The Quran and the speed of light

I think I should make a policy, that if I received a similar very specific question by email twice, I should turn the first exchange into a blog post and link it as a reply to the same question in the future. I probably won’t be able to stick to this policy, but I’m doing it now for this message.

The claim: The Quran computes the value of the speed of light with unbelievable accuracy.

Sources: “Speed of Light“; “Quran and The Speed of Light?” (video)

Best rebuttal online: At Islam Watch.

My two cents:

This is a clear case of cherry picking numbers to sound plausible. They had to use some incredibly tortured logic to drag the number “12,000 lunar orbits” out of a fairly generic verse which, after all, makes no reference whatsoever to moons or distances or even the number 12. They are taking something vague and trying to make it specific, which after all is what all apologists do when they want to make a prophecy out of something that isn’t. If it hadn’t been the moon, they could have tried “1000 centuries of walking” or “1000 rotations of the earth” or “1000 earth orbits” — ANYTHING which gets them within the right order of magnitude to something specific.

Then that’s not enough to get them all that close, so they screw around with the numbers more. For instance, you’ll notice they use some extremely fuzzy math to claim that there are 86170 seconds in a day. There aren’t 86,170 seconds in a day, there are 86,400. If there were as much as 230 seconds difference every day, then we’d have a leap year every year.

They do all kinds of stupid math tricks just to line up some number with a lunar cycle to match a verse that doesn’t even say anything about lunar orbits, and then they claim that the Quran predicts the speed of light. Okay. If that’s the case, then why didn’t the ancient Muslims know what the speed of light was? Why is it never referenced anywhere? Why isn’t it calculated? Why, in fact, did no one think to calculate the speed of light from the Quran until long after Einstein Ole Rømer came along? [Edited -- thanks Curt!]

I’ll tell you why, because it’s nonsense. It’s applying known scientific facts, discovered by westerners, and giving credit to their holy book by retrofitting nonsensical numerology with cherry picked frames of reference.

How did the authors of the Quran have such fantastic futuristic knowledge, Muslims ask? It’s really simple when you recognize a few facts. The Quran is an ancient book written by people who had no knowledge of modern science, and in fact reads this way. A contemporary person who knows some science can make passages of the Quran superficially resemble scientific insights by manipulating verses that have nothing to do with science and trying to pigeonhole them into something resembling contemporary knowledge.

You could, if you were so inclined, do exactly the same thing with “The Canterbury Tales,” “The Epic of Gilgamesh,” or Lewis Carrol’s “Jabberwocky.”

Is Cherry Picking a Good Thing?

This is actually a question I can see both sides of, even though I know which side I come down on. And recently a fan wrote in to express the following:

I’m ok with cherry picking religious beliefs in general because I think that it has helped push beliefs towards a more beneficial outcome. Today you hear people claiming that the Christian God is Love and other such nonsense, but I’d rather them intentionally ignore the bad parts in their holy book than to accept it all unquestioningly if they’re going to believe in both cases already.

He raised some good points about how it’s good many Muslims are moderate–and not like their more fanatical counterparts. I get the point, I really do. But here are my thoughts:

This is a question with no answer. Someone recently posted on Facebook an article about an American association of physicians who initially came out with a position that it’s OK to “nick” infant female genitalia as a substitute for a full female circumcision–which they feared some families would go back to the old country to get if doctors here wouldn’t do it. However, they then reversed their stance to say that, in fact, doctors should counsel and support the families, but not perform any such ritualistic procedures.

What should they do? Should they cause small harm, in order to mitigate greater harm? Or should they stand firm against all harm?

I compared it in a recent dialog to chemo therapy. Some chemo treatments have long-term, or even permanent awful effects on people’s bodies. But the idea is that this toxic cocktail will save someone’s life, so we induce harm, in order to mitigate worse harm. And most people agree this is the right course. BUT, what if we found a cure for cancer that inflicted no harm tomorrow, but some oncologists insisted upon continuing to use chemo treatments? Would it still be the right course of action?

Making religion somewhat less toxic, I can see, is preferable to having it be fully toxic. But I personally, as a reformed Christian myself, know that there is a cure available that eliminates the harm altogether. And with that knowledge, I can’t, in good conscience, pursue the course of mitigating harm, when a cure that eliminates the harm is available.

I can’t speak for everyone–but this is how I view it and how I address the problem.

And I think it also covers the “cherry picking” question. To support a book that encourages subjugation of women and killing other people who don’t believe what you do, to me, is inexcusable. It would be like joining the KKK because you like the social networking, but reject the racist agendas.

So, for what it’s worth?