Monday, September 28, 2009

Bible or Quran?

 I had an idea to test the faithful's  knowledge of the book they claim to live by. This one is easy.

  • one clipboard
  • one pen
  • one Bible
  • one Quran
  • one questionnaire
  • one busy pedestrian area or church parking lot

 What we are going to do is see if a common Christian can tell the difference between a Biblical verse and a Quranic verse with no scripture reference.

 First, ask the participant some questions to qualify them. Inquire and document the following:

  • What is your first name?
  • What city / town do you live in?
  • What religion would you say you are affiliated with?
  • What church do you attend and how often?
  • How would you describe your relationship with God?
  • How much of the Bible would you say you have read?
  • How much of the Quran would you say you have read?
  • On a scale on one to five, how would you rate your knowledge of the content of either work?
  • Do you believe every Biblical scripture to be God's inerrant word verbatim?
  • Do you believe Allah as depicted in the Quran to be benevolent or malevolent, just or unjust?
  • Do you believe God as depicted in the Bible to be benevolent or malevolent, just or unjust?
  • etc.
The qualifying questions may vary depending on the surveyor. They are simply to qualify participants and group them by their location, religious affiliation, and self proclaimed knowledge of their respective holy texts. 

 You might tell participants you are conducting a scriptural literacy survey in order to grade how well clergy are representing God's word, or something to this affect. This would be mostly true ;).

 Next, present participants with three verses at a time.  You may also use sets of five scriptures. The main thing is I want to avoid the 50/50 chance they would have if you showed them two scriptures. Ask them to check which they think are Biblical and which are Quranic. Make the first three to five or so sets fairly easy. Then increase difficulty.

 Here are some examples:

Please identify the following verses to be Biblical or Quranic:

  •  For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
  • And who believe in that which is revealed unto thee (Muhammad) and that which was revealed before thee, and are certain of the Hereafter.
  • The lightning almost snatcheth away their sight from them. As often as it flasheth forth for them they walk therein, and when it darkeneth against them they stand still. If Allah willed, He could destroy their hearing and their sight. Lo! Allah is able to do all things.
This set would definitely be considered "easy" as the Biblical verse is a commonly recited one, and the two Quranic verses refer to Allah, the unmistakable name of God in the Muslim tradition.

 Here is a more difficult set:

  • O mankind! worship your Lord, Who hath created you and those before you, so that ye may ward off evil.
  • He said: O Adam! Inform them of their names, and when he had informed them of their names, He said: Did I not tell you that I know the secret of the heavens and the earth ? And I know that which ye disclose and which ye hide.
  • And ye shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof: it shall be a jubile unto you; and ye shall return every man unto his possession, and ye shall return every man unto his family.
This set also contains two Quranic and one Biblical Scripture. I chose them at random.

 Your intermediate difficulty sets should contain scriptures that sound common to each other in language or topic. Example:

  • Scripture about helping the poor
  • Scripture about loving your parents
  • Scripture about obeying the laws of the land, etc
  • Scripture about sacrificing animals
  • Scripture about God's wrath on sinners
  • Scripture about hell

 Next, I will chose one "nice" Quranic passage and two bloody ones from the Bible:

  • Samaria shall become desolate; for she hath rebelled against her God: they shall fall by the sword: their infants shall be dashed in pieces, and their women with child shall be ripped up.
  • And they utterly destroyed all that was in the city, both man and woman, young and old, and ox, and sheep, and ass, with the edge of the sword.
  • And remember when We made a covenant with the Children of Israel, saying: Worship none save God only, and be good to parents and to kindred and to orphans and the needy, and speak kindly to mankind; and establish worship and pay the poor-due. Then, after that, ye slid back, save a few of you, being averse.
 You get the idea.

 For the first few "easy" sets, use Allah where it is written in your particular translation, to make it obvious to the participant. In the next sets, advise the participant you have replaced the word Allah with more neutral terms like God or The Lord. Tell them you have removed parenthesis and other punctuation that might give away the source of the text (KJV has italics in some places, my English Quran translations have parenthesis in various places). The idea is to see if they can discern the content of the text itself, not artifacts such as punctuation or nomenclature left by the translators.

 I would do three easy sets, three intermediate sets, and nineteen or forty-four difficult sets for each participant.

