Saturday, February 23, 2013

The genocidal God of the Abrahamic religions

As an atheist brought up in a Christian household and educated in a Christian school, I - like many of my contemporaries- can recite the genocidal atrocities carried out by the God of the Old Testament with some ease, and I never cease to be amazed that anyone can worship a deity capable of the heinous and disgusting crimes against his own creation related in lip-smacking, blood-curdling detail in the "Good Book". 
Muslims of course smugly distance themselves from the bloody destruction of the manically jealous God of Exodus (killing the first-born of Egypt, wiping out of the Canaanites, Hivites, Perizzites, Jebusites et al) and Numbers (slaying of the Medianites with the specific exhortation to "kill every woman who has ever slept with a man" and the Medianite boys!) and Deuteronomy wherein infamously God told the Israelites to put to the sword everyone in any town where they worship a god other than him: "Destroy it completely, both people and its livestock"...) I could go on and on, but you get the picture.

The awful stuff related in the Bible can't be laid at the door of Allah, Muslims say, because the scriptures of the Christians and Jews have been tampered with. My convert friend explained it to me some years back like this:

Because Muslims believe that religious scriptures other than the Qur’an have been changed over time, we do not take these other scriptures as sources of evidence. Therefore, where they discuss matters that are not contradictory to Islam, we neither believe nor disbelieve in them. We merely note their discussions as points of interest.
 So if my friend is typical (and I have no reason to think he isn't) then Muslims - should they even be aware of the disgusting murderous sprees enjoyed by the Judeo-Christian god as recited in the Bible - will note the blood-letting, the infanticide, the rape and the slaughter "with interest" and move on, presumably telling themselves that these particular passages are the ones that have been changed over time. Surely the god of Islam has been misrepresented, they doubtless tell themselves. Surely the "Most Merciful" wouldn't go around telling His people to bash babies' brains out ("The people of Samaria must bear their guilt, because they have rebelled against their God. They will fall by the sword;">their little ones will be dashed to the ground, their pregnant women ripped open." Hosea 13:160.

There is no doubt that many Muslims are keen to throw doubt upon Allah killing the whole of humanity in what must be the most audacious and awe-inspiring crime against humanity in history when He drowned everyone except Noah and his immediate family. Modern Muslims now claim it was purely a "local flood" - more credible perhaps but morally only slightly less despicable...

But what of the wiping out of entire nations because of some apparent slight perceived by the lunatic jealous deity? I bet that's one Muslim readers are keen lay at the hands of the evil redactors: "Yeah, well - I note the homicidal rage and genocidal tendencies with interest, but I can't really say I believe it ..."

But Allah is actually quite keen to have us remember that he was partial to a bit of genocide in the Qur'an. For what are we to make of 21:6?

 Not one of the communities that We destroyed in bygone times would ever believe [their prophets]: will these, then, [be more willing to] believe?

Or 21:11?

 How many were the nations We utterly destroyed because of their iniquities, setting up in their places other peoples?
If we take these verses at face value then it seems pretty clear that the god of the Qur'an is the same murderous psychopathic genocidal one of the Old Testament. But whereas liberal Christians can admit the OT is a collection of myths, Muslims MUST take every word of the Qur'an as...well gospel.

Monday, February 18, 2013

OIC and the denigration of religion

The Saudi Gazette today reports that the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation is "gearing up" to get the "denigration" of religions criminalised. In case the word denigrate leaves you a little unsure as to where you might stand should this law be implemented, let me clarify. It would mean you would be unable to utter a word of criticism of any religion without facing the possible sanction of international law -since any criticism might be seized upon and be interpreted as an incitement to intolerance and hatred - as the Director of Cultural Affairs of the OIC made clear in his interview with the newspaper:
Rizwan Saeed Sheikh, director of cultural affairs at the OIC general secretariat and spokesman for the OIC secretary general [...]  said the OIC seeks establishment of an international observatory, based in Geneva, with a global mandate not only to monitor denigration of Islam but all other religions.
The OIC is of the firm view that any religion or its symbols should not be denigrated. The Cairo Islamic Summit endorsed this position and tasked the OIC secretariat to develop a unified strategy to impress upon the international community to take effective measures against such acts of incitement of intolerance and hatred that may lead to violence and loss of lives,” he said while noting that Islamophobia figured high on the agenda of the summit. 
Ask yourself who will interpret whether your comment, your joke, your email, your blog post... your thoughts were deemed to denigrate Islam. Ask yourself how soon it will be before we all have to start adding PBUH whenever we mention Muhammad for fear of accusations of disrespect (and by extension denigration). Ask yourself whether those at the Ministry of Truth would be persuaded of your innocence should you be caught with a copy of The Four Lions? Ask yourself if satire or any form of ridicule would become as dangerous as it always has been for those unfortunates in totalitarian regimes.

