German geologist Alfred Kröner was once asked whether Muhammad had accurate scientific knowledge of geology. Kröner responded that Muhammad, living in seventh century Arabia, simply couldn't have known about modern geology. That was it. Imagine Kröner's surprise upon learning that Muslims were ripping his comments out of context, giving the impression that he had admitted that the Qur'an is scientifically miraculous.
In 2002, the Wall Street Journal did an investigation of the scientists who supposedly acknowledged the miraculous scientific accuracy of the Qur'an. They found that the Islamic commission in charge of gathering the scientific support was anything but scientific. One of the scientists even admitted to speaking favorably of the Qur'an in exchange for a free vacation!
The commission drew the scientists to its conferences with first-class plane tickets for them and their wives, rooms at the best hotels, $1,000 honoraria, and banquets with Muslim leaders -- such as a palace dinner in Islamabad with Pakistani President Mohammed Zia ul-Haq shortly before he was killed in a plane crash. Mr. Ahmed also gave at least one scientist a crystal clock.
Mr. Ahmed, who left the commission in 1996 and now operates an Islamic elementary school in Pennsylvania, says he reassured the scientists that the commission was "completely neutral" and welcomed information contradicting the Quran. The scientists soon learned differently. Each one was given a verse from the Quran to examine in light of his expertise. Then Mr. Zindani would interview him on videotape, pushing him to concede divine inspiration.
Marine scientist William Hay, then at the University of Colorado, was assigned a passage likening the minds of unbelievers to "the darkness in a deep sea ... covered by waves, above which are waves." As the videotape rolled, Mr. Zindani pressed Prof. Hay to admit that Muhammad couldn't have known about internal waves caused by varying densities in ocean depths. When Prof. Hay suggested Muhammad could have learned about the phenomenon from sailors, Mr. Zindani insisted that the prophet never visited a seaport.
Prof. Hay, a Methodist, says he then raised other hypotheses that Mr. Zindani also dismissed. Finally, Prof. Hay conceded that the inspiration for the reference to internal waves "must be the divine being," a statement now trumpeted on Islamic Web sites.
"I fell into that trap and then warned other people to watch out for it," says Prof. Hay, now at a German marine institute.
Similar prodding failed to sway geologist Allison "Pete" Palmer, who was working for the Geological Society of America. He stuck to his position that Muhammad could have gleaned his science from Middle Eastern oral history, not revelation. On one video, Mr. Zindani acknowledges that Mr. Palmer still needs "someone to point the truth out to him," but contends that the geologist was "astonished" by the accuracy of the Quran. Mr. Palmer says that's an overstatement. Still, he has fond memories of Mr. Zindani, whom he calls "just a lovely guy." He and the other American scientists say they had no idea of Mr. Zindani's ties to Mr. bin Laden. And in any case the U.S. didn't regard Mr. bin Laden as an outlaw at that time.
Prof. Gerald Goeringer, an embryologist retired from Georgetown University, says he urged the commission to try some verification: hire an independent scholar to see whether the Quran's statements could have been taken from Aristotle, the Greek philosopher-scientist who preceded the book by nearly 1,000 years. After his request was denied, Prof. Goeringer says, he stopped going to the conferences for fear of being associated with fanaticism.
"It was mutual manipulation," he says. "We got to go places we wouldn't otherwise go to. They wanted to add some respectability to what they were publishing." (Read more.)
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