The Qur’an, Muhammad and Modern Science: Scientific Miracles or Blunders?

Anyone who has had even a mild exposure to Islamic apologetics will have encountered the argument for the Qur’an’s divine origin based on its purported scientific miracles — that is, scientific assertions contained within the Qur’an which have only been validated by modern science. Out of all of the arguments for the Islamic religion, this is the one which, in my judgment, comes closest to being a real argument. Indeed, this is probably the best they’ve got, and it is frequently a lead argument by Muslim polemicists. Nonetheless, the argument has always appeared very strange to me. If the Qur’an is unrivaled at anything, assuredly it is only in its ability to conceive of a Universe so wildly disconnected from reality.

One problem with the positive Islamic argument is that it can only be falsified if one allows both correct and incorrect scientific statements to potentially validate or refute the Qur’an’s divine origin. If correct scientific statements provide evidence for the Qur’an’s divine origin, then surely incorrect scientific statements provide support for the opposite conclusion. For the argument to work, therefore, one must demonstrate not only that the Qur’an contains specific scientific information that could not have been known by a seventh century Arab, but also that the Qur’an does not contain demonstrable scientific errors that we might expect from a seventh century Arab. Unfortunately, it is usually the case that only the passages that are believed by Muslims to comport with modern science are presented in Muslim polemical literature.

What sort of arguments are deployed by Muslim apologists to demonstrate Muhammad’s unique scientific insight? Take a look at the following figure, excerpted from A Brief Illustrated Guide to Understanding Islam by I.A. Ibrahim.

The book draws on Surah Al-Mumenoon 12-14, in which we read,

We created man from an extract of clay. Then We made him as a drop in a place of settlement, firmly fixed. Then We made the drop into an alaqah, then We made the alaqah into a mudghah (chewed substance)…

The word alaqah can be mean three things: leech, suspended thing, or blood clot. The book attempts to argue that an embryo at one stage resembles a leech. Such a claim is quite debatable, however, and the illustration above is clearly tailored to comport with the argument. The book even makes the argument that “suspended thing” can refer to the suspension of the embryo in the womb of the mother. This is a real stretch, however. Finally, we have this figure, which attempts to show similarity between a pharyngula stage embryo (which it calls the mudghah stage) and a piece of chewed gum.

This argument is so absurd that to state the argument is to refute it. Other such claims of miraculous scientific insight in the Qur’an do not fare much better. Another argument is that various ayat teach that mountains have roots (16:15, 21:31, 31:10, 78:7, 79:32-33), something which apparently Muhammad could not have known. These ayat do not, however, teach that mountains have roots. They assert that the mountains were placed on the earth to keep it fixed and standing firm. Again, such an argument is a real stretch. In any case, the roots of mountains were known about even in ancient times (e.g. see Job 28:9, Psalm 18:7, Jonah 2:6). I think it more likely that the author of the Qur’an viewed mountains as a sort of paperweight to keep the earth still. That would seem to be the best reading of Surah Qaf 7: “As for the earth, We have spread it out, and cast on it firm hills…” In support of this, there is also some indication that the author of the Qur’an viewed the earth as flat (e.g. 20:53; 22:65; 43:10; 71:15-20; 88:20).

In this article, we will examine a few of the problematic passages. We shall also look at some of the statements of Muhammad as reported by the ahadith literature. Some of these hadithic statements shed light or clarify the meaning of these Qur’anic verses. One may argue in response that these ahadith are inauthentic and do not truly reflect words spoken by Muhammad. Nonetheless, irrespective of whether these ahadith go back to Muhammad or not, they do tell us something about how the early Muslims understood the corresponding statements in the Qur’an, and are thus relevant to how we ought to interpret them. This list is far from exhaustive, but draws on a few illustrative examples.

Muhammad’s Universe

Stars as Missiles?

According to the Qur’an, stars are missiles that Allah uses to chase away demons. According to Surah Al-Mulk 5,

And We have decorated the nearest sky with lamps, and have made them devices to stone the devils, and We have prepared for them the punishment of Hell.

