Ahmed-Giron Quran and Modern Science Debate:
Gironís opening presentation for 60 minutes.
(comments in black are mine)
It is okay for me to just grab the mic, so I am
taking it now. I would like to say thank you to Nadir for the introduction.
Before I begin, Nadir mentioned the debate we had over usenet
- via a text debate over the last roughly nine months. I am going to give the
URL that has the entire debate over the nine months. If you could see it there,
it is "joes.com" - J, O, E, S dot com - slash, "home,"
slash, and then our last two names: "Ahmed," for Nadir, and "Giron" for me - G, I, R, O, N. So that is actually
where you can find all the text.
To begin, I actually should lay down exactly what my debate is - the points that I am going to be bringing up - since Nadir talked about the fallacies that are committed by Atheists and, I guess, other non-Muslims who try and dispute the scientific-hermeneutic approach to the Qur'an. So, to begin, first off, I would like to give an analogy. This analogy will help express what my approach here is. My approach here is not against the Qur'an; it is specifically against Nadir's argument.
So, suppose you are sitting somewhere in a mall, or on campus or somewhere, and you hear a Muslim and a non-Muslim having a debate. And the Muslim says "the Qur'an is the word of God," or the word of Allah, and the non-Muslim says "well, what is your proof? How do you know the Qur'an is the word of Allah?" And the Muslim says "the Qur'an is the word of Allah because my father says so." Now, do not get me wrong, do not think that I am trying to say that Nadir's argument is as poor as this - I'm not, I am just using this as an example. So the Muslim in this hypothetical situation claims the Qur'an is the word of God because his father said so. Now of course that is a bad argument. We can all agree it is a bad argument. Now here is the question. The fact that it is a bad argument, the fact that the Muslim failed in this hypothetical situation to prove that the Qur'an is the word of God, does not mean that it is not the word of God, and this is important.
The reason I am brining this up is because I am not going to claim that the Qur'an is not the word of God in this debate. I am not going to try and prove that it is not the word of God. My position is that, in my opinion, Nadir's argument was insufficient for proving that the Qur'an is the word of God, but of course this does not mean that it is not. I could very well be the word of God, and Nadir just did not prove it. Now maybe I am wrong about whether or not he proved it, but I am going to explain why I think he did not prove it. But that is just a point that I am trying to make: that my approach is not to discredit the Qur'an, but rather just to explain why I feel that this particular form of apologia does not prove that the Qur'an is the word of God. And if I today sincerely recited shahaada and became a Muslim, my position on this issue would not change. So I could argue this position from an Atheist standpoint or from a Muslim standpoint.
Okay, now, to begin with Nadir's argument, he got into the issue of the fallacies that are committed by Atheists. And the first one he said was one of multiple interpretation - where we can just create another interpretation. That is actually not an argument that I am going to raise, but I am going to raise something mildly similar. The issue that I am going to bring up is that I am going to ask the question "is it possible for a man, for a mere mortal, to say the things that are said in the verse that we are considering?" This could be with any verse, like for example let's talk about the opening few verses of the Qur'an. You all know them: bismillaahi 'r-Rahmani 'r-Raheem alhamdulillahi rabbi al-'alameen... I apologize for saying it so flippantly, but you know the verses.
The question is, is it possible for a human being to say those verses? I think it is very possible for a human being to say those verses- say those words. Does that mean they are not from God? No. I am just saying that the fact that it is possible for a human being to say such things means that we do not necessarily have to assume that the verse, in itself, is evidence of a divine origin for the Qur'an. So that is going to be my question that I am going ask each time with the eight pieces of evidence that Nadir has brought up. The question is: is it possible that a human being may have said these things, or could have said these things?
The second fallacy that Nadir brough up was the issue of if it pre-existed in science, and certainly certain things that are mentioned in the Qur'an have been mentioned by other people. Now the question that Nadir brought up is: well, why should we assume that the Qur'an plagiarized from these sources? I am actually going to say no, I have no proof that the Qur'an plagiarized from any source. That is not anything that I am seeking to prove tonight. I am not going to make any claims of plagiarism tonight. What I am going to say tonight is that, for example, if the Qur'an makes a claim - a scientific claim - and a previous source made the same claim, it is reasonable to believe that it is possible for a human being to utter such things, especially if a previous source said it. So for example, if Aristotle said something about embryology or about the cosmos, him saying that is in itself proof that it is possible for a man to say such things. So, for example, let us use the issue of bees. Aristotle actually did not believe that worker bees were female. But, nonetheless, let us assume that he did for a second. If the Qur'an says worker bees are female, and Aristotle said worker bees are female, it would mean that it is possible for a human being to reach this conclusion. Therefore, we do not have to conclude that the Qur'an saying such is proof in itself that it is the word of God. Nonetheless, even if it is not something that no one knew at the time, or if it is something that a human could say, that does not mean it is not the word God. It is possible that the Qur'an is the word of God nonetheless, even if a human could have said it.
