Recently, I received an email from a Muslim friend who was adamant that there are no scientific errors in the Quran. I responded by saying that there is no plausible defense for the shooting star dilemma.
If this issue is new to you, allow me to explain. The Qur'an teaches that stars are fires set up in the sky to guard Heaven against demons. The demons want to hear what God is saying so they try to sneak up to heaven. If they are found, the guardians of heaven will hurl stars at them to chase them off.
In case you didn't catch it, there's a huge problem with this teaching: stars and shooting stars are not the same thing! Stars are giant balls of gas burning millions of miles away, and "shooting stars" are meteorites, or galactic debris that has entered the earth's atmosphere (i.e. much much much much smaller than stars!).
Truly, this is the book Muslims defend as scientifically miraculous! Don't believe that the Qur'an could actually say such horribly unscientific things? Look at the four passages below.
It is We Who have set out the zodiacal signs in the heavens, and made them fair-seeming to (all) beholders; And (moreover) We have guarded them from every evil spirit accursed: But any that gains a hearing by stealth, is pursued by a flaming fire, bright (to see).
We have indeed decked the lower heaven with beauty (in) the stars, (For beauty) and for guard against all obstinate rebellious evil spirits, (So) they should not strain their ears in the direction of the Exalted Assembly but be cast away from every side, Repulsed, for they are under a perpetual penalty, Except such as snatch away something by stealth, and they are pursued by a flaming fire, of piercing brightness.
And we have, (from of old), adorned the lowest heaven with Lamps, and We have made such (Lamps) (as) missiles to drive away the Evil Ones, and have prepared for them the Penalty of the Blazing Fire.
(Demons are speaking)'And we pried into the secrets of heaven; but we found it filled with stern guards and flaming fires. 'We used, indeed, to sit there in (hidden) stations, to (steal) a hearing; but any who listen now will find a flaming fire watching him in ambush.
My Muslim friend denied that the Quran was speaking about shooting stars, and he adamantly defended the fact that regular stars fit the bill for these ayaat. He said: "I can't possibly understand why you would state that the verse refers to shooting stars, meteorites, asteroids, comets or whatever else, unless you were not aware of this fact regarding stars (i.e. that stars move)."
Well, there are two reasons.
First, the ayaat support this interpretation. Let's take a look at 67:5. It says: "we have made such (Lamps [stars]) missiles to drive away the Evil Ones" On face value, this seems to say that stars can be used missiles made to drive away satans (demons). This implies shooting stars.
Why would God want to shoot demons? Surah 15 ayaat 16-18 explains that the stars were made as adornment for the skies, but also as a guard against jinn; if a jinn were to somehow "gain a hearing by stealth" then it would be pursued by "a flaming fire." Again, at face value, it seems that these stars serve at least two purposes: for adornment and for launching at jinn, and the second happens because the jinn attempt to hear something.
Well what are the jinn trying to hear? Surah 37 tells us they are trying to hear "the Exalted Assembly". In surah 72, we see the jinn admit that they were trying to listen to "the secrets of heaven", but when they attempted to listen, they found guards with fires (stars), and those fires are now hurled at them if they try to litsen (presumably by the guards).
So, just reading the Qur'an for what it's worth, it seems as if it's saying that God (or angels) hurls stars (the ones that adorn the night skies) at demons when they try to hear the secrets of heaven. This implies that the stars go from being stationary to being launched, as we would expect a missile to work. The only thing that resembles a launched star is a meteorite.
Second, Muhammad supports this interpretation. Sahih al-Muslim #5538 informs us:
As we were sitting during the night with Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him), a meteor shot gave a dazzling light. Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) said: “What did you say in the pre-Islamic days when there was such a shot (of meteor)?” They said: “Allah and His Messenger know best (the actual position), but we, however, used to say that that very night a great man had been born and a great man had died,” whereupon Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) said: “(These meteors) are shot neither at the death of anyone nor on the birth of anyone. Allah, the Exalted and Glorious, issues Command when He decides to do a thing. Then (the Angels) supporting the Throne sing His glory, then sing the dwellers of heaven who are near to them until this glory of God reaches them who are in the heaven of this world. Then those who are near the supporters of the Throne ask these supporters of the Throne: ‘What your Lord has said?’ And they accordingly inform them what He says. Then the dwellers of heaven seek information from them until this information reaches the heaven of this world. In this process of transmission (the jinn snatches) what he manages to overhear and he carries it to his friends. And when the Angels see the jinn they attack them with meteors.”
From this hadith in Sahih al-Muslim, we see that Muhammad agrees entirely with all the conclusions we drew from the Quranic ayaat, including that the stars in question are shooting stars.
What have we seen so far? We've seen:
1 - The ayaat, on face value, seem to say that the guardians of heaven hurl stars at demons. This equates stars with meteors.
2 - The hadith supports this interpretation.
Thus, the Quran is scientifically flawed, at least in regards to the issue of shooting stars. The hadith support this conclusion. This is incontrovertible and any argument against this conclusion twists the obvious interpretation and ignores Muhammad's own words.
* NOTE = After posting this, the Muslim friend with whom I was dialoguing took offense to my representation of his point of view. He says he was only commenting on 67:5, not all the verses, when made his conclusion. This note serves to clarify his position.