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Islamic embryology: overblown balderdash

I have read the entirety of Hamza Andreas Tzortzis’ paper, Embryology in the Qur’an: A scientific-linguistic analysis of chapter 23: With responses to historical, scientific & popular contentions, all 58 pages of it (although, admittedly, it does use very large print). It is quite possibly the most overwrought, absurdly contrived, pretentious expansion of feeble post hoc rationalizations I’ve ever read. As an exercise in agonizing data fitting, it’s a masterpiece.

Here, let me give you the short version…and I do mean short. This is a paper that focuses with obsessive detail on all of two verses from the Quran. You heard me right: the entirety of the embryology in that book, the subject of this lengthy paper, is two goddamned sentences, once translated into English.

We created man from an essence of clay, then We placed him as a drop of fluid in a safe place. Then We made that drop of fluid into a clinging form, and then We made that form into a lump of flesh, and We made that lump into bones, and We clothed those bones with flesh, and later We made him into other forms. Glory be to God the best of creators.

Seriously, that’s it. You have just mastered all of developmental biology, as taught by Mohammed.

Tzortzis bloats this scrap into a long, tedious potboiler by doing a phrase by phrase analysis, and by comparing it to the work of Aristotle and Galen, who got lots of things wrong. How, he wonders many times, could Mohammed have written down only the correct parts of the Greek and Roman embryological tradition, and avoided their errors, if he weren’t divinely inspired? My answer is easy: because Mohammed only made a vague and fleeting reference to the science of the time, boiling down Aristotle’s key concept of an epigenetic transformation into a few non-specific lines of poetry. Aristotle and Galen got a lot wrong because they tried to be specific and wrote whole books on the subject; you can read the entirety of Aristotle’s On the Generation of Animals. Galen was prolific and left us about 20,000 pages on physiology and medicine.

So, yes, you can find lots of examples in their work where they got the biology completely wrong, and it’s harder to do that in the Quran…because the Quran contains negligible embryological content, and what there is is so sketchy and hazy that it allows his defenders to make spectacular leaps of interpretation. Mohammed avoided the trap of being caught in an overt error here by blathering generalized bullshit, and saying next to nothing. This is neither an accomplishment nor a miracle.

I’ll go through his argument piece by piece, but at nowhere near the length. It’s hard to believe anyone is using this feeble fragment to claim proof of divinity, but then, Christians do exactly the same thing.

  1. “essence of clay”. Tzortzis happily announces that clay contains “Oxygen, Carbon, Hydrogen, Nitrogen, Calcium, Phosphorus, Potassium, Sulfur, Chlorine, Sodium, Magnesium and Silicon; all of which are required for human functioning and development”. These are irrelevant factlets. Clay is a fine-grained hydrous aluminum phyllosilicate; carbon, which is the element to consider in organic chemistry, is present as a contaminant, but the primary elements are aluminum and silicon. It’s nothing like the composition of the human body. This part of Tzortzis case is simply a lie.

  2. “drop of fluid”. Tzortzis tells us that the Arabic word here is “nutfah”, which has a number of meanings, but he likes the interpretation that it implies mingled fluids. Then he babbles on about oocytes and spermatazoa and secretions of the oviduct, none of which are mentioned in the Quran and are completely irrelevant. Bottom line: Arabs noticed long ago that sex involves a mingling of fluids. Brilliant. I think most of us could figure that out without divine inspiration.

    He spends a fair amount of time pointing out that both Aristotle and Galen had a male-centric view of procreation, where the man’s contribution was the dynamic agent and the woman was a passive vessel. They were wrong. In order to rescue the Quran, though, Tzortzis has to bring in Ibn Qayyim, a 13th century Islamic scholar, who pointed out that women have to provide a significant contribution to inheritance, since their traits are also present in the children. This, again, is an obvious and observable property, and the Greeks also argued over the relative contributions of male and female. There is nothing in the Quran that is beyond casual observation or non-existent in the scholarly works of the time.

  3. “in a safe place”. Tzortzis quotes modern embryologists and throws around the terms endometrium, syntrophoblast, implantation, uterine mucosa, proteolytic enzymes, etc., etc., etc. I ask you, is any of that in the quoted verse from the Quran? No. Total bullshit from the apologists. That the embryo grows in a “safe place” — the woman’s belly — is another obvious property.

  4. “a clinging form”. It seems that the word used here means just about anything.

    The Qur’an describes the next stage of the developing human embryo with the word `alaqah. This word carries various meanings including: to hang, to be suspended, to be dangled, to stick, to cling, to cleave and to adhere. It can also mean to catch, to get caught, to be affixed or subjoined. Other connotations of the word `alaqah include a leech-like substance, having the resemblance of a worm; or being of a ‘creeping’ disposition inclined to the sucking of blood. Finally, its meaning includes clay that clings to the hand and thick, clotted blood – because of its clinging together.

    I could call the embryo a sticky blob, too, and stretch and twist the words to match it in the vaguest possible way to a technical description, too…but it doesn’t make it a technical description, and it doesn’t make it informative.

    This section concludes by claiming that the “leech” interpretation of ‘alaqah is accurate, because later in development it looks, he claims, like a leech. Only to a blind man. And further, he applies this term “like a leech” to every stage in the first month of development; the accuracy of the comparison seems irrelevant.

  5. “a lump of flesh”. More of the same. Take the Arabic word (“mudghah”), throw out a bunch of definitions for the word, then force-fit them all into the actual science.

    The next stage of human development defined in the Qur’an is mudghah. This term means to chew, mastication, chewing, to be chewed, and a small piece of meat. It also describes the embryo after it passes to another stage and becomes flesh. Other meanings include something that teeth have chewed and left visible marks on; and marks that change in the process of chewing due to the repetitive act.

    No. I refuse. I’m sorry, but this is patently ridiculous. You do not get to quote the Quran talking about a chawed on scrap o’ meat, and then go on with four pages of windy exegesis claiming that corresponds to the 4th week of human development, the pharyngula stage, as if it is an insightful and detailed and specific description of an embryo. It is not. It is the incomprehending grunt of an ignorant philistine.

  6. “into bones”. Yeah. There is a mingling of fluids in sex, and at birth you have a baby with bones. Somewhere in between, bones must have formed. You do not get credit for noting the obvious without any specifics. Furthermore, turning the phrase “into bones” (‘idhaam) into this:

    There are clear parallels between the qur’anic `idhaam stage and the view modern embryology takes i.e. the development of the axial, limb and appendicular skeleton.

    is pure hyperbole and bunkum. But then, that’s all we get from Tzortzis.

  7. “clothed the bones with flesh”. Tzortzis now talks about myoblasts aggretating and migrating distally, formation of dorsal and ventral muscle masses, innervation of the tissue, and specification of muscle groups. Good god, just stop. The Quran says nothing about any of this. And then to complain that This level of detail is not, however, included in Aristotle’s description, is absurd and ironic. It’s not in Mohammed’s description, either.

    It must be noted that the migration of the myoblasts surrounding the bones cannot be seen with the naked eye. This fact creates an impression of the Divine nature of the Qur’an and reiterates its role as a signpost to the transcendent.

    Crap. The Quran doesn’t describe myoblast migration. There isn’t even a hint that Mohammed saw something you need a microscope to see.

