SECTION FOUR

SCIENCE AND REVELATION

CHAPTER I

THE QUR'AN AND THE BIBLE:
FORETELLING MODERN SCIENCE

Having now established that for matters of faith and for our continued discussion, the texts of the Qur'an and of the Bible are both essentially as they were written, we shall take up the question of their relation to modern science. But first we must look again at the question of basic assumptions.

SMALL "BASIC ASSUMPTIONS" USED FOR RECONCILIATION

In Chapters I and II of Section One we considered major basic assumptions. The following story illustrates that we all make many smaller assumptions to bring facts into conformity with one another.

While taking a taxi from the airport in Tunisia, I got into a discussion with the taxi driver. As we talked he asked me what I thought about the Qur'an. I answered, "Well, it says that the Jews didn't kill Jesus; that they didn't crucify him; and that he didn't die. The Bible says that he did! And not only did he die, but he died for our sins, yours and mine. Now if the Qur'an means that he died, but he didn't stay dead, I can go along with that and we wouldn't have any problem."

He answered, "But that would be using logic (making a basic assumption) to explain it in a different way," (which is true) and he went on to say, as Muslims always do, "No Jesus didn't die!" (from Nisa' 4:157)

Then I said, "What about the verse (in the Sura of the Family of `Imran 3:55) where God is speaking and says, ‘Oh Jesus, (inna)[1] I will cause you to die and raise you to Myself'. Doesn't that say that Jesus died before he rose again?"

The taxi driver answered, "Aaah, but statements following ‘inna’ don't have to be considered as being in chronological order."

I answered, "but you are using logic" (making a basic assumption), and we both laughed because he knew and I knew that we had both done the same thing.[2]

I mention this story because when Dr. Bucaille discusses the Bible he won't allow the commentator to make any type of "explanation" or "basic assumption" to reconcile two texts which at first might seem to contradict each other. On the other hand when dealing with the Qur'an, he is quite willing to do what every person does and make "basic assumptions" in his explanations.

This will be seen very clearly as we consider the following points. Dr. Bucaille claims (A) that the Qur'an shows extra-ordinary foreknowledge of modern science which can only be accounted for by a Divine origin. He claims that (B) the Qur'an, unlike the Bible, has no scientific errors. Finally (C) he criticizes the Bible because he does not feel that it makes enough appeal to nature to show God's glory and power. We shall now examine these claims to see whether they are valid.

Dr. Bucaille, however, is not the only writer who discusses the relation between the Qur'an and science. Several other Muslim scientists have also taken up the pen, so we shall examine some of their ideas - especially some of those proposed by Dr. Bechir Torki. Dr. Torki, a Tunisian with a PhD in nuclear science, is the founder-editor of the magazine Science et Foi (Science and Faith) and the author of the book L'Islam Religion de la Science.[3]

 

FORETELLING   MODERN   SCIENCE

These apologists make great efforts to find indications of modern scientific knowledge in the Qur'an and then claim this as a miraculous proof of a divine origin. This is not wrong, but on further examination the results are not as spectacular as some would suggest, and as we shall see at the end of this chapter, there is a very definite theological problem with some of these claims.

1. Water Cycle

Dr. Bucaille[4] and Dr. Torki[4] both discuss this and claim that the Qur'an has foreknowledge of the water cycle by which water: (1) evaporates from the seas and the earth; (2) becomes clouds; which (3) give rain; which (4a) causes the land to bring forth, and (4b) replenishes the water table which reveals itself by gushing springs and full wells.

Dr. Bucaille declares that until the late sixteenth century "man held totally inaccurate views on the water cycle", and considers that several statements in the Qur'an which reflect a knowledge of the water cycle could not therefore have come from any human source.

He quotes Suras 50:9-11, 35:9, 30:48, 7:57, 25:48-49, and 45:5, as verses which include steps (2), (3), and (4a). As an example we will look at the Late Meccan Sura of the Heights (Al-A`rf) 7:57,

"(God) is the One Who sends forth the winds like heralds of His Mercy. When they have carried (2) the heavy-laden clouds, We drive them to a dead land. Then We cause (3) water to descend and thereby (4a) bring forth fruits of every kind. Thus We will bring forth the dead. Maybe you will remember."

To demonstrate step (4b) he brings verses from Suras 23:18-19, 15:22, and the Late Meccan Sura of The Crowds (Al-Zumar) 39:21 which reads,

"Have you not seen that God sent water down from the sky and led it through (4b) sources into the ground? Then he caused sown fields of different colors to grow."

