Sunday, August 9, 2009

Skepticism Is Not an Excuse for Sloppiness

While browsing a local bookstore a few days ago, I ran across a copy of James Randi's "The Supernatural A-Z: The Truth and The Lies." Randi is a professional magician and has been at the forefront of the skeptical movement for some time. The book is an encyclopedia of supernatural and fringe claims described from a skeptical perspective. Randi is a witty and clever writer. I therefore bought the book and looked forward to an entertaining learning experience.

Unfortunately, this was not to be. Browsing through the book, I found that it contains many errors and misleading statements. And these were only those detected by me from the (small) set of entries of which I had some prior knowledge.

One of the most glaring series of errors occurs in the entry Tetragrammatron. The entry reads (with internal formatting suppressed):

In the kabalah, this is the term for the four-letter name of God. In effect, it is the name of a Name. It varies from text to text. Some versions are JHVH, IHVH, JHWH, YHVH and YHWH. Since these are too sacred to be spoken outloud, the word `Adoni' is used when the name is spoken. This has led to a serious misunderstanding, since in Hebrew texts only the vowels of Adoni (or of `Elohim' - this makes it more confusing) are printed. Thus are produced the reconstructions Yahweh, Jehova, etc.


There's so much wrong with this entry that I'm not sure where to start. I'm going to refrain from pointing out the many minor errors, such as that the term "tetragrammatron" isn't actually connected to kabalah. There's no circumstance where only the vowels are printed. I'm not completely sure where Randi got this idea or what statement that this was based on. The most obvious is that in Hebrew generally only consonants are printed. It is possible that somewhere Randi got vowels confused with consonants and then thought it was something which applied only to the four letter name. The other likely possibility is that Randi was confused by the practice that, on the occasions when something is printed with vowels (such as prayer books and certain religious texts), sometimes the four letter name is printed with the correct consonants but using the vowels from Adoni. However, this practice is not the root of the vowelization in either "Yahweh" or "Jehovah."

This is not the only severe error. The entry for the Necronomicon reads:

Several additions of this grimoire have appeared. Said to have been first published in about AD 730, in Arabic, as Al Azif, by Abdul Alhazred, an English translation is attributed to John Dee. It relates powerful formulas for calling up dangerous demigods and demons who are dedicated to destroying mankind.
It is a bit surprising that a nominally skeptical work would discuss the Necronomicon without mentioning that it is a completely fictional work. The Necronomicon was originally written about by H.P. Lovecraft in his horror writing in the 1920s and 30s. It is in his explicitly fictional universe that all the details above are correct. Since Lovecraft, various hoax Necronomicons have been written, but those are all very much modern creations. While this is an error primarily of omission rather than commission it is a massive mistake which makes one wonder how much attention Randi has paid to the subject.

These are not the only entries with errors. There are misleading statements about the doctrines of Christian Science, and there are claims that are so wrong that two-minutes of fact checking would find them. For example, Randi claims that Cotton Mather presided over the Salem Witch Trials.

All these errors I found from browsing through the book for about an hour. There are many entries about which I know little or nothing and I have made no effort to check the accuracy of these entries.

There are serious pragmatic and ethical concerns with this sort of sloppiness. Pragmatically, there are three major issues: First, a moderately credulous individual might pick up this book, read through it and react against skepticism as a result of seeing such a major spokesperson of skepticism engaging in such intellectual laziness. Second, a skeptic might read the book, and rely on the incorrect information for later use and thus be caught out in a debate or discussion. Third, it is common for members of fringe groups to accuse skeptics of not taking the time to understand what they are analyzing. This gives unfortunate weight to that charge.

There are three ethical problems: Most seriously, readers expect when they buy a book by James Randi to buy a book that is accurate and has been subject to minimal fact-checking. It does a disservice to readers to sell them such poorly researched material. Second, Randi and the skeptical movement as a whole have repeatedly and correctly criticized various fringe groups for engaging in poor research and outright sloppiness. It is thus the height of hypocrisy to engage in the same behavior. Third, it is in general unethical to promote falsehoods and misunderstandings.

I'm also disturbed that I can find little discussion on the internet about the flaws in this book. The skeptical movement cannot be skeptical of others and then turn a blind eye to the flaws of their own. That's not skepticism. That's tribalism.

44 comments:

sniffnoy said...

Ah, so that's what the "only vowels" thing you were talking about was. I agree, the replacement-vowels thing seems to fit best; but if he actually understood it, he's sure presented it very confusingly.

Incidentally, I had also heard the story that the "e-o-a" of "Jehovah" had come from the practice of writing YHVH with the vowels of "Elohim" where it should be read as such, though how the final "i" would have changed into an "a" is beyond me; I should go check that out.

Shalmo said...

Actually Jehovah comes from some moronic Old Testament German scholar who tried finding out what the pronunciation for YHWH is. However it can't be Jehovah since hebrew has no J letter.

And Elohim was plagarized, as was most of Jewish mythology, from uggartic civilization in Israel. Elohim is the name of a court of 70gods, which was then adopted by Jewish scribes

Joshua said...

While it is likely that the name Elohim came from word denoting a pantheon, it seems odd to describe this as plagiarism. Terms change over time. Cultures adopt language from others or modify pre-existing language. No religion or culture exists in a vacuum. That's not plagiarism.

Shalmo said...

"Pragmatically, there are three major issues: First, a moderately credulous individual might pick up this book, read through it and react against skepticism as a result of seeing such a major spokesperson of skepticism engaging in such intellectual laziness. Second, a skeptic might read the book, and rely on the incorrect information for later use and thus be caught out in a debate or discussion. Third, it is common for members of fringe groups to accuse skeptics of not taking the time to understand what they are analyzing. This gives unfortunate weight to that charge. Pragmatically, there are three major issues: First, a moderately credulous individual might pick up this book, read through it and react against skepticism as a result of seeing such a major spokesperson of skepticism engaging in such intellectual laziness. Second, a skeptic might read the book, and rely on the incorrect information for later use and thus be caught out in a debate or discussion. Third, it is common for members of fringe groups to accuse skeptics of not taking the time to understand what they are analyzing. This gives unfortunate weight to that charge. "

OH REALLY?

Such shoddy scholarship is something that is actually very very common among the gods of modern skepticism and is hardly isolated to James Randi.

You and I have discussed Sam Harris' caricatures of Islam.

Richard Dawkins is no less guilty of the same thing. For example here is a good run-down of Dawkins' dishonst use of Martin Luther's views on science and religion: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ph_8_N74jYs&feature=PlayList&p=8DBEC544DABC305A

And that's just one example. We can spend days, even weeks, going through all the academic dishonesty we see coming from today's skeptic demigods.

sniffnoy said...

Actually Jehovah comes from some moronic Old Testament German scholar who tried finding out what the pronunciation for YHWH is. However it can't be Jehovah since hebrew has no J letter.

