by Denis Giron al-Kaafir al-Akbar
AKA Mushrik Bin Giron al-Murtad al-Amriki
Nadir Ahmed, webmaster of the Examine the Truth website, has begun to make a name for himself amongst Muslims. He has done so primarily through audio debates with non-Muslims who dare to question the veracity of the true deen. However, while his popularlity continues to grow, many question his ability to construct a cogent argument. This article will take a general look at Nadir's debating methodology. Over the course of this article, readers should ask themselves what, if anything, this tells us about the intellectual calibre of those Muslims who are part of Nadir's fan base.
It should be noted that the goal of this article is not to deride or degrade Nadir. I myself have debated Nadir in the past, have had many phone conversations with him over the last year, and have great respect for him. Nonetheless, because I (along with many others) have serious misgivings about the validity (much less the soundness!) of Nadir's arguments, I am perplexed by the growing number of Muslims who believe his efforts to demonstrate the veracity of Islam have been successful. So this article will, with all due respect to Nadir, take a look at various instances of what has become a common occurrence: Nadir putting forth a bad argument and then proclaiming it a victory.
The Challenge of Dr. Ali Sina
The motivation to write this article was first sparked while visiting the faithfreedom.COM website, which has been set up for the precise mission of rebutting the claims leveled against Islam by Dr. Ali Sina's site of a similar domain name: faithfreedom.ORG. While visiting the site's section devoted specifically to Dr. Sina, I noticed that the first link is to Nadir's article Ali Sina of faithfreedom.org on the run!!, with follow-up comments reading simply "Well done Brother Nadir!" The web master of this site, like many Muslims on the net, apparently believes that Nadir has met Sina's challenge to disprove the litany of accusations he has raised against Muhammad.
Now, the goal of this article is not to offer support for Dr. Sina's attempt to malign the character of the founder of Islam. However, this issue is brought up in order to serve as one of many examples of Nadir's poor understanding of what constitutes "proof". Many Muslims on the net agree that Nadir has "proven" that Dr. Sina is a liar. The claim is that Nadir demonstrated one of Dr. Sina's charges against Muhammad to be false, yet Dr. Sina has failed to keep his alleged promise to dismantle his site if any Muslim was ever successful at doing such. We should, therefore, examine Nadir's claim.
Dr. Sina made the dubious assertion that Muhammad burned all the books that were in the possession of the pre-Islamic Arab populace. Nadir simply responded by calling Dr. Sina a liar and then demanded that he take down his site, as allegedly promised. First, it seems fairly clear that Nadir misunderstood the challenge put forth by Dr. Sina. The challenge was to refute the general picture painted by Dr. Sina, not any single claim. Of course, this is a minor point, by virtue of the fact that the challenge was somewhat vague (Dr. Sina has since employed more precise language).
The real problem is the fact that a more thorough analysis will result in the conclusion that, even if one were to put Nadir's misunderstanding aside for a moment, he still failed to meet the challenge. In other words, if we assume, for the sake of argument, that the challenge was to take the site down if a single claim about Muhammad was proven wrong, one can still not conclude that Nadir met the challenge. What actually happened was Dr. Sina made a claim that Muhammad burned books. Nadir asserted that this is a lie, and then claimed victory. I, like Nadir, question the truth of Dr. Sina's claim. Also, I agree with Nadir that evidence was not presented (i.e. no scholarly source was cited to back this claim up). Does this mean the claim has been disproven? Absolutely not! The challenge, under Nadir's understanding, was to prove a single claim wrong. Nadir has not met this reinterpreted challenge simply by demanding evidence and resorting to ad-hominem attack. The fact that Nadir and his supporters do not see the glaring logical problems present is rather telling.
Unfortunately, many of Nadir's arguments exhibit a poor understanding of what constitutes evidence and proof. I first noticed this in February of 2003 when Nadir offered an article on "the miracle of Zam Zam water" as evidence that "the Qur'an contains statements which agree with modern science". I attempted to explain to Nadir the numerous problems with this piece of "evidence". First, the article simply makes a number of assertions without offering any evidence. Surely there are many sites on the net talking about the healing powers of water drawn from holy rivers, blessed by holy men, et cetera. Second, I was not even aware of Zam Zam water being mentioned in the Qur'an, thus it was far from clear how this served as evidence that the Qur'an contained "scientific miracles". Third, even if Zam Zam did contain miraculous water, this does not mean the religion of the people in controll of it was true (otherwise we would have to conclude that when the pre-Islamic polytheist Arabs had control of Zam Zam, their religion was true as well). This seemed like a clear enough explanation, but Nadir simply responded with the following (before dropping the subject entirely):
"[T]he point of the well of zam zam is that this is a well, which has been providing water to millions of people without drying out as most wells do after a few years or so. [T]his is a phenomenon in itself, and lends more credibility to the G axiom."Here "the G axiom" refers to the position that the Qur'an is of a divine origin. So Nadir had not only put forth a terrible argument, but he seemed immune to any attempt to explain why the argument was so bad! He sincerely believed that unsupported claims, about the magical qualities of water drawn from a well in Mecca, found on the net, combined with the fact that the well has yet to dry out, supported the position that the Qur'an was authored by a divine agent.