These verses are accurate, of course, but the question is do they show special foreknowledge and thereby prove Divine Revelation? The answer must surely be "no". Every man or woman, even those living in a city, could describe steps (2), (3), and (4a). And every person in contact with farmers during a drought will hear them say that their wells and springs have dried up, thus showing common knowledge of step (4b) that rain is the source and origin of underground water.

But what of step (1) - evaporation as the source of rain clouds? This would be much more difficult to understand by observation and it is not mentioned in any of the Quranic verses cited.

Dr. Torki has recognized this lack and has proposed the Early Meccan Sura of the News (Al-Naba') 78:12-16, as a remedy. We read,

"And we have built above you seven strong (heavens) and made a dazzling lamp, and have sent down from the clouds water in abundance that with it we may bring forth grain and plants and gardens of luxurious growth."

Here he wishes to make the basic assumption that reference to the sun, "a dazzling lamp", followed by rain demonstrates the missing step (1). This is not absolutely impossible, but it seems very unlikely. The sun and rain are the 8th and 9th items in a whole list of blessings from God, a list which includes such completely unrelated things as mountains and sleep and marriage. There is no reason that either a 7th century Arab or a 20th century person should understand a cause and effect relationship between the sun and the rain.

On the other hand when we turn to the Torah-Old Testament we find three references which clearly include the difficult step (1).

In the book of the Prophet Amos 5:8, written 1300 years before the Hejira, we read,

"He who made the Pleiades and Orion, who turns blackness into dawn and darkens day into night, who (1) calls for the waters of the sea and (3) pours them out over the face of the land - the Lord is his name.

In the book of the Prophet Isaiah 55:9-11, also 1300 yrs before the Hejira, it says,

"As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways,
and my thoughts than your thoughts.

As the (3) rain and snow come down from heaven and do not (1) return to it without watering the earth and (4a) making it flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth.

It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it."

Thirdly, from the book of Job (Aiyb) 36:26-28, a Prophet who lived on the Northern borders of Arabia we find this very detailed description of the water cycle. Written at least 1000 years before the Hejira, it says,

"How great is God - beyond our understanding!
The number of his years is past finding out.

He (1) draws up the drops of water, which distill from the mist as (3) rain. The (2) clouds pour down their moisture and abundant showers fall on mankind."

These verses have mentioned all the steps except (4b), and in the book of the Prophet Hosea 13:15, almost 1400 years before the Hejira, we find these words showing knowledge of this step also,

"...An east wind from the Lord will come, blowing in from the desert;
his spring will fail and his well will dry up..."

No rain in the dry east wind, with the result that the well and spring dry up, is clearly the reverse of rain replenishing the water table. Thus the Torah-Old Testament describes all 4 steps including the difficult step (1).

2. Currents in the Sea.

Dr. Bechir Torki[6] quotes the Sura of the Light (Al-Nr) 24:39,40, from 5-6 AH which reads,

"As for those who disbelieve, their deeds are as a mirage in a desert. The thirsty man mistakes it for water; until when he comes to it, he finds nothing...
"Or as darkness in a fathomless sea. There covers him a wave, above which is a wave, above which is a cloud. Layer upon layer of darkness. If he holds out his hand he can barely see it. And for whomever God has not appointed light, for him there is no light."

In his discussion of these verses, he quotes a director of one of the space projects which photographed the oceans as saying, "the waves and the currents in the depths of the ocean are more important and larger than the superficial waves." Dr. Torki proposes that when the Qur'an speaks of "waves above waves", this shows foreknowledge of modern marine science, which has demonstrated that there are many ocean currents such as the Gulf Stream and the Japanese Current.

This is not impossible, although the same word is used both times for wave rather than having different words for "wave" and "current". It seems to me, however, that such a reference is really poetic prose describing the unbeliever's dark position in reference to God. But if Dr. Torki is right and this is foreknowledge of modern science then it must be pointed out that this same information was foretold in the Torah-Old Testament in Jonah, and in the Zabur of David.

After Jonah (Ynus), who prophesied in 750 BC, was swallowed by the fish, Jonah 2:1,3-6 says,

"From Inside the fish Jonah prayed to the Lord his God.
He said,...You hurled me into the deep,
into the very heart of the seas,
and the currents swirled about me;
all your waves and breakers swept over me.

I said, ‘I have been banished from your sight;
yet I will look again toward your holy temple.’
The engulfing waters threatened me,
the deep surrounded me; seaweed was wrapped around my head.

