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Islamic Ideology ( 24 Apr 2022, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Islam, Divine Action And Omniscience, Human Freedom, & Theodicy

By T.O. Shanavas, New Age Islam

25 April 2022

IN THE LIFE of devout Muslims, not a day passes without the Arabic phrase Inshah Allah (God  Willing) being uttered at the end of any conversation about future events. Without a realistic understanding of the meaning of this phrase, or the purpose, structure, and workings of the universe, we cannot begin to comprehend the process of creation, God’s omniscience in harmony with human freewill, theodicy, or divine response to human supplication. Nor too can we offer a rational, internally consistent refutation of atheists’ exclusion of God in the evolution of life and the universe.

Materialists among scientists posit that biological evolution is an “inherently mindless, purposeless process.”1 They presume that impersonal laws rule the universe and that atoms are at work in the workings of life. Biologist Richard Dawkins, a hardcore atheist, has upheld that contingency and natural selection, taking place over a long period of time, account for evolution. By this, Dawkins assumes that the blind forces of physics, chemistry, and natural selection are sufficient to explain the origin and expansion of life.2&3 He has sought to explicate the unfolding of life as the result of genes’ selfish desire to increase their opportunities for survival and reproduction. Similar opinions prevail among some scientists who advocate that there is no reason to include God in the evolution of life. One extremist fulminated that “materialism is absolute [and] we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.”4

The passionate exclusion by some scientists of God from the conversation on the origin of the universe stems from an unshakable, unwavering faith in the law of causality which most people acknowledge and which states that a given cause always produces the same effect. Gravity always pulls an apple down to the earth; snow melts in spring; drought brings the destruction of crops. Chemical reactions in any organism, amoeba or human, are explainable by the same laws of physics and chemistry that govern the universe.

Based on the law of causality scientists uphold that the future is predetermined and can be predicted through accurate knowledge of past causes. The laws of nature, they argue, are invariant, and scientific observation reveals the past as the product of those laws. Any natural event that departs from the anticipated effect of a uniform cause is classified as an “accident.” However, scientists’ predictions based on their observation of matter and the invariant laws of nature are limited by their own earlier conclusions and experiences.

To gather data, scientists peer into nature—from atoms to stars, amoebas to humankind, fungi to maple trees—and phenomena within our universe. Science has collected and categorized data into disciplines such as paleontology, comparative anatomy, biogeography, embryology, molecular genetics, and so on. The materialists’ claim that the unfolding of life is a “purposeless, mindless process” is based upon inferences from catalogued past experiences. John F. Haught, professor of theology at Georgetown University, labelled the materialistic rationalism based on past experiences with the phrase “the metaphysics of the past.”5

Contrary to a purposeless universe of science, Jews, Christian, Muslims, and other theists believe in there being a cosmic purpose. The Prophet Muhammad (s) explained the purpose of creation as follows: “Allah said: I was a hidden treasure. I wanted to be known, so I created the world.”6 The purpose of creation, according to the Qur’an, is: “And We did not create the heaven and the earth and that is between them aimlessly. That is the assumption of those who disbelieve, so woe unto those who disbelieve from the Fire” (38:27) and “I created the jinn and humankind only that they might worship Me” (51:56). The universe is only a testing station where humans are appraised for their devotion to their creator through their conduct on earth as per the rules of divine revelations. Testing is not possible without the examinee encountering challenges across a wide spectrum from goodness to evil. Thus, the Qur’an rhetorically questions: “Or did you suppose you should enter Paradise without God know who of you have struggled and who are patient?” (3:142); “Do people think they will not be tested because they say,‘We have faith?’ And certainly, We tried those before them, so Allah will certainly know those who are true and He will certainly know the liars” (29:2-3); “and know that your wealth and your children are a trial, and that with God is a mighty wage” (8:28); and “And We shall test you with something of fear and hunger and loss of wealth, lives and crops. Yet give good ridings to the patients” (2:155-157). Evidently, according to the Prophet (s) and the Qur’an, the purpose of human creation is to serve God, and the material world serves as the hardware to rate humans’ devotion to their creator prior to their final adjudication on the Day of Judgement.       

