From Abdul Saleeb <>
Newsgroups: soc.religion.islam
Subject: Re: Geisler-Saleeb Anti-Islam Book Part 1 (2/3)
Date: Sun Sep 15 01:38:47 EDT 1996
Message-Id: <51g4p7$>

Jeremiah brings up the issue of God's essence in Islam in several 
places in his responses.  I will deal with the issues in part 3/3 
where we discuss the issue of agnosticism. But a few brief comments...

>Geisler sees a "basic philosophical problem" with Islamic monotheism
>in that "in the final analysis... God had no (knowable) essence or
>nature from which one can distinguish his three persons (centers of
>consciousness)." An extremely odd sentence in that Christianity also
>says this. To my recollection, in Christian theology-- going back at
>least to Augustine or Aquinas, if not further to the Desert Fathers--
>the concept of the "Godhead"-- the unknowable, completely
>Transcendent nature of God-- has been discussed and fully accepted.
>Hasn't Geisler read the classics? Hasn't he read John of the Cross's
>"Dark Night of the Soul"? The Anonymous monk's "Cloud of Unknowing"?
>Hasn't he ever studied the Christian idea of the via negativa? One
>has to laugh! He doesn't even seem to know his own tradition.

Jeremiah, we all know that there are and have been many currents 
in Christian theology (like any other religion), but mainstream 
Christian faith does not state that God is "the unknowable, 
completely Transcendent."  Your recollection is not accurate, 
at least not about Augustine and Aquinas. Yes, I would grant 
that you hear more of this lingo in Eastern Orthodox tradition.  
Also in the West, we had Karl Barth, who was the proponent of the 
idea that God is "Wholly Other."  But the heart of the biblical 
faith, which is the Incarnation of God in Jesus Christ, runs 
against any such notion.  As we read in John 1:18, "No one has 
ever seen God, but God the only Son, who is at the Father's side, 
has made him known." Thus in Christian theology we not only affirm 
God's transcendence but also his immanence.  If you say God is 
COMPLETELY transcendent, then you will run into the form of 
agnosticism that we will talk about later.

>He continues with a positive statement about God-- supposedly held by
>us-- with no support whatsoever: "God is absolute Will". He will
>continue to attribute this to the Muslim understanding of God. Of
>course, there is no Qur'anic basis for this, and no Muslim would say

(more on the support of this statement later...)

>He writes that we believe God to be One from both revelation and
>reason. Wrong. We know it from revelation alone. Reason cannot
>penetrate God. 

Jeremiah,  I see the Qur'an as being so incredibly rich in natural 
theology that I think you impoverish it by such a bizarre and 
un-Qur'anic statement (is it not ironic that I find myself defending 
something in the Qur'an which you deny?!!!).  As Mohammed Abou Ridah 
points out in his "Monotheism in Islam: Interpretations and Social 
Manifestations": The Qur'an notes that there are signs (ayat) for 
those who use their reason, who reflect and understand, to those 
endowed with mental and reasoning faculties, who hear, who have eyes, 
who know, believe and are convinced.  Thus, all the basis and 
intellectual capacities of human beings are appealed to as starting 
points in our knowledge of God.

I suspect that in addition to our faith, we also have deep differences 
in our philosophical outlook which are to a great extent independent 
from our "Holy Books."  From Jochen Katz challenge to you on this 
statement and your response (which in my opinion completely misses 
the point), you seem to be a fideist of the strongest kind.  God knows 
how many years I have spent arguing againt Christian fideists, 
(followers of Cornelius Van Til and the such), and so I have no 
intention of starting it all over again with a Muslim fideist.

>And then who does he use to support his arguments? He says that we
>Muslims agree with Polotinus and the neo-Platonists! Do I really need
>to spell out the problems with *that*???? I should hope not! 