For let's not forget that the OIC, "the collective voice of the Muslim world",  has a track record for Doublethink already,  Not for them the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (deemed too Judeo-Christian and secular in a criticism apparently gloriously devoid of irony). Muslim countries, say the OIC, must have their own version of "universal" rights....Thus we have the Cairo Declaration (1990) which infamously denied people the right to have no religion at all and couched all other rights in the all encompassing and sinister sounding Article 24: All the rights and freedoms stipulated in this Declaration are subject to the Islamic Shari'ah. Article 22 is equally worthy of any Orwellian nightmare: 
Information is a vital necessity to society. It may not be exploited or misused in such a way as may violate sanctities and the dignity of The Party, sorry! -Prophets, undermine moral and ethical Values or disintegrate, corrupt or harm society or weaken its faith.
And while we're on the subject of the intolerant nature of totalitarian theocracies and the inherent evil therein (I'm just getting my denigrating in while I can...) we should also remember the OIC's record on LGBT issues. Early last year, in March 2012, the UNHCR held its first debate on discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.  Pakistan's representative addressed the session on behalf of the OIC, denouncing the discussion and questioning the concept of sexual orientation, which he said was being used to promote licentious behaviour contrary to "the fundamental teachings of various religions, including Islam". He stated that the council should not discuss the topic again. Most of the Arab and African countries later walked out of the session

Given the above (and the appalling human rights abuses of the LGBT communities in Islamic countries), we might thus seriously question whether being gay or trans or even writing about such things would be interpreted as denigrating Islam and thus be deemed to be illegal in this Brave New World.

PS Before Mrs Spinoza jumps in  -Yes, I know BNW was Huxley not Orwell...

Saturday, February 16, 2013

God worries about front bottom farts - it's official!

I'm sorry but I just can't resist this any longer. I know, I know... but, hey, we're only young(ish) once... And surely to goodness if we can't all laugh at "front bottom farts" once in a while, then what is the point in living frankly.
So, at the risk of causing distress and embarrassment to readers of a sensitive disposition (in fact it might be an idea for you to step out of the room for a minute whilst the rest of us regress for a while...), here's a recent fatwa  from a site recommended to me by my convert friend as being a "sensible and traditional" source of information about Islam.

The title of this fatwa ought to say it all:
Difference of opinion concerning the ruling on emission of wind from a woman’s front passage
but it doesn't do the crazily obsessive nature of the query just doesn't.
So here's how the poor benighted questioner framed his query. 
As is known, women sometimes have air (like gas or bubbles or wind) coming out from the front passage. Sometimes it has a sound, but more often not. As you have written on this site previously about this issue  (really??), it has been made clear that this does not invalidate ones wudu’.
Note for non-Muslims: wudu is the Islamic procedure for washing parts of the body using water, typically in preparation for formal prayers (salah).  (wikipedia) 
 But there is another question related to it. A woman often experiences that some wind comes out of her while for example moving, sitting down, praying, etc. The problem is that its often difficult to tell from where the wind came; whether from the front or the back passage. Because even though shes often certain she felt something come out, shes not certain from exactly where, so she cant know for sure if she has invalidated her wudu. What is a woman to do in these situations? (What indeed...) Especially since the confusion and the fact that it happens often makes staying in wudu very difficult. Even relaxing during prayer often becomes difficult because of it. Should she then re-do her wudu, or if it happens during the prayer, stop praying and go make wudu again and repeat the prayer... Or should she go by the principle on doubt & certainty, and since she can't be sure for 100% that she actually broke her wudu, only that something came out from somewhere, should she then go with that she's still has wudu unless she's completely certain that it was from the back? So, should this sister either: A) Continue doing as she does right now: if the possibility seems greater that it came from the front, she goes on that and considers herself still in wudu’. B) If it is certain something comes out, always consider it to be from the front always unless she is completely certain without any doubt that its from the back, following the general principle of doubt & certainty regarding passing gas, and hence considers herself still in wudu’ C) If it is certain that something comes out but it is uncertain from exactly where, then consider it to be from the back and therefore breaks the wudu’, as to be on the safe side D) or do none of the alternatives above, and instead do something else completely? (or E) tell her husband to get a life and mind his own damn business)
And here is the fatwa (I hope you're ready for this) As Mrs Spinoza commented: "This makes debating the number of angels that can fit on the head of a pin look positively sane"
Praise be to Allah.Firstly:
The fuqaha’ differed as to whether wudoo’ is invalidated by the emission of wind from a woman’s front passage. There are two views:
1.     That it does invalidate wudoo’. This is the view of the Shaafa‘is and Hanbalis.
Imam an-Nawawi (may Allah have mercy on him) said:
Anything that comes out of the front or back passage of a man or woman invalidates wudoo’, whether it is stools, urine, wind, worms, pus, blood, stones or anything else. There is no differentiation in that regard between what happens rarely and what happens regularly, and there is no differentiation between wind coming out of the front passage of a man or woman or from the back passage. This was stated by ash-Shaafa‘i (may Allah have mercy on him) in al-Umm, and our companions are unanimously agreed on that.
End quote from al-Majmoo‘, 2/3; see also Tuhfat al-Muhtaaj by Ibn Hajar al-Haytami, 1/127
Ibn Qudaamah (may Allah have mercy on him) said:
Saalih narrated from his father concerning a woman from whose vagina wind is emitted: Whatever comes out of either (the front or back) passage, wudoo’ is required for it. al-Qaadi said: Emission of wind from the penis 
(Am I lacking an ability? Are there really men with musical genitalia out there?)  or the woman’s vagina invalidates wudoo’. 

