Thursday, August 30, 2007

OF EVOLUTION AND THE EXISTENCE OF GOD

(By way of a critique of Prof Richard Dawkin’s “The God Delusion”)

(Dedicated to Malaysia’s 50th Anniversary of Independence.)

Kassim Ahmad

27 August, 2007

In this matter of God’s existence, scientists and the Muslim scripture, the Quran, happily agree on one thing – the need for proof. “If you claim that God does not exist, bring your proofs,” demands the Quran.[1] British biologist Richard Dawkin’s book, The God Delusion, [2] may be considered the latest scientific proofs on behalf of atheists or non-believers. In this essay, we shall examine whose proofs are valid.

It is generally accepted that belief in the existence of God entails belief, and belief is considered to be not based on reason. It is beyond reason. It is unreasonable. The generality of people, comfortable with unthinking existence, accept this mode of life as a matter of course. But there have been individuals throughout history, in all societies, who are not satisfied with this unreasonableness. They probed the question of the meaning of life and of man’s destiny on Earth and introduced religion and belief in the existence God into human life. It is tacitly assumed that belief and reason are not contraries, but rather complementary.[3]

This is man’s daily practical experience. One can say that a man does not go about his daily life with only his eyes and ears open and his reason functioning; he also goes about with faith in his heart, with faith that on his way to the office, he will not die in a car crash! He may yet die in that way, but when he sets out, he believes that nothing bad will happen to him.

Is there any logical basis to this belief? There is, and also there is none. He may reason that he is healthy and he may not die that day on his way to his office. Although we may discern some reason for his feeling, it is essentially faith. Thus, as we say, man does not live by bread alone, we may also say that man goes through the day with faith in his heart. Faith is natural to man.

Thus, there are three ways of knowing. Firstly, through our senses (sensory evidence); secondly, through our logical inference (logical or rational evidence); and, lastly, through our intuition or inspiration (supra-rational evidence). Western scientific epistemology rejects the third method, considering it unscientific, although inspiration is a daily occurrence in a man’s life.[4]

Let us get a little deeper. What is life? Where does it come from? Where is it going? Science has some, but not complete and satisfying answers. We originate from lifeless matter many millions of years ago, and we are on a long evolutionary journey, becoming living matter, evolving from a simple cell into more complex entities and ending presently in “the crown of creation” – the human being, homo sapiens – headed to where? No known answer yet. Religion, however, tells us that we were created by God, for a short sojourn on Earth to do good works, will be resurrected for Final Judgment on Judgment Day and then to be rewarded or punished accordingly, to live in an eternal Paradise, or to suffer in an eternal Hell, depending on what we do with our short Earthly lives.

Holding on to science, we live in abeyance, not knowing the whence and where of humanity. Is it any better, holding on to religion? Millions of people from all religions have lived and died, contentedly. But we know the vast differences between the various major religions’ theologies. The various scriptures are couched in metaphorical language and we are at a loss to understand their true meanings. Concepts such as “Afterlife”, “Heaven”, “Hell” and Divine rewards and punishment – what exactly do they mean? The Quran, for instance, states that none knows the meanings of the allegorical verses, except God and those deeply-versed in knowledge. [5] God’s rewards and punishments turn out to be none other than logical consequences of our own actions.[6]

It is obvious that a supreme power, God, created the world. Although we have not seen Him doing it, logical inference tells us so. Dawkins and other atheists argue that the world is eternal, even though none of them witness this eternity. They argue thus because they reject the concept of infinite regression. “If a god created the world, who created this god?” – an unending regression that is not permissible. Actually, there is no regression. God the Creator is not created. If God is created, how can we call Him God? As the Quran says, “He is the Ever-Living, the Self-Subsisting, by Whom all subsist.” [7]

Most of his arguments dismissing God’s existence boil down to his opposition to this infinite regression. He dismisses the argument from design by claiming that if it were improbable to have life on Earth begin in physico-chemical reactions, then how more improbable it would be to have a designer, i.e. God, to do it? He says, “The temptation is a false one, because the designer hypothesis immediately raises the larger problem of who designed the designer. The whole problem we started out with was the problem of explaining statistical improbability. It is obviously no solution to postulate something even more improbable. We need a ‘crane’, not a ‘skyhook’, for only a crane can do the business of working up gradually and plausibly from simplicity to otherwise improbable complexity.” (p. 158)

The obvious flaw this argument is that he assumed the Universe to be material, when there is absolutely no proof for that. Moreover, his analogy of the crane is quite misplaced. The crane needs a crane operator to operate it. Further, it needs a crane maker to produce the crane before it can be put to work. It is surprising that Prof. Dawkins deals with only part of the problem.