The Appeal to Probability Theory
A little over eight months later, Nadir and I engaged in an audio debate on the subject of the Qur'an and science (as was alluded to above). In the debate Nadir examined eight passages from the Qur'an, seven which he reinterpreted as fitting with science, and the eighth being one which apparently made referece to a city mentioned in the Ebla tablets. I calmly explained why each passage could have come about via natural processes (i.e. it is reasonable to believe they were written by a human author). Nadir's response was to ask that I not consider the evidence individually, but rather do so collectively. It was his argument that while one statement from a text by a human author being correlated with science is amazing, doing so with seven or eight statements is statistically impossible. Of course, no evidence was provided for this premise, rather Nadir simply asserted that it is the case and left it at that.
As the debate went on, Nadir started throwing out wild (and seemingly arbitrary) figures for the odds of various verses coming about naturally (exempli gratia: claiming that the odds of one verse were 1 in 100,000). I simply explained that Nadir was abusing statistics, offered an analogy, and then left it at that. When Nadir put the debate on his site, he proclaimed: "Alhumdulilah, this debate *proves* that the Quran could not be authored by man, rather a greater source had to have been the author of the Quran." Thus further discussion was necessary.
It should be noted that the debate challenge that Nadir has extended to the Answering Islam team (or other willing Christians) offers to discuss seven different topics. The sixth topic is titled "Is there really any evidence for Christianity?" while the seventh topic is titled "Scientific and Archaeological evidences for Islam". The irony here is thick in light of the fact that Nadir believes that if a text has seven statements that can be correlated with science and one statement that mentions a place noted in the Ebla tablets, then that is evidence in favor of the text being from a divine origin. We could easily correlate seven statements from the Bible with science and note that a two cities mentioned in Genesis (Sodom & Gomorrah) are mentioned in the Ebla tablets. The same can be done with the Babylonian Talmud. In other words, the game that Nadir played with the Qur'an can be played with a myriad of other works.
I have noted to Nadir how one individual, as a way of mocking the scientific-hermeneutic approach to the Qur'an he employed, jokingly found a bunch of scientific miracles in the first few lines of Virgil's Georgicon. I have also informed Nadir that a somewhat more serious attempt at critiquing the scientific-hermeneutic approach to the Qur'an by finding numerous "coincidences" in the writings of Epicurus can be found in Richard Carrier's article, Predicting Modern Science: Epicurus vs. Mohammed (where 22 statements are correlated with modern science). Nadir has continually ignored these points, and continues to claim that his ability to correlate eight statements from the Qur'an with science or archeology "proves" that it is of a divine origin.
When it was explained (by numerous individuals) that the figures he furnished were unfounded, Nadir claimed that he was merely employing "the subjective theory of probability" (i.e. he was making an appeal to the subjectivist approach to probability theory). So I put forth a long article explaining why the subjectivist approach does not support his conclusion. Nadir has ignored the article and simply repeats his claim, that the Qur'an being written by a human author is statistically impossible, over and over again. He has even written, in response to those who dispute his claims, statements like: "you canít escape the Math, if you havent figured it out yet, it is the Math, not the Muslims, which is your biggest enemy." The glaring irony here is that Nadir himself has offered no mathematical justification, while he has been presented with an argument (which he has yet to respond to) showing that a purely mathematic approach disproves his conclusion.
Morality, Sola Scriptura, & Tamaatheel fee'l-Masjid
On December 1st, 2004, Nadir debated Doug Beaumont, webmaster of the Soul Advice site, on the topic of Islamic and Christian morality. It was in this debate that Nadir put forth yet another highly problematic argument, this time as an attempt to prove his conclusion that the Bible "promotes a Girls Gone Wild kind of lifestyle". About seven minutes into his opening statement, Nadir put forth what was essentially the foundational premise of his entire argument:
If the Bible does not condemn something, then we cannot condemn it. It is like driving a car; there's nothing in the Bible which says that driving a car is wrong, therefore the obvious conclusion is that God does not have a problem with driving a car.As the debate went on Nadir pounded this point over and over again, like a drum beat, and followed by making the absurd claim that if the Bible does not condemn something, then it "promotes" it! Of course, Beaumont gave a wonderful example in noting the Biblical approach to abortion. While the Bible makes no mention of abortion (and thus never explicitly condemns it), it is fairly reasonable to believe that the Biblical writers would have been hostile to the idea (or that the tenets of the Bible lead one to the conclusion that they are inconsistent with abortion).
