The Conquest of Space
Bucaille's was a curious story: he was a successful gastroenterologist and amateur Egyptologist who was raised a Christian in France. Amongst his prestigious patients, a position as doctor to Egyptian president Anwar Sadat led to him making detailed study of mummies as well as exposure to Islam. He apparently concluded based on comparing Quranic accounts to the injuries inflicted on mummies that the Quran was historically and scientifically accurate, and wrote books including The Quran, the Bible and Science and The Origin of Man setting out his views about how the Quran prefigures scientific truth. Although his relation to scientific truth is questionable: he opposes Darwinism and particularly the idea that man evolved from apes. He seems particularly fond of arguing with people, whether egyptologists or Darwinists.
The Christian apologist William Campbell published a detailed critique of Bucaille's ideas, focused on The Quran, the Bible and Science. Some of Campbell's objections are questionable, such as Campbell's belief that Non-overlapping magisteria means the scientific truth of scriptures is irrelevant. However Campbell also sets out various examples of how claims such as "He turned to the heaven when it was smoke..." could be conceived as in accordance or contradiction with scriptures. He points out numerous problems with Bucaille's theories, from asking why God would stick random biological facts in the middle of unrelated narratives, to lengthy sections with headings like "The place of semen production".
It is commonly said that Bacaille converted to Islam as a result of his studies, but some people have contested that.. However there is no formal process to become a Muslim, or badge or certificate or public ceremony required, so the question may be hard to answer.
The following is a side-by-side rebuttal of claims in "The Conquest of Space".
|"The Conquest of Space", Maurice Bucaille:||RationalWiki:|
“”Interesting. I don´t remember NASA asking Allah for permission to go to the Moon, though.
|—Carmen R (Now a Koala)|
|From this point of view, three verses of the Qur'an should command our full attention. One expresses, without any trace of ambiguity, what man should and will achieve in this field. In the other two, God refers for the sake of the unbelievers in Makka to the surprise they would have if they were able to raise themselves up to the Heavens; He alludes to a hypothesis which will not be realized for the latter.||Oooh, scientific foreknowledge "without any trace of ambiguity"!|
|The first of these verses is sura 55, verse 33: "O assembly of Jinns and Men, if you can penetrate regions of the heavens and the earth, then penetrate them! You will not penetrate them save with a Power." The translation given here needs some explanatory comment: a) The word 'if' expresses in English a condition that is dependent upon a possibility and either an achievable or an unachievable hypothesis. Arabic is a language which is able to introduce a nuance into the condition which is much more explicit. There is one word to express the possibility (ida), another for the achievable hypothesis (in) and a third for the unachievable hypothesis expressed by the word (lau). The verse in question has it as an achievable hypothesis expressed by the word (in). The Qur'an therefore suggests the material possibility of a concrete realization. This subtle linguistic distinction formally rules out the purely mystic interpretation that some people have (quite wrongly) put on this verse.||The full Pickthall translation of Qur'an 55:33 is: "O company of jinn and men, if ye have power to penetrate (all) regions of the heavens and the earth, then penetrate (them)! Ye will never penetrate them save with (Our) sanction."
First, it should be noted that, in Islam, the "heavens" are a solid dome over a flat earth above which exist 7 separate heavens. To assert that this verse shows scientific foreknowledge is to ignore the rest of the Qur'an on "what's up there".
Second, this verse is part of a list of things that are impossible, to support the idea that death is inevitable and that resisting Allah is futile:
The fact that this sura is about the inevitability of Allah's will is supported by numerous tafsirs:
|b) God is addressing the spirits (jinn) and human beings (ins), and not essentially allegorical figures.||The entire section tries to convince people that Allah's will is inescapable, not imparting scientific knowledge. Even if the verse isn't metaphorical, it certainly isn't meant to be taken literally.|
|c) 'To penetrate' is the translation of the verb nafada followed by the preposition min. According to Kazimirski's dictionary, the phrase means 'to pass right through and come out on the other side of a body' (e.g. an arrow that comes out on the other side). It therefore suggests a deep penetration and emergence at the other end into the regions in question.||Qur'an 55:33 does have the phrase "أن تنفذوا (tanfudhu min)" which is often translated as "pass through", "penetrate", or similar. However, the precise translation doesn't change anything. First, this doesn't indicate that entering space is feasible. Second, if you want to get to the other side of the sky-dome, then obviously you have to pass all the way through -- going halfway would just mean getting stuck in the sky-dome.|
|d) The Power (sultan) these men will have to achieve this enterprise would seem to come from the All-Mighty.' There can be no doubt that this verse indicates the possibility men will one day achieve what we today call (perhaps rather improperly) 'the conquest of space'.||The statement "Ye will never penetrate them save with (Our) sanction" indicates that getting into space requires Allah's permission. We presume that Allah, in His infinite wisdom, allowed the heathen-led Soviet Union, United States, France, Japan, China, United Kingdom, European Space Agency, India, Israel, and Ukraine all to predate the first attempted launch by majority-Muslim Iran in 2009.|
|One must note that the text of the Qur'an predicts not only penetration through the regions of the Heavens, but also the Earth, i.e. the exploration of its depths.||Qur'an 55:33 challenges humans to explore all the "أقطار (aqtari)" of the Earth. Considering that aqtari is translated as "country, land, territory, [or] region", and the only countries/lands/territories on Earth are on the surface of the Earth, it's a bit of a stretch to imagine that the Qur'an is talking about spelunking and oceanic exploration. Furthermore, we're not sure how talking about exploring downward is scientific foreknowledge. Humans had already been mining into the Earth for millenia and that humans already knew there was probably something deeper than the surface of the ocean.|
|The other two verses are taken from [S]ura 15, (verses 14 and 15). God is speaking of the unbelievers in Makka, as the context of this passage in the sura shows: "Even if We opened unto them a gate to Heaven and they were to continue ascending therein, they would say: our sight is confused as in drunkenness. Nay, we are people bewitched." The above expresses astonishment at a remarkable spectacle, different from anything man could imagine.||The full Pickthall translation of Qur'an 15:14-15 is: "And even if We opened unto them a gate of heaven and they kept mounting through it, they would say: Our sight is wrong - nay, but we are folk bewitched.".
