Cornell interviewing a potential professor who claims that the Qur’an miraculously anticipated scientific findings?

UPDATE: I have heard from Dr. Telliel, who tells me that the newspaper article grossly misrepresented his arguments (which did not involve accepting miracles), and that article has been removed from the Cornell Sun. I asked him to write a correction, which is below:

The article in the Cornell Sun was written by an undergraduate student who attended my talk, and was an unfortunate misrepresentation of my research and my arguments. The article has since been removed from the Cornell Sun’s website, and an apology has been issued (http://cornellsun.com/2018/02/13/scholar-dissects-quaranic-predictions-of-scientific-miracles/).

My talk was a discussion of the beliefs held by people that I study. The article misidentified those beliefs as mine, and implied that my talk was promoting them as true or factual. There are a number of places where the reporter quoted me, but provided incorrect context, changing the meaning of my statements entirely.

I am a cultural anthropologist. I conduct ethnographic research on different views that Turkish Muslims have about modern science. One is the idea that the Qur’an “predicts” modern scientific discoveries. My talk at Cornell was an examination and analysis of this idea – as a cultural phenomenon (not as ‘fact’ or ‘truth’). In my work, I am trying to understand why this idea, but not, say, Stephen Jay Gould’s non-overlapping magisteria, appeals to some Muslims, and how the growing popularity of this idea is reflective of broader socio-cultural transformations in Turkey and the Middle East over the last two centuries.

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to clarify this misunderstanding. I would be happy to talk with any of your readers further about my research: ytelliel@berkeley.edu

 

***************

This article appeared two days ago in the Cornell Sun, the student newspaper of the eponymous university (click on screenshot to see it):

The piece isn’t written sufficiently clearly to tell us what the scholar said, but appears to show that Yunus Telliel, a candidate for an assistant professorship in Cornell’s Near Eastern Studies department, thinks that the Qur’an seems “miraculous” not only in its language, but in its prescience about scientific miracles. Apparently, Telliel maintained in his job talk, the Qur’an gives scientific predictions that turned out to be accurate. Read this excerpt and tell me that I’m wrong:

Yunus Telliel examined Quranic “scientific miracles” — scientific discoveries that are predicted in literal translations of the Quran — in a talk in White Hall on Monday.

Telliel’s ideas originated from a conversation he had with a stranger on a bus ride to Istanbul.

His talk was part two of a three-part series hosted by the Near Eastern Studies department in its search for a new assistant professor. Telliel is currently a postdoctoral fellow at the University of California Berkeley Center for the Study of Religion, researching the “cultural shift that transformed, and continues to transform, Quran translation practices.”

One of the predictions the Quran makes is the idea that the universe is constantly expanding and another is the prediction of the stages of fetal growth. Telliel said that both of these examples, among others, can be found in literal translations of the Quran.

Telliel argued that the fact that the Quran was revealed in Old Arabic was only a “contingent factor,” a simple byproduct of the fact that it was delivered to Arabs. He did not attribute it to Arabic linguistic superiority — a shift from what some in the Muslim world believe. Telliel argued that the “miraculous” nature of the holy book was found in more than just its language, but in its “scientific miracles.”

Although many conversations around the nature of the Quran do not delve deeply into the “scientific miracles,” the concept is one that is gaining traction with Turkish youth, especially those in the lower and middle class, according to Telliel.

A prominent group in the movement is the Istanbul Quran Research Association, an institution that focuses on the examination of “scientific miracles” and a propagation of that information into mainstream media, through television shows, books and talks.

According to Telliel, the research has served as a “translation” for many young Muslims, who find that religious and scientific discourse are “complementary vehicles of one communication.” That communication is Islamic spirituality.

Now it’s possible—and I hope it’s true—that Telliel is only describing how Muslim accommodationists manage to find vindication of their faith by twisting the Qur’an into being a miraculous predictor of scientific truth. (That doesn’t explain, of course, why it gives a creationist account of human origins). After all, this is a pastime of some Muslim scholars, as I explain on page 105 of Faith Versus Fact:

Muslim accommodationists, who, like most Muslims, take the Quran literally, have their own form of scientific creationism, asserting that the book is not only scientifically accurate on all issues, but actually anticipated every finding of modern science. The results are both pathetic and amusing. Dr. Halûk Nurbaki, for instance, collected fifty verses from the Quran, striving mightily to show that they predicted the discovery of gravity, the atomic nucleus, the Big Bang, and quantum mechanics. He translated one such verse as, “The fire you kindle arises from green trees.” Nurbaki sees this as a divine indication of the oxygen produced by plants and consumed by fire, adding, “It was impossible 14 centuries ago for unbelievers to understand the stupendous biological secret this verse contains, for the inside story of combustion was not known.” All this shows is how far some people can twist scripture to comport their faith with science. (The one exception for Muslims is human evolution: while many have no problem with evolution itself, they nearly all agree with the Quran that our species is unique, created instantly by Allah from of a lump of mud. And nearly all Muslim science classes exempt humans from the evolutionary process.)

