Youth, including mostly the university and college students very often ask intriguing questions about ‘religion’, ‘faith’, science, reason etc. I try my level to convince them. But then it is not possible to reach out to each one of them who are caught in the intricacies of mind and help them out to see the other end of the dark tunnel of uncertainty. That is the reason for this write-up which, Allah Willing, will follow many such write-ups.
Let me admit honestly that having first been a student of science and then studied religion, I had to suffer from so many intellectual and psychological complexities in my early youth. I have tasted the poisonous fruits of uncertainty as a sceptic for some time and also as an agnostic for some time so much so that I became a patient of chronic duodenal ulcer. But I have never experienced atheism for that assumes a position from the very outset and is as dogmatic as blind faith itself. In fact atheism is also a belief without evidence but arrogance and the jargon it tries to monopolise makes it something worth discussing among the people of less knowledge.
I wondered in wilderness of uncertainty; I lost meaning, hope. In fact there was no reason behind reason. Somehow I met a spiritual master who at the first sight diagnosed my disease. He said nothing to me. He did not guide me. He did not give me a sermon. He simply lit the light and the darkness was gone. Then I came to know that darkness is no entity, it is just absence of light. Those people who are caught in the oblivion of darkness need someone to light a candle for them. The master brought me to the court of the holy Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wa sallam), not through any book but by example.
My Iman andmy identity as a believer owes to the personality of Rasulullah (sallallahu alyhi wa sallam) who always acted as nucleus to my conviction and action. I have briefly pointed to this fact in my previous couple of articles. To me trust in the Prophet is quite reasonable because before trust comes integrity which has always been there so far as the whole life of the Prophet is concerned. And that is what the Qur’an convincingly invites the non-believers to ponder before they accept the claim of Islam. Anyway, let me come to the point I want to discuss in this piece of writing.
There is a myth that reason and Iman are parallel to each other, having no meeting point —while reason necessarily leads to a logical negation of God and is thus scientifically explained, Iman is simply blind trust that cannot be reasoned out.
The argument that to be rational means to not believe in God or, in other words, the more rational and scientific you are, the more liberal and nonreligious you become, is the argument which is considered more rational and scientific than the ‘inflexible’ and ‘blatant’ claim that “I believe in God.” The case of God becomes more confusing when the believer sometimes exclaims: “I believe in God, not in science; when I believe in God, I have to kill the intellect.”
In this article I will try to explore the extent to which either of the arguments can be accepted or rejected justifiably.
Finding out the science of denial
When a rationalist argues that existence of God cannot be proved on the basis of reason, some rational questions arise inevitably:
Does it mean that the person has positive arguments in favour of his negation?
Does it mean that the disbeliever is not convinced by any argument from the believer?
There can be one more case. That is the disbeliever simply dislikes God. That is his choice. We have nothing to discuss with him. So our concern is the first two conditions.
Let’s begin with the first question, and see how scientific the claim has been?
So far as our question no. 1 is concerned what does this question mean? It means that the person who says that Iman is not rational, has himself rational knowledge in support of his claim that there is no God. Since this is in itself a claim, it needs a rational evidence in its support.
In fact we human beings are not intellectual robots. There are so many emotional, psychological, social and spiritual factors which determine which worldview we adopt. So far as my meagre knowledge of atheism based upon my study of books and watching of debates of famous new atheists, the deniers of God adopt ‘Philosophical naturalism’ as a worldview. ‘Philosophical naturalism is the view that all phenomena within the universe can be explained via physical processes.’ Hence there is no room for any ‘supernatural’ in this view. And if at all there is something then that does not interfere with the physical. But all deniers do not subscribe to this view. There are some who affirm the non-physical phenomena.
In the beginning of the twentieth century, the advancement in science inspired ‘logical positivism’ which says that statements can only be meaningful if they can be verified empirically. That means whatever is beyond the reach of the senses is nonsense. So the followers of this worldview declared that denial of God is the default position for His existence cannot be verified by physical experience. They hold that the universe has popped into existence out of nothing without any reason.
But the view of ‘logical positivism’ couldn’t stand its own test and as a result the beginning of the second half the twentieth century saw the death of ‘logical positivism’. The reason was it could itself not be verified via physical experience.
The reason for the death of logical positivism was science itself. The scientific discoveries of the mid-20th century came up with the theory of ‘Big Bang’ which postulates a cosmic beginning to the universe. The Big Bang proved very disastrous to the conventional thinking that the universe was eternal and needed no creator. Some years later many other scientific discoveries in genetics explicitly demonstrated that the natural laws were designed and finely tuned in such a way that clearly suggested that there is a conscious creator.
As for the second question, my previous two successive write-ups need to be revisited. What does the question itself mean? It means that if the person is provided with any convincing argument, he must accept that.
It would suffice here to point to a few instances regarding the rational approach of the Islamic scholars towards the problem of the followers of unaided reason. Imam Ghazzali terms the deniers of God as reductionists who do not have a holistic understanding of the universe and its purpose. He asserts that they are like ants on a piece of paper that cannot lift their eyes from the ink or the pen they see before them, and fail to see who is writing.
The foundation for the Islamic argument can be best understood by reading the Qur’an where it refers to celestial objects, the alternation of night and day, vegetation, animals and other physical phenomena. Allah created all of these things with a divine precision:
“And He has subjected for the night and day and the Sun and Moon, and the stars are subjected by His command. Indeed in that are signs for a people who reason.” (16:12)
If everything going on around us is meaningless and we ourselves do not have any meaning; then what meaning will our reason lead us to? And what is the meaning of reason?
Note: In my previous article there had crept in an inadvertent mistake which went like this: “All men of reason [may be] men of heart also like the philosophers but all men of heart are men of reason at the same time like the Awliya Allah” instead “All men of reason may [not] be men of heart also like the philosophers….”
Dr Nazir Ahmad Zargar, Department of Religious Studies, Central University of Kashmir