Beyond Bucailleism: Science, Scriptures and Faith

The following essay analyses the various ways believers in Scripture have understood the relationship between science and Scripture.

Outline:

Part I: Understanding “Bucailleism”
Muslim Opposition to Bucailleism
Problems with Bucailleism
The History of Bucailleism
“Scientific Miracles” in the Vedas & Other Literature
Examining Some Alleged Miracles
-Prophecy #1: Moonlight is Reflected Light
-Prophecy #2: The Stages of an Embryo
-Prophecy #3: Communication of Ants

Part II: Do Science and Scriptures Fit?
Creation and Science
The Sequence of Genesis Days
Vegetation Before the Sun?
Cosmology: Flat Earth or Round Earth?
– Is the Earth Flat or Round?
– Pillars Upholding Heaven
– Pillars Under the Earth
– Sun, Moon, Stars, Comets, and Heavens

Part III: The History of Science
Who ‘Invented’ Science?
Why did the Golden Age End?


 

PART I

UNDERSTANDING “BUCAILLEISM”

“Bucailleism” is the fundamentalist search for “scientific miracles” in the Qur’ān —modern scientific discoveries that have been cryptically foretold in the Qur’ān. Here is one common example from Zakir Naik:

MOONLIGHT IS REFLECTED LIGHT: It was believed by earlier civilizations that the moon emanates its own light. Science now tells us that the light of the moon is reflected light. However this fact was mentioned in the Qur’ān 1,400 years ago in the following verse:

“Blessed is He Who made Constellations in the skies,

and placed therein a Lamp and a Moon giving light.”

(Al-Qur’ān 25:61)

The Arabic word for the sun in the Qur’ān , is shams . It is also referred to as siraaj … The Arabic word for the moon is qamar and it is described in the Qur’ān as muneer which is a body that gives noor i.e. reflected light…This implies that the Qur’ān recognizes the difference between the nature of sunlight and moonlight.1

Likewise, claims have been made about the Qur’ān predicting black holes, embryology, geology and astronomy.

 

Muslim Opposition to Bucailleism

This search for cryptic Qur’ānic “miracles of science” is a relatively recent fad in Islamic history. It has become popular with fundamentalists, but it hasn’t met with much approval among Muslim intellectuals. Renowned Indian Islamic theologian Maulana Ashraf ‘Ali Thanvi (author of Behesti Jewar) opposes this methodology on four counts.2 Likewise, many leading Islamic scientists in Western and Arab universities are embarrassed by Bucailleism. Ziauddin Sharkar, in his book Explorations in Islamic Science calls the scientific miracles polemic “apologia of the worst type.” Muslim historian Nomanul Haq of Penn State University is a leading critic of Bucailleism who attributes the rise of Bucailleism to a “deep, deep inferiority complex” among Muslims humiliated by colonialism and bidding to recapture faded glories of Islamic science.3 Another critic is Muzaffar Iqbal, president of Center for Islam and Science in Alberta, Canada.

Egyptian Muslim scholar Dr. Khaled Montaser wrote a book called (وهم الإعجاز العلمى ‘The Lie of Scientific Miracles’ ) against Bucailleism, and the former Grand Imam of Al-Azhar University Sheikh Mahmud Shaltut also opposed this idea of scientific miracles in the Qur’an.
Reputed Muslim Theoretical physicist Parvez Hoodbhoy of Pakistan writes:

the problem with such claims to ownership is that they lack an explanation for why quantum mechanics, molecular genetics, etc., had to await discovery elsewhere. Nor is any kind of testable prediction ever made. No reason is offered as to why antibiotics, aspirin, steam engines, electricity, aircraft, or computers were not first invented by Muslims. But even to ask such questions is considered offensive.4

Turkish Muslim philosopher and physicist Taner Edis writes:

“Quran-science [Bucailleism] is pathetic, but this is realized by many Muslims as well. It does not characterize Islam any more than the Institute for Creation Research typifies Christianity. Yet, even with that important qualification, the ridiculous extreme I described above can illustrate the ambiguous relation between modern science and orthodox Islam. While most believers are content to ignore the issue and declare full scientific compatibility for the Quran, some intellectuals take a cognitive relativist path, or insist that science be structured by Islam so as to comply with an Islamic view of nature.5

Abu Ammar Yasir Qadhi, popular speaker and Yale graduate, wrote in An Introduction to the Sciences of the Quran :

“In other words, there are not scientific allusions buried under every third verse in the Qur’aan, waiting to be unearthed by some over-zealous, highly-imaginative Muslim!”6

Regarding the whole concept of “Islamic Science,” Dr. Abdus Salam, Pakistani Nobel laureate Physicist writes:

“There is only one universal science; its problems and modalities are international and there is no such thing as Islamic science just as there is no Hindu science, nor Jewish science, no Confucian Science, nor Christian Science.”

 

Problems with Bucailleism

The problem with Bucailleism is that it portrays God as weak, unable to be indisputably clear. For example, if God intended to communicate the shape of the earth, why didn’t he just put a verse in that says, “Have you not considered how we made the earth not flat, but a ball, which revolves around the sun?” Or if God intended to predict the television, he could have clearly said, “people shall one day watch images on boxes in their dwelling-places.” Elsewhere God speaks very clearly! Consider Al-Imran verse 2: “Allah! There is no god but He,-the Living, the Self-Subsisting, Eternal. ” Crystal-clear, no room for argument. If God had meant for there to be modern science in the Qur’ān , he would have presented it in a way that left no room for argument. The verses Bucailleists misuse are appeals to mankind to consider the obvious from nature—that all this had a Creator who is good.

Secondly, Maulana Thanvi warns that we jeopardize the truth of scriptures if we attach them to current scientific theories which could be debunked in ten years. For example, Zakir Naik proudly says that the Qur’ān clearly describes the Big Bang (though ironically the Big Bang was first proposed by a committed Catholic priest). Since there is still no unanimous support in the scientific community for the Big Bang theory, what happens if it gets discredited in ten years? Then Bucailleists would have to contradict their previous “discovery” and find a new verse supporting the latest theory.

 

The History of Bucailleism

Ironically, it was a non-Muslim French doctor who first inspired this whole trend. Maurice Bucaille, after being hired as family physician to King Faisal of Saudi Arabia, published a book called The Bible, the Qur’ān and Science in which he argued that the Qur’ān was amazingly scientific unlike the Bible. After Bucaille, a charismatic Yemeni politician named Sheikh Abdul Majeed Zindani started the well-funded ” Commission on Scientific Signs in the Quran and Sunnah ” based in Saudi Arabia and became the chief global proponent of Bucailleism. More recently, Zakir Naik in India and Zaghloul El-Naggar in Egypt have propagated much of Zindani’s material through religious television stations. Zindani’s commission drew Western scientists to its conferences with first-class plane tickets for them and their wives, rooms at the best hotels, $1,000 honoraria, and banquets with Muslim leaders — such as a palace dinner in Islamabad with Pakistani President Mohammed Zia ul-Haq shortly before his death in a plane crash.7 Zindani promised the scientists “complete neutrality” as he coaxed them into proclaiming divine inspiration of various verses. Zindani used video footage from their conferences to produce a video boasting that Western scientists had confirmed the ‘scientific miracles’ in the Qur’ān. Many participants were frustrated at being fooled into making affirmative statements. Marine scientist William Hay relates, “I fell into that trap and then warned other people to watch out for it.”8 A Wall Street Journal article describes one such participant’s reaction:

Gerald Goeringer, an embryologist retired from Georgetown University, says he urged the commission to try some verification: hire an independent scholar to see whether the Quran’s statements could have been taken from

Aristotle, the Greek philosopher-scientist who preceded the book by nearly 1,000 years. After his request was denied, Goeringer says, he stopped going to the conferences for fear of being associated with fanaticism.

