The Road from Regensburg

FAITH Magazine July-Aug 2007
Ecumenical and Inter-religious developments in the search for a modern apologetic

Following Pope Benedict’s reflections on Faith and Reason at Regensburg University last September there seems to be increasing interest in theological discussion between Catholics and followers of Islam. In this column we will briefly survey some of the most relevant of these inter-faith discussions in the context of an increasingly secular academic culture. Our own editorial last January, “Fostering the Regensburg Insight”, discussed related issues.

Evangelical Christians have been making an interesting contribution to the science and religion debate for some time. Recently this seems to have involved a clearer call for a modern “apologetic” in defence of Christianity, encouraged, among other things, by the poplar success of Richard Dawkins’ recent book The God Delusion. For example:

• Alister McGrath, who has become more prominent this year, founded in 2004 the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics, in order to aid “the urgent task of the church today to find ways to present the never-changing gospel of Christ in an ever-changing cultural context. There is a pressing need for strong theological and intellectual work...”. He is organizing a major conference on Natural Theology at Oxford University in 2008 and is due to present the prestigious Gifford lectures at Aberdeen University in 2009.

• This year the increasingly influential American evangelical scholar William Lane Craig has undertaken a speaking tour in England which was well received. His 1994 book Reasonable Faith (Crossway) argues that “Evangelicals have been living on the periphery of responsible intellectual existence... there is an intellectual war going on in the universities and in the professional journals and scholarly societies. Christianity is being attacked from all sides as irrational... This is a war we cannot afford to lose.”

• The website of the impressive British based organization Christians in Science, which among other things rejects the main thrust of Intelligent Design thought, has recently reached 6,500 hits per day. Therefore in this column we will also report on such developments and events from within the Evangelical tradition and beyond for example discussions funded by the Templeton Foundation, as described in our Cutting Edge column in this issue. All these parallel our own work in promoting a new apologetic for the scientific age.


•Former Iranian president Mohammad Khatami told Pope Benedict XVI the wounds between Christians and Muslims were still “very deep”, following the Pope’s linking of the Islamic approach to Faith and Reason with violence in his September Regensburg address. This led to protests including attacks on churches in the Middle East and the killing of a nun in Somalia. The Pope later said he regretted any misunderstanding it caused among Muslims.

Khatami, who is generally classified among the ‘moderate’ proponents of Shiite Islam, took part in a conference with the pope on the theme: Intercultural dialogue, a challenge for peace. He said that Christianity and Islam needed to rediscover their common roots as monotheistic religions in order to improve relations. He added: “No one can use God’s name to instigate war or hate or speak ignorantly of crusades. Both religions must enter a sincere and practical dialogue and commitment to achieve peace and eliminate terrorism and war.”
The Scotsman, 4 May, 2007

•Karim Aga Khan IV, a descendant of the prophet Muhammad and spiritual leader of 20 million Ismaili Muslims told a German news website that he would welcome a debate with Pope Benedict XVI and other religious leaders on faith, reason and violence. Khan disputed the pope’s suggestion that Islam has a problem with reason. He said: “Of the Abrahamic faiths, Islam is probably the one that places the greatest emphasis on knowledge. The purpose is to understand God’s creation, and therefore it is a faith which is eminently logical. Islam is a faith of reason.”
Spiegel International, 12 October 2006

•Last year, Muslim scholar, Ali Nayed and Italian philosopher and theologian, Alessandro Martinetti took part in a scholarly written discussion concerning Pope Benedict’s Regensburg affirmation that we should expect God (the Logos) to act profoundly rationally, and hence for there to a profound harmony of Faith and reason. Martinetti emphasized the Pope’s affirmative quotation of the Emperor Manuel that “not acting reasonably is contrary to God’s nature”.

Nayed accepted that even God could not go against the principle of noncontradiction but that his actions could easily be beyond our rational capacity to grasp (“extra-rational”). He affirmed that “one person’s extra-rationality is often another person’s irrationality”. Martinetti (and Benedict) affirm that Christianity implies a priorithat any such “extrarational” revelation will in facthave a reason and be in profound harmony with human reason.

Nayed goes on to state that Benedict XVI’s just call for an expansion of the notion of reason so as to accommodate revelatory insights is something that both Christians and Muslims can positively respond to. (see our January 2007 editorial for a discussion of these issues).

•Former Dutch MP Ayaan Hirsi Ali has released her new book, Infidel. The book tells the extraordinary story of Ali’s life as a Muslim woman who broke away from her family to live in The Netherlands and how she transformed herself into a spokesman for the rights of Muslim women. Infidel, the name she found herself being called when she would propose changes to what she considered an oppressive or backward aspect of Islam, is her account of her transformation from ‘the world of faith to the world of reason’.
New York Times, 14 February 2007

•Young Muslims are calling for the Koran to be interpreted. An Iranian Muslim student told a journalist for Asia News: “We can no longer think of the Koran as directly dictated by God to Mohammad through the angel Gabriel. It must be interpreted.” In today’s Islam, ideas are available, especially among reformists and young intellectuals, but many are forbidden from expressing them as freedom in the Islamic world is highly limited.