  8. “made him into other forms”. Then Allah did all the other stuff that he needed to do to turn a chunk of chewed meat made of bone and flesh into a person. Presto, alakazam, abracadabra. Oooh, I am dazzled with the scrupulous particularity of that scientific description.

There’s absolutely nothing novel or unexplainable in the Quran’s account of development. It is a vague and poetic pair of verses about progressive development, expressed in the most general terms, so nebulous that there is very little opportunity for disproof, and they can be made to fit just about any reasonable observation. They can be entirely derived from Aristotle’s well-known statement about epigenesis, “Why not admit straight away that the semen…is such that out of it blood and flesh can be formed, instead of maintaining that semen is both blood and flesh?”, which is also a very broad statement about the gradual emergence of differentiated tissues from an amorphous fluid.

Only a blinkered fanatic could turn that mush into an overwrought, overextended, overblown, strained comparison with legitimate modern science. Tzortzis’s paper is risible crackpottery.

(Also on Sb)

Comments

  1. jakc says

    Sure, it’s not as easy as geology (A: the Flood), but now I’ve mastered two areas of science! Look out physics, I’m coming for you next!

  2. Sean Boyd says

    In other news, Sunni-Shi’a U announces its new biology program, offering, BS, MS, and PhD* degrees in Islamic Embryology. Only one required text suffices for the entire curriculum. Foreign language requirement holds, as course text must be read in Arabic in order to by fully appreciated.

    *BS, MS, PhD do not stand for Bachelor of Science, Master of Science or Doctor of Philosophy. Credits earned may not be transferable.

  3. Dhorvath, OM says

    OH! It’s amazing what we can do with a little work and an eye for interpretation and a translation or two.

  4. Zerple says

    I once had a Muslim apologist tell me that Mohammad split the moon in half, and that NASA discovered it when they went to the moon, and that they have not gone back in an attempt to hide the truth of the Quran from American Christians.

    So in addition to science mutilators, they also have conspiracy theorists. I love the way that Christians argue that they have nothing in common with Muslims. If you pay attention to both groups, you can pretty quickly see that they are isomorphic.

  5. 'Tis Himself, OM says

    We clothed those bones with flesh

    Mohammed determined that humans have an endoskeleton. Dispute that, Mr. Embryologist.

  6. Apikoros says

    And here my developmental biology professors told me that bones form after flesh.

    Death to the infidels!

  7. Shawn Smith says

    Sean Boyd said:

    BS, MS, PhD do not stand for Bachelor of Science, Master of Science or Doctor of Philosophy.

    So, do they stand for Bullshit, More Shit, and Piled higher and Deeper? Just curious.

  8. Dave, the Kwisatz Haderach says

    Zerple

    I once had a Muslim apologist tell me that Mohammad split the moon in half.

    That’s a new one for me. How the hell did he pull that off? Also, what happened to the other half, surely we should be seeing two moon halfs in the sky right now? I’d say that trumps being dead for a few days. Screw Jeebus, I like this Mohammed guy now.

  9. Dave, the Kwisatz Haderach says

    How about, just once, one of these assholes predict the next big scientific breakthrough, instead of cramming the religious bullshit in after the fact. Is that too much to ask?

  10. says

    Well, hell’s bells! I now qualify as an Islamic developmental biologist. Who would’ve thunk it? Bazinga!

    (If content were an issue, then Islamic mathematics would be just a little more substantial and a trifle more challenging — but you wouldn’t find it in the Koran.)

  11. garth says

    “It also describes the embryo after it passes to another stage and becomes flesh. ” huh? what the hell does that mean? what a sad, weird freak that guy is.

  12. Crow says

    You know, the line about “and later We made him into other forms” could definitely be interpreted as implying evolution.

    Tzortzis follow up to this practically writes itself!

    I’m sure he could spout off some drivel about natural selection and adaptive traits from that line alone.

    Who needs Origin of Species when the Quran laid out evolution so succinctly?

  13. KG says

    Clay is a fine-grained hydrous aluminum phyllosilicate; carbon, which is the element to consider in organic chemistry, is present as a contaminant, but the primary elements are aluminum and silicon. – PZ [emphasis added]

    I’ve got it! Mohammed wasn’t describing human embryology at all. He was describing a future process by which aluminium robots controlled by silicon chips will be designed to breed, cutting out all that tedious manufacturing.

  14. KG says

    Arabs noticed long ago that sex involves a mingling of fluids. Brilliant. I think most of us could figure that out without divine inspiration. – PZ

    Yes, but how could Mohammed have known that sex was related to pregnancy and childbirth, unless by divine inspiration?

  15. Gregory Greenwood says

    We created man from an essence of clay, then We placed him as a drop of fluid in a safe place. Then We made that drop of fluid into a clinging form, and then We made that form into a lump of flesh, and We made that lump into bones, and We clothed those bones with flesh, and later We made him into other forms. Glory be to God the best of creators.

    This could easily be subject to… alternate interpretations with just as much credibility as Tzortzis’ ludicrous claim that it describes modern embryology.

    Hmmm, let me see…

    We created man from an essence of clay…

    This is clearly a reference to the development of the facehugger stage. The facehugger contains the embryonic xenomorph – the ‘essence of clay’ relates to its mutable tendencies depending upon host creature. As for the term ‘man’, in this context it merely refers to the broadly anthropomorphic characteristics of the adult creature being ‘manlike’.

    …then We placed him as a drop of fluid in a safe place.

    This describes the Queen creature laying her leathery eggs. These structures are clearly resistant to hostile enviroments and able to maintain the embryonic xenomorph in a viable state for an extended period of time.

    Then We made that drop of fluid into a clinging form,

    A ‘clinging form’? This could hardly be a better description of the facehugger creature and its digitals – obviously highly adapted for the purpose of attaching itself to its victim’s face.

    …and then We made that form into a lump of flesh…

    Here, we see the development of the xenomorph embryo into its chestburster stage within the host body. Since it has yet to form its full exoskeleton, the creature may be described s a ‘lump of flesh’.

    …and We made that lump into bones, and We clothed those bones with flesh…

    This describes the formation and hardening of the mature xenomorph’s complex combination of endo and exoskeletal structures. The creature forms a bone analogue in its exoskeleton (often, but not exclusively, black or otherwise dark coloured), but as can be observed from even a casual examination of any of the movies, a portion of its body clearly has endoskeletal bones ‘clothed’ in a more flexible form of ‘flesh’, as is required by its non-arthropoid limbs.

    …and later We made him into other forms.

    Between each movie in the series, the exact physical parameters of the xenomorph change somewhat. Such factors as size of back spines, length of tale and development of end spike, structure of the mouth-within-a-mouth mandible, ridging of the cranium, length and number of digits and the hand analogues, colour, apparent Ph and toxicity and consistency of the acid blood of the creature, and any number of other subtle factors. This is clearly a transition into ‘other forms’.

    And so, here I present my absolute, irrefutable proof that Allah, through his earthly prophet Mohammed, was the actual original creator of the Xenomorph creature from the Aliens franchise, and that as such his inheritors (being all muslims – but you might have some difficulty getting the Sunni and Shia factions to agree on exactly what that means) deserve a portion of the royalties from those movies…

    ;-)

  16. Zerple says

    That’s a new one for me. How the hell did he pull that off? Also, what happened to the other half, surely we should be seeing two moon halfs in the sky right now? I’d say that trumps being dead for a few days. Screw Jeebus, I like this Mohammed guy now.