Uh... what? I was talking about the vowels. The consonants make perfect sense. Here's one possible simple explanation: Let's recall what sound 'j' makes in German, yes? And how do you think most English speakers/readers would pronounce something with that spelling?

Things getting mangled in transliteration is usually not due to stupidity. It can generally be attributed to 1. the languages in question having different phonemes, preventing an exact transliteration; 2. something being transliterated in the past, and then ordinary language change occuring, without later reference back to the source; or 3. writing things down with one system, and then reading them back with another (as above). Naturally these all overlap, and all can be attributed to some amount of ignorance, but to attribute it to "some moronic Old Testament German scholar" is ridiculous. Go learn some minimal amount linguistics - and when I say "minimal", I really do mean "minimal", because I've never taken a single linguistics class but I've picked up enough to have figured this out.

The path I stated above is hardly the only possible one - but it's easy to come up with others that make perfect sense and don't require these moronic scholars who just happen to popularize a certain mispronunciation. I'm sure someone who actually knows about the history of German or the Tetragrammaton could say, but honestly, I don't really care, because it'll almost have to be pretty similar to what I suggested above.

john said...

Your criticisms of Randi seem valid, but I think you are unjustified in indicting "the skeptical movement". I doubt that very many people have read this obscure book (there aren't even any reviews on Amazon), and you can't accuse all of us of "tribalism" for not noticing it. Skeptics are usually very willing to admit to mistakes when they are pointed out.

The rest of the post was good, but the last paragraph seems completely inappropriate.

Jay said...

I think you make a very good point, Joshua.

Randi, Dawkins, and other big names in the skeptical community have enough credibility that it's easy to assume that they've done their homework.

We should always keep in mind that they can and do make mistakes and be prepared to double check their information, particularly if we intend to use it elsewhere.

It's also important to be aware of our own biases, and not let them encourage us to gloss over errors in skeptical writing that we would otherwise point out.

treehouses said...

Perhaps the book is a hoax. Randi's created one before: http://www.abc.net.au/science/correx/archives/randi4.htm

Did you find anything correct in the book?

Joshua said...

John,

I may have overstated matters. I do however have trouble labeling any book that is by James Randi as obscure. But yes, my last paragraph may have been overly critical.

Kurt, the book doesn't appear to be a hoax by any reasonable standard. The book has been around for a few years and most entries are correct. Furthermore, generally when he has engaged in a hoax it has been to prove some point (such as that the media is credulous). I don't see any similar purpose here. The book isn't a hoax; it simply isn't well-done.

Johan said...

"However, this practice is not the root of the vowelization in either "Yahweh" or "Jehovah.""

I am not so sure about this statement. Yes I agree for Yahweh, that is based on the Greek translitteration and Samarian traditions I believe. But for Jehovah I am not so sure. The textbook in Hebrew I am slowly working my way through does give essentially that as an explanation.

Though it should be noted that one wrote a sewa instead of a hatef patah in the vowels. Probably because saying Yah was already a sacriliege if someone were to read the vowels by mistake.

And Shalmo, neither the letters Y or J exist in Hebrew. There does exist a letter jod however whose pronounciation is best approximated as J when you write in German.

Shalmo said...

Some people render the four-letter Name as "Jehovah," but this pronunciation is particularly unlikely. The word "Jehovah" comes from the fact that ancient Jewish texts used to put the vowels of the Name "Adonai" (the usual substitute for YHVH) under the consonants of YHVH to remind people not to pronounce YHVH as written. A sixteenth century German Christian scribe, while transliterating the Bible into Latin for the Pope, wrote the Name out as it appeared in his texts, with the consonants of YHVH and the vowels of Adonai, and came up with the word JeHoVaH, and the name stuck.

Shalmo said...

And Joshua could you please make a post about what it is you believe in, that would be nice!

The most you have ever said is that your religious beliefs change from time to time, but frum would not be a good category.

Lisa said...

"First, a moderately credulous individual might pick up this book, read through it and react against skepticism as a result of seeing such a major spokesperson of skepticism engaging in such intellectual laziness. Second, a skeptic might read the book, and rely on the incorrect information for later use and thus be caught out in a debate or discussion."

I agree totally with this, and it's not just a problem in this book. I watched the Zeitgeist film, which among other things claimed that the Egyptian God Horus had a similar story to Jesus, and that Christianity copied it. However, the actual story of Horus isn't similar to the resurrection of Jesus, but many people watch this film thinking what it says is true.

I find it embarrassing really, when people mock religious people for believing their holy books , but then this film lies to discredit Christianity. Other films make similar claims, such as 'The God Who Wasn't There' which also claims Jesus is copied from Horus.

Lautreamont said...

Lisa, the point of many of the films, documentaries, books, and articles which proffer the theory that Jesus was based on other Gods is, indeed, just that. In such films as Zeitgeist and Religulous and such books as The God Delusion and Breaking the Spell no one is claiming Jesus is based off Horus exclusively (which if you examine the similarities is, alone, pretty compelling) but are rather claiming that the Christian Jesus is based off an amalgamation of many different Gods and prophets from Mithra to Horus to Polytheistic precursors of Persian demigods to Greco Roman Olympiads. Indeed, one only needs to read a few pages of The Epic of Gilgamesh to realise that many passages of the Old Testament, well beyond simply the story of Jesus, are based upon prior texts. In the end, the "mocking" which non-Christians may visit upon Christians while, in my opinion is still childish and wrong, pales in comparison to the shame and alienation visited upon Atheists in contemporary American culture. Furthermore, one must credit these people who rightly connect many, many points of similarity between Jesus and such Gods as Horus since at least these theories are based upon various forms of research and various legitimate texts whereas Christians' beliefs are simply based upon one text. And, frankly, since the King James Bible has been so abrogated and excised their beliefs are not even based upon a single text but simply what was left over from it.

Lautreamont said...

And, as for sloppiness, frankly nothing except epic drug use is an excuse for sloppiness, whether one is writing a recipe for meat loaf or a scientific study. Sloppiness lurks in nearly every echelon of human interaction from the naves of churches to the corridors of ivy league colleges. Sloppiness is neither confined to Skepticism alone nor Religion but, simply, all that is human.

I doubt Josh was suggesting that sloppiness is an inherent quality of contemporary skepticism but, rather, that contemporary skepticism can not and must not be an excuse to become so.

Shalmo said...

Lisa you are correct about a few things. Certainly many of these claims of Jesus borrowing from pagan mythologies aren't true. Such as Zeitgeist's claim that all these gods had virgin births. It shows they didn't do their research. Neither Mithra nor Horus nor Buddha had virgin births, Horus' mother was impregnated by Isis and Mithra was born of a rock. Many of these conspiracy theories made by skeptics have been discredited.

