Which was Created first, the Heavens or the Earth?
Concerning the tenth alleged contradiction:
Heavens or Earth? Which was created first? First earth and then heaven [2:29], heaven and after that earth [79:27-30].
Verses in question:
2:29 He it is Who created for you all that is on earth. Then He ascended towards the heaven and made them seven heavens and He is the All-Knower of everything.
79:27-31. Are you more difficult to create, or is the heaven that He constructed? He raised its height, and He has equally ordered it, Its night He covers with darkness, and its forenoon He brings out (with light). And after that He spread the earth; And brought forth therefrom its water and its pasture…
1. At first sight, it may seem as though these verses contradict because 2:29 mentions the earth before the heavens, while in 79:27-21, the situation is reversed. However, on closer inspection, we discover some significant differences:
A) 2:29 mentions the development of the heavens into seven layers, not their initial creation which is described in 79:27-31.
B) 2:29 describes the creation of the earth and its features while 79:27-31 only descibres the spreading of the earth
Thus, based on the two verses we know two things:
1. The creation of the earth preceded the formation of the heavens into seven layers
2. The creation of the heavens preceded the ‘spreading’ of the earth.
And a third point is logically concluded from the above:
3. The creation of the heavens preceded their formation into seven layers
However, it is not know from the verses whether the creation of the heavens preceded the creation of the earth or vice versa, or whether they occured simultaneously. Some Qur’anic commentators took one view while others took another. What we do know is that the heavens and the earth were created and then subsequently the earth was spread and the heavens formed into seven layers. This interpretation is supported by the classical commentaries of the Qur’an. As Imaam Abu Abdullah Al-Qurtubi (d. 1273CE) states in his monumental Al-Jaami` le Ahkaam al-Qur’an when giving his opinion on the Qur’anic description:
I believe that what Qatada said is sound Allah willing: that Allah first created the smoke of heaven and then created the earth and directed Himself to heaven, which was smoke and [He] arranged it and then He smoothed out the earth. (Tafsir Al-Qurtubi Classical Commentary of the Holy Qur’an, Dar Al-Taqwa Ltd. 2003, vol. 1, p.200, emphasis added)
Imaam Ibn Kathir Ad-Damishqi (d. 1372CE) also distinguishes between the different stages in his renowned Tafsir Al-Qur’an Al-Azim, while presenting a slightly different view:
It already has been mentioned previously in [the Tafsir of] Surat Ha Mim As-Sajdah that the earth was created before the heaven was created, but it was only spread out after the creation of the heaven. This means that He brought out what was in it with a forceful action. This is the meaning of what was said by Ibn Abbas and others, and it was the explanation preferred by Ibn Jarir [At-Tabari (d. 923CE)] (fn. At-Tabari 24:208). (Tafsir Ibn Kathir, Abridged, Darussalam Publishers & Distributors, 2000, vol. 10, p. 350, emphasis added)
Thus, the commentators are agreed that the difference in verse 2:29 and verses 79:27-31 relates to the different stages in the creation of the heavens and the earth, with the earth’s ‘spreading’ occurring after the creation of the heavens and the development of the heavens occurring after the creation of the earth. The commentators only differ regarding the creation of the earth preceding the creation of the heavens, or vice versa, or if they were both created simultaneously.
Scientific research describes the creation and formation of the earth in the following stages:
Differentiation in the first few 100’s of millions of years led to the formation of the core and the mantle and a crust, and initiated the escape of gases from the moving interior that eventually led to the formation of the atmosphere and oceans.
The earliest Earth was probably an unsorted conglomeration, mostly of silicon compounds, iron and magnesium oxides, and smaller amounts of all the natural elements. It became increasingly hotter as the protoplanet grew.
…After loss of the hydrogen, helium and other hydrogen-containing gases from early Earth due to the Sun’s radiation, primitive Earth was devoid of an atmosphere. The first atmosphere was formed by outgassing of gases trapped in the interior of the early Earth, which still goes on today in volcanoes.
For the Early Earth, extreme volcanism occurred during differentiation, when massive heating and fluid-like motion in the mantle occurred. It is likely that the bulk of the atmosphere was derived from degassing early in the Earth’s history.
…Lava flowing from the partially molten interior spread over the surface and solidified to form a thin crust. This crust would have melted and solidified repeatedly, with the lighter compounds moving to the surface. This is called differentiation.
Weathering by rainfall broke up and altered the rocks. The end result of these processes was a continental land mass, which would have grown over time. The most popular theory limits the growth of continents to the first two billion years of the Earth. (SOURCE)
The above description informs us that the earth was initially one mass and through differentiation and volcanic out-gassing, the early atmosphere formed. Then, cooling of the earth resulted in the formation of land mass.
These descriptions concur with the Qur’anic desciption that the earth (2:29) and the heaven (79:27) were created and were originally one mass and then seperated (verse 21:30), the heavens were then developed into seven layers (verse 2:29) and the earth’s crust was later spread out (79:30). The last description may be a reference to the cooling of the earth’s crust, or it may be a reference to continental drift.
Thus, we find that the Qur’an does not contradict itself here, but instead contains accurate details regarding the formation of the earth in the stages.
2. According to an alternative interpretation, verse 2:29 is rendered as follows:
He is the One who created for you all that’s inside earth (Matter), then turned to the sky and perfected seven universes therein, and He is fully aware of all things.
Therefore, verse 2:29 is taken to refer to the creation of the universe and it is not the creation of the earth being described here, but rather what is in the earth, or matter. And verse 79:30 is referring to the spreading of the earth, which has been defined before.
3. A third explanation argues on the understanding of thumma, which does not always indicate sequential order. The meaning of Thumma is explained very well by Moiz Amjad in his article entitled The Meaning of “Thumma” & “Yawm”. Therefore, when verse 2:29 says that Allah created the earth and thumma He turned to the heavens, this could also be read as “Furthermore He turned to the heavens” which does not necessarily imply that the creation of the heavens is after the creation of earth. Critics argue that when it says God turned towards the heaven, this implies a sequential act. But this is not entirely true, as God could have turned to the heaven at any point in the past, not necessarily after the creation of the heavens. This point is emphasized in the classical tafsirs as well. Imaam Qurtubi writes:
In His words “then directed”, the word “then” is simply a narrative aid and does not imply any time sequence in the matetrs referred to. (Tafsir Al-Qurtubi Classical Commentary of the Holy Qur’an, Dar Al-Taqwa Ltd. 2003, vol. 1, p.199)
Similarly, Imaam Ibn Kathir writes:
It is said that “Then” in the Ayah (2:29) relates only to the order of reciting the information being given, it does not relate to the order that the events being mentioned took place, this was reported from Ibn ‘Abbas by ‘Ali bin Abi Talhah. (fn. At-Tabari 1:437). (Tafsir Ibn Kathir, Abridged, Darussalam Publishers & Distributors, 2000, vol. 1, p. 180)
Thus, this explanation is not in conflict with the traditional understanding of the earier Muslims.
From the above points, it should be clear that these verses do not in any way constitute a contradiction.