Christianity and Islam-A Divergence: Part One
Recently I have had the pleasure of debating a young man, via email, on the strength and validity of our respective religions, Christianity and Islam. Over the past few weeks, I have learned not only a lot about Islam, but more about my own faith as well. Beyond pure intellectual strivings though, I consider it a real blessing to have the opportunity to discuss such weighty matters in an arena of respect, interest, and friendliness. It is an honor to engage in discussion with someone and to discover that, despite glaring difference, we can both remain civil in our pursuit of the truth. What follows is my discussion thus far with a young man I will refer to simply as "Aslam," a name which means, appropriately, 'peace.' (Appropriate in the sense that it is in desperate need in the arena of religious divergence and debate). Enjoy.
Aslam Begins: The Assertion of Scientific Miracles within the Qu'ran
I'll start now, on Quranic Embryology..
I believe the Quran, although being a book of guidance, contains (or shows, rather) a decent amount of scientific knowlege. The scientific knowlege shown in the Quran includes Modern Science. I also believe the Quran does NOT conflict with modern science, in any way.
The Quranic knowlege on Embryology states that a forceful emission of fluids (semen + sperm) meets 'gentle extraction' from flids (ovum) to form a Nutfah, sometimes described as amingled drop of fluids (fertilized ovum). The Nutfah is the begining of a human individual, and is where the sex and characteristics are determined. The Nutfah also moves to the uterus - a place of settlement, firmly fixed, and is in 3 'viels of darkness'
( The embryo develops in 3 'covers'. The 3 veils of darkness are:
a) The abdominal wall,
b) Uterine Wall,
c) The placenta with its choriono-amniotic membranes.
This is what modern embryology says.).
The Quran then describes the Nutfah as a leach-like structure. Please note that the word which gives the meaning of the Leach-like structure is Alaqa. This is also sometimes translated as blood clot. It can safely be said that blood clot is a somewhat misinformed translation, im sure i'll be talking more about this later, so ill continue.
The leach-like structure then becomes a Mudghah, a chewed like substance (some translations say a chewed lump of meet). Actually, more accurately the Alaqa becomes Khalaq (creation/formation/initiation), which then becomes Mokhalaqa wa Ghair Mokhalaqa (differentiated, and partly undifferentiated). NOW it is a Mudghah (chewed like substance).
Then Izam takes place (bone formation). The Mudghah is made even and straight.
Al-Kisa Bil-Lahm - The Skeleton becomes clothed with muscles/flesh. Adddala - modification and further straightening takes place. It's during this stage where the differentiation into testes or ovaries is made.
Then Al-Nash'ah takes place (to initiate and cause to develop).
Folowed by Izdiad Al-Rahem (an increase in the size of the uterus)
Which leads to Al-Hadanah al-Rahemiah (uterine support)
And then Al-Qabliyah lil Hayah (viability)
And finally Tayseer Assabil (making the passage easy).
I included bits on the birth.
To my understanding, the process of the development of a human, as defined by the Quran, contains no in-accuracies compared to Modern day Embryology (Which is no more than 60 years old), it also does not conflict with Modern Embryology, and actualy - it gives more depth in more areas, than Modern Embryology. Such as the word Alaqa is used to describe the embryo, which gives meaning as to the behaviour (and at stages - the apearance too) of the embryo. Whereas the word Embryo (in Modern Embryology) has no such depth.. But tihs is simply a difference in language.
This Quranic embryology has been in the Quran for just over 1400 years! This fact will lead anyone to question how it got inside the Quran. We Muslims say it is the Quran is the word of our Creator, who has knowlege which we cannot even phathom.
Some people say Muhammad plagiarised already existing scientific theories (in this case - Galen), other people insist that the knowlege is, infact, incorrect.
What do you say?
Also, sorry for the big reply, but im simply trying to be clear.
May peace be with you.
Thanks for being patient. I've been spending a lot of time away from home lately, plus working and pursuing various hobbies, so it's been hard to find time to reply to you.
So yes, I've heard the argument on embryonic science in the Quran, and personally, there are two major issues I have to take up with the contention that it is somehow 'miraculous.'
