Embryology in the Qur'an

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This article analyzes the apologetic claim that Qur'anic embryology is scientifically accurate.

Introduction[edit]

The propagation of Qur'anic Embryology as a tool of da'wah began in earnest when books were published by non-Muslim medical experts Dr. Keith Moore (alongside his co-author Abdul Majeed al-Zindani, a "Specially Designated Global Terrorist"[1]) and Dr. Maurice Bucaille. These claims are repeated by Dr. Zakir Naik, Harun Yahya and many others. There is good evidence of Dr. Keith Moore's lack of sincerity and competence to compare the Qur'an with contemporary science.

Many have written about the remarkable similarities between Qur'anic embryology and that taught by Galen. He was a highly influential Greek physician (b. 130 CE), whose works were studied in Syria and Egypt during Muhammad's time[2]. Some of the most obvious links with Galen (and also with the Talmud) are in statements about the nutfah stage of embryology in the Qur'an, and even more so in the hadith. See the article Greek and Jewish Ideas about Reproduction in the Quran and Hadith for the compelling evidence. Striking similarities exist between the other Qur'anic embryo stages and Galen too. However, while interesting and very probable, these influences cannot be proven for the Qur'an, and it is in any case unnecessary when exposing the weaknesses in the Qur'anic descriptions. Thus this article will concentrate solely on showing that Qur'anic embryology is incorrect, and that Islamic websites and public figures make false, illogical or unproven assertions in its defence.

There are already many responses available. So here are collated some of the best points and evidences, and some new ones, concentrating solely on the Qur'anic verses, because the hadiths provide an even greater exhibition of the unscientific nature of Islamic embryology.

Summary of the Main Errors in Qur'anic Embryology[edit]

The main errors can be summarised as follows and are further discussed in the rest of this article.

1). A number of verses collectively demonstrate a belief that the earliest, nutfah stage of development is made of semen, perhaps mixed with a female fluid, which is placed in the womb for a known term, and where it undergoes various stages of development (as also taught by Galen and in the Jewish Talmud). See this article for the most comprehensive explanation and evidence. Futhermore, there is no sign that the author of the Qur'an was aware of the female egg (ovum).

In reality, a single sperm cell penetrates and fuses with the female ovum. This fertilised egg, called a zygote, is then pushed down the fallopian tube for a few days. On the way, cell division begins, and this multi-celled cluster, now called a blastocyst, implants in the uterus (womb).

2). The embryo is then congealed blood. All the classical tafsirs (commentaries) understood the meaning of 'alaqah to be blood or congealed blood, and clotted blood is a definition of the word in classical Arabic dictionaries. Regardless of alternative meanings for this arabic word, it would be very foolish even to use a word whose main definitions include an explicit biological meaning (clotted blood) in a description of a biological process (embryology) if that meaning was not the one you intended. The choice of word now causes a well justified suspicion of inaccuracy, and for centuries misled people into thinking that the embryo is at one stage congealed blood (an actual embryo is at no point blood or a clot of blood). Similarly, for the same reason it would also be foolish to use this word while intending blood clot as a mere visual analogy.

3). Bones are formed before being clothed with flesh. In fact cartilage models of the bones start to form at the same time as and in parallel with surrounding muscles, and this cartilage is literally replaced with bone.

The author of the Qur'an imagined a sequence of stages, which when examined without the false definitions and arbitrary assumptions made by apologists, clearly has no resemblance to the actual development process of a child in the womb. Someone with a modern, scientific knowledge of embryology can instead marvel at the exquisite complexity that results from a process of co-ordinated cell differentiation and signalling, encoded in our genetic instruction set by millions of years of evolution.

Analysis[edit]

Debating Technique[edit]

Proponents of Qur'anic embryology often defend their position by claiming that words like 'alaqah can have several meanings, and that some or all of these meanings apply at the same time. Thus, we hear that the 'alaqah is a leech, or looks like a leech if viewed in a certain angle, or is a leech-like structure, is a clot of blood, or looks like a blood clot, or hangs from or clings to the endometrium. Some of these are genuine definitions of 'alaqah, others are not. Each one is problematic and will be addressed below.

The best method of refuting Qur'anic embryology is by questioning every claim as to its validity, and to make its proponents justify every claim. This would include why they chose to make a choice when there are several other equally valid possibilities, why they chose to ignore clearly nonsensical phrases, and why they assume certain phrases to be metaphorical while others to be literal. Some will also benefit from seeing the definitions of the significant words from Lane's Lexicon of classical arabic, cited and linked throughout this article.

If, the reader is so inclined, they can read a good summary of the arbitrary assumptions and heavily selective debating technique used by apologists, with a particular focus on Keith Moore's claims, here, and can read the relevant sections here to see how many of the word definitions used in Islamic apologetics are based on misquotes of Arabic dictionaries and are incompatible with how those same Arabic words were used in the hadith (such as the claims that the word 'alaqah meant a "leech-like substance", that a mudghah is not merely a small piece of meat, but one that has been chewed).

Original Creation from Dust / Clay / Mud[edit]

Confusion is sometimes caused by statements about dust (tubarin تُرَابٍ), mud (hamain حَمَإٍ), clay (teenin طِينٍ), or sounding clay (salsalin صَلْصَٰلٍ) in the Qur'anic embryology verses. Clarification is provided in Qur'an 32:7-8 that this refers to the creation of Adam only, and that the subsequent statements relate to the development of humans since then. This was also the opinion of classical scholars such as ibn Kathir.

Pickthall:Who made all things good which He created, and He began the creation of man from clay [teenin طِينٍ]; Then He made his seed from a draught of despised fluid;

The word translated “seed” in Pickthall’s translation is nasl, which means progeny (i.e. descendants).[3]

Pickthall:Lo! the likeness of Jesus with Allah is as the likeness of Adam. He created him of dust [turabin تُرَابٍ], then He said unto him: Be! and he is.
Yusuf Ali:We created man from sounding clay [salsalin صَلْصَٰلٍ], from mud [hamain حَمَإٍ] molded into shape;

These verses clearly state that the first man was made from clay (min مِّنْ means 'from' or 'of'), and that clay was a building material, that was moulded and shaped, and not a catalytic compound, as some apologetics claim in an attempt to link the Qur'an with one theory about the origin of all life on Earth.

