This post includes an essay on the Qur'an and Cosmogony with a focus on the Big Bang theory, which I wrote five years ago. The purpose was obviously to debunk the various exponents of Islam (e.g. Bucaille, Harun Yahya and Osama Abdallah) who propagate their wishful imagination to what they deem as scientific evidence for the Qur'an.
Since then I have greatly expanded my insight into the matter and am currently preparing a more detailed work, which I may post in small parts or in a lengthy essay in near future.
Notice that my intention here is not to debunk the improbability of the Qur'anic view (that will derive in a later post) but to point out that the Qur'anic picture of the cosmological origin was a view that flourished centuries prior to the rise of Islam, and which the authors and composers of the Qur'an appear to have borrowed from circulating teaching or sources, sometimes (possibly) even word for word.
To assess the cosmology of the Qur’an our study has to begin with its concept of cosmogony, the origins. Here Muslims usually refer to Sura 21: 30:
‘Have not those who disbelieve known that the heavens and the earth were of one piece, then We parted them, and we made every living thing of water? Will they not then believe? (Sura 21: 30)’
The joining and separation of the heavens and earth is according to a range of Muslim writers a prediction of the modern the Big Bang theory; Bucaille, expounds upon this:
‘The reference to a separation process (fatq) of a primary single mass whose elements were initially fused together (ratq). It must be noted that in Arabic ‘fatq’ is the action of breaking, diffusing, separating, and that ‘ratq’ is the action of fusing or binding together elements to a make a homogenous whole.’ (1)
Yet the text itself does not follow Bucaille’s overall line of thought! The phrase: ‘Have not those who disbelieve known…’ implies that the Qur’an describes and refers to a concept that was already familiar in the era prior to Islam (2); hence in all correctness we may need to leave out any notion of modern scientific discoveries, and consider what ancient science and belief had already concluded.
Cosmogony in Ancient Religions:
A range of ancient religions e.g. the Hermopolitan (3) appear to describe the origin of the universe as a primordial universal egg. In the Hindu writings, the Laws of Manu, creation begins with a seed placed in water. The seed grows into a golden egg, which divides into two halves, which initially forms into heaven and earth. (4) In the Upanishads, existence suddenly begins, gradually grows into an egg and when the egg has remained still for a year, it is split open, out of which the two parts appear, which initially became the heaven and the earth. (5)
The resemblance is obvious; yet interestingly, the Laws of Manu and the Upanishads provide a description which is much closer to modern science than the Qur’an, as both describe a chronology which includes the state from singularity to inflation. (6)
Following the thought of Bucaille therefore, the Qur’anic cosmogony depends upon an external and much more detailed theory, which reveals further scientific predictions; this does not render the Qur’an as necessarily being miraculous.
The ancient Mesopotamian and Babylonian writings contain the same concept, as is the case with Gilgamesh: ‘…when the heavens had been separated from the earth and the earth had been delimited from the heavens.’ (7)
Furthermore, the Emma Elish, describes the god Marduk creating the heaven and earth by separating the women Tiamat in two halves, which become the vault of the sky and the earth; next he fixes the courses of the stars in the sky. (8)
Cosmogony in Ancient Philosophy:
Yet the concept of one primary entity separating was not confined to the world of mythology only; the Greeks and the Romans speculated in the same lines but transferred the concept to the category of science. Aristotle (384-322 BC) in describing the proposition of Anaxagoras (500-428 BC), writes:
‘That is why they make statements like ‘everything was originally mixed together…others talk in this context of combination and separation…So the reason they say that everything is mixed in everything is because, in their view, everything comes from everything. (9)
This is certainly in line with Bucaille and Haruna, who applied the terminology of mixing and fusing and then separating. (10) If the earth was not presented in the original entity, the Qur’an might have been closely in line with Anaxagoras; yet the separation of the earth does not indicate that, or else the passage would render a clear description of a mere entity exclusive of its reference to heaven and earth.
