Sunday, 10 April 2016
The Sharing Group Discussion: Can Reason Alone Prove the Existence of God?
بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ
The following question was posted by me on The Sharing Group on the 09th April, 2015: “Can reason alone prove that there is a God and deduce His Nature?”
Brother Colin Turner: Brother Terence, as I am sure you know only too well, the issue of reason and Revelation could fill numerous threads. Insha’Allah, I will have a think and get back to you, but I have a lot of questions myself on this one and am unsure about the whole issue. I look forward to learning more.
Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: I look forward to your thoughts, brother.
Brother Raja Chawla: This is a two-part question. Can reason alone prove that there is a God. And deduce His Nature.
Brother Colin Turner: There are many different strands to the argument or issue of reason versus Revelation, and maybe we can discuss some of these strands in the fullness of time. As regards your particular question, since it is reason to which Revelation appeals in the first instance, it would seem that reason, unaided, can indeed reach the notion that there is something or someone responsible for bringing the cosmos into existence. Indeed, this has to be the case because many who do not accept Revelation are able to come to this conclusion, and while they may call it many things, when they talk of the ‘cause’ behind the Creation, they are of course talking about God, even though they be unaware of it. So whether people call it God or nature or whatever, reason can, unaided, arrive at the conclusion that there is someone or something responsible for Creation. But beyond that, and when we are talking about specifics, reason needs help. But that is another issue.
Brother Raja Chawla: From our limited knowledge of His Creation, just the species, sub species of Creation are beyond comprehension yet meticulously done, unmatched and non-createable by any one source or Creation in its entirety, can be only done by a super, beyond comprehension higher source. So yes, reason of the above Creation can prove there is a God or Higher Power. His nature cannot be deduced even by the entirety of, as we know of it, and what we have read of in Qur’an or ahadits of Creation, as He has Put a limited intelligence in the human mind and we do not know if all human knowledge combined of His Creation is the only Creation he has done or how much more there is. The ant does not know beyond a few hundred feet of its anthill, and what more its comprehension level even beyond that.
Brother Abdul-Halim Vazquez: I do not think you can prove God’s Existence through axiomatic deductive logic. But we can make relatively persuasive arguments which make belief in God plausible.
Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: By reason alone then, assuming someone has not access to Scripture of any sort, would he be able to come to the conclusion that there is a God? I would think so. In 1999, I sat in Novena Church, otherwise known as the Church of St. Alphonsus, and I decided to put everything I knew aside and think it through. And this is what I came up with.
Is there a God? I believe so. I agreed with Aristotle that there had to be a First Cause, but I disagreed that Creation is Eternal. Looking at the science of it, if Creation began with a Big Bank, and everything was compressed into a very hot ball of sorts, what caused it to expand? There had to be change. Who nudged that ball?
Secondly, if there is a God, it follows logically that there had to be only One God. Otherwise there would be more than one set of universal laws. Physicists are looking for a universal theory to unite the string forces and the weak forces. The entire field of quantum physics alludes to a singular something greater.
It is from there that we can expand to the nature of God. We understand that such a God has to be Omnipotent and by necessity One since if that were not so, there would be another ‘God’ to stop Him. We understand that He has to be Omniscient as a result of the Omnipotence. And He has to be Omnipresent since such a God has to be Present in all levels of Creation to affect it, and thus cannot be limited by space and time in all its dimensions. Thus, He is Immanent and yet Transcendent.
All I needed then was to either found my own religion or join one that agreed with my conception of God. And that is how I stumbled into Islam.
Brother James Currie: Brother Abdul-Halim Vazquez, that used to be my opinion, until Richard Dawkin’s “The God Delusion” was released and I found his arguments incredibly weak. In counter-response, when I investigated the arguments in favour of belief in God, I found them decisive. The Argument from Contingency, the Argument from Consciousness and the Argument from Design are sufficient to decisively prove Islamic tawhid in my opinion. Christians and Hindus use these arguments as well, but suddenly ditch them when trying to justify their trinitarian and pantheistic theologies, and that is why I tend to be strict on the rational front against such theologies and their influences.
Brother Colin Turner: Brother Terence, your reason took you to the notion of a Creator and then, unaided by Revelation, you concluded various things about this creator. In short, it took you to the door of the Qur’an, which is “Guidance for those who believe in the unseen”. It is probably difficult to go much further unaided and come up with a relatively faithful picture of God and His Attributes, a detailed knowledge of which comes from Revelation. Of course, it does not stop there, and once Revelation is reached, there is still a role for reason. What we read in Revelation has to be passed through the filter of reason, and from the point at which we encounter Revelation, the symbiotic relationship of the two begins. Once Revelation is reached, reason becomes its partner, in a sense.
Brother Abdul-Halim Vazquez: I am a math person so I have a pickier notion of what axiomatic deductive logic should look like.
Brother James Currie: Axiomatic deductive logic is broader than mathematics.
