The Humble "I"

Knowing, Doing, Becoming

The Qur’an & Science: Match Made in Heaven?

blue-binary-code-jigsaw-puzzleMuslims 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.

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8 thoughts on “The Qur’an & Science: Match Made in Heaven?

  1. ‘Match Made In Heaven’, excellent article.

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  2. Excellent post. Here also is a recent paper produced by iERA on embryology in the Qur’an, taking into account modern research in the field and responding to the many contentions that have been raised since these arguments were first raised including that of plagiarism from Greek sources.

    http://www.iera.org.uk/research4_4.html

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  3. Assalamu alaykum shaykh,
    This is a very good read regarding this subject that I feel gives a very prudent and balanced way that we should look at these ayaat.

    http://www.hamzatzortzis.com/essays-articles/exploring-the-quran/does-the-quran-contain-scientific-miracles-a-new-approach/

    Please do read it, it is very enlightening and also I am interested in your thoughts on it

    Zain

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    • Wa alaykum al-salam wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuhu.

      Thank you for sharing the link. I’ll endeavour to read it when I can. But just so we are clear, I don’t think I ever got into such apologetics, for the simple reason that I felt there was too much “stretching” of the verse from what the classical books of tafsir had stated. That said, there are a few verses which, as I stated in the article, seem to tally with some of modern science’s more empirically established assertions. But I stress, “seems to”. In other words, without conflicting with what classical tafsir teaches, nor violating the rules of the Arabic language, some verses make good contenders for “scientific” miracles. And Allah knows best.

      One final point: while the idea that science evolves and corrects itself is true, empirically observations and measurements about, for instance, the growth of a foetus; the expansion of the universe; that the universe was hotter and denser and smaller in the past; or the centrality of water to carbon-based life forms, are not subject to such corrections (even if certain theories and hypothesis linked to them are).

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  4. Hira Javaid on said:

    Salam. Are you saying that there ARE inaccuracies in the Quran? Please respond to the article above, I would like to hear your viewpoint about it, the hamzatzortis one. And I always thought the creation of every living thing out of water was about how we’re made out of mostly water.. all living things as in the composition of cells. Is that wrong?

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    • Wa alaykum al-salam wa rahmatullah,

      It seems you have misread the entire post, Hira!!! Even the title tells you that I was offering the science connection as a possible explanation: not the explanation. Moreover, no Muslim could ever believe that the Qur’an contains inaccuracies! For it is the word of Allah and the truth from Him. So your words … “Are you saying …” are grossly misplaced.

      To reiterate: I was not stating that these ARE the interpretations of those so-called “scientific” verses. Instead, I was suggesting that, as far as I’m aware, the classical explanation (tafsir) of those verses do not seem to be in conflict with modern science and its observations.

      Having said that, I don’t think anyone is in a position to say that the “scientific” reading of those verses is DEFINITELY what Allah intended by them. Rather, they are a POSSIBLE interpretation. And Allah knows best.

      Please do try to understand what a writer is saying before making a comment, my dear Hira. And please do (re)read my above reply to Zain too.

      Of course, the other possibility exists that I have written something poorly and in a confusing manner. In that case I seek your forgiveness if I’ve not made myself clear in the article. And I ask that Allah grant me the level of penmanship whereby I can make myself clearer in the future.

      Your brother,
      Surkheel Abu Aaliyah.

      Like

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