For one, every single verse purported to be scientific is stated so ambiguously as to be open to numerous interpretations. In the absence of a clear and precise treatment of actual embryonic development, not only do we see the subject rife with debate (and rightfully so, I might add) but we can see that since the inception of the Koran, it has NEVER expedited or enlightened medical embryonic science. I assert then, that:
1. Everything purported to be a scientific miracle was established knowledge in the 7th century Byzantine Empire (of whom directly or indirectly Mohammed would have been trading with).
2. The interpretations most convenient for the alleged scientific miracles are the ones being supported, no matter how imaginative or divorced from the original intent.
3. Even given these interpretations, what we witness today in the Koran is EXACTLY what we would expect given 7th century knowledge.
Contrary to popular belief, the medical knowledge concerning embryology was far more advanced in ancient and medieval times than we give credit for. Hippocrates, Aristotle and Galen had all drawn up versions of embryonic development prior to the Koran's writing, and coincidentally, these versions all consist of 4 to 5 'stages' of development, and coincide suspiciously well with Mohammed's description of it. Consider this:
If Koranic science is indeed Greek-inspired, we can assert three things:
1. There will be striking similarities with Greek thought.
2. Hence, there will components that coincide with modern science and components that do not.
3. Mohammed will have had contact with people and ideas of Greek thought (not necessarily Greeks, mind you).
4. Due to the inaccuracies of oral transmission and passage of time, the Koran will not precisely reflect Greek thought. As would be expected, Greek science will be somewhat misrepresented, though the majority of it will be retained.
So are there striking similarities between the Koran and Greek thought? Well, since no embryologist will agree with the statement that there are four stages of embryonic development, can it be maintained that it is, at least, slightly coincidental that both the Koran, Hippocrates, Aristotle and Galen show stages of between 4 and 5? (Can it perhaps also be considered somewhat coincidental that the Koran's reference to 'seven heavens' was coined by the ancients as well?) Here are lists of the prevalent embryonic science of Mohammed's day. Tell me, honestly, how many coincidences do you have to see before admitting that this is highly suspicious information?:
STAGES OF EMBRYONIC DEVELOPMENT ACCORDING TO ANCIENT AND MEDIEVAL KNOWLEDGE:
STAGES OF PRENATAL DEVELOPMENT ACCORDING TO HIPPOCRATES
STAGE 1. sperm
STAGE 2. mother's blood descends around the membrane
STAGE 3. flesh, fed through umbilicus
STAGE 4. bones
We can see that 1000 years before the Quran the development of the embryo was divided into stages.
STAGES OF PRENATAL DEVELOPMENT ACCORDING TO ARISTOTLE
STAGE 1. sperm
STAGE 2. catamenia -- menstrual blood
STAGE 3. flesh
STAGE 4. bones
STAGE 5. around the bones grow the fleshy parts
GALEN'S STAGES OF PRENATAL DEVELOPMENT
STAGE 1. The two semens
STAGE 1b. plus menstrual blood
STAGE 2. unshaped flesh
STAGE 3. bones
STAGE 3b. flesh grows on and around the bones
QURANIC STAGES OF PRENATAL DEVELOPMENT
STAGE 1. nutfa -- sperm
STAGE 2. 'alaqa -- clot
STAGE 3. mudagha -- piece or lump of flesh
STAGE 4. 'adaam -- bones
STAGE 5. dressing the bones with muscle
The argument that naturally follows, I have seen, is that there is no way Mohammed would have had access to advanced thought such as this, therefore he could not have plagiarized Greek thinkers. This too, I'm afraid, is incorrect, as Islamic history itself attests to exactly where Mohammed learned this erroneous concept of prenatal development: (I'm sorry, please bear with me. This is long and I'm a history major so I can't help myself!)
In North Arabia in about 500 AD the Ghassanids took over and by 528 AD the Ghassan controlled the Syrian desert to the outskirts of Yathrib (Medina). Syriac (a form of Aramaic, related to Arabic) was their official language.
As early as 463 AD, the Jews translated the Torah and Old Testament from Hebrew into Syriac. (The British Museum has a copy) This made it available to the Ghassan who were Christians and to the Jewish tribes in Arabia for their members who didn't know Hebrew.
During this time, Sergius al-ras Ayni, (died in Constantinople in 536 AD), one of the earliest and greatest translators from Greek into Syriac (Aramaic), translated various works on medicine, including 26 books of Galen's works into Syriac. This made them available in the Kingdom of Khosru I and to the Ghassan Tribe whose influence extended to the outskirts of Medina.
