A very popular way that Muslims argue for the divine origin of the Qur’an is by pointing to numerous ‘scientific miracles’ scattered throughout its pages. According to believers, Allah revealed information in the Qur’an that was only stumbled upon by scientists in the last few centuries, serving as a sign of the truth of Islam’s sacred text. There are too many websites and YouTube videos devoted to these alleged miracles to be counted here, but a few examples will be considered from one site, MissionIslam.com, as we examine the evidence and consistency of science in the Qur’an.
I. Bad Science Revelations
The first miracle claim made by the author is related to the universe coming into existence.
Scientific miracles in holy scripture are never as clear or precise as a chemical formula or mathematic physics equation. Instead they are nebulous and linguistically vague. Note the verse of the Qur’an that is quoted here in support of the Big Bang. What information does this really give us, aside from the fact that Muslims believe Allah created the heavens and the earth? It doesn’t say anything about a singularity, expansion, or anything remotely identifiable with the Big Bang theory. The author’s explanation also demonstrates very poor understanding of Big Bang cosmology, incorrectly calling the event an explosion which created the universe from nothingness. The funny thing is that Christians have also argued that the Big Bang supports their idea of creation. Who are we to believe?
Another claim on the site has to do with planetary orbits, supposedly supported by Sura 21:33, which reads, “It is He Who created the night and the day, and the sun and the moon. They swim along, each in an orbit.” Last I heard, the sun is not orbiting any object in our solar system, so it’s amazing that any Muslim would try to put this forward as evidence for the scientific accuracy of the Qur’an. This verse seems more in keeping with the geocentrism of Muhammad’s time, especially given that other passages refer to the earth being fixed in space (Sura 27:61), and every mention of orbits has to do with the sun and moon, never the earth (13:2, 35:13, 36:40).
The last of these examples we will look at perfectly illustrates the desperate cherry-picking Muslims have done to come up with these so-called miracles of science in the Qur’an. Sura 39:5 says, “He has created the Heavens and the Earth for Truth. He wraps the night up in the day, and wraps the day up in the night.” What might be the claim behind this verse? According to the author on MissionIslam.com, Sura 39:5 predicted the spherical shape of the earth. The wrapping, he alleges, is done in the shape of a sphere or round object. Not only is this wild conjecture, but doesn’t the passage say night and day are wrapped up, not the earth? These are the sorts of mental gymnastics religious believers must resort to when they try to harmonize their ancient superstitions with modern science.
II. The Embarrassing Revelations
If Muslims want the Qur’an to be considered as a source of scientific information, they are in for an embarrassing discovery. While they have cherry-picked verses to suit their claims, they often ignore other verses that make blatantly false scientific statements.
According to the Qur’an, the sun sets in a swamp. Muslims may attempt to dismiss such a verse as metaphor, but who’s to say the ‘scientific miracle verses’ they lay claim to aren’t metaphor also? Without a clear explanation of how to identify one as metaphor and the other as literal, only a double standard is at work.
Seventh century men and women thought the moon was a light source, but we have known for some time now that the light of the moon is actually reflection from the sun, and the moon is not a light itself. This is just another indication that the Qur’an was a product of its time and not any divine revelation handing down advanced knowledge to humankind.
The idea of the sky being a roof or canopy was a popular one in many ancient religions. This flat expanse above the earth was known as the firmament and it is found in Hebrew scripture, Sumerian writings, and other sources. It is part of a primitive geocentric model with a flat earth surrounded by several ‘levels’ of heavens or sky. Interestingly, other suras in the Qur’an make mention of how Allah “spread out” the earth (13:3, 15:19), and one other sura puts it in pretty clear terms that Earth is flat:
Mountains are used as pegs to keep the flat earth fixed in its place. For all the ambiguous passages used by Muslims to justify ‘scientific miracles’ in the Qur’an, verses like these are really quite clear and, I imagine, quite embarrassing for Muslims who treat their holy book as a powerful reflection of scientific truths. In other suras, it is even said that Allah uses the stars as weaponry against devils (67:5), and that thinking goes on in the heart or chest (11:5). The Qur’an does not contain scientific miracles, but it certainly does contain scientific errors… and lots of them.
III. The Verdict
Whenever a Muslim tells me that there is incredible and advanced scientific knowledge in the Qur’an, I like to ask why it has only been discovered after the fact, once scientists (usually non-Muslims) have found the truth themselves. Why haven’t Muslims been the ones making predictions based on the Qur’an? There has been no instance of a Muslim calling out these verses as scientific truths until the theories or discoveries were already made. In other words, it is extremely likely that Muslims who perceive scientific miracles in their holy book are simply projecting their own wishful thinking and modern knowledge onto the Qur’an.
What we never see put forward by these types is any evidence of real scientific knowledge. If the almighty creator of the universe wrote a book and decided to incorporate scientific information into it as proof of its authenticity, one would expect to see things like complex chemical formulas, detailed mathematical calculations, intricate equations, and so on. It would undoubtedly be amazing to find the cure for cancer written in a book that predates Louis Pasteur, but of course we haven’t found this. The creator decided instead to opt for scientific knowledge that is so basic and so mired in vague language that it cannot be verified, according to Islam.
The case for science in the Qur’an is breathtakingly weak. As we’ve seen, the claims of miraculous knowledge are often obscure and faulty, constructed on poor understandings of modern science, and there are many other verses which point to an antiquated view of the cosmos. None of this is surprising to those who view the Qur’an in its proper 7th century context, but to Muslims who scour their Qur’an for signs and wonders, these facts are devastating. Of what consequence is this really though? One need not believe there is advanced information buried in a holy book to believe and follow the theological claims of the text. The only thing that suffers from losing these ‘scientific miracles’ is a literalist fundamentalism that just so happens to not be that literalist, with its dismissal of the indisputably unscientific suras.
The Qur’an shows itself to possess a seventh century conception of the scientific world, not a 21st century one or even a 17th century one.
1. The Scientific Miracles of the Qur’an. MissionIslam.com. Retrieved June 26, 2010.