Tag Archives: Shabir Ally

Are all religions basically the same?

Lets take a closer look at a puzzle
Lets take a closer look at a puzzle

So, everyone knows that there a huge number of different religions in the world. This is called religious pluralism. Some people infer from the large number of different religions that there must be no religion that is correct. After all, they say, there are people in many different religions who are sincere, so that must mean that they are not wrong. (Sincerity = not mistaken) Or, some say that because different religions disagree, then that must mean that no religion is correct. (Disagreement = no right answer) Or, some say that because different religions make different groups of people feel happy, then no religion is wrong. (Makes you happy = not mistaken) Or, one I see among Hindus a lot: “my family and my nation are Hindu, so it cannot be wrong or else my family and nation would be wrong”. (family pride and national pride = can’t be mistaken). There are probably other variants, but the common factor is this – religion is not like math or science or engineering or technology, where we do have right answers and wrong answers. Religion is something else – it’s more like clothing conventions, or culinary preferences, or taste in art or music. It’s more about a person’s likes and dislikes, not about claims being made about reality.

How should truth-seekers respond to religious pluralism?

The law of non-contradiction

To start with, we all need to be familiar with the law of non-contradiction. This is the stuff that software engineers all learned in undergraduate computer science courses. Computer science is a lot like analytical philosophy because both study symbolic logic. Analytical philosophy is as rigorous as mathematics.

The law says that for any proposition P, P cannot be true and not true at the same time, and in the same context. For example, let P be the statement “it is raining outside my window right now”. It is impossible that the reality of the world be that it is raining outside my window right now, and not raining outside my window right now.

The external world is shared by all of us, and it is objective (it is not affected by what we think about it). When we make propositional claims, it is the external, mind-independent world that makes claims true or false. And by “world” I mean all of reality, past, present and future.

Similarities between religions

On a superficial level, religions are similar because they all try to answer the same kinds of questions:

  • what is the nature of the ultimate reality in the universe?
  • what is the fundamental problem faced by human beings?
  • what should human beings do to solve this problem?

These questions are shared by all religions, but on a more fundamental level, religions are all completely different because they give mutually exclusive answers to these questions. Therefore, according to the law of non-contradiction, they cannot all be true at the same time and in the same context.

Differences between religions

In this post, blogger Neil explains how the Christian Bible claims that Jesus died on a cross, but the Koran claims he did not die on a cross. How do we understand these two contradictory claims? Are they propositional truth claims about the external world, or something else? There are two answers.

Postmodernism: Treating religious claims as subjective nonsense

We could say that all religious claims are just nonsense, and are not intended to apply to the external world, but are just personal preference claims about each believer – they are neither true nor false. The problem is that the postmodernist is then being condescending to the religious adherent by redefining their own words.

Rationality: Treating religions claims as genuine claims about reality

We could instead avoid insulting believers by being condescending about their claims. We could say that all religious claims are exactly what the believers claim they are: real claims about the external world. We could then resolve the conflicts using the same tools we use in our everyday lives: the laws of logic and empirical evidence.

How do postmodernists reinterpret religious claims as non-propositional?

Here are a few ways that postmodernists reinterpret the conflicting claims of different religions:

  1. relativism: you reinterpret truth claims of the different religions so that they are claims of personal preference, which express the deluded myths that each individual religious person finds “fetching”
  2. pragmatism: you reinterpret truth claims of the different religions so that they are claims of personal selfishness, so that each religious believer chooses the delusion that is personally satisfying to them
  3. syncretism: you re-interpret truth claims of the different religions so that claims that are absolutely central, such as “was Jesus God?” are reinterpreted as being peripheral issues, and then the religions can all agree on the core of religious belief, such as advocacy of socialism, global warming and abortion

Why would postmodernists want to treat religious claims as nonsense?

In addition to the desperate desire to keep God from having authority over our moral decision-making (i.e. – sin, rebellion, etc.), there are 3 reasons why people try to treat religious claims as non-propositional nonsense.

