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Christianity & Islam: Two Worldviews and Why They Matter

January 28, 2008
S. Michael Craven
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Recently, the Arab League reported that “nearly one-third of Arabs are illiterate, including half of Arab women.” The report also points out that “it’s not just the older generation: Three quarters of the 100 million illiterate people in 21 Arab countries are between the ages of 15 and 45.”

By contrast, 99 percent of Americans 15 years and older are literate, according to the latest government figures. Western nations have for centuries had the most literate populations and literacy rates in the US have been among the highest in the world going back as far as the 1600s when it was estimated that “the literacy rate for men in Massachusetts and Connecticut was somewhere between 89 and 95 percent…” And for “women in those colonies it is estimated to have run as high as 62 percent in the years 1681 – 1697.” (Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death, 1985)

Where Christianity spreads, literacy inevitably follows. A Ugandan university study published in 2007 reveals that while “Arab Muslims were the first to introduce written information (texts) in Uganda, they did not make any effort to teach reading and writing… Literacy in the Roman alphabet was introduced into Uganda by Christian missionaries in the late 19th century.” The report goes on to add that within contemporary Ugandan culture, “Christianity provides the impetus for local literacy practices…”

Another study by the Organization of the Islamic Conference on the status of scientific research in its 57 member states reveals a similar shortcoming in the area of scientific accomplishment.

Of the more than 11.5 million scientific papers published worldwide each year; Muslim countries contribute just 2.5 percent. There are more than 1.5 billion Muslims living across the Islamic world — about a quarter of the world's population — and yet they have generated barely more than one percent of the world’s scientific literature and produced only two scientific Nobel Prize winners.
The Islamic approach to healthcare is still largely based on the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad. These sayings, in which Muhammad gave his opinions on medical practices, formed the basis for a distinctive and inadequate medical system from the ninth century onward.

There are simply no scientific innovations emerging out of the Islamic world: no space program, no hi-tech developments, no medical breakthroughs—nothing! Islam cannot provide an adequate basis for science because Islam does not embrace the notion that the universe runs along fundamental principles or laws laid down at creation. Allah—unlike the God of Scripture who is both personal and rational—is impersonal and his intrusion upon the world is arbitrary.

In Christianity, God acts upon nature and the world in ways consistent with His special (Scripture) and natural (creation) revelation. In other words, the God of Scripture is a God of order who created according to laws that are universal and thus men could discern these laws and by theorizing based on these fixed laws, gain a greater understanding of creation. This served as the basis of Western science and its preeminence.

Economically, the Islamic world fares no better. In fact, the Gross Domestic product (GDP) of all Arab countries combined stood at just $1.2 trillion in 2005 – less than that of Spain. This pales in comparison to the U.S. GDP of more than $13 trillion! Unemployment among Arab nations, which hovers around 15 percent, is the highest in the world. The source of what little wealth the Arab world does generate is primarily due to oil, which without Western intervention would have remained an unrealized natural resource.

In the Christian West, it was the biblical principles of personal responsibility, thrift and reinvestment of profits that gave rise to free-market capitalism. This coupled with a moral vision that led people to restrain their material consumption while vigorously seeking wealth, produced the most productive economies in all of human history.    

On the matter of justice, this hardly bears examination as Islamic justice is nearly an oxymoron. There is no presumption of innocence and the burden of proof does not rest with the state. This is a culture in which a woman who is the victim of rape will likely find herself executed or whipped and fathers can murder their children for associating with infidels—so called “honor killings.” Of the 48 countries with a full or near Muslim majority, none has yet evolved a stable, democratic political system.

Hisham Sharabi, the noted Palestinian-born scholar of Georgetown University writes that the Arab world is for the most part “a culturally and politically desolate and oppressive place in which to live and to work . . . a difficult place in which to struggle to build a decent and humane society.” Clearly the Islamic worldview fails to correspond with reality at every point, producing less than adequate results in every standard by which we measure personal, social, and economic well-being.

