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Fluff flattened

A while back, I read Hamza Tzortzis’ “paper”, Embryology in the Qur’an: A scientific-linguistic analysis of chapter 23: With responses to historical, scientific & popular contentions. It was terrible and painful: a 58 page treatise (with big print and lots of white space) expanding obsessively on two sentences from the Quran, claiming that it revealed deep insights about embryology that could not have been known without magical, supernatural insight. It was total bullshit.

Now, get ready for this: a couple of scholars have ripped into the Tzortzis paper at length. Embryology in the Quran: Much Ado about Nothing: A Refutation of Hamza Tzortzis’ Embryology in the Qur’an: A Scientific-Linguistic Analysis of Chapter 23.

It’s 149 pages long.

I haven’t read the whole thing, but did a few spot checks, and it looks solid so far. I’m just worried that now we’re in an escalation spiral, and Tzortzis will reply with a badly researched refutation of the refutation that will be 500 pages long.

The letter I was sent about the paper points out that it’s an important perspective, though: it’s not just Western scientists dismissing an Islamic perspective, but the authors are ex-Muslims who grew up steeped in Islamic culture, so it’s an internal criticism.

While it most probably is the case that you are thoroughly bored with Hamza Tzortzis and his fraudulent claims about Embryology in the Quran, there is a new document recently uploaded that does serious damage to the image of Hamza Tzortzis and at the same time, provides a definitive debunking of the unfortunately popular Islamic Embryology claim that has been touted for the last 30 years; spouted and spread so well, that children growing up in Islamic families take it as just another accepted fact and treat it just the same way they treat the fact that the Earth is round. As an Ex-Muslim, I can attest to this as I too for several years took it for granted that the Quran contained modern embryological facts (even when I knew nothing of the subject as a kid).

The embryology claim is one that has been unfortunately drilled deep into the psyche of most Muslims. The name “Keith Moore” is pretty much a house hold name for many Muslims. It is for this very reason that ex-Muslims like myself consider this new document titled “Embryology in the Quran: Much Ado about Nothing” very very important.

While yourself and many others have refuted Hamza’s hogwash, it is also true that the refutations so far were quite generalized . They very well do appeal to Skeptics (esp. those from the Christian background), however they were never enough to convince most of the Muslims and even ex-Muslims as they grew up knowing every detail of apologetics regarding this claim like the back of their hand.

This is where the new paper stands different. It takes a somewhat “James Randian” approach and uses the exact sources and methodologies used by Muslims to disprove definitively the embryology claim. The arguments in there have such a depth that even Muslims won’t be able to ignore them (or at least not without maintaining a cognitive dissonance).

Good. More voices and more perspectives are always helpful.

Comments

  1. md says

    Interesting post PZ. Not so much the papers themselves, but the highlighting of internal criticism within Islam. Click on that second paper though, and try and find out who wrote it. I see five names, only one of which seems like it could be real. Thats fine too, nothing wrong with anonymity per se, but I cant’ help but wonder if they choose anonymity as a safety issue.

    Id be happier if these ex-muslim skeptics could reveal their names. Lets hope this is one step in that direction.

  2. julietdefarge says

    I hope the refutation gets posted in many places around the internet. I really would like to see Islamic regimes pushed to the point where they have to choose between giving up censorship or cutting off all contact with the outside world because there are just too many blasphemers to attack.

  3. Sastra says

    From my reading of scientific skeptics Taner Edis (Islam) and Meera Nanda (Hinduism), I gather that non-christian attempts to appropriate science to support religious claims are slightly different than Christian attempts. Those further from a background of western science seem to lean very, very heavily on analogy. Pious Muslims and Hindus take scientific discoveries and then scour their holy texts for something, anything, which *in hindsight* can be interpreted as a description of what was discovered. They then hold up this strained and superficial resemblance as proof positive that scientists are only now stumbling across the deep insights that eastern mystics have known all along.

    Specifically, Nanda refers to the “self-serving habit of Hindu apologists to draw wild parallels and equivalence between just about any shloka from the Vedas and the laws of quantum mechanics.” And my favorite example from Quran pseudoscience is where a passage which talks about how Allah spreads the stars above us like a tent is supposed to be a prediction of the red shift and an expanding universe. How could they have known?

    So lame.

