New Age Islam
Fri Mar 01 2024, 11:40 PM

Islam and Science ( 26 Apr 2019, NewAgeIslam.Com)

Comment | Comment

God Is Beyond the Physical World And Beyond Measurement: The Case For Allah’s Existence In The Quran And Sunnah - Part 1

By Justin Parrott

February 21, 2019

In the name of Allah, the Gracious, the Merciful

Knowledge of God’s existence is often taken for granted by believers. The authentic religious experience – affirmed again and again in a Muslim’s daily life – makes faith in God feel so natural as to be assumed. But belief in God and the quest for existential truth is not an easy prospect for many people, especially in a social environment in which faith is derided as superstition, wishful thinking, or even as a dangerous fantasy.

In the Islamic tradition, the case for God’s existence is solid in terms of its rational foundations as well as the purpose, meaning, comfort, and guidance that it gives to our lives. The Quran inspires conviction by appealing to the aspects of the inner life of human beings, namely, to the heart and the mind. Intuition and experience work in tandem with logic and reason to arrive at a state of certainty in faith.

This understanding of conviction is reinforced by modern scientific conceptions. Cognitive scientist Justin Barrett, for example, demonstrates that belief in God – and beliefs more generally – are formed and attained in two ways: 1) non-reflective, intuitive beliefs that result from experience, and 2) reflective, conscious beliefs that result from thought.[1] The human being naturally forms beliefs from these two sources. Similarly, the case for God’s existence in the Quran and Sunnah involves both sources of beliefs, heart-based appeals based on intuition and mind-based appeals based on rational reflection.

Appealing to the Heart, Intuition, and Experience

Natural Instinct – Fiṭrat Allāh

Human beings sense the existence of God – or what they perceive as a higher power – by pure instinct, with or without a prophetic revelation to guide them. Expressions of this sensus divinitatis have appeared in cultures and religions all over the world, despite them being widely separated by time, geography, and language. In Islamic spiritual terms, this is because God took a primordial covenant with every person before the world was created that they would recognize their Creator.

Allah said:

[Prophet], when your Lord took out the offspring from the loins of the Children of Adam and made them bear witness about themselves, He said, ‘Am I not your Lord?’ and they replied, ‘Yes, we bear witness.’ So you cannot say on the Day of Resurrection, ‘We were not aware of this.’[2]

Al-Suddī (d. 745) commented on this verse, saying, “For this reason, there is no one on the face of the earth but that he knows his Lord is Allah, and no one associates idols with Him except that he will say ‘I found my forefathers following another religion.’”[3] The primordial covenant results in the innate impulse within people to seek out the higher power that they can sense, as they have done in some form or another throughout all of recorded history, to the point that some scientists today argue that belief in God or a higher power is hardwired into our genes.[4]

All true and revealed religion confirms and conforms to the human nature that the Creator instilled within us. The Quran refers to human religious nature as fiṭrat Allāh, the instinct and inherent disposition with which God created people.

Allah said:

So [Prophet Muhammad] as a man of pure faith, stand firm and true in your devotion to the religion. This is the natural disposition God instilled in mankind – there is no altering God’s creation – and this is the right religion, though most people do not realize it. [5]

All people were born to be believers in God, and the revelations of the Prophets simply awaken and reinforce the disposition that is already inside us. Even polytheists, who believe in multiple gods and deities, often believe that there is an even higher power, an even greater God over all of them.

Allah said:

If you asked them who created the heavens and earth, they are sure to say, ‘God.’ Say, ‘Praise belongs to God,’ but most of them do not understand.[6]

And Allah said:

If you [Prophet Muhammad] ask them who created them they are sure to say, ‘God,’ so why are they deluded?[7]

Since all humans can sense the higher power, they will instinctively turn to God in times of danger. Every person, at some point in his or her life, will have an intense experience that causes a natural reaction to turn to prayer. There are many cases of people who experience a sudden brush with death that causes them to become more faithful to their religious tradition.

