.
I believe our Christian friends understand the same thing if they think about it deeply, because in conclusion, there will be some people, Christians believe, who will burn in the fire of hell forever. And you cannot maintain that God loves these people in the same way that he loves his righteous servants who he will bring close to himself in paradise. So finally, I do not believe that there is any moral deficiency in the Qur’anic perception of God.
I want to look at some of the things that Dr. Craig said about the Christian perception of God and see if Muslims can understand this a little bit better. Dr. Craig says that this is not rationally objectionable, and he thinks that the prophet Mohammed actually misunderstood what Christian creeds were all about. But I’d like to direct you to an excellent book on this subject, a book by Neal Robinson entitled “Christ in Islam and Christianity.”
He pointed out that the Qur’anic statements objecting to certain Christian beliefs and creeds are, in fact, objecting to beliefs and creeds which were, in fact, present in seventh-century Arabia and in its environments. But notice that the Qur’an does not say that all Christians believe every one of the objectionable beliefs that the Qur’an is objecting to. So, when the Qur’an objects to those people who have taken Mary for a God alongside with God, or Mary and her son as two gods along with God, Neal Robinson points out that there were Miriamites who actually had beliefs of this nature that the Qur’an is objecting to.
If the Qur’an had said that this is the belief of all Christians everywhere and for all time to come, then Dr. Craig would be right in saying, Look, we do not believe that, and the Qur’an says we believe that. Therefore, the Qur’an is wrong. But the Qur’an here is not telling us what Dr. Craig believes, but the Qur’an is condemning anyone who has these beliefs. And they were people who had those beliefs.
But the Qur’an also talks about the idea of God not having a son. And it is interesting to notice that the idea that Jesus is the Son of God is thought by Biblical scholars to be a later development in Christian understanding of Jesus. You might be surprised, because today you read the gospels and you find that Jesus refers to himself as the Son of God in the Gospel according to John. But Christian theologians think that this is a later development.
I have with me here a book by James Dunn, a colleague of Dr. Craig, entitled “The Evidence for Jesus.” And James Dunn points out that in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, we can see statistically that Jesus in fact was preaching about the kingdom of God. For example, he mentioned that 47 times in Matthew. But in John’s gospel, Jesus is speaking not so much about the kingdom of God—it is mentioned only five times, and when these are analyzed, it is found it is not the same as the way it is expressed in the synoptic of the other three gospels. Whereas in the other gospels, Jesus speaks hardly about himself but much about the kingdom of God, as we have seen.
For example, in Mark’s gospel, Jesus only speaks about himself, saying I’m this or that nine times. But in the Gospel according to John, it is a whopping 118 times. When we realize that Mark was the first gospel and John was the last, we can see a development in the way that Jesus is represented over time. Look, for example, at the number of times Jesus referred to God as “Father” or as “the Father.” To give you an example, in Mark’s gospel, Jesus speaks about God as being “the Father” once, but in John’s gospel, 73 times.
How many times in Mark’s gospel does Jesus refer to God as just simply “Father”? Three times. But in John’s gospel, a whopping 100 times. So, whereas in the gospel of Mark, Jesus was speaking more about the kingdom of God and less about himself, in John’s gospel, Jesus is speaking more about himself and less about the kingdom of God. So, the high Christology where Jesus represents himself as the Son of the living God is thought to be a later insertion that was put into the mouth of Jesus and represented so.
If we then return to the original concept that Jesus preached the initial monotheism, now we want to understand, How did an idea of the Christian Trinity come about? Well, before tracing the development, is the Trinity logically plausible? Notice Dr. Craig says, If you look at a triangle, a triangle has three angles. But realize, folks, that each angle is not a triangle, and that Christian theory holds that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost each is God. And yet, together, they’re only one God. So, to have a comparison here, we’ll have to have three angles, which each itself is an angle and together they make only the original angle that’s not greater than any one of the initial ones. Or we have to have three triangles which, when put together, is just simply one triangle, and it is not greater than the original triangle. I think this is difficult to conceive.
And finally, we should think that the love of God in the Qur’an is extended to all human beings, and that the God of the Qur’an is the logically plausible God that is spoken about in the Old Testament, in the New, and now in the Qur’an. I commend that God to you. Thank you.
DR. CRAIG: You’ll recall that in my first speech I said I was going to defend two basic contentions in tonight’s debate. First of all, that the Christian concept of God is rationally unobjectionable. And I first argued that when you formulate the doctrine of the Trinity properly, then there is no logical contradiction and no rational objection to it. Now, here Shabir raised a number of issues, but I think most of them are red herrings.
He says, for example, there were people living in Arabia at the time of the Qur’an who did hold to these aberrant doctrines that Mohammed rejects. Fine, I’m willing to accept it. The point still remains that when the doctrine of the Trinity is properly formulated, it is not that aberrant doctrine, and therefore there’s no grounds for rejecting it.
