The Qur’an & Science: Match Made in Heaven?
Muslims are quick to point out that the Qur’an is remarkably free of the scientific inaccuracies found in other religious texts. Many go one step further and point out how astonishingly in tune the Qur’an actually is with modern science. And while it is true that some believers have thrown caution to the wind in their zeal to wed Muslim scripture to the scientific cause, there is cogent reason to believe that signficant passages in the Qur’an are in fact addressing the scientific mind in modern man. Seeking to be as dispassionate as possible, let me illustrate the point with a few such verses:
(1) The Qur’an is silent about the age of the Earth and, for that matter, when life first appeared on it; although it does say: And We made from water every living creature. Will they not believe? [21:30] Is this a reference to the primordial soup in the Earth’s early waters, perhaps? Or to the evidence which suggests that life first emerged onto dry land some four-hundred million years ago, from sea-creatures and other aquatic life forms?
(2) Another intriguing verse declares: We built the heaven with might and it is We who are expanding it. [51:47] This does seem like a highly probable pointer to cosmology’s modern belief that galaxies are flying apart from each other as the universe expands.
(3) The fact that galaxies are flying apart from each other, say cosmologists, there must have been a time when galaxies were closer together; and a time earlier still when all the galaxies and material in the universe was crunched-up together into an incredibly small space. This infinitely-compact universe, for some reason, suddenly expanded, in an event cosmologists call “The Big-Bang”. Interestingly, the Qur’an insists: Do not the disbelievers see that the heavens and the earth were at first joined, then We split them apart. [21:30]
(4) The final example is the vivid Quranic account of how a human embryo forms in its mother’s womb: We created man from a product of clay. Then We placed him as a drop in a safe lodging. Then We fashioned the drop into a clot of blood that clings, then We made the clinging clot into a chewed-like lump, then We turned the lump into bones, then We clothed the bones with flesh, and then produced it as another creation. So blessed be God, the Best of Creators! [23:12-14]
What is significant here, as in the previous three examples, is that at the time of their revelation these Quranic assertions ran completely counter to the science of the day. In fact, science was only able to uncover the truth of these claims within only the last century or so!
One must not be tempted by these verses into thinking that the Qur’an is a text-book on science or a catalogue of scientific facts. These verses are primarily asserting the i‘jaz, the “miraculous” and “inimitable” nature of the Qur’an, thereby demonstrating it truly is the Word of God. Turner, I think, captured the essence of the matter when he wrote:
‘The Koran describes God, the principles of belief and the fate of man in the world to come, but it is no work on theology; it contains accounts of past prophets and faith communities of old, but it is no history book; it contains invocations and words of inspiration; but it is no book of prayer.
Legal issues are discussed in it, but it is no book of law; it tells us how the Creator fashions the cosmos and makes the world turn, but it is no treatise on cosmology; it describes the alternation of day and night, and the development of the foetus in the womb, but it is no compendium of natural science.
It examines the heart and mind of man, and the existential dilemma of being human but longing for the divine, yet it is no work on popular psychology.
It is all of those things and it is none of those things: more than any other book can it truly be said of the enigmatic Koran that it is far more than simply the sum of its com- ponent parts.’1
1. Collin Turner, Islam: the Basics (London & New York: Routledge, 2006), 41.