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Pre-release Draft 0.9.4 ~ 21/08/13 Fixed some typographical errors and amended the “Inaccurate History” section
Since the eighties there has been a growing movement of Muslim academics and apologists using science to establish the miraculous and Divine nature of the Qur’ānic discourse. On a grass roots level, Muslims across the world, especially in the West, try to articulate the veracity of Islam by using verses that allude to science as evidence for the Qur’ān’s Divine authorship. The internet is full of websites, essays, videos and posts on the scientific verses in the Qur’ān. A Google search on “Quran and science” produces over 40 million search results.
This movement has classical and modern origins. The Islamic classical scholarly tradition was engaged in a debate as to whether to use science as an exegetical tool to explain the Qur’ānic verses. However, it was during the eighties that the apologetic expression of this movement was born. I would argue there are two main events that facilitated the emergence of this movement. The first was the publishing of the book Bible, the Qur’ān and Science in 1976 written by Dr. Maurice Bucaille, and the second was the 1980s video This is The Truth produced by the Islamic scholar Abdul-Majeed al-Zindani. Dr Bucaille’s book argued that there were no scientific errors in the Qur’ān and that the Bible was full of scientific inaccuracies. Dr. Bucaille’s book became a best seller in the Muslim world and it was translated into many languages. Even though the book has faced academic criticism, it is still a popular read and used as a reference for Islamic apologetics and proselytisation.
The Islamic Scholar Abdul-Majeed al-Zindani, founder of the Commission on Scientific Signs in the Qur’ān and Sunnah, produced a video entitled This is the Truth. Al-Zindani invited prominent Western academics to attend one of their conferences. During the conference al-Zindani claimed that a group of eminent non-Muslim scholars in several fields testified to the fact that there were scientific miracles in the Qur’ān. However, the Commission received criticism that it had spread out of context and misleading statements to justify its narrative. Relatively recently an Atheist video blogger and commentator personally contacted some of the scientists who had attended the conference and conducted interviews with them. The interviews were recorded and uploaded on YouTube. All of the scientists he interviewed claimed that their statements had been taken out of context, and that there is nothing miraculous about the scientific statements in the Qur’ānic discourse.
In spite of this, millions of booklets and pamphlets have been printed that make the claim that there are scientific miracles in the Qur’ān, and countless non-Muslims have converted to Islam as a result. This growing movement has influenced academia too, for example an academic book published by Curzon entitled Qur’ān Translation: Discourse, Texture and Exegesis dedicates a few pages on the topic. Famous popularisers such as Dr. Zakir Naik and Yusuf Estes have also used the scientific miracles narrative to verify the Divine nature of the Qur’ān. Due to this intense popularisation over the past few decades, there is now a growing counter movement that attempts to demystify the so-called scientific statements, and they seem to be more nuanced, with a growing popularity. A significant number of apostates from Islam (many of whom I have had private conversations with) cite the counter movement’s work as a causal factor in deciding to leave the religion. Nevertheless, I do believe that apostasy is not entirely an intellectual decision but rather a spiritual and psychological problem. This can include a lack of spiritual connection with God and disheartenment with Islam due to unfortunate negative experiences with Muslims and the the Muslim community.
Regrettably, the scientific miracles narrative has become an intellectual embarrassment for Muslim apologists, including myself. A few years ago I took some activists to Ireland to engage with the audience and speakers at the World Atheist Convention. Throughout the convention we had a stall outside the venue and as a result positively engaged with hundreds of atheists, including the popular atheist academics Professor P. Z. Myers and Professor Richard Dawkins. During our impromptu conversation with Professor Myers we ended up talking about God’s existence and the Divine nature of the Qur’ān. The topic of embryology came up, and Professor Myers being an expert in the field challenged our narrative. He claimed that the Qur’ān did not predate modern scientific conclusions in the field. As a result of posting the video of the engagement on-line we faced a huge intellectual backlash. We received innumerable amounts of emails by Muslims and non-Muslims. The Muslims were confused and had doubts, and the non-Muslims were bemused with the whole approach. Consequently, I decided to compile and write an extensive piece on the Qur’ān and embryology, with the intention to respond to popular and academic contentions. During the process of writing I relied on students and scholars of Islamic thought to verify references and to provide feedback in areas where I had to rely on secondary and tertiary sources. Unfortunately they were not thorough and they seemed to have also relied on trusting other Muslim apologists. When the paper was published it was placed under a microscope by atheist activists. Although they misrepresented some of the points, they raised some significant contentions. I have since removed the paper from my website. In retrospect if this never happened, I probably wouldn’t be writing this essay now. It is all a learning curve and an important part of developing intellectual integrity.
In light of this, this essay aims to provide a rational and Islamic perspective on how to understand the scientific verses in the Qur’ān. It is time more people from the Muslim community spoke out against this problematic approach to verifying the Divine nature of the Qur’ān. It has become an intellectual embarrassment for Muslim apologists and it has exposed the lack of coherence in the way they have formulated the argument. Significantly, many Muslims who converted to Islam due to the scientific miracles narrative, have left the religion due to encountering opposing arguments. This essay intends to explain how the scientific miracles narrative is problematic and incoherent, and it aims to bring to light a new approach on how to reconcile and discuss science in the Qur’ān. It must be noted that I am not asserting that the Qur’ān is inaccurate or wrong, or that there is nothing remarkable about the Qur’ānic statements eluding to natural phenomena. I am simply bringing to light the perilous nature of the claim that some Qur’ānic verses are miraculous due to their scientific content. For this reason, I am offering a new approach to the topic that is nuanced and bypasses the intellectual hurdles and problems faced by the scientific miracles narrative.
A summary of the scientific miracles claim
The scientific miracles of the Qur’ān are expressed in different ways but with the same philosophical implications.
There are an array of reasons of why the above expressions of the scientific miracles are problematic and incoherent. These include,
Each of these points will now be explained in detail.
1. The Fallacy of the Undistributed Middle
The science in the Qur’ān claim commits a logical fallacy called the fallacy of the undistributed middle. This fallacy is where two different things are equated due to a common middle ground that is misused. Below is a generic example:
1. All As are Cs
2. All Bs are Cs
3. Therefore all As are Bs
The above fallacy is in the conclusion. Since A and B share the common category C, it doesn’t follow that A is the same as B.