While again not strictly related to embryology, another claim on some Islamic websites is that clay and humans have similar compositions. The Chambers Dictionary of Science and Technology defines clay as, "a fine textured, sedimentary, or residual deposit. It consists of hydrated silicates of aluminum mixed with various impurities". The essential elements in clay are thus silicon, aluminum, hydrogen and oxygen. Silicon and Aluminum have extremely limited, if any, roles to play in the maintenance of life.[4] Other human-required elements (such as nitrogen, sodium etc) are only found in trace amounts in clay and can be regarded as contaminants. There is no similarity between the compositions of clay and humans.

The Qur'anic Embryology Verses[edit]

These verses form the basis for Qur'anic embryology. Other verses that relate to individual stages are also quoted throughout this article.

Pickthal: Verily We created man from a product of wet earth [sulalatin min teenin سُلَٰلَةٍ مِّن طِينٍ]; Then placed him as a drop (of seed) [nutfatan نُطْفَةً] in a safe lodging [qararin makeenin قَرَارٍ مَّكِينٍ]; Then fashioned We the drop a clot ['alaqatan عَلَقَةً], then fashioned We the clot a little lump [mudghatan مُضْغَةً], then fashioned We the little lump bones ['ithaman عِظَٰمًا], then clothed [kasawna كَسَوْنَا] the bones with flesh [lahman لَحْمًا], and then produced it as another creation. So blessed be Allah, the Best of creators!
Transliteration: Walaqad khalaqna al-insana min sulalatin min teenin Thumma jaAAalnahu nutfatan fee qararin makeenin Thumma khalaqna alnnutfata AAalaqatan fakhalaqna alAAalaqata mudghatan fakhalaqna almudghata AAithaman fakasawna alAAithama lahman thumma ansha/nahu khalqan akhara fatabaraka Allahu ahsanu alkhaliqeena
Pickthall: O mankind! if ye are in doubt concerning the Resurrection, then lo! We have created you from dust [turabin تُرَابٍ], then from a drop of seed [nutfatin نُّطْفَةٍ], then from a clot [alaqatin عَلَقَةٍ], then from a little lump of flesh [mudghatin مُّضْغَةٍ] shapely and shapeless [mukhallaqatin waghayri mukhallaqatin مُّخَلَّقَةٍ وَغَيْرِ مُخَلَّقَةٍ], that We may make (it) clear for you. And We cause what We will to remain in the wombs for an appointed time, and afterward We bring you forth as infants, then (give you growth) that ye attain your full strength. And among you there is he who dieth (young), and among you there is he who is brought back to the most abject time of life, so that, after knowledge, he knoweth naught. And thou (Muhammad) seest the earth barren, but when We send down water thereon, it doth thrill and swell and put forth every lovely kind (of growth).
Transliteration: Ya ayyuha alnnasu in kuntum fee raybin mina albaAAthi fa-inna khalaqnakum min turabin thumma min nutfatin thumma min AAalaqatin thumma min mudghatin mukhallaqatin waghayri mukhallaqatin linubayyina lakum wanuqirru fee al-arhami ma nashao ila ajalin musamman thumma nukhrijukum tiflan thumma litablughoo ashuddakum waminkum man yutawaffa waminkum man yuraddu ila arthali alAAumuri likayla yaAAlama min baAAdi AAilmin shay-an watara al-arda hamidatan fa-itha anzalna AAalayha almaa ihtazzat warabat waanbatat min kulli zawjin baheejin
Pickthall: He it is Who created you from dust [turabin تُرَابٍ], then from a drop (of seed) [nutfatin نُّطْفَةٍ] then from a clot [alaqatin عَلَقَةٍ], then bringeth you forth as a child, then (ordaineth) that ye attain full strength and afterward that ye become old men - though some among you die before - and that ye reach an appointed term, that haply ye may understand.
Transliteration: Huwa allathee khalaqakum min turabin thumma min nutfatin thumma min AAalaqatin thumma yukhrijukum tiflan thumma litablughoo ashuddakum thumma litakoonoo shuyookhan waminkum man yutawaffa min qablu walitablughoo ajalan musamman walaAAallakum taAAqiloona

These verses clearly delineate the stages of Qur'anic embryology thus:

(references provide links to Lane's Lexicon of classical Arabic)

  1. Dust/mud/clay (creation of Adam only)
  2. Nutfah[5] (drop of semen)
  3. Alaqah[6] (leech and certain creatures that cling and suck blood, or blood, thick blood or clotted blood)
  4. Mudghah[7] (bite-sized morsel of flesh, shaped and without shape)
  5. 'Itham[8] (bones, especially of the limbs)
  6. 'Itham clothed[9] with Lahm[10] (flesh)
  7. Another creation / child

The Nutfah (Semen) Stage and the Missing Female Ovum[edit]

The first stage of Qur'anic embryology is the nutfah stage. The word nutfah[5] literally meant a small amount of liquid, and was a euphemism for semen. The Lisan al Arab dictionary of classical Arabic gives these definitions (translated from the Arabic):

A little water; a little water remaining in a waterskin; a little water remaining in a bucket; pure water, a little or a lot; the water of the man; semen is called nutfah for its small amount[11]
نُّطْفَة in Lisan al Arab

A nice example of nutfah usage can be found in a pre-Islamic poem where it is used to mean “the small quantity of wine that remained in a wineskin”.[12]

Verses 80:18-19, and 77:20-22 together with 23:13 strongly imply that it is semen that is stored in the womb and developed into the embryo, as the hadiths confirm, and Jews and Greeks believed.

