Refutation of the scientific miracle on the meeting of fresh and salt water in Qur’an
Author wished to remain anonymous
Refutation of the scientific miracle on the meeting of fresh and salt water in Qur’an
The verse which I will be considering in this thesis is 025.053
YUSUFALI: It is He Who has let free the two bodies of flowing water: One palatable and sweet, and the other salt and bitter; yet has He made a barrier between them, a partition that is forbidden to be passed.
PICKTHAL: And He it is Who hath given independence to the two seas (though they meet); one palatable, sweet, and the other saltish, bitter; and hath set a bar and a forbidding ban between them.
SHAKIR: And He it is Who has made two seas to flow freely, the one sweet that subdues thirst by its sweetness, and the other salt that burns by its saltness; and between the two He has made a barrier and inviolable obstruction.
Muslim Apologists believe that this verse is scientifically accurate
Muslim apologists believe that this verse of Qur’an is scientifically accurate. They conclude that since the process was unknown to humankind during the time of Muhammad, this verse (and Qur’an as a whole) is surely revealed by God (Allah).
I am a physical oceanographer, so I think that I am in a better position to judge these claims. I don’t want you to believe what I am saying; I want you to critically examine my arguments and see whether my arguments can be verified and validated. This is what we do in writing scientific articles and I will follow the same methodology here. So go ahead…search Google, read books, articles and then make your decision.
In this thesis, I will prove that this verse is scientifically wrong. Also I will prove that a layman can make a guess better than this.
My thesis will be as follows. I will
A. briefly introduce you to a real river-estuary-ocean system
B. make logical deductions based on the verse and see how far only common sense can take us.
C. explain what the verse claims on the meeting of fresh and salt water
D. explain what elementary science tells us about the process
E. explain what modern science tells us about the process
F. show you how Islamic apologists prove this “scientific miracle”
G. state my analysis on the “scientific miracle”
A. How is a real river-ocean system?
When a river flows into the sea or ocean, there is a transition region in between. This transition region is what we call estuary. (Reference: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Estuary ). The river-estuary-ocean system is shown in Figure 1. I am sure majority of us already know about a river flowing into the sea or ocean (and many of us already saw it in real life).
B. Making Logical deduction based on the verse (without using any science stuff) . Let’s see how far we can go by using common sense only.
Let’s completely ignore science for the time being. Rather, let’s assume that we are scientifically illiterate. So we use our common sense only and make a series of logical deductions:
1. From the verse it is clear that during the time of Muhammad, people used to drink fresh water from river.
2. From the verses it is also clear that people knew that sea water is salty and unsuitable for drinking.
3. From the verses it is also clear that people knew that river meets the ocean.
4. This means they knew that although river meets the ocean, the ocean water is not coming into the river (otherwise river water will taste salty).
5. So when the question “why ocean is not coming into river?” arose in their mind, what could have been their explanation?
A naive and vague explanation is that something is happening inside the meeting point of river and ocean (i.e. the estuary) which is not allowing the ocean to come into the river. Plain and simple.
6. Now what’s that “something”?
Lets again have a look at Figure 1. Since estuary is the place where this “something” is taking place, we can logically think of three processes which are the most probable causes.
Case 1: A slow transition between river and ocean is taking place.
Case 2: A non-physical partition between the two water bodies is preventing them from coming into each other.
Case 3: A physical partition (like an underwater hill) is present and this separates the two water bodies.
All these cases are shown in Figure 2. So up to this point, we have not used anything other than common sense, but we have already made a lot of progress.
Surely people during the time of Muhammad had common sense. Even if they didn’t know how an estuary really works, they could have easily figured out than an estuary should behave very similar to all or some of these three cases.
C. So what does the verse claim?
The verse tells something very definite, it tells that there is a “partition that is forbidden to be passed”. Only definite answers can demand for scientific claims. So let’s again refer back to Figure 2 and decide which of the cases are closest to this verse. Surely its either Case 2 or Case 3 or both.
Why not Case 1? This is because Case 1 is a transition and NOT a forbidden partition. Since the only sources of water in an estuary are from river and ocean/sea, it automatically implies that sea/ocean water mixes with river water to produce this intermediate water. Still, if one argues that this intermediate water of Case 1 is the forbidden partition (and I am sure many Muslims will do this argument), then I have the following answer:
It’s evident from common sense that Case 2 is exactly a forbidden partition. Now, Case 1 can only be true if Case 2 is false (i.e. when the interface in Case 2 is broken, only then Case 1 can arise). Hence, under any circumstances, Case 1 cannot be called a “forbidden partition”.
So according to this verse, Case 1 is discarded.
So let’s summarize what the verse tells us. It tells us that:
a) the interface between sea water and river water acts as a forbidden partition, i.e. sea water cannot cross this partition and enter into the river (and vice versa). This is Case 2.
b) there is a physical partition like a landmass or something present in between the river and ocean and this prevents the mixing between the two water bodies. This is Case 3.
c) that forbidden partition is a universal truth. This means that the laws of nature will not allow any other circumstances (like Case 1).