Another example includes:
As can be seen above, the middle ground that is misused is oxygen. Although the first two premises are true, that both John and my dog need oxygen to survive, it doesn’t follow that John is my dog.
Most of the science in the Qur’ān arguments commit this type of fallacy. Below is a summary:
The following are some specific examples:
In the above syllogism, it doesn’t follow that the words qarārin makīn (a safe place) imply the process of implantation just because it to shares the attribute of a safe place. The argument will only be valid if all descriptions of qarārin makīn refers to, and describes, the process of implantation. Since qarārin makīn can also refer to the womb, which was the 7th century understanding of the words, then the argument is invalid. The mere correlation between a Qur’ānic word and a scientific process or description does not ascertain the intended meaning of the verse.
Another example includes:
Again, the above syllogism is invalid. It doesn’t logically follow that the words saqfan maḥfūẓan, which refers to a protected roof, describes the function of the Earth’s atmosphere. This is because saqfan maḥfūẓan can also refer to a physical roof. Some interpretations of the Qur’ān include that the heaven is erected with invisible pillars, and that a fragment of the heaven or sky can fall on Earth; (see Qur’ān 13:2 and 34:9). These interpretations indicate a solid roof like structure, as confirmed by the classical exegete Ibn Kathīr who cites a scholar mentioning that “the heaven is like a dome over the earth”. Therefore the words saqfan maḥfūẓan can also refer to a physical roof or dome like structure. For that reason, the above argument will only be valid if all interpretations and descriptions of saqfan maḥfūẓan describes the function of Earth’s atmosphere.
In light of the above, the argument that the Qur’ān is a miracle because the descriptions of certain words it uses seem to relate to descriptions of words used in scientific facts, is logically fallacious. The scientific miracles claim would only be valid if it could be demonstrated that the interpretations of the words that seem to correlate with science are the intended meanings. The principles of Qur’ānic exegesis dictates that this is impossible to ascertain (this will be discussed later in the essay).
Furthermore, there a myriad of questions that exposes the incoherence of the scientific miracles narrative. For instance: why are the more simpler explanations and meanings of the verses in the Qur’ān dismissed? What about the alternative valid interpretations of these verses that are unscientific or crude? Since the ambiguity of the words renders it impossible to know what the intended meaning of the verses are, how can anyone claim them to be miracles? What about the ancient civilisations and their accurate predictions of scientific phenomena before they were verified by modern science? Does that make the ancient civilisations Divinely inspired?
2. Inaccurate history
To salvage the strength of their argument, those who advocate the scientific miracles narrative assert that there was no knowledge of the science implied by the Qur’ānic verses available in the 7th Century. Their argument is usually expressed in two ways:
I. The knowledge implied by the Qur’ānic verses was not available or discovered at the time of revelation (7th Century)
II. The Prophet Muhammad (upon whom be peace) could not have had access to the knowledge implied by the Qur’ānic verses.
I. The knowledge implied by the Qur’ānic verses was not available or discovered at the time of revelation
Concerning the above assertion when we refer to history we will see that it is false. The following are examples of verses that mention knowledge that was available and known at the time (or before) of revelation:
The Sending Down of Iron “Miracle”: Take for instance the claim that the Qur’ān is miraculous due to the fact that it mentions that iron was “sent down” (وَأَنْزَلْنَا). This can refer to the fact that iron was sent down from space, something which has been scientifically confirmed. The Qur’ān states: ”And We sent down iron…”
However, the Ancient Egyptians 1400 years before the Prophet-hood of Muhammad (upon whom be peace) referred to iron as ba-en-pet meaning “Iron from heaven.” The Assyrians and Babylonians also had similar concepts for iron.
The Moon Being a Borrowed Light “Miracle”: Another example is the word used to describe the moon’s light. The word used is nūran (نُورًا) which means a borrowed or reflected light.
“It is He who made the sun a shining light and the moon a derived light (nūran) and determined for it phases – that you may know the number of years and account [of time]. Allah has not created this except in truth. He details the signs for a people who know.”
The claim made by the scientific miracles advocates is that no one at the time, or even before, knew that the moon did not omit its own light. In light of history this is not true, at around 500BC, 1200 years before the Qur’ānic revelation, Thales said: ”The moon is lighted from the sun.” Anaxagoras, in 400-500BC asserted that: ”The moon does not have its own light, but light from the sun.”
The Mountains Have Roots “Miracle”: Consider the verses speaking about mountains having pegs or roots. The Qur’ān states: ”Have We not made the earth as a wide expanse, and the mountains as pegs?”
This knowledge was already available via the ancient Hebrews as the Old Testament explicitly mentions the roots of the mountains:
“To the roots (לְקִצְבֵי) of the mountains I sank down; the earth beneath barred me in forever. But you brought my life up from the pit, O Lord my God.”
The key word in this verse used is the Hebrew word לְקִצְבֵי which means extremity, and it is a poetic description of the bottoms or roots of the mountains.
The Big Bang “Miracle”: The Qur’ān mentions the creation of the cosmos in the following way:
“Have not those who disbelieve known that the heavens and the earth were of one piece, then We parted them, and we made every living thing of water? Will they not then believe?”
This knowledge was already available via previous cultures, for example a particular creation story from ancient Egypt includes the separation of the heavens from the earth. Alan Alford, who is an independent researcher and author, writes about Egyptian views on the creation of the universe: ”This is the myth of the separation of the heavens from the earth. Note that the separation takes the form of a cataclysm.”
In Sumerian literature we find similar concepts in the Epic of Gilgamesh: “When the heavens had been separated from the earth, when the earth had been delimited from the heavens, when the fame of mankind had been established.”
In light of the above, to claim that these verses are miraculous is farfetched and does not take into account the possibility of the Prophet Muhammad (upon whom be peace) accessing the common knowledge of the time from other cultures, and it does not consider the fact that earlier civilisations made similar statements. This does not mean I adopt the absurd view that the Prophet Muhammad (upon whom be peace) borrowed knowledge from other civilisations and inserted that knowledge in the Qur’ān, nor do I believe the Qur’ān is a representation of 7th Century knowledge. I believe the Qur’ān is accurate and true. My main point here is that claims of miraculousness via verses eluding to natural phenomena does not stand in light of intellectual scrutiny and a new approach is needed – something I will discuss later in this essay.