  1. Ignorance: people do not know the conflicting truth claims that different religions make
  2. Laziness: people do not want to have to spend time evaluating the competing truth claims
  3. Cowardice: people do not want to investigate and debate truth claims: it makes them unpopular

Postmodernists have decided that the purpose of life is to be hedonistic, and not to worry about the world really is. They think that trying to find out the truth about our origins, our purpose, and our ultimate fate is hard work, and talking about it makes them unpopular. So they don’t want to do it.

But that is not what they say when you ask them. Instead, they say that disagreements about religion has caused a lot of wars, and so it’s better if we just reduce the question of truth in religion to personal preference. That way, everyone can choose the delusion that makes them happy, (although religions are all actually false).

But postmodernists are arrogant to redefine the claims of all religions as nonsense. And it is self-refuting because they are substituting their own view of religion as objectively true, which is just what they deny everyone else. And if disagreeing about religion causes wars, then why are they disagreeing with us about religion?

So then how do we deal with the plurality of religions?

The answer is to treat religion the exact same way as any other area of knowledge. We can tolerate people’s right to disagree, disagree while still being polite, and resolving disputes using logic, and evidence supplied from disciplines such as analytical philosophy, scientific investigation, and historical analysis.

People who want to involve emotion and intuition in the process of testing the conflicting religious claims can just butt out of the conversation. The search for truth should proceed irrespective of what you think about the truth claims of religion. Yes, the doctrine of Hell offends people, but that doesn’t make it false.

Acknowledgement: I owe some of the thoughts in this post to the work of Douglas Groothuis, who is an expert on thinking about postmodernism and religious pluralism. You can hear his thoughts in a lecture posted at Apologetics 315.

Audio debate: Did Jesus die on a cross?

I’ve decided to feature 4 debate podcasts in 4 sequential posts. Each debate will be on an off the wall topic or feature a clearly insane person. They are all from the Unbelievable? radio show, which is broadcast in the UK. I don’t know what it is about these Brits, but they seem to really go in for the Monty Python in their debates.

The first debate features a strong Christian Tony Costa going up against the likable Muslim scholar Shabir Ally. I wish I had a Muslim friend like Shabir, because he is a smart guy and super polite. But the reason why this is a weird debate is because Shabir has to defend the idea that Jesus was never crucified, because that’s in the Koran.

But no historian believes that! So Shabir is really in tough. If you want to see the best debater that Islam can offer, then listen to Shabir, he is the best. I have even sponsored debates on university campuses that featured Shabir.

Note that debates on the Unbelievable radio show start at about 15 minutes into the podcast.


Unbelievable? “Did Jesus rise from the dead? Did he die on the cross?”4 Apr 2009

As Easter approaches we hear from one of the best respected Muslim scholars in the world – Shabir Ally. He explains why he does not believe Jesus rose from the dead, namely because he never actually died upon the cross – he merely ‘swooned’.

Christian Apologist Tony Costa presents his case for the resurrection of Christ and critiques Ally’s belief that Jesus did not die.

For Shabir Ally visit www.islaminfo.com

For Tony Costa visit www.freewebs.com/tonycosta/


Tony and Shabir are both from Canada!

Are all religions basically the same?

UPDATE: Welcome visitors from The Western Experience! Thanks for the link, Jason!

I’m sure that all my readers will have noticed that there a huge number of different religions in the world. This is called religious pluralism. Religions all make claims about the way the universe is, and the way that we ought to act in order to solve the problems that we all face as human beings.

The law of non-contradiction

To start with, we all need to be familiar with the law of non-contradiction. This is the stuff that software engineers all learned in undergraduate computer science courses. Computer science is a lot like analytical philosophy because both study symbolic logic. Analytical philosophy is as rigorous as mathematics.

The law says that for any proposition P, P cannot be true and not true at the same time, and in the same context. For example, let P be the statement “it is raining outside my window right now”. It is impossible that the reality of the world be that it is raining outside my window right now, and not raining outside my window right now.

The external world is shared by all of us, and it is objective (it is not affected by what we think about it). When we make propositional claims, it is the external, mind-independent world that makes claims true or false. And by “world” I mean all of reality, past, present and future.

