Scientific foreknowledge in sacred texts

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Scientific foreknowledge in sacred texts is the belief that certain sacred texts document an awareness of the natural world that was later discovered by technology and science. This includes the belief that the sacred text grants a higher awareness of the natural world, like those views held by some Orthodox Jews about the Hebrew Bible (Tanach),[citation needed] by some Muslims regarding the Qur'an,[1] by certain Christian fundamentalists regarding the Christian Bible, and by certain adherents of Hindu revivalism regarding the Hindu scriptures. Skeptics have stated some of these attempts are examples of confirmation bias.

Scriptural literalism (specifically creationism and some forms of biblical archaeology) is a related ideology, but strictly the reverse process of aligning scientific observation with scriptural reading rather than aligning scriptural reading with scientific observation.


Further information: Biblical inspiration

Supporters of biblical scientific foreknowledge believe that parts of the Bible contain observations regarding aspects of the natural world in line with modern scientific and medical research. This includes the view that such technology and knowledge would not have been discovered with the technology of the times and are therefore evidence of Biblical inspiration and of Biblical inerrancy.

Critics contend that these references either represent information that was common at the time, or even no real knowledge of the scientific reasons behind the phenomena described.

History and advocacy[edit]

An early example of claimed Biblical scientific foresight was the interpretation of passages of the Bible as showing Copernican motion, suggested in 1584 by Spanish theologian Diego de Zuñiga in his Commentary on Job:

"Therefore the present passage [Job 9:6],[2] which we have been discussing, is easily reconciled with Copernicus' opinion. And in order to show the marvelous power and wisdom of God, who initiates and maintains the motion of the whole earth, which is enormous by nature, the text adds, 'and its pillars are shaken.' This teaching means that it is moved from its foundations."[3]

William Harvey, the medical doctor who in the 17th century discovered the complete circulatory system, believed that this discovery was proof of Biblical foreknowledge. In his 1628 work De motu cordis, he supported this claim in On Generation by stating, "the life, therefore, resides in the blood (as we are informed in our sacred writing)," referring to Leviticus 17:11,14 .[4]

David Macht, a pharmacologist and doctor of Hebrew Literature was a notable advocate of biblical health practices.[5][6] In Dr. Macht's 1953 study entitled An Experimental Pharmacological Appreciation of Leviticus XI and Deuteronomy XIV, he suggested that the Levitical clean animals were less toxic than the Levitical unclean animals:

Every word of the Hebrew Scriptures is well chosen and carries valuable knowledge and deep significance[5]

Harry Rimmer (1890–1952) was president of the "Research Science Bureau of Los Angeles" and published "Harmony of Science and Scripture" (1936) [7] which attributed much scientific foresight to the Bible, including the wave nature and spectrographic analysis of light, stating "either Job knew this, or supernatural wisdom is revealed here!"[8] Rimmer had enrolled in a correspondence course in geology at the University of Colorado,[9] but he had no earned college degree. He was awarded an honorary "Doctor of Science" degree from Wheaton College (Illinois), a Christian liberal arts college.[10]

Henry M. Morris, then a hydraulics engineer, in 1951 published Science and the Bible which based on the work of George McCready Price. The first chapter of Science and the Bible dealt with Biblical scientific foreknowledge and set forth many of the arguments that are still in use by proponents today.[citation needed]

The Old Earth Creationist and astronomer, Hugh Ross, Ph.D., is a notable advocate of Bible scientific foreknowledge.

"Some of the latest discoveries about the universe, specifically about the hot big bang model, speak volumes about the predictive power of a Bible-based, science-affirming perspective on the cosmos."[11]


Muslims believe that the Qur'an is the literal word of God as revealed to the prophet Muhammad through the Archangel Gabriel. Many Muslims believe that the Qur'an contains scientific information that would only be discovered by the world in modern times, centuries after their revelation, proving its divine origin. These are claimed to include scientific information pertaining to creation, astronomy, biology, and human reproduction.[1]