The Universe is a manifestation of God. It is Nature and therefore natural. God is immanent in Nature. [8] But Nature is not God, as God in more than Nature. Thus God is both natural and supernatural. It is natural because His ways, or laws, are natural and can be studied and verified scientifically. Natural selection is a methodology embedded in nature to achieve a certain purpose.[9] There is nothing strange or illogical about that. But it is obvious that it is taking the Universe from somewhere to somewhere. Why is it wrong to see a design to this process, natural though it is?

Being spiritual, God is hidden from the physical Universe. We cannot prove His existence through an epistemology that is clearly inadequate. Just as the human being is not merely physical, but also spiritual, we cannot comprehend him unless we take into consideration his spirit or his soul. So is God hidden in the Universe, just as man’s soul in hidden in his physical body. We know that it is there, because, without it, man cannot possess the qualities of intelligence, creativity and freedom. The individual man becomes a corpse once his soul leaves him. In the same way, the Universe will collapse once God is no longer immanent in it. When will this happen? It will happen, just as once it happened when there was nothing, except God. [10]

Dawkins rejects the examples of great religious personages, such as Jesus Christ, as proof of Divine presence, by arguing that such people are “either right or else insane or a liar.” (p. 92) He concludes that “ Jesus was honestly mistaken. Plenty of people are… there is no historical evidence that he ever thought he was divine.” (p. 92). The question of Jesus is not whether he was divine, for he was definitely not. The question of the historical existence such religious personages is their teachings of the existence of God and the obligation of human beings to obey God. Jesus is one example. There are many others, like Noah, Abraham, Moses and Muhammad, and several other major spiritual teachers coming for all the cultural areas of the world. Most of them essentially teach us about the One God, of the necessity to pattern our lives on His teachings and to warn us about His punishments should we deviate. Their teachings were recorded, although, due to the primitive communications technology of those days, not completely perfectly. Still those scriptures, one and all, clearly show the importance of belief in God and in living righteously.

In this connection, we wish to draw Prof. Dawkins attention to the Muslim scripture, the Quran, brought to us by Prophet Muhammad. Muhammad, being the last in a series of divine messengers to mankind, came 600 years after Jesus Christ and 2,000 years after Moses. He was born, grew up, and came to adulthood in late 6th Century and early 7th Century Arabia. At the spiritually adult age of forty, he began, bit by bit, for twenty two years, first in Mecca and then in Medina and lastly back to Mecca, to deliver the last divine message to the world that is the Quran. Different from the Old and the New Testaments (the Bible), the Quran was written down and collected into the present form at the time of Prophet Muhammad himself and under his own supervision. The Quran makes the claim, as no other scripture does, that it is divinely protected.[11] We especially want to draw attention to the contents of the Quran, especially to verses relating to the creation and the fashioning of the heavens and earth and of the human being. Amazingly, these verses reveal facts referring to scientific discoveries made only recently.[12] It is impossible for these matters to be known to anyone at that time. This is the strongest evidence that the Quran is a revelation from the All-Knowing God. It is also the strongest evidence for God’s existence.

Somewhat strangely, but acceptable to this writer, Prof. Dawkins does not want to characterize natural selection as chance. He argues: “The argument from improbability states that complex things could not have come about by chance. But many people define ‘come about by chance’ as a synonym for ‘come about in the absence of deliberate design’. Not surprisingly, therefore, they think improbability is evidence of design….A deep understanding of Darwinism teaches us to be wary of the easy assumption that design is the only alternative to chance, and teaches us to seek out the graded ramps of slowly increasing complexity… The illusion of design is a trap that has caught us before …” (p. 114)

But Dawkins does not express himself clearly on the alternative to chance that he alludes to above. What he probably wants to convey is that Darwinian natural selection is natural. There should be nothing supernatural, i.e. given from above, about it. If this is what he means, we can accept it. We can now notice his error, i.e. he opposes “Nature” to “God” and “nature” to “spirituality”, when they are not opposites!

We can now leave the question of proofs of God’s existence and non-existence, having refuted Dawkin’s major arguments. We shall now go into his arguments against belief in the existence of God and for atheism.

In my earlier essay written in Malay on this topic, I spoke about the possibility of our misunderstanding, due to gaps in language. However, having gone through his book again and again, there does not seem to be this possibility, although it is not completely a closed question.

