• Taking Nabeel Qureshi to task over morality

    Nabeel Qureshi is great; he is a great resource for critiquing Islam, Muhammad, the Qu’ran and the Hadith. He is an ex-Muslim who converted to Christianity and now runs and MA course at Biola and runs his own ministry. His knowledge of Islam is super and his videos have certainly helped me in my exegesis and talks on Islam.

    However, in all this fantastic-ness, he fails in some pretty key areas when making claims on morality. This concerns his own Christianity, rather than his claims about Islam.

    I would like to look more closely at two statements he makes. The first one happens in the video below at 52.39 concerning violence in the Qu’ran, and specifically in this part, violence towards women and then sinners (for example, homosexuals and thieves). He rightfully makes a direct comparison to the Old Testament, agreeing that this looks pretty similar in context and content to the Qu’ran/Hadith.

    “And this isn’t too different form what we see in the Old Testament. The difference here, though, from a Christian perspective is that this is for all time, whereas what was done for law as for the Israelites was for those people to establish the superiority of YAHWEH in the eyes of the world around them and that was to be fulfilled in Christ, when grace would reign…. A lot of these things are somewhat similar to what you would find in the Old Testament, but there is that sharp distinction between the Old Testament and the Qu’ran, as far as Christians are concerned because the Old Testament isn’t what we are left with; we’re left with the Gospels, we are left with Christ’s grace.”

    Hmm, this looks suspiciously like Inter-Testamental Moral Relativism (or Inter-Covenantal) as I set out in a previous post and a further response to Matthew Flannagan on the topic.

    Firstly, Qureshi is claiming that what is so wrong with the death penalty for homosexuality (the wrongness is implied here in stating this in a criticism of the Qu’ranic violence and then comparing it to the OT) also appears in the OT. However, the OT “isn’t what we’re left with”. In other words, it, as a moral guidance, is superseded by the New Testament. What was deemed as correct for a certain people at a certain time based on their context was then deemed as incorrect after a rather fuzzy time (when Jesus was alive? When he died? When the Gospels were written? When they were circulated effectively?).

    If it isn’t the historical and geographical context which derives the moral rectitude (such that this looks like moral relativism of some sort), then it appears that it may be some sort of consequentialism, such that it was A-OK to command the Jews to do this in order “for those people to establish the superiority of YAHWEH in the eyes of the world around them”.

    Either moral framework is decried by apologists. But it seems clear that Qureshi is decreeing at least one of these to be at play here. Even if divine command theory is at play, whereby it is the mere order of God, and perhaps his moral nature, which makes these actions morally good, then we still have the rightness or wrongness of the events being locked up in arbitrariness and a lack of moral reasoning.

    Which brings me on to another statement he makes with regard to morality which appears to go against all of what he has tried to establish above. To see this, we need to rewind the video back to 34.46 where he talks about violence towards apostates. In Islam, this equates to death:

    In the context of his own apostasy and losing his friends on diktat from the Qu’ran, and since the holy book demands death to apostates, Qureshi asks his (ex-)friends whether he should be killed. He got some pretty shocking answers, which leads him to say, in the video:

    “You get to appeal to that. You get to say ‘Can you listen to what you’re saying? Isn’t there something inside you which rejects this? Isn’t there something inside you which says you ought to love and which says you ought to have compassion?'”

    And of course Qureshi here appeals to moral intuition. Now, you could argue that this is Christian Natural Law Theory, or just simple secular, naturalistic morality with no need for God. I look briefly at Natural Law Theory in my chapter on morality in Loftus’ Christianity is not Great and conclude that the theory s actually naturalistic and needs no existence of God – morality is written on the hearts of people.

    What this all means is that Qureshi has some very mixed ideas on morality. At times he appeals to morality naturally intuited by humans (ethical intuitionism), at others perhaps a form of moral relativism. And I’m sure elsewhere he probably espouses some kind of Divine Command system.

    Here is what the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy has to say about ethical intutionism:

    One of the most distinctive features of Ethical Intuitionism is its epistemology. All of the classic intuitionists maintained that basic moral propositions are self-evident—that is, evident in and of themselves—and so can be known without the need of any argument. Price distinguishes intuition from two other grounds of knowledge—namely, immediate consciousness or feeling on the one hand, and argumentation, on the other. Argumentation, or deduction, is knowledge that is ultimately derived from what is immediately apprehended, either by sensation or by the understanding. Immediate consciousness, or feeling, is the mind’s awareness of its own existence and mental states (Price, 1758/1969, 159). It shares immediacy with intuition, but unlike intuition does not have as its object a self-evident proposition. Such immediate self-consciousness is immediate apprehension by sensation. Intuition is immediate apprehension by the understanding. It is the way that we apprehend self-evident truths, general and abstract ideas, “and anything else we may discover, without making any use of any process of reasoning” (1758/1969, 159).

    This would imply that moral facts are intuitively derived and do not need moral reasoning. But returning to the Jews of the OT thinking something is morally right, and people of today differing in their morality, we have an issue. If it was written on their hearts, then human hearts changed from one geographical or historical location to another. This approach seems woefully short of making any rational sense.

    If I stood up in an MA lecture and said that last statement from Qureshi, listed above, I would be VERY sure to qualify that hugely and explain. Because it just looks like his moral philosophy is all over the place.

    [H/T Daniel Stenning of Wycombe Skeptics in the Pub for putting me on to Qureshi]

    Category: ApologeticsIslamMoralityPhilosophy of Religion


    Article by: Jonathan MS Pearce