First of all Dr. Bucaille claims "complete objectivity in every respect""une objectivité totale...sans le moindre exclusif". He says,
"It was in a totally objective spirit, and without any preconceived ideas that I first examined the Quranic revelation...I repeated the same test for the Old Testament and the Gospels, always preserving the same objective spirit."
He claims to start from the facts rather than metaphysical concepts, and assumes that one can build inductively from "facts" without injecting any presuppositions into this process.
This, of course, ignores the findings of 20th century social sciences that there is no such thing as a "bare, uninterpreted fact". Kuhn, in his book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions shows that even in science the interpretation of "facts" depends on one's prior metaphysical framework. He says,
"Philosophers of science have repeatedly demonstrated that more than one theoretical construction can always be placed upon a given collection of data."
Earlier scholars have also recognized this. James Orr, writing in 1905 quotes a German theologian, Biedermann (Christliche Dogmatik), who put it this way:
It is not true, but sand in the eyes, if one asserts that genuinely scientific and historic criticism can and should proceed without dogmatic presuppositions (basic assumptions)...every student brings with him to historical investigations some sort of boundary definitions, be they ever so elastically held, of what is historically possible, and these are for that student dogmatic presuppositions.
Dr. Bucaille's claim of complete objectivity ignores several of his own presuppositions. Therefore, we shall look at four of his basic assumptions and bring them out into the light so that every reader can perceive them.
1. Science is the measure of all things
Dr. Bucaille's first assumption is that corroboration between the scriptures and science is the primary measuring scale by which we are to judge the authenticity of a sacred text. There is some truth in this assumption, but a question must be asked. What level of agreement is required? What level of scientific accuracy is necessary?
As everyone knows, scientific "knowledge" has often changed in the past. Dr. Bucaille recognizes this too, so he has proposed the following definition as the basis for his book:
"It must be stressed that when scientific data are discussed here, what is meant is data definitely established. This consideration rules out any explanatory theories, once useful in illuminating a phenomenon and easily dispensed with to make way for further explanations more in keeping with scientific progress. What I intend to consider here are incontrovertible facts and even if science can only provide incomplete data, they will nevertheless be sufficiently well established to be used without fear of error."
Dr. Bucaille's definition of science is a good beginning for our discussion, but it gives the impression that science is limited to watercycles, astrophysics, and embryology.
When we look at the root (as Dr. Bucaille loves to do) of the word science, we find that it comes from the Latin scientia meaning knowledge. Therefore our usage of the word science must include all that we "know". It must include archeological facts and historical facts, as well as how mountains are formed. There are even certain types of religious facts, such as fulfilled prophecy, which must be considered.
Then on page viii he further qualifies his definition by writing,
"This confrontation with science excludes all religious problems strictly speaking."
Again I find myself in disagreement with Dr. Bucaille's attempt to circumscribe the area of discussion and eliminate "religious problems strictly speaking". The only reason for writing and reading, either his book or this book, is the search for religious truth.
The real questions are, "Is there a God?" And if so, "How can I know him and be in contact with him?"
A biology or chemistry book might have no scientific errors, but it won't tell us about God.
Sometimes scientific knowledge and religious assumptions run into each other. As an example of this type of interaction let us consider pages 156-158 where Dr. Bucaille discusses stars, planets and shooting stars. He quotes the Sura of the Ranks (Al-Saffat) 37:6, early Meccan, as follows,
"We (God) have indeed adorned the lowest heaven with the beauty of the planets..."
Obviously there is no problem with this, but let us look at the context. When we add verses 7-10 it reads,
"We (God) have indeed adorned the lowest heaven with the beauty of the planets and for guard against every rebellious evil spirit, (so) they will not hear in the direction of the exalted assembly, but be cast away from every side, repulsed, for they are under a perpetual penalty, except such as snatch by stealth and they are pursued by a flaming fire of piercing brightness (a shooting star).
Here, shooting stars, a scientific fact using Dr. Bucaille's definition, are found in action and reaction with scientifically unverifiable spiritual factsGod and the devils. Everyone with a modern education knows that a shooting star is a meteor. Therefore God, a spiritual being, is throwing material objects at devils which are also spiritual beings.
