Does the Qur'an Predict the Sub-atomic world and particles? This is the claim of certain Islamic apologists, such as Mustafa Mlivo, Muhammad Assaid and Zakir Naik among others:
Mustafa Mlivo, Quran and Science , The Qur’an prior to Science and Civilisation; see: http://www.preciousheart.net/Main_Archives/Links_Folder/SUPER_List_Islam.htm
And Muhammad Assadi, in his book: The Unifying Theory of Everything: Koran and Nature’s Testimony; see http://www.amazon.com/Unifying-Theory-Everything-Natures-Testimony/dp/0595129048
And Zakir Naik; see http://www.scribd.com/doc/18926563/Quran-and-Modern-Science-EnglishBy-Dr-Zakir-Naik
These among others claim that the Qur’an is miraculous in its prediction of the sub atomic world (that is sub atomic particles).
Let's assess the claim:
The particular Qur’anic (Sura 34: 3) passages reads:
‘...by him who knows the unseen,—from who is not hidden the least little atom in the heavens or on earth; nor is there anything less than that, or greater, but is in the record of perspicuous ’
See also Sura 10: 61:
‘He [i.e., Allah] is aware of an atom’s weight in the heavens and on the earth and even anything smaller than that...’
Firstly we need to consider that there is a debate whether the Qur’an is literally referring to atoms or insects or possibly dust.
But let us for a moment assume that the Qur’an does refer to atoms and the sub-atomic particles, are we then correct to presume that this reference is miraculous or is possible that the Qur’an only makes a lucky guess or even that sub-atomic particles were already a common idea flourishing in the time of Muhammad?
The theory of atoms was founded by Leucippus (440 BC) and Democritus (432 BC), who proposed that atoms constituted and composed everything in existence even heaven and earth. The theory perceived the atoms as physical particles, which are in constant motion; being indivisible, indestructible and infinite in number and varieties. All this is slightly correct indeed, expect of course that the number of atoms and their varieties are infinite.
Indeed the early atomists predicted a range of up-to-date details, such as Democritus’ ‘moving at random’, which according to Russel in his book: 'History of Western Philosophy' suggests denotes the kinetic theory of gasses; and furthermore the collisions of atoms which collected them and formed vortices and later material bodies (Russell, 82-84); all this was in agreement with the latter theory of Lucretius (Lucretius, The Nature of the Universe, p. 185).
Yet Democritus and many early atomists seem to have committed the fallacy of considering atoms to contain no void, which made them impenetrable and indivisible (Russell, History of Western Philosophy, p. 88). This error excluded the existing reality of e.g. the neutrons, protons and electrons, and the newly proposed theory of the quarks. That is of course unless we move Democritus’ understanding as a theory of the Quark world and what preceded it. Hence according to certain Muslim writers, e.g. Mlivo and Muhammad Assadi and Zakir Naik, this suggests that the Qur'an solely gets the information right and must therefore be of divine origin.
However, there are serious flaws within this Muslim proposition.
Its primary failure is the failure to grasp that atomic science developed through the centuries. The emphatic claim of Democritus, that atoms were the first cause-particles which could not be further divided appears to be slightly diminishing at the time of Lucretius (approximately 50 BC); Lucretius seems to refer to new ideas in his time which suggests that atoms could be divided (at least he alludes to ideas quite different from those presupposed by Democritus); Lucretius writes in 50 BC:
‘It is with a mass of such parts, solidly jammed together in order, that matter is filled up. Since they cannot exist by themselves, they must stick together in a mass from which they cannot by any means be prized loose. The atoms therefore are absolutely solid and unalloyed, consisting of a mass of least parts tightly packed together. They are not compounds formed by the coalescence of their parts, but bodies of absolute and everlasting solidity. To these nature allows no loss or diminution, but guards them as seeds for things. If there are no such least parts, even the smallest bodies will consist of an infinite number of parts, since they can always be halved and their halves halved again’ (Lucretius, The Nature of the Universe 45)?
What are these least parts of which the atoms consist? And how about the opposite position, but otherwise proposed impossibility, that atoms can be halved and halved again?
This idea seems to have been raised 600 years prior to Islam. And there are further indications, that even the Epicurean's postulated particles smaller than atoms. Epicurean theory theorized that our body throws off thin films, which travel to touch the soul-atoms to create sensation; if these were considered to operate between atoms, then we might assume they are smaller (Russell, History of Western Philosophy, p. 255).
If however, atoms are the principle of matter and thus life, why is it that the Qur’an, being a divine revelation does not provide further insight into the world of atoms or quantum? Why is the Qur’an making no reference to atoms in relation to compounds or the combination of atoms to form a greater mass, as was expounded upon by Lucretius more 600 years prior to Islam (Lucretius, The Nature of the Universe, p.41); Lucretius writes:
‘At that time the sun’s bright disc was not to be seen here, soaring loft and lavishing light, nor the stars that crowd the far-flung firmament, nor sea nor sky, nor earth, nor air nor anything in the likeness of things we know nothing but a hurricane raging in a newly congregated mass of atoms of every sort’ (Lucretius, The Nature of the Universe, 184).
This completely refutes Zakir Naik in his debate with William Campbell, in which he admitted the similarity between Qur’anic and Greek science but then claimed that Qur’anic science is more specific and even corrects Greek science.
The Qur’an does not explain that the atoms are the fundamental building blocks and existed prior to cosmological expansion and the accretion of the earth, nor does it describe their existence as prior to the galactic dimension the pre-stellar material existed.
Lucretius’ description of a primordial congregated mass of atoms in the writings of Lucretius is fairly accurate and presents an idea that is much more advanced and explicit than the Qur’anic simple reference to the world of atoms and lesser matter.
‘...they (the atoms) began, in fact, to separate the heights of heaven from the earth, to single out the sea as a receptacle for water detached from the mass and to set apart the fires of pure and isolated ether. In the first place all the particles of earth, because they were heavy and intertangled, collected in the middle and took up the undermost stations. The more closely they cohered and clung together, the more they squeezed out the atoms that went to the making of sea and stars, sun and moon and the outer walls of the great world’ (Lucretius, The Nature of the Universe, 184-5)?
While Lucretius’ postulate is outdated and contains a number of flaws, it does reveal a much more advanced insight into the atomic world than the Qur'an does and some details actually predicts modern science.
If the Qur’an is a miracle due to its reference to atoms and smaller matter, then certainly a number of Greek philosophers and indeed the atheist Lucretius were divinely inspired. What is much more logical however is that the Qur’an simply describes the ideas that were flourishing within its time and era; unfortunately for the Muslim position is the fact that these pre-Islamic sources provide a much more advanced and accurate picture of the atomic world than the Qur’an.