In the first place, Prof. Dawkins’s rejection of religion and the existence of God, is premised on his claim that both are not based on reasoning. As we stated earlier, this does not apply to true religion. True religion, although based on faith, cannot be contrary to reason. In this case, faith and reason are complementary to a unified whole. We shall come back to this later.

Prof. Dawkins sees (religious) fundamentalism as the main culprit. He cites many cases, both from Christianity and Islam, where religion is dangerous and destructive, due to the blind following and fanaticism of its followers. The rise of the Christian Right in American politics during the recent decades, and the rise of religious theocracies in some Muslim countries afford reason for great concern among the more reasonable followers of both religions and warn the world of looming religious conflicts. However, we should be careful to distinguish the great majority of all religious followers who do not follow their religions or their religious leaders blindly and fanatically and exercise a modicum of reason and restraint in the practice of their religions.

However, Prof. Dawkins is right in drawing our attention to the teachings of Christian and Muslim scriptures. He cites the cases of death punishments for blasphemy and apostasy. In the case of the Quran, it must be pointed out that such punishments are not stipulated there. These punishments originate from the so-called Prophetic Traditions, which later came to be wrongly regarded as on par with, or even above, the Quran.[13]

One great difficulty about the scriptures is posed by a literal understanding in place of the truer metaphorical understanding of the texts. This has given rise to wrong interpretations, not consistent with general run of the religions’ teachings. How to overcome this danger of religions being manipulated by vested interest groups? The West’s answer is secularism – the separation of religion from politics. But, recent American politics have seen the increasing influence Christian Right and this has been answered by the Talibans and the bin Ladens of the Muslim world.

Our problem is to seek the true religion, God’s religion. To cut the matter short, the true religion is represented by Abrahimic monotheism, which originally included the teachings of Moses and Jesus Christ. Both these teachings, over the years, have reverted to polytheism. Muhammad came to correct the deviations with the Quran, which, as I have stated, is divinely protected. Thus, not only the Muslims, but the entire mankind have to search the Quran to embrace the true religion. The core of this Abrahamic monotheism is to absolutely refute any form of subservience to any and all gods (external authorities), except the authority of Truth (the One True God). By and through this, mankind, individually and collectively, will be automatically liberated – a total liberation. He will be in full charge of his own destiny. That is the full meaning of his being made God’s vicegerent on Earth.[14]

This total liberation wrought by the monotheistic world-view was displayed to the world by the feats of that Arab Renaissance. In barely sixty years, an unknown people, deep in superstition and slumber, rose to liberate the then world from the oppression of the two superpowers, the Persion and the Roman Empires, and then went on to create the first scientific culture in the world.

I stated above that there may be a problem of understanding. Several quotations from famous scientists on religion are produced, namely:-

“How is that hardly any major religion has looked at science and concluded, ‘This is better than we thought! The Universe is much bigger than our prophets said, grander, more subtle, more elegant’? Instead they say, ‘No, no, no! My god is a little god, and I want him to stay that way.’ A religion, old and new, that stressed the magnificence of the Universe as revealed by modern science might be able to draw forth reserves of reverence and awe hardly tapped by the conventional faiths.” ( p. 12. Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot.)

“I am a deeply a religious non-believer. This is somewhat a new kind of religion. I have never imputed to Nature a purpose or a goal, or anything that could be understood as anthropomorphic. What I see in nature is a magnificent structure that we can comprehend only very imperfectly, and that must fill a thinking person with a feeling of humility. This is a genuinely a religious feeling that has nothing to do with mysticism. The idea of a personal God is quite alien to me and seems even na├»ve.” (p. 15. Albert Einstein)

Dawkins himself says, “ … if there is something that appears to lie beyond the natural world as it is now imperfectly understood, we hope eventually to understand it and embrace it within the natural. As ever when we unweave as a rainbow, it will not become less wonderful.” (p. 14)

These and similar quotations reveal minds that are not adamantly rejecting faith in a power that we call God. Such minds keep themselves open to embrace new truths and realities. They are not against God or religion as such. They are only against the destructive effects of irrational beliefs, whatever religion they originate from. This is precisely the position of true Islam. Therefore, by Quranic definition, they cannot be called disbelievers.[15]