So, with that I would like to get into the eight pieces of evidence. I hope that was clear. I hope I did not run through it too fast. I am going to get to the eight pieces of evidence that Nadir went through, and if I am correct they were the issue of the bee, the issue of the city of Iram, the issue of the oceans - which he broke down into three different sections, the issue of the near land in Soorat ar-Room, and then the issue of iron, and finally the issue of the heavenly bodies. I think I can run through these relatively quick so that I do not have to waste anybody's time.
First, with the issue of the bee, what Aristotle actually said was that others... Now he came to dispute - excuse me - he tried to dispute the belief that bees were females and drones male. And the issue, however, is that he started out by saying: it is asserted by others that bees - worker bees - that these bees are female and drones are male. This is what he said. He said also that they copulated. "It is asserted by others that these insects copulate, and that the bees are female and the drones male." So Aristotle starts out by saying that this is asserted by others. This was said before he wrote his book and then he gave his reasons for why he disagrees. Now, of course, as history bares out, Aristotle was wrong. But nonetheless, he was debating with somebody - maybe someone who was not alive anymore at his time, but nonetheless he was debating with somebody who claimed that the worker bees were female and the drones were male. So this was said before the Qur'an was written - the issue of the gender of worker bees. So that in itself proves that it is possible for a mere human being to argue such.
Actually, I would like to also bring another piece of evidence with regard to this, which is a lot more clear on this issue. And this is actually from the Talmud, from tractate Bava Bratra, which is a tractate in the Babylonian Talmud - it is section 18a. There is a verse where there is a debate about plants and bees - if one man owns bees and another man owns plants - and at one point one of the people in the debate says to another one - this is in the Talmud - I will give you the Hebrew and the Aramaic first. He says: charcheq d'vorakh min chardla'ee, which means "distance your bees from my mustard plant". Now the word that he used for "your bees" is d'vorakh, and it is from the Hebrew word for bee and the Aramaic word - well actually Aramaic has two words for bee, but this particular word for bee is feminine. So starting right away they are saying keep your bees away from my mustard plants, but he is using a feminine word for bee. So already bee is in the female. And then he explains why he wants the bees to be kept away from his plant, and he says: she-ba'ot v'okhlot lighlooghei chardla'ee - which means "they are coming and eating the flowers," or "coming and gnawing on the flowers of my mustard plant."
Now here is where it gets even more interesting. The first part, "they are coming," is she-ba'ot - ba'ot is actually conjugated in the female plural. "They are coming". And this is an interesting point about Hebrew grammar: "they are coming," being plural femine is interesting because it is stating - well let me explain something about Hebrew grammar. In Hebrew grammar, if you have a group that is plural - let us say you have all boys - if you have all boys you refer to them in the masculine plural. If you have a mixed group of boys and girls, males and females, you refer to them, again, as masculine plural. So that means that if you have one hundred women and one man, and you want to say something that the group is doing, like let us say you want to say they are writing - that the group is writing - if a hundred girls and one man, you will say kotevim. So even if the males are out numbered a million to one, nonetheless you treat mixed groups as masculine plural. The only time you use feminine plural, which is used here in the Talmud, is if the entire group is feminine - there is not a single male in the bunch. And again, in this verse in the Talmud it says: she-ba'ot - masculine feminine, they come - v'okhlot - again, mascu... I'm sorry(!), feminine-plural. I apologize, feminine plural, she-ba'ot, "they come," and then v'okhlot, again feminine plural, "they gnaw on" or "they eat," and then it goes on to say "my flowers". So what this verse is saying in the Talmud, which was written before the Qur'an - it predates the Qur'an, it is essentially saying that it takes it for granted that the bees that come to the flowers are all female. Now I have given two points: One, before Aristotle, someone said that the bees are female and the drones are male. Also, in the Talmud, it essentially treats bees, in this particular tractate - there's another tractate that does it differently, but in this particular tractate it takes it for granted that bees - the ones that comes to the flowers and gnaw on the flowers - are feminine.
I hope everyone can hear me. Can everyone hear me? Okay, I'm sorry.