Conversely, Christianity is more than mere religion; it is the true interpretation of reality in which individuals and societies alike fare better in every category when they live consistent with biblical truth.  Rodney Stark points out in his insightful book, The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success, “While other religions emphasized mystery and intuition, Christianity alone embraced reason and logic as the primary guide to religious truth.” This emphasis on “reason and logic” naturally flows from a rational God who has revealed Himself through both the written word and an orderly creation. These combine to provide a rational theology that through reason men are able to apprehend and apply to every aspect of life and culture producing humane and successful societies.

So, why does this matter? Because for one, roughly one-fifth of the world’s population suffers under the oppressive yoke of Islam and two, there are many who are determined to spread Islam at any cost until the entire world comes under its destructive control.

For American Christians, the response is simple. The Lord in His providence has brought somewhere between 6 and 10 million (exact numbers are unavailable) Muslims to our shores. Thus the Muslim is now our neighbor and we are to love our neighbors. This means we endeavor to create real and meaningful relationships with those Muslims the Lord has very intentionally brought into our lives for it is ultimately the love of Christ that will overcome the tyranny of Islam.

© 2008 by S. Michael Craven

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Response from : Sherwood MacRae  

January 28, 2008 10:23 AM

Dear Michael:

I really did appreciate your essay, contrasting the two worldviews of Christianity and Islam, as it stands in stark contrast to the overwhelming numbers of articles I receive from other Christian sources, often implying that we have something to fear by the Islamic culture.

Each reminds me of the scriptural admonition that it is the truth that sets us free, and, it is my conclusion, that the truth is based on facts and not - feelings.

I am in my 79th year, the thirty-third as a believing Christian, after 45 years of faithfully going to church, assuming that such behavior made me "good" in God's eyes.

I have travelled around the world, studied history for clues as to human behavior, and I have yet to discover a greater opportunity for the advancement of the cause of Christ. But I fear that the majority of present day Christians have a greater belief in their denomination - or their particular church, than they do in reflecting the life of Christ. My Bible has taught me that we are to be - in Christ, not - in church.

Don't get me wrong, I love the church - especially, the United Methodist Church in which I have placed my membership, but their tendency is akin to so many others, keep the folks "involved" and everything will be OK. Even a cursory study of the scriptures, both old and new, should tell us, such efforts do llittle more than pass away the time.

Thank you for your article. You may be certain, I will be referring it to others, many others.

Response from : John Gould  

January 28, 2008 10:29 AM

I was not looking for publication, but wanted to express appreciation for the clear contrast you presented. My question is "How would a modern Muslim respond to these issues?" It would be helpful to have some idea to better prepare for such a conversation. I believe the mindset is significantly different. Thanks again.

Response from : Michael Craven  

January 28, 2008 10:57 AM

Dear John,

Thank you for the kind comments. Yours is a great question. I think most Muslims would point to the past accomplishments of Islam in the areas of the sciences, mathematics and the Arts. However, much of that is the product of Islamic propaganda and simply untrue. While it is true that the Islamic world has some historical measure of success in these areas; the fact is, much of this was rooted in classical Greek thought, which they merely preserved and Islamized. That explains the limits of their development. The Greeks were empiricists (mere observers) and never developed the theoretical, which led to Western progress. It was the pre-Reformation Christian worldview that further developed classical Greek thought in the areas of government, business, science, etc. Muslims today would generally argue that their present inadequacies are somehow related to Western oppression. This is the principle argument among the Jihadists. Of course, any thoughtful examination of the issues would exonerate the West and place the blame where rightly it belongs: on the Islamic worldview.

