Peter Kreeft and Robert Spencer Debate the merits and demerits of Islam

Several weeks ago, I heard that this debate was coming up, but I was unable to attend. Two people I know personally and respect, Dr. Peter Kreeft and Robert Spencer, debated the question of Islam. For those of you who know Dr. Kreeft’s work, you know he is eminently reasonable, always irenic, and a deep thinker. In fact, as I have gone on record saying many times over the years, I regard Peter Kreeft as our generation’s C.S. Lewis.

Robert Spencer, who, like Peter, is a fellow Catholic, has in recent years produced a serious body of in-depth critical scholarship on Islam. His website,, is very influential and both widely admired and widely reviled (mainly, though not exclusively, by Muslims). These two men have very different views of Islam and of Muslims, and this debate promises to be an excellent opportunity for both positions to be carefully examined, compared, and contrasted. That’s the hallmark of any good debate, in my opinion. I say “promises to be” because I haven’t watched this video of the debate yet, though I am just about to do so.
Catholic blogger (and one of my Twitter friends), Lisa Graas, alerted me to the video clip, which I post for you now on my blog. I’d also like to lead off with the beginning of her commentary on the debate (below). And, as ever, I am very interested in knowing what you think of this. So, please, post comments to your heart’s content.
Lisa writes:

On Thursday, November 9, 2010, Robert Spencer and Peter Kreeft participated in an historic debate at St. Thomas More College on the topic “Is the Only Good Muslim a Bad Muslim?” Video of this debate is below. 

Kreeft’s final remark:

“I suppose Bob must be right in saying that if everything in the Qur’an must be accepted literally and practiced then these are bad Muslims, so in that sense, I would have to agree with him that the best Muslim is a bad Muslim.”

Any Catholic who cares to understand this issue with any intelligence is strongly encouraged to watch this debate. I also recommend, of course, the catechism and Vatican II, particularly Nostra Aetate. Here are my thoughts on what Vatican II had to say about Jews, Christians and Muslims. . . .


  1. Lisa Graas

    Thanks, Patrick. This is a very important topic…especially in light of the Holy Father's upcoming apostolic letter and the recent Middle East Synod.

  2. Carol

    I can't wait to watch this after the kids go to bed!

  3. BillyHW

    I love Peter Kreeft's writings, and I have a number of his books, but this latest one on Islam is puke-worthy and has me questioning everything else I've read of his.

  4. JeffSRQ

    Great post Patrick! Keep up the good work. I'm sure I'll go back to this again and again. Kreeft is one of the few that surpasses your wit while still teaching us. Thanks!

  5. crazylikeknoxes

    "If everything in the Qur’an must be accepted literally and practiced ***""If" is the operative word. I am not an expert or particularly well-informed, but it is my impression that one cannot speak of orthodox Islam anymore than one can speak of orthodox Protestantism. There is simply no universally recognized magisterium in either.

  6. Tito Edwards

    I like Mr. Kreeft's jab at Boston College: Boston College was a Catholic college, now it's a Jesuit college.(paraphrasing).

  7. Howard

    I don't know what Kreeft's problem is. His blind spot towards Islam is as noticeable as C.S. Lewis's blind spot towards Greek paganism.

  8. Steve

    Peter Kreeft is a missionary and evangelist. In regard to his mission, I hope people remember he (Peter Kreeft) is not making unrealistic claims or presenting flighty idea's about the theistic placement of faith dialogue. In fact, he ultimately tries to defend and explain what were all called to be and do (to be sent – to be apostle's and live in apostleship.) Furthermore, he presents the chronological snobbery of progressivism trying to outpace faith (the primitive and simple) and the consequence of such a progressivism (Chesterton saw this) whereby faithful may pour out the baby with the bathwater (i.e. forfeiting evangelism because of the prigs who do the most devistating things and following a common allegiance with progressivism doing away with faith presented by such priggish people.)