Pickthall: From what thing [shayinشَىْءٍ] doth He create him? From a drop of seed [nutfatin نُّطْفَةٍ]. He createth him and proportioneth him
Pickthall: Did We not create you from a base fluid [ma-in maheenin مَّآءٍ مَّهِينٍ]? Which We laid up [jaAAalnahu جَعَلْنَٰهُ] in a safe abode [qararin makeenin قَرَارٍ مَّكِينٍ], For a period (of gestation), determined (according to need)?

Verses 77:20-21 closely parallel 23:13 quoted below, which too says "We placed it (jaAAalnahu) in a safe abode (qararin makeen)", and uses the word nutfah instead of maa' maheenin ('water distained' - maa' was another euphemism for semen). The 'hu' ending to jaAAalnahu can mean him or it, and probably means the former in 23:13 ('We placed him'). However, 77:20 uses the 2nd person "you", so the latter meaning, 'it' is clearly intended in the next verse, in reference to the liquid ('We placed it').

Pickthall: Then placed him [jaAAalnahu جَعَلْنَٰهُ] as a drop (of seed) [nutfatan نُطْفَةً] in a safe lodging [qararin makeenin قَرَارٍ مَّكِينٍ];

The Qur'an never explicitly explains how and if the female parent contributes genetic material. It is merely the assumption, and an assumption only, of apologists that 'nutfatun amshajin' (amshajin means mixed[13]) in verse 76:2 includes the female gamete (ovum).

Yusuf Ali: Verily We created Man from a drop of mingled sperm [nutfatin amshajin نُّطْفَةٍ أَمْشَاجٍ], in order to try him: So We gave him (the gifts), of Hearing and Sight.

The term ‘nutfatun amshaajin’ could just as easily refer to the sperm-menstrual blood union of Aristotle and the ancient Indian embryologists, or the two semens hypothesis of Hippocrates and Galen, or even the readily observed mingling of semen and vaginal discharge during sexual intercourse. In other words, the fact the Qur'an does not explicitly state that ‘nutfatun amshaajin’ contains the ovum, together with the existence of other possible explanations, means that it is illogical to assume the former and not the latter.

The insistence that it explains the former is pure conjecture devoid of evidence, and constitutes the logical fallacy of equivocation, and its adoption is merely wishful thinking or 'reinterpretation after the fact.’

Some critics argue that in fact, the Qur'an itself provides the evidence of its doctrinal omission or rejection of the role of the ovum in procreation, for verse 2:223 states that wives are tilth. This is saying they are like the earth, which contributes nutrients only, receiving the seed from the male.

Pickthall: Your women are a tilth for you (to cultivate) go to your tilth as ye will, and send (good deeds) before you for your souls, and fear Allah, and know that ye will (one day) meet Him. Give glad tidings to believers, (O Muhammad).

This one isn't a particularly strong criticism, however, as the 7th century Arabs must have recognised that a child can inherit characteristics from its mother, though again, it must be stated that there is no sign that this was by means of a female ovum in any Islamic sources, Qur'an or hadith. The resemblance of a child to its mother was a question that interested the early Muslims, as can be seen in the hadith. See the article Greek and Jewish Ideas about Reproduction in the Quran and Hadith regarding this and many other common arguments used by proponents of Qur'anic embryology concerning the nutfah stage.

The 'Alaqah Stage[edit]

The concensus in the tafsirs for the embryology verses was that 'alaqah meant blood. In numerous tafsirs it is variously described as blood (al dam الدم), congealed blood (al dam al jamid الدم الجامد), or simply, red 'alaqah ('alaqah hamra علقة حمراء). Nevertheless, in modern times some Muslims, especially those who know that this contradicts the biological reality, have tried to reinterpret the word using some of the other dictionary definitions for 'alaqah or 'alaq. Each of these alternatives is problematic, as indeed is the mere fact that 'alaqah has clotted blood[6] as one of its main meanings.

Clinging Thing[edit]

Those who claim that 'alaqah is used in the sense of a clinging thing in the Qur'an should consider that the embryo does not cease to be attached to the uterine wall when the musculo-skeletal system begins to develop around the 5th week. Yet the Qur'anic stages appear to describe a transition between a succession of states. Moreover it would be self-evident from aborted fetuses that at some stage the embryo becomes attached to something.

Hanging / Suspended[edit]

Also flawed is a related claim, that 'alaqah is used here in its meaning of a suspended, or hanging thing, because the early embryo is floating in amniotic fluid, and is attached via a connecting stalk to the uterine wall in which it is buried. The problem is that not all embryos hang downwards below their connecting stalk. Rather it depends where in the uterus implantation occurs. The uterus lies fairly horizontal at this time, so depending on the side of the uterus implantation occurs, the early embryo can also be above its stalk, as this diagram[14] of twins at 4 weeks demonstrates :

Fraternal twins in womb-4 weeks.jpg

Various studies of placentas and ultrasound scans have found that between 26% and 53% of implantations occur on the anterior (frontal) wall of the uterus (like the lower twin in the diagram).[15] Clearly apologists should expect better of the Qur'an's author than to say that as early embryos, humans are "hanging things" when such a description is untrue for a significant percentage of the population, not even a general rule.

This scientific inaccuracy should be considered before even raising the doubts above concerning the suitability of the word 'alaqah to describe embryos that are on the posterior wall, and thus below their connecting stalks. For it is highly doubtful that 'alaqah in the sense of “hanging” would be a good way to describe the embryo in relation to the connecting stalk. Lane’s lexicon strongly indicates that 'alaq is not just the thing which is hung, but the entire apparatus or vertical rope by which means it is suspended, or even just the rope itself, giving the example of a suspended bucket in a well.[16] The stalk evidently has a certain amount of stiffness and does not hang vertically under gravity like a bucket in a well.