Khosru I, (Arabic Kisra) King of Persia from 531-579, was known as Khosru the Great. His troops conquered areas as far away as Yemen. He also loved learning and started several schools.
"The school of Jundi-Shapur became, during Khosru I's long reign of 48 years, the greatest intellectual center of the time. Within its walls Greek, Jewish, Nestorian, Persian and Hindu thought and experience were freely exchanged.
Teaching was done largely in Syriac from Syriac translations of Greek texts." (The Role of the Nestorians and Muslims in the History of Medicine, Allen O. Whipple, 1967, Princeton Univ. Press, p. 16.) This meant that the writings of Aristotle, Hippocrates, and Galen were readily available when the medical school at Jundi-Shapur was operating during his reign.
The next step was that the conquering Arabs compelled the Nestorians to translate their Syriac texts of Greek medicine into Arabic. The translation from Syriac to Arabic was easy as the two languages had the same grammar.
Concerning the local medical situation during Muhammad's life, we know there were physicians living in Arabia during this period.
Now given this information, take a look at this:
"According to Muslim historians, especially Ibn Abi Usaybia and al-Qifti, the most celebrated early graduate of Jundishapur was a doctor named al Harith Ibn Kalada, who was an older contemporary of Muhammed. "He was born probably about the middle of the sixth century, at Ta'if, in the tribe of Banu Thaqif. He traveled through Yemen and then Persia where he received his education in the medical sciences at the great medical school of Jundi-Shapur and thus was intimately acquainted with the medical teachings of Aristotle, Hippocrates and Galen."
He became famous partly as a result of a consultation with King Chosroes . Later he became a companion of the Prophet Muhammed himself, and according to the Muslim medical traditions Muhammed actually sought medical advice from him. He may even have been a relative of the Prophet and his "teachings undoubtedly influenced the latter" [i.e., Muhammed] . "Such medical knowledge as Muhammed possessed, he may well have acquired from Haris bin Kalda [sic], an Arab, who is said to have left the desert for a while and gone to Jundi Shapur to study medicine...On his return Haris settled in Mecca and became the foremost physician of the Arabs of the desert. Whether he ever embraced Islam is uncertain, but this did not prevent the Prophet from sending his sick friends to consult him."
Harith Ibn Kalada was unable to father any children, and it is said that he adopted Harith al-Nasar (Nadr), who was apparently a cousin of Muhammed, and also a doctor by profession. Interestingly Nadr mocked Muhammed, saying that the stories in the Qur'an were far less entertaining and instructive than the old Persian legends he had grown up with. Perhaps he recognised that the Qur'an had human sources for some of its stories? As a result of this Muhammed became his sworn enemy, and the Prophet put him to death following his capture in the Battle of Badr in 624.
So we have just the link we need to show how "The translations (into Syriac) of Sergius Ras el Ain, penetrated to Jandi-Shapur. During the first years of the 7th century [more likely the end of the sixth century], Harith ben Kalada studied medicine there and Muhammad owed to Harith a part of his medical knowledge. Thus, with the one as well as the other, we easily recognize the traces of Greek (medicine)." To summarise: Sergius died about the time that Chosroes the Great began his reign, and may even have been employed by Chosroes to translate Galen from Greek into Syriac. Halfway through his reign Chosroes founded Jundishapur, where Galen's manuscripts must surely have been kept in translation. Towards the end of his reign he had an audience with Harith Ibn Kalada, who later became associated with Mohammed."
Surely you can admit that not only is it extremely coincidental that Koranic and Greek embryonic development match almost perfectly, but that Mohammed had as a companion a man who was intimately acquainted with this science. Can you agree, at the very least, that this is, to someone like myself, very suspicious?
I read your whole message, dont worry it wasnt too long. And i respct the fact that your a History Major, and so i have no need to doubt the information you've provided me on the History of Arabia, appart from a 'small' peice of info. Muhammad did not order the execution of any prisoners at the battle of Badr, or any other. When the Battle of Badr was won by the Muslims, the Muslims began killing the remaining living Meccans on the battlefield, however - Muhammad ordered this to stop.
First, i want to comment on the assertions you've made.
