The Humble "I"

Knowing, Doing, Becoming

Pilgrimage of Reason: Proofs for God’s Existence [2/2]

6455578409_9bd1e50d22_zIn the first part of the blog (here), I discussed a ‘proof’ for the existence of God vis-a-via the kalam cosmological argument. We saw how, as a rational argument, it is well reasoned, cogent and logical; hence giving a lie to New Atheism’s allegation that belief in God is irrational. But since the proof is highly abstract and theoretical, I suggested that a more accessible proof for God’s existence comes via the teleological argument and the Quran’s insistance to reflect on the signs of God. In the second and final part of the blog, I shall endeavour to explain and explore the above argument. Finally, as I mentioned in the first part of the blog, I’ll end this discussion by briefly sketching the ontological and moral proofs for the existence of God.

In the Qur’an, in contrast to the kalam cosmological argument, the existence of God is firmly rooted in the creation of visible entities; in everyday experience. A far more potent proof, therefore, comes from the teleological argument (teleos, from the Greek word for “purpose” or “end”). It is also known as the Argument from Design.

This is the argument which stresses that the complex and purposeful design we see in the natural world round us, as well as in the cosmos at large, suggests the universe has an intelligent designer. The 18th-century essayist and poet, Joseph Addison, captures the spirit of the argument in these verses:

The spacious firmament on high
With all the blue ethereal sky
And spangled heavens, a shining frame
Their great original proclaim …
In reason’s ear they all rejoice
And utter forth a glorious voice
Forever singing as they shine:
“The hand that made us is Divine!”

The Qur’an says that the cosmos isn’t its own explanation. Rather it’s a sign pointing to something greater. We shall show them Our signs in the creation around them, as well as in their ownselves, till it becomes manifest to them that this [Revelation] is the Truth, is how the Qur’an puts it [41:53]

‘For Islam,’ wrote Gai Eaton, ‘the natural world in its totality is a vast fabric into which the “signs” of the Creator are woven. It is significant that the word meaning “signs” or “symbols,” ayah, is the same word that’s used for the “verses” of the Qur’an. Earth and sky, mountains and stars, oceans and forests and the creatures they contain are, as it were, “verses” of a sacred book.’1 For a believer, therefore, creation is holistic. For He who revealed the Qur’an is also He who created the observable phenomena of nature. Both are communications from God to man; both are signs pointing to Him. In fact, Ibn al-Qayyim explains: ‘In the Qur’an, God invites His servants to know Him via two ways: The one, by contemplating the creation. The other by meditating on the Qur’an and contemplating its meanings. The first are His signs that are seen and witnessed; the second, His signs that are read and understood.’2

Now these signs not only serve as evidence for the existence of God as such, but they act as evidence for various attributes of His too – attributes that become a pious focus for the contemplative life of a believer. These remarkable signs (often referred to by Muslims scholars and pietists as aja’ib, “marvels”, or bada’i‘, “wonders”) point to God’s knowledge, power, wisdom, majesty and unity; and to His beneficence, kindness and care for humankind. The Qur’an says: In the creation of the heavens and the earth; in the alternation of the night and day; in the sailing of ships through the ocean for the benefit of humankind; in the water with which He revives the earth after its death; in the animals of all kinds He has scattered therein; in the ordering of the winds and clouds that are driven between heaven and earth, are signs for those who have intelligence. [2:164]

Contemplating the Creator’s handiwork within creation enables us, at least to some extent, to admire His wisdom, splendour and sublime power. This, in turn, inspires gratitude, reverence, love and awe of God. For the natural world is like a mirror, itself beautiful while reflecting an even greater beauty of God. If the starry heavens elicit in us a sense of awe; if a newly sprung red rose evokes in us a sense of beauty; and if the solemn stillness of an autumn woodland kindles in us a sense of sublimity, then how much more awesome, beautiful and sublime must the Creator of such things truly be? Appreciating the splendour of the creation and being enchanted by it is, therefore, a means of knowing and glimpsing the still greater splendour of its Maker.