Leech[edit]

Apologists who are fond of leech metaphors should consider that unlike a leech, which simply sucks blood from its host, the embryo circulates and exchanges blood and waste products with its mother.[17] Furthermore, a leech attaches itself directly to the surface of its host. In contrast, the blastocyst stage embryo implants into the uterine wall (endometrium) by means of an outer cell layer surrounding it, called the syncytiotrophoblast. It is the syncytiotrophoblast which invades the endometrium, burying the entire embryo within the wall (unlike a leech), establishes a circulatory connection, and will later form the outer layer of the placenta.

A leech has many characteristics such as size, behaviour, shape, color, appearance. Why would the author use 'alaqah intending such a metaphorical meaning when his listeners could not be expected to know in what respect the analogy applies? It is no more than a Texan Sharpshooter fallacy[18], typical of Islamic miracle claims, to choose one characteristic - shape - which in their eyes, to a very and arbitrarily limited degree, has a similarity with that of an embryo, and draw any conclusions, particularly as the early embryo passes through a wide range of shapes and they are both biological organisms. Moreover, such apologetics have to conveniently ignore the embryo's yolk sac, which gradually becomes incorporated into its developing gut, when depicting the embryo.

Congealed Blood[edit]

Given that one of the meanings of 'alaqah is congealed blood, which was also the understanding given in numerous tafsirs, it would be most unwise to use such a word with a specific biological meaning to describe a biological process (embryology) if that meaning was not the intention. For the same reason it would be foolish even to use clotted blood merely as a visual metaphor. A perfect author would avoid arousing any such suspicion of inaccurate biology with his choice of words.

The poet al-Nabigha alja'di النابغة الجعدي (died c.670 AD), who was a contemporary of Muhammad, in one of his poems says:

الخـالق البـارئ المصـور في الأرحام ماء حتى يصير دما

The creator, the maker, the fashioner, in the wombs semen until it becomes blood[19]

This further underlines the suspicion just mentioned, and moreover, suggests some influence in 7th century Arabia of the ideas of the Greek physician, Galen, whose works were studied at that time by groups in Alexandria and Syria. Indeed, other similarities between Galenic embryology and that of the Qur'an are well known.

The Mudghah Stage[edit]

The word mudghah meant a bite sized morsel of meat suitable for chewing[7]. Islamic websites frequently claim, without citing any evidence, that it means a piece of meat that has actually been chewed, or even that has teeth marks on it. They do this, quite laughably, so that they can invite the reader to admire the supposed similarities between an image of the somites of an embryo next to a piece of chewing gum with a row or two of teeth marks. The problems with this ridiculous argument, which highlights the poverty of Islamic apologetics, include:

  1. They are using a false definition of the word mudghah, as mentioned above.
  2. It is a lot easier to leave neat teeth marks in chewing gum than on a piece of meat.
  3. Somites (bilateral rows of blocks of cells that will migrate and develop into segments of the body) are protrusions, but teeth marks are indentations.

Verse Qur'an 22:5 (quoted above) mentions that the mudghah is formed and without form. Given that this stage appears before the 'itham (bones) stage, such a 'clarification' gives no additional information whatsoever. Such vagueness of description is typical of an author who is merely pretending to have true knowledge.

The Formation of Bone and Clothing with Flesh[edit]

There is a clear mistake in the Qur'anic idea of the formation of bone and surrounding muscles. Drs Needham and Needbeer of freethoughtmecca explain this well.

While we will return to the issue of mudgha below, we should now move on to the issue of izhaam (bones). As was noted above, after the alaqa is turned into a mudgha, the Qur'an states fa-khalaqnaa al-mudghata izhaaman, or "then we formed the morsel, bones." Moore and his cohort try to change the translation to "out of the mudgha we formed bones," so as to give the impression that the bones are forming inside the embryo, rather than the entire object becoming bones. This brings to light the duplicitous nature that these people are taking to the text.

Consider that word khalaqnaa ("we created/formed") appears in three times in Soorat al-Moominoon 23:14: (1) khalaqnaa al-nutfata alaqatan - "we formed the nutfa into an alaqa"; (2) khalaqnaa al-alaqata mudghatan - "we formed the alaqa into a mudgha"; (3) khalaqnaa al-mudghata izhaaman - "we formed the mudgha into bones." So the question that needs to be asked is how one properly interprets the logical structure khalaqnaa X,Y.

As will be noted below, proponents of this polemic want izhaam to not actually be a reference to bone, but rather cartilaginous precursors to bone, thus we see that there are two possible (and rather different) usages of the logical structure khalaqnaa X,Y being employed. Does the logical structure mean "we formed the X into a Y," or does it mean "we caused a precursor to Y to form inside the X"? No person to put forth the polemic has ever explained which is the correct interpretation, or if both are possible how they know to use one and not the other. The reality is that khalaqnaa X,Y means "we formed the X into a Y," and there is no implication that the Y (much less something other than Y!) is only forming inside the X.

When we reach izhaam we find another problematic part of the verse. Consider that the text reads: khalaqnaa al-mudghata izhaaman, fa-kasawnaa al-izhaaman laHman. First note that khalaqnaa (We made) is past tense, and the prefix fa means "then". So the verse reads: "we formed the morsel into bones, then we clothed the bones with flesh." Thus, it implies bone forms before soft tissue, which is a blatant error, not to mention one that parallels Galen.

As was alluded to above, there is an argument put forth by those who push this polemic that the "bones" are actually a reference to cartilaginous models that will later ossify. Of course, the text has izhaam, which only means bone - there is no reference to cartilage (Arabic: ghudhroof), so we see that the champions of this deceptive polemic are importing things. Furthermore, as was noted in the previous paragraph, the text has a past tense conjugation followed by the word "then" (fa), thus the logic of the text is that the bones were completed, finished, and then they were clothed with flesh. This does not square with the actual process that some wish to correlate the text with, where cartilaginous skeletal models ossify while muscle forms around them simultaneously.

