The Consistency of the Qur'an
The Qur'an is truly remarkable in many ways, many of these are in the power, subtlety and clarity of the language itself. However, for someone who doesn't know Arabic these subtleties are not easy to appreciate so I shall concentrate on bringing to light aspects that don't depend on a great knowledge of Arabic. Firstly I shall consider the consistency of the Qur'an:
Surah 4 Verse 82
Do they not consider the Qur'an (with care)? Had it been from other than Allah they would surely have found therein much discrepancy.
There are a number of important aspects of this consistency. Firstly, it is consistent within itself -i.e. it doesn't contradict itself. Secondly it confirms the essential teachings of previous revelation. Thirdly and most impressive is that it is consistent with known scientific facts - including the facts that have only recently been recognised. It would be impressive enough if there were simply no errors considering the facts known at the time because there were many things which people believed and fully accepted as facts which have been proven wrong. That none of these things got into the Qur'an is quite remarkable.
To demonstrate the internal consistency would require me to go through the whole of the Qur'an and consider all the verses and their relation to one another. This would be too much for the current effort and I leave it up to the reader to do that on their own. The confirmation of previous revelation is also a subject where to demonstrate the case would require a great deal of work in identifying all the basic teachings of previous revelations. This would require a critical analysis of the teachings of previous revelations (including for example a disproof of the teachings of Christianity on Trinity). To show the Qur'an is consistent with known scientific facts is in principle also hard to do since that would require a thorough search through the Qur'an for anything contradicting scientific fact. What can be done however, is to identify a number of passages in the Qur'an where there is surprising consistency with relatively recent scientific discoveries.
The Qur'an is a book which contains several references to natural phenomena but these references have clear purpose in explaining the deeper meaning to life and existence in general. The Qur'an leaves room for a variety of interpretations but the consistency with recent science within those acceptable interpretations is still astounding.
The Big Bang
Surah 21, Verse 30:
ARE THEN, they who are bent on denying the truth not aware that the heavens and the earth were [once] one single entity, which We then Parted Asunder? - and [that] we made from water every living thing? Will they not then [begin to] believe?
This verse should be re-read a couple of times. In it we see that the whole of material existence was once as one thing before it was exploded apart. This appears to be a clear reference to the "Big Bang" - the widely accepted theory of the origins of the universe. In the very same verse we see a reference to the origins of life being in water (see also origins of life section). This is also a key finding of science. Both of these points must have been somewhat puzzling to the early readers of the Qur'an. Now these statements are seen in the full light of modern knowledge and are recognised as astonishingly accurate. Moreover, the last question of the verse is now doubly potent.
The Story of Creation
There are several places where the Qur'an describes aspects of the creation.
The Bible describes the creation as having taken place in six days followed by a day of rest. In the Bible a 'day' is explicitly the interval between two successive sunrises or sunsets. There can be no question that this story is wrong. The very mechanism of the Earth rotating around its axis was not fixed in the earliest stages of creation as were described in the Bible.
In contrast to this the Qur'an while also describing creation as taking place in 6 'days' never connects this word with a set period. In fact, in the Qur'an a day in the sight of Allah (in this instance judgement day) is described as 50,000 human years. (Surah 70: Verse 4) The use of the word yawm in Arabic can equally well 'mean period of time' as it can mean 'day'.
A significant passage of the Qur'an is Surah 41, Verses 9 to 12:
(Muhammad Asad translation)
"Say: Would you indeed deny Him who has created the earth in two aeons? And do you claim that there is any power that could rival Him, The Sustainer of all the worlds?"
For He [it is who after creating the earth,] placed firm Mountains on it [towering] above its surface, and bestowed [so many] blessings on it, and equitably apportioned its means of subsistence to all who would seek it: [and all this He created] in four aeons.
And He [it is who] applied His design to the skies, which were [yet but] smoke; and He [it is who] said to them and to the earth, "come willingly or unwillingly!" - to which both responded, We do come in obedience."
To me this is obviously a reference to the fact that we are in the second cycle of solar evolution. The earth is made up of material that resulted from the first life cycle of a sun and our sun is a 'second generation' sun- two periods. The last of the verses quoted above confirms this point by referring to the what the sky and earth was made from - smoke. A simple but absolutely accurate description of the remains of the burnt out first generation sun! This description of the coming together of matter in forming the solar system is a very fundamental part of the concept of the current understanding of how it actually happened.
The expansion of the universe
Surah 51, Verse 47:
And it is We who have built the universe with [Our creative] power; and verily, it is We who are expanding it.
The expansion of the universe was only discovered in the last few decades and the theories that describe the universe in cosmology only began to be developed after Einstein discovered General Relativity Early in the 20th century. This verse is from a book that was completed 1400 years ago. How could Muhammad have known this if he wasn't receiving revelation from the All-Knowing?
The origins of life
Are, then, they who are bent on denying the truth not aware that the heavens and the earth were [once] one single entity, which We then Parted Asunder? - and [that] we made from water every living thing? Will they not then [begin to] believe?
