The Qur'an as the Miraculous Source of the Erroneous Islamic Science
Harun Yahya and the supposed scientific miracles of the Qur’an
It is almost impossible these days not to be familiar with Muslim commentators and writers whose realm is demonstrating the harmony between newly discovered scientific facts and some selected verses of the Qur’an. Harun Yahya1 is one such Islamic writer whose goal it is to convince both Muslims and non-Muslims of the divine origin of the Qur’an through the promotion of the overall theory that the Islamic scripture contains several ciphered scientific and historic messages. Yahya, who seems to have dedicated himself to discovering hidden mysteries in the Qur’an and proclaiming its miracles to ignorant infidels, has a website (*) that classifies the alleged miracles of the Qur’an into six sections. One of those sections has plenty of examples for the so-called scientific miracles of the Islamic scripture (*).
All of Yahya’s theories and arguments about the divine origin of the Qur’an can be readily refuted without needing to debunk every single claim, for what enables Yahya to multiply the number of his allegations is the peculiar strategy he follows in adapting the Qur’an to some scientific facts and vice versa. Below are given some of the major methods used by Harun Yahya and other Islamic commentators in the propagation of the supposed miraculous nature of the Qur’an:
- Drawing conclusions from some haphazard linguistic structures (casual word choices) and recurring patterns of the Qur'an
- Ascribing some features of the Arabic language to the Qur’an
- Taking the literal sense of some idiomatic terms and expressions in the Qur'an
- Changing the meaning of some terms through translation
- Ignoring the context of a Qur’an verse
In this study I shall analyze one of Harun Yahya’s allegations and illustrate how he bases his arguments on the systematization of casual word choice in the Qur’an as well as the far-fetched signification of some basic repetitions (the first item on the list above).
THE SEQUENCE IN THE DEVELOPMENT OF HUMAN ORGANS
Yahya quotes the following verses to substantiate his claim that the scientific teaching concerning the order of the development of some human organs is miraculously compatible with the statements of the Qur’an (*):
It is He Who has created hearing, sight and minds for you. What little thanks you show! (Qur'an, 23:78)
Allah brought you out of your mothers' wombs knowing nothing at all, and gave you hearing, sight and minds so that perhaps you would show thanks. (Qur'an, 16:78)
Say: "What do you think? If Allah took away your hearing and your sight and sealed up your hearts, what god is there, other than Allah, who could give them back to you?"… (Qur'an, 6:46)
We created man from a mingled drop to test him, and We made him hearing and seeing. (Qur'an, 76:2)
According to Yahya, these verses talk of the human senses of hearing, sight, feeling and understanding, all of which are given in the Qur’an in this same specific sequence with the aim of making a point. In support for his argument, Yahya later makes a reference to a scientist named Keith Moore:
In a paper published in the Journal of the Islamic Medical Association, Dr. Keith Moore states that during the development of the foetus, the eye begins to form after the inner2 ear has assumed its first form. He says the brain, the centre of feeling and understanding, begins its development after the ear and the eye.
Yahya finally combines the scientist’s remarks with what he infers from those Qur’an verses:
The foetus' ears begin to develop as early as the twenty-second day of pregnancy and become fully functional in the fourth month. After that, the foetus can hear sounds in its mother's womb. For that reason, the sense of hearing forms before the other vital functions for a new-born baby. The order set out in the Qur'an is striking from that point of view.
It must be noted in the first place that the English translation used by Harun Yahya relies on the interpretation of the word “heart” in the original language of the Qur’an as “brain” and the relevant interchangeable use of these two words in Surah 23:78 and 16:78. Some commentators, however, avoid replacing the word “heart” with “brain” in their translation:
He it is Who hath created for you ears and eyes and hearts. Small thanks give ye! (Surah 23:78 in Pickthall)
And Allah has brought you forth from the wombs of your mothers-- you did not know anything-- and He gave you hearing and sight and hearts that you may give thanks. (Surah 16:78 in Shakir)
What apparently enables Harun Yahya to change the actual word “heart” in the text to the word “mind” (brain) is the idiomatic signification of the heart as the seat of intelligence and conscience in Semitic languages3. Nonetheless, the scientific facts Yahya refers to are not affiliated with this metaphorical usage as the embryonic development is about the formation and development of physical organs rather than abstract entities or faculties. Yahya considers himself at liberty to take some words literally and some others metaphorically because this is the only way he can make science fit the so-called miracles of the Qur’an. A closer look at the stages of the embryonic development actually exposes the reason for Yahya’s reluctance to use the word “heart” as a physical organ in his argument. According to the facts of embryology, the first organ to form and function in the fetus is the heart rather than the ear or eye4.