Bone and Muscle Formation According to Medical Science[edit]

In order to compare with science the Qur'anic statement that Allah makes 'ithaman (bones[8]) and then clothes (fa-kasawna[9]) the bones with lahman (flesh[10]), first we should see what science has discovered about the process of bone and muscle formation. Here is a brief description for both of them, without any detail on the relative timing of parallel processes. The section that follows afterwards contains numerous cited scientific sources stating the timing of these processes.

Mesoderm is the middle of the three layers of the early embryo. Some of the mesoderm cells (paraxial mesoderm) form a series of blocks called somites either side of the neural tube (this tube will eventually form the spinal cord and brain). These somites will differentiate into sclerotome and myotome, which form the cartilage 'models' (or 'templates') and become connective tissues (including muscles) respectively of the future axial skeleton (i.e. everything except the limbs, shoulders and pelvis). The myotome differentiates and migrates as the sclerotome is condensing into mesenchyme, which will produce cartilage. Each process occurs segmentally down the somites in a cranio-caudal sequence (head to tail).

Another area of mesoderm (lateral plate mesoderm) proliferates especially quickly in certain positions to form the limb buds. There, mesenchyme cells condense into distinct masses within the limb buds. These mesenchyme cells differentiate into chondrocytes, which secrete the cartilage matrix and are embedded in it. Thus cartilage models of the future limb bones gradually form (chondrification). Once the cartilage models have formed and while they are still growing, the cartilage is literally replaced with actual bone by osteoblasts (ossification) working outwards from centres of the cartilage models. Osteoclasts remove the remnants of the mineralized cartilage. Ossification also starts in the axial skeleton some time after it has begun in the limbs, except for the upper and lower jaw, which start to ossify slightly earlier.

Meanwhile, the process of limb muscle formation begins as soon as the limb buds appear. Myoblast cells migrate from somites to populate the limb buds. They aggregate into distinct masses, differentiating and fusing into muscle fibres, as the condensing mesenchyme starts to chondrify, and before the resulting cartilage models begin to ossify.

The Timing of These Processes[edit]

Here is the scientific evidence for the contemporaneous development of cartilage/bone and muscles.

A very detailed account of musculo-skeletal development in the human limb by clinical-geneticist Robert Jan Galjaard can be read online.[20] It details that muscle precursor cells migrate from the somites into the limb buds (ca. day 26), well before the condensing core of mesenchyme has started to chondrify into cartilage bone models in the upper part of the upper limb (ca. day 37), followed by the lower part (ca. day 41). The myoblasts have grouped into distinct masses by this stage and are differentiating into muscle fibres. The upper limbs later start to ossify (ca. day 54). Chondrification of mesenchyme, the grouping of myogenic masses, and ossification all occur in a proximal-distal order (upper to lower part of each limb). The digits of the hands only start to chondrify ca. day 51.

Professor Peter Law confirms that myoblasts are found in the limb buds day 26.[21]

Myoblasts have aggregated into ventral and dorsal masses in the upper limb by day 36 and the start of chondrification.[22]

A detailed account by Walker and Miranda, including useful diagrams, explains that after day 35, the premuscle regions of the limb containing myoblasts and fibroblasts become distinct, and by day 45 have started to fuse together to become myotubes (which form muscle fibres). With axial musculo-skeletal development, myotomes have migrated (these form axial muscle) and sclerotomes have started to condense into mesenchyme (which will form cartilage) in the 5th week.[23]

According to Rugh, Building blocks are present for 40 pairs of muscles, which are located from the base of the skull to the bottom of the spinal column by day 28[24] (these are the myotomes of the somites). Muscles appear in the pelvis day 31[25]. Movement of the muscles is being controlled by the nervous system by the 6th week [26]. All of the muscle blocks have appeared by day 36 after conception[27].

In the 10th edition (2016) of the Developing Human, Keith Moore says that ossification of the long bones begins in the 8th week, starting with the upper limbs, followed by the lower limbs and pelvis[28] (which concurs with Galjaard cited above).

It is apparent from the above that muscle masses have started to form around the mesenchyme condensations around the same time as they begin to chondrify into cartilage models of the limb bones, and long before they have even begun to ossify. Similarly, the process of muscle and cartilage formation begins at the same time for the axoskeleton. Muscles and cartilage, and bone that replaces it, continue their formation in parallel with each other.

Problems With The Qur'anic Description[edit]

Firstly, proponents of Qur'anic embryology have to explain why the author of the Qur'an was incorrect in their description and mentioned not cartilage (ghudhroof)[29]) but only bone ('itham)[8], which starts to form well after muscles.

Secondly, muscle and bone (or their precursors) develop contemporaneously, although the parallel processes start when muscle begins developing around condensations of mesenchyme that have only just begun to diffentiate into cartilage. Therefore, there is no scientific basis for the Qur'anic claim of a stage in which bone is later covered with flesh after its own formation. The prefix fa before khalaqna means "and then", indicating an uninterrupted sequence.[30]

Even if we were to accept that the Qur'an was only referring to precursors of bone and not bone itself, even though it used the Arabic word for bone ('itham), and not cartilage (ghurdoof), the embryology is still wrong. Even if, with further and unjustifiable generosity, we suppose that the Qur'an means only the very beginning of the formation of the cartilage (chondrification) before they are in any sense complete shapes and the beginning of the formation of muscles, even this happens at the same stage (around day 41). Going back earlier still, it can even be pointed out that the precursors of muscles (myoblasts) and precursors to the cartilage (mesenchyme) are present in the limb bud as soon as it arises.

Of course, the natural reading of verse 23:14 is that the bones have some sort of meaningful shape, and can meaningfully be called bones. This is certainly not the case when the condensed mesenchyme has merely started to produce cartilage. Furthermore, the natural reading of verse 23:14 is that all the bones have some meaningful presence worthy of the label 'bones' before Allah clothes them with flesh. As noted in the evidence above, fingers only start to even chondrify after muscle formation is already well underway in the upper part of the limbs.

