The Koran: For or Against Science?

Question from Sabri:
I just need specific Aias from the Koran against science and knowledge? Please, and if possible in Arabic, if not its ok. Thank you.

Answer by SmartLX:
I couldn’t pin down the word “Aias”, but I assume you’re looking for the Koranic equivalent of Biblical “verses” which speak against science.

I think you’re out of luck, because the Koran says very little about science and knowledge – and where Mohammed and friends are quoted on the subject (whether in the Koran or the hadith, I haven’t confirmed) they seem quite in favour of the pursuit of knowledge:
“A person who follows a path for acquiring knowledge, Allah will make easy the passage to Paradise for him.”
“A Muslim will not tire of knowledge until he reaches Heaven.”
“The ink of a scholar is more holy than the blood of a martyr.”

Many Muslims go further than that. They proudly declare Islam’s supposed scientific superiority, and furthermore claim that the truth of Islam is vindicated, by pointing to parts of the Koran which they say accurately describe scientific phenomena only recently discovered by modern science. The YouTube channel TheIslamMiracle does a very good job of debunking this idea by tackling each claim individually.

Anyway, there are two main sources of Muslim opposition or indifference to science, both of which certainly have their equivalents in other religions.
1. Some branches of science regularly contradict the factual claims of the Koran. An obvious example is evolution, because the Koran roughly recounts the six-day creation story of Genesis. This, many Muslims decide, cannot be allowed to stand.
2. A Muslim who is pursuing science is not, at that exact moment, studying Islamic doctrine. Muslim childhood education commonly emphasises religious education and indoctrination above all else (even more than most Christian-centric curricula) such that children in Muslim schools may get the impression that they don’t need to know much else. This kind of environment tends not to produce a high proportion of scientifically literate adults, at least by secular standards.

Leaving Islam as a Teenager

Question from Ayesha:
Hi,

I feel the need to clarify that I am a teenager who used to be a Muslim, until recently when I just couldn’t pretend to myself that I believed in a God. Many of my friends know, and they don’t mind. The thing is my mother is completely religious and if she knew I was an atheist… well I don’t know. I want to tell her but I don’t know how to bring my point across without flushing and ending up looking confused.

I suppose what I’m trying to ask is how does one go about trying to make others understand that your life isn’t just determined on your religion status and how to truly explain to someone – in my case, my mother – that just because you don’t believe in a God doesn’t automaticially make you a bad person? How would I tell her?

Answer by SmartLX:
If I were to take your question at face value, it would be truly tragic. Do you really think that your mother, who’s known you all your life, would suddenly and completely invert her view of you if she knew you’ve lost your faith? I hope she knows you better than that. You’re still the same person.

I’m not saying she won’t have a strong reaction, I just don’t think that’ll be it. My guess is that she’ll ultimately be afraid for you. Not only will you be inviting Allah’s wrath from her perspective, but other Muslims might become very aggressive towards you. Even “moderate” Muslims believe (and can often be made to admit) that the proper penalty for apostasy (leaving the faith) is death. Even in a country where people don’t usually follow through with that, they may feel justified in victimising quitters in other ways.

If you decide you do want to tell her, firstly it’s entirely up to you when you do it, and a lot of people roughly in your position do it after they’ve left home. Depending on the rules of your family you may not be able to leave home by yourself, but consider the timing carefully regardless.

When you get around to it, let her know you’re open to questions. She’ll have many, even if she doesn’t ask any, and foremost among them will be, “Why?” It could also be a while before she asks anything because she might have to calm down first.

She’s likely to suggest various methods of restoring your faith, for example increased mosque attendance, Muslim camps (I’m guessing) and other group activities. You know what’s available better than I do. If you don’t want to be put through this, have ready explanations of why they won’t work. This might not actually save you, but it will lessen her shock and frustration when you return unmoved.

Ultimately I’m trying to advise one person I don’t know about dealing with another person I don’t know, and there’s only so much I can predict about what will happen. (I don’t know how proper Dear Abby columnists do it every week.) I think it’ll help others if we know what happens to you, so if you go ahead with all this please let us know how you go in a comment. Best of luck.

Cloudy With A 15% Chance of God

Question from Anonymous:
To whoever receives this message,

I was raised from birth as a Muslim, but as I began to study science, the stories that are told- such as Noah’s ark, Jesus, Moses etc.- seemed, well, improbable. I’m on the verge of becoming an atheist but there’s a couple of questions which I can’t seem to answer using scientific thought, I am after all only a second year university student. I feel as if I can’t just quit my religion without being at least 98% certain that there is most likely no God (I understand God can’t be entirely disproven, much in the same case the flying spaghetti monster can’t be either 😛 ). I’m hoping you’re able to.

The first is:

1. How could the universe begin if there was no creator that has been around since the beginning of time?
– Because if you can deny the creator, you can’t deny that at the very least energy would have had to have been around and had to have existed since the beginning of everything, and in this case:

Would energy be God? Can energy be God? Does this mean energy cares about what human beings do?