    Magic of course. He smashed it back together after he split it, because people were panicking, also the apologist might have said something about people freaking out over the tides. I don’t remember too clearly as this conversation was 3+ years ago.

    Here is a link to an Islamic apologist site, describing the nonsense.

  17. rad_pumpkin says

    @10
    I’m sure there’s some verse describing light as being comprised of something or another, and how prettily it reflects of stuff. There you go, a perfect, non-mathematical description of QED, with liberal application of bullshitapologetics, of course.

    Has anybody else noticed how little numerical data these holy books contain? It’s not just vagueness in prophecies (or embryology, apparently), but whole dates being left as vaguely as possible. Curious…but I guess somebody has to get paid to interpret the bronze age equivalent of fortune cookies.

  18. Brownian says

    How about, just once, one of these assholes predict the next big scientific breakthrough, instead of cramming the religious bullshit in after the fact. Is that too much to ask?

    Unfortunately, God’s words are only useful in explaining what we’ve already learned through secular means. Just the other day I caught the plagiarising fucker following me around, waiting for me to say something that he can garble to some prophet or another.

    Yuk-yuk! I told him that animals are born striped or spotted depending on—wait for it—whether the stake their parents were tied to at mating time were striped or spotted! He took off so fast you’d think I gave him the winning lotto numbers!

  19. joed says

    I’m not sure who this Hamza Andreas Tzortzis is, I may have seen his act in a few vids.
    But, not all Arabs/Muslims/Mideasterners are so very goofy.
    Most folk in the Mideast are just like you and me. They love their children, they want a safe imaginative life for self and loved ones. They just want to be left alone.
    Please understand this about humanity.

  20. Sastra says

    Mohammed avoided the trap of being caught in an overt error here by blathering generalized bullshit, and saying next to nothing. This is neither an accomplishment nor a miracle.

    How ironic that both literal fundamentalists and sophisticated liberals use the same tactic in their respective apologetics.

  21. Epikt says

    Wow. That’s impressive; biological systems are really complex. But what about something much simpler? Show me where the Quran correctly describes the spacing of the Lyman series spectral lines. Chapter and verse. Be quantitative, and no bullshitting.

  22. Sarasa says

    Knowing both languages; Arabic and English, I clearly understand why Hamza Tzortis needed to use many dictionaries to explain the meaning of this verse in such a script. The Arabic language is rich and very expressive. The translation can never give you a clear picture. From having a first language education in Arabic, I can tell you that the words in the Quran are not as simple as a “drop of fluid” but do need this much explanation that he provided to make the words’ meaning be shown. Having an advanced study in Biology, I can directly relate and fully agree that the words of the Quran are an exact match to embryonic development stages in humans. Furthermore, I can assert that the knowledge from the Quran extends beyond this to all stages of human life and after death and describes in great detail the stages of the first creation of man which was different from the usual process of reproduction, thereby superseding the current level of scientific knowledge.

    Upon reading this article and the comments made, I realised how completely absurd the thoughts are and how the opinion is not based upon having correct information.

  23. says

    “So, do they stand for Bullshit, More Shit, and Piled higher and Deeper? Just curious.”

    That’s the only thing they could refer to. Describes all religious teaching about anthropomorphized gods perfectly.

  24. says

    Anyone still care to accuse PZ of not going after Islam because he’s afraid the Muslims will come after him?

    Yes, I know he’s targeted Islam multiple times before. I just think it’s important to point out periodically that the accusation is false as well as insulting.

  25. Cham826 says

    “This term means to chew, mastication, chewing, to be chewed, and a small piece of meat.”

    Hmmm..chewing, meat, embryos…are we sure this guy isn’t a secret atheist?

  26. says

    I reviewed Hamza’s article entitled ‘do liberal societies facilitate rape via the legalisation of pornography?’.
    I ran the stats for porn searches in non-liberal countries over the last seven years.
    Here’s one extract:

    Searches for ‘horse sex’ since 2004:
    1st place Pakistan 97% Muslim.
    2nd place Ethiopia 34% Muslim.
    3rd place Bangladesh 89.5% Muslim.
    4th place Nepal 4.4% Muslim.
    5th place India 13.4% Muslim.
    6th place Libya 95%+ Muslim.
    7th place Albania 80% Muslim.
    8th place Yemen 99% Muslim.
    9th place Sudan 97% Muslim.
    10th place Kenya 11.2% Muslim.

    He’s not the finest researcher I’ve seen.

  27. John Morales says

    Sarasa:

    Furthermore, I can assert that the knowledge from the Quran extends beyond this to all stages of human life and after death and describes in great detail the stages of the first creation of man which was different from the usual process of reproduction, thereby superseding the current level of scientific knowledge.

    Anyone can assert anything, you silly goose.

    PS Do you deny that Depending on the school of interpretation you consult, Islamic law can recognize a pregnancy to last up to two years, four years and even five years according to the great Muslim jurist, Malik Ibn Anas (715-795).?

    (Source)

  28. says

    I had a student try to take just this line with me on our first-year paper’s moodle forum. Seriously. It was all, “Science can’t explain how Mohammed knew this, therefore the Koran is true!!”. We were treated to other ‘evidences’ as well – apparently said book refers to two streams of water somewhere on the African coast, where ‘sweet’ & ‘salt’ water are separate & distinct. Doesn’t actually say exactly where, mind you. This didn’t faze our student, who did not respond well to the statement that the Amazon’s waters are distinct for some way out into the Atlantic and that there is a perfectly good scientific explanation for this phenomenon.

    Sigh…

    on a more upbeat note – many of the class were right onto all of this. They were very mature and courteous but at the same time, boy did they jump all over his ‘arguments’. I was very proud of them :-)

  29. MadScientist says

    So the quran reads: “A wad of jizz turns into a baby” and that’s ‘proof’ that the book is a holy font of all knowledge? Goddamn … I wish I could get a prize for making such an obviously wrong but superficially plausible statement.I’m referring to the bullshit in the quran of course, not Tzortzis’ additional nonsense.

  30. soso says

    i’m disappointed. nothing about the embryo resting in the mother’s womb up to three years after conception???? (this is what explains the birth of migrant worker’s children at odd dates, calculated from conception – and it saved Safiya Hussaini in Nigeria from the execution of her death penalty. She could not claim that the father of the child was the father of the child, since sharia court would not recognize paternity tests – but she could claim that the child was from her previous husband, since less than three years had passed between divorce and childbirth.)

  31. Gregory Greenwood says

    Sarasa @ 33;

    Having an advanced study in Biology, I can directly relate and fully agree that the words of the Quran are an exact match to embryonic development stages in humans. Furthermore, I can assert that the knowledge from the Quran extends beyond this to all stages of human life and after death and describes in great detail the stages of the first creation of man which was different from the usual process of reproduction, thereby superseding the current level of scientific knowledge.

    Wow. So the Quran includes specifics of meiotic as opposed to mitotic cellular processes? It explains the interaction of genetic, epigenetic and hormonal factors in tissue development? It can trace the neurological development of the foetus? It explains the placental barrier? And all because an ancient warlord had a direct phone line to a magic sky fairy?

    Really? I would be very interested to see a citation backing that assertion up…

    You do have the evidence to back up your claim, don’t you…?

