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Pre-Argument Damage Control

The little-trodden mountain road, left at the mercy of nature, was once again led to muddy dismay by treacherous rain. Shoots yearned for their baptism of sunlight, moss reappearaed on newly exposed pebble surfaces, night fell with its characteristic misty silence. Nature ever remains as she is, maintaining her indifferent, almost condescending gaze at the affairs of men. Rivers flowed with rejuvinated vigour, so did the humour of time. Ideas arent nearly as static, and human inclination towards them is essentially unpredictable. It wasnt that far back when religious ideas and metaphysics dominated the focus of academia. Free thought was but a caged bird, and it cried to the mythical heavens above for deliverance. Soon afterwards, the world heard the roar of Enlightenment- angry in its enthusiasm to end the subjugation of heretical reason. General Voltaire reclined on his armchair, his laughing eyes surveying the ensuing battle; Diderot and his horsemen rode gllantly, while the berserk in Hume found peace only in destruction. The battle was won soon thereafter: reason reigned supreme, religion sought refuge in the alleyways of personal faith. Thats how the popular story goes, at least. Without going into the historical accuracy of this account, we can agree that its awfully popular. The world and its intellectual endeavour today is essentially materialistic: the enterprise of science is interprated largely (and inaccurately, some would argue) as antagonistic to religion. Science and religion are essentially incompatible, it is said, the corollary to which is the fact that religion can never have any scientific or intellectual basis. Any such claims of a religion or scripture having a footing in the realm of science is immediately understood to be biased, stretchy, product of wishful thought, and therefore patently invalid. Religion is blind faith, we are told, not science. Dont try to make it into something its not.

Scientific miracles?
Truth to tell, these naysayers do have a point. Some religionists, uncomfortable with the idea of their worldview being boiled down to nothing but blind faith, have come up with some pretty absurd and desperate-sounding claims about their
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scriptures which, according to them, provide rational or scientific warrant for their religion. This, in turn, invites us to grant religious ideas a justified footing in the academia. One popular way of doing this is pointing to alleged descriptions of scientific phenomena being present in scripture far ahead of their time of discovery. How can you explain the presence of this information, if not by positing some higher power as the source?, asks the believer. This argument might be valid if it went through. Sadly, for the most part, it doesnt go through. Most of these alleged instances of scientific facts being present in scripture tend to be stretchy or intellectually dishonest interpretations. Numerical miracles are particularly popular cases in this regard, numbers can be easily manipulated given a bit of imagination. An example of this would be the speed of light allegedly being mentioned in the Quran. The ambiguity of the scripture is often taken advantage of to achieve this end: some verses that tend to have spiritual counsel often become a source of cryptic allusions to scientific truths. These are also read into in unassuming poetic references to this or that natural phenomenon. Every convenient digress from literal description of nature become a potential scope for manipulation by believers. The mention of the song of morning stars in Job 38:7, for example, has been interpreted by some hopefuls to allude to the emission of radio waves by stars, the treasures of the snow reference in Job 38:22 is read to refer to the symmetry of the snowflakes, the mention of the uncountability of stars in Genesis 15:5 is interpreted as a signpost to the fact of their actually being innumerable stars. Of course, these are no more than manners of speech people adopt, as they did back in the day, so they do now; and the claim of them speaking of then-unknown scientific phenomena is obviously too far-fetched. Case in point: the vast majority of these efforts to somehow find a scientific grant for religion has their roots in the faith of the faithful, not in critical thought.

Plausibility consideration
But even beyond this issue of whether the interpretations are stretchy and wishful or not, the claims of scientific phenomena being alluded to in religious scriptures raise a more fundamental question, which is directed not at any specific claim but at the whole idea of religious scriptures containing scientific facts itself: why
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would a religious book, meant purely for the spiritual guidance of men, contain scientific facts? Do we expect a book of poetry to contain mathematical equations? No, because the realms of poetry and mathematics are so distinct that mention of one in a work of the other would immediately seem redundant and inconsistent. The very idea of scientific information, especially those not even known at the time of revelation, being present in religious scriptures prod a similar concern: what is the point of this? This contention immediately seems to discredit any claim along these lines. What adds further complication to this is the manner in which these alleged scientific facts are mentioned. Most of the time, these scientific facts are found cushioned in the context of spiritual teachings, without any prior background information, and almost no detail is presented that serve any explanatory purpose. If the scriptures purpose was to teach science, it has done an awful job: science is simply not taught that way. If a biology teacher wants to talk about the structure of DNA for example, a lot of background information would be in order, like its place in the living cell, its integrated relationship with the other cellular processes, the nature of its constituents, the nature of the bonding, the overall structure of the molecule, and so on. Simply saying DNA contains information without any prior context (or any follow-up breakdown) would not at all be beneficial to the student, he would not be able to do anything with it, and it would defeat the purpose of the teacher i.e. imparting scientific knowledge. The dilemma is magnified when we consider that the scripture speaks of phenomena not yet known of by men, so even if they wanted to, the readers would not be able to gather details about this information from elsewhere. It is like a 7th century man stumbling upon a piece of paper which says DNA contains information. Leave aside DNA, back then even the concept of cell- miniscule structural and functional units of a living body- was unheard of, even the technology to make such a discovery was absent. The information on the paper would be as good as useless. Also, the scripture rarely gives us any orderly, sequential, step-by-step scientific account, rather they appear to be mentioned by vague hints, which are sprinkled across the corpus of the book. If, for example, the Quran really wished to talk about the speed of light, why not spell it out in clear terms? Why leave its discovery upon the fertile imagination of some inquisitive faithful, whose methods and findings would tend to be subject to severe intellectual criticism?
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To illustrates these and other difficulties spoken of above, consider a poem like the following: I shall be saying SQUARED this with a sigh That somewhere ages and ages hence Two roads E= diverged in a wood; and I, I took the one less traveled by, MC And that has made all the difference. The obvious problems that strike the reader are: 1. What is the point of alluding to an equation in the middle of an essentially introspective poem? The scientific equation is obviously out-of-place in the context of an essentially introspective poem, so much so that it damages the consistency of the poem. What does the poet wish to achieve by this? 2. Why is there ambiguity in the reference of the equation? Why is it scattered across the passage, and not orderly placed? 3. Assuming that the poet intentionally wanted to impart scientific knowledge to his readers, how is the reader supposed to benefit from this information, considering the poet didnt give any details whatsoever in this regard? Contrast this with a science book, which would give a detailed, orderly account of what happens and how it happens. Such a description is absent here. 4. Assuming that this poem was written prior to the discovery of the theory of relativity (the original poem, however, was written by Frost some 15 years after the discovery of the theory of relativity), even if the readers wanted to, they cannot benefit from this information. In fact, this information can only be ascertained AFTER we make independent discovery of the theory of relativity. This renders the information downright redundant: when the equation was not known, the reader couldnt understand the allusion in the poem due to the lack of details; but when the equation was discovered, the information isnt of any help since we already have independent knowledge of it.

These same questions can be asked of the scripture which allegedly contains scientific allusions. Some other questions can also be asked which are specific to religious scripture (as opposed to a random poem, like in the example above).

