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March 2, 2016

Reconciling Modern Cosmology and Scripture: Was the Qur'an ahead of its time 1400 years ago?

Prof. Dr. Mohamed Elmasry

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Modern scientific cosmology began in 1915 with the publication of Einstein's General Theory of Relativity. Could it explain Qur'anic statements, known for more than 1400 years, regarding the origin, evolution, ending, and even re-creation of the Universe?

“Cosmology is in many ways similar to forensic science,” says Prof. Peter Coles, Professor of Astrophysics at the University of Nottingham and author of Cosmology, A Very Short Introduction.

“Neither cosmologists nor forensic scientists can perform experiments that recreate past events under slightly different conditions, which is what most other scientists do. In both fields the available evidence is often circumstantial, difficult to gather and open to ambiguity of interpretation.”

“Despite these difficulties, the case in favor of the Big Bang is, in my view, proven beyond all reasonable doubt,” he continues, “(but) we still do not know the form of most matter in the Universe. We do not know for sure whether the Universe is finite or infinite. We do not know how the Universe began, or whether inflation happened.”

Perhaps some key passages in the Qur’an – the holy scripture of Islam, whose words were revealed to the Prophet Muhammad in 610 CE – could provide guidance to Prof. Coles and his cosmologist colleagues in their efforts to answer these questions.

To begin with, the Qur’an states (40:57): “Certainly the creation of the Heavens and Earth is a greater task than the creation of humans, but most people know it not.” Today, however, science has advanced to the point where it has proven the 7th-century Islamic scripture to be factually correct on this point.

Moreover, the Qur’an points out links between the creation of the Universe and of humans, perhaps encouraging scientists to discover a unified theory for the origin of both, as the following passage illustrates:  

We (God) shall continue to show them Our Signs in creation, in far away places; in the Universe and also close; in themselves, till it is clear to them that the Qur’an carries the Truth. Suffices it not that your Lord takes care of everything? Are they still in doubt of meeting their Lord? Does He not know all His creations?” (41:53-54)

And, “I (God) made them (humans) not to witness the creation of the Heavens and Earth, nor their own creation.” (18:51)

On the origin of the Universe, the Qur’an states: “The Heavens and the Earth were both joined into one and then We (God) clove them asunder. And then by means of water We gave life to everything. Will they not then believe?” (21:30)

The reference here is to a separation process of elements that were once fused together. 

Elsewhere, the original state of the Universe is described as being “a smoke” where competing physical forces were at play (41:11). Smoke is generally made up of a gas, plus particles that are solid or liquid, depending on their range of temperature.

These are very interesting 1400-year-old statements when you consider how closely they match modern cosmology in describing the origins of our Universe.

According to the Big Bang model, space, time and energy all came into existence as “a fireball of matter and radiation at extremes of temperature and density about 15 billion years ago,” says Prof. Coles. “A few seconds after the beginning, the temperature had decreased to a mere 10 billion degrees and nuclear reaction began to make the atoms from which we are all made.”

And this event must have included the atoms that formed water, which the Qur’an names among the first elements of life!

“After about 300,000 years the temperature had fallen to a few thousand degrees, releasing the radiation we now observe as the cosmic microwave background,” Coles continues. “As this explosion expanded, carrying space and time with it, the Universe cooled and rarefied. Stars and galaxies formed by condensing out of the expanding cloud of gas and radiation. Our present day Universe contains the ashes and smoke left over from the Big Bang.” (Italics are mine.)

On the ultimate fate of the Universe, the Qur’an affirms in many verses that the Universe is expanding, that it will end, and that “it will be re-created one last time. This description of cosmic expansion and demise also matches the findings of modern cosmology. As for the scriptural promise of re-creation, current theories predict it as being cyclic, rather than a singular event.

The Qur’an states that the Universe continues to enlarge: “We have created Heaven with power. And verily, We are expanding it.” (51:47)

And as for its end and re-creation: “On that Day We (God) will roll up the Heavens as one rolls up written scrolls. As We made the first Creation, so will We bring it forth again. This promise binds Us. Verily, We will perform it.” (21:104)

This image of the vast cosmos being “rolled up” is not only powerful, but remarkably specific! 

And then the Qur’an asks: “Have non-believers not known how God originated Creation, and then will bring it back again? This is truly easy for God … Go through the Earth and discover how God originated the Creation of everything, then God will re-create it one last time. God is indeed The Almighty.” (29:19-20)

Again, the scripture asserts that the new formation of our Universe will only happen once, not in long cycles.

In The Mind of God: The Scientific Basis For a Rational World Prof. Paul Davies, professor of Mathematical Physics at the University of Adelaide, cites Prof. Alexander Friedmann’s studies of Einstein’s equation: he discovered one set of solutions corresponding to a Universe that begins with a Big Bang, “expands at an ever-diminishing rate, and then starts to contract again. The contraction phase mirrors the expanding phase, so that the contraction gets faster and faster until the Universe disappears at a ‘big crunch’ – a catastrophic implosion like the Big Bang in reverse. This cyclic expansion and contraction can then be continued into another cycle, then another, and so on.” (Italics mine.)

Looking back at the previously quoted Qur’anic description of the Universe being rolled up like a scroll, this animated image is strikingly similar to the modern cosmological idea of an expanding and contracting Universe, the main difference being that the cosmic convulsion described in Davies’ book creates waves of cyclic phenomena rather than only one.

The remarkable parallels to be found in the Qur’an and present-day cosmology demonstrate that perhaps modern science and ancient religion can help us, after all, to understand the Universe more fully. And in doing so, we can further achieve our potential as fully-realized human beings, both physically and spiritually.

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Dotan Rousso. Holds a Ph.D. in Law—a former criminal prosecutor in Israel. Currently working as a college professor in Canada.

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