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(Not) Defending the Quran

I read way too much apologetic literature, of both the Christian and the Muslim kind. It’s always hard to be confident I’m getting a representative sample; after all, I also ignore a lot that seems boring to me when I flip though a few pages. Still, I’ll risk a broad-brush comparison.

The Christian stuff I run into tends to be either not overly concerned with the Bible, or, if it’s fundamentalist in character, will often at least gesture toward detailed reasons why the Bible is completely trustworthy and so forth. There are lots of books out there that purport to demonstrate that the Bible is the Word of God. As a connoisseur of “loony books” and a fan of pseudoscience, I find these very entertaining.

I have, however, run into far fewer equivalents from the Muslim side. There is no shortage of writers standing up in defense of Islam, but it’s more typical for them just to assume that the Quran is the perfect Word of God, offering very little in the way of hints of why this is so. Their main preoccupation is defending one version or another of Islam as being True Islam. Sure, there are Josh McDowell equivalents in the Muslim world, but they seem to play a much more minor part. The more common attitude seems to be that the sacred nature of the Quran is just obvious. You encounter the Quran, and its perfection sweeps you away.

You have to be impressed by it. A billion Muslims, and for most of them, it would almost never occur to question whether an almost incomprehensible mishmash is divine. That’s strength in a faith.

About Taner Edis

Professor of physics at Truman State University

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02728011245463463072 Matt Ackerman

    There is really nothing that can make you an atheist faster than reading works of apologetics.

    It's really a great strategy to simply not write works of apologetics if you can get away with it.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00145624739235262178 T. A. Lewis

    Taner, I gave a presentation on your book "An Illusion of Harmony" in one of my classes. It was mostly observational on the relationship between science and religion in Turkey (and other Islamic countries).

    Afterward during the discussion, a Muslim classmate (keep in mind that these are graduate students) made the comment that one can read a single verse from the Quran and see that Darwin was wrong. Just as you say, that is some strong faith – that words are a more reliable guide to reality than physical evidence.

    This class was focused on rhetoric and a large portion of my presentation dealt with how Islamic culture gives more credence to (if we use the 3 broad appeals) ethos. If one believes that that the Quran is a product of the divine, how can the ethos of the "creator of the universe" be matched? The logical appeals from science just don't get considered.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10778996187937943820 Taner Edis

    T.A. Lewis: "a Muslim classmate . . . made the comment that one can read a single verse from the Quran and see that Darwin was wrong."

    Very interesting. I can see that all this can make sense from the believer's point of view, but I admit that after I while I have great difficulty trying to emulate that sort of thinking.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02494141255401096538 uzza

    When you don't understand the truth of the koran, you need to go to the experts who can explain it to you. When the experts turn out to be maniacs, you need to go to the koran to understand the truth—->

    At least, that's how it's invariably explained to me.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00145624739235262178 T. A. Lewis

    Yes, it amazes me – that type of thinking that would deny or ignore empirical reality in favor of holy text. I certainly understand it. I too would like to have a "perfect guidebook to life" but…the realist in me protests way too much when it conflicts with observation. I can't tolerate that amount of cognitive dissonance…some people (or many) can it seems.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16641266062186767500 Keith Parsons

    Matt Ackerman is right. Whenever I feel myself "backsliding" as an atheist, all I have to do is read some C.S.Lewis and it puts me right back on track. I know that whatever I stand for in life, it cannot be that. What has always struck me about Christian apologists is the stark contrast between the poverty of their arguments and the abundance of their aplomb. I was talking to William Lane Craig at a conference a couple of years ago, and he mentioned his book defending the resurrection written some decades ago. He said that the only thing he would change now are some references to the "shroud" of Turin. I think one definite advantage that apologists have in debate with unbelievers is their shell of invincible confidence. They have "blessed assurance" that their message is true, while we can only say what seems right to us.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17657181850461892857 archaeopteryx

    In "(Not) Defending the Quran," Tanner Edis wrote: "You have to be impressed by it. A billion Muslims, and for most of them, it would almost never occur to question whether an almost incomprehensible mishmash is divine. That's strength in a faith."