To the roots 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 Hebrew word used here for "currents" is "nahar", and it can also mean "river" as in Arabic. "Waves" and "breakers" are two different words - almost synonymous except that by its root "breakers" probably stands for the great large waves of storms.

Even earlier, in 1000 BC, or 1600 years before the Hejira, the Prophet David wrote the Zabur by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. In one of his great Psalms of praise, Psalm 8:4,6,8, we read,

"What is man that you are mindful of him,
the son of man that you care for him?...

You made him ruler over the works of your hands,
You put everything under his feet:...

the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea,
all that swim the paths of the sea."

"Paths of the sea" may only be poetic repetition of the preceding line, but it is, along with the passage from Jonah, a correct description of the ocean currents as we know them in the 20th century.

3. A Barrier Between Salt and Fresh Water.

In the Early Meccan Sura of The Most Gracious (Al-Rahman) 55:19-21, a "barrier" is mentioned between two types of water. It reads,

"He (God) has let free the two bodies of flowing water meeting together. Between them is a barrier which they do not transgress. Then which of the favors of your Lord will you deny."

The word used here for "barrier", "barzakh", means - interval, gap, break, bar, obstruction, or isthmus.

The same information is given in a fuller form in another Early Meccan Sura, The Criterion (Al-Furqan) 25:53, which reads,

"It is He who has let free the two bodies of flowing water - one palatable and sweet, and the other salty and bitter. And He made between them a barrier and a partition that it is forbidden to pass."

The phrase "a partition that it is forbidden to pass" represents two words from the same root. This is done in Arabic to stress or accent whatever is being discussed. The word "Hijr" means - forbidden, interdicted, prohibited, all very strong words, and the second word which is the past participle of the verb has the same meanings. Therefore very literally one might translate this as "He (God) made between them a bar and a forbidden forbidding".

Dr. Bucaille discusses this briefly,[7] but Dr. Torki devotes two and a half pages to it[8] with a long discussion of osmotic pressure and how it is proved with U-tubes and semi-permeable membranes in the laboratory. He then concludes by saying,

"Muhammad had neither laboratory, nor research equipment to discover all these mysteries and understand this barrier clearly cited in the Qur'an. This proves another time that this book was not written by the hand of man, but is the work of the One God."

However, the question must again be asked, are we not faced with an observable phenomenon? Is it not presented as a known fact showing the favor of the Lord? Do not all the fishermen who fish at the outlets of rivers which empty into salt water know this fact?

While trading for Khadija, Muhammad took trips as far as Aleppo, north of Damascus in Syria. Is it not probable that at some time during these trips Muhammad went down to the coast in Syria or Lebanon; or talked to a seaman who knew that the waters were still unmixed far out in the Mediterranean?

In his latest book Dr. Bucaille, himself, praises primitive people for their skill in observing and classifying. He writes,

"The naturalists tell how they have been impressed by the accuracy with which certain primitive tribes, having received no outside education in the subject, succeed nevertheless in distinguishing the animal species which surround them, and arriving at a classification almost worthy of an expert."[9]

Surely it is correct to assume that if they can observe the animals with such skill, then they can also observe the other natural phenomena which surround them such as sweet water far out at sea.

Frankly, to read these verses as expressing modern scientific knowledge can raise more problems than it solves, because such an interpretation will also demand 20th century scientific accuracy of measurement. When God makes "a barrier and a partition that it is forbidden to pass", it sounds like a 100% prohibition. Shall we understand and translate this verse as "These waters shall never mix!"?

In fact there is no "bar", no semi-permeable membrane, in the sea forbidding the mixing of the two and the forces are actually in favor of mixing.

A scientist friend commenting on this said,

"It is simply that the salt and fresh water are physically separated (the effluent from the river displacing the sea water), but there is no barrier. Thermodynamically or energetically - the mixing is a spontaneous, immediate process, highly favored by entropy considerations. The only "barrier" is kinetic, in that it takes a little time to mix that much "stuff" together."

Dr. Bucaille recognizes this, so he has added a qualifying fact, another tiny "basic assumption". He writes, "the mixing of their waters (the rivers) with the salt water usually does not take place until far out at sea."

The Theological Problem

There is, however, a further problem with this effort to show foreknowledge of the fine points of modern science. Most of these Quranic descriptions are called signs. If the Qur'an calls them signs then those listening were surely expected to understand something when they first heard it from Muhammad. Otherwise it would not be a sign.

God is all powerful and can do anything except sin. Therefore, He can obviously will to reveal a fact which is completely unknown and which could not be known at the moment of revelation, but it could not be a sign.

