Deconstructing the “Scientific Miracles in the Quran” Argument

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:

  1. The Quran predicts the Earth is the shape of an ostrich egg.
  2. The Quran mentions tectonic plates.
  3. The Quran says that flesh came before bones.
  4. The Quran predicts the Big Bang Theory.
  5. The Quran describes the water cycle.
  6. The Quran talks about modern embryology.
  7. The Quran mentions iron being sent to the earth.
  8. 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.

ali quran
“Then We made the sperm-drop into a clinging clot, and We made the clot into a lump [of flesh], and We made [from] the lump, bones, and We covered the bones with flesh; then We developed him into another creation. So blessed is Allah, the best of creators”. [23:14}
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.

Why?

There are perhaps two reasons why this movement gained popularity:

  1. Detachment from our rich Islamic Intellectual tradition
  2. 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.

 

Key Terms:

    1. 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).
    2. 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).
    3. 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).
    4. Ontological Naturalism: All spatiotemporal (belonging to both time and space) entities must be identical or constituted by the physical (Papineau, 2018).

 

 

Citations:

  1. En.wikipedia.org. (2018). Naturalism (philosophy). [online] Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Naturalism_(philosophy)#Methodological_naturalism [Accessed 9 Apr. 2018].
  2. Papineau, D. (2018). Naturalism. [online] Plato.stanford.edu. Available at: https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/naturalism/ [Accessed 9 Apr. 2018].
  3. Williamson, J., 2011. Mechanistic theories of causality part I. Philosophy Compass, 6(6), pp.421-432.
  4. 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.

10 thoughts on “Deconstructing the “Scientific Miracles in the Quran” Argument

  1. Critical examination reveals how such an approach not only disassociates from our own tradition, but also adopts Christian-style apologetics to convey Islam.

    So you say, but not how. And what are the claims which drove you to this… complaint?

    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 appropriate thing to do here would be to quote the Ayat, cite who claims it, and refute it with facts, but you choose to use irrelevant chronology as if a Prophet ﷺ needs a professor to reveal something in a time when science could not, which is what makes it a miracle.

    Regarding the claimed miracles, there is nothing ridiculous about this? Why not quote the Ayat to show how it doesn’t say what is claimed?

    It’s not difficult, and is your responsibility. All I learned from this article is that you have less faith than you once did, but your reasons don’t really… exist. Not here.

    A good exegete could easily argue that the Quran absolutely says what is claimed as miraculous, and a bad one can’t. A bad one also can’t refute.

    Rendering this “article” a mere rant about your personal dissatisfaction with the exegetical insights that you once admired, probably never could understand yourself though, and for some reason you feel like name dropping to back bite someone who just has more faith than you.

    And that’s true. Science and the Quran are harmonious and textual criticism is not something that Islam suffers from like Judaism and Christianity, because the book is mostly pseudepigraphal and self contradictory, at least 3 different religions are the subject.

    Islam has no use for apologetics, Christian style, because our Book is Perfect and not the creation of men, the Words are Gods, literally.

    Yet you break down and side with the critics of Islam on an issue that is a matter of faith and interpretation, as if Allah did not know science 1400 years ago?

    You are in error. In my opinion at least. Only Allah can tell you for sure. It seems like you have a weak faith, possibly leaning towards atheism, but that’s a guess. I wouldn’t be surprised if in a year you became a secular atheist. At all. Forgive my harshness, but I feel like you need to hear it.

    Like

    1. Asalamualaikum,

      Unfortunately no, You can find various articles online “refuting” the so-called scientific miracles in the Quran, however if you’re a Muslim I wouldn’t recommend doing so. The majority of these articles – if not all of them – are written by opponents of Islam who also mix anti-Islamic views with those articles.

      It would require a tedious amount of work to search each scientific claim furthermore we would need to have linguistic expertise regarding the language of the Quran and it’s intended meaning. Such a task, to be done with justice, would require a massive amount of time.

