This year’s Nobel Prize for physics was for research on the expanding universe, which emerged as part of the ‘Big Bang’ theory. However, this groundbreaking article argues that in actual fact, the scientific idea of the expanding universe was FIrst proposed in the West in 1848 by the writer Edgar Allan Poe, who found inspiration in the Qur’an.
The theory of the ‘Big Bang’ and expanding universe is the modern, generally accepted scientific vision of the birth and development of the universe. This theory is usually attributed to the American astronomer Edwin Hubble (1889-1953), but that is not entirely correct, because the theoretical foundations for the theory were laid in 1922 and 1927 by the Russian mathematician Alexander Friedmann (1886-1925), and the Belgian astronomer Georges Lemaître (1894-1966). So with his observations, Edwin Hubble proved a theory that already existed for several years. Nevertheless, it was a formidable achievement.
It is possible, however, to trace the roots of the ‘Big Bang’ theory further and to discover that rather than being a product of 20th century science, it was already proposed in 1848 by the American writer Edgar Allan Poe, who was inspired by the Qur’an in his life-long quest for an alternative for the scientific opinions of his days.
Romanticism vs. Enlightenment
Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849) was an American writer and poet who became one of the leading figures in the 19th century literary and cultural and spiritual movement of Romanticism.
Romanticism was a strong movement in the western world, that arose out of a deeply felt aversion and distrust against the philosophy of the rational, scientific Enlightenment. In common with other romanticist writers and poets, Poe felt that the Enlightenment was alienating mankind from its spiritual roots and its bonds with nature, so tried to compensate or even restore these serious shortcomings of the ‘enlightened’ and scientific view of the world.
Like most romanticists, Poe also looked for inspiration outside the Western world, and already at a young age he became fascinated and inspired by the cultures of the Middle East, the Arab world and the Qur’an – the ‘Orient’, in the parlance of the time. This inspiration was already expressed in Poe’s earliest works, like the poems ‘Al Aaraaf ’ and ‘Israfel’, and in the title of his first collection of short stories, ‘Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque’. This oriental inspiration in Poe’s work is now the subject of serious scholarly research.
The ‘Clockwork Universe’
The scientific opinions of Poe’s days were entirely based on the basic idea of a mechanistic universe that was ruled by the eternal, unchanging and mathematical laws of nature, the socalled ‘clockwork universe’. This basic idea had arisen out of the work by great scientists like Kepler, Newton and Laplace, and it seemed an unassailable and indisputable foundation for all sciences of nature. Knowledge of these laws of nature made it possible to use and exploit nature for the benefit of all mankind: a philosophy of science that is still very prominent today, although the disadvantages are becoming ever more visible in the Western world.
However, this scientific and mechanistic view of the world also has a dark side not just in relation to the world at large, but to man himself: he is reduced to an insignificant cog in the universal machine – one without free will, without any real influence upon his own life, without responsibility and guilt. Even God comes to seem meaningless and insignificant in such a universe (as was actually said by Laplace to Emperor Napoleon!) Needless to say, such considerations deeply worried the romanticists, and these worries are also clearly visible in much of Poe’s work, such as the infamous story ‘The Pit and the Pendulum’, in which the narrator is chained inside a mathematical prison that slowly threatens to kill him and drive him insane. The pendulum and the mathematical prison in this horror tale symbolise the clockwork universe, and in total there are at least six major stories by Poe in which death and spiritual destruction come forth from clocks!
Poe’s Quest, ‘Eureka’ and the Qur’an
All of his life, Poe struggled against the Enlightenment vision to understand the universe in such a way that man can be free and take full responsibility for his own life and actions. However, this could not be done without completely overturning the existing scientific opinions of his time! Nevertheless, Poe did exactly that in his last major work, the cosmogony ‘Eureka: An essay on the Material and Spiritual Universe’. He considered it as his greatest and definitive work, after which he had nothing more to write (and he did not, dying a year later).
The cosmogony in ‘Eureka’ is based on two basic assumptions:
- The whole universe was originally enclosed in an undivided, unified particle.
- By an act of God, this particle exploded into an expanding, finely divided nebulae, from which the entire universe slowly evolved due to the actions of the forces of nature that were created with it, especially the force of gravity.
Of course these two assumptions are the same as the present scientific opinion (except the involvement of God), but at Poe’s time they were absolutely unheard of and totally unacceptable from a scientific point of view. However, it is also clear that at this point close to the end of his life, Poe was again finding inspiration from the Qur’an he had encountered in his youth, in which a similar process of creation is described:
﴾Are the disbelievers not aware that the heavens and the earth used to be joined together and that We ripped them apart?﴿ (al-Anbiya’, 30)
﴾Then He turned to the sky, which was smoke—He said to it and the earth, ‘Come into being, willingly or not,’ and they said,‘We come willingly.’﴿ (Fussilat, 11)
﴾We built the heavens with Our power and we are extending them.﴿ (al-Dhariyat, 47)
These three verses corresponf to the stages of the unified particle, the finely divided nebula, and its continual expansion.