However other pagan myths do repeat themselves in christianity. The most common one being the mythology of the dieing/resurrecting god which does repeat with the Horus mythology.

Paul was eager to win converts to Christianity hence he removed the circumcistion ruling, and dietary restrictions to make conversion to Christianity easier. Ultimately he fashioned a Jesus the roman pagans were already used to; a dieing/resurrectig god who absolves sins. Christianity basically allowed the roman pagans to move from one god to another, which followed the same format. Paul was an amazing theologial strategist.

Jr said...

Where Christianity really borrowed from other religions is the saints. They are clearly in many cases just Christianized versions of local pagan gods.

The pagan influences on the Jesus story are however sometimes exaggerated, just like Lisa says.

Lisa said...

While it may be true that the Jesus story may be based on Pagan myths, that's no excuse for the Zeitgeist movie (and others like it) to make up facts to prove this point. The argument should be strong enough on its own without having to do this.

Let's look at a couple of the claims of the Zeitgeist move in regard to Horus (however I would argue that almost every claim it makes about Horus is incorrect, which then makes me extremely distrustful of anything the rest of the film says):

Horus was born on December 25th [S14] [S15] of the virgin Isis-Meri.:

So firstly it adds 'Meri' to the name of Isis for no reason other than to make you think that Mary was copied from her. While there are definite parallels between Isis & Mary, it is arguable whether Isis was a virgin. She did copulate with Osiris to give birth to Horus, although Osiris was dead at the time. Obviously these stories changed throughout the history of Ancient Egypt, so there are varying accounts of how Isis became pregnant with Horus but I don't believe any of them imply that she was a virgin.

Egyptian mythology didn't have this big issue with sex like Christianity does, so its unlikely that they believed Isis was a virgin before this time - she was the wife of Osiris after all. Even if people want to think Isis was a virgin, that doesn't excuse the adding of 'Meri' to her name. I can't find any sources other than ones claiming the Jesus myth is similar to Horus that use this name.

After being betrayed by Typhon[S32], Horus was crucified[S33]

Horus was not crucified. His father Osiris was killed by Typhon (otherwise known as Seth) and did later rise from the dead. This does make me wonder why they film doesn't use Osiris as the example, I think it would be much more fitting. However they chose Horus, and Horus didn't die (by crucifixion or otherwise) and also did not rise from the dead.

I do agree that Christianity borrows from other religions, but again I don't think that's any excuse to twist these stories to your own devices as the makers of Zeitgest did.

Shalmo said...

Well Christianity is not unique. Most religions are biult this way, they from previous religions to add to their own mythologies

In the case of Judaism most of the Torah stories come from better stories plagarized from the babylonians, sumerians, assyrians, hittites, canaanites, greeks, egyptians, etc etc.

The sumerians had the story on enmerker and the tower of Arratta, so the Jews came up with the tower of Babel. The greeks had the story of Hercules, and so the Jews came up with Samson.

and the influece didn't stop there. The Rambam (Maimonides) clearly felt the tribal anthropormorphic Zeus/Odin type god of the midrash and Torah was kefirah. Hence due to teachers such as Ibn Rushd, he replaced the Jewish god with the God of Muhammed; an abstract, without parts, without partners, universal reality. He also plagarized countless sufi concepts to give the legalistic religion of Judaism a much needed spirituality.

Also the oral Torah is mostly just Zorastrian theology paving it way in Judaism. Hence the pharisees, who produced it. Pharisee comes from the word parsi which is the persian word for Zorastrian. Pharisees were thus the persian faction among Jews, the ones who took the most persian ideas and judeofied them.

I think Judaism has far more pagan mythology in it than Christianity to be honest

Jr said...

"he replaced the Jewish god with the God of Muhammed"

Allow me to be very dubious about that statement. The god of Muhammed was anthropomorphic sometimes as well, with him having hands in the Quran.

And it is not like a remote god without human attributes was entirely unprecendented in Jewish thought. Consider the P source in the 5 books of Moses or the Deuternomistic history.

I would also like to modify a previous statement. Obviously Christianity borrowed heavily from Judaism. I meant the reference only to pagan religions.

Jr said...

And of course, if there is any religion that borrowed heavily from others it is Islam. I mean it is clearly mostly a rip-off of Judaism with some elements of Christian mythology and modified to include Muhammed as a prophet.

Shalmo said...

Jr most religions are biult this way. They take from previous mythologies and then rework them to make their own.

About the hands things, actually that's a metaphor in the Quran. Kinda like when you say the hands of the law, you don't mean the law literally has arms

Go to part of the Quran that says "vision comprehends him not", and the first ayat that says "there is nothing like him" which they take literally as saying nothing in creation matches God.

About what u said about Islam, well its doubtful because critical scholarship has shown that Jews took from muslims quite a lot. For instance all midrash that we used to believe were the source for the Quran have now in fact been proven to be post-Muhammed inventions from the 10th century. Besides Judaism has been ever changing kinda like Zorastrianism, so its not easy to claim influence went one way.

If you ask a muslim they will just state that these previous religions are remnants of previous revelations by God to previous prophets, hence explaining the similarities between the religions.

Joshua said...

Shalmo,
Some Christians claim that similarities between Christianity and earlier religions is due to Satan deliberately making false religions similar to the one true religion.

I'd also be incidentally curious what citations/evidence you have that the influence of Midrashim and Koranic stories was so one way. Certainly many midrashim drew from pre-existing sources (most noticeably Greek sources. The bed of Procrustes being lifted out and placed in Sodom being the most obvious example). But the claim made seems unlikely.

Some major aspects of Islam came from Judaism. The pork prohibition is the most obvious example.

Jr said...

I found the following video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WSzQC1zKesU&feature=PlayList&p=FDE8925734E2FC4B&index=8 with Randi where he endorses the claim that Nazareth didn't exist when Jesus was born. This is a dubious claim in itself though not impossible.

But what is really sloppy is something he says in the beginning. He speaks about the account in John 1 of Jesus being born in Nazreth.

There are no less than 2 errors here. First of all, the Gospel of John does not contain a birth account. (Though he concededly has him described as Jesus from Nazareth.)Secondly the Gospels that have a birth account have him born in Bethelehem and only living in Nazareth. (As 95% of the population would know.)

Religious studies and Biblical scholarship are two areas where some skeptics become decidedly pseudo-scientific. Claims should be treated with skepticism even if they happen to go against a religion.

Shalmo said...

Joshua I am not sure what christians believing certain religions coming from Satan has to do with anything we are discussing.

About the pork thing, again this prohibition was around long before Judaism came along, as was circumcision and many other things.