We further read in Surah Al-Jinn 8-9,

And we have sought (to reach) the heaven, but we found it filled with stern guards and flames. And that we used to sit at places therein to listen; but if one will (try to) listen now, he will find a flame in ambush for him.

Note that this is from the perspective of the Jinn, which are spiritual beings spoken of frequently in the Qur’an. The Jinn desired to eavesdrop the heaven, but were chased away by shooting stars. This same idea is taught also in Surah As-Saaffat 6-10, in which we read,

Verily, We have decorated the nearest sky with an adornment, the stars, and (have made them) a security against every rebellious devil. They cannot listen to the Upper Realm and are hit from every side to be driven off, and for them there is a lasting punishment; However, if one snatches a little bit, he is pursued by a bright flame.

How did the early Muslims understand these verses? In volume 4 and chapter 3 of Sahih al-Bukhari, we read the following:

(About the) Stars, Abu Qatada mentioning Allah’s Statement: ‘And We have Adorned the nearest heaven with lamps,” (67:5) And said, “The creations of these stars is for three purposes, i.e. as decorations on the sky, as missiles to hit the devils, and as signs to guide travelers. So, if anybody tries to find a different interpretation, he is mistaken and just wastes his efforts, and troubles himself with what is beyond his limited knowledge.

The same concept is also found in Sahih Muslim (vol.1 book 4 no.902; vol.4 book 24 no.5538) and Sunan ibn Majah (vol.1 book 1 no.194).

The Trajectory of the Sun and Moon

Dhul-Qarnain, traditionally identified by Qur’anic commentators as Alexander the Great, is spoken of in Surah Al-Kahf. In verses 83-86, we read,

They ask you about Dhul-Qarnain. Say, “I shall now recite to you an account of him. Surely, We gave him power on earth and gave him means to (have) everything (he needs). So he followed a course, until when he reached the point of sunset, he found it setting into a miry spring, and found a people near it. We said, “O Dhul-Qarnain, either punish them or adopt good behavior with them.”

Thus, according to the Qur’an, Alexander the Great traveled so far that he reached the place where the sun sets (a pool of water) and even found a people that lives nearby it! He was even able to reach the place of sunrise, according to verses 89 and 90 of the same chapter:

Thereafter he followed a course, until when he reached the point of sunrise, he found it rising over a people for whom We did not make any shelter against it.

Surah Ya-Seen 38-40 is even more clear:

And the sun is quickly proceeding towards its destination. That is the designing of the All-Mighty, the All-Knowing. And for the moon We have appointed measured phases, until it turned (pale, curved and fine) like an old branch of date palm. Neither it is for the sun to overtake the moon, nor can the night outpace the day. Each one is floating in an orbit.

Am I misinterpreting? Surely Muhammad — the Messenger of the Almighty Allah — knew that the sun doesn’t actually move in relation to the earth, right? We need only go to the ahadith sources to find out. According to Sahih Bukhari vol.4 book 54 ch.4 no.421,

Narrated Abu Dhar: The Prophet asked me at sunset, “Do you know where the sun goes (at the time of sunset)? I replied, “Allah and His Apostle know better.” He said, “It goes (i.e. travels) till it prostrates itself underneath the Throne and takes the permission to rise again, and it is permitted and then (a time will come when) it will be about to prostrate itself but its prostration will not be accepted, and it will ask permission to go on its course but it will not be permitted, but it will be ordered to return when it has come and so it will rise in the west. And that is the interpretation of the Statement of Allah: “And the sun Runs its fixed course for a term (decreed). That is the Decree of (Allah) The Exalted in Might, The All-Knowing.” (36.38)

In Sunan Abu Dawud (3991), we also read,

Abu Dharr said: I was sitting behind the Apostle of Allah who was riding a donkey while the sun was setting. He asked: Do you know where this sets? I replied: Allah and his Apostle know best. He said: It sets in a spring of warm water.

