Why I am not a muslim

February 4, 2011

These are just a few of my thoughts. It’s not going to be possible to write everything on this massive topic in a single post.

I don’t dispute that if God wanted to could have had the the Koran dictated to Mohamed, or taken him on the night journey. And for that matter (being a Christian) I don’t dispute that God could carry out what’s described in the Bible. The question is did he really or didn’t he? The Koran and the Bible make seemingly conflicting claims – even about ordinary things, such as whether Jesus was crucified – and so both can’t be right.

When you look at the evidence though, it is on Christian side. All of the early sources say that Jesus was crucified. Even Tacitus says so, not to mention the many early Christian writings. I really don’t see any reason to believe the Koran – particularly not when it conflicts with the early evidence.

The way the Koran and the Bible were transmitted is very different. The various writings in the Bible started out separate, being copied out to the fledgling churches. It was a decentralized process. Very quickly you had a situation where there are independent copies, translated into many different languages spread around from Ethiopia across the Roman empire even into Persia. Point being that you have not one, but many different sources, and spread so widely that it was basically impossible for someone to make the wholesale changes needed for Islam’s claims to be true.

The opposite happened for the Koran. The third Caliph, Uthman, collected together the Koran, and burnt or boiled any variant readings of it. Seemingly though some variant readings have survived (such as the Sana’a manuscripts). The Koran was centrally controlled after that.

So I guess for me personally, I find it easier to trust the many early sources which corroborate each other than one many centuries later which has a past I don’t really trust.

I guess it’s easy to point out many small things in the Koran which seem like basic mistakes. For example, in Surahs 3 and 19 Mary (mother of Jesus) is described as the brother of Aaron and the daughter of Imran. To me it seems like a pretty simple mistake – that Mary (mother of Jesus) has been mistaken for another Mary (sister of Moses and Aaron) who lived one and half thousand years beforehand.

It’s things like this that make it very difficult for me to believe that the Koran is dictated by Gabriel to Mohamed. Divinely dictated texts, in the way Muslims claim the Koran was, shouldn’t contain mistakes that a person would make. There’s many instances of things that would be perfectly explainable if it was Mohamed (and all his cultural baggage), not the angel Gabriel writing the text.

For example, there’s a story of Mary and the Palm tree (Surah 19:23-27). This story is not contained in the Bible or early Christian sources, but they are not original to the Koran either. It comes from documents which were common at Mohammed’s time in Arabia, such as Pseudo-Matthew (not to be confused with the much earlier gospel of Matthew) – which appears for all the world to be a forgery. Another example, just nearby, is Jesus and pigeons (found in the Arabic Infancy Gospel among others). This repeating of common stories exactly what you’d expect from an intelligent person, Mohamed, not knowing which texts were early or authentic but trying to make sense of them. I can respect that Mohamed was intelligent and even well meaning – but it’s not something that I can believe is dictated by God.

I’m not an expert on any of this – and so I apologize if I have written wrongly or disrespectfully to anyone – but these are my genuine thoughts and I thought that you might appreciate them.

Here is an example of why I have trouble taking “Jesus myth” people seriously.

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Today I went to a debate where an atheist and a Christian discussed the problem of evil.

In order to head off the free will defence of the problem of evil, the atheist said that he did not believe in free will, and claimed that believing in free will itself was problematic for any number of reasons. Essentially he described a world where people are entirely shaped by the world which we live in.

He then went on to say the actual world which we live in for has all sorts of pain, suffering and evil in it – and by implication God condones this suffering, in apparent contradiction to God being all-loving. He described other possible ways in which God could have “tinkered” with the world so there would be less pain and apparently be more loving.

This for me, as I sat there and watched the debate, seemingly caused all sorts of problems understanding his point of view. He viewed himself, and everyone else, as purely a product of this world, which I thought was fair enough. But in these other, seemingly better worlds he described, he simply wouldn’t exist. None of us would.

So the question arises, what if God loved us? Not just mankind, or something like mankind in one of these alternate worlds, but us as we are. The individuals who actually exist. You. Me. I have no idea why a perfect God would love us, but imagine for a minute that he did. That is surely a wonderfully good thing.

But on his own view, who we are is shaped solely by the of the environment which we live in. So to allow God’s love for us to be expressed he would have to allow us to live, seemingly God also has to allow the environment which does that, which includes pain and suffering.

