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Scientific ‘Miracles’ in the Qur’an

by Hassan Radwan

The subject of "Scientific Miracles in the Qur'an" wasn’t one I wanted to address again because their flaws have been evident for some time & many Muslims distance themselves from them. Unfortunately they are still presented to non-Muslims at Dawah book stalls. This was brought home to me the other day when I shared a taxi with a young English couple who had recently converted to Islam. The first reason they gave was scientific miracles. So I’ve decided to address the issue one last time.  I have no issue with people believing what they want. It’s when they present it as undeniable fact that I have a problem.

There are 3 minimum requirements that must be met for such claims to be proven.

1. The knowledge didn’t exist

2. There’s no possible alternative meaning

3. The statements are scientifically accurate

Not a single claim meets these criteria. Let’s take a quick look at some of the main ones:

Embryology

The Qur’an makes references to the development of a foetus. However the Ancient Greeks as well as others described this in similar terms long before Islam. For example compare these Qur’anic statements to those of Galen, 500 years before Muhammad.

(Qur'an) Then placed him as a drop (23:13)

(Galen) First… the form of the semen prevails

(Qur'an) Then We made the drop a blood clot (23:14)

(Galen) (Then) it has been filled with blood

(Qur'an) Then he was a (clinging) clot (75:38)

(Galen) The foetus is attached to the womb just like fruit to a tree

(Qur'an) then We made the clot a morsel of flesh (23:14)

(Galen) (The foetus is) unarticulated & unshaped

(Qur'an) Then clothed the bones with flesh (23:14)

(Galen) It caused flesh to grow on & around all the bones

Btw regarding the latter verse, flesh & cartilage form simultaneously. This was pointed out to Adnan Rashid when he cornered PC Myers outside a conference in Dublin. Adnan immediately responded with Thumma can also mean simultaneously.

As for accuracy & alternative interpretations, look at the following verse:

فَلْيَنظُرِ الإِنسَانُ مِمَّ خُلِقَ خُلِقَ مِن مَّاء دَافِقٍ يَخْرُجُ مِن بَيْنِ الصُّلْبِ وَالتَّرَائِبِ

“Let man consider from what he is created. He is created from a gushing fluid that issues from between the backbone and ribs.” (86:5-7)

If the fluid is semen then this is inaccurate. Man is not created from semen. Semen is the vehicle sperm is carried in. Conception occurs when a sperm penetrates the ovum - the female egg. The Qur’an never mentions the female egg.  For anyone claiming miraculous scientific foreknowledge, that is an inexcusable omission.

The verse does however resemble the ancient belief that conception is caused by male & female fluids from all parts of the body. And that’s what some classical tafseers said. For example al-Qurtubi says:

مِن مَّآءٍ دَافِقٍ أي من المنِيّ... إن نزل من الدماغ، فإنما يمرّ بين الصلب والترائب. وقال قتادة: المعنى ويخرج من صلب الرجل وترائب المرأة... وقال الحسن: المعنى؛ يخرج من صلب الرجل وترائب الرجل، ومن صلب المرأة وترائب المرأة. ثم إنا نعلم أن النطفة من جميع أجزاء البدن

"The fluid is Semen... it comes down from the brain & passes between the backbone & ribs. Qatada said: It means the backbone of the man & the ribs of the woman... while al-Hasan said: it means the backbone & ribs of the man and the backbone & ribs of the woman, for as we know the Nutfah comes from all parts of the body.”

The problems with this verse have led to some creative apologetics. One is that the word “Sulb” is a euphemism for an erect penis and “tara’ib” a euphemism for the vagina. Another is that the words “issues from” actually refer to a baby coming out from the womb. Yet another says it means man is born from the loins of the male & fed by the breast of the female. The irony is that the more attempts at rescuing this verse, the deeper the hole they are digging for it.

Philip De Lay / On Semen, Volume 5, Part 3, Issue 1 by Galen / Akademie Verlag GmbH, Berlin / 1992 / Page 93

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Big Bang

Do they not see that the Heavens & Earth were one entity and we separated them?” (21:30)

Heaven being separated from Earth is a very old idea & many creation myths mention it.

The Sumerian “Song of the Hoe” said: "Did he hasten to separate heaven from earth, and hasten to separate earth from heaven"

The Babylonian myth of Enuma Elish says: “When the heavens had been separated from the earth.”

In the Chinese creation myth Pangu separated Earth from Sky, pushing the sky upward.