      However, in my opinion, doing so would also be picking leaves. The roots of the problem have been thoroughly discussed in this article, and I have shown that whatever the science is, using it to confirm the Qurans miraculous nature is flawed.

      Hope that answers your question.

      Ali

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Salaam

    Nice article. I enjoyed reading it and I am of the opinion that we cannot and shouldn’t have Imaan based on science.

    I do however have a few questions:

    – What do you make of other ‘miracles’ such as the preservation of the Quran, the challenge to manking to produce a verse like the Quran, etc? Do you find these problematic in any way?

    – Of the ‘scientific miracles’ that you listed as being those often quoted by Muslims, most if not all are in line with modern science. What do you make of this or how do you feel we should view these? What should be our position or stance when reading the stages of embryology, information about the Earth, mountains etc?

    – Again, of the ‘scientific miracles’ that are mentioned/listed, they were not common knowledge 1400 years ago. How would you respond to this?

    – Is there any harm in viewing ‘miracles’, not only the ones that appear to be in line with science, but the preservation of Firaun, the location of the docking of Noah’s ark etc as complimenting and boosting our Imaan – whilst at the same time, our Imaan not being dependant on them?

    Jzk

    Like

    1. Walaikumaslam,
      Thank you for getting in touch with us. Here are some of my thoughts regarding your questions.

      – Miracles such as the preservation of the Quran and the challenge of producing a verse like the Quran are not problematic. They wouldn’t fall under the category of “scientific”. However a distinction needs to be made because while these miracles themselves are not scientific we can provide scientific evidence in support of them. For example we have preserved scripts of the Quran which we can validate using various dating techniques.

      – While I haven’t recently checked the relevant literature regarding these miracles I do recall that the last time I did they were either wrong in some cases or very vague. But this is precisely the point that I am trying to raise that it is on purely probabilistic grounds. My advise regarding things that “seem” to match modern science in the Quran should be taken with a grain of salt. One can admire these things but not as a confirmation of the Qurans miraculous nature, but rather the creation of Gods various creation and order. I am sceptical of basing my belief on a field that is in constant flux itself.

      – With the vast number of people that have lived on earth you are bound to find at least one individual who has come up with a similar theory even if it is only vaguely similar. If you read responses to claims of scientific miracles in the Quran you will find some examples given by opponents. You could certainly challenge these but it raises the question of why we are using such an approach in the first place? It also becomes irrelevant when we consider the premise that science rests on purely probabilistic grounds.

      – I personally wouldn’t use that as evidence for boosting ones Imaan. I have highlighted the reason for this within the article that science is probabilistic. So base our Imaan on probabilistic claims would mean to base them on something that can not by definition have certitude. You could see such claims as miraculous whilst keeping in mind that the science they are based upon is not certain, however when you have much more solid foundations to stand on I don’t see the need.

      JazakAllah Khayr,
      Ali

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      1. I have to be honest, according to your own comment you are not really up to date on the studies of scientific miracles in the Quran, which means you could be wrong, and, as such, possibly lacking in faith.

        There is no harm in accepting the many miracles in the Quran which is itself a miracle, if you end up being mistaken, this is forgivable.

        If your writing causes disbelief in one heart of one Muslim, you are the one who faces harm. It seems like you are trying too hard to appear honest and reasonable but what you accomplished was anything but, unless of course you are not a Muslim, this article is not appealing, and I am guessing, forgive me if I am wrong, but you seem like you are trying to impress everyone except Muslims, Academic atheists, Christians, Jews.

        If you want to refute something there is a massive body of “Orientalist” pseudo scholarship on Islam, this would be a better goal for you.

        We live in a world where educated people believe in the existence of a fabricated language (Indo-Aryan or Indo-European, no coincidence there) that was spoken from Britain to India, pre history, as the common source language for Sanskrit, Greek and Latin, based on a falsely claimed similarity, which is only true in the case of 4 words, tops, and when you mention this they change the subject to other languages and discard the foundation of the theory (but still claim the similarities the next time), which is the only reason it exists.

