A couple of years ago, while I was at medical school, I attended a series of evangelistic events put on by the university Islamic Society. I had a greatly enjoyable time and learned a huge amount about Islam and the Qur’an. During one of the events I was given a flyer which detailed some of the reasons why the members of the Islamic Society believe that the Qur’an is the true and authoritative Word of God. This was the flyer:
The flyer points toward the miraculous nature of the Qur’an as the primary evidence for its divine inspiration. This claim comes directly from the Qur’an itself: Surah 2:23 (all Qur’anic quotations in this article come from the Sahih International Version) reads “And if you are in doubt about what We have sent down upon Our Servant [Muhammad], then produce a surah the like thereof and call upon your witnesses other than Allah, if you should be truthful.” In other words, the Qur’an claims that it is so unique and incomparable that it must have been a God-given miracle, and challenges doubters to reproduce a chapter like it. There are four other verses in the Qur’an that repeat the same argument.
So it this true? Is there evidence that the Qur’an is miraculous?
For the remainder of this article, I am going to go through each claim made on the flyer above, to see if the evidential claims stand up to scrutiny.
1. It [The Qur’an] contains many ‘Scientific Statements’ even though ‘unchanged’ for over 1,400 years… For example It describes: Embryology, The Start of the Universe, The Expanding Universe [etc]… Also it contains no statement which contradicts established science!
In my experience, this is the commonest argument Muslims have put to me in debate and discussion- that the Qur’an must be divinely inspired as it contains scientific predictions that have subsequently be shown to be true, sometimes centuries later. On first look, this seems compelling. For example, Surah 21:30 appears to predict the Big Bang Theory: “Have those who disbelieved not considered that the heavens and the earth were a joined entity and then We separated them”. Or Surah 51:47 appears to describe the expansion of the universe: “And the heaven We constructed with strength, and indeed We are [its] expander”.
However, the Qur’an also contains several scientific claims that have subsequently been found to be demonstrably false. For example, Surah 86:5-7 reads: “So let man observe from what he was created. He was created from fluid ejected, emerging from between the backbone and the ribs”. This is the claim that a man’s sperm originates somewhere between the spine and ribs. However, modern biology shows this not to be the case- sperm cells originate in the testes.
Another example of a scientific prediction that has turned out to be incorrect is Surah 23:14: “Then We made the sperm-drop into a clinging clot and we made the clot into a lump, and We made [from] the lump, bones, and We covered the bones with flesh; then We developed him into another creation”. Modern embryology has shown that the Qur’an was incorrect in the chronological development of the various tissue types. The Qur’an claims that the skeletal structures and are formed and then “covered…with flesh”. However, we now know that bones, muscle and skin are all form in tandem from the same embryological germ layer called the mesoderm.
So although there are some scientific claims in the Qur’an that have turned out to be true, there are also several that have been shown to be incorrect. And thus I think this argument from miraculous scientific prediction is weak.
2. Easy to memorise and millions have done so- at least 10,000,000
This is the argument that the Qur’an’s memorability contributes to its credibility. I do not think this is a strong argument, because memorability does not necessarily correlate with truth. Many works of fiction are memorised by millions, such as nursery rhymes, pop songs and poems.
3. It was given to a man who could neither nor write
This common argument states that because the prophet Muhammad was illiterate, he could not have penned the literary complexities of the Qur’an without divine assistance. However, the issue with this proposition is that no-one claims that Muhammad put pen to paper to scribe the words of the Qur’an. Muslim tradition teaches that Muhammad orally recited his purported revelations from God to his followers, who subsequently wrote them down. Therefore, Muhammad’s illiteracy (which itself is debated among historians) does not back up the claim of divine assistance, given that the complexity of the Qur’an could have originated form Muhammad’s oratorical (rather than literary) skill without the necessary requirement for divine assistance.
4. Its words have the effect of changing peoples’ lives forever
I do not find the anecdotal evidence of the Qur’an’s impact on individuals’ lives particularly convincing. Many people make identical claims about their own religion, philosophy or worldview. And many people’s lives have been changed by beliefs that have been shown to be false. (I was going to use Brexit as an example, but obviously that’s too cheap a shot!)
5. It had no contradictions even though revealed over a 23 year period
I think this claim is logically at odds with the Qur’an’s own teaching. Firstly, there are several contradictory claims statements in the Qur’an. For example Surah 4:48 states that Allah will not forgive people who worship idols or other gods, whilst a few verses later in Surah 4:153, it says that Allah forgave those who worshipped the golden calf.
