For thousands of years, the question of the existence of God has occupied a central place in philosophy and theology, because how we structure our lives depends so heavily on the answer. The existence of God provides meaning to life, and assurance that despite the rough and tumble we see in the world around us, perfect justice and mercy will prevail in the end. God watches over us, and we are responsible for our actions. On the other hand, the stark consequences of the non-existence of God have been vividly portrayed by arch-atheist Bertrand Russell: “(Man’s) origin, his hopes and fears… are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labours of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system… only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul’s habitation henceforth be safely built.”
Despite the central importance of this question, it became marginalised in the 20th century due to a major philosophical blunder. The philosophy of logical positivism, which became widely accepted, denied any meaning to sentences containing unobservables. Hence, discussions on the existence of God fell out of fashion. Logical positivism underwent a spectacular crash when it was realised that electrons, gravity, magnetic forces and so on, were all unobservable but nonetheless meaningfully discussed by physicists. So in recent times, the question of God’s existence has once again become a topic of interest. Here we briefly review a few of the main arguments.
New life has been breathed into the ancient cosmological argument which asks ‘Who created the universe?’ Atheists used to answer by saying that the universe has always been there, and so it was not created. The creation of the universe requires a Creator. At the same time, since God is eternal and uncreated, he does not require a cause. The current atheist response to this is that they do not know who created the universe; they think God is not a plausible answer, and they are confident that they will find a better answer in due time.
Another major argument for God says that if we find a perfectly-designed watch with beautifully inter-meshing gears, which work together in perfect harmony, we can infer the existence of a watchmaker. Similarly, our beautifully designed universe proves the existence of a designer. Even atheists like Stephen Hawking have acknowledged that “The laws of science, as we know them at present, contain many fundamental numbers, like the size of the electric charge of the electron and the ratio of the masses of the proton and the electron ... The remarkable fact is that the values of these numbers seem to have been very finely adjusted to make possible the development of life.” The simplest life form, the cell, is so fantastically complicated that there is universal agreement that it could not have emerged through chance, as an accidental collocation of atoms. Currently, scientists do not have a clue as to how the cell could have originated without having been created by a designer. Similarly, confirmed atheist Francis Crick, who discovered the double helix structure of DNA, was led to remark that “An honest man, armed with all the knowledge available to us now, could only state that in some sense, the origin of life appears at the moment to be almost a miracle, so many are the conditions which would have had to have been satisfied to get it going.” Crick’s fierce commitment to atheism, combined with his realisation that life was too complex to have originated spontaneously, led him to the bizarre theory of ‘panspermia’. Apparently, advanced extra-terrestrial alien life forms with a desire to propagate life sent out rocket ships with microbes to provide seeds for the origins of life on our planet! If the heart does not want to believe, no amount of evidence for creation can convince us.
Let us, therefore, turn to the ‘reasons of the heart’ which provide evidence for God. Throughout the ages, the primary reason for people coming to believe in God has been the trustworthy character of the messengers. As the Holy Quran states, the holy prophet (peace be upon him) was sent as a mercy for all mankind, and it was his kindness which attracted people towards him. Today, as always, people will be attracted to religion if they see the effects of these beliefs in the form of an extraordinary character. To the extent that religion fosters character and creates spiritual growth, hearts will be attracted towards it. It is a sad truth that one can find extremes of corruption among people who are supposed to be religious leaders in most faith traditions. To counter this, one can easily find equally corrupt people among secular leaders, who have bombed and killed millions of innocent civilians for the sake of profits, politics and power. However, this is hardly an argument to favour religion. More convincing for modern secular mindsets are the arguments of Aldous Huxley in The Perennial Philosophy. Huxley shows that transformational experiences of unity and harmony with all of the Creation and God are the common goals and outcomes of all spiritual traditions.
Awareness of thousands of cases of medical malpractice does not prevent us from seeking medical help. In a similar fashion, malpractice of religion should not prevent us from pursuing our own quest for answers. Perhaps, the best way to find convincing evidence for God is to ask Him directly for guidance, as Hazrat Ibrahim A.S did. It is a promise of God to those who seek Him with sincerity and humility, that He will surely respond to their prayer in a way which will eliminate all doubt.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 4th, 2016.
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