  9. 48none2

    So, the "alternate religion"! blew me off the first minute. Known in the early christian world as the great herisarch, muhamad and that brand of Islam, (subjegation – slavery), is truly the twisting of the one Catholic faith to fit one man's anthropromorphic insanity. Kreeft believes that the reason islam is growing so fast, is, in fact that they obey God's laws (with exception of killing, or a failed just war phliosophy)? this just after he said he believes everything in the bible? And then to continue with that sham with, "islam is blessed because they dont comit adultery"!? Wow, I will have to get a few more wives and be just so holy. That along with the "respecting families" puke after that…well, I then suppose the suicide vest for little jimmy, might be good parenting. Kreefts' statement that our real enimies are the Judases, or the apostates, is oddly pretending to say that islam is neither. With Kreefts theology, we might as well give up. I suppose finally, that I wish all would know that a "rock" statue in the pagan kabba, named allah, which is in fact a black stone meteroite, and is now in the side of the wall of that building, is not the same God I worship, and so NO we dont worship the same God. Give it 99999 names, you wont find the Word of God in the quarn. LOVEon the side.. I can not get the statement that kreeft is anywhere near Lewis…

  10. brencel

    Every non-Islamic world leader needs to listen to this debate. The agreed picture of Islam is frightening.

  11. Carol

    I think any group of people that practice God's commands, especially to be fruitful and multiply, or who don't practice abortion, birth control, homosexuality, porn use, etc, etc…are going to do well because God's commands are logical and beneficial. If you wanna call that blessed…

  12. Mo

    BillyHW, can you expand on why Peter Kreeft's new book on Islam is disappointing? I'm intrigued. In particular, do you feel that he was trying to be so ecumenical that he was over looking the bad points of Islam, or was he simply blind to all he evils of the religion?

  13. Brian

    Hi, Patrick. I have been meaning to ask you a question, but I don't a contact link on your page! What gives, man? I hope you don't mind if I ask you my question on this comments section:Is it Catholic or "Roman" Catholic Church? Protestants, in particular, seem to emphasize the word "Roman," and I have wonder if this is actually correct. I mean, would a Byzantine Catholic, for instance, say he belongs to the "Roman" Catholic Church?

  14. Taylor Marshall

    Patrick,Thank you for posting this. Dr. Kreeft's seemingly tolerant position on Islam has puzzled me for a long time.Godspeed,Taylor M.

  15. brokenbose

    I've read nearly all of Robert Spencer's books and recall even hearing him as a guest on Catholic Answers Live at one point. His knowledge of Islam and the cultures in which it flourishes is deep. In his research, he simply makes the case that what we know as radical Islam is just orthodox Islam without the coat and tie, and his case is very compelling. He goes into various Hadiths (practices and sayings of Muhammed) and verses of the Quran itself to prove his point, and illustrates the ways these verses and sayings have been understood in the Islamic world, past and present. The one who takes Muhammed and his writings as his example is allowed to beat his wife, murder infidels, lie to unbelievers in order to gain their trust, and engage in all manner of violence in order to propagate their faith. In fact, if one does not perform Jihad against infidels, one is not a Muslim in good standing, if even a Muslim at all. While I love Peter Kreeft in his understanding of Christianity and Catholicism, his understanding of Islam, not just based on Robert Spencer's works, is sorely lacking. If it ain't Catholicism, it ain't the truth when the rubber meets the road. Just look at all the "good" Islam has wrought though out the world. More books have been produced in Spain in one year, than in the Islamic world (Dar al Islam) has produced in the last thousand. There's only one work that matters in Islam, the Quran. There's only one real prophet in Islam that matters, and that's Muhammed. There's only one real religion, and if you're not part of if, then you're expendable. Islam or death. Doesn't sound very enlightened to me. (Oh, and don't give me that, "no compulsion in religion" bit. They don't believe it. They never did.)

