Preservation and Truth

Often times my question "How do you know the Qur'an is from God?" is met by Muslims with a response like this:

This obviously completely misses the mark and does not answer at all the question I posed. It confuses the following two questions:

  1. Is the text of the Qur'an accurately preserved?
  2. Is the Qur'an true? Is the Qur'an from God?

And those two questions are logically independent. The answer to the first question will tell me nothing about the answer to the second question. Let me illustrate this with an example.

There is a movement that is denying that the Holocaust [the murder of 6 million Jews in Nazi Germany] has ever happpened. Those people write books and distribute them. Those books are available in libraries, for example the library of congress, the British Library, and other libraries which stock basically all books ever published.

In 200 years [if judgment day hasn't come by then] these books will still be the same. They will still be accurately preserved. But obviously their content will be just as wrong as when it was first written and accurate preservation does not make it any more true.

If the Qur'an was not originally from God, then all the most accurate preservation won't make it into the word of God. That is what my question was about. How do we know that the Qur'an was from God in the first place?

The preservation question will never answer the truth question.

To extend the illustration, let us look at the normal process in regard to most university text books that go through several editions. The first edition might still has some inaccuracies, it is not dealing exhaustively with some topics which should be included. But it is a successful text book. Soon a reprint is necessary. There is no time to change all that should be changed. But the author makes sure that the so far discovered misprints are corrected. For the next print run he reworks some of the topics where inaccuracies have been found and corrects mistakes of content as well as further misprints that were pointed out to him. For the third print a major overhaul is done, a new chapter on a topic so far omitted is added, more inaccuracies are corrected as well as more of the misprints reported up to date.

In the first illustration we have seen that completely accurate preservation doesn't not imply truth. In this illustration we see that change of the text can actually improve truth and make something true which was wrong before.

Both examples together should make it completely clear that the issue of preservation will never give us an answer to the question whether the content of the book is true.

To add a last thought, if a book is totally true in the beginning is then through many stages of copying by hand has undergone slight changes because it is impossible not to make mistakes when copying by hand, but apart from these scribal errors it is basically the same as the original, then obviously this book will still be true.

Preservation questions are important, but they will never answer the question of truth. For both the Bible and the Qur'an we can show that there are textual variations as they come with any book that is copied by hand for centuries. For both the Bible and the Qur'an we can show that they are essentially the same today as they were in the second and 8th century respectively. We can indeed have the confidence that both texts accurately represent what was the original.

Therefore we now have to ask questions about the truth and trustworthiness of the content in regard to the Bible and the Qur'an.

Logical Fallacies of Muslim Apologetics
Answering Islam Home Page