Chapter 1 : "From a Gaseous Mass to the Heavens and the Earth"
We are again confronted by the claim that the Quran accurately foretells modern scientific facts in an age where these facts were practically unknown. We again shall see that this claim crumbles under closer analysis.
The Qur'an was revealed in the seventh century. Many statements pertaining to physical phenomena are dispersed throughout the Qur'an. These are there in the Qur'an to draw the attention of people to the wonders of Allah's creation.
Any other seventh century book making statements about the physical universe would surely contain mistakes. Our knowledge of physical sciences in the twentieth century is far advanced beyond the imagination of people living the seventh century. What will come as a surprise to many people is that of all the numerous statements about scientific matters found in the Qur'an, not one of those have proved contrary to the established facts of science. On the other hand, many of those statements have already been verified by modern scientific studies, and we confidently expect that as various fields of knowledge advance, other Quranic statements will likewise prove true.
Let us look at some of the statements which science has already verified.
Concerning the creation of the heavens and the earth, the Qur'an says that prior to the creation, the Heaven was smoke. God then commanded it and the earth to come into being and they came willingly (see surah 41:11). How does that compare with modern scientific explanations? Let us hear a scientific explanation and then judge for ourselves.
The French scientist Dr. Maurice Bucaille in his book called The Bible, the Qur'an and Science explains:
"At the earliest time it can provide us with, modern science has every reason to maintain that the universe was formed from a gaseous mass principally composed of hydrogen and a certain amount of helium that was slowly rotating" (p.147).
Didn't the Qur'an say that the Heaven was smoke before its creation? Dr. Bucaille explains the connection between his description and that of the Qur'an as follows:
"Smoke is generally made up of a gaseous substratum, plus, in more or less stable suspension, fine particles that may belong to solid and even liquid states of matter at high or low temperature" (p. 143).
He therefore sees no contradiction of the Quranic use of the Arabic word dukhan (translated smoke) and a modern interpretation of that word as a gaseous mass with fine particles when speaking of the formation of the universe.
We notice here two remarkable features of the Qur'an. The first feature is that it expresses scientific truths that will be verified many centuries later. The second feature is that the Qur'an expresses those truths using terms and expressions that would avoid confusing its first readers in the seventh century. The seventh century reader of the Qur'an can easily relate to the image of smoke, and the twentieth century scientist can easily interpret the word as a gaseous mass.
Shabir and Bucaille can claim that the Quran is scientifically accurate, yet the fact is that upon closer examination it is not as impressive as Shabir would like. The Word of God states:
It is time now to question Shabir's claims and see if what he has said is correct.
Dr. William Campbell in his excellent response to Bucaille's book, comments:
Campbell's point on the heavens being fashioned from smoke after the earth is interesting since this does not fit in with modern scientific views on the origin of the universe. Muslims, like Shabir, attempt to define the Arabic term thumma, "then", to mean "moreover". This would then imply that the heavens were not created after the earth had been fashioned but rather refers to a parallel event where the two days of the earth and heaven are identical.
The problem with this view is that it does not tell us what the term meant in seventh century Arabia. Words mean different things at different times. In order to know what thumma meant to Muhammad and his followers we must examine the Arabic literature of that time and see how the word was used. When this is done, we find that the Quran contains gross scientific errors.
According to Sahih Muslim, Chapter MCLV, The beginning of creation and the creation of Adam, Hadith No. 6707:
Muhammad believed that vegetation preceded the formation of light, i.e. the sun. We must emphasize that Sahih Muslim is considered the second most reliable source of hadith collections. Hence, to brush aside this hadith basically means that Shabir must denounce the entire collection of hadiths. This is something that he, as a Sunni Muslim, cannot do.
The following traditions are taken entirely from The History of al-Tabari, Volume 1- General Introduction and from the Creation to the Flood (trans. Franz Rosenthal, State University of New York Press, Albany 1989), pp. 187-193:
Ibn Abbas reports that Muhammad believed the earth and everything within it were created on the first four days whereas the heavens and the constellations were created afterwards on Thursday and Friday.
Al-Tabari then comments:
All these traditions attributed to Muhammad contain gross scientific errors. Unlike Christianity where the opinions of the early Jewish and Christian scholars are not binding on the interpretation of the Holy Bible, this is not the case with Islam. These Islamic traditions are not from fallible Muslims but stem from Muhammad whom Muslims believe is God's infallible Prophet. Hence, it is Muhammad, not Muslim scholars, who held to gross scientific errors.
According to Musa b. Harun- `Amr b. Hammad- Asbat- al-Suddi- Abu Malik and Abu Salih- Ibn Abbas. Also (al-Suddi)- Murrah al-Hamdani- Ibn Mas'ud and some (other) companions of the Prophet: He-meaning our Lord- made seven earths in two days, Sunday and Monday. He made on them "firmly anchored (mountains), lest (the earth) shake you up." He created the mountains on the earth and the food to provide for its inhabitants and its trees and whatever is required for it, on two days, Tuesday and Wednesday. "Then he stretched out straight toward heaven, which was smoke," and made it into one heaven. Then he spilt (this one heaven) up into seven heavens on two days, Thursday and Friday.
