Saturday, May 15, 2010

Who is Dr. Ergun Caner?

So, what is the real story with Dr. Ergun Caner? He has claimed that "We wore keffiyeh; we wore robes" (discussed here) before his conversion. He has claimed this in connection with illustrating how devoted a Muslim he was "as devout as it gets." But the real Ergun Caner is harder to document.

With the assistance of a friend (whose identity will be concealed for now, for his own protection - some of Caner's supporters have been quite unkind), I was able to get access to Dr. Caner's high school yearbooks (don't worry - not his personal copy) from Dr. Caner's high school in Gahanna, OH (named for America's 16th president).

Based on the activities list provided by Dr. Caner's senior yearbook, we find an interesting picture of Dr. Caner's high school years (the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4 correspond respectively to the year of high school, with 4 being final year):

A'Cappella 2,3,4
Children's Theatre 4
Chorale 4
Cast member in:
  • "The Homecoming"
  • "Father of the Bride" (one other activity supporting this play)
French Club 1,2,3
Freshman Choir
Intramurals 1,2,3
Soccer 1,2
Tennis 1,2
Thespians 4
Varsity Varieties
  • Cast Member 2,3,4
  • Varsity Varieties (Usher) 2
  • Varsity Varieties (Stage Crew) 1
As far as I can determine, there was no involvement in any Christian group (Fellowship of Christian Athletes existed and Jerry Tackett who apparently led Dr. Caner to Christ was connected with that group). There was, of course, no Islamic group in the high school at that time. An important caveat is that yearbook summaries are sometimes only as good as the yearbook editors. So, we have no absolute guarantee that Dr. Caner didn't join in other groups or fail to join in some of the groups listed above.

The picture that Caner's high school activities provide for us is a picture of a young man who is very interested in acting. He also does singing, and some sports in his first two years.

What about his appearance? We have some evidence of that. We can see Dr. Caner's yearbook photos from 1981-84, which appear to show a normal, western attired youth:
Uniforms were not required for the photos, but perhaps there was a specific, western dress code for the photos. We don't know. They don't support his claims about dressing like a foreigner, but it is hard to speak definitively based on such limited evidence.

On the other hand, on one day when his keffiyeh would have been permitted, "Hat Day," Ergun Caner wore rather different head gear:
That may have been after his conversion, but it was his sophomore year. There are similar photos from his junior and senior years outside of the yearbook photos, never with a robe, never with any Muslim hats of any kind. There is one exception, he wears a robe in one context:
Of course, you'll recognize that what is shown there is a choir robe. The rest of the students are wearing the same.

In short, here is my understanding of Dr. Ergun Caner: he is an actor.

Within my understanding of Dr. Caner, as an actor, his stage name is "Ergun Mehmet Caner" (his Father's real middle name is Mehmet, but we cannot seem to find any legal documents with "Ergun Mehmet Caner") and the role he is playing is that of a converted Muslim extremist. To this end, he adds a little color here and there to his actual autobiography.

I don't think Dr. Caner meant any harm in this. I think he believed it added a little spice to a life story of growing up in a suburb of Columbus. The story "Ergun Mehmet Caner" has at its core the true life story of Ergun Michael Caner, whose father was a devout Muslim man who enjoyed sports - especially soccer.

Along the way, Dr. Caner seems to (note that it is hard to definitively say) have added a variety of details to his autobiography, such as the suggestion that he got saved later and later in life, and that he came to America later and later as well.

Indeed, despite the evidence we have that strongly suggests Caner was in the U.S. from around 1970 until he completed high school, there are (of course) some gaps.

His mother swore (literally swore an official oath) that Ergun's father had resided in the U.S. for "six years" (as of July 31, 1975), which suggests that the Caner family was in the U.S. at least from 1969 (after Ergun's birth and Erdem's birth and before Emir's birth) to at least the middle of 1975 (copy of her affidavit)(property records corroborate at least part of this). Furthermore, on April 14, 1978, his mother was awarded permanent physical custody of him at a specific address in a suburb of Columbus, OH (copy of divorce decree), and the separation agreement filed on that same date prohibited anyone from removing the children from the local county in Ohio for two years (link to separation agreement). The only gap there is mid-1975 to early 1978. That's about two and a half years. At the very beginning of that gap we have a restraining order dated August 22, 1975, preventing anyone from removing the children from the country and awarding primary custody to the children's mother (link to restraining order). Is it possible that during that two year gap the Mr. Caner somehow took his kids to Turkey and then brought them back? Of course, there are many possibilities, but the evidence doesn't suggest that - on the contrary the evidence suggests that boys lived in Ohio during the interim, since the property on Gertrude St. remained in the Caners' ownership until mid-1978 (link to official property records). Additionally, the dispute over custody and child supported continued into 1976 (link to order from February 1976). However, it appears that Caner's mother prevailed, because the divorce decree makes reference to the fact that custody was awarded to the Caners' mother after a hearing, which again confirms that their residence was with her (the divorce decree appears to be referring to a March 11, 1976 order)(see the docket sheet for the Caner divorce, which appears to confirm that it is the March 11, 1976 order that is in view). Did they vacation to Turkey at some point? I suppose it possible - but it does not appear that they grew up there. All the evidence suggests they grew up in Franklin County, Ohio.

But the story about coming to America in 1978 or 1979 adds a lot of color, and it isn't really the main point (perhaps they even made some little vacation to Turkey during that time period - it doesn't appear probable, but who can disprove it without more evidence?). I'm not defending him for making those kinds of comments, but I don't think people should assume that his intentions were particularly nefarious. I think charity suggests that we should assume that Dr. Caner got caught up in the character of "Ergun Mehmet Caner" that he had created, and decided to make the character more interesting for audience. In that regard it worked, but at the price of a great deal of his own credibility. What is truly sad is that some of his supporters continue to suggest that additional proof is needed before we can reach the conclusion that it appears that Dr. Caner embellished his autobiography.