“It was mutual manipulation,” he says. “We got to go places we wouldn’t otherwise go to. They wanted to add some respectability to what they were publishing.”

Zindani was a friend and mentor to Sheikh Osama bin Laden, who was one of the first fans of Bucailleism and funded its ‘research’. Zindani’s co-authored textbook on Embryology has Sheikh Osama bin Laden listed as a primary sponsor. The world’s most wanted man has regularly sought Zindani’s guidance on whether planned terrorist actions are in accord with Islam, says Yossef Bodansky, biographer of bin Laden. Hassan A.A. Bahafzallah says of Zindani’s association with bin Laden, “All I know is that during the jihad in Afghanistan, Zindani used to go and visit him.” In 1995 Zindani stepped down from the Commission and is currently advocating for an Islamic state in Yemen.

 

“Scientific Miracles” in the Vedas & Other Literature

This search for cryptic prophecies of modern science in scriptures is not limited to Islam—we find the same thing in Hinduism. According to some fundamentalist Hindus, the Vedas predicted quarks, particle theory and quantum mechanics. The Wisdom of the Vedas by J.C. Chatterji relates some of these alleged predictions. The methodology is the same as Bucailleism and though the religion and holy book are different, the results are identical.

Outside religious circles, Bucailleism has met with disdain. One critic has compiled a humorous parody “discovering” similar cryptic scientific miracles in Virgil’s Georgica poem. Using identical reasoning to that of Bucaille and Naik, he identifies one scientific discovery after another in just the first few lines of Virgil’s poem.

 

Examining Some Alleged Miracles

If we look at all the alleged instances of Qur’ānic miracles, they prove to be unsubstantial. This is NOT attacking the Qur’ān ; it is merely debunking a modern misuse of the Qur’ān. The danger with debunking or disproving these Qur’ānic miracles is that many Muslims wrongly interpret it as an attack on the Qur’ān , which it is not. This is why Maulana Thanvi warned against seeking miracles in the Qur’ān , for if they are proved wrong, people may reject the Qur’ān.

 

Prophecy #1: Moonlight is Reflected Light

Let us begin, then, with the moon prophecy shown above by Zakir Naik:

MOONLIGHT IS REFLECTED LIGHT: It was believed by earlier civilizations that the moon emanates its own light. Science now tells us that the light of the moon is reflected light. However this fact was mentioned in the Qur’ān 1,400 years ago in the following verse:

“Blessed is He Who made Constellations in the skies,

and placed therein a Lamp and a Moon giving light.”

(Al-Qur’ān 25:61)

The Arabic word for the sun in the Qur’ān , is shams . It is also referred to as siraaj which means a ‘torch’ or as wahhaaj meaning ‘a blazing lamp’ or as diya which means ‘shining glory’. All three descriptions are appropriate to the sun, since it generates intense heat and light by its internal combustion. The Arabic word for the moon is qamar and it is described in the Qur’ān as muneer which is a body that gives noor i.e. reflected light. Again, the Qur’ānic description matches perfectly with the true nature of the moon which does not give off light by itself and is an inactive body that reflects the light of the sun. Not once in the Qur’ān , is the moon mentioned as siraaj , wahhaaj or diya nor the sun as noor or muneer . This implies that the Qur’ān recognizes the difference between the nature of sunlight and moonlight.9

The key problem with Naik’s argument is that nūr (نُور) simply means “light”; there is absolutely no sense of “reflected” in the meaning of the word in any Arabic dictionary or lexicon. If, for the sake of argument, we adopt Naik’s re-definitions, then Allah, bearing the title an-Nūr, must be merely “reflected light,” while Muhammad, called “a lamp (sirāj) spreading light” in Sura 33:46 is the original source of light. It all begins to sound rather blasphemous.

In addition, it was known at least a thousand years before Muhammad that the moon’s light is reflected light. When Aristotle (384-322BC) discussed the earth’s shape, he proved the earth’s sphericity by arguing that during a lunar eclipse the earth’s shadow on the moon is seen. Centuries before Muhammad (pbuh), the Jews knew that the moon is “borrowing its light” from the sun (Philo, 1st century) and, “the light of the moon must be derived from the light of the sun” ( Midrash Hagadol , mid-1st century).

Naik has attempted to evade this conclusion by dividing God into two parts: 1) a siraaj light, and 2) a ‘reflector’ niche which reflects ‘Allah part #1’ and produces nūr (nauzubillah!). He builds this bizarre idea on a reinterpretation of the lamp verse (24:35). His interpretation utterly contradicts the interpretation of all the sahaba (Ibn ‘Abbas, Ibn Mas’ud, Ubayy bin Ka’b, etc), who all correctly interpreted the niche and glass as the believer’s heart in which the light of faith burns. None of the sahaba ever had the audacity of dividing Allah into two separate parts, one part of Allah a burning wick and the other part the reflecting niche. Zakir Naik’s tafsir is wrong and his idea is blasphemous.

 

Prophecy #2: The Stages of an Embryo

Dr Maurice Bucaille & Dr Keith L. Moore have popularized the idea that the Qur’ān miraculously foretells our modern understanding that the embryo develops through stages:

Man We did create from a quintessence (of clay); Then We placed him as (a drop of) sperm in a place of rest, firmly fixed; Then We made the sperm into a clot of congealed blood; then of that clot We made a (foetus) lump; then we made out of that lump bones and clothed the bones with flesh; then we developed out of it another creature. So blessed be Allah, the best to create! (Sura Mu’minun 23:12-14)

So we find the following five stages outlined in the Qur’ān :

1. Nutfa (نُطْفَه) – sperm

2. ‘alaqa (عَلَق) – clot

3. Mudagha (مُضْغَه) – piece or lump of flesh

4. ‘adaam (عَظَمَ) – Dressing the bones with muscles.

It is alleged that since these stages were only discovered in the last century, the Qur’ān contains an unexplainable prediction of science. However, since ‘blood clot’ cannot describe any embryonic stage, Bucaille reinvented the word ‘ alaqa (عَلَق) to mean “that which clings” or “leech-like substance”.

There are many problems with this argument:

1. History indicates that these stages were not unknown at Muhammad’s time, but were actually fairly common knowledge. The Greek writings of Hippocrates, Aristotle and Galen all give the same stages of development: sperm, menstrual blood, flesh, bones, then flesh growth around bones. This Greek science was well known around Arabia, and Muhammad(pbuh)’s companion Harith ben Kalada had studied medicine at Jundi-Shapur and was thus intimately acquainted with the medical teaching of Aristotle, Hippocrates and Galen.2. Second, the word ‘alaqa (عَلَق) simply does not mean “leech” as any historical translation shows; it means ‘clot’, which fits the ancient Greeks’ stages but doesn’t fit the scientific description. Both Ibn Sina’ and Ibn Qayyim understood the ‘alaqa as clotted blood, as have all translators for the past fourteen hundred years until today.

