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Why I Believe in God — A Muslim Speaks

By F. Kamal

 

(Excerpt from book "Easily Understand Islam")

Reason #1

Why do we exist? The argument of random evolution cannot be satisfying for the thoughtful individual. If we analyze the probability of our ordered world forming purely by chance, the probabilities are just too infinitesimally low. There are so many variables that must coincide – some with very low degrees of tolerance for “error.” Moreover the laws of statistics themselves function to make the assumption of pure chance less appealing. For example, the likelihood of two coin flips being tails is ½ x ½ = ¼ , of three coin flips ½ x ½ x ½ = 1/8, and of four coin flips ½ x ½ x ½ x ½ = 1/16 and so on. Notice how rapidly the likelihood decreases by increasing the number of events. Yet for us to exist, we depend on the optimal confluence of so many, many events. For example, the distance between the earth and the sun is on average 93 million miles from the sun. This is just the right distance to support life. If the earth had been just slightly closer all life would have perished from the heat, slightly further and we would have all frozen. While the earth’s rotation allows us to enjoy 24 hour days – there is no reason that, had things been different, and the earth’s rotation slower, each individual night could not have stretched for many, many months. This effect alone would eradicate most, if not all, life on earth. Nor is there any reason that the earth’s rotation around the sun should be 365.2422 days1. If instead, winters alone lasted 43 years—for example, life would have a hard time establishing itself. If our atmosphere were made of hydrogen, helium, methane, and ammonia (as is, for example, the atmosphere on Jupiter) without the requisite amount of oxygen, life on earth would perish. If water did not exist with different properties as a liquid, gas, and solid, how would the water cycle and current flows replenish and recycle the important ecological and nutritional cycles maintaining the web of life. Without a protective earthly atmosphere life would be vulnerable to meteors, sharp temperature fluctuations, cosmic/uv rays—all threatening life in their own way. And we have only mentioned a few environmental variables. If we were to consider, for example, the existence of something as extraordinarily complex as an animal, the probabilities would again plummet.

For argument’s sake, let us consider humans. In order to describe the extraordinary structure that is a human, let us structurally decompose a human into modular functions/parts. Even then a simple module like movement itself turns out to be extremely complex. Computer and robotic labs in modern advanced universities with some of the smartest people in the world, using different algorithms, robots and artificial intelligence had labored for years to master this and other simple biological functions. (Yet a spider does it so easily.) How likely is it that a PhD student in a robotics lab could just randomly roll together random parts and arbitrary combinations to form a functional robot? How about if he or she used a random letter generator to write the code for a functional artificial intelligence program? (We are talking about probabilities well, below 1% here). And we just mentioned movement (e.g. walk, run, climb, jump, etc.). How about talking, listening, etc. ?

Scientists have even worked for several years on enhancing an “artificial nose.” This contrasts with the elegant power and sophisticated precision of bloodhounds and parasitic wasps. How about all the other senses?

The probabilities fall so rapidly. We have not even discussed the building of a heart, kidney or brain. If we look at biological processes at the molecular level of biochemistry, we see huge numbers of exquisitely precision-tooled processes acting with extraordinary synchronization and sequencing. We have highlighted a very limited number of variables to flush out the gist of the argument, and yet the combined probabilities have dropped so precipitously.2

For by now, it should be obvious to the reader that there are millions and millions of factors that this line of reasoning could highlight, each factor further depressing the ultimate probabilities for life. While even if such events occurring purely by chance may be possible, it is simply not probable. So to cling to the notion that an event of infinitesimally low probability has taken place by chance is rather incredible. If a person is comfortable with odds like that, I am sure gamblers would be fighting with each other to meet this individual. (I can see it now: “You mean you’re not willing to put your money where your mouth is?” “I tell you what, I’ll give you trillion-to-one odds …”). Yet it never fails to amaze me that individuals who would not gamble even a thousand dollars on insane (sorry... there really is no other word) odds, do so with God, without a second thought. 3

Example #1: Consider if scientists were to discover an extraordinarily advanced empty spaceship during a probe of a planet or galaxy. How many scientists would explain its existence as a random dice roll by the universe? Would this be a mainstream, credible scientific explanation? What would happen if abandoned buildings and cities were discovered next? Would talk of an intelligent creator of these things be summarily dismissed by the scientific community?

Yet we see around us incongruous signs of objects and processes of extremely high organization. Who is the Creator? Can something come out of nothing (without explanation)?

