Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Bible Is the Word of God Debate - My First Rebuttal

Saaib's opening statement/rebuttal was a bit of a mishmash. I have tried to weave the incoherent pieces together to create a cohesive position to rebut.

Bart Ehrman, mercenary
It seems that the main thrust of his argument is contained in:
true but when we have them but when we don't have them we can't say "God's" word.
I presume he meant to say "true when we have them", and this amounts to nothing more than the tired old canard championed by Bart Ehrman, to whom Saaib directly alludes approvingly.
The problems with Saaib's appeal to Ehrman's argument are numerous, but most importantly, if Ehrman had the courage to apply his same methodology and presuppositions to the Qur'an, Ehrman would come to the same conclusion about the Qur'an, that it misquotes Mohammed. How do we know this?
First, a brief excursus on the problem Ehrman poses. No original manuscript (hereafter, MSS) of the New Testament (hereafter, NT) is yet found. We have many copies of MSS and copies of copies of MSS and copies of copies of copies of...etc. These copies differ from each other; no two are identical. Ehrman then applies his presupposition to this situation. Ehrman's argument is as follows:
P1) No original NT MSS is extant.
P2) The extant MSS copies of the NT differ from each other.
P3) I presuppose without argument that differences in copies mean that God could NOT have superintended the process of copying such that the essential revelation He intended to communicate was in fact preserved, because that's what I believe and I don't examine my beliefs deeply.
C) Therefore, differences in copies mean that God could NOT have superintended the process of copying such that the essential revelation He intended to communicate was in fact preserved.

Hopefully, everyone can see the problem - one premise is identical to the conclusion, and that's Ehrman's problem, yet he weasels out of debating people such as Dr James R White on that very presupposition. (Yes, he debated White, but weaseled out of debating that question.) Substantiating that presupposition is absolutely crucial to his argument, but he won't defend it. He merely disingenuously states it as "this is only what I think" and moves on, but then treats it as a fact. I challenge anyone, most importantly Saaib, to listen to an Ehrman lecture or debate (I've listened to many, and attended one in person) and identify the argument he uses to defend that presupposition. So far I've not even heard him try.
What if we apply the same reasoning to the Qur'an?

P1) No original Qur'an MSS is extant.
P2) The extant MSS copies of the Qur'an differ from each other. (Saaib will probably deny this, but that merely means he is ignorant.)
P3) I presuppose that differences in copies mean that Allah could NOT have superintended the process of copying such that the essential revelation he intended to communicate was in fact preserved.
C) Therefore, differences in copies mean that Allah could NOT have superintended the process of copying such that the essential revelation he intended to communicate was in fact preserved.

See how easy that is, and how lazy?

Or what if we make P1 and P2 relate to the chain of narration of the Qur'an, and then simply presuppose that no reliable chains of narration can exist. Sure, sure, Saaib can assert that human memory could accomplish such a task, and maybe it could, but if we get to act like Ehrman and presuppose (without argument) that:
-God is not in charge, and/or
-God didn't care enough to make the process simple, clean, and straightforward (ie, God didn't provide the companions of the prophets in the Qur'an's case, or the prophets and apostles in the Bible's case, with photocopiers and digital voice recorders with redundant backups), and/or
-it is implausible that chains of narration could preserve a long text like the Qur'an with 100% accuracy over the course of many years, therefore that didn't happen,

then we can simply conclude à la Ehrman that the Qur'an misquotes Mohammed. Sorry, we don't know what Mohammed said. If Allah wanted us to know what he said, why didn't he preserve the MSS so that we could?

Or what if we make P1 and P2 relate to Uthman and the burning of all Qur'anic MSS that he did not approve? How does Saaib know for sure that Uthman didn't burn the most faithful MSS copies of the Qur'an? He doesn't. He has to trust his god.

As Ehrman said at minute 7:10 of the first cross-examination during his debate with James White:
The New Testament, we have much earlier attestation than for any other book from antiquity. What you can't do is then say "well, then you can't trust any book from antiquity". OK... yes, right, that's right.
Ehrman is confused. Either his view leads to a complete and opaque agnosticism about history, which would include impenetrable darkness about the reliability of the Qur'an and ahadith, or we should reject this poor presupposition and look for one that is consistent with itself, one that allows us to study history reasonably and carefully.

Saaib needs to be consistent and allow me the basic courtesy of trusting God to be able to make His Word known to His people. Otherwise, we would know nothing about Him.