One such claim is based on an interpretation of the passage in the Qur'an which states: "Have not those who disbelieve known that the heavens and the earth were of one piece, then We parted them and we made every living thing of water? Will they not then believe?"[Quran 21:30] Muslims claim that the first part of the verse is referring to the Big Bang and the second part of the verse refers to the fact that all living things are made of water since and water being a necessary component for life.[1][12] Muslims also believe that the Qur'an also refers to the protective properties of the atmosphere when it says, "We made the sky a preserved and protected roof yet still they turn away from Our Signs."[Quran 21:32] In addition to this, Muslims believe the Qur'an mentions the rotation and orbit of the Sun and the Moon when it states, "It is He who created the night and the day, and the sun, and the moon; each of them swim along in its rounded course."[Quran 21:33][13]

Muslims have cited the following Qur'anic verse as miraculous, "After that (Allah) spread the Earth out (dahaha: from the verb 'daha')" [Quran 79:30]. This verse has been interpreted by many Muslims as foreshadowing the concept that the figure of the Earth has an oblate ellipsoid shape. Kamel Ben Salem's explanation for this is that "the ancient exegetes had earlier explained the Arabic verb (dahaha) by (has flattened it)" but that "the origin of this verb is found in the word (Ud-hiya)", which means "egg of ostrich", thus "the Earth would look like an ostrich’s egg" which is accurate with scientific data that confirms that the Earth is slightly flat at the poles very similarly to the shape of the egg of an ostrich.[14] Rashad Khalifa alternatively translated the verse as: "he made the earth egg-shaped."[15]

However, this Muslim argument for scientific foreknowledge in the Qur'an is built on a popular misconception known as the "Myth of the Flat Earth". Knowledge of a spherical Earth has existed since the ancient Greeks.[16] Hence the argument's attempt to present this piece of information as foreknowledge is inaccurate.

The claim that the term "daha" refers to an "ostrich egg" is disputed. The premise that the term "ud-hiya" is the root of the word "daha" is inconsistent with the fact that most Arabic words have a triconsonantal root. This premise is also not supported by the classical lexicons of the Arabic language. Lane's Arabic-English Lexicon, for example, reports that the term "daha" is rooted in the triconsonantal root, dal-ha-waw. The term "ud-hiya", on the other hand, is only a cognate of the word "daha". It is also noted in the entry for the term "daha" in Lane's lexicon that the word is used to signify any surface that has been spread out or flattened. Lane's lexicon also provides an example of the usage of the word with the following statement, "also, said of an ostrich, he expanded, and made wide, with his foot, or leg, the place where he was about to deposit his eggs". In a consistent manner, "udhiya" is defined as "The place of the laying of eggs, and of the hatching thereof, of the ostrich in the sand".[17] It is not known whether this example, involving an ostrich and its egg, is the cause of the mistranslation of "daha" as an "ostrich egg".


One well-known proponent of this argument is Maurice Bucaille, a French physician and author of the book The Bible, The Quran and Science, whose translator into Indonesian, Dr. Muhammad Rasjidi, former Professor for Islamic Studies at McGill University and former Indonesian Minister for Religious Affairs characterizes as "a half-baked mish-mash of pseudo-science and pseudo-exegesis".[18] Maurice Bucaille asserts in his book that "he could not find a single error in the Qur'an", and that the Qur'an does "not contain a single statement which is assailable from a modern scientific point of view", which led him to believe that no human author in the 7th century could have written "facts" which "today are shown to be keeping with modern scientific knowledge".[1] Scholars criticize, that "Bucaille bends the meaning of the Arabic words to suit his own ideas."[19] and "Bucaille proposes new meanings for Qur'anic words to bring them into accord with modern scientific knowledge, without requiring any standard philological justification."[20]

The search for Qur'anic references to and prophecies of modern scientific discoveries has become a "popular trend" in some Muslim societies;[21] as a manifestation of the popularity of the scientific miracles belief, the Muslim World League at Makkah formed a committee named Committee on the Scientific Miracles of the Qurʾān and the Sunna to investigate the relation between Qur'an and science, headed by Zaghloul El-Naggar.[1]

According to some recent studies of the relationship between science education and religion, one of the ways in which science education in strongly Islamic societies is impacted by religiosity is when "acceptable" scientific discoveries can be found to have been anticipated or "identified" by the Qur'an, with consequent implications for what is taught and not taught.[22]

Criticism of consistency[edit]

