Going to a masjid and finding pamphlets with the title “Scientific Miracles in the Quran” is common. Dawah companies continue to propagate such material in a vain attempt to show why Islam is “true,” strangely continuing to do so even after the constant contradictions such an approach creates. Critical examination reveals how such an approach not only disassociates from our own tradition, but also adopts Christian-style apologetics to convey Islam.
Here are some examples of such miracles:
- The Quran predicts the Earth is the shape of an ostrich egg.
- The Quran mentions tectonic plates.
- The Quran says that flesh came before bones.
- The Quran predicts the Big Bang Theory.
- The Quran describes the water cycle.
- The Quran talks about modern embryology.
- The Quran mentions iron being sent to the earth.
- The Quran informs that the earth isn’t flat, but round.
And all of this 1400 years ago!
The Scientific Method and the Quran
Before understanding why asserting the truth of the Quran through science is wrong, we must first understand what the scientific method is and how it works. Science works via induction. Data is obtained and models are built to explain that data. Science is probabilistic in nature and does not claim to explain something with absolute certainty. As new data arrive that are overwhelming enough to render previous or existing models redundant, theories change. This is self-evident from the history of science, from the Copernican revolution overturning polemic models of the universe to Einstein’s general relativity overshadowing Newtonian mechanisms. Science is ever-changing.
Thus, to then project scientific theories onto the Quran is to establish belief on purely probabilistic ground, preventing assertion of the truth of the Quran with absolute certainty. Imagine a scientific model as a ship; when the winds and tide – symbolizing observational data – change, so does the direction of the ship. Is the Qur’an suddenly wrong if science changes? Selectively choosing interpretations that fit our apologetic claims is the highest disservice one can do to the Quran. The consequence of such an approach is widespread confusion and doubt.
Confusions of an Epic Proportion
Such arguments swayed me when I was a teenager. Dr. Zakir Naik’s talks regarding how the Quran predicted findings in geology, cosmology, and embryology fascinated me. They were a driving force for the truth of Islam and many people converted to Islam because of them. Though temporarily amazing to see such predictions, the infatuation with them was short-lived.
During the beginning of college, I watched a video of brothers Hamza Tzortzis and Adnan Rashid arguing outside an atheist convention with PZ Myers regarding a particular verse. Brother Adnan argued that the Quran claims that bone came before flesh. Myers immediately countered by saying that this is false, as they both form together. Rashid responded that the Quran is still right because the word “thumma” in the verse can also mean simultaneously. Such apologetics clearly cause embarrassment.
The verse in question gives no reason to assume that bones come before flesh or vice versa. Such an assumption is our own projection onto the Quran of a scientific interpretation. Why use science to affirm the Quran or the Quran to affirm science?
My faith cast into doubt, I contacted brother Hamza and he agreed to meet me in his office. Brother Hamza was kind, considerate, and comforting. He showed me his article “Does the Qur’an Contain Scientific Miracles? A New Approach on how to Reconcile and Discuss Science in the Qur’an,” in which, he demonstrated the incoherence of the “Scientific Miracles in the Quran”’ argument. This argument gained popularity in the 1990’s due to Dr. Zakir Naik, one of its most popular proponents, and although its popularity has decreased overall, it remains popular among many individuals.
There are perhaps two reasons why this movement gained popularity:
- Detachment from our rich Islamic Intellectual tradition
- Adoption of Christian apologetics in Islamic discourse
Praises of the “Islamic Golden Age” often mention scientific advancements and discoveries. However, these advancements were the by-product of a rigorous intellectual tradition that prioritized philosophical thought and critical thinking. Islamic scholars, motivated by verses that called for man to follow His law (shariah) and view the signs of God in the universe, produced wonderful works in philosophy, theology, and science.
Science is simply a tool for Islam
The philosopher of science, Jeffrey Koperski, highlights how science is molded by metatheoretic shaping principles. Today, methodological naturalism (MN)¹, which maintains two basic assumptions: mechanistic causation² and uniformity of nature³, is the most dominant principle. In isolation, methodological naturalism is arguably neutral, but has become synonymous with ontological naturalism (4), a term described by enlightenment thinkers as materialism. In this metaphysical worldview, all that exists is matter and energy and anything additional, such as God, does not exist.
Given the current scientific method is shaped by methodological naturalism – which itself is intertwined with ontological naturalism – it is clear that the “Scientific Miracles in the Quran” approach towards Islam will always be a reconciliatory one. The constraints of metaphysical commitments on science cause some to become biased towards adopting certain approaches and believe that there is a conflict between science and religion that must be reconciled. Rather than attributing all possible explanations to God, with science being simply a tool to identify the best explanation, the “Scientific Miracles in the Quran” approach takes the best scientific explanation and tries to reconcile God and His religion with it.
The trendiness of such an approach is symptomatic of a deeper problem: Muslims have not been able to harness and build a metaphysical worldview in which God is the cause of all reality. It is not that our tradition lacks answers, but that we do not explore our tradition. Thus, such approaches will continue unless we reclaim our tradition, rigorously assessing and proposing models in which God, not naturalism, is the ultimate ontological feature.
- Methodological Naturalism: Robert T. Pennock uses the term to clarify that the scientific method is limited to natural explanations without assuming the existence or non-existence of the supernatural (En.wikipedia.org, 2018).
- Mechanistic causation: A mechanistic theory of causality holds that this metaphysical connection is very close: two events are causally connected if and only if they are connected by an underlying physical mechanism of the appropriate sort. (Williamson, J., 2011).
- Uniformity of nature: This principle states that the course of nature continues uniformly, e.g. if X is the cause of Y, then Y will necessarily exist whenever X exists. In particular, the uniformities observed in the past will hold for the present and future as well. (Nyu.edu, 2018).
- Ontological Naturalism: All spatiotemporal (belonging to both time and space) entities must be identical or constituted by the physical (Papineau, 2018).
- En.wikipedia.org. (2018). Naturalism (philosophy). [online] Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Naturalism_(philosophy)#Methodological_naturalism [Accessed 9 Apr. 2018].
- Papineau, D. (2018). Naturalism. [online] Plato.stanford.edu. Available at: https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/naturalism/ [Accessed 9 Apr. 2018].
- Williamson, J., 2011. Mechanistic theories of causality part I. Philosophy Compass, 6(6), pp.421-432.
- http://www.nyu.edu/gsas/dept/philo/courses/modern05/Hume_on_empirical_reasoning.pdf [Accessed 9 Apr. 2018]
About the author: Ali is a biochemistry graduate currently pursuing his Master’s in Neuroscience. He also studies Maliki Fiqh and Arabic part time. His interests include science, religion, and the philosophy of mind. You can follow him on Twitter here.