End quote from al-Mughni, 1/125. See also al-Insaaf by al-Mirdaawi, 1/195
2.     That it does not invalidate wudoo’. This is the view of the Hanafis and Maalikis.
It says in Radd al-Muhtaar ‘ala ad-Durr al-Mukhtaar, 1/136: Wudoo’ is not invalidated by emission of wind from the front passage or penis, because it is a twitch or tremor, i.e., it is not really wind; even if we say that it is wind, it does not come from a site of impurity, therefore it does not invalidate wudoo’.
End quote. See Badaa’i‘ as-Sanaa’i‘ by al-Kasaani, 1/25
Al-‘Allaamah ad-Dardeer al-Maaliki (may Allah have mercy on him) said:
If something usual is emitted from somewhere other than the two usual passages, such as if it is it emitted from the mouth, or if urine is emitted from the back passage, or wind is emitted from the front passage or even from the woman’s vagina, or from a hole (er...?), then it does not invalidate wudoo’.
End quote from ash-Sharh al-Kabeer ma‘a Haashiyat ad-Dasooqi, 1/118
Undoubtedly in order to be on the safe side and to ensure that one has discharged one’s duty it is better to do wudoo’ in the event of this wind, because there is such a strong difference of opinion concerning it and because this is more on the safe side, as we have said. It is also closer to the apparent meaning of the evidence, because the Prophet (blessings and peace of Allah be upon him) said: “There is no wudoo’ unless there is a sound or a smell.” Narrated by at-Tirmidhi, 74; he said: a hasan saheeh hadeeth.
This hadeeth and similar hadeeths on this topic were quoted as evidence by Imam Ibn al-Mubaarak and others to show that wudoo’ is rendered invalid by emission of wind from the back passage.
Imam at-Tirmidhi (may Allah have mercy on him) said:
This is the view of the scholars, that he does not have to do wudoo’ except if he breaks wind and hears a sound or notices a smell. Abdullah ibn al-Mubaarak said: If he is uncertain as to whether he has broken wind, he does not have to do wudoo’ unless he is so certain that he would swear to it. And he said: If wind is emitted from a woman’s front passage, she has to do wudoo’.
This is also the view of ash-Shaafa‘i and Ishaaq. End quote.
For more information, please see fatwas no. 14383 and 114793 (go on - I dare you)
The view that wudoo’ is required becomes stronger in the case of uncertainty as to whether it came from the front passage or the back passage. It is known that wind emitted from the back passage invalidates wudoo’ according to scholarly consensus. If the source of the wind is uncertain – is it from the back passage, which invalidates wudoo’ according to scholarly consensus, or is it from the front passage, which invalidates wudoo’ according to many of the scholars? – the view that it does invalidate wudoo’ becomes very strong, especially since the basic principle concerning wind is that it comes from the back passage. As for that which is emitted from the front passage, it is rare and is not a regular occurrence; this is the basis on which those who said that it does not invalidate wudoo’ based their opinion.
And Allah knows best. 
Well, I did warn you. (And that's only half of it!)

Now just for a moment picture, if you will, the "scholars" who have debated at length this issue. That fact that any sane person could possibly think it worthwhile spending time to make "rulings" on such issues (or think that God would give a flying f*ck anyway) is crazy enough, but when you also remember that these "scholars" are all MEN,  it defies belief that we're reading this in the 21st century! Oh for an Arabic Monty Python...
The scene is a book-lined chamber with a large table in the middle, around which are sat a group of mufti. At the head sits a serious looking scholar...
"Right, gentlemen. Number one on the agenda today: wind emerging from a lady's parts. What do we think? Does it invalidate wudu?"
"Tricky one!"
"Mmm..yes..I suppose it really depends on whether the sister in question feels it."
"Do they feel it?"
"Well I certainly know when I've cut the cheese!"
"Thank you, Yusuf - but the question is: would you feel it if it came out of your know..."
"Dunno - not having a "you know" makes the debate rather academic"
"Exactly! This is an academic debate and we'd do well to remember the fact!"
"I suppose if it's an angel's whisper then the sister might not."
"She would know if it were a real room-clearer - like one of Shaafi's tile-peelers!"
"Right! That's it! Yusuf - go and get some sandwiches. I can see this is going to be a long one."
"Just don't make them egg!"