Harun Yahya’s peculiar translation of Surah 6:46 also reveals his tendency make a great contribution to the revelation of a scientific miracle of the Qur’an, but again fails to explain how the formation of the brain as a concrete organ can be considered equal to the creation of intelligence and emotion, which are mere abstractions. Even if one allows the substitution of the heart for brain only out of respect for Yahya’s zeal, the order by which ears and eyes are introduced in the Islamic scripture has nothing to do with the stated embryonic development because the supposed specific sequence repeated in the Qur’an is the result of a purely casual usage with no theological or scientific implications. What Harun Yahya somehow forgets is that there are various verses in the Qur’an that refer to ears, eyes, and hearts by either disregarding the notion of order or turning the sequential pattern upside down:
Have you then considered him who takes his low desire for his god, and Allah has made him err having knowledge and has set a seal upon his ear and his heart and put a covering upon his eye. Who can then guide him after Allah? Will you not then be mindful? (Surah 45:23)5
And who is more unjust than he who is reminded of the communications of his Lord, then he turns away from them and forgets what his two hands have sent before? Surely We have placed veils over their hearts lest they should understand it and a heaviness in their ears; and if you call them to the guidance, they will not ever follow the right course in that case. (Surah 18:57)
Allah has set a seal upon their hearts and upon their hearing and there is a covering over their eyes, and there is a great punishment for them. (Surah 2:7)
And We have placed coverings on their hearts and a heaviness in their ears lest they understand it, and when you mention your Lord alone in the Quran they turn their backs in aversion. (Surah 17:46).
Although these verses are related to the notion of punishment instead of the formation/creation of some organs, they perfectly illustrate that the authors of the Qur’an recurrently referred to one’s ears, eyes, and heart as prominent organs while making theological points. In accordance with this, Yahya sees nothing wrong with adding into his allegations Surah 6:46, which is about the possible loss of these organs rather than their creation. After all, Yahya does not deem it necessary to thematically categorize the verses that refer to ears, eyes, and heart and thus confine the sequence to the creation of these organs. Did we make such a thematic distinction, Yahya would not be able to quote Surah 6:46 in support for his argument. This would leave him with two verses (Surah 16:78 and 23:78) as Surah 76:2 does not have the word “heart”. Consequently, it would be more difficult for Yahya to convince us that the sequence of the organs in the two similar verses of the Quran is not a mere repetition.
According to the Islamic scripture, humans are not the only creatures that have ears, eyes, and hearts. A verse in the Qur’an claims that jinni also have hearts, eyes, and ears in the same way as men do, which impels one to ask the question if the sequence present in this verse indicates a similar scientific fact (overlooked by Yahya) with regard to the embryonic development of the jinni:
And certainly We have created for hell many of the jinn and the men; they have hearts with which they do not understand, and they have eyes with which they do not see, and they have ears with which they do not hear; they are as cattle, nay, they are in worse errors; these are the heedless ones. (Surah 7:179)
Frankly, the sequence given in the verse above is amazingly compatible with the scientific facts in sharp contrast to the other Qur’an verses quoted by Yahya! It is rather tragic that the specific verses talking about the development of the human fetus do not follow the same sequential pattern used for the embryonic development of jinni!
Harun Yahya also chooses to ignore another Qur’an verse where the repetitive pattern concerning the order of some organs is modified through the replacement of the word “skin” with “heart”:
And you did not veil yourselves lest your ears and your eyes and your skins should bear witness against you, but you thought that Allah did not know most of what you did. (Surah 41:22)
Likewise, another verse inviting people to ponder over creation gives priority to the eyes and omits both the ears and the heart, replacing them with “lips” and “tongue”. This is the verse that overtly betrays the appraised consistency in the order of some organs and brings Yahya’s efforts to naught:
Does he think that no one sees him? Have We not given him two eyes, and a tongue and two lips, and pointed out to him the two conspicuous ways? (Surah 90:7-10)
Surah 76:2, where Yahya drops the number of the organs to two by omitting the heart from his sequential list, has a few counterparts in the Qur’an that maintain the same order of the faculties. For instance, the following verse makes a comparison between the true God and the deities of the idolaters and surprisingly repeats the faculties of hearing and sight in the same sequence in order to illustrate the weakness of the fake gods:
And those whom you call upon besides Him are not able to help you, nor can they help themselves. And if you invite them to guidance, they do not hear; and you see them looking towards you, yet they do not see. (Surah 7:197-198)
Identically, the God of the Qur’an boasts of his hearing and seeing attributes and follows the same order of the organs without the slightest association with embryonic formation or creation:
The Originator of the heavens and the earth; He made mates for you from among yourselves, and mates of the cattle too, multiplying you thereby; nothing like a likeness of Him; and He is the Hearing, the Seeing. (Surah 42:11)
These last examples prove that the Islamic scripture has several repetitions that do not necessarily aim to reveal cryptic messages or hidden scientific facts. Actually, it is a logical fallacy to argue that the repetition of certain words or other linguistic structures in the Qur’an has a particular intended meaning. If every time the Qur’an repeats something one inserts an order of time or importance into the various parts of the sentence, the outcome is total nonsense. For example, in the words “Mighty, Wise” are repeated six times in the same order in the second Surah alone!