  32. troelsjakobsen says

    All of Tzortzis’ arguments are just a reiteration of existing claims to the Quran being “scientific”. Just like Christian creationists, the Islamic creationists circulate verbatim the same stupid arguments and fallacies.

    For example, take a look at: Miracles of the Quran.

    Besides embryology there are many other areas of “science” on that site which are good for a laugh – such as mentions of radar and black holes or the fundamental insight that plants need water to grow.

  33. says

    To the contrary, the Quran does in fact manage to mention an incorrect detail. This is the 4th stage (Alaqa) which Hamza has translated as “a clinging form”. The truth is the actual translation should be “blood clot” which is obviously referring to the ancient idea of menstrual blood mixing with semen.

    For example, a very influential Islamic scholar names Al Razi from the 12th century says the following in his Quranic commentary with regards to verse 40:67, “All men are created from semen and from menstrual blood.”

    Below is a video that I made and it contains quotes from the commentaries of 7 very important classical Islamic Scholars. In the description box, I have listed 20 different scholars from both Sunni and Shia, from the last 14 centuries who have ALL said that Alaqa is a blood clot.

    I find it ridiculous that Hamza thinks using 20th and 19th century dictionaries are the proper way of analyzing what Muhammad meant when he used the word alaqa, especially when we have islamic documents from the 8th century to modern scholars and translators who have said that Alaqa means blood clot. The dishonesty is too apparent!

  34. Martin says

    @Gregory – haha, nice one!

    @crow Even worse, that line, “and later We made him into other forms”, is only in one translation out of dozens. The rest translate it as, “and then produced it as another creation”, or very similar (i.e. it is born).

    .islamawakened.com/quran/23/14/default.htm

    I checked some of his sources for his claims about Arabic words and one of them is to a non-existant lexicon page and another to a Quranic miracles site (which gives no references)! Excellent research, quite excellent.

  35. says

    Also Hamza had misrepresented Greek medicine especially Galen regarding female contributions to genetic make up. Although, he has very silently mildly retracted his position after long strawmanning discussions on facebook, his followers still remain ignorant, here is what Galen actually says

    Galen “On Semen” page 161 (translated by Philip de Lacy)

    “IF THE OFFSPRING HAVE THE SIMILARITES (TO PARENTS) THROUGH SEMEN, IT IS NECESSARY THAT THE FEMALE ALSO PRODUCES SEMEN, because many children are observed to be very similar to their mothers.”

  36. Mr E says

    Speaking of fluid things:

    “Now let man but think from what he is created! He is created from a fluid emitted – Proceeding from between the backbone and the ribs” Quran: 86:5-7

    No love for testicles?

    Yet Hamza has no problem spinning the shit out of this verse to avoid the error, but he can do a 50-page to explain how some vague talk is a miracle.

    (Actually Muslims think this other verse is also a miracle because the testicles are formed between the backbone and the ribs during the formation of the embryo.)

  37. says

    Having an advanced study in Biology,

    I don’t believe you. If you knew anything about science at all, you wouldn’t be able to say this:

    I can directly relate and fully agree that the words of the Quran are an exact match to embryonic development stages in humans.

    That…is so ridiculously stupid, I’m tempted to ban you outright because that degree of idiocy might be infectious.

    You cannot invoke magic superpowerful words that have all necessary meanings so that you can invoke the entirety of embryology in a short paragraph.

    I call you a liar and fraud.

  38. No One says

    “All men are created from semen and from menstrual blood.”

    Which is the conclusion that any group of humans would reach with limited access to scientific infrastructure.

  39. David Marjanović, OM says

    …Also, the limb skeleton is the appendicular skeleton. Tzortzis just admitted to throwing big words around without knowing what they mean.

    OK, OK, the appendicular skeleton is the skeleton of the limbs and girdles. That still doesn’t make “limb and appendicular skeleton” any less stupid.

  40. says

    (Actually Muslims think this other verse is also a miracle because the testicles are formed between the backbone and the ribs during the formation of the embryo.)

    They aren’t. That doesn’t even make anatomical sense.

    Here’s how Tzortzis reconciles that weird anatomy with reality.

    The above verses have been condemned by various critics and commentators as being scientifically inaccurate, and any attempt to salvage an accurate meaning from them has been suggested to be tantamount to textual acrobatics. This evaluation arises from an analysis of the words  (sulb) and (tara’ib) which have been translated to mean ‘backbone’ and ‘ribs’. Those who maintain the scientific inaccuracy of the Qur’an claim the above translation for the words sulb and tara’ib cannot be reconciled with modern developments in physiology. However, after a lexical analysis of these words it will be seen that these words do in fact concur with modern physiology.

    The word  (sulb) carries various meanings including hard, firm, solid, stiff and rigid. It also means any portion of the backbone, particularly the lumbar portion and the loins. It is specific to males. The word  (tara’ib) means breastbone, the ribs or the pelvic arch118, and this word according to most authors refers specifically to women.

    With such examinations of the interpretations offered by the Arabic language, it can be inferred that the Qur’an complies with modern physiology as it is well known that the sperm and semen come from an area referred to as the loins, and the ovum comes from the pelvic arch area. Both of which are required for the creation of man, that is to say, the human being.

    So apparently the Arabic language is so loosely specified that words can mean just about anything.

  41. Martin says

    In a strange sort of sense, Hamza has almost achieved his main goal here as far as PZ Myers is concerned. He was hurt by the encounter in Dublin which led to PZ Myers saying the Qur’an was wrong. Hamza’s goal is mainly just to stop people saying the Qur’an is wrong, not to prove that it contains knowledge ahead of its time (the latter is no longer his position). He thinks he has achieved that with PZ Myers in so far as PZ says it is “so nebulous that there is very little opportunity for disproof”, though PZ doesn’t quite say it can’t be disproved.

    Others would argue it can be proven incorrect beyond reasonable doubt, and Hamza’s attempt to reconcile it with science fails.

    Here’s just one example: It’s clear enough from Lane’s Lexicon of classical Arabic that mudghah (lump of flesh) means a bite-sized piece of flesh (.studyquran.org/LaneLexicon/Volume8/00000275.pdf). If the embryo is that size, then bones and flesh (even if lahm just means muscle, which it doesn’t) have already long since started to form. Thus the ordering is wrong.

  42. M.H.O. says

    Most people fail to realize how ingeniously the Qur’an avoids potential time paradox, a human limitation when transferring information between time periods., With regards to Its selection of words, and the selection of information and concepts itself when discussing natural observations.

    The Quran uses simple physical descriptive language when discussion scientific observation, using common physical objects as references instead of derived adjective terms. It means that those who are in denial dont waste their time arguing and redefining derived terminologies. Clarity wise it is clearer for me to say “an ‘object’ looks like a chicken egg.” then to say “an ‘object’ looks like ellipsoidal / elliptical / .. etc”.

    Hence the claimed that the verses are vague is a self deception. If people still insist upon it then they should do a case analysis. That is to list out all potential alternate understandings, and see how much of it makes any sense. Reduce the inference relation ‘function’ to other then “if and only if”(iff) logical connective. Apply their famous occam’s razor to this case.

    Imagine a situation where a person from the 21st century somehow has the capability to transfer limited information to the 6th century. What are the limitations and potential traps with regards to the selection of the information and language.

    I’m not very eloquent but i hope my point is clear.