Taner Edis, author of An Illusion of Harmony: Science and Religion in Islam, describes this point.[23] He argues that Muslims are more likely to view the Quran as the direct word of God, and so it must be reconciled with their growing respect for science and technology. Edis suggests that Muslims often have a vested interest in finding passages whose interpretation can be stretched to describe modern understanding. He warns that reading into books like this can be misleading, since the method can be used to support any number of contradictory facts.[24] Russel Glasser (a Skeptic from the The Atheist Experience TV show with Matt Dillahunty and Jeff Dee) likewise suggests that reading into the Quran like this amounts to cherry picking and risks simply confirming the biases of the investigator.[25]

Criticism of pseudoscientific thought[edit]

High energy physicist Pervez Hoodbhoy has written on the phenomenon of pseudoscience based on Quranic scripture in the Muslim world, ranging from claims that Einstein's Theory of relativity proves the existence of heaven in Islam, to claims that, according to the Quran, nuclear energy comes from Genies.[26] He observes that the prevalence of such pseudoscientific concepts has led to significant decline in scientific output from Muslims since the distant past.[26] Hoodbhoy's book "Islam and Science: Religious Orthodoxy and the Battle for Rationality", provides more details about the rise of such kinds of pseudoscience promoted by Wahhabis such as claims of the Quran's containing "scientific miracles" and the Islamic creationism of Harun Yahya.[27]

Hindu texts[edit]

Hindu tradition sometimes holds that all knowledge is pre-existing, to be "recovered" rather than "discovered", and is echoed can be found in the Vedas and other ancient texts.[28]

The Sad-darsanas, meaning six orthodox philosophical system of Samkhya is noted to have included both religious and scientific context. It includes the theories about scientific subjects such as human evolution, physics, biological, among others.[29][30]

The Hindu revivalism movements that emerged in British India from the later 19th century developed an idea of a "Vedic science" found in the corpus of Brahmanas, Sutras and Shastras of Indian antiquity that supposedly anticipated certain results of modern science.

In 1900, Vivekananda said that:-

Some of the authors "seeking to modernize India by recovering the supposedly pristine Vedic-Hindu roots of Indian culture" revived these notions.:[34]

"By postulating interconnections and similarities across Nature, they [the Vedic thinkers] were able to use logic to reach extremely subtle conclusions about diverse aspects of reality."[35]

In response to criticism to the effect that this is essentially the religious worldview prevalent in early Europe succeeded by the scientific revolution of around the 18th century, Hindutva authors answer that the distinction of science and pseudoscience (or proto-science) is Eurocentric and inapplicable to Vedic science:

"Western scientic thought draws on the traditions of Greek rationalist thinking according to which only what is within the purview of the five senses is taken cognisance of. Scientific methods follow some kind of closed scientific reasoning which insulates itself against facts that its methods cannot account for. How else can they [scientists] dare dismiss Jyotisha [astrology] which sees a level of existence beyond the purview of the five senses?" (Vasudev 2001)[36]

One author suggests that the contradiction between science and religion is impossible in India:-

"The idea of 'contradiction' is an imported one from the West in recent times by the Western-educated, since 'Modern Science' arbitrarily imagines that it only has the true knowledge and its methods are the only methods to gain knowledge, smacking of Semitic dogmatism in religion." [37][38]

According to the survey conducted by Pew Forum in the United States, 80% of Hindus agree with the theory of evolution.[39] In India, there were minimal references to Darwinism in the 1800s. Elements of Victorian England opposed the idea of Darwinism. Hindus already had present notion of common ancestry between humans and animals.(see Dashavatara) [40] British geneticist and evolutionary biologist, J B S Haldane, opined that they are a true sequential depiction of the great unfolding of evolution.[41] Various thinkers and authors like Monier Monier-Williams, Nabinchandra Sen, C. D. Deshmukh have associated the Dashavatara with evolution.


Critics of sacred text scientific foreknowledge believe that parts of various sacred text may simply contain observations regarding aspects of the technology of the times. Scientific and engineering knowledge have been documented in early cultures that claimed no divine guidance.[42] For example, scientists of Ancient Egypt documented knowledge of engineering and anatomy that were unknown to medieval Europe thousands of years later, such as the existence of cerebrospinal fluid; see Ancient Egyptian medicine and Ancient Egyptian technology.

