Meaning of ‘seven Earths’

Meaning of ‘seven Earths_ 1

 
Does the Quran really say that there are seven Earths? And if Earths are seven, then where are they?

Let us reflect on the verse in question:

God is He who has created seven/numerous Heavens/Highs and of the Earth/Low the like of them. Through the midst of them descends from on high, unceasingly, the Command that you might know that God has power over all things and that God encompasses all things in His knowledge. 65:12

Often translated as Earth, the word ‘ard’ in Arabic means both planet Earth and land as well as down or LOW. In the same way as the word ‘samawat’, often translated as Heavens, means both Heavens and HIGHS.

Now, if Heavens/Highs thus implies the upward or outward ends of the macrocosm, and Earths/Lows therefore implies downward or inward ends of the microcosm, then the verse above takes us to and from the farthest galaxies to the innermost depths of an atom.

In our imaginary journey we travel telescopically, towards the infinite vastness of the outer cosmos, towards the seven HIGHS, as well as microscopically, towards the unfathomable depths of the subatomic world, towards the seven LOWS.

In our outward journey we find seven Heavens or seven layers of celestial systems one above another (67:3, 71:15): solar system, galaxy, cluster, supercluster, filament, universe-1 and the multiverse.

And then, on our way back we find that all these seven (a Quranic number that also connotes numerous or innumerable) Highs have their own Lows, and their own Earths (with possible extraterrestrial ‘life forms’ in them? cf. 1:2, 3:83, 5:18, 16:8, 16:49, 17:55, 19:93-94, 27:65, 30:26, 37:11, 42:29, 55:33, 74:31).

Further in our inward journey towards our planet, we find that our atmosphere has, in a relative sense, seven layers: Troposphere, Stratosphere, Ozonosphere, Mesosphere, Thermosphere, Ionosphere and Exosphere.

And our Earth itself has, in a relative sense, seven strata or layers1: lithosphere-water, lithosphere-land, asthenosphere, upper mantle, inner mantle, outer core and inner core. …

When we travel even further in, inside the smallest particles of Earthly materials, we see that atoms, the basic building blocks of matter, have a seven-layered structure, with up to seven energy levels or electron orbits, each having up to seven energy sublevels, like the seven Heavens. And we see that matter itself2 exists in seven states.

Nonetheless, this can be viewed from yet another perspective. We note that the verse doesn’t link the word ‘seven’ to the Earth in a straight way, but obliquely through the expression ‘the like of them’ (‘mithlahunna’), making the number ‘seven’ relative, rather than absolute. This is in line with the fact that seven, like seventy, also occurs in the Quran to signify ‘numerous’ or ‘innumerable’, which is a common connotation of ‘seven’ in Arabic (e.g., 31:27; cf. 9:80,15:43-44, 2:161).

The rainbow can be cited here as an example that demonstrates how ‘seven’ can be equivalent to ‘innumerable’. While, to many people like Newton, the rainbow or the visible spectrum of colours appears to contain only seven colours, it is actually a continuum made of an infinite number of gradations with no discernible distinction between neighbours. As we observed elsewhere, The Quran promotes religious pluralism by recurrently referring to the spiritual rainbow of seven colours.

The concept ‘seven Earths/Lows’ is also found in other theological systems3, including Jewish, Jain and Hindu cosmologies, some of which describe them as seven lower worlds (underworlds) or spiritual spheres that represent seven layers of lowly existence.

It is important to note that the expression ‘the like of them’ (‘mithlahunna’) in the phrase ‘created seven/numerous Heavens/Highs and of the Earth/Low the like of them’ alludes not only to the similarity of the Earths/Lows to the Heavens/Highs in number but also to their similarity in relation to their origin and evolution, along with their structure and function. Fascinatingly, for instance, not only that the Earth with its strata resembles the cosmic systems, even every single atom itself is a ‘like of the Heavens’ as every atom structurally and functionally mirrors any celestial system like the Solar system.

Often rendered as ‘descends’, the verbal form ‘yatanazzalu’ in the phrase ‘Through the midst of them descends … the Command’ implies ‘descends with recurrence and continuity’, and its combination with the noun ‘al-amr’ (the command, the decree) reflects the concept of God’s unceasing creative activity encompassing from the highest to the lowest, and from the outermost to the inmost, i.e., from the farthest galaxies to the innermost subatomic domains.

Summary

Above we have briefly studied the verse 65:12, with special focus on the statement “God is He who has created seven/numerous Heavens/Highs and of the Earth/Low the like of them”.