Sympathy for the critic


From the above discussion, the readers might suppose that the author is sympathetic to many of the arguments, and this is accurate. Truth to tell, many of the popular Muslim authors and speakers are taking this growing trend of scientific signs being present in scripture to its extremes. Many of the noted Muslim clerics have warned against the extreme form of this trend. The focus of their concern, however, is not merely that this is an intellectually dishonest exercise, but rather this trend is damaging to the method of interpretation of the Quran. Abu Ammar Yasir Qadhi in his monumental work An Introduction to the Sciences of the Quran comments: Also, it is essential that scientific facts are not read in where they do not exist. Unfortunately, this has become an all too common trend among modernistic Muslims who have specialised in science, but are not familiar with the interpretation of the Quraan.For example, many people interpret the following verse as a prediction of space travel by man: O Assembly of Men and Jinns! If you have the power to pass through the zones of the Heavens and Earth- then pass! But you will never be able to pass them except with authority (from Allaah) [55:35]. However, a look at the next verse, and authentic tafseers of Ibn Katheer and at-Tabaree, will show that this verse is in reference to the jinns listening to the whispers of the angels in the Heaven (or to the Resurrection of the creation on the Day of Judgment), and not to inter-galactic travel! (page 282) Ahmed von Denffer in his work 'Ulum Al Qur'an - An introduction to the Sciences of the Qur'an, makes a similar comment: [T]he Qur'an is a book of guidance for mankind and not a book of science nor a mine of cryptic notes on scientific facts. As stated above, the source of concern of these Muslim clerics has to do with the fact that forcefully making the scripture say what it does not truly mean
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compromises its consistency and sound interpretation. It is interesting that similar concerns were shown by a Muslim scholar some six hundred years ago by the name of Imam Ash-Shatibee: The salaf (i.e. the first three generations of pious Muslims) of this (Muslim) nation, from the Companions (of the Prophet) and the Successors (to the Companions) and those that came after them, were more knowledgeable of the Quran and its sciences and what was hidden in it; yet none of them spoke of these things that are claimed to exist except for what we discussed (i.e., some basic sciences)and if they had become engrossed in such subjects, and examined (the Quran in such a light), it would have reached us, and at least the basic principle of this issue (i.e., scientific interpretaion) would have been proven to us. But we do not find any mention of this, which shows that they did not have this concern with them. And this is clear proof that the Quran was not sent to affirm what these people are presuming (exists in the Quran). Yes, we are not denying that the Quran mentions some science that the Arabs had, and other (sciences) that are well-known; material that astonishes people of intellectbut to presume that it contains matters that it does not, then no! [Ad-Dhahabee, vol. 2, page 525] Apparently these trends of forcing scripture to say what it does not were present in his times as well. What is obvious from these quotes is the Muslim academics are now, as they have been in the past, warning against going into extremes in this practice. Therefore by the admission of these scholars, and the humble author himself, these contentions raised above do have some weight and need to be considered. All of this seem contrary to the claim made in the abstract i.e., the scriptures of Islaam containing accurate information in regards to embryonic development far ahead of its potential discovery. In fact, thats the argument that this paper is supposed to detail and defend. The position of the author in this regard is similar to Ash-Shatibis position above, namely, while most of the alleged instances of scientific facts in scripture fail to provide an adequate answer to these contentions and therefore are rendered invalid, at least one instance (Ash-Shatibi argued for some others, presumably) would stand as an exception: the description of human development within the mothers womb according to the Quran and the Traditions
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of the Prophet. This is not to say that this claim is somehow automatically immune to the contentions, rather this position is taken because none of the contentions apply to at least this one case. The remainder of the paper will be dedicated to present a positive case for this, while attempting to provide adequate responses to the possible contentions. The foregoing introduction was meant to assure the reader that the author, as well as the scholars, are sympathetic with the contentions, and agree that they require objective responses. This brings us to our key concern

Problems, problems
The contentions raised against the notion of scientific facts present in religious scriptures can be broadly classified into two groups: 1. General Contentions. These contentions are not leveled against any specific instance of scientific fact being present in the scripture. Rather, these are generally directed against all such claims. Or in other words, it is directed against the plausibility of the very idea that a religious scripture contains scientific facts in the way it does i.e. ambiguous, disorderly and redundant. In short, the proponent of these contentions argue: it is not plausible or coherent, that a religious scripture would contain a scientific fact in an ambiguous and disorderly manner ahead of its time. Whichever scripture or fact it may be, this line of argument would apply, given the scripture addresses the issue in an ambiguous and disorderly manner (most scriptures of the major religions do). 2. Specific Contentions. These contentions are specific against a particular claim of scientific fact being present in a religious scripture. These contentions include: in the specific case of alleged scientific description being present in the scripture, has the interpretation been valid and true to the scripture, or has it been stretchy and dishonest? Is the scientific fact being appealed to indeed a fact to begin with? Is there a scope of plagiarism on the part of the scripture (or the supposed author(s) of the scripture) from any pre-existing source of knowledge? There can be other examples specific to the particular case. The proponent of the specific contentions argue: while it may be plausible for a religious scripture to contain scientific facts, this particular case is not a valid example of this due
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to XYZ reasons. Specific contentions are specific to the instance, and they cannot be stretched to apply generally against all contentions. For instance, on the grounds of the Quran speaks about the speed of light claim being proven false on ground of wishful interpretation, it cannot be said that all such claims are false because they are all products of wishful interpretation. It is true, as mentioned multiple times above, that the vast majority of the claims do tend to be products of wishful interpretation. This invites us to assume a skeptical approach to the claims in general; however to claim that wishful interpretation is a definite argument that applies across the board against all such claims is patently flawed. As for the general contentions, they are aimed at the very idea of scientific facts being mentioned in scripture ahead of their time, and therefore these actually present a hurdle in the way of giving a specific claim of alleged scientific phenomenon any benefit of doubt. Meaning, if we cannot answer the general claim against the very plausibility of scientific facts being mentioned in scripture, then the strength of the specific claim too will dissipate, or will at least waver considerably. Even beyond that, the general contentions sometimes act as annoying roadblocks even in a discussion about the specifics of a particular claim. As for the specific contentions, the rest of the paper will hopefully suffice. But as for the general ones, we discuss them now.

General Contentions
The why question. Lets go back to the poetry example for a second. The most striking problem with the claim of a mathematical equation being present in a poem is, they are obviously opposed to the context of each other. A similar case can be made against the general idea of scientific facts being present in the religious scripture, specifically the Quran. After all, isnt the Quran a book dedicated to the spiritual guidance of man, by its own enthusiastic admission?

