atheist v. Muslim – part 1
I play soccer on occasion during the lunch hour at my university. One of the other players (probably the best player) is an Iranian-American, “H”, who is also Muslim (he’s in IT). He asked me what I teach and when I told him Sociology of Religion, he became very interested. He said his favorite topic is religion. I knew where this would end up going, but I thought it would be fun to go there anyway. He eventually suggested we do lunch, which we did. Over lunch a number of topics were raised, resulting in the following email to me:
Good morning ProfXM,
Here is a short list of what Quran says about life and universe as we know it. I know there are more. But this should keep you busy for a while.
Creation of the universe. Smoke, dust, plume.
Surah Hud:7 He it is Who created the heavens and the earth in six Days – and His Throne was over the waters – that He might try you, which of you is best in conduct.
Mathematical relationship in the Quran:
790 AC Muhammad became a prophet
1338 AC Quran www.mfa.org
1436 Printing machine was invented
If you have any questions, please ask.
Here’s my response:
I did very much enjoy our discussion. I’ve looked up a couple things as a result.
First, it looks like we were both at least partially correct regarding the history of the Quran, per this summary:
Apparently there were multiple versions of the Quran (probably as many as there were reciters) prior to Abu Bakr. However, it was the third caliph Uthman ibn Affan, in 650, who destroyed all of the written variants of the Quran and created the version that is used today. So, between the time Mohammed began receiving the revelations (610) and the time of the creation of the Mushaf (650), there were many versions. But through the efforts of Uthman ibn Affan, those were destroyed and there is now just one. I suggested there were many versions and you said there were not. We’re both right: there were many versions for about 40 years, after which the many versions were destroyed and only one remained. Also, this version of events is supported by this professor’s website as well.
As far as the scientific miracles of the Quran go, I found this article informative:
Apparently there is a movement of apologists/exegists who claim that the Quran aligns with science. But most of those claims require really, really loose interpretations of the text, interpretations that likely would have been completely foreign to Muslims in the 600s.
As for your specific examples:
- If I’m not mistaken, the claim that the universe was made from “smoke” comes Surah 41: Fusilat:
- 41:11 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.
- The article you cited, http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2003/07/030723084654.htm, does NOT say that the universe was created from smoke or dust. Rather what it says is that planets are likely formed from cosmic “dust” that is “more akin to smoke”. It doesn’t say that it is either dust or smoke, but rather small particles. The makeup of those particles is detailed here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cosmic_dust The term “dust” is just a descriptor; it is not a technical definition of what this matter is. Thus, to claim that the Quran correctly foresaw that science would conclude that the universe was created from dust is wrong on two counts: (1) The universe contains “cosmic dust” but is not just cosmic dust. Cosmic dust is created by exploding stars; it does not create the universe. (2) The verse from Surah 41 says that heaven was created from smoke, but the comparison to smoke is not to suggest that “cosmic dust” is actually smoke but rather to make it understandable to laypeople. To selectively compare one verse from one Surah of the Quran to one press release about cosmic dust is to selectively examine both the Quran and science.
- The above also doesn’t address what verse 11 also says, that Allah spoke to both heaven (which is not clearly defined, but we’ll pretend means “all of outerspace”) and earth and THEY SPOKE BACK. Does this mean to say that both heaven and earth are alive? That seems quite far-fetched.
- The claim that Allah’s Throne “was over the waters” is a major major stretch of the science. You give the verse from Surah 11: Hud:
- 11:7 And He it is Who created the heavens and the earth in six Days – and His Throne was upon the water – that He might try you, which of you is best in conduct. Yet if thou (O Muhammad) sayest: Lo! ye will be raised again after death! those who disbelieve will surely say: This is naught but mere magic.
- You are definitely selectively quoting from this verse and suggesting an interpretation that is not in line with what the verse says. I’m not a Quranic scholar, but if you read the part you took out “throne upon the water” in the context of the whole verse, the suggestion of the verse is that this “throne upon the water” is likely some sort of metaphor to suggest that a throne on water is the best place to view humans in order to judge them. I don’t really understand the metaphor, but that is the suggestion.
- Now compare that interpretation to yours, in which you cite another press release that talks about baryons in interstellar space. Yes, this interstellar matter is primarily hydrogen and oxygen, but it’s not combined in a liquid form (a.k.a. water). A close reading of that article says quite clearly the state of the hydrogen and oxygen – it is separate, ionized, and extremely hot. In other words, the hydrogen and oxygen are not combined in a liquid form of H20 but rather are not combined at all and are in a gaseous, ionized state. Ergo, no water at all!
- Thus, to suggest that Surah 11:7 suggests that Allah’s Throne is on water is a reference to very hot, ionized matter in interstellar space is a major reach. And that isn’t even including the fact that if Allah has a Throne, then Allah cannot be infinite.
- Regarding the claim that there are mathematical relationships in the Quran (http://www.eholyquran.com/Quran/LinksPrime/MathematicalMiraclesOfQuran.htm)… This is simply a twist of similar claims about there being a Bible Code: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bible_code Reputable statisticians have illustrated (if you read the entire Wikipedia article provided) that such “relationships” are easily discerned in any text, assuming you define what you want to find ahead of time then modify the technique for finding it so that it appears. In other words, I guarantee you that you could find the same mathematical relationship you are suggesting in the text of Wikipedia if you look hard enough. And unless you want to claim that Wikipedia was inspired by Allah, I’d suggest you rethink your argument here as well.
