Friday, February 15, 2008

James White’s recent attacks on Islam


James White, during the last few months, has spent a considerable amount of time attacking Islam, and in particular, the Qur’an, in radio broadasts and via “YouTube” videos. This recent barrage follows on the heels of James’ debate with the Muslim apologist Shabir Ally in October, 2007 (which was preceded by another debate by the two in May, 2006.) Much of James’ polemic centers around the textual integrity of the NT and Qur’an; but an interesting ‘rabbit-trail’ is embedded within the greater context of his ongoing ‘discourse’ with Islam. This ‘rabbit-trail’ is capsulized in the following radio broadcast excerpt:

“…Muhammad did not understand what the doctrine of the Trinity was. I think there is pretty good evidence that he understood Christians to worship uh, Allah, Jesus and Mary. In fact there is a text in the Qur’an [5.116, 117] where, where, Allah asks Jesus did you ever command me to worship yourself and Mary as gods in derogation of Allah; and, uh, of course, Jesus you know, said, no, certainly I never commanded anything like that; well there wasn’t anyone running around worshipping God, Jesus and Mary as a Trinity at that time…” (The “Iron Sharpens Iron” radio program, 11-06-07 - http://sharpens.blogspot.com/search/label/James%20White - 38:00 min. ff.)

This ‘rabbit-trail’ is repeated at:

“YouTube” video (“Surah 5 and the Real Jesus” – 02-07-08):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WRV0AIoR1kM

And again:

The “Dividing Line” radio broadcast (02/07/08):

http://www.aomin.org/aoblog/index.php?itemid=2513 - 42:00 min ff.

There are two significant problems with this ‘rabbit-trail’, the first being that there were Christians (heretical) “running around worshipping God, Jesus and Mary as a Trinity at that time”—the heretical sect know as the Collyridians. For a brief introduction to this sect:

http://campus.udayton.edu/mary//questions/yq2/yq315.html

[See also: The Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamis – Books II & III, trans. by Frank Williams, 1994, pp. 618, 620-629.]

The second problem is that many Islamic scholars do not believe the Qur’an is addressing the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity in passages usually invoked by Christian and Muslim polemicists (e.g. Surah 5.116, 117). Note the following:

Hasty interpretation, without judicious weighing of the evidence, persuaded Muslim exegetes that the Koran condemns the doctrines of the Incarnation and the Trinity. Christian apologists fell into this same snare…But those texts condemned a “tritheism” that has nothing to do with the formulation of the dogma of the Trinity. The same is true of the Koran’s supposed condemnation of the Incarnation. It condemns not the doctrine of Chalcedon, but Monophysite and Nestorian formulations of the doctrine. (Giulio Basetti-Sani , The Koran in the Light of Christ: A Christian Interpretation of the Sacred Book of Islam, p. 136.)

It has often been thought that the Qur’an denies the Christian teaching of the Trinity, and commentators have taken its words to be a rejection of orthodox Christian doctrine. However, it seems more likely that it is heretical doctrines that are denied in the Qur’an, and orthodox Christians should agree with most of the statements. (Geoffrey Parrinder, Jesus in the Qur’an, p. 133.)

The fourth-century Christian heresiologist Epipahius mentions the Andtideco-Marianites who worshipped Mary as a goddess. It is possibly they who are envisaged in the Qur’anic insinuation that Christians deifed both Jesus and this mother. (Neal Robinson, Christ In Islam and Christianity, p. 21.)

What Christians mean by “God in Christ” is not adoptionism. This, as earlier noted, was a misreading which early Christianity itself resisted and rejected. But is a way of thinking which, in rebuking Christians, the Qur’an itself has frequently in view. Its rejection of Christology is in fact a rejection of adoptionism which Christians also repudiate. (Kenneth Cragg, Jesus and the Muslim, p. 203.)

…there are considerable differences between the Qur’an and the New Testament. It should be noted, however, that so far as the actual statements of the Qur’an are concerned, the differences are not so great as they are sometimes supposed to be. Modern scholars, Christian and Muslim, tend to read later controversies into the wording of the Qur’an. Thus the rejection of the doctrine that ‘God is one of the three’ [5.73/7] is usually taken to be a denial of the Christian doctrine of the Trinity; yet strictly speaking what is rejected is a doctrine of tritheism which orthodox Christianity also rejects. Similarly the rejection of the fatherhood of God the Father and the sonship of God the Son is strictly speaking a rejection of fatherhood and sonship in a physical sense; and this Christianity would also reject. (Watt and Bell, Introduction To The Qur’an, p. 158.)