3. Third, modern embryology indicates that muscle mass (stage 5 above) appears before any bones are calcified (stage 4 above). The bones aren’t “clothed with flesh”; rather, they start to emerge and solidify within the already-existing muscle mass.

4. A Sahih Hadith from both Bukhari and Muslim expands on the Qur’ānic stages of development, saying that the first three stages all last for forty days.10 Even Dr Bucaille is forced to admit, “This description of embryonic development does not agree with modern data.”11

5. Zakir Naik quotes Western obstetrician Dr Joe Leigh Simpson supporting this “miracle”. Dr. Simpson later described these out-of-context comments as “silly and embarrassing.”12

 

Prophecy #3: Communication of Ants

Dr Zakir Naik perceives a miracle of scientific knowledge in the following passage:

“And before Solomon were marshalled his hosts – of Jinns and men and birds, and they were all kept in order and ranks. “At length, when they came to a (lowly) valley of ants, one of the ants said: ‘O ye ants, get into your habitations, lest Solomon and his hosts crush you (under foot) without knowing it.'” [Al-Qur’ān 27:17-18]

(Zakir Naik:) In the past, some people would have probably mocked at the Qur’ān , taking it to be a book of fairy tales in which ants talk to each other and communicate sophisticated messages. In recent times however, research has shown us several facts about the lifestyle of ants, which were not known earlier to humankind.13

Perceiving that ants communicate is called common sense, something perceived independently by most inquisitive ten-year olds.

Naik does not quote the wider context of this passage, in which Solomon also discusses political and metaphysical affairs with a Hoopoe bird and an Ifrit as well. God could certainly give birds and ants the ability to discuss distant kingdoms with one another by some miracle, but it is ridiculous to call it ‘scientific’.

Incidentally, the ancient Biblical account of Solomon does not portray him talking with ants, hoopoes and Ifrits, but rather portrays him scientifically studying them:

“He described plant life, from the cedar of Lebanon to the hyssop that grows out of walls He also taught about animals and birds, reptiles and fish. Men of all nations came to listen to Solomon’s wisdom, sent by all the kings of the world, who had heard of his wisdom.” – 1 Kings 4:33-34


 

PART II

DO SCIENCE AND SCRIPTURES FIT?

Some Muslims and Christians like to debate over which scripture fits better with modern science. We know that the God who created nature’s laws and order is the same God who revealed scripture, so there ought to be agreement between the two. However, both the Bible and the Qur’ān contain certain passages which can appear inconsistent. Ironically, the most scientifically problematic passages are found in both the Bible and Qur’ān :

Apparent Miracles in Bible & Qur’ān : – Noah living to 950 years

– Jesus’ virgin birth

– Jesus raising the dead

– Jesus healing the blind

– Jinns, demons and Angels – all scriptures assume the existence of spiritual beings which occasionally take material form and appear to humans.

– Afterlife —The idea that a rotted, decomposed human being can re-form into a more spiritual resurrected person seems impossible to science, yet we believe that the Creator has this power.

Sincere believers do not smugly deny these difficulties but instead seek rational explanations and consider with humility. If we are honest we must admit that these are confusing questions. Yet as we shall see, there is rational evidence that the Bible does fit with science if it is interpreted correctly.

 

Creation and Science

Critics such as Zakir Naik have alleged that the Bible teaches a literal 24-hour day creation while the Qur’ān teaches a metaphorical six-age creation. This is clearly untrue.

There are two schools of thought which reconcile the Genesis account with an old earth. Neither are simply attempts to “reinterpret” Genesis to fit with modern science, for both have their roots with commentators who predate modern science’s discovery of an old earth.

A First View of Genesis: The Day-Age Interpretation

The Hebrew word used for day in Genesis 1 is yôm (Hebrew יום), the same word used by the Qur’ān to describe the six “days” ( يَوْم yaum ) of Creation. In both languages, this yôm can also mean variously 12-hour periods, 24-hour periods, or indefinite ages.14 Furthermore, we read in the Bible that “With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day” (Injīl, 2 Peter 3:8, also Zabur 90:415). In addition, the Hebrew words used in Genesis for ‘morning’ (בקר) and ‘evening’ (ערב) can also mean simply ‘beginning of yôm ‘ and ‘end of yôm ‘ respectively,16 just as we refer to ‘the dawn of world history’ or the ‘sunset years of one’s life.’ It is clear that the author did not intend to mean a literal sunrise and sunset, as he used these terms to mark off the three yôm periods before the sun came into the picture.17

Possibly the clearest indication of this extended-creation interpretation’s validity is the fact that most of the early Christian scholars of Genesis up until 400AD taught explicitly that the Genesis creation days were extended time periods (something like a thousand years per yôm ).18 This was over a thousand years before modern science, at a time when there was no scientific reason to believe in long creation days.

On the contrary, theologically authoritative sahih Hadith show that Muhammad understood the Qur’ānic creation days literally as days of the week—Saturday, Sunday, Monday, etc:

“Abu Huraira reported that Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) took hold of my hands and said: Allah the Exalted and Glorious, created the clay on Saturday and He created the mountains on Sunday and He created the trees on Monday and He created the things entailing labour on Tuesday and created light on Wednesday and He caused animals to spread on Thursday and created Adam (pbuh) after ‘Asr on Friday; the last creation at the last hour of the hours of Friday, ie. between afternoon and night.”19

Many of the earliest commentators had the same view; Al-Tabari records the tradition of Ibn Abbas:

The Jews came to the Prophet and asked him about the creation of the heavens and the earth. He said: God created the earth on Sunday and Monday. He created the mountains and the uses they possess on Tuesday. On Wednesday, He created trees, water, cities and the cultivated barren land. These are four (days). He continued (citing the Qur’ān): `Say: Do you really not believe in the One Who created the earth in two days, and set up others like Him? That is the Lord of the worlds. He made it firmly anchored (mountains) above it and blessed it and decreed that it contain the amount of food it provides, (all) in four days, equally for those asking’- for those who ask. On Thursday, He created heaven. On Friday, He created the stars, the sun, the moon, and the angels, until three hours remained.20

Since sahih hadith are authoritative in interpreting the Qur’ān , we must believe, contrary to Zakir Naik, that the Qur’ān teaches 24-hour creation.

Some might object that since the six-day sequence is like a work week, it must be 24-hour periods. It is true that the creation week is compared with a work week (Exod. 20:11). However, it is not uncommon in the Torah to make disproportionate unit-for-unit comparisons. For example, God appointed forty years of wandering for forty days of disobedience (Num. 14:34). Or in Daniel 9:24-27, 490 days represents 490 years.

A Second View of Genesis:
The Literary Framework Interpretation

Many respected scholars interpret the Genesis account to be a visual poem which is not intended to be interpreted with rigid literalism nor chronologically, since it is clearly a poetic structure with a primarily theological description:

Days of Forming:
Days of Filling:
Day 1: “light” (v3) Day 4: “lights” (v14) Day 2: “atomsphere & oceans” (v7) Day 5: “birds & sea creatures” (v21) Day 3a: “dry ground” (v9) Day 6: “livestock” (v24)”man” (v26) Day 3b: “vegetation” (v11) Day 6: giving of “green plants” (v30)

In this view, ‘day’ is interpreted as a metaphorical poetic literary structure. One must interpret scripture according to the conventions of the original language and culture, and we know that it was common for Jewish literature to rearrange events according to theological significance rather than according to chronological sequence. Matthew’s Gospel is a clear example—the chronological events in Jesus’ life are deliberately rearranged according to theological groupings, though sequential language is still used. This seems strange to our cultural and literary conventions, but it fits the genre of Hebrew scripture.