  43. says

    M.H.O. @54:

    No, your point really isn’t clear to me. Are you saying that God was purposely vague when telling Mohammed things so as not to create a temporal paradox?

  44. Mr E says

    Thanks PZ for replaying. Ya they can pretty much spin anything. Here is a tough one, try to spin it before googling up the answer :P

    (Its a Hadith this time)

    Shaih Bukhari, Vol 7, Book 71. Medicine. Hadith 615.

    Narrated By Abu Huraira: Allah’s Apostle said, ‘There is no ‘Adwa (contagiousness), nor Safar (some omen), nor Hama (another omen).” A bedouin stood up and said, “Then what about my camels? They are like deer on the sand, but when a mangy camel comes and mixes with them, they all get infected with mangy.” The Prophet said, “Then who conveyed the (mange) disease to the first one?”

    So it appears the prophet is debunking omens, and wrongly labeled contagiousness as a myth.

  45. No One says

    M.H.O.

    Clarity wise it is clearer for me to say “an ‘object’ looks like a chicken egg.” then to say “an ‘object’ looks like ellipsoidal / elliptical / .. etc”….

    Imagine a situation where a person from the 21st century somehow has the capability to transfer limited information to the 6th century. What are the limitations and potential traps with regards to the selection of the information and language.

    No. The descriptions are those of human being that have observed nature through limited means. If I was a 21st century time traveler I could have easily used a better metaphor. “Observe the tadpoles” would have put them miles ahead. But the descriptions are what you would expect for men of their times and means.

  46. Upright Ape says

    So, sarasa’s statement essentially boils down to: you don’t understand the arabic so the richness is missed on you. You don’t see how well thus describes embryonic development. It is clear only if you speak Arabic.
    Assuming this true, it means the Koran was never meant for non-arabic speakers. Plain and simple. If allah ever wanted the islamic faith for speakers of languages other than arabic, he couldn’t possibly send his communications in such an inscrutable way that accepting it would have to depend entirely on “you have to take my word for it” kind of hearsay.
    The other problem with this logic is that it takes vagueness to be a positive attribute. Of course the flip side of “reachness” is being vague, as happens inevitably when one word can have different meanings. The result: the apologists can always take it to mean what they want it to means. As PZ said, an outstanding example of post hoc hand wringing.
    It would have been a miracle if the koran made scientific predictions that were clearly enough not to require obscurities of language. But there has never been a single example of a scientifc discovery made based on a koranic prediction. It is post hoc apologetics 100% of the time.

  47. Robster says

    who the hell are is the “We” spoken of by the muzzie bloke in the quote from the koran thingy? I thought it was the other myth that had three of them.

  48. Upright Ape says

    MHO, if you think the koran is not vauge all you have to do is read Hamza’s writng and check how many different meanings every key word has. He then picks and chooses the meaning that makes koran fit the science.

  49. John Morales says

    [meta]

    M.H.O., the word that eludes you is ‘ovoid’.

    (Apparently, Allah was lexically challenged no less than you are)

  50. sumdum says

    Ovoid ? But that simply means egg shaped.. like in ovum ? So you’re describing something egg shaped by using the word egg shaped. Oof.

  51. John Morales says

    [OT]

    sumdum, I am noting that the circumlocution is unnecessary and evinces ignorance, since there is a term that encompasses it.

    (Duh)

  52. raven says

    I’m not very eloquent but i hope my point is clear.

    Your point is clear. You are just making stuff up.

    There is nothing in the bible or Koran that wasn’t known to the people who made them up.

    According to the bible, the earth is flat, the sky is a dome with lights for stars stuck on it, orbited by the sun, and the moon is a glow in the dark disk. All of which are wildly wrong.

    PS IIRC, this Hamza guy was originally a Greek and Greek Orthodox xian born or at least raised in London. He’s a convert to Islam. How kooky is that.

  53. raven says

    Hamzas Tzortzis:

    We as Muslims reject the idea of freedom of speech, and even the idea of freedom.

    Hamza is a Moslem theocrat who doesn’t have much use for freedom or democracy.

    Well whatever. Fuck you Hamza Tzortzis, we like our freedoms and democracies and were keeping them. Religious freaks are always trying to take them away but it isn’t going to be easy.

  54. Amphiox says

    “Now let man but think from what he is created! He is created from a fluid emitted – Proceeding from between the backbone and the ribs” Quran: 86:5-7

    You know, “between the backbone and the ribs” pretty much includes the entire body cavity.

    Very specific, this.

  55. raven says

    Telegraph (UK):

    edited for length:

    Mr Tzortzis, a Greek convert, was a trustee of Green Crescent, a British charity placed under investigation by the Charity Commission for links with Islamist terrorism.

    Mr Tzortzis, although never personally accused of terrorist offences, has called for an Islamic state, expressed his hostility towards Western values and stated that: “We as Muslims reject the idea of freedom of speech, and even of freedom.”

    He is a former researcher for the hardline Hittin Institute and chaired the launch event of iERA, an umbrella organisation hosting many well-known British Muslim extremists who preach opposition to democracy and hatred against homosexuals and Jews.

    Says it all. A Moslem version of some of the worst of our xian terrorism enablers.

  56. raven says

    @67 Tzortzis is really just a fringe figure in radical UK Moslem circles.

    Speaker with extremist links to address Detroit … – …
    Jan 18, 2010 … The London student Islamic society where the Detroit aircraft bomber … Hamza Tzortzis has links to the extremist and separatist group Hizb ut Tahrir … Mr Tzortzis, a Greek convert, was a trustee of Green Crescent, a British …

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationnews/7012827/Speaker-with-ext...

  57. Easterngal says

    @Upright Ape

    Sarasa’s words are so much bullshit. On the other hand, I can sort of understand her, I have seen similar arguments with regard to old Chinese text.

    Of course we are motivated by other reasons (our need to prove that we discover things before the westerners, ha), but the basic methods are the same – taking some vague ancient text and twisting it to fix whatever the interpreter want it to mean.

  58. Reese M says

    What I really like is that even if the Koran could be “proven” to have accurately described embryonic development, (which it cannot in any scientifically justifiable way) it did absolutely NOTHING for Muslims for hundreds of years.

    If the “holy” Koran had revealed the truth to Muslims about reproduction then their hospitals, or at least their neonatal care, would have been light years ahead of the rest of the world since the 7th century. Obviously, this is not the case.

    This is just one more example of confirmation bias, pure and simple. Scientists figure out the truth of how reproduction works, and then Muslims retroactively apply the truth to the Koran.

    It’s very obvious how someone in the 7th century who had no clue about sperm, eggs and zygotes could read this book and interpret it in a largely metaphoric sense. This is akin to finding an ancient text postulating that “stars are big hot points of light” and concluding the ancients knew about nuclear fusion or gravitational theory.

  59. says

    I met Hamza twice. I’ve taken issue with some of his research and two arguments used by members of his organisation (here, here), but I have to say he’s a polite chap that generally takes criticism well. I’ve seen him debate extensively – most recently against Dan Barker. I’ve never seen anyone make an accusation of terrorist links. If there were anything to that story, surely it’d be brought up?
    Also, it seems odd to criticize him for being a convert. Surely most of us are deconverts :)

  60. =8)-DX says

    @raven #67
    “Says it all. A Moslem version of some of the worst of our xian terrorism enablers.”
    Thanks for the quote. I agree – Hamza is however his own specific kind of slimy – the “haha” kind. In his debates he’s always “Ha ha how absurd Islam never advocated that what a parody of our beliefs you don’t understand (*under his breath* behead apostates and homosexuals, that’s the humane thing to do)”.