Allah said:

Whenever they go on board a ship they call on God, and dedicate their faith to Him alone, but once He has delivered them safely back to land, see how they ascribe partners to him![8]

And Allah said:

Say [Prophet Muhammad], ‘Who is it that saves you from the dark depths of land and sea when you humbly and secretly call to Him [and say], ‘If He rescues us from this, we should truly be thankful’? Say, ‘God rescues you from this and every distress; yet you still worship others besides him.’[9]

And Allah said:

When something bad happens to people, they cry to their Lord and turn to Him for help, but no sooner does He let them taste His blessing then—lo and behold!—some of them ascribe partners to their Lord, showing no gratitude for what We have given them.[10]

And Allah said:

When man suffers some affliction, he prays to his Lord and turns to Him, but once he has been granted a favor from God, he forgets the One he had been praying to and sets up rivals to God, to make others stray from His path.[11]

Al-Ghazālī (d. 1111), in his autobiography, describes the innate religious disposition – that he himself experienced – as an urge for people to “seek knowledge of the reality of things.”[12] He describes this spiritual longing for truth as a “thirst” (Ta’aṭṭash) that must be quenched. It is a void and emptiness in the heart, an uneasiness with existence, which must be filled by discovering meaning and purpose to life. And while reason is an important tool to achieve faith in God, it is still merely one step along the spiritual path: “Beyond the level of reason lies another level that opens another eye by which one gains insight into the Unseen and into what will occur in the future, among other things.”[13]

Knowledge of God resides primarily in the heart and is reinforced by reason, but it is not achieved and consolidated by reason alone. There must be an authentic religious experience, the acknowledgment of greater purpose and meaning to the universe, and the taste of spiritual fruits. Hence, the early scholars of Islam defined knowledge of God not as a collection of facts and arguments, but rather as a light within the heart. Imām Mālik (d. 795) said, “Knowledge is not knowing many sayings. Verily, knowledge is only a light that Allah places in the hearts.”[14] And Ibn Rajab (d. 1393) said, “Knowledge is not memorizing many narrations or sayings, but rather it is a light that Allah places in the heart by which a servant understands the truth and he distinguishes it from falsehood.”[15]

The early scholars of Islam defined knowledge of God not as a collection of facts and...

The Experience of Peace and Contentment

The “light” of the knowledge of God is found in the guidance, spiritual direction, and the sense of peace that believers attain by practicing Islam. It can fill the spiritual void in all of us. The greatest proof for the existence and Lordship of Allah, then, is discovered in the visceral experiences of the heart through which the believers find comfort, inner-peace, moral education, and meaning in life – the spiritual fruits of true religion.

Allah said:

A light has now come to you from God, and a Scripture making things clear, with which God guides to the ways of peace those who follow what pleases Him, bringing them from darkness out into light, by His will, and guiding them to a straight path.[16]

And Allah said:

Believers, be mindful of God and have faith in His Messenger: He will give you a double share of His mercy; He will provide a light to help you walk; He will forgive you— God is most forgiving, most merciful.[17]

And Allah said:

Truly, it is in the remembrance of God that hearts find peace.[18]

The Quran promises those who have faith that they will live a “good life” and move into an infinitely greater existence in the afterlife. The peace that believers experience in this life is only a brief taste of the peace to come in the Hereafter. Reflecting upon this fact day after day in prayer contributes to a state of calm and tranquillity.

The Quran promises those who have faith that they will live a “good life” and move into an...

Allah said:

To whoever, male or female, does good deeds and has faith, We shall give a good life and reward them according to the best of their actions.[19]

And Allah said:

[But] you, soul at peace: return to your Lord well pleased and well pleasing; go in among My servants; and into My Garden. [20]

This is not a promise that believers will never experience adversity. Indeed, there will come times – Allah guarantees – in which the believers will be tested for their patience and perseverance. Rather, Allah promises that believers, through their spiritual practices and moral and theological education, will achieve a stable state of contentment and satisfaction with life.

In state of contentment, believers are better equipped to endure the inevitable vicissitudes of...

