Is Islam pro or con on science? Part 2
Last week, I mentioned that of the 6,000 verses in the Qur'an, only about 750 deal with natural phenomena. Starting in the 1970s and 80s, a movement began suggesting that there were "scientific miracles in the Qur'an." Books and information on the topic spread to Muslim bookstores, websites, and television programs of Islamic preachers. Muslim enthusiasts argued that the Qur'an abounds with "scientific facts" centuries before their discovery by science and thus demonstrating that the Qur'an must be of divine origin. Some of these verses that deal with natural phenomena are suggested to contain nuggets of knowledge about our universe, scientific knowledge that was unknown at the time the Prophet wrote the Qur'an. If the knowledge was unknown to Muhammad, Muhammad must have gotten it from the Angel Gabriel, inferring that the learning comes from a divine source.
The book that started the movement was The Bible, the Qur'an, and Science, published in 1976 and written by Dr. Maurice Bucaille. Dr. Bucaille argued that there were no scientific errors in the Qur'an and that the Bible was full of scientific inaccuracies. His book became a best seller in the Muslim world but was mainly refuted in the West. Later, a 1980s video, This is The Truth, produced by the Islamic scholar Abdul-Majeed al-Zindani carried the movement further. Again, al-Zindani promoted the Qur'an as having advanced knowledge of the natural world and universe. And again, most Western scientists were reluctant to agree. So, what are these claims?
Here are some examples of such miracles with the Qur'an chapter and verse in brackets:
· The Qur'an alludes to tectonic plates [13:4, 13:41, 86:12].
· The Qur'an says that flesh came before bones [23:14].
· The Qur'an predicts the Big Bang Theory [21:30].
· The Qur'an also predicts the universe will contract [21:105].
· The Qur'an talks about modern embryology [23:12-14].
· The Qur'an mentions iron being sent to the Earth [57:25].
· The Qur'an informs that the Earth isn't flat but round [31:29, 79:30].
· The Qur'an says the mountains have roots [78:6-7].
· The Qur'an says the moon does not produce light but reflects light [10:5].
I listed nine scientific claims that are supposedly mentioned in the Qur'an. There are at least two dozen more that I did not list. I will not explore all of the ones I listed, but only some of them. There are many articles about these claims, both pro, and con. I encourage the reader to search out their beliefs to the point where these claims are legit or not. My purpose for writing this article is not to prove or disprove these claims but to acknowledge them and report on what parties on both sides are saying.
The Sending Down of Iron "Miracle": In 57:25, the Qur'an mentions that iron was 'sent down" to the Earth. This verse refers to the fact that iron was sent down from space, something that has been scientifically confirmed. However, the ancient Egyptians knew this fact 1800 years before Muhammad. An interesting tidbit is that there was an iron dagger found in the tomb of King Tutankhamun, the boy king. Tut died around 1323 B.C., and iron smelting had not been invented yet, meaning that iron was a rare commodity that often came from meteors. The Assyrians and Babylonians had similar concepts for iron.
The Big Bang "Miracle": The Qur'an mentions the creation of the cosmos in the following way:
"Have not those who disbelieve known that the heavens and the earth were of one piece, then We parted them, and we made every living thing of water? [21:30]".
Again, the ancient Egyptians and the ancient Sumerians have similar stories.
The Mountains Have Roots "Miracle": The Qur'an says mountains have roots, and they are like stakes and pegs [78:6-7]. Current geology describes the whole mountain as a wedge shape and the visible mountain itself as a small part of the whole with roots in the ground. You can see that the most appropriate word to describe such an illustration is the word peg. Also, the modern theory of plate tectonics states that mountains work as stabilizers for the Earth. All this knowledge, including plate tectonics, has recently come to us only a few decades back. This verse is precisely what the Quran mentioned for mountains 1400 years ago. However, this same concept was mentioned in the Bible [Johah 2:6] about 1000 years before the Qur'an.
The Earth is Round "Miracle": This specific verse [31:29]in the Qur'an describes the night merging into the day and the day integrating into the night. It is reasoned that this transition could only occur if the Earth was round or spherical and rotating. The ancient Greeks knew that the world was round; observing the Earth's shadow during a lunar eclipse, as Aristotle noted, makes it clear. The Romans played along also. There are numerous Roman coins where, on the reverse of the coin, some local god is holding a globe to warrant their influence over the world. The Roman coin accompanying this article was minted by the Roman emperor Elagabalus in 222 AD, roughly 300 years before Muhammad. The coin is a silver denarius with the Goddess Providentia holding a globe in her right hand.
A second verse allegedly mentions the spherical shape of the Earth. It reads, "And after that, He spread the Earth" [79:30]. At first glance, the verse seems to make no assertion about the Earth's shape. But Bucailleists argue that the Arabic word for "spread," dahaha, is derived from the lexical root daha and its cognate udhiya, the latter of which refers to the egg of an ostrich. Hence, the verse implies that the Earth is shaped like an ostrich egg. So, is the Earth shaped like an ostrich egg? I pulled up some images of ostrich eggs, and they are oblong. The Earth, however, is rounder at the equator due to the spin on its axis. This outward bulge around the middle makes the poles appear flatter. This bulge gives the Earth a slightly squished shape called a geoid or an oblate sphere. Technically, Muhammad was incorrect, but he was in the ballpark when he made that prediction.
The Moon Reflecting Light "Miracle": One last example refers to the moon reflecting sunlight. The Qur'an reads, "It is He who made the sun a shining light and the moon a derived light" [10:5]. The claim made by advocates is that no one at the time, or even before, knew that the moon did not make its light. Skeptics point to Thales of Miletos, a Greek philosopher in the fifth century B.C. who wrote, "The moon is lighted from the sun."
Muhammad was a trader in 7th century Arabia and consequently was exposed to all kinds of scientific hearsay and presumptions of how the world operated. It would not be unexpected for these legends to end up in the Qur'an. As I read through these scientific statements, I noticed three characteristics that question the authenticity of the "miracles."
First, most of the miracles were historic. In other words, ancient philosophers already had the knowledge that was listed in the Qur'an. Second, the Qur'an was written in Arabic, and many of the words could mean one thing in a given context and mean something else in a different context. Many of the explanations had words that could be explained in multiple ways making the "miracles" more abundant no matter the context. Third, many "miracles" were brief statements with few details. A generalized statement could be interpreted as something it is not: the Qur'an allows multiple and multi-level meanings.
All in all, the scientific narrative takes away from the original purpose of the Qur'an. The Qur'an's goal was to influence people to believe in the one true God. The scientific description has only caused a stir between believers. Some people believe the narratives, and some people don't. It is safe to say that complex phenomenon are mentioned in the Qur'an, and science is a mere proof of the book's information.