Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Mirza Ghulam Ahmad's Scientific Errors

If there is one thing that distinguishes the Ahmadiyya from mainstream Islam (other than the fact that they believe in a prophet who came after Muhammad), it is their emphasis upon what they consider to be the rational and scientific. This tendency towards rationalism will sometimes cause Ahmadis to become much less inclined towards supernatural explanations than orthodox Muslims (as seen for example by their attempts to naturalize the virgin birth, among other miracles). It is somewhat ironic then that as I was reading Mirza Ghulam Ahmad's The Philosophy of the Teachings of Islam, I noticed that he makes some rather glaring scientific errors in the first chapter of the book. For example, he makes the following statement regarding the effect of one's diet on one's disposition:
Experience also shows that different types of food affect the intellect and the mind in different ways. For instance, careful observation would disclose that people who refrain altogether from eating meat gradually suffer a decline of the faculty of bravery; they lose courage and thus suffer the loss of a divinely bestowed praiseworthy faculty. This is reinforced by the evidence of the divine law of nature that the herbivorous animals do not possess the same degree of courage as do carnivorous ones. The same applies to birds. Thus there is no doubt that morals are affected by food. Conversely those who are given to a diet consisting mainly of meat and eat very little of greens suffer a decline of meekness or humility. Those who adopt the middle course develop both types of moral qualities.[1]
Now, this is an obviously false assertion that is regularly proved by those who run into vegetarians who possess plenty of bravery and/or lack humility. I don't think any dietician or physiologist would ever accept a statement such as this as having any kind of scientific validity. In addition to this, we find another glaring scientific error two and a half pages later, where Mirza Ghulam Ahmad attempts to base his belief in the development of the soul inside the body on the theory of spontaneous generation. Here, we read:
The Book of God does not mean that the soul descends from heaven as a separate entity or falls upon the earth from the atmosphere and then by chance gets mixed with the sperm and enters the womb with it. There is no basis for such a notion. The law of nature rejects it. We observe daily that thousands of insects infect impure and stale foods and are generated in unwashed wounds. Dirty linen secretes hundreds of lice and all sorts of worms are generated inside a person's stomach. It cannot be said that all these come from outside or can be observed as descending from heaven. The truth is that the soul is developed in the body and this also proves that it is created and is not self-existent.[2]
While I would certainly agree that God creates the human soul in the body and does not zap it into the body from heaven, I do not base such a belief on an outdated scientific concept. French chemist Louis Pasteur already laid the theory of spontaneous generation to rest back in 1859.[3] That is nearly four decades before Mirza Ghulam Ahmad wrote down the essay in question. Glaring factual errors such as these serve to show that the Ahmadiyya's brightest minds aren't nearly as rational and scientific as they make themselves out to be.

End Notes
  1. Ahmad, Mirza Ghulam. The Philosophy of the Teachings of Islam. Tilford: Islam International Publications, Ltd., 1996. p. 5.
  2. Ibid., pp. 7-8.
  3. Evers, Chris and Russell Levine. "The Slow Death of Spontaneous Generation (1668-1859)." The National Health Museum.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Critique of Islamic Jesus Movie

Back in 2008, an Iranian director named Nader Talebzadeh directed a movie depicting the life of Jesus from the Islamic perspective, officially called The Messiah. It is touted as "an Islamic answer to Western productions like Mel Gibson's 2004 blockbuster 'The Passion of the Christ,' which which he [Nader] praised as admirable but quite simply 'wrong'" (link). It is surprising to know that such a production exists since Muslims normally shun the making of any kind of representation of the prophets (pictorial or otherwise).

Be that as it may, I recently came across an eleven minute excerpt of the film, courtesy of none other than Sam Shamoun of Answering Islam (with whom I am friends on Facebook). For those who want to see the clip, here it is:

Here are some of my thoughts on the video:
  1. In the first place, why is Jesus portrayed as having blond hair? It's bad enough that many westerners depict Jesus as a blond-haired Caucasian, but I'm surprised that our Iranian Muslim colleagues made the same error. I mean seriously, the hair colour just looks plain bad, and it would've been best if they stuck to dark brown hair.

  2. The first four minutes or so of the video are allegedly based on the Christian Narrative (i.e. the New Testament). Yet, we find that there are many obvious errors. For example, Jesus (Judas?) is depicted as being arrested in a house, even though we know from the Gospels that He was actually arrested in the garden of Gethsemane. A lot of the costumes don't look quite right either; one wonders if they bothered consulting any historians or biblical scholars for accuracy on these matters, although I highly doubt it.