Allah said:

Your Lord is sure to give you so much that you will be well satisfied.[21]

And the Prophet said:

He has succeeded who embraces Islam, whose provision is sufficient, and who is content with what Allah has given him.[22]

Prophet Muhammad described spiritual contentment as the “sweetness of faith,” a fruit of true religion that is to be tasted and experienced. It involves authentic encounters with the divine by which a believer becomes grounded and certain in the truth of his or her faith.

The Prophet said:

He has tasted the sweetness of faith who is content with Allah as his Lord, Islam as his religion, and Muhammad as his prophet. [23]

The contentment described in Islamic texts consists of a stability of being that protects believers from oscillating between extremes of momentary euphoria and sorrow, such that they can remain in a state of calm and tranquility regardless of what is happening in their lives. It is manifested in a detachment from worldly possessions and temporal concerns (zuhd), and an end to the fear of poverty. This spiritual state of being is, in fact, what the Prophet described as true wealth.

The Prophet said:

Wealth is not in having many possessions. Rather, true wealth is the richness of the soul. [24]

And the Prophet said:

Wealth is in the heart and poverty is in the heart. Whoever is wealthy in his heart will not be harmed no matter what happens in the world. Whoever is impoverished in his heart will not be satisfied no matter how much he has in the world. Verily, he will only be harmed by the greed of his own soul.[25]

Consequently, those who achieve this state of being – along with their basic worldly needs – are truly the wealthiest people in the world.

The Prophet said:

Whoever among you wakes up secure in his property, healthy in his body, and he has his food for the day, it is as if he were given the entire world. [26]

When people are consumed by wealth, possessions, and worldly status, they will inevitably experience a void that leads to unhappiness no matter how much they have. The early Muslims used to say, “If the kings of the world and their sons knew what we have of blessings and happiness, they would fight us for it with their swords.”[27] True and stable happiness is not something that we acquire “out there,” as kings and powerful leaders might imagine. The material world cannot make us happy and content for long; we have to discover the means of happiness within the heart through our relationship with the Creator. It is the free gift of Islam for all.

When people are consumed by wealth, possessions & status they will experience a void that...

In this state of contentment, believers are better equipped to endure the inevitable vicissitudes of life. Hypocrites, those who are insincere in their religion, by contrast, are unable to pass through adversity with the same sense of stability and calm.

The Prophet said:

The parable of the believer is that of a crop which withstands the wind, for the believer continues to withstand the suffering of trials. The parable of the hypocrite is that of a cedar tree, for it does not budge until it is uprooted. [28]

By tasting these spiritual fruits, the believers strengthen their conviction with every positive and meaningful experience. Knowledge of God is consolidated through these experiences much more effectively than through logical or philosophical argument.

Al-Ghazālī writes:

Hence, when you have understood the meaning of prophecy and you have abundantly examined the Quran and traditions, you will inevitably arrive at the knowledge that [Muhammad] – peace and blessings of God be upon him – embodied the highest levels of prophecy, and that is reinforced by experiencing his teachings in regards to worship and its effects on purifying the heart… Thus, when you experience that one thousand, two thousand, and many thousands of times over, you will necessarily attain knowledge in which there is no doubt.[29]

One reason this is the most effective method to strengthen faith, as demonstrated by cognitive scientists, is that the intensity of religious experiences makes them unforgettable.[30] A believer who witnesses the benefits of spiritual practice in his or her life – day after day – will attain a level of certainty and tranquillity that they would never consider abandoning.

An Abandoned Instinct

Not everyone achieves an authentic religious experience or understands it in a proper theological framework. Human nature is not immune to alteration by misguided doctrines and philosophies that contradict our healthy instincts, even ideas that claim a basis in theism.

The Prophet said:

No one is born except upon natural instinct. Then his parents turn him into a Jew or a Christian or a Magian. As an animal produces their young with perfect limbs, do you see anything defective? [31]

In this tradition, the Prophet tells us that everyone is born to accept the simple, natural worship of one unique, powerful, and benevolent Creator. However, for various reasons, people invent religious doctrines that anthropomorphize God (ascribe human features to Him), or ascribe divine attributes to created beings (such as deifying saints and sages), or deny the Creator altogether.

When human nature and intuitive belief in one God are corrupted, either by negative experiences or the influence of others, then logical arguments may be required for a person to return back to his or her natural state.

