The Bible, The Qur'an and Science
The Holy Scriptures Examined In The Light Of Modern Knowledge
Dr. Maurice Bucaille
In his objective study of the texts, Maurice Bucaille clears away many preconceived
ideas about the Old Testament, the Gospels and the Qur'an. He tries, in this collection
of Writings, to separate what belongs to Revelation from what is the product of error
or human interpretation. His study sheds new light on the Holy Scriptures. At the end
of a gripping account, he places the Believer before a point of cardinal importance:
the continuity of a Revelation emanating from the same God, with modes of
expression that differ in the course of time. It leads us to meditate upon those factors
which, in our day, should spiritually unite rather than divide-Jews, Christians and
As a surgeon, Maurice Bucaille has often been in a situation where he was able to
examine not only people's bodies, but their souls. This is how he was struck by the
existence of Muslim piety and by aspects of Islam which remain unknown to the vast
majority of non-Muslims. In his search for explanations which are otherwise difficult
to obtain, he learnt Arabic and studied the Qur'an. In it, he was surprised to find
statements on natural phenomena whose meaning can only be understood through
modern scientific knowledge.
He then turned to the question of the authenticity of the writings that constitute the
Holy Scriptures of the monotheistic religions. Finally, in the case of the Bible, he
proceeded to a confrontation between these writings and scientific data.
The results of his research into the Judeo-Christian Revelation and the Qur'an are set
out in this book.
Each of the three monotheistic religions possess its own collection of Scriptures. For
the faithful-be they Jews, Christians or Muslims-these documents constitute the
foundation of their belief. For them they are the material transcription of a divine
Revelation; directly, as in the case of Abraham and Moses, who received the
commandments from God Himself, or indirectly, as in the case of Jesus and
Muhammad, the first of whom stated that he was speaking in the name of the Father,
and the second of whom transmitted to men the Revelation imparted to him by
If we take into consideration the objective facts of religious history, we must place the
Old Testament, the Gospels and the Qur'an on the same level as being collections of
written Revelation. Although this attitude is in principle held by Muslims, the faithful
in the West under the predominantly Judeo-Christian influence refuse to ascribe to the
Qur'an the character of a book of Revelation.
Such an attitude may be explained by the position each religious community adopts
towards the other two with regard to the Scriptures.
Judaism has as its holy book the Hebraic Bible. This differs from the Old Testament
of the Christians in that the latter have included several books which did not exist in
Hebrew. In practice, this divergence hardly makes any difference to the doctrine.
Judaism does not however admit any revelation subsequent to its own.
Christianity has taken the Hebraic Bible for itself and added a few supplements to it.
It has not however accepted all the published writings destined to make known to men
the Mission of Jesus. The Church has made incisive cuts in the profusion of books
relating the life and teachings of Jesus. It has only preserved a limited number of
writings in the New Testament, the most important of which are the four Canonic
Gospels. Christianity takes no account of any revelation subsequent to Jesus and his
Apostles. It therefore rules out the Qur'an.
The Qur'anic Revelation appeared six centuries after Jesus. It resumes numerous data
found in the Hebraic Bible and the Gospels since it quotes very frequently from the
'Torah' and the 'Gospels.' The Qur'an directs all Muslims to believe in the
Scriptures that precede it (sura 4, verse 136). It stresses the important position
occupied in the Revelation by God's emissaries, such as Noah, Abraham, Moses, the
Prophets and Jesus, to whom they allocate a special position. His birth is described in
the Qur'an, and likewise in the Gospels, as a supernatural event. Mary is also given a
special place, as indicated by the fact that sura 19 bears her name.
The above facts concerning Islam are not generally known in the West. This is hardly
surprising, when we consider the way so many generations in the West were
instructed in the religious problems facing humanity and the ignorance in which they
were kept about anything related to Islam. The use of such terms as 'Mohammedan
religion' and 'Mohammedans' has been instrumental-even to the present day-in
maintaining the false notion that beliefs were involved that were spread by the work
of man among which God (in the Christian sense) had no place. Many cultivated
people today are interested in the philosophical, social and political aspects of Islam,
but they do not pause to inquire about the Islamic Revelation itself, as indeed they
In what contempt the Muslims are held by certain Christian circles! I experienced this
when I tried to start an exchange of ideas arising from a comparative analysis of
Biblical and Qur'anic stories on the same theme. I noted a systematic refusal, even for
the purposes of simple reflection, to take any account of what the Qur'an had to say on
the subject in hand. It is as if a quote from the Qur'an were a reference to the Devil!