Similarities between religions

On a superficial level, religions are similar because they all try to answer the same kinds of questions:

  • what is the nature of the ultimate reality in the universe?
  • what is the fundamental problem faced by human beings?
  • what should human beings do to solve this problem?

These questions are shared by all religions, but on a more fundamental level, religions are all completely different because they give mutually exclusive answers to these questions. Therefore, according to the law of non-contradiction, they cannot all be true at the same time and in the same context.

Differences between religions

In this post, blogger Neil explains how the Christian Bible claims that Jesus died on a cross, but the Koran claims he did not die on a cross. How do we understand these two contradictory claims? Are they propositional truth claims about the external world, or something else? There are two answers.

Postmodernism: Treating religious claims as subjective nonsense

We could say that all religious claims are just nonsense, and are not intended to apply to the external world, but are just personal preference claims about each believer – they are neither true nor false. The problem is that the postmodernist is then being condescending to the religious adherent by redefining their own words.

Rationality: Treating religions claims as genuine claims about reality

We could instead avoid insulting believers by being condescending about their claims. We could say that all religious claims are exactly what the believers claim they are: real claims about the external world. We could then resolve the conflicts using the same tools we use in our everyday lives: the laws of logic and empirical evidence.

How do postmodernists reinterpret religious claims as non-propositional?

Here are a few ways that postmodernists reinterpret the conflicting claims of different religions:

  1. relativism: you reinterpret truth claims of the different religions so that they are claims of personal preference, which express the deluded myths that each individual religious person finds “fetching”
  2. pragmatism: you reinterpret truth claims of the different religions so that they are claims of personal selfishness, so that each religious believer chooses the delusion that is personally satisfying to them
  3. syncretism: you re-interpret truth claims of the different religions so that claims that are absolutely central, such as “was Jesus God?” are reinterpreted as being peripheral issues, and then the religions can all agree on the core of religious belief, such as advocacy of socialism, global warming and abortion

Why would postmodernists want to treat religious claims as nonsense?

In addition to the desperate desire to keep God from having authority over our moral decision-making (i.e. – sin, rebellion, etc.), there are 3 reasons why people try to treat religious claims as non-propositional nonsense.

  1. Ignorance: people do not know the conflicting truth claims that different religions make
  2. Laziness: people do not want to have to spend time evaluating the competing truth claims
  3. Cowardice: people do not want to investigate and debate truth claims: it makes them unpopular

Postmodernists have decided that the purpose of life is to be hedonistic, and not to worry about the world really is. They think that trying to find out the truth about our origins, our purpose, and our ultimate fate is hard work, and talking about it makes them unpopular. So they don’t want to do it.

But that is not what they say when you ask them. Instead, they say that disagreements about religion has caused a lot of wars, and so it’s better if we just reduce the question of truth in religion to personal preference. That way, everyone can choose the delusion that makes them happy, (although religions are all actually false).

But postmodernists are arrogant to redefine the claims of all religions as nonsense. And it is self-refuting because they are substituting their own view of religion as objectively true, which is just what they deny everyone else. And if disagreeing about religion causes wars, then why are they disagreeing with us about religion?

So then how do we deal with the plurality of religions?

The answer is to treat religion the exact same way as any other area of knowledge. We can tolerate people’s right to disagree, disagree while still being polite, and resolving disputes using logic, and evidence supplied from disciplines such as analytical philosophy, scientific investigation, and historical analysis.

People who want to involve emotion and intuition in the process of testing the conflicting religious claims can just butt out of the conversation. The search for truth should proceed irrespective of what you think about the truth claims of religion. Yes, the doctrine of Hell offends people, but that doesn’t make it false.

Further study

Portions of this article were borrowed from this lecture by philosopher Douglas Groothuis, in which he explains the how to think carefully, using the laws of logic, about religious claims and the fact of religious pluralism. Note that Doug is a lot less snarky than I am in the lecture.

Also, I noticed that Unbelievable has posted a debate between Muslim Shabir Ally and Christian Tony Costa on whether Jesus dried on a cross and whether he rose from the dead.

Here are some related posts on the question of postmodernism and testing religious claims. All of them are far, far, far less snarky than my post today.

