Science in Quran: Ambiguity of Human Embryology
12 May, 2007
Although, the world’s history tells us that no religion can boast/demand any credit for the advancement of modern science, at least one religion “Islam” very recently started futile/meaningless propaganda of the possession of scientific theories from the divine source. This unique and untrue claim has been carefully orchestrated and manipulated by some unscrupulous Muslims with the help of two western medical scientists mainly for three purposes: (a) to continue monopoly business of Saudi Kingdom’s revenue from Hajj pilgrimage; (b) to rejuvenate Islamic fundamentalism; and (c) to earn easy money by those two western scientists. Readers please read the NFB’s article, titled: Religion, Science and Bogus claims”, dated Feb. 8, 2000, by Khurshed Chowdhury. Fact of the matter is, religion and Science are two completely opposite subjects having rivalry and contradictions from the dawn of the human civilization. Readers please also read a very well written NFB article, dated: 4/21/00, titled: “Religion and Science” by Mr. Nurul I. Mukul.
However, it is the intention of this essay to examine what exactly was known about the human origin at the time of 7th century period in order to see whether any of the theories expressed in the Qur'an were true or indeed well known before this time.
There are at least 60 verses which deal explicitly with human origin and developmental sequences inside the womb, but these are scattered throughout the Qur'an and many of the them are repeated over and over again, as is common to much of the book. An useful place to begin would be the material out of which we are created. Although, one would expect the Qur'an to be unambiguous about such an elementary matter, but the verses listed show just how much uncertainty there appears to be in our origins. Note that except where indicated the translation used is the translation of Yusuf Ali (Saudi Revised Edition).
Below are some Quranic Ayats regarding origin of man
Could it be from earth?
11:61 It is He Who hath produced you from the earth
Or dry clay (Arabic Salsaal)?
15:26,28,33 We created man from sounding clay
17:61 ... Thou didst create from clay
32:7 He began the creation of man from clay
Did we come from mud?
We created man from a product of wet earth (loam) (Pickthall)
23:12 Man We did create from a quintessence (of clay)
38:71 I am about to create a mortal out of mire
Could it be dust?
He created (Jesus) out of dust
30:20 He created you from dust
35:11 Allah did create you from dust ....
The metaphorical description of God making man out of the soil of the earth is ancient and predates the Qur'an by thousands of years; it is found in the Bible in Genesis 2:7. If this was literal it would be in direct scientific conflict with evolutionists who maintain that life was created out of the oceans,
Did we come from nothing?
19:67 We created him before out of nothing
No, we did not!
52:35 Were they created of nothing?
(Note the contradiction here).
25:54 It is He Who has created man from water
21:30 We made you from water
24:45 And God has created every animals from water
Thew Arabic word Nutfah was translated as ‘water’ by present day apologetics, but in older translated Quran both in Bengali and English the word Nutfah was translated as ‘neglected water’ (Tuuchcha pani) meaning semen.
Perhaps we arose from the dead or from one person?
30:19 It is He who brings out the living from the dead
39:6 He created you from a single Person
4:1 Your guardian lord, created you from a single person
The drop of fluid or semen
In a number of places we are informed that man is created from a drop of fluid (semen, seed ):
In the verses listed below ‘ nutfah’ is used when describing the fluid which gushes out during sexual intercourse and clearly this can only refer to semen.
He created man from a drop of fluid (Pickthall)
16:4 He has created man from a semen( sperm) -drop
32:8 He made his seed from a quintessence of despised fluid
35:11 ...then from a little fluid (Pickthall)
(he created) from a drop of seed when it is poured forth
53:46 From a sperm-drop when lodged (in its place)
56:58 Have ye seen that which ye emit (Pickthall)
56:58 Do you then see? The (human Seed) that ye emit
75:37 Was he not a drop of fluid which gushed forth (Pickthall)
75:37 Was he not a drop of sperm emitted (in lowly form)?