Reason #2

While science offers much for man and should definitely be studied, its value should be kept in perspective. Science cannot become a god. Although science is extremely useful when used properly, if used alone or elevated to the status of a god, it can also be very unsatisfying for the truly probing mind. Science is used to answer what I would call “How? Questions” not “Who? Or Why? Questions.” While no one contests the value of answering “How? Questions,” raising science to a god and refusing to answer “Why? Questions” itself causes many problems. A certain narrow mindedness and blind myopia can thus result with people who take science as their god, relegating “Why? Questions” to, at best, a category of questions not worthy of being brought up. But if a mind is really thirsty for knowledge, it should ask if such disingenuous evasions suggest a selective use of intellect.

Science excels at answering “How? Questions” but is not always good in answering “Why? Questions.” For example the science of mechanics and physics explain the How? of classical mechanics (by F=MA, d=vt, etc. for example) which is very useful for determining missile trajectories, etc. Yet “Why?” Do these “laws” hold? Alternatively, Big Bang can, with an initial mass and initial conditions, do a good job of explaining certain data (e.g. cosmic data), answering a good “How? Question” but completely abandoning the “Why Question” of why do the initial mass/energy/conditions exist?

If you read an engineering book on flying, it will say that the lift caused on the airplane wings is due to the Bernoulli principle. The airfoil curvature on takeoff causes the upper air to move faster then the lower air flow. This causes a pressure imbalance that provides lift to the plane. While this is a very good “How? Question” and answer, it does not explain “Why?” Bernoulli’s principle exists in the first place. Why does a steel ship float? The answer by science is that the ship is primarily air (not steel, e.g. the inside of the ship). Since air has a lower density than water it rises to the top, because lower density items rise above higher density items. The upthrust on the ship is determined, according to Archimedes Principle, by the weight of the displaced water. It doesn’t really answer the “Why? Question” but rather a “How? Question.” The “Why? Question” is why does Archimedes Principle hold? Or, for that matter, why do different laws of thermodynamics, gravity, and aerodynamics hold? You see, ultimately, observed phenomena are reduced to models and the functioning of such models to certain axioms and laws, but no explanation is offered for why these fundamental “laws,” principles, equations, axioms, or whatever you want to call them, exist.

It could be argued that scientists do, over time, try to answer “Why? Questions.” After all, models do evolve in response to new data. Classical Newtonian mechanics equations can evolve and can be retrofitted with their relativistic counterparts to deal with Einstein’s theories, for example.

These new formulations however, produce their own “Why? Questions.”4 So, in a sense these advances really are answering “How? Questions”, not a certain class of “Why? Questions.” In a sense, these advances are giving more sophisticated answers to “How? Questions.”5

Depending on the sophistication of models, such models can evolve and have recursive like elements and/or themselves recursively become part of models. As model chains grow they may better answer how questions. Yet parts (such as some axioms and assumptions) escape the realm of the model’s ability to explain. While chains of these models can be built, the chains are not all-encompassing, and there will be some part, axiom or assumption that remains unexplained by the current chain of models.

Or perhaps for those more literary minded, might prefer this quote from Shakespeare’s Hamlet:

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy. 6

At any rate, this approach, e.g. to carefully analyze “How? Questions” and ignore a class of “”Who? And Why? Questions”, is so intellectually one-sided as to be obvious to even the uneducated and very young.

On a different note:

Writing this triggered a childhood recollection of mine. Since it was a long time ago the details may well be fuzzy, but the essence I remember very clearly.

When I was a child, an uncle shared with me a valuable lesson he had learnt. He told me how he had once become very angry with another relative of ours. This other person had for a short while, wielded a certain amount of economic influence in a poor, developing nation. My uncle felt that the policies enacted by this relative had harmed individuals, and had indignantly let him know that.

In response he was told a parable by that relative that went something like this:

You see someone sitting on high wall. Right below him another man is swinging his arms about wildly, drowning in a deep pool of water. You fully expect the man to jump in and rescue him, but to your disgust he leaps away out of sight to safety.

What a terrible man you think!

But what you did not know was that on the other side of that high wall was another pool with three women and their babies that were drowning, and that he had jumped in to save them.

I only recount this because it warns me how dimly one can sometimes perceive truth.