1. It is rather bold statement to make that all the scientific knowlege presented in the Quran, existed in the 7th century, and ill discuss Embryology shortly.
2. A person may begin to understand the meanings of the verses in the Quran, with wisdom and experience. Some people may never understand even a quater of the Quran's meanings. And the meanings do change, depending on the knowlege, experience, knowlege of contex, and walk of life of the person who is trying to understand the meaning - this is inevitable. But the words of the actual Quran never change, the only thing that does is the translations, and human understanding of the words. Muslims are not allowed to twist/change the words of Allah, and they wouldn't. It's forbidden. Its important to realise that the TRANSLATIONS of the Quran may change from time to time, depending on the knowlege of humans at such times, but the actual Quran itself hasn't been changed since the 7th century, and wont be changed anytime soon. It's the original Quranic texts we should analyse when trying to figure out meaning, not the translations!
3. I believe my comment on your 2nd assertion also comes into play on this one too. I have more to say on this, but i think ill leave it at that, for now anyway.
Ok so you provided me with Galen's, Hippocrates, and Aristotle's theories regarding Embryology. Galen's theory is the closest to the Quranic knowlege of Embryology. Yet it is very clear that Galen's theory was NOT plagiarised. I'll try to show how..
There are MANY falsehoods in Hippocrates/Aristotles/Galens Ebryology, yet the Quranic knowlege of Embryology doesnt conflict with modern Embryology at all. If you think the Quranic knowlege of Embryology DOES conflict with modern science, please give more detail, until then - i think we should both agree that the Quranic knowlege of embryology is 100% correct when compared to science.
That being said, Galen thought of the embryo as PLANT. He says the feotus is not an animal, but more a PLANT. Galen said the feotus converts from a plant to an animal after the 4th stage of the feotus. He also thought males would grow quicker than females, since the male "germs" are more dry than the female's. He thought that eating dry food would make the feotus grow quicker. Galen also shared Aristotles view that the females and males grow on different sides of the Womb, males on the left - females on the right. Galen didn't even think the embryo was formed due to the sperm fertilizing the Egg. He though the sperm was the seed, and the menstrual blood 'fed' the seed, and the sperm had a 2-fold growth (Like a plant's stem and roots). There are many more errors and inaccuracies in Galen's theory.
Lets look at Aristotle's theory now. Aristotle's theory was based on heat and moisture. The cold would cause flesh and other parts to 'set', whilst other parts are formed from heat evapouration fluid. Heating and cooling was the theme of Aristotle's theory, he believed heating and cooling are nature's motive force in creating theembryo, he thought wrong.
What about Hippocrates? Hippocrates thought that all natural bodies consisted of Fire and Water. The embryo was thought to be formed out of Fire, and everything forms at the same time (bones, muscles, fingers, hair, heart, eyes etc - all the same time). Hippocrates thought both male and female parents possesed BOTH male and female sperm. The sperm was believed to be formed from the WHOLE body. Hippocrates believed the process of growth in plants and in humans is exactly the same.
There are many more errors, in each of the theories (Galen/Hippocrates/Aristotle)..
It is very clear that the Quran was not plagiarised... Infact there is a lot more depth in the Quranic knowlege, than any of those theories - which could not have been copied cause it didnt exist in those days. For example, the Nutfah stage is explained in amazing depth for the 7th century.
Where does Galen/Hippocrates/Aristotle say that the embryo is formbed from a fertilized ovum, the sperm/ovum combination determine the characteristics, the embryo is firmly fixed to the womb-wall, and that the embryo develops in 3 levels of protection? And why doesn't the Quran say anything like the embryo is a plant, or males/females form on opposite sides of the womb, or fire/water/heat/dryness are major factors of the formation of the feotus, or that males develop quicker than females etc etc??
I think it's pretty clear, after studying Aristotle's/Galen's/Hippocrate's/Quran's knowlege of Embryology, that the Quran didn't plagiarise Embryology. The similarities between Quranic embryology and other theories are very subtle compared to the differences.