Dr. Bucaille admits to trouble with this and concludes, "When, however the Qur'an associates material notions intelligible to us, enlightened as we are today by modern science, with statements of a purely spiritual nature, their meaning becomes obscure". And below, on the same page, "All these observations seem to lie outside the subject of this study".
Whether to call this a scientific difficulty can be questioned, but it is a real difficulty, a "truth" difficulty, a difficulty which cannot be passed over with the statement that "the Qur'an...becomes obscure", or that it "seems to lie outside of the subject of this book". This type of statement where science and religion come together is exactly what one would expect to find discussed in a book called The BIBLE, The QUR'AN, And SCIENCE.
For these reasons I do not claim that this book deals only with Science, or that spiritual matters "lie outside the subject of our study". This book deals with science, but it also deals with the problems which are really basic to any discussion between Muslims and Christians. What does the Qur'an say about the Bible? Has the Bible really been changed? How does the Muslim know that the Qur'an hasn't been changed? What is the place of the Hadith? What does God say about intercession in the Bible and the Qur'an? How can we recognize a true prophet?
2. The Bible is Required to Speak in 20th Century Language
Dr. Bucaille judges the Bible according to 20th century standards, reading it as a scientific document. If a passage appears, according to his understanding, to contain unacceptable scientific data, it is automatically assumed that the passage did not come by revelation. Anything in the Bible that appears to him as "improbable" and/or "unlikely" is proof of error.
Unless the Bible is corroborated/verified by modern scientific knowledge, it is not the Word of God and hardly to be believed even as a human historical document.
Any suggestion that his understanding and exegesis of a passage might need to be refined is not admitted. No explanation is allowable, no harmonization. These are merely "cunning dialectical acrobatics orchestrated by apologetic lyricism."
This method of evaluation is called the "conflict" approach. The bias is against the document and great effort is made to find every possible error.
3. The Qur'an may Speak in the Language of its Time
Again it is assumed that Modern Science is very important and as the ultimate standardthe ultimate knowledgeit is the verifier of the Qur'an. This assumption, as written, seems to be the same as mentioned above for the Bible, but there is a difference.
After quoting Sura 79:27-33 Dr. Bucaille says:
"This list of earthly gifts from God to man, which is expressed in a language suited to farmers or nomads on the Arabian Peninsula, is preceded by an invitation to reflect on the creation of the heavens."
Lack of precision is no longer considered an error, as he would claim if he were quoting the Bible; but is a concession to people's prescientific state. This allows him to cite various Quranic passages as descriptions of modern science, but in prescientific language.
This type of approach is called "concordist". It is looking for concord or agreement between science and the scriptures.
Standing on this assumption Dr. Bucaille claims that there are no "difficulties" in the Qur'an. Of course, the translation of one single word may be "a very delicate matter", and we saw above that a reference to shooting stars was "obscure", but there are no "difficulties", "improbabilities" or "unlikelihoods". Perhaps one should say that there are NO LONGER any difficulties for Dr. Bucaille admits:
"It is easy to see therefore how for centuries commentators on the Qur'an (including those writing at the height of Islamic culture) have inevitably made errors of interpretation in the case of certain verses whose exact meaning could not possibly have been grasped. It was not until much later, at a period not far from our own, that it was possible to translate and interpret them correctly. This implies that a thorough linguistic knowledge is not in itself sufficient to understand these verses from the Qur'an...As the questions raised are discussed, the variety of scientific knowledge essential to the understanding of certain verses of the Qur'an will become clear.
"This means that in former times, man could only distinguish an apparent meaning which led him to draw the wrong conclusions on account of the inadequacy of his knowledge at the time in question."
To overcome these "delicate" situations Dr. Bucaille has tried to find (invent?) new meanings for Arabic words to bring them into line with modern science.
Many Muslim studentsespecially those in the sciencesare thrilled with these efforts, but the assumption that the traditional Muslim exegetes, steeped in Arabic grammar and culture, were somehow less able to understand the Qur'an correctly than moderns (especially Europeans) seems rather arrogantespecially since the Qur'an claims that it was written in a "clear Arabic" (arabiyun mubinun) of the Quraish so that they could understand. In addition these efforts of Dr. Bucaille border on making "private interpretations" which the Qur'an prohibits.
