Life on Earth

By: A. Muhammad

The theories that account for the formation of the planets have changed radically over the years. Today most astronomers believe that the Earth and the other planets originally formed out of a nebula that surrounded the Sun. This is thought to have occurred five billion years ago. Studies of radioactive material on earth show that it could not be much older than this, for if it were, that material would have all decayed and turned into lead by now. This estimation of the age of the earth is also confirmed by studies of the ages of rocks on earth. The oldest rocks, at Isua in Greenland and on the river Limpogo in South Africa, were formed at least 3.8 billion years ago (New views on an old planet, Tjeerd H. Van Andel.)

This theory is known as the 'Modern Nebular Hypothesis' after the modification of the old 'Nebular Hypothesis'. However, since the nebula consisted primarily of hydrogen and helium, this hypothesis does not seem to offer a satisfactory explanation as to how heavier elements formed on earth, as well as on the other rocky inner planets (Mercury, Venus and Mars). Certainly the outer gaseous planets (Jupiter, Saturn, Neptune and Uranus) are very similar in composition to the sun. The major proportion of their mass, like the sun, consists of hydrogen and helium and thus their formation is in line with the Nebular Hypothesis. It is the presence of the heavier elements on the rocky planets that is still not satisfactorily explained.

The Quran presents a truly remarkable piece of information concerning the formation of these heavier elements. This information seems to account for the puzzle that remained unsolved by the 'Nebular Hypothesis'

In the Quran it is stated that iron was introduced on earth at a later stage than when the earth was initially formed.

We brought down the iron, wherein there is great strength" The Quran 57:25

The words "brought down" clearly indicate the prior existence of the earth. This startling information confirms the Nebular Hypothesis and solves its remaining puzzle. The remarkable fact here is that not only is the Quran in agreement with a modern theory, but that the modern theory itself depends on the Quran for its validity!

The formation of the heavy elements poses further intriguing questions. The atoms of these elements, like other elements, are comprised of a nucleus orbited by a number of electrons. The nucleus contains a number of protons, which are positively charged, and a number of neutrons which are neutral. Since like charges repel each other while opposites attract, we might expect the nucleus to split apart, with every proton trying to get away from every other proton. What is it then that holds them together? Gravity, due to the mass of the protons and neutrons, is certainly insufficient. It is believed that there is a strong binding force, a thousand times a million multiplied by itself six times, stronger than gravity. In numerical terms it is 10 followed by 39 zeros! This binding force gets larger the heavier the element is, to the extent that it is believed that the binding force inside one single atom of iron is larger than the free energy that was available when the solar system was being formed! Again this seems to suggest that these heavier elements, particularly iron, could not have been formed on earth, and thus is in line with the information contained in the Quran. The sub-atomic particles are mentioned in the Quran:

Not even an atom's weight escapes Him, be it in the heavens or the earth, nor what is smaller than that or larger; all are in a clear Record. 34:3

This Quranic verse clearly indicates that the atom is not the smallest form of substance, but that there are particles smaller than the atom. This might seem common knowledge today but was not so in the 7th century.

The Modern Nebular Hypothesis, like previous theories, has also faced difficulties in determining how the planets received enough angular momentum, that is, sufficient energy to set them orbiting around the sun at the speeds they do. When a man-made satellite is placed into orbit a series of precise adjustments have to be executed in order to induce a balance between the acting parameters (gravity, centrifugal force, speed, mass, distance). This balance is essential in order to place the satellite into orbit. Without these very precise adjustments, if the satellite is left unguided, it would either fall back to earth or be lost forever in outer space.

When we consider the orbits of planets, the orbits of the infinite number of the stars and all the galaxies, we realise that they are all the result of very precise balances. These very accurate balances are clear indications of the existence of a supreme governing power that is responsible for creating as well as sustaining the universe. The Quran speaks of these fine balances:

And the sky, He raised it and set the balance. 55:7

The earth, during its formation was given very precise specifications; those necessary for the development and support of life on earth. The following are examples:

1- If the size of the earth was somewhat less than its present size, say the size of the moon, its gravity would have been much weaker. This would result in the failure of the earth to retain its atmosphere or water vapour. Life would not have been possible. If the size of the earth, on the other hand was larger than its present size, say the size of Saturn or Jupiter, the gravity would have been too strong. This would cause the atmosphere to be compressed too much resulting in much higher air pressure. This would also abolish life on earth.

