On Cosmology

Of all the references in the Qur'an to scientific matters, the most numerous are on the creation and structure of the universe and
the earth. This area is singled out in several verses like the one below as an example of Allah's creative power:

     [45:3] Verily, in the heavens and the earth are signs for those who believe.

For a much more detailed exposition of the Qur'an and cosmology (and science in general), interested readers should consider
reading M. Bucaille's book 'The Bible, The Qur'an, and Science' [10]. Below, a brief summary of some of the more powerful
verses.

First, a verse which makes a small note regarding the age of mankind with respect to the universe:

     [76:1] Has there not been over Man a long period of Time when he was not yet a thing thought of?

The Arabic word for "Time" in this verse is "Dahr" and it can mean either all of eternity or simply a tremendously long time.
Modern science can help us understand this verse better. The first appearance of humans on this earth is estimated to have
occurred on the order of one million years ago. The age of the universe, on the other hand, is estimated at roughly fifteen billion
years. If we normalize the age of the universe to one day, then man would be less than six seconds old.

The following verse deals with the creation of the heavens and the earth.

     [50:38] And We created the heavens and the earth and all between them in six days, and nothing
     touched us of weariness.

Notice the sharp counterpoint to the Bible at the end of this verse regarding whether Allah "rested" after the sixth day from
tiredness. However, a more subtle yet perhaps vastly more important difference is brought out when we look at the first verse in the Bible, Genesis [1:1]:

     Bible [1:1] In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.

There is no mention of "and all between them", as opposed to the Qur'an (which refers to this in several verses, no less).
Modern science has just within this last century discovered that much of the mass of the universe is contained in the vast spaces
between galaxies and stars (ignoring for the moment the possibility of 'dark matter' which would only make a stronger point). In
spite of having only a single hydrogen atom every few cubic meters on average (interstellar material), the universe is so huge that the "empty" space may account for more of the total universe's mass than all the stars combined - at the very least, it is a
significant amount. Thus, it is an important omission to leave out "all between" the earth and the other stars and galaxies
("heavens").

As to the debate which has wracked Christianity and Judaism for centuries regarding the meaning of "six days", the word "days" in classical Arabic has a secondary meaning of a "very long time" or an "era" [12]. The Qur'an, however, presents a conclusive
answer to this question via the following three verses scattered throughout the text:

     [22:47] And yet they ask you to hasten on the Punishment! But Allah will not fail in His promise. Verily
     a Day in the sight of your Lord is like a thousand years of your reckoning.

     [32:5] He (Allah) directs (all) affairs from the heavens to the earth: in the end will (all affairs) go up to
     Him on a Day the space whereof will be (as) a thousand years of your reckoning.

     [70:4] The angels and the Spirit ascend to Him in a Day the space whereof is (as) fifty thousand years.

It is clear from these verses that a "day" in the Qur'an can easily have different meanings in different contexts, and is thus not
constrained to mean a strict 24-hour period.

The next two verses address certain details of creation.

     [21:30] Don't those who reject faith see that the heavens and the earth were a single entity then We
     ripped them apart?...

     [41:11] Moreover, He applied His design to the heavens, while it was (yet) vapor,and He said to it and
     to the earth, "Come (into being), willingly or unwillingly." They said, "We do come in obedience."

Verse [21:30] foreshadows the modern cosmological theory known as the Big Bang theory wherein all matter is presumed to
have originated from a violent explosion. Verse [41:11] refers to a later stage in creation, one in which a cosmologist would
describe the universe as filled with a nebulous gas undergoing a slow coalescence into gross structures such as clusters, galaxies, stars, and so on. The words of these two verses may seem coarse and simplistic to the modern eye, but this does not detract
from their general accuracy.

Then there are verses that speak of the sun and the moon.

     [25:61] Blessed is He Who put in the heavens constellations, and put in it a lamp and a light-giving
     moon.

This verse emphasizes the sun as a direct source of light ("lamp"), whereas the moon is not given this title. Man has long since
established that the moon's light is simply reflected sunlight.

     [55:5] The sun and the moon follow precise courses.

The meaning of this verse is obvious, and we have known the mathematical description of these "courses" since Kepler and
Newton formulated them several centuries ago.

     [21:33] It is He Who created the night and the day, and the sun and the moon: all swim along, each in its
     rounded course.

This verse supplements the previous one: here, we learn that the sun and moon follow "rounded courses." It is significant that the Arabic word used here - "falak" - does not mean circular course, just rounded. Kepler was the first European astronomer to
realize that the paths of the planets and the moon are elliptical. It was not until later, though, that astronomers also realized that
the sun has an orbit as well - around the center of the Milky Way.

The Qur'an contains a number of verses on the structure and contents of the universe. There are too many to list here, but the
following three form an interesting sample:

     [51:47] And the heavens We did create with Our Hands, and We do cause it to expand.

Flatly stating what Einstein refused to believe at first, this verse anticipates Hubble's discovery of the expanding universe by
approximately thirteen centuries. This verse makes a very clear point that the expansion is continuous (until the Day of
Judgement, which is guaranteed by Allah to come upon us unexpectedly).

     [42:29] And among His signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the living creatures that
     He has scattered through both of them...

     [45:13] And He has subjected to you (man), from Him, all that is in the heavens and on earth: behold, in
     that are signs indeed for those who reflect.

These two verses are extremely interesting. Not only does the first one very strongly imply the existence of living creatures on
other planets throughout the universe, but the second tells us that the heavens are "subject" to us. With a little imagination, we
(or perhaps our children) can begin dreaming of the possibility of interstellar travel - and not just confined to our own solar
system! 



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