Thanks again,

Response from : Ameer Raschid  

January 28, 2008 1:01 PM

No doubt, the Arabs and the Muslims in general are not living up to their religion and are suffering for it but your comparisons are self-serving to prove that only Christianity is responsible for Western progress.
Especially, when we look at the past and present Roman Catholic countries compared to the Protestant ones we can see that it is the application of sound principles together with freedom of thought that have had a positive effect.
The Mongol invasion, the colonial exploitation after the decline and defeat of the Ottoman Empire brought the Muslim world to its present state. Islam encourages literacy, frugality and the acquisition of knowledge from any source. Civilizations fall into decline and it was the Islamic culture that preserved knowledge when Europe was in the Dark Ages. Advances in science,mathematics,philosophy,sociolgy
were characteristics of Islamic Civilization before it became stagnat for a number of reasons other than Islam. No doubt, certain narrow minded thinking and the restriction of acceptable innovative thinking helped to prevent advances.
Seyyed Hossein Nasr has authored a number of books that you may find enlightening:Science and Civilization in Islam ISBN 1-930637-15-2
Islamic Science: An Illustrated Study ISBN 1-56744-312-5
Man and Nature ISBN 1-871031-65-6
Religion and the Order of Nature ISBN 0-19-510274-6
The Heart of Islam: Enduring Values for Humanity ISBN 0-06-009924-0
Ameer Raschid
An American Muslim retired in Turkey.

Response from : Mark Kauk  

January 28, 2008 2:18 PM

Thank you for an analysis of the far reaching impact of two differing worldviews. We are actively engaged in teaching worldview principles to our high school students and their influence on science and society. We emphasize that worldviews are more than ideas that are simply debated but that they have profound effects on the direction and fabric of society.

Response from : Michael Craven  

January 28, 2008 2:54 PM

Dear Ameer,

Thank you for your response. However, there are certain statements which you make that bear clarification. Most
notable is the claim that the present circumstances are attributable to colonial expansion. This is essentially the jihadist argument that Western oppression is the cause of all that ails the Islamic world and its justification for terrorism.

The fact is, while the Islamic world did recover and preserve classical Greek thought to some extent; it was unable to progress classical thought any further. It simply stopped where Greek thought ended. The classical approach to science, for example, was stagnated by empiricism, i.e. the mere observation of natural phenomenon. What ancient science possessed was essentially nothing more than lore, skills, wisdombasic knowledge. The weakness in classical thought was the absence of theory, which went beyond mere observation to ask why the phenomenon occur and what are the causes. What little theory did exist in ancient thought was non-empirical.

For example, Aristotle taught that the speed at which objects fall to earth is proportionate to their weightthat a stone twice as heavy will fall twice as fast.

However, in typical Aristotelian fashion, Aristotle never tested his theory by actually visiting a local cliff. If he had he would have quickly proved his own theory wrong. This was the fatal flaw in classical Greek thought and being that Islamic science continued the same approach; it was the limitation to Islamic science. So, while the Islamic world may encourage the acquisition of knowledge from any source; it is apparently unable to generate new knowledge. It is the theoretical element of Western science that enabled its preeminence and this unique facet owes its existence to the Christian worldview. Why? Christianity produced faith in human reason to explore and understand an orderly universe that was created by a rational God. This is simply an historical fact and it was this fact that facilitated the Western eclipse of Islamic science.

Additionally, to say that Western expansion is the reason for the Islamic worlds failures is admit the inadequacy of the Islamic worldview. Dynamic and productive cultures are never overcome by less dynamic, less creative and less productive cultures. Quite the reverse, the more dynamic and more productive cultures have throughout history simply superceded those which are less so, either by force or by progress. The Roman Empire, as an example, was only able to be overthrown from without after it first achieved compromise within. This served to weaken the society to the point that its collapse, either by outside forces or from within, was inevitable. This same pattern has been present in every instance throughout history.

Additionally, you suggest that Islam encourages literacy. How then do you account for lack of education offered to women? The so-called overthrow of the Islamic world by the West would be better described as a natural succession. The modern world simply passed the Islamic world by. With all due respect, the sooner Muslims awaken to the shortcomings of the Islamic interpretation of reality and stop blaming the West for its apparent failure, the sooner it will open the door to real and lasting progress as well as the Truth.