The God of Jews, Christians, and Muslims is omniscient and omnipotent and gifted free will to humans. The sacred book of Islam indirectly upholds the conscientious application of human free will: “Say, ‘Truth comes from your Lord. Let people have faith or disbelieve as they chose.’ For the unjust We have prepared a fire which will engulf them with its (flames)…” (Quran 18:29). The concurrency of divine omniscience and human free will has troubled theologians and philosophers. At least an elementary grasp of the structure, organization, and workings of the universe is essential to unravel the mystery of the consonance of God’s omniscience with human free will and to understand how God invisibly responds to human supplications without the laws of physics and chemistry. According to the Qur’an, the universe and its micro and macro components—the animate and inanimate, in human vocabulary—are alive and have an independent existence; they are organisms with faculties of self, subjectivity, and consciousness. The following verse reveal the existence of these faculties in inanimate creations such as the wind, fire, earth, galaxies, etc.: “And the thunder extols His praise, and the angels are in of awe of Him …” (Qur’an 13:13). A verse relating to Solomon reads: “So We subjected the wind to him [Solomon]; it ran softly at his command to wherever he pleased” (Qur’an 38:36). The presence of self and subjectivity in the heavens, the earth, and mountain is reflected in the following revelation:  “Verily, We did offer the trust [of reason and volition] to the heavens, and the earth, and the mountains: but they refused to bear it because they were afraid of it. Yet man took it up—for, verily, he has always been prone to be most wicked, most foolish” (Qur’an 33:72). The component part of a whole has its own independent existence and its own characteristic faculties of self, subjectivity, and consciousness. This is reflected in the verse on the Day of Judgment: “their ears and their eyes and their skins will testify against them as to what they used to do. And they say unto their skins: Why ye testify against us? They say: God hath given us speech, who giveth speech to all things, and who created you at the first, onto whom ye are returned” (Qur’an 41:20-21). The verse pertaining to the beginning of creation (The Big Bang) enlightens that the elementary particles are alive with its own psyche and individuality:  “Then He directed Himself to the heaven and it is a vapour, so He said to it and to the earth: Come both, willingly or unwillingly. They both said: We come willingly”  (41:11). According to the last verse quoted, vapour (a plenum of elementary particles after the Big Bang) has also self and subjectivity. The self, subjectivity, and potential of the lower order of creation may be minimal or hard to detect for humans: “The seven heavens and the earth and all that is therein praise Him, and there is not a thing but hymneth His praise; but ye understand not their praise. Lo! He is ever Clement, Forgiving” (17:44). As God created higher orders of being, He carefully gifted each of them with a higher level of subjectivity and potential so that they can understand more complex messages from God and react to complex matters in the outside world. Moreover, the entire universe as one piece and its parts, for example ears and skin, have assigned duties and responsibilities. As Qur’an 41:12 states: “He assigned to each heaven its duty and command …” Thus, our incredible live universe and its individual parts act and react, give and take, reward and retribute, etc. just as a living organism. The events emerging from the activities of the live universe and its parts are caused by natural laws and are natural events for science. The universe is like a human body: it is host of hundreds of billions of bacteria, yet we assume it to be a single organism.

The universe is not only a living organism but also works as a supercomputer with programs installed at its birth. Thus, the universe and its individual parts with self, subjectivity, and consciousness know what they can and cannot do and what God wants them to do. Every situation, circumstance, or ambiance that a human faces in life emerges from the self-driven independent or collective actions, reactions, and interactions of the components of the entire universe based on its gifted potential. The universe is an all-in-one perfect machine, a computerized organism that is automatized to perform its duties and functions without constant monitoring and intervention by its designer. God is perfect, and His process of creation and its products are impeccable, so that whatever He created has the potentiality to do whatever He intended it to execute. A perfect machine functions by itself without its inventor’s intervention; only then is a product optimally perfect. The Qur’an vouches for this: “Who has created the seven heavens one above another, you can see no fault in the creations of the Most Beneficent. Then look again: ‘Can you see any rifts?’” (67:3) and “[such is] the artistry of Allah, who disposes of all things in perfect order: for he is well acquainted with all that ye do” (27:88). God created an automatized universe with mind-blogging precision so that it would carry out all its duties and operate without constant divine supervision to function as a testing station.