Ibn Tamiyyah (d. 1328) writes:

The establishment and recognition of the Creator is a fundamental instinct in human nature, even though some people have done something to corrupt their nature such that they need an argument to achieve knowledge of God. This is the opinion of the majority of people, as well as the skilled debaters, that knowledge of God is sometimes achieved effortlessly and other times by argument, as was recognized by more than one of the theologians. [32]

Our intuitive beliefs, which we gain from our natural disposition and experiences, serve to anchor and inform the beliefs that we gain through reflection and conscious, rational deliberation.[33] In this way, reading and reflecting on the Quran builds upon intuitive experiences of the heart by appealing to the mind and the power of reason.

Appealing to the Mind, Reason, and Logic

Cosmological Discourse

The question that most human beings eventually ask themselves is about the nature of existence: Why am I here? Why is there a world and a universe? Why is there something and not nothing?

The Quran addresses this question with a cosmological discourse, a reminder that it was God who created everything and caused it to be. Human beings are asked to reflect upon the nature of their existence and the universe. Is it really plausible, sensible, and intuitive that the universe appeared arbitrarily for no reason?

Allah said:

Have they not thought about their own selves? God did not create the heavens and earth and everything between them without a serious purpose and an appointed time, yet many people deny that they will meet their Lord. [34]

Our intuition and experience tell us that effects have causes; things come to be because something made them that way. Since the universe is one giant series of causes and effects, it is reasonable to conclude that it had an original cause that set it all in motion.

Allah said:

Were they created out of nothing? Were they the creators? Did they create the heavens and the earth? No! They do not have faith. [35]

These verses posit three possibilities: 1) the universe appeared without any agent to bring it into existence, 2) people created themselves, or by implication 3) the universe must have been created.

The first two propositions are impossible. It could not be the case that the universe appeared from nothing without any reason, purpose, or force to inject it with its energy and direction. Everyday experience informs us that all things we witness in life, every effect we see, must have an explanation at some level. The second proposition, that people created themselves, can be dismissed on its face. As such, the only reasonable conclusion is that the universe was caused – it was created – it was made to exist by something greater and more powerful than itself.

The only reasonable conclusion is that the universe was made to exist by something greater...

Ibn Hajar (d. 1449) explains the meaning of these verses by quoting the scholar Al-Khaṭṭābī:

It is said the meaning [of the verse] is: Were they created without a creator? That is impossible, as they must have a creator. If they deny the Creator, then they must have created themselves, and that proposition is even more foolish and false, for how can something without existence create anything? If they reject these two opinions [that they came to be without a creator or they created themselves], then the proof is established upon them that they were in fact created.[36]

Scholars derive from these verses and others a logical train of thought, sometimes referred to as the cosmological argument, which determines that God, as the uncaused cause or first cause, is the most reasonable answer to the existential question. İsmail Latif Hacınebioğlu summarizes the logic of the argument in the following steps:

Everything in the universe that has a beginning must have a cause.

The universe began to exist.

Therefore the beginning of the existence of the universe must have been caused by something.

The only such cause must be an uncaused cause, or God.[37]

This line of thinking is acceptable to the mind and it finds validation in human intuition and experience. It sufficiently answers the question of why anything exists in the first place. Jubair ibn Muṭ’im (d. 677) reported that he heard the Prophet reciting these verses in the evening prayer, and he said, “My heart was about to fly!”[38] The argument in this passage was so compelling that Jubair embraced Islam.[39]

A version of this argument was used by the great jurist and theologian Abū Ḥanīfah (d. 767) in his debate with philosophers who were skeptical about the existence of God:

It was reported from Abū Ḥanīfah that some philosophers (ahl al-kalām) intended to discuss with him the establishment of the existence of one Creator. Abū Ḥanīfah said, ‘Tell me before we speak on this matter about a ship on the Tigris river moving by itself and filled with food, goods, and other materials, then it goes back by itself, then anchors itself, then unloads itself and continues to do all of this without anyone to manage it.’ They said, ‘This could never happen.’ Abū Ḥanīfah said, ‘If it is impossible for a ship, then how is it possible for the entire world in all of its vastness?’ [40]