    I think religious thinking in general is analogical: as above, so below. They’re finding meaning in patterns which aren’t actually connected in any meaningful physical way. Unlike “sophisticated Christians” (meaning Christians who have been heavily influenced by secular humanism), they can’t blithely compartmentalize nature away from the supernatural. No, they want their understanding to be holistic, a unified understanding. Which would be fine — exemplary even — if their religious beliefs weren’t wrong.

    The fact that this embryology claim has been “drilled deep into the psyche of most Muslims” helps show how the Muslims really, really don’t get science. They’re still approaching it from a medieval mindset and looking for magical correspondences.

  4. says

    I gather that non-christian attempts to appropriate science to support religious claims are slightly different than Christian attempts. Those further from a background of western science seem to lean very, very heavily on analogy. Pious Muslims and Hindus take scientific discoveries and then scour their holy texts for something, anything, which *in hindsight* can be interpreted as a description of what was discovered. They then hold up this strained and superficial resemblance as proof positive that scientists are only now stumbling across the deep insights that eastern mystics have known all along.

    So when you said slightly different you really mean exactly the same?

    Also further from a background of “western” science? If you’re going to be all that possessive about it I think you should return those numerals and maths you’ve been using since you lack the background of “Arabic Maths” plus also you know…zero.

  5. says

    The fact that this embryology claim has been “drilled deep into the psyche of most Muslims” helps show how the Muslims really, really don’t get science. They’re still approaching it from a medieval mindset and looking for magical correspondences.

    HEY EVERYONE WHAT A SURPRISE! A WESTERN ATHEIST WHO FEELS SUPERIOR TO MUSLIMS BECAUSE THEY DO SHIT HIS/HER OWN SOCIETY DOES!!!!

  6. Beatrice says

    Like Ing, I have some trouble seeing where Christians’ approach differs from everyone else’s. Christians too, when they are not outright denying some scientific knowledge, search through the Bible until they find something that works as a supposed analogy for the scientific finding.

  7. gaia says

    I come from a Hindu background and a majority of my life has been spent in Muslim countries, and I would have to say I agree with Sastra, there is a fundamental difference there.

    Also further from a background of “western” science? If you’re going to be all that possessive about it I think you should return those numerals and maths you’ve been using since you lack the background of “Arabic Maths” plus also you know…zero.

    Again, I wouldn’t disagree with what Sastra said. This is something I’ve been complaining about for a while, from the opposite perspective: A lot of Easterners, in my experience, insist on characterizing science as “Western”. There’s a lot of “Those Westerners don’t understand how to look at things holistically” and “Those Westerners are only just discovering things we’ve had in our holy books for ages”, where “science” is included as part of “Westerners'” way of thinking. In India there is a national and cultural pride fiercely tied to Indian flavours of pseudoscience like Ayurveda and spiritual nonsense (and, irritatingly, homeopathy which is not even Indian). Indians themselves very often describe real medicine as “Western Medicine” or “English Medicine”, which makes me so angry.

  8. gaia says

    (for clarity: That blockquote of mine was quoting Ing, not Sastra. I was disagreeing with Ing’s response to Sastra’s comment.)

  9. gaia says

    @Ing

    Because, unlike [many/most] Christians, Muslims and Hindus (not as a monolith, obviously, but a large fraction of them) see science as a largely Western endeavor — ie, an undertaking by a group of people different from them not only in religious views, but also in culture, nationality, and geography. Science is “other” to such people in a way that it is not for Christians who identify as Western. A cause and/or consequence of that is that they are taught both science and religion in a very different way from how Western Christians are.

  10. gregburke says

    Good to see commendable and original work at holding back the wave of Islamic pseudo-science being shared. There’s a suitably mocking and informative video doing the rounds promoting the new debunking of Quran “embryology”:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mPgT_gV97tw

    You can see with this preview of the “nutfah” section of their paper how contemptably incompetent and dishonest Hamza Tzortzis is. Perhaps the phrase “willfully incompetent” is most apt.

    Seems in the new paper like pretty much every new piece of “evidence” that Tzortzis tried to bring to the table turns out to be a falsehood, every new argument refuted, as also all the well-travelled embryology claims which he copies and pastes. Is that guy actually getting paid to be IERA’s “Head of Research”?!?

