Dr. Shadee Elmasry shared a sahih hadith on his page yesterday on the height of Adam (s). Some reacted with extreme skepticism. They demanded, where is the evidence? It’s a funny question because, if you’re Muslim, the evidence is the sahih hadith. That IS the evidence. The only reason you would think that that is not evidence is if you are generally skeptical of all hadith, in which case you’re just a confused baboon and have bigger things to worry about than the height of Adam, or you take current scientific consensus as a sounder source of knowledge about the height of Adam than sahih hadith, in which case, you think either the Prophet (s) mis-described his height or that the hadith transmitters made a mistake — and given the text of the hadith and the fact that the height of Adam is mentioned in multiple sahih hadith, it would have to have been a pretty extensive mistake.
We can evaluate all this. First we should note that we don’t take current scientific consensus as relevant when it comes to many, many things described in hadith. Think of al-isra wal-mi`raj. Or any of the miracles of the prophets. Think of any of the signs of the Day of Judgment, e.g., ya’juj and ma’juj, etc. And if you have a problem with hadith, then consider any of the events and things mentioned in the Quran. So, if current scientific consensus is not germane to any of these topics, why is it suddenly so all-determinative when it comes to the height of Adam?
Also, I am afraid people who take current scientific consensus so seriously are often deeply ignorant about the nature and the history of science. I have personal experience with this as a physics student at Harvard as well as a philosophy and history of science student there and at Tufts. Some of my professors were Nobel Prize winners and others were on their way to winning it, and their ignorance about some of the basics of science history was astounding. They simply didn’t think it was important to know the history of science. Not surprisingly, that lack of interest and knowledge resulted in a very narrow, myopic understanding of science itself, which is ironic considering how accomplished they were in the sciences.
One piece of science history that is relevant to this discussion is that past archaeologists believed in the existence of giant human beings. They based their belief on fossils and discovered bone fragments. See references below. Is it surprising that current scientists are unaware of this? No, they are simply ignorant of the history of their own field. But that does not erase the work and the historical record of their predecessors. Check it out for yourself.
As for myself, as a Muslim, I don’t privilege the speculative over the definite. And I have no hesitation or qualms taking that sahih hadith at face value and feeling perfectly intellectually content and confident. In fact, ahadith like that are gems that I treasure because they inform me about the true nature of the world and history that I wouldn’t be privy to otherwise since current scientific consensus says something different.
(By the way, stop with the nonsense about bone strength versus height. If bones are sufficiently dense, they can support a creature of a given height. Arguing against this hadith on the basis of bone structure is like arguing against the possibility of al-isra on the basis that the Buraq couldn’t have been aerodynamic enough to make the trip in such a short period of time.)