2- If the earth was closer to the sun than its present distance of 93 million miles, the temperature on earth would be higher, causing the evaporation of oceans and rivers and the extermination of all life. If the sun was much further away the earth would freeze to death.

3- If the moon was closer to the earth, the tides would rise higher causing gigantic waves that would destroy life on islands and coastal areas. If the moon was farther away from the earth the tides would come to a standstill leading to the stagnation of seas, the result of which would be grave damage to marine life. The very precise measurements of such variables as distance, mass, speed, etc. are referred to in the following verse:

The sun and the moon precisely calculated. 55:5

4- The earth spins on its axis once every 24 hours. If it didn't spin, the oceans would empty all their waters and if it spun much faster it would disperse them into space.

The spinning movement is also responsible for the night and day, without which one half of the earth would be under continuous sunlight and heat up excessively, while the other half would be submerged in total darkness and freeze to death.

The Spinning of the earth is also mentioned in the Quran:

He rolls the night over the day and rolls the day over the night. 39:5

The use of the word "rolls" was once thought to be purely poetic, but today's astronomical knowledge confirms that the word "rolls" is scientifically very accurate in describing the spinning movement of the earth.

5- The earth rotates around the sun once every 365.25 days. Whilst doing so, it is tilted on its axis at an angle of 23.5 degrees. As a result, the seasons occur making life on earth possible. If the earth was not tilted on its axis the poles would have been submerged in continuous cold darkness preventing the seasonal thaw of the polar ice. The accumulating ice would eventually result in non-shifting frozen poles and little water elsewhere.

The rotation of the earth around the sun was not known in the 7th century. At that time it was still thought that the earth is a non-moving planet at the centre of the universe. Due to the apparent movement of the sun and the stars in the sky, it was thought that they were moving around the earth.

The movement of the earth in space is confirmed in the following verse:

And you see the mountains thinking that they are standing still when they are moving just like the movement of the clouds. Such is the making of God who perfected everything. He is All-Aware of what you do. 27:88

Since the earth is moving in space, everything on earth is moving with it, including the mountains.

6- If the earth's crust had been thicker than its present thickness all the oxygen would have been absorbed into the earth. Without oxygen no life would be possible. Similarly, if the oceans were much deeper, all the oxygen and carbon dioxide would have been absorbed into the oceans with similar results.

The Earth's Atmosphere


The earth's atmosphere, so vital to life on the planet, extends one thousand kilometres into space. The following are some of its numerous functions:

1- The atmosphere acts as a protective shield that absorbs and disperses the continuous shower of meteors that fall into the earth's gravitational field. If the atmosphere was thinner than its present thickness these meteors would find their way to the surface of the earth causing fires and widespread damage. The Quran asserts this function:

We rendered the 'samaa (sky) a protected ceiling. 21:32

The words "samaa" and "samawaat" are used in the Quran for different meanings. The word "samawaat" (skies), which is the plural of "samaa" (sky), is always used to denote the heavens or the universe as a whole. The word "samaa" is usually used to denote our immediate sky or the earth's atmosphere.

As an example of the two uses, we read:

a- God created the 'samawat' (heavens) and the earth with truth. In this is a sign for the believers. 29:44

Here the word "samawat" (plural) means heavens or universes.

b- He is the One who brought water down from the 'samaa' (sky). From it there is a drink for you and from it grows the trees among which you graze your herds. 16:10

Here the word "samaa" (singular) is used to mean our immediate sky.

2- The atmosphere contains the gases necessary for sustaining the life of all animals and plants, namely oxygen and carbon dioxide.

Another piece of scientific knowledge, mentioned in the Quran a few centuries before its discovery, relates to the composition of the atmosphere. It is now known that the higher we ascend in the sky the less air we would find, and thus the less oxygen so vital for breathing. A person flying at great heights in an aircraft or air balloon, without oxygen compensation, would feel a sharp contraction of the lungs, pain and difficulty in breathing.