It’s hard to imagine that a respectable scholar, let alone one interviewed by Cornell, would engage in this kind of apologetics, but the words in bold imply that he is. But perhaps he’s arguing only that Muslims—not including him—see the book as miraculous because of this kind of scientific prescience.  If that’s the case, the article might have clarified it. But his claim that the Qur’an was “delivered to Arabs” is an implicit agreement that the book was indeed dictated to Muhammed, through the angel Gabriel, by Allah.

And even if I’m wrong here, it’s still disturbing that youth in Turkey are being indoctrinated with Islam by phony demonstrations that it also serves as a textbook of science.

h/t: Tom

26 Comments

  1. Michael Fisher
    Posted February 14, 2018 at 11:16 am | Permalink

    “One of the predictions the Quran makes is the idea that the universe is constantly expanding…”

    If holy books gave a value for the Hubble constant that would be something! [interestingly in cosmology, there’s two values for the Hubble constant, at the moment, depending on method of measurement, & that gap may possibly be new physics – the Qur’an is quiet on that subject however]

    [1] English Translations of Verse 51:47 prior or around the time of Edwin Hubble’s discovery in the 1930’s of an expanding universe:

    “…With power and skill did We construct the Firmament: for it is We Who create the vastness of space…. ” (Surah 51:47). Yusufali

    “…We have built the heaven with might, and We it is Who make the vast extent (thereof)…. ” (Surah 51:47). Pickthal

    “…And the heaven, We raised it high with power, and most surely We are the makers of things ample…. ” (Surah 51:47). Shakir

    [2] Late twentieth century translations of the same verse, after Hubble’s discovery was established science:

    habbir Ahmed:
    “And it is We Who have built the Universe, and behold, We are steadily expanding it.”

    Dr. Munir Munshey:
    “With Our power and prowess, We brought into being the universe. And indeed, We expand it (steadily)!”

    Progressive Muslims:
    “And We constructed the universe using matter, and We will expand it.”

    Muhammad Asad:
    “And it is We who have built the universe with [Our creative] power; and, verily, it is We who are steadily expanding it.”

    In the comments at MY SOURCE someone writes that translators of the Quran nowadays are ‘turners and fitters’ in the guise of scholars.

    • eric
      Posted February 14, 2018 at 7:47 pm | Permalink

      If holy books gave a value for the Hubble constant that would be something!

      Oh, I’m sure some numerologist with enough time on their hands could show you how the Koran (or the bible…or Moby Dick) does exactly that.

      No such prediction is impressive, because it’s not a prediction at all; it’s a post-diction. Pulling the answer out of the book after you know what that answer is.

      If they want to make a compelling case tha the book predicts scientific conclusions, then they have to (1) come up with an objective, reproducible, and reasonable textual interpretive method that, when used on the book, produces multiple scientific claims (by reproducible I mean: when pretty much any scholar employs the method, they derive the same claims). (2) These claims must be currently rejected by science; coming up with claims science already accepts is post-diction – working backwards from a known answer. Not prediction. Then (3) they must wait. One year, 1, 10, 20, or 30, until scientific understanding and agrees with those claims. Then they must (4) rinse and repeat. I.e. use the same method to derive more reproducible, predictive claims which are currently rejected, but then turn out to be accepted after the prediction is made.

      Do that for several cycles, and scientists will really start paying attention.

  2. Michael Fisher
    Posted February 14, 2018 at 11:31 am | Permalink

    “…and another is the prediction of the stages of fetal growth…”

    This has been debunked many times – the same information [and more detailed in fact] on embryology found in the Qur’an was known centuries before the Qur’an. DETAILS HERE

    P.S. Watch out for Keith L. Moore, Ph.D., F.I.A.C. on this subject when googling – he’s some sort of useful idiot for Islam

    • Posted February 14, 2018 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

      I think he sold himself.

      • Michael Fisher
        Posted February 14, 2018 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

        Yes. Paid by the Saudis to use his name on their Quar’anified version of his embryology textbook. A number of other Westerners got entangled similarly [through greed or stupidity], but I can’t find the names or their disciplines right now. Might look later.

  3. glen1davidson
    Posted February 14, 2018 at 11:47 am | Permalink

    This is like when China was forced to deal with the West, and scholars spent considerable effort reinterpreting old texts to claim that Chinese had anticipated the discoveries made elsewhere.

