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The claim for "Science in the Qur'an"

Reader comment on item: Pope Benedict XVI and the Koran
in response to reader comment: To Lactantius

Submitted by Lactantius Jr. (United Kingdom), Oct 31, 2006 at 09:35

Dear Hafiz

In your posting at http://www.danielpipes.org/comments/61377 you quote an ayat I am not familiar with, will you please tell me which it is? and you quoted:-

(you see these mountains ,you think they are steady(still) and they are moving like clouds(a metaphore that they are moving really fast))

your claim being that this refers to the rotation of the Earth around its axis, something unknown to Muhammad, or any other human being ~1400 years ago, and known only to the Creator God Whose "hands flung stars into space," Who created the entire cosmos, and Who sustains it.

Exegesis is the careful study of a text, taking out of it what it says, whilst eisegesis is forcing something into a text that is not there. I believe your claim for the text is eisegesis and not exegesis, because the text you quote, doesn't speak clearly of the Earths rotation about its axis at all.

To do that, so that everyone could see absolutely clearly, that the Earths rotation about its axis is being clearly described, with very accurate scientific information provided, which was unknown ~1400 years ago, confirming that the author of the Qur'an was indeed the Creator of the cosmos, it would have to say something like this for example:-

"The Earth is always rotating, spinning eastward at about 1,000 miles per hour, and because the circumference of the Earth at the equator is ~25,000 miles, and with the Earth rotating in about 24 hours (exactly 23 hours 56 minutes 04. 09053 seconds). Therefore, if you were to hang above the surface of the Earth at the equator without moving, you would see 25,000 miles pass by in 24 hours, at a speed of 25000/24 or just over 1000 miles per hour.

We do not sense this motion, however, because everything else on the Earth's surface is moving as well. When on Earth, there is no independent frame of reference for observing rotation . Viewed from space, however, the Earth is clearly spinning on its axis, the axis being the internal line around which the Earth rotates. The axis is the internal straight line drawn from North Pole to South Pole, and which is tilted 23.5o from vertical.

Light rays from the Sun touch only the side of the Earth that is facing the Sun, and so, night follows day. While the Earth is spinning on its axis, it is also revolving around the Sun, traveling at a speed of more than 65,000 miles per hour, moving round the Sun in an oval track, having an average radius of 93 million miles, the circumference of the Earth's orbit being about 584 million, 88 thousand and 920 miles.

The Moon revolves eastward around the Earth, taking 29.5 days to complete one orbit. The phases of the Moon are complex when fully explained, but let's distinguish between a full Moon and a new Moon. A full Moon is when we see the complete Moon from the surface of the Earth. This takes place when the Moon is in the outer part of its orbit, and sunlight and reflected sunlight (from the Earth) shine on it. During a new Moon, we cannot see any of the Moon in the night sky. This occurs when the Moon is between the Earth and the Sun…………… and so on." You see the point I am making Hafiz?

In quoting:- "He has let free the two bodies of flowing water, meeting together: Between them is a Barrier which they do not transgress." which is Abdullah Yusuf Ali's translation into English of Surah 55:19-20 which echoes his translation of Surah 25:53 into English as:- "It is He Who has let free the two bodies of flowing water: One palatable and sweet, and the other salt and bitter; yet has He made a barrier between them, a partition that is forbidden to be passed." And without actually outlining how it does so, you offer it as proof of "The Scientific Miracle of the Qur'an," claiming it quotes scientific information about oceanography which couldn't possibly have been known to Muhammad, or to any other human being ~1400 years ago, and in support, you quote the words of Jacque Cousteau (1910-1997) a Frenchman who explored the world's oceans, and whose underwater photography was stunningly beautiful. Cousteau's words suggest to me you are advancing the claim that the Qur'an describes the Pycnocline ("layers of water where density changes rapidly with depth, because of temperature and/or salinity"), so I restrict my comments to that, looking at what modern science says.

The Pycnocline and the Qur'an

Surah's 55:19-20 and 25:53 make vague reference to a separation between waters, but the two phenomena that are correlated with the Qur'anic passages, both fall within the scope of the pycnocline. The first verse appears at Surah 25:53, The question that immediately comes to mind is, how do we know this is a reference to the pycnocline? It is apparent that the supporters of this approach first assume it is a reference to the pycnocline, and then stand back amazed, although a physical barrier like a land mass, or something made of stone, would be equally fitting . More will be said about this later, but for now, let's consider the other passage, which appears at Surah 55:19-20:

As already noted, there is no real indication that this is actually a reference to the pycnocline. What is apparent, is the circular reasoning which assumes the Qur'an intends it as a reference to the pycnocline, and then, concludes that since no human being could have known about the pycnocline in the seventh century, the Qur'an must have been written by Allah.

The first of these two verses mentioning the two seas (al-baHrayn) describes the barrier (barzakh) as waHijran maHhjooran, which means it is simply inviolable. The relevant HJR root is also for stone, which is why a physical stone barrier continues to be a very real possibility.