D. What we expect Elementary Science to tell us?
Firstly, lets ask ourselves that what we expect from science. Science should corroborate observational evidences. So if we observe in our daily life that ocean water is not coming into the river (we drink river water regularly and its sweet taste remains unchanged), science should give an explanation why this is happening. Plain and simple. For example, if we observe that leaves are green, science should explain the reason why it is green. If it concludes that leaves are blue, then it’s not science. So, let’s scrutinize Cases 1, 2 and 3 under the light of elementary science.
What elementary science tells us:
Let’s assume that we have an elementary knowledge of science. We will briefly recapitulate some of our elementary scientific knowledge.
I) Elementary science tells us that if there is a porous membrane separating saline water from fresh water, then by the process of diffusion, the salt water will diffuse into the fresh water. If this system is kept for a long time, then the entire unit will become a mixture of fresh and salt water (brackish water).
II) Elementary science also tells us about miscible and immiscible fluids. Water and oil are immiscible (i.e. they don’t mix) which water and milk are miscible (they mix). It also tells us that salt water and fresh water are miscible fluids (water mixes with water).
III) Elementary science also tells us that stirring helps in mixing. This is what we do when we add sugar or milk in a cup of coffee.
Now we consider the three cases and will conclude whether or not they are scientifically correct.
What about Case 1?
It seems correct. It doesn’t contradict science.
What about Case 2?
It seems incorrect. It contradicts science. It assumes that river and ocean are like oil and water (i.e. they don’t mix!). A forbidden partition cannot exist between two miscible fluids. Even if we ignore the agents which are stirring up the water (like the flow of the river and ocean and the wind) and assume that the entire estuary is a stagnant mass, still by the process of diffusion, the fresh water will start mixing with salt water.
What about Case 3?
It seems correct. It doesn’t contradict science. But inferring this doesn’t need any knowledge of science at all. It comes directly from the minimum common sense. Hence this claim is a trivial claim.
Now comes a grave question regarding the scientific justification of the verse. The verse claims that only Case 2 and/or Case 3 are universally correct. Elementary science has already disproved Case 2. Common sense tells us that it is an over-expectation if we assume that whenever there is a river meeting an ocean (i.e. within an estuary), there is always a physical barrier under the water.
So, what the verse claims is completely wrong and against elementary science (forget modern science). The only possible case (Case 3) which makes sense is a trivial case.
E. So what Modern Science tells us about this process?
Don’t fear! It’s a simple process (at least at this level). I bet you will understand! So please read.
An Introduction to Estuarine Physics
Firstly, a little and interesting scientific fact. Density of salt water is more than freshwater. This was first discovered by Aristotle. “The drinkable, sweet water, then, is light and is all of it drawn up: the salt water is heavy and remains behind.” -Aristotle (382 BC to 322BC)
Thus, in estuaries, the dense salty water from ocean should sink and fresh river water should rise to the top. If denser liquid is in bottom and lighter liquid is on top, this means that density is varying in vertical direction (See Figure 3 (a)). It is to be noted that Figure 3 (a) is an ideal condition, not a real condition. Even if we assume that the entire estuary is a stagnant mass of water, still there will be diffusion and fresh water will slowly start mixing with salt water. But as both of the water bodies are in motion, they will rapidly start to mix with each other. If a lot of circulation is present in the estuary (the agents which are responsible for this are tidal input, river output as well as the wind) then the entire estuary is vertically mixed. This is shown in Figure 3 (b)
I have already introduced you to the basic physics of estuary. Now lets deal with a little advanced topic. Lets see how estuaries can be broadly classified based on circulation. On this basis, the different types of estuaries are:
i) salt-wedge ii) fjord iii) partially mixed iv) vertically homogeneous and v) fresh water estuaries.
In this type of estuary, river output greatly exceeds marine input and tidal effects have a minor importance. Fresh water floats on top of the seawater in a layer that gradually thins as it moves seaward. The denser seawater moves landward along the bottom of the estuary, forming a wedge-shaped layer that is thinner as it approaches land. As a velocity difference develops between the two layers, shear forces generate internal waves at the interface, mixing the seawater upward with the freshwater. An example of a salt wedge estuary is the Mississippi River.
As tidal forcing increases, river output becomes less than the marine input. Here, current induced turbulence causes mixing of the whole water column such that salinity varies more longitudinally rather than vertically, leading to a moderately stratified condition. Examples include the Chesapeake Bay and Narragansett Bay.
Tidal mixing forces exceed river output, resulting in a well mixed water column and the disappearance of the vertical salinity gradient. The freshwater-seawater boundary is eliminated due to the intense turbulent mixing and eddy effects. The lower reaches of the Delaware Bay and the Raritan River in New Jersey are examples of vertically homogenous estuaries.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (US Govt. Research Institute like NASA) has made cool graphics to explain the mixing in estuaries. Please have a look (it will clear your concepts).
