Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Hamza Tzortzis and The God Delusion

As regular readers of  this blog are likely aware, some two years ago Hamza Tzortzis released what he described as his response to the God Delusion. Back in February I happened upon it and noticed it bore marked similarities to the work of William Lane Craig. After PZ Myers featured my article, Hamza updated his piece to indicate it was a pastiche of Christian authors, including Paul Copan, William Lane Craig, J. P. Moreland, Frank J. Tipler, John D. Barrow, Keith Ward and Roy Abraham Varghese.

Thanks to an anonymous commenter I'm only now realising the delicious irony in his opening line:
"What I read were rehashed, incoherent and outdated arguments that made me realize that Richard Dawkins is not very well read in philosophy"
Emphasis mine, but I digress. Hamza and I had a pleasant Twitter chat after the events, during which he suggested I respond to the content:
After two years his collage of Christian authors stands at version 0.3: I jokingly responded that I would await version 1.0. Dawkins is well able to defend himself; writing further on the matter seemed superfluous. Still, there seems to be appetite for this stuff.

Particularly avid readers of this blog - likely those who make notes - will recall I wrote another piece on Islam, months ago, where I described exemplary behaviour from Muslim apologists despite extreme provocation. You'll note that before the physical and verbal abuse of these fine gentlemen started I was discussing Halal fish oil supplements. Softgel capsules are generally made from porcine gelatin and a gym friend of mine was looking for a Muslim-friendly alternative.

The chap at the Islam information stall said that if there was medical need, there would be forgiveness for minor transgressions of this sort. He said that Islam is a forgiving religion whose rules are not intended to burden its followers unduly. I said that while I was inclined to agree, I felt it inappropriate for a non-Muslim to offer advice on interpreting Halal dietary rules. He smiled and agreed. We were getting along quite swimmingly, truth be told.

There's some Qur'anic backing for what I said about non-Muslims providing advice on how best to live Islam.

There's no barrier to dealing justly and kindly with non-Muslims, assuming they're not actively at war with you (to my mind a fair caveat):
"Allah does not forbid you from those who do not fight you because of religion and do not expel you from your homes - from being righteous toward them and acting justly toward them. Indeed, Allah loves those who act justly." -Surah 60:8
 Though there are some verses that suggest unfriending your non-Muslim associates:
"O you who have believed, do not take the Jews and the Christians as allies. They are [in fact] allies of one another. And whoever is an ally to them among you - then indeed, he is [one] of them. Indeed, Allah guides not the wrongdoing people." -Surah 5:51
It's only fair to bear in mind that Islam is about 1,400 years old. 'Friends' had different connotations back then; indeed the word used, Awliyaa, can be variously translated as allies, advisers, friends, confidants or guardians.

I see in this some broadly good advice. I try and limit my contact with overly negative people, heavy drinkers, most of the time, and others whose character traits I do not wish to rub off on me. And while I don't avoid Jews or Christians I understand that someone seeking to be a better Muslim would try and keep to Islamic confidants and advisers. There's a continuum of interpretation on this one, some preferring to avoid unnecessary contact with outsiders, some largely ignoring the verses as not applicable in a modern setting. Historical context is important. I'm not a Muslim so I don't seek to make a ruling, but to share my experience I feel it's reasonable for any Muslim to hear me out on facts that can be independently verified, but to be cautious about unquestioningly accepting my opinions on matters of Islamic jurisprudence. I present this not as a final ruling of course, just what I feel to be a suitable minimum. And I welcome differing views in the comments.

To illustrate with specifics, I see nothing wrong in me cautioning a Halal observant friend that the cheese in his salad is made with rennet from a non-Halal animal. It's a verifiable fact that I'm sure he'd like to know. I'd see it as inappropriate for me to suggest that he eat it anyway because I think the Qur'an speaks of a God that is not too hung up on these things - that's just an interpretation.

So what has this rather long introduction got to do with Hamza's review of The God Delusion?

Well, as I mentioned before (and as his article now states) he uses Christian arguments to respond. And it's not just that he's been influenced by them: his contributions consist of some rewording and the addition of a Qur'anic quote. What's more, errors introduced as he reworded the apologetic articles indicate that he doesn't fully understand the original Christian authors. The Christian apologists are certainly his allies, albeit perhaps without their knowledge. Are they his advisers? That is beyond contestation - it is openly acknowledged.

Now obviously I still have to tackle the moral argument, mind first or matter first, the fine-tuning argument, the (rather weak) argument against evolution, the fact that Flew was never a theist as described in the article and so on. I'll get to this. But I would like to start by saying that Hamza's piece is overwhelmingly influenced by Christian thought. This leaves me with two questions to ponder.

Is this an acceptable Islamic practice?

Does Hamza unwittingly create the impression that he feels Islam is true, but that Allah has given Christians the better apologists?

I'm especially interested in Muslim responses and am happy to give a guest post to anyone who'd like to offer a defence of Hamza's use of Christian arguments in his review. Oh, and you can get Halal fish oils here.


David said...

Hi Geoff interesting post, the arabic slant is right in my area of interest. I'm swamped today but I'll try and get some thoughts where I agree and disagree without side tracking your main issue too much :)


Geoff said...

Thanks David, certainly interested to hear your thoughts on the matter.

MrMajestik said...

Even if he plagarised Christian apologists word for word it would only be a problem of not giving them their dues.

The main point of the article was to argue around the existance of God. The Christians beleive in God and have put forward some old arguments for it, which have previously been put forward by pther theologians in the past (including some islamic kalamists)

also, The verse you quoted in translated English from the Quran uses the word Awliyaa as you pointed out. The Quranic scholars explain the context of this verse and also it's understanding. Taking the jews and Christians as Awliyaa is something most muslims will understand. it does not have any bearing whatsoever on Hamza using them or their quotes.

Geoff said...

Hi Mr Majestik, can you see how, to an outsider, it seems odd to say that Islam is the one true faith but that Allah has given Christians the better apologists?

I'm quite unclear how you take the Qur'anic phrase "do not take the Jews and the Christians as allies [Awliyaa]" to mean that it's okay to take Jews and Christians as allies [Awliyaa]. Perhaps you can elaborate?