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I have a Muslim friend who told me about a chapter in the Quran (the holy book of Muslims) in which he claims there is a "numerical miracle."

This chapter is unique in the Quran because a particular part repeats frequently. The first occurrence of this is in section number 13. If we collect the numbers of these sections, they form the sequence: 13, 16, 18, 21, 23, 25, 28, 30, 32, 34, 36, 38, 40, 42, 45, 47, 49, 51, 53, 55, 57, 59, 61, 63, 65, 67, 69, 71, 73, 75, 77.

If we concatenate these numbers, we get the long number: 77757371696765636159575553514947454240383634323028252321181613 which is divisible by seven.

Reversing this number from right to left, we get: 31618112325282032343638304245474941535557595163656769617375777 which is also divisible by seven.

Similarly, if we concatenate the numbers in the list from left to right, we get: 13161821232528303234363840424547495153555759616365676971737577, which, once again, is divisible by seven.

Up to this point, everything seems to be merely a trivial random occurrence. It's akin to finding patterns in a set of random data, a phenomenon known as the Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy.

Despite not being Muslim and holding no belief in God, particularly in religious contexts, I was surprised to learn that the number seven holds significant value in the Quran and in Islam, as well as in Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, and even in nature.

I've also come across information suggesting that numerous other patterns in the Quran exhibit similar features related to the number seven.

So What is the probability of such a phenomenon occurring by chance?

My concern is that we could arbitrarily choose any number, such as eight, and attempt to find patterns or connections in quran to correlate with it, falling prey to the same Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy.

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    Suppose this numerology trick was inserted on purpose by the book's author like an easter egg: how is it an impossible feat for a human being, and if a human being could trivially have done it why call it miraculous at all?
    – armand
    Apr 12 at 2:48
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    This reminds me Pierre's exercise in Tolstoy's War and Peace:"Writing the words L'Empereur Napoléon in numbers, it appears that the sum of them is 666, and that Napoleon was therefore the beast foretold in the Apocalypse. Moreover, by applying the same system to the words quarante-deux, which was the term allowed to the beast that “spoke great things and blasphemies,” the same number 666 was obtained; from which it followed that the limit fixed for Napoleon’s power had come in the year 1812 when the French emperor was forty-two."
    – Conifold
    Apr 12 at 4:26
  • @armand Like backmasking recordings to insert a secret message revealed when the recording is played backwards. Apr 13 at 7:35
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    "So What is the probability of such a phenomenon occurring by chance?" Can you clarify what you mean by that? A book isn’t a random sequence of letters/words/sentences/… so it’s not really meaningful to assign chance to it being the way it is. Apr 13 at 12:32
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    The probability that a 'random' number is divisible by 7 is 1/7. The probability that three 'random' numbers are divisible by 7 is then 1/343. But these numbers are very far from random. Why didn't you include the reversal of the last number? Why did you write them in base 10? Why did you concatenate them? Why did you reverse them?
    – user73703
    Apr 13 at 12:56

4 Answers 4

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Apophenia describes (among other things) the human propensity to see questionable patterns in random data.

That, in a nutshell, is what basically all of numerology is.

The basic process tends to go like this:

  • Look at data from every angle you can think of, perform a whole bunch of arbitrary operations, use different numerology number mappings, consider different translations or parts of texts (e.g. chapters), etc.
  • When you find some interesting-looking result, you say "wow, this is so unlikely, someone must've specifically put it there / it must be magic".

The probability of finding this specific pattern is the wrong thing to consider, because it may as well have been some other pattern in some other chapter using some other method. What is the significance of this very specific combination of (1) considering the position (2) of this specific repeated phrase, (3) within this specific chapter, (4) concatenating the positions, and (5) dividing the result by 7? If there's no specific significance, and one could've found any other pattern, then I'd say you're roughly guaranteed to find something that seems unlikely, sooner rather than later, in pretty much any text.

Also, even if we grant that it's exceedingly unlikely to find this pattern in the text, and that this is noteworthy (rather than just being a result of the fact that rare events happen all the time)... so what? If this is supposed to be proof that a deity inspired the book, that would be a deity with a very weird sense of humour. I suspect an all-powerful deity can do something at least a little more impressive and extraordinary than putting some words in a few-thousand-year-old book in some particular order for people to notice at some point. Not only is the basic methodology of numerology complete nonsense, they typically also try to draw conclusions that make absolutely no sense given the evidence.

Putting all this aside, text certainly isn't just random data, and this could count against numerology. If one finds a pattern, that may just be a pattern that exists in writing generally, particularly in the same language written around the same time for similar purposes. It would be pretty mundane to claim that patterns exist in human writing. One could perform similar analysis on other texts to see if similar patterns exist. Although I don't expect this to account for too many instances of found patterns, as the patterns typically seem quite arbitrary. The bigger problems are those mentioned above, i.e. the scattershot approach of numerology and the questionable conclusions drawn from found patterns.

