WHY DEBATING WITH A MUSLIM IS IMPOSSIBLE
Mount Everest is much larger than my thumb. However, I can cover the entire mountain simply by placing my thumb in front of my eye. This is an optical illusion created by my perspective as a viewer. Because my thumb is much closer to me than Mount Everest, I can make it appear as if my thumb is larger. Similarly, the sun and the moon look exactly the same size from earth, but that’s only because we’re much closer to the moon. If we were to travel to the moon, we would be even closer, and it would look much larger than the sun. Yet none of this changes the fact that the sun is millions of times larger than the moon, and that Mount Everest is millions of times larger than my thumb.
Many Muslims are convinced that Islam is supported by a great deal of historical and scientific data. Christians are just as convinced that the evidence, when properly examined, points to Christianity. Muslims and Christians can’t both be right, so it seems that at least one of the groups is seeing something analogous to an optical illusion. Perhaps the evidence for Christianity is really no bigger than my thumb, while the mountain of evidence for Islam stands far off on the horizon. Or perhaps Islam, like the moon, is only able to eclipse the light of Christianity because Muslims see everything from an extremely biased position.
Historically, scores of arguments have been offered in support of Islam and Christianity. With the rise of skepticism in the West, this abundance of arguments has increased as both religious and secular belief systems have competed for the honor of being “The Most Reasonable System.” Because there are so many arguments, interested seekers may sometimes get lost in the search, and the task of deciding between two competing systems may appear hopelessly difficult.
One possible way of cutting through this difficulty is to find the most persuasive argument for each of the systems in question and to analyze these arguments carefully. Thus, in order to compare the evidence for Islam and Christianity, our first step could be to examine the strongest argument for Islam, and to compare it with the strongest argument for Christianity. This technique presents us with something of a “showdown” between the world’s two greatest (according to the numbers) religious systems.
Islam’s central apologetic has always been the Qur’an. One of the most popular modern arguments for Qur’anic inspiration is its supposed scientific accuracy. This is a modern argument, however, and it is full of holes. For instance, Muhammad claimed (1) that stars are really missiles used by angels to shoot demons, (2) that human embryos go through a “blood clot” stage, (3) that people used to be 90 feet tall, (4) that the sun sets in a pool of murky water, and (5) that ants can talk. (For more on this topic, see “Talking Ants and Shrinking Humans.”) Due to the abundant scientific inaccuracies in the Qur’an and the Hadith, the Muslim argument for scientific precision is unconvincing.
There is another argument for Qur’anic inspiration, however. Muslims sometimes claim that the Qur’an is so masterfully written, so brilliant and awe-inspiring in every detail, that it could only have come from God. Indeed, this argument comes from the Qur’an itself:
And if you are in doubt as to that which We have revealed to Our servant [Muhammad], then produce a chapter like it and call on your witnesses besides Allah if you are truthful.
And this Quran is not such as could be forged by those besides Allah, but it is a verification of that which is before it and a clear explanation of the book, there is no doubt in it, from the Lord of the worlds. Or do they say: He has forged it? Say: Then bring a chapter like this and invite whom you can besides Allah, if you are truthful.
Say: If men and jinn should combine together to bring the like of this Quran, they could not bring the like of it, though some of them were aiders of others.
In other words, if you can’t write something as good as a chapter of the Qur’an, you should quit doubting and accept it as the divine word of Allah. In my opinion, this is Islam’s strongest argument. Many Muslims may disagree, but since this is the argument that Muhammad himself used, Muslims should have great respect for it (i.e. Muslims should respect Muhammad’s reasoning more than their own). Additionally, as we can see from the verses just quoted, this is the argument that Muslims are commanded to use when the validity of Islam is challenged by unbelievers. If we assume that Muhammad was God’s greatest prophet, we can also assume that he knew which argument is Islam’s strongest.
In evaluating arguments it often helps to put them into the appropriate logical form. In the case of Islam (as in the case of Christianity), the central argument can be put into a syllogistic pattern known asmodus ponens. When put into this pattern, Islam’s strongest argument becomes the following syllogism:
Premise One: If unbelievers can’t produce something comparable to a chapter of the Qur’an, then it must be from God.
Premise Two: Unbelievers can’t produce something equivalent to a chapter of the Qur’an.
Conclusion: Therefore, the Qur’an must be from God.
The syllogistic form of an argument is often helpful in that it allows us to investigate each of the premises individually so that we can know whether the conclusion has truly been established. Applying this method to the Muslim argument, we see just how poor the case for Islam really is. Consider the first premise: “If unbelievers can’t produce something equivalent to a chapter of the Qur’an, then it must be from God.” Apparently, the Muslim criterion for determining divine inspiration in a text is the impressiveness of its literary style. Notice that this would be equivalent to saying, “If you can’t produce poems like T.S. Eliot, or plays like Shakespeare, or books like Charles Dickens, then you have to admit that these works come from God.” Such a claim seems ludicrous, but this is exactly what Muslims maintain when it comes to the Qur’an.
The first premise of the Muslim argument, then, is false (unless we are open to the idea that all of the world’s great authors and poets received their works from God). There doesn’t seem to be a direct link between literary style and divine origin. Hence, since one of the premises of the Muslim argument is false (or, at the very least, impossible to establish), the entire argument is to be rejected.