I do not know exactly how long James has been involved in Islamic studies (he mentions a debate with a Muslim apologist back in 1999), but I have had a keen interest in this field since the mid-90s, adding well over 500 books on Islam to my ever-expanding library, and must admit that I am at a bit of a loss trying to figure out why someone who has spent at least 8 years in the field would use such a weak, shallow argument—an argument which is, at least in part, based on a falsehood if one accepts the testimony of Epiphanius.

But then, as readers of this blog already know, James has used faulty arguments before…


Grace and peace,

David

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hi Dave,

I have read the Koran twice and Basetti-Sani's book that you cited. Unfortunately, it was a library book and I don't have it now. However, my recollection is that he thought that the problem with the Koran was that it was often misinterpreted by Moslems. It seems kind of ironic when one considers that the Moslems think the problem with the Christian Scriptures are the misinterpretation (and corrupted texts) of the Christians.

The reason why we need judges (interpreters) for all important law texts is that however carefully written by canon or secular lawyers, disputes over the meaning inevitably arise. How much more would this be the case when we are dealing with texts written over a series of years by a shepherd. Even if we grant that a text is inspired by God, if Protestants don't acknowledge it, Catholics are familiar with the difficulty, apart from an authoritative interpreter, of proposing definitive meanings of controversial texts.

I do not have a problem with allowing the Catholic Church to interpret the text of the Koran. But I doubt if the Catholic Church can approach the text as a Moslem would, with a presumption of inerrancy due to divine direction of the human author. Do you believe in the possibility that the Koran can be inspired of God in the same way as the Christian canon as Basetti-Sani seemed to wonder?

One of my problems with such a degree of openness to the inspiration of the Koran would spring from your own analysis. If I understand correctly, you would understand any negative proclamations and polemics to be directed not against "Christian Orthodoxy", but against obscure sects in Mohammed's vicinity.

This would also raise a problem I have with the Book of Mormon. It's apparent lack of familiarity with "Christian Orthodoxy". When Mohammed questions the possible divinity of Christ, on the basis of the fact that the Gospel records Him to have eaten food, it displays a glaring inadequacy of knowledge about the teaching of two natures in Christ that seems difficult to reconcile with divine inspiration.

The Book of Mormon similarly misunderstands the doctrine of those who believe in original sin and practice infant baptism. If the divine author understood the best way of understanding the Catholic doctrine of original sin and its practice of pedobaptism, it wasn't communicated into the books that Joseph Smith claimed to have translated.

Both Joseph Smith and Mohammed felt that they had revelations from God in their respective texts. In my opinion, they do the same thing of which you accuse James White. They use arguments based on a misunderstanding of Catholic teaching. In James' case, he represents what a probable majority of Moslems believe about the Koran and Christianity.

In the case of Mohammed, so as with Joseph Smith, they had little if any exposure to the Catholic Church and their writings reflect that. It as though the largest group of Christians during both of their lifetimes can be assumed to be unworthy of consideration in the sweepstakes for the one true church, if they can find Christian heretics whose false beliefs are more easily dismissed.

In closing, I do take your point that James fails to consider how Moslem minorities would understand the Koran and Christian texts. In polemics I always believe in, even if I forget to practice it, the principle of presenting your opponets beliefs and arguments in its best light. I agree that James White fails to do this. He may be more culpable than Joseph Smith and Mohammed, having more information at hand. But at least he isn't claiming to be presenting new revelations from God to the world.

Christianity springs forth from and fulfills the heart of its predecessor, the Jewish faith with Levite priests and the chair of Moses. In my opinion, no one can ly say the Apostles or Christ were ignorant of the best arguments the Jews could offer for rejecting the New Covenant. If either the Koran or Book of Mormon are true, their respective religions spring forth from religious backwaters like upstate New York and the Arabian desert. Furthermore, the adherents to these would be successors to Orthodox Christianity are comfortably left woefully in the dark in regards to the teachings they claim to be replacing.

Roars

Anonymous said...

Upon review, I think I need to clarify some statements.

I said:
Both Joseph Smith and Mohammed felt that they had revelations from God in their respective texts. In my opinion, they do the same thing of which you accuse James White. They use arguments based on a misunderstanding of Catholic teaching. In James' case, he represents what a probable majority of Moslems believe about the Koran and Christianity.

Clarification:
When I say that Joseph Smith and Mohammed did the same things as James White, I was referring to making presentations of opposing views that do not take into consideration the best arguments that their opponent has. Both Mormons and Moslems have been left thinking that all of Christianity is easily dismissed. A Catholic wonders why God needed to appear to Mohammed to dismiss a here today gone tomorrow sect like Collyridianism. As with the Mormons, most Moslems don't see much need to follow up on their founder's dismissal of contemporary Christianity as presented in their holy books. The Catholic Church easily ends up in their minds being lumped together with nutballs of the mountain or desert.