While Bucaille paints it as being about space, Qur'an 15:14-15 is actually about about how stubborn those nasty unbelievers are. Muhammad is saying that even if he opened up a portal into heaven and let unbelievers go through it, they still wouldn't believe that he's right. Multiple tafsirs support this interpretation:
|The conditional sentence is introduced here by the word lau which expresses a hypothesis that could never be realized as far as it concerned the people mentioned in these verses. When talking of the conquest of space therefore, we have two passages in the text of the Qur'an: one of them refers to what will one day become a reality thanks to the powers of intelligence and ingenuity God will give to man, and the other describes an event that the unbelievers in Makka will never witness, hence its character of a condition never to be realized.||Bucaille is flatly wrong about the first passage; the second is unrelated.|
|The event will however be seen by others, as intimated in the first verse quoted above. It describes the human reactions to the unexpected spectacle that travelers in space will see: their confused sight, as in drunkenness, the feeling of being bewitched... This is exactly how astronauts have experienced this remarkable adventure since the first human space flight around the world in 1961. It is known in actual fact how once one is above the Earth's atmosphere, the Heavens no longer have the azure appearance we see from Earth, which results from phenomena of absorption of the Sun's light into the layers of the atmosphere. The human observer in space above the Earth's atmosphere sees a black sky and the Earth seems to be surrounded by a halo of bluish color due to the same phenomena of absorption of light by the Earth's atmosphere. The Moon has no atmosphere, however, and therefore appears in its true colors against the black background of the sky. It is a completely new spectacle therefore that presents itself to men in space, and the photographs of this spectacle are well known to present-day man.||Yeah, space doesn't look the same as Earth. Big whoop. This is irrelevant, for two reasons:
First, Qur'an 15:14-15 isn't talking about space. It's talking about Heaven.Second, it's not scientific foreknowledge to imagine that space might look weird. No scientific knowledge is required to make such a prediction. This is even more true, given the Qur'an's lack of detail about what "space" looks like.
|Here again, it is difficult not to be impressed, when comparing the text of the Qur'an to the data of modern science, by statements that simply cannot be ascribed to the thought of a man who lived more than fourteen centuries ago.||We agree that the statement that it is possible to enter space cannot be ascribed to Muhammad, since he didn't say it.|
Summary of claim: The Qur'an accurately it's possible to exit the Earth's atmosphere and enter space, which looks weird, which would have been unknowable to contemporary science.
Does this statement meet all criteria necessary for Qur'anic scientific foreknowledge?
- Is it correct? Yes. It is possible to enter space.
- Is it in the Qur'an? No. The Qur'an is trying to drive home the point that Allah's will is inescapable and that unbelievers are stubborn bastards, not that it is possible to enter space.
- Is it unambiguous? No. The Qur'an does not describe space, describe what's between the surface and space, describe how to get up into space, or anything remotely useful to such a venture.
- Was it outside of contemporary knowledge? No. It was possible to imagine going "above" the sky-dome.
- Was it outside of contemporary technology? No. It was possible to imagine going "above" the sky-dome.
Thus, this statement is not an example of Qur'anic scientific foreknowledge.
- Other sources:
- Other rebuttals:
- All Wrapped Up In His Work, New York Times, 3 Feb 1991
- Maurice Bucaille
- Why I Embraced Islam?, The Islamic Bulletin, issue 6
- The Qur'an and the Bible in the light of history and science, William Campbell, 1.2
- The Qur'an and the Bible in the light of history and science, William Campbell, 4.2
- Is Dr. Maurice Bucaille a Muslim?, answering-islam.org
- How to Become a Muslim, WikiHow
- Bucaille, Maurice (n.d.). "THE CONQUEST OF SPACE". Islam101. http://www.islam101.com/science/space.html. Retrieved 12 February 2015.
- "QURAN(632AD) AND SCIENCE(TODAY)?". Yahoo! Inc.. 2011. https://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20110217102210AACSKAn. Retrieved 12 February 2015..
- See the Wikipedia article on Timeline of first orbital launches by country.