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  • The immediate follow up to such numerology claim should be "what was your methodology, how many attempts at finding a pattern did you make before finding this one?". Alas, this metodology information is never recorded...
    – armand
    Apr 12 at 2:46
  • Yes, this is exactly my point of view when I said that it looks like the tax sharpshooter fallacy. But What my question is why number seven? why does number seven occur a lot in all these religions? I searched a lot for this and I am sure that the number seven is not just a random number that occurs a lot in these religions. It seems that it's not a random number. And this is what makes me say "wow" !!
    – Rede
    Apr 12 at 3:09
  • “Also, even if we grant that it's exceedingly unlikely to find this pattern in the text... so what?” Yes but furthermore, everything is technically exceedingly unlikely. Unlikely things by themselves do not imply further explanation. If they did, then God would also imply this, since arguably, God is also unlikely. Apr 12 at 3:56
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    @Rede A particular number could appear often if the writers intentionally included it because they thought it has special significance, or if people try to interpret things in different ways until they find that number, or there's just something about the number or the techniques used that makes a number show up more often. One might wonder how likely it is for a number and its reverse to both be divisible by 7, for example. Also, every 7th number is divisible by 7, so even being as generous as possible, the probability here is 1/(7*7*7) = 0.3%, which is small, but not "wow" small.
    – NotThatGuy
    Apr 12 at 13:05
  • @NotThatGuy just adding to your point: since there are 114 chapters in the Quran, the probability that one of them would have this .3% chance is not too small at all: around 28%.
    – SamM
    Apr 12 at 14:56
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I grew up Muslim and remember reading a lot about these patterns. They confused me just as well. First of all, because Islam has so many rituals that involve numbers such as saying certain things 3 times or 33 times every day, I suspect it sort of puts you in an OCD like state where you start seeing patterns everywhere. This is primarily the reason why you’ll often find Muslims focus on these kinds of things much more than other religious people nowadays.

But I digress. Ultimately, once you realize that these kinds of pattern finding mechanisms aren’t specified in advance, this becomes unremarkable. I could open a book and think of 1,000,000 ways to try to search for a pattern, and sooner or later, I will find interesting ones. It’s just that most people don’t actually do this and when they do, they notice similar patterns. See assassinations foretold in Moby Dick. Presumably, you don’t think Moby Dick predicts assassinations.

The real and more fundamental problem with this, and something that I missed growing up, is that God isn’t any less of a coincidence than whatever coincidence you try to explain. In order for a particular pattern to be explained by God, there must be an agent with all the right properties needed to explain it. Why would reality contain a God with all the right properties to explain a particular event instead of anything else? How is this any less coincidental than simply stating that reality was simply structured in a way to result in that pattern without design? The same point is missed by the fine tuning argument.

Design requires a designer. In every single instance of design where we felt justified to do so, we already knew the designer existed, such as in the case of humans or even beavers. Design inferences help us distinguish between what designers do and what designers don’t once we already know that they exist.

When we don’t, we can’t make this inference.

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This chapter is unique in the Quran because a particular part repeats frequently.

No, it's not. Surah Al-Mursalaat for example has "Woe on that day to deniers" 10 times. Let's do numerology divination magic and find out if Islam is true.

This is the hypothesis? If Islam is true, then repeated verses in the Surah are numbered such that their concatenation and reverse concatenation is divisible by seven. Right?

The verses with "Woe on that day to deniers" are numbers 15 19 24 28 34 37 40 45 47 and 49.

The prime factors of 15192428343740454749 are 1×17×107339789×8325638273.

RIP Islam, I guess.

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  • your point of view is very nice. but there is still a lot of "seven" in not only the Quran but also other books and religions. so why did this happen and why the number seven ?! Why not the number 2 for example as it's the first prime number!!
    – Rede
    Apr 12 at 2:45
  • I found something in these numbers again! If we take the difference between these numbers and then concatenate them the same way we did before we will get these two numbers: 454633522 and 225336454 and both have 2*7*101 in their prime factorization (again number seven !!)
    – Rede
    Apr 12 at 2:53
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    @Rede If the criterion is "you can do arithmetic to these numbers and get the number 7" it's mathematically necessary for any set of rational numbers - as it would be for any other rational number.
    – g s
    Apr 12 at 6:25
  • but why number seven appears in all religions ? why it so special ?
    – Rede
    Apr 12 at 9:00
  • @Rede cultural importance of certain numbers, absent the assumption of divine influence, is probably a question for Psychology and Neuroscience SE with the Anthropology tag. If we assume divine influence, the answer is right there in the book: "Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. [...] For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day."
    – g s
    Apr 12 at 20:43
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I can't calculate the exact probability of such a phenomenon occurring by chance without a list of the various patterns that would count as "such a phenomenon". But you'll find patterns of that sort in any text of decent size.

Consider the Canterbury Tales, specifically the copy on Project Gutenburg (including the table of contents, transcribers notes, etc.).

We'll map each letter to a number in a fairly obvious way: A=0, ..., Z=25. Non-letters are dropped. We'll then assign a single number to each word by concatenating the letters together in exactly the same way as described in the question. We also index each word according to its position in the text: the first word is 0, the second 1, etc). Finally, we'll sum up the indices of every word whose corresponding giant number is divisible by 7. That number is, itself, divisible by 7. Further, the number of numbers k from 1 to 343 (7x7x7) such that the sum of all words divisible by k is itself divisible by k...is also 7.

It was pure luck that 7 happened to be one of the numbers that had that first property (and I could pick any range of numbers to search over that I wanted to in order to make the second property hold, then find a way to describe that range in terms of that number). And if that particular property didn't hold for any number, I would have just tried a few more until one did.

In summary, patterns like this happen naturally all the time, and even if they didn't, it'd be trivial to add them to a text intentionally.

(Finding a pattern involving "42" in the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is left as an exercise for the reader.)

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