As any astronomer will tell you, this is a point on which Muhammad was dead wrong. Such an error may have been excusable for a seventh century Arab, but it certainly doesn’t bode well for the Qur’an being the revealed word of God.

Muhammad Wrong About Human Reproduction

The Qur’an On Semen Production

Surah At-Tariq 5-7 attempts to comment on the production of semen:

So, let man consider of which stuff he is created. He is created of spouting water that comes out from between the loins and the chest bones.

Again, the Qur’an has blown yet another opportunity to demonstrate to us its divinely inspired nature. Semen is produced in the seminal vesicle, located in the pelvis — not between the loins and chest bones.

Muhammad On Parental Resemblance

According to Sahih Bukhari chapter 58 (no. 275), Muhammad is asked three questions by Abdullah ibn Salam, upon hearing the news of the Prophet’s arrival. He says “I am going to ask you about three things which only a Prophet can answer.” One of those questions is “Why does a child attract the similarity to his father or to his mother?” Interestingly, Muhammad claims to receive an answer to this question from the very same source that he is purportedly receiving the Qur’an from. This means that this is an ideal opportunity to test whether this source of Qur’anic revelations is reliable. He states that “Gabrial has just now informed me of that.” In response to the question, Muhammad states that,

As for the child, if the man’s discharge proceeds the woman’s discharge, the child attracts the similarity to the man, and if the woman’s discharge proceeds the man’s, then the child attracts the similarity of the woman.

Strangely, the response of Abdullah ibn Salam is to say, “I testify that None has the right to be worshiped except Allah, and that you are the Apostle of Allah.” How on earth could ibn Salam have known whether the answer given by Muhammad was correct or not? It is only with the benefit of modern science that we can confirm how wrong Muhammad was on this point. Of particular significance, he claimed that such knowledge was revealed to him by the angel Gabriel, the very same source from which the Qur’an is purportedly derived. Why, then, should we trust that?

Muhammad On Sex-Determination

Muhammad, it turns out, was also wrong concerning sex-determination which, according to Sahih Muslim 6397, takes place only after the final shape of the embryo has been formed. We read,

Anas ibn Malik reported directly from Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) that he said: Allah, the Exalted and Glorious, has appointed an angel as the caretaker of the womb, and he would say: My Lord, it is now a drop of semen; my Lord, it is now a clot of blood; my Lord, it has now become a lump of flesh, and when Allah decides to give it a final shape, the angel says: My Lord, would it be male or female or would be be an evil or a good person? What about his livelihood and his age? And it is all written as he is in the womb of his mother.

Muhammad Wrong About Personal Hygiene

Muhammad also makes blunders concerning personal hygiene. Consider, for instance the following passages from the ahadith:

  • Sahih Al-Bukhari 537: “Narrated Abu Huraira: The prophet said “If a house fly falls in the drink of anyone of you, he should dip it (in the drink), for one of its wings has a disease and the other has the cure for the disease.””
  • Sunan Abu Dawud 67: “I heard that the people asked the Prophet of Allah (peace be upon him): Water is brought for you from the well of Buda’ah. It is a well in which dead dogs, menstrual cloths and excrement of people are thrown. The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) replied: Verily water is pure and is not defiled by anything.”
  • Sunan Ibn Majah 520: “It was narrated that Jabir bin Abdullah said: “We came to a pond in which there was the carcass of a donkey, so we refrained from using the water until the Messenger of Allah came to us and said: ‘Water is not made impure by anything.’ Then we drank from it and gave it to our animals to drink, and we carried some with us.””

I, for one, certainly would not want to follow Muhammad’s hygiene advice.

Conclusion

As I have shown, the Qur’an, far from being a scientific miracle, contains numerous scientific mistakes and errors. It gives every appearance of being the product of the imaginations of a seventh century Arab, not the inspired word of God. To his contemporaries, who didn’t know any better, Muhammad’s pretensions to have prophetic insight concerning science may have given him credibility in the eyes of some. To us, who live in the 21st century, however, the numerous scientific blunders in the Qur’an essentially refute its claims to divine origin.

