Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Everything in Pairs?

”Qur’an Contradictions”

The Qur'an makes the following statement:

And of every thing We have created pairs: That ye may receive instruction. Sura 51:49

And in his commentary on this verse Yusuf Ali writes:

All things are in twos: sex in plants and animals, by which we are individual is complementary to another, in the subtle forces of nature, Day and Night, positive and negative electricity, forces of attraction and repulsion: and numerous other opposites, each fulfilling its purpose, and contributing to the working of God`s Universe: and in the moral and spiritual world, Love and Aversion, Mercy and Justice, Striving and Rest, and so on; all fulfilling their functions according to the Artistry and wonderful purpose of God. Everything has its counterpart, or pair, or complement. God alone is one, with none like Him, or needed to complement Him. These are noble things to contemplate. and they lead to a true understanding of God`s Purpose and Message.

To make a claim about everything is always bold and indeed only God will ever be able to make claims about everything since such claims need omniscience.

But on the other hand, they are also very dangerous since one counterexample proves such a bold claim wrong.

In electricity there is positive and negative charge creating electrical force fields, this is true. But where is the counterpart for the force of gravitation? It always is attracting. There is no repelling gravity.

But maybe Yusuf Ali was just a bit too enthusiastic with his interpretation of everything? Mayby the Qur'an meant only things that are somehow "alive" like plants and animals? The Qur'an does say "everything" but let us look then to the restricted part of living beings.

I took the freedom to ask around on the biology newsgroups to find out more about this claim. Here is a list of some responses I got.

There are quite a few examples of organisms which are exclusively parthenogenetic. I might refer you to Graham Bell's "The Masterpiece of Nature", a weighty tome which has all you could care to know about the evolution of sexual reproduction. Even though there are quite a few example of parthenogens, they tend to be taxanomically isolated, suggesting that they are all of recent origin (often due to hybridization between two disparate specied) and are short-lived in evolutionary time. There is one notable exception, however, which is the topic of study in my lab. Bdelloid rotifers are an entire class of animals which, as far as anyone can tell, has been reproducing entirely without any form of genetic exchange for quite some time (perhaps more than 50 million years), with over 350 species identified. If you're interested in more info about bdelloids and our work, I'd refer to our lab web page, which includes a copy of our research proposal which gives a fair amount of background material. You can reach the page at Actually, one of the students here told me that there is such a thing as a purely asexual reproducing organism. Here is the reference: Science 203: 1247-1249. 1979. It is a lizard called Cnemidophoras. Personnally I don't believe it to be possible, but this "accident" may have arrived quite late in the evolution. Unless this organism "reverts" to sexuality, it is in my view in an evolutive pitfall, if it is an asexual reproducer. The list is actually decently long : bacteria, fungi imperfecti, etc. All members of the Monera Kingdom reproduce asexually only. Yes, the Plantae and Protista Kingdoms do produce both ways, but almost never only asexually.  As for the fungi, a certain group, the fungi imperfecti, are classified as such because no forms of sexual reproduction have been observed. Concerning your question about "higher" species, no members of the Kingdom Animalia produce only asexually (the scientific term is not non-sexual).  There are some rare cases of lysogeny (sp?), but it is very rare.  Hope this helps. There is a whole group of fungi (Deuteromycete/Fungi Imperfecti) which do not have sexual cycles.  All are related to sexual species but do not reproduce sexually.  Many have rather complex mechanisms (parasexual cycles) to allow genetic recombination but they are not based on meiosis and gametic fusion as in true sex.  Your best place to start to find out about them is in a good introductory text such as the 4th ed of Alexopoulus, Mimms and Blackwell (Wiley, 1996). This will point yopu to the specific organisms that fulfil the criteria you are looking for. There is a whole group of organisms wich do no practise sex: fungi imperfecti. This is a group of mushrooms, which don't produce gamets and therefore cannot be put in an certain taxon. An other curious member is the european population of Elodea. All plants here are of the same sex and can therefore only se vegetative amplification.

The above newsgroup comments were collected in 1997, when the internet was still small and Wikipedia did not exist yet. Now, in 2009, such information is much easier to come by. There are actually quite a few species of living things that reproduce in an asexual way. Various plants, fungi, and most single-cell organism (bacteria, etc.) — simply consult Wikipedia on
Asexual Reproduction.

Then, there are worms which reproduce sexually but all members of the species are the same, the individual worm is neither male nor female but has both sexual organs, it is a "hermaphrodite". The page
Worm Reproduction gives more details. The important point for this article: These worms do NOT come in pairs of male and female.

Could it be that God is wrong? And wrong in so many cases? Or could it be that the one who was wrong here was not God? Maybe Muhammad was a good observer of the world around him, but he was not omniscient. And that shows in the above verse and the many other contradictions collected in this section.

Jochen Katz



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