Refutation of some of the Islamic 'miracles'

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Response 1-- Embryology

“Islamic embryology” is derived from both the Qu’ran and the hadith, and is quite consistent across all the contributing sources. The core of the story can be found in the Qu’ran, 022.005:

YUSUFALI: “O mankind! if ye have a doubt about the Resurrection, (consider) that We created you out of dust, then out of sperm, then out of a leech-like clot, then out of a morsel of flesh, partly formed and partly unformed, in order that We may manifest (our power) to you; and We cause whom We will to rest in the wombs for an appointed term, then do We bring you out as babes…”
PICKTHAL: “O mankind! if ye are in doubt concerning the Resurrection, then lo! We have created you from dust, then from a drop of seed, then from a clot, then from a little lump of flesh shapely and shapeless, that We may make (it) clear for you. And We cause what We will to remain in the wombs for an appointed time, and afterward We bring you forth as infants…”
SHAKIR: “O people! if you are in doubt about the raising, then surely We created you from dust, then from a small seed, then from a clot, then from a lump of flesh, complete in make and incomplete, that We may make clear to you; and We cause what We please to stay in the wombs till an appointed time, then We bring you forth as babies…”

Here we find the three primary stages of embryonic development as defined by the Qu’ran. There is a “seed,” “drop” or “semen” phase (in Arabic, “nutfah”), followed by a “clot” or “leach-like clot” phase (in Arabic, “Alaqah”), followed finally by a “morsel of flesh” or “chewed lump” phase (in Arabic, “Mudghah”).

There are a handful of additional ayaat that deal with this subject, and none of them disagree with this basic scenario. Yet there is more to learn from the hadith, particularly that of Bukhari and Muslim. Again, the accounts are quite consistent, and the additional information they provide is important.

The first of these tells us about developmental timing: Sahih Bukhari Volume 4, Book 54, Number 430:

“Narrated 'Abdullah bin Mus'ud:

“Allah's Apostle, the true and truly inspired said, "(The matter of the Creation of) a human being is put together in the womb of the mother in forty days, and then he becomes a clot of thick blood for a similar period, and then a piece of flesh for a similar period.”

These exact details are also given in Sahih Bukhari Volume 4, Book 55, Number 549. Sahih Bukhari Volume 8, Book 77, Number 593, Sahih Bukhari Volume 9, Book 93, Number 546, and Sahih Muslim Book 033, Number 6390.

The key information gained from all these ahadith are that the three phases (nutfah, alaqah and mudghah) each takes 40 days, for a total period of 120 days from conception to the point at which the embryo becomes a fetus.

One additional piece of testable scientific information is available in the hadith. It has to do with the point at which gender is determined. A representative hadith would be Sahih Bukhari Volume 8, Book 77, Number 594:

“Narrated Anas bin Malik:

“The Prophet said, "Allah puts an angel in charge of the uterus and the angel says, 'O Lord, (it is) semen! O Lord, (it is now ) a clot! O Lord, (it is now) a piece of flesh.' And then, if Allah wishes to complete its creation, the angel asks, 'O Lord, (will it be) a male or a female?”

This detail is repeated in Sahih Bukhari Volume 4, Book 55, Number 550 and Sahih Muslim Book 033, Number 6397, and all of them are quite clear that the embryo is neither male nor female until after the mudghah phase is reached, some 80 days (by Islamic counting) after conception.

So, then, these are the details of embryology as reflected in the Qu’ran and the hadith.

1) The embryo spends 40 days as a drop of sperm or seed.
2) The embryo then spends another 40 days as a “clot” or a “leech-like clot” of blood.
3) The embryo the spends another 40 days as a “lump of flesh.”
4) During which the gender of the child is assigned by an angel at Allah’s direction.

These then are the details that must be correlated with actual embryonic development to evaluate the accuracy or inaccuracy of the Islamic account. The question is actually a simple one:

Does this account describe the first 120 days of embryonic development or doesn’t it?

Discussion one: The Islamic Phases - Timing

Taken together, the three phases of Islamic embryology take 120 days to go from conception to the point where the embryo becomes a fetus (i.e. an identifiable human baby), or right around 17 weeks. Does this reflect what we now know about embryonic development.

The answer is patently, no. The human embryo becomes a fetus around week 9, or roughly half the time Islamic embryology requires. By day 56 the fetus is essentially a complete, though tiny, human being with all organ systems in place, and all tissues developed. This is right in the middle of what Islam calls the “alaquah” phase. In other words, the developing person is already a complete human being at a point where the hadith insists it (not he or she) still has almost three weeks remaining as a “clot of congealed blood.”

In fact, there are no developmental milestones which can be mapped to the three 40 day periods required by Islamic embryology, even though they are stressed in several authoritative ahadith.

Conclusion: The hadith is demonstrably wrong concerning the timing of embryologic development.

Discussion two: The Islamic Phases – Description

The three Islamic phases of development are described in a very visual way, allowing for an informed evaluation of the accuracy of those descriptions. This might be expected if for no other reason than that during the Prophet’s day, there was not even the idea of a microscope, and any descriptions offered would reasonably be of objects that were visible to an unaided eye. And this is exactly what we find.

And certainly, each of the three Islamic stages is described at a visible level of scale. A drop of seed, a clot of blood, a lump of flesh; all of them are objects of a size with which the ancient Arabs would have been familiar.

The “Drop of Seed” Phase (Nutfah)

There is little to no debate among Muslims as to the meaning of the word, “nutfah.” It is a “drop of seed” or “drop of semen” of the sort that would have been familiar to any adult Arab male. The Arabs rightly understood (as did all of their non-Arab neighbors) that semen was necessary to begin the process of procreation. But, exactly as with all their non-Arab neighbors, the writers of the Qu’ran and the hadith did not seem to understand that there was an egg produced by the mother that is fertilized by the male’s semen.

The Arabs believed that the woman served simply as an incubator for a child that was fully contained in the father’s seed. There was no understanding of the actual biology of sexual reproduction, and no such understanding is apparent in the Qu’ran.

Instead, the Qu’ran tells us that the “drop of seed” remains exactly that (a drop of seed) for the entire nutfah phase (40 days according to Bukhari and Muslim). What actually IS happening during those 40 days, and how might it be said to resemble a “drop of seed?”

The actual “drop of seed” provided by the male dissipates within minutes of ejaculation, so even before conception, the literal “drop of seed” no longer exists. The case could certainly be made that the fertilized egg resembles a seed until about day 13 or fourteen, but the “drop” is long gone, replaced with a microscopic egg that moves through a period called the “blastocyst.” But by the beginning of the third week, the embryo has already begun to differentiate into a trilaminar embryo with the three layers of ectoderm, mesoderm, and endoderm. A mere two and a half weeks after conception, the embryo no longer looks anything like a “drop of seed,” while the Islamic tradition indicates that the nutfah stage should last for an additional three weeks.

By day 40 of actual embryonic development (when the “drop” stage should be just ending and the “clot” stage beginning) the embryo is actually very well advanced. Measuring some 11 millimeters long, and the nervous system is well along its development. The embryo has eyes and ears, all four limbs have begun to form, the heart bulge is prominent. It bears no resemblance at this point to either a “drop of seed” or a “leech-like clot.”

Interim Conclusion: The Qu’ran is in error describing the embryo as a “drop of seed” for any significant period of time, and certainly wrong in assigning a 40 day period to such a phase.
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