Ibn Al-Qayyim (d. 1350) uses a similar example of a watermill spinning on its own, producing, harvesting, and distributing its crops without anyone to guide it:

What do you say about a watermill revolving over a river in perfection? Its tools are perfected, its parts measured with excellence, and it is so obvious such that no observer can find fault in its parts or its form. It presides over a grand garden within which are every kind of fruit and crops, watering them as needed. Within this garden, its shrubbery is gathered and its maintenance is assured for its well-being. Its produce is excellent and guaranteed, and all of its needs are well served. Thus, nothing of it is left disordered and none of its fruit is left to rot. Then, the value of everything produced is divided according to their needs and necessities, divided by every type and distributed, and this distribution occurs in this manner at all times. Do you find this arrangement to have a creator or harvester or manager? Or, is the arraignment of that watermill and garden without an actor or maintainer or manager? What do you find that your mind tells you in that case and how could you explain it? [41]

Common sense tells us that the ship or the watermill must have been made to move by something outside of itself. Established scientific principles agree. The great physicist Sir Isaac Newton’s first law of motion states: “Every object persists in its state of rest or uniform motion in a straight line unless it is compelled to change that state by forces impressed on it.”[42] In other words, things in the universe do not move or change their movements unless an external force acts upon them. This is true of everything in the universe, and it is just as true for the universe itself as a whole.

Those who deny the existence of the Creator attempt to challenge the a priori premise that the universe has a definite beginning. Their argument is that the universe has always existed in an endless series of causes, or an infinite regression, without the need for a first cause to set it in motion. Besides being counter-intuitive – as all things we experience in life had a beginning at some point – modern physics and cosmology now largely accept the premise of the cosmological argument as fact. The “big bang” theory postulates that the universe began from a singularity somewhere between 12 and 14 billion years ago.[43]

Tracing the series of explanations for why things are as they are leads to the reasonable...

Even if we accept the idea of an infinite regression for the sake of argument, and despite the lack of scientific or intuitive evidence for it, that does not discount the need for a cause beyond time and space to produce and sustain it. Polymath and philosopher G.W. Leibniz (d. 1716) asserts that an infinite series must still necessarily have a sufficient reason for its existence:

Let us suppose that a book on the elements of geometry has always existed, one copy always made from another. It is obvious that although we can explain a present copy of the book from the previous book from which it was copied, this will never lead us to a complete explanation, no matter how many books back we go, since we can always wonder why there have always been such books, why these books were written, and why they were written the way they were. What is true of these books is also true of the different states of the world, for the state which follows is, in a sense, copied from the preceding state, though in accordance with certain laws of change. And so, however far back we might go into previous states, we will never find in those states a complete explanation [ratio] for why, indeed, there is any world at all, and why it is the way it is… From this it follows that even if we assume the eternity of the world, we cannot escape the ultimate and extramundane reason for things, God. [44]

In the same vein, physicist Don Page gives the example of an artist drawing a circle on a canvas; the circle has no beginning or end, yet it still required an external artist to draw it.[45] The existence of the universe itself, regardless of its finite or infinite nature, must have had a Creator to set the chain of causes in motion.

Nevertheless, the cosmological argument by itself is only one piece in a much larger discourse on the nature of existence. The Quran complements the discussion with an even greater and more compelling teleological discourse – that the world was designed.

Teleological Discourse

The very fabric of the cosmos, from the macroscopic stars to the microscopic world of microbes and everything in between, contains a set of universal, natural laws that produce order. The result of these laws is that many things in the universe exhibit identifiable purpose. Our eyes were made to see. Our ears were made to hear. Our lungs were made to breathe. Our trees were made to produce fruit and clean air. Our water was made to sustain life, and so on. With so many clear instances of purpose that we repeatedly experience in the different parts of the universe, it is only logical to conclude that the entire universe itself exists as it is for a purpose.

It is only logical to conclude that the entire universe itself exists as it is for a purpose.

