Embryology in the Quran (and Sunnah)

One of the “miracles” claimed to be in the Quran is the miracle of embryology. It’s often stated that the Quran describes embryology in a way that was not possible to be known in the 7th century.  There are two major problems with this claim.   When I started reading more into this claim, I was really dissapointed to find out that just like every other claim made about scientific miracles in the Quran, this one was also not true.

Before I get into the details, let me tell you that the prominent daees Hamza Tzortzis wrote a book called “Embryology in the Quran”, which was actually disproved logically, point by point, by two atheists online.  This book is called Embryology in the Quran, Much Ado About Nothing and I highly recommend you read it.  From this, you will learn how daees try to twist and conform the text in order for it to match modern scientific understanding when it was never meant to do so.  I must thank Hamza for being honest and admitting his error and retracting his entire book.  He now has gone even further to claim that “There are no scientific miracles in the Quran” (youtube link), and I thank him for his honesty.

Embryology as Described in the Quran

Quran states

ثُمَّ خَلَقْنَا النُّطْفَةَ عَلَقَةً فَخَلَقْنَا الْعَلَقَةَ مُضْغَةً فَخَلَقْنَا الْمُضْغَةَ عِظَامًا فَكَسَوْنَا الْعِظَامَ لَحْمًا ثُمَّ أَنشَأْنَاهُ خَلْقًا آخَرَ ۚ فَتَبَارَكَ اللَّهُ أَحْسَنُ الْخَالِقِينَ
Then We made the sperm-drop into a clinging clot, and We made the clot into a lump [of flesh], and We made [from] the lump, bones, and We covered the bones with flesh; then We developed him into another creation. So blessed is Allah , the best of creators. (23:14)

I think there are 3 main problems (also others) with the Quranic description of embryology.

  1. Firstly there is the nutfah stage. This word means literally a small amount of liquid in Arabic and refers to the semen. In the Qur’an, and hadith, it indicates that this nutfah (small amount of semen) is gestated in a safe place (understood in tafsirs and hadith to mean the womb) for a period of time. By strange coincidence, this was also the prevalent idea at that time popularised by the Greek physician Galen as well as in the Jewish Talmud. (See Greek and Jewish Ideas about Embryology for more details (See Greek and Jewish Ideas about Embryology for more details)
  2. Another is the ‘alaqah stage. The word meant thick or clotted blood (also leech and other similar ‘clinging’ things), and there are dozens of classical tafsirs that say it means blood (al dam) or congealed blood (al dam al jamid). Now whatever the alternative interpretations for the word, how sensible is it if you have true knowledge to use a word that has as one of its main usages a specific biological meaning (thick or clotted blood) when you’re describing a biological process (formation of a baby), but that meaning is incorrect? The embryo is at no point a clot of blood. No non-Muslim doctor would say your baby was a clot of blood at this stage. It would just look like he’d made an error and the listeners would rightly doubt him. It doesn’t exactly help the credibility of the Qur’an either that the prevalent idea popularised by Galen was that the embryo material was made from a mixing of semen and menstral blood.
  3. The 3rd one (though it’s very vague) is ” then fashioned We the little lump bones, then clothed the bones with flesh”. Cartilage models of the bones form at the same time as muscles even ignoring the other flesh that exists already (there’s even a classical Arabic word for cartilage), and gradually the cartilage gets replaced with bone. Trying to turn it into the sequence like the Qur’an doesn’t really reflect the real process where things are developing together.
 This does not seem to be correct.

Ancient claims about embryology

book written 1200 years before the Quran describes month by month development of a foetus, and it’s no holy book. The book was written by an Indian Surgeon named Sushrutha, name of the book is Charak Samitha. This shows how much capable human beings are.   He may be the first Plastic Surgeon ever.  

Keith Moore’s claims

Next, most of the embryology claim (about the embryology in the Quran) is based on statements of a Professor Keith Moore who was invited to Saudi to speak about science in the Quran. As a side note, most of the other speakers invited to this conference actually claimed that their words were misconstrued and they were manipulated or wined and dined into saying things that were later used out of context.  A fellow actually found them and had a discussion on Skype with them, you can see these interviews here.
Regarding Keith Moore, what Professor Keith Moore said is that the description in the Quran is amazing, yet refused to become Muslim.  To me, this is the first issue with accepting his claim.  Someone that truly believes will convert.  Secondly, I found a reference in his book to see what it really says.   Doesn’t sound very exciting at all what the Quran says about embryology, nor is it original – it mimics Galen and the Talmud.  As you can see many different people used to talk about embryology, there’s nothing divine about that.  It’s just the progress of natural human understanding
embryology1 embryology2
Book references above from The Developing Human: Clinically Oriented Embryology  By Keith L. Moore, T. V. N. Persaud, Mark G. Torchia 10th edition, obtained online (Google Books).  Book reference above quoted under academic purposes and fair use guidelines.
If you also read the other descriptions made by others early on, you will see that even Aristotle in 300BC (much before Prophet Muhammad) actually described embryology.  Does this make him a prophet too?

