I unlimbered my rusty, drugged-up voice to answer a really simple question today. Unfortunately, it’s the same goddamn stupid question I get from Muslim apologists all the time, and they don’t listen to the answer anyway, but I’ve been practically voiceless for a few weeks, so this was an excuse to, you know, speak again.
I can’t believe I have to start lecturing again in a week and a half.
Hey, friends —
I’ve been out of it for a while, laid up on steroids and painkillers for the past week or two. I got this email question several days ago, though, and wanted to reply with a video, because I get this kind of question so goddamn often. Just out of the blue I get this kind of email every few weeks.
I’m a 16-year-old science-loving young man, my name is Grigor. I would like to ask you a question, this is something I have heard from people around me and especially from the general public, and I wonder if it is true. “Do bones and flesh exist at the same time?” This is my question, and I would be very happy if you could explain it to me in a basic embryological way.
A little background on why I’m frequently asked this stupid question: many years ago I was confronted by some Muslim fanatics on a street corner in Dublin, and they thought they’d dazzle me with an amazing insight from the Koran that would prove the truth of their religion. They recited this at me:
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.
The key point they tried to make was that Mohammed accurately and precisely summarized embryonic development with those words, “We made that lump into bones, and We clothed those bones with flesh.”
No. Just no. It’s a vague description of a process, not very precise at all, and as a sequence, it is incorrect. I said so. It was recorded on video, and ever since I’ve been getting these incredulous nonsensical requests that I explain myself further. It’s mildly infuriating. All you have to do is google bone and muscle development and you can see that that simplistic Islamic description is inadequate. There is no sequential development of bones, then flesh — everything happens in parallel.
Gastrulation produces a mesodermal tissue, generally undifferentiated, largely made up of mesenchyme, a collection of loose, migrating cells in a slimy matrix. This isn’t bone. It isn’t muscle. These cells aggregate into structures called somites — still not muscle or bone — which eventually segregate into tissues called sclerotome, which will form cartilage, myotome, which will form muscle, as well as dermatome, the dermis, and syndotome, tendons. I’m not currently a big fan of tendons.
They’re not bone or muscle yet. The myotomes will differentiate into skeletal muscle, and at the same time, bone will form by condensation in the sclerotome and also in the dermatome. It’s all a complex pattern of interacting tissues and progressive, branching differentiation, and I’m sorry, but Mohammed wasn’t even close, and Grigor, if you were actually interested in science rather than playing games to rationalize your simplistic religious beliefs, you’d open a textbook rather than begging people on the internet to make excuses for you. Yes. Bones and flesh exist at the same time. It’s that simple. Mohammed was wrong. It’s that simple, too.