(see Also Big Bang section)This quote clearly says that all life comes from water. There are two possible meanings to this and both agree exactly with scientific knowledge. One is that every living thing is made from Water (as its essential ingredient) and the other that all life originates from Water. The first meaning is true since in all living cells water is the major component. The latter is true since all life known about had its origins in water.
The exploration of space
Surah 55, Verse 33
O assembly of Jinns and Men, if you can penetrate regions of the heavens and the earth then penetrate them! You will not penetrate them save with a power.
This verse needs a little explanation. In Arabic, there are different words for 'if'. One expresses the possibility, another expresses an achievable hypothesis and another expresses an unachievable hypothesis. In this case the 'if' is for an achievable hypothesis. Man will penetrate through into the heavens 'if' he has the power to do so!
Descriptions of the foetus
This is one of the most remarkable areas of description in the Qur'an. The development of the foetus is spoken of in the Qur'an in some detail. The early stages of which could not have been known at the time of the prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) because the size of the foetus at these stages is too small to see with the naked eye, rather a microscope is needed.
Surah 71 Verses 13-14
What is the matter with you, that ye are not conscious of Allah's majesty, Seeing that it is He who has created you in successive stages?
Surah 23 Verses 12-14
We did create human beings out of the essence of clay, and thereafter We cause him to remain as a drop of sperm in [the womb's] firm keeping. Thereafter we fashioned the sperm into something that clings (Alaqah), which we then fashioned into a chewed lump (Modgha). The chewed lump is then fashioned into bones that are then covered with flesh. Then we nurse him unto another act of creation. Blessed is God, the best of artisans.
The use of 'essence of clay' here is to say in other words that what we are made of comes from the earth. The word used for semen here literally means a 'small drop'.
The description of the next stage as 'something that clings' accurately represents the stage where the fertilised cell attaches itself to the inner most layer of the uterus by hair-like projections. Another meaning for the word alaqah is 'leech like'. This describes the process of implantation in the first few days entirely correctly and is so concise as to use just one word.
The word "Alaqa" has been translated as something that clings. This only identifies part of the descriptive accuracy of this word. The word has a number of meanings, which I shall now elaborate. It's root meaning is from the verb 'aliqa which means "to hang, be suspended, dangle; to stick, cling, cleave adhere to; to catch, get caught or stuck; to be attached, affixed, subjoined" Other forms of the verb have related meanings such as to be affectionately attached to someone. (dictionary definitions from Hans Wehr )
The meanings apply ideally to the process through which the fertilised ovum becomes lodged in the womb.
If we look at the noun 'alaqa we find this meanings of "medical leech" and "blood clot". The leech is an interesting little creature. The creature is a parasite, which lives on blood, which it sucks out of the body of, it's host. Not only is this a similar process to what happens to an embryo in the earliest stages, but also a leech looks remarkably like the earliest stages of the embryo. The meaning of a clinging thing can easily be seen in this use of the verbal noun. As for blood clot it is first necessary to point out that it is the process of clotting or coagulating which brings the idea of clinging to this word and not blood. There is a quite different word for blood in Arabic 'damm' and this is not meant. When blood coagulates the material is primarily known to be sticky which explains the use of 'alaqa for this material. What we have is also a living fluid half way to becoming a soft solid which is an accurate description of the embryo as the cells which have multiplied until they form a fluid now begin to form tissue structures.
The description of the chewed flesh implies something like teeth marks. This accurately describes the Somite development. The Somites as Hamilton Boyd and Mossman say " are conspicuous features of embryos in the period under consideration and are readily seen in the surface contour. They are bases from which the greater part of the axial skeleton and musculature are developed". The age of the embryo is referred to by the number of these Somites since "they form one of its characteristic external features" these features along with the pharyngeal arches which also appear at this period (4 weeks) give the embryo the clear appearance of a chewed lump in which the indentations of teeth are present.
The structure of the embryo as it develops and gains its form is primarily skeletal at and before 5 weeks. That is - what you see in pictures of embryos this age is the bones and a number of semi-translucent organs. The bones at this stage have structure and form and are easily the most marked and visible feature of the embryo but they are of course not fully calcified (many bones are still in the final calcifying stage through into adulthood). Over the next couple of weeks a quite definite change takes place in the way that an embryo looks. Instead of seeing bones and organs, all that can be seen now, is (the flesh of) a naked body. The embryo begins to look much more human. It is a reference to this, which to me seems most fitting with the general tone and meaning of (this part of) the verse: "we clothed the bone with flesh "
Other bits for you to investigate ...
Geology of mountains (78:6-7, 31:10++) The gender of worker bees (16:68) Near death experiences (50:19) The nerves being in the skin (4:56) Life on other planets? (42:29) The Water Cycle (23:18-19, 15:22, 35:9, 30:48) ++ more which depend on specialist knowledge.
This gives a number of key indications which, together with a more thorough investigation establishing the consistency of all statements in the Qur'an, show that the Qur'an is a remarkably accurate book when it comes to describing reality. In the next section on structure of the Qur'an I consider some evidence where the whole of the Qur'an is discussed and therefore the evidence is doubly clear since there is no excuse of saying "but somewhere in the Qur'an there might be a verse that says ..."