We have more evidence that 23:14 refers to things already recognisable as bones being clothed with muscles or flesh elsewhere in the Qur'an. Verse 2:259 uses the same Arabic words as does 23:14 for 'bones', 'clothed' and 'flesh' to describe the resurrection of a donkey which had been dead for 100 years. The main embryology passages, such as verse 22:5 (see quote above) suggests that embryological development has similarities with resurrection.

Pickthall: ...and look at your ass; and that We may make you a sign to men, and look at the bones, how We set them together, then clothed them with flesh...
Transliteration: waonthur ila himarika walinajAAalaka ayatan lilnnasi waonthur ila alAAithami kayfa nunshizuha thumma naksooha lahman

The resurrected donkey's bones clearly had no flesh on them (were unclothed), and then Allah clothed them. This rather suggests that when the same words are used in 23:14 to describe the developing embryo, the author had in mind a small skeleton without any muscles (possibly within some remnant of the mudghah stage), which is then clothed with muscles or flesh.

The Beginning of the Fetal Stage[edit]

Proponents of Qur'anic embryology also claim that it correctly denotes the start of the Fetal stage by referring to the creation of ‘another creation’ after the 'itham/lahm stage (bone clothed with flesh), which supposedly occurs at week eight.

Pickthal: …We the clot a little lump, then fashioned We the little lump bones, then clothed the bones with flesh, and then produced it as another creation.
Qur'an 23:12-14

An experienced embryologist would know that the delineation of the embryo and fetal stages is arbitrary.

However, the 8-week dividing line is still arbitrary, since a firm scientific basis for the transition to the fetal stage is lacking.[31]

Other Apologetic Claims[edit]

Gender Determination[edit]

Some claim that verses 35:11 and 53:45-46 show knowledge that gender is determined by sperm cells (which contain either an x or y chromosome to go with the x chromosome of the female ovum).

Allah created you from dust [tubarin تُرَابٍ], then from a little fluid [nutfatin نُّطْفَةٍ], then He made you pairs [azwajan أَزْوَٰجًا](the male and female). No female beareth or bringeth forth save with His knowledge. And no-one groweth old who groweth old, nor is aught lessened of his life, but it is recorded in a Book, Lo! that is easy for Allah.
And that He createth the two spouses, the male and the female [alzzawjayni alththakara waalontha ٱلزَّوْجَيْنِ ٱلذَّكَرَ وَٱلْأُنثَىٰ], From a drop (of seed) when it is poured forth [nutfatin itha tumna نُّطْفَةٍ إِذَا تُمْنَىٰ];

This does not hold water for three reasons:

1. Verses 75:37-39 show that the author believed that gender was determined after the 'alaqah stage. Both 53:45 and 75:39 use the exact same phrase, "alzzawjayni alththakara waalontha" 'of the two spouses, the male and the female', and 35:11 too uses the word for male / female pair (azwajan).

Was he not a drop [nutfatan نُطْفَةً] of fluid [manayin مَّنِىٍّ] which gushed forth [yumna يُمْنَىٰ]? Then he became a clot [alaqatan عَلَقَةً]; then (Allah) shaped and fashioned And made of him a pair, the male and female [alzzawjayni alththakara waalontha ٱلزَّوْجَيْنِ ٱلذَّكَرَ وَٱلْأُنثَىٰ].

In light of these verses, the ones used by apologists are merely saying that male and female babies start off as a nutfah (drop of semen).

2. If apologists want to take 53:45 literally as indicating 'when' gender is determined, then the Qur'an would still be wrong, because millions of sperm are emitted, some with an x chromosome, some with a y chromosome. Gender is determined not when the semen is emitted, but when the egg is fertilised by one of the sperm cells, which can take anything from half an hour to 12 hours for the first of them to reach the egg, and then more time for one of the many that arrive to successfully penetrate it.

3. Again, it should be noted that the evidence is unanimous that nutfah means a small quantity of fluid, a euphemism for semen – there is no indication of sperm cells within the fluid.

Furthermore, there are hadith even more explicit than Qur'an 75:37-39 which say that gender is decided after the 'mudghah stage:

Narrated Anas bin Malik: The Prophet (peace be upon him) said, "At every womb Allah appoints an angel who says, 'O Lord! A drop of semen, O Lord! A clot. O Lord! A little lump of flesh." Then if Allah wishes (to complete) its creation, the angel asks, (O Lord!) Will it be a male or female, a wretched or a blessed, and how much will his provision be? And what will his age be?' So all that is written while the child is still in the mother's womb."

Others interpret 75:39 to mean that the external genitalia and gonads are formed after the 'alaqah stage. This is a more plausible interpretation, but is still problematic. For the gender of the child has already been determined genetically at the moment of conception as stated above.

Intersex People[edit]

Furthermore, not everyone is simply a male with XY sex chromosomes, or a female with XX sex chromosomes. A small minority are called w:intersex due to certain types of genetic or phenotypic sex variations, including:[32]

  • Those who are 46, XY intersex. The person has the chromosomes of a man, but the external genitals are incompletely formed, ambiguous, or clearly female.
  • Those who are 46, XX intersex. The person has the chromosomes of a woman, the ovaries of a woman, but external (outside) genitals that appear male.
  • True Gonadal intersex (formerly called True Hermaphroditism). Such people have both male and female gonads (ovaries and testes), and may have ambiguous external genitalia.
  • Other genetic configurations include XXX, and XXY (1 in 1000 people)[33]. These people have no discrepancy between their gonads and external genitalia, but there may be problems with sex hormone levels, and overall sexual development.

