Surely He knows well all the thoughts within the breasts.
-- Sura 11:5
Die in your rage; God knows the thoughts in the breasts.
-- Sura 3:119
The above is Arberry's translation. Yusuf Ali translates "heart" instead of "breasts," but whether heart or breast, the question would be the same.
This wouldn't even be worth mentioning as a "problem" if Muslims were not stressing so much the scientific accuracy of the Qur'an. The Semitic people thought the location of "thinking" to be in the chest/heart area [many Bible verses show the same view]. I can easily accept it for both Bible and Qur'an that these verses do not make any scientific claims nor do they give medical descriptions of the seat of thinking, but that they just employ the commonly used expressions to communicate the truth the author wants to express here, namely that God knows our deepest secrets and thoughts. To this day we say (in English) that God knows our "heart" and we don't mean the muscle in our physical body but our motives and desires. And we speak that way due to tradition even though we know those are to be located in the brain if one can give it a location at all.
I don't want to parade this example as a difficulty or contradiction in the Qur'an. It only shows that this was the common way of speaking about it in the Middle East and even until today in our "scientific age."
But it is one passage which shows that the Qur'an uses the normal language to communicate, and is indeed very unscientific by doing so. I believe that the Qur'an is equally unscientific in many other verses where Muslims try to extract scientific miracles and which are just lending themselves in their vageness better to be twisted into harmony with some modern science theories even though nothing like that was intended in the text.
But if Muslims insist in a general scientific accuracy of the Qur'an and want to make scientific accuracy of the Qur'an a proof for its divine inspiration, then the above verses are indeed a clear mistake and Muslims who want to make a case for the Qur'an on the basis of scientific accuracy will have to deal with it.
I didn't think there was really anything to reply to, but here comes a reply anyway. Shaahin is basically affirming what I have said in the above, even though he expresses it a bit differently. He seemingly doesn't want to accept "current scientific knowledge" when it is not in harmony with the Qur'an, but does accept it when it appears to confirm the Qur'an. This is inconsistent, turning the whole thing into a rather subjective endeavor and rendering it utterly useless for verification of divine origin.
A Muslim's Response by Shaahin Amiri-Sharifi
Date: Wed Nov 27 22:52 EST 1996
this is to answer: --Thinking with the breasts? --about quran and science, a lot has been said! most important point is: quran is NOT a text book to learn science from. it is not meant to do so. it is a book of general guidence. it gives you hints about them (scientific facts) to make you think and try to comprehende them, but it never explains the details, this is our job. to give an example quran talks about "unseen columns" holding the skies above us, after discovery of "gravitation" this has a scientific explanation, now. this way science helps us to understand quran better. this is what we mean by scientific accuracy of quran, progress of science helps (better) understanding of quran. side point is, here, there will never be an ultimate comprehension of quran! (this is what god means by: only "allah" knows quran!), we mortals, just keep enhancing our understanding of quran. another important point about quran is, its multi-dimensionality. a verse could be about, say, economics, yet giving a scientific impression, too(in biology, physics, ...) so, one should not interpret it "partly" scientific and partly something else, they should rather do it this way OR the other wat, and not mix the issues. these two interpretations are both correct, but one talks about, say, biology and the other about laws of inheritance! to make it clear, consider your example: god knows what you have in your "breasts" (or hearsts), this means, again as you mentioned, He is aware of all secrets, but lets look at it scientificaly, is really the location of "thoughts" in the breasts, hearts?! is there a scientific interpretation of this verse, relating thoughts to breasts, hearts? A. Carel winner of nobel prize in biology, in his book about praying, (i do not remember the title exactly), doesnt deny the relation. but if it is the final explanation, scientificaly, i do not know! the isuue is not well-searched yet. so what will the scientific explanation be? who knows!? we should just wait for the day somebody reveals the secret! in this regard, there are a lot of other questions. thus, please note that, asking these kind of questions about quran is easy, answering them is not! it takes a big deal of scientific knowledge, that might not even be known to humanity. all people who comment of quran admit this as a fact. I remember a speech of imam khomeini, who mentioned the importance of the job of a commentator on quran, he mentioned, as an example, this verse of quran that says, god is the "noor" of skies and earth. (noor=light), he then said, all commentators, explain as :god is "monavvar" of skies and earth! (monavvar=the one who sheds light) this shows the delicacy of commenting on quran. as a summary, if you ask scientific questions about quran and i (or anybody else) cannt answer, this is not because there is something wrong! i can ask thousands of questions about physics that nobody, absolutely nobody not even the giants of the science, can answer! this only shows that, there is a lot to be learn from quran. shaahin
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