To my astute listeners, I know I mentioned at the end of episode 10 that I would look at the doctrine of original sin but here at atheistsocialworker.org, we are equal opportunity skeptics so today we are going to take a break from the Bible and travel about 600 years into the future to take a look at another holy book, The Qur’an.  Criticism of the Qur’an is few and far between because anyone that criticizes it is threatened with death.  I am not going to go into a long history on the Qur’an, I will save that for another episode but I will give a brief rundown on where the Qur’an came from and why it is important to Muslims.

The Qur’an is composed of 114 chapters or suras and is believed to have been revealed verbally to Muhammad through the angel Gabriel.  This revelation gradually occurred over a period of 23 years beginning in 610 CE until 632 CE, the time of Muhammad’s death [1].  Muslims believe that the Qur’an is the main miracle of Muhammad and proof of his prophethood.  They believe it is man’s final revelation from God, well until the Mormon’s claimed the same thing some thousand years later.  They believe that Muhammad is the final prophet with the first prophet being Adam and then Abraham, followed by Moses, then King David and finally Jesus.  While Muslims recognize Jesus as an actual historical figure, they do not see him as the Son of God but a mere prophet in the long line of prophets [1]. Interesting note, Muslims view Christians as polytheist because the believe in the trinity of the father, son and holy spirit.

In the first ten episodes of this podcast, I have demonstrated how science and history have not been too kind to religion.  This is to be expected if one looks at religious documents in the context of when they were written.  Most religious texts were written before the scientific revolution in the 16ht and 17th centuries [2].  It should be of little surprise to anyone living in the 21st century to recognize the limitations of ancient people to accurately describe their world without the tool of science.  This, however, does not stop followers of religions to boast of certain scientific claims.  Look at Noah’s Ark.  How many people have claimed to have found the ark and can confirm it with radiometric dating?  Why, radiometric dating is the same tool we use to date the age of the Earth.  So you can use it to confirm your BS ark story but have a hard time believing the Earth is over 4 billion years old?  I notice this with hardcore believers a lot.  They use science when it is convenient and supports their beliefs but as soon as it goes against their preconceived notions, they throw it out and opt for faith instead.  You cannot accept what is convenient to your beliefs and discard the rest; it’s either all or nothing.

I have heard vague arguments from Biblical apologist about the scientific accuracy of the Bible but nothing really specific.  Muslims on the other hand, claim that the scientific accuracy of the Qur’an proves it to be divinely inspired.  Science and the Muslim world, specifically the Arab world, have a long and tortured relationship.  The Muslim Golden Age of Science, which dates from about 750 CE to 1250 CE contributed to numerous understandings of the world around us.  The great Greek philosophers also contributed greatly to the understanding of our world but there is a key distinction between motives.  The Greeks used philosophy to understand the natural world; Muslims used philosophy to understand God.  Some of their contributions include Arabic numerals, algebra, alchemy, the study of the stars and the names of our most visible stars and galaxies.  They furthered the art of surgery, built hospitals, developed pharmacology and created libraries full of books with the most current scientific information of their time[3].  They helped refined the scientific method and focused on empirical, experimental and quantitative approaches to scientific inquiry [4].

With a culture so engulfed with science, it is of no wonder that Muslims claim that the Qur’an contains accurate scientific observations.  Unlike Christians, Muslims believed that “For every disease, Allah has given a cure.”  If only there was a way to examine the claims in the Qur’an and compare them to what we know today? Or hell, compare them to what people knew during the time the Qur’an was written or even before the Qur’an was written.  I am at a lost here so I guess that is the end of this podcast, sorry to keep it short but there is no way for me to look at the verses in the Qur’an and compare them to what history tells us, no way at all….

I’m just kidding, of course there is, got cha…but seriously, I am going to look at a few of the major claims made by Muslims about the scientific accuracy of the Qur’an.  They are the following:

  1. The Big Bang
  2. The Expanding Universe
  3. The Shape of the Earth and
  4. Embryology

1: The Big Bang

The first claim we will examine is the Big Bang Theory.  The Big Bang theory is an American sitcom created by Chuck Lorre in 2007 and centers around two main characters, Leonard and Sheldon, who are roommates and physicist.  Oh, wait…wrong Wikipedia article…sorry about that..ah yes, here we are.  The Big Bang theory is the prevailing cosmological model that explains the early development of the Universe. According to the Big Bang theory, the Universe was once in an extremely hot and dense state which expanded rapidly. This rapid expansion caused the Universe to cool and resulted in its present continuously expanding state. According to the most recent measurements and observations, the Big Bang occurred approximately 13.75 billion years ago, which is thus considered the age of the Universe [5].  In 1927, Georges LeMaitre deduced that if Einstein’s theory on the Laws of Gravitation was true, it meant that the universe is expanding.  In 1929 at Mt. Wilson Observatory in California, Edwin Hubble discovered that galaxies were moving away at high speeds.  LeMaitre concluded that if the galaxies were rushing away from each other than if you rewind time, at one point, they would all be collapsed together into one primordial atom that contained all the matter of the universe.  From there, others took noticed and named his theory “big bang [6].”