May I respectfully encourage his supporters to exhort him to come clean - clear away the erroneous impressions that he has given people with his very colorful stories, and give God the glory for saving him, even without all the added color. It's by no means a drab testimony when God saves a perfectly ordinary boy from Ohio. There's plenty of color in that, and praise God that Dr. Caner professes the name of Christ!

- TurretinFan

Ergun Caner, Sri Lanka, and an Embellished Autobiography

One of the many errors attributed to Dr. Ergun Caner is an error that he made with respect to Sri Lanka. At the 2009 Value Voters Summit Dr. Ergun Caner spoke (scroll down through the videos at this link to find his near the bottom). During this conference he stated (at 15 minutes into the presentation): "In 36 countries around the globe, including Sri Lanka, it is a punishable offense by death for a Muslim to convert." And then again at around 19 minutes into the presentation, "Sri Lanka puts my people to death. We are Murtad - we are converts."

Here are the problems:
  1. Sri Lanka is not a majority Muslim nation. The vast majority are Buddhists, with a sizable Hindu minority. Muslims and professing Christians each make up less than ten percent, and are groups that are about the same size. There appear to be about forty-eight majority Muslim nations in the world, about thirty-seven of which appear to have some form of Sharia.
  2. Sri Lanka has some religious persecution, from what I've found. However, sites like "Voice of the Martyrs" report a small number of killings there, and those killings are murders.
  3. Specifically, Sri Lanka does not have Sharia law and does not punish conversion (although it does punish those who force others to convert, a provision sometimes apparently applied wrongly against Christians). Apostasy is an offense punishable by death under the most literal form of Sharia, but Sri Lanka does not have Sharia.
  4. While Sri Lanka does have capital punishment on the books (for crimes like murder, rape, and drug trafficking), from what I can tell their last official execution was in 1976 (although there are allegations of war crimes that Sri Lanka denies).
So, it seems clear that Dr. Caner made a mistake. This mistake was made in connection with concern that Dr. Caner had for another ex-Muslim, Rifqa Bary. His concern was well-intentioned but apparently misinformed. Frankly, we have no reason to think that this error was a lie, and I hope none of my readers will come away saying that I said Dr. Caner lied about Sri Lanka. He made a mistake. He apparently made a mistake as well about the number of majority Muslim nations.

The root of the problem may simply be that Dr. Caner is not really an expert in Islam. Growing up having a Muslim father gives one more of a background in Islam than not growing up with a Muslim father, all things being equal, but the same is true of having a Christian father. Simply having a Christian father and even growing up in a church doesn't make one an expert on Christianity.

Undoubtedly Dr. Caner has more knowledge of Islam than the typical evangelical, but unfortunately he's being presented as though he were an expert. And sadly Dr. Caner is contributing to this by apparently exaggerating or embellishing his Muslim background.

In the same speech, he also made a number of troubling autobiographical statements:
  1. at 3:30 "My father was an ulima in the Mosque" (questionable: there is no evidence that his father was actually an ulima, sometimes Dr. Caner claims that his father was a muezzin, sometimes an ulima, sometimes both)
  2. at about 3:50 "My father had other wives" (questionable: the evidence is that his father had one other wife, a woman he married after he and Ergun's mother were divorced)
  3. at 4:00 "We were devout Muslims" (questionable: there is little evidence that suggests that the Caner boys were devout Muslims - there is strong evidence that their Mother, who had their primary custody, was not a devout Muslim)
  4. at 4:10 "We were devout, keffiyeh-wearing Muslims." (doubtful: There is no evidence of either Ergun or his Father or brothers ever wearing a keffiyeh. There are photos of them not wearing a keffiyeh, however.)
  5. at 4:45 "As a freshman, devout Muslim kid" (questionable: There is no evidence that Ergun was a devout Muslim in high school.)
  6. at 5:50 "going to the Mosque on Jumu'ah" (doubtful: there is no evidence that Ergun went to the mosque for prayer every noon on Friday - that would have required him leaving school during the day, and remaining out of school for the length of the prayers - ten minutes or more - plus the ten minute drive each direction - it's possible, but since there is evidence that his custodial parent, his mother, did not support his being raised in Islam, it seems unlikely that this happened)
  7. at 6:50 "it was as devout as it gets" (doubtful: see above)
  8. at 9:20 "Jerry Tackett started in our freshman year and he kept coming for four years" (false/misleading: from what we can tell, Dr. Caner was converted either in his Junior or Sophomore year, perhaps earlier - from what we can tell, Jerry did graduate with Dr. Caner, but the impression given is that it was four years of witnessing that lead to Dr. Caner's conversion)
  9. at 9:50 "Going into my senior year I finally decided to challenge him" (false: from what we can tell, Dr. Caner was converted before his senior year - also see below where he claims he was converted in 1982, which is either the first part of his junior year or the latter part of his sophomore year, assuming he's stating the right date)
  10. at 15:00 "That night I went home and I told my father, 'Baba, I'm a born again Christian,' and my father disowned me, 1982." (questionable/misleading: Dr. Caner lived with his mother throughout the school year on school days - and while he may have told his father immediately, there is some evidence from his other that he did not, there is also reason to doubt that the year was 1982, it appears it may have been 1981 - it is true that his father disowned him)
From the evidence that we've seen, it appears that some of the statements Dr. Caner made about his autobiography are false. There are also a significant number of statements that he made that are doubtful or questionable. In some cases it is hard to say with any certainty whether they are false. I am sure that for some of Dr. Caner's supporters, this is good news: it's hard to prove that Dr. Caner wasn't a devout Muslim (isn't devotion somewhat of a subjective, internal matter, to least to some extent?), and it may even be challenging to prove that he was not one who was "as devout as it gets," since it is hard to quantify devotion, even in Islam.