Nadir's line of reasoning was in conflict with the way both Christians and Muslims approach their respective holy writs (for a minor example, I would note he ignored the notion of ijtihad in Islam and roughly analogous approaches to deriving doctrine employed by various Christian communities). For example, the Qur'an never condemns placing statues in the masjid. The one time the Qur'an even speaks of statues (Arabic: tamaatheel) in the masjid pertains to the masjid built by Solomon, and there is quite simply no attempt to condemn the practice. However, does this mean that, therefore, Islam PROMOTES placing statues in the masjid? Of course the answer is no, which shows that it is fallacious to claim that if the holy writ of a religion does not explicitly condemn a practice, the religion therefore promotes it.
When I first raised this point, Nadir phoned my home to voice his disagreement. He continued to insist that the Bible does "promote" various forms of sexual immorality. I tried to remind him of my example of statues in the masjid, and he agreed that, despite the fact that the Qur'an does not condemn such a practice, it certainly does not promote it. Nonetheless, Nadir still refused to agree with my argument, and his only explanation was that, according to his interpretation of Soorat an-Nissaa' 4:115, the Qur'an commands believers to also look to extra-Qur'anic sources for guidance (i.e. the ahaadeeth). He claimed this proves that the Qur'an does not promote the placing of statues in the masjid, because the ahaadeeth do explicitly condemn this practice. Of course, what if one noted that Catholics and Orthodox Christians interpret 2nd Thessalonians 2:15 as encouraging the usage of exta-Biblical traditions as a source of guidance? If these traditions condemn a practice not explicitly condemned in the Bible, does this mean the Bible, therefore, does not promote the practice? If he answers yes to this question then we uncover a deceptive layer to his methodology: he is not really leveling an attack on the Bible, but rather on a specific approach to the Bible (i.e. the Sola Scriptura approach).
Nadir's line of reasoning leads to still more logical problems. Note again that his argument is that "if the text does not condemn a practice, then it promotes it". If we agree to this premise, then we have to conclude that the Qur'an "promotes" an activity that the ahaadeeth condemn. Aren't Muslims supposed to reject ahaadeeth that conflict with the Qur'an? Furthermore, assuming the aformentioned verses from the Qur'an and Bible do encourage the use of extra-canonical traditions, we have a situation where, on the one hand, Nadir's initial premise results in the text "promoting" the behavior in question, while Nadir's later approach (that the text does not promote the activity if it is condemned in the secondary literature) results in the text not promoting it. In other words, Nadir's various arguments lead to a contradiction. In the end, Nadir might wish to reconcile the two approaches and argue that "if the text does not condemn the behavior, and the secondary literature does not condemn it either, then the primary text promotes it." Of course, this is still an unfounded premise, as there it does not logically follow that failing to explicitly condemn a practice is identical to promoting it.
So it seems fairly obvious that Nadir's argument fails. Nonetheless, after the debate, in an article regarding an exchange he had with Sam Shamoun on the night of the debate with Beaumont, Nadir once again claims that he 'proved that the Bible promotes "girls gone wild" type lifestyle.' Most bizarre of all, at the end of the article Nadir argues that, in the course of the exchange, Sam was ultimately faced with three options. The third option was to "Concede to the obvious truth, reject the myth of Christianity, and accept the truth, Islam." Regardless of what the veracity of either Christianity or Islam may actually be, an answer to the question was not even remotely approached in the course of the debate. How Nadir came to the conclusion that his fallacious argument about the Bible promoting lascivious behavior simultaneously disproves Christianity and proves Islam is beyond me. What we see, yet again, is that Nadir has a very poor understanding of what will suffice as "proof".
Let us review what has been discussed in this article. First, contrary to what he has claimed, Nadir failed to meet Dr. Sina's challenge. Second, despite the fact that he claims otherwise all over the net, Nadir failed to prove that the Qur'an could only be of a divine origin. Third, the chief argument employed by Nadir in his debate with Doug Beaumont was wholly unfounded, and downright fallacious. Fourth, it seems clear that Nadir does not understand when something has actually been proven, and thus he abuses the word "proof" quite often.
At the start of this piece I noted that I have great respect for Nadir, and I do. However, that should not cause me to overlook a bad argument. This raises a challenge for the Muslims who support Nadir. While it is understood that you may wish to agree with the conclusions of his arguments, this should not result in you abandoning your intellectual integrity by overlooking a failure to demonstrate the truth of those conclusions. A bad argument is a bad argument, and admitting such does not mean the conclusion of the argument is therefore false. So here is a question for Muslim supporters of Nadir's site: is there anything in this article that you disagree with? If so, please let us know. We're all ears.
And of course, we look forward to any comments Nadir may have.