(Note on fatwas (for the enlightenment of non-Muslims) taken from here
A fatwa is an Islamic religious ruling, a scholarly opinion on a matter of Islamic law. A fatwa is issued by a recognized religious authority in Islam. But since there is no hierarchical priesthood or anything of the sort in Islam, a fatwa is not necessarily "binding" on the faithful. The people who pronounce these rulings are supposed to be knowledgeable  and base their rulings in knowledge and wisdom. They need to supply the evidence from Islamic sources for their opinions [...]

 (And I hereby claim my prize for the most bizarre blog post title of the day - being #1 in a series entitled Weird and Wonderful Fatwas)

Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Qur'an - "a new literary form"

Moliere -not  inventor of  the comedie-ballet  (that was Allah)

In his literary study of the Qur'an, The Qur'an's Challenge: A Literary & Linguistic Miracle, Hamza Tzortzis of the Islamic Education and Research Academy (iERA) makes the following incredible claim.

The development of an entirely new literary form is beyond the scope of the natural capacity of any human author, hence a Divine entity, Allah, is the only sufficient comprehensive explanation. 

This claim is one used by Muslims the world over to convince themselves and putative converts of the miraculous -and thus divine - nature of the their holy text. It is, indeed, one of the more important claims used by dawah (evangelical) operatives in their bid to convert Westerners to Islam.

And yet the claim is so ridiculous as to be beyond parody.


Because were it the case that the proof of the Qur'an's divine origin lay in its "entirely" novel literary form*, then we would, by extension, have to credit Allah with the invention of all other literary forms - for they too were once "entirely new" and thus beyond the scope of the natural capacity blah blah blah....

There can thus be no human inventor of poetry, prose or drama - nor any of its myriad forms. Allah must have come up with them all. Period. Nor in the future can there be any literary innovation without divine intervention. Is this really what we are being asked to believe? Is this the case for the other arts, too? Is it impossible that Impressionism or Cubism or Opera came from a mere human mind?
What a very prosaic, uninspiring and ultimately dispiriting view of the world. 

I wonder, do those who blindly accept the lies and moronic claims of charlatans like those at iERA never sit and think for a moment what they are being asked to believe?

As Moliere once said: People can be induced to swallow anything...What a pity that those who are responsible for such shameful inducements can no longer be held up to ridicule by the man who wrote, inter alia, that (in)famous satire of religious hypocrisy, Tartuffe.

* the so-called "entirely novel literary form" consists, in essence, of being less restricted by the rules of poetic composition extant at the time - or free verse, if you will. The claims to uniqueness and indeed greatness have been examined here. The difficulties inherent in Qur'anic literary criticism are examined here.

Monday, February 11, 2013

IERA and Evolution

The iERA (Islamic Education and Research Academy) have recently released the latest opus in their oeuvre of philosophical treatises: Has Evolution been misunderstood? Revelation, Science and Certainty. And what a scorcher it is! With daring elan and an inspiring disregard for logic, truth or syntax, the mysterious author (Hamza Tzortzis) has once more confirmed his place in the pantheon of preposterous pretenders to philosophical portent. 

Over twenty-seven pages of befuddled oxymora iERA/Tzortzis attempt to show that the theory of evolution is, like most science, impossible to prove absolutely. Because of this lack of absolute, definitive proof, it is illogical, the authors say, to base one's beliefs on how the complexity of life came about upon it. 

(Ironically, from the outset, Hamza attempts to make clear that his gripe is not with evolution per se. "Note: The aim of this article is not to reject the science related to evolution. Its aim is to evoke thinking about the scientific method and the philosophy of science." A more disingenuous piece of mendacious clap-trap it would be hard to find.  I might find his plea more credible were it not for the existence of numerous references to Intelligent Design (ID) on the iERA website and the fact that despite his note, the aim of the paper is clearly to throw doubt upon evolution.)

Although immensely long and distressingly wordy, the paper can be summarised in the "conclusions" reached (rather precipitously) on page 3, where it is proudly announced that the "problem is solved" by "an approach which follows the subsequent logical structure":

Conclusions:   a. Science is a limited method of study with its own scope and sphere b. The philosophy of science brings to light a whole range of issues and problems concerning the theory and study of knowledge (epistemology). c. The philosophy of science, when applied to evolution, exposes it as not reaching the level of certainty. d. Revelation is a source of certain knowledge.  e. In situations where science and Divine revelation are irreconcilable, revelation supersedes science
  Astute readers may have seen a chink in the reasoning here, but at the risk of insulting your intelligence, let me highlight it. If the Theory of Evolution is questionable because its absolute proof is impossible, then by what possible criterion (other than faith) can Divine Revelation be said to be "certain"? To call points a-e above a "logical structure" is so far removed from reality that one has to wonder at the sanity of anyone who can say such a thing, let alone proudly publish it under the aegis of an organisation which receives tax breaks from HM Government due to its charitable status as a religious and educational organisation.