An example of this is found in Job 26:7 which says,

"He (God) stretches out the north over empty space.
He suspends the earth over nothing."

As far as we can understand at present, Job could only know this by Revelation from God.

A second example is found in Deuteronomy 23:12-14 where God gives orders for sanitation.

"You shall have a place outside the camp and you shall go out to it; and you shall have a stick with your weapons, and when you sit down outside, you shall dig a hole with it, and turn back and cover up your excrement. Because the LORD your God walks in the midst of your camp, to save you and to give up your enemies before you, therefore your camp must be holy..."

As every reader will realize this command is completely correct according to 20th century medical knowledge and public health recommendations. (And one could ask why it was not repeated in the Qur'an which some Muslims claim has repeated everything of value from the previous books?) It prevents flies from spreading disease. But this is not explained. The reason given is that the camp should be holy in God's eyes. But God, the Eternal One, does not call any of these examples signs in the Torah-Old Testament. Whether those who heard these words understood the scientific information was not important.

 

SIGNS

Jesus, said that his miracles of healing, which he called works, were signs so that people would believe. In John we read,

"If I don't do the works (miracles) of my Father, don't believe me. But if I do, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I in the Father." John 10, 37-38.

"If I had not done among them the works (miracles) that no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin. But now they have seen (the works) and yet have hated both me and my Father." John 15:24.

Muhammad claimed that the desert coming to life after the rain was a sign so that people would believe in the resurrection and judgement. In the Sura of Iron (Al-Hadid) 57:17, from 8 AH we read,

"Know that God quickens the earth after its death. We have made clear our signs for you, that perhaps you may understand."

And in the Late Meccan Sura of the Cattle (Al-Anam) 6:67, it says,

"We detail our signs for people who know."

In Job 28:23, 25-28, the "weight of the wind" is mentioned as an indication of the wisdom of God. It reads,

"God understands the way to it (wisdom), and He knows its place.
When He gave to the wind its weight, and meted out the waters by measure; when He made a decree for the rain, and a way for the lightning of the thunder. Then He saw it and declared it; and He established it, and searched it out, and He said to man,

‘Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding.’"

One could enter into a long discussion here about how barometers work to measure the weight of the air, and how other instruments measure wind speed, but Job mentions this as an indication of the wisdom of God. Therefore what shall we understand? Does it show foreknowledge of 20th century science? Probably not. It probably represents an observation which Job, or anyone else, could have made by feeling the breeze in his face and having seen the sail of a ship filled and pushed by the wind.

In each of these cases, whether Jesus' miracles, or the desert coming to life, or the weight of the wind, the sign could be recognized and had meaning for the listeners.

The problem comes when something which is referred to as a sign, was incorrectly understood until now in the 20th century.

That a prophet would use some obscure phenomenon of nature, misunderstood or unknown by his audience, to illustrate or reinforce his message is unthinkable. How could it have any effect on the minds and hearts of his hearers? God gives the prophet simple, natural illustrations which everyone understands.

If the currents under the sea were not understood by the people of Mecca and Medina, how could the Quranic reference to "wave above wave" have any meaning for them? They either understood it as poetry showing how deeply in trouble the sinner is without God, or they didn't understand it. Then it was not a sign.

It could be possible, in theory, for a verse to have two meanings; one obvious meaning understood by everyone when the prophet spoke, and another more complicated meaning for another time. Perhaps this is what Dr. Bucaille and Dr. Torki had in mind when they wrote about "wave above wave" or the two kinds of water. However, in the next chapter we shall look at some Quranic verses which seem to have conveyed a wrong meaning from the moment they were given 1400 years ago, and that creates a very difficult theological problem.


Notes:
  1. "Inna" (merged here with the following pronoun to "inni") is an Arabic word either not translated or represented by "truly", but which intensifies the following words.
  2. For those unfamiliar with the Qur'an there are other Quranic verses which speak of Jesus' death such as the Sura of the Table (Al-Ma'ida) 5:117 in which Jesus speaks to God and says, "When you caused me to die, you were their overseer" (note the past tense). To reconcile these verses with the verse saying "Jesus didn't die", Muslims wish to change the chronological order and say that Jesus was raised into heaven, but will come back again, turn everyone to Islam and then die.
  3. I'UGTT, Tunis, 1979.
  4. Bucaille, BQ&S, p 173-178.
  5. Torki, op. cit., p 151-152.
  6. Torki, ibid, p 159
  7. Bucaille, BQ&S, p 179-180.
  8. Torki, op. cit., p 160-162.
  9. Bucaille, L'Homme, p 23, (translation mine).


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