I wasn't attempting to say that James White, in addressing Islam, needs to take Catholic teaching into account although it sounds like it. I was trying to say that just as the Mormons and Moslems fail to take into account the Catholic arguments that are best, James fails to take into account minority Moslem texts which are probably the best. However, they are minority views within Islam and at least he takes on the largest opponent. In the case of Smith and Mohammed, in taking on their respective sects, they ignore the majority as well as the best arguments. I hope that clears up any possible misconception.

I also said:
In my opinion, no one can ly say the Apostles or Christ were ignorant of the best arguments the Jews could offer for rejecting the New Covenant.

Clarification:
I meant to say "...no one can reasonably say..." It seems significant to me that the New Testament religion that replaced Old Testament Judaism arguably stemmed from Judaism and had its home in Judaism. On the other hand, the so-called restorations come from places and experiences far far removed from the centers of Christianity.

Jesus' parents found Him in the Temple when He was 12 after they went up to Jerusalem for the Passover. He called the place His Father's House. Jesus' Apostles were all very familiar with Jewish teaching and practised it. St. Paul was a respected Jewish theologian before he even heard of Christ.

What familiarity do Joseph Smith and Mohammed seem to have with Christianity? Far from ever having gone through baptism, first holy communion, and confirmation as Luther did, they don't seem to have the slightest notion regarding the distinctives of what was then and remains by far the biggest and most influential Christian institution in the world. If they argue against Methodists and Collyridians, so do Catholics! But why should that mean that they get to replace us? Should a Catholic seriously consider that God appeared unto them in the outbacks to talk to them about the errors of something so insignificant while virtually ignoring Catholic answers to the problems they see? That is not how Christianity replaced Judaism.

Rory

Rhology said...

Um, it sounds to me like Dr White agrees with YOU. Do you think he's trying to say that orthodox Christianity believed in Father-Son-Mary Trinity at the time?

I never took that to be the case and I think quite a lot of his other statements would contraindicate that. Rather he's saying that Muhammad's (condemnation be upon him) CONTACT with Christianity had been of the jacked-up kind.

And what does this have to do with the Godhood of Mary as regards today's Mariolaters?

David Waltz said...

Hi Rhology,

Nice to see you over at AR; thanks for responding. You posted:

>>Um, it sounds to me like Dr White agrees with YOU. Do you think he's trying to say that orthodox Christianity believed in Father-Son-Mary Trinity at the time?>>

Me: Here is exactly what “Dr.” White said: “well there wasn’t anyone running around worshipping God, Jesus and Mary as a Trinity at that time…”

My point is that there was, and that the Qur’an may very well have been addressing Christian heresies (as do so many other Christian Islamic scholars, some of whom I quoted in my opening post), and not some skewed conception of orthodoxy.

>>And what does this have to do with the Godhood of Mary as regards today's Mariolaters?>>

Me: Just pointing out that the elevation of Mary to the status of Godhood is nothing new.


Grace and peace,

David

Rhology said...

Heresy *IS* a "skewed conception of orthodoxy". That's what I don't get about this post. You agree with Dr White but you just can't bring yourself apparently to say sthg nice about him.
And the putting of "Dr" in quotes is very cute. I guess one shouldn't expect respectability and politeness in too many blogs. It's becoming a lost art.

David Waltz said...

Hello again Rhology,

It seems to me you are trying to make this discussion personal, but I would like to ask that you refrain from doing so, for such tactics are pretty much a waste of time. Let us try to stick to the facts.

First, did James (BTW I put “Dr.” in quotes because neither of James’ doctorates are accredited; it is not personal, but rather the fact of the matter) say: “well there wasn’t anyone running around worshipping God, Jesus and Mary as a Trinity at that time…”?

Yes or no? Either he did, or he did not. You can listen to the radio program for yourself…

Second, did early Church Fathers say that there were people “running around worshipping God, Jesus and Mary as a Trinity at that time”?

Yes or no? (You can check this online for yourself).

IMHO asking me if I agree with James as to whether or not heresy is a skewed conception orthodoxy is a pure waste of time (and for the record, yes, of course I agree with him on this), FOR THAT IS NOT THE ISSUE!!!

I have three times now outlined what the issue is—let us try and stick to that for now—OK?

Do you seriously think I should condone views that have no historical credibility, and side with James and cry out with him that “well there wasn’t anyone running around worshipping God, Jesus and Mary as a Trinity at that time”, when I know that there were some you did? Is that the type of “reason”, “respectability” and “politeness” you want really want bloggers to embrace?


Grace and peace,

David

David Waltz said...

Some interesting dialogue concerning Mary worship and Collyridianism is taking place over at the Beggar’s All blog

Rhology said...

