We often hear from religious people that their particular holy book or books contain descriptions of scientific facts that could not have been known at the time they were written unless the books were written by a god.
When you encounter such claims or you believe such claims yourself, then please read at least the section 1 of this article and analyze the religious claim with those logical principles in mind.
1) Questions that must be considered with every claim
Click on each question to view an explanation of each.
1) Is the claim's reasoning even logically valid?
The first aspect of any foreknowledge claim that must be questioned is whether or not the claim’s reasoning is even valid if we were to assume that all the evidence cited by the claim is correct.
If the claim’s conclusion does not actually follow from the cited evidence then we have no need to bother with analyzing the evidence for it because the claim itself would be of no consequence regardless of whether the evidence were correctly cited or not.
This sort of problem is most common with claims that identify places in a holy book where some number appears – such as dates or the number of chromosomes in a certain creature – and then claim that this number appeared in the holy book because it was meant to coincide with that same number appearing in a scientific fact that would later be discovered in regard to the same general subject – even when the numbers refer to completely different things.
For example, the Quran mentions the word “Moon” 27 times. Muslims therefore claim that this means that God had revealed the fact that the Moon completes a rotation around the earth once every 27 days. They claim this is miraculous since, due to the Earth also orbiting the sun, lunar cycles appear to be once every 29 days to someone judging them only by the Earth’s shadow upon the moon.
Even aside from the fact that the moon specifically revolves around the earth in 27.35 days, not an even 27, it does not follow from the number of times the word “Moon” is mentioned that the author had foreknowledge regarding the moon’s orbit.
But the problems with these type of claims come down to three interrelated issues:
First, there is no significant connection between the evidence cited by the claim (e.g. the number of times a certain word appears in a holy book) and the scientific fact that includes coincides with. The claim’s conclusion is a non sequitur because the number of times the word “moon” appears in any context simply has no logical connection to the length of time the moon takes to complete one rotation around earth, so there is no indication that the evidence cited by the foreknowledge claim was actually intended to coincide with that scientific fact.
Second, the logic that apologists use to allege these connections is inconsistent throughout their holy book. That is, when some word, statement, or number is alleged to match some number in some real world fact, the reason those two numbers match up suspiciously only applies to some verses – or one verse – and not others that are just like it. For example, Muslims claim that the number of times the word “moon” appears matches the number of days it takes to orbit around the earth, yet in other cases where the same logic could apply, no correlation exists (such as the number of times the word “earth” appears and how many days the earth takes to orbit the sun). This lack of consistency in the logic of miracle claims strongly discredits them since an author’s lack of consistency in this regard is indistinguishable from that author simply not intending to make those connections at all.
Third, for any given scientific fact there are often many numbers that apologists could have chosen to make a foreknowledge claim if either the Quran or facts about the real world were different. In the example of the moon, if the Quran had mentioned the word “moon” 29 times, an apologist could have simply claimed there was a correlation between that and the 29 day lunar cycle. Any combination of facts can be used since there is no significant connection between the cherry-picked bits of information they assert connections between.
Apologists can simply compare whatever arbitrary information suits their needs while ignoring cases where the same logic does not work. This means that foreknowledge claims of this type simply do not provide any evidence that the author had foreknowledge.
2) Would the alleged example of foreknowledge have even required foreknowledge to create it?
Would the alleged miracle even require foreknowledge or an incredible coincidence to produce? Or could it be done intentionally or by accident by a person who lacked foreknowledge?
For example, some Muslim apologists cite the fact that the Quran mentions the words “plant” and “tree” the same number of times as a miracle, and that this happens between other related words and phrases as well. But it would require no foreknowledge or even expertise to simply repeat these words the same number of times in a book you are writing yourself.
Also, even a few generally correct assertions do not necessarily indicate foreknowledge. With the variety of both secular and religious beliefs that have existed and been imagined by the human species, it is quite possible that a few ideas would end up being roughly correct due to sheer coincidence or personal preference for a particular notion.
In fact this certainly seems to be the case with multiple religions as well as secular thinkers throughout history (such as Democritus who was generally correct that the material world was made of tiny atoms with space between them). A holy book would need to be very specific and we would need to consider other ways the knowledge could be acquired before anyone could logically conclude that the most likely explanation was that a being or beings that knew more than us delivered the knowledge to us.
3) Has the foreknowledge claim only been made after the scientific discovery?
If the particular interpretation used to make the claim of foreknowledge only appeared after the fact was learned through non-miraculous means, then the claim is not remarkable and it does not indicate that the book contained any foreknowledge.
The verse should have to be interpreted that way before the scientific discovery (or even lead to it). If the information had already been achieved by secular means, then that indicates that religious believers are simply reading their newly acquired knowledge into the text without it actually bearing that information.
For example, Quranmiracles.com makes the following statement regarding a verse in the Quran that they claim should be interpreted as meaning that God is continuing to expand the universe even today:
The greatest minds in history, basing their arguments on observations and formulas they had, claimed either that the universe had its confines or that it was an endless space, but it occurred to none of them to think of a dynamic expanding universe, until the 20th century when Edwin Hubble, by means of a telescope, demonstrated that the universe was expanding.
However, they fail to mention that the expanding universe model had not been advocated by Muslims either.
4) Are the cited verses accurate translations of the original text?
The claim of foreknowledge in a holy book can only be valid and meaningful if the translation used to make the claim is accurate to the original text in all ways relevant to that claim. Sometimes foreknowledge claims will use translations that intentionally alter key details of the verse in question so as to create a false impression of how specific the verse really is or what the author was actually describing.
