Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Mountains as tent pegs...

One of the more persistent miracle claims, and one that seems to over-excite a certain type of believer, is the role of mountains in the Earth’s geological processes, as apparently described in the Qur’an. “Kevin” had suggested some time ago that these references in the Qur’an to mountains were an example of miraculous divine knowledge and had recently sent me some material from (you’ve guessed it) the iERA. Before we examine this material and the claims in more detail, let us look at the qur’anic verses that refer to mountains. I have gone with YusufAli’s translations as this appears to be the version preferred by believers for this particular miracle because of the word peg (Pickthall prefers “bulwarks” and Shakir “projections” for example).
78:6-7: Have We not made the earth as a wide expanse,
78:7: And the mountains as pegs?
(88:17-19 : Do they not look at the Camels, how they are made?-
 And at the Sky, how it is raised high?-)
 And at the Mountains, how they are fixed firm?-
79:32 : And the mountains hath He firmly fixed;-
21:31 : And We have set on the earth mountains standing firm, lest it should shake with them, and We have made therein broad highways (between mountains) for them to pass through: that they may receive Guidance.
(I include 88:17-18 as well as 19 purely to give context and so that you may wonder, along with the believers, at “how camels are made”...)
In summary then, we have mountains as pegs, which are firmly fixed and which apparently stop the Earth from shaking.
You may wonder if, like me, you are a non-believer and thus destined to be tortured for an eternity by the merciful Allah, what all the fuss is about. There appears to be little here to convince one of a divinely inspired, omniscient author. In fact quite the opposite, as there is a  rather obvious error in that mountains don’t prevent the Earth from shaking (one has only to look at the number of earth quakes in geologically active mountainous areas such as Japan to see this). So let’s see how the iERA deal with this...

The Qur’an always mentions nature as a sign for God’s existence, power and majesty. Every time these are mentioned, they are expressed with a great accuracy, and they also give us information that could have never been known at the time of the Prophet Muhammad. One of these signs includes the function and structure of mountains. The Qur’an mentions that mountains have “peg” like structures and that they have been embedded into earth to stabilise it, a concept known in Geology as isostasy. The Qur’an mentions: “We placed firmly embedded mountains on the earth, so it would not move under them…” and “Have We not made the earth as a bed and the mountains its pegs?” The Qur’an’s eloquent renderings of the facts mentioned above are confirmed by modern science which only came to be understood by the end of the 20th Century. In the book Earth, by Dr. Frank Press, former president of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, states that mountains are like stakes, and are buried deep under the surface of Earth. With regards to the vital role of mountains, it was formerly understood that mountains were merely protrusions rising above the surface of Earth. However, scientists realised that this was not actually the case, and that the parts known as the mountain roots extended down as far as 10 to 15 times their own height. With these features, mountains play a similar role to a nail or peg firmly holding down a tent, which has been discovered by modern geological and seismic research, a concept known as isostasy.  In conclusion, how can we explain this in the light of the fact that this is relatively recent science (with no one at the time of the revelation knowing this information)? What does this tell you about the author? Again, there is no naturalistic explanation.
Here is what I sent to “Kevin”.
Thanks for the reference to mountains as pegs. I was disappointed but not surprised to learn the name of the expert quoted.
In the same way that one particular edition of one book by Keith Moore has been used by the miracle-seekers hoping to give some semblance of respectability to their claims for embryology, so I have discovered that Dr.Frank Press appears to be fulfilling much the same role for the mountains as pegs miracle. As far as I can ascertain, he seems to be the go-to guy to support the idea that mountains act like pegs and help stabilise the Earth. Put another way, wherever one looks to get to the bottom of this, Frank Press's 24 year-old book is there on ALL THE ISLAMIC SITES. If the scientific geological community thought that mountains acted like pegs you'd have thought that it would have appeared somewhere else...
There is a further problem. The page referred to in all the Islamic sites (413) DOES NOT say mountains are like pegs or act to stabilise the Earth as far as I can tell. It all looks a bit suspicious - please watch the video for more information.
And by the way, the reference to isostacy in the paper you gave me does nothing but reveal either the ignorance of the authors or their intellectual dishonesty. Isostacy does NOT mean what they say it does.*

