This is one of the biggest problems for me in the Quran. The Quran paints a picture of the world that seems incorrect. It describes the world in such a way that a 7th-century person in Arabia would have described it. It does not describe the world according to the way the Creator of the Universe would have known it.
Or if we go by what makes more sense, maybe it wasn’t written by God. Maybe it was actually written by a man in the 7th century?
If you look at the verses that mention the sun’s orbit (Falak, which means rounded or curved course) it is almost always in the context of night and day. It looks much more likely that the meaning is that the sun takes its path every day rather than that it is talking about its orbit around the galaxy once every 225 million years, which has no relevance to human timescales.
If you look at these verses it seems that the sun’s path can be seen by the bedouins listening to Muhammad
Do you not see that Allah causes the night to enter the day and causes the day to enter the night and has subjected the sun and the moon, each running [its course] for a specified term, and that Allah, with whatever you do, is Acquainted? (Quran 31:29)
and is a token (ayat – sign) that the listeners should be able to understand:
A token unto them is night. We strip it of the day, and lo! they are in darkness and the sun runneth on unto a resting-place for him. That is the measuring of the Mighty, the Wise. And for the moon We have appointed mansions till she return like an old shrivelled palm-leaf. It is not for the sun to overtake the moon, nor doth the night outstrip the day. They float each in an orbit. (Quran 36:37-40)
Again it is mentioned in the context of the night-day cycle. Or look at this verse:
And the moon darkens And the sun and the moon are joined (Quran 75:8-9)
This would require the moon to fly 98 million miles into the sun, which is 600 times the diameter of the moon. It would be a very strange apocalyptic plan but is much more plausible as something a 7th-century person would imagine, as it looks to them as if the sun and moon are about the same size and distance from the earth. Related to this are verses that say:
By the sun and his brightness, And the moon when she followeth him (Quran 91:1-2)
It all fits very well with the view that a 7th century Arab would have that the sun and moon are about the same size and distance and traverse a similar path across the sky.
This is one issue. The Quran repeatedly refers to the sky as if its a solid structure or object. It even talks about how Allah “holds up” the sky, the firmament, and prevents it from falling on us.
Do you not see that Allah has subjected to you whatever is on the earth and the ships which run through the sea by His command? And He restrains the sky from falling upon the earth, unless by His permission. Indeed Allah , to the people, is Kind and Merciful.
It is Allah who erected the heavens without pillars that you [can] see; then He established Himself above the Throne and made subject the sun and the moon, each running [its course] for a specified term. He arranges [each] matter; He details the signs that you may, of the meeting with your Lord, be certain. (Quran 13:2)
And constructed above you seven strong [heavens]
This picture describes the Babylonian universe. As you can see they also believed in multiple heavens with the water above it..
The same idea existed in the Bible too. There is this idea of a physical firmament.
Then there is the issue of the sun going below the throne of Allah. Prophet Muhammad seemed to have thought that the sun went somewhere when it set and that somewhere was below the throne of Allah. Yet in reality the sun is actually not setting, but rather the Earth is rotating in a certain way so that it seems to be set. Apologists, of course, will try to make sense of this in some way or another, but the most obvious and apparent meaning is that Prophet Muhammad misunderstood how the world worked. In today’s age where we know that the sun sets on our part of the world, but its actually rising on another part, it’s hard to make sense of this explanation
And the sun runs [on course] toward its stopping point. That is the determination of the Exalted in Might, the Knowing.
This verse was explained by the Prophet:
Abu Dharr reported:
I asked the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) the (implication of the) words of Allah, the Exalted: The sun glides to its appointed resting place. He replied: Its appointed resting place is under the Throne.
And in more detail here where the Prophet actually was with Abu Dharr when the sunset, and he explained to him where the sun goes:
It is narrated on the authority of Abu Dharr that the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) one day said:
Do you know where the sun goes? They replied: Allah and His Apostle know best. He (the Holy Prophet) observed: Verily it (the sun) glides till it reaches its resting place under the Throne. Then it falls prostrate and remains there until it is asked: Rise up and go to the place whence you came, and it goes back and continues emerging out from its rising place and then glides till it reaches its place of rest under the Throne and falls prostrate and remains in that state until it is asked: Rise up and return to the place whence you came, and it returns and emerges out from it rising place and the it glides (in such a normal way) that the people do not discern anything ( unusual in it) till it reaches its resting place under the Throne. Then it would be said to it: Rise up and emerge out from the place of your setting, and it will rise from the place of its setting. The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said. Do you know when it would happen? It would happen at the time when faith will not benefit one who has not previously believed or has derived no good from the faith. (Muslim 1:306)
Okay, we know that the sun does not actually set. It does not actually go anywhere. It’s staying in the same relative spot while the Earth spins around it. Note: Technically all of us are hurling through space, but this point is irrelevant to our discussion here
What if Allah didn’t want to freak out the people by describing the world in a way they didn’t understand? Well, he already did that when He told them that they will be raised up after death. When the Prophet claimed he went to Jerusalem in one night. So that obviously can’t be the reason.
Maybe Allah didn’t want to correct the scientific misunderstandings of the time?
To me, this is one of the biggest issues in the Quran. I cannot see how the creator of the universe would describe the world in such an awkward and incorrect way. He could have said it in a way that was vague enough so that it wouldn’t have upset the people of the time, yet still be true to this day.
Our observations, in this case our reading of biblical and Qur’anic statements about the natural world, look exactly as you would expect them to look if there was no new knowledge being revealed—just what was the human understanding of the day. That is, they look as if there is no God who speaks to humanity through scriptures or other revelations. (quote from Victor Stenger, God the failed hypothesis)
We have to ask, why would God
- Allow information in the book that seems wrong
- Repeatedly describe the world in a way that is accurate to 7th-century humans but inaccurate to us
- Allow confusion in a way that those in the future have to reinterpret the words in order to make them make sense
If the punishment is so severe, eternal damnation for eternity, why allow such doubts into His book?