But ok, lets be critical against the Quran.. Lets say that Muhammad DID plagiarise things from each of the 3 greek theories... Why didn't he copy anything that was incorrect?? Muhammad was an illiterate, but maybe (as you suggested) his companions were well versed on the embryology of their time, that still doesn't explain how the Quranic knowlege doesn't conflict with modern embryology, whilst Galens/Aristotles/Hippocrates do - on many levels! Muhammad, or his companions (OR the creator of the Universe) would have had to know everything about human development in order to ONLY plagiarise the CORRECT chunks, leaving the incorrect ones out - AND ALSO put in additional CORRECT details regarding embryology!
Quranic embryology isn't plagiarised.
In the 7th century, excluding the Quran, every single theory on embryology CONFLICTS with modern science. How do you plagiarise incorrect theories, and come out with knowlege that shows NO conflictions with modern science?
At the end of the day, the Quran STILL contains details and knowlege of embryology which WAS NOT known in the 7th century, or anytime soon after the 7th century, not by Galen, not by Aristotle, and certainly not by Hippocrates. Each of these 3 people's theories contain MANY differences with Quranic knowlege of embryology. And Quranic embryology doesnt conflict with modern science - while the other 3 theories DO!
Modern Embryology has only been around for not more than 60 years! Yet the Quranwas perfectly inline with Embryology - just over 1400 years ago!
Also, Embryology isn't the only scientific 'miracle' in the Quran, maybe you want to talk about something else in your next message?
But if you disagree on anything i've said, please bring it up!
May peace be with you!
Thanks for your reply. I hope all is well with you and that you are happy and healthy! I will begin:
Galen was wrong, yes, but so is the Koran. However, no one has attached religious fervor to Galen's teachings, and therein lies the crucial difference.
The point is, if the Koran did say something like the fetus is plant-like, would Muslims accept it to be an error? No, of course not! They would say something like, "well, the classical Arabic word for plant is being mistranslated since we know the Koran is right, so we'll find another meaning that fits better with reality." Hence, no one will never be able to disprove the Koran in the eyes of Muslims, since no amount of obvious discrepancy and error will ever be accepted as non-factual. Given the fact that Islam is not only limited to religion, but encompasses culture, law, family life, etc, etc, the idea that it may be false has far too big of implications for the average Muslim. Hence the reason Muslims are so desperately defending a book that most certainly contains errors.
The following quote is a perfect example of the Muslims attitude towards interpretation. As you can read, the most widespread, common translation of alaqah was "clot of blood." (and this in but one example of hundreds) However, instead of admitting a potential Koranic error, Muslims, when faced with the horrible concept that the Koran may be wrong, reinterpret words to fit with modern science:
"When the Qur'an says: "He created man of `Alaqah", it was interpreted by Muslim scholars to imply "a clot of blood". This was not because the word meant "a clot of blood" as we have already discussed, but because the Muslim scholars felt that in this verse it implied "a clot of blood". If, due to the widening of human knowledge, today we are in a position to know that a child is never "a clot of blood", all that has happened is that we can now safely say that the interpretation of the Muslim scholars was not accurate. If the Qur'an was not available in its original language, the Muslims would have had no option but to submit that the Qur'an does have a "scientific error" in it. The case of the Qur'an, however, is very different from other so-called "revealed" books, as it is still in its' original language."
So we can see, the Koran does not reflect modern science, but is reinterpreted to fit with it. This is circular reasoning. When one holds an inflexible belief ('the Koran is free from error') one will never admit to errors that are obvious to everyone but Muslims. Instead of accepting that the Embryology in the Koran (and indeed a great portion of its so-called science) is flawed, Muslims use the ambiguity of the language to reinterpret, to reevaluate, and to essentially change the original meaning through linguistic gymnastics and intellectual dishonesty. I've seen it happen way too many times, in fact I am debating a young man who is asserting that Surah 27:88 is somehow talking about tectonic movement. I shouldn't even have to address how absurd this claim is, and yet, it is being posted and defended everyday on sites like YouTube.
I am quite honestly, incredulous that this is even a debate. The language of science is precise, clear and detailed, whereas what we see in the Koran is ambiguous, interpretive, and confusing. The more incoherent and muddled the language, the easier it is to attach 'science' to it, despite the fact that the scientific community does not even give these assertions a second thought. There is no scientific miracle in the Koran, There is an army of Muslim apologist twisting their book in a desperate bid to give it legitimacy. Unfortunately, for Muslims, this is a losing battle. It takes not only a serious lack of discernment to buy into this falsehood, but a complete suspension of critical thought. The first time I ever heard of these claims, I remember reading the Koran and thinking, "people actually believe this is a scientific miracle?" I use the same amount of critical reasoning when I read the Bible, and if anyone ever tried to say that Christ's words in the New Testament ("the heaven and earth will pass away") meant that God was trying to show us the science of plate tectonics, I would laugh! And yet this is exactly what I see many Muslims doing with Surah 27:88.