A noticeable change seems however to be under way these days at the highest levels
of the Christian world. The Office for Non-Christian Affairs at the Vatican has
produced a document result. from the Second Vatican Council under the French title
Orientations pour un dialogue entre Chrétiens et Musulmans
(Orientations for a Dialogue between Christians and Muslims), third French edition
dated 1970, which bears witness to the profound change in official attitude. Once the
document has invited the reader to clear away the "out-dated image, inherited from
the past, or distorted by prejudice and slander" that Christians have of Islam, the
Vatican document proceeds to "recognize the past injustice towards the Muslims for
which the West, with its Christian education, is to blame". It also criticizes the
misconceptions Christians have been under concerning Muslim fatalism, Islamic
legalism, fanaticism, etc. It stresses belief in unity of God and reminds us how
surprised the audience was at the Muslim University of Al Azhar, Cairo, when
Cardinal Koenig proclaimed this unity at the Great Mosque during an official
conference in March, 1969. It reminds us also that the Vatican Office in 1967 invited
Christians to offer their best wishes to Muslims at the end of the Fast of Ramadan
with "genuine religious worth".
Such preliminary steps towards a closer relationship between the Roman Catholic
Curia and Islam have been followed by various manifestations and consolidated by
encounters between the two. There has been, however, little publicity accorded to
events of such great importance in the western world, where they took place and
where there are ample means of communication in the form of press, radio and
The newspapers gave little coverage to the official visit of Cardinal Pignedoli, the
President of the Vatican Office of Non-Christian Affairs, on 24th April, 1974, to King
Faisal of Saudi Arabia. The French newspaper Le Monde on 25th April, 1974, dealt
with it in a few lines. What momentous news they contain, however, when we read
how the Cardinal conveyed to the Sovereign a message from Pope Paul VI expressing
"the regards of His Holiness, moved by a profound belief in the unification of Islamic
and Christian worlds in the worship of a single God, to His Majesty King Faisal as
supreme head of the Islamic world". Six months later, in October 1974, the Pope
received the official visit to the Vatican of the Grand Ulema of Saudi Arabia. It
occasioned a dialogue between Christians and Muslims on the "Cultural Rights of
Man in Islam". The Vatican newspaper, Observatore Romano, on 26th October, 1974,
reported this historic event in a front page story that took up more space than the
report on the closing day of the meeting held by the Synod of Bishops in Rome.
The Grand Ulema of Saudi Arabia were afterwards received by the Ecumenical
Council of Churches of Geneva and by the Lord Bishop of Strasbourg, His Grace
Elchinger. The Bishop invited them to join in midday prayer before him in his
cathedral. The fact that the event Was reported seems to be more on account of its
unusual nature than because of its considerable religious significance. At all events,
among those whom I questioned about this religious manifestation, there were very
few who replied that they were aware of it.
The open-minded attitude Pope Paul VI has towards Islam will certainly become a
milestone in the relations between the two religions. He himself Mid that he was
"moved by a profound belief in the unification of the Islamic and Christian worlds in
the worship of a single God". This reminder of the sentiments of the head of the
Catholic Church concerning Muslims is indeed necessary. Far too many Christians,
brought up in a spirit of open hostility, are against any reflection about Islam on
principle. The Vatican document notes this with regret. It is on account of this that
they remain totally ignorant of what Islam is in reality, and retain notions about the
Islamic Revelation which are entirely mistaken.
Nevertheless, when studying an aspect of the Revelation of a monotheistic religion, it
seems quite in order to compare what the other two have to say on the same subject. A
comprehensive study of a problem is more interesting than a compartmentalized one.
The confrontation between certain subjects dealt with in the Scriptures and the facts
of 20th century science will therefore, in this work, include all three religions. In
addition it will be useful to realize that the three religions should form a tighter block
by virtue of their closer relationship at a time when they are all threatened by the
onslaught of materialism. The notion that science and religion are incompatible is as
equally prevalent in countries under the Judeo-Christian influence as in the world of
Islam-especially in scientific circles. If this question were to be dealt with
comprehensively, a series of lengthy exposes would be necessary. In this work, I
intend to tackle only one aspect of it: the examination of the Scriptures themselves in
the light of modern scientific knowledge.
