& KARL POPPER'S CRITICAL RATIONALISM
What thing is greatest in testimony? Say: God is witness between you and I, and
that this Koran has been inspired in me that I many warn with it you and
whomsoever it be conveyed to... (Koran 6:19)"
Religion throughout the history of humankind has had a tremendous hold on humanity. According to Emile Durkheim, the French Sociologist, the first organized institutions of mankind were religious in character. Even today, religion is of primary importance to millions of individuals who try to live by it and give it a special place in their lives. Therefore, any issue involving religion in today's world is worthy of discussion. Science, in its popular usage, is generally defined as the systematic observation of natural phenomena and their workings. Since the industrial revolution in the eighteenth century it is seen as the thing in control of human destiny and its future survival. Those who fail to utilize science and modern discovery are kept at the lowest strata of society in today's highly competitive world.
As today, both science and religion are widespread, each having dogmatic believers, antagonism has resulted. The common notion being that science and religion are opposites; i.e. they repel each other as like poles of a magnet. According to the sociologist Max Weber, in his article, Science as a vocation, science has resulted in the "disenchantment" of the world. The enchantment of the world was due to, according to him, people relying on religion and giving magical explanations to perfectly logical, natural phenomena.
This article attempts to use the Koran to examine Max Weber's claims about religion. The source of Islam is a book, just one book, the Koran. Modern Islam however has added other sources, which the Koran doesn't validate. The Koran, is historically the earliest written text we possess in the the Arabic language and as such is the only valid authority on Islam as conveyed by the prophet Muhammed. The other sources Hadith and Fiqh date from over 200 years after Muhammed's death. I will therefore not deal with these other sources as they do not historically represent the "original" Islam.
Within its text, the Koran names itself many times as a book revealed directly by God, in which God is speaking in the first person. The Koran says that true believers "reason about the origin of the heavens and the earth (Koran 3:190-191)." This itself is science by definition when done in a systematic way. According to the Koran, by applying science in this way a person gets to the truth by discovering the "nature of God [His Sunna- in Arabic]," as reflected by his creation and brought to mind by the Koran that claims to be his revelation. In constrast to the concept of a "supernatural", the Koran talks about nature and creation being an expression of God's attributes. We can therefore look inside the "Mind of God" so to speak by studying his creation.
The scientific system of inquiry is emphasized time and again by the Koran. The linking of science and rationality with the verses of the Koran is not only legitimized but also encouraged by God in the Koran. The Koran tells the reader that if he/she does not know something or are unsure they should ask"those who are informed (Koran 25:59)." In the case of all the scientific and natural phenomena discussed in the Koran, the people having knowledge and information would most definitely be the scientists. Thus the Koran discourages unreasoned belief.
Why I came to be interested in the scientific analysis of the Koran, is a long story that traverses my entire life after thirteen. It was at that age, while going through my father's closet, in the process of moving to a different city in Pakistan, that I discovered several English translations of the Koran. I was curious about this book. I had heard its name being raised in a so called "Islamic environment," yet no one ever told me what the book was about. In the society in which I grew up, most people claim to be Muslims, but they never read the Koran in a language they understand. They merely chant it in Arabic, which they have learned to read mechanically, but whose meaning they don't know. It would sound very unusual here, to the American culture, to be able to read in English but not understand a word of it. No one asked me to read the book, I read it because its daily reading made sense to me. It motivated me to question and I could confirm it with the little knowledge that I had from school at that time.
As time progressed, discussions with the people I met raised many questions regarding religion and its relation to science and reason. A human mind can never rest on uncertainty and so till I succeeded in my attempts to find answers to questions that arose in my mind, I was always restless. The results were amazing: Muslim tradition, i.e. fiqh and hadith, that have broken up Islam into sects, do not stand the test of science, but the Koran does indeed. The attitude that I carry with me even today, after over thirteen years of extensive research is that the day I find a confirmed scientific error in the Koran, I'll stop believing in it. Objectivity and concern for value-free truth demands that. I have yet to find one though, so I consider myself a Muslim at present. This attitude is encouraged by the Koran itself when it challenges people to find errors in it. In my daily life, whenever I read the Koran, I read it critically, trying to analyse it objectively; by doing so I'm following Koran 4:82:
"Do they not carefully consider the Koran. If it had been from anyone other than God, they would have found in it many contradictions."
