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Old 07-02-2010, 10:49 AM
Location: Littleton, CO
20,894 posts, read 13,645,039 times
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When evaluating claims of miraculous scientific information in “revealed” scriptures such as the Qur’an, it is critical to remember the dictum, “Extraordinary claims demand extraordinary proof.” For certainly, miracles are not to be taken lightly. If miracles really are the results of direct intervention by God, and if they truly are meant as signs to prove both His existence and His power, then we should expect them to serve those purposes in a clear and unambiguous manner. If God is going through all that trouble to provide us with signs, it would defeat His purpose to make the signs difficult to recognize.

God is not a Las Vegas magician, and His miracles should reasonably be several cuts above the prestidigitation of Penn and Teller. An all-powerful universal God would doubtlessly be capable of providing miracles that were unchallengeable, unambiguous and dramatic. And it is fully conceivable that God would embed such clear signs of His power and omniscience within His revelation.

The claim of “scientific miracles” in the Qur’an rests upon the contention that the book contains specific and detailed scientific knowledge that can only have been revealed to Muhammad miraculously, i.e. that there was no possible non-miraculous way for such information to have been known to a 7th Century Arab.

So it stands to reason that if there actually were non-miraculous ways for such information to be available, no miracle can be demonstrated. And it is important to test such claims, for we are not involved in a casual conversation about fashion or dietary preferences. We are talking about alleged proofs for the divine origin of the Qur’an.


For a “scientific statement” in the Qur’an to be considered miraculous, it must be capable of passing a four-part test that removes the possibility of a non-miraculous origin of the information:

1) It must be an unambiguous statement of scientific fact requiring no elaborate interpretation to discern its factual meaning.

This point cannot be stressed too intensely. For the scientific information in question must actually be in the Qur’an itself, and not something added later as part of a commentary. If the critical information that distinguishes a “scientific miracle” from a casual statement of obvious fact is not explicitly in the clear words and meaning of the Qur’an, we cannot trust it as even being there.

If the verse has to be “interpreted” to extract hidden meaning that is not obviously there, the claim of a miracle has been “corrupted” by the commentary, and cannot be considered valid.

2) The fact must have been previously unknown to every other non-Islamic civilization that had contact with the Arabian Peninsula.

Key to the claim of “scientific miracles” in the Qur’an is the contention that the information included was unknown until recently, or at least until many years after the death of Muhammad. So, of course, if it can be shown that the information was already available to other peoples or cultures with whom the Arabs were in contact, this claim is shown to be simply false.

It does not matter the source of that other culture’s information. It may have been a lucky guess, it may have been the result of precocious scientific achievement… in fact it may even potentially have been a miracle the other culture had experienced years before.

But if that information was available before the Qur’an was written down, there can be no credit to the claim of a “Qur’anic miracle.”

3) It must not be obvious to any casual observer.

This may sound like an obvious point, but given the nature of many of the stock “miracles” claimed by Muslim apologists, it still must be discussed explicitly. For often, what is claimed to be a miracle of the Qur’an is something of which any individual with his or her eyes open would have been aware.

If the information in question is available to anyone who simply looks at the phenomenon, requiring no sophisticated instruments, tools or interpretation, then it cannot be considered miraculous.

4) It must be true.

As with the previous point, this one sounds intuitively obvious. But it too requires explicit mention as occasionally the claims of Qur’anic “miracles” depend on misunderstandings or misstatements about reality and science. If the information in question is not actually true, then certainly it cannot be a miraculous revelation from God, as God should be expected to know what is or is not true.

With this foundation in place, let’s take a look at some of the “miracles” that are commonly claimed by Muslims regarding the Qur’an..

”Miracle” 1: Qur’anic Embryology:

We created man from an extract of clay. Then We made him as a drop in a place of settlement, firmly fixed. Then We made the drop into an alaqah (leech, suspended thing, and blood clot), then We made the alaqah into a mudghah (chewed substance)... 1 (Quran, 23:12-14)

Literally, the Arabic word alaqah has three meanings: (1) leech, (2) suspended thing, and (3) blood clot.

This claim fails at least three, and possibly all four of the tests.