Before proceeding with our task, we must ask a fundamental question: How authentic
are today's texts? It is a question which entails an examination of the circumstances
surrounding their composition and the way in which they have come down to us.
In the West the critical study of the Scriptures is something quite recent. For hundreds
of years people were content to accept the Bible-both Old and New Testaments-as it
was. A reading produced nothing more than remarks vindicating it. It would have
been a sin to level the slightest criticism at it. The clergy were priviledged in that they
were easily able to have a comprehensive knowledge of the Bible, while the majority
of laymen heard only selected readings as part of a sermon or the liturgy.
Raised to the level of a specialized study, textual criticism has been valuable in
uncovering and disseminating problems which are often very serious. How
disappointing it is therefore to read works of a so-called critical nature which, when
faced with very real problems of interpretation, merely provide passages of an
apologetical nature by means of which the author contrives to hide his dilemma.
Whoever retains his objective judgment and power of thought at such a moment will
not find the improbabilities and contradictions any the less persistent. One can only
regret an attitude which, in the face of all logical reason, upholds certain passages in
the Biblical Scriptures even though they are riddled with errors. It can exercise an
extremely damaging influence upon the cultivated mind with regard to belief in God.
Experience shows however that even if the few are able to distinguish fallacies of this
kind, the vast majority of Christians have never taken any account of such
incompatibilities with their secular knowledge, even though they are often very
Islam has something relatively comparable to the Gospels in some of the Hadiths.
These are the collected sayings of Muhammad and stories of his deeds. The Gospels
are nothing other than this for Jesus. Some of the collections of Hadiths were written
decades after the death of Muhammad, just as the Gospels were written decades after
Jesus. In both cases they bear human witness to events in the past. We shall see how,
contrary to what many people think, the authors of the four Canonic Gospels were not
the witnesses of the events they relate. The same is true of the Hadiths referred to at
the end of this book.
Here the comparison must end because even if the authenticity of such-and-such a
Hadith has been discussed and is still under discussion, in the early centuries of the
Church the problem of the vast number of Gospels was definitively decided. Only
four of them were proclaimed official, or canonic, in spite of the many points on
which they do not agree, and order was given for the rest to be concealed; hence the
Another fundamental difference in the Scriptures of Christianity and Islam is the fact
that Christianity does not have a text which is both revealed and written down. Islam,
however, has the Qur'an which fits this description.
The Qur'an is the expression of the Revelation made to Muhammad by the Archangel
Gabriel, which was immediately taken down, and was memorized and recited by the
faithful in their prayers, especially during the month of Ramadan. Muhammad himself
arranged it into suras, and these were collected soon after the death of the Prophet, to
form, under the rule of Caliph Uthman (12 to 24 years after the Prophet's death), the
text we know today.
In contrast to this, the Christian Revelation is based on numerous indirect human
accounts. We do not in fact have an eyewitness account from the life of Jesus,
contrary to what many Christians imagine. The question of the authenticity of the
Christian and Islamic texts has thus now been formulated.
The confrontation between the texts of the Scriptures and scientific data has always
provided man with food for thought.
It was at first held that corroboration between the scriptures and science was a
necessary element to the authenticity of the sacred text. Saint Augustine, in letter No.
82, which we shall quote later on, formally established this principle. As science
progressed however it became clear that there were discrepancies between Biblical
Scripture and science. It was therefore decided that comparison would no longer be
made. Thus a situation arose which today, we are forced to admit, puts Biblical
exegetes and scientists in opposition to one another. We cannot, after all, accept a
divine Revelation making statements which are totally inaccurate. There was only one
way of logically reconciling the two; it lay in not considering a passage containing
unacceptable scientific data to be genuine. This solution was not adopted. Instead, the
integrity of the text was stubbornly maintained and experts were obliged to adopt a
position on the truth of the Biblical Scriptures which, for the scientist, is hardly
Like Saint Augustine for the Bible, Islam has always assumed that the data contained
in the Holy Scriptures were in agreement with scientific fact. A modern examination
of the Islamic Revelation has not caused a change in this position. As we shall see
later on, the Qur'an deals with many subjects of interest to science, far more in fact
than the Bible. There is no comparison between the limited number of Biblical
statements which lead to a confrontation With science, and the profusion of subjects
mentioned in the Qur'an that are of a scientific nature. None of the latter can be
contested from a scientific point of view. this is the basic fact that emerges from our
study. We shall see at the end of this work that such is not the case for the Hadiths.