Response from : MC  

January 29, 2008 6:49 AM

Michael, having been born and living in Lebanon is a wonder in itself. Beirut is a cosmopolitan area where different sects and different religions interact together on a daily basis.

Even before the creation of Greater Lebanon in 1943, Christians and Muslims have always "ate bread" together and many even formed families throughout the centuries. However, there is a constant effort to rid Lebanon of its Christian identity and its Christian residents, who are the cradle of Christianity in the Middle East for the Muslim world.

I have so many Muslim friends who are a blessing to have in my life.

Now, it's only natural for minority sects to do their utmost to preserve themselves and fight against "assimilation". It's not easy for a Muslim to convert to another religion - (I have friends who have) - but that would place the person in great danger and may even be expelled from his community if that person lives among extreme or fundamentalist Muslims.

Response from : Selase  

January 29, 2008 7:40 AM

I am glad that even with our limited human minds, we can appreciate that nothing can be compared with Christ's rule over all the earth. Whoever thinks that our God is a milli little God must read this.

Response from : MC  

January 29, 2008 9:47 AM

By the way, there are many Muslims who have placed their children in Christian schools for different reasons - level of education, discipline, near their vicinity - and these children participate in the schools' Bible lessons and even sit for the tests.

On the other hand, I cannot not mention the inhumanity taking place in Turkey against its Christian citizens. Who can forget the late Agos newspaper editor, Hrant Dink, who was shot in front of his newspaper building by an extremist or the 4 Christians who were slaughtered in Turkey for distributing copies of the Bible to the people? However, thousands of Turks turned out at Dink's funeral saying, "We are all Armenians. We are all Hrant Dink."

I pray for the safety of my brothers and sisters who have to go through great turmoil to live their daily lives in the land where their forefathers lived.

Our God is a god of hope. He never promised us that life would be a "lala land" for his followers but a life of hardship for the advancement of God's Kingdom, even to the extent of shedding blood for Christ.

Response from : Scott  

January 29, 2008 9:48 AM

Thanks for a great article. Although I am not a history buff, I have seen how different cultures either help themselves become better or worse. What I really like is how you pointed Christians back to the Great Commission in your final statement, "create real and meaningful relationships with those Muslims the Lord has very intentionally brought into our lives". I feel that all discussions of cultural Christianity need to point us back to why we are here - to genuinely care about the people that God brings into our lives with the goal of helping them find a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

Response from : Pai Yong Soo  

January 29, 2008 11:13 AM

The article clearly informs the different literacy rate of those under the influence of Islam and that of Christianism. However about those who are already in the shore of USA, concrete effort must be done to inform them about the value of Christianity. What are those concrete efforts or steps must be shared so that Christians can reach out to them.Talks and writings are not enough. Action is required. Muslims in USA must be evangelised immediately.

Response from : Laurel Crawford  

January 29, 2008 7:55 PM

I believe this is one of your best articles. The human reaction is to fear the muslims, not love them. Great article!

Response from : LaVerne  

January 29, 2008 10:07 PM

I'm not concerned about having anything published. My comment is that your article is superb in all areas. Thank you for enlightening those of us that have been witnessing to those precious people that have no idea that they are walking in darkness. I have a dear friend that God placed in my life that at one time lived behind me. What a friendship we have developed! God has given me divine wisdom & boldness to tell her the "Old old story of Jesus & His Love". Because our friendship has stood the test of time, she has allowed me to pray with not only her, but with her Mother! She had to interpret for her dear Mother to understand, but I assure you they were both in tears as the Lord gave me words to say in that prayer. God bless you as you continue to be led by the Holy Spirit. God loves us and draws us to Himself with cords of Everlasting Love. Thank you...LaVerne Ramos

Response from : Alex  

January 31, 2008 12:59 PM

As a fellow Christian and soon to be Pastor, I just have to say this was terrible. This is what I puzzles me about a lot of "christians"! How long will you all live your lives like you're better than everybody else? And you throw at the end....oh yeah we have to love them for the sake of Jesus. Love is divine, if you don't have love in your hearts anyways then you're not Christian. Christianity doesn't give you the priviledge to think you're better. This article and the comments left are reasons why society & especially our youth have turned their backs from the church. LOVE PEOPLE!! NOT BECAUSE CHRIST TELLS US TO, BUT BECAUSE IT'S IN OUR NATURE AS CHRISTIANS!!!!