It most certainly is: This is the Book about which there is no doubt, a guidance for those conscious of Allah [Surah Baqarah, 2:2] [I]t is the truth from your Lord, [O Muhammad], that you may warn a people to whom no warner has come before you [so] perhaps they will be guided. [Surah As-Sajdah, 32:3] O mankind, there has to come to you instruction from your Lord and healing for what is in the breasts and guidance and mercy for the believers. [Surah Yunus, 10:57] The sole purpose of the Quran as guidance for mankind is further illustrated by a parable in a tradition of the Prophet: Nawwas ibn Samaan reported that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said, Allah has set forth the following as a parable: there is a road which leads straight to the destination. On either side of the road there is a wall in which there are open doors with curtains hanging on them. From the remote end of the road, a voice calls, Proceed straight and do not turn to any side! Whenever someone intends to lift a curtain from the door, another voice calls from above: Beware! Dont lift the curtain, otherwise you will be lured inside. (The Prophet explained:) The straight path is Islaam; the walls are the limits of Allah (which He has placed on actions); the open doors are the things that He has prohibited; the voice which calls fom the end of the road is the Quran, and the voice which class from above is Allahs monitor in the heart of every believer. (At-Tirmidhee) Since the Quran is a book of religion and spiritual guidance, the critic may argue, does this not mean the claims of scientific facts being present in the Quran are no more than wishful interpretations of believers, but are not really there? Isnt teaching science tellingly opposed to the purpose of the Quran, i.e. imparting spiritual guidance? To understand our solution to this problem, consider this: a literary work has two essential components, its content i.e. what it is actually saying, and style i.e. how it is actually saying it. Now the content of the Quran is admittedly homogenous and focused on spiritual guidance. However, due to the allusive nature of the Quran,
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its style is extremely diverse, and anyone familiar with the Quran can testify to it. In order to communicate the message, the Quran adopts a wide variety of ways. It presents rhetoric questions, recounts stories of the past generations, gives parables, and quite often alludes to human experiences and natural phenomena to drive the point home. The basic point of all of these nonetheless revolve around the idea of spiritual counsel, sometimes they are mentioned as warnings or good news, sometimes as reminders, and sometimes as arguments veiled as rhetoric questions or allusions. This strategy of the Quran is extremely effective in appealing to an broad range of people with varying psychological makeup. Shaykh Taqi Usmani in his book An Approach to the Quranic Studies comments on this fact by saying: All at the same time the Qurans addressees happen to be rustic, villagers, educated persons, learned schoalrs and experts in sciences and its style impresses all of them equally. On one side, an illiterate person finds simple realities in it and he feels that the Quran has been revealed exclusively for his own benefit, while on the other side, learned scholars and researchersfeel that this book is full of such deeper knowledge about the sciences and the arts that a man of ordinary understanding just cannor grasp them. For a man of average mind the style of Quranic reasoning is very simple and mostly based on arguments drawn from direct observation. It proves the complex philosophical concepts of Unity of Allah, Prophethood and Messengership, the Hereafter, Creation of life and Existence of God with arguments based on the direct observation of man; and drawing attention to natural phenomena it has described such realities as may be easily unedrstood by a man of average intellect. But if you go deeper into the same simple realities you will also find purely intellectual and logical arguments which satisfy also those fond of philosophical hair splitting about everything. (pp. 276-77) Now in these allusions to past stories, parables, natural phenomena and day-to-day experiences, incidental details inevitably come up. For example, the Quranic parable of the darkness below the ocean (24:40), some incidental details about oceans and waves have been touched upon. A similar case is found in Quranic allusions to the genesis of the universe and life (21:30, 41:11 etc). These are not uncommon, other examples include the Qurans repeated allusions to cloud formation and rain, mountains, plant and animal life, celestial bodies, and so on. So while the purpose of these allusions is to impart spiritual guidance, information about history and sometimes natural phenomena- scientific facts if you will- come
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up as incidental details. In other words, the Qurans object is not to teach science, but scientific facts inevitably appear in the course of Quranic spiritual discourse, due to its allusive nature. Abdullah Yusuf Ali communicates this point beautifully in his translation of the Quran: This is one of the wonders of the Quran, that spoken through an Ummis (illiterate person referring to Prophet Muhammad, may peace and blessings be upon him) mouth, it should contain so many incidental details which are absolutely true. The more our knowledge increases, the more we feel this. There are little touches which need not have been mentioned. They come in incidentally like the incidental remarks of a person full of knowledge, who does not intend to put forward those points, but whose fullness of knowledge brings them in inevitably. How does embryology fit in? Lets narrow our focus a bit: from allusions to natural phenomena and parables in general, to those about embryological description in specific. On what circumstances do embryological facts become relevant to Quranic spiritual teachings? There are several such circumstances, three of them are discussed here. Alluding to the natural phenomena to demonstrate the perfection of Allahs creation. In the mindset of the Quran, this world is essentially a signpost, its systematic synchrony, balance, beautiful diversity- all pointing to some allpervading wisdom beyond the grasp of our sensoria, the existence of a masterful Designer. Nature, then, is not only meant to be appreciated for its aesthetic appeal, but it is a book that needs to be read, its meaning to be pondered upon. The Quran, therefore, emphatically directs us to look and ponder over Allahs creation: You do not see in the creation of the Most Merciful any inconsistency. So return [your] vision [to the sky]; do you see any breaks? Then return [your] vision twice again. [Your] vision will return to you humbled while it is fatigued. [Surah AlMulk, 67:3-4] Interestingly, appropriate with its mindset, the Quran dubs the different natural phenomena it alludes to as signs. As a corollary to this, the Quran praises the people who recognize these signs, on grounds that they are thoughtful or make
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use of reason: Indeed, in the creation of the heavens and earth, and the alternation of the night and the day, and the [great] ships which sail through the sea with that which benefits people, and what Allah has sent down from the heavens of rain, giving life thereby to the earth after its lifelessness and dispersing therein every [kind of] moving creature, and [His] directing of the winds and the clouds controlled between the heaven and the earth are signs for a people who use reason. [Surah Al-Baqarah, 2:164] These allusions may occur as veiled arguments for the existence and oneness of Allah. In such a case, the prime targets of these allusions are the non-believers; for example: Then do they not look at the camels - how they are created? And at the sky - how it is raised? And at the mountains - how they are erected? And at the earth - how it is spread out? So remind, [O Muhammad]; you are only a reminder. [Surah AlGhashiyah, 88:17-22] The sentiment of these arguments is not to present a conclusive syllogistic case to the reader, rather in keeping with Qurans allusive style, these references to nature are meant to appeal to the psyche of man, as opposed to his intellect. For the Quran, the belief in God in the human psyche is properly basic: meaning it is something we intuitively know as true, even prior to any intellectual reasoning. All human beings are endowed with an intuitive knowledge and understanding of the Creator, a sensus divinatatis, acting as an inner compass to help us recognize the truth of Gods reality. Given this premise, instead of appealing to the intellect of man, the Quranic arguments are meant to penetrate deeper- it appeals to his pristine intuitive nature. Of course, this is not to say that the Quranic arguments have no intellectual value, but the emphasis is placed mostly on their psychological appeal. Look at these signs, demands the Quran, and ask your heart of hearts. Did they came about by some random churning of cosmic dust? Look at them again, do you not think that some supernal transcendent Designer, whom your heart acknowledges, is the one who brought these into being in such perfect synchrony? These allusions are also targeted as the believing audience. For them however,
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these are meant as reminders, not arguments, of the reality beyond our sensory experiences, which sometimes tend to escape from focus due to the commotion of this transient life: Indeed, in the creation of the heavens and the earth and the alternation of the night and the day are signs for those of understanding. Who remember Allah while standing or sitting or [lying] on their sides and give thought to the creation of the heavens and the earth, [saying], Our Lord, You did not create this aimlessly; exalted are You [above such a thing]; then protect us from the punishment of the Fire. [Surah Ali-Imran, 3:190-191] It is interesting to note that the verse expects the believers response to these allusions to be of a compound nature: the believer increases in her faith and conviction in Allah, she also acknowledges her situation of indebtedness and gratitude. Faced with this heightened awe of Allah, she recognizes her lowly position in sight of her Gracious Master, which drives her to bow down in submission, and ask for forgiveness and shelter from Divine Justice. Despite the varied audiences of these allusions to natural phenomena and the diverse natures of their acceptance among the two classes, the essential message of these verses are one and the same: allusion to signs in nature. With this in mind, the significance of prenatal human development becomes relevant. Human creation and development is not only an amazing display of Divine artistry, but it is an issue of profound philosophical implications, it sets off questions like Where did I come from? or How do I get to become who I am? The Quran takes advantage of these nuances of human psyche by alluding to the stages of his prenatal development. This significance heightens when we consider that the Quran, by its own admission, details signs not only about the world outside, but also about the world within: We will show them Our signs in the horizons and within themselves until it becomes clear to them that it is the truth. But is it not sufficient concerning your Lord that He is, over all things, a Witness? [Surat Fussilat, 41:53] Lets look at perhaps the most prominent verses of the Quran in this regard: And certainly did We create man from an extract of clay. Then We placed him as
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a sperm-drop in a firm lodging. 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. [23:12-14] What we notice here is, in contrast to the other natural phenomena it mentions, the Quran actually goes into quite a bit of detail as regards embryological development. It does not simply gloss over the event of birth, rather it mentions prior stages: drop, clinging clot, lump of flesh, bones covered with flesh. The effect of this is easily understood. The Quran is reminding us that the process of embryological development is extremely intricate; and the journey of man from a mere drop of sperm to a fully formed individual requires much precision and care. The process isnt instantaneous, Allahs guiding hand was with the baby when it was traversing this arduous path, stage after stage, in the dark recesses of the womb. It is no less than a miracle that such a unfathomably complex and delicate set of events gave rise to human life. Thus, the picture of the defenseless human precursor evolving through stages powerfully drives the point home. The Quran wraps up the verse by affirming the obvious conclusion in the mind of the thoughtful reader: So blessed is Allah, the best of creators! Such is one of the contexts where embryological descriptions are brought up in the course of conversation, not to teach science, but to deliver sound spiritual guidance. The scientifically relevant details, of course, come up incidentally. Argument for the plausibility of resurrection. Resurrection is a very central concept in Islaamic theology, and the concept in and of itself is very powerful. The idea that death is not an end, rather a transition, perhaps a new beginning- this single belief has the potential to drastically change the worldview of an individual. With this consideration, the existential crisis of death takes on new meaning, especially in the context of Muslim belief. Islaamically, this transient life is no more than a test, the purpose of which is to determine which of you is best in deeds [Surat Al-Mulk, 67:2]. Based on our performance in this life, the course of Divine Judgment will be decided; we will either be rewarded, or punished, or both, for our deeds in this life. What this idea immediately entails are very heavy words:
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responsibility, accountability, commitment, sincerity and so on, and particularly for the non-believer, it is decidedly difficult to swallow. And so it was difficult to swallow for the immediate audience of the Quran as well. The Arabs had a concept of Divinity, but the concept did not entail much, at least not awe of impending judgment. What would drastically change this scenario is Islaams emphatic claim of the truth of resurrection. In fact, one of the first public speeches (if not the very first) of the Prophet was about death and resurrection. This reality fell sharp on the relaxed minds and ears of the Arabs. This burden is too heavy, they thought; we will not believe it, they decided. They tried to find ways to circumvent this problem. One of the ways of doing it was to ridicule and mock at this concept. This is too bizarre, said the Arab nonbeliever, I mean do you seriously expect me, a technologically sophisticated tentdwelling modern 7th Century Arab, to believe that we will be resurrected? After we have been dead for God knows how long, and decomposed, and our bones have been reduced to dust? The tone of this question, of course, was not sincere. It was not borne out of an honest curiousity-stricken mindset looking to listen to both sides of the argument. In spite of this, the Quran addressed the question, albeit with a tone of warning, rebuking the heedlessness of the disbeliever. As if saying, You want your answer? Here is your answer. But do not think for one moment that I do not know what your real motives are for asking that question. Let this serve as a warning. The Quranic answer to this objection was simple and decisive, much like the rest of the book. The Arabs did believe in the Creator, that they have been brought into existence from nothing. So which is more plausible, asked the Quran, creating of man from nothing, or creating something from reduced dust? According to the belief you yourself adhere to, reasoned the Quran, Allah created you from absolute nothingness, and now you think that same Allah cannot re-create you from your remains? [H]e (the disbeliever) presents for Us an example (attempting to deny resurrection) and forgets his [own] creation. He says, Who will give life to bones while they are disintegrated? Say: He will give them life who produced them the first time; and He is, of all creation, Knowing. [Surah Ya Seen, 36:78-79]
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As per its usual style, the Quran didnt remain content with merely presenting a structured reasoning, it furnished its counter argument with something that really strikes the point home: parables. Most of the parables in this regard have to do with developments in nature, on grounds that they are parallels to the resurrection. For example: He brings the living out of the dead and brings the dead out of the living and brings to life the earth after its lifelessness. And thus will you be brought out (resurrected). [Surat Ar-Rum, 30:19] The revival of dry ground by rain and consequent production of greenery is likened to as bringing the earth to life after its lifelessness. This, argues the Quran, is essentially the same as resurrection. If giving life to dead earth seems plausible, in fact you observe it at a regular basis, why would you think your own resurrection is any less plausible? Similarly, prenatal human development is also used as a parable to illustrate the argument. Perhaps the most prominent illustration of this is Surah Al-Qiyamah. This chapter starts of with the scenario of the doubting disbeliever: I swear by the Day of Resurrection, and I swear by the reproaching soul [to the certainty of resurrection]. Does man think that We will not assemble his bones? [Surah Al-Qiyamah, 75:1-3] Of course, this doubt isnt sincere, its evasive- the disbeliever is trying to circumvent the problem by merely laughing off the case of resurrection. An intellectual criticism deserves an intellectual response, mockery doesnt. So the Quran chooses not to directly the answer the question just yet. Instead, it briefly affirms the truth of the resurrection, and thereafter runs down an interesting tangent. As stated before, the Qurans emphasis is primarily on the heart, because thats where the appeal is stronger. So thats where Quran hits, it begins by acknowledging that the question is not sincere: Yes. [We are] Able [even] to proportion his fingertips. But man desires to continue in sin. He asks, When is the Day of Resurrection? [Surah Al-Qiyamah, 75:4-6] Meaning, Day of Resurrection is never going to come, it is just hogwash. Note how the Quran acknowledges that the reason of his asking the question is not
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honest curiousity, rather desire to sin. Therefore, the Quran still doesnt answer the question, but it addresses the issue which drove the disbeliever to ask this question. This is where the focus of the discourse shifts. The questioner does not really have an intellectual excuse against resurrection, rather he desires to continue in sin (75:5), love[s] the immediate, and leave[s] (neglects) the hereafter (75:20-21), and therefore [T]he disbeliever had not believed, nor had he prayed. But [instead], he denied and turned away. And then he went to his people, swaggering [in pride]. (75:31-33). So the Quranic response is one of admonition and warning, and reminding him of the realities of death and resurrection. This takes up almost the entirety of the chapter. After this point has been made, the Quran, still strongly maintaining its tone of warning, presents a final parable to answer the initial question: Woe to you, and woe! Then woe to you, and woe! Does man think that he will be left neglected? Had he not been a sperm from semen emitted? Then he was a clinging clot, and [ Allah ] created [his form] and proportioned [him] and made of him two mates, the male and the female. Is not that [Creator] Able to give life to the dead? [Surah Al-Qiyamah, 75:35-40] The effect is almost immediate. Do you not realize that you were as unimpressive as a drop of semen, and then the Creator formed and proportioned you, leading the solitary, defenseless self of yours through an extremely difficult and hazardous route? Can that Creator, that same Creator, not recreate you from your remains? Of a surety He can, and He is able [even] to proportion his fingertips. [75:4] So here, the embryological description come up in the construction of a parable, and the idea again, is not to teach science, but to prove a point of spiritual significance. As a means to humble the human being. Another context in which embryological description becomes relevant is reminding man of his proper position. Perhaps the most important notion in the message of Islaam is the submission to Allah, as opposed to arrogance. The entire corpus of Quranic literature circulates around one concept: submission of human will to the will of the Divine. Allah is the Creator, Sustainer and Merciful Lord of all that exists, and
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man is to forego his arrogance and ego and submit to his rightful Lord. This concept of mans submission and servitude to Allah is such an essential concept of Islaam, that the first ever instance of revelation of the Quran served as a reminder of this fact: Recite in the name of your Lord who created- [Surah Al-Alaq, 96:1] Before any other form of introduction, Allah chose to introduce Himself as Lord, which immediately puts Mankind in a position of servitude. The importance of this concept in Islaam cannot be overstressed, in fact, the meaning of the Arabic word Islaam happens to be submission. The concept being so important as it is, it is really no wonder that the Quran will adopt a broad range of styles to communicate this message. And indeed it does. In fact, every single injunction and commandment of the Quran, regardless of style, can more or less be traced back to this concept. Exposition of Divine qualities and attributes, discussion of laws, recounting past stories, presenting parables, alluding to signs in natural phenomena, everything is somehow related to the concept of the Lordship of Allah, and our consequent servitude of Him. One of the most, if not the most fundamental roadblock to submission to Allah is arrogance: unfounded, unjustified arrogance. This fact is also discussed exhaustively in the Quran. The first sin ever to be committed in the Quranic account of human history was born out of arrogance: And [mention] when We said to the angels, "Prostrate before Adam"; so they prostrated, except for Iblees. He refused and was arrogant and became of the disbelievers. [Surat Al-Baqarah, 2:34] The Qurans emphasis on this problem of arrogance is so frequent that further examples will be redundant. How does the Quran address this problem? One particularly interesting way is of relevance to our present discussion. The Quran argues, the fact that human arrogance is unjustified is not only a metaphysical or spiritual truth, it is also an observable physical reality. To illustrate this point, the Quran points to mans origins. Look how insignificant you were, asks the Quran, and how delicate and defenseless. That was your origin. What grounds do you have to be arrogant? Cursed is man; how disbelieving is he. From what substance did He create him?
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From a sperm-drop He created him and destined for him; Then He eased the way for him; then He causes his death and provides a grave for him. [Surat Abasa, 80:17-21] Notice how as a reminder to ungrateful man (the word that has been translated as disbelieving also carries the connotation of ungratefulness), his origins have immediately been mentioned. The argument has two prongs: first, the origins of man are lowly and insignificant, and therefore he should remember his position and not be arrogant. Second, had it not been for Allahs precise guidance and sustenance, that defenseless insignificant drop would not be what it is today. Mans arrogance, therefore, puts him at an extremely ungrateful position. This point is made more expressively at another instance of the Quran: Has there [not] come upon man a period of time when he was not a thing [even] mentioned? Indeed, We created man from a sperm-drop mixture that We may try him; and We made him hearing and seeing. Indeed, We guided him to the way, be he grateful or be he ungrateful. [Surat Al-Insan, 76:1-3] In yet other instances of the Quran, it dubs the origins of man to be from a despicable, disgusting fluid, in reference to the semen. Semen is considered to be a dirty substance, and the Quran makes use of this fact in its usual allusory style to human experiences. This strengthens the argument even further, you have been created from something not only insignificant, but also downright dirty and disgusting. What is it that you think justifies your arrogance? Woe, that Day, to the deniers. Did We not create you from a liquid disdained? And We placed it in a firm lodging For a known extent; and We determined [it], and excellent [are We] to determine. [Surat Al-Mursalat, 77:19-23] Does man not consider that We created him from a [mere] sperm-drop - then at once he is a clear adversary? [36:77] It should be noted, however, that by making this argument i.e. arrogance on the part of human beings is unjustified because their origins have been lowly and insignificant, the Quran is not reducing man to his physical constitution alone, thereby ignoring his higher faculties of reason and ethics. In fact, the Quran acknowledges and values the human self. The famous story of the creation of Adam, as it appears in the Quran, is clear testimony to this. In the story, Allah
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refers to humankind as His vicegerents on earth. The Angels were initially baffled by this decision, since they perceived these beings will cause corruption and bloodshed on earth. However, their worries were put to rest when Allah breathed into Adam His created soul (15:29) and endowed him with knowledge (the names of all things, 2:31), thereby proving that this simple creature made from an extract of clay is indeed capable as His vicegerent. The story is found in Surat Al-Baqarah, 2:30-39. Also, elsewhere in the Quran it mentions that man has been created in the best of forms (95:4). The combined point of these two seeming polarities is, man as a creation is inherently weak and lowly. But he has been elevated in ranks because His Lord chose to favor him over all other creation. Thus, man has nothing to be proud of what is intrinsically his (then again, does man have anything at all that is intrinsically his?). To be convinced of this, he needs to look no further than his own origins. Had Allah not favored him and bestowed His blessings on him, he would be of no value. It would be worthy to note that a considerable amount of criticism against the Quranic account of embryology is against Qurans reference to the human origin as lowly or despicable. One line of criticism is, if Allah indeed willed for man to be the best of Creation, why did He create him from such a lowly and despicable material, by Qurans own admission? The answer to that is, mans status as the most significant creation is not so much in his physical constitution and components, but rather in the soul that Allah bestowed upon Him. In the story of Adams creation, we are told that the Angels are commanded to fall prostrate to Adam only AFTER the soul has been breathed into him. So as a creation in and of itself man is weak and worthless, but by means of Allahs blessing upon him, he gained an elevated status. Another question that comes up here is, why is sperm or semen dubbed as dirty or disdained? This is because of the general Quranic style of allusind to human experiences. The Quran tends to talk in terms of human experience, and generally semen is considered to be dirty or disgusting by men. This fact has been alluded to in the relevant Quranic verses. Wrapping up, here too we see the Quran alluding to embryological description to prove an argument that is spiritually significant.

