I originally posted this on my old blog as "Against Muslim apologetics" a few years ago (May 2003). Reproduced here with some further editing.
It has become common to hear of, and read of, the 'scientific miracle' of the Qur'an. Pamphlets, booklets, conferences, papers, debates and lectures; all have been used to disseminate the idea that the Qur'an contains 'facts' which have been discovered by 'modern science', but were unknown at the time of the Prophet (upon whom be peace), or were unknowable because of the sophistication we required in uncovering these 'facts'. The obvious conclusion the Muslim draws is that, the Qur'an was revealed by an All-Knowing God. For how else could the Prophet (upon whom be peace) have know about embryology, the theory of relativity, quantam physics, red giants and white dwarves, and cures for, among other diseaes and conditions, diabetes, tuberculosis and rheumatism, all of which are claimed to be 'scientific facts' revealed in the Qur'an?
Yet, the question we have to ask at this point, one that is rarely raised in Muslim circles, is do these claims have any substance? Can they stand up against a stringent scientific, philogical and literary criticism? The simple answer, I am afraid to say, is no.
Unfortunately, in their desire to "prove" the foundation of their faith, some Muslims have resorted to these poor polemics and pushed what, in my opinion, is barely third-rate scholarship. Not only is the 'science' poor in these works, the methodology employed to prove these 'scientific-facts' is less than scientific, and further, the whole endeavour makes a mockery of the Qur'an and its purposes.
All this has been noted by Imran Aijaz, a Muslim student of philosophy, based (I believe) in New Zealand. He has set out a critical examination of the 'scientific miracles' (the combination of these words appears to be oxymoronic) apologia, in his ongoing paper, "Evidentialist Apologetics in Islam". The second part of this paper is of importance to this post, because this is where the criticism of the scientific miracles is made.
Aijaz's paper is a very good read, which I recommend to all interested in examining an example of an arbitary Qur'anic hermeneutic, which (as far as my understading takes me) has little basis in Muslim scholarship, whether traditional or contemporary. Below I have highlighted some of his main points, and I have also added a few comments of my own. The main thrust of his criticism is centred on the flawed methodology employed by Muslim apologists.
To begin with Aijaz outlines the two main sources for the apologetic argument, Maurice Bucaille's popular work, The Bible, The Qur'an, and Science , and Keith Moore's paper to an Islamic journal, "A Scientist's Interpretation of References to Embryology in the Qur'an".  Further, he provides a concise summary of another Muslim critic of the scientific-apologetic argument, Ziauddin Sardar, who is most well-known for his works on postmodernism, scientific and cultural studies as well some issues on Islam.
The question posed by Sardar is an interesting one:
[The scientific-miracles apologia] opens the Quran to the counter argument of Popper's criteria of refutation: would the Quran be proved false and written off, just as Bucaille writes off the Bible, if a particular scientific fact does not tally with it, or if a particular fact mentioned in the Quran is refuted by modern science?
Personally, I have never met a person who made the purposeful decsion to "become a Muslim" based on some 'scientific fact' which he or she thought existed in the Qur'an (or the hadith literature, for this is also apparently replete with scientific discoveries). Does a Muslim believe in God, and specifically the messengership of the Prophet (upon whom be peace), because some 'scientific miracle' they read about? It isn't that superficial, I hope. No, 'faith' is something best described as being 'organic', something a lot deeper than the shallowness of these supposed 'mircales'. Why then do we expect a non-Muslim to buy this nonsense?
The main problem which Aijaz highlights is the arbitary nature of this 'scientific hermeneutic'. He asks:
Why should we think certain verses are really modern, scientific statements any more than we should consider them as allegorical, metaphorical or symbolic verses?
It is this seemingly ad hoc methodology, which is the bone of contention, for both Aijaz (and myself). Verses are plucked from the Qur'an, more often than not in their English translation (some of which are not very good) and then given the most random "scientific" exegesis. Why, of all the interpretations of a verse in the Qur'an, must a Muslim take the one which accords to 'modern science'? What happened to the literal, the allegorical and the mystical interpretations? Why are they not considered?
What is even more intriguing is that, very often (and this is anecdotal) the same people arguing for the 'scientific hermeneutic', that is to say a radically new interpretation of the Qur'an (for such scientific facts were unknown prior to their discovery), are the same people who often reject any form of reinterpretation of, say, the legal or theological bases in the Qur'an. On the one hand they tend to savage any alternative look at the Qur'an (and hadith) because such attempts are out of synch with our previous generations' attempts; yet on the other they promote this 'science' in the Qur'an argument, when previous generations neither made such interpretations (nor would they have been able to, given they did not know about this 'scientific fact')! The circularity is quite apparent and 'science' and 'reasoning' are conspicuous by their absence!
We now move onto, perhaps, the most interesting point, one which Sardar alluded to, and which Aijaz is more upfront about:
No scientific miracles apologist has thoroughly laid out his rules for scientific exegesis, nor defended the legitimacy of interpreting the Qur'an scientifically.