The claim requires a vast amount of reinterpretation before the clear words of the Qur’an can be made to conform even vaguely with what is known about embryological development. For example, “chewed substance” is not obviously a reference to a developing embryo at all, at least to anyone familiar with the structure and organization of one. The very fact that alaqah can be translated three very different ways leaves wide latitude for unjustified interpretation, and such interpretation is rampant in apologetic literature.

The details (excluding the elaboration found in the Hadith) are simply this: first you are an “extract of clay.” Then you are a “drop of semen” (nutfah). Then you become a “blood clot” or “leech” (alaqah), then you become a “lump of chewed meat” (mugdah).

None of these are “unambiguous statements of scientific fact.” They only can be imbued with such meaning by later reinterpretation.

The specific details as reflected in the Qur’an conform quite well to the earlier (and wrong) descriptions of embryonic development provided by the Greek Physician Galen who died almost half a millennium before Muhammad was born. But where Galen attempted to make his descriptions as scientific as possible, the Qur’an seems like more of a vernacular gloss, as if the author was aware of the Greek understanding, but didn’t really get the details.

Most importantly is the correlation between “alaqah” and Galen’s observations that the developing embryo spent a period of time as, essentially, a blood clot. We now know this is not true, but given the limitations of Galen’s equipment, it was not an unreasonable interpretation during the 2nd Century. This observational mistake is repeated without challenge in the Qur’an itself 500 years later.

While the phases described in the Qur’an are scientifically wrong, they are at least quite understandable. Any male would be aware of semen (nutfah), and anyone who had witnessed the results of an early term miscarriage could be forgiven for understanding what they saw as either a “clot of blood” (alaqah) or a “morsel of chewed flesh” (mudgah). Such a description would require no unique or miraculous scientific knowledge, and would in fact be obvious to any unfortunate observer.

In actuality, such a description was probably the common understanding of Arab adults during the first millennium, even without having conversations with Jibreel.

And then finally, when the rubber meets the road, the description turns out to not even be true. At no time in embryonic development are we an extract of clay, a drop of semen, a blood clot, or a chewed substance. Of these three phases, the “drop of semen” in particular represent the flawed belief that we were all originally contained in a “seed” deposited by the father alone, ignoring the fact that an egg is provided by the mother for fertilization.

The problem is compounded when the Hadith is included in the discussion, as several ahadith describe each phase (nutfah, alaqah and mudgah) as taking 40 days. Such timing renders even the most generous attempts at conforming the Qur’an with real embryological development completely unintelligible.

The only conclusion that can be reached is that there is no “miraculous embryological information” contained within the Qur’an.

Qur’anic embryology fails four part test the test.

Now with this example, we have shown in detail the approach that must be used when assessing the claims of “miraculous scientific knowledge” in the Qur’an. The rest of this discussion will be less exhaustive and more directly to the point. But you now understand the thought process necessary to reach reasonable conclusions.

”Miracle” 2: Qur’anic Geology:

Have We not made the earth as a bed, and the mountains as pegs? (Quran, 78:6-7)

And He has set firm mountains in the earth so that it would not shake with you... (Quran, 16:15)

Using these two ayaat, Muslim apologists makes two resulting claims: First that the mountains really are pegs, and secondly, that mountains “hinder the shaking of the earth.

The first of these claims fails test 1, and both of them fail test 4.

Let’s look first at the discussion of mountains as “pegs.” One Muslim author wrote, “Modern earth sciences have proven that mountains have deep roots under the surface of the ground and that these roots can reach several times their elevations above the surface of the ground. So the most suitable word to describe mountains on the basis of this information is the word ‘peg,’ since most of a properly set peg is hidden under the surface of the ground.”

I can only marvel at the very weird “pegs” this author is familiar with. More distinctive than being “mostly underground” is the fact that every peg with which I am familiar is taller than it is wide. One is even led to ponder how you would go about driving a peg that was essentially flat, for that is the real shape of the mountains. They are broad disks riding on the margins of the tectonic plates, not sharp spikes driven through them. For the author to focus on the “roots” of a mountain as being deeper than the mountains are tall, and ignore that mountains are several orders of magnitude wider than they are deep is bizarre. In truth, the claim that “peg” is the “most suitable word to describe mountains” is absolutely laughable, when more appropriate words such as “raft, disk or crumple” are readily available.

The second claim is even funnier, as it is complete opposition with the truth. The author (and many other Muslim authors) claim that mountains stabilize the crust of the earth and reduce the number of earthquakes.