Geisler sees a great deal of influence from Plotinus on historical 
Islamic theology.  The writings of Plotinus had a great deal of 
impact also on Christian theology (on no less a figure than 
St. Augustine).  So I don't think we need to be all bent out of 
shape about it, Jeremiah.  Now I think that this issue of the 
influence of Plotinus on Islamic theology needs to be explored 
much more in academic circles.  I really believe that though 
Geisler is no specialist in Islam he has done some fresh pioneering 
work in this chapter concerning this issue.  Let me give two examples.  
After this chapter was already written, I ran across the book by Sir 
Norman Anderson titled "Islam in the Modern World."  Anderson was a 
Christian, but he was also a scholar on Islamic law and jurisprudence 
and a professor in that field at the University of London.  In that 
book he also mentioned that more scholarly explorations need to be 
made about the influence of Plotinus on Islamic thought.  A year or 
so later I also saw a book by the late prolific Iranian Muslim scholar, 
Ahmad Kasravi, on Sufism.  He starts the very first page of the book 
by talking about the influence of Plotinus on Sufism.  So even though 
Geisler did not know any thing about these other writers' work, he 
detected similar influences. Once again, just because an issue seems 
irrelevant to Jeremiah, it does not mean it is irrelevant for all 
people!  A little knowledge is a dangerous thing Jeremiah, but any 
amount of humility is better than nothing!

>No Mr.
>Geisler, our dabbling with Hellenistic philosophy during the Middle
>Ages was a gaseous burp in our collective historical encounter with
>the Qur'an.

Just let me say once again, any Muslim reader who also believes the 
height of Islamic intellectual history and people like Ibn Rush and 
Ibn Sina were a gaseous burp better not boast about the glorious past 
achievements of the Islamic mind! What a travesty Jeremiah!  Why do 
you hate philosophy so much?

> Geisler himself is a neo-Platonist
>or neo-Thomist as shown by his outdated talk of "essence"-- such a
>Platonic (actually probably more Aristotelian) philosophical concern
>has been questioned as to its validity at least since Kant, and
>perhaps even earlier, but my history of philosophy is very rusty.

Suffice it to say that anyone who is not sure about the difference 
between a neo-Platonist and a neo-Thomist is more than just rusty 
about history of philosophy! But for anyone interested, Geisler is 
a Thomist and his book "Thomas Aquinas: An Evangelical Appraisal" is 
a good introduction to this topic.

Also for those serious people among you and the *real* academics 
who want to explore more the "outdated talk of essence" (i.e. 
those interested in truth and not fashion) I would recommend, 
Alvin Plantinga's writing on the issue of whether God has a nature. 
Plantinga is the head of the philosophy Dept. at the Univ. of Notre 
Dame and a world-class academic and a Christian philosopher.

>(It gets into this dynamic: We have to talk about God, and yet God,
>by definition, cannot be contained in our language-God is wholly
>Transcendent to anything in human experience. Yet, there must still
>be some correlation between what we say about God and the reality of
>God for our theology to have any real meaning. Of course, there is a
>strong strain in philosophy, i.e. the positivists, that argues
>precisely that all talk about God is in fact meaningless. These
>issues are intimately related to the understanding of God's
>self-revelation itself. What is revelation? What is its relation to
>human knowledge? etc. Geisler never raises the issue of
>Christian/Muslim theology of revelation, which he should have done to
>be legit and provide at least a semblance of validity to his
>refutation of Islam.)

I had a prof. in seminary who used to say, "You can't say everything 
when you say anything, otherwise you'll end up saying nothing."  No 
book is exhaustive.  Geisler has thoroughly treated this issue in 
his book "Philosophy of Religion" and his chapters on Religious 
Language. As more people in the newsgroup get involved in this issue, 
(Jochen has told me he has put a posting on this topic), the issue 
of how our langugage can be meaningful in referring to God, I highly 
recommend all parties to read Geisler's treatment. Very briefly stated, 
words can be used either in a univocal, equivocal or analogous manner.   
It is the validity of the use of analogous language that all theistic 
believers should affirm, otherwise we'll either end up in agnosticism 
or we think we can know God exhaustively. O.K. enough of this "outdated" 

>In addition, he uses talk of "essence" with a steamroller technique.
>This philosophical topic is complicated, to say the least, but he
>spews it out in such a manner that most people will see it only as
>gobbledy-gook. Lots of complicated issues crammed into a few

Sorry if it went over your head. But again, what was gobbley-gook to
Jeremiah, was helpful for many other people.  Let me also say, that 
I have heard some Christains criticize us for the "dryness" of this 
approach. It just shows that we are all different and different things 
make us tick.  But yes, I agree that to the average Muslim or Christian 
on the street this chapter was very complicated.  But again, I think 
every now and then you should challenge people to hard thinking.

Continue with the next part, Part 1 (3/3), of Abdul's response to Jeremiah's book critique.

Overview on the debate between Jeremiah and Abdul
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