As every reader knows, we often find what we are looking for. If we read the Qur'an or the Bible assuming that it is wrong and that we will find errors, we are using a conflict approach, and we shall surely find errors. If we look at the Qur'an or the Bible with a forgiving spirit and expect God and his science to agree, we are using a concordist approach and we shall find very few errorsperhaps too few, if in our search for agreement, we bend science and/or the interpretation of scripture too far.
Dr. Bucaille has used a "conflict" approach with the Bible and a "concordist" approach with the Qur'an. An example of this is his treatment of the days of creation. Concerning the Bible he writes in Chapter I,
"The idea that successive phases of the Creation...could have been compressed into the space of one week is one that cannot be defended from a scientific point of view. Today we are perfectly aware that the formation of the Universe and the earth took place in stages that lasted for very long periods...Even if, as in the Quranic description, we were permitted to think that they were in fact undefined periods rather than actual days, the description of the Priestly editors would not be any more acceptable."
Thus he admits the possibility in Chapter I that the Biblical "day" could stand for an "undefined period" of time, but when he discusses the subject again in Chapter III in relation to the Qur'an he says,
"The way the Bible interprets it, the word `day' means the interval of time between two successive sunrises or sunsets for an inhabitant of the Earth."
He has forgotten his admission that the Biblical day could be a period of timean interpretation which would be scientifically defensible. He now insists that the Biblical account calls for a 24 hr day which cannot be defended scientifically and thus "proves" that there is a "gross error".
On the next page he discusses the Arabic word "yaum" used for day and quotes two verses from the Qur'an which show that it could mean a period of time. He writes,
"The meaning `period of time' that the word contains is to be found elsewhere in the Qur'an. Hence the following: Sura 32:5,
`...in a period of time (yaum) whereof the measure is a thousand years of your reckoning.' (It is to be noted that the creation in six periods is precisely what the verse preceding verse 5 refers to) [Parenthesis Bucaille.] Sura 70:4,
`...in a period of time (yaum) whereof the measure is 50,000 years.' "
This all sounds very convincing until we look at the verses in their context. This Middle Meccan Sura of Adoration (Al-Sajda) 32:4-5 then reads,
"It is God Who has created the heavens and the earth, and all between them in six days (aiyamplural of yaum), and is firmly established on the throne. Ye have none beside Him to protect or intercede. Will you not then receive admonition? He rules (all) affairs from the heavens to the earth. In the end will (all affairs) go up to Him, in a period of time (yaum) whereof the measure is a thousand years of your reckoning."and the Early Meccan Sura of the Ways of Ascent (Al-Ma'arij) 70:4 reads,
"The angels and the Spirit ascend unto Him (God) in a period of time (yaum) whereof the measure is 50,000 years."
When we look at the context we see that these days are special "spiritual days". They both concern the day of judgment, and the second has something to do with the ascension of angels and the Spirit. Neither of them prove how the word "yaum" was understood by the Meccans to whom Muhammad preached before the Hejira. In fact, as special definitions, they may have been needed because the usual understanding was daytime or a day of 24 hours. Again we see the absolute need of context.
However, since these verses do show the Arabic word (yaum) being used for a period of time, let us accept this and admit it as a possibility for reconciling the Qur'an with modern science.
But if Dr. Bucaille wants this meaning accepted for the Quranic word why did he not quote the following verse from the Bible?
"By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men. But do not forget this one thing, dear friends. With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day...He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance."
II Peter 3:7-9
It has a "spiritual" meaning. It concerns the day of judgment. In every way it is parallel to the Quranic usage.
In their book, Genesis One and The Origin of the Earth, Neuman and Eckelmann write,
"An elaborate word study of the Hebrew yom ("day") is not necessary to show that it is used rather like our English word "day". Often it means a period of activity during which the sun is up, roughly twelve hours long, depending on the season (Genesis 1:5; 1:14a). At other times it represents a day-night pair, a 24 hour day (Genesis 1:14b; Numbers 3:13). Less frequently it is used for longer periods of time (Genesis 2:4; Ecclesiastes 12:3)."