2. Life ceases to make sense, there is no drive, does this mean there is no point in life ultimately?
-I understand from an evolutionary perspective it is imperative we believe there is a reason to live. Humans are very reliant on being self centered and believing that everything must be about them. But I don’t like the idea of everything- this temporary struggle- to be about nothing.

3. Can you explain in terms of evolution how a new sexually producing species can be formed- in the sense that once the mutation occurs to cause a change in the species inside of a member of a population, how a male and a female version of the same different ‘evolved’ species (that has become reproductively isolated) is able to ‘come about’ at the same time in order to allow a continuation of this new, evolved species?
^ If I’ve explained that right, this is really dependent on chance and perhaps increases the likelihood of a God-like influence on the construction of a new species.

At the moment I’m at a 60-85% sure point that God doesn’t exist– it varies depending on the day, as I’m sure you would understand if you have been brought up on another faith, it is rather hard to get rid of that part of you which stubbornly doesn’t want to change no matter what the facts are.

Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions. I truly appreciate it. Oh, and HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Answer by SmartLX:
I’ve never known anyone with such a specific threshold for the probability of the existence or non-existence of a god (other than those futilely seeking certainty). Perhaps we should all be as demanding of reality, and employ this brand of aggressive curiosity.

Anyway, let’s see if we can help you out.

1. It’s possible that the universe has always been around in some form, just as the creator god is assumed to have been. Indeed, it’s the simplest inference from the commonly understood law of conservation, which states that matter and energy cannot be created or destroyed. According to that, matter exists now, therefore it always has, and the Big Bang was just one event in an ongoing timeline. No creator is necessary in this case. As for the matter/energy which may always have existed, we have no reason to suppose that it’s anything like a god itself – that it answers prayers, or cares about humans at all.

On the other hand, it’s also possible that the universe really did emerge from nothing, because quantum physics strongly infer that what we think of as “nothing” is highly unstable and generates new particles all the time. If you want to research this scenario, read A Universe From Nothing by Lawrence Krauss. (If you instead interpret this to mean that the “nothing” is really something, that changes little because it’s still an unintelligent object which renders a creator god unnecessary.)

2. You may not like the idea that we have no divinely bestowed purpose, but how does your personal taste for an idea (or anyone else’s) affect whether it’s true or false? The universe does not owe us comfort.

Evolution has endowed us with a strong survival instinct, yes, but it is not the only reason we have for existing. We give ourselves plenty of other reasons: science, art, the pursuit of happiness, the care of other creatures, each other and so on.

Any divine purpose which has ever been proposed appears to have actually been invented by humans anyway, so I think it’s better to be honest about it. Other theists maintain the vague belief that God has a purpose for them, but they’re not meant to know what it is. What’s the point of that, besides generating an unsupported sense of self-importance?

3. New species do not evolve as individuals, but as populations. The shared genome changes very, very slowly over hundreds or thousands of generations, and beneficial mutations spread across the group through new offspring. Both genders come along for the ride; gender is determined by a single chromosome, and the rest of the DNA is pretty much identical. Once the population has become different enough on average to qualify as a different species than it was before, there are plenty of new males and females around.

Happy new year to you too.

Atheism and Islam

Question from Michael:
I have a few friends of mine who were discussing Islam with me. They had points to defend Islam such as; Predictions about scientific phenomenons that were not discovered till this century or the century before. They also have points like the validity of the Quran as its literature is of high eloquence. Its hard to debate with them as they are biased and dont approach atheism with an open mind. Any help with points to prove that atheism is valid especially when in regard to Islam would be greatly appreciated.

Answer by SmartLX:
My existing piece on prophecies uses exclusively Christian examples, but the core argument applies perfectly well to material from the Quran. Cases of scientific foreknowledge usually go into category 4, Shoehorned.

I’ve been decidedly outdone in this area by YouTube user TheIslammiracle. In his playlist of Quran Miracle Debunked videos, he systematically tears down 50 separate claims of the Quran’s divine foreknowledge of modern science. If your friends aren’t being specific, it may be simplest just to point them to that playlist. If on the other hand they’re being specific enough that what they say isn’t covered in the videos, put more detail in a comment here and we’ll try to help out.

The eloquence of the Quran leads into two different arguments for Islam, the first bolder than the second:

1. As the Quran itself says, “Bring one sura or just one verse like it, if you can!” or in other words, it’s so beautiful that no human literature can match it, so it must be divine. This is entirely subjective, and has been flatly denied (scroll to the section on Eloquence) by many scholars over centuries.

2. The Quran came out of a time, a place and a people so savage and primitive (Muhammed himself was likely illiterate) that only divine assistance could have produced such competent prose. I think I’ll let you come up with possible alternatives to this yourself.

More generally, if you want to be prepared to defend atheism against Islamic apologetics, go and research Christian apologetics. There is tons and tons of overlap, and there’s a lot more Christian stuff written in English. Start with the rest of my series on The Great Big Arguments; every one of them applies to Islam in some way, and just the titles will give you plenty of leads for wider Googling and reading.

If you need help with any particular point, feel free to write in again.