The name of this informal fallacy comes from an old joke about a gunman from Texas, who shoots the side of a barn with his pistol, paints targets centered around each bullet hole, and then claims to be a master sharpshooter. You’ve all seen it before plenty of times. Any time you hop onto the History Channel and catch one of their specials on the “Prophecies of Nostradamus”, you’re seeing the TS fallacy in action. The quatrains that are used as the basis for post-facto measures of predictive capability are so vague that they can apply to any given event as long as you are judicious enough to choose when to take the passages literally and when to take them figuratively.
Obviously, the messianic prophecies are a classic example; however I see nothing supernatural, divine, or miraculous about the supposed “fulfillment” of scriptures that were known to the public during the time of Christ by the people who expressly wanted him to fit that role. My personal favorite example, though, is the the Bible Code. Its prophetic power is called somewhat into question after other books – like Moby Dick – are used to perform similar feat. In this link, for instance, someone shows how it predicted the death of Lady Di.
One particular spin on the TS fallacy I hadn’t seen before until recently can be attributed to the Muslims and their reading of the Quran. With the Bible, the focus is on showing how the prophecies of Isaiah and others show the coming of the messiah. This, then, serves to “prove” the authenticity of the book and its divine nature. Islam takes a completely different approach by saying that certain passages in the Quran make references to natural phenomena and scientific knowledge so specific and detailed that it – not the bible – has to have divine origins. Obviously no other explanation is possible.
Here are some examples. As Sam Harris would say, “prepare to be underwhelmed”.
At the age of revealing the holy Quran Arabs were excelled in poetry and prose, so the holy Quran challenged them by its eloquence. Now miracles of the holy Quran appeared in the scientific signs mentioned in a lot of verses, these verses indicate to scientific facts which have been discovered since only few decades, So humanity must know that the holy Quran is the word of Allah.
One of the scientific signs mentioned in the holy Quran is the piercing star. (1) The Almighty says in the beginning of surat Al-Tarek:
(وَالسَّمَاءِ وَالطَّارِقِ * وَمَا أَدْرَاكَ مَا الطَّارِقُ * النَّجْمُ الثَّاقِبُ)( الطارق: 1-3)
(By the heaven and the Tarik (The Knocker) * Ah, what will tell thee what the Tarik (The knocker) is! * The piercing Star!) (Quran 86:1-3)
The verse describes this phenomenon as the piercing star and this is more accurate description because the matter of the collapsed star which is condensed in singularity is the reason of forming the black hole. So the star itself still there condensed causing the existence of this empty space called black hole. When you describe this phenomenon as a black hole you actually are describing only the empty space but if you describe it the piercing star, then you are describing the matter of star condensed in singularity and the hole of empty space caused by this matter.
Part of the matter of accretion disk rotating supermassive black hole which is about to fall in the supermassive black hole is re-emitted as Relativistic jets which are extremely powerful twin jets of plasma being shot along the axis of spin of the accretion disk having a velocity approaching the speed of light. This jet knocks hardly and strongly any thing in its way and for long distances.
And due to the movement of this plasma jet it knocks the interstellar and the intergalactic medium producing real sound waves.
There are a handful of problems here. First is the almost mid boggling amount of wishful thinking it takes to infer from one particular translation of a two-sentence passage of the Quran that black holes exist and can emit sound. Second, other translations of the same passage speak of a star of “piercing brightness“, referring to the same as a “morning” or “night” star. With this additional insight it sounds like what they were describing is Venus, not some supermassive black hole in the middle of our galaxy. Knowledge of Venus was available to the ancients, and is no indicator of any advanced scientific knowledge “hidden” in the Quran.
In the holy Quran this movement is described as follows: (And he is the one who created the night, daylight, sun and the moon, all swimming in an orbit). (Quran, The Prophets: 33).
From my point of view, I think God used the names of the sun, moon, night, and daylight as symbols of the four heavenly cosmic creatures,
Night (darkness): nowdays symbolizes dark matter, or what is sometimes called the cosmic fluid, or fabric of cosmos. Dark matter did not glow by the passage of light. Daylight: symbolizes the gases of the earth atmosphere, or other gases in the universe that glow by the passage of light, Sun: symbolizes the stars and the sources of energy and cosmic tremendous heat radiation. Moon: a symbol of the cold rocky objects in the universe.
So night, daylight, sun, and moon are only a set of nearby symbols, that are close to us in the universe, and are having masses, energy, radiation…etc.
The idea behind all of this, is that if God is telling us: (All swimming in an orbit). This means that the natural mechanical movement of every thing in the universe, either it is radiation, dark matter, energy or solid masses, it is swimming, or what we call in physics wavy motion.
There’s several more pages going on about this, but you get the idea. The Quran’s use of the word “swimming” is seized upon and used as a basis for claiming that knowledge of the orbits of not only the earth, but of the sun around the galaxy and the behavior of electromagnetic radiation can all be ascertained.
A more logical, understandable, and simple explanation is that they thought the sun revolved around the earth. This belief is further substantiated by other passages like Surah 18:86 which reads, “Until, when he reached the setting of the sun, he found it set in a spring of murky water …” or Sura 21: 33: “(God is) the one Who created the night, the day, the sun and the moon. Each one is travelling in an orbit with its own motion”. Anything other than a mistaken impression of the behavior of the sun relative to the earth is difficult to support.
In the end, it appears that some in the Muslim community are trying to show that their religion and their holy book still have relevance in the 21st century by tying them both to our current, best scientific knowledge. Unfortunately, it only comes across as desperate, given the creative liberty needed in order to stretch a single-sentence passage into proof of black holes or the orbit of the sun in the galaxy. Combine that with the lack, to date, of any prediction based on Quranic “knowledge” that can be subject to some kind of scientific test. A cure for cancer? The genetic code for immortality? Faster than light travel? Things like that are supposedly in there too … but they’re obscured so well that the only way we can tell is after their discovery.
Convenient. Good job painting those targets around your bulletholes, guys.