Our Lord! and raise up in them an Apostle from among them who shall recite to them Thy communications and teach them the Book and the wisdom, and purify them; surely Thou art the Mighty, the Wise. (Surah 2:129)
But if you slip after clear arguments have come to you, then know that Allah is Mighty, Wise. (Surah 2:209)
On this world and the hereafter. And they ask you concerning the orphans Say: To set right for them (their affairs) is good, and if you become co-partners with them, they are your brethren; and Allah knows the mischief-maker and the pacemaker, and if Allah had pleased, He would certainly have caused you to fall into a difficulty; surely Allah is Mighty, Wise. (Surah 2:220)
And the divorced women should keep themselves in waiting for three courses; and it is not lawful for them that they should conceal what Allah has created in their wombs, if they believe in Allah and the last day; and their husbands have a better right to take them back in the meanwhile if they wish for reconciliation; and they have rights similar to those against them in a just manner, and the men are a degree above them, and Allah is Mighty, Wise. (Surah 2:228)
And those of you who die and leave wives behind, (make) a bequest in favor of their wives of maintenance for a year without turning (them) out, then if they themselves go away, there is no blame on you for what they do of lawful deeds by themselves, and Allah is Mighty, Wise. (Surah 2:240)
And when Ibrahim said: My Lord! show me how Thou givest life to the dead, He said: What! and do you not believe? He said: Yes, but that my heart may be at ease. He said: Then take four of the birds, then train them to follow you, then place on every mountain a part of them, then call them, they will come to you flying; and know that Allah is Mighty, Wise. (Surah 2:260)
The same sequential pattern occurs in many other verses of the Qur’an (*). The adaptation of Harun Yahya’s assertions about the sequence of the embryonic development to these verses leads one to the conclusion that the way these two words are given in the Qur’an has a particular meaning. We should conclude that either Allah’s wisdom is inferior to his might or Allah’s might preceded his wisdom. The pursuit of Yahya’s strategy in attaching meaning to the order of some basic repetitions of the Qur’an motivates one to draw ridiculous conclusions from various verses repeated in the same form and order. Thus, someone reading the following verses and walking in Yahya’s footsteps may claim that in Islamic creed Allah always bestows his favor on children before the parents:
So he smiled, wondering at her word, and said: My Lord! grant me that I should be grateful for Thy favor which Thou hast bestowed on me and on my parents, and that I should do good such as Thou art pleased with, and make me enter, by Thy mercy, into Thy servants, the good ones. (Surah 27:19)
And We have enjoined on man doing of good to his parents; with trouble did his mother bear him and with trouble did she bring him forth; and the bearing of him and the weaning of him was thirty months; until when he attains his maturity and reaches forty years, he says: My Lord! grant me that I may give thanks for Thy favor which Thou hast bestowed on me and on my parents, and that I may do good which pleases Thee and do good to me in respect of my offspring; surely I turn to Thee, and surely I am of those who submit. (Surah 46:15)
Another question that must be posed at this point is why Harun Yahya jumps into the conclusion that the order of the three organs is crucially related to a temporal sequence, for the order does not always connote a chronological process. Actually, the Qur’an always only lists the three senses or organs without ever connecting them with a word that indicates temporal sequence, like “thumma” (then). If temporal sequence had been intended, it would have been very easy for the authors of the Qur’an to insert a “thumma” to make this clear.
Ironically, one of the verses presented by Yahya as the hard evidence for Qur’an’s knowledge of the order of the formation of some organs backfires because it implies that the ears, eyes, and the heart were somehow created after one’s birth6 as separate entities:
And Allah has brought you forth from the wombs of your mothers -- you did not know anything-- and He gave you hearing and sight and hearts that you may give thanks. (Surah 16:78)
Yet this is not the only verse leading one to think that the creation of these organs took place after man’s creation had been completed. It should be noted that the following verse talks of the creation of the three organs after the completion of the creation, which is apparent due to the repeated use of the word “thumma” for the expression of a chronological order:
Who made good everything that He has created, and He began the creation of man from dust. Then He made his progeny of an extract, of water held in light estimation. Then He made him complete and breathed into him of His spirit, and made for you the ears and the eyes and the hearts; little is it that you give thanks. (Surah 32:7-9)
All these verses make it impossible to hold the view that the repetitive and particular sequence of some organs or senses manifests the Qur’an’s perfect harmony with scientific facts related to the development of the fetus. Harun Yahya seems to have invented a new so-called scientific miracle by selecting a few verses that repeat the same sequence with no intention of making a theological point or generalization7. As we have seen, the Qur’an also has many verses that deviate from the sequence highlighted by Yahya. This proves that the authors of the Qur’an were unaware of the order of the development of certain organs and exposes Yahya’s weird efforts to accommodate some scientific facts to the Islamic scripture.
Continue with the second part of our series on Harun Yahya’s interpretation errors: Sub-atomic Particles Mentioned in the Qur'an?