A contention to the above is that only the primary meanings and a crude understanding of the language has been used, and not the other meanings that can be reconciled with modern scientific conclusions. This may be true, there may be other meanings that can reconcile the verses with scientific conclusions. However, the point raised above is not that these verses cannot be reconciled with modern science, rather the point here is to show that with the primary or explicit meanings the verses point to knowledge – that although not entirely inaccurate – could have been accessed or known at the time of revelation. In light of this, claiming that the verses are miraculous is wrong. From a rational point of view, if a plausible naturalistic explanation is available then that explanation will be adopted over a supernatural one. The very fact that a plausible naturalistic explanation is possible implies that there is no miracle because by definition a miracle is an event that cannot be explained naturalistically. This point will be explained later in this essay.
II. The Prophet (upon whom be peace) could not have had access to the knowledge implied by the Qur’ānic verses
In the eyes of a sceptic or truth seeker, the knowledge currently available about the history of ideas renders the above assertion as unsound. The Prophet Muhammad (upon whom be peace) could have accessed some form of popularised knowledge at the time of revelation because he already referred to other cultures and civilisations. For example, in permitting intercourse with one’s suckling wife the Prophet (upon whom be peace) took into consideration the practices of the Romans and Persians. Below is the Prophetic tradition (ḥadīth):
“I intended to prohibit cohabitation with the suckling women, but I considered the Romans and Persians, and saw that they suckle their children and this thing (cohabitation) does not do any harm to them (to the suckling women).” [Please note that this does not mean the Prophet (upon whom be peace) used knowledge from other civilisations as a source of revelation. Rather, in Islamic theology when it concerns medical and scientific matters, it is advised to seek the best opinions and best practice, as practised by the Prophet (upon whom be peace) himself. Access the following link for a discussion using cross pollination as an example http://en.islamtoday.net/node/1691.]
This authentic ḥadīth shows that the Prophet Muhammad (upon whom be peace) had access to medical practices prevalent in other civilisations. Therefore, in the eyes of the sceptic, it is not impossible that he could have accessed other scientific knowledge that was popularised at the time.
It is important to note that 7th Century Arabian economic life was based around trade and commerce. Travelling as far as the Far East was a common occurrence. Therefore, it is not impossible that there was an exchange of popular scientific practices and ideas. The historian Ira M. Lapidus in his book, A History of Islamic Societies, clearly states that the Arabs in Mecca were established traders travelling far and wide:
“By the mid-sixth century, as heir to Petra and Palmyra, Mecca became one of the important caravan cities of the Middle East. The Meccans carried spices, leather, drugs, cloth and slaves which had come from Africa or the Far East to Syria, and returned money, weapons, cereals, and wine to Arabia.”
Therefore, in the view of a sceptic or seeker of truth, the assertion that the Prophet Muhammad (upon whom be peace) could not have accessed knowledge that was implied by the Qur’ānic verses is false. This is due to the fact that the probability of Prophet (upon whom be peace) exchanging ideas and practices with other cultures is higher than the probability of the Prophet (upon whom be peace) not accessing such knowledge. Therefore a new approach is needed to overcome to this intellectual obstacle, something which I will address later.
3. Teleology of the Qur’ānic verses
The entire scientific miracles narrative seems to ignore or overlook the main theological objectives for these verses. These verses were revealed as signposts to reflect and come to the conclusion that God is One and that He alone deserves to be worshipped. Other reasons include to evoke an understanding and an appreciation of God’s Majesty, Power, Glory, Mercy and Love. Studying classical commentaries of popular creedal books, such as Aqeedah Tahawiyyah, will elaborate on the above reasons. Simply put, they are not there to provide details on science. This is not their scope. The sub-continent thinker and scholar Amīn Aḥsan Iṣlāḥī in his Tadabbur-e-Qur’ān elaborates on this point:
“The reference to the creation of the heavens and the earth indicates and demonstrates the tremendous power and might of their Creator. The way they are fashioned testifies to the uniqueness of His handiwork and astounding wisdom. It also refers to the beneficial nature of the creation and its harmony with human life and needs, the benefits and advantages we gain and depend upon. All these are indicative of the grace and Mercy of the Creator and His providential care for His servants. Besides, these also clearly demonstrate that there is a higher purpose behind the creation of this life and the universe. Surely, a universe so marvellous, harmonious and full of so many manifestations of wisdom, cannot be a purposeless creation, without direction and a higher goal. Indeed, it has been created for a sublime purpose, says the Qur’ān, and a day is fixed for its fullest accomplishment. The harmony between the heavens and the earth clearly shows that they are both creation of one and the same Creator, Who not only created them but also runs and manages them. And it is His scheme and law alone that prevails in them; no other power can in any way or manner interfere in His decisions.”
In similar light, professor of philosophy Shabbir Akhtar in his book The Qur’ān and the Secular Mind: A Philosophy of Islam explains that the purpose of the Qur’ānic verses that allude to the natural world is to point to a hidden immaterial order:
“Nature’s flawless harmonies and the delights and liabilities of our human environment, with its diverse and delicate relationships, are invested with religious significance. Created nature is a cryptogram of a reality which transcends it: nature is a text to be deciphered. Evidences accumulating in the material and social worlds and in the horizons jointly point to a hidden immaterial order.”
In the academic reference work Encyclopedia of the Qur’ān, under Science and the Qur’ān, it maintains that the majority of the classical commentaries on the verses eluding to the natural world argue that they are there to lead people to reflect on the wisdom of creation, and not to establish a scientific fact:
“The marvel of creation is a recurrent theme of qur’ānic commentaries. These marvels are viewed as signs of God and proofs that he exists, is all-powerful and all-knowing, and is the willing creator of all being…At a basic level, such reflection leads to the conclusion that there is order and wisdom in creation, which in turn means that a wise maker must have created it…Ultimately, when people reflect on the heavens and the earth, they will come to realize that their creator did not create them in vain but for a remarkable wisdom and great secrets and that the intellects are incapable of comprehending them…This means that the ultimate purpose of reflection is to establish the limitations of human knowledge and its inability to comprehend creation, not to establish a scientific fact and demonstrate its correspondence with the Qur’ān…The Qur’ān, according to these commentaries, directs people to reflect on the wisdom of the creation of nature but provides no details on the natural order or on ways of deciphering it; these details, if and when they appear in classical qur’ānic commentaries, are drawn from the prevailing scientific knowledge of the time.”