In Ancient Egyptian mythology Geb representing Earth and Nut representing Heaven were separated on the orders of the god Ra, creating the atmosphere by separating the sky from the earth.

It should be mentioned that under no circumstances can the Big Bang be described as Separating Heaven from Earth. The Big Bang wasn't an explosion of matter. It was an expansion of space. At no point was Earth separated from anything. On the contrary, Earth came together from debris 9 billion years after the initial expansion.

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Life from Water

وَجَعَلْنَا مِنَ الْمَاء كُلَّ شَيْءٍ حَيٍّ

“We made from water every living thing.” (21:30)

The claim is that the Qur’an confirms life originated in seas & lakes. However, again, this idea predates the Qur’an.

The book of Genesis echos the creation myths previously mentioned describing God dividing waters of heaven & earth - and then says:

“And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl that may fly above the earth” (1:20)

The ancient Greek philosopher Thales said water was the nature of all things.

And Anaximander put forward the astonishingly farsighted view that life started from warm water & earth - and emerged from fish like creatures from the sea.

As a result some Muslims have adjusted this claim & say it doesn’t simply mean life originated from water, but that all living things are composed of a high percentage of water.

The problem with that is the Qur’an doesn’t say ‘they are composed of a high percentage of water.’ One can’t claim a miracle on the basis that: “Yes, but it implies what I think it means.”

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Iron from the Sky

وَأَنْزَلْنَا الْحَدِيدَ فِيهِ بَأْسٌ شَدِيدٌ وَمَنَافِعُ لِلنَّاسِ

"We sent down iron." No one could have known meteors contained iron from space.

Just a quick search would reveal this is untrue. Many cultures knew that meteors contained iron.

For example 3000 years before Islam the Ancient Egyptians called iron the 'metal of heaven' because they knew that meteorites contained iron.

Plus most of the Iron we use doesn’t come from space but from underground.

It should also be noted that أنزل often simply means God gave it to them. For example the Qur’an also says:

“Oh children of Adam, we sent down clothing for you.”

When the advocates of these miracles insist there’s no possible alternative meaning other than the one they claim & that is undeniable proof the Qur’an is from God, they open themselves up to the counterclaim that if it is disproven then by the same logic that would disprove the Qur’an. Those who make these claims should ask themselves whether they are defending the Qur’an or actually undermining it.

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Expanding Universe

"We built the heaven with might & Indeed we are well able (51:47)

The claim is the Qur’an reveals the universe is continually expanding because the word مُوسعِ (Moosi’) is an active participle and so can give the meaning of an ongoing act.

However that’s not how the word was understood. Classical tafseers say it means ذو سعة “Possessing abundant ability" and اِنَّا لَمُوۡسِعُوۡنَ is similar to إِنَّا لَقَادِرُونَ “Verily we are well able/well capable”. This is supported by the fact that in the only other instance the word مُوسعِ Musi’ appears – (verse 236 of Sura Al-Baqara) - it says عَلى المُوسعِ قَدَرُهُ “The one with abundant means according to his capability”. For this reason the tafseers make this the preferred meaning. However some also say it can mean to make a vast & wide expanse.' Something any human looking at the sky can observe.

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Tafseer Al-Tabari

{ وَإنَّا لَمُوسِعُونَ } يقول: لذو سعة بخلقها وخلق ما شئنا أن نخلقه وقدرة عليه. ومنه قوله:{ عَلى المُوسعِ قَدَرُهُ وَعن المُقْتِرِ قَدَرُهُ } يراد به القويّ… قال ابن زيد، في قوله: { وَإنَّا لَمُوسِعُونَ } قال: أوسعها جلّ جلاله

{Innaa la Moosi’oon} He’s saying: ‘Possessing full ability over its creation & the creation of whatever We wish to create & full power over it.’ From it comes His saying (2:236) {& upon the one with abundant means according to his ability & the one with constrained means according to his ability} what is meant is; the strong… & Ibn Zayd said regarding {Innaa la Moosi’oon} he said: “He made it vast/wide - May He be glorified!”

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Muslims today are obviously free to believe it’s describing the scientific theory of a continually expanding universe, but they cannot present it as a proven scientific miracle when there are alternative & more attested meanings available.

It should also be pointed out that the model of a continually expanding universe is certainly the popular current model, but unlike religion, science can change when new information comes along and so handcuffing Islam to current scientific theories is a risky business.

