And a sign for them is the earth that is dead:
We give it life and We bring forth from it grain, so from it they eat.(36.33)
There are a number of points in this verse which can bear explication from a scientific view-point.
1-Use of the expression dead ‘earth’ (rather than dead ‘soil’), indicates that the soil of the whole earth is implied.
2- One meaning of ‘for them is a sign’ is Divine portent. The occurrence of the phrase at the outset of the verse alerts us to the fact that the verse will encourage us to understand a very important family of natural phenomena.
3-We are informed that in its initial state, the earth was devoid of life. In this way, the lifelines of the earth when it was first created is expressed as a geological fact.
4-We learn that the soil, which appears dead is actually alive. Even this one observation affirms the miracle of wisdom contained in the verse. For it is only a hundred years since it was discovered that there are organisms in the soil, while it is scarcely forty years since the discovery that 80% of soil consists of bacteria, and thus is a community of living organisms.
5-‘We quickened it and brought forth from it habba.’ According to the latter part of the verse, habba signifies seeds of a vegetable nature or, specifically in this context, grain. However, habba in general denotes small, uniform particles, and we shall discuss the verse’s inner meaning also from this angle.
6-The verse declares that life is transferred via the soil to plants and thence to us, a chain of events singularly important from the standpoint of biochemistry. While the verse uses the word habba in the general sense, particularly mentioned is what is eaten from it in the form of vegetable food.
In order to comprehend this verse in all its subtleties, one needs first an up-dated grasp of the concepts of life and vitality as scientists now understand them. For the concept of vitality has changed greatly in recent years, and come closer to its inner truth. The biological knowledge of the past has been left far behind.
Life is a mathematical programme encoded in a giant chemical molecule. The Qur’an indicated this reality, discovered only in recent years, fourteen centuries ago in the statement (80.19): We created him from a drop of liquid; we shaped and programmed him.
Allah first created bacteria which fix nitrogen in the soil. In chemical terms, these bacteria are laboratories of ‘synthesizers’; that is, they take nitrogen from the air and prepare compounds with negative valences. They reduce nitrogen by a method that we still cannot fathom, and convert it into a form in which it can combine with hydrogen. They require water and rain for this purpose–which is why we observe that life springs from the soil when it rains.
A second type of bacteria in the soil is what might be called the ‘analyzers’ after their particular role in the Divine programme. They break down whatever falls to the ground and so prepare the way for the ‘synthesizers’. Excluding water, the greatest part of any quantity of soil is found to be composed of microbes.
In botanic terms, soil is regarded as a totally living structure, and so it has been since the origin of life on earth, which is to say, in a modern scientific idiom, a truth that is directly expressed in the Qur’an.
It is in order to sow confusion in people’s minds that atheists distort the established facts about the emergence of various organisms on this planet. They maintain that all organisms have evolved in a gradual process (with some abrupt leaps) from a single cell, randomly becoming the various plant and animal species we see around us or discover in fossil records. This is the so-called ‘theory of evolution’. But the secret of ‘the Living’, giving life to the soil, as also to plants forming from seeds after the soil has come to life, is diametrically opposed to this theory. What is expressed in the Qur’an can only be the truth while any notion opposing it can only be falsehood.
The theory of evolution was propounded toward the end of the 19th century. As I have just explained, organisms were thought at that time to embody different chemical structures, the smaller organisms having a simpler chemical composition, while a more complex organism had a more complex composition. The mathematical programme within cells was wholly unknown.
An evolution of the most primitive structures could, of course, be conceived but as soon as we wish to understand organisms, distinct living entities, however simple, the assumptions of evolution simply break down. For, as we now know, the differences in the emergence of different organisms resides in the mathematical programming to which they operate. The perfection of these very diverse programmes is not open to question; nor is it possible to speak of evolution among them, as one being somehow ‘later’ than another. Compare, for example, a bile-producing cell in the body and a nitrogen-fixing bacterium of simpler countenance in the soil. Which of them performs the more difficult task? It is not hard to decide the question: chemically, binding nitrogen to hydrogen is undoubtedly the harder task. Again, bacteria are thought to be the most developed sorts of cell, not those which carry and enable human intelligence. While DDT, the notorious insecticide, was wreaking havoc with the environment, the common house-fly, a somewhat despised and lowly creature, developed such a prescription in the fluid of its nerve cells that it proved impossible to exterminate another fly thereafter using DDT. A neuron in the human brain could not produce this prescription and preventative if it were to labor at the task for a thousand years.
Well, now, which cell is the later development? Which is the primitive form and which the more evolved? Of course, man is the most perfect of organisms, but he cannot do anything outside of the programme within which all his life is contained, and, as the Qur’an says, can be defeated even by a fly.
Thus, once the concept of life is examined in depth, it can easily be seen that the theory of evolution is a human fiction. Fish with luminous organs were swimming at the bottom of the ocean millions of years ago, just as, at that time, bats equipped with radar were flying in the dark, whereas we are only now discovering these facts and starting to put them to use.
A most important question concerning life in modern biology is how skills are handed down. Grant that an organism inherits its entire constitution from its parents, how does it acquire the special skills it needs in order to continue its life? How does it learn, for example how to build nests or defend itself against other creatures? If a living organism may be likened to a mathematical computer programme, how is the learnt part of that programme transferred from generation to generation without slip-ups or distortions?