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Ambiguity and disorderly descriptions? Now with the intent of the Quran clarified, we can move on to the relevant questions. We have just seen from the above discussion, that the Qurans focus is on spiritual guidance, and the allusions to embryological descriptions has been made to make points of spiritual significance, and the details are purely incidental. While understanding what the Qurans purpose is in mentioning these facts, it is also important to understand what its purpose is NOT. Many people are bothered by the ambiguity and apparent disarray in mentioning these facts of scientific relevance. If it wanted to teach science, why is it so ambiguous and disorderly? Why not give more detail? Why are the descriptions not placed in, say, one chapter in a structured fashion? Why is it that many of these are repititive? But thats just the point: the Quran doesnt want to teach science. This single misunderstanding is the source of all of the confusion above, people expect the Quran to read like a biology book. These facts of scientific relevance, as mentioned above, appear as incidental details in the course of a spiritual discussion; and they are ambiguous for the same reason that any incidental details in any conversation are ambiguous. In the course of a normal conversation, by the way points are not discussed in that much detail, rather they are mentioned only in passing. Since they are not the focus of discussion, they are not expected to be explained in detail. Similarly, the focus of Quranic discourse is not meant to be placed upon these facts and phenomena, (again, the Qurans purpose isnt to teach science) rather they are no more than by the way points that strengthen or illustrate the argument being presented. This is why there is a popular saying among Muslim circles, The Quran is not a book of science, it is a book of signs. This statement is extremely useful in understanding what the Qurans purpose is as opposed to what its not: the Quran does not want to detail scientific teachings, it only wants to allude to them i.e. the signs. It is also understood why the Quranic mention of scientific facts arent orderly. These facts are used as a vehicle to convey a spiritual message, so they come up when an appropriate spiritual context is presented, not in terms of their scientific
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significance or sequence. The repititions are also understood, the same fact can be used in different spiritual contexts. For example, the same embryological fact can be used in the context of appealing to Allahs intricate and masterful Design in nature, as well as in the context of presenting a parable for resurrection. Case in point: had the Quran been a science book, we should have expected complete, orderly, detailed, well-structured descriptions of embryological facts and phenomena. But the Quran is not a science book, it is a book meant to impart spiritual guidance, while using these facts as incidental details or vehicles. This is why these facts are not presented in that much detail, and they are not presented in an orderly manner because the order of the Quranic verses are not on the basis of their scientific significance, rather their spiritual coherence. The facts are repititive, because the same fact can be used (and is used) in different spiritual contexts, as well as other reasons. It should be noted in this case, however, that while the Quranic description of scientific facts may be ambiguous, their ambiguity isnt infinite. Especially in the embryological description case, a considerable amount of detail has been presented. The reason for this has been briefly touched upon in the previous sections. Many critics claim that the degree of Qurans ambiguity in mentioning these facts is so high, that no solid comparison can be made between them and established scientific knowledge. This claim is not true, at least not in the context of the embryological descriptions. This will be analyzed in more details in the coming chapters. Another question that can be raised is this, if the Quran alludes to scientific facts far ahead of its time, how can its immediate audience benefit from it? Again, one needs to keep in mind that the Quran doesnt teach science, but religion. The immediate audience of the Quran might not get the scientific significance or understanding about these allusions, but they can nonetheless fully benefit from the spiritual teachings imparted thereby, which is the very point of these allusions.