Another criticism points out that the process of scientific foreknowledge only works in reverse; few advocates of scientific foreknowledge use sacred texts to predict the next scientific breakthrough. Only once a new scientific discovery occurs do proponents of scientific foreknowledge scan the text to look for a verse that can be said to have predicted the latest discovery. Thus, since the process only works in reverse and the text cannot predict new discoveries, the text cannot be said to contain scientific foreknowledge.

Farrell Till asserts that biblical passages with supposed foresight can be interpreted in a number of ways, and that believers "see prophecies and their fulfillments in passages so obscurely written that no one can really determine what the writers originally intended in the statements."[43] Till is an author with master's degree in English (and a former pastor and missionary of the Church of Christ) who has had public debates with well-known Bible inerrantists such as Norman Geisler[44] and Kent Hovind.

Richard Dawkins claims that religious proponents "cherry-pick" passages that fit a certain framework and disregard or even dismiss the vague rest, saying that those are meant to be figuratively and loosely interpreted.

Anthropologist Mary Douglas wrote in her book "Purity and Danger" that the biblical cleanliness passages merely represent cultural concepts of symbolic boundary integrity.[45]

A number of classical Muslim scientists and commentators did not believe in the scientific exegesis of the Qur'an; Abū Rayhān al-Bīrūnī (973-1048), one of the most celebrated Muslim scientists of the classical period, assigned to the Qur'an a separate and autonomous realm of its own and held that the Qur'an "does not interfere in the business of science nor does it infringe on the realm of science." These scholars argued for the possibility of multiple scientific explanations of the natural phenomena, and refused to subordinate the Qur'an to an ever-changing science.[1]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Ahmad Dallal, Science and the Qur'an, Encyclopedia of the Qur'an
  2. ^ Job 9:6, NIV
  3. ^ De Zuñiga, Diego, Commentary on Job (1584), p205
  4. ^ Ferngren, Larson, Amundsen (Editors). "Encyclopedia of the History of Science and Religion in the Western Tradition", Garland Publishing Inc,US (29 June 2000), p. 470. ISBN 0-8153-1656-9
  5. ^ a b An Experimental Pharmacological Appreciation of Leviticus XI and Deuteronomy XIV, Bulletin of the History of Medicine - David Macht
  6. ^ Ask the Rabbi - 199
  7. ^ Dr. Harry Rimmer
  8. ^ Harmony of Science and Scripture, Harry Rimmer (1936)(p131-132)
  9. ^ Ronald L. Numbers (1993), "The Creationists", University of California Press, p. 62
  10. ^ Froth and Fraud in Fundamentalism
  11. ^ Hugh Ross, Ph.D. "Predictive Power: Confirming Cosmic Creation". (accessed: October 06, 2006).
  12. ^ "Science in The Qur'an" Evidence That Islam is True
  13. ^ "The Scientific Miracles of the Qur'an" Mission Islam
  14. ^ Kamel Ben Salem (2007). "The Evolution of the Universe: A New Vision". European Journal of Science and Theology. Retrieved 2010-03-19. 
  15. ^ Rashad Khalifa (2001). Quran: the final testament. p. 497. ISBN 1-881893-05-7. 
  16. ^ Dicks, D.R. (1970). Early Greek Astronomy to Aristotle. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press. pp. 72–198. ISBN 978-0-8014-0561-7. 
  17. ^ Lane, Edward William; "An Arabic-English Lexicon"; Librairie Du Liban, 1968. Vol. 3, page 857 [1]
  18. ^ Roff, William R. (1987). Islam and the political economy of meaning: comparative studies of Muslim discourse. Routledge. p. 279. ISBN 978-0-7099-4248-1. 
  19. ^ Negus, Michael Robert (2005). Islam and Science. God, humanity, and the cosmos, Edition: 2, illustrated, revised, by Christopher Southgate, John Hedley Brooke, Celia Deane-Drummond. Continuum International Publishing Group. p. 332. ISBN 978-0-567-03016-0. 