In our attempt to rationalise this specific mention of seven here, we considered the possibility that the number seven shares a strong relationship with the way our universe is created and structured. Also, we tried to grasp the expression seven Earths/Lows with its potential connotations, such as seven Earth-like celestial bodies, seven layers of the atmosphere, seven strata of the Earth, seven quantum levels inside the atoms, seven states of matter, seven colours of spiritual rainbow, seven underworlds, seven layers of lowly existence, seven something else and so on. Besides, we noted that the number seven, in Quranic idiosyncrasy, may simply connote numerous or innumerable.

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Note 1

The structure of the Earth is divided into three main layers and is subdivided into more layers, which one can roughly/relatively count as seven or so. Related links:

https://prezi.com/v2ev8od3hyjy/the-7-layers-of-the-earth/

https://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/Structure_of_the_Earth

Note 2

The seven states of matter are Solids, Liquids, Gases, Ionized Plasma, Quark-Gluon Plasma, Bose-Einstein Condensate and Fermionic Condensate.

Note 3

The concept ‘seven Earths/Lows’ is also found in other theological systems. The Sumerian underworld visited by Inanna was seven-gated. According to the Jewish commentary Midrash, Earths are seven in number. Hindu Puranas describe seven lower worlds (underworlds) along with seven upper worlds (Heavens). In Jain cosmology, there are seven levels of Naraka or abyss, representing seven layers of lowly existence.

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Cosmos and the Quran

Is there a cosmic blueprint?

It appears that our Universe is fine-tuned and follows a cosmic blueprint.

Meaning of ‘seven Heavens’

‘Seven skies’ are 7 celestial systems, where every ‘lower’ system is contained by its immediate ‘higher’ system and so on, and where the ‘lowest’ system is our Solar system.

Strict balance in the expanding Universe

Please observe how the Quran concords with the current scientific concepts of fine-tuning throughout the Universe, a curious example of which is ‘Hawking’s critical margin’.

An answer to Richard Carrier’s “Cosmology and the Koran”

When verses of the Quran are carefully considered in current scientific light, the whole ancient and medieval scientific knowledge appears infantile in front of the Quran.

Death and rebirth of stars: a reminder

Here we will observe how several verses of the Quran appear consistent with current concepts of exploding stars whereby old stars die and new stars are born.

Meaning of ‘seven Heavens’

Meaning of 'seven Heavens'


‘SEVEN HEAVENS’ ARE SEVEN CELESTIAL SYSTEMS,

WHERE ‘THE LOWEST HEAVEN’ IS OUR SOLAR SYSTEM

The word ‘samawat’ (Heavens, skies, firmaments) is plural of ‘samaa’ (sky, cosmos). In the Quran it has connotations of either physical or spiritual Heavens, or both, depending on the context and the layer of meaning.

But when indicates physical sky or cosmos, ‘samawat’ simply means celestial systems made of organized astronomical components.

Then what could be the best possible meaning of ‘seven Heavens’? It is difficult to bypass this question, since the Quran persistently asserts that the Universe is made of seven Heavens.

On one hand, we may consider that the Quran sometimes uses the number ‘seven’, like ‘seventy’, to connote ‘numerous’ or ‘innumerable’ (e.g. 31:27; cf. 9:80,15:43-44, 2:161), thereby making the number relative rather than absolute. Thus ‘seven Heavens’ may generally mean numerous or innumerable celestial systems.

On the other hand, we should not ignore the other possibility that ‘seven’ in ‘seven Heavens’ could also mean a definite number. That is, ‘seven’ here literally means seven.

Now, while the Quranic references to ‘the lowest Heaven’ (‘sama-ud dunya’) are quite clear and specific that graphically illustrate our solar system, its references to other Heavens, however, remain comparatively vague to our present level of comprehension.

It may be partly because of the difficulty we face when we try to fit the Quranic description of seven Heavens in the very scattered scenario of our current, and evidently still too infantile, astrophysical knowledge about the Universe.

It is fascinating to observe, however, that the Quran makes a clear distinction between the Universe and the Solar system.

Universe is often expressed with the term ‘seven Heavens’ (‘sabaa samawat’), which appears in the Quran in ‘seven instances’ (2:29, 17:44, 23:86, 41:12, 65:12, 67:3, 71:15).

We are speaking about seven Heavens (seven celestial systems) one above another, like boxes containing boxes (cf. He who has created seven Heavens in harmony one above another. 67:3; cf. 71:15). Like a set of Russian dolls of decreasing size placed one inside another.