According to Leonard Sax, when the term intersex is "restricted to those conditions in which chromosomal sex is inconsistent with phenotypic sex, or in which the phenotype is not classifiable as either male or female", around 0.018% of the population are intersex. This definition excludes Klinefelter syndrome and many other variations.[34]

Sperm within Semen[edit]

Others claim that verses 35:37 and 32:7-8 hint at sperm within the semen. These claims are debunked by means of very similar verses and other reasons at the end of the article Greek and Jewish Ideas about Reproduction in the Quran and Hadith

Fetus is in Three Layers of darkness[edit]

The word butun (بطن)[35] means belly/abdomen/midriff, though some translators like to use the more specific word "womb". Tafsirs interpreted the "three darknesses" as the placenta, womb (uterus) and belly. There are in fact many more layers in the human body such as the endometrium, myometrium, perimetrium, peritoneum, besides the cervix uteri, corpus uteri, abdomen (with walls), and placenta (with layers). The idea of three membranes around the fetus (chorion, allantois, and amnion) was taught by the highly influential Greek physician, Galen. Perhaps the Qur'anic author is simply repeating this idea, which applies only to the embryonic membranes.

The allantois is a sac-like structure which becomes part of the umbilical cord, hardly a 'a darkness' for the embryo. The other two membranes, the chorion and amnion, together form the amniotic sac, which is quite thin and transparent.

He created you from one soul. Then He made from it its mate, and He produced for you from the grazing livestock eight mates. He creates you in the wombs of your mothers, creation after creation, within three darknesses. That is Allah, your Lord; to Him belongs dominion. There is no deity except Him, so how are you averted?

The Least Period of Conception[edit]

Another claim is that the Qur'an correctly states that the least period of conception is 6 months. They base this claim on two verses.

Pickthal: And We have commended unto man kindness toward parents. His mother beareth him with reluctance, and bringeth him forth with reluctance, and the bearing of him and the weaning of him is thirty months, till, when he attaineth full strength and reacheth forty years, he saith: My Lord! Arouse me that I may give thanks for the favour wherewith Thou hast favoured me and my parents, and that I may do right acceptable unto Thee. And be gracious unto me In the matter of my seed. Lo! I have turned unto Thee repentant, and lo! I am of those who surrender (unto Thee).
Pickthal: And We have enjoined upon man concerning his parents. His mother beareth him in weakness upon weakness, and his weaning is in two years. Give thanks unto Me and unto thy parents. Unto Me is the journeying.

Dr. Omar Abdul Rehman claims that ‘the two texts taken together leave only six months (22 weeks i.e., five and half Gregorian months are equal to about six lunar months. of pregnancy).’ Here, Dr. Abdul Rehman’s sleight of hand to fit 22 weeks into six lunar months is ludicrous as each lunar month consists of four weeks, while five and a half Gregorian months consist of about 23.8 weeks.

Dr. Al-Ghazal also claims that according to ‘scientific facts’ the least period of conception is 22 weeks.

Even assuming the arbitrary claim by Drs Al-Ghazal and Abdul Rehman of 22 weeks, being the ‘most cases’ scenario (which is false according to medical statistics – see below), one is left with the conclusion that the Qur'an is still in error as six lunar months is 24 weeks, not 22 weeks.

This two-week difference is very important to the development and survivability of the fetus. Hence, it should not be summarily dismissed and rounded to the nearest month. If anything, it should be rounded to five lunar months, not six.

Regardless, the claim of six lunar months or 22 weeks as the least period of conception or ‘minimum period for fetal viability’ is unsupported by modern medical science.

A fetus is defined as being viable if it has the ability to "potentially able to live outside the mother's womb [that is, can survive], albeit with artificial help." In the fifties viability was reached about 30 weeks after conception. Modern medical technology changed that to 25 weeks in the seventies. Now viability continues to be pushed further and further back in the pregnancy and is now as early as 19 weeks. 21 and 22 week premature babies are now supported routinely, and have a good chance of survival. By 24 weeks after conception, premature babies have a 40% chance of reaching adulthood without any major complications. By 28 weeks, the chance is 90%. By 29 weeks, survival is almost definite. (Note: These percentages are from reports written during the late 1980s. Current survival rates are most likely much higher.)[36]

Thus, it can be seen that the minimum period of fetal viability has changed, at least in recent history. It was never 22 weeks or 6 lunar months prior to the era of modern medicine, being likely to have been at least 30 weeks. Now, it has shrunk to only 19 weeks in countries with advanced pediatric medicine. We would suggest the minimum period of fetal viability in many third-world countries would still be around 30 weeks. Thus, Qur'anic embryology's proposition of the least period of conception is false.

The End of Cell Differentiation[edit]

Some proponents of Qur'anic embryology state that the mudghah stage, which is described in one verse, "partly formed and partly unformed" or "shaped and shapeless" refers to the incomplete cell differentiation observed in this stage.

Pickthal: O mankind! if ye are in doubt concerning the Resurrection, then lo! We have created you from dust, then from a drop of seed, then from a clot, then from a little lump of flesh shapely and shapeless, …

This claim is not backed by the scientific evidence.

Remembering that this mudghah stage occurs before the 'itham (bones) stage, so it must occur before week six, when the progeny is still in the “embryo” stage. However, modern embryologists know that cell differentiation occurs well before the ‘mudghah’ stage and well into the “fetal” stage. Hence the Qur'anic embryology claim must be incorrect.