  11. vaiyt says

    Pious Muslims and Hindus take scientific discoveries and then scour their holy texts for something, anything, which *in hindsight* can be interpreted as a description of what was discovered. They then hold up this strained and superficial resemblance as proof positive that scientists are only now stumbling across the deep insights that eastern mystics have known all along.

    How is that different from Andy Schlafly’s “proofs of Biblical scientific foreknowledge”?

  12. anteprepro says

    How is that different from Andy Schlafly’s “proofs of Biblical scientific foreknowledge”?

    It isn’t.

    Also similar to that description: “prophecy”.

    But durn those wacky Easterners are so wacky!

  13. says

    With due respect to Sastra, I know Muslims who do believe the Koranic foreknowledge stuff, and I’ve read Christians who make similar claims about alleged Biblical foreknowledge, and I don’t really see much of a difference.

    That notion of the cultural ‘other’ thing playing a part in some might have some validity, but it looks to me from who I talk to that there’s degrees and kinds in this, as in many things. And among them:

    1) Yes, the Muslim who believes ‘Western’ science is simply wrong-headed; there’s some holistic approach that somehow involves ‘other ways of knowing’.

    (Supporting anecdote: the wacky uncle at the family party who starts what sounds like it’s supposed to be some kind of learned exposition on astronomy, but shortly segues into insisting the way you travel faster than light is love and reading the Koran… No, I’m not kidding.)

    2) The Muslim who thinks the Western methods are fine, and probably the only methods we have now anyway, but that somehow Gabriel already passed on these deeper truths we’d find later allegorically to Mohammed, or these truths showed up in other books (she’s ecumenical about the potential wisdom in Christian and Jewish sources, too)

    (Anecdote: otherwise actually quite intellectually capable Muslim who tells me she’s very excited by popular coverage in the fringe press that says recent discoveries of ‘giant human fossils’ show the scriptural bits about ‘giants walking the Earth’ were true after all.)

    … however, I can also think of Christian and western ‘New Age’ examples that are essentially the same as both of these odd beliefs, so it’s not really unique to Muslims… Even if you look at that ‘Western science is out to lunch/Me and my hawesome spirituality are sooo beyond and above that’ vibe, you get that from people with very Anglo-Saxon surnames and who’ve never been near a mosque, too. You could maybe argue there tends to be a certain Muslim flavour to this peculiar chauvinism (and yes, it is one of those) when it comes from cultural Muslims, but I dunno… Looks like the same hokum to me, on balance. Even this claim that they somehow approach it from further outside: I think that varies; some may, but some don’t seem to see science so much as an exclusively ‘Western’ thing. Some are very aware and very proud of, for one thing, the relative progress of science under the Islamic golden age versus what was happening in Europe. The fact that the West has been winning the recent science fairs, in this view, is unfortunate, but what can ya do… The new kid’s got talent, too, obviously.

    What might be true is there’s a difference in prevalence/presence of these views in the religious ‘mainstream’ within Islam vs. Christianity currently. I do seem to remember Edis saying something like this, but can’t swear to it…

    For my own part, all I can say is I have been surprised by how often it’s come up from Muslims. But that’s all anecdote, obviously. And who knows what other factors may come into play? In my case, I think sometimes the Christians who know me are more likely to realize how cruelly I’m likely to abuse them should they leave such stuff available to me for skewering. The Muslims just happen still to be learning.

  14. says

    Oh: one additional thread/thought–one potential source of difference here which I would, however, consider as possibly valid:

    I take it as generally understood that the common Muslim view of the position Koran is somewhat different than at least the mainstream Christian view of the Bible. The veneration for it is on a somewhat different level–there’s this notion that these are the words of the god, and the god spoke Arabic, thou shalt not translate, you can’t write a verse as beautiful, so on, and even in Muslims who read no Arabic, and/or don’t even understand the spoken language or not very well, the veneration for the words in the original is pretty significant to the whole of their creed. Can’t remember which historian wrote that in a sense, if you want to try to understand this from the Christian perspective, the book is the saviour figure, in terms of its emotional significance, resonance, so on. The Muslims I know, as you may have heard is a tradition, insist on never placing another book physically on top of theirs, and there’s all these rituals regarding its proper treatment, disposal, so on. And my understanding is, this is pretty common.

