Textual Variants in the Quran

When I debate with Muslims, they often claim that Islam is superior to Christianity because the Quran that they read is identical to the Quran that Muhammad received, while the bible is corrupted and changed and we are uncertain of the original. This discussion often comes down to a discussion of textual variants: differences between biblical manuscripts. And certainly there are textual variants in the Bible, we make no secret of that. And my Muslim friends will claim that since there are textual variants, the bible cannot be trusted.

However my Muslim friends often overlook the fact that there are textual variants in the history of the Quran as well. And if we apply the same standards to the Quran that we do to the Bible, then we must conclude that the Quran is also unreliable. I don’t make any claims here about whether textual variants make a text unreliable, I only want to point out the double standards.

I won’t examine many textual variants today, perhaps I will in future posts. But for now, here is an interesting example: the Sana’a manuscript. This is a Quranic manuscript, but really it isĀ two Quranic manuscripts. It is an 80 folio collection of Quran manuscripts from 578 CE to 669 CE (radiocarbon dating), which was then erased and rewritten in the late 7th or early 8th century. The lower text has been partially recovered, and while it is a Quranic text it contains significant textual variants. A list of some of these can be found here. Not only does it add or remove or change words in some cases, there is at least one case in which an entire verse is missing. There are textual variants here, no-one would deny that.

So if the Muslim tries to undermine Christianity through use of textual variants in scripture, they undermine themselves. Now it is true that the Bible has more variants than the Quran does. But that is the result of two differences in the transmission of the texts. First, the bible was never controlled by a central authority who enforced a particular textual tradition, as the Quran was. Uthman, as is well known, attempted to destroy any copies of the Quran that differed from his own. And after him, an Islamic authority was always policing these other traditions. That doesn’t mean the tradition that they used as a standard was the accurate one, as we’ve seen there existed other traditions pre-Uthman. But they did attempt to standardize it.

Furthermore, there were simply fewer copies made of the Quran. There exist orders of magnitude more New Testament manuscripts than Quranic manuscripts, and so we would expect there to be orders of magnitude more textual variants within the New Testament textual tradition.

But as James White regularly points out, these facts actually make the Biblical text more reliable, not less. Because no central authority controlled the transmission of the Biblical text, there was no opportunity for anyone to deliberately change it. And because there were many copies made, we can compare a greater number of manuscripts in order to reconstruct the originals. The factors that lead to the Bible having more textual variants actually make the Bible more reliable in general.

Against Deism – Goodness, Consistency, and Evil

Many people object that philosophical arguments for theism such as the cosmological argument do not arrive at the God of any particular religion, but instead prove the existence of a deistic God: who created the world or who upholds existence but who does not interact at all with humanity. I think we can make a good argument against this by looking at Christianity and arguing that this does appear to be the God of philosophical arguments.

But I think also we can extend the philosophical arguments to rule out deism. We can extend the cosmological arguments to show that God actually would interact with humanity, based on what we’ve already concluded about God. And not only that, but I think we can extend them in a way that rules out several of the other contenders for claims about God.

From the philosophical arguments, we conclude that God is good, and indeed perhaps Goodness Itself. At the very least, God is the highest good. We also conclude that God is all knowing and all powerful. So we take these conclusions as premises now.

Supposing that God is all good, He must want good for the entire universe. He wants the galaxies to be good galaxies, He wants the atoms to be good atoms, and He wants the people to be good people. And it seems that for people to be good people, the goodest people they can be, He has to direct their affections towards the good. That is, God must direct their affections towards God. Perhaps not each individual person (He may have other purposes in mind for individuals, see Romans 9), but people in general. It seems that God, being good, must draw the world to Himself. And so He must reveal Himself to them, so that they can pursue Him.

By being good and rational, God must be incapable of lying and self-consistent. So that means that all of God’s revelations must be consistent with each other, and they must be truthful. I believe this rules out Islam, which is inconsistent with the previous revelation from God. Muslims will claim that the previous revelations have been corrupted, but not only is there no evidence of this, there is significant evidence that they have remained in their original form. The Old Testament and New Testament were written over centuries by ~40 different authors, while the Quran was written by one man over a few decades. The New Testament is a perfect fulfilment of all prophecy in the Old Testament, is perfectly consistent with the Old Testament, and presents itself as the final revelation. This is of course only a summary of a fuller argument against Islam that I may one day make, but it gives us plenty of reason to prefer Christianity over Islam.

Returning to deism, I claim that deism does not have a sufficient response to the problem of evil. Remember that if there is a deist God, then that God is still good. So we’d expect some pretty convincing reasons as to why the deist God knowingly (because the deist God is still omniscient and omnipotent) created a universe that contains evil and suffering. Theists appeal to God’s purpose for the universe in explaining why evil exists: in order to bring about some higher order good. Some appeal to free will as a specific higher order good, but I don’t think we need to do that here.

But under many conceptions, the deist God is a God who doesn’t have any specific purpose for the universe, or at least for the rational beings within the universe. But if there is no purpose for the rational beings in the universe, then there cannot be a sufficient reason to ordain that evil would exist.

So it seems that on the whole deism is significantly less plausible than theism, and that Christianity provides the most plausible theism.