Consider also these verses from the Qur’an: It is He who spread out the earth and placed upon it firm mountains and rivers, and fruit of every kind in pairs. He draws the night [as a veil] over the day. In these are signs for those who reflect. And on earth are neighbouring tracts, vineyards and ploughed lands, and palms in pairs and palms single; watered by one water; some of them We make better than others to eat. In that are signs for those who understand. [13:3-4]

To reflect and meditate upon the astounding nature of the creation is to experience awe and enchantment of how such beauty, harmony and complexity originated, and how it is sustained. Pondering over these “signs” should lead the reflecting intellect to acknowledge and accept that there is an Absolute underlying all relative phenomena, an Omnipotence underlying all relative power, and a Wisdom underlying the laws of nature. This is pointed out in the verses by utilising the symbolism of water: A single kind of water nourishes neighbouring tracts, vineyards and ploughed lands and gives them life. That same water further produces palm-trees; some single, others paired, and some better tasting than others. Those who understand are those who can grasp the Unity that underpins creational diversity. A Muslim poet of old versified:

O wonder! How can the Deity be disobeyed;
Or by the denier be denied.
While in everything there is a sign
By which His Oneness stands testified.

The tafsir genre relates this unadorned story. A bedouin was once asked how he knew that God exists. He answered: ‘Glory be to God! Camel’s dung proves the existence of a camel and footprints prove that someone has walked by. So a sky with its towering constellations, and an earth with all its mountain passes, and a deep sea covered by waves upon waves – doesn’t all this testify that [God] the Subtle, the Aware exists?’3

In a similar vein, Ibn al-Qayyim wrote about a watermill by a river, faultlessly made, with perfect parts: no flaw can be observed in its construction. It efficiently irrigates a large garden containing various kinds of plants and fruits. The garden is well tended, pruned, weeded, and maintained in every way so that nothing is amiss or overlooked; and nor is any fruit left to rot. Then its produce is harvested and the money gained is distributed to various people according to their needs, each getting what is right for them. All of this happens each time, over and over again, without fail. Would you say that all of this happens by chance, asks Ibn al-Qayyim, without someone behind it who has intentionality (iradah), a will to choose to do or not to do (ikhtiyar), and the ability to plan and manage (tadbir)? Would you believe that the wheel or the garden got there by mere chance, or that all that goes on there does so without an actor who has intentionality, will or management? What would your intellect say to that? What would that indicate to you?4

The bedouin logic, or Ibn al-Qayyim’s watermill, has a modern twin in Paley’s famous watchmaker analogy. Paley argued that, were we to find a watch lying on a heath, we would naturally assume it had a maker due to the fact that it is a complex mechanism which seems designed for a specific purpose. In a similar manner, he goes on to argue, the complexity, order and purpose of the universe implies an intelligent designer.

As appealing as it seems, critics of Paley’s argument point out a logical flaw in it. The fact that two objects share a common characteristic (in this case, complexity), doesn’t always imply they will share all characteristics. Paley’s argument can be stated, thus: (i) A watch is complex. (ii) A watch has an intelligent designer. (iii) Life is complex. (iv) Therefore life must also have an intelligent designer.

Consider a similar line of reason: (i) Electric current in my house consists of a flow of electrons. (ii) Electric current comes from the power company. (iii) Lightning consists of a flow of electrons. (iv) Therefore, lightning comes from the power company. This last statement is plainly not true. So Paleyan logic holds true in some cases, but not in all cases.

Inferring that something is true of the whole from the fact that it is true of some part of the whole is referred to as a “fallacy of composition”. In certain cases, this mode of inference looks better than in others. Thus, if every gem in a necklace is valuable, the necklace will be valuable too. But if every player on a football team is outstanding, it is likely, but not guaranteed, that the team will be outstanding too. Yet if every track on a CD is less than five minutes long, it doesn’t follow that the whole CD is less than five minutes long.