Brother Colin Turner: It is important that the theological truths which inform our belief in one God stand up to critical scrutiny, that is, that they are logically sound and thus rational. God’s Being as He is in and of Himself may well be beyond the realms of reason, but that is a different issue entirely. The truth claims that we make about God as He is Manifest in Creation, that is, the God of belief, have to be watertight, and indeed are watertight.
Brother Abdul-Halim Vazquez: Brother James Currie, you said, “Axiomatic deductive logic is broader than mathematics.” I agree. But there are few possibly areas outside of mathematics where rigorous axiomatic logic can definitively prove anything interesting. Most of the time, there is a trade-off where if we sacrifice a little bit of rigor and take a few small leaps, we can prove more things.
Brother Justin Taylor: Last night, I saw something relative to this question: I have been reading the psychology of God by Dr. Chittick, something which interested me about what he would suggest God does, apparently from the Qur’an, leave signs for those who have eyes to see. In the heavens and on earth. I have always believed this before I read it anyway. Last night, I was walking along the strand at my home. It is a walk along the ocean and because I live in a warm place, people were there in early evening with families and for exercise and such like. The local astronomy group had set up some telescopes to garner public interest in their group. I looked at the moon and I looked at Jupiter. As I was talking to one of the club members, he explained to me that Jupiter has a very strong resonance, created from the moons, and if we were able to reach there in a craft, it would be ripped apart by this resonance. The other thing it does is attract meteors to it, and destroys them, that would otherwise come to the Earth. I smiled and understood this to be the Work of God protecting this planet.
Brother Mansoor Rizvi: Here is a side question. What are the logical flaws, if any, of relying on the concept of the Creator only through divine texts?
Brother Justin Taylor: Divine texts are not the personal experience of God. They point the direction but remember, Abraham (a.s.) did not have them, and neither did Moses (a.s.), until they were Given.
Brother James Currie: Brother Abdul-Halim Vazquez, I am not sure that mathematics proves anything interesting either, unless applied to the real world. That application to the real world also requires certain axiomatic assumptions, but these are also probably not to your level of mathematical rigour. However, it is precisely those sorts of axiomatic assumptions that allow the theological deductions we are speaking about.
Brother Colin Turner: Brother Mansoor Rizvi, divine texts are always mediated by human intellection. You cannot subtract your powers of reason from your reading of scripture. Or are you saying something very different here?
Brother Justin Taylor: I find the whole idea of the taught skill of reading being the only way to access God crazy. We are told, in all texts, God has Given us a way to understand and reach out to Him. If there are people who cannot read, then this would be saying the religious texts are wrong. How can we, on one hand, suggest the only way to God is through text and on the other hand deny the Revelation contained in the text?
Brother Colin Turner: Brother Justin, the ‘Book of Creation’ is also there to be read, and it complements the Revealed Book.
Brother Justin Taylor: Yes. Personally, I have found this to be the case entirely but I am lucky enough that I was taught to read also.
Brother Colin Turner: Reading as reading is different from reading as interpreting. Knowing how to interpret what we read is the kind of knowledge given to us through Revelation and through the example of the Prophet (s.a.w.).
Brother Justin Taylor: According to the CIA World Factbook, almost 75% of the world’s 775 million illiterate adults are concentrated in ten countries. They are, in descending order: India, China, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Egypt, Brazil, Indonesia, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Women represent two-thirds of all illiterate adults globally. Extremely low literacy rates are focused in three regions: South Asia, West Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. The global literacy rate for all people aged 15 and over is 84.1%. The global literacy rate for all males is 88.6% and the rate for all females is 79.7%.
Again, I agree with you, Brother Colin. I find it hard to reconcile how God would leave those 775 million with no way to find Him. There is the possibility that others may help them in other ways but we have seen through the ages what happens when people do not find their own way to Revelation. It becomes the perspective of the giver, the priests and preachers, who determine what is to be known. I would think it is the signs, the marks, which God has Put there for us to see which are the stronger then the texts. The text is putting God’s laws into a human frame so that we can understand. But God, in the world, is as easy to evaluate by a glance, a smell, a sound. I am having trouble with the aspect of signifying though. Then, we can reason what these things mean by the brain we are given.
Brother Abdul-Halim Vazquez: Brother James Currie, you said, “I am not sure that mathematics proves anything interesting either, unless applied to the real world. That application to the real world also requires certain axiomatic assumptions, but these are also probably not to your level of mathematical rigour. However, it is precisely those sorts of axiomatic assumptions that allow the theological deductions we are speaking about.”
Yes, that is fair. Almost all of what we believe is based on assumption, even in terms of scientific knowledge; that is not certain either. The most we can say is “we have made this guess and it seems to be consistent with our observations.” But that is still not deductive reasoning either. But scientific knowledge is not certain either. Every once in a while, new knowledge comes along which leads scientists to alter their paradigms. Technically, I am a very radical skeptic. But in order to live in the world, we all make small leaps of faith, assumptions which make sense for us. And we can try to make those leaps small. But it is not going to be absolutely certain. Maybe one day, you are going to bump into Morpheus and your entire understanding of the world can change.