Solar system, on the other hand – when directly expressed with a name – is depicted with the term ‘the lowest Heaven’ (‘sama-ud dunya’), which appears three times in the Quran (37:6, 41:12, 67:5) along with the Heavenly bodies (Sun, planets etc) of which it is composed. Thus Solar system is defined as ‘the lowest Heaven’, or the lowest 1 out of the 7 celestial systems.

Now, if ‘seven Heavens’ are comparable to containers containing containers, and if ‘the lowest Heaven’ (innermost container) is understood as the Solar system, then we get a clue:

‘Seven Heavens’ are seven celestial systems, where every ‘lower’ system is contained by its immediate ‘higher’ system and so on, and where the ‘lowest’ system is our Solar system.

A WORKABLE MODEL OF SEVEN HEAVENS

Based on the above observations, and in line with our current scientific knowledge about the Universe, we may construct a hypothetical model of seven Heavens as follows:

  1. Solar system (family of our star, the Sun)
  2. Galaxy-1 (Milky Way, made of numerous stars)
  3. Cluster (made of numerous galaxies)
  4. Supercluster (made of numerous clusters)
  5. Filament (made of numerous superclusters)
  6. Universe-1 (made of numerous filaments)
  7. Multiverse (made of numerous universes)

For now, this is only a workable HYPOTHESIS, which is possible to be adjusted according to new astrophysical findings or different understandings. E.g. opponents of ‘multiverse’ may wish to replace ‘multiverse’ with ‘universe’ and add ‘galaxy group (made of many galaxies)’ as an additional category, as 3, before cluster.

Here we must keep in mind that, just looking at our own galaxy, the solar system is such a small part of it that if it is classified as the 1st of the 7 skies, then some of the other skies will also need to be perceived as several orders of magnitude larger than their ‘lower’ ones.

SUMMARY

In the Quran the word ‘samawat’ (plural of ‘samaa’, sky, cosmos), when it refers to physical skies, simply means Heavens or celestial systems made of organized astronomical components.

‘Seven Heavens’ are seven celestial systems (2:29, 17:44, 23:86, 41:12, 65:12, 67:3, 71:15), where every ‘lower’ system is contained by its immediate ‘higher’ system and so on (67:3, 71:15), and where the ‘lowest’ system is our Solar system (37:6, 41:12, 67:5).

We may try to rationalise ‘seven Heavens one after another’ as follows: 1. Solar system (family of our star, the Sun); 2. Galaxy-1 (Milky Way, made of stars); 3. Cluster (made of galaxies); 4. Supercluster (made of clusters); 5. Filament (made of superclusters); 6. Universe-1 (made of filaments); 7. Multiverse (made of universes). For now, this is only a hypothesis that can be adjusted according to new findings or different understandings, e.g. those negating the concept of multiverse.

Related article: What is ‘the lowest Heaven’?

Is there a cosmic blueprint?

Is there a cosmic blueprint

 

INFORMATION PRE-EXISTED MATTER

If we believe that our physical Universe had a starting point in space-time, then, in one way or other, some organized information must have pre-existed prior to the existence of matter.

This is simply because, if there was no such primal information, there would have been no instruction to trigger or guide any of the potential events like the initiation of the Universe or its evolution.

The Quran describes this organized information that pre-existed matter as ‘a measure’ (qadr 65:3; qadar 15:21, 23:18, 42:27, 43:11) or ‘predestination’ (taqdir 6:96, 25:2, 36:38, 41:12, 76:16), according to which everything else is created and evolved:

Indeed God has set for everything a measure. 65:3

It is He who created everything, then determined it according to a measure, predetermined. 25:2

It appears that this primordial information or instruction – which is primary to matter – originally belongs to an immaterial realm that is spaceless and timeless (alm-e-amr), wherefrom it eventually expresses itself into the material domain of space and time (alm-e-khalaq):

And there is not a single thing but with Us are treasures of it. And We do not send it down from high but according to a measure, known. 15:21

This ‘predetermined gauge for measuring’ (‘a measure, predetermined’ 25:2; or ‘a measure, known’ 15:21) can be conveniently imagined as ‘cosmic blueprint’, a term promoted by Paul Davies:

Surely We have created everything according to a measure.

And Our command is but one, as the twinkling of an eye. 54:49-50


THE UNIVERSE IS FINE-TUNED!