Therefore, these verses must be reflected on and used as opportunities to open the intellectual and spiritual windows to reach an understanding of God’s Oneness, Glory and Transcendence. It is no wonder that the 14th Century scholar Al-Shatibi was against using science, as it removes the reader away from this necessary reflection:
“Many people have overstepped all bounds and made undue claims about the Qur’ān when they assigned to it all types of knowledge of the past and the present such as the natural sciences, mathematics and logic.“
From an empirical or scientific perspective these verses can also provide intellectual stimuli to encourage the listener or reader to look into the interconnecting principles of nature, and to explore the inner dimensions of reality. So when God says in the Qur’ān, “Have not those who disbelieve known that the heavens and the earth were of one piece, then We parted them…” This can encourage the believing scientist to seek answers concerning the origins of the universe and look for clues concerning a cosmic beginning. So rather than giving us the answers, the Qur’ān encourages us to look for them ourselves.
4. Scientism, the problem of induction and empiricism
Jalees Rehman, a cardiology fellow at Indiana University School of Medicine, aptly and concisely articulates a major problem with the scientific miracles narrative. He writes:
“One danger of such attempts to correlate modern science with the Qur’ān is that it makes a linkage between the perennial wisdom and truth of the Qur’ān with the transient ideas of modern science.”
What Rehman is eluding to here is that there is a philosophical issue in asserting that Qur’ānic verses are miraculous. The problem is that science does not claim certainty or 100% truth, and to use science as a method to establish the absolute nature of the Qur’ān is fallacious. Science by its very nature is not static, it is dynamic. Its conclusions change over time, even ones that we may think are established facts. A hidden assumption behind the scientific miracles narrative is that science is the only way to render truth about the world and reality – a proposition known as scientism.
So there are 3 things to discuss here:
Science does not claim certainty or 100% truth
The philosophy of science is a field of study that attempts to address how we can derive knowledge from scientific experiments and empirical data. Key problems in the philosophy of science include induction and empiricism, as they both have limitations and a restricted scope. Understanding these issues will enable us to reach the conclusion that scientific facts are not 100% and there is always the possibility of doubt.
Induction: Induction is a thinking process where one makes conclusions by moving from the particular to the general. Arguments based on induction can range in probability from very low to very high, but always less than 100%.
Here is an example of induction:
“I have observed that punching a boxing bag properly with protective gloves never causes injury. Therefore no one will be injured using a boxing bag.”
As can be seen from the example above, induction faces a key problem which is the inability to guarantee the conclusion, because a sweeping generalisation cannot be made from a limited number of observations. The best it can provide are probabilities, ranging from low to very high. In the aforementioned example the person who made the statement could not logically prove that the next person to punch a boxing bag will not get injured.
Therefore, the problem with induction is that it can’t produce certainty. This issue was raised by the 18th century Scottish philosopher David Hume in his book, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding. Hume argued that inductive reasoning can never produce certainty. He concluded that moving from a limited set of observed phenomena to making conclusions for an unlimited set of observed phenomena is beyond the present testimony of the senses, and the records of our memory.
From a practical scientific perspective, generalisations made for an entire group or for the next observation within that group, based on a limited set of data will never be certain. Take the following example into consideration, a scientist travelled to Wales and wanted to find out the colour of sheep (assuming he does not know the colour of sheep). He started observing the sheep and recorded what colour they were. After 150 sheep observations he found that all of them were white. The scientist concluded, using induction, that all sheep are white. This basic example highlights the problematic nature with the process of induction as we know sheep can also be black. Certainty using induction will never be achieved, because there is always the possibility of new observations undermining the previous conclusion.
Professor Alex Rosenberg in his book Philosophy of Science: A Contemporary Introduction concludes that this is a key problem facing science; he writes:
“Here we have explored another problem facing empiricism as the official epistemology of science: the problem of induction, which goes back to Hume, and added to the agenda of problems for both empiricists and rationalists.”
Empiricism: Empiricism claims that we have no source of knowledge in a subject or for the concepts we use in a subject other than sense experience. Philosopher Elliot Sober in his essay Empiricism explains the empiricist’s thesis:
“Empiricists deny that it is ever rationally obligatory to believe that theories provide true descriptions of an unobservable reality…For an empiricist, if a theory is logically consistent, observations are the only source of information about whether the theory is empirically adequate.”
Empiricism suffers from limitations and logical problems. One form of empiricism – which I will call strong empiricism – is limited to things that can only be observed. This form of empiricism faces a whole host of logical problems. The main problem with strong empiricism is that it can only base its conclusions on observed realities and cannot make conclusions on unobserved realities. Elliot Sober explains this problem:
“Empiricists need to address problems in the philosophy of perception. The most obvious first stab at saying what seeing an object involves is to describe the passage of light from the object into the eyes, with the result that a visual experience occurs. However, the invisibility of white cats in snowstorms and the fact that we see silhouettes (like the moon during an eclipse) shows that this is neither sufficient nor necessary.”
Further exploring Sober’s example, imagine you observe a white cat walking outside of a house towards the direction of an oncoming snowstorm; you can see the cat walking up to the snowstorm and then you can no longer see the cat. A strong empiricist’s account would be to deny that there is a cat in the snowstorm, or at least suspend any claims to knowledge. However, based on other intellectual tools at your disposal you would conclude that there is a white cat in the snowstorm regardless of whether or not you can observe one.
The problems faced by strong empiricism have not gone unaddressed by empiricists. They have responded by weakening their definition for empiricism by redefining empiricism to the view that we can only know something if it is confirmed or supported by sensory experience – I shall call this weak empiricism. Others have dogmatically maintained the view that the only way to truth is via direct observation and being supported by observation is not good enough. These responses have created an unresolved dilemma for the empiricist. The Philosopher John Cottingham exposes this problem in his book Rationalism:
“But what about ‘all water at a given atmospheric pressure boils at 100 degrees Celsius’? Since this statement has the form of an unrestricted universal generalization, it follows that no finite number of observations can conclusively establish its truth. An additional and perhaps even more worrying problem is that when we reach the higher levels of science…we tend to encounter structures and entities that are not observable in any straightforward sense. Atoms, molecules, electrons, photons and the like are highly complex theoretical constructs…here we seem to be very far removed from the world of direct ‘empirical observation’…The positivists tended to respond to this difficulty by weakening their criterion for meaningfulness…it was proposed that a statement was meaningful if it could be confirmed or supported by sensory experience. However, this weaker criterion is uncomfortably vague…Statements about God or Freedom, or the nature of Substance, or the Absolute, may not be directly checkable against experience…The positivist thus seems to be faced with a fatal dilemma: either he will have to make his criterion so stringent that it will exclude the generalizations and theoretical statements of science, or else he will have to weaken his criterion sufficiently to open the door to the speculations of the metaphysician. The dilemma has remained unresolved to this day…”
In light of the above, since induction and empiricism are used in deriving knowledge from scientific data then science cannot claim certainty. There are the obvious problems of the unobserved and the inability to guarantee that the next observation will be the same as the previous observation. Our observations do not encompass all phenomena, therefore science is tentative. In other words it can change based upon future observations. For science to be certain, all natural phenomena must have been observed. This is impossible.