He says, But Jesus as God’s Son is a later development in Christian theology. Now, I don’t want to turn this debate tonight into a debate about the deity of Christ. We’re going to be debating about that tomorrow night, in fact. The debate this evening is about the Christian concept of God and the Muslim concept of God and the coherence of those concepts. So, let me simply say that I do think that there are good grounds for believing that Jesus made claims, which if not true, were blasphemous. For example, at his trial, as recorded in Mark 14, verses 60 to 64, we read:
“Then the high priest stood up and asked Jesus, ‘Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?’ ‘I am,’ said Jesus. ‘And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the power and coming on the clouds of heaven.’ The high priest tore his clothes. ‘You have heard his blasphemy, what do you think?’ And they all condemned him as worthy of death.”
The eminent commentator on the book of Mark, Robert Gundry, has listed several reasons for believing that this is an authentic saying of Jesus actually uttered at the trial. And Gundry then asks the question, “What did Jesus say that was blasphemous?” Now, listen to this response. He says, “We may best think that the high priest and the rest of the Sanhedrin judge Jesus to have verbally robbed God of incommensurateness and unity by escalating himself to a superhuman level by portraying himself to sit at God’s right hand and come with the clouds of heaven.” That is exactly the sin of shirk. He robbed God of incommensurateness and unity, the very sins which Muslims claim are unpardonable and blasphemous, so that Jesus—if he was not who he claimed to be—was a blasphemer.
Now, that puts the Muslim in a difficult situation, because the Qur’an says Jesus was a prophet. And therefore, you must believe what he said. But Jesus claimed to be God’s Son, equal to God to sit at his right hand. So if you believe that, you cannot be a Muslim. So, you see, Islam sort of pulls the rug out from under itself. If you believe in Islam, you have to believe what Jesus said, but if you believe what Jesus said, you can’t be a Muslim. So, it’s caught in a vicious circle.
But again, I don’t want to distract the debate to be a debate tonight about the deity of Christ. I want to simply say, let’s assume the Christian doctrine of the Trinity is what it is, and the question is, Is that rational to hold to? And all Shabir actually could say here was that in a triangle, each angle is not a triangle; but according to the doctrine of the Trinity, each person is God.
This is simply based on a misunderstanding, Shabir. The “is” in the statement “Jesus is God” is not an “is” of identity. It’s not like saying “Cicero is Tully,” where those are simply two different names of the same person and the “is” of identity. Rather, this is an “is” of predication. It’s like saying, “The couch is red.” You don’t mean that the couch is a color, you mean that the couch has the property of being red.
Similarly, when it is said, Jesus is God, the Father is God, the Son is God, that is to say that they are all divine; they all share the attributes of deity. This is not an “is” of identity. And unless you understand that, you’re bound to be confused. So, it is simply not the case that according to the classic doctrine of the Trinity that the Godhead as a whole is identical to any one of the persons. It is very much like a triangle, where you have one entity comprised of three angles or one entity comprised of three persons. And if that is the doctrine, then I ask you, “What is rationally objectionable about that?” That is the doctrine I believe, and I see nothing irrational about it.
But secondly, you’ll remember, I gave an argument for the Trinity based upon God’s essential nature of self-giving love. This is an argument inspired by Richard Swinburne, Professor of Philosophy at Oxford University, a Trinitarian. And I’m persuaded this is a very good argument for thinking that God is a plurality of persons, and Shabir has yet to respond to that. The Islamic God then, cannot be self-giving love, because he’s just all wrapped up in himself as a single person. Whereas a Trinity, God is a relation of self-giving love among the three persons of the Godhead. So, once you formulate it, I don’t see anything rationally objectionable to the Christian concept of God.
Now, what about my second contention that the Muslim concept of God is rationally problematic? I suggested here that God, as the greatest conceivable being, must be all-loving, but that the God of the Qur’an is not all-loving. Now, Shabir’s intention here on this, I mean, first he wants to say, This isn’t true, the God of the Qur’an is all-loving, that he does love all people. But that’s simply not what the Qur’an says. In the Qur’an, God’s love is conditional.
Listen to the following Surah: “Say, if you love God, follow me and God will love you and forgive your sins. Obey God and the messenger.” But if they turn their backs, God loves not the unbelievers. And over and over again, the Qur’an teaches that you must merit God’s love by believing correctly and doing righteous deeds. So, his love is conditional, partial, and selective. And Shabir admits this on his website. Remember, this is the way he answers the objection, “How could an all-loving God punish people?” Namely, he doesn’t love them. And that’s why he can punish them.
Now, I agree with Shabir that debates like this can help to provide deeper insights into the concept of God, and as I contemplated Shabir’s response I think I began to see a very deep, deep difference between us that surfaced. And this is related to the objection I raised in our debate over the doctrine of salvation. I argued there that the Islamic doctrine of salvation compromises God’s justice because he just overlooks certain people’s sins without punishment, and our present discussion reinforces this.