Interestingly, some aspects of this cosmic blueprint are even experimentally detectable in the laboratory and are popularly known within the scientific community as physical laws and fundamental constants.

Physical laws are laws that govern the Universe. Humans try to formulate them in scientific terms by generalizations based on observable patterns in natural phenomena.

Examples of physical laws include: Newton’s three laws of motion, law of gravity, law of conservation of mass-energy, law of conservation of momentum, laws of thermodynamics, laws of electrostatics, law of invariance of the speed of light, laws of Relativity and Quantum physics, laws of chemistry, laws of biology, laws of socio-politico-economics and so on.

Fundamental constants , as important adjuncts of physical laws, are numerical figures, i.e. highly organized, latent signals underlying the elemental particles and physical bodies instructing them how to exist and appear, and how to act and react in any given situation.

Being buried deep in the essence of matter, they largely govern all matter and energy in the Universe, and, according to our current understanding, are both universal in nature and relatively constant in time.

Some of the most widely recognized fundamental physical constants are speed of light in the vacuum c (signifies a maximum speed limit of the Universe), gravitational constant G (characterizes the strength of the gravitational interaction), fine-structure constant α (characterizes the strength of the electromagnetic interaction), electric constant ε0 (vacuum permittivity), elementary charge e, Planck’s constant h, quantum particle (with a definite amount of energy embodied in it), electron mass, proton mass, neutron mass etc.

Examples of fundamental constants further include constants in various branches of science e.g. astronomical constants (light year, Solar mass, Solar radius, Solar luminosity, sidereal year, Earth mass etc), chemical constants (Avogadro constant, molar gas constant, Faraday constant, Boltzman constant, equilibrium constant etc), geological constants, Bio constants and so on.

A correct understanding of these fundamental constants leads us to the following incredible but inevitable anthropomorphic principle:

If the values of the fundamental constants had been even a million millionth part bigger or smaller than they are, then the whole cosmic existence would be so radically different that it would experience on it no long-lived stars and no life and no mind.

Our Universe seems to be fine-tuned (25:2, 54:49-50, 65:3, 87:1-3) not only for the origin and evolution of matter and life but also for the emergence and development of intelligent, conscious creature/s:

Glorify the name of your Sustainer, the Most High;

Who created, then fashioned with due proportion;

And who determined according to a measure, then guided. 87:1-3

 

Death and rebirth of stars: a reminder

Death and rebirth of stars

 

Here we will observe how several verses of the Quran appear consistent with current astronomical concepts of exploding stars whereby old stars die and new stars are born.

A STAR IS A MINIATURE OF THE UNIVERSE

First, let us see what exactly happens with a star.

A star is born through the gradual gravitational collapse of a cloud of interstellar matter containing mainly hydrogen gas (41:11). The extreme compression caused by this collapse raises the temperature until nuclear fuel ignites in the centre of the star (79:29) and the collapse comes to a halt. Then when all stellar energy sources are exhausted at the end of its life time, the interior of a star undergoes gravitational collapse, also called the death of a star.

In brief, a star is a ‘temporary’ equilibrium state between a gravitational collapse at stellar birth and a gravitational collapse at stellar death. Stellar death (and the related explosion) causes birth of new stars: compact stars like white dwarfs, neutron stars and black holes.

Thus a star is a miniature image for the birth, life, death and rebirth of the whole Universe.

THE QURAN PORTRAYS EXPLODING STARS?

Below the Quran appears to draw a prophetic depiction of ‘exploding stars’ (supernova), which cause the death of old stars and rebirth of new stars, as a reminder of the death and rebirth of the whole Universe:

By those sent forth in succession;

Then those that push on with a violent pushing;

And those that scatter with scattering;

Then those that separate with separation;

Then those that deliver a reminder,

To clear or to warn:

That which you are promised is sure to pass.

Then when the stars become dim,

And when the Heaven is rent asunder, 77:1-9

Translated as ‘those sent forth’ (77:1), the word ‘mursalat’ may otherwise refer to any of all the communicating agencies that convey divine messages to the creation in various stages and realms, such as revelations, winds, various natural forces and factors and so on.

However, an astrophysical setting appears in mind when we read the events of the whole passage 77:1-9 as an interrelated context of the last two verses, 77:8-9, which precisely mention ‘extinction of stars’ in association with ‘explosion of Heaven’ (‘Then when the stars become dim, / And when the Heaven is rent asunder, 77:8-9).

