Science in the Koran?

We live in a world of competing religious ideas. The faithful are in a never-ending battle to prove once and for all that theirs is the correct faith. Dr Zakir Naik is no exception; a medical doctor by trade, he has turned his efforts to proving that Islam is the one true religion. Part of his argument is that the Qur’an or Koran is a book of science rather than faith. His efforts not only distort science and history, but also manage to abuse the very texts he deems sacred. He is the head of the Islamic Research Foundation; I will be referring to one of their documents, called “The Qur’an and Modern Science: Compatible or Incompatible?”. As with Christian apologists who try to fit the evidence to the Bible, Muslim apologists are playing the same game.

The Big Bang

The Big Bang theory was the result of multiple lines of evidence, all pointing toward a single conclusion. The universe, that is, all of space-time and matter began as an infinitely dense and hot singularity. The Koran has this to say on creation:

Do not the Unbelievers see That the heavens and the earth were joined together (as one Unit of Creation), before We clove them asunder? Surah 21:30

If you do not recognize the Big Bang theory in this, you are not alone. Everything interesting about the Big Bang theory is missing. Where is the formation of matter from the hot big bang, the cooking of hydrogen into helium, the ratio of photons to matter, or the symmetry between the four fundamental forces of nature? Students of mythology will find the idea of the heavens and the earth being sundered very familiar, as this very idea appears in other creation myths, most notably in the Greek cosmogony.
Dr. Naik then goes on to suggest that this passage describes the formation of galaxies.

Moreover, He Comprehended In His design the sky, And it had been (as) smoke: He said to it And to the earth: ‘Come ye together, Willingly or unwillingly.’ They said: ‘We do come (Together), in willing obedience Surah 41:11

On the topic of Surah 41, it is odd that Dr. Naik chose the above passage, but ignored Surah 41:9 which states:

Say: Disbelieve ye verily in Him Who created the earth in two Days

Why are we to take one verse as proof of the Koran’s authenticity, but not the other? The earth was not created in two days, and multiple lines of evidence point toward that conclusion. Anyone wanting to argue that the Koran is compatible with modern science will find any passage describing the creation of the earth in such a short time an embarrassment. If one passage could partially fit a scientific theory, and another completely misses, then what use is our line-by-line analysis if reading the text in context produces a completely different meaning?

It may seem that I am kicking around a straw man, but Dr. Naik is taken seriously by many Islamic apologists. I can not count the times I was referred to this very document that I am currently deconstructing.

The Expanding Universe

Here Dr. Naik gets creative when trying to fit in the idea of the expansion of the universe.

With the power and skill Did We construct The Firmament: For it is We Who create The vastness of Space. Surah 51:47

Did you see the bit about the expansion of the universe? When this passage was proudly trumpeted online as proof of the divine nature of the Koran, it was met with confused silence. No one who was unfamiliar with Dr. Naik understood this passage as pertaining to the expansion of the universe. As the cliché goes: what we have here is failure to communicate. Dr. Naik claims the original Arabic refers to expansion. I don’t know if that is true or not, but I examined two different translations – this one and the Mamaduke Pickthall translation – and both refer to space being vast in extent but not expanding. If Dr. Naik is correct, then two individuals have independently made the same mistake. If the text can not pass unaltered from one language to another, then what chance does it have to pass from one scribe to the next, or even from one mind to another? Dr. Naik, with one passage, has demonstrated that we can not take any sentence as reliable.

The Shape of the Earth
Since the time of the ancient Greeks, people had known that the earth was a sphere. Dr. Naik would like to pretend that the knowledge accumulated by the Greeks never existed. He not only must rewrite history in order to make his point, he must also rewrite his own holy book! Dr. Naik claims that the Koran specifies the earth as spherical in Surah 79.

And the earth, moreover, Hath He made egg shaped. Surah 79:30

The egg in this case is an ostrich egg, which is far more rounded than the chicken eggs with which we are most familiar. The Koran appears to be “close enough” on the shape of the earth. However, when I looked up this passage in my copy of Koran I found this instead:

And after that He spread the earth, Surah 79:30 Marmaduke Pickthall Translation

I had to check a couple of times to make sure I had the right verse. I am at a loss to explain how both phrases could be derived from the same original text. Translations certified by Islamic scholars as being highly reliable also do not have the “egg-shaped” description. Dr. Naik, a so-called ‘scholar’, had somehow missed these interpretations – or has he changed of the words of the Koran? If it is fine with Dr. Naik to change some of the words, then why not all of them?