So, now the question is, am I arguing that the Qur'an has plagiarized either Aristotle or the Talmud? No. I have no reason to believe that the author of the Qur'an had any direct reference to either Aristotle or the Talmud. Maybe they did, and even if they did, that still does not mean that they plagiarized from that source. All I am saying is because the Talmud and Aristotle both hinted at the fact that before the Qur'an knew that bees were female shows that it is possible for a human being to say such things. And that is all that I am arguing. If it is possible, then the verse in the Qur'an that treats bees as females is not a proof in itself that it is the word of God. That does not mean that it is not the word of God. I am just saying that this piece of evidence does not suffice as proof that it is the word of God.
I hope that is clear, because now I am going to move on to the next piece of evidence that Nadir brought up, which was Iram. And he actually gave roughly what my argument against Iram is - is it so surprising that an Arab would know about an Arabian city? Because it is assumed now, and actually Nova on PBS since the find on the seventies did a special on how there has been a dig in the
Now regarding the issue of water, which was actually Nadir's third, fourth, and fifth pieces of evidence. He actually gave the link to the Islamic Center of Peoria site [http://www.islamiccenterofpeoria.org/miracles.html] which I actually recommend people go to, because the question is the barrier, what is this barrier a reference to? The site that Nadir actually invited people to go to claims it is a reference to a phenomenon known as the pycnocline, and this is a phenomenon that you can read about in oceanographic texts - texts on oceanography. The pycnocline is a situation where if you have two bodies of water that are meeting, and they are of different temperatures or of different salinities, i.e. different amounts of salt in the water, there will be differences in density. The water that is more dense, due to either temperature, salinity, or both, will sink and the water that is less dense will rise.
First of all, Aristotle, and Nadir mentioned Aristotle of course who has made a number of errors, did show some rough familiarity with this subject. In his second book on Meteorologika, or meteorology, said the following - he said: "now the sun, moving as it does, sets up..." actually, before I read this quote I want to say that I am specifically only reading the accurate part of Aristotle - of course this is, as Nadir put it, "in a sea of errors". He said: "now the sun, moving as it does, sets up a process of change, and becoming and decay, and by its agency the finest and sweetest is every day carried up and is dissolved into vapor and rises to the upper region, where it is condensed again by the cold and so returns to the earth. The drinkable sweet water then is light and all of it is drawn up to the top. The salt water is heavy and remains behind."
He actually said this in the context of a sweet water river flowing into a salty sea. Now the question is, if you have a salty sea, and Aristotle gets into this, if you have a salty sea and fresh water is constantly flowing into it, why does it remain salty? Don't you think that if there is a constant amount of fresh water flowing in, that it would no longer remain salty, because eventually the fresh water would overrun it? Aristotle explained that what happens is the water that is less salty floats to the top and is the first to evaporate. The water that is more salty sinks to the bottom and does not evaporate. Therefore you can have a constant flow of fresh water into a salty sea, but this fresh water goes up towards the top, is the first to evaporate, and this process helps salt water remain salty.
So that in itself - this shows that Aristotle had a very loose familiarity with the phenomenon of the pycnocline. Now the site that Nadir invited us to see claims that when the Qur'an speaks of this barrier between seas as well as between salt a fresh water, it is a reference to the phenomenon of the pycnocline. So what I'm saying is that if the Qur'an is actually making a reference to the pycnocline, Aristotle too made a reference to the pycnocline - the phenomenon of the pycnocline. The fact that Aristotle made a reference to this shows that it is at least possible for a human being to have some knowledge of the pycnocline. If it is possible, then the verses of the Qur'an in and of themselves are not proof that they are from a divine origin. Of course they could be the word of God - again I'm not seeking to prove that they are not - I am just saying that Nadir has not proven it just by citing these verses, or at least not in my opinion - no offense.
Now the issue that came up was what kind of barrier, and Nadir mentioned that some people ask this question, and he insinuated that the question is insignificant, and pointed out, however, that the Qur'an does not say what kind of barrier it is. I would disagree. I think in Soorat ar-Rahman, when it talks about between the two seas, it says that the water cannot transgress. This actually is not the case with the pycnocline, nor is it the case with even the image is given in the Islamic Center of Peoria site, which Nadir invited us to see. Actually the water can transgress, and there is some mixing. If you read texts on the pycnocline and oceanography, it is somewhat of a leaky barrier. The other verse that Nadir called to witness was Soorat al-Furqaan - al-Furqaan - I'm sorry, I'm choking here, I need to get a glass of water - it essentially says that the barrier is inviolable, that it cannot be transgressed, it cannot be passed. And again, this is not the case with the pycnocline. Am I claiming that the Qur'an is in error? No. Actually I will not be making any claims of that sort today, and I will explain why right before I close. What I am saying is that the phenomenon of the pycnocline does allow some mixing; it does allow some transgression. The verses of the Qur'an that Nadir called to witness state that there is no transgression of the water, there is no passing, that the barrier is inviolable, that it cannot be violated, it cannot be passed. So for these reasons I think it is reasonable to say that (a) the Qur'an is not necessarily referring to the phenomenon of the pycnocline; (b) if it is, Aristotle himself made reference to this, in a very minor way. So for these reasons I think that the issue of the barrier between salt water, between two seas, is not necessarily a proof in itself of the Qur'an being the word of God.