Any Muslim apologetic that attempts to wield the argument from the “scientific miracles” of the Qur’an must, if it is not to be a task of cherry-picking, take into account the aforementioned blunders. When taken together with the argument presented in my previous article, as well as the Qur’an’s misrepresentation of Christian theology (which I discuss here), it seems that the case is decisive and inescapable. There are many more difficulties, however, which I have yet to discuss. In future articles, we shall consider still further reasons why the Qur’an cannot possibly be the word of God as claimed by Muslims.

16 replies
  1. moose says:

    jonathan-what makes the (un) holy bible the word of god? the talking snake? the talking donkey? the demon posessed pigs? the sun standing still for a day? and all the other amazing claims of the “holy” bible.

    if the muslim holy book is a phoney and the “holy” bible is the “word of god”, are all muslims going to hell?–where the worm never dies and the fire is never quenched. if one faith is right and all the rest are wrong, wouldn’t a perfect, omni-everything god (with his/her/its infinite wisdom and power) be able to figure out a way to convey to the world the one true faith-and thus save millions/billions from hell-where the worm never dies and the fire is never quenched

    Reply
    • jan says:

      Correct moose. Anyone who believes women are second class possessions, Jews are subhuman and you must kill anyone who doesn’t believe what you do is destined for hell. Secondly, you claim you cannot see the forest because of all the trees in the way! God has done exactly what you said and sent Jesus to die on the cross so that ANYONE who believes will be saved and the facts were all written down so it can be handed down through the generations. It cannot get easier than that.

      Reply
    • Yvonne says:

      Romans chapter one of the true Word of God states that man is without excuse..’For since we the creation ofnthe world His invisible attributes are clearly seen ,being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead , so that they are without excuse! We all can know Him. And He gave a hand book of instructions..a love story..for we.. His greatest creations to know Him and know how we ought to be living.
      Father Son n Holy spirit..Jesus the Living Word..John 1:1..which became flesh…vs 14.
      Everything that was made was made by Him and through Him and without Him nothing was made that was made. Vs 3.
      ‘And without controversy, great is the mystery of Godliness: God was manifested in the flesh….’
      There is only one truth and that is Jesus Christ..God the great I Am!

      Reply
  2. Stephen B says:

    “As I have shown, the Qur’an, far from being a scientific miracle, contains numerous scientific mistakes and errors. It gives every appearance of being the product of the imaginations of a seventh century Arab, not the inspired word of God”

    The bible is vulnerable to exactly the same charge, except obviously it appears to come from imaginations earlier than 7th century. Pointing out the ‘errors’ to a biblical literalist gets you the same responses as the above article gets from a Muslim – a mixture of ‘you’re misreading the text’, ‘that’s not an error’, and other explanations.

    Reply
  3. Robert says:

    Like Jesus, Moses, Buddha, Zoroaster, Krishna, Muhammad never even existed. Islam evolved from ancient Arabic moon worshiping cults, Judaism and Christianity evolved from ancient sun worshiping cults. These people have hated each other for so long they have forgotten why,. Look into the sun and squint. That is where the sign of the cross really comes from. Look on the top of any Mosque and tell me they aren’t moon worshipers. This is the truth, these are the real facts. Anyone who believes a religion’s own history of itself really ought to have their head examined.

    Reply
    • Louie says:

      At least when Stephen B. speaks up on these blogs, he makes me think and question things. (and thank you for that Stephen) But Robert, when you speak up, you make me believe that one of your listed religions must be true. Since it seems impossible to me that something make believe could make someone so angry.