So convinced are the authors of their argument regarding the factual certainty of Divine Revelation, that they repeat the canard several more times: 

# Divine Revelation is certain knowledge (this type of certain knowledge is known as al’ilm al-qat’i) # …revealed texts are certain and science cannot produce certain knowledge. # For the Muslim, this revealed text is the Qur'an, and this text can be established as a Divine book outside of the method and philosophy of science using deductive arguments. # The point that needs to be understood here is that the Qur'an can be shown to be Divine revelation, and therefore its claims to knowledge are certain and factual.
So the Qur’an is indisputably, provably and factually certain beyond any doubt because…because…well because Hamza and the iERA say so and because there’s an exotic sounding Arabic term for it. So that’s fine and dandy then.
But perhaps we’re being unfair. Surely the iERA can’t expect its visitors to accept such a claim without some reasoned argument…can it?
No, of course not. Closer examination of the above excerpts reveals that the divinity of the Qur’an can be ascertained via deductive arguments. A deductive argument is valid if the conclusion can be deduced from its premise. The deductive argument used by iERA is this:
1. A miracle is an event that lies outside of the productive capacity of nature (there are no causal links between the event and the nature of the event). 2. The Qur'an's literary form lies outside of the productive capacity of nature (its literary form cannot be logically explained using the Arabic language). 3. Therefore, the Qur'an is a miracle (a miracle is an act of God).
 Now, once again, perceptive readers may have noticed a slight logical leap that the iERA were perhaps hoping to slip past us. A miracle, they explain, is by its very nature supernatural. The Qur’an’s literary quality is so perfect as to be beyond natural explanation. Whoa there! Back up a bit, guys! Did you spot that, folks? The Qur’an is a literary miracle. No ifs, buts or argument. The whole of iERA’s paper on logic and the inadequacy of science to reveal absolute truths revolves around our agreeing on this one point. 
Let me summarise: We must apparently be wary of basing our beliefs on how life reached its present variety on a theory which cannot be proved absolutely, and yet we have to accept the divinity of the Qur’an on the basis of something so subjective and flimsy as literary quality, which itself is decided by “experts” whose livelihood is dependent upon their saying the Qur’an is a literary miracle… or as Hamza et al have it: Since revealed texts are certain and science cannot produce certain knowledge, revealed texts will always supersede science…
 But let us leave such obvious objections aside for a moment and look instead at the main thrust of the paper: that evolution cannot be proved absolutely and as such it is as much a matter of faith - as is belief in God (although, as Hamza has "proved", Divine Revelation is an indisputable fact and therefore faith is unnecessary).
 The awkward (for the iERA) notion that evolution is, to all intents and purposes, a fact as far as science is concerned is addressed early on. On the second page of his paper Hamza quotes one of my science heroes, Stephen Jay Gould, in defence (unbelievably) of his argument that evolution is unproven: In scientific terminology evolution is a fact, but this use of the term means confirmed to such a degree that it would be perverse to withhold provisional assent. Thus Hamza seems to be accepting that to question evolution would be inexplicably irrational and stubbornly unreasonable (the dictionary definition of perverse) but is apparently happy to be labeled such in his quest to calm the trauma of his cognitive dissonance caused by Allah telling him that evolution is bollocks. (Note: I know there are plenty of liberal, intelligent Muslims out there who accept evolution. My gripe is not with you. It's with the Miracle Seekers like the eejit Yusuf Estes - get over it.)

Hamza and the iERA seem to think that because we cannot observe evolution happening, it must remain nothing more than a theory which awaits definitive proof. Has the iERA not been reading the news these last few years, I wonder. The rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria must surely be one of the plainest, most well-known and simplest examples of evolution happening quite literally under our noses as there is possible to be. And yet this fact must remain in the drawer marked unproven whilst the miracle of the Qur'an's literary quality is accepted, no questions asked (or allowed).

Let me finish by referring you to an irony noticed by Hamza.
The irony of this evolution debate is that majority of the people who believe in evolution do so out of the testimony of others, namely our teachers at school or the books we read, because we haven't done the experiments ourselves.
Or, looked at another way:
The irony, Hamza, is that the majority of Muslim Miracle seekers who believe in the perfect literary quality of the Qur'an do so out of the testimony of others, namely their immams at the mosque or the websites they visit, because they haven't  got the skills necessary either to read Classical Arabic or to make such judgments. Evolution, on the other hand, can be verified simply by asking your doctor about antibiotic resistant bacteria.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Qur'an's Error: Sura 4:82 "If [Quran] had been from other than Allah, they would have found within it much contradiction"

[Guest Post by CaptainDisguise]

Sura 4:82 would be found in the average Islamophile's list of favorite verses. It is often quoted in the form of a challenge to Rationalists and others. Sura 4:82 states the following; (

Sahih International
If it had been from [any] other than Allah , they would have found within it much contradiction.
Muhsin Khan
Had it been from other than Allah, they would surely have found therein much contradictions.
If it had been from other than Allah they would have found therein much incongruity.
Yusuf Ali
Had it been from other Than Allah, they would surely have found therein Much discrepancy.
And if it were from any other than Allah, they would have found in it many a discrepancy.
Dr. Ghali
And if it had been from (any where) other than the Providence of Allah, indeed they would have found in it many difference (s).