The Qur’an states that mountains are like pegs in that they help stabilise the earth. You state that in some modern scientific research, mountains have indeed been shown to act as pegs that anchor the crust of the earth to the mantle, and thereby reduce the slippage of the crust over the mantle. This is, as you say, a clear statement easy to prove or disprove. (I note that Muslims have retreated from the position that mountains reduce earthquakes, since that was clearly untenable.) You have thus far quoted one page from one 24 year-old book that in any case appears to have been fraudulently edited/changed and one diagram that makes no claim about mountains acting as pegs.
Before we enter into protracted correspondence on the reliability of sources, perhaps we ought to sort out some geological terms and processes. Would you agree that the lithosphere is solid and attached to the crust, both of which float on the lower mantle (asthenosphere) which is not solid? Would you further agree that isostasy can most simply be explained by reference to “the principle of buoyancy where an object immersed in a liquid is buoyed with a force equal to the weight of the displaced liquid”, to quote the article in Wikipedia where you found your illustration. The mountain “roots”, which islamic sites are so keen to hold up as proof of a miracle, do not descend into the asthenosphere. How can they then “act as pegs” or “anchors”? If we look at the attached illustration,

you will see exactly how the mountain folds descend no further than the uppermost layer. (I fail to see what your illustration is supposed to prove – the “mantle” into which the mountain “root” descends, is itself floating on the asthenosphere.)
Please show me independent geological evidence which plainly states that mountain pegs or roots anchor the Earth. As far as I know, NO MEMBER OF THE GEOLOGICAL COMMUNITY HAS EVER SAID THIS because logic dictates that it IS IMPOSSIBLE.  
Just because the mountains are themselves stabilized by isostacy does not mean that the mountains stabilize the earth or the crust by isostacy. Prof David A Young

Isostasy is not a process or a force. It is simply a natural adjustment or balance maintained by blocks of crust of different mass or density [...] Greenland is an example of isostasy in action. The Greenland land mass is mostly below sea level because of the weight of the ice cap that covers the island. If the ice cap melted, the water would run off and raise sea level. The land mass would also begin to rise, with its load removed, but it would rise more slowly than the sea level. Long after the ice melted, the land would eventually rise to a level where its surface is well above sea level; the isostatic balance would be reached again, but in a far different environment than the balance that exists with the ice cap weighing down the land.
The iREA leaflet you sent said the following: mountains play a similar role to a nail or peg firmly holding down a tent, which has been discovered by modern geological and seismic research, a concept known as isostasy. NO...IT...IS...NOT. That is FACTUALLY INCORRECT
I thus continue to maintain that the article in the iREA leaflet is TOTALLY MISLEADING – whether this is by design or ignorance I leave others to decide.

And after a reply from “Kevin” (that he would rather I didn’t publish) this is what I sent back:


  1. Thank you for a very clear explanation of this "miracle".
    (You may be interested to know that iERA have withdrawn their paper on isostasy. Perhaps they realised that it was untenable in the light of research by people such as yourself)

  2. Wow, I don't know what to make of iERA. Personally I think iERA are probably just incompetent buffoons, but there is an element of dishonesty in their lack of fact-checking and the willingness to publish weakly supported claims as soon as they come across something that seems to support their beliefs. I sense an element of "We know we're right on the main issue - that Islam is true - so it's no big deal if we are somewhat loose with the evidence we present". Maybe they'll put someone more careful than Tzortzis in charge of their "research" in future.

    Great work Spinoza and I can well imagine that debunkers such as yourself played a role in them withdrawing their paper. I also learnt from your post those important facts about the layers. With some follow up searching I see many sites confirm that it is the asthenosphere that the tectonic plates move across.

    1. I think you've hit the nail on the head, Anon. iERA are happy to play fast and loose with badly researched facts because they believe they are being economical with the truth for a greater good.
      Unfortunately, gullible westerners are easy prey for likes of Tzortzis et al.
      All we can do is try to combat their lies and expose their hypocrisy.

  3. I think iERA retracted this claim after Hamza was busted on the Magic Sandwich Show by Aron Ra on this topic of isostasy. As expected, Hamza had no idea what it was? The clueless expression on his face was priceless when Aron Ra was explaining isostasy to that overweight charlatan!

    1. And my Muslim friend, a hugely intelligent and erudite man, thinks Hamza is "a good man".
      This is what is so depressing, that sane and bright people can fall for this rubbish.
      BTW, have you got a link to the clip you mention? I'd love to pass it on.

    2. Yes, it can be watched here. Sorry I don't remember the exact time and clip

  4. Stuff like this pegs verse and 31:10 where its says Allah cast the mountains (same verb alqa as in 7:150 where Moses throws down the tablets of stone) makes it sound like they thought mountains were separate from the surrounding land. Of course mountains are a buckling, sheering etc. of the earth as plates collide, part of the same stuff as the surrounding crust. So pegs is a terrible word to use because pegs are a wholly separate object, introduced into the earth. Not only that but they are placed down from above, but mountains rise up.