    Or is it strength in a fear? We don't fully realize what it means to live in a country where we can debate whether or not god exists. In some Islamic societies, we could be killed for expressing even the slightest doubt.

    Petronius (c. 27–66 AD) once said, "It is fear that once brought gods into the world."

    In some cases, it's fear that keeps them here.

    archaeopteryx
    in-his-own-image.com

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17657181850461892857 archaeopteryx

    To Keith Parsons, who wrote:
    "I think one definite advantage that apologists have in debate with unbelievers is their shell of invincible confidence. They have "blessed assurance" that their message is true, while we can only say what seems right to us."

    The following article may shed some light on the source of that "blessed assurance". Susan B. Anthony once said, "I distrust those people who know so well what god wants them to do, because I notice it always coincides with their own desires." The findings in the article could well explain why.

    Nov. 30, 2009
    "Study: Man creates God in his own image"

    "U.S. researchers conclude that on important (and controversial) matters, people project their own beliefs on those attributed to God, New Scientist reports.
    "'Intuiting God's beliefs on important issues may not produce an independent guide, but may instead serve as an echo chamber to validate and justify one's own beliefs,' writes a team led by Nicholas Epley of the University of Chicago.
    "'The experiments in which we manipulate people's own beliefs are the most compelling evidence we have to show that people's own beliefs influence what they think God believes more substantially than it influences what they think other people believe,' Epley said.
    "Read how the researchers reached their conclusions:
    "The researchers started by asking volunteers who said they believe in God to give their own views on controversial topics, such as abortion and the death penalty. They also asked what the volunteers thought were the views of God, average Americans and public figures such as Bill Gates. Volunteers' own beliefs corresponded most strongly with those they attributed to God.
    "Next, the team asked another group of volunteers to undertake tasks designed to soften their existing views, such as preparing speeches on the death penalty in which they had to take the opposite view to their own. They found that this led to shifts in the beliefs attributed to God, but not in those attributed to other people. …
    "Finally, the team used fMRI to scan the brains of volunteers while they contemplated the beliefs of themselves, God or 'average Americans'. In all the experiments the volunteers professed beliefs in an Abrahamic God. The majority were Christian….
    "'People may use religious agents as a moral compass, forming impressions and making decisions based on what they presume God as the ultimate moral authority would believe or want,' the researchers write. 'The central feature of a compass, however, is that it points north no matter what direction a person is facing. This research suggests that, unlike an actual compass, inferences about God's beliefs may instead point people further in whatever direction they are already facing.'
    "The study appears in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences."

    archaeopteryx
    in-His-own-image.com

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14216022779455088189 nikita_islam

    the quran was revealed to man 1400 years ago, if god explained the big bang theory in a manner that would satisfy a physicist, to a man who became literate in a later part of his life…he would not be a very good god now would he? Off topic…but did you know that the name of allah in arabic has appeared in many instances in nature? in honeycomb, fish scales, fruit, trunks etc ? what would you call that?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17657181850461892857 archaeopteryx

    Nikita Islam –
    Sorry I took so long to get back to you.

    You commented, "the quran was revealed to man 1400 years ago, if god explained the big bang theory in a manner that would satisfy a physicist, to a man who became literate in a later part of his life…he would not be a very good god now would he?"

    Couldn't an all-powerful god who could create a man, create a literate man? One who was capable of understanding the physics behind the singularity that became the "Big Bang"? And if not, how could he be called all-powerful?

    You also asked: "…did you know that the name of allah in arabic has appeared in many instances in nature? in honeycomb, fish scales, fruit, trunks etc ? what would you call that?"

    I would call it nonsense.

    pax vobiscum,
    archaeopteryx
    in-His-own-image.com

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16826768452963498005 Jim Lippard

    I'd call it pareidolia.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17657181850461892857 archaeopteryx

    Jim, are saying what I think you're saying? That it's probably OK to go ahead and eat my grilled cheese sandwich with the face of Michelle Bachmann on it?

    pax vobiscum,
    archaeopteryx
    in-His-own-image.com


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