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I have a friend who argued that Islam is true because the Qur'an is a unique piece of literature. Apparently, the textual styles of the book are unique in such a way that no other book can be represented by a known textual style.

His argument was essentially that:

1.) Every book has a particular textual style and can be easily grouped into a known textual style

2.) The Qur'aan does not fit into one of these known textual styles

3.) The probability of this happening by chance is extremely low if not impossible; therefore, it was designed by God

What exactly is wrong about this argument?

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    You should to write the book to answer this question. Commented Mar 8, 2023 at 8:34
  • Until he presents an algorithm for analyzing a work to decide the textual style, and then applies that algorithm to hundreds of thousands of works, his initial claim that there is something unique about the style is mere speculation. Commented Mar 8, 2023 at 8:49
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    This doesn't look very objective. What are the rules to decide what book goes with what style? Has your friend done their due diligence to make a complete survey of the Arabic writings from the VII century that would allow them to claim the Quran is indeed unique? Is the possibility that a fellow of Muhammad has developed a unique style on his own really so improbable that divine intervention is the only possible explanation?
    – armand
    Commented Mar 8, 2023 at 9:17
  • @DavidGudeman I guess the point is, if he believes very very strong that Allah gave us the Quran then it must be true...
    – armand
    Commented Mar 8, 2023 at 9:22
  • I lived, millions of years ago, in a village. Breakfast was bread und butter. I couldn't tell/could I, which cow the milk for the butter came from?
    – Hudjefa
    Commented Mar 8, 2023 at 15:58

4 Answers 4

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The most obvious counterargument is that your friend's argument commits a number of logical fallacies which render it heavily flawed. These include:

  1. It amounts to an argument from incredulity. The fact a person cannot imagine how such a text might have been written by a non-divine author says nothing about whether or not it was written by a divine author. This is also a case of the divine fallacy, because the argument specifically calls upon a god to explain a phenomenon (the supposed uniqueness of a text) which could be explained by other information.

  2. (Closely related to 1) It is a non-sequitur. The fact a writing style is unique does not reliably lead to a conclusion that the author of such a writing style is divine.

  3. This might also be viewed as as alleged certainty fallacy, in which the claim, "The Qur'aan does not fit into one of these known textual styles is highly suspect but is presented as a vital premise. It also does this by alleging it is possible for a god to exist, which in turn is a case of jumping to a conclusion.

  4. It might be deemed a 'Texas Sharpshooter' fallacy, in which the person making the claim is finding a pattern (some definitive list of 'unique writing styles') to fit a presumption (that the book in question is divine).

  5. The use of, "Every book has a particular textual style and can be easily grouped into a known textual style" may well be a case of fake precision, in that it is a highly suspect claim. It is possible to make any number of arbitrary parameters of 'style' and to group books accordingly, and to do so with the precise aim of supporting your friend's argument. Every book can be seen to be written in a 'unique' style if one so desires. Does this mean every book was written by a god?

There may well be other relevant fallacies, but this should be enough to return serve to your friend. Becoming familiar with logical fallacies is one of the best ways to equip yourself to confidently analyse arguments. You don't need to learn the name for each fallacy. By learning some of the more common ones, you train yourself to think in a way which identifies fallacies, regardless of whether you've encountered them before.

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1.) Every book has a particular textual style and can be easily grouped into a known textual style

  • There aren't really "known" styles. It's the other way around we make them up to group books.

2.) The Qur'aan does not fit into one of these known textual styles

  • If it doesn't fit, it certainly fits the category of "misc"/"other"/"exotic".

  • You can make up categories where it fits with other books and you can make up categories where it's unique.

  • Also, every new style is unique, but not every new style is claimed to be god like.

  • You could just write a book in that style to counter the argument...

3.) The probability of this happening by chance is extremely low if not impossible; therefore, it was designed by God

  • Unlikely things can still happen by chance. Like there's a 1 in 140,000,000 chance to win the lottery and it still happens quite regularly if enough people play that game. Unlikely does not mean impossible.

Also even if we assume it's true that it didn't happen by accident that doesn't mean it was divine intervention.

  • Like yes books don't write themselves by themselves it takes a creative mind to write them down, we call that "art" and it happens with all other books as well.

  • It can very well be one of a kind because people, Muslim's in particular, WANT it to be one of a kind.

  • So even if it could be grouped with other books, there might be a bias not to compare it to others.

  • It's a holy book so if you'd write a book in that style it's likely going to be perceived as satire and offensive so there's a good chance there's explicit or implicit bias to ban these books or discourage the idea of doing that.

And that's just a short list of ways you could poke a hole into that argument.

Also from the structure of the argument the conclusion is rather "the qur'aan is not a book. "All books are able to be grouped", "the qur'aan is not able to be grouped" therefore "the qur'aan is not a book". God only occurs in the conclusion and it's not straight forward where it's coming from.

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    Curiously, there is a debate in some spheres of Islam over whether the Recital is uncreated or not, on some level; obv. (in the storyline, at least) the prophets were given a message via a locally contingent route, but the content of the message is arguably existent in itself. And again, the Recital was given to the Prophet verbally piece by piece, later collated (intentionally) by a government leader's efforts on behalf of a unified faith. So, "The Recital is not a book," would be a possible conclusion in this debate. Commented Mar 8, 2023 at 9:58
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Historically, Mohammed did not write the Qur'an, he recited messages that he represented as delivered unto him in an angelological context. So physically, as initially communicated to his followers, the Qur'an probably didn't quite count as being in a "literary style," unless we expand that phrase to include things like "transcript of an oral tradition," say.

Arabic is an elegant language, there are calligraphic maneuvers possible within it (letters/words/text-blocks stylized as calligrams) that are not absolutely unique but are at least relatively unusual. And the Qur'an's role in the history of the Arabic language is comparable to the role of Shakespeare's writings in the development of English (possibly the former plays a stronger role in its language's presence than the latter, on account of the former's religiosity, but I digress). In a higher-order sense, then, one might say that the "metastyle" of the Qur'an is "a text that has played a dramatic role in its language's stylistic development." I'm not sure how often the end-of-section circles they use, or the stop-marker (when read, one is directed to an especial prayer), in the Qur'an, are used in Arabic composition besides, and again, it's elegant.

But there are plenty of elegant texts in other languages altogether, for that matter. How does the Qur'an not fall under the heading of "texts purported to be divine revelations"? Isn't that a style, on some level, too? (From what I have read of the Qur'an, I would say that it is only as unique as any other text tends to be, unique by being a particular, but everything is particular in its own way (that's what particularity is!). For otherwise, albeit I was reading it in English, but it looked not terribly dissimilar, in terms of tone/voice/style, from the Bible combined with the Shahnameh (a Persian/Zoroastrian epic poem, composed later than the Qur'an I think, but derived from a rich tradition).)

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The "Awful Truth" series of three pseudo-aleatory hyper-self-reflexive anti-thrillers (see www.theawfulauthor.com) definitely does not fall into any known textual style, but I have it on very good authority that the books were not designed by God but by a complete idiot. There are therefore at least three counter-examples disproving the validity of his argument.

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