In conclusion, we should like to deal with the difficult question of the link between faith in God and morality. Is it true that moral actions can only originate from a belief in God, and without a belief in God, there can be no morality? Here one calls to mind the famous speech by a character in Dostoyevsky’s novel Brothers Karamazov in the “Legend of the Grand Inquisitor” where he states that “if there is no God, then everything is permissible.” That means even murder is permissible. This is a frightening prospect. But how have we come to this? Western thought, since Greek times, has had its materialist strain, and in modern times, it has developed through various stages until we come to the German philosopher’s Friedrich Nietzche’s “death of God” and nihilism, ending in the nakedly atheistic philosophical cul-de-suc of Logical Positivism. It is not accidental that the slaughter of humanity in World War I and World War II happened after Nietzche’s “death of God” pronouncement. It seems obvious that the belief in the existence of God and morality is logically and practically linked. Man acts on external as well as internal impulses. God’s authority acts as an external authority to impose good behavior on man. Lacking this, he loses his moorings and becomes lawless and commits hideous crimes. But external authority is only one form of authority, and a primitive form at that. God can also be an internal impulse, having been internalized in psychologically higher human psyches. Such human beings voluntarily acts righteousness because they voluntarily belief in goodness, a quality of God.

The Quran defines disbelievers as those who reject truth and act contrary to truth and justice. Believers are those who affirm and uphold truth and act to spread truth and justice. The militant disbelievers are warmongers in every society and age and inflict war on society to control and exploit its members. Worldwide hegemony that is being practiced by certain powers during the last several decades on humankind are repugnant to Nature, Nature being spiritual with God immanent in it. That is precisely the reason why it will not last and will fall and be replaced, just as Darwinian Dawkins’ natural selection will select more fit species of human beings to carry forward the banner of modern civilization.

Kassim Ahmad is a Malaysian author. He can be contacted at kasmad172@yahoo.com.my. His website is www.kassimahmad.blogspot.com


[1] “Who is it that initiates the creation, then repeats it? Who is it that provides you from heaven and the earth? Is it another god besides God? Say: ‘Show your proof, if you are truthful.’ ” (Quran, 27: 64)
[2] Bantam Press, Great Britain, 2006.
[3] The statement as to the logical link between reason and faith is explicitly made in the Quran. See Quran, 10: 100.
[4] The Quran mentions three methods whereby God communicates with man, namely (a) by inspiration or revelation, (b) through a veil, as in the case of His speaking to Moses, and (c) through His sending a messenger with a revelation. See Quran, 42: 51.
[5] “He sent down to you this scripture, containing straightforward verses – which constitute the essence of the scripture, as well as the allegorical verses. Those who harbour doubts in their hearts will pursue the allegorical verses to create confusion, and to extricate a certain meaning. None knows their true meanings except God and those well-founded in knowledge. The say, ‘We believe in this – all of it comes from our Lord.’ Only those who possess intelligence will take heed.” (Quran, 3: 7)
[6] “We have recorded the fate of every human being; it is tied to his neck. On the Day of Resurrection, We will hand him a record that is accessible. Read your own record. Today you suffice as your own reckoner.” (Quran, 17: 13-14)
[7] See Quran, 2: 255.
[8] “He is the First and the Last, the Manifest and the Hidden, and He is Knower of all things.” (Quran, 56: 3)
[9] The Quran informs us of various methods that God ordains for the world, including man, to change or evolve. Changing from stage to stage is one (see Quran, 56: 61; 71: 14; 14: 48), sifting the useful from the useless or truth from falsehood is another (see Quran, 13: 17), and replacement of an unfit group by a fitter group to do God’s bidding is yet another divine methodology (natural, by Dawkins) to achieve His purpose. (see Quran, 47: 38; 9: 39; 6: 134; 35: 15-17)
[10] “Everything perishes except His Presence.” (Quran, 28: 88) A Prophetic Tradition has it that, “God was, and there was not anything with Him. God is now as He was then.” This would render matter as dependent on God and having no independent existence. Only God is real and exists independently.
[11] See Quran, 56: 77-80. For the methodology of this protection, see Kassim Ahmad, “Religion, Logic and Reason”, www.kassimahmad.blogspot.com , note 9.
[12] For an account of this, see Maurice Bucaill, The Bible, the Quran and Science, Tripoli, Libya; n.d.
[13] See Kassim Ahmad, Hadith – A Re-evaluation, Monotheist Productions International, Tucson, Arizona, 1997.
[14] See Quran, 2: 30-34.
[15] “This is because those who disbelieve are following falsehood, while those who believe are following the truth from their Lord.” (Quran, 47: 3) We can find many such verses in the Quran.