How can you tell if Islam’s holy book – the Quran – is historically reliable?

On the weekend, I watched a new debate featuring famous Muslim scholar Shabir Ally, and a pastor named Anthony Rogers. This was a moderated debate, with timed speeches. I have been watching debates with Shabir Ally since 1997, when he took on William Lane Craig. So, I was anxious to see what he considered to be the strongest arguments for Islam after all his years of debating.

I found a great review of the arguments posted at Laura’s blog “An Affair with Reason”. In her post she linked to the video of the debate, summarized and evaluated the arguments, and then explained what she would have done, if she had been arguing Anthony’s position. I recommend reading the whole post, but let’s see Shabir’s arguments first. Or rather – argument – since, he only presented one.

Laura writes about Dr. Shabir Ally’s Argument:

To demonstrate his point, Dr. Ally gave a few examples of numerical patterns that exist in the Koran. For example, the number 7 and the number 19 both hold an important place in the Koran because Surah 15:87 mentions the number 7 and Surah 74:30 mentions the number 19. Additionally, the name Jesus appears in the Koran the same number of times as the name Moses appears. If we take note of where each name occurs, we find that the 7th appearance of the name Jesus coincides with the 19th appearance of the name Moses, and the 19th appearance of the name Jesus coincides with the 7th appearance of the name Moses. And on he went, sharing a few more mathematical coincidences.

Now, you might have seen this argument before. A couple of Christian neophytes wrote an entire book about it called “The Bible Code” a while back. It was panned by every single professional apologist as being an ineffective argument. They asserted that the same mathematical coincidences could be found in any book.

Here is one Christian response to the “Bible Code” from Dr. Robert C. Newman, in which he finds similar coincidences in “The Gettysburg Address” by Abraham Lincoln. Scientists call this “cherry-picking” data, and it’s frowned upon.

What’s so special about 7 and 19?

Now, you might be wondering what Dr. Ally’s source is for the significance of 7 and 19.

I asked Laura about where he got 19, and she replied to me so:

According to Muslim scholar Bilal Phillips, in order to arrive at a word count of parallels, one must follow “a haphazard system of word identification that totally contradicts both classical and modern rules of Arabic grammar.”

It’s true that the number of chapters in the Quran is divisible by nineteen and that the first chapter to be revealed to Muhammad—chapter ninety-six—does have nineteen verses, but such examples of repetition of a number can be found in nearly any book. Further, when one reads Quran 74:30 in context—that’s the verse that supposedly identifies the number nineteen as significant—we see that this verse refers to the number of angels who are wardens over the hellfire; it is not a reference to miraculous patterns throughout the Quran.

As Bilal Phillips stated, “It may be concluded that the theory of nineteen as a miraculous numerical code for the Quran has no basis in the Quran itself and the few instances where nineteen and its multiples do occur are merely coincidences which have been blown out of proportion.”

Not even Muslim scholars found this convincing.

Laura’s case against Islam

In her post, she also laid out a 4-point case against Islam that she would have used if she were debating Dr. Ally. You can check it out if you are interested in seeing how a professional would handle a formal debate situation.

I think it’s really important for Christians to get into the habit of watching debates on a wide variety of subjects, to help them decide what to believe, how to support their beliefs, and how to respond to objections. I’ve been watching debates since around 1995, and used to have them imported to the country where I am originally from. I have an old VHS tape of the Craig-Ally debate from 1997. Back then, we only had William Lane Craig and Michael Horner debates, and there was a good debate book featuring J. P. Moreland and Kai Nielsen, too. I’ve probably listened to over a hundred debates, on topics like the existence of God, Darwinism, intelligent design, origin of life, morality, philosophy of mind, problem of evil, New Testament reliability, rational grounding of objective morality, secular humanism, the resurrection of Jesus, Islam, Hinduism, etc.

Debates are great because not only do you learn how to debate, but your character also changes to become more tolerant of different points of view. You can think critically, and stay calm during disagreements. It’s good for Christians to be open-minded and tolerant, because the other side is growing increasingly incapable of it. Soon, everyone in the middle will be turning to us for discussions, because we’ll be the only ones left who are thoughtful and safe to talk to.

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