Therefore to use the scientific method, which is a method that does not provide certainty, to justify a book which demands certainty is obviously problematic and incoherent.
Science is dynamic and therefore changes over time
To claim that there is anything scientifically miraculous about a particular Qur’ānic verse is incoherent. This is because science can change due to new observations and studies. Therefore, for someone to claim that a particular verse is miraculous would mean that the one making the claim can guarantee that the science will never change. To make such a guarantee would imply gross ignorance. Ignorance of the fact that science does change and is tentative due to the problems faced by induction and empiricism. The problems of induction and empiricism (as discussed in the previous section) explain the reason for the dynamic nature in science. In summary these problems are that a new observation can be made, or more data can be found. Therefore, by definition, we can never claim that a particular verse is miraculous because to make such an assertion would mean that the science is fixed. This is impossible to maintain.
To explain this point clearly, take into consideration, Muslims living in the 19th century. The science and academia of the time were asserting that the universe is static and without a beginning, known as the steady state theory. Since the Qur’ān argues that the universe had a beginning, does that mean the Qur’ān must have been rejected by Muslims living in the 19th century? Of course not, because all Muslims believe the Qur’ān to be from the Divine, and the Divine cannot be wrong. This exposes a hidden assumption: the Qur’ān is from the Divine and science will at some point show how the verses are in line with reality. This assumption exposes the scientific miracles narrative, as the Qur’ān being from the Divine is presupposed.
This assumption however it not problematic, because it leads us to a new approach. This new approach will help us to use the verses eluding to natural phenomena in a more nuanced and balanced way.
Science is not the only way to render truths about the world and reality
Another hidden assumption behind the scientific miracles narrative is that science is the only way or method to render truths about the world and reality. This assertion is known as scientism. To put it simply, scientism claims that a statement is not true if it cannot be scientifically proven. In other words if something cannot be shown to be true via the scientific method, then it is false. There are a few problems with scientism, for instance:
1. Scientism is self-defeating. Scientism claims that a proposition is not true if it cannot be scientifically proven. But the proposition itself cannot be scientifically proven! It is like saying “there are no sentences in the English language longer than three words” or “I cannot speak one word of English”.
2. Scientism cannot prove necessary truths like mathematics and logic. For example, If P, then Q. P. Therefore, Q and 3 + 3 = 6 are necessary truths and not merely empirical generalisations.
3. Scientism cannot prove moral and aesthetic truths. For example love, beauty, right and wrong.
4. Science cannot prove other sources of knowledge. For example justified beliefs via ‘authentic testimony’. A major problem with scientism is that truths can be established outside the scientific paradigm. As aforementioned, authentic testimony is a valid source of knowledge in which epistemologists have argued at length to explain that the say so of others can – within certain criteria – provide a basis for truth.
The epistemology of testimony is the branch of the theory of knowledge “concerned with how we acquire knowledge and justified belief from the say-so of other people”. Therefore, one of the key questions it tries to answer is “how we successfully acquire justified belief or knowledge on the basis of what other people tell us.”
Many truths that we hold are on the basis of authentic testimony, because we trust the statements of others and we have no good reason to reject what they have said. This is especially so when we have multiple people telling u-s the same thing via different chains of transmission (known as tawattur reporting in Islamic thought). Professor C. A. J. Coady highlights some of the truths we accept on the basis of testimony, he writes:
“Many of us have never seen a baby born, nor have most of us examined the circulation of the blood…”
Assistant Professor Benjamin McMyler in his book Testimony, Truth and Authority, explains that some of the things he knows are due to testimony:
“Here are a few things that I know. I know that the copperhead is the most common venomous snake in the greater Houston area. I know that Napoleon lost the Battle of Waterloo. I know that, as I write, the average price for gasoline in the U.S is $4.10 per gallon. And I know that my parents recently returned home from a trip to Canada. All of these things I know on the basis of what epistemologists call testimony, on the basis of being told of them by another person or group of persons.”
Although this is a vast topic, there is a general consensus that authentic testimony is a source of knowledge. However, there are disagreements amongst epistemologists on how we validate the transmission of knowledge via testimony. Even scientists require testimony as a source of knowledge in order to understand science itself. For instance, there are many assumptions in science that are purely based on the say so of other scientists.
Whatever discussions there are around testimony, the key point to raise here is that it is a valid source of knowledge. Therefore, the view that science is the only way to establish truth, is false. Professor Keith Lehrer summarises the validity of testimony as a source of knowledge:
“The final question that arises concerning our acceptance of testimony is this. What converts our acceptance of testimony of others into knowledge? The first part of the answer is that we must be trustworthy in our evaluations of the trustworthiness of others, and we must accept that this is so. Moreover, our trustworthiness must be successfully truth-connected, that is, the others must, in fact, be trustworthy and their trustworthiness must be truth-connected. We must accept this is so. In short, our acceptance of their testimony must be justified in a way that is not refuted or defeated by any errors that we make in evaluating them and their testimony. Undefeated or irrefutable justified acceptance of the testimony of others is knowledge.” 
It logically follows from the above that since science is not the only way to reach conclusions about things, then we should entertain the possibility of other routes to knowledge. Therefore, assuming science to be the only yardstick to establish the truth of the Qur’ān is false.