Attempts to weaken the argument are predicated on thinking that Paley is reasoning by way of analogy. Some, however, think that the argument is better understood as an inference to the best explanation. What Paley is saying is that whenever you see these kinds of deliberate and purposeful contrivances, then what is the best explanation? The best explanation is surely design.

Whatever the case, Paley’s argument is still highly persuasive. Revealed theology (that is, theology based upon religious scripture) informs that the universe has a Creator-God. While natural theology (theology based on reason and ordinary experience) says it is perfectly reasonable to believe that the complex design of our observable universe has an intelligent designer behind it. Paley’s analogy (and, by extension, the argument from design), despite its criticism, is not just rationally appealing; it accords with our everyday experience too.

The ontological argument (ontos, Greek for “reality”) is a highly curious one. It states, in effect, that if one understands what the word “God” means, it is perfectly logical to believe He exists. This philosophical argument was set out by Anslem, the eleventh century Archbishop of Canterbury, and is based upon an understanding that God is “that than which no greater can exist.” This type of argument reasons that if God is that than which no greater can be conceived to exist, then God cannot exist only as a concept. If God exists just as a concept, then there’s something greater – namely, God who exists as a concept in the mind as well as in reality. But since God is that than which no greater can exist, this must logically include existence. Thus God exists. (To this, Muslims would simply exclaim: Allahu akbar – “God is greater!”)

The moral argument starts from the moral order – that some things are right, and some things are wrong – recognized by people throughout the world, to the existence of God as the source of this morality. Even the remotest tribes that have been cut-off from civilization, the argument posits, observe a moral code similar to everyone else’s. No doubt, differences in moral perspectives do exist. Yet virtues like bravery, truth and loyalty; and vices such as greed and cowardice are universal. So where does this “law of right behaviour” originate?

Some sociobiologists have tried to argue, though not very succesfully, that our moral impulses like altruism (the selfless giving to others even if nothing is received in return) are evolutionary bi-products left over from Darwinian natural selection. This line of reasoning, however, has been sufficiently debunked.5

Post-modern philosophy insists moral truths are relative: there are no absolute rights or wrongs. If that’s the case, how can post-modernism itself be absolutely right in its claim? Moreover, as C.S Lewis wrote, if one considers the various human cultures and civilizations from ancient times till now, one will encounter ‘the same triumphantly monotonous denunciations of oppression, murder, treachery and falsehood; the same injunctions of kindness to the aged, the young, the weak, of almsgiving, impartiality and honesty.’6

Elsewhere he says: ‘If there was a controlling power outside the universe, it could not show itself to us as one of the facts inside the universe – no more than the architect of a house could actually be a wall or staircase or fireplace in that house. The only way we could expect it to show itself would be inside ourselves as an influence or a command getting us to behave in a certain type of way. And that is just what we do find inside ourselves. Surely this ought to arouse our suspicions.’7

Thus, it is reasonable to suggest it is God who is the author of this Moral Law and it is He who allows its bright light to shine into the recesses of our beings and nature. We will show them Our signs in the creation around them, as well as in their ownselves. [41:53] The Qur’an is, in point of fact, categorical about the Moral Law eminating from God. It says: By the soul and He who fashioned it, then inspired it to discern its vices and piety. Successful is he who purifies it, and ruined is he who corrupts it. [91:7-10]

That the moral law is firmly embedded in human nature melds into another Quranic concept, that of fitrah – man’s “innate nature” or “natural disposition.” One verse of the Qur’an states: So set your purpose for the upright religion, the innate nature in which God created mankind. [30:30] There occurs in one hadith: ‘All children are born upon the natural disposition’ – kullu mawludin yuladu ‘ala’l-fitrah.8 A number of scholars, including al-Ghazali and Ibn Taymiyyah, argue that our knowledge of God’s existence is implanted in our fitrah and it is a knowledge which makes the theologians’ proofs obsolete. Man knows God intstinctively by virtue of his fitrah. Resorting to rational proofs or reflection, they say, is necessary only when the fitrah has been corrupted by unhealthy environments, or if someone is plagued by doubts.9

Having rehearsed at some length the main rational or discursive arguments for the existence of God, let me summarise them:

The kalam-cosmological argument, simply put, says that the cause and effect chain of changing physical existence cannot go back indefinitely in time, and thus must have a beginning found only through divine creation.