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These are the responses to the general contentions presented against the Quran mentioning scientific facts the way it does. Now we will look at some other conceptual roadblocks.

Science in an unscientific book


Imagine this. Since we are trying to establish the scientific veracity of the embryological description as found in the Quran, some people become over-zealous with it. They decide to put the whole Quran- all 6236 or so verses- through a machine called science filter. Here is how it works: the science filter would analyze the whole Quran. Whenever it reads any verse with information that corresponds with modern scientific findings, it will flash a green light. But if it reads a verse or passage with information that is inconsistent with science, it will flash a red light. For the other verses, like for example those that talk about ethical truths or laws, the filter will remain neutral and will not respond either way. If we do end up scanning the Quran through this filter, do you think it will come out with zero red light flashes? Actually, it wont. The Quran contains a considerable amount of information which is either not recorded in any scientific literature to date, for example the existence of Angels or Jinns; or is in direct conflict with observable scientific phenomena, for example a stick morphing into a snake without any noticeable physical cause, a sea parting into two halves just after being struck with a staff, a virgin mother giving birth, instantaneous healing of those born blind, the moon splitting into two, and so on. So the critic argues, you are getting excited with a few flashes of green light (instances of Quranic natural description coinciding with scientific reality)? The frequency of red lights (instances of Quranic description not coinciding with, in fact contradicting, scientific reality) easily overweighs the frequency of red lights. If you want to consider the Quran scientifically, then the bad news is its unscientific content is visibly greater than its alleged scientific content. Not only does this undermine the supposed claims of
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Quranic scientific accuracy, but it also acts as a negative evidence against the Quran. No person in their right mind will give the scientific claims in Quran any valid benefit of doubt after knowing that its unscientific content is several times greater. The critic continues: to avoid this dilemma, stop judging Quran on scientific grounds altogether and shelter it from the negative evidence of red lights. If you stop judging it on scientific grounds, there would be no green lights, but there would be no red lights either. So the claims of scientific facts far ahead of its time being present in the Quran will no longer be valid, but at least it will be sheltered from the criticisms. In other words, one cannot say that the Quran is wrong, because you refuse to judge it on scientific grounds, but one cannot say the Quran is right either, because the claims of scientific facts are no longer valid. So it becomes an issue of personal faith with no intellectual basis whatsoever. So is the reasoning of the critic valid? Upon inspection, you may notice that the critics options are very all-or-nothing sounding, and so is his argument. This argument, and the analogy it is based on, forces the Quran into a swallow-whole scenario, either the whole thing is scientific, or the whole thing is unscientific. Now the Muslims would disagree with such a black-and-white approach; in fact, they would claim, there are shades of grey inbetween that the critic fails to take into account. Instead of such a swallowwhole scenario, consider this: there are parts of the Quran that can be validly judged by the filter, and there are other parts that cannot be judged, simply because they are not meant to be judged. Put into context, there are parts of the Quran which communicates information about natural phenomena, and can therefore be subject to scientific scrutiny. But there are other parts which are admittedly not scientific, simply because they are not meant to be scientific to begin with. They are, by definition, beyond the scope of science to merit its judgment. Therefore, the analogy of putting the whole Quran through the science filter is flawed, since we do not claim that all of the Quran is scientific.

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So now the obvious question surfaces, which parts of the Quran cannot be judged by our science filter, and how do we make this distinction? For starters, consider this: the Muslims themselves would agree that there is information in the Quran that is unscientific i.e. beyond the scope of empirical observation. The Quran itself admits that it contains knowledge of the unseen, realms beyond the reach of our sensoria, our empirical observations and therefore science. Other than this, the Quran also contains accounts of Prophetic miracles, part of the definition of which is that it defies natural law or explanation. By its very definition, then, miracles are unscientific. The scientist observes natural phenomena and tries to find a pattern that explains them. If the phenomena followed no regularity, there would be no pattern to discover, and there will be no laws. Science will be meaningless in such a universe. Miracles, on the other hand, are breaches or irregularities in these set patterns of natural law. Therefore this is something science cannot make sense out of. These parts will have to be censored out before subjecting the whole Quran to our science filter, because they are by definition unscientific. Only those parts of the Quran that talk about natural phenomena the way they are naturally observed are meant to be scanned. Embryological description, cloud formation and plant and animal life for example, are clearly observable natural phenomena. So if, hypothetically speaking, we were to find any error in these fields, that will work as negative evidence against the Quran. The Muslims then will have to find a way to make sense of such a scenario. Of course, the Muslim would argue that such an instance of misrepresentating observable natural phenomena is not present in the Quran, meaning in scanning this information, no red light will show up. So in short, the analogy of Muslims judging the whole Quran through a science filter is wrong, rather the Muslims are judging only those parts that are meant to be judged, and censoring out those parts that are not meant to be judged. This is why the mention of miracles or supernatural events in the Quran will not act as

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negative evidence, because we are not using science as a criteria to judge those parts at all. But is this a bad thing? The fact that there are parts of the Quran that are unscientific, or not supposed to be judged by scientific scrutiny? Is this distinction that we have made, in contrast to the critics swallow-whole approach, really valid? To understand the critics argument here, let us go back to the analogy of our science filter. Lets stretch the analogy a bit further. Lets imagine, with every green flash of Quranic information corresponding with scientific fact, an automated voice goes off saying Its true. On the other hand, for every red flash indicating an unscientific statement in the Quran, an automated voice goes off saying Its false. This time though, the first time you get a red flash and consequent Its false, the machine would stop working and we will consider it a loss for the Quran. If the whole thing goes through though, we will consider it a win. So we put in our copy of the Quran (not censored) in the machine. Will it be a win or loss for the Quran? It will lose, since as discussed above, the Quran does contain information about the supernatural and miracles. Is this new analogy accurate or not? Lets consider the differences between this filter and the previous one. First, the scope of the two filters are different. The first filter only settled as far as whether the information is scientific or not. But the second filter is deciding whether the information is true or not. Notice, the mechanism in the two machines are exactly the same, just the labels are different. In this new filter, what is scientifically accurate is held to be true (which is something we wholeheartedly endorse), while what is scientifically inaccurate is held to be false. So in this new criticism, the critic defines the scope of truth to be drawn by science. What is unscientific is necessarily false, and since the Quran contains

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information about the supernatural world, it is necessarily false as well. Given this view, the machine wouldnt go through. I think it is pretty clear that the contention here is this: is something beyond scientific reality necessarily false? Note, first of all, that when the new labels were attached to the filter, it ceased to become a science filter, and became a naturalism filter instead. Science can only work using the empirically observable world as substrate. In the relevant context, naturalism would argue that what is beyond science is necessarily false. Therefore supernatural is necessarily false. Science, on the other hand, doesnt necessarily make this claim. Science works using the observable world, with its set regularity and pattern of facts and phenomena, as substrate. Beyond this observable world, science cannot function. But if you ask science, is the existence of such a world beyond empirical observations (the supernatural) necessarily false? What would science say in reply? Interestingly, the reply of science would vary depending on which version of science you are asking. There is a group of philosophers who hold that naturalismthe idea that anything beyond the observable reality is false- is an essential element of science. Other philosophers would disagree with them, and say that such a claim is unfounded. This author would vote against naturalism being an essential part of science. For one, the burden of proof falls on the naturalist to demonstrate that it is essential in the scientific enterprise; and while there are quite a few arguments that have been presented, none of them have definitively held out. Due to the contentious nature of the topic, the author wishes not to enter this discussion here, but he would like to direct the curious reader to Bradley Montons book Seeking God in Science: An Atheist Defends Intelligent Design, specifically chapter 2, Why It Is Legitimate to Treat Intelligent Design as Science. For a more basic understanding to this issue, the reader may consult this short essay http://www.scribd.com/doc/70757776/Of-Science-and-Other-Things Point is, there is no solid ground to think that whatever is beyond the realm of empirical realities is necessarily false, and therefore there is no reason to trust our
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naturalism filter either. The Quranic inclusion of supernatural facts, therefore, does not amount to it being false, nor does this act as negative evidence against the Quran. [Do I need to expand on naturalism or does this much suffice?]