Moreover, these references to extinguished stars and crunched Heaven (77:8-9), following a possible graphic illustration of stellar evolution in the previous verses (77:1-7), give us a further clue. This reminds us of exploding stars, i.e. supernova.

Supernova is a celestial phenomenon that involves the violent explosion of most of the material in a star at the later stage of stellar evolution. This results in an extremely bright, short-lived object that emits vast amounts of energy and is sometimes clearly visible in the sky.

Thus, though the passage 77:1-9 (sura ‘Mursalat’) possibly has multiple layers of meaning and remains open to various general interpretations, its astronomical context seems specifically referring to exploding stars (supernova).

READING THE VERSES IN ASTRONOMICAL CONTEXT

Though occurring periodically (‘those sent forth in succession’) – e.g. about once every 50 years in a galaxy like the Milky Way – only seven supernovas were recorded before the 17th century. In 1885 the first extragalactic supernova was discovered telescopically in the Andromeda Galaxy; some 700 others have been observed since then. The closest and most studied supernova is 1987A, which appeared in 1987 in the Large Magellanic Cloud, and its eruption marked the first time that neutrinos were detected on the Earth from such an event.

What does really happen in a supernova?

An ageing star suddenly undergoes gravitational collapse at the end of its life, condensing its core material into an extremely compact mass, causing a violent explosion (‘those that push on with a violent pushing’).

The resulting shock wave sends all matter surrounding the collapsed core flying into space. The many elements resulting from the further fusion induced by the shock waves and from the various other stages of nucleosynthesis over the lifetime of the star are all scattered into space (‘those that scatter with scattering’). These elements – of amounts often equal to the mass of several Suns – serve as the material from which new stellar and planetary systems are formed.

The supernova event thus separates the collapsed core from all the matter surrounding it (‘those that separate with separation’), leaving a neutron star or, when remaining mass is large enough, a black hole at the site of the core’s collapse.

Thus supernova is catastrophic for the star, leading to its collapse and death into a neutron star or black hole on one hand, and birth of new stars on the other. This mirrors destruction and re-creation, replacement of ‘Old Universes’ with ‘New Universes’, similar to possible events like Big Bang and Big Crunch.

In supernova phenomenon, therefore, there is a shadow of death and resurrection. It delivers a ‘REMINDERthat ‘which you are promised is sure to pass.’

Now, supernova emits such vast amount of energy that it outshines its entire home galaxy. Thus it undergoes a tremendous, rapid brightening, lasting a few weeks, when its brightness and energy output becomes one hundred million times more than that of the Sun, followed by a slow dimming.

This brightening and its subsequent dimming may have been elliptically hinted in ‘Then when the stars become dim’, which one may also understand with an interpolation as: ‘Then when the (same) stars become dim’.

Then the history of stellar evolution repeats itself in the new star: starting with a gravitational collapse at stellar birth and ending with a gravitational collapse at stellar death (‘And when the Heaven is rent asunder; note the graphic sequence in 77:8-9; cf. possible allusion to Earth’s gravitational pull in 77:25-26, i.e. only a few verses later in the same sura).

The supernova explosions show blue-shifted emission lines on spectroscopy, which implies that hot gases are blown outward. The explosions release not only tremendous amounts of radio energy and X-rays but emit also gamma-ray bursts and cosmic rays. In addition, while they are the main heat source for interstellar matter, they create and fling into interstellar space many of the heavier elements found in the Universe, including those forming our Solar system: they are actually the principal distributors of heavy elements throughout the Universe; iron and all elements heavier than iron, including heavy elements necessary for life (as study of SN2011 found), are produced in supernovas.

In fact, all heavy elements found in the Earth – i.e. iron and all elements heavier than iron, including heavy elements necessary for life, and so we ourselves – are thought to have been the product of supernovae explosions (some people try to sense an allusion to the stellar origin of iron and its descending on Earth in ‘And We sent down iron, wherein is great might, and many uses for men. 57:25’).

So we, we ourselves, are children of star!

SUMMARY

Considering that the first few verses of sura ‘Mursalat’ (77:1-9) refer to ‘extinguished stars’ (77:8) and ‘crunched Heaven’ (77:9) following a possible graphic illustration of stellar evolution and exploding stars (77:1-7), we tried to understand the verses in current astronomical light:

Supernova (exploding star) is a natural phenomenon that occurs periodically (‘those sent forth in succession’), e.g. about once every 50 years in a galaxy like the Milky Way.