The teleological argument, at its simplest, asserts that the nature of the world is such that it must have been created by an intelligent designer.

The ontological argument, stripped to its bare bones, argues from the concept of God to the existence of God.

As for the moral argument, it appeals to the existence of moral laws as proof of God’s existence.

Although these discursive arguments do yield coherent reasons for belief in God (as well as lay to rest the lingering fallacy that belief in God is irrational), they are open to some criticisms. Perhaps no single one clinches the deal. Nevertheless, each argument reinforces the other; that is, they are accumulative in strength. Such proofs, though, tend not to convince hardened skeptics, nor those who are determined not to believe. However, these rational proofs, in concert with the miraculous nature of the Qur’an and the pious and selfless life of the Prophet ﷺ, are powerful reasons to believe and to submit.

1. Islam and the Destiny of Man (Cambridge: The Islamic Texts Society, 1997), 101.

2. Ibn al-Qayyim, al-Fawa’id (Riyadh: Maktabah al-Rushd, 2001), 42-3.

3. Ibn Kathir, Tafsir Qur’an al-‘Azim (Beirut: Dar al-Ma‘rifah, 1986), 1:61-62 – citing al-Razi, Mafatih al-Ghayb, 2:91.

4. See: Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyyah, Miftah Dar al-Sa‘adah (Saudi Arabia: Dar Ibn ‘Affan, 1996), 2:69-70.

5. See: Collins, The Language of God (Great Britain: Pocket Books, 2007), 24-8.

6. ‘The Poison of Subjectivism’, in C.S. Lewis, Christian Reflection, 77 – cited in Collins, The Language of God, 24.

7. Lewis, Mere Christianity (London: HarperCollins, 2002), 24.

8. Al-Bukhari, no.1385; Muslim, no.2657.

9. See: A. Shihadeh, ‘The Existence of God’, in The Cambridge Companion to Classical Islamic Theology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 198; Ozervali, ‘The Qur’anic Rational Theology of Ibn Taymiyya and his Criticism of the Mutakallimun’, in Ibn Taymiyya and His Times (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), 90-91; Abdur-Rahman ibn Yusuf, Imam Abu Hanifa’s al-Fiqh al-Akbar Explained (California: White Thread Press, 2007), 64-66. In Arabic, cf. Ibn Taymiyyah, Majmu‘ Fatawa (Riyadh: Dar ‘Alam al-Kutub, 1991), 16:328; al-Ghazali, Ihya’ ‘Ulum al-Din (Beirut: Dar al-Ma‘rifah, 2004), 1:854; al-‘Asqalani, Fath al-Bari (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 1988), 13:361-63; al-Bayjuri, Tuhfat al-Murid (Cairo: Dar al-Salam, 2006), 78-79

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18 thoughts on “Pilgrimage of Reason: Proofs for God’s Existence [2/2]

  1. If, as we now know, the hearts ‘think’, then is it not reasonable to assume that those who use only their brain intellects to draw the conclusion that there cannot be a God, will never be able to believe in the concept of Deity?

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    • It’s not completely true to say that. People have come to believe in the existence of God purely through rational enquiry and reflection. Just how many people … Allah knows best.

      It is also true that human beings don’t all work on the clean, clinical logical level. Some are moved by the aesthetics and beauty they see in creation, while some simply intuit that there must be a Grand Designer behind the cosmos.