If the Koran is indeed the word of the Creator, as it claims to be (Koran 4:166), then it must be error-free when it discusses details about proven facts of science, like description of stages in embryology. The Koran claims, to originate from the one who has "knowledge of everything" (Koran 20:98). Thus it implies complete inerrency.
The Koran encourages verifying its claims when it presents information. For example, the details about embryology in the Koran are presented in a fashion that would facilitate belief only after those verses have been checked by known findings. They are presented as a challenge: "If you are in doubt then (consider this).... (22:5 etc)"
The same is also witnessed throughout the Koran when the book makes statements like, "Do you not know.... (Or) Have you not seen and considered etc." Also consider all the falsification tests contained in the Koran, like the one which challenges people to produce a chapter comparable to the Book (Koran 2:23). All these legitimize and encourage a rational/scientific inquiry into the truthfulness of the Koran.
Maurice Bucaille, one of the first to popularize the linking of the Koran and Science, in his best selling books, The Bible, the Koran and Science, and What is the Origin of Man, concluded that given the history of the origin of the Koran, it could not have been the work of a man or group of men living in Arabia or anywhere else at that time, considering the nature of the scientific information in the Koran. Lecturing at the French Academy of Medicine, he concluded on the subject:
"It makes us deem it quite unthinkable for a man of Muhammed's time to have been the author of such statements on account of the state of knowledge in his day. Such considerations are what give the Koranic revelation its unique place and forces the impartial scientist to admit his inability to provide an explanation which calls solely on materialistic reasoning."(Bucaille 1985)
Keith Moore, head of the department of anatomy, at the University of Toronto, was shown verses of the Koran dealing with the microscopic stages of the human embryo. He was so surprised at what he found that he went back and revised the history of embryology in his standard texts on the subject. The books that Keith Moore authored are used at prestigious institutions like Yale and at universities all around the world. He stated, after being unable to provide an explanation on how microscopic details of the embryo could be accurately described in a book written before the discovery of the microscope:
"It is clear to me that these statements (in the Koran on embryology) must have come to Muhammad from God. This proves to me that Muhammed must have been the messenger of God or Allah." (Rehaili 1995)
Consider yourself an inhabitant of 7th Century Arabia. Society has very little scientific knowledge. Myth and magic control people's thoughts. How far would you go if you wanted to discover the true origin or the universe? How much progress would you make if you wanted to uncover the origin of life? We can move away from Arabia and scan the world scene at that period in history. Nothing in the literature of the world comes even remotely close to the scientific accuracy of statements about the natural world contained in the Koran. In fact some of the information that we come across in the Koran wasn't known till about 40 years back and some of it wasn't known until the day it was read in the Koran by scientists just a few years ago.
Since the Koran claims to originate with the one (God) who originated everything (Koran 55:2), and has knowledge of everything (Koran 20:98), we have every right to logically inquire if the originator of the earth and the heavens, in the knowledge that he gives us about them knows what we have discovered about their origin through modern science. The Koran can thus be scientifically tested in order to verify its claims.
The Koran exists in the world today. Therefore, if we do not accept the book's claim of being a revelation, then we must come up with an explanation as to its origin. The existence of the Koran cannot be denied. If we choose to deny it then we need to at least present a sound explanation to justify denial.
People who reject the Koran's claim throughout the ages have come up with explanations and theories as to the origin of the Koran. No matter what the details of the particular theory might be, they all reduce to basically two hypothesis:
i) Muhammad was a liar. He got his information from the outside and presented it to people as a revelation from God. The proponents of this hypothesis claim that the Koran was composed by Muhammad who "borrowed" information from other sources. Some even suggest that Muhammad was helped by a "group" of people to compose the Koran.
ii) The second hypothesis suggests that Muhammed was deceived or deluded in that he believed that he was a prophet when in fact he was not. To the people who offer this hypothesis, the Koran is the product of the "deluded" mind of Muhammed. Muhammad's hallucinations.