God programmed the universe to self-generate its future between the Big Bang (the beginning of universe) and the Big Crunch (the end of the universe). Within the divinely installed program, the circumstances, situations, environments, and ambiance emerge from the independent actions, interactions, and reactions of individual components or many components together. God, being the programmer, knows about the potential of every component—every circumstance, situation, environment, and ambiance that would emerge from all activities. The automatized universe is programmed with the potential to run zillions of event trains and zillions of crossing junctions from zillions of chosen actions of micro and macro components of the universe. God created a network of interconnected roads, highways, and byways of the future between the Big Bang and the Big Crunch. God knows what everything created can do and cannot do in any given circumstance or situation. God does not intrude into the operations of the universe and its components. For humans, God has given guidance though prophets for the preferred choice of action in every situation and the actions that to be avoided. Humans are appraised based on their chosen response to situations emerging from the activities and interactions of the entire world of creation.

There is wisdom behind the creation of this automatized live universe with self and subjectivity. God with His indefinite generosity divested to the universe and its components the task of producing future situations and circumstances for humans to manage or resolve. God becomes the best judge of all judges—“Is not Allah the most just of judges?” (Qur’an 95:8)—by divine self-divestiture so that no human can implicate God for their sin. The Qur’an states plainly that “Indeed, Allah does not wrong people in the least, but it is people who wrong themselves” (10:44). The conceptualization of the universe as a flawless, autonomous, computerized, and perfect organism with the faculty of self, subjectivity, and consciousness lays the framework for the consonance of divine omniscience and human free will. The interplay of the activities of the universe and its components creates both good and evil situations. What God created was the potentiality for the emergence of good and evil from the activities of the entire world of creation. The perfect automatized live universe vindicates the divine goodness and providence in view of the existence of evil (theodicy) because the emergence of evil results from the interplay of the components of the universe. Christian theologian and biochemist Arthur Peacocke described the universe as an unfinished movie wherein actors (God’s creatures, including humans) in their individual hierarchical ranks freely choose their roles in the emerging scenarios from the interplay of other components of the universe. Chance and unpredictability are inevitable and are, in fact, built into such a scenario. The Sufi poet Jalaluddin Rumi described this universe as a battlefield where atom struggles with atom such as faith against infidelity. In this struggle, some benefit and others suffer.

Unlike “the metaphysics of the past” (the past creating the future) of science, God “creates everything” (Qur’an).  In the framework of the universe at its onset, God introduced in the potential to materialize a thing or an event through the acts of humans and other components of the universe. So, without the potential nothing could be actualized.  Thus, God is the creator of everything. In the Islamic context, time is a conveyor belt. The experienced past is irretrievable, while the present is only a fleeting moment that we cannot hold on to. On the other hand, we experience the continuous coming of the future. The future in the material world does not exist until it is created by the actions, interactions, and reactions of an entire world of creation. The Islamic creed regarding the coming of future events is grounded in the phrase Insha Allah and the verse “And never say about anything, ‘Behold, I shall do this tomorrow,’ without [adding] ‘if God so wills’” (Qur’an 18:23). Muslims say Insha Allah after every statement pertaining to the future, even for simple tasks such as meeting a friend at 4 p.m. tomorrow. The future is not simply born without cause. Future, for humans, is unpredictable and emerges from the activity of an entire world of creation or one of its creations. The emerging future circumstances, situations, conditions, scenes, events, dilemmas, predicaments, crises, etc. are where humans are challenged and probed for their submission to God. The divine messages demand that humans act morally, ethically, justly, and compassionately in every situation that they face with every arriving moment of the future. Thus, God judges humans based upon their logical, ethical, just, exemplary, compassionate, and truthful management of emerging situations/events, or otherwise. To label the above exposition of verse 18:23, we shall borrow John F. Haught’s phrase the “metaphysics of the future”5 and modify it to read the “Islamic metaphysics of the future.” An unfortunate and horrendous event in Muslim history would explain the concept of the coming future through choices. Events following the Prophethood of Muhammad (s) presented a choice for Hind bint Utba, one of the foremost enemies of the Prophet (s), to join the distinguished companions of the Prophet (s) such as Humza, Ummer, etc. She decided to actualize the bad choice of cannibalizing Hamzah. She will be judged based on her action.