Indeed, teleological language is unavoidable in daily life and especially in life sciences. Biologists and medical professionals speak of the “role” and “function” of various organs (who assigned its role and function?), as well as genetic “codes” and “information” (who coded it and informed it?). Charles Darwin himself, often held up as a champion of atheist philosophies, was unable to convey his scientific ideas without frequent recourse to the language of design and purpose.[46] It is natural and intuitive for us to recognize the teleology of the universe.

Accordingly, the Quran persistently draws attention to signs (āyāt) in nature that demonstrate the grand design and power of the Creator. We are called to engage in thoughtful reflection (Tafakkur) upon all of these signs as a means of recognizing our purpose and attaining conviction.

Allah said:

There truly are signs in the creation of the heavens and earth, and in the alternation of the night and day, for those with understanding, who remember God standing, sitting, and lying down, who reflect on the creation of the heavens and earth: ‘Our Lord! You have not created all this without purpose – You are far above that! – so protect us from the torment of the Fire.’[47]

True faith, then, is not the result of an abandonment of reason, as some people imagine. The apparent dichotomy between religion and science is a false one.[48] Rather, using the faculty of reason, in concert with a sound heart, is a path to God and an Islamic virtue. Abu Al-‘Alā, one of the early Muslims, used to say, “A worshipper is given nothing better after Islam than to be provided with a sound mind.”[49]

True faith, then, is not the result of an abandonment of reason, as some people imagine.

Towards this end, the Quran explicitly appeals to the reason (al-’aql) of its readers and particularly their ability to reflect upon the teleology of existence.

Allah said:

In the creation of the heavens and earth; in the alternation of night and day; in the ships that sail the seas with goods for people; in the water which God sends down from the sky to give life to the earth when it has been barren, scattering all kinds of creatures over it; in the changing of the winds and clouds that run their appointed courses between the sky and earth: there are signs in all these for those who use their minds.[50]

And Allah said:

One of His signs is that He created you from dust and—lo and behold!—you became human and scattered far and wide. Another of His signs is that He created spouses from among yourselves for you to live with in tranquility: He ordained love and kindness between you. There truly are signs in this for those who reflect. Another of His signs is the creation of the heavens and earth, and the diversity of your languages and colors. There truly are signs in this for those who know. Among His signs are your sleep, by night and by day, and your seeking His bounty. There truly are signs in this for those who can hear. Among His signs, too, are that He shows you the lightning that terrifies and inspires hope; that He sends water down from the sky to restore the earth to life after death. There truly are signs in this for those who use their reason.[51]

And Allah said:

There are, in the land, neighbouring plots, gardens of vineyards, cornfields, palm trees in clusters or otherwise, all watered with the same water, yet We make some of them taste better than others: there truly are signs in this for people who reason.[52]

And Allah said:

By His command He has made the night and day, the sun, moon, and stars all of benefit to you. There truly are signs in this for those who use their reason. [53]

There are signs of God in everything that we see at every level: the sun, the moon, the stars, the planets, the night and day, the mountains, the oceans, the wind, the clouds, the rain, every plant and animal, all types of fruit and food and drink, the miracles of the human genome, virtues such as love, wisdom, and beauty, and much more than can be counted. The more we examine these signs and think deeply about them, the more it will reinforce our conviction.

Allah said:

We shall show them Our signs on the far horizons and in themselves, until it becomes clear to them that this is the Truth. Is it not enough that your Lord witnesses everything? [54]

Highlighting the signs of God’s work in nature is the primary and most powerful rational method of confirming the existence of the Creator. Ibn Taymiyyah writes, “Affirming the Creator by means of signs is an obligation, as it has been revealed in the Quran and Allah has made it instinctual to his servants. Though deductive arguments may be correct, their usefulness is lacking.”[55] More complicated philosophical arguments, while not necessarily incorrect, are not as potent since most common people are not trained in the terminologies and methods of philosophical argumentation. In the same passage, Ibn Taymiyyah goes on to criticize the arguments of Ibn Sīnā (d 1037), Al-Rāzī (d. 1210), and others who put forth purely philosophical arguments for the existence of God, which were weak or ineffective in his estimation.