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Mountains & Earthquakes

وَجَعَلْنَا فِي الأَرْضِ رَوَاسِيَ أَن تَمِيدَ بِهِمْ وَجَعَلْنَا فِيهَا فِجَاجًا سُبُلا لَعَلَّهُمْ يَهْتَدُونَ

“We set on the earth mountains standing firm, lest it should shake with them.” (21:31)

There are a few variations on this claim – in fact it’s difficult keeping up with how these miracle claims move the goal posts as critics point out flaws - however I will focus on the main one, namely; that it has only recently been discovered that mountains reduce earthquakes.

Ancient cosmological myths depicted mountains as both holding up the heavens and keeping the earth firm. For example in Canaanite mythology there were twin mountains Targhizizi and Tharumagi which held up the firmament and bound the earth together.

The Old Testament describes mountains as pillars of the earth & says; “I set firm its pillars.” (Psalm 75:3)

And "For the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s and he had set the world upon them." (I Samuel 2:8)

But what really undermines this miracle claim is the verse doesn’t say mountains *reduce the effect* of earthquakes, it says “lest it should shake with them.”

Tabari in his tafseer says:

“We made firm mountains on the earth to keep it firmly stable so that it doesn’t overturn on people so that they can live securely on its surface.”

To put it simply, mountains do not prevent earthquakes.

Earthquakes kill more people than any other type of natural disaster put together! In the 20 year period between 1994 & 2013 three quarters of a million men women & children were killed by earthquakes.

And they occur on the very fault lines where mountains exist.

Mountains don’t solve the problem, they are a by-product of the problem. They are formed by tectonic plates colliding. Mountains are not firm nor immovable - even though that's how they appear to us. Their very existence is a result of continuous movement over long periods of time.

Those who make this miracle claim need to step back and think about what they are actually saying. Namely that God chose to create a deadly environment that shakes. Then placed mountains to reduce it. Why make it shake in the first place? And are the millions of deaths from earthquakes much of an improvement?

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Mountain Roots

Related to this is the claim that the Qur’an discovered mountains have roots.

اَلَمۡ نَجۡعَلِ الۡاَرۡضَ مِهٰدًا وَّالۡجِبَالَ اَوۡتَادًا

“Have We not made the earth a bed and the mountains pegs.”

However there were people in the past who held similar beliefs. Aristotle referred to those who believed the earth had roots & the Old Testament refers to roots of mountains.

People assault the flinty rock with their hands and lay bare the roots of the mountains (Job 28:9)

To the roots of the mountains I sank down. (Jonah 2:6)

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Universe from Smoke

ثُمَّ اسْتَوَى إِلَى السَّمَاء وَهِيَ دُخَانٌ

"Then turned He to the heaven when it was smoke"

“Dukhan” means smoke or vapour. - Ibn Kathir says in his tafseer:

ثُمَّ ٱسْتَوَىٰ إِلَى ٱلسَّمَآءِ وَهِىَ دُخَانٌ ، وهو بخار الماء

“Then turned He to the heaven when it was dukhan, which is water vapour”

The miracle claim is that the Qur’an reveals the gaseous state of the early universe or cosmic dust. Both of which can be argued resemble smoke or vapour.

Again if Muslims today want to interpret this to be a metaphor for the gaseous state of the universe they are free to do so. But they cannot claim it’s a scientific miracle without precise language to support it. Nor can they do so when there are alternative meanings possible.

The verse could just as easily echo the creation story in Genesis which describes the heavens as water which Biblical commentators say means water vapour. Precisely how classical tafseers described it.

Interestingly some Christian creationists regard the Bible’s reference to a “vapour canopy” in Genesis to be a scientific miracle.

However neither the description of the heavens as "smoke" or “water vapour” accurately reflect modern theories about the early universe.

Even more problematic is that the Qur’an describes the earth being formed first then God turned to the heavens which were in this state of Dukhan. But the universe was no longer in the gaseous state of the early universe by the time the earth was formed 9 billion years later

This doesn’t match any scientific model of the early universe.

It should also be pointed out that this same passage describes the creation of the earth in 4 days & heavens in 2 days. Which implies Earth took longer to form than the entire universe.