Why did Dr. Bucaille omit these last mentioned verses? Genesis 2:4 which follows the six days of creative work and the seventh day of rest mentioned in Chapter one reads,
"These are the generations of the heavens and of the earth when they were created. In the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens."
Here the word "day" is used to include the whole seven days of creation.
In Ecclesiastes 12:3 the writer says,
"In the day when the keepers of the house shall tremble, and the strong men shall bow themselves, and the grinders cease because they are few, and those that look out of the windows be darkened"
This verse is an allegory. In a modern paraphrased translation it reads, "For there will come a day when your limbs will tremble with age and your strong legs will become weak, etc." It is using the word "day" for the period of old age.
Dr. Bucaille's idea that the Arabic "yaum" could stand for a period of time is not new. St. Augustine suggested a similar idea for the Hebrew "yom" in the 4th century saying that the creation days are so great, so majestic, so profound that we cannot consider them as mere sun-divided days, but as God-divided days. They are creative days, not solar days, and so he calls them natures, growths, "dies ineffabiles".
The book Modern Science and Christian Faith, published in 1948, proposed that the six days of creation were long periods or ages of time, and the idea was called the "day-age theory".
This book and others in English may not have been available to Dr. Bucaille, but what of the work of André Neher, L'essentiel du prophétisme published in 1955. In a review of La Bible, Le Coran et la science found in COMPRENDRE, the Frére Christian-Marie comments,
"There follows a long study of the Arabic word YAUM...as though the Hebrew word YOM of the Genesis account was not an exact equivalent...It would have been sufficient to consult one of the best exegetes of contemporary Judaism, André Neher:
`In this (first) Chapter of Genesis, the word (YOM) has three different senses. In 1:4 the day is identified as the light, or rather it is the name of the light. YOM has here a cosmic meaning; it is part of the elemental couple of contradictory forces, light-darkness. In verse 1:14, the same word YOM has an astronomical sense; it designates the daythe revolution from one rising of the sun until the next. All through the account, however, appearing at the conclusion of the partial elements of creation, the word YOM has still another sense: it marks a period, one time connected to another, which succeeds it and announces the following. It is thus that the Bible later employs the word YOM for the articulations of history. It is of no importance that the seven days of creation will then be abnormal in the sense that they are not equally divided in relation to the sun. They are not astronomical days, but chronometric, if one can say this. They suggest the mobility of time, its advancement, in other words, HISTORY...They are the first days of a succession of days which from now on scan and emphasize the life of the creation...They define history in the larger sense of a DEVELOPMENT (DEVENIR)."
In conclusion we see that in spite of an important amount of evidence to the contrary, Dr. Bucaille has chosen and emphasized an interpretation of the Bible which causes it to be in conflict with science. This, then, is another example of the "conflict" approach.
As a further example of the "conflict" approach vs. the "concordist" approach let us look at a verse in the Qur'an and a verse in the Bible which are applied to the same creational/astronomical event by Bucaille in the one case, and the team of Neuman and Eckelmann in the other.
Dr. Robert C. Neuman has a Ph.D in astrophysics from Cornell University, and a Master's degree in sacred theology from Biblical School of Theology. Mr. Herman J. Eckelmann, Jr was a research associate with the Center for Radiophysics and Space Research at Cornell University, and has a Master of Divinity degree from Faith Theological Seminary. Their book Genesis One and the Origin of the Earth is full of modern information and carefully reasoned arguments supporting the idea that Genesis Chapter one is in agreement with modern science. Their degrees and experience in astrophysics and the Bible would seem to qualify them to speak both as scientists and theologians. So we shall now look at the following passage from the Torah and compare their "concordist" approach with the "conflict" approach of Dr. Bucaille.