Matter of Perspective
This criticism is kind of similar to the previous one. The criticism is, generally speaking, the Quranic style of describing natural phenomenon is not scientific at all. In fact, were we to take those descriptions literally, it would be scientifically inaccurate. To escape such a predicament, some descriptions of natural phenomena as they are found in the Quran are taken to be metaphorical. So why not interpret all other facts that way? Why do you take the Quranic injunctions literally whenever it seems to corresponds to scientific reality, but get out of the taxicab and interpret other descriptions metaphorically when they seem to contradict? What is the demarcation criteria between what you take to be literal and what you take to be figurative? What our critic here specifically has in mind are these: And it is He who spread the earth and placed therein firmly set mountains and rivers [Surat Ar-Rad, 13:3] Is not He (better than your gods) Who has made the earth as a fixed abode, and has placed rivers in its midst [Surat An-Naml, 27:61] And We made the sky a protected ceiling, but they, from its signs, are turning away. [Surat Al-Anbya, 21:32] In all of these (and other) examples, the critic claims, if we take the verses literally, they become scientifically problematic. If, for example, we take spread the earth literally, it seems to imply the earth is flat, if we take fixed abode literally, it implies the earth is static, and we know that sky is not a real thing, scientifically speaking, it is just an assortment of gases, so the sky being a protected ceiling- if
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taken literally- is scientifically contradictory as well. Other such examples include the descriptions of the Day of Judgment, where the skies are depicted to be cleft, ripped or tore asunder, and these verbs do not really apply literally to a collection of gases. So, argues the critic, if we, in order to make sense of the Quran, take these descriptions of scientific phenomena metaphorically, why not take all other description of scientific phenomena metaphorically as well? Selectively picking out some descriptions of natural phenomena to be scientifically significant (and therefore literal) while applying a metaphorical application to the other statements seem like special pleading, if not, what is the demarcation criteria that are used to determine which of the allusions we are to take literally, and which ones to take figuratively? Before we provide the demarcation criteria, one important thing needs to be shed light on. It is true that the Quran, in alluding to natural phenomena, generally alludes to the human experience of nature. This is why, for the Quran the earth is a fixed abode, because from the perspective of the earth-dweller, the earth indeed is stable ground, it has also been spread, because from the human experience the earthly terrain is spread out, which makes habitation possible, and from the perspective of man, the sky during the Day of Judgment will look as if being torn or ripped apart. So instead of alluding to brute scientific phenomenon, the Quran does seem to allude to human experiences of nature. But even so, the critics metaphorical dub is too simplistic. Consider this: even though the earth is not actually static, but it is fixed in the sense the ground is stable as opposed to shaky, even though the earth is not absolutely spread out, the crust of the earth is indeed paper-thin, and spread out like a sheet or bed (as opposed to being excessively uneven, to the extent which would make habitation impossible), and even though the sky is no more than a collection of gas, the atmosphere does act as a protective ceiling by protecting us from harmful ultraviolet rays. The point here being, even though the Quran is alluding to the human experience, what it is saying is not opposed to reality, so as to coerce a metaphorical rendering of the description. In fact, the description if properly understood, makes sense at their

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face value as well. Christian scientist John Lennox communicates this point beautifully in relation to a similar situation in the Bible: [Quote by John Lennox missing] So point being, the author takes issue with the nave metaphorical dubs by the critics. But lets give the critic some benefit of doubt and agree that there are some verses in the Quran which deal with natural phenomena that are to be taken metaphorically. Even then, it is possible to establish an effective demarcation criteria which would tell us where to adopt a literal interpretation to Quranic descriptions of nature. If we can ascertain an instance (or group of instances) where the interpretation needs indeed be literal, that particular instance can then become a possible candidate for a scientific description, allowing us to see if it reconciles with modern science or not. First, do note that the Quran alludes to human experiences only in context of descriptions which are observable to begin with. The Quran, for example, can allude to the expanse of the earth in terms of human experience, because it is observable by the human beings. However, in cases where the phenomenon being described cannot be observed to begin with (at least in the context of 7th Century Arabia), there is no possible way to allude to human experience of it. Examples would include genesis of the universe, darkness under the ocean and of course, embryological description. To expound, as for what human beings observe, there can be two ways of describing it: the way it actually is, and the way human beings perceive it. However for phenomena that human beings do NOT observe (in the time of the Qurans revelation, at least), there is only one possible way to describe it, since it has not been observed by human beings to merit a description from human experience. From the above discussion, our demarcation criteria becomes obvious:
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the facts that were not observable at the time of Quran revelation (7th century), must necessarily have been described literally. As for what human beings have indeed observed, due to the allusive style of the Quran, most of those descriptions are presented in terms of human experience, and since may or may not be metaphorical. As has been touched upon before, however, the metaphorical term is to be taken with a few grains of salt. This demarcation criteria qualifies examples like darkness under the ocean, genesis of the universe and, this one of relevance to us, embryological description to be considered as plausible candidates for accurate description of scientific phenomena ahead of the Qurans time.

The above figure describes the reasoning presented. In the case of the facts observable by men in the 7th century, there is a possibility of the interpretation of the verse being metaphorical. In the case of the facts not observable by 7th century men, the interpretation would definitely be literal. In relevance to the present study, no more than this much information is needed. Since embryological
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descriptions could not have been observed by 7th century men, the description is definitely literal. Since it is literal, we can scrutinize the description to see if it indeed corresponds with modern findings or not, which in turn merits the discussion in the coming chapters.