Truth sometimes is difficult to perceive, to tease out. Shining the light of examination even at a slightly different angle can reveal a completely different facet of the truth. But the truth may remain obscured since it may be difficult to extract and properly analyze 100% of the data. Science is a wonderful tool, and should be rigorously and responsibly pursued, but it can not be always be a perfect proxy for truth as it can take 180 degree U-turns as theories are refined and new data unearthed. Nor is there a complete guarantee that all the information that exists can be observed and processed by us.7

(Perhaps in the same way that if one were living a two–dimensional world, one may never “see” three –dimensional cubes if they did not cross, or interact with, our plane of existence.)

Reason #3

Aside from the nature of information external to ourselves, there is the age-old question of the core fragility of our link to information.

The famous ancient classical Chinese story of the butterfly and the man illustrates this perfectly:

A person slept, and dreamt that he was a butterfly. Upon waking, he did not know if he had been a man who had dreamt that he had been a butterfly, or was now a butterfly dreaming that he was a man. In other words our conclusions can only as strong as the information we suppose to be true.

Muslims perhaps might say we need a connection with the Divine (typically though a prophet) because God is the only absolute truth, and it is through God that we can begin to ultimately know essential truth (e.g. through prophets).

Yes, I realize that needing a God does not mean God exists, but it does mean that if God existed, clearly we would need Him, and that would be one of the confirmations of the truth that God exists. (Yes, I realize that this point is a little subtle.)

Reason #4

How does one explain instinct? Science is content with relegating things it cannot currently answer temporarily to “black boxes” to be dealt with at a later time (hopefully when instruments become more powerful, etc.). Even if such mechanisms are unveiled in the future, such discoveries are sure to prompt awe at the magnificent inner working of the universe. There are some remarkable cases of instinct in nature. Perhaps one should not overlook, devalue or discount them. Should not one ask questions? How does a bird know how to build a nest or fly for the very first time, a mammal give birth without having done it before, young ones immediately upon birth know how to nourish themselves, a beaver build a (concave) dam? Who is “the ultimate programmer of this animal.?” And why does this code exist? (That is a “Why? Question” as opposed to the “How? Question,” e.g. how does the program work?)

Reason #5

The beauty of the universe. The universe is not just functional, it is beautiful! It is difficult looking at a beautiful waterfall, gazing at a star-filled night, or walking through a forest to not believe that there is a God. Does such extraordinary beauty just randomly appear? What artist could just walk away from his easel and brush and come back later and have his canvas filled with the most beautiful and heart-felt pictures by chance only? Not only is there beauty in the physical worlds, but also in the virtual worlds of mathematics and physics. What thinking scientist cannot marvel at the extraordinary elegance of so many laws governing so many seemingly complex and unrelated phenomena? Is there not some creative unseen Intelligence at work here? Muslims cannot help but stand in awe with each unfolding discovery of science as the Majesty of God’s creation unfolds before them. “How great is the subtlety, elegance, beauty, and artistry of our Lord?”, Muslims marvel.

Today’s discoveries uncover worlds previously unknown, such as the worlds uncloaked by the electron microscope and strange and wonderful creatures discovered in the latest deep sea discoveries. The extraordinary, delicate, elegant connections in the web of ecology seem to be a testament to an extraordinary Creativity, Artistry, and Intelligence, not just random dice rolls 8 , behind our universe.

Reason #6

Let us assume for a moment that you do not believe in God, Heaven, Hell and the Day of Judgment. Consider this: What if God doesn’t exist and you die without believing in God? Will you be jumping up and down with joy once you die? Hardly! Consider next what if God exists and you die without believing in God? Will you be jumping up and down with joy once you die? Hardly!

Reason #7

On a personal note, I feel I do see some signs of truth in the extraordinary impact of Islam on individuals, families, communities and the actual course of history. While I do not stress them, it would not be right to completely dismiss these signs without any thought. I do realize this is an area about which some may differ with me. I mention them, not at any length, but merely to give a flavor of them. For example, not too many forces in history have managed to transform some of their greatest enemies to their greatest defenders. Umar, for example, went from being a powerful persecutor of Islam and to almost killing the prophet Muhammad into one of the greatest Muslims and the 2nd Caliph (leader) of Islam.

The transformation of Malcolm X is also an interesting story. Here was an individual filled with great anger and resentment toward whites, who, after encountering Islam, was able to look beyound race for assessing his relationship with whites.

Malcolm X is not alone. Others have confronted environments of drugs, gangs, prostitution and crime and worse, and pulled themselves out of that morass. Islam has transformed the lives of so many lost individuals who then strive to do what is right. It can succeed where sometimes social spending, social engineering, and rehab programs cannot. Clearly, Islam touches something deep in the human soul.

