Islam and the “Big Bang”: A Refutation
The Basic Claim:
Islamic apologists attempt to claim that the “Big Bang” is actually described by the Qur’an in one of many miraculous displays of scientific precocity in text. Here, in a representative example of the claim, the Turkish apologist Adnan Oktar (writing under the pseudonym Harun Yayha) tells us:
Adnan Oktar wrote: The expansion of the universe is one of the most important pieces of evidence that the universe was created out of nothing. Although this was not discovered by science until the 20th century, Allah has informed us of this reality in the Qur’an revealed 1,400 years ago:
It is We Who have built the universe with (Our creative) power, and, verily, it is We Who are steadily expanding it. (Surat adh-Dhariyat: 47)
Another important aspect revealed in the Qur'an fourteen centuries before the modern discovery of the Big Bang and findings related to it is that when it was created, the universe occupied a very tiny volume:
Do those who are disbelievers not see that the heavens and the earth were sewn together and then We unstitched them and that We made from water every living thing? So will they not have faith? (Surat al-Anbiya': 30)
There is a very important choice of words in the original Arabic whose translation is given above. The word ratk translated as ‘sewn to’ means ‘mixed in each, blended’ in Arabic dictionaries. It is used to refer to two different substances that make up a whole. The phrase "we unstitched" is the verb fatk in Arabic and implies that something comes into being by tearing apart or destroying the structure of ratk. The sprouting of a seed from the soil is one of the actions to which this verb is applied.
Looking a Little Deeper:
The first important point to consider is the actual statements of the Qur’an, and whether they have been honestly presented. Oktar quotes the Qur’an as saying in 51:47 “It is We Who have built the universe with (Our creative) power, and, verily, it is We Who are steadily expanding it.”
Is that a fair translation of the aya in question?
Well, not according to the three most highly regarded English translations generally available. Their versions are:
In Al-Qur'an 051.047, Muhammad (or somebody) wrote:
YUSUFALI: With power and skill did We construct the Firmament: for it is We Who create the vastness of space.
PICKTHAL: We have built the heaven with might, and We it is Who make the vast extent (thereof).
SHAKIR: And the heaven, We raised it high with power, and most surely We are the makers of things ample.
Not one of them contains the idea of an ongoing expansion of the universe. In fact, none of them refers to the “universe” at all, but to the heavens or firmament, in contrast to the aya immediately following which discusses the earth:
Al-Qur'an 051.048, Muhammad (or somebody) wrote:
YUSUFALI: And We have spread out the (spacious) earth: How excellently We do spread out!
PICKTHAL: And the earth have We laid out, how gracious is the Spreader (thereof)!
SHAKIR: And the earth, We have made it a wide extent; how well have We then spread (it) out.
The dualism of the heaven and the earth is a recurring theme in the Qur’an, and to ancient Arabs they together would have been considered the entire universe. And generally, when one is referred to, the other marches right along with it in the repetitive pattern of most Arabic poetry.
The problem here is that since the identical verb forms and grammar are used, to include tense, how can Oktar claim the first aya refers to an ongoing, continuing expansion of the heavens, without also concluding that the second must also refer to an ongoing, continuing spreading of the earth?
Qur’anic cosmology is firmly geocentric, with the earth at the center of the universe surrounded by seven solid spheres (the “seven heavens”) within which orbited the stars, planets, sun and moon.
But here Oktar has deliberately and deceptively altered the meaning of 51:47 in three ways.
He has mistranslated “heaven” as “universe” in the attempt to make the Qur’an sound conceptually more sophisticated than it really is, and to provide a stronger basis for his second and more significant distortion.
He then not only translates the Arabic noun for “a vastness” into a verb meaning “expanding,” but he then adds the entirely superfluous adverb “steadily” in an attempt to insert into the Qur’an additional ideas that are not actually there. With these three translational liberties, Oktar has completely changed the meaning of this aya from a simple description of Allah’s creation of the heavens into a scientific statement of Hubble’s expanding universe that is not actually contained in the Qur’an.
Oktar’s misuse and abuse of al-Qur’an 21:30 is no more legitimate than his mutilation of 51:47 although at least his translation is more loyal to the original. In this case his primary tool for distortion comes from the decision to take this single aya completely out of context, and so disguise its actual (and obvious) meaning.