For those who do not comprehend the concept of the metaphysics of the future and the automatized universe, a good illustration is that of a computer game. When the programmer sets up the parameters of a game, he/she gives the players multiple options for each moment of play. The players are responsible for the outcome of each move that they make, no matter whether the choice is right or wrong. The programmer knows what the result of each choice can be, and what must be done to complete the game. Moreover, a good programmer will include events that are outside the direct control of the players. Thus, God is the ultimate source of all that occurs, since God created and programmed the universe. This does not preclude us from having real and meaningful choices in our lives. God, being the creator and the programmer of the universe, knows anything and everything within it and what will happen for every action as well as its reaction, and this is truly what is meant by Qdar of Allah (the concept of divine destiny in Islam).

For some, libertarianism is incompatible with the sovereignty of God. Of course, God can dictate every action and decision of everything in creation if He chooses so. God can also make the opposite choice of abstaining from enforcing His absolute power, leaving the ultimate decision to humans and other creatures.

In mandatory daily prayers, Muslims recite the opening chapter of the Quran, al-Fatihah. “Guide us (O Lord) to the path that is straight, the path of those You have blessed, not of those who have earned Your anger, nor of those who have gone astray.” These verses imply to many Muslim and non-Muslim minds that God does lead some of us astray. Based upon the Islamic metaphysics of the future, educed from the verse 18:23 (Qur’an), God is the source of all potential possibilities and choices in the coming future. When humans and other creatures transcribe the selected option into visible material realty, it becomes the worldly monument of divine creation. God does not intrude into the human process of selection from the available options of the coming future. Therefore, based upon the Islamic metaphysics of the future, the phrases “God misled” and “God guided” refer to the good and bad choices in the coming future emerging from the activities of components of the universe.

According to the Qur’an, God will answer our prayers: “‘Call upon Me and I will answer you...’” (40:60). How does God respond to prayer without violating the laws of nature? Based on the following verse, God demands that humans explore and discover His process of original creation and later creation in response to human supplications: “Say [Muhammad to your people]: ‘Travel through the earth and see how Allah did originate creation; so will Allah produce a later creation: for Allah has power over all things” (Quran: 29:20). If it is humanly inconceivable to discover and explain God’s process of creation, all-knowing God would not have decreed to research and learn “how Allah did originate creation … will produce a later creation.” Moreover, the verse voices that all tools are necessary to learn the process of creation available on the earth (“travel through the earth and see how …”). Although Almighty God’s means to act is infinite, based on the above verse, whatever method God applies to respond to supplications is discoverable by humans. Modern theologians and scholars of science and religion have been contemplating how to understand God’s action in the world. The mystery of the divine process of creation is buried in the structure, organization, and operation of universe, and specifically in the quantum mechanical process.

Classical physics and chemistry, the collection of theories that existed before the advent of quantum theory, describe the nature at an ordinary (macroscopic) scale. But classical physics and chemistry alone are not sufficient for describing the nature at small (atomic and subatomic) scale. Thus, Max Plank initially explained the photoelectric effect (old quantum theory), and later Neil Bohr, Erwin Schrodinger, Werner Heisenberg, and Max Born advanced into fully developed quantum theory or quantum mechanics. The fundamental feature of the theory is that humans cannot predict with certainty what will happen at the atomic and subatomic level, but they only can give probabilities or averages.

According to quantum theory, the behaviour of matter at atomic and subatomic level is unpredictable. No one can say, for example, that a particle was in a specific position in the past or that it will occupy a specific place at some time in the future. Physicist Paul Davis explained it that “A particle such as an electron does not appear to follow a meaningful, well-defined trajectory at all. One moment it is found here, the next there. Not only electron but also all known subatomic particles—even whole atom-- cannot be pinned down to a specific motion.”7 The more accurately we measure the momentum of a particle, the less we can calculate its position. The more we know about the particle’s position, the less we can say about its momentum. Our partial information about the position of a particle only yields the probability that it is within a certain distance of a particular point. The most famous part of the uncertainty principle states that no matter how a quantum particle is prepared or an experiment upon it arranged, it is impossible to precisely predict its position and at the same time its momentum. For example, it is not possible to predict when a radioactive atom will decay. In a uranium (238U) sample, the sudden decay of a specific atom into thorium (234Th) through the emission of alpha particles can only be computed as a probable occurrence. We are unable to explain why a particular uranium sample has decayed while another identical uranium atom next to it has not. We may calculate a certain chance that the decay will take place within the next ten seconds. The probability exists that the remaining atoms may decay over a period of ten thousand years. But no one can give a definite answer regarding the sequence and time of decay.8

If no one can ascertain what is occurring with atoms and subatomic particles—the basic building blocks of the universe and all DNA-based life—how can it be possible to precisely predict the future of human beings or anything else in the universe? This scientific paradox of unpredictability in quantum theory bothered even Einstein, who said: “God does not play dice.” Niels Bohr responded by saying: “Einstein, stop telling God what to do?”9 There is a reason for God to create matter that is not precisely predictable at the atomic and subatomic level.