Why think that punishment is incompatible with love? Well, Shabir’s answer is, Because if he loved them, then he’d just forgive them. Since he doesn’t forgive them, he must not love them. But I want to know why do you think that God can just forgive sin without payment? And I think the answer is because on the Islamic conception of God, God’s omnipotence trumps his justice. You see, God can do anything he wants, so if he wanted to forgive everybody, he’d just do it. Since he doesn’t do it, he must not want to. Why doesn’t he want to save everyone? The answer: Because he doesn’t love everyone.
But you see, on the Christian view, God’s omnipotence does not imply the ability to act contrary to his own nature. Part of God’s nature is holiness and absolute justice, and to overlook sin would be to contradict his own holy nature. So, his omnipotence doesn’t trump his justice. God must act in conformity with both his perfect justice and his perfect love, and hence God does love even those whom he punishes.
So, the real question, I think, Shabir, tonight, is whose concept of omnipotence is correct? And I want to submit that omnipotence does not imply the ability to act contrary to God’s own nature. Just ask yourself the question, “Could God commit shirk? Could he create an idol and fall down and worship it?” Surely not. Shabir himself said God can’t break his own promises, so that God’s own nature provides the boundaries of his omnipotence. In short, an acceptable account of omnipotence shows that love and punishment are not incompatible. And since the God of the Qur’an does not love sinners, he is therefore not all-loving, and therefore he is not the perfect being. I think that argument is incontestable.
But Shabir then tries a second strategy, what my teenage son would call a “yo mama” defense. That is to say, rather than defend your own view, you just cast dispersions on the other view and say, It’s just as bad as mine. He says, In the Bible it says, ‘God hates evildoers.’ But notice, those statements are found primarily in the poetic books like the Psalms, and everybody knows it is an interpreted principle of literature that you cannot use poetic books as a basis for doctrine. Poetry must always be interpreted in light of the didactic, or the teaching portions, of Scripture.
It is of the nature of poetry to use hyperbole, metaphor, personification—and when you look at the didactic portions of Scripture, what you find is scores of passages that God loves unbelievers, he loves sinners, and that’s why he sent his son. The Bible says that, “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
And it is in light of those passages that we understand the psalmist to mean that yes, God detests the evil that these people do—he detests their behavior, he hates their sin—but he loves them as persons. They are his creatures whom he created to know him, and he loves them as such. So, the issue is not What is our default situation? I can happily agree we’re not born in sin. But we are all sinners, and the question is: Does God love sinners and unbelievers? The Bible says yes. The Qur’an clearly says no. And therefore, he is not all-loving. And therefore, I cannot accept the concept of God to be found in the Qur’an. It seems to me it is morally deficient, and therefore rationally unacceptable.
SHABIR ALLY:Thank you, Dr. Craig, for a very engaging response. Dr. Craig maintains that the Muslim God is morally deficient because we believe that God, or the Qur’an says, that God is not loving or that God does not love everyone. But notice, however, that the Qur’an tells us in a general statement that God is in fact the [Arabic quote]. And that just simply says that “God is forgiving and he is full of loving kindness,” as one translator put it.
Moreover, the Qur’an says [Arabic quote]: Surely, God is tender and loving towards all humankind. That is in the Qur’an in Surah [Arabic quote]. So, these general statements are there, and God’s love has been shown already in the Muslim doctrine by the very fact that he has already created everyone in a default situation where they are automatically saved. It is people who will turn away from that saved position. I think again that Dr. Craig’s difficulty with this is that he thinks that people are automatically created depraved, and somebody needs to save them.
So, looking at it from that angle, Dr. Craig has a different interpretation of what’s happening here. But now, when we look at these passages in the Bible, we see that, in fact, the Bible maintains the similar Muslim position regarding God and how he treats evildoers. The idea that God is love, or that statement itself that God is love, is in 1 John—that’s one of the letters of John that was disputed in the Christian church until it was finally accepted. Notice that it comes towards the end of the Bible, and I would see that emphasis in this letter of John as a later emphasis that came out of the understanding of Jesus’ pathos, of his passion of what he bore in suffering, and that was interpreted as a suffering of a love for humankind.
I am not denying that God is love, but I am saying that that later emphasis is a later emphasis. But when we go back to what the Bible itself says, we see that the Bible maintains a similar Qur’anic stance. Dr. Craig says this is only in the poetic books, like in the Psalms for example. But notice I did not only pull from the poetic books, like the Psalms. I quoted from Leviticus, which is a law book; I quoted from Deuteronomy, another law book; Deuteronomy again; Zachariah; Revelation; Malachi; and Romans. In Romans, in the New Testament, Paul maintains that God loved Jacob, but he hated Esau. God hated Esau—part of the Bible. So, I think it would be unbiblical to try and maintain, for the purpose of this dialogue, that God does not hate evildoers. Dr. Craig thinks, Well, God hates the sin. But notice that these verses are not saying only that God hates the sin, but God hates the sinner. And you recall that, in fact, what will happen in the end is not that God will put the sin into hell, but God will put the sinners into hell.