It's hard to prove he didn't get excused from school every Friday for a half hour or more to attend prayers at the Islamic Foundation on Broad St. It's also hard to prove that Caner and his family did not wear headscarves. It's hard to definitely prove that Dr. Caner's father was not an ulima.

I realize that some will read the examples above and think that perhaps he was just having a bad day, or perhaps I've isolated statements that are not representative of his speeches. The good news is that some of his speeches have relatively few of these sorts of remarks, others have more.

Here are some examples:

"Church House or Jail House?" North Alabama Bible Conference-2005 (Dr. Ergun Caner speaking) afternoon of January 12, 2005 (link to audio).

We'll skip over the issues in the introduction, since that's not Dr. Caner himself speaking, although there are some incorrect statements and Dr. Caner does not take the time to correct them.
  1. at about 5:50 "came to this country in my teens" (false - he came to America as a toddler, as shown by his mother's affidavit)
  2. at about 6:50 "I did wear keffiyeh" (questionable: see above)
  3. at about 7:20 "Our father was a muezzin in the mosque and an ulima" (questionable: see above)
  4. at about 7:30 "We wore keffiyeh; we wore robes" (questionable: except that they may have once or twice worn robes - see this photo (link to photo) note that Dr. Caner's website had identified this as being a photo of Ergun and his father, though the man in the photo looks much older than Dr. Caner's father.)
  5. at about 8:20 "Somewhere around fifty times a year my brother and I do debates with Muslims, Baha'i, Buddhists, Zoroastrians, on college campuses" (questionable: see my previous discussion of Dr. Caner's debates)
  6. at 15:50 "He is from Johnston County, NC, from a city entitled, and this is the name of the town, 'Possum Kill'" (joke/idiom - I've included this one simply because others have raised this an objection - see discussion here)
  7. at 17:10 "I said [to his father-in-law], 'There's no cotton in sand, Dad.'" (He may have said this, but he doesn't appear ever to have lived in a sandy desert area.)
  8. at 49:30 "I always lived in majority-Muslim countries and then I came to America" (false: he was born in Sweden which has never been a majority-Muslim nation, and there is no evidence that he lived in any other nations besides that (for 2-3 of his first years) and the U.S. for the remainder.)
  9. at 49:42 "He [Caner's father] had many wives" (doubtful: We can only identify Dr. Caner's mother and the woman to whom Caner's father got remarried. In his will, Dr. Caner's father lists as offspring only the children from those two marriages.)
  10. at 49:50 "Every debate I've ever had, the Muslim, 'Ah you do not understand Islam, you need to understand the Arabic,' What's next? That was my language before English." (false/questionable/doubtful: Arabic was not his language before English. He was born in Sweden, but came to the U.S. apparently at 2-3 years old. His family may have spoken Swedish and/or Turkish, but they do not appear to have used Arabic, aside from the rote prayers. Finally, in the email exchange that Dr. Caner had with Nadir Ahmed, the closest thing to a debate with a Muslim that we can document Dr. Caner having - see here for more discussion of Dr. Caner's debate, dialogs, and discussion - Nadir did not raise the issue of Arabic language knowledge, although I have heard Muslims make similar claims in debating Dr. White.)
  11. at 55:00 "I kept telling him, 'No,' for three years" (doubtful/misleading: Notice that above Dr. Caner had claimed 4 years. If the 1982 date that Dr. Caner has claimed is correct, and if Jerry Tackett started to talking to Dr. Caner in Caner's freshman year, then the actual time was a little under two and a half years. However, there are reasons to think that the real year was 1981, which would make it a little under one and a half years (According to page 19 of their book, Unveiling Islam, Ergun invited Emir to a revival service "the following year" and Emir was born again on "November 4, 1982").
  12. at 1:03:15 "I went home and told my father. I said, 'Abi, I am born again - I'm saved." It was November the 4th, 1982, and it was the last day I saw my father. " (false/questionable/doubtful: It was not the last day he saw his father. When his father was dying, he saw him again. There is really no way he could forget about seeing his father on his father's deathbed (his father died in 1999). Additionally, the date is questionable. That date is also alleged, as noted above, to be the date of Emir Caner's conversion, but his conversion was allegedly a year later than Ergun Caner's. Also, as noted above, the evidence suggests that Dr. Caner lived with his mother, not his father.)
  13. at 1:04:00 "My father disowned me as an act of mercy. Church became my family. You know those kids who show up who don't smell really nice - don't look good - got two different kind of shoes - back in the day of wally baby and the bus ministries - if it weren't for the bus driver I wouldn't be here - if it weren't for for an 80 year old Sunday school teacher that for some reason wanted to teach high school boys - I wouldn't be here. I was a church orphan. A year later both my brothers got saved. All three of us born again." (questionable/misleading: It may well be that Dr. Caner's mother did not support his conversion to Christianity, but his father disowning him did not leave him an orphan. His mother had primary physical custody of him according to the court records we have. Note, however, that he maintains the idea that his brothers got saved a year later. This is consistent with what his book says, although it would mean either that he got saved in 1981 or his brothers got saved in 1983. What is truly remarkable is that I have yet to see any account from his or his brothers where they give any date for conversion other than November 1982, yet they continue to mention that they were saved one year apart.)
  14. at 1:05:20 "In 1991, my mama got saved. In the baptistry took off her hijab." (doubtful/misleading: We know that in the 70's Dr. Caner's mother was opposed to a motion from Dr. Caner's father that would have required Dr. Caner to be raised a Muslim, and there is no evidence that Dr. Caner's mother continued to wear hijab once she was in the U.S., if she ever wore it. The evidence is that Dr. Caner's mother was not a practicing Muslim from some point in the 70's onward. That does not make her baptism in the 1990's less, but it is sad that Dr. Caner appears to have tried to suggest that she was a devout Muslim woman up to that point.)
  15. at 1:14:10 "There was a time when I was cool. 18 years old, foot-long Muslim mullet hanging off the back of my head. And I drove a Camaro ... and women would just jump in the thing, forget the little towel-headed, olive-skinned boy ..." (questionable/misleading: Dr. Caner was no longer a Muslim by the time he was 18. He had something of a "punk" hairstyle in high school, but not (as far as we can tell) either foot-long hair or a mullet (UPDATE: Some folks tell me that one of the hairdos in this recent post constitutes a mullet.), and there is no evidence that we've seen that he wore a keffiyeh, indeed, around the hour mark he specifically claimed to have taken it off as a symbol of his conversion. I have no doubt that there was a time when Dr. Caner was cool - he still seems like he would be a fun guy to hang out with.)
A couple more examples can be provided:

Here is a video from Dr. Caner:
(download here)
As you can see, he's a good, compelling speaker. Much of what he says is actually good and helpful. Much of what he says about Christianity is good and actually much is probably more monergistic than he intended. However, when it comes to Dr. Caner's autobiography, there is an inconsistency.

Dr. Caner states (around 1 minute in): "Finally, my senior year in high school to show him, I walked into this little church." Dr. Caner's senior year of high school was 1984 (link to site showing his class list). However, in his book, Dr. Caner claims to have surrendered to the gospel the ministry in 1982 (link to book page). Even if that was December of 1982, that would be in Ergun's junior year of high school, and that's when he allegedly surrendered to the ministry, not when he got saved.

Here's a second video:
(download here)
Here he claims (early in the video): "And in every country where I had lived, we had always been in the majority. I am Sunni. About 90% of the Muslims in the world are Sunni. That includes the Wahabi, which is a subset, which is what Bin Ladin is. But I had never been around Christians."

He also makes an error with respect to when Mohamed's first alleged revelation came, it was when Mohamed was 40 years old, but not on his birthday.

Later in the video (around 11 minutes in) he claims: "And starting in my sophomore year in high school, he just wouldn't let up. All the way through, almost my senior year, 'Dude - you wanna come to this ... '."

Later in the video he appears to confuse Shabir Ally (still living) with Ahmed Deedat (famous Muslim apologist who is now deceased).

At about 19 minutes 50 seconds in, Dr. Caner states that on "November 4, 1982" he got saved. However, as you'll note at the link to his book above, that's the same date that the book claims that Emir got saved and the book claims that Emir was saved as a result of the fact that "Ergun invited Emir to a revival service the following year."

And around 21 minutes in, Dr. Caner states that "A year later, both my brothers got saved." This is the same year gap as in the book, but now it makes it sound as though Emir (and Erdem) got saved in 1983, not 1982, or possibly Dr. Caner got saved in 1981 (his sophomore year), not 1982 (his junior year).

You'll notice that these last two examples, which are all I'll post for now, have far fewer autobiographical issues than those above - and they are still enjoyable to listen to. The man is quite a speaker - he really knows how to work the crowd. Unfortunately, it seems that his comments about his own Muslim background or about Islam in general are not always strictly accurate.

- TurretinFan

UPDATE (from a draft post that never published):

Apparently, Ergun Caner spoke on January 12, 2005, for the North Alabama Bible Conference-2005 (link to mp3). It is a version of his "Church House or Jail House" sermon - another instance of this same sermon can be found as a transcript here (link to pdf).

Peter Lumpkins vs. the Messengers

Peter Lumpkins who has been faithfully criticizing those who dare to criticize Dr. Caner has added an additional attack to his list. Here's a quick chronology (Last Updated July 5, 2010) (note that the list is in reverse chronological order):
  1. August 2 - Peter Lumpkins goes after James White
  2. July 17 - Peter Lumpkins goes after James White
  3. July 9 - Peter Lumpkins goes after TurretinFan (and others)
  4. July 8 - Peter Lumpkins goes after Turretinfan
  5. July 6 - Peter Lumpkins goes after James White (and his supporters)
  6. July 3 - Peter Lumpkins goes after James White
  7. July 2 - Peter Lumpkins goes after James White
  8. June 6 - Peter Lumpkins goes after James White
  9. June 5 - Peter Lumpkins goes after James White
  10. June 4 - Peter Lumpkins goes after James White
  11. June 1 - Peter Lumpkins goes after - guess who - yes, James White again
  12. May 28 - Peter Lumpkins goes after James White (big surprise!)
  13. May 22 (in an update) - Peter Lumpkins goes after James White (yet again)
  14. May 21 - Peter Lumpkins goes after James White (again)
  15. May 15 - Peter Lumpkins goes after James White
  16. May 11 - Peter Lumpkins goes after Matt Svoboda
  17. May 9 (and 10th in the updates?) - Peter Lumpkins goes after "Baptist Calvinist Bloggers" and Wade Burleson and Matt Svoboda
  18. April 18 - Peter Lumpkins goes after James White
  19. April 9 - Peter Lumpkins goes after James White
  20. April 7 - Peter Lumpkins goes after James White
  21. March 12 - Peter Lumpkins goes after James White and Founders
  22. February 25 (in the update which appears to be the same day) - Peter Lumpkins goes after James White
  23. February 23 - Peter Lumpkins goes after James White and Tom Ascol
This approach is a classic "shoot the messengers" approach to dealing with criticism. I respectfully call on Peter Lumpkins to pursue a different approach. Some of his posts (such as the May 9 post and the February 25 post) could have been written in a way that deals with the issues without going after Dr. Caner's critics in a personal way. Obviously, Peter Lumpkins' favorite target is Dr. James White, but perhaps Mr. Lumpkins can learn to set aside that particular issue.