Hence in the Qur’an it is not a cosmological globe that separates but the actual heaven and earth. This nevertheless highly contradicts even the most simple about obvious cosmological observations.
The plausibility is also that the reference to the heavens while still smoke in Sura 41: implies that the earth originated from the same material. Yet nothing in the passage explicitly reveals so; furthermore we would assume then that the earth would distance itself from the smoke, yet the earth and smoke are brought to together, leaving us with no explanation for its occurrence.
In addition to a fused universe Anaxagoras and the Greeks also considered this mixing of the universe to occur in one place, as one entity before they separated.
Interestingly, Anaxagoras refers to the mixture as being comprehended by air and an element called aether.’ (11) Aether, was the mysterious matter of the universe, often referred to as fire or fiery fume (12); whether this can be interpreted into terminology such as gas or primordial gaseous clouds, (13) if we really wish to speculate, is probably overstating the matter, at least when considering the thought of Anaxagoras. (14)
Interestingly however, according to Zeller, various ancient philosophers considered this element, usually fire and air to be mixed inside a fiery universal glob. The globe exploded and the fire collected in fiery circles from which the stellar bodies derived. (15) According to Anaxagoras the earth was implausible at this stage, rather the separation occurs from rotation in which all matter gets included starts forming and are brought into orbit. (16) Compared to modern science, the analogy is still distant but yet surprisingly accurate. (17)
Yet, the most significant philosopher when it concerns the cosmology of the Qur’an and its use of ancient science is Lucretius. (18) His postulate involves the mixture and separation of the universe, but also in details describes a theory in which the role and contribution of the atoms is separating the heaven and earth and so expanding the cosmos.
As to the Big Bang, Lucretius describes a time in which nothing existed except for a congregated mass of atoms, compressed into one small entity:
‘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.’ (19)
Lucretius further describes a state of chaos and turmoil in which the atoms collide:
‘From their disharmony sprang conflict, which maintained a turmoil in their interspaces, courses, unions, thrusts, impacts, collisions and motions.’ (20)
It is vital to consider that Lucretius envisages this early state of the universe to be a ‘newly congregated mass of atoms of every sort’; in other words a previous cause must have brought this congregated mass into its shape and function. Yet at this point the universe is still a congregated mass which contains the entire universe, the earth, the heaven, the stars, the sun and the moon, and possibly its space.
The next stage of the universe is the combination of atoms with other atoms which causes what Lucretius calls the ‘main features of a world’ to be composed. This might explain why the Qur’an refers to the heaven and earth rather than a cosmological globe. According to Lucretius, it is from this primordial state, that the separation of heaven and the earth and the expansion of the space between them take place:
‘…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.’ (21)
Lucretius therefore describes the separation of heaven and earth as being caused by the composition of the primordial universe; particularly by the atoms.
The similarities between these sources and the Qur’an are significant; yet the Qur’an provides little insight into to the state of this primordial entity and the cause of separation.
Later commentators e.g. Kathir suggests the air between the heaven and earth was the cause, (22) while Mujahid suggests that the heaven began as smoke gusting out of the earth. (13) If is the case, then the Qur’an does not follow in line with Anaxagoras’ exclusion of the primordial earth. Following Mujahid however, and the reference to the earth and smoke (Sura 41: 11), the Qur’an certainly follows a range of philosophers on the centrality of the earth and its contribution to the cosmological structure. In addition the reference to smoke also suggests that the Qur’an is depending upon the earlier Greek theories of the elements, rather than the atomic theory of Lucretius. (24)
Yet again I suggest Harun Yahya, Osama Abdallah among others to remove from their websites their distorted attempts to apply modern science as a means to prove the Qur'an as miracolous and furthermore, I hope these Islamic proponents will also reveal the honesty to admit that Qur'anic science did not originate with the Qur'an but pre-Islamic sources, such as the 'Separation of the heaven and earth' which is not a prediction of the Big Bang but which the contemporaries of Muhammad by the use of the same wording applied to an actual separation of the heaven and earth, typically with the earth as the main cosmological centre.