Now, what about the Christian understanding of God? Dr. Craig says that God is the greatest conceivable being. I think I can agree with that. But notice that actually proves that the Muslim belief is the correct one, because for God to be the greatest conceivable being, and for Jesus to declare that the Father is greater than he is, would indicate to me that Jesus is not God. And Jesus is said to have said that in the gospel of John in chapter 14, verse number 28: “The Father is greater than I.”
But Dr. Craig maintains that God is love, and that would mean that God’s love had to be eternal with God. And he thinks the Muslim God could not have loved because who was there to love before he created anyone else? But the Christian God is rightly love because there were three persons in that one Godhead, and so the three persons could love each other. But notice that in the end, the analysis leads to the same conclusion.
In the Muslim view, if God is to love, he has to love himself. And in the Christian view, for God to love, God has to love himself. Whether he’s loving another person within the same Godhead or whatever, this is the same one God loving God. I don’t see that this actually has solved anything, but as Dr. Craig has pointed out, this is a Christian apologetic that has been developed by some philosophers and Christian scholars to try and find more reasons for believing in the Trinity, which is a very difficult concept.
What about the triangle? If Dr. Craig maintains that “Jesus is God” means simply that God here is an adjective or an attribute—so it’s like saying that Jesus is red—well then, in order to maintain the Trinity doctrine here, we have to now redefine God, from God being a person, to now God being an attribute. It looks like in this case, what we’re doing, is that we’re cutting the foot to fit the shoe. You see, we cannot start by assuming that the Trinity is true and then change everything around to fit the Trinity. We have to look at the Bible carefully and find out, Does it actually teach the Trinity doctrine? And then, if it does teach that, well then, we will have to make other adjustments. But if the Bible does not teach that, we cannot shape the Bible to fit our faith, we have to change our faith to fit the Bible.
So, I think it is mistaken to think of Jesus as God. True, the debate is not about whether or not Jesus is God, it is a question of Who exactly is God? But if Dr. Craig maintains that God is a Trinity, then he is maintaining that Jesus is part of that Trinity, and that naturally we have to find out whether or not Jesus is really part of that Trinity. He thinks I used a red herring by talking about whether or not Jesus is God. But it’s not a red herring because we have to find out whether or not God is made up of three persons, and we have to identify these persons and find out if each one of these persons really is God. And what I have found referring to materials from scholars that Dr. Craig respects, is that the idea that Jesus is God is an idea that developed and evolved over time. It is not the primeval or original faith of Jews, Christians, and Muslims. This is the point I made in my first speech, showing the development from Judaism to Christianity and into Islam, and I’ve indicated that Christianity, by adopting this different belief, has actually gone, in a sense, off that path of flow from Judaism to Islam in our concept of God.
I want to look, now, at the question of God loving people in such a way as to guarantee their salvation. Remember that I said that God created people for his mercy. But he left them free to choose a different path. Now, Dr. Craig agrees that God would punish people, but he thinks that God loves also those whom he punishes. But my question specifically was this: “Does God love those people in the same way that he loves the ones who are close to him?” And my answer to that is that God loves everyone in some basic way, but those who come close to him, he loves even more. And those who turn away from him deserve the condemnation that God speaks about when he says that he hates evildoers.
But Dr. Craig thinks that God must punish the evildoers. And I maintain that God does not have to punish evildoers. He may if he wants, or he may forgive them if he wants. Is forgiveness contrary to justice? No, I don’t think so. If any one of you were to have a speeding ticket, and you went to court and you pleaded your case—you explained your circumstances—and the judge listened to you and said, “Yeah, I understand your circumstances. You were speeding because…” Maybe you were driving your wife to the hospital and she was in her last moments of getting ready for delivery. Somebody has told that lie before. [Audience laughter] And the judge says, “Okay, I understand your circumstances. I believe you. I forgive you, or I would use the fine.” Forgiveness is not contrary to justice. It is within the scope of the judge’s activity to be able to forgive. And by his forgiving, he is still ruling by a just decision.
Injustice, however, could occur if I rob you and if the judge lets me go free. But if that judge is God, and if God can compensate you in such a way that you are happy that you were robbed in the first place, then God can forgive me and God would lose nothing. But in the Islamic conception, we’re told that in order to get forgiveness from God, we must first right our wrongs with other human beings. And in fact, Jesus seems to have thought the same thing, because in the gospels, he’s reported to have said If you have a gift, taking it to the altar, first, don’t place your gift yet, go and make right with your brother, and then come back and offer your gift to the altar.
So I do not see that the Muslim conception of God is at all objectionable in any way, and that on the other hand I see the Christian development of the idea that Jesus is the Son of God and that he’s the second person in the Holy Trinity and that there is a Trinity is a later idea for which we do not find proper sanction in the Bible.