The argument that Koran just copies correct Greek thought is flawed for a few reasons. For one, Galen wrote an entire book on the subject! Is a comparison of the Koran's negligible, ambiguous, and yes, inaccurate information on embryology with an entire book on the subject even remotely fair? The point I am trying to make is that when Galen says there are four stages, and Mohammed says the same thing, out of all the numbers he could have chosen, is this not slightly suspicious? And since the Greeks don't have the benefit of indoctrination to exonerate them (and rightfully so), there exists a certain unfair and deceptive double standard when comparing the two. Because, let's be honest, if a billion people believed that Hippocrates was a messenger of God, they would be doing the exact same thing as Muslims; twisting and reinterpreting his original meanings to fit with modern science.
And yes, the Koran is inaccurate on embryology. You are, to a very large extent, supplementing its account with your assertion that the Koran says "the embryo is formbed from a fertilized ovum, the sperm/ovum combination determine the characteristics, the embryo is firmly fixed to the womb-wall, and that the embryo develops in 3 levels of protection." This is a clear exaggeration, and betrays a certain sort of desperation. There is absolutely no mention of the ovum. Mohammed, like the Greeks, believed that 'germinal fluids' (male sperm and female menstrual blood) mingled to form an embryo. And come on, "sperm/ovum combination determine the characteristics of the embryo"? Show me where it says this in clear and obvious language, not ambiguous reinterpretations that any real scientist (or linguist) would find wholly unconvincing. And again, none of what the Koran says was unknown during the 7th century. Three levels of protection? Thousands of years before Mohammed, people knew that a fetus was contained within a placenta, a womb and an abdomen. How is that remotely miraculous?
I mean, can we both just step back and look at what you are claiming? That sperm turning into a blood-clot, turning into a lump of flesh and then bones being clothed with flesh is somehow reflective of modern embryonic scientific thought? Really? And again, bones do not exist prior to flesh in embryonic development, how is this not an error? The fact is, it is an error, but Muslims, instead of accepting the horrible truth, have performed the most incredulous feats of textual gymnastics to make it appear factual.
To summarize, you have shown me nothing that even in my wildest dreams I would find amazing or miraculous. Instead, I see medieval ambiguities being reinterpreted to comfort modern-day fundamentalists. Nothing more. Show me one verse that doesn't need to be contorted and twisted linguistically in order to agree with modern science and I might be impressed. Unfortunately, there are no such verses. I've read the Koran, and I've studied a lot on this subject, and I remain, completely and utterly unimpressed. (impressed with the lengths people will go to believe falsehood however). If this is a book truly from God, why such a lack of clarity? If Allah wanted to amaze people, he could have done it with one sentence, something like "the sperm unites with the female egg and creates the embryo." That's all that would be needed to show the miraculous nature of the Koran, and yet Allah fails to do this simple task. Instead we are faced with ambiguities and incoherent reflections of incorrect science. The Koran didn't correct Greek science when it should have (if miraculous) it just reflects it, exactly as we would assume it to do.
Lastly, when asked by skeptics to prove his claims, did Mohammed ever say that the Koran contained hidden knowledge that would someday be revealed? No, he just said produce ten surahs like it. And really, who couldn't? The Koran is no more eloquent or beautiful than any number of great pieces of literature. Aslam, I just don't believe in the claim of scientific miracles in the Koran. I can't believe it, because the evidence is not clear, and I see people finding meanings from verses that don't seem miraculous at all. (like saying that a crescent moon looks like an old date branch is somehow talking about an orbital pattern). I can guarantee you that we will get nowhere on this subject. I have been debating another guy for over a month on embryology, and we just keep asserting the same points.
Shall we explore something less ambiguous, and more pivotal to the truth of our respective faiths? Perhaps, say, the crucifixion of Jesus Christ? Let me know what you think, and be well.