Now Muslims will claim that the Qur’an mentions this phenomenon and use it as proof for the divine inspiration of the Qur’an.  Here is the verse they typically site:

“Have those who disbelieved not considered that the heavens and the earth were a joined entity, and we separated them and made from water every living thing?  Then will they not believe?” Surah 21:30

I am not seeing it.  This reeks of the creation story from Genesis.  How does this verse even remotely hint of the Big Bang Theory?  It appears to say that Allah took the water and split it from the land, just like in Genesis.  The very next verse seems to confirm this:

“and We set mountains firmly in the earth lest it should tilt to one side along with them, and We left therein open paths so that they may find their way and We made the sky a safe canopy, but in spite of this they do not pay heed to its signs.” Surah 21:31-32 [7]

Allah set the mountains firmly to earth so it doesn’t tilt the earth over?  Really?  Allah understands the Big Bang but seems to think the earth will fall over if it is too heavy on one side?  He cannot even get the right let alone a complicated theory like the Big Bang and they sky being a canopy?  Again, Allah doesn’t even understand that the earth is covered by gas not a physical canopy.  Nice try but not good enough.

The Expanding Universe

As detailed above, Edwin Hubble observed that galaxies were moving away from each other at a rapid rate and he discovered this in 1929.  The Qur’an was written in 600 CE, surely if it is the divinely inspired word of the one true God, there should be something about the Universe expanding, right?

“And the heaven We constructed with strength, and indeed, We are [its] expander.” Surah 51:74

That seems pretty specific.  The verses surrounding this text mention Adam and Eve, Noah and the flood and spreading out the earth.  If this translation is correct, it appears that Allah knew about the expansion of the universe before 1929.  Well, there appears to be some controversy over the translation of this verse and forgive me for butchering Arabic here.  Dr. Abdul-Kalaam Panglos, a writer over at Freethought Mecca claims that the Arabic word moosi’oon is the plural of moosi, which translates to ‘rich’ or ‘wealthy.’  So it means enriching the heavens not expanding them [8].  So is s this a matter of mistranslation?  Again, if this is the final sayings of the one true God, why did he not make himself clearer?  Why is there no mention of English becoming the dominate language of the world?  Apologist will claim that in order to understand the Qur’an you have to read it in the original Arabic but most Muslims do not speak Arabic, so why would God create a document that can only be read and understood by a small group of people [9]?  This is hardly reliable evidence that the Qur’an foretold the discovery of an expanding universe.

 

 

The Shape of the Earth

Newsflash, the earth is not flat nor is it a sphere but instead, it is an oblate spheroid which means there is a slight bulge at the equator [10]. We tend to look back on our ancient ancestors and pity them for their lack of understanding of the world around them.  We take for granted to centuries of thought and experiments that our ancestors participated in to allow us to arrive where we are at today.  One such myth we tend to attribute to our ancestors is the idea of a flat earth.  The ancient Greeks understand the earth to be round and most records date this to around 5th century BCE to Pythagoras or at least his Pythagorean School.  What we do know is that after the 5th century most respected Greek writers thought the earth was round.  Aristotle came along in the 3rd century BCE and pointed out the following when claiming the earth to be round:

  1. Every portion of the Earth tends toward the center until by compression and convergence they form a sphere.
  2. Travelers going south see southern constellations rise higher above the horizon; and
  3. The shadow of Earth on the Moon during a lunar eclipse is round

In the 2nd century BCE Eratosthenes estimated the Earth’s circumference.  His results were within a margin between 2% and 20% of the actual circumference.  Not bad for a guy from the 2nd century BCE.  From the Romans to the middle Ages, the idea of a round earth never left our conscience.  Those in the know, the educated, never doubted that the earth was round.  If the Qur’an is claiming to be scientifically accurate, it better come hard in the paint and lay down some knowledge that was not known at the time is was written [11].