  61. Kristof says

    Arabic is so “rich” you need to be native speaker or at least fluent to understand what it means and it cannot be correctly and unambiguously translated? We have one word for that – USELESS.

    When I say to you in English that “your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries” it means has one meaning and can be easily translated to other languages even from completely different language group. (Example – to Polish, literally: “twoja matka byla chomikiem a twoj ojciec smierdzial jagodami bzu”.) You don’t see people claiming that it also means “my hovercraft is full of eels, my nipples explode in delight” or and you need to learn English to understand it properly.

    Too bad “omniscient” deity was not smart enough to teach his chosen man some highly logical and unambiguous language like lojban or ithkuil…

  62. says

    If M.H.O. isn’t coming back to clarify, can we please still discuss this time-travelling Allah situation? Because this is serious business, and we should address it as a community.

    The claim is that God, the time-travelling playboy/artist/awesome sexy spaceman, wants to tell Mohammed how babies develop, but he has to be vague in his wording so as to avoid a paradox. But if selfsame time-travelling playboy/artist/sexy spaceman God created the universe in the first place, could he not have created the universe without the possibility of a paradox? That way, he could be clear with Mohammed about embryology, among many other things about which he’s notoriously vague.

    Also, given that Allah both time travels and created the universe, who is to say that he didn’t create the universe using a temporal causality loop, like Stewie Griffin did in that one episode of Family Guy? I think that God must have whispered something to Seth MacFarlane. Clearly the man is divinely inspired.

  63. maxamillion says

    @28 joed says:
    I’m not sure who this Hamza Andreas Tzortzis is, I may have seen his act in a few vids.
    But, not all Arabs/Muslims/Mideasterners are so very goofy.
    Most folk in the Mideast are just like you and me. They love their children, they want a safe imaginative life for self and loved ones. They just want to be left alone.

    Yep, that’s what I figured.

  64. maxamillion says

    @33 Sarasa says:
    Knowing both languages; Arabic and English, I clearly understand why Hamza Tzortis needed to use many dictionaries to explain the meaning of this verse in such a script. The Arabic language is rich and very expressive. The translation can never give you a clear picture.

    If the “Arabic” language were rich and expressive then the meaning would be clear and translation would be simple and give a clear picture.

  65. maxamillion says

    Strangely the Qur’an never mentions that Mo shouldn’t have messed with 6 year old girls.

    Any Omnipotent and Omniscient deity would have known that it would not look good on his CV.

    Therefore allah/god does not exist.

    See we don’t need no Arabic.

  66. John Morales says

    [meta]

    maxamillion:

    See we don’t need no Arabic.

    Speak for yourself; I need no Arabic.

  67. John Morales says

    [erratum + meta + deep sigh]

    Poor effort on my part; it is not the case that I need “no Arabic”, but rather that I don’t need Arabic.

    (Another language would suit me just fine)

  68. says

    PZ

    Thank you for taking the time to comment on this. I wish more scientists were willing to comment on the scientific claims made by apologists about the Quran.

    Well done!

  69. rad_pumpkin says

    @80:

    The claim is that God, the time-travelling playboy/artist/awesome sexy spaceman, wants to tell Mohammed how babies develop, but he has to be vague in his wording so as to avoid a paradox. But if selfsame time-travelling playboy/artist/sexy spaceman God created the universe in the first place, could he not have created the universe without the possibility of a paradox? That way, he could be clear with Mohammed about embryology, among many other things about which he’s notoriously vague.

    Paradoxes arise because of the linear flow time is said to have (whether that is actually true is debated by people several times more intelligent, and dozens of times crazier than me). So let’s assume causality and the linearity of time holds. In this case, it’s obvious that the arabic sky daddy created the universe specifically so that his interference would lead to paradoxes, and hence be impossible. Using Apologist Logic (TM), we can therefore deduce that arabic sky daddy did not have any self control, and decided to take out the equivalent of an insurance policy on his creation. Don’t know about the rest of you, but a sky daddy like that doesn’t really impress me too much.

    If we were to assume that the universe was created paradox free, we would then have to wonder why arabic sky daddy did not impart any useful information on his mind-slave. You know, penicillin, water treatment, Haber-Bosch process, etc. In this case, arabic sky daddy is just a clown. So…we’re stuck having to choose between a cosmic monstrosity with no confidence in his ability to not fuck up his ant farm, and a cosmic clown. Why don’t we just ignore this bullshit?

    @71
    It is painful how true this is. ‘course, the power of retrospective interpretation lets me claim that Macbeth is actually a perfect prediction of the political process in the 21st century via Apologist Logic (TM).

  70. Cartomancer says

    This strange idea that one language is “more expressive” or “richer” or “deeper” than another is bullshit in linguistic terms. And obviously so. How often is a native speaker of any language unable to express himself in his native language? Doesn’t happen. He may have to use significantly more words, descriptive circumlocutions, qualifiers and additional sentences to get across the same meaning in one language as in another, and some sentiments may sound clunkier and less elegant in some languages than in others, but the claim that something “cannot be translated” is nonsense. Yet it is a convenient nonsense behind which charlatans like this tortoise fellow hide, because most of us, especially in monoglottal cultures, have grown up with the idea that learning another language is a sophisticated, urbane, scholarly thing to do.

    One might just as easily claim that the Koran cannot possibly express modern embryological ideas, because those ideas were formulated primarily in English and French and German, and the Arabic language cannot adequately express English or French or German scientific sentiments.

    But this kind of post-hoc data-fitting and linguistic masturbation is nothing new. Scholastic thinkers in both the Latin and Arabic speaking worlds did it all the time in the Middle Ages. It was their bread and butter. Funnily enough the Koran fitted exactly with tenth-century science too. And twelfth century science, and fifteenth-century science, and eighteenth century science… and the christians were no better. According to William of Conches and Thierry of Chartres the book of genesis fitted exactly with the “scientific” cosmology of Plato’s Timeaus. According to Robert Grosseteste and Aquinas and Albert the Great a century later it fitted exactly with Aristotle’s cosmological origin stories. And so on. This is very unimpressive stuff indeed.

  71. says

    iERA have stepped back from “It is a miracle containing information predating scientific discovery” to “It is not incorrect, doesn’t that beg the question…..?”

    Let me put it into perspective with an exercise:

    1: Take the original verbose Greek of Galen.
    2: Does it negate established reality? Yes!
    3: Now loosely summarise it in Arabic.
    4: Does it negate established reality? No!

    Which question exactly are we begging here? How could a mere man have summarised verbose text into a few sentences?

  72. opposablethumbs, que le pouce enragé mette les pouces says

    This strange idea that one language is “more expressive” or “richer” or “deeper” than another is bullshit in linguistic terms. And obviously so.

    QFT. I am very small fry indeed as a language learner compared to some august linguists whose presence graces these threads but even from my limited experience (6) it is blindingly obvious that while a writer’s ability to express hirself/express particular ideas may depend on a lot of factors, these factors do not include which language they’re using.

