Archive for October, 2009

Is cosmology in the Quran geocentric?

Wednesday, October 21st, 2009

It seems the Quran’s cosmology is pre-Copernicus. For instance,

“The sun is not allowed to overtake the moon, nor does the night outpace the day. Each in its orbit runs.” (36:40)

The translation “overtake” is not very accurate. A better word, IMHO, is “catch up with”. As such the sun indeed has never caught up with the moon: they never touched or collided and that’s because “each in its orbit swims!”

One way to look at it is Allah is in fact referring to the sun’s revolution around the galaxy. But this cannot hold for two primary reasons. Firstly, this explanation would be completely out of context. The verse is clearly devoted to the day/night and its explanation.

I don’t see that at all. The verse itemizes several of God’s precise designs and signs that all can clearly see for themselves.

Secondly, if it is in fact referring the revolution of Sun around the galaxy, did the companions of the Prophet extrapolate a sun revolving around the galaxy? More importantly, what did the companions understand by this verse?

That’s not important. The Sahaaba (Companions) did not know anything about science and in fact verses like this one are what compelled them to study astronomy, math, etc. precisely to understand. With verses like this, God is wetting the appetite of Muslims to seek knowledge, which they sure did.

What’s bothering me is the seemingly pre-Copernicus tone of the verse. The verse does not mention the rotation of the earth.

Not directly but implicitly. The rotation of the earth is what causes day and night! Another knowledge appetite wetter.

I will not comment on verse 27:88 (mountains) since it is self-explanatory. The mountains which we see as firm will be clouds by Allah’s Will on that particular day. Simple and straightforward. No rotating earth is implied.

I’m not so sure. The verse does not specify a day when that will happen, so it can apply all the time. Evidence supporting that is how God ends the verse by saying “that is the handiwork of God, who perfected everything.” That clause would have no relevance if the phenomenon in question happens only on one exceptional day. Now how can the mountains be passing if the earth is stagnant as people felt and believed? Another knowledge appetite wetter.

Furthermore, verse 21:33. You assert that ALL here means indeed all celestial bodies when the only celestial bodies even mentioned in the Koran are sun and the moon.

Not true. Stars (an-Nujoom) and planets (al-Kawaakib) are mentioned several times in the Quran and one of them in particular was singled out, Ash-Shi`raa (Sirius), in 53:49.

Interestingly the word “falak” (orbit) is always used with sun/moon and not even once for earth.

Again, not directly because people at the time had no way of verifying it but could clearly see the sun and the moon moving about. The two verses that mention the word “falak” (orbit) both include the day and the night in the orbit that they swim. That’s food for thought for the curious.

Secondly, many commentators have translated the word “kull” as “both”, since only the sun and the moon are mentioned in the verse.

Then they would be wrong comments, because the verses clearly mention four phenomena: the sun, the moon, the day and the night. “Kull” can only mean “all”. “Both” is “Kilaahuma” in Arabic.

If the sun does not catch up with the moon then how do we explain the solar eclipse? For the solar eclipse to occur, both of them should catch up in the orbit.

That’s alignment, not catching up.

It is noteworthy that the early commentaries maintain silence on the true meaning of this verse which suggests that it was too difficult for them to interpret.

Maybe you would want to comment on which translation is more suited.

A straightforward translation would be,
“And you see the mountains and think they are rigid while they pass [like] the passing of clouds. [That is] the handiwork of God who perfected everything. He is knowledgeable of what you do.” (27:88)

I can see why some may think this only happens on the Day of Judgment, but that is an unnecessary conclusion. 27:86 talks about signs of God and IMHO so does 27:88.

Yes true, but the question is whether this interpretation could fit in the verse (36:40)?

Why couldn’t it?

Catch up never means colliding.

An object cannot touch or collide with another object except after it has caught up with it! Since the verse says the sun is not supposed to catch up with the moon, we know that they are not meant to touch or collide.

Not directly but implicitly. The rotation of the earth is what causes day and night! Another knowledge-appetite wetter

in fact Koran says otherwise.

Where? Name the verse.

Is it incorrect to use “kull” for ‘two’ in Arabic? and what could orbit mean for day/night?

It’s permissible in “Bayaan” (elegant prose) or in poetry and then it implies plurality in an allegorical way. For instance, verse 49:9 says “If two groups of believers fight (in plural) then make peace between them (dual).” Here the reason for the plural is that each member of group is fighting and therefore it’s more than two but the reason for the dual is that the peace making is between the two units or their representatives.

But since the sentence in 36:40 names four entities, there is no justification of interpreting “Kull” as referring to only two of them.

I’m not sure whether you mean the word ‘orbit’ applies only to the sun and the moon or the nigh/day as well, since you say “kull” does not mean ‘both’ here.

The orbit of the day and night is by indirection. The verse is imaging the night and day as running after each other in succession, and this image has been used in the Quran a lot, hence an orbit. The verse is stimulating the minds of early Muslims to find out how the day and night are made!

Catching up does not mean colliding. Two cars in a drag race can catch up without colliding. Alignment and catching up is the same thing here isn’t it?

If so, then catch up is not the right translation either. The Arabic word does mean getting a hold of something that’s been elusive. It is also used to mean “understand” because when you understand something, you finally grab hold of a concept that was alien to you previously. This is why God often uses this verb to convey the majesty of something, e.g., “The Trumpeter. What is the Trumpeter? And what can make you understand what the Trumpeter is?” (101:1-3)

Doesn’t verse 39:5 mention heavens, earth, sun and the moon and each running. Doesn’t that motion then apply to all of them: sun, moon, earth and the heavens?

And sun and the moon run on a separate orbit [path]. So isn’t the analogy of drag race a faulty one as two cars will never catch up if they race on a different circuit [path].

Not only that, but 39:5 uses a most interesting verb in describing the succession of the day and the night, the verb يكور (“yukawwir”) which means that their succession is the result of a rotation of a ball! How is that for a clue from God that the earth is round and that it rotates?

I found this article;

An important verse is Surat ash-Shams (Chapter 91), verses 1-4; where the Quran states the and the day when it displays it [and not the other way round] i.e. sun displays the day.

That’s right, but the translation “displays it” is not quite accurate. The verb God uses is جلاها which means “unveils it” or “shows it without obstruction.” Thus 1-4 means the day unveils the sun and that’s a sign of God worthy of being sworn by.

I did answer the question about what the “orbit” of the day and night means. It is what literature calls a poetic license. The consistent succession of day and night, by way of “takweer”, implies a ball rotation. A stationary orbit, if you will.

Yes you did. I just wanted to clarify the translation of verses;

Do you not see how your Lord lenghthens the shadows? Had it been His Will He could have made them constant. But We make the sun their guide; little by little We shorten them” 25:46

Is that the accurate translation as he mentioned the shadow part as well.

Yes, “Guide” is a good translation, but “Daleel” can also mean “indicator” or “evidence.” God is saying that the sun is your clue to why shadows form and its changing position relative to the earth is what causes the shadow to change. Another hint for the curious.