Water: Torah-Genesis 1:1-2,
"In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters."
|Conflict approach of Dr. Bucaille||Concordist approach of Dr. Neuman and Mr. Eckelmann|
|"It is quite possible to admit that before the Creation of the Earth, what was to be come the universe as we know it was covered in darkness. To mention the existence of water at this period is, however, quite simply pure imagination. We shall see in the third part of this book how there is every indication that at the initial stage of the formation of the universe a gaseous mass existed. It is an error to place water in it."||
"Likewise the word mayim which is nearly always translated "water" or "waters",
has a broader meaning than one might at first suppose. It is occasionally used
for other fluids (or at least mixtures involving more than
water (for example: urine, 2 Kings 18:27; semen, Isaiah 48:1).
Also it is used in reference to the solid and vapor
states of H2O (ice - Job 37:10; 38:30; vapor or
droplets - 2 Samuel 22:5; Job 26:8; 36:27-28; Jeremiah 51:16).
"The exact meaning of mayim in Gen.1:2 is therefore uncertain, but a large body of ice or water, a mass of ice crystals or droplets, a large cloud of water vapor, or even some other fluid altogether, would be within range of the usage of the word throughout Scripture. All of these would have a surface over which the Spirit of God might "move" or "hover". In agreement with the scientific model proposed, a dark nebula would be expected to contain some water vapor.
"An alternative possibility is that mayim is intended to intimate something of the chemical, rather than the physical, composition of the cloud. Water consists of hydrogen and oxygen, and the cloud consists principally of hydrogen, helium, carbon, nitrogen and oxygen. Mayim is one of the few Hebrew words which could communicate such information."
Now let us look at the following passage from the Qur'an and compare Dr. Bucaille's "concordist" approach with an imaginary "conflict" approach.
Smoke: Ha-Mim Al-Sajda 41:9b-11, late Meccan.
"...He is the Lord of the worlds. He set on it (the earth) mountains standing firm, high above it, and bestowed blessings on the earth, and measured therein all things to give them nourishment in due proportion, in four days, according to the needs of those who ask.
"Then He turned to the heaven when it was smoke and said to it and to the earth: come willingly or unwillingly! They said, `We come in willing obedience.' "
|The Concordist approach of Dr. Bucaille||Conflict approach|
|"These four verses of Sura 41 contain several points to which we shall return: The initially gaseous state of celestial matter... "The statement of the existence of a gaseous mass with fine particles, for this is how the word `smoke' (dukhan) is to be interpreted. Smoke is generally made up of a gaseous substratum, plus, in more or less stable suspension, fine particles that may belong to solid and even liquid states of matter at high or low temperature. "If we take the sun and its sub product the earth as an example (the only one accessible to us), science informs us that their formation occurred by a process of condensation of the primary nebula and then their separation. This is exactly what the Qur'an expresses very clearly when it refers to the processes that produced a fusion and subsequent separation starting from a celestial `smoke'. Hence there is complete correspondence between the facts of the Qur'an and the facts of science."||
These verses say that at some point in time the sky or heaven was made out of smoke. Smoke includes organic particles. Therefore this is clearly false because at the time of a primordial gaseous state no organic matter would be found in it. Furthermore nebulae which might have been supposed to be planetary forerunners, are much too dilute to be thought of as "suspending" anything. One has only very dilute gas molecules, a few per ml, and occasional grains of dust.
Also, if it speaks of some early primordial gaseous stage, the earth and sky should have been "smoke" together: but the passage says that there were firm mountains and nourishment on the earth while the heaven was still "smoke". Clearly these verses have serious astronomical errors.
So what is the result of our little study? Neuman and Eckelmann say that "water" as used in Genesis 1:2 of the Torah refers to the primordial gases. Bucaille says that this is complete error.
Bucaille says that "smoke" as used in Sura 41 of the Qur'an refers to the primordial gases. The conflict author says that this is complete error.
Further knowledge in Hebrew and Arabic word usage, and/or further knowledge in astrophysics may allow us to evaluate the validity of the two interpretations and decide whether one is more true than the other; but the real point of this study is to show the effect of bias. If Dr. Bucaille wishes to say that "smoke" stands for the primordial gaseous state, he has no reason to refuse Neuman and Eckelmann the possibility that "water" could be used for such a gaseous state, and vice-versa.
