Nidhal's earlier post about "Islamic Astronomy" has generated some spirited discussion. One of the comments on the post speculated that were Einstein familiar with the Qur'an, he might not have introduced his Cosmological Constant (he introduced it to make his theory of general relativity consistent with the widely held view of his time that the universe is static. Soon after, though, Edwin Hubble provided evidence for an expanding universe). This view - that expansion of the universe was already in the Qur'an - is cited as one of the evidences for the superiority of the Qur'an. In fact, finding discoveries in the Qur'an is a popular activity and you can find many websites and books devoted to it, and may also be sent e-mails propagating these "discoveries". A couple of comments about this:
I was thinking of writing about the nature of science in this context - that it depends on precise statements that can potentially be tested and verified, etc. However, Emre in the comments has already made some excellent points. So I will focus more on the motivations behind the effort to find science in the Qur'an.
But let's start with a more basic questions: Why do we do science, in the first place? It is usually driven by curiosity and an urge to find out more about the physical world. This curiosity can be driven by science teachers, first time looking through a telescope, by being inspired by religion to understand God's work, or as in my case, by being Saganed (oh - yes, Sagan gets a category by himself). But you have to see where the evidence leads you - and some of your most cherished and well-established ideas can turn out to be wrong and you abandon it. In fact, the scientific process encourages scientists to poke holes at its own theories - and if one is successful in bringing down a giant from the past - the community honors this person with the highest award. And this new idea is simply the beginning of inquiry. This combination of creativity, curiosity, and skepticism, is what has made science so successful - and by far the best way to understand the physical world.
But motivations for finding modern science in the Qur'an is mostly driven by apologetics. The primary concern is usually not finding out about the natural world, but rather showing that Qur'an (and Islam by proxy) is correct. In fact, one starts with this assumption. Once "evidence" for science in the Qur'an is found, inquiry stops. There is nothing more to do with this information - except for claims of religious superiority. At the same time, I cannot see a point where any of the believers will be willing to change their minds in the face of a counter-evidence (for example, claims about people living hundreds of years in the past can run into trouble). Of course, the reply would take shelter behind a "wrong interpretation" - which is usually easy to make given the lack of scientifically specific details in the Qur'an. Let me be very clear here. There is nothing wrong for Muslims in believing that the Qur'an is the true word of God or that it contains moral truths worthy of shaping one's life around. These are statements of faith! Problem comes in when this attitude is translated into doing science.
Funny thing is that adherents of other major religions have also been trying to show the superiority of their own respective religions by finding evidence of modern science in their respective holy texts or by showing that their texts can make predictions. For example, you can check out the work of the crank Hugh Ross on Christianity and Bible, also the whole industry behind The Bible Code, find revelations about quantum mechanics in holy texts for Hinduism, and perhaps elements of String Theory in the Torah. These are just a few examples, and all these groups of people are also equally convinced that their religion is superior because of their respective findings. However, the narrative of science in the Qur'an is far more prevalent than these other ideas.
Needless to say, there have been no contributions - let me repeat no contributions - to modern science from any of these apologetics. This is not surprising, as this is not how science is done! If any of these groups had any serious validity, numerous Nobel prizes would have been scooped up by these guys (and yes, these are mostly guys). In fact, medieval Muslim scholars can set a nice counter example. Al-Haytham, Al-Bitruji, Ibn-al-Shatir, etc. did not use the Qur'anic text to raise objections to Ptolemy's models. Rather, their dissatisfaction with the Ptolemaic model was based on superior observational data, and philosophical objections regarding the Equant, etc. (update: please also see our Science & Religion lecture by George Saliba on this piece of history of science)
But why seek affirmation of one's religion from science at all? Well, this is a fascinating issue - and it has to do with the spectacular success of science in the last 200-300 years. Now religions look to science for validation. For Muslims, this reaction is buried in the colonial past and the efforts of the reformers at the end of the 19th century. More on this some other time.
For present, if you want to make progress in science, please keep it separated from religion.
Also see earlier post:
"Science in the Qur'an" in Algiers...