- TurretinFan

Friday, May 14, 2010

The Apostolic Succession as a Solution to Ambiguous Scriptures Challenge

In a comment box at the GreenBaggins blog, Jason J. Stellman sets forth a simple but important challenge (link to comment).

The challenge is this (paraphrased):

If "apostolic succession" is the solution to multiple competing Scriptural interpretations, then what is the solution to multiple claims to "apostolic succession"?

Let's suppose for the sake of the argument that there is some ambiguity in Scripture that we would like to resolve. Suppose further that we try to resolve it by resorting to "apostolic succession." We will encounter multiple claimants:

1) Mormons (who claim to have living apostles)
2) Roman Catholics (who claim to have a living successor of the Apostle Peter)
3) Eastern Orthodox (who claim to have a plurality of bishops that have succeeded the apostles)
4) Other "Orthodox" groups, including the Nestorians, Monophysites, etc.

It does not appear that the answer can come from any disputed Scripture, because that would introduce a circle. I have heard some folks claim it is history, but if disputes over Scripture are fierce, disputes over History are often even more fierce.

I would respectfully submit that there is no neat answer to the challenge. By whatever skeptical rule one denies that Scripture is the rule of faith, one's own rule of faith will perish.

- TurretinFan

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Dr. Ergun Caner's Debates, Discussions, and Dialog

The weakest defenders of Dr. Caner have focused their attention on attacking Dr. Caner's critics. While they were wasting their time and destroying their credibility, I was busy searching for the debates that Dr. Caner has claimed to do, so that I could exonerate him of the charges of claiming debates he has not done. I found Dr. Caner making reference to his debates in a public address at an evangelism conference. Dr. Caner indicated that he uploads these debates to iTunes(R) and so I looked there. Within iTunes(R) one must go to the store and then to the Podcasts. I've managed to find the following debates, dialogs, or discussions from Dr. Ergun Caner in three categories.

The first category are items listed under the collection "Dialog, Debate, and Discussion"

1) Introduction to 3D (No opponents)

This segment is a general introduction. He states around 6 minutes, 30 second in:
I will get e-mails you know through the website and they will say, 'Where are your debates?' And my debates are all here, they're all free. And here are some of the rules that go with it. Even though I've done 'em for 20 years, I don't believe debate is only formal. As a matter of fact, I believe you are severely limiting yourself if the only exposure you have to other world religions is through formal debate. I believe the most effective means of sharing the truth of Jesus Christ the exclusive nature of salvation through Christ can only be found through conversation. ... I became dissatisfied with formal debate and quite frankly disgusted with some of the practitioners in that passive-aggressive methods of shaking their head and making noises, embarrassing themselves by acting petulant. And so, like I said, about five, six years ago, I became convinced that there had to be another way. What we've done is we've established 3D, which stands for debate, dialog, and discussion, where we sit around the table and I interview, for instance in this first season a Unitarian Universalist, a Druid, etc. and it's free form. I even tell them ahead of time, "I will never provoke you. I annot ask you trick questions and this isn't the Jerry Springer show. In other words there's not going to be a moment where you have to lurch out of your chair to defend yourself."
This discussion helps to highlight that Dr. Caner is aware of the fact that these interviews are not formal debates. While he might like to call them 3D, he seems to be aware that there is no "debating" going on in the conventional sense of the term. Unfortunately, without that context, claims of "debating" the following people would seem to be misleading.

2) Presidents Thornock and Ralls (Mormon)

President Michael Thornock is apparently Mission President of the West Virginia Charleston Mission. President Walter E. Ralls Jr. is Stake President of the Buena Vista Virginia Stake. These are mid-level officers in the Mormon bureaucracy.

3) Bob Riggs and James Williams (Baha'i practitioners)

Robert Riggs is a Baha'i author. It's unclear what, if any, leadership role either of the men have in Baha'i.

4) Rev. Paul Boothby (Unitarian Universalists)

Boothby is a local (Lynchburg) Unitarian pastor.

5) Fr. Richard Mooney (Roman Catholic) (There were three parts)

Mooney is a local (Lynchburg area) Roman Catholic Priest.

6) Rabbi Yosef Zylberberg (Reform) (There were two parts)

Zylberg is a Reform (not Reformed) rabbi, apparently from Phoenix, AZ.

7) Rev Kaz Nakata (Shin Buddhist)

Nakata is a Buddhist priest (the head of a seemingly small temple in Virginia).

8) Senior Druid Emeritas Nancy [McAndrew?] ("A Druid Fellowship")

Nancy holds a seemingly minor clerical rank in the local neo-pagan organization associated with "A Druid Fellowship, Inc."

9) Dr. Mel White (Metropolitan Community Church)

Mel White is apparently a clergyman in the MCC. The MCC is apparently supportive of non-heterosexual fornication (perhaps they also support heterosexual fornication as well, it's not clear to me).