It is impossible, of course, to have no bias. I am on the side of myself. I hope that my previous decisionsin this case those which led to my becoming a Christianare right, and I lean toward anything which confirms them.
Therefore, there is much truth in the little joke which my daughter brought home from the university,
"Scientists should always state the opinion on which their facts are based."
We must admit our biases and try to tame them a bit for a discussion such as this. Otherwise, as a raging animal, they make us forget truth. As one friend said,
"When either a Muslim or a Christian starts by postulating that he is being scientific and objective, you should see the red light at once. That man is dangerous, for he is suffering under a delusion, and not even aware of how unscientific and how prejudiced he is."
If I quote only half of a verse in order to make it agree with my ideas, then I have forgotten truth. If I don't bother to mention other verses on the same subject which would contradict my theme, then I am bending the truth.
We must not bow to the level of a second little truism from the university which proposes,
"If facts do not conform to theory, they must be disposed of."
We must abandon the 100% conflict approach. By that I mean the attitude which can admit to no good thing, to no correct reasoning by the person with whom we disagree. We must admit our bias and then try to look at all the facts and be equal in our judgment.
Surely this attitude is included in Jesus' words when he said, "Do to others as you would have them do to you"; and when he quoted the Torah saying, "Love your brother as yourself".
4. A further assumption concerning the Bible
Dr. Bucaille assumes that the "documentary hypothesis" for the origin and development of the Torah is true. This theory, developed in its classical form around 1890, was based on the beliefs that:
A. There is evolution in religion from polytheism to monotheism. As a result, the Old Testament is considered to be more or less the product of the evolving religious consciousness of the Hebrew people. It had nothing to do with God revealing himself through an angel or the Holy Spirit.
B. Since the customs mentioned in the life of Abraham are not mentioned outside the Torah (e.g. he married his half-sister, Sarah, and threw out Hagar, his slave-girl wife, when Sarah demanded it), and since people like the Hittites are not mentioned outside the Torah; the accounts of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, often referred to as the patriarchs, are not historical. They are only myths and stories.
C. Moses and the Hebrews couldn't write because writing hadn't been invented yet.
D. Therefore the five books of the Torah were not given by Moses in 1400 or 1300 B.C., as the Bible (and the Qur'an) repeatedly claim, but were compiled 1000 years later about 400 B.C. by unknown writers and editors who fraudulently used Moses' name. This idea is called the "J,E,D,P theory" or the "documentary hypothesis".
E. In addition, whether they stated it or not, the men who first proposed this theory did not believe in miracles. They did not believe in the miracles of Moses or Jesus, and they did not believe in the miracle of prophecythat God reveals himself propositionally in word statements. According to them God never talked to Moses or Jesus and told them words to say. And if they had been studying the Qur'an seriously, they would have said that God never talked to Muhammad either.
We might even say that this disbelief in miracles and prophecy is the basic assumption behind the whole theory.
Dr. Bucaille has quoted many Catholic scholars who believe this theory including J.P. Sandroz, professor at the Dominican Faculties, Saulchoir; R.P. De Vaux, Director of the Ecole Biblique of Jerusalem; Father Kannengiesser of the Catholic Institute of Paris; etc. I do not say that these men deny the possibility of miracles as I have not read their works. Nor does Dr. Bucaille deny the possibility of miracles, as it is clear from his preface, page ii, that he accepts the miracle of Jesus' birth without a human father. What I am saying is that the unbelieving Protestant theologians who developed this theory had the basic assumption that miracles were impossible.
Dr. Bucaille is right to feel angry at church leaders, whether Catholic or Protestant, who quote Moses and Jesus in church before their congregations as though they believe that they spoke from God; and then write scholarly articles showing that they don't believe that at all.
Obviously I disagree completely with this theory. We shall examine some of the evidence and the reasons why it is wrong and invalid in Chapter I of Section 3, but first we must examine what the Qur'an says about the Bible. This examination is necessary because it will give a foundation so that the reader may judge for himself and understand that if the "documentary hypothesis" is true, as Dr. Bucaille claims, then it falsifies the Qur'an as well as the Bible.
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