These are collections of the Prophet's sayings, set aside from the Qur'anic Revelation,
certain of which are scientifically unacceptable. The Hadiths in question have been
under study in accordance with the strict principles of the Qur'an which dictate that
science and reason should always be referred to, if necessary to deprive them of any
These reflections on the scientifically acceptable or unacceptable nature of a certain
Scripture need some explanation. 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.
Scientists do not, for example, have even an approximate date for man's appearance
on Earth. They have however discovered remains of human works which we can
situate beyond a shadow of a doubt at before the tenth millenium B.C. Hence we
cannot consider the Biblical reality on this subject to be compatible with science. In
the Biblical text of Genesis, the dates and genealogies given would place man's
origins (i.e. the creation of Adam) at roughly thirty-seven centuries B.C. In the future,
science may be able to provide us with data that are more precise than our present
calculations, but we may rest assured that it will never tell us that man first appeared
on Earth 6,786 years ago, as does the Hebraic calendar for 1976. The Biblical data
concerning the antiquity of man are therefore inaccurate.
This confrontation with science excludes all religious problems in the true sense of
the word. Science does not, for example, have any explanation of the process whereby
God manifested Himself to Moses. The same may be said for the mystery surrounding
the manner in which Jesus was born in the absence of a biological father. The
Scriptures moreover give no material explanation of such data. This present study is
concerned With what the Scriptures tell us about extremely varied natural phenomena,
which they surround to a lesser or greater extent with commentaries and explanations.
With this in mind, we must note the contrast between the rich abundance of
information on a given subject in the Qur'anic Revelation and the modesty of the
other two revelations on the same subject.
It was in a totally objective spirit, and without any preconceived ideas that I first
examined the Qur'anic Revelation. I was looking for the degree of compatibility
between the Qur'anic text and the data of modern science. I knew from translations
that the Qur'an often made allusion to all sorts of natural phenomena, but I had only a
summary knowledge of it. It was only when I examined the text very closely in
Arabic that I kept a list of them at the end of which I had to acknowledge the evidence
in front of me: the Qur'an did not contain a single statement that was assailable from a
modern scientific point of view.
I repeated the same test for the Old Testament and the Gospels, always preserving the
same objective outlook. In the former I did not even have to go beyond the first book,
Genesis, to find statements totally out of keeping With the cast-iron facts of modern
On opening the Gospels, one is immediately confronted with a serious problem. On
the first page we find the genealogy of Jesus, but Matthew's text is in evident
contradiction to Luke's on the same question. There is a further problem in that the
latter's data on the antiquity of man on Earth are incompatible with modern
The existence of these contradictions, improbabilities and incompatibilities does not
seem to me to detract from the belief in God. They involve only man's responsibility.
No one can say what the original texts might have been, or identify imaginative
editing, deliberate manipulations of them by men, or unintentional modification of the
Scriptures. What strikes us today. when we realize Biblical contradictions and
incompatibilities with well-established scientific data, is how specialists studying the
texts either pretend to be unaware of them, or else draw attention to these defects then
try to camouflage them with dialectic acrobatics. When we come to the Gospels
according to Matthew and John, I shall provide examples of this brilliant use of
apologetical turns of phrase by eminent experts in exegesis. Often the attempt to
camouflage an improbability or a contradiction, prudishly called a 'difficulty', is
successful. This explains why so many Christians are unaware of the serious defects
contained in the Old Testament and the Gospels. The reader will find precise
examples of these in the first and second parts of this work.
In the third part, there is the illustration of an unusual application of science to a holy
Scripture, the contribution of modern secular knowledge to a better understanding of
certain verses in the Qur'an which until now have remained enigmatic, if not
incomprehensible. Why should we be surprised at this when we know that, for Islam,
religion and science have always been considered twin sisters? From the very
beginning, Islam directed people to cultivate science; the application of this precept
brought with it the prodigious strides in science taken during the great era of Islamic
civilization, from which, before the Renaissance, the West itself benefited. In the
confrontation between the Scriptures and science a high point of understanding has
been reached owing to the light thrown on Qur'anic passages by modern scientific
knowledge. Previously these passages were obscure owning to the non-availability of
knowledge which could help interpret them.