10) Lonnie Murray (Unitarian Univeralist & Neo-Pagan)

Murray is apparently a congregant at a Unitarian Universalist church but also a Neo-Pagan who organizes a "Nature Spirit Worship" group in Charlottesville, VA.

The following were classified under "Sects and Cults Podcast" (apparently recorded during Theology 678)

1) Interview with Mormons (Mormons)

Two "elders" are interviewed. The discussion mentions that the questions that they will be answering is given to them in advance, except for the audience question.

2) Interview with Fr. Alban Waggener (Antiochian Orthodox)

Dr. Waggener is the priest of the local parish of an Antiochian Orthodox church.

3) Interview with Rev. Shirley Paulson (Christian Science) (there were two parts)

Paulson is a Christian Science lecturer.

4) Interview with Mel White (Metropolitan Community Church) (there were two parts)

(see above for the discussion of White)

5) Interview with Dr. Kenley Mays (Baha'i International) (there were two parts)

Dr. Mays is apparently a Baha'i practitioner that happens to live in Virginia.

The following were classified under "Apologetics 570 - Far Eastern Religions"

1) Taoism (there were two parts here)

Two practicing and "devout" Taoists are interviewed. One is apparently a leader at a local Taoist study center in Virginia, and other is from Seattle.

2) Oneness Pentecostal (I think this was tagged incorrectly.)

A local Oneness pastor was interviewed. This is the discussion of which a portion was recently discussed on the DL, with reference to the description of the Trinity that Dr. Caner provided.

3) Tibetan Buddhist

A Tibetan Buddhist is interviewed.


I checked the items in the list above, listening to the introduction and random portions from each. From what I could tell, in every case the format was roughly the same: the visitor was interviewed with a series of questions designed to learn more about the religion. Sometimes the questions are pointed questions. Sometimes there are some questions back to Dr. Caner. However, the interviews appear to be mostly designed to inform the students about the religious group whose representative was interviewed. There doesn't seem to be any argument, which would seem to be a necessary component of debate. If this is it - if this is really "all" his debates, as his intro to 3D suggests - then it doesn't seem that Dr. Caner has done many, if any, debates.

Perhaps there is something I've overlooked. If so, I invite my readers to draw my attention to it.


UPDATE: An alert reader named Tim has pointed out that Dr. Caner may also have engaged in one or more e-mail debates. The only one I've seen is this one with Nadir Ahmed (link to official version at Ergun Caner's own website). It's worth noting the following exchange:

Dr. Caner's first email states:
If, however, you would like to DEBATE the issues of Christianity versus Islam, then I believe we might have an interesting opportunity. Here is what I propose:
THE MOST IMPORTANT ISSUE: Take the money OFF the table - I do not do this for money. I am interested, however, in a debate via e-mail.
Nadir Ahmed's first email responds:
Therefore, just like our response to Craig Winn ... Ergun Caner, you have conducted probably one of the most intense media propaganda campaigns against Islam appearing on countless radio and television shows beamed into the homes of millions upon millions of people, but ... when knowledgeable Muslims calls your views into question, you restrict him to some email exchange? I'm sorry, but we will have to decline your offer. As I mentioned, neither the Muslims nor the Christians will settle for this, so it's really out of my hands. Rather we request a face to face public debate in front of a live audience. There is no substitute for this. Just like how you encourage our young Americans to be brave ... face the enemy head on in Iraq, you should also show the same courage, and face in a fair, moderated debate in which we discuss the *truth* claims of Islam and Christianity in a respectful dignified manor ... and do it for them. The ball is in your court Caner.

Considering that you have spoken at thousands of churches or Christian organizations, then perhaps that would be a good venue for the debate? If not, then I have several MSAs and different colleges where I debated at and Mosques who would gladly sponsor the debate, just let me know. Also, in the spirit of fair debate, we will provide you with all our material and arguments before hand so you can be prepared.
(links removed ... ellipses in original)

Notice how Nadir Ahmed indicates that he does not consider the email exchange a "debate." That's my reason for not including it.

Tim mentioned that he thinks he has seen other email debates as well. I have not seen them, but I welcome my readers to point them out to me.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Unveiling "Unveiling Islam" - References to the Hadith

One of the points I've made in discussing the Caner situation with folks is that Caner's Muslim critics have focused most of their attention on his oral presentations, rather than on his books. The Caners' book, Unveiling Islam, has a lot of great material in it. However, a question has been raised about whether the book should be considered scholarly.

In reviewing the book, I found dozens of references to the Hadith. Many of the references are (as Dr. White recently pointed out) incomplete references:
  • "hadith 9.57" (pp. 19 and 187)
  • "hadith 5.266" (p. 31)
  • "hadith 2.460" (p. 32)
  • "Hadith ... (2.375)" (p. 32)
  • "hadith 2.448" (p. 33)
  • "hadith 7.619" (p. 33)
  • "hadith 1.35" (p. 35)
  • "Hadith ... (52.42)" (p. 35)
  • "hadith 7.590" (p. 37)
  • "hadith 3.826" (p. 42)
  • "Hadith ... (8.419)" (p. 110)
  • "hadith 6.60.336" (p. 114)
  • "The Hadith illustrates ... (2.486) ... (2.498) ... (2.514)" (p. 126)
  • "hadith 3.826" (p. 134)
  • "hadith 2.541" (p. 134)
  • "hadith 1.268" (p. 135)
  • "hadith 7.62.77" (p. 139)
  • "Hadith 7.30, 33. Hadith chapter seven also includes ... (7.133)" (p. 140)
  • "Hadith 7.64" (p. 141)
  • "hadith 8.76.481" (p. 144)
  • "The Hadith expounds ... (3.57)" (p. 146)
  • "hadith 3.46.724" (p. 186)
  • "hadith 5.716" (p. 188)
  • "hadith 4.52.79" (p. 188)
  • "hadith 4.53.412" (p. 189)
  • "hadith 4.52.317" (p. 189)
  • "hadith 5.58.240; repeated in 5.59.602" (p. 190)
  • "hadith 5.59.599" (p. 191)
  • "hadith 8.73.1" (p. 192)
  • "Hadith 5.42.85" (p. 192)
  • "hadith 9.50" (p. 192)
  • "hadith 4.52.127" (p. 193)
  • "hadith 4.52.85" (p. 194)
  • "hadith 5.58.240; see also 4.42. This verse is repeated in 5.59.602" (p. 195)
  • "hadith 9.93.549" (p. 195)
  • "hadith 9.93.555" (p. 195)
  • "Hadith volume 9, book 93" (p. 195)
  • "hadith 9.93.519" (p. 196)
  • "hadith 4.73" (p. 196)
There were also a second category of odd references:

  • "Bukhari, 784" (p. 100)
  • "Bukhari, 1598" (p. 100)
  • "Muslim, 3785" (p. 100)
  • "Bukhari, 4813" (p. 100)
  • "Sahih Muslim hadith 5339" (p. 114)
  • "Sahih Muslim hadith 2214" (p. 115)
  • "Sahih Muslim hadith 6595" (p. 115)
Not every reference appeared to be incomplete. The following references were provided in a more complete form:
  • "Hadith of Sahih al-Bukhari, explains [quotation] (hadith 1.1.3)" (p. 41)
  • "Sahih al-Bukhari, Hadith, 6.477" (p. 92)
  • "Hadith ... (7.590) ... (7.619) ... (4.537) ... (5.275) ... (7.636) ... (7.747)" (p. 98) (see note below about chapter 5)
  • "Sunan Abu Daawuud hadith 23.3444" (p. 112)
  • "Sunan Abu Daawuud hadith 41.4937" (p. 112)
  • "Sahih Al-Bukhari hadith 2.21.221" (p. 116)
  • "Sahih Muslim hadith 36.6631" (p. 116)
  • "Book 52 of Bukhari's Hadith ... In the volume ... (4.52.42)" (p. 186)
  • "Bukhari Hadith 9.57-58" (p. 249)
I had expected to find somewhere in the book a comment that "references to the hadith are references to [Sahih al-Bukhari ... or one of the others] except where indicated otherwise." However, while I found a comment that most of the translations from the Koran are from the translation by Mohammed Marmaduke Pickthall (p. 37), I did not find any such indication for the hadith.

With respect to chapter 5, however, the following indication was provided: "All the citations in this chapter come from Bukhari's version of the Hadith." (p. 96, chapter 5 extends from pp. 93-102) The chapter then goes on to state: "The translation of Sahih Muslim is a much larger collection." (p. 96) Both of these statements are imprecise. As noted elsewhere in the chapter (pp. 95-96) and even in the second statement, Sahih al-Bukhari and Sahih Muslim are collections, not "versions" or "translations." There are versions of individual statements within those collections, however, one usually speaks of the collections as collections. The term "versions" might be defensible on some ground, but the term "translations" does not seem to be defensible.

Speaking of "translations," Unveiling Islam refers to "the official English translation of the Holy Qur'an" at page 217, whereas at page 83, the book indicates "Muslims regard any translation of the Qur'an with suspicion, for the true words are impossible to fully understand except in their Arabic original." (p. 83) The latter sentence is largely true, from what I understand of Islam. The former sentence is strange. There is not just one official English translation of the Koran. At another place already referenced above, Unveiling Islam provides yet another angle: "Most quotations from the Qur'an used in this volume are from the well-accepted English interpretation by Mohammed Marmaduke Pickthall. While the text cites the Qur'an text, it is to be understood that only the Arabic text is accepted as the actual Qur'an. All other translations are regarded as interpretations of the Scripture given to Muhammad." (p. 37) This final sentence is probably just bad English, with the authors intending to say "all translations" rather than "all other translations." However, as it stands, it unfortunately conveys to the reader the same erroneous idea as "the official English translation" does.

These issues may suggest that the familiarity of the authors of Unveiling Islam was relatively low compared to scholars of Islam, while their familiarity is clearly higher than that of the typical American Evangelical. While there are many accurate statements in the book, calling Sahih Muslim a "translation" seems to reflect a basic lack of understanding of the Hadith, and saying that there is an "official translation" of the Koran is also questionable (particularly when it appears to contradict other statements in the book).

As I mentioned at the start of this article, there is a lot of good and useful information in Unveiling Islam. I also suspect that if there were many serious mistakes in the book, the Caners' Muslim critics would have brought those to light (or perhaps they have, and I am simply unaware of it). On the other hand, their popular book should be handled with caution, and it should not be assumed that because they have written this book on Islam, that makes them "experts," even though it does seem clear that we should expect them to know more about Islam than the typical "man on the street" in America.


Monday, May 10, 2010

Inquiry Committee for Ergun Caner

It appears that Liberty University is forming an inquiry committee to "look into these matters" with respect to Dr. Ergun Caner (link to source). An answer is expected by June 30. Let's pray that God will grant both Dr. Caner and the committee wisdom and grace in dealing with this matter.

Jamal Jivanjee's Memory

According to Jamal Jivanjee's current biography (as of May 10, 2010):
Growing up in the Columbus Ohio area, Jamal Jivanjee was raised by a devout Shiite Muslim father ... and a very conservative Catholic mother ... . Jamal's quest for the truth led him out of Islam and Catholicism, and down some perilous roads, but eventually to Christ as a young adult. Jamal went on to become a graduate of Liberty University in Lynchburg, VA where he studied Pastoral ministry.