When I asked him, after the debate, he gave the answer that we could still exist in another world. I am not sure, on his view at least, how that can be so. If who we are is entirely a product of our environment, how can we develop in another environment? It seems to me that we couldn’t. But to be honest, I don’t know. It might be possible. To get the argument to go through, someone would have to show that it is actually the case that the exact same person (whatever that means) can be a product of two entirely different environments. That’s a whole other debate, and one I’m far from convinced about.

PS. I would really like to know if anyone has thoughts about this. I really want to know what’s wrong with it. Is this a long debunked line of reasoning? Is there someone advocating it? What is wrong with it? Comments are welcome. Criticism is encouraged!

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Atheists in prison

March 12, 2010


It is often claimed that atheists are under-represented in prison. I did my normal thing, and went to see if it was true. It’s not. In all three cases that I found, the statistics did not support the claim, and if anything they indicate the opposite.

Scotland

A higher percentage of Scottish inmates claim to have no religion in comparison to the general population. According to the Scottish Government’s Statistical Bulletin, Prison Statistics Scotland 2007-8, Table 8, 34.1% of the prison population has no religion. This compares with 19% of the general Scottish population answering that they had no religion, according to the ICM research faith survey conducted for the BBC in November 2005.

England and Wales

A higher percentage of English and Welsh inmates claim to have no religion in comparison to the general population. According to the March 2000 report, Religion in Prisons, 31.9% of inmates claimed to have “no religion”, of whom 0.2% who specifically answered that they were “atheists” and 0.1% who answered that they were “agnostic”. The national census, 15.5% of people in the general population answered that they had “no religion” and 7.3% gave no answer at all. Therefore between 15.5% and 22.8% of the general population were atheists, in comparison with  31.9% of inmates.

More up-to-date data is shown in graph below which I made from the House of Commons library report “Prison population statistics“. Both the “no religion” and muslim populations in prison are growing sharply, perhaps reflecting changing religious belief in the wider English community?

United States

The United States keeps no official statistics on religious beliefs of inmates. The claim that atheists were under-represented in prisions was seemingly started, by Rod Swift, who wrote it on his website, and publicized the claim through the internet and sceptical magazines. He claims that he received an email from an employee of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, Denise Golumbaski. According to this email, 0.2% of those surveyed specifically answered they were “atheist” and 19.8% give no answer. This compares with 0.5% of the US population at the time who identified as atheist, and 4 to 6% (according to Gallop) who gave no answer.

Conclusion

Although all three surveys indicate that people of “no religion” are overrepresented in prison, there are many complex factors which could be linked to criminal behaviour – including levels of education, age, economic well being. It may well be, for example, that atheists tend to be younger and more active – and therefore more likely to display criminal behaviour for reasons which have little or nothing to do with the atheist worldview. Nevertheless the claim that atheists are under-represented in prison is contradicted by the data in England, Wales, the US and also in Scotland.

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Lavra Dome by Stuck in CustomsBart Ehrman’s book “Misquoting Jesus” has started to be quoted on message boards across the internet. What he says is not all that new, and in fact, I’m reading a lot of the same things – although without the cries of doom and seemingly fitting just nicely with a mature view of Christianity – in a standard textbook. On the last week’s edition of Stand to Reason, Ben Witherington III respectfully takes down Bart Ehrman a peg or two and restores some balance.

The podcast is here.

If this interests you and you want to know more: check out his Ben Witherington’s blog posts part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, and coda.

Thank you to Stuck in Customs for the image.

llorar a lágrima viva by nyki_mI’m currently reading Tim Keller’s book, Reason for God, which is surprisingly good. Here is one sermon he gave on the problem of evil and suffering which I found inspiring. I am thinking more and more (after reading NT Wright) that this question can’t be divorced from the resurrection, how much God is willing to suffer for us and the victory that wins over evil.

Thank you to logos-redux for putting me on to this and nikim for the image.

Alpha OmegaYesterday William Lane Craig’s debate appeared on youtube, and he repeated some of this at a lecture in Cambridge. In it he offered a particular picture of how God relates to people, and God’s possible motives for allowing evil in the world. Specifically, he suggested that this world is the one in which most people can come to find God. It is an answer, but is it the right answer?

Alpha and Omega ministries say no. Check it out.