It may sound surprising but the book that is being attacked, the Koran, is also well aware of these two hypothesis that people have been presenting throughout the ages in trying to reject it:
Hypothesis 1 suggests that Muhammad was a liar. The Koran states:
"They (the rejecters) say: 'These are tales of the ancients, which he has caused to be written down so that they are dictated to him morning and evening (Koran 5:25)."
Hypothesis 2 suggests that Muhammed was self-deceived. The Koran states:
"The ones who reject almost trip you up by glaring at you when they hear The Reminder (Koran), and they say,' He is indeed deranged (Koran 68:51)."
Most people who present these hypotheses are forced to take them together in conjunction. Logically speaking however, both these hypothesis are mutually exclusive and cannot be taken together. They can stand on their own, if facts support them, but taken together they collapse. As an example: If a man is a liar (Hypothesis 1) then when someone asks the man a question, he has to search for the answer. He looks either within himself for the answer or asks his friends in secrecy so that he can give the inquirer a satisfactory response. He knows that he is not a prophet so he has to lie to convince the questioner. On the other hand, if the man is deluded (Hypothesis 2) then when someone asks the man a question, he does not search for the answer, if he doesn't know it. He is deluded, self-deceived, he believes he is a prophet and the answer will be given to him by revelation.
To repeat the above, if the man is a liar, he knows he is not a prophet and investigation can provide evidence as to where the material came from, but if he is deluded, even though the material presented is his own hallucinations, still he cannot be termed a liar for he believes he is a prophet. If a man is a liar then he is not self-deceived, if he is self- deceived then he is not a liar. Therefore Hypothesis 1 and Hypothesis 2 cannot be mixed up in explaining the Koran. However, what we see is that people need both excuses to explain certain things in the Koran. They often start by presenting Hypothesis 1 (Muhammed was a liar) and end up with Hypothesis 2 (Muhammed was self-deceived), i.e. Muhammed was a liar and self-deceived. This cannot be, logically speaking as we have seen above.
It may again surprise you but the Koran is also aware of this illogical stand that people take by terming Muhammad both a liar and self deluded. The Koran states:
" And they have turned away and said, 'One taught (by others), and a madman (44:14)." ).
The Koran can be Hypothesis (1) i.e. the product of a liar, or Hypothesis (2) i.e. the product of a deceived mind, or it can be what it claims to be, i.e. God's revelation; but it can never be both Hypothesis 1 and Hypothesis 2 at the same time.
Hypothesis 1 and its implications: If the Koran is the product of a man's mind who is a "liar", who got his information from the outside and then presented it to the world as a revelation then:
1. We have to explain the confidence portrayed by the various statements in the Koran. A confidence that shows that whosoever is presenting this is convinced that he indeed has the truth. As examples: a) The Koran challenges people to find a mistake in the book by its claim that if God was not the author many mistakes would be found in it (Koran4:82) Now only a person who is convinced about what he has can make such a claim. Do you know of any book that makes a claim that it doesn't contain any errors and that if it had a human origin it would contain many. The Bible never makes such a claim.
b) Another example would be the invitation given to Christians who dispute with Muslims about the nature of Jesus as presented in the Koran. The verse says:
"Come let us call our sons and your sons...our families and your families and let us ask God to curse the ones who are lying (about the true information on Jesus) (Koran 3:61)."
This shows that whoever is presenting this is confident and sure that he has the truth on which the challenge is based.
c) Another example of this confidence that a liar is incapable of portraying, is the account of when the Meccans who wanted to kill Muhammad came unto the mouth of the cave in which he and his friend Abu-Bakr were hiding. Abu-Bakr was afraid, Muhammed told him to "relax", "God will save us," he told him. Now if the man is a liar, one who lies to convince people that he is a prophet, you might expect him to say, "Go and look for a back way out," or "lie low and be quiet." But what he actually said shows that he had no doubt that he was a prophet and that God would save them.Hypothesis 1 cannot explain these in the Koran.