5. “Unscientific” Verses
Some verses in the Qur’ānic discourse are currently “unscientific”. This does not mean the Qur’ān is wrong or not from the Divine (as we have already discussed above that science is not the only way to render truth claims about the world and reality, and that it faces problems in the way that it derives knowledge from empirical data), rather it can show that our scientific knowledge is limited and has not reached the right conclusions yet. The reason I am including unscientific verses here is to highlight the inconsistency of the scientific miracles in the Qur’ān methodology. The inconsistency is that if science was a yardstick to use to verify the Divine origins of the Qur’ān, then all verses must be in line with scientific conclusions. Given that some verses are not currently in line with science, then it follows that either the Qur’ān is wrong – and therefore not from the Divine – or that the Qur’ān is right and from the Divine, and that science will catch up. This dilemma, for the Muslims at least, is solved by affirming the Divine origins of the Qur’ān and limited nature of science. In this case it de-scopes the scientific miracles in the Qur’ān claim methodology, and is reduced to the following statement: the Qur’ān is from God and the science that agrees with it is correct, and the science that does not is incorrect. Therefore, the miracle claim is reduced to: the Qur’ān will never be wrong.
Here is an example of an unscientific verse. The Qur’ān says:
“We said: Get down all of you from this place (the Paradise), then whenever there comes to you guidance from Me, and whoever follows My guidance, there shall be no fear on them, nor shall they grieve.”
The above verse refers to Adam and Eve (upon whom be peace). It asserts that they were sent from paradise to earth and implies that they were both fully formed and created before coming to earth. This literal and orthodox interpretation of the verse is in direct conflict with science. The theory of evolution asserts that human beings were formed via natural selection and random mutations on earth over long period of time. The theory of evolution also argues that human have a shared ancestry with non-human species. One attempt to reconcile the theory of evolution and the orthodox interpretation of the Qur’ān is to accept evolution for non-humans and to claim that the creation of Adam was a miracle. A problem with this is that since the scientific evidence for non-human evolution is the same or similar as the evidence used to conclude human evolution, it would be incoherent to call it a miracle, because one would have to accept the same scientific evidence for one and reject it for another, which is tantamount to rejecting the all of the science.
6. Miracles, Simplicity and A Note on Qur’ānic Exegesis
When claiming that something is miraculous it means that there is no plausible naturalistic explanation. In this case, in order for a scientific verse to be miraculous there should be no physical causal link between the verse and the nature of the knowledge of the time, and there should be no alternative linguistic explanation available to explain the verse. This definition of a miracle applied to the Qur’ānic verse exposes the incoherent methodology employed by many to try and find something miraculous.
From a linguistic perspective for a verse to be miraculous it must only have one meaning. If other meanings are available then it would be more rational to take the unscientific or crude meanings over the meanings that imply miraculousness. For a verse to be miraculous it would mean that there is no causal link between the verse and the knowledge of the language, or the science available and accessible at the time. However, since the Qur’ānic discourse allows multiple meanings (obviously within a certain scope) then the miracle claim is unfounded and incoherent by definition. The fact that the language used in the Qur’ān for the verses eluding to natural phenomena is not unequivocal and definitive exposes the perilous nature of the scientific miracles in the Qur’ān claim. Simply put, there are alternative simpler meanings that allow these verses to be explained naturalistically, and the knowledge was available and accessible at the time to explain such statements. Therefore, since a causal link can be found to explain the verses, it renders any miracle claim as null and void.
A Note on Qur’ānic Exegesis
In order for a verse in the Qur’ān to be a scientific miracle it would mean that the meaning attributed to a verse or word is definitive and absolute. This is untenable in light of the science of Qur’ānic exegesis. In the science of Qur’ānic exegesis (known as usul ul-tafsīr in Arabic) when a verse or word has not been explained via the Prophetic traditions (ḥadīth) and the statements of the companions of the Prophet Muhammad (upon whom be peace) and their students, then the linguistic meaning is offered as an explanation. When the linguistic meaning is offered one would have to consult the classical tradition and the classical Arabic dictionaries. A consequence of this is discovering a range of meanings for a particular word. The general rule is that no one can claim that the meaning that someone has chosen is the intended meaning, someone could not say that God intended word X to mean Y. Rather, the approach that has to be taken is to claim that a particular word has a range of meanings and that word X may mean Y. The indefinite nature of a word clearly highlights how it is untenable to claim a miracle, as mentioned above, it would mean that the meaning chosen for a particular word is the intended meaning by the author, in this case God.
A New Approach
So what now? How do we change the direction of the science in the Qur’ān tidal wave that has engulfed Muslim apologetics (more commonly known as daᶜwah in the Muslim community)? How do we transform the narrative? The simple answer is we need a new approach. This new approach is what Professor of Physics and Astronomy Nidhal Guessoum calls a “multiple, multi-level” approach.
The new approach is based on the following axioms and principles:
Mustansir Mir, Professor of Islamic Studies at Youngstown State University, argues for a similar approach. He writes,
“From a linguistic standpoint, it is quite possible for a word, phrase or statement to have more than one layer of meaning, such that one layer would make sense to one audience in one age and another layer of meaning would, without negating the first, be meaningful to another audience in a subsequent age.”
“The word yasbahun (swim or float) in the verse ‘And He is the One Who created the night and day, and the Sun and Moon – each swimming in an orbit’ (Q 21:33) made good sense to seventh-century Arabs observing natural phenomena with the naked eye; it is equally meaningful to us in light of today’s scientific findings [i.e. celestial mechanics].”
Let’s use another example to highlight Professor Mir’s point and apply the axioms and principles mentioned above. In chapter 23 verse 14 of the Qur’ān uses the word ᶜalaqah (عَلَقَة) which can mean a clinging substance, a leech or a worm, and a blood clot, or blood in a general sense. This word is used to describe a stage of the development of the human embryo. A mutli-level and multilayered analysis can include:
1. Appropriate for the time: The meaning that refers to the embryo as a clinging substance and a blood clot could be seen with the naked eye, as the Hellenic physicians and ancient Hebrews predating the Qur’ānic revelation also described the embryo as a clinging substance and a blood clot. So from this perspective it agrees with the predominant scientific view of the time.
