Revisiting Islamic embryology

I seem to be famous in the Muslim world for disagreeing with Keith Moore and Hamza Tzortzis on the validity of the brief embryology lesson in the Koran — and for being utterly crushed by Tzortzis. So let’s take another look at that, at the lovely hour of 6am Central time on Sunday, the 24th.

Hey, don’t complain, it’s a good time of day for me!


  1. Vreejack says

    That’s five a.m. for me. That’s a challenge. I haven’t had a five a.m. class since 1987.

  2. morsgotha says

    I remember this “debate” from like 10 years ago (on youtube). I can’t decide which part is best. You say “I’m an embryologist” calmly, or AronRa cutting in on his area.

  3. chrislawson says

    Koranic embryology makes sense as a protoscientific explanation. Life starting as a clot is a very plausible story when all the evidence you have is that early miscarriages look exactly like blood clots. Non-clot tissues are only visible without a microscope later in gestation.

    Hence the problem with literalists. Their holy books, whatever their many inconsistencies and paradoxes, were attempts to explain the world as best their authors could. The literalists are directly opposing efforts to understand the world as best they can.

    (It also shows what’s wrong with Gould’s NOMA argument in practical terms. Religious leaders and prophets have always made testable claims about reality and they’re not about to abandon the territory. Some of those claims were not testable at the time they made them, but many of them were, e.g. the flat Earth. It also means that the demarcation line between NOMAs is completely dependent on future scientific developments. There is no way the Biblical authors could possibly have incorporated isotope dating or radio astronomy evidence into their worldview.)

  4. says

    Pedantic point: Muhammad didn’t write anything. He recited the Koran, it was written down later. (Koran literally means recitation.)

  5. birgerjohansson says

    The fun part of the koran is about those invisible pillars that hold up the sky- a miracle Mr. M. quoted as a proof of the power of Al-Lah.
    The meters are also fun. Astrologers and others would sometimes get the future right, boosting their claims of precognition.
    Mr. M explained this by saying they got their info from evil djinn that had risen up next to heaven to overhear the angels making plans.
    The meteors were weapons the angels threw at the djinn they spotted coming too close.
    This is mentioned more than one time.
    This is also the reason why the Saudis executed a libanese who who foolishly travelled to this sh*thole country- his job was to make astrology charts for media. He was decapitated.

  6. birgerjohansson says

    cervantes @ 4.
    Officially, the koran is eternal and uncreated.
    Mr.M was reciting a recitation by Gabriel, who was reading off a Copy of the koran in heaven.
    By a coincidence, the angels speak 7-century arabic, just like all aliens speak 20th century English.
    The fun really begins with the common claim the koran is perfectly preserved. With the advent of Youtube, ex-muslims and christians have started to check the differences between the 30-odd quranic variants. The ‘Hafs’ variant was not even the best, but the Egyptians standardized on that 1924, and the Saudis followed suit in the 1970s.
    And as translations of both the koran variants and the very extensive hadith texts (stories about Muhammed that are as important as the koran) now are available online, the search for contradictions and scriptual errors have really taken off. 😁

    And the hadith collections contain real gems showing the character of the prophet. Like him trading with slaves (the Black slaves were worth less).
    And the time he tortured a prisoner with fire to make him reveal where he his his wealthy, and then beheaded him.
    And how he married Aisha when she was 6 or 7, and consumnsted the marriage when the was nine or ten (he was 52).
    And the time he said his warriors could not just rape their female captives, they had to annul the women’s previous marriages so the warriors could ‘marry’ them first.

  7. KG says


    Worth noting that Muslims differ over which hadith are authentic, and how important they are if authentic. And this:

    stories about Muhammed that are as important as the koran

    is plain wrong. As you say, the Quran is considered to be the eternal, uncreated word of Allah. The hadiths are not. None were written down in the time of Muhammad or his immediate followers. In practice, most if not all were probably invented to bolster the opinions or prestige of particular factions or individuals – a position taken by some modern Muslims.

  8. birgerjohansson says

    There ja also disagreement between shia and sunni about which hadith to use, and no doubt other sectarian disagreements.
    As for the accumulated importance of the hadith they have immense importance for the practical inter-
    pretation of the koran. Many of the pillars of the koran come from the hadith and not the koran (if memory serves, the number of daily prayers is an example).
    There is a very small number of muslims who are “koran-only” but to
    the best of my knowledge the overwhelming majority use the hadith.
    The example of execution as punishent for those who have sex outside marriage comes to mind, this sura was written down on a scroll entrusted to Aisha. After Muhammed’s death she made sure it got “eaten by a goat”. Yet it remains part of the sharia.

  9. birgerjohansson says

    Erratum: should be “pillars of islam”.
    And it should be “there is also” but it got garbled by spell check so it reads like some ‘glossolalia’ 😁.

  10. birgerjohansson says

    NB now it looks like I really have a grudge against islam, but I would be happy to deal with hindu claims about wossname hindu medical science as well.
    Or Baldric’s claim that “a rat a day keeps the black death away” (the Black Adder).