Science in the Quran?

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In many nations across Africa and southern Asia it is illegal to blaspheme against Islam. Penalties can result in anything from imprisonment to beheading. Perhaps that is why it seems Islam is so new to apologetics. Muslims have a hard time making their case, and generally don’t realize most of what they say has been heard before from Christians. One of these arguments is that there is science in the their holy book, the Quran, and more specifically, that everything in the Quran has been confirmed by science.

No, it doesn’t contain the formula for vaccinating against polio. It doesn’t contain calculus equations or engineering instructions for rocket propulsion. It doesn’t even contain information on efficient agricultural endeavors. What it does contain are several verses which if twisted to conform to modern knowledge, may appear insightful to naïve individuals suffering from hindsight bias. It is the same argument skeptics hear from Christians and proponents of Nostradamus. The Quran also contains several verses which are simply scientifically incorrect, but are used to prey upon the gullible and uneducated.

Expanded or Expanding?

Some Muslims like to compare modern cosmology with verses from the Quran. The modern translation of Surat Adh-Dhāriyāt 51:47 reads “And the heaven We constructed with strength, and indeed, We are [its] expander.” This is compared with the now known ongoing expansion of the universe. How could anyone have know this 1400 years ago?

First, a little context so as to address events known to be fictitious. The preceding verses mention numerous events involving Allah. The story of Exodus is mentioned in verses 51:38-40. Archaeologists have determined this event never happened. There is no evidence ancient Israel was founded by ex Egyptian slaves fighting their way out of Egypt with miracles. The consensus of modern archaeologists, including Israeli archaeologists, is that the evidence suggests ancient Israel was founded by former Canaanites who rose up against the higher classes

Noah‘s flood is mentioned in 51:46. This event has been determined geologically, mathematically and biologically impossible. There is no geological evidence of a worldwide flood. The species which currently inhabit the earth could not have evolved within a few thousand years from a pair of “kinds,” nor could a pair of each species fit on the boat described. The boat described also couldn’t sail. There isn’t even enough water on earth to flood all the land.

We can blame these inaccuracies on Islam being a rip off of Christianity, which in turn is a rip off of Judaism. Islam borrowed quite a bit from Christianity, including the bit about Allah expanding the universe. Part of Isaiah 42:5 reads, “Thus saith God the Lord, he that created the heavens, and stretched them out; he that spread forth the earth, and that which cometh out of it.” That part about spreading out the earth will come up again later.

There are multiple translations of 51:47 which changed during the 20th century after discovering the universe is expanding. One example of a pre-twentieth century translation is “With power and skill did We construct the Firmament: for it is We Who create the vastness of space.” It seems this is something a Texas sharpshooter fallacy, whereby Muslims have updated the translation to accommodate what the evidence reveals.

But “expanded” isn’t a totally unacceptable translation. We can use other verses from the Quran to understand what meaning is intended here. A modern translation of Surat Al-'Anbyā 21:32 reads “And We made the sky a protected ceiling, but they, from its signs, are turning away.” The word “ceiling” here has also been translated as “canopy” or “roof.” Surat An-Nāzi`āt 79:27-28 reads “Are you a more difficult creation or is the heaven? Allah constructed it. He raised its ceiling and proportioned it.” Due to these and other references in the Quran, it appears 51:47 is intended only to mean Allah “expanded” the universe in terms of spreading it out, that this expansion is fixed, and not that it is continuously expanding.

What Planet Are You On?

Surat Al-'Anbyā' 21:31 reads, “And We placed within the earth firmly set mountains, lest it should shift with them, and We made therein [mountain] passes [as] roads that they might be guided.” Some Muslims have actually used this verse to propose mountains keep the earth from wobbling. First of all, the earth does wobble. The Chandler Wobble was discovered in 1891 and is commonly attributed to gravitational forces and earth’s constant shifting of mass, such as atmospheric fluctuations and seasonal melting and refreezing of ice. Secondly, it’s not possible mountains could hold down the earth, unless you think the earth is flat.

Surat An-Nāzi`āt 79:30 reads, “And after that He spread the earth.” Some have attempted in recent years to retranslate this verse as “He made the earth egg shaped.” They claim the Arabic word “dahaha,” which means “laid out” or “evened out,” is derived from the Arabic word “duhiya,“ which means “ostrich egg.” This is a rather silly stretch, as the earth isn’t egg shaped anyways. The earth is an oblate spheroid. An ostrich egg is a prolate spheroid. There are multiple other verses (15:19, 20:53, 43:10, 50:7, 51:48, 71:19, 78:6) translated as the earth is a bed, carpet or other flat surface. There are Imams to this day who still profess the earth is flat because the Quran says so.

Part of Surat Al-'Anbyā' 21:30 reads, “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?” This verse is commonly used to say the Big Bang is mentioned in the Quran.

The earth and universe are not two separate things, once joined and then separated by a god or anything else. The elements present in the early universe were mostly hydrogen and helium, with a bit of carbon and other elements. Most of the elements found within the earth were formed by fusion within stars of the early universe. These elements scattered when those stars exploded and later gathered together by gravity to form other stars and planets, including earth.

One of those elements is iron. Part of Surat Al-Ĥadīd 57:25 reads “And We sent down iron, wherein is great military might and benefits for the people, and so that Allah may make evident those who support Him and His messengers unseen.” Although one could say some iron has been “sent down” in the form of meteors, most of earth’s iron was gathered together along with all the other elements during the formation of the earth. The Quran might just as well have mentioned any number of elements. Why wasn’t argon mentioned? What does Allah have against cobalt? Why wasn’t osmium, iridium or uranium mentioned? Probably because Mohammed and his merry band of murderous zealots had no idea what these elements were. But it’s obvious they knew what iron was, and how it should be used.

Talking Glass Ants

One of the silliest claims comes from Surat An-Naml 27:18-19, which reads, “Until, when they came upon the valley of the ants, an ant said, ‘O ants, enter your dwellings that you not be crushed by Solomon and his soldiers while they perceive not.’ So [Solomon] smiled, amused at her speech, and said, ‘My Lord, enable me to be grateful for Your favor which You have bestowed upon me and upon my parents and to do righteousness of which You approve. And admit me by Your mercy into [the ranks of] Your righteous servants.’"

It was recently discovered ants communicate by rubbing their bodies. This rubbing cannot be heard by human ears, but some Muslims claim this discovery reinforces the story of Solomon having a conversation with an ant.

Even stranger is that some Muslims have decided the word “crushed” implies ants are made of glass, and that recent science has discovered this to be the case. First of all, there is no reason to interpret “crushed” this way. Secondly—no—ants are not made of glass and there is no science stating otherwise. Glass is usually formed by melting sand. Glass isn’t organic. Ants are.

Smoking Lunar Crack

Another odd claim derived from Surat Al-Qamar 54:1 asserts the moon was once split in two, and that NASA has confirmed this. “The Hour has come near, and the moon has split [in two].” Brad Bailey of the NASA Lunar Science Institute has replied to this claim. “No current scientific evidence reports that the Moon was split into two (or more) parts and then reassembled at any point in the past.”

There are other claims of science in the Quran, but each and every one of them has been debunked. Perhaps the most obvious is the claim of Adam and Eve, which has been determined genetically impossible. Most of these claims serve only to prey upon the gullible. Muslims make these claims of science and imperfection in the Quran attempting to convince non believers, but they accomplish the exact opposite.

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