“and the Earth, moreover, hath He made egg shaped.” Surah 79:30

Two things, first the earth is not egg shaped and the idea of the earth being round was known well before the Qur’an was written and second the original translation of this verse does not mention the earth being egg shaped.  The verse should say this:

“and after that He spread the earth.” Surah 79:30 [12]

Again, this is a stretch to claim that Allah revealed the shape of the earth in the Qur’an and even if it did say the earth is round, this would not have been new knowledge.  The sad thing, Islamic astronomy borrowed heavily from the Greeks and from these they developed spherical trigonometry and around 830 CE, Muslim astronomers calculated the circumference of the earth to be 40,248 km which I extremely close to the actual circumference of 40,068 km [13].  Muslims of the Arab part of the world should be proud of the scientific contributions of actual scientist, not a holy book that vaguely resembles some sort of scientific truth when looking at it sideways and upside with infrared goggles.

 

 

Embryology

The last stop on this trip through the Qur’an is the supposed belief that the Qur’an accurately describes the process of fertilization and fetus formation.  This is probably the most cited and contested claim.  Again, to even be considered as divinely inspired, the Qur’an most make a claim that could not have been possibly know at the time and also, reflect what we know about embryology today.  Does the Qur’an do this?  I think you may already know the answer but let’s go through it for shit’s and giggles.  What are the claims that Muslims make about embryology?

  1. The Qur’an contains miraculous information about embryology that was not known at the time of its writing
  2. There is NO Hellenic plagiarism

Claim number one: The Qur’an contains miraculous information about embryology that was not known at the time of its writing

“…We created you from dust, then from sperm-drop, then from a clinging clot, and the from a lump of flesh, formed and unformed – that We may show you.  And We settle in the wombs whom We will for a specified term, the We bring you out as a child…” Surah 22:5 [14]

Here is what that verse says.  We begin as a drop of semen, then turn into a clot of blood and then mutate into bones and grow a covering of flesh and then at a specified time, a baby is born.  Just like that, done and done.  Is this accurate to modern embryology?  Well, for one, there is no mention of the female egg and secondly, a fertilized egg does not turn into a clump of blood.  At no point does the embryo mutate to bones and then grows flesh.  Flesh comes first then bones.  It appears the information the Qur’an provides is vague and inaccurate.  Is this supposed to be the divine work of the one true God or the understanding of human biology from nomad sheep herders in the 6th century?  The answer is clear, the Qur’an gets it wrong.

Claim number two: There is NO Hellenic plagiarism

In 150 CE, the Greek doctor Galen taught that the embryo developed in four stages:

The first is that in which as is seen both in abortions and in dissection, the form of the semen prevails.  But when it has been filled with blood and heart, brain and liver are still unarticulated and unshaped yet have by now a certain solidarity and considerable size, this is the second period; the substance of the fetus has the form of flesh and no longer the form of semen.  The third period follows on this, when, as was said, it is possible to see the three ruling parts clearly and a kind of outline, a silhouette, as it were, of all the other parts.  You will see the conformation of the three ruling parts more clearly, that of the parts of the stomach more dimly, and much more still, that of the limbs. Later on they form “twigs” indicating by the term their similarity to branches. The fourth and final period is at the stage when all the parts in the limbs have been differentiated

… The time has come for nature to articulate the organs precisely and to bring all the parts to completion. Thus it caused flesh to grow on and around all the bones, and at the same time … it made at the ends of the bones ligaments that bind them to each other, and along their entire length it placed around them on all sides thin membranes on which it caused flesh to grow [15].

This was the prevailing theory four centuries before the Qur’an was written.  It follows perfectly with what is in the Qur’an.  This is hardly divinely inspired revelation that was 1) not unknown at the time and 2) accurate with our modern understanding of embryology.

As has been clearly demonstrated, the information the Qur’an provides for the understanding of embryology is not accurate with our modern understanding and was hardly new information for the time it was written.  Does this sound like the work of the one true God or the work or nomadic sheep herders in the 6th century?

Conclusion

Is the Qur’an a divinely inspired book that was ahead of its time?  Did Muhammad receive divine revelation of knowledge that he could not have possibly known?  We have the answer to these questions.  It appears that the Qur’an is no more accurate than its counterparts the Bible and the Torah.  Taken in historical context, the Qur’an makes sense.  Trying to extrapolate this information and apply it to 21st century knowledge is a weak attempt to prove the reliability of any holy text that has been demonstrated to be inaccurate.  Are we to fault Muhammad and the early Muslims of the 6th century for believing these claims?  Absolutely not but we can fault his modern day followers for being ignorant of the facts about their holy book.  The Qur’an is just another ancient text that ancient people used to understand the world around them.  It has no significance to 21st century human beings.  That wraps up this episode of C-Webb’s Sunday School.  Join me next time as I take on more outrageous religious claims.