Dr. Craig thinks that Jesus did in fact make a claim which we would consider blasphemy. But not only that we would consider blasphemy, but that the Bible itself in the Old Testament would declare as blasphemy. If indeed that were the case, then Jesus would have died as a blasphemer, and then there would be nobody to resurrect him from the dead, because God would not resurrect a blasphemer from the dead. It is only the Muslim conception that makes sense here in saying that Jesus was a righteous person from beginning to end, he did not commit blasphemy, and God rescued him from the plots of his enemies and raised him to himself. Thank you.
MODERATOR:Thank you, Mr. Ally. We’re moving on now to the third round. Dr. Craig, you have the floor for seven minutes.
DR. CRAIG: Now, let’s look again at those two contentions I said that I would defend. First, that the Christian concept of God is rationally unobjectionable. I think by this point in the debate, it’s pretty clear that Mr. Ally has not been able to sustain any rational objection to the Christian view. First, I argued that the doctrine of three persons in one being is rationally unobjectionable, and all he’s been able to say here is, Well, then you’re redefining God. God becomes an attribute. Not at all. It just means that words can be used in different ways to mean either things or attributes.
For example, if you say X is concrete, that doesn’t mean that concrete is therefore a property rather than a thing, but you may be saying in this case you’re saying it’s a concrete thing, it’s made out of concrete. Or in another case, you can use concrete as a noun. It can be either a noun or an adjective. Similarly, when it is said Jesus is God or The Father is God, these are not identity statements, these are statements of predication affirming that all three persons are divine. So, one God comprised of three persons. That is rationally unobjectionable.
Now, Shabir again tries to divert this into a debate over the deity of Christ, and I want to resist this because that’s not the issue tonight. He did not refute the authenticity of Jesus’ claims at the trial, in which he blasphemed by robbing God of incommensurateness and unity, he in effect committed shirk. But what Shabir says is Well, then he died as a blasphemer. Not at all. His claims are blasphemous only if they are untrue. But if they are true, he is not a blasphemer. And as Muslims, those of you who are Muslims tonight, you must believe what Jesus of Nazareth said, because he was a prophet sent by God. And so, you must believe him when he said that he is the “Son of Man who will come in the clouds of power sitting at the right hand of God.”
Oh, one other example of using a word either as a noun or an adjective, say X is leather. That can be either an adjective or a noun. It doesn’t mean that you turn leather from cowhide into an adjective. So again, I don’t think we’ve seen any refutation of my argument that the doctrine of three persons in one being is incoherent.
Now, what about my plausibility argument for the Trinity based upon God’s nature of self-giving love? Here Shabir’s response is frankly very weak. He says, On your view, God also loves himself. But it’s totally different, because God is composed of three persons. It is not one person self-absorbed in self-love as it is in Islam. Rather, it is a triad of persons each person loving the other—the Father loving the Son, the Son loving the Spirit, the Spirit loving the Father. And so, it’s completely different, and thus God can be a community of loving persons as one being and that is a more plausible doctrine of God than a Unitarian concept which has this self-absorbed deity who doesn’t give himself away in love, and therefore cannot be morally perfect. So I think we’ve got not only a rationally unobjectionable doctrine, we’ve got a doctrine that is quite plausible as well.
Now, let’s contrast the Islamic conception of God as a being whose love is conditional, partial, and selective. Here, Shabir quotes general statements in the Qur’an that God is full of loving kindness. But the question is: What does that mean? What does it cash out to? What that cashes out to is that if you do works of righteousness and if you believe the right thing, then God will assign love to you. Otherwise, he will not love you. And that is crucial to Shabir’s answer to the question, “Why does God punish people if he loves them?” The answer Shabir gives is, He does not love them.
Otherwise, I’ll asked Shabir Ally: Why doesn’t God then just forgive everyone, if he’s so full of loving kindness? Why doesn’t everybody go to heaven if that’s within God’s power? The real issue, I believe tonight between us, is these different concepts of omnipotence—that on the Muslim concept of God, God’s omnipotence trumps his own nature, so that he can act contrary to his justice. But on the Christian view, his own nature provides the boundary channels for his omnipotence. And therefore, God both punishes and loves at the same time, like any loving parent does who finds himself obligated to punish his children whom he loves. Does he love those whom he punishes in the same way that he loves those who are saved? Yes, absolutely. God loves the lost, and that’s why he sent his son to die for them. Every single human being is a person for whom Christ gave his life, and is therefore beloved of God. On the Islamic view, however, God does not love.
Shabir thinks that I’m presupposing that people are born depraved. Not at all, I’m willing to set aside any doctrine of original sin. The Qur’an agrees that all persons are sinful. It says that, If God punished men for his sins, not one creature would be left alive. So we all find ourselves under God’s justice. And the question is, if God is all-loving and his omnipotence trumps his justice, why doesn’t he just forgive everybody? The only answer the Muslim can give is the one Shabir has given: He doesn’t love unbelievers, and that is what the Qur’an says over and over and over again.