God did not want to place all of His creation in the same spiritual reality. Therefore, He created matter to be the building block of the universe and governed its macro level operation through an immutable system of physical and chemical laws within which it functions in unpredictable ways. With the installation of stubborn chemical and physical laws to function in a uniform and repetitive fashion at the level of larger components of the universe, God made the larger components of the universe comprehensible to the minds of humans, the best of His creations, so that they could build the things that are needed for daily life. God did not intend the same laws of classical physics and chemistry to work as a programmed machine all the way down to the atomic and subatomic levels. By doing so, God answers human supplications with macro level visible responses by generating small fluctuations (jump of a quantum of energy) in the quantum mechanical process.10 In this way, God’s response to His faithful will be invisible to atheists, while the faithful are thankful for their divine gift.

Quantum theory gave birth to a new chemistry that explained how atoms are bonded together to form molecules. When two atoms that are initially separated are brought together in a chemical reaction, the electrons in their outermost shell (electrons the farthest from the nucleus) share one orbit. Such sharing in a chemical reaction is called a covalent bond (Figure 1).

In covalent bonding, atoms share electrons to form all molecules, including ordinary substances such as water, methane, and so forth. In some cases, covalent bonding can lead to the formation of huge, extended macromolecules such as polymers. One example of such a polymer is deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), the basic building block of life. 

Figure 1. FORMATION OF A COVALENT BOND

The formation and maintenance of the structure of compounds such as DNA is ultimately the result of a quantum mechanical process in which the behaviour of atoms remains predictable only as a statistical average. Each thought and movement of all life forms remains inseparably connected to electricity and chemistry, and ultimately to unpredictable quantum events as well. If the behaviour of matter and formation of compounds is absolutely unpredictable, can the future of any creature be precisely predictable? The reply of quantum physics is a resounding “no,” because every DNA-based creature is only a mosaic made of atoms in chemical form. The best calculations that modern science can offer are only the averaged probabilities of thousands of quantum events.

Chemists have discovered that all components of the physical universe, including genes, are made of atoms arranged in different fashions. Genes are made of DNA. DNA is a collection of nucleotides. Phosphate, sugar, and four amino acids (thymine, cytosine, adenine, guanine) are chemically connected with covalent chemical bonds to form nucleotides. A genetic mutation can produce a major effect on the outward physical features of an organism. Alternatively, a mutation may lead to disease such cancer, and reverse mutation can cure the disease. Mutations depend on changes in individual molecules due to the breaking of specific atomic covalent bonds that involve quantum mechanical processes. The physicist-theologian Robert J. Russell pointed out that “this is ultimately a quantum process at the atomic level initiated by the breaking of a single hydrogen bond.”11 In other words, God built life around the chemistry that provides “the amplifying mechanism for quantum events.”12 The physicist William Pollard remarked that if chemistry is the physical appearance of an organism (phenotype), the quantum fluctuation is the driving cause (genotype).

When God prompts a small quantum fluctuation (jump of a quantum of energy) in the atomic or subatomic world to make or break a gene’s covalent chemical bond or bonds, materialists may see a mutation, the accidental birth of a species, or an unexplained cure for an incurable disease. For atheists, it is only a random or accidental event with no known cause. For the faithful, however, the unexplained resolution of his/her suffering from the divine act in the quantum mechanical process is God’s acknowledgement of his/her prayer.