Utilizing this verse, the Muslim apologist will demand reasonable individuals to show an error in the Qur'an. They will also state with exuding confidence that no one in 14 centuries have been able to show an error in the Quran.

Such a conversation usually unfolds in 2 ways; i) the Rationalist ignores the apologist or ii) the Rationalist shows some of the errors in the Quran (creation from blood clots, setting of sun in a muddy spring, seminal fluid from the back, flat earth, denial of human evolution etc).

Whenever ii) occurs, the apologist will usually dismiss any evidence and can be seen asserting his literary liberty to interpret the sentences however he wishes to. Given the spectacular vagueness of much of the Qur'anic statements, the conversation almost always reaches an impasse with each side rejecting the other's interpretation (and perhaps moving on to a round of creative insults).

However it seems to be the case that neither the apologist nor the Rationalist has reflected carefully on the challenge itself. The great irony of the Qur'an is that the very verse that issues this challenge also meets the challenge i.e. Sura 4:82 is an error on it own since it constructs a false conditional statement.

The verse states that if the Qur'an was from a source other than Allah, then it would contain many errors or contradictions.
Now consider this question, is it possible for a man-made work to contain no errors or contradictions? This should be uncontroversial. There are countless human texts that would be free of any errors.
Then, if it is the case that it is possible for man-made works to be free of any errors, then it is also possible for the Qur'an to contain no errors and be man-made i.e. be from a source other than Allah.
Given the above possibility, Sura 4:82 constructs a false conditional for it is easily possible for the Qur'an to be "from other than Allah" and yet contain no errors.
Thus, Sura 4:82 is an erroneous statement.
The concept is fairly simple. For a detailed explanation, continue along. The following proof will use terms used in the discipline of Logic.

In Logic, certain statements are called "conditional statements" when it consists of a relationship between 2 (or more) atomic statements where one is the antecedent and the other is the consequent. These are usually denoted as "If ... then" statements. For example;

"If John is a human, then John is a mammal"

The antecedent in this case is "John is a human" and the consequent is "John is a mammal". In logic, this statement is equivalent to it's "contrapositive statement" which in the above case would say;

"If John is not a mammal, then John is not a human"

In Formal Logic, any conditional statement can be symbolized in the following manner;

"P --> Q"
=(this is equivalent to its contrapositive)=
 "~Q --> ~P"

P symbolizes the antecedent; Q symbolizes the consequent; '~' symbolizes negation (i.e ~P means "not P" or "P is false"); '-->;' symbolizes the conditional relationship (i.e. "~Q -->; ~P" means "IF not Q THEN not P)

A fair knowledge of these simple concepts alone are sufficient to examine the Qur'anic statement in Sura 4:82. Consider the verse,

"If [Qur'an] had been from other than Allah, they would have found within it much contradiction"

The verse expresses a conditional relationship between two atomic statements. The antecedent is the negated atomic statement "The Qur'an is not from Allah". The consequent is the atomic statement "Errors will be found in the Quran" (Verse rephrased for simplicity). Thus the verse is stating the following relationship;

"If the Qur'an is not from Allah, then errors will be found in the Quran"

Let A = "The Qur'an is from Allah".
Thus ~A = "The Qur'an is not from Allah" (which is the antecedent above).
Let E = "Errors will be found in the Quran" (which is the consequent).
The above statement can be symbolized as

"~A --> E"

As stated above, this statement is logically equivalent to it's contrapositive statement which would state the following;

"~E --> ~(~A)"
"~E --> A"
"If no errors are found in the Qur'an, then the Qur'an is from Allah"

For those who were unable to spot the mistake in the original verse, its contrapositive statement should certainly render the issue clearer. A conditional statement is false if it is possible for the antecedent to be true and the consequent still false. Such is the case for this verse.

Take the original verse for example, it is possible for the antecedent to be true and yet for the consequent to be false i.e. for the Qur'an to be not from Allah, and at the same time be free of errors. Likewise, for the contrapositive statement, it is possible for there to be no errors in the Qur'an and yet at the same time, not be a product of divine intelligence.

It would clearly be absurd to state that any piece of text that does not contain errors is from Allah and yet this is what the Qur'an claims by logical extension. Certainly, for the Muslim apologist (especially ones acquainted with the principles of Propositional Logic), this is an irrefutable error in their Holy Book. Their only option to rescue the Qur'an is to show that it is impossible for the Qur'an to not be from Allah if it had no errors in it. Of course, this is not at all a tenable position as Humans have produced countless texts with no errors in it.

Thus, offering one of the greatest unintentional ironies, the very verse that challenges one to show errors in the Qur'an is on its own an irrefutable error.
Possible Objections from Muslims

1) The verse actually means "Since Qur'an is from Allah, no errors will be found in the Quran."