      Reply
  4. Hatem says:

    I am a Muslim and I read your article, and i agree with one fact, that the Quran must not contain even one scientific mistake if it is from God. I’m trying to find one true mistake in the Quran from your article, but I cannot grasp even one, most of it is just opinion but not facts, you need evidence to support your claims not opinions, this is fundamental in science. For example, you said mountains were not described as having roots, yet when translated, it says ‘pegs’ (putting into consideration that the native language of the Quran is Arabic, so parts of the meanings are lost in translation): “And the mountains as pegs” (78:7; Yusuf Ali’s translation). Isn’t our understanding of a peg that it buries itself, like the pegs we use in boardgames? This is your most common mistake throughout the article, just like you stating that the embryo being suspended is a stretch in concept, its just your opinion and not a fact.

    And u based some (alleged) annulments on very fatal logic; your assumption that if you can’t find a reasonable way for something to happen automatically means that it is a refuted fact (concerning your statement that how can the early Muslims understand the verses about the Jinn), for its the same as the assumption: whatever i can’t see means that it couldn’t have happened! If u had asked how did that happen so that you can be enlightened (which has an explanation by the way), but you ask how as a basis to annul the fact, insinuating that there is no way that that could have happened!

    Furthermore, your whole article came crashing down logically when you said “It gives every appearance of being the product of the imaginations of a seventh century Arab”, for if that was true, he could never have given us one correct (impossible to be known at that time) scientific fact (like the matters concerning the embryo, which he did, let alone multiple scientific facts like the fact that the forebrain is the most responsible part of the brain for creating lies, and that the sky and earth were conjoined together and then split apart, which is the current scientific theory concerning the origin of the universe, a highly dense mass that exploded, aka The Big Bang Theory). So if he gives just us one correct scientific fact (which u admitted he did in the beginning), then it also annuls the possibility of Him inventing the Quran because there is no way he could have known it (which u are implying). Your very own first rule you placed negated your own conclusion! You wrote just one article and yet it contradicted itself, so when u read the whole Quran and find not even one contradiction what does that tell you?

    Another subject is the matter of the fly, u need research that disproves that the wings of a fly don’t contain an antidote of any sort to prove him wrong, not just basing it upon commonly practiced hygiene measures, because for example, just exposing a drink to the air allows thousands of microorganisms to fall on it, should i throw the drink then? I could go on and on, but replying lengthily is not practical via a comment box.

    Finally, please accept my comments and advice to people, to Moose i tell him, Islam is a successive religion to Judaism and Christianity, i.e. the one and only God sent down these religions to make humans fulfill all His laws gradually (the reasons for which are beyond the scope of this comment), so when Jesus (pbuh) came, all Jews had to become Christians, and when Muhammad (pbuh) came, all Christians were supposed to become Muslims just as all Jews were supposed to become Christians. As for the other religions as Buddhism and so on, they were not from God, proven by the fact that their pioneers encouraged people to worship them, not God! On a side note, Jesus never once said that he is a God, nor asked people frankly to worship him, nor that he is the son of God, and u can search the Bible, its just the horrid misconception of the current Christian scholars while interpreting the verses, all he keeps saying is: Worship Him (i.e.God).

    To Robert i ask, if u ride a car that has the emblem of its manufacturer, does it mean that you worship that company/sign? And its not a matter of believing a religions History, read about the religion from dependable sources and reason with what it has to say, but do not put off reading its holy book and then dismiss it as gibberish on account of what people say about it verbally, for example u implicate that Islam encourages moon worshiping, but where is it written in the Quran? Yet many people may read your comment and believe you, although u based your assumption (which you state as a fact) on your own opinion without evidence to back it up.

    To the author of this article i say, be honest with yourself, you realize the many scientific facts in the Quran and yet you are still searching for a flaw, so please revise your intentions, and forgive me for being so straightforward, for our lives and destinies are no small matter that can withstand complimenting each other. And as i can deduce from your article, seems to me you have read the Quran a bit, but i ask you, have you come across the verse: “Say: Consider what is it that is in the heavens and the earth; and signs and warners do not avail a people who would not believe.” (10:101; Shakir’s translation), meaning: what good will it do if every sign came to them when they do not want to believe in the first place. I ask you this because I’m afraid that you may have fallen into that pit.