If we demand rigid chronological sequence for scripture creation accounts, the Qur’ān also runs into problems. If we add up the creation days of Sura 41:9-12 we get eight days (2+4+2), while elsewhere in the Qur’ān it says that creation took six days (7:54, 10:3, 11:7, and 25:59). We cannot always interpret scripture sequentially.

 

The Sequence of Genesis Days

Critics have challenged the sequence of Genesis, such as how ‘day’ and ‘night’ come before the sun and moon, or vegetation comes before the sun. The following interpretation of Genesis clears up all these misunderstandings.

Basically, the perspective or ‘point-of-view’ established in verse one of Genesis chapter one is the surface of the water on earth, where humans would be placed at the end of creation.

The stages of creation are described as they would be perceived from that perspective, not from some hypothetical observer in outer space. Gaining the correct vantage point or perspective clears up a lot of misunderstandings about the creation sequence.21

First ‘Yom’: “…And God said, Let there be light, and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.” (v.3-5)First ‘Yom’: “…And God said, Let there be light, and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.” (v.3-5)

Modern Science: Genesis Account:
Creation (14 billion years ago) According to the generally accepted Big Bang theory) “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” (v.1) Initial Conditions of the Earth: (4.5 billion years ago) According to current science, the earth’s primordial atmosphere and the solar system’s interplanetary debris prevented the light of the Sun, Moon, and stars from reaching the surface of the earth’s ocean, which was chaotic and unfit for life. “The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” (v.2) STEPS FROM DISORDER TO ORDER Stage One: Partial Clearing of Atmosphere (4.5-3 billion years ago) Clearing of the interplanetary debris and partial transformation of the earth’s atmosphere so that light from the heavenly bodies now penetrates to the surface of the earth’s ocean Stage Two: Atmosphere/Ocean Separation (3-2 billion years ago)Formation of water vapor in the troposphere under conditions that establish a stable water cycle. Second ‘Yom’: “And God made the expanse and separated the waters that were under the expanse from the waters that were above the expanse. And it was so.” (v.7) Stage Three: Continents, Plants (2b-650 million years ago) Formation of continental land masses and ocean basins, and the development of early organisms and plant life. Third ‘Yom’: “…And God said, Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear. And it was so. God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good.”(v.9-10) Stage Four: Sun & Moon Visible (650-600 billion years ago) Transformation of the atmosphere from perpetually translucent to occasionally transparent. Sun, moon, planets, and stars now can be seen from the vantage point of the earth’s surface as distinct objects. Fourth ‘Yom’: “…And God made (‘made appear’) the two great lights–the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night–and the stars.” (v.16) Stage Five: Animal Life Begins (600-200 billion years ago)Evolution of swarms of small sea animals Fifth ‘Yom’: “And God said, Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the heavens.” (v.20)

Stage Six: Complex Animals Evolve(600-200 billion years ago)

Evolution of mammals and the emergence of Homo Sapiens.

Sixth ‘Yom’: And God made the beasts of the earth according to their kinds… Then God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” (v.24,26)

Geologic Timeline of Creation

Both the Qur’ān and the Torah account of creation have some similarly perplexing sequences. In Sura 41:9-12 the Qur’ān ‘s primary creation account seems to place the creation of the seven heavens after the days of creating earth. Baqara 29 indicates the same:

“He created for you all that the earth contains; Then, ascending to the sky, He fashioned it into seven heavens.”

So we see a similar sort of chronological difficulty in the Qur’ān. This doesn’t mean the Qur’ān is wrong, it just shows that we can’t always interpret verses as they first appear.

Some critics claim that the word used on day four for the sun or moon is ‘create’ not ‘made appear.’ However, the Hebrew word used in these verses is not ‘create’ (בּרא, barah) but עשׂה (‛ âśâh ), which can be translated “made appear.” This word occurs 1,200 times in the Old Testament and has a wide variety of meanings, some of which include “did”, “made”, “show”, “appear”, “made to appear”, etc. In light of this fact, we must conclude that the sun and moon were created on day one (verse 3) but appeared in view on day four.

 

Vegetation before the Sun?

Naik has criticized Genesis for teaching that vegetation arrived before the sun, which seems scientifically impossible.22 Even though the above explanation clears up Naik’s ‘difficulty’, In Sahih Muslim23 and al-Tabari’s account of the Qur’ānic creation sequence, we also find vegetation coming two days before the sun was created. The diagram above showing the sequence of the Torah creation period explains this—translucent light (which appeared on the first day) had been coming through the atmosphere from before this period, yet the sun or moon were not perceivable as yet. Thus photosynthesis could occur and plants develop, which in turn caused the oxygenation and clearing up of the atmosphere. Dr. Robert C. Newman (Ph.D. in Theoretical Astrophysics from Cornell University) concludes that

“vegetation was the immediate cause of both the oxygenation of the atmosphere and the removal of its heavy cloud cover.”24


COSMOLOGY:

FLAT EARTH OR ROUND EARTH?

Ancient Cosmology

Diagram 1: The ancient view of the universe

Before Copernicus, most civilizations viewed the earth roughly as shown in the diagram above. However, Aristotle (384-322BC) and Ptolemy (2nd century AD) had determined that the earth is spherical, and Aristarchus (circa 280 B.C.) determined that the earth revolved around the sun.

Diagram 2: This picture is by’Umar bin Muzaffar Ibn al-Wardi. published in Kharidat al-‘Aja’ib wa Faridat al-Ghara’ib. (The Pearl of Wonders and the Uniqueness of Things Strange). Late 17th century.

Ajaib al-Makhluqat

Diagram 3: From Ajaib al-Makhluqat (The wonders of creation) by the Persian author Zakariya Qazwini (d. 1283 or 1284).

Egyptian Cosmology

Diagram 4: An ancient Egyptian view of the universe

 

Is the Earth Flat or Round?

“Do you not see how God causes the night to pass into the day and the day to pass into the night?” (Luqman 31:29)

Naik explains that the above verse miraculously teaches a round earth, because only if the earth was round could the day gradually become night. In fact, the Qur’ān is simply stating what is common knowledge, that the day doesn’t instantly become night. To further support his claim, Naik uses the verse:

“And after that He spread the earth.” (79:30)

Naik does next what he often does to prove his point, he invents his own new “meaning” for Arabic words. Words that have had known and accepted definitions for hundreds of years are suddenly redefined for no reason other than to prove Naik’s scientific miracle. Thus, Sura 79:30 has always been translated, “spread out” However, Naik argues that the final word dahaha (دَحَهَا) means not “spread out” but “ostrich egg”, so he translates this verse as, “And the earth, moreover, hath He made egg shaped.”