In supernova an ageing star suddenly undergoes gravitational collapse at the end of its life, causing a violent explosion (‘those that push on with a violent pushing’).

The resulting shock wave sends all matter surrounding the collapsed core flying scattered into space (‘those that scatter with scattering’).

The event thereby separates the collapsed core from all the matter surrounding it (‘those that separate with separation’).

Thus supernova is catastrophic for the star, leading to its collapse and death into a neutron star or black hole on one hand, and birth of new stars on the other. This mirrors destruction and re-creation, replacement of ‘Old Universes’ with ‘New Universes’, like Big Bang and Big Crunch.

In supernova, therefore, there is a shadow of death and resurrection. It delivers a ‘REMINDERthat ‘which you are promised is sure to pass.’

Supernova emits such vast amount of energy that it outshines its entire home galaxy. Thus it undergoes a tremendous, rapid brightening, lasting a few weeks, followed by a slow dimming (‘Then when the stars become dim’).

Then the history of stellar evolution repeats itself in the new star: starting with a gravitational collapse at stellar birth and ending with a gravitational collapse at stellar death (‘And when the Heaven is rent asunder).

 

Strict balance in the expanding Universe

Strict balance in expanding universe

 
It is interesting to readily notice a perfect co-ordination and harmony all over the observable world.

This fine-tuning is based on the constant BALANCE, i.e. union of the two conflicting opposites of universal polarity.

Examples are strict dialectical balances evident throughout the Universe: between creation and destruction, matter and energy, wave and particle, positive and negative, gravitation and dark energy, matter and antimatter, centripetal and centrifugal, light and darkness, baby star and black hole, particle and antiparticle, electricity and magnetism, proton and electron, microcosm and macrocosm, Yin and Yang, active and passive, motion and stillness, order and chaos, structure and function, alpha and omega, right and left, front and back, being and attribute, Purusha and Prakriti, heat and cold, inanimate and animate, mind and matter, life and death, male and female, thesis and antithesis, animal and plant, observer and observed, sweet and sour, inorganic and organic, anabolism and catabolism, inspiration and expiration, physical and mental, subject and object, haves and have-nots, like and unlike, good and evil, love and hate, virtue and vice, egoism and altruism, high and low, past and future, infrastructure and superstructure, analysis and synthesis, unity and diversity …. and so forth.

A curious example of such fine-tuning, e.g. in cosmic evolution, is Hawking’s critical margin.

In 1971 Stephen Hawking, English theoretical physicist, provided mathematical support for the Big Bang theory of the origin of the Universe. He confirmed that if the general theory of relativity was correct the Universe must have a singularity or starting point in space-time.

Hawking also demonstrated that the Universe has been constantly surviving while going through an extremely fine balance or ‘the critical margin’:

For instance, if the speed of expansion of the cosmos immediately after the Big Bang in its state of primordial fireball had been even only a million millionth (1/ 1,000,000,000,000) part faster, then all the matter in the Universe would escape gravitational hold and would have by now dispersed in the vast space without giving birth to any galaxy or star or life or mind.

On the other hand, if the speed of the initial expansion had been even a million millionth (1/ 1,000,000,000,000) part slower, then the gravitational pull would have caused the Universe to collapse towards its centre within the first one billion years or so of its existence, undergoing Big Crunch. Again there would have been no long-lived stars and no life and no mind.

Now let us read attentively the statement below and observe how it concords with ‘Hawking’s critical margin’, along with other related meanings:

And the Heaven, He has raised it high, and has set the Balance. 55:7

While the verse clearly foreshadows the concepts of the unitary origin of the universe and its subsequent expansion (possible models are Big Bang or its likes), it simultaneously highlights the special significance of the ever-active balance in this cosmic process ….

Please note that the word ‘balance’ (‘mizan’) immediately involves here the dialectical concept of the unity of conflicting opposites.

Translated above as ‘has set’ (‘and has set the Balance’), the term ‘wada’a’ also means ‘devised’, ‘mobilised’ or ‘made to run’, e.g. like an office. This rich plethora of connotations of this particular term – which is further supported by a succeeding verse ‘And the Earth, He has made it to run for creatures. 55:10’ – therefore implies that this ‘cosmic balance’ is not anything passive but dynamic and is in perpetual action in order to keep the Universe surviving.

Then, as the passage below further implies, the actual reason the Universe did not collapse – as Newton’s and Einstein’s equations predicted it might – is that, since the beginning of time it has been constantly expanding (‘He has raised it high) with extremely fine balance between various opposite forces (‘and has set the Balance):

And it is We who have built the Heaven with power; and most surely it is We who are expanding….