Whomever God wishes to guide, He renders his chest receptive to Islam, and whomever He wishes to send astray, He renders his chest tight and constricted as if he is ascending into the sky. 6:125

At the time of the revelation of the Quran in the 7th century, no one would have known that ascending high in the sky would cause constriction and pain in the chest, simply because it was way before the age of air flight (ascending in the sky).

3- The atmosphere acts as an air-conditioner that helps regulate the temperature on the surface of the earth so as to remain within the range necessary to sustain life.

4- The atmosphere acts as a medium for the movement of clouds to supply rain to all the corners of the globe and maintain all types of vegetation.

Do you not see that God drives the clouds, then gathers them together, then piles them on top of one another, then you see the rain emerge from within them? 24:43

God is the One who sends the winds to stir up clouds. Then We drive them towards dead land and with it We bring to life the land after it had been dead. Likewise is the resurrection. 35:9

5- The atmosphere acts as a medium in which sound can travel. Without the atmosphere we would not hear any sounds. That is because sound, unlike light, does not travel through vacuum.

6- Without the atmosphere there would be no air pressure. Without air pressure blood would explode out of our bodies.

7- The earth's atmosphere acts as a high altitude mirror that returns what is useful back to the surface of the earth:

a- The intra-red radiation is reflected back which provides global warmth.

b- Water vapour which rises and forms clouds is returned as useful rain.

c- Tele-communication waves (Radio, T.V. etc) are reflected back making it possible for someone, say in London, to receive signals transmitted in Tokyo. The Quran asserts this function of the atmosphere:

By the sky that returns. 86:11

8- The atmosphere contains the Ozone layer which is so vital to our existence.


The Ozone Layer


The sun, like any other star, radiates at a wide range of wavelengths. The visible waves, which we call sunlight, are only a portion of that radiation. Visible light lies between ultra-violet and infra-red rays. The sun also radiates at wave lengths longer than what the human eye can see and that is in the infra-red and the radio wave regions, and also in wavelengths shorter than we can see in the ultra-violet, X-ray and Gamma Ray regions.

These short waves (X-ray and Gamma rays) are completely blocked off in the upper layers of the earth's atmosphere while most of the ultra-violet rays are absorbed in the ozone layer. Only a small amount of ultra-violet rays can penetrate, and these are the rays that cause us sunburn, and in excess, are said to cause skin cancer.

The ozone layer (ozone is a form of oxygen) lies at about 50 kilometres above the earth's surface and works as a natural shield to protect us from harmful sun rays.

The detailed composition of the earth's atmosphere and the discovery of the ozone layer took place many centuries after the Quran was revealed, nevertheless, there is mention in the Quran about this protective layer that shields us against the sun's harmful rays:

Until he reached the rising of the sun, he found it rising over a people for whom We have provided no shield against it (the sun). 18:90

Five implications are drawn from this verse:

1- The word "shield" implies that there is something harmful from the sun, because if there was no harm to come from the sun, there would be no need for a shield.

2- In earlier interpretations of the Quran the word "shield" was taken to mean mountains or hills, but mountains and hills do not shield us from the sun's ultra violet rays unless we live all our lives inside a mountain!

3- The phrasing of the verse indicates that the people mentioned as having no shield are in fact the exception and that for the rest of mankind there exists a shield.

4- The words "We had provided no shield" indicate that the shield is a natural one (of God's making) and not a man-made one. This automatically eliminates the suggestion of houses and other man-made shelters.

5- The verse indicates the presence of a people, and thus areas, that are not shielded. This is in line with current knowledge concerning the existence of holes in the ozone layer. It is generally thought that these holes have always existed. The matter has suddenly acquired an alarming nature because the size of these holes are greatly being enlarged as a result of man's pollution of the planet.

The only phenomenon that is able to accommodate all five points above is the ozone layer.

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If we trace the early stages of the development of the earth we find that the contracting nebula caused the earth to be very hot in its initial stages. As it slowly began to cool, the heavier elements such as iron fell to the centre whilst the lighter compounds such as granite and oxides surfaced at the top. The cooling continued and a thin crust formed. The layer immediately beneath the crust eventually started to solidify giving rises and depressions above it leading to the formation of mountains and valleys. When the surface cooled further, to below 100 degrees centigrade, liquid water (which before then was still trapped inside the earth) began to form and fill the depressions that are now the oceans and seas.