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 الَّذِي خَلَقَ الأَرْضَ فِي يَوْمَيْنِ… وَجَعَلَ فِيهَا رَوَاسِيَ مِن فَوْقِهَا وَبَارَكَ فِيهَا وَقَدَّرَ فِيهَا

 أَقْوَاتَهَا فِي أَرْبَعَةِ أَيَّامٍ سَوَاء لِّلسَّائِلِينَ ، ثُمَّ اسْتَوَى إِلَى السَّمَاء وَهِيَ دُخَانٌ…

 فَقَضَاهُنَّ سَبْعَ سَمَاوَاتٍ فِي يَوْمَيْنِ

He who created the Earth in 2 days… & made in it firm mountains over it & blessed it & measured in it its sustenance in 4 Days, alike for those who ask. Then He turned to the heaven when it was smoke... Then He ordained them seven Heavens in 2 days… (41:9:12)

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If those who claim miracles had the courage of their convictions - they should proclaim that Earth took longer to form than the universe in opposition to modern scientific theories - rather than confining themselves to retrofitting verses after science already made a discovery.

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Pharaoh’s Body

“We will this day deliver you with your body that you may be a sign to those after you."

The claim is that the Qur’an says Pharaoh’s body would be preserved for later generations to see.

Classical tafseers however say this means God commanded the sea to throw out his body as a sign for the Bani Israel at the time because some doubted he was dead. They say it is Pharaoh’s story that is a lesson for those who come after, just as other past events described in the Qur’an are signs for people who come after.

But for arguments sake I’ll accept it means his body will be preserved for everyone in the future to see. However since it was already known the bodies of pharaohs were preserved through mummification, there’s nothing miraculous about this.

Some Muslims identify the Pharaoh of Moses as Ramesses II while others as Merneptah. In either case it doesn’t matter because they were both preserved through the usual mummification process & the presence of salt in the bodies doesn’t prove they drowned at sea because salt was one of the ingredients of the mummification process.

A myth that is still circulated to this day is that the body of Pharaoh was found by the Red Sea. This is untrue. Ramesses II & Merneptah were both buried in the Valley of the Kings and like many other Pharaohs their bodies were moved to the near by Royal Cache due to grave robbing and this is where they were discovered in 1881 & 1898 respectively.

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Fresh & Salt Water not Mixing.

Fresh water & salt water do mix, however in an estuary, they don’t mix straight away because fresh water is less dense & floats on top of the heavier seawater that sinks down.

This is something humans can observe without divine help and was known about before Islam. For example Aristotle said: “The drinkable, sweet water, then, is light and is all of it drawn up: the salt water is heavy and remains behind.” -Aristotle (382 BC to 322 BC)

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7 Layers of the Atmosphere

The Qur’an discovered the 7 layers of the atmosphere

The seven heavens cannot mean the earth’s atmosphere not least because the Qur’an says the stars are in the lowest heaven. If stars were in our atmosphere we would be in “Sirius” trouble!

Btw it’s interesting how inconsistent these claims are with how they interpret words. eg they interpret السَّمَاوَاتِ as "whole universe" for the big bang claim but then as the "sky or atmosphere" for this claim.

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The practice of using scientific discoveries to prove the Qur’an is a recent phenomena and the great Muslims scientists of the Islamic Golden Age - who themselves made some amazing discoveries - never made such claims about the Qur’an.

It is a trend that can be traced back in part to 1975 and a book called: “The Bible, The Qur’an & Science,” by Maurice Bucaille, a physician to King Faisal of Saudi Arabia. It has led to a phenomena many refer to as “Bucailleism”.

In 1984 the Saudi Muslim World League set up "The Commission on Scientific Signs in the Quran and Sunnah" with Sheikh Abdul Majeed al-Zindani as its head.

It organised several International Conferences where scientists from various fields were invited, ostensibly to help the spread of science in Muslim countries. However many of these scientists found themselves being presented with quotes from the Qur’an and asked to comment. They had to rely on their hosts promises to be “completely neutral.” But their responses were then edited & used in Dawah videos and publications.

The Commission set in motion a trend that has dominated the popular imagination of Muslims ever since. But it was a very dishonest and misleading process and one that many of these scientists have since distanced themselves from. For example William Hay complained of having fallen into a "trap" in interviews, while embryologist Gerald Goeringer complained of "manipulation". Geologist Professor Alfred Kröner has a standard e-mail reply clarifying his "out of context" remarks were used by Muslim apologists.

Even Keith Moore, constantly quoted by apologists regarding embryology lacked enough conviction in the miracle claims promoted by Zindani to omit them from his book "The Developing Human," apart from as footnotes in a special edition subtitled "with Islamic Additions" for sale in Islamic countries.

There are several interviews with some of these scientists conducted by TheRationalizer available on his YouTube channel.