- I’m not exactly sure what you are suggesting with some of the remaining verses, but I looked them up:
- 51:47 “We have built the heaven with might, and We it is Who make the vast extent (thereof).”
- This one intrigues me as it seems to suggest that there is more than one God as the first-person plural is used here. “We have built…” That would fit with the cultural milieu of the time, as there were many local gods when Mohammad lived.
- I think your point here is that the verse suggests the heavens are vast. That is something that a 6th-7th century merchant could have discerned simply by looking up. There is, of course, no discussion of how vast (e.g., light years across).
- 21:30-33 “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 ? Will they not then believe ? And We have placed in the earth firm hills lest it quake with them, and We have placed therein ravines as roads that haply they may find their way. And we have made the sky a roof withheld (from them). Yet they turn away from its portents. And He it is Who created the night and the day, and the sun and the moon. They float, each in an orbit.”
- This one is also intriguing. At best you could argue one element of this section is close to scientifically accurate – it’s likely life originated in water (i.e., “we made very living thing of water”). As a result, living cells are mostly water. But this gets a lot of other stuff really wrong from a scientific standpoint. It claims the earth and heavens were one piece, which contradicts the idea that the heavens were smoke (earlier claim). What’s more, the earth and heavens were never really one piece unless you really stretch this and claim a singularity. And, of course, if you do that, then you can’t claim, as is claimed in various places in the Quran, that the universe was created in 6 days.
- This also suggests that the sun orbits the earth, like the moon does. Reinterpreting this to suggest that the sun orbits the black hole at the center of the Milky Way, which also orbits galactic central point is a major reach and not something Mohammad could have known. In other words, the Quran here suggests the sun and moon revolve around the earth, which is scientifically wrong.
- These verses also use the first-person plural, which suggests polytheism rather than monotheism.
- 51:7 “By the heaven full of paths,” makes no sense to me. I think it needs to be interpreted in light of the surrounding verses, but it still makes no sense to me.
- 78:6 “Have We not made the earth an expanse,”
- All this suggests is that the earth is big. It also suggests it is flat, but I don’t think it has to. Again, this is something that anyone who could see in the 6th Century could have understood.
- 55:19-20 “He hath loosed the two seas. They meet. There is a barrier between them. They encroach not (one upon the other).”
- Not sure I know what this is talking about, but it seems to be nothing more than a suggestion that there are two large bodies of water separated by a land mass. Again, a merchant like Mohammad from the 6th Century could have seen two large bodies of water (e.g., Red Sea and Indian Ocean) separated by a large land mass (e.g., Saudi Arabia) in his travels. I’m not sure why this should be interpreted to mean anything other than what it does.
- 23:12-14 “Verily We created man from a product of wet earth; Then placed him as a drop (of seed) in a safe lodging; Then fashioned We the drop a clot, then fashioned We the clot a little lump, then fashioned We the little lump bones, then clothed the bones with flesh, and then produced it as another creation. So blessed be Allah, the Best of creators!”
- This looks like a 6th-7th Century interpretation of sexual reproduction: (1) product of wet earth is what semen would look like; (2) drop of seed in safe lodging is ejaculating in a woman’s vagina; (3) the drop becomes a clot or lump, which would be observed as a miscarriage which would be quite common in those days; (4) that this ultimately becomes something of flesh and bone is not at all surprising. I fail to see how this is miraculous as pretty much all humans who were semi-literate in the 6th-7th Centuries would have had this rudimentary an understanding of sexual reproduction.
- 39:6 “He created you from one being, then from that (being) He made its mate; and He hath provided for you of cattle eight kinds. He created you in the wombs of your mothers, creation after creation, in a threefold gloom. Such is Allah, your Lord. His is the Sovereignty. There is no God save Him. How then are ye turned away ?
- This verse is clearly not scientific. Yes, people grow in the womb of their mother (which would have been common knowledge in the 6th-7th Century), but the first part of the verse suggests that Allah created one person, Adam, then created Eve out of Adam, which is, of course, not at all plausible or scientific. It also does not mesh with evolution.
Additionally, another website I found documents a number of clear scientific errors in the Quran:
Here’s a sample of the errors:
- the Quran claims humans were created from one person; humans were not created from a single man; evolution is universally accepted by legitimate scientists today (4:1)
- claims that Egyptians used crucifixion, which could not have been the case as it was invented by the Romans thousands of years later (7:124)
- claims the earth is flat (13:3)
- hail (frozen rain) comes from mountains (24:43)
- claims the sun revolves around a fixed earth (27:61)
- Mohammad supposedly split the moon into two pieces (54:1-2)
- claims the moon emits light, which is not true (71:16)
- claims semen is created between the loins and the ribs, not in the testicles (86:5-7)
In short, while there are no extant variations of the Quran (other than the many translations), the one version we do have is riddled with scientific inaccuracies. The claimed miracles you provide require a very loose, selective interpretation of the Quran that would really only be accepted by someone who wants the Quran to be true, not by someone who is skeptical about the Quran being a book dictated by Allah.
Stay tuned for the follow-up…