YUSUFALI: Do not the Unbelievers see that the heavens and the earth were joined together (as one unit of creation), before we clove them asunder? We made from water every living thing. Will they not then believe?
PICKTHAL: Have not those who disbelieve known that the heavens and the earth were of one piece, then We parted them, and we made every living thing of water? Will they not then believe?
SHAKIR: Do not those who disbelieve see that the heavens and the earth were closed up, but We have opened them; and We have made of water everything living, will they not then believe?
Our idea of the Universe changed dramatically during the 20th century. Scientist such as Harlow Shapley and Henrietta Leavitt added to our understanding but it was Edwin Hubble who discovered that there were other galaxies composed of stars like ours. He measured the distances to these galaxies and discovered that they were moving away from us. In fact, the further way the galaxy the fast it was moving. He explained these facts by saying that the Universe was expanding
If the Universe was expanding then shouldn't there have been a single point of origin? It is the current opinion of most scientist that the Universe did originate out of a single point called a singularity. If that is true, then the Universe should have been much hotter than it is now. This has been confirmed by the microwave back ground radiation.
The scientific explanation for these facts is called the Big Bang Theory and it is the dominant theory for the origin of the Universe. But did the Qur'an state this modern theory of the Big Bang 1400 years earlier?
Evolution is the modern theory for the origin of life on Earth. It directly follows on from the Big Bang and explains how simple organisms in the seas gradually, little by little, became the complex life forms that we see today. The theory was first proposed by Charles Darwin in the 19th century. But did the Qur'an state the origin of life before scientist had formulated the theory of Evolution?
From reading the above suras from the Qur'an it would appear that in the deserts of Arabia in the 7th century the Big Bang theory and the origin of life in water was given to the prophet of Islam to be later confirmed by the non-believers in the 19th and 20th centuries.
Or does it?
If it was true, it would be an extraordinary claim. So, in evaluating it we must analyze it carefully by looking at all the available evidence. Not only do we need to look at the Qur'an and modern science but we also need to look at what was know by the ancients at the time.
First, we will look at the life from water part and then the origin of the Universe.
Life from Water
The belief that life came from water predates Islam. The ancient Greeks believed that life came from water. For example, in Metaphysics, Aristotle records that Thales (62? BCE - 546 BCE) believed 'that it [the nature of things] is water' and Anaximander (611 BCE - 547 BCE) stated that life came from the sea.
One interesting thing with the above passage from the Qur'an is it clear contradiction to other passages in the Qur'an. For example:
YUSUFALI: Behold! thy Lord said to the angels: "I am about to create man, from sounding clay from mud moulded into shape;
PICKTHAL: And (remember) when thy Lord said unto the angels: Lo! I am creating a mortal out of potter's clay of black mud altered,
SHAKIR: And when your Lord said to the angels: Surely I am going to create a mortal of the essence of black mud fashioned in shape.
YUSUFALI: Behold! We said to the angels: "Bow down unto Adam": They bowed down except Iblis: He said, "Shall I bow down to one whom Thou didst create from clay?"
PICKTHAL: And when We said unto the angels: Fall down prostrate before Adam and they fell prostrate all save Iblis, he said: Shall I fall prostrate before that which Thou hast created of clay?
SHAKIR: And when We said to the angels: Make obeisance to Adam; they made obeisance, but Iblis (did it not). He said: Shall I make obeisance to him whom Thou hast created of dust?
YUSUFALI: Behold, thy Lord said to the angels: "I am about to create man from clay:
PICKTHAL: When thy Lord said unto the angels: Lo! I am about to create a mortal out of mire,
SHAKIR: When your Lord said to the angels; Surely I am going to create a mortal from dust:
Man made from clay not water? Or is man not a "living thing"?
Origin of the Universe
There are a number of different themes in primitive creation mythologies. The idea that the Heavens and Earth was once a "single block" that was "broken in two" was one of them and was commonly know in the Middle East by the 7th century (in answer to the Qur'an's rhetorical question; yes, the non-believers did know). The Egyptians, for example, believed that the god of the heavens and the Earth goddess were once one and that another god "broke" them apart.
"According to an Egyptian legend, Geb [the earth god] married his sister Nut, the sky goddess, without the permission of the powerful Sun god Re. Re was so angry at Nut and Geb that he forced their father Shu, the god of air, to separate them. That is why the Earth is divided from the sky."
"According to the Sumerians, An was the sky god and symbolized heaven. ... The wife of An was Ki, the Earth."
"... when the heavens had been separated from the earth, when the earth had been delimited from the heavens ..." [Gilgamesh, Enkidu and the nether world]
Of cause, being a mono-theistic religion, the Qur'an would not mention the pagan gods and goddess. So, removing those names you are left with the Heavens and the Earth being one and then separated; as stated in the Qur'an.Most of these "heavens and Earth as one" mythologies involve a cosmic egg of some sort. The Qur'an does not mention the egg but the imagery is the same, that is, the heavens were broken away from the earth in the same way that a egg is broken in two. One half forms the heavens above and the second half becomes the earth below.
But then again, was the Heavens and Earth one block? Or were they first separate entities and then came together?
YUSUFALI: Moreover He comprehended in His design the sky, and it had been (as) smoke: He said to it and to the earth: "Come ye together, willingly or unwillingly." They said: "We do come (together), in willing obedience."
PICKTHAL: Then turned He to the heaven when it was smoke, and said unto it and unto the earth: Come both of you, willingly or loth. They said: We come, obedient.
SHAKIR: Then He directed Himself to the heaven and it is a vapor, so He said to it and to the earth: Come both, willingly or unwillingly. They both said: We come willingly.
Is the Qur'an Correct?
In some sense it is unimportant if the Qur'an is the first or if it is unique in presenting its knowledge of creation; it is more important to ask "is it correct?". As far as the current scientific theory on the evolution of life the Qur'an's (and that of the ancient Greeks and Sumerians) statement of life coming from water can be considered to be correct, but then the Qur'an contradicts itself in other suras. As for the heaven and earth being one block; no, the Qur'an is clearly in error. The earth was never part of "one block" as the heavens. The earth is just one planet, orbiting a star in this vast Universe and was formed a very long time after the "heavens".
There is nothing special about the Qur'an mentioning that life comes from water or that the heavens and earth were once one block. They are both things that were believed before the advent of Islam. In the first case, the Qur'an is correct but in the second its is error.