Prophecies or confirmation bias?

Question from: Alisco

Message: There are numerous prophecies in the Quran which has come true.

The Romans have been defeated in the lowest land, but after their defeat they will be victorious within three to nine years. The affair is Allah’s from beginning to end. On that day, the believers will rejoice. (Qur’an, Surat ar-Rum :1-4)

These verses were revealed around 620, almost 7 years after the idolatrous Persians had severely defeated Christian Byzantium in 613-14. In fact, Byzantium had suffered such heavy losses that it seemed impossible for it even to survive, let alone be victorious again.

In short, everyone was expecting Byzantium to be destroyed. But during this time, the first verses of Surat ar-Rum were revealed, announcing that Byzantium would triumph in 3 to 9 years. This predicted victory seemed so impossible that the Arab polytheists thought it would never come true.

But like all the other predictions in the Qur’an, this one also came true. In 622, Heraclius gained a number of victories over the Persians and conquered Armenia. In December 627, the two empires fought a decisive battle at Nineveh, some 50 kilometres east of the Tigris river, near Baghdad. This time too, the Byzantine army defeated the Persians. At last, the Persians were defeated as was predicted in the Quran.

Here’s the problem, prophecies are a funny things. We believe them when they confirm our bias, but ignore them when they don’t. For example take the TV show Star Trek. It predicted handheld personal communicators, medical imaging, high speed transfer of data, equality of the sexes, flat screen tv’s, compact disks, and more. Now, you wouldn’t claim that Gene Roddenberry was a prophet would you? Why not? Is it because he wasn’t part of the same religion as you?  Do you accept the prophecies made from other religions? Why not? Is it because you think that your belief in your religion is more justified then everyone elses? Did you come to that conclusion because of things like the prophecies you mentioned?

Hopefully you can see the vicious circle created by this kind of thinking. When we readily accept something because it agrees with our perspective, and don’t attempt to understand how and why that perspective could be wrong, we fall into a hole of disinformation that prevents us from seeing the truth of a thing.

This kind of thinking is called “Confirmation Bias“. It’s important to be aware of how our minds work and how we sometimes allow ourselves to think a certain way not because it’s true, but because we want it to be true. So how do we stop our brains from doing this? Well you can’t really stop it, but what you can do is learn to question your own assumptions. Why do I believe this to be true? What do the facts say about my “truth”? Do others agree or disagree and why? Could I be wrong, and if so, how? Asking these questions allows us to be a little more objective in our thinking and allows us to be aware of confirmation bias occurring.

I hope that answers your question. Feel free to discuss this further in the comment section below.

9 thoughts on “Prophecies or confirmation bias?”

  1. A little history. Shortly after the victory at Nivenah, Heraclius, who was the Eastern Roman Emperor, had to withdraw from the very lands he conquered. The Persian emperor was assassinated in February of 628, and his son pressed for peace. After negotiations went on Heraclius entered Constantinople in Sept of 629 and Jerusalem in March of 630.

    The Quran was not committed to full written form until 20 years after Mohamed’s death in 632. Before that it was often memorized by men or written in part on all sorts of material, from palm leave stalks to stones to camel bones and so forth. When the Quran was committed to writing around 652 all over versions were ordered destroyed by the Caliph. I mention this because, like the Christian Bible, there are issues with the authenticity of the current version. There is no true original and no identifiable chain of ownership that can ensure that nothing was ever edited or changed by others at that time. The original does not contain vowel marks either, which changes the meanings of words and phrases (including in that “prophecy”), and several different recitations are acceptable in Islam. The “prophecy” can read completely different.

    If a god is all knowing, why does the “prophecy” need to be “in a few years” or “3-9 years”?

    Some Muslim scholars date the 30th surah as 615, not 620, and use the victory in 622 at Cappadocia as the victory that falls within the 3-9 year time frame. That campaign was funded by the Christian Pope in order to save Christianity.

    I mention all this to show you how unimpressive this prophecy is. You have a surah whose revelation date cannot be confirmed, written without vowel marks so as to leave the intended specific translation unknown, with no chain of command to verify that the prophecy as it is written today is the same prophecy that came from Mohamed. The historical battle record of the war between Persia and Byzantium has wins and losses all over the place for both sides, and nearly a decade given by an all powerful god for the prophecy to come true….

    Oh, and we haven’t even touched on the whole topic of there being zero evidence for the existence of a god.

    This “prophecy” doesn’t impress at all….

    1. I don’t believe in Islam, but as far as I understand, the authenticity of the Qur’an as the original words of Muhammad is generally accepted. Read the “Historical Authenticity” section of this Wikipedia page to learn more.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Criticism_of_the_Quran#Historical_authenticity

      The information can be effectively summed up with this quote:

      “Modern study of the Quran has not in fact raised any serious question of its authenticity. The style varies, but is almost unmistakable.”

      All of your other points are valid as far as I know, though.

      Please correct me if I am in error in any way. Thank you! 🙂

      1. Trevor,

        The current version of the Quran is pretty much spot on from 652 forward. It’s the period between 632 and 652 that is the question, for the reasons I mentioned in my post above.

        John – good point.

  2. A point of clarification on Erick’s reference to confirmation bias:
    When interpreting biblical prophecy, it’s essential to look for, recognize, and take into account the misses as well as the hits. If you ask me to think of a number between 1 and 100, and I get it right after 34 guesses, you aren’t likely to conclude that I’m psychic. Confirmation bias is all about seeing ONLY the hits, and missing all of the misses. That’s what our human brains tend to do by default– they look for positive matches, ignoring all the incorrect information. The probabilities involved in my guessing a number between 1 and 100 can ONLY be accurately appraised if one also counts all of my misses and compares the frequency of hits to misses.

    It’s also important to note the extent to which we are creatively interpreting and framing the facts in our minds– as opposed to considering them with scientific objectivity. The human mind is very adept at spinning the facts to suit any hypothesis.

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