When we look at the Quran, the Quran continually refers to the mixed male and female liquids, as if the female liquid has something to do with the baby.  If the Quran was truly from God, it only had to say one thing, that the female has an egg, because nobody knew that back in the 7th century.  This would have been a clear miracle because the female egg is not visible to the naked eye.

أَلَا يَعْلَمُ مَنْ خَلَقَ وَهُوَ اللَّطِيفُ الْخَبِيرُ
Does He who created not know, while He is the Subtle, the Acquainted? (67:14)

 In summary, the Quran uses highly inaccurate wording to describe the growth of embryos, and also incorrectly describes the creation as based on a “mixed fluid” which is a Galenic idea and not unique to the Quran.
Narrated Anas:
When the news of the arrival of the Prophet (ﷺ) at Medina reached `Abdullah bin Salam, he went to him to ask him about certain things, He said, “I am going to ask you about three things which only a Prophet can answer: What is the first sign of The Hour? What is the first food which the people of Paradise will eat? Why does a child attract the similarity to his father or to his mother?” The Prophet (ﷺ) replied, “Gabriel has just now informed me of that.” Ibn Salam said, “He (i.e. Gabriel) is the enemy of the Jews amongst the angels. The Prophet (ﷺ) said, “As for the first sign of The Hour, it will be a fire that will collect the people from the East to the West. As for the first meal which the people of Paradise will eat, it will be the caudate (extra) lobe of the fish-liver. As for the child, if the man’s discharge proceeds the woman’s discharge, the child attracts the similarity to the man, and if the woman’s discharge proceeds the man’s, then the child attracts the similarity to the woman.” On this, `Abdullah bin Salam said, “I testify that None has the right to be worshipped except Allah, and that you are the Messenger of Allah.” and added, “O Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ)! Jews invent such lies as make one astonished, so please ask them about me before they know about my conversion to I slam . ” The Jews came, and the Prophet (ﷺ) said, “What kind of man is `Abdullah bin Salam among you?” They replied, “The best of us and the son of the best of us and the most superior among us, and the son of the most superior among us. “The Prophet (ﷺ) said, “What would you think if `Abdullah bin Salam should embrace Islam?” They said, “May Allah protect him from that.” The Prophet (ﷺ) repeated his question and they gave the same answer. Then `Abdullah came out to them and said, “I testify that None has the right to be worshipped except Allah and that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah!” On this, the Jews said, “He is the most wicked among us and the son of the most wicked among us.” So they degraded him. On this, he (i.e. `Abdullah bin Salam) said, “It is this that I was afraid of, O Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ). (Bukhari)

From the above quote, we can see that Prophet Muhammad did not understand how the gender of a child is determined.  Not only that, but this error shows up in the Quran as well.  From this we can conclude that Prophet Muhammad was a normal man who claimed prophethood but did not receive any divine inspiration from God.  He was making it up as he went along, using whatever knowledge was available at the time.

Other embryologists

Its funny that Muslims can only mention 1 embryologist who made such a claim. It’s always the same name repeated over and over again. What do other embryologists think about this?  PZ Meyers actually disputed the fact that the Quran describes embryology accurately here in this video, saying that the order described is wrong:

 

If the statements it the Quran contains concerning matters of history and science can be proven by extraquranic records, by ancient documents recovered through archaeological digs, or by the established facts of modern science to be contrary to the truth, then there is grave doubt as to its trustworthiness in matters of religion. In other words, if the Quranic record can be proved fallible in areas of fact that can be verified, then it is hardly to be trusted in areas where it cannot be tested. (original quote refers to Bible)

Our observations, in this case our reading of biblical and Qur’anic statements about the natural world, look exactly as you would expect them to look if there was no new knowledge being revealed—just what was the human understanding of the day. That is, they look as if there is no God who speaks to humanity through scriptures or other revelations.
If a person undergoes a religious experience that truly places her in communication with some reality from beyond the material world, then we may reasonably expect that person to have gained some deep, new knowledge about the world that can be checked against the empirical facts.

It could have been different. The scriptures might have contained revelations that, while incomprehensible to people at the time of the revelation, may have still been recorded as mysterious, esoteric knowledge. That knowledge then might have become less esoteric as science and the other knowledge arts, such as history, developed higher levels of sophistication.
Quotes from Victor Stenger, God the failed hypothesis.

Further resources:

 

4 thoughts on “Embryology in the Quran (and Sunnah)

  1. Monotheism is that..i copy the other religion..it s comes also from Galien 123 after j.c
    B. Musallam (Cambridge, 1983) Sex and Society in Islam. p. 54

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