There is no recognized Arabic dictionary where دَحَهَا means “ostrich egg.” Previous to the last two decades of Bucailleism, no Arab scholar ever translated the verse this way; including scholars like Yusuf Ali, Pickthall, Shakir, Asad, and Dawood who have dedicated their lives to translating correctly these verses. Who do we listen to—a serious scholar of Qur’ānic Arabic, or a Saudi-sponsored television evangelist like Zakir Naik? As Abdul Rahman Lomax pointed out, this egg re-interpretation is “nonsense”, for the earth is the exact opposite of an egg-shape; compressed at the ends (oblate spheroid) rather than elongated (prolate spheroid).

Despite Naik’s attempt, several passages in the Qur’ān have been historically interpreted to indicate a flat earth. Thus:

“And the earth – We have spread out. (like a carpet)…” (Al-Hijr 15:19)

“Did we not spread the earth like a bed?” (Al-Naba 78:6)

“Have they never observed the sky above them, and marked how We built it up and furnished it with ornaments, leaving no crack in its expanse? We spread out the earth and set upon it immovable mountains.” (Qaf 50:6-7)

“Do they never reflect on .. the heaven, how it was raised on high? The mountains, how they were set down? The earth, how it was made flat?” Al-Ghashiyah 88:18-20

Renowned commentator Al-Jalalayn’s tafsir on this verse reads,

“As for His words sutihat , ‘laid out flat’, this on a literal reading suggests that the earth is flat, which is the opinion of most of the scholars of the Law, and not a sphere as astronomers have it…”

Likewise, the prominent Egyptian Shafi’ie theologian Imam al-Suyuti also taught that the earth is flat.

Despite all the above passages, Naik has attacked the Bible for teaching a flat earth using Daniel 4:10-12,

“I saw a tree..it was visible to the end of the whole earth..all flesh was fed from it.”

Naik entirely ignores (or conceals) the fact that this passage is simply quoting how a pagan king tried to describe a bewildering dream he had. King Nebuchadnezzar may well have thought the earth to be flat. As dreams often do, his dream may have contorted physical realities, or he may have misunderstood the dream in his description. In any case, this passage certainly cannot be used to show that the Bible teaches a flat earth. Naik also uses another vision produced by Satan during Jesus’ temptation, in which

“The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world.” (Luke 4:5)

According to Naik, this means that the Bible teaches a flat earth. In reality, it was a miraculous instantaneous vision. One might as well question the scientific explanation for the Mi’raj, how the Prophet could have rode a winged horse to Jerusalem, up to heaven and back in one night.

Finally, Naik also uses the following verse as “evidence” of a flat earth Bible:

And he shall set up an ensign for the nations, and shall assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth.” (Isaiah 11:12)

The word translated ‘corner’ is ‘kanaph’ (כּנף), which is also translated “extremity,” “quarter,” “border,” “ends” or even “wing.” Even ancient societies that believed the world was flat thought it was a disc, which wouldn’t fit with the Bible’s description here. Ancient societies did understand the four primary directions of north, south, east and west, so this is how we must naturally interpret the four ‘kanaph’ . It is pretty obvious that this is an idiom for the four directions (north, south, east, west). Ironically, even Bible critic Ahmed Deedat (Naik’s predecessor) inadvertently used this common idiom, saying: “to the four corners of the globe.”25

Thus, we see for all Naik’s attempts, there is no verse in the Bible that proves a flat earth. Instead, since ancient Hebrew had no word for ‘sphere’ (a three-dimensional circle), ‘circle’ was the closest equivalent which could be used to describe the earth. This expression “circle” is used repeatedly in the Bible to describe the earth (see `Īsāiah 40:22, Job 26:10, Proverbs 8:27).

 

Pillars Upholding Heaven

The Qur’ān does not explicitly deny the existence of pillars, yet it says in a number of verses that they are not visible to the human eye:

“God is He who raised up the heavens without pillars that you can see..” (Al-Ra’d 13:2; also Luqman 31:10)

Ibn Kathir’s commentary on this verse reads,

“there are pillars, but you cannot see them,’ according to Ibn ‘Abbas, Mujahid, Al-Hassan, Qatadah, and several other scholars.”

There is likewise one verse in the Bible that also speaks of pillars, which critics mistakenly use to criticize Biblical cosmology:

The pillars of the heavens quake, aghast at his rebuke. (Job 26:11)

Job is Wisdom literature and uses extensive metaphoric, hyperbolic and poetic imagery. We know that Job did not literally believe that the heavens have pillars, for an immediately preceding verse says:

He spreads out the northern skies over empty space; he suspends the earth over nothing. (Job 26:7)

Job not only knew that the skies are suspended over nothing, but he also seemed to know that the entire earth was suspended in empty space, which would seem unusually advanced for such ancient writing. If the critic will not even accept these proofs, he should be reminded that Job is chastened by God at the end of the book for presuming to know all about creation (Job 38:1-4). Job then repents, and God honors him for it.

 

Pillars Under the Earth

Naik attacks the Bible for saying that the earth has pillars:

“He shakes the earth from its place and makes its pillars tremble” (Job 9:6)

“When the earth and all its people quake, it is I who hold its pillars firm.” (Psalm 75:3)

There is no problem with this description, for “earth” and “pillars” here are simply imprecise Hebrew terms for what we would today call “continental plates” and “underlying subterranean masses”.26 If God had said, “…when the continental plates quake, it is I who hold the subterranean layers firm” the Jews would not have understood what he was saying, so he used their vocabulary. God chooses to use familiar human expression and language to communicate. In just the same way the Qur’ān uses expressions which are technically incorrect but nonetheless acceptable, terms like “sunset” and “sunrise.” The critic fails to realize that this verse is not intended to be a description of the earth, but is rather a passage about God’s sovereignty which uses a familiar human metaphor to communicate.

Naik criticizes the following passage as well:

He raises the poor from the dust

and lifts the needy from the ash heap;

He seats them with princes

and has them inherit a throne of honor.

“For the foundations of the earth are the LORD’s;

upon them he has set the world. (1 Samuel 2:8)

The word “foundation” above used in Hannah’s prayer is matsuq, sometimes rendered “pillar.” Again, “foundation” is a fair description of the subterranean mass beneath the continental plates. We must remember too that this historical passage is simply recording the prayer of a fallible human (Samuel’s mother Hannah).

Sun, Moon, Stars, Comets, and Heavens

Naik has alleged that the Torah incorrectly teaches that the moon emits light:

God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. God set them in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth, to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good. (Genesis 1:16-18)

This argument is ridiculous, for it is perfectly acceptable to call the moon a “light”—the verse nowhere calls it a “source of light.” One might as well criticize modern people for using the term “moonlight.” All the Scriptures use phenomenological terminology to describe creation—the Qur’ān also called the moon a “light” (71:15-16). The Hebrew word “light” (מאור, mâ’ôr ) covers both direct and reflected light (Proverbs 15:30). In fact, Ezekiel 32:7-8 and Matthew 24:29 hint that the moon’s light is dependent on the sun’s primary light.

The Qur’ān also contains a somewhat problematic description of the moon, for it says that there are seven layered heavens, with the lowest one containing the stars27 (though we now know that stars are found all throughout the cosmos). However Surah Nūh 71:15-16 places the moon in the middle of these seven heavens, which puts it much farther away than the nearest stars in the lowest heavens.