  20. ^ Wood, Kurt A. (June 1993). "The Scientific Exegesis of The Qur'an: A Case Study in Relating Science and Scripture". PSCF (American Scientific Affiliation) 45: 90–95. 
  21. ^ "Muslim call to adopt Mecca time". BBC. 2008-04-21. Retrieved 2008-04-24. 
  22. ^ Gilbert, John (2004). The RoutledgeFalmer Reader in Science Education. Routledge. p. 4. 
  23. ^
  24. ^ Reasonable Doubts Podcast: Islam, Science and Modernity
  25. ^ The Atheist Experience, on "the Quran and the Speed of Light", quote:"A contemporary person who knows some science can make passages of the Quran superficially resemble scientific insights by manipulating verses that have nothing to do with science and trying to pigeonhole them into something resembling contemporary knowledge."
  26. ^ a b Islamic failure, by Pervez Hoodbhoy
  27. ^ Hoodbhoy, Pervez (1992). Islam and Science: Religious Orthodoxy and the Battle for Rationality. Zed Books. ISBN 1-85649-025-4. 
  28. ^ van Buitenen, J. A. B (1966). "The Archaism of the Bhāgavata Purāṇa". In Milton Singer. Krishna: Myths, Rites, and Attitudes. pp. 23–40.  Reprinted in S.S Shashi, ed. (1996). Encyclopedia Indica. Anmol Publications PVT. LTD. pp. 28–45. ISBN 978-81-7041-859-7. 
    "Central to Indian thinking through the ages is a concept of knowledge which, though known to Platonism and Gnosticism, is foreign to the modern West. Whereas for us, to put it briefly, knowledge is something to be discovered, for the Indian knowledge is to be recovered. [...] One particular preconception, related to this concept of knowledge concerning the past and its relationship to the present, is probably of central significance: that at its very origin the absolute truth stands revealed; that this truth—which is simultaneously a way of life—has been lost, but not irrecoverably; that somehow it is still available through ancient life-lines that stretch back to the original revelation; and that the present can be restored only when this original past has been recovered."
  29. ^ Klaus K. Klostermaier. A Survey of Hinduism: Third Edition. Suny. p. 473. 
  30. ^ James W. Haag, Gregory R. Peterson, Michael L. Spezio. The Routledge Companion to Religion and Science. Routledge. p. 446. 
  31. ^ Aspects of the Vedanta. Havard University. p. 137. 
  32. ^ Garrett G. Fagan. Archaeological Fantasies: How Pseudoarchaeology Misrepresents the Past and Misleads the Public. Psychology Press. p. 316. 
  33. ^ lecture on The Vedanta delivered at Lahore on 12 November 1897; 1970, vol. 3, pp. 398f.
  34. ^ by Nanda (2003:4)
  35. ^ Feuerstein, Kak and Frawley in their 1995 In Search of the Cradle of Civilization (p. 197)
  36. ^ Vasudev, Gayatri Devi. 2001. Vedic astrology and pseudo-scientic criticism, The Organiser (an English-language publication of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh), reprinted in The Astrological Magazine, cited after Sokal (2006:38)
  37. ^ Mukhyananda, Swami. 1997. Vedanta in the Context of Modern Science: A (Comparative Study. Mumbai [Bombay]: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan.
  38. ^ Alan Sokal. Beyond the Hoax: Science, Philosophy and Culture. Oxford University Press. p. 397. 
  39. ^ Religious Groups: Opinions of Evolution, Pew Forum (conducted in 2007, released in 2008)
  40. ^ Gosling, David (June 2011). "Darwin and the Hindu Tradition: Does What Goes Around Come Around?". Zygon 46 (2): 345–347–348–353. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9744.2010.01177.x. Retrieved 2014-01-24. 
  41. ^ "Cover Story: Haldane: Life Of A Prodigious Mind". Science Reporter (Council of Scientific & Industrial Research) 29: 46. 1992. 
  42. ^ Parkins, Michael D,(Preceptor, J. Szekrenyes), Pharmocological Practices of Ancient Egypt, Proceedings of the 10th Annual History of Medicine Days, Faculty of the University of Calgary, edited by Dr. WA Whitelaw
  43. ^ Farrell Till, The Skeptical Review 1990, What About Scientific Foreknowledge in the Bible? p2-5
  44. ^ Farrell Till debate with Norman Geisler
  45. ^ Dr. Diane M. Sharon, 1998, Parashah Commentary


External links[edit]


Skeptical views