Secondly, even if we accept this is a loose reference to the pycnocline, is this necessarily something no human being could be aware of? because Gaius Plinius Secundus "Pliny the Elder" (AD 23-79), wrote his observations of the pycnocline centuries before the Qur'an was written. Pliny, writing the following:_

"This is rendered more remarkable by springs of fresh water bubbling out as if from pipes on the sea shore. In fact, the nature of water also is not deficient in marvels. Patches of fresh water float on the surface of the sea, being doubtless lighter. Consequently, also sea water being of a heavier nature, gives more support to objects floating upon it. But some fresh waters too float on the surface of others; cases are the river carried on the surface of Lake Fucino, the Adde on the lake of Como, the Ticino on Maggiore, the Mincio on Garda, the Ollio on Lago d'Iseo, the Rhone on the Lake of Geneva (the last North of the Alps, but all the rest in Italy), after a passing visit that covers many miles, carrying out their own waters only, and no larger quantity than they introduced. This has also been stated in the case of the river Orontes in Syria and many others."

Pliny, Naturalis Historia, Book II, CVI, 224, as per, H. Rackham (trans.), Pliny: Natural History, (Loeb Classical Library, Harvard University Press, 1967), Vol. I, p.353

Thus it is seen that the pycnocline was observed in many locations long before the Qur'an was written, whilst nowadays, the most commonly cited example in support of "oceanography in the Qur'an" is the Gibralter sill, where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Mediterranean Sea:

What happens is the water with the lower salinity rises above the water with the higher salinity (differences in salinity correspond to differences in density as well).

Water of the lower salinity (and density) rises to the top, and is the first to evaporate. Interestingly, centuries before Pliny (and therefore centuries before the Qur'an as well), Aristotle (384-322 BC) described this phenomenon:

"We find it maintained that rivers not only flow into the sea but originate from it, the salt water becoming sweet by filtration. But this view involves another difficulty. If this body is the source of all water, why is it salt and not sweet? Now the sun, moving as it does, sets up processes of change and becoming and decay, and by its agency, the finest and sweetest water is every day carried up and is dissolved into vapour and rises to the upper region , where it is condensed again by the cold and so returns to the earth.

The drinkable, sweet water then, is light and all of it is drawn up: the salt water is heavy and remains behind, but not in its proper place. The place which we see the sea filling is not its place but that of water. It seems to belong to the sea because the weight of the salt water makes it remain there, while the sweet, drinkable water which is light is carried up."

Aristotle, Meteorologika, Book II, 354b15-30 & 355a30-355b1, as per Jonathan Barnes (trans. & ed.), The Complete Works of Aristotle, (Princeton, 1985), Vol. 1, pp 577 & 578.

The passages cited from Aristotle and Pliny, shows that it is possible for human beings to observe and describe the phenomenon of the pycnocline. Thus if the Qur'an is making reference to the pycnocline, there is nothing miraculous about that. Further note that if the Qur'an is making reference to the pycnocline, it was nowhere near as clear and descriptive as Pliny or Aristotle.

Finally regarding the pycnocline, note that if the Qur'an is making reference to this phenomenon in the relevant verses, it would be in error. The Qur'an describes this barrier as being inviolable (as if like stone, hence the relevant root), and states that there is no transgression. This is not the case with the phenomenon of the pycnocline, which produces "leaky" barriers, and indeed allows mixing from time to time. I'm not convinced that this barrier between the two bodies of water (baHrayn) was intended to be a reference to this phenomenon, it could just as readily be a reference to a physical barrier or land mass.


Rebuttals to the claim of the "Scientific miracle of the Qur'an" involves debating the particular example being claimed, and whilst this is easy enough to do, it becomes tedious and timeconsuming having to do it again and again.

I have previously argued Hafiz, you are best avoiding using science to judge the Qur'an, because in doing so, you elevate the authority of science above the authority of the Qur'an, and I close by saying the Qur'anic claim to explain all things destroys itself, when it clearly doesn't. In many places the Qur'an claims for itself, complete, exhaustive knowledge, that it is a fully detailed revelation. Surah 6:38; 6:114; 10:24; 12:111; 16:89; 30:28: 41:3; with the Qur'an even claiming to be its own best explanation or tafsir: Surah 25:33

The examples you give Hafiz, about moving mountains and bodies of flowing water separated by a barrier or partition "forbidden to be passed," actually tell us very little about the solar system and oceanography, and to learn about these, it's necessary to do much study outside the Qur'an, and if you really want to learn about these subjects, I recommend the following books to you:-

"Encyclopedia of the Solar System"

Academic Press ISBN 0-12-226805-9

Paul Weissman; Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, USA

Lucy-Ann Mcadden; University of Maryland, College park, USA

Torrence Johnson; Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, USA

"Encyclopedia of Ocean Sciences"

Academic Press ISBN 0-12-227430-X

John H.Steele; Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Massachusets, USA

Steve Thorpe; Southampton Oceanography Centre, UK

Karl Turekian; Yale University, New Haven, Conneticutt, USA

If the Qur'an doesn't fully explain the two examples you quote Hafiz, it's claim for completeness is wrong, what other things does it fail to explain clearly and completely? Where else do you need to look to learn what the Qur'an is unable to teach you? What is it you are learning at the University of Khartoum, that the Qur'an is unable to teach you?

Do you see that your argument for "scientific miracles in the Qur'an" is self-destructive?

Whatever subject you are studying at the University of Khartoum though, I wish you every success with your studies Hafiz, and recall the words of the Lord Jesus Christ, who teaches us to:-

"Ask, and you will receive. Search, and you will find. Knock, and the door will be opened for you. Everyone who asks will receive. Everyone who searches will find. And the door will be opened for everyone who knocks."

Matthew 7:7-8

I wish you His peace, peace of heart and peace of mind.

Lactantius Jr.


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