We also find comparable cosmological difficulties in the Qur’ān , this time regarding comets. Sura Al-Saffat says that:

We have decked the lower heaven with constellations. They guard it against rebellious devils, so that they may not listen to those on high. Meteors are hurled at them from every side; then, driven away, they are consigned to an eternal scourge. Eavesdroppers are pursued by fiery comets. (37:6-10)

It appears that comets are designed to chase eavesdropping jinn, unless one reinterprets these verses or redefines the words. These examples are not given to discredit the Qur’ān but rather to illustrate that we cannot reject Scripture for using nontechnical language.


 

PART III

THE HISTORY OF SCIENCE

Critics like Zakir Naik try hard to portray the Bible as impeding scientific progress:

“If you analyze, the Church was against science previously – and you know the incident that they sentenced Galileo to death. They sentenced Galileo to death – why? Because he said certain statements in the astronomy, etcetera, which went against the Bible – so they sentenced him to death.28

Galileo, a devout Catholic, was never sentenced to death. Galileo was sentenced to life imprisonment on June 22, 1633 and then that sentence was commuted to house arrest. He died more than eight years later on the evening of January 8, 1642 of old age. Galileo believed that his theories fit with the Bible, and he wrote a book arguing this based on early interpretations of Christians like Augustine.

When we look at history, we find that a Bible-based worldview has had a tremendous positive effect on science. Time after time, key scientists have been motivated to study nature by a deep faith in the Bible. Recent scholarship is rediscovering how science is not just ‘discovering facts’ but it is very much shaped by one’s worldview. Societies where rivers and trees are worshiped as divine have not developed flood banks to control dangerous floods, or dams to tap the resources. The Greeks developed little in the way of technology because they disdained the material world and work, preferring to speculate on nonmaterial things.

Isaac Newton , the founder of modern physics, was a committed Christian who considered his scientific theories to be evidence of a Creator. Indeed, Newton wrote more on Christian theology than on science. At `Īsāac Newton’s time, many philosophers like Descartes saw the natural world and spiritual world as very separate, while others saw an immanent spirituality pervading the universe in a rather pantheistic sense. Newton, however, built his laws of physics on a Biblical view of the world, finding a middle way between a purely mechanical universe and a pantheistic universe. Newton was wholeheartedly committed to the teachings of the New Testament, accepting their authority and interpreting them literally; believing Jesus to be both Son of God and Lord.

Robert Boyle (1627-1691) was a deeply religious Christian who was the founder of modern chemistry and discovered Boyle’s Law—that the pressure of a gas is inversely proportional to the volume it occupies. He wrote extensively on theology.

Nicolaus Copernicus (1473–1543) developed and popularized the heliocentric (‘sun-centered’) model of the universe. Although heliocentric theories had previously been proposed by Greek, Indian and Muslim philosophers, Copernicus’ scientific explanation became a landmark in the development of modern science. Copernicus was a Catholic cleric, and first shared his theories with Pope Clement VII and several Catholic cardinals who were enthusiastic and positive. Copernicus died of a stroke at the age of 70 and was buried in Frombork Cathedral.

Johannes Kepler (1571-1630) was a key figure in the 17th century scientific revolution and wrote the first published defense of the heliocentric model (Mysterium Cosmographicum; The Cosmographic Mystery). In other words, Kepler reintroduced the ancient Greek concept of heliocentrism into Europe. His first manuscript of this argument contained an extensive chapter of Bible passages showing how heliocentrism is what the Bible teaches. Kepler was a deeply religious Protestant who had originally planned to be a cleric after graduation. His scientific notebooks are filled with prayers, praise, and theological musings.

Galileo Galilei (1564-1642), a devout Catholic throughout his life, popularized heliocentrism and improved telescopes. Many people mistakenly believe Galileo was imprisoned by the Catholic Church for contradicting the flat-earth idea, but the controversy was over the motion of the earth. It has been common knowledge in Europe for the past two thousand years that the Earth is round; the Catholics did not advocate a flat-earth cosmology at any time. The Catholic Papacy argued for geocentrism from passages which say that the sun “sets” and “rises”— just as the Qur’ān says in Al-Kahf 18:17. Furthermore, Galileo didn’t argue that the Bible was wrong; in fact he wrote a book arguing that heliocentrism was not contrary to the Bible, appealing to the interpretations of early Church Fathers like Augustine. It is foolish to blame the Bible for this controversy, because the Catholic Church at the time was characterized by depending on their own traditions (sort of like Hadith) rather than the words of scripture.29 Kepler, another primary proponent of heliocentrism, was a committed Lutheran and argued for heliocentrism using the Bible.

Islamic history has had similar clerical problems. The twelfth-century Arabian scientist Ibn al-Haitham asserted that the earth was spherical, not flat, so clerics said that his work contradicted the Qur’ān. He was branded a heretic, his astronomical work burnt and he was largely forgotten for centuries because his delineation of the sphere of the earth was considered a symbol of impious atheism.30

Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778) is the father of modern taxonomy and is also considered the father or modern ecology. Rousseau said of him, “I know no greater man on earth,” and he was widely renowned throughout Europe as one of the most acclaimed scientists of the time. Linnaeus was a devout Lutheran Christian whose personal motto was “Live righteously- God is present.” He saw botany and zoology as pursuits which glorify the Creator. No doubt he drew inspiration from the Biblical account of Solomon:

“He described plant life, from the cedar of Lebanon to the hyssop that grows out of walls He also taught about animals and birds, reptiles and fish. Men of all nations came to listen to Solomon’s wisdom, sent by all the kings of the world, who had heard of his wisdom.” – 1 Kings 4:33-34

Likewise, most naturalists of the time in Europe were pastors who pursued the study of nature as a hobby. The famous botanist John Ray (1627-1705) who offered the first modern biological definition of species, based his understanding on the Genesis creation account.

The Big Bang theory of creation was put forth by a Belgian priest, Georges Lemaitre (1894-1960) who wrote “it had to have begun with light” (as in the Biblical account). Pope Pius XII was an enthusiastic proponent of the Big Bang even before the theory was scientifically well-established. Blaise Pascal (1623–1662) was a committed Christian who concluded his scientific and mathematical career with writing a defense of the Christian faith.

The list goes on and on: Roger Bacon, Faraday, Herschel, J.C. Adams, van Helmont, Heisenberg, Planck, Huygens. The Bible does not oppose science. Rather, it provides a worldview that has encouraged investigation and experimentation which has produced many of the leading figures in the modern scientific revolution.

 

Who ‘Invented’ Science?

Islam also had a golden age of science which preceded the European Scientific Revolution and contributed to it. From the eighth to the thirteenth century, the Islamic empire became a hub for scholarship, bringing together ideas from India, Greece, and China and improving on them. Renowned scholars like Ibn-Sina (Avicenna), Ibn-Rushd (Averroes), Farabi, Ibn al-Haytham (Al Hazen), Khayyam, al-Kindi, and al-Razi broke new ground in optics, medicine, chemistry, mathematics, and astronomy, paving the way for the European Renaissance. Muslim, Jewish and Christian scholars worked side by side in translating all the world’s knowledge into Arabic and Persian, causing Baghdad, Córdoba and Cairo to become global intellectual hubs. Scholars dug into the works of Aristotle, Euclid, Plato, and the Indian and Chinese philosophers. Much of the European Renaissance was built on both Arab scholars like Avicenna and Averroes as well as ancient Greek texts regained via the Islamic world.