In seeking an answer to this question, biology has accepted that a certain programme called the genetic code is passed on. This explanation is for coarse, external similarities between cells, but not for embryonic cells or cells of the bone marrow.
Allah has said (41:47): Without divine science no woman conceives, no fruit separates from its rind. In scientific idiom, the meaning of this verse is: Every cell is given its mathematical programme in a continuous fashion.
Taking all the verses quoted above together, we begin to understand that vitality has two district aspects: the molecules that form the organism are its physical components, while the mathematical programme imposed on this structure is akin to the programming of a computer. This programme is, in a sense the individual organism’s individual destiny of fate. Ya Sin, verse 12 tells us that each creature is recorded In the Guarded Tablet in terms of its most minutely individual qualities (36.12) This declaration is an invariant law for life in general. Every living entity–a weed or a flower cell or a gall bladder cell will each perform what encoded is (inscribed) in its cellular computer, within the compass of Divine Omniscience, by the Divine Will.
The principle of life’s continuation is stated in the second part of the verse we are trying to interpret. After initiating life in the soil, and introducing to it organic materials indispensable for life, Allah created plants from it which in turn carry the basic structural materials necessary for other organisms.
The ‘grain’ mentioned in the verse can refer to the seeds of the plant but also to the constituents of a complete cell. All the organic nutrients for sustaining the life of organisms exist in grain. This fact was not accepted in earlier times: it was not known or accepted that, grain contains carbohydrates, protein, fats, vitamins and minerals all at the same time; on the contrary, it was thought that food derived from wheat and similar plants could not provide sufficient nutrition. But the habba (grain) actually represents all of the basic materials necessary for life.
That fact underlines another, namely that plant and animal cells have common building blocks. The difference lies in their programme or destines. One of the most important inner meanings of the verse is that the soil vitalized by Allah also serves as an incubator for organisms. This secret is imparted especially in the second part of the verse.
A fertilized egg develops in three basic ways: 1. beneath the earth (all plants); 2. inside an egg shell (most animals); or 3. in the mother’s womb (mammals).
From the scientific point of view, all three kinds of development serve the same purpose of instilling life into the organism. The fertilized egg needs a period of incubation and development in order to form the new organism. Biologically, this process is one in which the cells of the new organism form. The seed needs protection during this period, and must draw particular chemicals and ions (as yet unidentified) from its environment. In this way, it will be born into life as programmed. In this verse, Allah has emphasized that it is He who has given this characteristic to the soil. Taking only this property of the soil as an example, the vivification of grain is demonstrated.
Actually, this feature of the soil also provides an important insight into the nature of Judgement Day. When the command for resurrection is issued on the Day of Judgement– and this, too, is a mathematical programme–the secret of the verse will be revealed once again, and the dead will be restored to life in that instant.
The enlivening of the soil by Allah is no ordinary event, but a most profound wonder of biology; what is more extraordinary is the way that all different sorts of fruits and vegetables are presented to us from the same soil
This verse may also be regarded as bearing in two respects on the wisdom of Adam’s creation from soil. The Qur’an declares that Adam was created from soil with the texture of mud. We shall investigate that verse in detail in the future. In the meantime, the important thing to note is that Allah does give to the soil something from the secret of His Divine Name, the Living. It can be clearly seen from the expression comprising the two sentences of the verse that Allah has bestowed both life and vitality on the soil, and has made it the vehicle for propagation of other life forms (the secret of bringing forth grain).
Since verse 32 of the same chapter tells of the resurrection on Judgement Day, the verse we are considering points to a connection between the resurrection at the Judgement and the secret of life in the soil.
We have learned many things about soil biology in recent years. I would like to summarize this information also from the standpoint of the resurrection.
As mentioned earlier, all the preconditions necessary for the formation of an organism from a seed are present in soil. That is, the soil conveys a fertilized organism to life, just like the mother’s womb. Both the fertilized egg and the seed are quite similar in that they both represent a genetic code ready to reproduce. This genetic code is the life and character programme of the organism to be formed. (These genetic codes are a millionth of one centimeter in size–if, for curiosity’s sake, you were able to amass the genetic codes of all the human beings who have ever lived, they would not fill a drinking glass.)
It should not be doubted that, had Allah willed, He would have developed the human seed in the soil as we sell. Indeed, when Allah declares in the verse that the way in which We quicken the dead earth is a sign, He enables an understanding of an issue that science is hardly beginning to catch up with. The verse stresses how deeply the resurrections promised at the Judgement conforms with the logic of biology. The scientific conclusions to be drawn from the biological facts given in the verse may be summarized in three points:
1-The enlivening of the soil by Allah is no ordinary event, but a most profound wonder of biology. The chain of happenings we call life stems from the secret of the Living in the soil.
2-The Day of Judgement is also closely related to the secret of the Living. Whoever doubts the Judgement will find that his doubts are baseless if he contemplates the wisdom of Allah’s bestowing life on the soil together with the secret of living.
3-Life is, first and foremost, a preordained mathematical programme. The division of organisms into ‘primitive’ or ‘developed’ is based on quite arbitrary judgements. Every organism is the representative of a perfect programme. For this, as well as for other reasons, the theory of evolution should be regarded as fundamentally flawed, if not radically false.