  3. More important than what the film gets wrong is what it omits entirely. There is no mention, for example, of how the disciples attempted to rescue Jesus, and how Jesus rebuked them by saying,
    Do you think that I cannot appeal to My Father, and He will at once put at My disposal more than twelve legions of angels? How then will the Scriptures be fulfilled, which say that it must happen this way?" (Matthew 26:53-54).
    These verses are very important as they contradict the Islamic claim that Jesus was unwilling to die on the cross and wanted to be rescued from it, so it is not surprising at all that the ones who made this film chose to omit it. I guess they only want to take those parts of the "Christian narrative" that they can twist into their own viewpoint, whilst throwing out everything else.

  4. In addition, no mention is ever made of what crime Jesus is being accused of. When one looks at the account as recorded by Mark, the reason becomes obvious why:
    But he remained silent and made no answer. Again the high priest asked him, "Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?" And Jesus said, "I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven." And the high priest tore his garments and said, "What further witnesses do we need? You have heard his blasphemy. What is your decision?" And they all condemned him as deserving death. And some began to spit on him and to cover his face and to strike him, saying to him, "Prophesy!" And the guards received him with blows (Mark 14:61-65, ESV).
    Islam denies that Jesus is the divine Son of God or that He ever claimed to be such (cf. Suras 6:101, 9:30, 19:88-92, etc.). Yet as shown in the Gospels, that is precisely the claim for which Jesus was arrested and sentenced to death. To paraphrase David Wood, the Jews would have had no problem with Jesus if all He said was that they should believe in God and obey the Torah. After all, they were already doing that! Rather, Jesus must have been teaching something that was so radically offensive to the Jews that they would accuse Him of blasphemy. Claiming to be the divine Son of God is precisely that claim, and it continues to offend both Jews and Muslims to this very day.

  5. About four minutes into the video, we find the following caption: "Continuation of the events according to Islamic sources and the Gospel of Barnabas..." Should we really be surprised that the Gospel of Barnabas is now being touted as a source at this point? That document is constantly being touted as the staple piece of anti-Christian Islamic propaganda despite the fact that it has already been debunked as a forgery numerous times. As Islamic scholar Cyril Glassé points out:
    As regards the "Gospel of Barnabas" itself, there is no question that it is a medieval forgery. A complete Italian manuscript exists which appears to be a translation from a Spanish original (which exists in part), written to curry favor with Muslims of the time. It contains anachronisms which can date only from the Middle Ages and not before, and shows a garbled comprehension of Islamic doctrines, calling the Prophet "the Messiah", which Islam does not claim for him. Besides its farcical notion of sacred history, stylistically it is a mediocre parody of the Gospels, as the writings of Baha'Allah are of the Koran. (link)
  6. By far the most ridiculous portion of the video is the part where Judas is miraculously transformed into a look-alike of Jesus. Okay, so if everything that is attributed to Jesus from the time He is arrested to the time He is crucified was actually Judas, riddle me this:
    a. Why did Judas never correct the Jewish and Roman authorities by saying that it was actually him?

    b. How could Judas betray "Jesus" by leading the temple guards to Him if the one he is leading them to is actually himself?

    c. Where did the story of Judas hanging himself in Matthew 27:3-10 come from?

    d. Where did the stories of Jesus saying that He is the Son of Man of Daniel 7:13-14 and that He has a kingdom that is not of this world come from?

    e. Who was it really that appeared to the disciples after three days and why was he claiming to be the resurrected Jesus?
    Those who accept the version of events that is recounted in the Islamic Jesus movie must answer these questions, although they would be hard pressed to provide answers that will make any sense of the facts as they really are.
To cap it off, it must be said that the Islamic perspective on the crucifixion of Jesus does not make any sense, either historically or logically. It does not make sense historically because all the earliest sources (not only the Gospels but even secular sources such as Josephus, Tacitus, etc.) that talk about Jesus agree unanimously that He was put to death under Pontius Pilate. Somehow, we are supposed to believe on the authority of a text that came six centuries later that it never really happened but that it was only made to appear so. It also does not make sense logically because it would make God out to be a deceiver. To drive that point home, let us look at the one passage in the Qur'an that talks about the crucifixion:
That they [the Jews] rejected Faith; that they uttered against Mary a grave false charge; That they said (in boast), "We killed Christ Jesus the son of Mary, the Apostle of Allah";- but they killed him not, nor crucified him, but so it was made to appear to them, and those who differ therein are full of doubts, with no (certain) knowledge, but only conjecture to follow, for of a surety they killed him not:- Nay, Allah raised him up unto Himself; and Allah is Exalted in Power, Wise (Sura 4:156-168).
First of all, it puts into the Jews' mouth the affirmation of Jesus as the Messiah (or Christ) and as Allah's messenger, yet they never accepted Jesus' claim to hold these two titles. Also, when the Qur'an says "it was made to appear to them," who is being referred to here? Is it only the Jews who rejected Jesus? If so, then we are at a loss as to why Jesus' true followers (who are allegedly guided by God, cf. Suras 3:52-55 and 61:14) ended up believing that He was killed as well.