    It’s the usual obfuscatory bollocks, “just take my word for it, you couldn’t possibly understand” – just one step away from the old xtian attempts to ban the translation of the bibble into the vernacular so that only the right sort could read it.

  73. says

    Kristof,

    one of the problems is that there are no native speakers of Classical Arabic, the language of the Qur’an. Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) is also more used as a written language, though also used in speech at formal occasions. But there is a huge time gap between Classical Arabic and MSA, as well as the numerous “dialects” spoken today in the Arabic world. There’s a lot of space for semantic variation in that. Without being an expert in Qur’an exegesis, I’d say no-one would be able to ascertain the original meaning of the terms. A modern speaker without such an education would probably not be able to.

    Also, like all Afro-Asiatic languages, Arabic is a transfixational language, using roots consisting of three consonants, in a huge paradigm of forms, which can also contribute to semantic confusion. So the root for “write” k-t-b is used in a variety of other derived words, such as “library”, “desk” etc. It’s actually quite a fascinating morphological process, and exclusive to that language family.

  74. raven says

    Geoff:

    I’ve never seen anyone make an accusation of terrorist links. If there were anything to that story, surely it’d be brought up?

    Geoff, since Hamza is a fringe figure, I didn’t know much about him. The information comes from using google and I’ve even posted the link to the Londom Telegraph newspaper. There are also multiple sources that I didn’t post.

    It’s quite obvious that Hamza is a wild eyed Islamic extremist who wants to set up the next Moslem Caliphate in London or somewhere. That he has links to terrorists is much less proven.

    You could always spend a minute or two with a search engine yourself, if you care that much.

    Also, it seems odd to criticize him for being a convert. Surely most of us are deconverts :)

    False equivalence. There is a huge difference between dropping a toxic religion and joining one.

    From our western secular perspective, joining a fundie Moslem, Jewish, or Xian cult is a bit like going out, finding a very large snake, prying open its mouth, and climbing in. You could do it but why?

    I suppose for a male, joining something like an extremist Moslem group allows you to play wannabe dictator and female slaver. For a woman, it looks like getting a lobotomy and becoming a subservient nonperson.

  75. Thomathy, now gayer and atheister says

    Sarasa, you’re belief in a meaningless version of Arabic must explain why your English is so clunky. After all, English is particularly nuanced and it’s no wonder you have trouble with the grammar of the language, what with your odd syntax, poor inflection and strange word choices. If you don’t believe that second languages can be fluently learned nor adequately translated for comprehension, it’s a wonder anyone here can understand you at all.

    Oh, wait …

    @pelanum: I would dispute that transfixation is unique to Afro-Asiatic languages, but I can’t think of a contrary example, nor can I find one. It is certainly well-represented (although not exclusively represented) in that language family though.

  76. cosmas says

    @ PZ # 51
    As a native Arabic speaker, I’d like to testify to how disingenuous Hamza is when interpreting the Sulb and Tara’ib verse.

    Although as claimed above in # 92 “There’s a lot of space for semantic variation” in Arabic, the Quranic pronunciation has been standardized for about 14 centuries now. Therefore a term like Sulb MAY NOT mean “hard, firm …etc”. That is sAlb. Sulb in the Quranic text means lower back. Period. In fact, we still use the term “His back came” to express Male Orgasm. So, he may rightly obfuscate the term “loin” to mean any part in the male body including hips, groin lower back and lower abdomen. However, Sulb (lower back/back bone) is not known to produce any germ cells by this Biology major/Arabic speaker. That general area may be claimed to host female reproductive organs however, a charge interestingly neither Hamza nor any Quran apologists ever makes.
    The other disingenuous claim, nay outright lies, is the translation of the word Tara’ib. They are clavicles not ribs nor sternum as he indicates. Even if we generously consider it to mean upper thorax, it’s still a far off location for human reproductive organs by any physiology standards.
    IMHO, no matter how Hamza disfigures the Arabic language, this verse is contradicts science and reality. It’s an insult to language and rationality to parrot that humans are made/created (Khlq) in the area between the Sulb (lower back) and Tara’ib (Clavicle)

    Finally, Thank you rad_pumpkin #88 . “Arabic Sky Daddy” is a good handle for Gay Bear sites.

  77. Charles R Ward says

    Maybe some of these people can look in their know it all books,
    and answer a current science question. FTL neutrons; yes or no.

    What’s the point answering things we have already learned the hard way.

    I don’t know if this comment will go thru, I tried the wordpress
    button with out saying any thing during the comment registration thread. It appeared to work then but hasn’t since. Maybe I’ve been logged in the whole time.

  78. says

    rad_pumpkin @88:

    So…we’re stuck having to choose between a cosmic monstrosity with no confidence in his ability to not fuck up his ant farm, and a cosmic clown. Why don’t we just ignore this bullshit?

    Oh, all right, if you insist. I do think M.H.O. should write this up and submit it to Nature, though. Good times.

  79. says

    Mohammed avoided the trap of being caught in an overt error here by blathering generalized bullshit

    I knew someone had to have come up with that strategy, because Deepak Chopra isn’t smart enough to have thought it up himself.

  80. says

    This strange idea that one language is “more expressive” or “richer” or “deeper” than another is bullshit in linguistic terms.

    01010011 01101001 01101110 01100011 01100101 00100000 01100101 01110110 01100101 01110010 01111001 01110100 01101000 01101001 01101110 01100111 00100000 01100011 01100001 01101110 00100000 01100010 01100101 00100000 01100101 01101110 01100011 01101111 01100100 01100101 01100100 00100000 01101001 01101110 00100000 01100010 01101001 01101110 01100001 01110010 01111001 00101100 00100000 01100100 01101111 01100101 01110011 00100000 01110100 01101000 01100001 01110100 00100000 01101101 01100001 01101011 01100101 00100000 01100010 01101001 01101110 01100001 01110010 01111001 00101100 00100000 01110111 01101001 01110100 01101000 00100000 01101001 01110100 01110011 00100000 01100100 01111001 01101110 01100001 01101101 01101001 01100011 00100000 00100010 01101111 01101110 01100101 01110011 00100010 00100000 01100001 01101110 01100100 00100000 01110010 01101001 01100011 01101000 00100000 00100010 01111010 01100101 01110010 01101111 01100101 01110011 00100010 00100000 01110100 01101000 01100101 00100000 01101101 01101111 01110011 01110100 00100000 01100101 01111000 01110000 01110010 01100101 01110011 01110011 01101001 01110110 01100101 00100000 01101100 01100001 01101110 01100111 01110101 01100001 01100111 01100101 00100000 01101111 01100110 00100000 01100001 01101100 01101100 00111111 00100000

  81. David Marjanović, OM says

    Hizb ut Tahrir

    “Party of liberation”.

    Strangely the Qur’an never mentions that Mo shouldn’t have messed with 6 year old girls.

    Oh, he didn’t. He waited till she was 9.

    But there is a huge time gap between Classical Arabic and MSA, as well as the numerous “dialects” spoken today in the Arabic world. There’s a lot of space for semantic variation in that. Without being an expert in Qur’an exegesis, I’d say no-one would be able to ascertain the original meaning of the terms.

    Added problems: 1) much of what has been written in Classical Arabic is poetry, which of course uses words in uncommon metaphorical ways; 2) the Qur’ān contains plenty of words that don’t occur anywhere else in Classical Arabic (let alone its descendants).