Now his fifth piece of evidence was the issue of the bottom of a dark sea. Actually a number of texts, pre-Islamic texts, mention dark seas. This is in Soorat an-Noor and it mentions a dark sea; it does not necessarily say at a thousand feet, which is something that Nadir said [is from] science, but you might get the impression that he was saying that the Qur'an gives that depth. It actually does not say anything about depth whatsoever. What the Qur'an says is simply that, imagine yourself in a dark sea, with clouds overhead, layers upon layers of darkness. There is no light, you could put your hand in front of your face, and of course this is supposed to be, as he said, the analogy for what it is like to be a disbeliever. And it goes on to say that for those who Allaah does not provide light, there is no light, and so too for those who Allaah does not guide there is no guidance is the analogy.
Now the question, first off, is: is this something that no human being at the time could have known? I think the answer is no. I think it is quite possible. For example, I used to go to
His sixth piece of evidence was from Soorat ar-Room, which talks about the near land. He noted that it can also be translated the lowest land and asked if this is a coincidence. He pointed out that
Okay, moving quickly to his seventh piece of evidence, it was with regard to iron in Soorat al-Hadeed. And in this verse what it says is, it does say that iron is sent down, but the word it uses for "we sent down" is anzalnaa. It is from the nun-zain-lam root, which of course means to descend, or in the way that it is being used [here], to cause to descend. Now, also note that elsewhere in the Qur'an this verbal root is used in many places in the Qur'an. I am only going to give a couple. For example, in Soorat al-Baqara, that is the second chapter of the Qur'an, the 176th verse, it talks about sending down the book, and again, the exact same word is used, or the exact same verb is used, from the nun-zain-lam root. And they talk about sending downt the book and the book is a reference to the Qur'an. Now does this mean that the Qur'an actually fell out of the sky in the form of a book? No. It is according to Islamic tradition, quite the contrary - it was sent down by an angel not in book form, but through revelations and stuff like that. A better example might be in Soorat al-Araf, the seventh chapter of the Qur'an, the 26th verse, talks about sending down clothing to Adam and Eve. Was clothing literally dropped out of the sky? I do not think that is what it is saying.
Nadir mentioned Hans Wehr's dictionary, if you look up the nun-zain-lam root, we will call it the NZL root, if you look up this root, it can also mean in a general sense something that was given of God. So what Soorat al-Hadeed, the relevant verse that Nadir brought up is saying, is look at iron, God sent down iron or God gave us iron, and it has great strength and it has many uses. Now I do not think this is necessarily something that no human being could have uttered. Actually, a very pious monotheist man, and I am assuming that if - I am not claiming that the Qur'an was written by a man, but if it was written by a man, it was clearly, based on the way it is written, the way it reads, it was clearly written by a very pious monotheist man, or men, plural. Whoever wrote the Qur'an was someone very dedicated [to God], if it was not written by God. Is it possible for a person who is passionate about his monotheism to believe that God gave us iron and that it has great strength and many uses? Yes, it is absolutely possible, and as I have pointed out with the two verses, the verb does not necessarily have to mean literally sending down. It can also mean it just in a figurative sense. For example, if you look at Arabic translations of the Bible, Arabic translations of Luke 1:52, when it talks about God causing the mighty to fall from their thrones, the word used is nazala, again from the same root. Now I do not think this means he literally caused them to fall out of their thrones. It is being used in a figurative sense, that being brought down.
Nonetheless, what the issue here is, is that iron, as Nadir pointed out, cannot be produced on earth. What this has to do with is a process - I am not actually very familiar with metalurgy and this sort of thing - but has to do with nucleosynthesis and the binding energy of given elements. It turns out that the binding energy of certain elements is so high that it cannot be produced on earth. It has to be produced on a star, the sun or for most elements, stars outside of our solar system. Our earth can only produce helium. So what is the case with iron is actually the case with every element, with the exception of helium: it had to have come down from off the earth. Is it possible that a human being who does not know this could say something that could be correlated with that fact? Yes.