 What would this prove? Well, we can't count on every Christian to know every verse in every book of the Bible. This is not to test their memory of what's where, but rather to quantify their confirmation bias in attributing scriptures to a particular deity (you could even do the same thing with Hitler and the Pope 'Who did this nice thing or that evil thing?'). If they believe the god of the Christians is only capable of perfect justice and good will, and the god of Islam is full of murder and hate, then they are likely to identify a verse that explicitly describes God performing abortions on folks he don't like to be the work of Allah, and a verse commanding us to be kind to our grandparents and orphans to be from none other than our loving God of the Bible (as I have shown in my third example set, this is untrue). Also we want to evaluate their knowledge of the content of the Bible (Did they know God aborts babies? Do they ignore such scriptures?). Maybe this will shed some light on how different they think they are from their enemies, and how similar they are in reality.

 Of course, you must flip the equation so that good verses from the bible and bad ones from the Quran exist in one set. This would only be fair to the participants.

 Only reveal the results to the participants after the questionnaire is completed. Even then, you may choose to not reveal their score directly to them, but rather post the overall findings in your blog (and mine too!) including some individual questionnaires you found particularly illuminating. Don't tell them the ratio of Biblical:Quranic scripture in each set.

 The participant is not to take help from bystanders, internet, or on the telephone during the survey.

As for finding the actual scriptures, I used the Skeptic's Annotated Bible. It categorizes each and every Biblical, Quranic, and Mormon scripture by several criteria. It's easy to quickly find "good stuff", "injustice", "contradictions", etc. I try to be subjective with this resource though. Some scriptures categorized as contradictions didn't seem all that contradictory to me. Use your own judgment, as in all cases, when choosing scriptures.

 My hypothesis is this:

  • Easy sets will tend to be answered correctly most of the time.
  • Medium difficulty sets among casual or non-practicing Christians will be random.
  • Medium difficulty sets among more studied Christians will begin to show a little less randomness.
  • Difficult sets among casual or non-practicing Christians will be heavily incorrect.
  • Difficult sets among more studied Christians will be... I don't know! Maybe we'll find out!
  • Over all, participants as a whole will display less than 25% accuracy.
 Please, If you think this is a good idea and decide to try it, let me know about it, and please post your findings here. Or if you can make this idea better, let me know! I am fascinated by statistics, though I am not particularly skilled at designing experiments. If you are, I'd like you help.


  1. I am testing the anonymous comment feature so Ben can stop making excuses and leave his two cents...

  2. $4.89...look at that...$4.87 more than you expected.

    Id be willing to bet most people will exude an extreme ignorance about the koran. I doubt people realize how similar the two books are in regards to bloody violence, warm n fuzzy, etc...

  3. That is quite simply an experiment tinged with genius.
    Thank you. Have you had any feedback from people who have tried it?
    It's something that Tversky and Kahneman would be proud of....

  4. I haven't heard from any one regarding results for this experiment, most likely because not many people read my blog... YET! However, I would wager more people have read my blog than have read the Bible.

  5. I think churches are full of people who SAY they have read the Bible. Kind of like people who say they have read Wuthering Heights or The Satanic Verses.
    I commend you on your stance but understand the need to do it 'surreptitiously'. Isolation for one's views can be frightening. If only freedom of speech were more than just an idea. The pressures that communities and families place on their members to conform is often insidious and camouflaged as love.
    Also, it is impossible to legislate against.

  6. The purpose of this experiment is to prove that some people cannot memorize the whole Bible or the Quran? o.O Differentiating two books, especially ones with history based on a similar region and written long ago with so many versions, is a little tough. But I kinda like your experiment, maybe it will bring some people to the realization that they really aren't that deep in their faith and that should be more accepting of other religions instead depending on stereotypes (like the whole terrorist thing).

  7. The experiment isn't really an attempt to see if people have memorized their holy texts, but rather to shed light on peoples bias for their own faith by pitting nice and not so nice scriptures from both books against eachother. Since Cristians don't typically read the Bible for themselves, they are likely to be unaware of (or choose to ignore) nice little gems like Hosea 13:16. Therefore I predict Cristians will attribute nice scriptures to Yaweh, and naughty ones to Allah, regardless of which book the scripture actually came from.

    Thanks for reading!