5) Does the foreknowledge claim misrepresent what the verse is even about?
Many foreknowledge claims simply misunderstand what the verse is even about. In these cases, the claim is simply based on a misunderstanding of the text and has no logical significance.
For example, Muslims claim that verse 75:1-5 of the Quran reveals the “foreknowledge” that fingerprints are unique to each individual. There are several problems with this claim, but the one that pertains to this section is this: The verse talks about God piecing people back together and references fingertips as a small part of the human body to convey how completely that God can resurrect a person back into their original form. The verse is not even discussing fingerprints, let alone saying that fingerprints are unique.
6) Is the claim even describing the current science accurately?
Sometimes claims will misunderstand or intentionally misrepresent the scientific knowledge or theory it is claiming to have foreknown. In such cases the scientific fact or theory is described incorrectly so that the verse appears to match it. (Sometimes the verse is so far off from the actual science that the apologist misrepresents the claim and still misrepresents the verse as well so they can appear to align).
7) Does the claim accurately portray how much information the verse contains?
Is the claim asserting more information in the text than is actually there? Any claim is simply a misrepresentation of the text is it asserts that a passage is making reference to detailed theories or information while the passage itself does not actually contain any information that would indicate it. Such passages therefore provide no evidence of foreknowledge.
For example, in the Bible, part of Jewish doctrine was to always be clean so they washed themselves after contact with bodily fluids. Apologists turn this into “They knew about germs” even though the Bible never mentions anything like germs, and people don’t need to know about germs to have basic cleaning habits because the effects or appearance of uncleanliness were apparent regardless.
8) Does the text use ambiguous, vague, or poetic wording?
Logically, the words of a holy book cannot be assumed to mean something specific beyond what they actually say. If the wording of a verse is vague or ambiguous enough that it can just as likely (or more likely, as is often the case) have been intended to hold a meaning other than the one that would support the foreknowledge claim, then there is no logical reason to believe that the verse contained foreknowledge.
For example, the Quranic verse 51:47 mentions that God stretched out the heavens, and many Muslims claim that the verse really means that God is still continuing to expand the space that comprises universe. However the verse can also simply mean that God has brought the heavens to their current expanse or that he continually makes the sky wide and large above the earth. These latter interpretations 1) fit better with other verses in the Quran that speak of the sky as a barrier 2) match similar phrases in the Hebrew Bible which is significant because Muhammad created his religion upon the foundation of the theology and influence of Judaism 3) We don’t see Muslims being able to predict future scientific discoveries by reading the Quran; so it is much more likely that these latter interpretations are what the Quran’s author meant.
In fact, the use of imprecise language is an indicator that the author did not have any foreknowledge because they failed to convey any accurate knowledge in terms limited to that interpretation.
If the god or gods or scribes intended for any verses to reveal scientific facts, they certainly communicated it poorly. This indicates that a supreme being was probably not involved, because a supreme being who knew the truth could convey this information at least as clearly and accurately as any human with the same knowledge.
9) Can the logic of interpretation being used in the claim be used to 'prove' other religions too?
Can the way you’re loosely interpreting the passage or adding information to it also be used to “find” miraculous passages in other holy texts that contradict yours? If so, your method of interpretation cannot be valid and isn’t yielding correct results. If metaphor and ambiguous language logically indicated modern scientific accuracy then all religions’ claims to scientific pre-knowledge would be proved true because that is the way they describe everything.
10) Does the same holy book also contain scientifically flawed ideas elsewhere?
Are there other passages that contradict the claim by making statements that display ignorance and incorrect ideas? If so, these verses disprove the original claim of the book’s foreknowledge.
2) A lack of scientific information is still a lack of scientific information
Theists often defend the vagueness and scientific inaccuracies in their holy books with this type of defense:
“If there were explicit scientific facts in our holy book, people wouldn’t have understood it and they wouldn’t join that religion because of how complicated it would seem.”
You cannot logically claim there is accurate, recognizable scientific information in a verse if you are also claiming that it was written so that it did not contain scientific accuracy in it. If you make that latter claim, then you have no premise from which to conclude that scientific accuracy was ever intended.
Also, information about scientific ideas specific enough to clearly be accurate to later audiences could easily be communicated by a supreme being. Consider how anyone in the modern day is able to understand basic scientific information. Children today have no more necessary contextual knowledge or special brains than adults did at the time holy books were first produced; yet children today can still understand the notion of the world being a sphere, of small organisms being the cause of disease, and of our ancestors being different species.
3) Conclusion: Summary of how emotional bias seems to occur
To conclude this article I’d like to provide a more expanded description of how religious bias forms and works.
People are commonly brought up to believe that their religion’s holy texts are the only true ones and that they are even scientific. But they never have this alleged knowledge in advance of scientific discovery, and the interpretations of the passages radically change depending on what science discovers. Religious people only know anything after science reveals the truth and then they try to look at any verses whose general or poetic wording could be considered to encompass that scientific fact when read in a particular and very poetic way.
Remember that you are around people who have been brought up to believe these religious books tell the truth about everything, so you develop a severely biased way of reading the text called eisegesis where you unconsciously read your own knowledge and views into the text. That bias is natural, but we must always step back and look at all these books and claims equally through an objective standard so our bias is removed. And when we do this, we see there is actually no proof of any foreknowledge or even anything to prefer one religion over others.
Consider these things because they are important for determining what is really true.