76:2 We create man from a drop of thickened fluid (Pickthall)
76:2 We created Man from a drop of mingled semen (sperm)
80:19 From a semen-drop (sperm) He hath created him
Could any of this have been known to sixth-century Muslims at the time of Prophet Muhammed ? Surely that procreation involves the emission of a drop of fluid has been well known from the earliest days of civilization.
The verses which describe the origin of life as a drop of emitted fluid are therefore no more than a direct observation as to what is released during the act of sexual intercourse. We hardly need to rely upon divine inspiration to inform us of this fact. An illiterate man who never heard about Quran can tell about this ‘emitted fluid’ from male, or even a 12 year old boy can tell how and why child is created in the womb of a mother.
The Qur'an emphatically does not mention sperm or eggs; it simply says nutfah. This can reasonably be translated semen, or at best as germinal fluid - which was a term used as early as Hippocrates  who spoke of male and female reproductive fluids (but obviously could not have been aware of the cells contained in the fluids).
Prof. Moore by his wishful intention translated nutfah as germinal fluid, he inadvertently reinforces that the Qur'an is borrowing this term from the Greeks.
Borrowing erroneous Greek ideas
Sura- (86:6-7) “He is created from a drop emitted - proceeding from between the backbone and the ribs”
Sura- (7:172) "when thy Lord drew forth from the Children of Adam - from their loins - their descendants" or
Sura- (4:23) "prohibited to you (for marriage) are ... wives of your sons proceeding from your loins".
In the Quranic translation by Maulana Fazlur Rahman Munshi, the Ayat (86:6-7) were translated as: semen are produced from the back of a man and from the breasts (mammary glands) of an woman.
Sura 86:6-7 : is interesting since it claims that during the act of sexual intercourse before which a man is created, the "gushing fluid" or semen issues from between the loins and ribs. Semen is apparently coming out of the area around the kidneys and back, which is a real scientific mistake for we know that the testicles are the sites of sperm production (although the ancient Greeks were not so convinced. Aristotle for example amusingly believed that they functioned as weights to keep the seminal passages open during sexual intercourse ).
The Greek physician Hippocrates and his followers taught in the fifth century BC that semen comes from all the fluid in the body, diffusing from the brain into the spinal marrow, before passing through the kidneys and via the testicles into the penis . Clearly according to this view sperm originates from the region of the kidneys, and although there is serious scientific error to this teaching today, it was well-known in the 7th century period, and shows how the Qur'an could contain such an erroneous statement. So this is an example of an incorrect ancient Greek idea re-emerging in the Qur'an.
To resolve the considerable guess works and ambiguity about what exactly we are made of , is like a Carpenter when he was asked about a wooden table how he made it, he (Carpenter) then answers: “This table was made out of wood, out of soil, out of water , out of air, out nitrogen and so on.” Now, apologist can argue by saying that,, Tree grows in soil, needs water, nitrogen, air etc. so it is O.K. to answer all those (instead of saying I made it from wood). Or, insincere, blind-folded Mullahs can argue that, these were allegory, and not to be taken literally. Question is where is the key to decide those so called Allegories?
It is quite plausible to consider that, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) encountered (during the initial propagation of divine revelations) lots of questions (from sahabis), as to how, Allah created human beings, and those questions obviously made it necessary to bring those above mentioned Ayats regarding human origin. Now, question can be asked—how an illiterate Prophet could gather such expert knowledge? In the future essays, I intend to postulate possible means through which Prophet could have received these knowledge.
Among the above mentioned Qur’anic ambiguity, creation of life from water could be taken as something close to modern scientific knowledge. However, Hinduism’s Veda and ancient Greek philosopher/scientist THALES already told the world about it thousands of years before the arrival of the Qur’an.
(1) Hippocratic Writings (Penguin Classics, 1983) P.320
(2)Aristotle (English trans. A.L. Peck, Heinemann, 1953) Generation of Animals, 717b
(3)Hippocratic Writings , op. Cit., 317-8
(4) The Holy Qur’an (translated by A. Yusuf Ali)
(5) The Holy Qur’an (translated by Pickthall)