Reply: Even if this is what the Qur'an meant by the verse, it has no bearing on the argument above. The argument above is based on the structure of the statement in the Qur'an. It is the structure that is at fault. For example, consider the verse again

"If the Qur'an is not from Allah, then errors will be found in the Quran"

Let A = "The Qur'an is from Allah". Thus ~A = "The Qur'an is not from Allah" (which is the antecedent above). Let E = "Errors will be found in the Quran" (which is the consequent). The above statement can be symbolized as
"~A --> E"

If instead, the Qur'an were to say "If the Qur'an is from Allah, then no Errors will be found in the Quran" (i.e. "A --> ~E), then the conditional relationship would be correct. However, as it is currently found in the Qur'an, the conditional relationship is false.

2) The verse is an example of Abductive Reasoning

Reply: First and foremost, it should be noted that Abductive logic does not absolve the false relationship constructed in a conditional statement. Thus, this is an absurd and misinformed use of the term "Abductive Rasoning". 

A false conditional is a false statement i.e. it is an error in the truth of the statement. This is not an error in deductive logic for it to be reconciled with inductive or abductive reasoning. To state so, is to show an utter misunderstanding of the argument presented in this blogpost as well as ignorance of Formal Logic.

Secondly, abductive reasoning could only have been utilized if the conditional statement had been in the form of a true conditional, as found in objection 1,  i.e. "If the Qur'an is from Allah, then no Errors will be found in the Quran". However, this would still be a very weak case of abductive reasoning.

Abductive Reasoning can be defined in the following way; it is a form of reasoning that allows one to reasonably hypothesize an inconclusive statement from a known event. For example, consider the following conditional

(1) "If there is fire, then there is smoke"

In formal logic, based on the above conditional, it is fallacious to conclude there is fire if there is smoke (Since that is not what the conditional states; this commits the fallacy called Affirming the Consequent). However, if one were to see smoke, it is certainly reasonable for one to assume or hypothesize that there is fire (even if the fire is not visible). Such a form of reasoning is called Abduction (as opposed to deduction or induction).

On the other hand, consider this conditional statement;

(2) "If it is night, then John is asleep"

Unlike example (1), it is not as reasonable to assume that it is night just because John is asleep as he could be sleeping during daytime in this particular instance. This would constitute a weak case of abductive reasoning.

However, consider a conditional such as this,

(3) "If Obama is living in Mars, then Obama is breathing"

Based on this conditional, it would in fact be unreasonable to abduce from the fact that Obama is breathing, that he is living in Mars. However, note that the conditional is a true statement i.e. if Obama were to be alive on Mars, he would have to be breathing. Yet it would be unreasonable to state that he is on Mars merely because he is breathing. This would constitute an absurd case of abductive reasoning. 

Likewise, even if the Qur'an contained no errors, it would not be reasonable to state that the Quran is from Allah. To establish such a form of reasoning, the Muslim would have to take on the absurd task of showing that any text that is free of errors are from Allah. Of course, this is false as countless human works contain no errors or contradictions etc.

In conclusion, by constructing a false conditional statement in Sura 4:82, the Qur'an has committed an irrefutable error. The irony of the fact that this erroneous Qur'anic verse challenges skeptics to show a Qur'nic error is, almost divinely, priceless.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Islam, The "Golden Age" and the Blight of Bad Science

Near the end of his excellent book, Scientific Curiosity, Cyril Aydon recounts the tale of Russian geneticist, Trofim Lysenko, who came to Stalin's notice during the Second World War when the need to increase agricultural production was so desperate. 

Trofim, whom Claydon describes as an example of the kind of scientist whose "vanity and lust for power obliterate any lingering regard they might have for evidence or experimental proof", convinced the Russian leader that "inheritance did not reside solely in the gene, and that it was possible to change the characteristics of plants such as food cereals by subjecting them to a changed environment." Thus the promise dangled in front of Stalin was that food production might increase dramatically if one ignored or discounted Darwinian natural selection and Mendelian genetics and followed Trofim's baseless theories.

Stalin was impressed, so impressed in fact that in 1940 he made Trofim Director of the Institute of Genetics at the Academy of Sciences. Henceforth no dissenting voices were permitted - scientists who kept quiet were allowed to hold on to their posts but those who raised objections were sacked or simply "disappeared". So complete was Trofim's hold over the area of genetics in Russia during this period that it wasn't until 1956 that the study of genetics there started to recover.