Again so what? If you believe this is because God sent other revelations, or as the Quran says a prophet to each nation, then how can borrowing be substituted when the theology already has an explanation for there are similarities. A more pressing question is if borrowing did occur, why did Mohammed not copy the errors in the bible as well. But that is so off topic. But you are gonna have to justify your naturalistic presuppositions.

About the midrash and the Quran here are a few good articles with secular sources:

http://www.islamic-awareness.org/Quran/Sources/BByalkut.html

http://www.islamic-awareness.org/Quran/Sources/BBnumb.html

http://www.islamic-awareness.org/Quran/Sources/BBrabbah.html

http://www.islamic-awareness.org/Quran/Sources/BBsheba.html

http://www.islamic-awareness.org/Quran/Contrad/External/haman.html

also be sure to check out this page:

http://www.islamic-awareness.org/Quran/Sources/

Shalmo said...

Jr even Richard Carrier support Nazareth existing during Jesus' time

Joshua said...

Shalmo, the point regarding Christianity and claims about Satan was that other religions also have theological explanations for similarities. Odd that members of each religion see the other religions' explanations as clear attempts at post hoc rationalizations.

Shalmo said...

I didn't want to go here, but ok.

1. People have been making conspriacy theories about the "sources" of the Quran for over a millenium. So far all archaeological sciences have turned a negative on who the so-called teacher of Mohammed was. (http://www.islamic-awareness.org/Quran/Sources/) People who bring these accusations fail to realize that muslims have been reading their books as well, and its foolish to think that you can bring a charge of plagarism of which they themselves have not considered

2. Why does the Quran not copy the errors of the Bible? Genesis states that creation happened in seperate days, and the process such as light existing without a sun, plants coming before there is a Sun to provide photosynthesis, man being created before animals contradicting the paleontological record, etc. Certainly 1400 years ago the sciences which revealed these problems were not available. Yet unlike the bible, the Quran states creation happened at once at a Big Bang no less:

[21:30] "Do not the Unbelievers see that the heavens and the earth were joined together (as one unit of creation), before we clove them asunder? We made from water every living thing. Will they not then believe?"

How did Mohammed know which parts of the bible were true and which were false when these sciences came to us at the 19th century? this is just one of countless examples, quite many others exist in the Sunnah which we can discuss

What about the historical anachronisms in the Bible? I'm certain you have read Naftali's huge letter detailing many of the evidences in the Torah that show not only ignorance of the contemporary history those accounts speak on, but show these books were written many many centuries after the supposed events. Why did Mohammed not copy these anachronims as well?

For example. "According to modern linguist research the word "Pharaoh". was used by the writers of the Old Testament and has since become a widely adopted title for all the kings of Egypt. However, the Egyptians did not call their ruler "Pharaoh" until the 18th Dynasty (c. 1552 - 1295 BC) in the New Kingdom Period. In the language of the hieroglyphs, "Pharaoh" was first used to refer to the king during the reign of Amenhophis IV (c. 1352 - 1338 BC). We know that such a designation was correct in the time of Moses but the use of the word Pharaoh in the story of Joseph is an anachronism, as under the rule of the Hyksos there was no "Pharaoh." Similarly, the events related in Genesis 12 concerning Abraham (c. 2000-1700 BCE) could not have occurred in a time when the sovereign of Egypt was called Pharaoh, and this exposes yet another anachronism. In several chapters of Genesis we find the same error frequently recurring – some ninety-six times in total. What is clear is that the biblical writers composed their texts under the influences of the knowledge of their time, when the king of Egypt was usually designated as "Pharaoh".

The situation is entirely different in the Qur'an. As is the case with the Bible, reference to the sovereign of ancient Egypt is found throughout various chapters of the Qur'an. A careful study of the minutiae of each narrative reveals some compelling differences. With regard to the Egyptian king who was a contemporary of Joseph, the Qur'an uses the title "King" (Arabic, Malik); he is never once addressed as Pharaoh. As for the king who ruled during the time of Moses, the Qur'an repeatedly calls him Pharaoh (Arabic, Fir'awn).

These facts that we have mentioned were unknown at the time of the Qur'anic Revelation. The only source of knowledge of the religious past were the Bible-based stories in circulation. From the time of the Old Testament to the Qur'an, the only document mankind possessed on these ancient stories was the Bible itself. Furthermore, the knowledge of the old Egyptian hieroglyphs had been totally forgotten until they were finally deciphered in the 19th century CE." (http://www.islamic-awareness.org/Quran/Contrad/External/josephdetail.html)

There are countless more examples of this as well

Shalmo said...

3. Perhaps I should have provided an explanation.

The christian explanation that these other religions come from Satan is not a rational theological explanation because for one the bible never said such a thing. It also does not provide a rational revelation. If anything countering Christianity comes from Satan, then how is an average believer supposed to know if indeed Christianity itself does not come from Satan. You have to establish a common paradigm with which to judge the true religion, arguably this would be reason and logic, as opposed to emotion

Now about these other religions. Yes muslims believe God sent revelations to all nations, just not muslims. So if indeed there were no similarities (such as ethical monotheism) then arguably this claim of Islam would fail. And this claim that God sent to every nation a prophet is indeed in the Quran.

From an islamic perspective religions such as Christianity, Judaism, Zorastrianism and so forth also have a reasonable purpose for existing. They are here to saturate this planet with ideas familiar to Islam in order to allow a global transition to islamic ideals to take place. These ideas include things like monotheism, belief in angels, heaven/hell, Judgement Day, linear time as opposed to cyclical time, etc. Take the pagans of Europe. Arguably the absolute monotheism of Islam would have been impossible for them to accept at the time, hence Christianity was there (itself a mix between monotheism and paganism) to slowly "wean" the people to a more monotheistic outlook. Jesus was after all himself just a remake of the dieing/resurrecting god scenario they were used to. Or take Zorastrianism in Iran. It was there to "wean" the people to ethical monotheism.

It seems to have worked. Zorastrian Iran is now composed of mostly muslims, since the people converted. What about Christian Europe? Isn't it slowly becoming islamicized? And it is usually people from these religions that convert to Islam because they see the "familiar territory" in it. What about India? Its slowly transitioning to Christianity, as are the witch doctors in South America. Again all part of the big plan:)

And arguably this may be why Judaism is now in decline. Because with a religion like Christianity "weaning" the pagans to a more monotheistic outlook for our religion, and doing a spectacular job the world over, Judaism has just become obsolete for its intended purpose. The same explanation can be offered for why Zorastrianism is also in decline, since now the persians are mostly muslims.

Shalmo said...

4. Please don't think I am here to "spread the faith" so to speak.

I would have preferred all our conversations remained completely secular on topic. But since you brought up these issues, I should tell you straight away that these topics have been discussed to death by muslims already. So I doubt you can bring any argument we have not already considered in this regard.

Joshua said...