You, sir, are the one who have made the issue personal with your "Dr" comments. Have fun with that. The irony of writing that while critiquing an alleged rabbit-trail is striking.


OK, let's look at it from a different angle.
For one thing, it doesn't do you as an RC any good to call lots of attention to the fact that there were people worshiping Mary in earlier times, for more than one reason, but the primary of which might be that it speaks against the Vincentian Canon...
And to me what you're bringing up doesn't seem to be a major point.
Didn't the Muslim on that video himself cite that psg in the Quran in his chant?

On the DL broadcast you referenced, at minute 44, Dr White said:

Knowing that we can determine without a question the state of the NT text 300 years before the time of Muhammad, and we know exactly what it looked like when Muhammad would have said Surah 5:47, when I judge by what's revealed therein, I find that Muh did not understand what was revealed in the Injil, in the Gospel. How am I supposed to believe that this is the final word from God?

He goes on and clarifies further his whole point near minute 45:

That's where you have Allah asking Jesus if he ever taught anyone to worship himself and his mother as gods in derogation of Allah. And that is obviously not what Christians have ever believed, and if that's what Muh thought the Trinity was, well, then it's pretty obvious that Muh, uh, was not a prophet, because, um, that's not what Christians believe.

Maybe you could call in to a DL and ask him to clarify. Don't have to identify yourself as the guy who refers to him in a rude and disrespectful manner on the Internet.

Peace,
Rhology

David Waltz said...

Hello Rhology,

You posted:

>>You, sir, are the one who have made the issue personal with your "Dr" comments. Have fun with that. The irony of writing that while critiquing an alleged rabbit-trail is striking.>>

Me: Sigh, I do not think I am making the issue personal by putting “Dr.” in quotation marks; as you probably know (though many readers may not) James White’s two doctorates are non-accredited, which means they are not recognized by any legitimate higher institute of learning. Read through my opening post, and you will see that I did not invoke any Dr. or “Dr.” status when referring to James White; it was only when you introduced the title that I did so. Once again, IHMO that is not personal, it is just setting the record straight.


>>OK, let's look at it from a different angle.
For one thing, it doesn't do you as an RC any good to call lots of attention to the fact that there were people worshiping Mary in earlier times, for more than one reason, but the primary of which might be that it speaks against the Vincentian Canon...
And to me what you're bringing up doesn't seem to be a major point.
Didn't the Muslim on that video himself cite that psg in the Quran in his chant?>>

Me: You raise a very good issue here, it truly does not do me, or any other Catholic, “any good” to bring attention the Collyridians; as such, I think two important points can be made: first, what Gene referred to as “scant” evidence (over at BA) may be due to Catholic writers succumbing to the temptation to keep the info on the sect as quiet as possible; and second, I am willing to put my Catholicism aside and try to be as objective as possible when dealing with the raw data.

>>On the DL broadcast you referenced, at minute 44, Dr White said:

Knowing that we can determine without a question the state of the NT text 300 years before the time of Muhammad, and we know exactly what it looked like when Muhammad would have said Surah 5:47, when I judge by what's revealed therein, I find that Muh did not understand what was revealed in the Injil, in the Gospel. How am I supposed to believe that this is the final word from God?

He goes on and clarifies further his whole point near minute 45:

That's where you have Allah asking Jesus if he ever taught anyone to worship himself and his mother as gods in derogation of Allah. And that is obviously not what Christians have ever believed, and if that's what Muh thought the Trinity was, well, then it's pretty obvious that Muh, uh, was not a prophet, because, um, that's not what Christians believe.>>

Me: Ask yourself this one question: could the Qur’an have been referring to certain teachings of heretical Christians? (I, and the Islamic scholars I have been citing think so.)

>>Maybe you could call in to a DL and ask him to clarify. Don't have to identify yourself as the guy who refers to him in a rude and disrespectful manner on the Internet.>>

Arrgh, and I wasn’t going to say anymore on this…IMHO I was not “rude” or “disrespectful” for putting “Dr.” in quotation marks. I don’t care who the person may be (Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, etc.), non-accredited doctorates just aren’t going to construed into something they are not on this blog.


As for the DL, I just don’t have any interest in calling the program—please don’t read to much into this—my personal preference is for the written over the verbal, hence my passion for books. Perhaps someone with more of an interest in the verbal can place the call; or better yet, perhaps James could respond in written form.


Grace and peace,

David

Rhology said...

OK. Tired of talking about the "Dr" thing. I'm impressed enough with The Forgotten Trinity as doctoral dissertation that what you say on the matter doesn't...matter much.
Maybe I'll call the DL myself and ask the question. I won't tell him that you brought it up, lest I poison the well in your mind. But I leave the possibility open that it could be a misstatement on his part or that he's wrong.