Happy Twentieth: PD 11-13 versus the Qur’an

Happy Twentieth to all Epicureans everywhere! In this year’s Epicurean symposium in Athens, the English translation of Porphyry’s Epistle to Marcella was unveiled as a new, indirect Epicurean source for us to study. Below are several educational and literary resources.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tafP2OgttCI

PD 11-13 versus the Qur’an

This blog entry is my reaction to the scientific claims of the Qur’an. It was written in solidarity with Draw Muhammad Day and is no replacement for the much more thorough Predicting Modern Science: Epicurus vs. Mohammed, by Richard Carrier. Also, in Why I Am Not a Muslim, Ibn Warraq lists many of the unscientific and superstitious practices of Islam in much more detail than I ever could. The author was raised as a Muslim and is familiar with the hadith and other sources.

If we had never been troubled by celestial and atmospheric phenomena, nor by fears about death, nor by our ignorance of the limits of pains and desires, we should have had no need of natural science.

It is impossible for someone to dispel his fears about the most important matters if he doesn’t know the nature of the universe but still gives some credence to myths. So without the study of nature there is no enjoyment of pure pleasure.

There is no advantage to obtaining protection from other men so long as we are alarmed by events above or below the earth or in general by whatever happens in the boundless universe.

Epicurean Principal Doctrines 11-13

Epicurus praised the study of science as a way to protect ourselves from degrading superstitions and fear. The third Scholarch Polystratus argued, furthermore, that when people seek virtue without the study of nature, their virtue comes to nothing because of superstition and arrogance–this critique is still relevant to modern religion.

While Epicurean doctrines are meant as therapeutic treatments for unwarranted and degrading fears and superstition, in the Qur’an we see the opposite: more unwarranted fears are added by attaching superstition to natural phenomena. God is imagined as keeping the sky from falling (22:65), and threatens to whirl meteors in the direction of infidels, or to drown them while they travel at sea.

Then do you feel secure that God will not cause a part of the land to swallow you or send against you a storm of stones? Then you would not find for yourselves an advocate. Or do you feel secure that He will not send you back into the sea another time and send upon you a hurricane of wind and drown you for what you denied? Then you would not find for yourselves against Us an avenger. – Qur’an 17:68-69

Do those who scheme evils feel secure that God will not cause the earth to cave in with them, or that the punishment will not come upon them from where they do not perceive? – Qur’an 16:45

We know that both meteors and the waters, as well as the sky and the weather, all operate according to laws of nature. There is absolutely no need to imagine these forces of nature as animated by supernatural beings, or to sacrifice our existential health and our peace of mind in the altar of superstition. Never forget: “without the study of nature there is no enjoyment of pure pleasure.”

Apologists for Islam frequently argue that the Qur’an is the most scientific scripture, so much so that it is “miraculously scientific”–if there can be such a thing. Having read the book, I must say I am not impressed, particularly when so many centuries earlier the works of Lucretius and Epicurus had been penned and are so much more accurate.

In addition to this, notoriously, very few persons from the Muslim world have ever received a Nobel prize for science. Wikipedia lists only four, and one of them–Pakistani Mohammad Abdus Salam–rather than being a source of national pride, is typically vilified by the orthodox Pakistani Muslim community because he belongs to the non-violent Ahmadiyya minority sect of Islam. One would think that, if the Qur’an is so scientific, its adherents would be among the most elite brilliant scientists of the planet, particularly considering that there are over a billion Muslims on Earth. By way of contrast, Wikipedia says:

As of 2017, Nobel Prizes have been awarded to 902 individuals, of whom 203 or 22.5% were Jews, although the total Jewish population comprises less than 0.2% of the world’s population. This means the percentage of Jewish Nobel laureates is at least 112.5 times or 11,250% above average.