Conclusion[edit]

Qur'anic Embryology can be seen to be false due to the following points:

  1. The Qur'an itself omits mention of the ovum in human reproduction. Moreover, the choice of the words nutfah (small amount of liquid) and maa' maheenin (water/liquid disdained), which are placed in a safe place (the womb) in key passages indicate a belief that the embryo is formed out of semen, with no knowledge of the sperm cell.
  2. The word 'alaqah probably means blood clot in the embryology verses, which corresponds to no actual embryological stage. Even if this was not the intended meaning, the foolishness of using a word with such an explicit biological meaning in a description of a biological process (embryology) means that the Qur'an can not be divine in origin.
  3. The stages of bone formation then clothing with flesh is in error, even assuming that 'itham means both bone and cartilage.
  4. The apologetic claim of cell differentiation at the Mudgha stage is incorrect, as modern embryology has discovered cell differentiation occurring before and after the putative ‘Mudgha’ stage.
  5. The claim that the Qur'an correctly predicted the beginning of the fetal stage is shown to be in error because the transition between the embryo and the fetus is arbitrary.
  6. The claim that the Qur'an correctly states the least period of conception at 24 weeks is in error, as according to modern medical knowledge this period is closer to 21-22 weeks or even less with advanced medical science, and at least 30 weeks without modern medical assistance. Similarly, other apologetic claims regarding sperm, the womb, and gender determination are disproved by other verses and scientific knowledge.
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See Also[edit]

External Links[edit]

References[edit]

  1. United States Designates bin Laden Loyalist, United States Department of the Treasury, JS-1190, February 24, 2004
  2. Marshall Clagett, “Greek Science in Antiquity”, pp.180-181, New York: Abelard-Schuman, 1955; Dover, 2001
  3. نسل nasl - Lane’s Lexicon Suppliment, page 3032
  4. Fenchel, Tom 2003. The origin and Early Evolution of Life. Oxford University Press. Page 27.
  5. 5.0 5.1 نُطْفَةً nutfah - Lane's Lexicon Suppliment, page 3034
  6. 6.0 6.1 عَلَقَةً alaqah - Lane's Lexicon Volume 5, page 2134
  7. 7.0 7.1 مُضْغَةً mudghah - Lane's Lexicon Suppliment, page 3021
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 عِظَٰمًا 'itham - Lane's Lexicon Volume 5, page 2087
  9. 9.0 9.1 كسو kasawa - Lane's Lexicon Suppliment, page 3000
  10. 10.0 10.1 لَحْمًا lahm - Lane's Lexicon Suppliment, page 3008 and page 3009
  11. http://www.baheth.info/all.jsp?term=%D9%86%D8%B7%D9%81
  12. Irfan Shahid, “Byzantium and the Arabs in the sixth century. Volume 2, Part 2”, p.145, Washington, D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks, 2009
  13. أَمْشَاج Amshajan - [1] Volume 7 Page 2717
  14. Fraternal twins in the womb -- 4 weeks - BabyCenter Medical Advisory Board, June 1, 2013
  15. Benirschke, K. & Kaufmann, B. 2000. Pathology of the Human Placenta. 4th Edition. Springer-Verlag, New York. Page 399 - 400
  16. علق 'alaq - Lane's Lexicon Volume 5, page 2134
  17. Barry Mitchell & Ram Sharma 2009. Embryology: An Illustrated Colour Text. Second Edition. Churchill Livingstone ElSevier. Page 10-11
  18. "The Texas sharpshooter fallacy is an informal fallacy in which pieces of information that have no relationship to one another are called out for their similarities, and that similarity is used for claiming the existence of a pattern. This fallacy is the philosophical/rhetorical application of the multiple comparisons problem (in statistics) and apophenia (in cognitive psychology). It is related to the clustering illusion, which refers to the tendency in human cognition to interpret patterns where none actually exist. The name comes from a joke about a Texan who fires some shots at the side of a barn, then paints a target centered on the biggest cluster of hits and claims to be a sharpshooter.", "Texas sharpshooter fallacy", Wikipedia, accessed August 13, 2013 (archived), http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Texas_sharpshooter_fallacy 
  19. "الحمد لله لا شريك له", PoetsGate (Arabic), February 15, 2007 (archived), http://poetsgate.com/poem_14021.html. 
  20. Galjaard, R.J.H. Mapping Studies of Congenital Limb Anomalies. Ablasserdam: Haveka, B.V., 2003, page 16 webcitation archive link
  21. Law, Peter et al., Pioneering Human Myoblast Genome Therapy as a Platform Technology of Regenerative Medicine. In: Stem Cell Therapy. Erik Greer (Editor). Nova Science Publishers, Inc. 2006. Page 3.
  22. Sivakumar, B. et. al. Congenital Hand Differences in Farhadieh, R. et. al. (ed.) Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery: Approaches and Techniques, Chichester: Wiley, 2015, p.660 Google books preview
  23. Walker, U. A., and Miranda, A. F. Muscle Metabolism in the Fetus and Neonate in Cowett, R. M. (ed.) Principles of Perinatal-Neonatal Metabolism, 2nd Edition, Volume 1, New York: Springer, 1998, pp.642-643 Google Books preview
  24. Conception to Birth Roberts Rugh, Ph.D., Landrum B. Shettles, Ph.D., M.D. Harper & Row, (New York), 1971, p.35
  25. ibid. p.43
  26. ibid. p.34
  27. ibid. p.46
  28. Keith L. Moore, Ph..D., FIAC, FRSM T.V.N. Persaud, M.D., Ph.D., D.Sc., FRCPath W.B., The Developing Human: Clinically Oriented Embryology, , 10th Edition, Philadelphia: Elseiver, 2016, p. p.349 Google Books preview
  29. غضروف ghudhroof, alternatively spelt غرضوف ghurdoof - Lane's Lexicon Volume 6, page 2248
  30. فَ fa - Lane's Lexicon Volume 6, page 2322
  31. Network for European CNS Transplantation and Restoration (NECTAR) - Ethical Guidelines for the Use of Human Embryonic or Fetal Tissue for Experimental and Clinical Neurotransplantation and Research (1994) - Human Rights Library, University of Minnesota
  32. Medline plus - Intersex
  33. "How common is intersex? | Intersex Society of North America", Isna.org, http://www.isna.org/faq/frequency. 
  34. Sax, L., How common is intersex? a response to Anne Fausto-Sterling Journal of Sex Research, volume 39, issue 3, pp.174–178 (2002) doi 10.1080/00224490209552139 pmid 12476264
  35. بطن butun - [Lane's Lexicon Volume 1, page 220
  36. Fetal Development/Viability - Abortioninfo