Brother James Currie: Science is an inductive process, but relies on a priori philosophical assumptions. For instance, regarding causality, which can form the starting point for theological deductions.
Brother Jerry Mikell: Plotinus said, “You ask, how can we know the Infinite? I answer, not by reason. It is the office of reason to distinguish and define. The Infinite, therefore, cannot be ranked among its objects. You can only apprehend the Infinite by a faculty superior to reason, by entering into a state in which you are your finite self no longer — in which the Divine Essence is Communicated to you. This is ecstasy. It is the liberation of your mind from its finite consciousness. Like only can apprehend like; when you thus cease to be finite, you become one with the Infinite. In the reduction of your soul to its simplest self, its Divine Essence, you realise this union — this identity.”
Brother Colin Turner: It is not really helpful to think of God as infinite. Infinity is a mathematical concept and does not really mean much when predicated of God.
Brother James Currie: Brother Colin, God is not finite.
Brother Colin Turner: Of course. But then, God is not a number, or an amount. Mathematicians please step in if this is wrong, but to describe God as infinite means that He is either an actual infinity or a potential infinity. Potential is clearly problematic unless we wish to posit the Existence of a God to Whom things are being added continuously. This leaves the notion of God as an actual infinity, which is equally problematic, because there is no way that God can be thought of as an actual, completed totality, or a set. So maybe we need to look for new words to describe what we think of as infinite when we think of Him. One suggestion is ‘Absolute’. It seems to work well.
Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: In set theory, God would be approximated to be a set that leaves nothing out. Such a set is unquantifiable.
Brother Ebu Aydin: Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis, I agree with you that God, and several of His Attributes, can be proved via reason alone. What the issue turns on is the principle of sufficient reason - the principle that contingent things need some explanation of their existence. Whereas the street atheist will generally try to come up with some naturalistic explanation for the existence of the contingent world, the scholarly atheist will simply deny the principle of sufficient reason. This, to my mind, is telling. If the only way to refute theism is to deny the principle of sufficient reason, then that says a great deal about the plausibility of theism.
Brother Tone: To use an analogy, I think that one is able to approach God, but is one able to arrive fully? In other words, begin to become acquainted with God, but to fully comprehend. At the end of the day, what are we without God’s Mercy? If one takes the premise that there Exists a God Who is Just and Merciful, would it not be logical to take that we in ourselves, have the faculties to connect with our Creator, our existence, and our purpose? But at the same time, will we ever have the capacity to fully encompass Allah’s (s.w.t.) Majesty in our mind alone? It is an interesting paradox.
Brother Abdul-Halim Vazquez: I am not sure how to match up thoughts about God with standard mathematical concepts. For instance, Nahj al-Balaghah says, “He is not confined by limits, nor counted by numbers.” Actually, in mathematics, even infinite sets have certain kinds of limitations. There are different sizes of infinity and for every set, even infinite ones, there is a larger one.
Brother Hasan: How can the vastness of Allah begin to be conceptualised?
Brother Colin Turner: The God that most of us are familiar with is the ‘God of belief’. The real God is much greater than that.
Brother Abdul-Halim Vazquez: To try to go back to the original question, the various arguments and ‘proofs’ of God’s Existence are useful because they make theism more plausible and probable. And collectively, they provide evidence and make it easier to believe. Also one of the books which nudged my out of being agnostic was “Honest to God” by Bishop John Robinson, which exposed me to Tillich and certain ideas which reframed the question for me. How do you make a distinction between the “God of belief” and the “Real God”? How do those labels get used? Are you saying that your own understanding of God is different from the “God of belief”?
Brother Colin Turner: No, my understanding of God is no different from yours, that is, the God of belief, you know, Omnipotent, Omniscient, Omnipresent, Merciful, Compassionate and so forth.
Brother Abdul-Halim Vazquez: So how is the “Real God” different from the “God of belief”? Some people talk about God-Above-God or the Godhead as being different from the God of belief. I think this comes up in the Kabbalah, no? Where the Ein Suf is different from the God of religion.
Brother Colin Turner: Some have called it the realm of Hahut, which is more or less untranslatable but approximates roughly to ‘He-ness’. God as He is, in and of Himself, unrelated to Creation and the cosmos - how He is prior, ontologically, to the Creation, the Hand without the shadow.
Brother Omar Grant: From the Muslim perspective I have always found the Surah al Ikhlasw, the Surah of Sincerity, said by the Messenger (s.a.w.) to equal one third of the Qur’an, worthy of contemplation with regard to the Existence of God. It is said to have been revealed in answer to a Bedouin who asked, “Who is this Allah?” I seem to recall Imam al-Ghazali (r.a.) also talked of the subject matter under discussion.