Response from : Lois Seikaly  

February 1, 2008 1:40 PM

It is refreshing to see a Christian view that informs rather than demonizes Islam. We are all created in Gods' image, but those who have not accepted His Son as their Savior have distorted that image and continue in the darkness of sin. Allah is the Arabic word for God, just as Yahweh or Jehovah is the Jewish word. It is our perception of God through His Son and acceptance of Jesus as Savior that separates us from Islam and Judism. As the wife of a Palestinian Christian, I have lived in Palestine, Jordan, Turkey and Saudi Arabia. Palestine is where Christianity began. I envy the Palestinian Christians their acceptance of their Muslim and Jewish neighbors as brothers. We can learn from them. Our American government, influenced by fundamental Christians, in their acceptance and unquestioned support of the State of Israel at the expence of "the other" is what has flamed the fire of Islamist fanaticism. Lois

Response from : Michael Johnson  

February 1, 2008 5:07 PM

Truly outstanding article.

Response from : David G. Moore  

February 2, 2008 1:11 PM

I appreciate your work very much and this article in particular. I have one
response to your emphasis on the rational nature of Christianity. I spend my days working with men, many of
whom are christian professionals, helping them find their way into the mystery of God. They have been trained and by nature lean to the rational in the extreme. It has resulted in chaos in their hearts and
the disruption of their lives. I was once there and have taken the journey into relational intimacy with God which
includes rational thought but is not limited to it. Just a thought. Again I appreciate what you are doing and benefit from it greatly. David M.

Response from : Zane  

February 5, 2008 1:37 PM

I found the literacy comparison interesting. At first I was not sure it would stand up under scrutiny since it was comparing a people group (Arabs) to a nation (USA).
It brought to mind the literacy rate of Christian verses Muslim or Hindus, which is probably not too far removed from one another.
In India for example, the average church throughout the country is largely illiterate. Not so much in the upper class urban churches, but in the poorer urban and rural settings. Upwards of 70% of Christians worldwide are Oral learners or illiterate. This alone is alarming until we understand the reasons. It is not entirely because of the failure of the church, but it is because of the huge numbers of people becoming Christians from other religious backgrounds.
The church has failed in the past to develop effective means to disciple illiterates and Oral learners, but now understands the need for such work. Along with literacy training, new work is expanding to teach oral only believers how to follow Christ and develop fundamentally.
As far as I know, the church is the only organism that is doing this. So even though many new participants in being part of the body of Christ are illiterate, the church cares and is doing something to help them have the ability to grow in Jesus and learn.

Response from : Anthony Bell  

February 8, 2008 7:53 PM

You are so right, while I was serving in Malawi I did notice the high rates of people who could not read and write in their own language. I asked my local church in the US to send funds for Bibles in the local language for 3 reasons. 1 to preach the Word 2 to use the Bibles for mid week Bible study and 3 to start a reading ministry. I do need to tell you this church never sent the funds. But to God be the glory. I am back in the states and will return with funds to finish this work. Blessings.

Response from : Cahyana  

February 16, 2009 7:37 AM

Dear Michael,
Sorry for a late comment! I live in Indonesia, the biggest Islamic country in the world (at least according to the statistical record). If only a number of my fellow Moslem people have read for your short comparison, I believe, they will laugh loadly. However, as Christian, I can understand the reason for that, because most of Indonesia scholars have come from form the mosques and Islamic circumstances and there have a greater, far than that maybe, chance for them to get educated rather than Christians who have to struggle for their life. So, I think you need to add more about this scholarly explanation in order to make them finding the best way to eternal life.


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