This construction of understandable chemistry coupled with unpredictable quantum physics is the ingenious, intelligent design of the all-knowing and all-powerful God. In such a design of the universe, God has the freedom to create any being or substance, living or nonliving, without disturbing any laws of classical physics and chemistry through quantum events in the atomic world. In this material universe, therefore, God does play dice between the Big Bang and the Big Crunch at atomic and subatomic level by sending messenger moments of the future containing His proposals to His creatures. The indeterminism at atomic level (quantum mechanical process) is the intrinsic characteristic of our material universe. Everything or anything that we experience through our five senses is the amplification of the imperceptible quantum mechanical process. Therefore, God, by acting at the indeterminate quantum mechanical process, can transparently respond to prayers without violating any classical laws of physics and chemistry.

Another characteristic of the world that we live in is the amazing harmony of our free will with the omniscience of the Almighty. Human experiences are linked to time and space. In order to integrate God’s omniscience with human experiences of the past, the present, and the future, God created time with an elastic property. God enlightened us on this relative characteristic of time centuries before Albert Einstein did (“but lo! A day is like one thousand years of what you reckon” Qur’an 22:47; “On a Day when He will call you, and you will answer by praising Him, thinking all the while that you tarried (on earth) but a little while” (Qur’an 17:52)). Thus, time can shrink to a freezing halt, as in the case of God, or expand for the rest of creation, depending on its space, speed of motion, gravity, etc. Hence, human experience of yesterday, today, and tomorrow is a concurrent event for God, who is outside time and space. Therefore, in this automatized universe, there is freedom, free will, and randomness for the human species without infringement on God’s omniscience.

The universe from the Big Bang to the Big Crunch is maze. At both ends, all matter and forces (gravity, electromagnetism, strong and weak forces) are crushed into a mathematical point known as singularity. The maze is fabricated out of alleys, roads, highways, and byways that lead to different futures for the universe until it meets the Big Crunch (the Last Day, or end of the universe; see Figure 1). God already mapped out (created) multiple futures for the components of the universe. But it is still up to humans and other components of the universe—day by day or moment by moment—to decide for themselves which alley or road to step into. God the merciful does not interfere or force humans into making the choice. God voluntarily limits His absolute omnipotence, as stated in the Qur’an: “And had your Lord willed, whoever in the earth would have believed altogether. Will you then coerce the people to become believers?” (10:99). God knows that human free will would be non-existent without voluntary limitation of His omniscience. 

Therefore, al-Rahman (the most beneficent) and al-Rahim (the most merciful) set a voluntary limitation of His omniscience as reflected in the verse. The self-imposed limitation being voluntary, it does not imply any inherent limitation in God’s ultimate power and omniscience. At the same time, humans are free to choose their future, but a human future is limited by a predetermined maze and the situations and circumstances emerging from the

activity of the entire world of creation. In other words, God knows all available futures, and God, being the most merciful and most benevolent, has voluntarily opted not to know which future path His creatures would choose to step into until after His creatures choice is actualized.

1. Barbour, Ian G. Religion and Science. New York: HarperCollins, 1997. p. 81.

2. Dawkins, Richard. The Blind Watchmaker. New York: W.W. Norton, 1986.

3. Dawkins, Richard. River out of Eden. New York: Basic Books, 1995.

4. From Richard Lewontin’s review of Carl Sagan’s book, The Demon & Haunted World:

 Science as a Cradle in the Dark, in the New York Review of Books, January 9, 1997.

5 Haught, John F. God After Darwin. Boulder: Westview Press, 1999, pp. 83-88.

6. Nasr, Seyyed H. Islamic Spirituality Foundation. New York: The Crossroad Publishing

 Company, 1991.

7. Davis, Paul. God and the New Physics, pp 101-102.

8. Russell, Robert J. “Special Providence and Genetic Mutation: A New Defense of Theistic

 Evolution,” Evolutionary and Molecular Biology, p. 202.

9. https://tildesites.bowdoin.edu/~naculich/3140scans/dice.pdf

10. Alston, P. William. Divine Action, Human Freedom, And The Laws of Nature. Quantum

 Cosmology And The Laws of Nature, Scientific Perspectives on Human Action. Robert John

 Russell, Nancy Murphy, and C.J. Ishan. Editors. 1999.

11. Russell, Robert J. “Theistic Evolution: Does God really Act in Nature?” Center for Theology

 and the Natural Science Bulletin, 15.1, 1995.

12. Miller, Kenneth. Finding Darwin’s God. New York: HarperCollins Publishers Inc., 1999 p.

 206.

 

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