2. Appropriate for our time: The word ᶜalaqah also refers to a worm or a leech. This can correlate to the external and internal appearance of the leech. This view of the embryo could only have been discovered after the 15th century. Although the embryo at this stage (days 22 – 25) can be seen with the naked eye, it is about the size of the kernel of wheat and such details cannot be seen without a microscope, which was discovered in the 15th century.See some of the images below taken from the essay by Elias Kareem, Embryology in the Qur’ān: The ᶜalaqah Stage:
Figure 1: External Structure of a Leech compared to the Embryo
Figure 1 A, shows a lateral view of an embryo (size 2.5-3.0mm) at days 24 to 25. (Modified from Moore & Persaud: The Developing Human 8th Edition) B, Hirudo medicinalis, medicinal leech (modified from The Human Body. The Incredible Journey from Birth to Death, © BBC Worldwide Ltd, 1998) C, Scanning electron micrograph of an embryo at Week 4, 26 – 30 days. (Professor Kathy Sulik, The University of North Carolina). Note the leech-like appearance of the human embryos at this stage.
Figure 2: Internal Structure of a Leech compared to the Embryo
Figure 2 A, Ventral dissection showing the internal anatomical structure of a leech. (From J.G. Nicholls and D. Van Essen. The nervous system of the leech, 1974, Scientific American 230:38-48.) B, Dorsal view of a 13-somite embryo at approximately 24 days, actual size 3.0mm. (From Professor Hideo Nishimura, Kyoto University, Kyoto, Japan). Note the remarkable similarity in appearance between the human embryo and the internal structure of the leech.
This however doesn’t imply a miracle, because the above interpretation of the word ᶜalaqah is not certain, and a sceptic could argue that it could be just a guess. [There is also the problem of interpreting the literal meaning of the word as a metaphorical one. This is beyond the scope of the essay, but I adopt the view that a comprehensive understanding of Arabic and Qur’ānic stylistics allows this word to be understood as leech-like or worm-like and not referring to an actual leech or worm]. The point here though is not to argue the miraculous but to articulate the view that the Qur’ān is multilayered, and therefore can address various perspectives and interpretations.
3. Timeless non-scientific perspective: The leech acts like a parasite, it clings on to its host and starts to suck its blood. The embryo can also be likened to a parasite where it drains the resources of its mother. Hence we should lower the wing of humility and mercy for our parents, especially our mothers, as they sacrificed willingly in order for us to be here today. This raises the perspective that we are not truly independent, self-sufficient or free, as in our very development in the womb we are dependent on our mothers. This should instil a sense of humility and an understanding that we are all dependent on each other in some way, and ultimately dependent of God.
Interestingly, this comparison between the leech and the embryo has also been made by Lord Robert Winston, who is Professor of Science and Society and Emeritus Professor of Fertility Studies at Imperial College:
“[The leech] takes whatever it needs to live by sucking the blood of whatever it can latch onto; in this case that’s me. As it sucks my blood, it takes from it all that it needs to live, it literally lives off me and the whole of pregnancy is shaped by a similar kind of parasitic relationship. Unlike the leech, the developing embryo doesn’t suck the maternal blood but t does raid her blood for the raw materials it needs to grow. From the word go both leech and embryo are out for themselves.”
4. Future findings: In absence of a link between the meaning of a particular word or verse and scientific conclusions, the meaning can be used as a motivation to find new data and develop innovative scientific solutions.
If a multi-level or a multilayered analysis cannot produce anything meaningful, then a future scientific discovery or conclusion can open the window of opportunity to provide a meaningful analysis. This exposes the axiom that the Qur’ān is not inaccurate or wrong. This is not a unjustified assumption, as there are a myriad or arguments that indicate the Qur’ān is a signpost to the supernatural, in other words from the Divine. Although it is not the scope of this essay to discuss this in detail, one such example to show that the Qur’ān has Divine origins includes the fact that it is linguistically inimitable.
How to articulate this in a simple way
For those concerned on how to articulate this in a simple way I suggest a simple step process:
1. When talking about Divine revelation speak about:
2. After establishing the plausibility of the Qur’ān having Divine origins, you can speak about the multi-level and the multilayered approach we have discussed. An example includes:
“You know what is very interesting about the Qur’ān? Well, the Qur’ān seems to address various levels of intellect and addresses different levels of understanding at different periods in human history. For example, in chapter 23 verse 14 of the Qur’ān, it mentions the word ᶜalaqah to described a stage of the development of the human embryo. This word can mean a blood-clot, something that clings and a leech or a worm. The knowledge that was available during the 7th century maintained that the embryo was like a blood-clot and that it is something that clings. Interestingly in the 21st century the embryo on a microscopic level looks like a leech, even the internal structure of the leech looks like the embryo at around 4 weeks in its development. The word leech can also imply that when we were embryos we drained our mothers resources, just like a leech does, so we should love our mothers more and lower the wing of mercy and humility because they willingly sacrificed for us. This is an interesting aspect of the Qur’ān, it seems to be able to address various times and different levels of understanding. If some statements do not seem to be in line with modern science, then science will catch up. I have already shown how the Qur’ān can be from God without using science, and therefore we can conclude that what God says is true. Also, and as you know, science is not absolute, it changes with time and that there is always the possibility of new observations and new findings.”
How could scientific miracles be established?
In light of the above, Muslims who have adopted the science in the Qur’ān narrative may argue that what I have presented is pessimistic. They may also assert that I haven’t provided a method or criteria on how to assess if a verse can be described as a scientific miracle. The primary reason why I find the science in the Qur’ān narrative incoherent is due to the philosophy of science. However, it could be argued that a verse could be deemed as more likely to have not come from a 7th century Arab if it adhered to the following criteria:
Although this proposed criteria to salvage the science in the Qur’ān narrative is still work in progress, I personally find it almost impossible to practically fulfil the above criteria. Scholars, thinkers and apologists should develop this further.
This essay has argued that the scientific miracles in the Qur’ān narrative is incoherent, and it has articulated a new approach to reconcile and discuss science in the Qur’ān. It is hoped that the readers of this essay will adopt the new approach so a new narrative emerges in the public sphere. This new narrative will be able to withstand scientific criticism while bringing to light the timeless nature of the Qur’ānic discourse. I appreciate that this essay may agitate some readers, especially those who have adopted the scientific miracles in the Qur’ān narrative. The intention is not to stir emotions, but rather to facilitate a new coherent discourse in Muslim apologetics and proselytisation. I pray it brings about the much needed discussion and dialogue, as it is through speaking to one another, exchanging ideas and scrutinizing the approaches we take that we can find solutions and answers to contemporary problems.