Lisa and JR. Thanks yes, those are very good examples. Although honestly I'm not either surprised or disturbed by Zeitgeist having problems. The point about further issues with Randi is far more annoying.

Shalmo, your ability to bring topics of conversation off-topic is amazing. It is almost impressive
enough to be evidence of divine creation.

Adding to the list of things needing good citations, we'll now add the claim that a prohibition on pork consumption was around in other extant groups prior to Judaism (if anything, I'm pretty sure the reverse is true with most other Middle Eastern tribal groups being fine with pork consumption). Certainly in the case of circumcision, other groups did practice it in the Middle East (although some such as the Philistines notably did not), but I'd be curious what evidence there is that anyone around 600 C.E. or so was practicing circumcision in the area that was not a Jewish or Christian group.

Now, most of what you've put here seems to be frankly irrelevant.
I don't think anyone here was claiming that Mohammed either plagiarized or had a specific teacher here, so why you link to apologetics in your point 1 discussing that isn't clear to me.

Most of the rest of what repeat here is tiresome apologetics. I'm not completely sure what you are trying to do here. It seems like you are trying to make some sort
of argument for the divine inspiration of the Koran. Please be explicit. The "I'm just asking questions" routine is annoying and disingenuous when it is done by 9/11 Truthers, Apollo Moon Hoax proponents and a hundred other groups. If you are going to insist
on mucking up the comments threads with apologetica, please state explicitly what point you are trying to make.

The argument that the Koran does not include incorrect Biblical material is on its surface an interesting one. Like all apologetic arguments, it falls flat when examined in any detail.
The vast majority of narrative material in the Bible is not included in the Koran. So the fact that you can point to specific material that happens to be wrong that isn't included doesn't show anything at all.

Your verse which you claim is about the Big Bang is another form of standard apologetic argument.
I almost wish there were a name for this sort of argument. I think I'd call it the "argument from
insufficient imagination." You are aware of a single scientific theory that describes the early
universe and you conclude that the verse in question is talking about that, neglecting the hundred other possible ways to read that verse.

Your example with the use of "Pharaoh" is an interesting one, but one can easily give a thousand simple explanations, including the fact that the title Pharaoh had not been in use for some time by the time the Koran was written. Do you really think they'd then use an obsolete term rather than the helpful synonym.


Your response about Christianity and the Satan claim misses the fundamental point:
You've each created inherently unfalsifiable explanations for why your religion's similarity to pre-existing religion somehow isn't a demonstration of influence from those religions.
The fact that you raise actual problems with their theology is besides the point.
(There's a temptation to argue for the reasonableness of their belief but I lack both the time and the interest for that particular form of intellectual game at the moment).

Your three paragraphs about the purpose of Judaism, Christianity and other religions is again unfalsifiable. It moreover, ignores the primary reason why Islam and Christianity have been so successful at spreading while Judaism has not. There's no magical divine plot needed to explain this. Christianity and Islam both proselytize. They in fact do so heavily. Not surprisingly, this leads to them both spreading pretty effectively. And the argument you use moreover has the unfortunate effect of working for groups you wouldn't be so fond of. The Ba'hai for example can claim that Islam is spreading for them by the same logic.

Joshua said...

I'm incidentally amused that although you seem to frequently complain about the average person's knowledge of Islam, you seem to have appalling degrees of understanding of other religions when you talk about "the witch doctors in South America."

And while we're on the subject of amusement, I'm also amused by your last comment where you state that you didn't want to discuss these issues but wanted to remain talking about "secular" subjects. Of course, your comment was about where Jehovah and Elohim came from, and you also were the first person in this comments thread to bring up anything related to Islam. So, um yeah...

Shalmo said...

when character assasination starts, I usually take that as my cue to no longer continue the discussion. Ironic you accuse my of changing topics, when you yourself have changed this discussion from religion into an outline of my "flaws". touche!

You previously asked me to provide sources for my claims on midrash/Quran, and I did just that. What's the problem?

About the restriction of pork and a non-jewish group having it, try the Banu-Hashim or the Hanifs, both whom predate Jewry

"Now, most of what you've put here seems to be frankly irrelevant.
I don't think anyone here was claiming that Mohammed either plagiarized or had a specific teacher here, so why you link to apologetics in your point 1 discussing that isn't clear to me."

Actually I was replying to Jr's claims about Islam and the usual copy-cat theories he brought up. He was the one who started the discussion on Islam, not me. Would you have preferred I not correct his allegations?

"Most of the rest of what repeat here is tiresome apologetics. I'm not completely sure what you are trying to do here. It seems like you are trying to make some sort
of argument for the divine inspiration of the Koran. Please be explicit. The "I'm just asking questions" routine is annoying and disingenuous when it is done by 9/11 Truthers, Apollo Moon Hoax proponents and a hundred other groups. If you are going to insist
on mucking up the comments threads with apologetica, please state explicitly what point you are trying to make."

Who said I was trying to prove anything? I was simply replying to questions you asked, as well as the copy-cat theories brought forth.

And a word about "apologetics". Well I don't subscribe to the terminology. You asked questions and I gave you answers, which you are now hushing away by saying its all just apologetics. That word is what people use to hush up arguments they cannot rebuttal.

"The argument that the Koran does not include incorrect Biblical material is on its surface an interesting one. Like all apologetic arguments, it falls flat when examined in any detail.
The vast majority of narrative material in the Bible is not included in the Koran. So the fact that you can point to specific material that happens to be wrong that isn't included doesn't show anything at all."

This is an argument biult on a negative, not effective at all. Why does the Quran NOT include that material? And under who's authority did Mohammed know what to remove and what to keep, and how did he get it right?

You see if the Quran had the nonsense of Genesis, such as its theories on the origins of different races or the flawed stages of creation, you indeed would be using this argument against Quran. But instead it doesn't have that material. And that's the point. How did he know what is right and what is wrong?

Also consider that along with the Quran there is the volumes upon volumes of data known as the Sunnah which adds to the stories in the Quran, but the biographies of Moses, etc are very different than what you have in the bible. Yet they do not include the anachronisms of the bible, for instance they don't state the world is 6000 years old.

And if you are going to subscribe to the copy-cat conspiracy theories, the burden of proof is on you to demonstrate this discrepancy. If the Quran was a human constuct it would repeat those historical anachronisms and scientific errors, yet is does not.

Shalmo said...

"You are aware of a single scientific theory that describes the early universe and you conclude that the verse in question is talking about that, neglecting the hundred other possible ways to read that verse."

how else are we supposed to read the verse? All classical commentaries read the verse as describing the origins of the universe so you are totally wrong about there being other possible ways to read this verse

I'm assuming you see the first and second chapters of Genesis as descriptions of the origin of the universe, no? then why the special pleadings with the Quran doing the same?