He says, Love is a later emphasis in the New Testament. Not at all. I showed that it comes from Jesus himself in the Sermon on the Mount. He says, “Love your enemies, just as God the Father is perfect and loves his enemies.” So, the real issue is this question of omnipotence, I believe.
Now, what about Shabir Ally’s “yo mama” defense, where he says, Well, the Christian God is just as bad. I don’t think the “yo mama” defense is going to work. Why? Because that doesn’t show the Islamic conception of God to be defensible. At most, it would show that both the Christian and the Islamic conception of God is defective, that maybe it’s the Buddhists who are right, and that both the Muslim and Christian concepts are defective. So, that kind of strategy doesn’t work in tonight’s debate.
But what I argue is that there are multitudes of other passages in the Scripture that do affirm God’s love for sinners and unbelievers, and that for every passage you could name that says God hates evildoers, there are 10 that says that he loves them. So, how do you understand this? Well, the way you understand it is that God loves the person but he hates their sin. Now, Shabir says, But he doesn’t punish their sin, he punishes sinners. Well, of course not, because sin doesn’t exist in abstraction apart from sinners. But God loves the sinners, even as he punishes them because he is absolutely holy and just. So, I don’t think this strategy works. I think at the end of the day, the Muslim concept of God is rationally deficient because God is not a morally perfect and all-loving being.
SHABIR ALLY: Thank you again, Dr. Craig. I find this very stimulating, really. [Audience laughter] It makes us think, reflect, and study.
Dr. Craig thinks that I make a “yo mama” defense [indecipherable due to audience laughter]. “You too,” as we say in logic, “tu quoque.” In fact, I haven’t done that. What I have done is I have tried to understand Judaism, Christianity, and Islam together as three religions that share a common heritage and similar ideas. And I’ve tried to find out how similar are these religions, and where exactly are they different, and why are they different? Why is Christianity so different from Judaism and Islam in this particular concept that we’re discussing here, the concept of God?
So, we have the one God of Judaism. We have the one God of Islam. In Christianity we still have one God, but the one God is in three persons. I’m trying to understand that. Dr. Craig says, Well, the Islamic doctrine is defective because Muslims say that God does not love everyone. The Qur’an itself and Shabir Ally on his website said that God does not love the evildoers. I’m just simply pointing out that this, if it is a problem, is a problem that both Christians and Muslims have to explain for themselves and for people who would ask them.
But I do not see it as a problem, either a problem in Islam or Christianity. It’s not that “your mama” has done this. I’m saying that look, here is a trait that is common to Christianity and Islam. I don’t see it as a problem. I think, Dr. Craig, you see it as a problem because you’re looking at the scheme from the other end. You’re looking at the scheme from the end of thinking that people are more depraved. But Dr. Craig says, no, he is willing to set aside the doctrine of original sin. I find this to be very interesting, and I would like Dr. Craig to actually elaborate on that, because it is my understanding that the doctrine of original sin is a doctrine that is being defended here tonight by Dr. Craig. Because if there is no original sin, then what is it that Jesus has really come to die for? This I would like to understand a little bit more, and this is why dialogue is so interesting to me because it helps me to learn. It stimulates my interest to a great degree.
And Dr. Craig thinks that the Sermon on the Mount from Jesus shows that the idea of God being love is not a later development. But notice, that specifically I pointed out that the statement “God is love” is a statement that is found in one of the latest documents to be accepted within the New Testament cannon, only after much dispute concerning it. And so, that to me proves that it was a later development, to put it in that specific way. Now, the Sermon on the Mount is a very beautiful sermon, and I don’t want to say anything that would reflect negatively on that sermon. But you should be aware that the Sermon on the Mount is represented both in Matthew and in Luke. In Luke, it is called the Sermon on the Plain, and this sermon is not represented in the same way. Christian scholars have tried to reconstruct what was the original sermon, and the reconstructed document that they referred to was the Q gospel from which this sermon comes. And it is thought that Matthew and Luke have made their own arrangement—especially Matthew has done this—and their own particular changes to the sermon to bring it to what it is now in this gospel.
So, I don’t think that we can build that much on this statement in Jesus’ sermon to say that this was the original teaching. Now, I do not want to deny that Jesus taught a message of love. I think that that is the message that is both in Judaism and Christianity and also in Islam. And I think that different levels of emphasis have been given to this understanding in the three different religions, over time, perhaps for reasons which we might have a chance to explore. But the idea that Jesus said “Love your enemies” I think to be a later development, and that this came as a result of the way the New Testament books were written.
You have to realize that the New Testament gospels and other books were written by Christians when they were facing heavy persecution, and it was necessary for Christians to represent their faith as being something that nobody should see as a threat, especially the Roman government should not see it as a threat and they should welcome Christians. I think all together we are speaking about the same concept, that God basically loves everybody, but those who turn away from him, he will punish. And Muslims are saying that for God to punish these people, this is a clear sign that God does not love them in the same way that he loves those whom he will bring close to himself.