The issue of binding energy has only come up recently. Nonetheless, in the 19th century, actually the very end of the first half of the 1800s, around 1850, Walt Whitman wrote a poem called "Song of Myself." In that poem he said "I believe the leaf of grass is no less than the journey work of the stars." I will repeat that again: "I believe the leaf of grass is no less than the journey work of the stars." That statement actually is true, because every element you will find in a leaf, especially a leaf of grass and just about anything else on this earth, every single element of it came from some star. It was not produced on earth. The binding energy of all those elements is increasingly high. Now, did Walt Whitman know about binding energy? No. Did he say a statement that could be correlated with that aspect of science? Yes. So the question is, is it possible for a person to say something that can be correlated with science? I think the answer is yes. Does the fact that we can later correlate a statement with science mean that the author originally intended it to be a reference to that? No. And that is what we have to keep in mind here. I think that with what I have talked about here, it is possible for someone, particularly someone very pious, to say what was said in Soorat al-Hadeed.
Finally, the very last issue is uhh... I'm sorry, I actually forgot... oh wait, it was falak, it was the orbits - I apologize for losing my train of thought there. The final piece of evidence that Nadir brought up was the issue of orbits. And he points out that there is a verse that the [sun] and the moon each have an orbit. Now he pointed out that it does not say that they orbit around the earth. I agree a hundred percent. Of course it does not say that they do not specifically. What the issue is here is falak means circular, so what it is saying - he pulled it out of the verse in Soorat al-Anbiyya, the twenty-first Soora - what the verse is saying is simply that the earth and the moon have an orbit. It does not give us any more on that. Did people before the Qur'an believe that the sun and the moon followed each their own orbit? Yes. Ptolemy believed this, Artistotle believe this - a number of people believed this.
Of course what they believed, for example Ptolemy believed they went around the earth or around some other ball of fire, at the center of the universe or something like that. Nonetheless a number of people prior to the Qur'an believed that the sun and the moon each had an orbit. And that is all the Qur'an says. Did people believe that before the Qur'an? Yes. Am I claiming that the Qur'an plagiarized this from them? Absolutely not. But I am saying that the simple statement the sun and the moon each have an orbit, assuming that is what the Qur'an is saying, has been uttered by people before the Qur'an. People who were not divinely inspired, or at least I do not believe someone like Ptolemy was divinely inspired - I could be wrong. So that statement, is it possible, that is the question I keep having to ask, is it possible that a human being could have uttered this statement? Yes, it is absolutely possible. Therefore, I think, we can conclude this verses does not necessarily, in itself, serve as proof that the Qur'an is the word of God.
So I have covered his eight pieces of evidence, and now I just want to get to one last point. Nadir asked the question, how is it that if the Qur'an was copying from people, and of course I am not claiming that it was copying from anybody, that it could get all the things right from the sea of error, pulled out all the right things, but did not pull any of the errors. I think this is an unfortunate question, or, excuse me, an unfair question, because I actually vowed not to make any claims about the Qur'an being in error, nor am I going to make any claims about the Qur'an being in error in any part. The reason is because I do not really believe that in a religious text you can have errors.
A fine example of this is the Bible. If you look at Genesis, the way a literal reading of Genesis compares with what scientists believe about the origins of the universe seems strikingly different. So differenly, in fact, that a number of people have sided with science, and have lost their faith and abandoned Christianity, and on the other side there have been a number of fundamentalist Christians who have actually tried to deny what science claims about the Big Bang, et cetera. So, is the book of Genesis in error if science is true? No, not necessarily. Why? Because a number of physicists in Israel, Nathan Aviezer comes to mind and there are a couple others - if people email me, I will give my email before I close, or you can go to the web site that I mentioned - if people contact me I can give the exact citations. There are a number of physicists in
So in order for a text, like the Qur'an or even the Bible, to be in error, it boils down to a matter of interpretation. No text is alive without the reader. So if I were to say the Qur'an is in error, or the Qur'an contradicts science, what I would really be saying is my interpretation of this verse from the Qur'an conflicts with science, and then all you have to do is give a different interpretation. So therefore I do not believe there are any errors in a religious text because a religious text is only alive in the mind of the reader who is reading it. The errors are only in your interpretation. Claiming there are errors in the Qur'an or the Bible tells you more about the person than it does about the text. So I think it is an unfair point to ask how did the Qur'an manage to do this without having any errors. I am already presupposing that it has no errors and I am presupposing similar things about other texts. So I will not be responding to that question tonight and I hope that does not upset Nadir, but that is actually my position. I do not think it can be proven that there are errors in a religious text, nor will I try.
With that I am going to close. I hope that I was not too incoherent here. But I am going to give up the mic and I hope it was clear and I apologize if anyone was offended or thought that was too rude or too quick. Nonetheless, I look forward to Nadir's rebuttal. Thank you very much.