Qur'an Contradiction:

Everything in Pairs?

The Qur'an makes the following statement:

And of every thing We have created pairs:
That ye may receive instruction.
-- Sura 51:49

And in his commentary on this verse Yusuf Ali writes:

To make a claim about everything is always bold and indeed only God will ever be able to make claims about everything since such claims need omniscience.

But on the other hand, they are also very dangerous since one counterexample is sufficient to prove such a bold claim wrong.

In electricity there is positive and negative charge creating electrical force fields, this is true. But where is the counterpart for the force of gravitation? It always is attracting. There is no repelling gravity.

Perhaps Yusuf Ali was just a bit too enthusiastic with his interpretation of "everything"? Maybe the Qur'an meant only things that are somehow "alive" like plants and animals? The Qur'an does say "everything" (and repeats that claim specifically for fruits in S. 13:3, see the article, Sexy Fruits?), but let us in the following look at the restricted part of creation consisting of living beings.

Examples of species created as "less than pairs"

After stumbling over this verse in the Qur'an, I took the freedom to ask around on the biology newsgroups to find out more about this claim. Here is a list of some responses I got.

   There are quite a few examples of organisms which are exclusively
   parthenogenetic.  I might refer you to Graham Bell's "The Masterpiece 
   of Nature", a weighty tome which has all you could care to know about 
   the evolution of sexual reproduction.

   Even though there are quite a few example of parthenogens, they tend 
   to be taxanomically isolated, suggesting that they are all of recent 
   origin (often due to hybridization between two disparate specied) and 
   are short-lived in evolutionary time.

   There is one notable exception, however, which is the topic of study 
   in my lab.  Bdelloid rotifers are an entire class of animals which, 
   as far as anyone can tell, has been reproducing entirely without any 
   form of genetic exchange for quite some time (perhaps more than 50 
   million years), with over 350 species identified.

   If you're interested in more info about bdelloids and our work, I'd 
   refer to our lab web page, which includes a copy of our research 
   proposal which gives a fair amount of background material. You can 
   reach the page at  http://golgi.harvard.edu/meselson/ .


   Actually, one of the students here told me that there is 
   such a thing as a purely asexual reproducing organism. 
   Here is the reference: Science 203: 1247-1249. 1979. 
   It is a lizard called Cnemidophoras.
   Personnally I don't believe it to be possible, but this 
   "accident" may have arrived quite late in the evolution. 
   Unless this organism "reverts" to sexuality, it is in 
   my view in an evolutive pitfall, if it is an asexual 

   The list is actually decently long : bacteria, fungi imperfecti, etc.
   All members of the Monera Kingdom reproduce asexually only.  Yes, the
   Plantae and Protista Kingdoms do produce both ways, but almost never
   only asexually.  As for the fungi, a certain group, the fungi
   imperfecti, are classified as such because no forms of sexual
   reproduction have been observed.  Concerning your question about
   "higher" species, no members of the Kingdom Animalia produce only
   asexually (the scientific term is not non-sexual).  There are some
   rare cases of lysogeny (sp?), but it is very rare.  Hope this helps.

   There is a whole group of fungi (Deuteromycete/Fungi Imperfecti) 
   which do not have sexual cycles.  All are related to sexual 
   species but do not reproduce sexually.  Many have rather complex 
   mechanisms (parasexual cycles) to allow genetic recombination 
   but they are not based on meiosis and gametic fusion as in true 
   sex.  Your best place to start to find out about them is in a 
   good introductory text such as the 4th ed of Alexopoulus, Mimms 
   and Blackwell (Wiley, 1996).  This will point yopu to the specific 
   organisms that fulfil the criteria you are looking for.

   There is a whole group of organisms wich do no practise sex: 
   fungi imperfecti. This is a group of mushrooms, which don't 
   produce gamets and therefore cannot be put in an certain taxon. 
   Another curious member is the european population of Elodea. 
   All plants here are of the same sex and can therefore only 
   use vegetative amplification.

The above newsgroup comments were collected in 1997, when the internet was still small and Wikipedia did not exist yet. Now, in 2009, such information is much easier to come by. There are actually quite a few species of living things that reproduce in an asexual way. Various plants, fungi, and most single-cell organism (bacteria, etc.) — simply consult Wikipedia on Asexual Reproduction.

Then, there are worms which reproduce sexually but all members of the species are the same, the individual worm is neither male nor female but has both sexual organs, it is a "hermaphrodite". The page Worm Reproduction gives more details. The important point for this article: These worms do not come in pairs of male and female. Most land snails are also hermaphrodite (*). Moreover, there are a number of species that reproduce via parthenogenesis. Several kinds of lizards reproduce this way. For example, the New Mexico Whiptail Lizard "is a female-only species that reproduces by producing an egg that is a perfect clone of itself." (*)

Because of the facts listed above, we have to face the question:

Could it be that God is wrong? And wrong in so many cases? Or could it be that the one who was wrong here was not God? Maybe Muhammad was a good observer of the world around him, but he was not omniscient. And that shows in the above verse, and the many other contradictions collected in this section.

And there is more ...

Another interesting species is the clown fish. Although they reproduce sexually, in some sense there is only one kind of clown fish, but this "one kind" can change gender. Every clown fish starts out as a non-active male. When he moves up the rank ladder in his group, he can become an active male, and finally, when the female in a group dies, the active male turns into a female, see these articles (1, 2, 3). One can argue one way or other whether this species "is created in pairs" and whether it really agrees with or rather contradicts the statement in S. 51:49.

The above counterexamples are all species which exist and reproduce – in one way or other – as "less than a pair". They do not come in pairs as claimed in the Qur'an. But there are other species which falsify the claim of the Qur'an in a different way, because they exist in genders/types that are "more than a pair".

Examples of species created as "more than pairs"

In February 2011, I was contacted by Martin Taverille (*), who informed me of the existence of further counterexamples to S. 51:49 which are of an entirely different kind than what I had listed so far in this article — thus prompting yet another revision and expansion of this page.

In short, there exist not only asexual fungi (see above) but also certain species of fungi which are multi-sexual, having three, four, or even several thousands of genders, each of which can "mate" (reproduce) with most other genders of this fungus. The fungus Schizophyllum commune has more than 28,000 different sexes (genders, mating types). The way it reproduces is explained in these articles (1, 2).

Amazingly and ironically, Schizophyllum commune is not some very rare species found only in some obscure corner of the world, but "it is probably the most widespread fungus in existence, being found on every continent except Antarctica, where there is no wood to be used as a substrate" (*). In particular, this means that this multi-sexual fungus was probably around in the area where Muhammad lived at the time of the "revelation" of the Qur'an. Muhammad may well have looked at it without realizing that this fungus contradicted his "divine revelation" and would one day contribute to exposing the Qur'an as scientifically wrong.

Jochen Katz

Contradictions in the Qur'an
Answering Islam Home Page