Putting aside the impressive overachievement of the Jews and the impressive underachievement of the Muslims, let us look at the claims that the Qur’an actually makes in light of modern science. These are only the ones that jumped at me while reading it:

  • On the nature of outer space, Muhammad claims that heaven and earth were one, and Allah split them (21:30), rather than the Earth being one of innumerable worlds orbiting in the heavens. Elsewhere he has his followers marvel at how he made the heavens without pillars (31:10), and the “Clear Qur’an” says that he “placed stabilizers on earth lest it shifts with you”! In 41:12 and 23:17, Muhammad claims that there are seven heavens, or seven levels of heaven, or seven universes depending on what translation one reads, rather than the infinite cosmos in all directions described by science, which requires no creator … a Creator raises more questions than it answers.
  • God has to keep the sky from falling (22:65) and command the ships to sail. Yet we see evidence of no such micromanagement in nature. In 35:41, we learn that God has to keep heaven and earth from falling apart.
  • While in De Rerum Natura, Lucretius (writing in the First Century) explained accurately and in detail the cycles of rain and condensation, Muhammad in the seventh century took many steps back in the evolution of scientific thought by claiming that Allah is a weather-God and a rain-God (16:65, 16:10-11, 39:21, 35:9, 35:27, 30:48). In 37:2, he claims that angels drive the clouds.
  • Muhammad populates his seven heavens with invisible creatures that can not be observed in nature, and he populates the Earth with a non-material class of beings nowhere documented in taxonomy. The jinn are fairy-like beings from Arabic Pagan folklore that were “made from fire”, he says, but there are no taxonomical records of such beings. He imagines jinn and devils eavesdropping on heaven and being pelted with stones from the lowest heaven (37:8) by angels (although they’re supposed to be non-physical beings?). This perhaps reflects a culture with strong tendencies to stone enemies to death. Muhammad claims to have closed the gates of heaven with his message so that jinn can no longer “overhear” what’s said in heaven and bring down prophecy, ergo there are to be no more oracles or soothsaying.
  • Of the angels, he says in 35:1 that they can have 2, 3, or 4 wings, although it’s not clear how the aerodynamics would function with three wings because one side would have one, and the other side two wings.
  • Qur’an 18:9-10 claims that a group of young Christians slept in a cave for 300 years to escape persecution, and 2:259 claims that a man died for 100 years and was revived together with his donkey. (When asked to produce miracles of his own, Muhammad only produced excuses)
  • Muhammad thinks that people’s shadows are “bowing in submission to Allah“, whereas we know that they are clearly described–for instance, in Epicurus’ Epistle to Herodotus, as well as in Lucretius–as places unreached by photons, or particles of light. Also, we must contrast how Muhammad sees in the shadows an opportunity to imagine enslavement of the human spirit, whereas Lucretius–in De Rerum Natura 2.29-33–sees the shadow of a tree as an opportunity for easy pleasure where: “lying prostrate on the soft grass by a brook under the branches of a tall tree, pleasant time of refreshment and rest (come) at no great cost, especially when the weather smiles upon us ...”
  • There are many other strange “miracles” in the Qur’an. Solomon is abducted into a Snow-White-like fairy tale when in 27:16, we find Solomon speaking with birds; in 27:18-19 an ant warns other ants (here, we must acknowledge that chemical communication among ants is observable in nature); and in 27:20-26, a hoopoe bird talks to Solomon and accuses Sheba’s people of sun worship–although we know from the Bible that Solomon would not have been likely to care about this, as he was married to Jezebel and he himself built Pagan temples for his wives’ deities.
  • In 2:63, Allah is said to have raised a mountain above the Jews. A similar miracle was attributed to Krishna in the holy city of Vrindavan.

On the existence of immaterial “beings” (not only Allah, but also jinn, angels, and the entire ecology of them), we have a quote by Thomas Jefferson.

“To talk of immaterial existences is to talk of nothings. To say that the human soul, angels, God, are immaterial, is to say they are nothings, or that there is no God, no angels, no soul. I cannot reason otherwise: but I believe I am supported in my creed of materialism by Locke, Tracy, and Stewart.”

– Thomas Jefferson, in his Letter to John Adams, August 15, 1820

Further Reading:

The Nature of Things (Penguin Classics)

Predicting Modern Science: Epicurus vs. Mohammed

Why I Am Not a Muslim

Previous Years’ Twentieth Message for May:

 Back to the Basics: the Ethics
The Pauline War on our “Peace and Safety”
Better Be a Subject and at Peace

About hiramcrespo

Hiram Crespo is the author of 'Tending the Epicurean Garden' (Humanist Press, 2014) and 'How to Live a Good Life' (Penguin Random House, 2020), and founder of societyofepicurus.com. He's also written for The Humanist, Eidolon, Occupy, The New Humanism, The Secular Web, Europa Laica, AteístasPR, and many other outlets.
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