Ironically, Ehrman's argument also destroys Saaib's position in another way. Since the Qur'an teaches that the people of the Book are to judge the Qur'an by the Injeel and the Taurat, and since the Qur'an claims that it is a confirmation of those, and since none of us can know, even with our vast numbers of MSS discoveries from vastly varied geographical areas, what the Injeel said (per Ehrman), that means Mohammed couldn't know what the Injeel said, nor could the people of the Book at Mohammed's time. So Allah's command becomes meaningless and literally impossible to follow. Yet it's a central piece of Allah's argument with respect to persuading people of the Book to follow Islam.

If the fact that the majority of the MSS are "centuries removed" from the original writers, what does that tell us about the Qur'an, which is actually in a worse position in that respect?

Saaib fell into a pitfall about which I warned him - he didn't analyse the situation but just gave an argument from authority. The vast majority of textual variants are non-meaningful, misspellings, and transpositions of words, lines, etc. Saaib has not taken into account the fact that less than 1% of all textual variants are non-meaningful and viable. Uncritically citing agnostics criticising theistic doctrine or materials is a dangerous occupation.

More inconsistency
Saaib says:
Muhammad (saw) was clear with what he was saying. These are God's words and these are mine and God's words come into my knowledge through Archangel Gabriel and I pass them onto you.

This is not an argument, but rather simply an assertion. The Bible claims the same thing numerous times.
2 Peter 1:19So we have the prophetic word made more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts. 20But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, 21for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.

Not "tickled by". Is Saaib taking this debate seriously? The Greek word for "moved" in v20 refers to a boat's sail, caught full by the wind. The sail retains its identity and yet is flexed and moved by the wind.

The Qur'an can't get its story straight

But woe to them who fake the Scriptures and say: "This is from God," so that they might earn some profit thereby; and woe to them for what they fake, and woe to them for what they earn from it! Q2:79

A common objection.
Why didn't Saaib include the context?

76Behold! when they meet the men of Faith, they say: "We believe": But when they meet each other in private, they say: "Shall you tell them what Allah hath revealed to you, that they may engage you in argument about it before your Lord?"- Do ye not understand (their aim)?
77Know they not that Allah knoweth what they conceal and what they reveal?
78And there are among them illiterates, who know not the Book, but (see therein their own) desires, and they do nothing but conjecture.

How does Saaib know that this refers to Christians who were committed to preserving and faithfully copying the NT?
How does Saaib know to believe the Qur'an when it says that Scriptures were "faked" but not when it tells him to check the Qur'an by what has already been revealed? Remember, this faking would have had to occur before the Qur'an was written.

Q18:27 - And recite (and teach) what has been revealed to thee of the Book of thy Lord: none can change His Words, and none wilt thou find as a refuge other than Him.
Q6:115 - The word of thy Lord doth find its fulfilment in truth and in justice: None can change His words: for He is the one who heareth and knoweth all.

The Qur'an is contradictory when it deals with the Bible. Whatever else may come of this debate, we can know for certain that we must reject the Qur'an as the word of God.

A little more on Bible history
If one small local church in the 4th century had only a couple of MSS, then what other Word of God did they know? Today, we are not in that situation at all; we have MSS from all over the place, a wide variety of time periods and languages, and can check each against all the others.

The people of God had no real means of "officially" defining the Canon of the NT for centuries, and yet for the most part they came to the proper conclusion, independent of each other. Besides, we trust God to bring His people to an understanding of His Word's extent just as Saaib probably trusts Allah to aid in proper narration chains and correctly identity the number of Surat. Non-Christians adding books to the Old Testament (which is what happened at the non-Christian Council of Trent) has nothing to do with my position.

Other tidbits
-Luke 3:23's "(as was supposed)" is an English translation of what is in the Greek - ὡς ἐνομίζετο (hōs nomizō). The parenthetical is included to clarify in English.

-The fact that Allah swears by his creation in the Qur'an shows that Allah considers his word less important and authoritative than Yahweh considers His own word. How can the Qur'an have been existent from eternity past when Allah's oaths appeal to things that were created at a point in time, which didn't exist at times when the Qur'an did?

-Saaib judges Yahweh morally faulty for some of His activities. Saaib needs to let us know on what authority he throws God into court.

-Saaib falls into the warned-about pitfall of citing unfulfilled prophecy without giving, as stated, "proper exegesis to show why we should expect that prophecy should have already been fulfilled."

-Saaib says "history tells us". Does Saaib think we should trust "history" (whatever that means), or the Word of God?

The rest are minor matters I might mention later.

(Word count: 1995)