  16. Lauretta

    Very interesting debate. I found the information about the later writing negating the earlier writing in the Koran, as well as the reasons for the change in attitude to be quite helpful. There are some quite harsh statements in the Old Testament as well but one can certainly see a progression away from violence, etc. in the Bible as opposed to the Koran's increasing progression toward violence.I tend to look at the Muslims kind of like modern day Babylonians. I think they have the ability to hit us hard when we stray from God's plan for us just as the Babylonians did the Hebrew people. The Muslims are powerful now because we are paying lots of money for their oil while lining the pocketbooks of the big US oil companies and we are ceasing to have solid families and are feeding a culture of death. Something has to purify us.

  17. Fr. Eric

    Peter Kreeft is excellent at seeing the need for Catholics to learn from others outside of the Catholic Church. But, he does not seem to understand the manifestation of Islam piety to destroy violently those they see as infidel.I will side with Hillaire Belloc that Islam is a great Christian heresy. It is deeply flawed and these flaws lead away to God.

  18. brokenbose

    Lauretta, I wonder what the victims of 9/11 would think of your statement. Islam's existence isn't for the purpose of inflicting Christian justice, especially when the victims of it's justice are clearly innocent people. I promise they wouldn't like us any better if we were good Christians.

  19. mpbhammer

    In response to the remarks about the shrewdness needed during any effort to work together with Muslims on common humanitarian projects, or to perform good deeds among Muslims I would like to pose this question. While a good Muslim should see in his beliefs the instruction to make war against all Jews and Christian (not distinguishing between good and bad, moral and immoral members of those faiths) should not we as Christians have great confidence in our conviction to love our enemy as the answer to our enemies determined effort to persecute us. In other words, we should not give up on charitable acts toward Muslims because their beliefs leave no room for non-Muslims winning any merit among them, but we should insist on charitable acts toward Muslims because our own beliefs teach us that a) sanctity is specifically to love without any promise of reward and b) to love at any cost is our means of participation in God’s plan for the salvation offered to all humanity in Christ. Perhaps we should not fear that our acts of charity will expose us to their acts of hatred, as if we are being suicidal, but we should pick up our cross and follow Christ, knowing that it was his sacrifice of love in the face of our own hatred that won for us Christians our own salvation. As crazy as the plan sounds, we ourselves as the saved and even more so the saints before us are the proof that this plan can work and has been working, hence the Church.

  20. brokenbose

    mpbhammer,I respectfully disagree with your statement. While I remember St. Ignatius' remark that, "the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church," Pope St. Pius V's response to the Muslims at the door was quite different in establishing the Holy League and routing the Turks in the battle of Lepanto. Many historians, including Church historians have remarked that if Pius V hadn't convened this naval armada, we might all be, including the Vatican, under the rule of the Caliphate even today. When we have no choice but deny Christ and His Church–or die, then like the great saints, the greater among us would choose death rather than deny our Creator. But if the choice comes down to Christianity or Islam, I think we should always choose to defend the Truth.

  21. doanli aka "orange blossom"

    Where are the Muslims and even our own country's media condemning what happened to our fellow Christians who were martyred during Holy Mass a couple of weeks ago?It's taking a lot of prayer from me not to smack the first Muslim I see. (I'm a sinner working to get better–at least I admit it. However, I will not go down without a fight.)

  22. theresa m

    Each person is made by God – good. But we cannot say that the Muslim religion is good or harmless. I know some atheists, who are "good people" – There are atheists who live a more upright lifestyle – honest, chaste, etc than some Catholics. So what? In fact an "enlightened" atheist said the exact same words regarding worship which Kreeft attributes to the Muslim. His arguments and stories were not relevant to the debate. Kreeft seems misled on this one. Thank you Robert Spencer for bringing clear headed faith and reason to the debate.