"Your example with the use of "Pharaoh" is an interesting one, but one can easily give a thousand simple explanations, including the fact that the title Pharaoh had not been in use for some time by the time the Koran was written. Do you really think they'd then use an obsolete term rather than the helpful synonym."

Wow. You are SO WRONG> The arabs very much reffered to egyptians kings as pharoah (arabic: firawn).

And this is straw-man because the argument was that the pharoah of Joseph was referred to as "malik" where as the pharaoh of Moses was referred to as "firawn". And we did not know about the anachronism in the bible until we rediscovered heiroglyphics in the 19th century. Yet the Quran gets its right and the bible gets it wrong, which further adds a hole into the bible being the source for the Quran.

"Your response about Christianity and the Satan claim misses the fundamental point:
You've each created inherently unfalsifiable explanations for why your religion's similarity to pre-existing religion somehow isn't a demonstration of influence from those religions.
The fact that you raise actual problems with their theology is besides the point."

The principle on unfalsifiability (which you are invoking here) is itself contradictory. Can you falsify the principle of unfalsifiability? Yes./NO.

I addressed that those other religions coming from Satan isn't a doctrine in the bible at all, its just a modern polemic against criticism. I gave an explanation why such a doctrine can similarly be applied to Christianity itself

The Quran on the other hand already in it has an explanation for similarities with these other religions. So its not a later polemic created to silence critics. And unlike the christian explanation of Satanic influence, the explanation I am offering is self-consistent rather than self-contradictory.

"Your three paragraphs about the purpose of Judaism, Christianity and other religions is again unfalsifiable. It moreover, ignores the primary reason why Islam and Christianity have been so successful at spreading while Judaism has not. There's no magical divine plot needed to explain this. Christianity and Islam both proselytize. They in fact do so heavily. Not surprisingly, this leads to them both spreading pretty effectively."

I have absolutely no idea how this in any way refutes what I said about these religions and the purpose behind them.

You are wrong about Jewish proselytizing. Jews used to do it heavily as well, they stopped after the roman exile scenario. Read robert goldenberg for more info on that

"And the argument you use moreover has the unfortunate effect of working for groups you wouldn't be so fond of. The Ba'hai for example can claim that Islam is spreading for them by the same logic."

Yeah but the bahais are shrinking cult, where as Islam is growing heavily in Europe and North America because it draws heavily from people from a Christian background who are already familiar with the ideas of ethical monotheism. Same thing happened in Zorastrian Iran, even though muslims hardly proselytized them, the population just switched religions willingly.

Shalmo said...

"I'm incidentally amused that although you seem to frequently complain about the average person's knowledge of Islam, you seem to have appalling degrees of understanding of other religions when you talk about "the witch doctors in South America." "

Its true I get annoyed at the nonsense I see on the Jewish blogs I visit. I do occassionally interfere to let them know how wrong they. But I have come to the conclusion that correcting their misconceptions is impossible, given that they take any argument hand and foot which they can use against my religion, irrelevant of the truth behind the argument. Its even funnier when you see these same jews run to christian missionaries for all that stuff. Can you imagine what the outcome would be if I went to neo-nazi websites to learn about Jews and Judaism? The hypocrasy comes when they go to these websites, but then refuse to even give a glance to muslim websites which have refuted this accusations time and time again.

Oh and are you honestly telling me there are no witch doctors in South America? If so then google will solve that dilmena for you

"And while we're on the subject of amusement, I'm also amused by your last comment where you state that you didn't want to discuss these issues but wanted to remain talking about "secular" subjects. Of course, your comment was about where Jehovah and Elohim came from, and you also were the first person in this comments thread to bring up anything related to Islam. So, um ye"

WHATEVER!

PS: As I said Jr was the first person to bring up Islam, I simply replied to his statements

PPS: You said you wanted more lively discussions on your blog, well why complain when that's exactly what you are getting here?

Joshua said...

Shalmo, I didn't intend to change the subject to a discussion about you. You'll have to forgive me for being occasionally obnoxious.

The issue with the sourcing citations is that they go to apologetic websites. Such sources even when they use secular sources frequently distort the original sources or take them out of context (this is at least my experience with Christian and Jewish apologetics. I don't have any particular reason to see Islamic ones as being that different).

Now moving on:
Shalmo, you seem to have missed the point I was trying to make in replying to your argument about what content was included and what content was not included in the Koran. The point is that the Koran lacks so many content areas that are in the Bible that it isn't terribly surprising if that includes the (few) areas in the Bible that are unambiguously wrong.

I don't know what you mean when you ask if "The principle on unfalsifiability (which you are invoking here) is itself contradictory. Can you falsify the principle of unfalsifiability?" I'm not sure what this means, but it isn't terribly relevant: The point is that the Christian claim being made suffers the exact same flaws as your claim. It isn't clear why you accept the Islamic version but not the Christian version.

Regarding the quoted verse:
""Do not the Unbelievers see that the heavens and the earth were joined together (as one unit of creation), before we clove them asunder?" That could easily refer to all sorts of other things. In fact, the Big Band is one of the harder ones to claim it refers to since nothing in the Big Bang was ever involved in a massive split between the Earth and everything else. (Indeed, similar separation claims occur in a number of other mythologies). If I wanted to use just one other example of how to interpret the verse, one could read that verse just as well as describing the split of the gravitational force from the other forces or something similar to that. In that case, I'm even being restrictive by taking an example that's actually part of the hypothesized actual origin of the universe.

Regarding the Banu-Hashim, I'm not sure what evidence you have there of a prior pork prohibition but I'd be very curious to see it.

Regarding the Hanifs, my impression is that it isn't even clear that secular scholars consider them to have been a historically actual group as described in a substantial was in Islamic sources (although I really know very little about this subject).

Regarding the wording issue for the Egyptian monarch, if that's correct that's very interesting. I'll have to look into that in more detail.

The history of Jewish proselytizing is interesting and complicated. While it is true that the strong anti-proselytizing attitudes are post Roman, my understanding is that Jews were not by and large engaging in the same degree of systematic and enthusiatic proselytizing that Christianity and Islam did. Christianity for example considered (and in many forms still considers) proselytizing to be a primary duty of the religion.

Regarding the Ba'Hai, I'd be curious what evidence you have that they are in a population decline. Even if there is a current decline, they started at 0 slightly over a century ago and now have millions. That's a decent growth rate.

Regarding "witch doctors" - The basic issue there is that the term is considered to be derogatory by many people who practice indigenous faiths and in any event is a terrible lumping of many different shamanistic practices together. It really isn't a useful descriptor.

You seem to be correct incidentally that Jr brought up Islam before you did.

And I didn't say I wanted a more lively blog, I made a joking remark about getting insulted in general at other blogs (so um yeah, if you feel a need to start a new blog, feel free to insult me there. It might make me feel noticed. Or something like that).
Although I certainly don't mind lively conversation. I've at least found this to be quite interesting.