Keep in mind that Dr. Ergun Caner claims to have been raised by a devout Sunni Muslim father. Also, keep in mind that Mr. Jivanjee claims regarding the Caner family:
My father was a devout Muslim and we attended functions at the same mosque/ masjid that Ergun, Emir, & his family attended on east Broad street in Columbus, Ohio. Ergun & Emir’s father, Mr. Acar Caner, was a very prominent leader within the Islamic community that we associated with and was very involved with this mosque. As a result, I remember as a young child going to their home with my family to have dinner with their family.
It would be interesting to know what approximate year Mr. Jivanjee remembers visiting the Acar house. From what I could find on the Internet, Mr. Jivanjee is about 35 years old, meaning he was born about 1975. As such, in November of 1982 (the date Caner indicates as his conversion), Mr. Jivanjee would have been about 7 years old.

I don't doubt that everything that Mr. Jivanjee said is true. The fact that his father was Shiite and Acar Caner was Sunni is not as significant as one might think, given that in the late 70's and early 80's there were not huge numbers of Muslims in central Ohio.

Notice that Mr. Jivanjee doesn't say he or his family regularly attended or worshiped at the Broad St. Islamic Foundation, but just that they "attended functions" there (although, again, perhaps there as no Shiite mosque in the area at the time). Notice as well that Mr. Jivanjee does not claim to have personally known Ergun and Emir, but just to have dined once with Mr. Acar Caner and "his family" (which may well have referred to Mr. Caner's second wife and daughters).

Some of Dr. Caner's fans seem to think that Mr. Jivanjee's comments above prove that Dr. Caner was not just from a Muslim family but a devout Muslim, and that this evidence exonerates Dr. Caner from all the accusations of dishonesty that have been swirling around him. The problems are (1) that's not what Mr. Jivanjee says and (2) it doesn't appear that Mr. Jivanjee, being only about 7 years old and in a different branch of Islam at the time Dr. Caner apparently converted, would have been in a position to know whether Dr. Caner was a devout Muslim.

I trust that Jamal Jivanjee will continue to speak the truth about his knowledge, and particularly the limits of his knowledge. While it would be great to be able to vindicate Dr. Caner's claim to have been a "devout Muslim" (and he may have been a devout Muslim, I am not claiming otherwise), Mr. Jivanjee's testimony is probably not going to be enough (as it stands) to silence the critics.

- TurretinFan

Wishful Defense of Ergun Caner

Ergun Caner's worst enemies are folks who have been trying to defend him by attacking his critics and ignoring the serious issues. The following is an example:
The original charge was that he was NOT a Muslim. Then when the records proved that he was, the charge changed to a Devout Muslim. Once something is proven the charges have had a way of progressively growing and adjusting. Truth has never been the issue. An agenda is the issue.
(as stated by him in a comment on this post) Peter Lumpkins is running with the same basic idea on his blog. Both Mr. Lumpkins and the author of the comment above are either unaware of the issues, or are trying to hide the truth.

The charges from the vast majority of Christian critics has never been that Dr. Ergun Caner was not a Muslim. There is indeed a question about how devout he was (based on a number of embarrassing errors he has made when it comes to discussing various aspects of Islam in his oral presentations), but that's not the main issue. The main issue has been Ergun Caner's various autobiographical embellishments, such as claiming he was born in Istanbul, Turkey (link to clip where he claims that) or that he grew up in Turkey (as reported here), and that he has debated Abdul Saleeb (a Christian pseudonym) and Shabir Ally, although the evidence that has been located places Dr. Ergun Caner in Sweden from birth to about age 3, and then in Ohio from then until his graduation from high school, and that Dr. Caner has never debated (except by email) any Muslim scholars (of course, this last item is a matter of there being an absence of evidence, but recourse to the usual sources has produced no results).

There may have been a few Christians who looked at the pattern of inconsistencies and asked themselves whether anything Dr. Caner said was true. However, the first issue raised by Dr. White was whether Dr. Caner had really done the debates he was claiming to have done. In a so-called Apology (link to discussion), Ergun Caner vaguely acknowledged the fact that he did not do the debates he had claimed while insisting that he had never intentionally misled anyone. Then, without warning, even that vague statement was removed from Dr. Caner's website.

Now, while certain SBC insiders try to hide their heads in the sand and imagine that the issues are going to disappear, the story of Caner's embellishments is getting picked up in an increasing number of news outlets:

Christian Right's Favorite Muslim Convert Exposed as Jihadi Fraud

Muslims, Christians

Liberty directors support seminary president amid charges of misrepresentation

Bloggers Target Seminary President (Subtitle: Liberty's Ergun Caner accused of false statements in his testimony about converting from Islam.)

Is Religious Right’s Star Ex-Muslim a Serial Liar?

Some of us in the "Religious Right" (though this blog doesn't get political, it certainly is religious) can point out that we called Dr. Caner to repentance before these articles started being published. Folks who have been sticking their heads in the sand and thinking that because they have established that Caner was from a Muslim father they have addressed the problem are in for a wake up call as the issues surrounding Dr. Caner's record of describing himself comes under increasingly more detailed scrutiny.

Let's hope that those who consider Dr. Ergun Caner their friend will act like friends to him. If faint praise is the worst sort of insult, these faux defenses that say, in effect, "There, we've proved Dr. Caner was a Muslim, there's nothing further to address," are the worst sort of criticism - not only because they insult the intelligence of the readers, but because they encourage Dr. Caner to continue on his present course.