    The “dialects” are largely comparable to the Romance languages, MSA to 18th-century Latin (think Linnæus), and Classical Arabic to Classical Latin.

    Also, like all Afro-Asiatic languages, Arabic is a transfixational language, using roots consisting of three consonants, in a huge paradigm of forms, which can also contribute to semantic confusion. So the root for “write” k-t-b is used in a variety of other derived words, such as “library”, “desk” etc.

    The reason this is important here is that only the consonants and the long vowels are written. The short vowels are left to context. That works most but not quite all of the time.

    One of the first caliphs therefore ordered that all short vowels in the Qur’ān always had to be spelled out (using a specially invented system of dots around the letters). But by then, it was too late; there were already fourteen versions of the Qur’ān in circulation, and they still are.

    (Some of that variation doesn’t depend on the vowels. It’s due to the fact that some of the consonant letters, for instance z and r, differ only by dots, and these dots were usually omitted before the abovementioned caliph made them mandatory.)

    It’s actually quite a fascinating morphological process, and exclusive to that language family.

    In that extreme, yes, but milder forms are common in and around Europe.* Sing – sang – sung – song is an example from good old English.

    * Indo-European, Kartvelian, Northwest Caucasian.

    Do you think that you are a professor ?
    shame on you man,,

    I have a doctorate, and I burp in your general direction.

    who wants to set up the next Moslem Caliphate in London or somewhere

    Everywhere. Or at least everywhere where Muslims live.

    FTL neutrons; yes or no.

    Neutrinos, not neutrons.

  82. Rev.Enki says

    Well, you can’t say much about it but this: at least it’s a damned sight closer to reality than anything the bible has to offer. Maybe we life science sorts should look into converting to Islam.

  83. says

    Did someone read this from Hamza’s page?

    “I refer to the Qur’anic word “extract” implying that some elements contained in clay are essential (or were used) for human life. ”

    By that logic Quran could’ve said that man was created from an essence of horseshit and still be right. Clearly goes on to show how full of shit this “miracle claim” is.

    He also accused PZ of not addressing the “bones being clothed by flesh” part. Actually he talks about aggregation and migration of myoblasts, but WTF has that got to do with bones being clothed by flesh? Not to forget the erroneous presumption that flesh == muscle.

  84. maxamillion says

    @102 David Marjanović, OM says:

    Strangely the Qur’an never mentions that Mo shouldn’t have messed with 6 year old girls.

    Oh, he didn’t. He waited till she was 9.

    Yes I know that, how nice of him.

    How does that change anything?

    Marrying someone who is 6 years and waiting until the are 9 years still doesn’t look good on your CV.

  85. says

    /OT

    Timaahy, David M:

    some features can be unique to certain language families. But give me a counter-example and we will throw it out from the list of unique features. Actually an area where you could look is where an Afro-Asiatic language has been in long-term contact with a non-Afro-Asiatic one, diffusion of grammatical features does happen.

    The ablaut phenomenon David cited doesn’t even come close to transfixation. Apophony/Gradation what have you is very very common in many languages. But combining specific consonants with different vowel patterns, plus prefixes and suffixes, that is quite unique. Also, in AA languages, transfixation is much more pervasive as a morphophonological process than apophony in the language families cited by David.

  86. raven says

    @Raven, given that I’ve met the chap, and written about him, do you really think I haven’t Googled him?

    OK, so you have met a polite, wild eyed Moslem extremist who wants to destroy western democracies and enslave over half the population. Glad to hear it.

    Do you have a point here?

    Or are you dreaming at night of the next Islamic Caliphate with its capital in London?

    If you are going to claim that all the souces turned up in a Google search are wrong, feel free. But that takes data and evidence and there are too many of them. I doubt you can do anything of the sort.

  87. raven says

    from google:

    Mr Tzortzis, although never personally accused of terrorist offences, has called for an Islamic state, expressed his hostility towards Western values and stated that: “We as Muslims reject the idea of freedom of speech, and even of freedom.”

    He is a former researcher for the hardline Hittin Institute and chaired the launch event of iERA, an umbrella organisation hosting many well-known British Muslim extremists who preach opposition to democracy and hatred against homosexuals and Jews.

    Sorry Geoff, no matter how much I read about Hamza Tzortzis, he looks like a toad who wants the worst for anyone and everyone. A kooky and possibly dangerous poor excuse for a human being.

    If you agee with him, so are you.

  88. says

    I never said I agreed with him. Quite the opposite! It just seems odd to call him a terrorist when he recently got a multiple entry visa to the USA, debated Dan Barker, Michael Nugent, met PZ, has had regular TV slots and so on without someone bringing it up in debate.
    There are plenty of avenues of criticism without making stuff up!

  89. marko says

    I fed those bytes by Marcus Ranum (comment 101) through an improvised Ruby snippet:

    bs = '01010011 01101001 . . . 00100000'

    bs.split.each {|b| print b.size == 8 ? (("0b"+b).to_i(2).chr) : " #{b} " }; puts; nil

    The result (spoiler!):

    Since everything can be encoded in binary, does that make binary, with its dynamic “ones” and rich “zeroes” the most expressive language of all? 0010000001010011 ince everything can be encoded in binary, does that make binary, with its dynamic “ones” and rich “zeroes” the most expressive language of all?

    Well played, Sir. For my stylistic taste, that one 0010000001010011 could have used a blank, though. (-:

  90. H Herbeer says

    Pharyngula:

    I am afraid you are falling in the Dawkins trap. Even though I enjoyed reading his “Delusion” book, I think there is not much sense in arguing with religious ideologues of whatever colour. What we have in every religion (and in some ideologies) is their insistence on their (mostly old) book as the ultimate evidence for their belief. This insistence is necessary if your scriptures are the only source of “divine” evidence.

    We are doing research on popularized science and technology and let me tell you, men and women in the street (in Europe and the US) are not more sophisticated in their vernacular thinking about nature than Aristotle and Galen. What sets them apart from religious ideologues, however, is that every new cohorte has a tiny bit of deeper understanding than the last due to updated textbooks and “updated” teachers at least in Europe. The reason of their falling short of real scientific understanding is in their social and discursive necessities that are not the same as those of scientists’. The biggest danger is when religious beliefs enter the scientific school curriculum.

    Hence, religious ideologues maintain a belief that’s by definition immutable while scientists develop knowledge that must be changeable in the face of new scientific evidence. In this sense, rejecting an ideologue’s beliefs in his/her scriptures, as contorted as they may be, is futile at least, if not outright silly. [I don’t call you silly, only the approach you are taking. You may also call it nonsensical]

  91. says

    Another issue (almost irrelevant due to overriding issues) – some of his word meanings seem to be modern adaptations based on a modern understanding of the world.

    Tzortzis needs to provide strong etymological evidence for the ancient origin of every meaning he wishes to use in his argument.

    Otherwise, the house of cards comes tumbling down. It would hardly be a miracle to find that old words take on new meaning as human knowledge grows.

  92. says

    KG:

    PZ Myers actually admits to the Qurans accuracy

    You are going to burn in Hell, tortured, your liver eaten daily and regrown, skin burned off and regrown, without a drop of water for your thirst, for ever and ever for lying, while we watch and laugh at you from Valhalla (or maybe Tahiti).

    Or maybe I’ll just ridicule your nonsense beliefs while I point and laugh, sixes really.