Shalmo said...

About the "apologetic" websites.

A while ago on youtube I saw videos propagating the same Christ myths. That Jesus never existed (, and that the virgin birth, 12 disciples and other aspects of christianity were copied from pagan myths. When I tried correcting the skeptics by showing them that Mithra did not have a virgin birth, nor did Dionysus, or any of the other gods and that 12 disciples is unique to Christianity, I was immediately attacked for being a christian missionary/apologist. Just like blind theists they refuse to even question the christ conspiracy theories, brushing away all answers as "apologetics"

Sadly what you are doing here is exactly the same thing. You REFUSE to even address what those links say. And brush them off as apologetic site without even reading their content. And your argument for doing so is past experiences with Jewish/Christian websites that lie.

It is true that christian/jewish websites have a lot of nonsense in them. I have seen pitiful attempts at trying to fish evidence for the exodus, or trying to falsify the failed prophecies on Nebudchenazzer. But the thing is a casual reading of the arguments can easily allow the reader to tell truth from falsehood, which is why none of their arguments for these things work out in the end.

What we must do is examine the arguments and judge them for their worth.

With the links I brought the argument is about midrash and Quran, and which copies which. The dates on those links, all of which comes from Jewish sources such as the Jewish Encyclopedia, and other secular sources, support the thesis that it was the midrash that copied the Quran not the other way round. Jewish scribes have a history of plagarizing every civilization around them whether it was the egyptians, babylonians, assyrians, greeks or whoever, so them doing the same with Islam is not surprising. From my readings it obvious that even Jews of arabia felt Mohammed was a prophet, hence we have the Arts Scroll Chumash stating that Mohammed was the fulfillment the Genesis prophecy on Ishmael. So the Jews copying muslim sources, when previously believing them in divinity is not surprising.

Now unless you provide a counter-rebuttal to the dates provided, then you cannot concede this argument. And saying its all just apologetics will not grant you any merit here. And I am not going to repeat this a third time.

Shalmo said...

"The point is that the Koran lacks so many content areas that are in the Bible that it isn't terribly surprising if that includes the (few) areas in the Bible that are unambiguously wrong."

Sigh! Didn't I just tell you that along with Quran there is the Sunnah and two together form the basic of islamic literature

In fact the biographies of Moses, Joseph, and so forth in the Sunnah are astronomically different than those in the bible. In fact the biographies in the Sunnah are far more detailed than what the bible and the Talmud record. Yet they are free of the historical anachronisms.

It makes no sense from a naturalistic perspective that Mohammed arbitrarily reworked all the biblical stories. How did he know the tower of babel story was false from a scientific perspective since this is not how languages came to be? Why does he provide a different creation scenario than the Genesis one?

When you look at Quran and Sunnah and compare to the bible; all the appropriated mythology from the babylonians (tower of babel), greeks (Samson), assyrians, egyptians, hittites, cannanites, etc. Where did Mohammed get the know how? How did he know which ones are flawed from a scientific perspective and which ones are?

Why didn't he repeat what Samuel says about the earth resting on pillars?

And why is it that every attempt at finding the historical teacher(s) of Mohammed have turned a negative? There wasn't even an arabic bible available for him. The first written bible came to arabia in the 12th century.

If the Quran/Sunnah was written today you could easily say the author wrote using modern knowledge on archaeology, hydrology and other historical sciences of the 19th/20th century, because these things were only known during these times such as the Joseph's pharoah anachronism in the bible. The fact that Mohammed repeats none of the biblical errors says a lot.

Speaking of pharoah, there is a verse in the Quran (and not in the bible) that states God would preserve the Moses pharoah's body despite him being drowned. There are no remains for the bodies of his soldiers. For about a millenium the islamophobes advocated this as a failed prophecy because we did not have the pharoah's body with us at all. Then in the 19th century Ramses II's body was discovered; prophecy fulfilled :)

Shalmo said...

"The point is that the Christian claim being made suffers the exact same flaws as your claim. It isn't clear why you accept the Islamic version but not the Christian version."

The christian claim is self-contradictory. If Satan did indeed inspire these other religions to undermine Christianity, then why can't we argue that Christianity itself is a product of Satan. If all religions are dismissed as productions of Satan, then the same standards can be applied to Christianity. Most christians do NOT use this argument anyway becase they know its nonsense.

The muslim argument is not self-contradictory. You can't use the argument against itself, like the way I used the Satan argument against christianity.

The muslim argument is also internally consistent and thus rational. It makes no sense that God would ignore mankind for millions of years, and only invoke monotheism with Abraham 4000 years ago, as the bible claims

It makes more sense that God would send everyone prophets from the beginning, rather than just sticking with the middle-east, and that he would send them all the nations.All of which Islam claims.

Its comes in parcel with the islamic doctrine of progressive revelation. That we are being lead to a common goal, from ignorance to enlightment as a species. In Islam there are 6 stages for mankind. The first stage was the "animal" stage (hint: EVOLUTION!). Right now we are in the 3rd/4th stage of our development. When we are ready spiritually and ethically then the 5th stage will begin; which is the messianic era when all the prophets who went into occultation will re-appear to bring the whole world into happy-land. And of course the 6th stage is judgement day.

Hence why it all makes sense when put together as doctrine. Only a few thousands years ago most of the world was lost in polytheism, and look today because of the Ahlul-Kitab religions I have mentioned polytheism is nearly gone because of these religions. Today christianity and judaism are losing to secularism/liberalism but this was all part of the plan. Unless they are weakened Islam cannot replace them. Their purpose was only to saturate this planet with islamic ideas so their end is expected. They are basically rehab programs that have become obsolete.

Shalmo said...

"That could easily refer to all sorts of other things. In fact, the Big Band is one of the harder ones to claim it refers to since nothing in the Big Bang was ever involved in a massive split between the Earth and everything else. (Indeed, similar separation claims occur in a number of other mythologies)...."

IT is true that the big bang repeats itself in other mythologies. There is the hindu mythology of the egg and it splitting into the universe.

But that is not the point. the point was that Genesis gets the creation process wrong, yet the Quran does not repeat its faulty creation process. No two lights, no plants before Sun for photosynthesis, no humans created before animals contradicting the paleontological record, etc.

I am not arguing for scientific miracles in the Quran, though indeed there might be some there. Such as:

“Have We not made the earth as a bed, and the mountains as pegs?” (Quran 78:6-7)

Modern earth sciences have proven that mountains have deep roots under the surface of the ground and that these roots can reach several times their elevations above the surface of the ground. So the most suitable word to describe mountains on the basis of this information is the word ‘peg,’ since most of a properly set peg is hidden under the surface of the ground. The history of science tells us that the theory of mountains having deep roots was introduced only in the latter half of the nineteenth century

Mountains also play an important role in stabilizing the crust of the earth.[4] They hinder the shaking of the earth. God has said in the Quran:
“And He has set firm mountains in the earth so that it would not shake with you...” (Quran 16:15)

Likewise, the modern theory of plate tectonics holds that mountains work as stabilizers for the earth. This knowledge about the role of mountains as stabilizers for the earth has just begun to be understood in the framework of plate tectonics since the late 1960’s. This is impossible to have been known in 7th century arabia.