Now, what about the idea of God as an attribute? The point I made is that here we have a new way of speaking about God. Dr. Craig says, Yeah, there are many different ways about speaking about a word. It can be a person, it can be a thing, it can be an attribute. I’m not denying that words can be used in different ways, but I did say that to speak about God now as an attribute is a new development in particular to defend a Trinity doctrine, which itself is a later invention. So, you cannot fix God now to make him an attribute in order to defend a Trinity which itself is something that people have devised.
Now, the point about Jesus’ claims is that if Jesus really made the claims that Dr. Craig is saying, if he really became a blasphemer according to God’s own law, we cannot assume that God would want to raise him from the dead. And Dr. Craig himself maintains… We cannot assume that Jesus spontaneously came back to life. That would be so improbable that anything else would have been possible. It is better maybe to assume that E.T. came and stole Jesus’ body than to think that Jesus spontaneously rose to life.
The plausible hypothesis Dr. Craig would put forward is that God raised Jesus to life. But, if Jesus died as a blasphemer without first assuming the truth of the resurrection, we would have no rational grounds for believing that God would want to raise Jesus back to life, and we would be left with a Messiah who died as a blasphemer. I don’t believe that is the Messiah. I believe that Jesus was true and righteous from the beginning to end, he did not make blasphemous claims.
Now, I still maintain that in the Christian view, no matter how you look at it, it is still God loving himself. Whether he’s a singularity or a plurality, you’re just maintaining here that God is love and he has to have somebody else to love, that’s why we have the Trinity. But that’s not why we have the Trinity. The Trinity evolved for various other reasons, and now this argument is advanced in defense of that Trinity. I think it is a weak argument and it has not taken away from the Jewish and Christian God. Thank you.
DR. CRAIG: Well I’ve enjoyed tremendously the interaction tonight, and I hope that you found it profitable and stimulating as well. Let me try to draw together some of the threads of this debate to see if we can come to some conclusions.
First, is the Christian concept of God as a Trinity rationally objectionable or not? I think it’s become pretty clear in the debate that there isn’t any rational objection to this doctrine once it’s properly formulated. I argued that there’s nothing inconsistent about saying there are three persons in one being; and in his last speech, all Shabir said was Well, why would God want to raise Jesus if he were a blasphemer? Well, because he wasn’t a blasphemer. Because he was telling the truth. He was, in fact, God’s Son. And therefore, he did not die as a blasphemer. The Jews were wrong in crucifying him. But no inconsistency has been shown in the doctrine that there are three persons that comprise one being.
What about my plausibility argument for the Trinity based on God’s nature of self-giving love? Here again, Shabir simply reiterated his point that God is loving himself on either view. But I think you can see if you’ve been listening that that’s not true, because with a plurality of persons there are other persons to whom each person gives his love, whereas on the Islamic view there is a single person who just loves himself and is self-absorbed.
Shabir says, Well, to speak of God as an attribute is a new development. Not at all. This is simply a linguistic way of using words. To say that Jesus is God is not an identity statement, it’s just to say Jesus is divine, that he has the attributes of divinity. I think that’s unproblematic. So, I think we’ve got a good argument for thinking God is a Trinity. We’ve seen no rational objections to it.
Now, is the Muslim concept of God rationally objectionable or not? I’ve argued that it is because on the Muslim conception of God, God’s love is conditional, partial, and selective. Now, Shabir thinks that my argument presupposes that people are born in original sin and that if you deny that then you have to say, What did Christ come to die for? Well, it’s not presupposed in original sin. I’m not endorsing that at all tonight. What Christ died for were our actual sins, the sins that we actually commit. That’s what he came to die for. And the point is that God loves the world so much that he gave his son to win us back to himself.
Shabir says, Well, the Sermon on the Mount is a late development. Not at all. He admits it’s part of the Q document, and the command to love your enemies as the Heavenly Father does is part of both the Lukan version and the Matthean version, so that there’s no doubt that Jesus of Nazareth taught this about God. Now, the question that Shabir’s got to face is: If God can simply forgive everybody, and if he is all-loving, then why doesn’t he do it? Why does he send all these people to hell if he could just forgive them? If his omnipotence trumps his justice, then why doesn’t he do it? And Shabir’s answer on the website is, Because he doesn’t love everybody. You’ve got to earn his love. And I submit to you that that is a morally defective concept of God.
On the Christian view, omnipotence does not entail the ability to act contrary to God’s own nature, and therefore he cannot contradict his own justice and holiness. So, the real debate on this, I think, is about omnipotence, about the concept of omnipotence you hold. And I argue the Christian concept of omnipotence is better because surely God cannot act contrary to his own nature—commit shirk, for example.
What about the “yo mama” defense? Well, he said this is a common problem to both views in his last speech. But notice to show it’s a common problem, even if successful, doesn’t show the Islamic conception is acceptable. It would only show that both of our conceptions are unacceptable. This is the difference between Christianity and Islam in this regard. The Qur’an never affirms that God loves unbelievers or sinners. It explicitly and repeatedly affirms that he does not love them. In the Bible, there are five or six passages, mainly in the poetic books, that says God hates evildoers because of their sin. But the rest of the Bible is filled with scores and scores of passages about how much God loves sinners and unbelievers. And therefore, you interpret the difficult passages in light of the clear, didactic portions of Scripture. And I don’t think this is a problem for Christianity.