The knowledge that all the water was once trapped inside the earth and then drawn out, is mentioned in the following verse:

He brought forth from it (the earth) it's water and pasture. 79:31

An interesting geographical fact, relating to high and low land on earth, is mentioned in the following verse

The Romans were defeated in the lowest of the lands. 30:2-3

It is now known that the area near the Dead Sea, which was the scene of the battles between the Byzantines (Eastern Roman Empire) and the Persians, during which the Romans suffered a severe defeat, is the lowest spot on earth below sea level.

The Dead Sea is also referred to in the Quran in a different context and that is in connection with the story of Lot.

Lot, the nephew of Abraham, was a believer and follower of Abraham. When Abraham left his home in Chaldoea and migrated to Syria and Palestine, Lot accepted voluntary exile to follow him. The people of Lot who were indulging in grave immorality ridiculed him saying:

Bring upon us God's punishment if you are truthful. 29:29

The Quran relates the story by indicating that God undertook to destroy the people of that town except Lot and the believers who followed him:

We will cause an affliction to descend from the sky upon the people of this village for the corruption they caused. We have left of it a clear sign for people who reason. 29:34-35

The punishment was a rain of brimstone, which completely overwhelmed the towns, possibly an earthquake or volcanic eruptions. Today, the whole tract on the east side of the Dead Sea, where the towns of Sodom and Gomorrah were situated, is covered with sulphurous salts and is deadly to animal and plant life. The Dead Sea itself is called "Bahr Lout" in Arabic which means the Sea of Lot. It is a scene of utter desolation that stands as a permanent symbol of its destruction.

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The mountains that were formed, as the earth's crust cooled, play a major geological role. They contribute to affixing the continents in place. These continents are virtually floating on melted layers that lie beneath. In general, the thickness of the earth's crust is about five kilometres. However, the thickness directly beneath mountains extends up to thirty five kilometres. That is because beneath every mountain lies a reversed shaped mountain root below the surface. These reversed mountains do the job of pegs in affixing the land. This is very accurately stated in the Quran:

Did We not make the earth a resting place, and the mountains as pegs? 78:6-7

And He placed stabilisers in the earth so it does not drift along with you. 16:15

Modern geological theories also state that the area of dry land is not stable. That is due to two factors:

1- The shifting of the tops of landscape due to running water, winds or ice. Running rivers, for example, shift millions of tons of earth to the seas. Strong winds erode the mountain tops while the thawing of ice shifts enormous amounts of material in its path.

2- The area of land also diminishes due to regression, that is, the submerging of coastal land under sea level.

Do they not see that We come to the land and reduce it at its ends? 21:44

The water that condensed at the early stages of the development of the earth forming the seas and oceans mixed with dirt to form mud. Out of the moulding mud was born the simplest living organisms in the shape of bacteria and single cell organisms. From this common origin of both plants and animals was developed two types of microscopic organisms. The first type gave birth to all plants while the second type developed into animals. The first of these primitive organisms is thought to have come to exist around 2.7 billion years ago. All these organisms originated from water then gradually developed into more complex living creatures that moved to land:

And from water We made every living thing. 21:30

It is indeed interesting, and along the same lines, to note that it was found that all liquid in our bodies (blood, saliva, tears, sweat, etc) contain the same percentage of salt as is found in the oceans.

From the early organisms that moved onto land developed the first reptiles, around 200 million years ago. The first birds flew around 130 million years ago and the first man, Homo Habilis, walked on earth one million years ago. The first Homo Sapiens walked on earth a mere 15,000 years ago.

Today, when human tissue is analysed, it is found to contain exactly the same eighteen most abundant elements in the earth's crust. These are:

Oxygen, Silicon, Aluminium, Iron, Calcium, Sodium, Potassium, Magnesium, Hydrogen, Chlorine, Iodine, Manganese, Phosphorous, Lead, Copper, Silver, Carbon and Zinc.

The Quran very accurately states that fact with the following words:

We have created the human being from an extract of clay. 23:12

The fact that we are created from clay is indeed mentioned in the Scriptures preceding the Quran, however, the words "extract of clay" point to a representative sample that coincides with a sample taken from the earth and the elements it includes.