Thursday, October 08, 2009

Christianity, Islam, and Science

Here are a couple of important books available online that contrast the Bible and the Qur'an. The first is The Bible, the Qur'an and Science by Maurice Bucaille, a medical doctor, who argues that while the Bible has numerous scientific and historical mistakes, the Qur'an is free of such errors. Originally written in French, it has been translated into many languages.

In response to Bucaille's book, William Campbell, also a medical doctor, wrote The Qur'an and the Bible in the Light of History and Science where he argues that precisely the opposite is the case: the Bible not only contains no scientific errors, it actually predicts scientific discoveries. He references Hugh Ross a few times in defense of this. The Qur'an, however, makes many claims that have been disproved by contemporary science. It can be read online in several languages, including Arabic, French, Indonesian, and (fortunately) English.

I have both books on my shelf, and find Bucaille to be reading things into the Bible and the Qur'an that aren't there; and the things he reads into the Bible just happen to be falsehoods while the things he reads into the Qur'an just happen to be truths. If he applied the same standards to the Bible that he does to the Qur'an it would pass with flying colors; conversely if he applied the same standards to the Qur'an that he does to the Bible he would dismiss it as riddled with error. Campbell eviscerates Bucaille. Even though his book has a very particular target -- not only is it focused on contrasting the two holy books and religions, but it is a point-by-point response to another book -- I think it's one of the best books on Christian apologetics that I've ever read. Anyway, I recommend reading both books before drawing your own conclusions.

Let me make two caveats: first, both Bucaille and Campbell are skeptical of biological evolution, however I don't think this affects their respective cases. Campbell only mentions it briefly in a "short chapter without a number" and Bucaille discusses it in another book L'Homme D'Ou Vient-il? Les Reponses de la Science et des Écritures Saintes. Other than this, they both accept the findings of contemporary science.

Second, it should be noted that in comparing these two religions both books tend to take the easy route by applying a sort of one-to-one correspondence between their respective elements. So the Qur'an is contrasted with the Bible, and Muhammad is contrasted with Jesus. This is certainly understandable; it's just easier to compare their holy books with each other and ditto for their founders. But this inevitably applies categories of one of them to the other that do not hold, resulting in inappropriate comparisons.

For example, Christianity believes that Jesus is the ultimate revelation of God. But no Muslim would say this of Muhammad; rather, they would say this of the Qur'an itself. So in contrasting these two religions, we should be comparing Jesus with the Qur'an, not Jesus with Muhammad. Obviously this creates even worse problems, because now we have to compare two unlike things (a person and a book).

So if Muhammad is not to Islam what Christ is to Christianity, how does Islam depict Muhammad? In Islamic theology, Muhammad is the means through which God's ultimate revelation comes. So any comparison of these two religions should look for something in Christianity to which such a description could apply. I've seen two possibilities suggested.

The first is the Bible, since it is, in a sense, the "messenger" through which we hear about Jesus. However, it should also be noted that the Bible is often called God's Word, although in a different sense than Jesus is (we shouldn't worship the Bible, for example). This has some interesting consequences. My wife and I know a young lady from Turkey who was raised a Muslim but rejected it after reading the Qur'an. Once, when the three of us were discussing the nature of Islam and Christianity, I pointed out to her that there are plenty of Christians who do not accept the inerrancy of the Bible (that is, that the Bible's original manuscripts were completely true in everything that they actually affirmed). In fact, I told her that C. S. Lewis, one of the 20th century's most-read Christian authors, rejected biblical inerrancy, and not only was he still a Christian, he was a fairly traditional Christian. And not only was he a traditional Christian, he was a champion for Christianity. I told her that I didn't think a Muslim could believe that the Qur'an may have errors and still be a traditional Muslim. She responded that such a person couldn't be a Muslim in any sense (although some people, like Irshad Manji, might disagree).

The other Christian parallel to Islam's Muhammad that I've seen suggested is Jesus' mother Mary. Christianity has always had a very high view of Mary, since she was considered worthy of such an incredible blessing (and curse) of being the mother of the Messiah. Sometimes respect for Mary has led to her being venerated. This is similar (to some extent) to the Islamic veneration of Muhammad.

I don't think it's inappropriate to try to understand other religions in light of one's own religion. But we have to first understand other religions on their own terms before we can compare them to our own. Otherwise, we will inevitably end up critiquing a straw man.

(cross-posted at Agent Intellect)

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Humphrey said...

Debate of the century...well maybe not, but I had a laugh anyway

Dr Zakir Naik Vs Dr William Cambell

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

What did Naik talk about, Humphrey? His accent's so thick, I barely understood him.

Humphrey said...

Hi Matko

I have the same problem.

In this video Naik claims that we did not know that the world was spherical until Francis Drake circumnavigated the world in 1597, whereas the Holy Koran mentioned it all along.

Anonymous said...

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