But actually, these types of contradictions are acknowledged and justified by the Qur’an itself, through the Islamic doctrine of “Abrogation”. The Law of Abrogation is the Qur’anic teaching that the later revelations in the Qur’an can override and replace the older revelations. We find this teaching in several places in the Qur’an, such as Surah 2:106: “We do not abrogate a verse or cause it to be forgotten except that We bring forth [one] better than it or similar to is. Do you not know that Allah is over all things competent?”
Therefore, it is logically incoherent to claim that the Qur’an’s inerrancy is evidence for its trust-worthiness, when there is an in-built doctrine that allows for contradictory teachings to override each other.
On a related note, I also believe there is a key logical inconsistency in core Islamic doctrine of the character of Allah. The Muslim conceptualisation of Allah is a deity who possesses the characteristic of moral perfection. For example, Surah 59:23 reads:
“He is Allah, other than whom there is no deity, the Sovereign, the Pure, the Perfection, the Bestower of Faith, the Overseer, the Exalted in Might, the Compeller, the Superior. Exalted is Allah above whatever they associate with Him.”
However, parallel to this, the Qur’an mentions, some 22 times, categories of people whom Allah does not love. These include transgressors1, the mischievous2, wrong doers3, and those who reject Islam4. This leads to a tricky logical paradox which philosopher Dr William Lane Craig articulates:
“I think the greatest conceivable being would be an all-loving being. His love would be unconditional, impartial, and universal… By contrast, the God of the Qur’an is partial, his love is conditional- you have to earn it, and it is not universal- he does not love sinners. Over and over again, the Qur’an says “God loves not the unbelievers, he loves not sinners, he loves not the hard-necked. He only loves believers.” And for that reason… I think that the concept of God in Islam is morally inadequate.”5
If Allah does not love unconditionally, and Muslims believe that Allah is the perfect moral being, there seems to me to be a logical problem. Unless one is willing to argue that unconditional love is not a morally good thing, the Qur’an seems to say that Allah is either unable or unwilling to fulfil a moral standard met by many people (a prime example would be the unconditional love many parents show towards their children), thus contradicting the claim of moral perfection.
6. It contains God’s challenge: ‘To produce one chapter like it’- this still stands today!
This subjective argument that the Qur’an is more beautiful and artistic than any human writing prior or since, it widely contested. I cannot read Arabic, so perhaps I do not grasp the extent of the beauty of the Qur’an. However, even if the Qur’an was established to be the most beautiful and elegant writing in the whole of history, it would not mean that is was necessarily divine. I believe the greatest pop song writer who has ever lived is Michael Jackson; I believe that he has been surpassed by no other. However, this does not mean God wrote his songs! Quality of artistry is evidence of talent, not necessarily divinity.
7. It has produced The Largest Practised Religion of about 1.7 billion followers and ‘The Fastest Growing Religion’
Most studies record Christianity as the world’s largest religion, with around 2.4 billion followers6. However, statistics aside, there is a big confounding factor in the extent of adherence to Islam- it’s enforcement. There are over a dozen countries worldwide where apostasy from Islam leads to criminal penalties; in some countries such as Saudi Arabia, Somalia and Sudan, the penalties are severe. And in many countries where apostasy is not against the law, Muslims who convert from Islam to another faith or none, can face devastating social, relational and familial consequences. In his moving autobiography Seeking Allah Finding Jesus, the late American apologist Nabeel Qureshi tells of how, on converting from Ahmaddiyya Islam to Christianity, he was exiled from his family, and some close relatives never spoke to him again.
The severe consequences of apostasy are a clear contributing factor to the size and growth of the religion. Of course, may Muslims follow Islam by choice for lots of different legitimate and respectable reasons. But to quote Islam’s size as evidence for its truth is unconvincing, given its legal enforcement in several countries, and social pressure in many others, clearly confound this.
Could the Qur’an Be the Word of God?
I write this article with the utmost respect and love for my Muslim friends, colleagues and readers. Muslims contribute so much to our society and have taught me a great deal about faithfulness, integrity and civility in religion. However, for me the empirical claims of Islam are unconvincing. The Qur’an is a fascinating and beautiful book that has undoubtably changed the world. However, I do not think there is compelling evidence that it is the true Word of God.
Want to read more about Islam or world religions? Why not check out my other article on the topic: Comparing World Religions: Can One Be Right?
- Surah 2:190
- Surah 2:205, 6:67, 28:77
- Surah 3:57, 3:140, 42:40
- Surah 3:32, 30:45
- William Lane Craig, Evidence for God lecture at Imperial College London, 2011. Video can be found at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MJK3irA_sQA
- E.g. Pippa Norris; Ronald Inglehart (6 January 2007), Sacred and Secular, Religion and Politics Worldwide, Cambridge University Press, pp. 43–44