•An article in an Islamic newspaper, the Khaleej Times, has used writings from the Koran to refute allegations that Islam is a demeaning religion for women’s rights. It postulates that the Prophet Muhammad, along with the religion of Islam, were the first to transform women’s status from being property to someone who is essential and vital for the survival of communities and families.
Islam online 7 April 2007

•A Muslim man stood as a candidate for the Christian Peoples Alliance in the Scottish parliamentary elections in April. Abdul Dean, regional candidate for Glasgow, rejected overtures to join major secular parties in Scotland to back the Christian Democrats, even though the Alliance honours the rule of Christ at the heart of its’ constitution. He said: “A lot of Muslims have asked me why I am standing. My answer is simple: the Christian Peoples Alliance is the only political party that is based on values, rather than ideology.”
The Times, April 28, 2007

•Windsor Castle was the venue of an unusual conference entitled, Sacred Voices: Convergence and Contrast in the Music of the Abrahamic Faiths. The Conference examined the way sacred music has evolved in Jewish, Christian and Muslim traditions, its different modes of expression, its contribution to deepening religious experience, and its place in wider musical and general culture of the three faith traditions. The Director of The Institute of Ismaili Studies, Professor Azim Nanji, who chaired the conference, said: “the purpose of the conference was to explore how music enables a deeper understanding and appreciation of the parallels and exchanges among the three traditions.”
The Institute of Ismaili studies, February 2007

•Imams forced an Oslo inter-faith football match to be cancelled because the Norwegian Christian minister team included women. They felt this was unacceptable because of the possibility of bodily contact between male and female clerics.
Daily Telegraph May 7th 2007
Chief contributor: Lisa Gregoire


•Radio Four’s Sundayprogramme on 20th May last hosted a discussion on the government’s “U-turn” in favour of the creation of human-animal hybrid embryos for medical research. It was between Dr Peter Saunders, General Secretary of the Christian Medical Fellowship, the largest group of Christian doctors, and Rabbi Julia Neuberger who is on the Lords scrutiny committee for the Bill.

Dr Saunders affirmed that such experimentation was “unethical” because:“... from a Christian perspective human beings... are made in God’s image... God became a human being in the person of Christ. Christ died to save human beings, and these things are what we believe give human beings real dignity... Creating human-animal hybrids... will cross the fundamental line that’s always separated humans from animals, that many people have very deep feelings and intuitions about.”

Rabbi Neuberger asserted that “it’s really important that one accepts that... new scientific research has taught us... that the human embryo is not as unique as we thought before... We do have to think differently about the ‘unique quality of human embryos’ in the way that Peter Saunders is saying... The miracle of creation... may have to be explained somewhat differently... Our human brains are given to us by God... to better the life of other human beings... and if this technology can do it..., and I don’t believe that anybody is going to research beyond fourteen days, then so be it, lets do it.” listen to full discussion.

See our March/April editorial for our discussion of bringing back into the public forum a culturally convincing proof of the human spiritual soul, which has been at the heart of Christian civilization’s rational defence of the difference between humans and animals.

•Alister McGrath, promoting his critique of Dawkins’ book The God Delusion, writes in the Daily Mail about his own return to Christianity (having been brought up a Protestant in Northern Ireland) whilst studying science at Oxford. He describes being filmed debating with Dawkins as part of his Channel 4 polemic against religion ‘The Root of All Evil?’ and the subsequent decision not to screen it as part of the programme. He reflects that The God Delusion, which is so rabid, patronising and prejudiced as to have caused embarrassment in secular circles, may ‘turn out to be a monumental own goal’, as it exposes the inherent intolerance of atheism.
Daily Mail

• Christians in Scienceare holding a joint conference with the American Scientific Association in August at Edinburgh University. This will include presentations by academics known to Faith Magazine readers such as Simon Conway Morris and Alister McGrath of The Dawkins Delusion. Issues such as the relationship between free-will and determinism will be examined from the perspective of neuroscience. The final day looks at cosmology and bioethics, with Professor Nigel Cameron (who is also down to speak at the forthcoming Conference for Families in Poland) speaking on reproductive technologies and human dignity.
Christians in Science website


•A book published by Noah J. Efron last year, entitled Judaism and Science, traces the history of the relationship between Judaism and science or ‘natural knowledge’ from the time of the Israelites to the twentieth century. It looks specifically at the impact of Jewish beliefs upon the pursuit of knowledge and the role of natural knowledge in encouraging interaction with other cultures and faiths such as Islam during the Medieval period and Christianity during the Renaissance.
Chief contributor: Fiorella Nash

Faith Magazine

July - August 2007