References: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Estuary, Kennish, M.J. (1986) “Ecology of Estuaries. Volume I: Physical and Chemical Aspects.” Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, Inc. ISBN: 0-8493-5892-2
Note: I have discarded fjords (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fjord) and freshwater estuaries ( http://oceanservice.noaa.gov/education/tutorial_estuaries/media/supp_est05e_fresh.html) since they are not relevant to what we are dealing with right now. If you are interested in them, great..I have provided the links.
So, in short, what modern science tells us? It tells us that freshwater and salt water can have little (in salt wedge), medium (partially mixed) as well as complete (vertically homogeneous) mixing. There is no event where there will be zero mixing. Even in the absence of wind and currents (which is an absurd and non-physical condition), these two waters will start to mix by diffusion. So there is no “forbidden barrier” between freshwater and salt water. HENCE THIS VERSE IS A SCIENTIFIC BLUNDER.
F. So how does Islamic apologists explain this “scientific miracle”?
Their claim is as follows: “One may ask, why did the Quran mention the partition when speaking about the divider between fresh and salt water, but did not mention it when speaking about the divider between the two seas?
Modern science has discovered that in estuaries, where fresh (sweet) and salt water meet, the situation is somewhat different from what is found in places where two seas meet. It has been discovered that what distinguishes fresh water from salt water in estuaries is a pycnocline zone with a marked density discontinuity separating the two layers. This partition (zone of separation) has a different salinity from the fresh water and from the salt water. (see Figure 4) This information has been discovered only recently, using advanced equipment to measure temperature, salinity, density, oxygen dissolubility, etc. The human eye cannot see the difference between the two seas that meet, rather the two seas appear to us as one homogeneous sea. Likewise, the human eye cannot see the division of water in estuaries into the three kinds: fresh water, salt water, and the partition (zone of separation).” (References: copied from http://www.islam-guide.com/ch1-1-e.htm .There are hundreds of sites with the same garbage. e.g. http://www.quranandscience.com/earth/177-the-barrier-between-rivers-and-seas-estuary.html)
G. My analysis on this “scientific miracle”
“A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.” And this is so true for Islamic apologists. Here I will show you how little they know about estuarine physics, and finally how they themselves have contradicted and proved the verse to be wrong.
Have a look at Figure 4 . Did you see the word “vertically mixed” in the figure? They themselves have proved that river water has mixed with salt water. In fact, if you read my article carefully, you will right away understand that they have actually chosen the worst possible case (Vertically Homogeneous Estuary). This estuary is just the opposite to what Qur’an states. So if they were a little smarter, they would have chosen Salt Wedge estuary. In that case I would have to write one more paragraph to refute their claims.
Again look at Figure 4. The words “Zone of Seperation” and “The partition” is added on to the figure, the book doesn’t claim anything like that. See the caption of Figure 4. They have already written “with slight enhancement”.
To show how the “miracle scientists” lie
In Section F , there is a line saying “..what distinguishes fresh water from salt water in estuaries is a pycnocline zone with a marked density discontinuity separating the two layers”. Pycnocline (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pycnocline) is produced by a vertical density gradient in a body of water. When the water is all mixed, there is no vertical density gradient (see “Vertically Homogeneous” estuary in Section E). This means there is NO PYCNOCLINE ZONE. So, they are talking about pycnocline zone (and if they understood the physics correctly, then they should be showing a picture like Figure 3(a)) but unfortunately they are showing a picture which has no pycnocline, i.e. Figure 4. I hope by now you understood how smart and scientific they are. (An important note: Pycnocline zone, and more specifically, a halocline zone, is always a mixture of fresh water and salt water. It’s a product of their mixing. In case of salt water and fresh water, there cannot be density discontinuity. The later can only be present if two liquids are immiscible, for example water and oil.)
Now comes another amazing excerpt from Section F. “This partition (zone of separation) has a different salinity from the fresh water and from the salt water. (see Figure 4) This information has been discovered only recently, using advanced equipment to measure temperature, salinity, density, oxygen dissolubility, etc.”. So they claim that this physics has been recently understood. Don’t omit the word “recently”, it emphasizes that someone 1400 years ago knew about it. But wait. Firstly, the verse doesn’t describe anything related to Figure 4, rather the opposite, and we have proved it conclusively. Secondly, lets go back to Figure 2 and look at Case 1. Also please read the caption. What did you see? Yes, you are right, Case 1 of Figure 2, was what a layman (a man with common sense and no knowledge of science) can draw. Is there any difference between Figure 4 and the Case 1 of Figure 2? Almost nothing. They represent almost the same physics. This shows that science is just refinement of common sense. What science has done is that it has understood the physics more deeply and found out the different amounts of salinity (given in parts per thousand ‰) as shown in Figure 4.
Hence, we can conclude that
1) the verse is a SCIENTIFIC BLUNDER
2) a layman can get very close to the actual physics without any “divine” knowledge
3) “miracle scientists” still lies and distorts to show that this scientific blunder is a scientific miracle
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