    The modern Christian view of the Bible is rather more diverse, I think. You get the literalists, and there’s probably a huge overlap between them and the ‘foreknowledge’ types, not coincidentally, but then there’s many for whom the notion that it’s a pretty mixed bag of writings has long penetrated their skulls and culture. Note also that knowledge of the early variant texts of the new testament and biblical apocrypha in general and so on is pretty widespread; not so much with the Koran. And textual criticism of the bible is anathema to some fundamentalists, sure, but it’s pretty much in the academic mainstream, now. Whereas textual criticism of the Koran, for a host of reasons, is still in the ‘sputtering cautiously to life’ stage, I think it’s fair to say. And far as I understand, there’s lots of Christian congregations where you can safely talk about the bible having been imperfectly transmitted, translated, so on; no one’s likely to get too upset; this is increasingly understood. Whereas with the Koran, just writing fiction that references the legend of the satanic verses, you may recall, made a fair bit more news.

    So it wouldn’t be surprising just on these bases that you’d get rather different popularity of views, at least, around question about foreknowledge. The books themselves are seen somewhat differently, just taking your average believer, between these faiths.

  15. NitricAcid says

    I had a student tell me that the Law of Conservation of Energy was found somewhere in one of the Hindu sutras, and was only relatively recently rediscovered by “Western science”. She wasn’t Hindu; just the regular run-of-the-mill BC-coast new-age flakes.

  16. Sastra says

    Ing #6 wrote:

    So when you said slightly different you really mean exactly the same?

    No, I think there may be a small distinction between the way Christians and Muslims/Hindus try to shoehorn religion and science into each other. It would be rather surprising if there wasn’t, given the different historical, cultural, geographic, and political backgrounds.

    While there’s certainly a lot of overlap, it seems to me that the well-educated, intelligent, science-friendly Christians are more into God of the Gaps type arguments. “Here is where we need (or can fit) divine explanation into your theories.” Prophesies and Biblical foreknowledge are usually applied to historical events, not scientific ones. Christians in general just don’t seem to be as heavily invested in picking out vague parallels between what scientists discover and What Is Written in a holy text and claiming great significance (“the divinity of the Bible confirmed!”) They’ve become more comfortable with metaphor.

    Another difference is that what’s pretty much associated with down-home folk fundamentalism and fringe extremists in the US and Europe appears to be mainstream, even in the academic communities, in countries that specifically identify as Muslim or Hindu. People like Andy Schafly aren’t being read in universities, nor are his claims considered common knowledge.

    Also further from a background of “western” science?

    You’re right; I should have put scare quotes around the term. Modern science originally developed in Europe because of a whole host of factors — including an ability to borrow what had originated in other cultures and extend its use.

  17. Sastra says

    I tend to lump New Age and a lot of the liberal “spiritual but not religious” pagan-y types into the eastern religions. Yes, they bastardize them, but they’re often so proud of the connection and you can usually discern it in there somewhere. Like Chopra.

  18. redpanda says

    As ex-Muslims, doesn’t that sort of negate the “internal” part of “internal criticism?” Not sure why Muslims would care more about something produced by atheists just because they used to be Muslim. It doesn’t work that way with Christians, and don’t Muslims take apostasy even more seriously than we do?

  19. d.f.manno says

    @ julietdefarge (#4):

    I really would like to see Islamic regimes pushed to the point where they have to choose between giving up censorship or cutting off all contact with the outside world because there are just too many blasphemers to attack.

    For the religious zealot there can never be too many blasphemers to attack. The modern world is always a target-rich environment.

  20. anteprepro says

    Not sure why Muslims would care more about something produced by atheists just because they used to be Muslim.

    I’m not sure that they would either, but they should (by ever so slight a margin) simply because ex-Muslims most likely have had more actual exposure to Islam than atheists who are not ex-Muslims. They should be more informed on the subject. On average, at least.

  21. says

    Sastra;

    Thanks for clarifying. I was also wondering exactly how embryology in the Koran and the likes of Andy Schlafly differ, but I do agree that “science in the Bible” is more or less a fringe concept in Christianity and that mainstream Christians tend to prefer the God of the Gaps.

  22. eddarrell says

    Escalating, boring papers!

    Beats burning embassies and consulates, or launching rockets into apartment buildings.