    China continued to believe in the flat earth until the 17th century. Once Jesuits introduced better astronomy based partly on the spherical earth, they adopted the latter but tried to claim Chinese priority by understanding old texts to speak of the spherical earth:

    European astronomy was so much judged worth consideration that numerous Chinese authors developed the idea that the Chinese of antiquity had anticipated most of the novelties presented by the missionaries as European discoveries, for example, the rotundity of the Earth and the “heavenly spherical star carrier model.” Making skillful use of philology, these authors cleverly reinterpreted the greatest technical and literary works of Chinese antiquity. From this sprang a new science wholly dedicated to the demonstration of the Chinese origin of astronomy and more generally of all European science and technology.[79]

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spherical_Earth

    It looks like an old pattern. Of course we see it with Christian apologists, too. I would point out, though, that with the Chinese it wasn’t generally a matter of religious apologetics, more like cultural apologetics.

    I can’t figure out very well what Telliel’s doing, though. The title seems to suggest that he debunks claims of scientific miracles in the Quran, yet the text suggests that he is sympathetic (not necessarily buying into, though) to such text twisting. The fact that he’s something of a scholar dealing with the Quran might suggest that he knows that the claims are bunk, but knowing better doesn’t always mean believing better.

    Glen Davidson

    • JonLynnHarvey
      Posted February 14, 2018 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

      Wikipedia also has an article on “Flat Earth” which similarly reports

      “A spherical terrestrial globe was introduced to Beijing in 1267 by the Persian astronomer Jamal ad-Din, but it is not known to have made an impact on the traditional Chinese conception of the shape of the Earth.[127] As late as 1595, an early Jesuit missionary to China, Matteo Ricci, recorded that the Chinese say: “The earth is flat and square, and the sky is a round canopy; they did not succeed in conceiving the possibility of the antipodes.”[55] The universal belief in a flat Earth is confirmed by a contemporary Chinese encyclopedia from 1609 illustrating a flat Earth extending over the horizontal diametral plane of a spherical heaven.[55]

      In the 17th century, the idea of a spherical Earth spread in China due to the influence of the Jesuits, who held high positions as astronomers at the imperial court.[128]”

  4. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted February 14, 2018 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

    I’m a bit confused by the phrase “scientific miracle”.

    Broadly construed, a miracle is simply something wonderful- eliciting a reaction of marvel.

    But narrowly construed, a miracle is something that surpasses the laws of nature as we understand them. In this sense, “scientific miracle” seems a bit of an oxymoron.

    • Posted February 14, 2018 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

      Yeah, I was going to chime in on that too. “Scientific miracle” is like “jumbo shrimp”. Oxymoron. With the emphasis on moron.

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted February 14, 2018 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

      I found some coursework by Telliel at Lehman College, CUNY [the Bronx]. His English is just a bit off – difficult to pin down meanings. Useful fuzziness in his trade of course.

      I also found a Yunus Dogan Telliel [CUNY Graduate Center] sat in a panel at a UofC Divinity School conference “Islam and Regimes of Evidence” in April 2016. SOURCE His contribution was: “Miraculous Evidence: Scientific Wonders & Religious Reasons” which is an interesting spin! A more natural way [to my mind] to phrase that might be “Scientific reason & evidence for miracles”.

      He’s deep into bullshittery I reckon.

  5. Steve Pollard
    Posted February 14, 2018 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

    I would be more impressed if a Quran scholar were to show us some verses that predict something we haven’t discovered yet (say, the nature of dark matter), and explain in detail what the prediction means.

    • Ken Phelps
      Posted February 14, 2018 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

      Like Nostradamus, the primary skill here seems to be predicting the past.

  6. friendlypig
    Posted February 14, 2018 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

    It would be interesting to read their slant on the san’aa palimpsest:
    https://global.oup.com/academic/product/the-sanaa-palimpsest-9780198793793?cc=gb&lang=en&

    When we all know that the Quran is the unalterable word of Allah. Or is it?

  7. Ken Kukec
    Posted February 14, 2018 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

    Hard to believe someone can survive a higher education and still believe such arrant bullshit.

  8. Posted February 14, 2018 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

    I have a pedantic quibble with the phrase PCC uses “the discovery of gravity”.I’ve also read this elsewhere and by other writers.

    Surely a better way to put it should be development of a theory (or an explanation) for gravity?

    Gravity being self evident; i.e. no one suddenly “discovered” that objects are attracted to the surface of the planet and was ignorant of that fact until then.

    It may be argued that that the effect wasn’t commonly known to exist between all (especially smaller than Earth size) masses until Newton, but the existence of an attractive force is so pervasively apparent that it hardly needed “discovery”, only explanation and quantification.

    • glen1davidson
      Posted February 14, 2018 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

      Except that a lot of the debate with Newton did involve the questions of whether or not an imperceptible “force” should really be credited with causing masses to attract each other. Critics accused him of positing an occult force, since it’s not something we know other than through its effects (and theory, we hope).