    1. Thanks for that, Anon. It seems pretty clear to me that the analogy of pegs does more to reinforce the idea that Muhammad thought the earth was flat than it suggests a miraculous knowledge on behalf of the author. Carpet lying flat held in place by pegs - what a simple (and erroneous) analogy proving once again the very human and fallible origin of the Qur'an

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  6. "continental orogenic belts are the result of plates boundary interaction, and such interaction reaches its climax when two continents come into collision. This results in considerable crumpling of the margins of the two continents and the cessation of all forms of activity at the junction. the two lithospheric plates become welded together, with considerable crustal shortening in the form of giant thrusts and infrastructural nappes, as well as considerable crustal thickening in the form of deep roots that extend downwardly for several times the elevation of the mountainous chain. Consequently, these colossal chains with their very deep roots STABILIZE the earth's lithosephere as plate motions are almost completely halted at their place. Again, the notion of a plastic asthenosphere makes it possivle to understand why the continents are elevated above the oceanic basins, and why the crust beneath them is much thicker than it is beneath the oceans. This implies that inasmuch as mountains have very deep roots, all elevated regions such as plateaus and continents must have corresponding roots extending for an exceptional distance downward int he asthenosphere. in other owrds, the entire lithosephere is floating above the plastic or semi-plastic astheonosphere, and its eleveated structures are only held STEADILY by their downwardly plunging roots" (p. 54-55) last paragraph of page 54, continues to 55.

    check it out please, I wanna know you guys think. Btw, i'm a muslim but i do wanna hear what you guys think. thanks

  7. "".... it becomes the principle of isostasy, which holds that the relatively light continents float on a more dense mantel; most of a continent's volume lies below sea level for the same reason that most of an iceberf lies below the ocean surface. [...] When continents from or mountains are pushed up, a supporting root must develop as part of the process to provide buoyancy and keep the new load from SINKING." (p. 413-414) - this is from the book by DR PRESS

  8. @Ahsun Zafar,
    Let us look into isostasy again:
    Now you have compared isostasy of continental plates with icebergs: very apt! Just like icebergs, the crust floats anyway on the mantle asthenosphere. It does not need mountains to be stable. In fact the mountain roots are there because mountains are there: if there were no mountains, there would be no roots and still the crust would be stable. If the roots were removed, the crust would sink, you are right, but if the mountains themselves were removed, the crust would rise. Mountain roots stabilize the mountains themselves, not the entire crust. And in fact, the presence of mountains shows that the crust isn't entirely at rest: tectonic plates are moving. And unlike what you wrote in your first comment, mountain chains do NOT prevent the motion of plates: mountains are still growing, especially the Himalayas, and earthquakes are pretty common there.

    Let's revisit the iceberg. If you pile more ice onto an iceberg, it will partially sink, and it will also partially sink if you scrape off ice from the underwater part, but if you remove ice from the tip, then the iceberg rises. Isostasy is thus a property of the iceberg itself, and similarly of the crust itself. Mountains affect how high the rust floats upon the asthenosphere, but they are not responsible for isostasy itself. To put it simply, isostasy will be there, whether there are mountains or not.

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  10. Good explanation Spinoza. More than anything else, I wish Muslims could see these 'miracles' as a result of wishful thinking


    and the other book they all quote with the peggy looking mountains (Andre Caillleux)
    My challenge to Zakir Naik to justify his assertion that Dr Frank Press or any other proper geologist supports his stupid ideas.

    What a cheeky boy he is - doesn't he know that there are libraries and Amazon

    I have the book Naik - and its just not there is it - prove me wrong

    See also for the full thing - text is at the end for just how stupid some of the arguments can get

    This discusion was the inspiration for this

    Cover and contents pages of Press and Siever

    page 413 with the general diagram of of a mountai, showing a bulge under it, no "peg", and no "the function of the mountain is to stabilise de earth" statement anywhere - go look find it if you can?

    The mountains section from Cailleux Anatomy of the earth

    Note the description on p220 for the diagrams - "Vertical scale greatly exaggerated" and the lack of "pegs" under america, africa, australia.
    well Elvis seems to know more geology than Naik !

    1. excellent - thanks, Chris. Looking forward to following up the links.

  12. when you mention earthquake as a proof to rebut this Quranic miracle,you forgot the fact that ALLAH Himself has mentioned earthquake in holy Quran. so you are not presenting a genuine point in your rebuttal.what i have gathered from these verses of holy Quran is that without mountains we couldn't live a stable life as we are now living. we have tallest sky creepers which is the proof that our earth is more stable by these pegs of moutains

  13. The idea that mountains have roots doesn't even originate in the Q'uran but in Job 28:9. This makes it even more illogical to present the idea as evidence of the Q'uran's divine inspiration.

  14. This guy is lying to you, the easiest way to rise to fame these days is to bash Islam, unfortunately.

  15. @Tarek
    The link you've provided doesn't imply/at best doesn't directly state that mountains prevent turbulence. But one sentence implied that plate collisions that produces mountains cause earthquakes akin to a ripple effect. Do tell why would Spinoza lie to us? He at surface value isn't a pagan that believes in magic much like in the days of Muhammad. But rather he-and so are we-are simply here to find the validity of the religion's claims, in which may lie evidence of Islam's unique plus genuine sources.