It is also illustrative to read the stories of the companions of the Prophet and how he transformed a nation that buried alive its infant daughters, lived in a state of ignorance and immorality, worshipped idols, committed all sorts of abominations and shameful deeds, broke the ties of kinship, treated guests badly and the strong exploited the weak into a nation that soon after the advent of prophet Muhammad became a beacon for justice, truth and compassion. The impact of Muhammad on the entire course of history was so dramatic, so unprecedented, that even a non-Muslim, when writing a popular book ranking the 100 most influential people in human history choose to place him at the top of the list.

Not only was an entire new system of life brought to a motley, backward, ignoble people, but it transformed them so rapidly in a few years as to completely overtake and overpower the superpowers of the day: the mighty Persian and Byzantine Empires.

Reason #8

How can the “phenomenon of Muhammad” be explained? How can someone who was illiterate suddenly be associated with the Quran. The Quran has deep acoustical rhythms, literary merit, and wisdom. It is easily the pinnacle of the whole Arabic language. Yet Prophet Muhammad was illiterate. Also what motive would Muhammad have for his mission? His early years were punctuated by persecutions and sorrow. Some of his followers were brutally tortured and killed, some forced to migrate, his clan was boycotted, and he was even stoned by the children in the village of Ta’if. With endless misery and almost certain extermination in sight, what motive would there be to continue? Was the motive wealth, status or prestige? What was his motive? Yet even when the Quraish (his tribe) offered him great wealth and kingship if he abandoned his mission, he refused. On one occasion, he told his uncle, “By God if they put the sun in my right hand and the moon in my left on condition that I abandon this course, until God has made me victorious, or I perish therein, I would not abandon it.” Not only is there difficulty in establishing motive but one must remember that the Prophet had established himself (long before his prophethood) as someone known for his honesty, fair dealings, truthfulness and trustworthiness. His character was impeccable. In fact the Quraish had conferred on him the title of Al-‘Ameen (trustworthy).

Reason #9

While there are miracles associated with Prophet Muhammad. Muslims prefer to emphasize the miracle of the Quran. (Note: Muslims believe that the Quran is the exact word of God as revealed to Prophet Muhammad through Archangel Gabriel.) They prefer to emphasize the Quran because it is, in a sense, a “living miracle”; it can be read, recited, analyzed, and studied even today. It is clearly an acoustic miracle, a linguistic miracle, and a deep reservoir of wisdom. The Quran has an outstanding challenge for disbelievers to duplicate a similar work – but the challenge has not been answered in over 1400 years.

There are many aspects of the Quran that point to its divine origin. For example in the Surah “The Byzantines,” the Quran predicts the defeat of the Persians at the hands of the Byzantines. But these ayat (i.e. verses) were revealed at a time when the Byzantines (e.g. Romans) had suffered several crushing and serious defeats at the hands of the Persians. It was only many years later, in a startling reversal of fate, that the Persians were in fact defeated “at the hands of the Byzantines.” There are ayat (verses) in the Quran revealing facts about human embryology that were only recently discovered by modern science and could not possibly have been known 1400 years ago. This point becomes more poignant if one bothers to examine the tools and theories that existed during that time period. Much of what we take for granted today was very far from the way people used to think long ago.

In recent years, some Muslims have reexamined religious texts in light of modern science. What is interesting is that certain linguistic readings and new interpretations seem to concur with recent scientific discoveries. What makes it interesting is that the Quran was revealed 1400 years ago, long before these discoveries were made. Is this mere coincidence? Is there any validity to these interpretations? And if so, how could this information have been known? Or is one reading too much into these interpretations? Regardless of how one may feel about some of these interpretations, they can sometimes make for interesting reading.

For example do Quranic verses allude to the fact that the earth was round? Some verses in the Quran seem to point to this.

There are many aspects to the Quran that challenge the notion of the Quran being man-made, only a few of which have been mentioned here. (See a different chapter in this book for more details). 910

Reason #10

Muslims may argue that those who do not believe in God, perhaps need to think if they are willing to cry, hope, die for the entertainment of random dice rolls? (And who is rolling the dice anyway, maybe a question worth asking), After all, who wants to be a puppet in a meaningless, purposeless existence? Muslims may ask that if there is no real Justice, Truth, Compassion, Love? If there is no God, why would one want to live? For a fancy, red sports car? A summer cottage by the beach?