 Bigliardi, S. (2011), Snakes from Staves? Science, Scriptures, and the Supernatural in Maurice Bucaille. Zygon, 46: 793–805. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9744.2011.01218.x
 Strange Bedfellows: Western Scholars Play Key Role in Touting `Science’ of the Quran by Daniel Golden Wall Street Journal, January 23, 2002. pg. A.1, posted on the website of California State University, Fullerton by Dr. James Santucci.
 Here is an example: “Alfred Kröner – Quote mined scientist denounces Quran miracle claims” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ClHuG880pqU, accessed 9:20AM, 26 June 2013
 Written by the academic linguist Hussein Abdul-Raof. Refer to pages 166 – 169.
 Dr. Zakir Naik – Quran & Modern Science: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r5h6CNhtVls.
 Yusuf Estes – Science in Islam: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G6ehcirhZ-g.
 See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3T5Pm7qLH50.
 You can download a copy here http://www.iera.org.uk/downloads/Embryology_in_the_Quran_v2.pdf.
 You can download a copy here http://www.scribd.com/doc/110224187/2-101612-Embryology-in-the-Quran-Much-Ado-About-Nothing.
 The classical exegete Ibn Kathīr mentions that these words mean the womb. See here http://www.qtafsir.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=2481&Itemid=78.
 See here http://mineralsciences.si.edu/collections/meteorites.htm#3
 Qur’ān 57:25
 See The Story of Chemistry. N. C. Datta, p. 22; The Spirit of Ancient Egypt. Ana Ruiz. Algora Publishing, p. 72; Origins and Development of Applied Chemistry. James Riddick Partington, p87. Ayer Company Pub, 1975; http://www.digitalegypt.ucl.ac.uk/metal/metalinegypt.html.
 Qur’ān 10:5
 Doxographi on Thales, Aet. ii. 1 ; Dox. 327. See online reference here http://history.hanover.edu/texts/presoc/thales.html.
 The Doxographists on Anaxagoras, Hipp. Phil, 8 ; Dox. 561 260-1.
 Qur’ān 78:6-7
 Bible Jonah 2:6, http://biblehub.com/jonah/2-6.htm
 Reading Jonah in Hebrew. Duane L. Christensen. Bibal Corporation. 2005, p. 16. See online link here http://www.bibal.net/04/proso/psalms-ii/pdf/dlc_reading-jonah-b.pdf.
 Qur’ān 21:30
 Sahih Muslim Book 8 ḥadīth 3392 [also repeated in ḥadīth 3394 and Malik’s Muwatta Book 30, ḥadīth 16].
 Ira M. Lapidus, ‘A History of Islamic Societies’, Cambridge, p.14.
 Amīn Aḥsan Iṣlāḥī. Tadabbur-e-Qur’ān. Pondering over the Qur’ān. Vol 1. Translated by Mohammad Slaeem Kayani. Islamic Book Trust. 2007, p 410.
 Shabbir Akhtar. The Qur’ān and the Secular Mind: A Philosophy of Islam. Routledge. 2008, page 217.
 Dallal, Ahmad. “Science and the Qur’ān.” Encyclopaedia of the Qur’ān. General Editor: Jane Dammen McAuliffe, Georgetown University, Washington DC. Brill Online, 2013. Reference. Andreas Tzortzis. 19 July 2013 <http://referenceworks.brillonline.com/entries/encyclopaedia-of-the-quran/science-and-the-quran-SIM_00375>
 Al-Shatibi, Ibrahim. Al-Muwafaqat, ed. Muhammad al-Khidr Husayn al-Tunisi. 4 Vols., Cairo: al-Matba’a al-Salafiya, 1922. Vol. 2, pp. 80-1.
 Jalees Rehman “Searching for Scientific Facts in the Quran: Islamization of Knowledge or a New Form of Scientism?’ Islam & science, 2003.
 David Hume. An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, p. 108.
 Professor Alex Rosenberg. Philosophy of Science: A Contemporary Introduction. 2012, p. 198.
 Elliot Sober “Empiricism” in The Routledge Companion to Philosophy of Science. Edited by Stathis Psillos and Martin Curd. 2010, p. 129.
 Ibid, p. 131.
 John Cottingham. Rationalism. Paladin. 1984, pp. 109 -110.
 Taken and adapted from an online lecture by Professor J. P. Moreland.
 Access the following link to understand what this means http://www.philosophy-index.com/logic/forms/modus-ponens.php.
 See here http://www.reasonablefaith.org/is-scientism-self-refuting.
 Benjamin McMyler. Testimony, Truth and Authority. Oxford University Press. 2011. p. 3.
 The Epistemology of Testimony. Edited by Jennifer Lackey and Ernest Sosa. Clarendon Press: Oxford. 2006, p. 2.
 C. A. J. Coady. Testimony: A Philosophical Study. Oxford University Press. 1992, p. 82.
 Benjamin McMyler. Testimony, Truth and Authority. Oxford University Press. 2011. p 10.
 Keith Lehrer cited in The Epistemology of Testimony. Oxford University Press. 2006, p. 158.
 Qur’ān 2:38
 I take an epistemic approach to evolution which doesn’t require one to reject the science or the Qur’ān. Read my essay here http://www.hamzatzortzis.com/essays-articles/philosophy-theology/has-evolution-been-misunderstood-revelation-science-and-certainty/.
 See Nidhal Guessoum. Islam’s Quantum Question: Reconciling Muslim Tradition and Modern Science. I. B. Tauris. 2011. Chapter 5.
 Cited from Nidhal Guessoum. Islam’s Quantum Question: Reconciling Muslim Tradition and Modern Science. 2011, p. 152.
 Embryology in the Qur’ān: The ‘Alaqah Stage. Elias Kareem. Accessed here http://islampapers.files.wordpress.com/2012/02/thealaqah.pdf.
 Corpus Medicorum Graecorum: Galeni de Semine (Galen: On Semen) pages 92 – 95.
 Embryology in the Qur’ān: The ‘Alaqah Stage. Elias Kareem. Accessed here http://islampapers.files.wordpress.com/2012/02/thealaqah.pdf.
 For more information read here http://islampapers.com/2012/07/01/can-alaqah-be-seen/.
 See the video here http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=pwwP_dgriLI.
 See here for more information http://www.hamzatzortzis.com/essays-essays/exploring-the-quran/.
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