Bibliography and sources:
1. Bucaille, 1975: 139; see also Harun Yahya, The Scientific Miracles of the Qur’an, Al-Attique Publishers, 2000:21-2. Yahya elaborates on Bucaille’s theory by suggesting that the verb fataqa implies the destruction or tearing apart of something to create something new. See also Muhammad Assadi, The Unifying theory of everything: Koran and Nature’s Testimony (http://members.aol.com/silence004/koran.html)
2. Tafsir Ibn Kathir, Abridged Vol. 6, Abridged by a group of Scholars under the supervision of Shaykh Safiur-Rahman Al-Mubarakpuri, Riyadh, Houston, New York, Lahore, Darussalam, 2000: 440.
3. The Hermopolitan cosmogony is depicted in several versions, one being a cosmological egg which was placed on the Primeval Hill by a goose from which Re appeared; see Mircea Eliade, A History of Religious Ideas: From the Stone Age to the Eleusinian Mysteries, vol.1, St James’s Place, London: Collins, 1979:17-8)
4. G. Buhler (translation), Sacred Books of the East, XXV: 'The Laws of Manu,' 1, 5-16 (Oxford 1886), pp.2-8
5. S. Radhakrishnan (editor and translator), The Principal Upanishads: Chandogya Upanishad, III, 19, 1-2, New York: Harper & Row, 1953, PP. 151-2, 399, 447-9 (http://alexm.here.ru/mirrors/www.enteract.com/jwalz/Eliade/058.html).
See also Dr. E. Zeller, A History of Greek Philosophy: From the earliest Period to the Time of Socrates, Vol. I, London: Longmans Green and Co, 1881: 115; the Greek myth in which Chronos-Heraclis produces a giant egg which is divided, from which the heaven and earth originate.
6. Alan H. Guth & Paul J. Steinhardt, ‘The Inflationary Universe’ in (ed.) David H. Levy, The Scientific ‘American: Book of Cosmos’, London, Oxford and Basingstoke: Macmillan, 2000:361-62; the theory implies that the universe in a brief period of suddenly by some ‘extraordinary’ cause expanded, while the entire universe in its pre-inflationary state had been compressed into to a tiny volume.
7. Gilgamesh, Enkidu and the netherworld: 1-26 (Version A, From Nibru, Urim and elsewhere) in Babylonia and Ancient Near Eastern Texts, by Kenneth Sublett, Piney.com, Hohenwald, Tennessee; the text describes a multiple number of heavens and excludes the usual mythology (http://www.piney.com/BabGilgEnkid.html)
8. Mircea Eliade, AHistory of Religious Ideas: From the Stone Age to the Eleusinian Mysteries, vol.1, St James’s Place, London: Collins, 1979:71-2
9. Aristotle: Physics, A New Translation by Robin Waterfield, Oxford: University Press, 1999:17
10. see Sura 21: 30; the theory of Bucailleism implies that the passage predicts fusing and separation
11. Arthur Fairbanks, ed. and trans. The First Philosophers of Greece, London: K. Paul, Trench, Trubner, 1898: 235 (Hanover Historical Text Projects) http://history.hanover.edu/project.html
12. See Aristotle, he applies the same terminology to a mysterious cloudy material, such as vapour and ether, similar to the Qur’ans reference of dukhan, which Muslim authors claim predicts primordial gasseous clouds (Aristotle, Aristotle Meteorologica, I. iii, translated by H.D.P. Lee, London: William Heinemann, Ltd & Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1962: 19-23, 31.
13. Fred Adams & Greg Laughlin, The Five Ages of the Universe: Inside the Physics of Eternity, USA, New York: The Free Press, 1999: 34-40; the entire galactic host of the Universe was originally composed and formed in clouds of hot gas.