Aydon concludes his cautionary tale with the following memorable warning:
This story of Stalin and his tame biologist carries a moral for all those who would bend science to meet the needs of ideology. The health and wealth that developed nations enjoy today is the product of advanced technology; and that technology is the product of five centuries of scientific discovery. There is no law that says advance is inevitable [...] Stifle the spirit of enquiry and you can bring scientific progress to a halt. [We have learned that] scientific advance requires freedom from political, religious and cultural constraints.
Trofim was one man. Stalin's terrifying and lunatic ignorance caused the deaths of millions, but after his death Russia started, slowly, to recover. 
Religion is different. The death of a leader (or a scientist) rarely dents its carapace of malign influence. Today even the most ardent Islamic apologist cannot seriously claim that Muslim majority countries have maintained the scientific preeminence of the Golden Age - of which more later- (despite the massively increased funding seen in recent years which has seen wealthy individuals invest their fortunes to further Islamic Science). According to the Middle East Quarterly Review in numerical terms, forty-one predominantly Muslim countries with about 20 percent of the world's total population generate less than 5 percent of its science.
Quaid-e-Azam University physics professor Pervez Hoodbhoy attempted to understand the reasons for this apparent decline in his book, Islam and Science: Religious Orthodoxy and the Battle for Rationality and looked to the rise of anti-scientific fundamentalists, much like those seen on the fringes of American science-religion debates — only in the Islamic world he says, they’re mainstream.
Similarly, in the mass media of Muslim countries, discussions on "Islam and science" are common and welcomed only to the extent that belief in the status quo is reaffirmed rather than challenged. When the 2005 earthquake struck Pakistan, killing more than 90 000 people, no major scientist in the country publicly challenged the belief, freely propagated through the mass media, that the quake was God’s punishment for sinful behavior.
So what’s the reason for the arrested development of Muslim science?
Scientific progress constantly demands that facts and hypotheses be checked and rechecked, and is unmindful of authority. But there lies the problem: The scientific method is alien to traditional, unreformed religious thought [...] a certainty exists that all answers are already known and must only be discovered.

And therein lies the very nub of the problem of Rational Islam. If one believes that all the answers are contained in a book written almost 1,500 years ago, then any empirical observation that seems to contradict the wisdom/science contained within its pages must be dismissed.

Pakistan is a depressing example of what can happen to science when religious dogma dictates policy. In 1987 the government of Zia-ul-Haq  introduced fundamentalist doctrines in the teaching of science at all levels, from primary schools to universities. The regime organized international conferences and provided funding for research on, unbelievably, such topics as the temperature of hell and the chemical nature of jinns (demons). 
And Egypt, struggling under the idiotic policies of the Muslim Brotherhood will not fare much better. A leader of the Muslim Brotherhood a few years ago declared epidemics to be a form of divine punishment ("God developed the microbe and kept it away from those He wished to spare") and argued against scientific efforts to eradicate the problem.

But what of The Golden Age, so often quoted by Islamic apologists to counter the idea that Islam stifles freedom of thought? Whilst Europe was stumbling around in the Dark Ages, it's said, the Islamic world was responsible for keeping alive the knowledge of the ancient Greeks, and Muslim scientists successfully stood upon these giants' shoulders to produce advances in such various fields as, inter alia:  medicine, mathematics, architecture and chemistry. No-one can or should deny these great contributions. But is it fair to label these scientific advances Islamic or in any way a product of a specifically Muslim environment?

We don't, for example, refer to the spectacular scientific advances and discoveries in Europe during the last 300 years - advances that dwarf anything produced during the Golden Age - as Christian, mainly because we know that the Catholic Church, in particular, was a hindrance to science. The main reason for the awakening of European scientific inquiry was, after all, the Enlightenment - that movement which put reason before superstition and skepticism ahead of faith.

Thus the secular Iranian historian, Shoja-e-din Shafa  in his recent controversial books titled  Rebirth and After 1400 Years questions whether it makes sense to talk of a category such as “Islamic science”. Shafa states that while religion has been a cardinal foundation for nearly all empires of antiquity to derive their authority from, "it does not possess adequate defining factors to justify attribution in the development of science, technology, and arts to the existence and practice of a certain faith within a particular realm. While various empires in the course of mankind's history had an official religion, we do not normally ascribe their achievements to the faith they practiced."

At the bottom of this page you'll find a quote. It reads like this:
The truth is that the pretension to infallibility, by whomsoever made, has done endless mischief; with impartial malignity it has proved a curse, alike to those who have made it and those who have accepted it, and its most baneful shape is book infallibility. For...schools of philosophy are able to retreat from positions that have become untenable, while the dead hand of a book sets and stiffens...Wherever bibliolatry has prevailed, bigotry and cruelty have accompanied it. It lies at the root of the deep seated, sometimes disguised, never absent, antagonism the freedom of thought and the spirit of scientific investigation. For those who look upon ignorance as one of the chief sources of evil, and who hold veracity, not merely in act, but in thought, to be the one condition of true progress, whether moral or intellectual, it is clear that the biblical idol, must go the way of all other idols. – T. H. Huxley, Science and Hebrew Tradition
The pretension to infallibility has indeed done endless mischief.  And the more completely one believes in the infallibility of a book, the less freedom of thought and the spirit of scientific inquiry are likely to flourish.