Allah is in the error term (or is He?)

The problem of defining the role of Allah in the creation and sustenance of this Universe is not a new one. As a scientist, I do not see Allah as an explanation of any given phenomenon.

Let’s look at an example from biology (a subject I believe I am somewhat qualified to speak about). One of the words frequently used in the Qur’an to describe the creation of human beings is ‘nutfah.’ The following table provides various Qur’anic translations of this word in English:

Translator Translation
Sahih International Sperm-drop
Muhsin Khan Mixed drops of male and female sexual discharge
Pickthall Drop of fluid
Yusuf Ali Sperm-drop
Shakir Small seed
Dr. Ghali Sperm-drop

The word has appeared in many different verses of the Qur’an. The following table, which might not be exhaustive, provides information about the specific verses that contain the word ‘nutfah.’

Chapter name Chapter number Verse number
Surah Nahal 16 4
Surah Al Hajj 22 5
Surah Al Muminun 23 14
Surah Fatir 35 11
Surah Yasin 36 77
Surah Ghafir 40 67
Surah Al Qiyamah 75 37
Surah Al Insan 76 2
Surat Abasa 80 19

The verses, listed in the table above, unequivocally state that Allah has created human beings from nutfah. However, biologically speaking, every individual’s creation can be explained in terms of certain complex chemical and physiological happenings and changes.


Fusion of a sperm with an ovum, followed by cellular divisions regulated by genes, proteins, metabolites and other assorted biomolecules along with a host of environmental factors, for approximately 9 months, is what leads to our development as human beings.

Even though the exact mechanistic details of all the genes, proteins, metabolites and other biomolecules involved in the process of development of a zygote to a fully grown baby are not known, scientists do a have biological framework within which to explain the whole developmental process. Allah, unfortunately for the Muslisms, does not fit as an explanatory variable in the equations of developmental biology.

Also, from a logical standpoint, by invoking the Occam’s razor, it appears much more reasonable to accept that these biological processes are self-regulating than to posit the existence of Allah as the controller of these biological processes.

If Allah has created and set the regulatory rules of biological development, then Allah, at best, becomes a watchmaker, a god of the deists, who is not needed anymore.

If, however, as some Muslims would claim, Allah is actively involved in the process of development, then we must be able to study and quantify Allah’s interaction with the physical world and in particular with the developmental process. Surely, that has never happened and is unlikely to ever happen.

In classical statistics, there is a well developed procedure called Analysis of Variance (ANOVA) that is often used in analyzing biological data. The basic idea behind this procedure is that variance in a given data-set can be partitioned into a linear combination of different sources of variation. One of the sources of variation is called error term (or unexplained variation). This error term basically represents that variation in the data which is not explained by any of the other explanatory variables included in the ANOVA model.

No statistician will ever claim that Allah is source of unexplained variation. Yet the belief of Muslims that Allah interacts and actively regulates behavior of the cosmos (as exemplified by embryonic development) would leave them with no option but to conclude that Allah is in the error term.

The error term is our gap in knowledge. And reducing Allah to the error term makes Allah nothing more than the God-of-the-gaps. If anything can be said conclusively, it is that Allah’s foothold is undermined by quantitative research. Maybe Allah the Generous can show some interest in His self-quantification.