Just as some Hindu fundamentalists claim everything in science originated in India, so too some Muslim evangelists have tried to portray everything significant in science as coming from Islam. In reality, the Islamic Golden Age was one important link in a gradual process of discovery which included ancient Greece, Egypt, India, China, Rome, Europe, and the modern world. It is foolish to try to “claim” science for one religion. Dr. Abdus Salam, the first Muslim Nobel laureate in science, wrote:

“There is only one universal science; its problems and modalities are international and there is no such thing as Islamic science just as there is no Hindu science, nor Jewish science, no Confucian Science, nor Christian Science.”

Televangelists like Zakir Naik have claimed for Islam everything from the invention of world maps to soap, from coffee to the number zero. The number zero provides a good case study. Since the Arabs did introduce the concept of zero into Europe, the modern numbering system became known in Europe as the “Arabic numerals”. However, the Arabs themselves received the concept from India. The first printed record of the Hindu-Arabic number system was not an original work at all, but a translation of an Indian book, the Brahmasphutasiddhanta , written in 628AD. al-Khwarizmi and al-Kindi are essentially responsible for popularising the Indian method.

Similarly, while the word “algebra” comes from Arabic word (al-jabr , الجبر), its origins can be traced to the ancient Babylonians. Trigonometry was not invented by Omar Khayyam as some allege, but it was a branch of mathematics which goes back 4000 years. Algorithms were first used by the ancient Babylonians, Euclid and Eratosthenes and later developed by al-Kindi.

The televangelist Zakir Naik has claimed that “..the first people who drew the world map were the Muslims..” Apparently, Naik has not heard of Ptolemy, the Greek scholar who drew the first known world map five hundred years before Islam. Naik must be referring to the 1513 map of Piri Reis, which represents one small step in the gradual progression from Ptolemy’s world map to modern cartography.

It has been said that Jabir ibn Hayyan “invented” distillation in 800AD. Actually, Aristotle mentioned the process and Pliny the Elder (died 79AD) recorded an early still, the apparatus used to perform distillation. Furthermore by the 3rd century AD, Maria the Jewess, as she was known, had apparently developed a forerunner of the modern alcohol still. And Egyptians were using distillation in the 3rd century to produce alcohol. What Jabir did was to invent an alembic still – not discover the process of distillation. The spherical earth was not discovered by Arab scholars but by the ancient Greeks. Aristotle provided evidence for the theory in the 4th century BC. In calculating the size of the Earth, Eratosthenes managed to get within 800km of the actual figure- in 250BC. It is a myth that people widely believed the earth to be flat before the age of exploration- by the 1st century AD Pliny stated that just about everyone was in agreement that the earth was round.31

Gunpowder – A traveling Muslim science museum in the UK claimed that:

Though the Chinese invented saltpetre gunpowder, and used it in their fireworks, it was the Arabs who worked out that it could be purified using potassium nitrate for military use.32

What’s odd about this is that saltpetre is potassium nitrate! Maybe the Arabs produced a more purified form of saltpetre. Gunpowder was developed in China around the 7th century AD and it was brought west either along the Silk Road or by the Mongols. In any case, the Chinese were using military rockets in the 11th century-long before any other such recorded use. Flight has been credited to Abbas ibn Firnas for making a reasonably successful glider flight in 875AD. However, there are Chinese accounts of manned gliders dating back as far as 500BC and functional parachutes twenty-one centuries ago. The first functional aircraft still must be credited to the Wright Brothers last century.

Carpets, cheques and windmills likewise predated Islam and originated in Persian and Central Asia. It has been claimed that gardens for beauty were invented by the Arabs, but that entirely ignores the ancient Hanging Gardens of Babylon and the gardens of the ancient Greeks and Romans. Coffee was popularized by the Abbassids but first exported from Ethiopia, where tribesmen used to chew the bean to help keep them alert on hunting trips.

In conclusion, we must reemphasize that Islam’s Golden Age played a valuable role in mankind’s progress, but it both contributed to and depended upon other major civilizations that existed at that time.

 

Why Did the Golden Age End?

If we look at Islamic history, there is much to be proud of, a great legacy of literature, knowledge and achievement. Yet these achievements (in the first few centuries of Islamic history) coincided with the point of greatest open-mindedness to and cooperation with other civilizations like Greek and Indian civilization. It was a time when Muslim scholars studied and incorporated the great works of other civilizations, interacting with their scholars and incorporating their philosophies. The greatest scholars of Muslim history like Ibn Sina and Ibn Rushd had a great fascination for the traditions of other civilizations, and for that result were condemned as heretics by the clergy.33 Al-Haitham’s works were burned by clerics for their astronomy,34 and Ibn Rushd was banished for his unorthodox embrace of philosophy. [Incidentally, the early authoritative Qur’ānic commentators of Islam’s Golden Age such as Tabari, Qunubi, Razi, Ibn Taymiyya and Qutb, had a very high view of the scriptures of the Christians and Jews, asserting that true Qur’ānic teaching confirms the continued textual integrity of the Injīl and Tawrat, and that Jesus may well have been crucified and resurrected as the Injīl teaches.]

Opposing “Jahiliyya”

Al-Ghazali wrote a scathing criticism of the period’s greatest scholars for their fascination with “un-Islamic” Greek scholars rather than the Qur’ān. Eventually Al-Ghazali’s opinion won out and the clergy censored all outside learning as “Jahiliyya” ignorance and temptation and demanded that the scholars only study “pure” Islamic subjects. The Imam described mathematics and medicine as Fard-E-Kefaya ;35 he decisively placed those as secondary to religious- Ilm .36 We find Ghazali’s mindset continuing today in the form of fundamentalist Bucailleists like Zakir Naik who are obsessed with finding science exclusively in the Qur’ān and Islamic history, while showing antagonism to people of other faiths. The great irony is that though they boast most loudly about the Golden Age of Islam, it is precisely their mindset that deprived the Golden Age of its openness and led to its decline. An example of this opposition to outside ideas and learning is seen in medieval Islam’s response to the printing press.

Opposition to Printing Press

The printing press was not invented in Europe but in China, though China never put it to much practical use. When Johannes Gutenberg invented quality moveable type and printed his first book (the Bible), he started a global revolution in literacy, education and information dissemination. Gutenberg described his intentions clearly:

“Religious truth is captive in a small number of little manuscripts which guard the common treasures, instead of expanding them. Let us break the seal which binds these holy things; let us give wings to truth that it may fly with the Word, no longer prepared at vast expense, but multitudes everlastingly by a machine which never wearies to every soul which enters life.”

“It is a press, certainly, but a press from which shall flow in inexhaustible streams…Through it, God will spread His Word. A spring of truth shall flow from it: like a new star it shall scatter the darkness of ignorance, and cause a light heretofore unknown to shine amongst men.”

Gutenberg’s prediction came true; as common people gained access to scriptures in their mother-tongue, there was a religious revival of piety, honesty and hard work throughout Europe which laid the foundation for the economic boom in Northern Europe in the 18th century. According to the agnostic father of modern sociology, Max Weber, the Protestant revival of Biblical teaching was responsible for the Industrial Revolution in Northern Europe.