Related objections answered:

Full report from William Lane Craig’s Quebec debating tour

I received William Lane Craig’s report from his Ontario and Quebec speaking tours in my e-mail inbox. The report is not yet posted on his web site, so I reproduce the portion related to his debate at McGill against Shabir Ally below. (I wanted to post everything, but it was too much)

Here’s what Bill says about debating Shabir at McGill University in Montreal:

The next evening was my debate at the English-speaking McGill University with the Muslim apologist Shabir Ally on “Did Jesus Rise from the Dead?” I began by presenting a case for Jesus’ resurrection, and Shabir then followed. Shabir is a very slick customer, a skilled debater and smooth speaker. Whereas my debating style tends to be pretty formal, ticking off one point after another, Shabir began his opening speech by telling a joke, which got the audience laughing, and even presenting to me a small souvenir gift from Montréal. I thought to myself, “Boy, I’m already ten points behind just on audience rapport!” But my experience is that these first impressions fade pretty quickly as the debate unfolds.

So I figured I should just carry out my plan to attack his view hard, while continuing to be gracious personally. Shabir defends a very strange view of what happened to Jesus. He holds that Jesus was crucified (despite the Qur’an’s denial of that fact) but that he was only apparently dead when he was taken down from the cross and laid in the tomb. Before he could die in the tomb, God assumed him into heaven and thereafter gave visions of Jesus to the disciples. In that way, Shabir is able to affirm the historicity of Jesus’ crucifixion, burial, empty tomb, post-mortem appearances, and the disciples’ belief in his resurrection, but all without Jesus’ being raised from the dead!

Unfortunately, to my surprise, Shabir didn’t even mention his theory in his opening speech but just presented a wishy-washy, feel-good talk about Islam and Christianity. “Now what should I do?” I thought. “If I attack his view when he hasn’t even presented it, I’m really going to come across as mean-spirited. But if I wait till the rebuttals, there won’t be enough time to present my critique.” As I said, I decided to go after his view anyway, explaining to the audience that this is his position in his published work.

As a preliminary observation, I pointed out that no true Muslim could embrace his view, since the Qur’an could not be more straightforward or unambiguous: “They did not kill him; they did not crucify him” (4:157). I even quoted the Arabic “wa maa qataluhu, wa maa salabuhu.” I charged that Shabir, in denying the Qur’an, had already deserted Islam for a mishmash of Christianity and Islam, which I dubbed “Chrislam.” I said that if you’re going to embrace Chrislam, why not go all the way and become a Christian?

I then argued that Shabir should do this because his view faces insuperable historical and theological objections. Historically, it has inadequate explanatory scope (since mere visions of Jesus would not explain the disciples’ belief in Jesus’ resurrection), weak explanatory power (since the early Church distinguished visions of Christ from resurrection appearances of Christ), and little plausibility (since it is highly improbable that Jesus was taken down alive).

The theological objections are even more problematic: (1) The theory provides too little, too late. For in virtue of his crucifixion, Jesus has already suffered shame, humiliation, and defeat in the minds of his enemies. (2) By misleading the disciples into thinking that Jesus was risen from the dead, Allah himself is to blame for foisting the religion of Christianity on the world, resulting in hundreds of millions rejecting Islam and going to hell! Shabir had little to say in response to these objections, except to reiterate that there’s no way of knowing that Jesus was really dead.

So in the end the palm of victory went clearly to the Christian side. But sad to say, there were very few Muslims in the audience. I hear through the grapevine that Muslims are increasingly disaffected with Shabir because of his compromises on orthodox Islam. In fact the Muslim Student Association at McGill, which had promised to help promote the debate, called at 4:00 p.m. the very afternoon of the debate to say that they weren’t coming and had decided to schedule a meeting of their own that night! So it appears that the Muslim community is losing confidence in Shabir.

His newsletter contains more about his speaking in Quebec at the University of Montreal and the University of Laval. The newsletter also discusses his debate with Shelly Kagan of Yale University, held at Columbia University. And he concludes with his upcoming speaking engagements. Please pray for Bill and consider supporting him by donating to Reasonable Faith.