According to Tamim b. al-Muntasir- Ishaq (b. Yusuf)- Sharik (b. `Abdallah al-Nakha'i)- Ghalib b. Ghalib- `Ata b. Abi Rabah- Ibn `Abbas: God created the earth on two days, Sunday and Monday.
Others said: God created the earth with the food it provides before heaven, without spreading it out. "Then He stretched out straight toward heaven and fashioned it into seven heavens. Thereafter, He spread out the earth.
Those who said this
According to `Ali b. Dawud- Abu Salih (`Abdallah b. Salih)- Mu'awiyah (b. Salih)- `Ali b. Abi Talhah- Ibn Abbas, commenting on God's word when He mentioned the creation of the earth before heaven and then mentioned heaven before earth: (It is explained by the fact that) He created the earth with the food it provides before heaven, without spreading it out. "Then He stretched out straight toward heaven and fashioned it into seven heavens." Thereafter, he spread out the earth. This is meant by God's word: "And it was the earth that He spread out thereafter."
According to Muhammad b. Sa'd- his father- his paternal uncle- his father- his father- Ibn `Abbas, commenting on: "And it was the earth that He spread out thereafter. He brought forth from it its water and its pasture, and the mountains He anchored firmly." It means that he created the heavens and the earth. When he had finished with heaven before creating food of the earth, He spread the food on it after creating heaven. And He firmly anchored the mountains. This is meant by "spreading it out." The food and the plants of the earth used to be good only on the night and the day. This is meant by God's word: "And it was the earth that He spread out thereafter." Have you not heard that He continues: "He brought forth from it its water and its pasture"?
Abu Ja'far (al-Tabari) says: Regarding this, the correct statement, in our opinion, is the one who said: God created the earth on Sunday. He created the heaven on Thursday, and He created the stars and the sun and the moon on Friday. (We consider it correct) because of the soundness of the report mentioned by us earlier on the authority of Ibn `Abbas from the Messenger of God. The tradition transmitted to us on the authority of Ibn `Abbas is not impossible. It says that God created the earth but did not spread it out. Then he created the heavens "and fashioned them (into seven heavens)," and thereafter "spread out" the earth. He then brought forth from it its water and its pasture, and the mountains He anchored firmly." Indeed, in my opinion this is the correct statement. That is because the meaning of "spreading out" is different from that of "creating." God says: "Are you more difficult to create than the heaven He constructed? He raised high its roof and fashioned it. He darkened its night and brought forth its morning. And it was the earth He spread out thereafter." (Ibid., pp. 213-216)
One might wonder what is meant by the Quranic statement that God has spread out the earth? Al-Tabari answers:
Where did Wahb get the idea that there are seven earths? From the Quran of course:
One might also ask why is there so much confusion amongst the companions of Muhammad and others over whether the earth was spread after the heavens or whether earth's nourishment wasn't created until the earth was fashioned first with the heavens after it? This is primarily due to the fact that the Quran gives contradictory accounts on what was actually created first:
According to this Surah the earth and its nourishment as well as its mountains were all fashioned before the earth. This is contradicted by the following verse:
This passage states that the earth, its nourishment and the mountains were only created after heaven had already been constructed!
Tabari also comments on those who would try to define words such as thumma or ba'da, terms which mean "then" and "thereafter" respectively, to be referring to actions that are parallel with each other:
We see that the Quran contains gross scientific errors that do not fit in with modern scientific views. What about the Genesis account? Does the statement in Genesis 1:2 about the Spirit of God hovering over the face of the waters conflict with science? Let us see what the experts have to say. Dr. Robert C. Newman (B.S. summa cum laude in Physics [Duke University, 1963], Ph.D. in Theoretical Astrophysics [Cornell University, 1967]), comments on Gen. 1:2 and the mention of water:
Dr. Neuman along with Mr. Herman J. Eckelman, Jr., (former associate with the center for radiophysics and space research at Cornell University, Master of divinity from the Theological Seminary) from their book, Genesis and The Origin Of The Earth, pp. 71-72, go on to say:
"The exact meaning of mayim in Gen. 1:2 is therefore uncertain, but a large body of ice or water, a mass of ice crystals or droplets, a large cloud of water vapor, or even some other fluid altogether, would be within range of the usage of the word throughout Scripture. All of these would have a surface, over which the Spirit of God might `move' or `hover'. In agreement with the scientific model proposed, a dark nebula would be expected to contain some water vapor... An alternative possibly is that mayim is intended to intimate something of the chemical rather than the physical, composition of the cloud. Water consists of hydrogen and oxygen, and the cloud consists principally of hydrogen, helium, carbon, nitrogen and oxygen. Mayim is one of the few Hebrew words could communicate such information." (Dr. Campbell, The Qur'an and the Bible in light of History and Science, p. 23)
In summary, we find that the Quran and Muhammad's views on the origin of the universe are incompatible with science, whereas the Holy Bible can be interpreted in light of modern scientific fact with little, if any, problems.
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