      That things fall down (and a few rise) is obvious. There were various ideas about why this should be, with Aristotle arguing that elements seek their natural places

      Of course one can argue whether or not gravity was “discovered,” or if it was more hypothesized, or maybe modeled. But there didn’t seem to be any real consensus of gravity being a force of attraction prior to the time of Newton.

      Glen Davidson

    • Posted February 14, 2018 at 6:21 pm | Permalink

      The discovery of universal gravitation might be a better term. Emphasis on universal.

  9. Charles Sawicki
    Posted February 14, 2018 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

    I got a PhD in physics from Cornell and this a bad joke. The Saudis spend lots of money on “scientific” conferences reporting this sort of crap. Promotion in some universities leans heavily on numbers of publications many of which are this sort of garbage. A good book (though somewhat older) giving some of the reasons (essentially all related to religion) why Muslim majority countries are so backward in science is:
    Islam and Science: Religious Orthodoxy and the Battle for Rationality by Pervez Amirali Hoodbhoy Foreword by Abdus Salam
    Hoodbhoy is a Pakistani nuclear physicist while Abdus Salam (a Pakistani) is the only Muslim Nobel prize winner in physics.
    Salam’s long foreword summarizes many of the points.
    The rise of Occasionalism in Islam is one central reason. Here Allah is seen as controlling everything down to the level of reactions between molecules. H and O don’t react to form water because of energy considerations, but because Allah wills it. It denies the connection between cause and effect which is a fundament basis of science. Predictive science is seen as a blasphemous attempt to limit Allah’s power. In Pakistan, national weather forecasts were cancelled one year due to protests from radicals. It also discusses the excommunication and killing of many of the great minds of the Islamic golden age by Muslim radicals.
    A free PDF of the book is available at:
    http://eacpe.org/content/uploads/2014/02/Islam-and-Science-BOOK.pdf

  10. gluonspring
    Posted February 14, 2018 at 4:59 pm | Permalink

    Growing up fundamentalist I heard a lot of this kind of stuff. The most striking thing is how pathetic they seem to think their God is that the best proof he could come up with would be vague generalities that if you squint just right might correspond to some future event or knowledge.

    If there really were a god who wanted to make a self-verifying book, it’d be super easy for it to do. Here’s just one:

    The Book of Pi.

    This would be a book of blocks of ten digits of the decimal expansion of Pi, where block number n starts at digit 10^n. As computation capacity increases, succeeding generations could re-validate the book by increasing our knowledge of the decimal expansion of pi.

    As of now, we would have just completed verifying somewhere around the 14th block (to 2.4 trillion digits)*. In a quite small book one could have certifications that go out to the theoretical computation limit of the visible universe out to it’s heat death. There would never be a time where there wouldn’t be another validation check coming up. It might not prove a god in a metaphysical sense, since what can, but it’d sure be proof of some badass intelligence behind the book.

    That we don’t get that but just drooling goat herder fever dreams says more than just about anything else about the veracity of these books. That and the lack of a FAQ. Even my vacuum cleaner instructions have a FAQ.

    ======================

    * Well, we’d be further along if computing digits of pi had such huge implications to motivate us. But still, there is only so much any generation of tech can do. We wouldn’t be on block 1000.

  11. Jake Sevins
    Posted February 14, 2018 at 5:33 pm | Permalink

    I haven’t read the Quran, but maybe it will tell me why, when I hit the spacebar while watching YouTube, the browser scrolls down the screen instead of pausing the video. It’s very frustrating.

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted February 14, 2018 at 6:07 pm | Permalink

      If YouTube is focussed hit spacebar or k to pause. If not focussed use k. If your browser accepts extensions then you can change that behaviour. Or your browser behaviour is different perhaps because of an extension conflict.

  12. gravelinspector-Aidan
    Posted February 14, 2018 at 8:06 pm | Permalink

    Pages not loading completely in Ff.

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted February 14, 2018 at 8:12 pm | Permalink

      If you look at that page near the bottom it says:

      This article has been retracted by The Cornell Daily Sun due to the serious misrepresentation of Yunus Telliel’s remarks, and the misattribution of the beliefs stated in the course of the lecture. The Sun sincerely apologizes to Mr. Telliel, and to our readers.

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted February 14, 2018 at 8:23 pm | Permalink

        I didn’t think the article worth the effort of opening. But annoyingly, there were several “notifications” (whatever the term-du-jour is), at which point, much hanging.
        I lost effective access to my email for about 4 months in the late 1990s due to friends and fellow travellers of Harun Yahya.
        Odd that WP would allow that sort of dependency to “leak” into one of it’s own pages. [Shrug]

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted February 14, 2018 at 8:46 pm | Permalink

        That doesn’t seem to be it. Probably WP barfing on my Ad/ Script blockers. Which is ominous for stopping my access to all WP sites.
        Their loss.


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