Soon after Gutenberg’s invention of the modern printing press, Sultan Bayezid II banned it from the Ottoman Empire in 1485, and no printing press was established in the Arab world for three hundred and fifty years. During that time, the only printing presses in the Near East were those run by Christians and Jews. This ban proved disastrous to the development of science and technology in the Arab world.

The Book of Nature and Book of Revelation

Both Christians and Muslims see two primary sources of knowledge; the Book of Nature (the natural world around us) and the Book of Revelation (Divine Scripture). Often people distinguish between these two ‘books’, with scripture governing religious ritual and theology, while nature guides our understanding of natural science and technology, with Scripture as the primary authority. So how does religion affect scientific progress? Our approach to studying the Book of Revelation sets a pattern for how we approach and study the Book of Nature. How we study scripture determines how we study nature. This is dramatically illustrated in history, where a primary difference between Islam and Christianity is how they have used scripture. In Islam, scripture is for memorization and recitation in Arabic, not primarily for reading and personally interpreting like a normal book. Ijtihad, or personal interpretation, was not allowed for any major theological matters, and scripture interpretation was channeled through clerical authority. In fact, the decline of the Golden Age coincided with the “closing of the gates of Ijtihad” in the 12th century, when it was said that there was no more need for personal interpretation. So every aspect of religion was handed to the common man on a plate, and he was obligated to memorize and recite the Qur’ān , not challenge the religious authorities. There was no direct recourse to scripture for the common man. This attitude that there was “nothing more to be said” carried over to the study of nature, and, for the vast majority, academics became nothing more than dead memorization of ancient scholarship.

In Europe, there was a very similar situation before the Reformation. The priests controlled doctrine and very few people interpreted scriptures for themselves, simply obeying the clergy and reciting the scriptures in a foreign language. With the printing press, common people had direct access to scripture in their mother-language, and across Europe common families would read scripture aloud every night. Religion returned to the pattern of the early Christian Church, and it was believed that personal understanding and interpretation of scripture was a sacred duty for every person—a doctrine known as the “priesthood of all believers.” This attitude of doubting human clerics and trusting only the Scriptures carried over to the scientific realm, where Protestants like Newton, Kepler and Boyle began to doubt the ancient authorities like Aristotle and interpret nature directly for themselves. This skepticism of religious authority led to skepticism of scientific authority, which caused the Scientific Revolution.

    1. Zakir Naik, The Qur’an and Modern Science: Compatible or Incompatible? Islamic Research Foundation, www.irf.net, p.9,10.
    2. in Islam awr “Aqliyyat, ed., Muhammad Mustafa Bijnauri, Lahore: Idarah Islamyat, 1994, 403-421.
    3. Strange Bedfellows: Western Scholars Play Key Role in Touting `Science’ of the Quran Wall Street Journal, Jan 23, 2002. pg. A.1.
    4. When Science Teaching Becomes A Subversive Activity By Pervez Hoodbhoy
    5. “Quran-science”: Scientific miracles from the 7th century? By Taner Edis, retrieved from http://www2.truman.edu/~edis/writings/articles/quran-science.html
    6. Abu Ammar Yasir Qadhi, An Introduction to the Sciences of the Quran Footnote, p.282.
    7. Strange Bedfellows: Western Scholars Play Key Role in Touting `Science’ of the Quran Wall Street Journal, Jan 23, 2002.
    8. Strange Bedfellows: Western Scholars Play Key Role in Touting `Science’ of the Quran Wall Street Journal, Jan 23, 2002.
    9. Zakir Naik, The Qur’an and Modern Science: Compatible or Incompatible? Islamic Research Foundation, www.irf.net, p.9,10.
    10. Sahih Bukhari, Volume 4, Book 54, Number 430; Sahih Muslim, Book 33, Number 6390.
    11. Bucaille, The Bible, the Qur’an and Science, p.245.
    12. Strange Bedfellows: Western Scholars Play Key Role in Touting `Science’ of the Quran Wall Street Journal, Jan 23, 2002.
    13. Zakir Naik, The Qur’an and Modern Science: Compatible or Incompatible? Islamic Research Foundation, www.irf.net, p.41.
    14. For example, “year” (Exodus 13:10); “period” (Genesis 29:14).
    15. This psalm is actually attributed to Moses, the same prophet who under divine inspiration recorded the Torah creation account.
    16. For further discussion on this, see Hugh Ross, Creator and the Cosmos, (Navpress, 2001). Hugh Ross, who advocates the Day-Age view, holds a PhD in Astronomy from the University of Toronto, was a postdoctoral research fellow at Caltech, and was the youngest person ever to have served as director of observations for Vancouver’s Royal Astronomical Society.
    17. In addition, the third day is clearly longer, for in it God created not only vegetation but also matured it to seed-bearing capacity. The sixth day also involves a series of events impossible to complete in 24 hours.
    18. Hugh Ross writes, “Prior to the Nicene Council, the early Church fathers wrote two thousand pages of commentary on the Genesis creation days, yet did not devote a word to disparaging each other’s viewpoints on the creation time scale. All these early scholars accepted that yom could mean “a long time period.” The majority explicitly taught that the Genesis creation days were extended time periods (something like a thousand years per yom ). Not one Ante-Nicene Father explicitly endorsed the 24-hour interpretation. Ambrose, who came the closest to doing so, apparently vaccilated on the issue.” ( The Genesis Debate, ed David Hagopian (Crux Press: Mission Viejo, 2001), p 125,126.
    19. Sahih Muslim, 39:6707
    20. The History of al-Tabari , Volume 1- General Introduction and from the Creation to the Flood (trans. Franz Rosenthal, State University of New York Press, Albany 1989), pp. 187-193:
    21. If the reader finds it difficult to justify the “point of perspective” adjustment, we can see a similar need with the Qur’an. In Sura Al-Kahf 18:86, we read that Dhul-Qarnain “journeyed on a certain road until he reached the West and saw the sun setting in a pool of black mud.” This appears consistent with the pre-Islamic legend of the sun setting in a muddy pool on the horizon of a flat earth. Yet we must consider this verse to be described from the perspective of Dhul-Qarnain in order for it to make sense. In the same way, we cannot interpret all scripture from an imaginary “cosmic” perspective.

תּבלtêbêl ” and “ארץ ‘erets ” translated here as “earth” can mean simply “land” as in one particular country, and in some contexts they simply cannot mean the entire “earth” (Genesis 38:9).

  • Surah Fussilat 41:12
Question on the Theory of Evolution (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OYmjLrzKNl8&feature=related)
  • Incidentally, many historians say the dispute between the Catholic Church and Galileo was less due to heliocentrism and more due to Galileo’s abrasive personality which antagonized nearly everyone around him.
  • De Boer, T. J. The History of Philosophy in Islam . London 1933.
  • Many of these claims can be found in an article by the Independent (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/how-islamic-inventors-changed-the-world-469452.html)
  • Paul Vallely, “How Islamic inventors changed the world”, in The Independent, 11 March, 2006.
  • Iqbal Latif, “Why the clergy has made our heroes our heretics?” in Global Politician, Nov 26, 2006.
  • History of Philosophy in Islam, by T.J. de Boer (1904), p153.
  • i.e. not something obligatory for everyone to study but a ‘group obligation’ which someone in the community should learn about.
  • Iqbal Latif, “Why the clergy has made our heroes our heretics?” in Global Politician, Nov 26, 2006.

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