  23. theresa m

    I think understand where Peter Kreeft is coming from but I think it is a mistake. It is difficult to see so much apathy in the world so when we see people who are enthusiasticand on top of that performing religious pactices with conviction, we are atrracted to it. Similarly teenagers often are looking for conviction – and they are led often into causes which are wrong because they are looking for an answer to the apathy they see around them. There are many conversions to Islam in prison and now these men and women are reading the Quaran and practicing as Muslims. I have also met men converted to Christianity and there seems to be a fundemental difference between the two types of conversions and the effects that they have. I don't know if that's relevant here and I won't elaborate. There is a big difference between fundementalists Christians reading and living the Bible and the the converts to Islam who live and read the Quran. We shouldn't be too quick to look here and there to for teachers of authenticity or attritubes that we want to possess. In the case of Islam this is dangerous. We need to keep our eyes on Jesus as our Savior and Way to the Father, and we have the Church as well. A more benign example is that some people admire the seemingly peaceful prayer of Buddists and have made the mistake that Christians can learn contemplative prayer from them. No. We need to keep our eyes and hearts fixed on the Trinity and convert our lives to Him. This will also give us the wisdom to deal prudently, ( "with our eyes open" ) and respectfully and if necessary defensively with Islam.

  24. The Ventricle

    A most outstanding discussion, but I deplore how the debate was framed. The question "is the only good muslim a bad muslim?" gave Spencer the advantage, for it put the focus on "orthodox" islam (or more precisely, "literal" islam). Kreeft and Spencer agree (as they should) on that question. The more important one for Christians is how to deal with the heterogeneous population of muslims. Kreeft is neither blind nor naive, and his attitude is more fruitful than most commentators on this debate have recognized.

  25. Lauretta

    brokenbose, sorry to be so slow to respond but I've had a busy few days. I did not mean in any way that our bad behavior incites the Muslims to attack us. Not at all. I don't think that was the case with the Babylonians vs the Hebrew people either. I meant that I believe God allows these things to happen to re-orient us to get back on the path we should be on. The same with economic hardships, etc. And, yes, the innocent are always victims in these circumstances, as in the case with all sin. Should give us incentive to not sin but it doesn't seem to many times.

  26. tmandev

    An accurate assessment of the Muslim religion and its social and political implications in our world today may paint a harsh picture, but that is not due to any deficiencies in the attitude messenger. That is the reality. Clarity is important in this matter especially when it is being stifled by political correctness. We as Christian must lead the way in being able speak truthfully about these harsh realities while at the same time love our neighbors …

  27. brokenbose

    Lauretta, thanks for clarification in your response. I believe your thoughts are very insightful.Ventricle, I believe that the issue of moderate Muslims has been resoundingly answered in history. It is, to be blunt, impotent in the face of their fervent brethren. President Obama in 2009 reached out to the moderate Muslims (his phrase was "moderate Taliban"). The result? Nearly a thousand schools for girls either razed to the ground by these so-called moderates or closed for fear reprisals for the intolerable crime of wanting to provide an education for little girls. In this country, Imam Rauf of the now infamous ground zero mosque is considered the face of moderate Islam by the present administration. What's the name of the Islamic center they want to build next to ground zero? The Cordoba House. Nice. When tolerant Muslims will not consider moving their center for the sake or semblance of good will with regards to the sensitivities of the victims of 9/11, they name their worship center after a region that hasn't been ruled under Islam for nearly 800 years because they still believe Spain belongs to them. I've yet to hear any moderate Muslim group ask that the center be moved out of empathy for the victims. I doubt I ever will. The relevant question is really the one being asked in the debate, is the only good Muslim a bad one? The heterogeneous mix of Muslims that you might call moderate, is either sadly, too apathetic or too afraid to answer that question.

  28. Jimmy

    The "debate's" biggest failure was one of Expertise on Islam. Robert Spencer's beliefs and strong convictions seemed based on a thorough knowledge of Islam. On the other hand, Peter Kreeft, notably, did not have the depth or expertise on Islam to make this debate meaningful. A better debate would be with a comparable expert on Islam, its culture and writings who could argue for dialogue. Otherwise, I'd conclude from the debate that, only a good Muslim is a bad one…

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