    And to the general readers, i tell them that finding the truthful religion is a crucial and personal matter, don’t follow the flock, because you will meet many ignorant and stubborn and lying persons. Its a bit of a burden to find out, but that is the main purpose from our lives, to seek the truth and follow it, not to eat and sleep and breed and have fun, for those are secondary matters and not goals for a man in life.

    Reply
    • Layna says:

      I’m sorry, but The Bible does say that Jesus is God/ The Son of God just not in the way people who use this argument want it to be said. That’s why the Jews crucified Him, because according to them, he committed blasphemy. Jesus didn’t have to say ” I am God ” in order to claim to be Divine. I urge you, to first look at and study The Bible for what it says, not what you want it to say. Satan wants people to think that they ” know God” just as long as they don’t know Jesus! Every religion claims to be right by human effort, follow these rules, let your good outlay your bad and then maybe you’ll get into Heaven. The One true God says ” I am the way the truth and the life, no man comes to the Father except through me ” John 14:6 That is grace! Jesus got what we deserved, dying on the Cross, separated from His Father because of taking on the sin of the world, but triumphantly defeating sin and death and being the perfect sacrifice that satisfied the wrath of God so that those who believe in Him will be saved! Not only that, to be able to have a relationship with God! That’s who He is!!!! A savior who came to serve not to be served, and He will return and establish Himself on the throne of David. Repent and believe! He is coming like a thief in the night, search for the truth! Examine your arguments and where you are claiming them from!

      Reply
    • jan says:

      You are correct to say not to follow any deceiving religion, especially one that demands lies if it will bring converts. The word used is taquiya I believe. The ‘science’ about dipping the fly is a big mistake, I thought that would be enough evidence for any person honestly looking for answers and not grasping at straws to justify a false religion.

      Reply
    • Anthony says:

      Hatem, I’m sorry but did you not read the part about the Sun setting in a spring of warm water? That’s one proven mistake. Be honest with yourself. You seem to be the sheep. Just because Muhammad was right about some things does not make him a prophet. I guessed the winner of the Kentucky Derby. Maybe you should blindly follow me in to battle to rape and pillage. He has been wrong on so many levels. Open your eyes.

      Reply
        • Zen says:

          That is taqqiya. It was Mohammad that explained that the sun sets in a spring of water, not Dhul Qarnayn. Having eyes to see, you are blind. Having ears to hear, you are deaf.

          Reply
    • Zen says:

      Genesis 1:1 In the beginning God created….

      Genesis 1:16 Then God made two great lights: the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the darkness. He made the stars also.

      The last five words, “He made the stars also”, make it clear that the author was not talking about the sun and the moon being the greater and lesser lights, but rather, of spiritual things. The “greater light to rule the day” is Jesus Christ. Jesus praying in the garden of Gethsemane said…

      “John 17:5 And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.”

      John 1:3 All things were made through Him (Jesus), and without Him (Jesus) nothing was made that was made.

      The “lesser light” to rule the darkness is Lucifer, who is a.k.a The Prince of Darkness.

      Isaiah 14:12 [ The Fall of Lucifer ] “How you are fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! How you are cut down to the ground, You who weakened the nations!”

      Ephesians 6:12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the RULERS OF THE DARKNESS of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness
      in the heavenly places.

      Christianity worships the Son, the greater light to rule the day. And Islam worships the moon, the lesser light to rule the darkness, only it is not the physical moon but is the spiritual Prince of Darkness.

      Reply
    • Zen says:

      There is nothing about the Quran that is hard to grasp because there is nothing spiritual in it. It is very simply the corrupt mind of men trying to be spiritual as Judaism and Christianity are spiritual. Every Christian balks at the words in the Quran because we know the words of the One True God and His Son, Jesus Christ. The differences are startling.

      Reply

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