      I’ve touched upon the matter in the post, “Beyond Rationality,” which can be read here: https://thehumblei.com/2014/03/31/beyond-rationality/

      Thank you for your comment and patience.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Jazakum Allahu khairan. An extremely engaging read – both articles – and one that probably needs going over a couple of times to truly digest and appreciate its important message. May Allah allow us to reflect upon the knowledge we acquire, increasing us in faith and acting upon it in loving submission to Him. Thank you.

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  3. Reblogged this on brosaeed and commented:
    The conclusion to an interesting discussion of reason and faith.

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  4. I made an argument out of information by Allah’s permission and insha Allah it is airtight.

    Every set of limited information is contained by a larger set of information-this is by necessity. It does not exist without being contained by a larger set of information.

    For example this comment is a set of information contained by a larger set of information. If you knew all the initial conditions behind it, the length of my fingers, the motion of molecules in my brain, the events behind me writing it and so on, you could predict what I am able to write.

    Since every set of limited information is contained by a larger set of information, and this is by necessity since information does not come except from previous information, it is known by necessity that there has to be an infinite source of information behind all of the information of the universe.

    Therefore I reason by Allah’s permission, that it has to be someone with infinite knowledge behind everything.

    ولئن سألتهم من خلق السماوات والأرض ليقولن خلقهن العزيز العليم
    And if you should ask them, Who created the heavens and the earth? they would most certainly say: The Mighty, the Knowing One, has created them;

    The doubt of the disbelievers is absolutely unfounded-they have absolutely no reason to doubt and in fact, it is completely illogical for them to doubt. Just as 1+0=1 has to be true, and every other answer to 1+0=0 is false, thus by necessity and without the slightest doubt there had to be one ultimate knowing creator behind everything.

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    • I have to think about this one, idesireranks. On the face of it, it does seem to resemble certain ideas embedded in the developing field of what is called the Theory of Information. From the very little I understand, work in this field seem to show the fatal flaws in the belief that unguided natural processes can generate information. Indeed, the theory makes it very scientifically plausible that an intelligent source is responsible for the information, complexity and life that exists.

      And Allah indeed knows best.

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  5. Haris on said:

    Thank you for your posts.

    How would you respond to Julian Baggini’s contention with the cosmological argument which he raises in his “Atheism: A Very Short Introduction” (OUP 2003)?

    He says,
    “One fatal flaw among many is that the argument is based on principles it then flouts. The intuitive principles that lie behind the argument are that nothing exists uncaused and that the cause of something great and complex must itself be even greater and more complex. But it ends up hypothesizing God’s existence as simple and uncaused. If it is possible for God to exist without a cause greater than God, why can’t the universe exist without a cause greater than itself? Either the principles that inform the argument stand or they don’t. If they stand, then God requires a cause and the causal chain goes back ad infinitum. If they don’t, then there is no need to hypothesize God.” (pages 94-95)

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    • Julian Baggini is one of my favourite philosopher-authors and has some very interesting and thought-proving books (what else would you expect from a philosopher who seems to have his finger on the pulse).

      Nevertheless, Baggini seems to have fallen into a common error in this regard, (which was addressed towards the end of Point no.20 in the first part of the article), namely that the kalam-cosmological argument states: Everything that begins to exist must have a cause. God, however, is beginningless; and so has no cause.

      The above reply is probably very anti-climatic and not philosophically complex. But there it is anyway.

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  6. A conversation in front of an audience between you and Julian Baggini would be a worthwhile evening. Perhaps before then you could respond to this other objection of his against the cosmological argument:

    “One further caution is that this kind of argument is precarious as it essentially hypothesizes a ‘God of the gaps’. God is invoked to explain what we cannot currently explain. This is a risky strategy. After all, people previously invoked God to explain all sorts of natural phenomena we later explained, and each time God had to retreat further back into the unknown. In this case God has retreated to behind the blue touch-paper that started the universe going. Such a God is fast running out of places for believers to hide him.” (p. 95)

    Thinking you may have already written on this, I searched for ‘god of gaps’ on your blog but the only result was your ‘Look’ article which although offering valuable insights on science and theism doesn’t directly deal with this specific objection.

