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Are There Scientific Mistakes in the Quran?
One of the most popular arguments for Islam is what we might call the “Argument from Scientific Accuracy.” Muslim apologists claim that the Qur’an contains numerous scientific insights that couldn’t have been known by Muhammad apart from divine revelation and that were only verified centuries later. Now I’ve debated Muslims on this argument, and I find it very strange, because the Qur’an is a scientific disaster. Everything Muhammad could get wrong, he got wrong.
The Qur'an claims that semen is formed between the backbone and ribs (Surah 86, verses 6-7), that the earth is flat (Surah 88, verse 20), that there are seven earths (surah 65, verse 12), that the sun and the moon chase each other around the earth (surah 36, verses 38-40), that human embryos are blood-clots (surah 22, verse 5), that the sky would fall on the earth if Allah didn't hold it up (surah 22, verse 65), and that stars are missiles that Allah uses to shoot demons who try to sneak into heaven (surah 37, verses 6-10, and surah 67, verse 5).
But I don’t want people to think I’m making things up, so let’s read a few verses. Passages about stars being missiles are interesting. Surah 67, verse 5:
And indeed We have adorned the nearest heaven with lamps [lamps are the stars], and We have made such lamps (as) missiles to drive away the Shayatin (devils), and have prepared for them the torment of the blazing Fire.Stars are missiles that drive away demons. How does this work? Surah 37, verses 6-10:
Verily! We have adorned the nearest heaven with the stars (for beauty). And to guard against every rebellious devil. They cannot listen to the higher group (angels) for they are pelted from every side. Outcast, and theirs is a constant (or painful) torment. Except such as snatch away something by stealing and they are pursued by a flaming fire of piercing brightness.Demons who sneak into heaven to steal some information are “pursued by a flaming fire of piercing brightness.” Muhammad explained in the Hadith that this refers to shooting stars. When you see a shooting star, it’s because Allah or the angels caught a demon trying to steal something and hurled a star at the demon.
Now this is silly on multiple levels. Shooting stars aren’t really stars. They’re rocks that burn up when they enter the earth’s atmosphere. And how many Muslims really believe that when a rock hits the earth’s atmosphere, it’s to stop a demon from getting away with valuable information? Muslims today know more about stars than the author of the Qur’an did.
Let’s look at another passage. Surah 18, verses 83 to 86:
And they ask you about Dhul-Qarnain. Say: “I shall recite to you something of his story.” Verily, We established him in the earth, and We gave him the means of everything. So he followed a way. Until, when he reached the setting place of the sun, he found it setting in a spring of black muddy (or hot) water. And he found near it a people.Dhul-Qarnain was apparently Alexander the Great. But whoever he was, the Qur’an says that he traveled so far West, he found the place where the sun sets. The sun sets in a muddy or warm pool.
Modern Muslims are embarrassed by this passage, so they say that what it really means is that Dhul-Qarnain saw the sun’s reflection in a pool, and it appeared to him as if the sun was setting in the pool. This obviously isn’t what the text says. But it’s important to note that Muslims who want to explain the passage this way are claiming to understand the Qur’an better than Muhammad, because Muhammad himself claimed that the sun sets in a pool. Let’s read Sunan Abu Dawud 4002. This is a sahih narration.
It was narrated that Abu Dharr said: “I was riding behind the Messenger of Allah while he was on a donkey, and the sun was setting. He said: ‘Do you know where this (sun) sets?’ I said: ‘Allah and his Messenger know best.’ He said: ‘It sets in a spring of water.’”Notice, this hadith doesn’t say anything about Dhul-Qarnain, so it’s not telling us about what he saw. This is Muhammad telling one of his companions where the sun goes when it sets, and Muhammad says that it sets in a pool. So the obvious meaning of the Qur’an is confirmed by Muhammad, and Muhammad and the Qur’an are simply wrong.
When we put the Quran’s scientific claims together with the scientific claims in the hadith, we get a really silly picture of the universe. Muhammad believed that there are seven earths, all of them flat, stacked on top of each other like pancakes, except with a long distance between them. Out on the edge of the top earth, which is our earth, is a pool where the sun sets. There are also seven heavens above the earths, and they’re like domes that will fall on us if Allah doesn’t hold them up. In the lowest heaven are the stars, which Allah uses to hurl at demons. And all of this is sandwiched between a giant fish at the bottom and eight giant goats on top. What did Muhammad get right?
Muhammad’s view of human reproduction is just as bad. According to Muhammad, semen forms between the backbone and ribs (that’s wrong), then it joins with the female semen (wrong), and whichever parent’s semen is discharged first determines which parent the child will resemble (wrong). The child spends forty days as a drop of sperm (wrong). Then the child spends another forty days as a clot of blood (wrong). Then the child becomes a lump (wrong). Then the child becomes bones (wrong). Then the bones are wrapped with flesh (wrong). After the final shape is determined, Allah finally decides whether the child will be male or female (wrong).
So here again, what did Muhammad get right? If this is the greatest evidence for the prophethood of Muhammad, we can only wonder why anyone believes in Islam.