Here is the single verse as quoted by Oktar:
In his own translation of Al-Qur'an 021.030, Oktar wrote:
Do those who are disbelievers not see that the heavens and the earth were sewn together and then We unstitched them and that We made from water every living thing? So will they not have faith?
How convenient for his argument that he has not included the next two ayaat. Here are (again) the three most highly regarded translations of the three ayaat in question:
In Al-Qur'an, Muhammad (or somebody) wrote: 021.030
YUSUFALI: Do not the Unbelievers see that the heavens and the earth were joined together (as one unit of creation), before we clove them asunder? We made from water every living thing. Will they not then believe?
PICKTHAL: 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?
SHAKIR: Do not those who disbelieve see that the heavens and the earth were closed up, but We have opened them; and We have made of water everything living, will they not then believe?
YUSUFALI: And We have set on the earth mountains standing firm, lest it should shake with them, and We have made therein broad highways (between mountains) for them to pass through: that they may receive Guidance.
PICKTHAL: And We have placed in the earth firm hills lest it quake with them, and We have placed therein ravines as roads that haply they may find their way.
SHAKIR: And We have made great mountains in the earth lest it might be convulsed with them, and We have made in it wide ways that they may follow a right direction.
YUSUFALI: And We have made the heavens as a canopy well guarded: yet do they turn away from the Signs which these things (point to)!
PICKTHAL: And we have made the sky a roof withheld (from them). Yet they turn away from its portents.
SHAKIR: And We have made the heaven a guarded canopy and (yet) they turn aside from its signs.
Now that we have returned the verse to its actual context, let’s take a moment to contrast Oktar’s argument with what the Qur’an is actually describing. He claims that this is a description of the scientific fact that “when it was created, the universe occupied a very tiny volume.” In fact, there is no description all in this verse that could be interpreted at referring to volume in any sense.
But more importantly, Oktar is claiming that the “unstitching” of heaven and earth described here is a reference to the “Big Bang,” or the primordial creation of the universe. If this were the case, then the “earth” mentioned here can not refer to the planet Earth, as its creation was still billions of years in the future from the event Oktar claims is being described.
In other words, Oktar is implying (and many Muslim web sites and publications claim explicitly) that “earth” here means “matter,” and not the planet Earth itself.
But the very next verse proves that this cannot be true. For in that very next verse Allah is setting on that same “earth” mountains and highways. How could this be if the “earth” in these ayaat meant anything OTHER than the planet Earth? When you further consider that the next aya after that concerns the “heaven” as a “canopy” or “roof” to that same planet earth, then the idea that this verse is a description of the “big bang” becomes completely impossible.
These verses are exactly what they appear to be; they are a description of Allah’s creation of the planet Earth and the heavens above it, NOT a description of the creation of the universe as understood by modern science.
The idea that the heavens and earth were once joined and then separated by the activity of Gods and Goddesses was actually quite common among pagans of the Middle East. Among the Egyptians for example, it was the involuntary separation of Geb (the earth god) from his wife and sister Nut (the sky goddess) that was responsible for the division of the earth from the sky. The Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh likewise describes the moment “when the heavens had been separated from the earth, when the earth had been delimited from the heavens” as a result of the separation of a sky God (An) from a earth Goddess (Ki). If you remove the pagan references, you have the same story as found in the Qur’an.
Remember that in Muhammad’s day, the heavens and the earth WERE the entire universe. All the celestial bodies that could be observed were believed to reside within the concentric spheres of the “seven heavens.” The stars were even contained in the closest sphere to Earth in ignorance of the fact that their tiny size was simply an illusion caused by their great actual distance.
This truncated understanding of the universe is responsible for the fact that there is no actual discussion of the creation of a “universe” in the Qur’an at all. The Qur’an is completely silent on the “big bang” because it clearly has no awareness whatsoever of a universe that preexisted the creation of the planet Earth, or extended outwards into infinite space. It has no understanding of galaxies, or clusters of galaxies, or quasars or pulsars... any of the OTHER things that could have easily been mentioned by an omniscient Allah, and left us no room for quibbling.
And Muslim claims of miraculous scientific information in the Qur’an are shown to be, yet again, in error.
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