And in everything have We created oppos­ites, so that you might bear in mind (that God alone is One). 51:47-49

There is throughout the Quran a persistent emphasis on this dialectical concept of ‘BALANCE’ between ‘thesis’ and ‘antithesis’ (13:2-4, 15:19, 36:36, 43:9-12, 50:6-7, 51:47-49, 55:7) ….

An answer to Richard Carrier’s “Cosmology and the Koran”

 An answer to Richard Carrier_s “Cosmology and the Koran”


Here is an answer to Richard Carrier’s Cosmology and the Koran: A Response to Muslim Fundamentalists (2001)


Richard Carrier’s first claim is that ‘There is nothing miraculously new in the Koran’.

This is his line of reasoning: Obviously, a dull book like the Quran, a produce of the 7th century desert-dwelling Arabs, cannot contain anything original. So, if there is any noticeable merit in the Quran at all, it must have been exclusively thanks to the ancient Greek knowledge which was somehow transmitted, evidently via Arab interaction, to the poor author/s of the Quran!

In our study, however, we find this inference far from true; but rather the opposite. For instance, while the Quran is not a textbook of science, it contains numerous verses which, often through snappy allusions, quite fascinatingly conform with – or, as some will say, “foreshadow or point to” – many aspects of our current knowledge about the Universe that have been discovered only very recently by modern science. A deeper reading of these verses1 through their interactive explanatory process will demonstrate that the Quranic descriptions of the Earth, life, Solar system, Cosmos and the origin and evolution of the Universe are centuries ahead of the time of its revelation. Miraculous, indeed!

Furthermore, when these descriptions are carefully compared with the best ancient Greek texts, or with hadiths, or with tafsirs written centuries after the Quran – such as by Qurtubi, Ibn Kathir, Tabari, Nasafi etc – the whole ancient and medieval scientific knowledge appears juvenile in front of the Quran. This does demonstrate the uniqueness of this interesting book and the profundity of its wisdom.

In fact, a simple, overwhelming proof of the divine authorship of the Quran is that, though it was revealed in a time when superstitions and mythologies were prevalent, the Quran does not contain even a trace of them.

 

Richard Carrier’s second claim is that ‘The Koran gets cosmology predictably wrong’.

And this claim, he thinks, can be easily ‘proved’ by a quick interpretation of the passage 41:9-12, which allegedly contains ‘scientifically wrong information’.

First RC challenges the word smoke (dukhan) in 41:11.

He maintains that ‘smoke’ doesn’t represent the original primeval material and also that, even if ‘smoke’ meant gas, the Univese in fact didn’t begin as a gas.

Let us read the verse in question:

While He settled to the Heaven, and it was smoke, so He said to it and to the Earth, “Come both, willingly or unwillingly”. They said, “We do come, in willing obedience.” 41:11

Well, the verse doesn’t necessarily mention the immediate aftermath of Big Bang, as claimed by Richard Carrier, though it definitely addresses certain details of the earlier stages of cosmic evolution.

Rather than implying a strictly literal meaning of ‘smoke’ as a chemical substance as understood by RC – here the term ‘smoke’ is actually an emblem that represents a state of chaos of disorganised matter, lacking order, shape and pattern.

This figurative meaning is supported by the subsequent expression ‘Come both’, which, with a description of cosmic organisation in the next verse 41:12, indicates a command to ‘get organised out of chaos.’ Please note that this command is both to the Heavens and to the Earth. It certainly indicates that the Earth itself was part of this ‘shapeless cosmic chaos’.

Also the word ‘come’, a verb involving movement – here referring to both the Heavens and the Earth – points to the motion of everything in the Universe including the Earth. Then ‘willing obedience’ of the Heaven and the Earth implies that they spontaneously followed (‘willingly’) their divinely- inherent ‘laws of nature’ rather than being interrupted (‘unwillingly’) by any coercive force externally or additionally acting on them.

Thus, if ‘smoke’ is understood here as an allusion to the shapeless disorganised scattered primordial matter, then ‘coming’ would connote condensing or coalescing under the influence of gravitation leading to organisation and shape.

The verse accords well with our current astronomical knowledge as it correctly indicates a stage of cosmic evolution when the space-time of the newborn ‘Baby Universe’ was packed with shapeless disorganised matter containing scattered subatomic particles, atoms and molecules gradually undergoing slow coalescence into gross structures such as clusters, galaxies, stars, planets and so on.