        Academia is not great today, and scientists pretend to know more than is even possible, and while technical and exact science is awesome, it is hardly the majority of what people learn in college.

        So who are you trying to impress? Some pseudo scientists and hack academics?

        Honestly, nobody needed you to decide for them what is a miracle and what is not, as ambiguous as the Quran is I think that the issue is more about your personal exegesis needing q boost from faith, because you have not really disproven anything, so why bother? Do you think it is just liars and charlatans falsely interpreting the Quran, or your inability to understand the interpretation?

        Just some thoughts. Not attacking you, just responding with my own opinions as a result of reading yours.

        Like

    2. There is nothing wrong with honesty, but in my opinion the miracles of the Quran is a misnomer as the Quran, as a matter of our faith, IS a miracle.

      So to refute one claim, unless it is just ridiculous, shows a serious lack of faith in my opinion, one that makes it difficult to believe this is the writing of a Muslim, and what I really think is that the person has more faith in science than is appropriate and than in Islam.

      I don’t want to toss around accusations but who takes it upon themselves to refute what others believe within their own religion as if there were harm in disagreeing with this author, but no harm in disputing a book wherein every word is a miracle.

      To not believe that the Quran is a miracle is tantamount to not being a Muslim, and nothing has really been refuted in the article that a different interpretation could not solve.

      Does a Muslim believe that the Quran should be void of scientific miracles only possibly confirmed by modern science?

      Of course not. They don’t refute them either, again, unless it is just a ridiculous claim by someone who doesn’t know any better, but the famous miracles in the miraculous Quran aren’t something that a Muslim refutes, even if they are not convinced, in this instance the author is convinced, just in the wrong direction.

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  3. وعليكم السلام

    Thank you for getting in touch with us.

    I agree that a distinction should be drawn between scientific phenomena and scientific theories. However the aim of the article is to show why using such phenomena or theories is not effective to argue for the truth of the Quran. To give you an example of why such an approach might be problematic, imagine a scenario in which we use scientific phenomena. Let us suppose I am speaking to an atheist and mention that the Quran mentions scientific phenomena that we can observe. Someone could – and they usually do – present evidence that before the Quran was revealed, someone else had mentioned the same thing. So it wouldn’t really do much benefit in arguing for the Quran’s truth.

    Having said that, I believe that such phenomena do have a reason for them. Allah asks us to reflect over His creation, so we can see the divine manifestation. The fact that we can view and comprehend the world, with its regularities and contingencies is proof that everything points towards a Being that must have bought it into existence. While those claims don’t necessarily have to be used in an argument like the “scientific miracles in the Quran,” they certainly are worth reflecting on to find deeper meaning about reality and the nature of the world itself.

    InshAllah I will do a future post on the argument from contingency, otherwise known as Leibniz’s cosmological argument, or in recent years popularized as the argument from necessary existence by Alexander Pruss and Joshua Rasmussen, where I will include mention of these phenomena.

    Hope that answers your question.

    Salam

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Aslamu 3laikum w rahmatu Allah,

    firstly, I would like to say what a great article this was. Convincing, precise, and eye-opening. BarakAllahu feek.

    My few questions are:

    I see why adopting scientific theories like the Big Bang and attempting to explain them/correlate them with the Qur’an are problematic. Like you said “Science is ever-changing”, but won’t you agree that some forms of science/scientific discovery are not subject to change? Some well-known phenomena are mentioned in the Qura’an. For instance the two seas that don’t mix.

    قال تعالى
    مرج البحرين يلتقيان بينهما برزخ لا يبغيان

    and also

    قال تعالى
    فَلاَ أُقْسِمُ بِالْخُنّسِ. الْجَوَارِ الْكُنّسِ

    As the reference to planetary system.

    So don’t you think that the problem lies there and that the solution we need to is to make a distinction between scientific phenomena and scientific theory? For how else can we use science as a tool if we are not to provide these “scientific phenomena” related Quranic verses as proof of the divinity of Qur’an.

    Correct me if I am wrong. Great piece once again.

    Liked by 1 person

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