On the other hand, if they were also included among those to whom it was made to appear so, then that means Allah failed to fulfill the promise made in the aforementioned Qur'anic passages to guide Jesus' disciples and make them victorious until the day of Resurrection, since they fell into kufr. The upshot of this is that Allah is the true founder of Christianity, since Christianity's premise is that Jesus died and rose again after three days (which, if we are to take Sura 4:156-158 at face value, is what Allah made it seem to have happened). The problem posed by this is quite glaring.

Thus, I must conclude that the only reasonable explanation that can be accepted is the one given to us by Jesus' apostles: That He truly did die on the cross, and He truly did rise again after three days. In the words of the apostle Peter:
He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls (1 Peter 2:22-25, ESV).
And Allah knows best. ;)

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Anachronisms in the Qur'an

Anachronism #1: Joseph sold for Dirhams
"[Joseph's] brethren sold him for a miserable price, for a few dirhams counted out: in such low estimation did they hold him!" (Sura 12:20)
Joseph lived around the nineteenth century B.C. The dirham, which is derived from the Greek drachma (δραχμή), could not be found earlier than the twelfth century B.C. So how could the Qur'an claim that Joseph was sold using a currency that wasn't to be invented for another seven centuries?

Anachronism #2: David's Chain Mail
"We bestowed Grace aforetime on David from ourselves: 'O ye Mountains! Sing ye back the Praises of Allah with him! and ye birds also! And We made the iron soft for him;- Commanding, 'Make thou coast of mail, balancing well the rings of chain armour, and work ye righteousness; for be sure I see clearly all that ye do.'" (Sura 34:10-11)
David lived around the tenth century B.C., whereas chain mail armour was not to be invented until around the fifth century B.C. by the Celts. How could David have produced a form of armour that wasn't to exist for another five centuries after his time?

Anachronism #3: Crucifixion in Ancient Egypt
"O my two companions of the prison! As to one of you, he will pour out the wine for his lord to drink: as for the other, he will hang from the cross, and the birds will eat from off his head. So hath been decreed that matter whereof ye twain do enquire." (Sura 12:41)

"Pharaoh said: "Believe ye in Him before I give you permission? Surely this must be your leader, who has taught you magic! be sure I will cut off your hands and feet on opposite sides, and I will have you crucified on trunks of palm-trees: so shall ye know for certain, which of us can give the more severe and the more lasting punishment!" (Sura 20:71)
In the two Qur'an quotes mentioned above, it is mentioned that crucifixion/impalement was used as a method of execution by the Egyptians during the time of Joseph (nineteenth century B.C.) and Moses (fifteenth century B.C.). Yet crucifixion/impalement as a form of execution was not invented until around the 6th century B.C. by the Persians (not the Egyptians). Surely, if the Qur'an had any sense of history, we would not expect to find historical errors such as this one.

Anachronism #4: Haman in Pharaoh's Court
"And We wished to be gracious to those who were being depressed in the land, to make them leaders in faith and make them heirs, to establish a firm place for them in the land, and to show Pharaoh, Haman, and their hosts, at their hands, the very things against which they were taking precautions. So We sent this inspiration to the mother of Moses: 'Suckle thy child, but when thou hast fears about him, cast him into the river, but fear not nor grieve: for We shall restore him to thee, and We shall make him one of Our apostles.' Then the people of Pharaoh picked him up from the river: It was intended that Moses should be to them an adversary and a cause of sorrow: for Pharaoh and Haman and all their hosts were men of sin." (Sura 28:5-8, cf. 28:38, 29:39, 40:24,36)
Haman was an Agagite noble who lived in Persia (not Egypt) around the sixth century B.C., and is the main antagonist in the book of Esther. It behooves any thinking person to wonder why the Qur'an records Haman being present in the court of Pharaoh and opposing Moses, who lived nine centuries before his time in a completely different culture and context. Did Haman somehow invent a time machine to travel back in time and oppose Moses?

(Reposted from a Christian-Muslim discussion page on Facebook.)

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

John Chrysostom on Penal Substitution

It was like an innocent man’s undertaking to die for another sentenced to death, and so rescuing him from punishment. For Christ took upon Him not the curse of transgression, but the other curse, in order to remove that of others. For, “He had done no violence neither was any deceit in His mouth.” (Isaiah 53:9; 1 Peter 2:22.) And as by dying He rescued from death those who were dying, so by taking upon Himself the curse, He delivered them from it.

  • NPNF1: Vol. XIII, Commentary on Galatians, Chapter 3, v. 13.

(HT: Pr. David T. King)