Besides these two basic assumptions, there are more similarities between the Qur’an and ‘Eureka’, such as the existence of a ‘multiple’ universe:
(And in two Days He formed seven heavens, and assigned an order to each. We have made the nearest one beautifully illuminated and secure. Such is the design of the Almighty, the All Knowing.) (Fussilat, 12)
And the renewal of our universe:
﴾On that Day, We shall roll up the skies as a writer rolls up [his] scrolls. We shall reproduce creation just as We produced it the first time: this is Our binding promise. We shall certainly do all these things.﴿ (al-Anbiya’, 104)
However, it is only during the last ten or twenty years that scholars and scientists are re-discovering ‘Eureka’ as a source of modern science, whilst the oriental inspirations of Poe are still little known, so a serious study and comparison of the Qur’an and ‘Eureka’ still has to be started.
‘Eureka’ and Modern Science
After Poe’s death in 1849, he and his work were severely criticised and attacked in the USA. ‘Eureka’ in particular was seen as proof that Poe had gone mad towards the end of his life, and as a result it was forgotten for a long time.
The reception of Poe in Europe differed, because several French poets had discovered Poe as a brilliant poet and writer. Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867) and Stéphane Mallarmé (1842-1898) translated Poe’s works into French and made him immensely popular on the European continent. In England the same was done by the remarkable John Ingram (1842-1916), a London postal clerk, who did much to make Poe popular in England.
Also ‘Eureka’ was translated and published by Baudelaire in 1859, and it was admired for its visionary and spiritual power, although no-one could yet understand its scientific importance. However, Poe’s revolutionary ideas were not only appreciated,but also feared and detested by some. As a result, ‘Eureka’ was even officially banned in 1871 within czarist Russia, although Poe’s other work had become enormously popular and admired there.
Nevertheless, it was also in Russia that ideas from ‘Eureka’ entered, and radically changed, science for the first time, due to the Russian mathematician Alexander Friedmann (1884-1925) who was inspired by Poe when he proved in 1922 that the universe could not be static, but must be dynamic (either expanding or contracting). Friedmann used Albert Einstein’s work as a starting point for his scientific revolution, much to the anger of Einstein who was convinced that the universe was static (as were all scientists at that time) It took Einstein years to overcome his objections against the ideas of Friedmann (and thus Poe), and admit that he had actually made his ‘greatest blunder’. A few years later, in 1927, the Belgian astronomer and priest Georges Lemaitre (1894-1966), postulated his theory about the creation of the entire universe out of an exploding unified particle, the ‘cosmic egg’. Since Lemaitre was interested in literature and poetry, and Poe was immensely popular in Belgium, it is certain that also Lemaitre was inspired by ‘Eureka’. In any case, by that time Poe’s revolutionary ideas were common knowledge in Europe, so it was only a matter of time for them to become adopted by visionary and spiritual scientists like Friedmann and Lemaitre (who eventually became science adviser to the Popes Pius XII and John XXIII).
But, it must be remembered that the Qur¡¦an was the inspiration for the epoch-defining development of these concepts within modern physics!
 The website www.poe-eureka.com is devoted to Poe and ‘Eureka’. It also contains the full text with many notes. Published editions in Britain are ‘Eureka’ with a foreword by the astronomer and BBC producer Sir Patrick Moore (Hesperus Press Ltd; 2002; IS BN 1-84391-009-8) and the recommendable Penguin Classic ‘The Science Fiction Of Edgar Allan Poe’, edited by Harold Beaver (IS BN 0-14-043106-3).
 For Poe’s inspiration from the Orient, see for instance http://www.eapoe.org/papers/psblctrs/pl20061.htm.
 The Qur’an says that the original unified particle was ‘ripped apart’, but apparently in such a way that it resulted in a ‘smoke’ or nebulae. Poe understood correctly that this must have been caused by an explosion, a phenomenon that was unknown when the Qur’an was revealed. It should be noted here that Poe served for several years in the US Army, where he was trained as an ‘artificer’ or explosives expert.
 See for instance the site of the astronomer Alberto Cappi (University of Bologna, Italy) at: http://www.bo.astro.it/
 It is known that Alexander Friedmann was a fan of Poe. For Poe’s influence on him, see also http://www.nytimes.com/2002/11/02/books/think-tank-what-did-poe-know-about-cosmology-nothing-but-he-wasright.html.
 Albert Einstein also read ‘Eureka’, and in 1933 and 1940 he wrote four letters about it to the Poe biographers Richard Gimbel and Arthur Quinn. These letters show how much Poe’s work confused and angered him. For these letters and comments, see http://ww.poeeureka.com.
 It is interesting to note that Friedmann and Lemaître served during the First World War, and, like Poe, both were experts in the field of ballistics and explosives. This may have helped them to grasp and understand Poe’s vision.