Would a Muslim who supports such claims of 'scientific miracles' be able to provide a stringent methodolody for his scientific hermeneutic? For when we try and interpret the Qur'an we resort to a methodology. Whether they have been traditionalists, modernists, reformists, mystics, jurists, etc. Muslims have resorted to some kind of method, developed for the purposes of interpreting the Qur'an. But the single thing which marks all of these techniques of interpretating the Qur'an is the layout of a set of rules of exegesis, which they try and adhere to, and which others can comment and criticise as neccesary. Where is such a hermeneutical model from the scientific apologists? It seems non-existent.
Though the Muslim apologist is quick to pick up the works of a non-Muslim like Bucaille and Moore in promoting his 'scientific' argument, criticism of the Qur'an, based on science (especially by a non-Muslim) is surely so heretical that is must cause alarm among the promoters of this cheap polemic, many of whom are not scientists and so have little understanding of scientific methdologies. For if they had known that by accepting 'modern science' as a criterion by which the contents of the Qur'an are judged, then surely they would have realised that science allows for the method of falsification. And when we apply 'modern science' to the Qur'an, in order to refute its contents, we find that it can be falsified. For what does 'modern science' say about virgin briths, raising of the dead, staffs which turn to serpents and the existence of jinns? Negative evidence 'refutes' the Qur'an, if we follow the apologists line of thinking to its logical conclusion (i.e. making 'science' the criterion of the Qur'an).
But are Muslim apologists about to open the Qur'an to 'modern science'? The answer is again all too obvious, and I shall let the reader decide. In addition, we are now into the question of who is the arbiter of such 'scientific' interpretations? A Muslim scholar will have a knowledge of Arabic, its grammer and sources, of the hadith literature, of commentaries and explanations of source materials, of the opinions and interpretations of the previous generations, of the application and philosophy of juristic reasoning, and so on. But he will not necessarily be a scientist or a philosopher of science. So does a scientist interpret? Moore did so, but he was no philologist, so paid no attention to principals of exegesis, relying on translations of the Qur'an. In addition, if we do let modern scientists provide a 'scientific interpretation' of the Qur'an, what is the scope for a non-Muslim scientist to interpret the Qur'an, reject it on the basis of 'modern science', and then have Muslims accept his argument (because science does not belong to one religious grouping)? None, despite whatever his scientific credentials might be. We can see, that this sort of endeavour has opened a can of worms, which the Muslim apologist has no wish to answer.
It is this double standard which I find irritating. Aijaz again:
I find this sort of attitude to be very curious, inconsistent vis-à-vis the coherence of one's religious beliefs, and downright irritating [...] Apologists like [Dr. Zakir] Naik want to have their cake and eat it too. On one hand, they argue that their belief is scientifically unfalsifiable, because belief in the Qur'an for them is supra-rational, and it is the ultimate yardstick. On the other hand, they are reasoning with the unbeliever that it would be irrational for him or her to reject the scientific evidence for the Qur'an which has been put on the table, proving once and for all that it is God's Word. And yet, this sort of contingency is precisely which the apologist rejects. For if negative scientific evidence was put on the table, attempting to refute the Qur'an (say, for example, the impossibility of virgin births, non-existence of jinns, etc) he would simply shift the goal-post and argue that it is a category mistake to judge the Qur'an using science. The absurdity and hypocrisy of this position is glaring.
Aijaz proposes that a Muslim, who is in general a fideist (that is one who places 'faith' over 'reason'), remains a fideist and rejects this apologia which makes no sense and is so far from science.
I would say that, as the apologist himself points out, to judge the Qur'an by 'modern science' is a false attempt. That is because it never claims it has provided man with some far-fetching 'scientific' miracle. It may draw humanity's attention to physical phenomena (insofar as they are 'scientific facts'), but these are something which are already known through observation and experience (e.g. the existence of the Sun and the Moon, the day and the night, and so on). The Qur'an calls itself a "book of guidance" . What kind of guidance? Surely page after page it exhorts man to keep taqwa ('God consciousness'), so it can really only mean moral and metaphysical guidance. And if this is the entire theme of the Qur'an, then aren't all the verses to be understood in light of the moral precepts in reason and revelation?
Whatever the true nature of the Qur'an is best understood, I can only agree with Imran Aijaz's closing sentiments:
I think it would be best for Muslims to refrain from engaging in this mockery of the Qur'an, and send this worn-out apologetic straight into the dustbin, where it belongs.
This entire attempt is surely just miracle-mongering and an attempt to provide the modern Muslim with some substance in order to withstand the onslaught of developments in science (which has replaced other knowledges as the pinnacle of modern achievement). But it is the poverty of thinking which drives this sort of discourse which is so alarming.
 Maurice Bucaille, The Bible, The Qur'an, and Science, Indianapolis: American Trust Publications, 1979.
 Keith L. Moore, "A Scientist's Interpretation of References to Embryology in the Qur'an". In: The Journal of the Islamic Medical Association, Vol.18, Jan-June 1986, pp.15-16, available on-line.
 Qur'an 2: 2.