Problem of old evidence


This line of criticism is very popular and admittedly has some potency. Lets first consider the case of an aspiring scientist, who by some accident becomes familiar with some surprising experimental results. The scientist goes to his study immediately thereafter and constructs a hypothesis to make sense of the data. What is the problem here? The problem is, science isnt generally supposed to work this evidence first, hypothesis second way. Rather, first we construct our hypothesis, and then run the experiments to get the data. On grounds of this data, we either confirm or reject said hypothesis. In other words, we let the evidence judge the hypothesis, rather than imposing a hypothesis on the evidence. How is this difference significant, one may ask? After all, the distinction between evidence-first-hypothesis-second and hypothesis-first-evidence-second is really no more than a temporal distinction, right? Things are deeper than they seem here. Consider this scenario: we have constructed hypothesis A prior to any experimental data in its regard being available. After constructing this hypothesis, we construct an experiment that will give us the data we need. Lets assume that if the litmus paper turns red, hypothesis A would be confirmed, and if it turns blue, hypothesis A would be rejected. After running the experiment, we find that the litmus paper has turned red, and therefore we conclude that hypothesis A is true. The strength of this procedure is, since we already know how we are going to interpret the evidence even prior to it becoming available to us, there is no room here to manipulate said evidence. Lets stretch our
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analogy a tiny bit more: lets assume that if hypothesis A is proven by the litmus paper turning red, this will provide evidence that Islaam is the true religion (stretchy, but work with me here); and if hypothesis A is rejected by the litmus paper turning red, it will provide evidence against Islaam. Lets further assume that we have two experimenters running the tests, one is a very devout Muslim, and the other has very heavy biases against Islaam. Do you think their personal biases will play into the experiment or affect its interpretation? No, because we already have a hypothesis, and we know what it means for us if the litmus turns red or blue. The faith, or lack thereof, of the experimenters will not be able to change the color of the litmus (of course, you can say they can misrepresent the data, but thats not the point here. The experiment can be run by other scientists to see if the reported results by the experimenters are authentic or not. The point is whether personal bias of the experimenters can affect the actual experimental data or not, and the answer is obviously no). So when we have a hypothesis first and data second, there is no room for cherry-picking or manipulating the data. However, this might not be the case in the scenario where we have the evidence first and hypothesis second. If we were to see the litmus paper turn red and then construct hypothesis A to make sense of the evidence, the room for data manipulation becomes plausible. One might argue, for example, that hypothesis A does not necessarily follow from the litmus turning red; rather it has some other consequence (and not necessarily hypothesis A) that the theorizer (not the experimenter this time) is ignoring. This amounts to possible manipulation of data, and therefore the bias and prejudices of the scientist may have a role to play. Isnt this possible in the hypothesis first and evidence second scenario? Yes it is, for example, if one has bias towards hypothesis A, she can selectively construct an experiment which demands very little data for the verification of this hypothesis. So in this case, there is room for biasness to play into the data, in hypothesis or experiment construction. But the room is notably smaller in this case than in the evidence first and hypothesis second scenario, as we noticed from our litmus paper experiment.
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Students of statistics can relate to this more easily. Lets consider the renowned Bell Curve, which is a graphical representation of a distribution of samples. The region close to the center of the x-axis (the bulky area of the curve) represents samples with high frequency of occurrence, and the samples located away from center (in or near the tapered regions) represent samples with low frequency. Statisticians tend to have an expectation from the data on the basis of their probability, that being the sample will tend to be in the bulky region. We start off with the hypothesis that the difference between two sets of samples are purely coincidental (non-significant). This hypothesis is referred to as the null hypothesis. After constructing this hypothesis, we mark off some regions in the bell curve on grounds of their probability of occurring.

For example, one unit of deviation on either side of the center covers data with 68% probability of occurring, two units cover 95%, and 3 units cover data or samples with 98% probability of occurring. Now prior to experiments, we mark off
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a given region in the curve, called the rejection region, which represent drastic deviation of data from the center. If our sample is found to fall in this rejection region, we reject our intial null hypothesis that the difference between two sets of samples are non-significant, and assume the hypothesis that there are some external effects (beyond co-incidence or chance) that accounts for this degree of variation from the high-probability region. If some of the details above escaped you, dont worry, the takeaway point is this. Notice how before judging the data and consequently passing verdict on our initial null hypothesis, we fixed a certain rejection region in the curve. This is similar to our hypothesis-first-evidence-second scenario: the rejection region is fixated prior to our judgment of the hypothesis. If, for example, we set a 5% rejection region and then judged the data, then whatever falls in this region, regardless of the bias or prejudice of the statistician, would cause us to reject the null hypothesis. So this cuts down any possibility of cherry-picking the data. On the other hand, imagine what would have happened if we set the rejection region after judging the data. For all we know the judgment of our hypothesis might be correct, but it might also be wrong; since now the room for cherrypicking the data is open. An experimenter may posit an unrealistic rejection region for the null hypothesis driven by his biases for it. An important point to note here is this, this problem of old evidence as it is called, is not a contention about the nature or merit about a given hypothesis, but it is a contenion as regards how the hypothesis was generated. This issue is contentious on grounds of the possible effects of bias of the experimenter. So what does all this have to do with Quran and embryology? The critics claim is this: we generated this Quran contains embryological data ahead of its time hypothesis after judging the evidence, therefore personal biases may very well play into it. What the critic is saying is this: the Muslims should have had this hypothesis before advances in embryology was made, not after. The fact that this
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claim is being made after the evidence is available, shows that we are trying to manipulate Quranic interpretations in such a way that it would agree with modern scientific advances i.e. our biases are playing into it. Or the expectation of the critic put differently, the Muslims, prior to scientific advancements, should have made a prediction that these details would eventually be confirmed with scientific evidences. No such prediction was made, rather the hypothesis is coming up after the evidences have become available. So this falls right into trap of problem of old evidence. Now addressing this contention specifically in the case of Quranic description of embryology requires us to go into some details about possible verses of the relevant verses and varied interpretations of some Prophetic narrations. However, this chapter is meant to address the contentions at a general level, so to introduce specific details here would be out of place. Instead, here we will content ourselves with some general responses to the alleged problem of old evidence, and see how that relates to Quran and Embryology. As for the specific details about the application of this problem, we will deal with this in a later chapter. But only to briefly comment on the issue: the significance of this problem in this context hinges on the claim that bias-driven data manipulation has been done. But our argument is, there is very little room for data manipulation here anyway, restricted to varying interepretations of the verses, lexical meanings of the words, and perhaps alternative explanations of some prophetic traditions. We will take up this contention in more detail elsewhere in this paper. Lets consider some general responses now. Firstly, even though the issue is contentious, many philosophers disagree with it. Analytic philosopher in his book Seeking God in Science, comments on this issue briefly in chapter 3, page 101:

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[M]y inclination is to say that it doesnt matter who came up with the theory, and how they came up with it; the theory needs to be evaluated on its own merits. There is no consensus in the academia about the validity of this problem, in fact philosophers like Bradley Monton and William Dembski have argued against it. Secondly, one could easily argue that the mere possibility of biasness or prejudice having a role to play in judging the hypothesis, does not grant enough ground to reject it right away. Consider this: while there maybe an experimenter who constructed a hypothesis after seeing the evidence, there might be an experimenter elsewhere who constructed the same hypothesis without knowing the evidence, and then evidence later confirmed it. In such a case, it is purely happenstance that the hypothesis was constructed by the first experimenter and not the second one. Point being, while the case of the first experimenter may accommodate room for data handling, it doesnt guarantee it, and there being no more than a possibility of this existing doesnt provide nearly sufficient ground for rejecting the hypothesis. Thirdly, just because this approach leaves room for data manipulation, it doesnt mean there is no other way of preventing this. Merely a construction of hypothesis on the basis of evidence doesnt automatically close all doors for further scrutiny. In fact, even if a hypothesis is judged regardless of how it was generated, there can still be grounds of scrutiny on the merits of the hypothesis itself. If, for example, we find that a rejection region has been assigned after the data has been judged, we can ask justification for assigning that particular rejection region, and the experimenter will have to objectively answer it. So the hypothesis itself, regardless of its generation, accommodate grounds for scrutiny, which can act as an efficient way to prevent data manipulation. To communicate these responses in terms of Quran and embryology, it seems the reason why the problem of old evidence seems significant in this context (in the eyes of the critic at least) is because of the anticipation of religious bias. While the
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anticipation may be justified, but the mere possibility of bias is not enough ground to write any hypothesis off. Also, as noted above, regardless of how the hypothesis was constructed, there would still be room for scrutiny when we judge the merits of the claim, which can effectively lower any possibility of data handling. [Keithe Moore et al. constructing their hypothesis prior to evidence?] Beyond all of this, can a similar argument not be directed at the critic i.e., that he is refusing to give the argument any benefit of doubt on grounds of his biasness against Islaam? [Diagram wont fit] With these general contentions out of the way, we are now at a position to give the Quranic description of embryology a second look, and perhaps a valid benefit of doubt. [Reference to next chapter]

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