Thus the message of this verse, though appears simple, is remarkably very accurate from a modern scientific perspective.

Then RC insists that the verses 41:9-12 contain ‘scientifically wrong information’ that the Earth was created before the Heaven.

Say: Are you rejecting the One who created the Earth in two periods, and ascribing you rivals unto Him, the Sustainer of the worlds?,

For He placed therein mountains standing firm, and blessed it, and determined according to a measure its sustenance to all who would seek it: in four periods,

WHILE He settled to the Heaven, and it was smoke, so He said to it and to the Earth, “Come both, willingly or unwillingly”. They said, “We do come, in willing obedience.”

So He ordained them seven Heavens in two periods, and inspired in every Heaven its function. And We adorned the lowest Heaven with lights and security: such is the measuring of the Mighty, the Knowing. 41:9-12

His confusion about the time sequence allegedly mentioned in these verses arises from his misreading of the word ‘thumma’2. Translated above as ‘while’ (WHILE He settled to the Heaven; cf. 57:4), this particle in Arabic has a plethora of meanings: ‘and’, ‘while’, ‘moreover’, ‘also’, ‘again’, ‘then’, ‘so’, ‘likewise’, ‘similarly’ etc. He fails to appreciate that ‘thumma’, in contrast with ‘fa’ or ‘baAAda’ (‘then’ or ‘after’), functions in Arabic as a simple conjunction to link two parallel statements, without suggesting any cause-and-effect relationship or any time sequence between the two. It also links two events occurring together/ simultaneously/ concurrently.

Interestingly, in another description of cosmic evolution, in 79:27-30, we read – instead of ‘thumma’ – the expression ‘baAAda thalika’ (‘after that’), which makes a clear reference to the time sequence, where the Earth is specifically mentioned as having been shaped after the Heaven.

Otherwise, if we were to assume that ‘thumma’ in the verses 41:9-12 implies a time sequence or temporal succession, then there would be eight days of creation, not six. This would contradict the unequivocal statement that ‘the Heavens and the Earth were created in six days’, which persistently appears in the Quran, in seven instances (7:54, 10:3, 11:7, 25:59, 32:4, 50:38, 57:4), none of which refers to ‘eight days’.

Thus, as the Quran explains itself, we need to understand – in light of all these verses – the total number of days in 41:9-12 as six days, not eight.

In other words, the ‘two periods’ mentioned in 41:12 which involves the creation of both the Heavens and the Earth must be the same as the ‘two periods’ initially mentioned in 41:9 for creation of the Earth.

This simply indicates a chiastic structure in the order of verses 41:9-12 – a structure evident in many other cases throughout the Quran – possibly functioning just as yet another literary device in the Quran.

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Note 1

Here are a few studies on some of the Quranic insights on natural phenomena:

https://lampofislam.wordpress.com/category/observation/

https://lampofislam.wordpress.com/category/reasoning/

https://lampofislam.wordpress.com/category/scientific-understanding/

https://lampofislam.wordpress.com/category/divine-messages-in-nature/

https://lampofislam.wordpress.com/category/big-bang/

https://lampofislam.wordpress.com/category/cosmos/

https://lampofislam.wordpress.com/category/solar-system/

https://lampofislam.wordpress.com/category/earth/

https://lampofislam.wordpress.com/category/dialectics/

https://lampofislam.wordpress.com/category/evolution/

https://lampofislam.wordpress.com/category/photosynthesis/

https://lampofislam.wordpress.com/category/pluralism/

https://lampofislam.wordpress.com/category/mans-place-in-the-universe/

https://lampofislam.wordpress.com/category/adam/

Note 2

“The Arabic phrase ‘thumma’ often translated as ‘and’, but’ or ‘then’ does not always imply a sequence. From a Quran’s perspective, this phrase is also understood to signify ‘parallelism’ or two events occurring together / simultaneously / concurrently and not necessarily in sequence (or one after the other). For example in Surah 41:11, we note the phrase “thumma ‘istawa” signifying God’s instructions to the heavens when it was still smoke, to form. This was not an action carried out in sequence, or after the creation of mountains on the earth (41:10), but rather, it was an action in tandem or simultaneously with the creation of the Earth. Thus ‘thumma’ is better rendered in such contexts as ‘moreover’ or signifying a simultaneous action rather than one in sequence. This phrase is also used to signify repetitive stress as can be seen in Surah 102.” (Joseph Islam)