2. If the Koran is a lie, the product of a man's lying mind, how do you account for the following: The Koran claims that it contains information that was "new" to the people it was being read to. Now the Meccans hated Muhammad, if this statement in the Koran was not true and the information was not "new" they would have loved to point out the source. Yet they never answered this challenge to produce similar "knowledge" as the Koran (chapter 46: verse 4)
As proof of the above, I'll give two examples:
1. The Koran mentions the wall of "Zulqarnain," the two-horned one. It gives a complete description of this wall and how it was built to protect a people from outside invaders (Koran 18:96-98). The Arabs had never heard of it, or what it looked like, neither had the Arab Jews or the Arab Christians. Now, after the death of the prophet, they were curious about this wall mentioned in the Koran. Omar the Khalif sent out travelers to verify the existence of this wall. It is in Durbent in the former Soviet Union. It is referred to as Alexander's wall however modern historians dispute on whether Alexander had anything to do with it.
Compare what the Koran said over fourteen centuries back, before any Arab had set foot on Derbent to what the Columbia Encyclopaedia says:
"Derbent was founded (A.D 438) by the Persians as a strategic fortress at the Iron Gates. There are remains of the Caucasian Wall (also called Alexander's Wall), built by the Persians in the 6th century. as a bulwark against northern invaders. (6th Edition, 2000)."
If Muhammed was a liar, who told him about this wall thousands of miles to the east, about which no one in his area knew anything?
2. The Koran mentions a city by the name of Iram where a prosperous people the AAD lived. It was a city of "tall pillars":
"Have you seen how your sustainer (God) dealt with the Aad people? Iram, of the lofty pillars (Koran 89:8-8)"
Until very recently no historic or non-historic record existed about Iram. However in 1973, the ancient city of Ebla was excavated in Syria. While going through the tablet library of Ebla archaeologists came across a list of cities that Ebla traded with and on that list was a city named Iram. When reporting it in the National Geographic of December 1978, the only reference to Iram they could cite other than the tablets was the Koran, chapter 89.
In 1992 using SIR-C imaging [Synthetic Aperture Radar] using the Space Shuttle, GPR [Ground Penetrating Radar] and GMT [Geophysical Diffraction Tomography], scientists discovered Iram [also called Ubar] in southern Oman, buried under 12 meters of sand. The city contained evidence of "tall pillars" exactly as mentioned in the Koran chapter 89. The Koran described this fact, over fourteen centuries back at a time when no one in the world could have had access to this city. Now, if Muhammad was a liar where did he get this information?
Hypothesis 2 and its implications:
Hypothesis 2 suggests that the Koran is the product of a man's deluded mind. If the Koran is a product of a man's hallucinations then what comes out as a result are things that are in his mind. What do you think went on in Muhammed's mind? He didn't have an easy life. He was an orphan to start with, then his grandfather who looked after him died, then his uncle who adopted him died as well. After that, his life companion, his wife of 24 years Khatija died. All his children except for one daughter died in his lifetime. Does the Koran reflect any of this? It doesn't even mention these things at all. Yet these were the things that surely bothered him and caused him pain through his whole life, but they never show up in a book, which is said to be the product of his deluded mind!
In fact, the information contained in the Koran is such that no man living anywhere in the 7th century could have known it. I'll give some examples, which should make the point clear:
1. THE ORIGIN OF LIFE
The Koran mentions that all life originated from water (Koran 21:30) and that man himself is "created" of water and so are all the animals on earth (Koran 25:54, and 24:45). Now these statements to an Arab would have sounded atrocious in that day and age. Even today such statements in the Koran might cause you to wonder if scientific facts about them are unknown. The fact that all life originated in water is well established by the scientific community today. They have evidence to support the fact that the first living beings were algae, and they existed in water. The fact that human beings and animals are created of water is also well established since cytoplasm the basic component of "life" in any animal cell is over 80% water.
The Koran mentions that a human being reaches full maturity at age forty (Koran 46:15). This is a very unusual statement. Even today most people accept that full maturity is reached at puberty and laws usually put it between 18 to 21. However, the Koran is scientifically correct where even modern laws are inaccurate. If we analyze the statement based on psychological tests conducted by scientisits, what we find is that the "overall quantity of stored knowledge in the mind of an individual reaches a peak at age thirty-nine and after that it gradually declines." Arthur C. Guyton, in his standard textbook on physiology, Physiology of the Human Body
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