14. This resembles the claim that the Qur’anic reference to dukhan is a prediction of the primordial gaseous clouds; the main problem however remains that the gaseous clouds did not derive from a central earth, but the other way round.
15. Zellar, 1881: 267; this was the view of Anaxagoras, but other philosophers, such as Plutarch and Hippolytus held the same view. Anaximander, however, applied this concept upon the earth and the heaven; he envisaged the sun, moon, stars and their circles to have originated from a fiery sphere that split from the earth; see Arthur Fairbanks, Plut. Strom. 2 ; Dox. 579, 1898: 14, 16
16. Arthur Fairbanks, 1898:241
17. Adams and Laughlin, 1999:35; the theory proposes matter that was pulled together into galactic structured by gravity, and then endowed with rotation.
18. Lucretius, The Nature of the Universe, (translated by R.E. Latham), Penguin Books 1957, ‘The Nature of the
Universe’ was written 50 BC, slightly nearer the ear of Islam, and reveals a cosmogony that has been significantly developed since Anaxagoras and Aristotle, as ancient postulates and the atomic theory are combined. See also 184-5; while earlier cosmogonies typically described the world being created from the elements; Lucretius rejects this view and combines the atomism concept with the concept of separation.
19. Lucretius, 1957: 184; Here Lucretius alludes slightly to Anaxagoras who proposed the inauguration of a small rotating motion, while Lucretius describes an atomic mass effected by a raging hurricane; considering modern science, this ancient postulate is remarkable. Furthermore Lucretius predicts an original fused entity. Comparing the picture to modern theories the picture does not resemble cosmological singularity but apart from earths existence, rather the later proposed cloud of radiation, from which the atoms and particles suddenly exonerated. See also Heather Couper & Nigel Henbest, To the ends of the Universe, UK, London: Dorling Kindersley, 1998: 24-7). The Qur’an makes no reference to the nature of this entity, such as Lucretius; yet the principle remains the same, this entity is combined by heaven and earth.
20. Lucretius, 1957: 184; According to modern scientific postulates this closely resembles the interval period between the Big Bang and the Cosmological Inflation; Couper & Henbest, 1998; 20-3: see also Carl Sagan, Cosmos, UK, London: Book Club Associates, 1981: 218-235, despite from the fact that the earth was not present at that stage of the universe.
21. Lucretius, 1957: 184-5; this is where the Qur’an comes in having excluded all the details; hence the reference of Sura 21: 30 refers to a already detailed description of cosmogony. Here it have to be noted however, that Lucretius’ postulate is only an option among many
22. Tafsir Ibn Kathir, Abridged Volume 6, Abridged by a group of Scholars under the supervision of Shaykh Safiur-Rahman Al-Mubarakpuri, Riyadh, Houston, New York, Lahore, Darussalam, 2000: 440-1
23. Mujahid commented on Allah’s statement 41: 9-12 which reveals the earth to be created and made inhabitable prior to the forming and rising of the heavens (compare to 21: 30-2). Based on Sura 41 Mujahid states that the earth was created first: ‘...and when He created the earth, smoke burst out of it.’ According to Mujahid this is why Allah turned to the heaven ‘when it was smoke’ Sura 41: 11’ Tafsir Ibn Kathir, vol.1, 2000: 180
24. Most Greeks held on to the a universe consisting of the basic elements, Democritus (470-380 BC) Epicurus (341-270 BC) and later Lucretius (95-55 BC) held on to the atomic universe; they rejected the significance of the elements; yet this theory remained a minority view and almost vanished until early fourteen century, when it became superior; see Isaac Asimov, Exploring the Earth and the Cosmos, UK, Middlesex: Penguin Books Ltd: 1982: 265-8 93. See also Lucretius who stated that the elements are depended upon the atoms, and mocked those who believed the raw material to be air, water or fire (Lucretius, 1957: 47, 93)