But again we are not arguing for science in the Quran. None of this is an argument for Quran in itself. I am simply showing that the Quran does not repeat the errors of the bible, which was my original intention when comparing the Quran's creation stories to the biblical ones

there is a hadith by Imam Jaffer that states the universe began as one unit of creation and was then split into everything else.

There is also a famous hadith used by Ayatollah Mutahari in support of evolution. But I don't have time to go looking for them

"Regarding the Banu-Hashim, I'm not sure what evidence you have there of a prior pork prohibition but I'd be very curious to see it. Regarding the Hanifs, my impression is that it isn't even clear that secular scholars consider them to have been a historically actual group as described in a substantial was in Islamic sources (although I really know very little about this subject)."

you REALLY need to stop making up things out of hot air. This is as blatantly false as your previous claims that the word pharaoh had not been in used in arabia.

There is plenty of documentation for hanifs and banu-hashim predating Jewry. I have never met anyone, even a secularist, who denies them.

there are plenty of letters from tribal chiefs of arabia some of whom were hanifs/banu-hashim. But they are in arabic and I don't think there are any copies online

shalmo said...

"The history of Jewish proselytizing is interesting and complicated. While it is true that the strong anti-proselytizing attitudes are post Roman, my understanding is that Jews were not by and large engaging in the same degree of systematic and enthusiatic proselytizing that Christianity and Islam did. Christianity for example considered (and in many forms still considers) proselytizing to be a primary duty of the religion."

I WISH muslims were proselytizing as much as you think. I find its very rare, and even when it does take place its always for lapsed, liberalized muslims and not for non-muslims. This may be because unlike Christianity muslims don't believe other people are going to Hell.

If you check muslim history mass proselytizing was rarely invoked. Most proselytizing instead was done by individual basis than group work. In Pakistan/India for example all the muslims come from single sufi masters who would go to villages and then convert the village. And they were amazing at it as well.

Take the mongols for example. They were as bloodthirsty as a people get. It took 200,000 mongol warriors to defeat 2 million chinese soldiers as one battle estimate shows. No one could stop them as they plundered asia. Yet it took one sufi master to bring them down by converting them all to Islam.


"Regarding the Ba'Hai, I'd be curious what evidence you have that they are in a population decline. Even if there is a current decline, they started at 0 slightly over a century ago and now have millions. That's a decent growth rate."

www.bahaiawareness.com

The bahais are a lot like an iranian version of scientology hence Iran's actions against them are justified. You and I can discuss their origins another time.

I wasn't aware my witch doctor comment was offensive. I apologize.

Shalmo said...

Here is a good run-down of the problem of the parallels between Quran and the Bible:

http://www.islamic-awareness.org/Quran/Sources/BBparallel.html

Shalmo said...

Sorry I forgot to answer your comment about why I believe in Islam. I really didn't want to go there because I loathe proselytizing.

But anyway there are a number of different arguments, many of which cannot be reproduced online. But here is one that I believe is legitimate:

http://www.theinimitablequran.com/uniquelitform.pdf

Its not the only argument, but its one that I don't have to explain. The link explains it just fine.

PS: The above is written by Hamza Tzortzies, who is a secular humanist who converted to Islam because of this argument. So at least bias is not a factor here.

Joshua said...

Shalmo, it isn't that I'm refusing to address what the links say due to a lack of hearing. The simple problem is that I have no way of knowing if they are accurately representing their sourcing or not.

The comparison to the Jesus matter isn't a good one, because one could easily point to non-apologetic sources making the claim.

I don't know what you are referring to the in the Art Scroll, but I presume you are talking about the claim made that Muhammad's existence and the growth of Islam are a fulfillment of the prophecy that Ishmael's descendants would be constantly struggling with the world. That's not the same thing as saying that the Jews believed that Muhammad was a prophet at all. Indeed, that's already centuries after they believed that prophecy was more or less ended.

It isn't that surprising that Muhammad would be marginally better about the nature of the world (such as knowing that it wasn't on pillars) than people a thousand years before. I don't know enough about the Koran to confirm that there are no anachronisms thrown in. (This is in fact a standard problem with dealing with apologetics. One needs to know so much about each religion separately. Being well versed in Jewish and Christian apologetics gives one little ability to deal with Muslims or Hindus or a hundred others).

I don't think you want to make the Ramses II claim, since there are serious issues with labeling Ramses II as the relevant ruler in Exodus. Indeed, there's the not tiny issue that there's know Egyptian record of the Exodus at all. So even discussing that seriously undermines any claim that the Koran and associated texts somehow is completely consistent with modern archaeology and such.

The Christian argument about Satan is about as self-defeating as your argument. If one bought into it one would have no way of knowing if Islam was correct or just yet another religion in God's long line of continual revelations to humanity. Of course, they both suffer the same serious flaw that the simplest explanation is simple human influence.

Incidentally, the Bible does seem fine with the notion of God talking to groups other than the descendants of Abraham. The most obvious and prominent example is Balaam.

Moving on, the mountain verse is again an example of a vague enough verse that it is easy to pin on it a single modern meaning. Indeed, one can easily read the above verse about a "bed" as referring to a flat earth. This is in fact not the only such verse in the Koran.

I'm not an expert on this at all, but to just use a handful of examples, Sura 18 and Sura 71 both seem endorse flat earthism. The point here isn't necessarily that they actually are doing so, but merely that if one wants to take more or less poetic language in a hyper literal fashion then you are going to get results you don't like.

I didn't see any indication in the website you linked to about the Ba'Hai that gave data about their growth rate. I don't see whether they are similar to scientology or not to be at all relevant. Whether a religion is nice or cult-like doesn't impact the basic argument being made: They can make the exact same claim you are making in regards to progressive revelation.

Regarding the Banu-Hashim and Hanifs. If by Hanifs you mean non-Christian, non-Jewish monotheists in the Arabian peninsula prior to the coming of Islam (which is what I understand the term to mean), I'd really be very curious as to what secular sources discuss them as real. I've never seen any secular sources that took the claim very seriously. Now, it isn't like I've tried to find them. Labeling specific individuals as hanifs is a separate issue (if for example one wants to claim that Ishmael was a hanif in that sense there's really not much useful to talk about).

Regarding the Banu-Hashim, the issue is not a question of existence. The question is what evidence does one have that they had a pork prohibition prior to Muhammad.