Now, you can prove this to yourself in one way. Many of you have perhaps already read the Qur’an, but perhaps many of you have not read the New Testament. And at the end of this debate they’re going to be giving away New Testaments out in the lobby. I want to challenge you: If you’re an open-minded seeker after God, pick up one of those New Testaments and begin to read it. Look at what Jesus taught and what he said, and I believe that it can actually change your life in the same way that it changed mine. Thank you.
SHABIR ALLY: Thank you again, Dr. Craig. Now, Dr. Craig clarifies that Jesus died for our actual sin. So, what he died for was not an original sin. I was at first puzzled by Dr. Craig’s lack of interest in affirming the original sin, because I understood from my Christian friends that the original sin was such a major problem that it needed to be fixed by Jesus dying for that original sin. If we reduce the problem to just a problem of actual human sin, then again I don’t see that we do have a problem that requires for Jesus to die for us. I would see that what Jesus taught is more appropriate to this question.
Dr. Craig previously referred to Jesus’ parables of the prodigal son, for example. In Luke chapter 15, Jesus tells the story of the son who went away disobedient to his father. But eventually, when he changed his mind and decided to return to his father, when the father saw him in the horizon coming, he was overjoyed and he said, Slaughter a fatted calf for a banquet. Get a ring and put it on his finger. Put a robe around him. The son who had been with him all this while serving him said, Dad, I have been with you all this time but you never threw a party for me. And he said, Son, you do not understand. That son of mine who was lost, today is found.
And Jesus explained that when a sinner, repentant, returns to God, there is more rejoicing in heaven than if there are 99 righteous persons who do not need to repent. I think that shows really that our actual sin is not a problem, and the Islamic view that we can turn back to God repentant is the original view that was there in Judaism, that was there in the teachings of Jesus, and survives in Islam.
Now back to the “yo mama” defense. [Audience laughter] You’ll recall specifically that I did not say that it is a common problem. I think Dr. Craig has not heard me correctly. I said, “If you say it is a problem, then it is a common one.” But I repeated that I do not see this as a problem. I see this as a proper and correct teaching that is repeated in so many books in the Bible. Dr. Craig at first had said it is only in the Psalms. Actually, it’s interesting that in last night’s debate, Dr. Craig did not initially show interest in the Psalm that I quoted – the first reference – and then in tonight’s debate after I gave several other references he maintained that it is only in the Psalms, missing the fact that I gave references to the law books as well.
So, I think as we dialogue and we understand each other, we may actually be able to inform each other a little bit better. So yes, there is a verse in the Bible that says that “God hates evildoers.” It doesn’t just simply say God hates the sin, it says God hates the sinners. And yes, it’s not only in the poetic books, it’s in several other books in the Bible. So, I do not see any difficulty with the Muslim conception of God, but I see the Muslim conception of God easy to understand.
On the other hand, the Trinity is a very difficult problem to understand. How could God be one and three at the same time? I do not believe that has been adequately explained tonight. We have to have something in our minds that are three of the same thing, and yet one of the same thing. And I don’t think it is possible to conceive of such a being. And Dr. Craig said that God is the greatest conceivable being, and we’ve already seen that Jesus said, “The Father is greater than I,” which means that Jesus is not that greatest conceivable being.
Now, Dr. Craig thinks that Jesus did not die as a blasphemer. But in his apologetic for the resurrection, Dr. Craig makes the claim—as other apologists do—that in fact, you cannot start by assuming Jesus resurrected from the dead; you have to find out if he did resurrect from the dead without assuming it first. Now, you cannot assume that God would raise him from the dead, because that’s just assuming the thing you’re trying to prove.
Now, the most you can assume here is, given the records, Jesus died as a blasphemer if we take these words that Dr. Craig quotes about Jesus to be true. And now, if he died as a blasphemer, we must conclude that there is no reason for God to raise a blasphemer to life, and thus to vindicate his claims to show that his blasphemy was correct and God’s law would be wrong. So hence, we would still be left on that view with a misunderstood Messiah.
The proper view of the Messiah is that he was not a blasphemer, he was a righteous person. He didn’t claim to be the Son of God or second person of the Holy Trinity, but that he maintained that God is one as in Deuteronomy and as in Islam. And the idea of the one God loving himself, whether he’s in three persons or not—you’re still back to the same thing that no matter how you look at it, you’re still saying in Christianity that God loves himself. There’s no reason to maintain this except for the purpose of maintaining belief in the Trinity. But I call you to believe in the one God of Judaism, of original Christianity, and of Islam. Thank you.
 Total Running Time: 1:31:47 (Copyright © 2016 William Lane Craig)