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    • The “God of the gaps” argument can sometimes be a red herring; which seems to be the case with the above passage.

      While it is true many theists do invoke God to explain phenomena they don’t understand, only to find that science then gives us the mechanics of how a particular phenomenon work, this doesn’t disprove God’s agency in that phenomenon.

      For instance: Just because one knows how an iPod, iPhone or iPad works, does not mean that it is impossible to believe in the existence of Steve Jobs as the designer of such tech. This would be a failure to distinguish between mechanism and agency.
      “Because we know the mechanism that explains a phenomenon, there is therefore no agent that designed the mechanism” is clearly false.

      For Muslims, we believe God is the agent behind every single act, occurrence or phenomena in the universe – the ones we know the mechanics of, and the ones we don’t. The Qur’an says: God is the Creator of everything. [39:62]

      That said, if, as many theists wrongly do, one places all their bets on a “God of the gaps” argument to explain what we currently don’t understand or know, it’s likely at some point in the process of scientific advancement, that one’s faith could be shaken to the very core. For a theist who believes Allah’s hand is behind all things, and that one doesn’t confuse between mechanism and agency, such scientific advancement are welcomed and celebrated; not nervously anticipated.

      As for debate, there are a number of people out there doing just fine. I think I’ll stick to the writing inshallah.

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      • A “conversation,” Abu Aaliyah, not a “debate”!

        Thank you for your response. The distinguishing between “agency” and “mechanism” with the Steve Job analogy makes the point a whole lot clearer.

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        • Thanks for that correction, harisbukhari, and sorry for misreading your words.

          The idea of a conversation does sound appealing, though probably a private one, or with just a few people. However, I think it would be a mismatch; I don’t think I’m on the same level as Baggini. May Allah guide me to be as competent and adept as you hold me to be in such matters.

          Let me also take this opportunity to thank you for your penetrating questions. Please do keep on visiting the blog from time to time and offering your input. It’d be much appreciated.

          Like

  7. Ramadan being a time when those of us who waver can refocus on what the divine has meant to us, I’m afraid ‘time to time’ will mean frequent for this month to pose bitesize questions on your insightful blog.

    How do you feel about the proposition that one ought to assume there is no supernatural creator as a default until proven otherwise?

    Perhaps, rather cheekily, one could argue such an approach is in accordance with the hadith of Ibn Abbas related by al-Bayhaqi, “Were people to be given in accordance with their claim, men would claim the fortunes and lives of [other] people, but the onus of proof is on the claimant, and the taking of an oath is incumbent upon him who denies.”

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    • I have a couple of reservations. First and foremost is that there are times and places in which the fitrah of society as a whole has been kept sufficiently sound and intact, such that they instinctively know the universe must have a Creator. It is Revelation that fills in the detail and allows such primordial instincts a more concrete expression. So the foundational assumption in such cases would be that there is a Creator.

      As for those whose fitrah has been corrupted, they’ll possibly will start with the assumption that there is no God. But it would be for them to explain why there is something instead of nothing; why we have not just something, but a finely-tuned, seemingly designed something.

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  8. On the matter of fitrah, Abu Aaliyah, which I understand to mean an innate sense of the divine, is there any independent proof or evidence of its existence beyond the claims of Islamic sources – perhaps an anthropological study?

    Can it not be argued that what you call the fitrah is a social construct?

    Children can have imaginary friends, can it not be said a concept of god is another one of them?

    When you talk of a society upon its fitrah, what does that mean if – and I sense I may have misunderstood – being upon the fitrah is synonymous with being Muslim? What does it mean to say a non-Muslim still possesses fitrah?

    And finally – not intending a rude tone – with the use of the ‘scientific miracles’ approach that we were taught to bolster our iman when growing up now fallen out of fashion, I see greater mention of this concept ‘fitrah’ – is this not a desperate last resort when all arguments fail of saying ‘God just exists! You know it!”

    Ramadan Mubarak by the way.

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