In actuality, the most active earthquake zones in the world are in mountainous areas, and the fewest earthquakes are found where there are no mountains at all. There are very good, and very well understood reasons for this: Earthquakes and mountains are created by the same geological phenomenon.

Mountains build as a direct result of tectonic plates either colliding with each other, or moving past each other. Such events begin to crumple the crust, creating both mountains and he faults that generate earthquakes. The actual events that constitute mountain building are earthquakes.

In other words, mountains do NOT reduce earthquakes. Mountains are CAUSED by earthquakes.

If mountains reduced earthquakes, we would expect areas without mountains to have the most earthquakes. What we see is the opposite. This fails spectacularly the fourth part of the test.

The claim is not true.

”Miracle” 3: Qur’anic Cosmology:

Then He turned to the heaven when it was smoke... (Quran, 41:11)

Have not those who disbelieved known that the heavens and the earth were one connected entity, then We separated them?... (Quran, 21:30)

Here we find one of those delightful moments when Islamic apologists let their wild imaginations completely run away with them. For here we find them taking claim for the concept of the “big bang” armed with nothing more than a reference to “smoke” and another to the splitting of the “heavens and the earth.”

First, let us at least observe that this first Qur’anic verse is taken completely out of context. It actually describes a time after the creation of the Earth (which took 4 days), but before the creation of the “seven heavens” (which took two more days).

Here are the actual verses in context:

041.009 - Say (O Muhammad, unto the idolaters): Disbelieve ye verily in Him Who created the earth in two Days, and ascribe ye unto Him rivals? He (and none else) is the Lord of the Worlds.

041.010 - He placed therein firm hills rising above it, and blessed it and measured therein its sustenance in four Days, alike for (all) who ask;

041.011 - Then turned He to the heaven when it was smoke, and said unto it and unto the earth: Come both of you, willingly or loth. They said: We come, obedient.

041.012 - Then He ordained them seven heavens in two Days and inspired in each heaven its mandate; and We decked the nether heaven with lamps, and rendered it inviolable. That is the measuring of the Mighty, the Knower.

Yet the author is trying to say this refers to a period of time BEFORE the earth was formed. He correlates it to, “one point in time [when], the whole universe was nothing but a cloud of ‘smoke’”

Well, unfortunately, the Qur’an disagrees with this correlation, so that cannot possible be the meaning of the verse. In this gross reinterpretation of the verse, requiring even the contradiction of the clear context of the Qur’an, the author has violated part one of the test in spades.

The second verse is equally problematic, but this time in relation to the fourth part of the test.

The author is attempting to claim here that the division of earth from heaven constitutes the moment of the “big bang” at which the single entity of the primordial universe flew apart into its component parts. But getting this to correlate with real cosmology is not actually possible.

For the “Earth” referred to in the Qur’an is clearly the planet on which we reside, and not some generic term referring to matter in general. It is clear that the author of the Qur’an was not aware of other planets, solar systems or galaxies, for they are never even hinted at. Allah places hills on the Earth, rising above it. He measured into it it’s “sustenance.”

But the Earth did not arise until some 10 billion years after the “big bang” took place. So the event described, the one in which the Earth was separated from the heavens can be no longer ago than the formation of the solar system, or about 4.5 billion years ago. The “big bang” had been over by almost 10 billion years by that time, so these cannot possible be the same events.

And all of this ignores the fact that the Qur’anic test would be a woefully inadequate description of the “big bang” even if that was what was being referred too.

Closing discussion:

The four-part test provides a necessary tool for evaluating claims of “miraculous scientific knowledge” in the Qur’an. And it is excruciatingly fair in that it does not automatically eliminate all potential miracles from demonstration.

Certainly, if a verse were to be found in the Qur’an that said something like:

“And far away are the remains of exploded stars that are more dense than any earthly substance, and that spin rapidly, sending radio waves in rapid pulses which man will not see until he invents the radio telescope.”

It is an unambiguous statement of scientific fact requiring no elaborate interpretation to discern its factual meaning.

It was previously unknown to any other non-Islamic civilization that had contact with the Arabian Peninsula.

It was not obvious to any casual observer.

It is true.

Unfortunately, there does not appear to be a single verse in the Qur’an that is even vaguely like it.
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