Hypoxia in the Quran

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The term "hypoxia" or "lack of oxygen" (in Arabic نقص التأكسج) isn't mentioned anywhere in the Quran [1]. However some propagandists of "miracles in the Quran" claim that hypoxia was described in the verse 6:125 and that it is a scientific miracle.

The verse

So whoever Allah wants to guide - He expands his breast to [contain] Islam; and whoever He wants to misguide - He makes his breast tight and constricted as though he were climbing into the sky. Thus does Allah place defilement upon those who do not believe.

The verse is not about science, it's about Allah's tampering with the free will of humans:

  • The verse mentions that Allah makes some people believers by "opening their chest" to Islam
    • Author of the Quran thinks that faith is physically located in the heart while in reality beliefs are stored in the brain
  • The verse shows that Allah supports kufr (disbelief) by making the chest of some people constricted, so that Islam can't get in

The scientific part is supposed to be the saying that the chests will be constricted "as though he were climbing into the sky". Firstly, if apologists want to solve the problem of faith being physically located in the heart, they will probably say that "the chest" is a metaphor. But in that case the tightening of the chest "as if they were climbing to the sky" is also metaphorical, so it's not about actual chest and cannot be a scientific miracle.

And secondly, if it is talking about physical chest being constricted, where exactly is the advanced science in it? Saing "chest is constricted" is not outside the ability of 7th century Arab. And to know that altitude sickness exists, one just has to go on mountain or at least hear about someone who went to a mountain.

Miracle claim

Although the Quran talks only about constricted chest in high altitudes, the miracle claim is full of terms like "oxygen" and "arteries" which were not mentioned in the Quran. To differentiate between what the Quran said and what the propagators of "scientific miracles" have added, the claims that are in the Quran will be emphasized:

At high altitude the oxygen concentration in the atmosphere decreases. When oxygen level drops the blood vessels in the lungs constrict:

Hypoxic pulmonary vasoconstriction (HPV), also known as the Euler-Liljestrand mechanism, is a physiological phenomenon in which small pulmonary arteries constrict in the presence of alveolar hypoxia (low oxygen levels). Wikipedia, Hypoxic Pulmonary Vasoconstriction, 2019

The blood vessels in the lungs constrict when oxygen level drops. This was only known recently however this was portrayed in the Quran 1400 years before it was discovered.

[Quran 6.125] Those whom Allah wants to guide, He opens their chests to Islam; And those whom He wants to leave astray, He makes their chests tight and constricted, as if they are ascending to the sky: Such is the penalty of Allah on those who refuse to believe.

"He makes their chests tight and constricted, as if they are ascending to the sky" today we know why it gets constricted, lack of oxygen. No mistakes in the Quran.

miracles-of-quran.com [2]

The miracle claim fallaciously supposes that Muhammad had to know how exactly it works. But one does not have to understand how disease works in order to figure out the external cause and final symptoms. For example, just because a person knows that eating poison will kill him, doesn't mean that he understands what chemical reactions exactly will happen in his body. The verse says nothing about oxygen, nothing about concentration of oxygen in atmosphere and nothing about "small pulmonary arteries".

And the cited Wikipedia article says "small pulmonary arteries constrict" so it doesn't even support the Quran's claim. The Wikipedia article says that the lung's (pulmonary) arteries constrict, while the Quran says that the chest constricts.

Hypoxia was described in the Quran?

Hypoxia means that the body doesn't have enough oxygen. Since the Quran doesn't mention oxygen, it cannot describe hypoxia.

Altitude sickness goes like this:

  • 1) going on a high mountain
  • 2) low oxygen (hypoxia) <- this is the scientific part
  • 3) feeling of chest constriction

The Quran misses the scientific point 2 and only talks about the points 1 and 3 which can easily be observed in the 7th century. The Quran doesn't describe what hypoxia is.

Ancient reports of altitude sickness

It was easy for ancient people to find about mountain sickness. All they had to do was to go on mountain and experience it.

Human difficulty with the rarefied air at high altitudes has been recognised since ancient times. Writings attributable to Aristotle (384-322 BC) describe travel on Mount Olympus in Macedonia: 'Also, because the rarity of the air which was there did not fill them with breath, they were not able to survive there unless they applied moist sponges to their noses'

High Altitude Illness [3]

Was the information in Muhammad's reach?

If consider the interpretation that it was about altitude sickness and subjective feeling of tight chest:

Any time you go above 8,000 feet, you can be at risk for altitude sickness.

That's less than 2500 metres. In the Arabian peninsula, there's a mountain called "Mountain of the Prophet Shuaib" (Jabal An-Nabi Shu'ayb) that has 3666 metres. [4]

And Muhammad wasn't limited by the Arabian peninsula. We know that:

  • The Quran mentioned Rome in 30:2
  • Muhammad traveled to Syria with his uncle Abu Talib. [5]
  • He talked about India [6]

And all he needed is just to hear one person talk about it.

The scientific evidence

Actual tightening of chest

Promoters of this "miracle" didn't provide any scientific evidence for the claim that chest gets tightened in high altitudes. They've found only a study that says "small pulmonary arteries constrict in the presence of alveolar hypoxia".

And even if we somehow interpret the Quran that "tight chest" means "tight arteries", then the context is that it happens to disbelievers and not to believers:

So whoever Allah wants to guide - He expands his breast to [contain] Islam; and whoever He wants to misguide - He makes his breast tight and constricted as though he were climbing into the sky. Thus does Allah place defilement upon those who do not believe.

And the promoters of this miracle didn't provide any scientific evidence that non-Muslims have tighter lung arteries than Muslims.

Feeling of tightening of chest

And if the tightening was only about subjective "feeling of tight chest", then it's not a miraculous science. Anyone in the 7th century could have gone to mountain and experience altitude sickness. And again, the verse talked about disbelievers. They didn't provide any statistical evidence that non-Muslims feel tightness in their chests more often than Muslims.

Figurative tightening of chest

If it was figurative, then it's not about science at all, so it cannot be a scientific miracle.

See also