If we do what Dr. Naik fails to do, and place the Koran in to proper historical context, we  find that the Greeks have figured out the shape of the earth hundreds of years before the Koran was written. Not in 1597 as Dr. Naik pretends; in the age of Google, how can Dr. Naik get this wrong? It hardly matters that the Greeks came to the knowledge first; what is more important is that human curiosity and ingenuity were employed to gain this knowledge. The revelations of the Koran are supposed to be miraculous, but where is the miracle if the information revealed is within the ken of humans to discover for themselves?

Embryology

The embryological stages were “revealed” in the Koran as well – sort of. Embryology and Evolutionary Developmental biology are very hot topics in science. What insight does the Koran have for us? Are you ready? Here it is:

Man We did create From a quintessence (of clay); Then We placed him As (a drop of) sperm In a place of rest, firmly fixed; Then We made the sperm Into a clot of congealed blood; Then of that clot We made A (foetus) lump; then We Made out of that lump Bones and clothed the bones With flesh; then We developed Out of it another creature. So blessed be Allah, The Best to create! Surah 23: 12-14

I was rather nonplussed reading this. That is supposed to be a revelation? Again, placing the Koran in its historical context, this description of embryology is terrible even for the time period. Aristotle, doomed to be treated unfairly in high school science textbooks, wrote a wonderful description of the developing embryo hundred of years before the Koran. Again, it is not important that he did it first – what is important is that he did not need divine revelation.
Conclusion

What has all this stretching and tortured interpretation of the Koran brought us? In the first half of the 20th century, the biggest debate in cosmology was between the Big Bang and the Steady State models. Where were the Islamic scholars with their prediction of a expanding universe? When Edwin Hubble first measured the expansion of the universe it came a shock to many scientists. The history of the Big Bang theory is well documented and there is no mention of the Koran. Youtuber ZOMGitsCriss got it right when she asked “If the Koran predicted the Big Bang, why did the scholar wait 1400 years to tell us about it?” Even more important is the question, why wait until after the science has been worked out to tell us the Koran predicted this all along. Retrodicting is always easier than predicting.

Dr. Naik has more examples that are even more embarrassing then these. I’ll skip them for now. Instead let’s consider this proposition:

Nothing is ever created by divine power out of nothing

This quote would seem to contradict all others but what is it? Those apologists who think a quote from an ancient books can replace knowledge would have to scramble to fit this in to their preconceived dogma. Yet the above is not from a holy text, rather it is from 2000 year old book of science and philosophy “On the Nature of the Universe”, written by Roman citizen Lucretius. The above quotation was not meant to stand alone, as it merely a statement of what Lucretius intends to demonstrate. It stands at the beginning of Lucretius’ beautiful and insightful reasoning. To pull one sentence out of the text is to reject the spirit of the text itself. Great works of literature come down to us from the ages, passing from copy to copy and even from language to language. Along the way much is lost, yet without translators and printing presses, these great works would only be available to the very few.  Apologists who pick apart their sacred texts sentence by sentence are doing the very thing they accuse religious sceptics of doing — taking their texts out of context.

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4 Responses to “Science in the Koran?”

  1. shauhardo iqbal Says:

    thanks for this.

  2. Well! regarding earth’s creation,I would say that I don’t know by God.But Big Bang,Embryo,Smoke,Rainfall,Colony of animals,Preservation of Pharoah’s body are fine nothing wrong.Before Big Bang space and matter were same entity.If you want to criticize everything then you will end up with so many http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_Bang you need to look at this thoroughly.It is also mentioned in Quran that universe is expanding and one day the Sun will going to dim.I am also skeptic.But there are fantastic scientific theories there also http://www.religiousforums.com/forum/science-religion/84199-scientific-miracles-hindu-scriptures-must-see.html .Quran clearly states that we send our messengers to every parts of the world.That’s the example.But still I am skeptic.The reason I will not gonna tell you 😛

  3. You really think this article was disproving a religion? Nope it was disproving the bogus claims that the Quran predicted all this modern science. It didn’t. But that is hardly disproving a religion.

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