Muslims are very weary of any semblance of raising worldly riches or fame to the status of personal (very perishable) gods. There is a saying of Prophet Muhammad that echoes the fragility of such never-ending pursuits that are unable to quench the thirst of man, and the emptiness of his soul.

“Anas reported God’s Messenger as saying: If the son of Adam were to possess two valleys of riches, he would long for the third one. And the stomach of the son of Adam is not filled but with dust. …” (Sahih Muslim 5.2282)

Chapter End

Author’s Note: Since this is a chapter on God’s existence, some people may misunderstand my scientific references. I do not believe that God’s existence (or lack thereof) can be “proved” (in an absolute sense) by science. (A Muslim might argue that this seeming ambiguity, or temporary veil, reflects a core islamic idea: freedom of choice. Freedom of choice and the slow expression of one’s heart is how one’s life is written out.)

God, in many ways, belongs to the realm of the “unseen” and so there is an element of faith in belief. But it is not a blind, senseless faith, God’s signs are manifest throughout existence, for the thinking individual to contemplate. In fact, one is likely to find strong clues pointing to God’s existence. 11

It should also be noted that a disbelief in God also requires an “act of faith” in a sense (the analogy is not exact), or an axiom or assumption since the lack of existence of God cannot be scientifically proved, and there is often an implicit assumption that everything is humanly observable – without providing proof of that. Such individuals may say that if something is not observable it does not, for all practical purposes, exist in their world.

However as science advances and instruments become more sensitive, theories evolve and indirect experiments come online, future generations are likely to acknowledge the existence of many things and concepts that current generations would not. Modern scientists today acknowledge the existence of things the most advanced “scientist” of two thousand years ago would have categorically said did not exist or at best called fanciful speculations of highly imaginative minds. Yet just because someone from some period in time, says something does not exist does not stop it from existing, even if it is not directly observable in some fashion, through that person’s eyes or senses at that time 1213.

1 Technically, this parameter can have a range. For example, during the “Devionian Period” (400 million years ago) there were 400 days in a year(also 22 hours/day). This can be determined by checking things like the fossible record. Current numbers (like 24 hours/day) are due to things like tidal forces and continental drift.

2 Even emotion can be very helpful to humans. For example, studies detailing brain injuries suggest that people with limited emotional range may have great trouble making decisions.

3 Even if extraterrestrial life was ever discovered this would not weaken the argument. Just the opposite. Such findings should raise more questions. Why are such an excessive amount of raw conditions and permutations in existence? In essence, life from nothing is a highly improbable event. More different life forms from nothing are even more improbable. (To digress and be a little more complete on a related point, Muslims do believe in a separate creation (e.g. in addition to humans) called Jinn. There are many definitions of the word “Jinn.” One definition refers to a creation made of fire that like humans has the ability to choose between good and evil.) God is also known as “Lord of all the worlds” in the Quran. On yet another note, for those who are wondering: In the 1960s work was done on trying to predict the probability of earth-like worlds using something called the Drake equation. Many problems have been pointed out with this particular approach including that many factors may have been ignored (for example, plate tectonics (used for metals, heat cycling) Jupiter’s protective gravity well against asteroids for the inner planets, etc.) There is also the idea that the numbers assigned to the different factors may have been incorrect. In addition, some have suggested a “Fermi paradox” If there are so many possibilities why have we not yet been visited by advanced civilizations? Another aside: Some have talked abut computer simulations involving genetic evolution algorithms. However conventional genetic algorithms exhibit certain problems such as the tendency to reach asymptotes, and frequently move to local (not global) maxima. One must also be careful not to give dice divine attributes e.g. intelligence, etc., and gloss over that fact.

4 Possible example for those familiar with astronomy: How = Tycho Brahe’s planetary data. Why = Kepler’s elliptical formula ideas “explaining” paths in the data. First iteration/recursion: Kepler’s ellipses now become a how, and Newton’s theory of gravitation now provides the why. Second iteration/recursion: Newton’s gravity in turn becomes a how as Einstein now “explains” gravity as actually a “curvature to spacetime” (e.g. new why). Also the newer models have different assumptions (for example Newton works fine in an “everyday world.”) Einstein is needed dealing with with a different environment e.g. massive objects (e.g. black holes, early universe, etc.)

5 GPS is an example of how advances in physics (e.g. relativity) were needed to correct some “intuitive” but invalid assumptions in classical physics (e.g. about time), resulting in “enhanced how answers” and allowing our GPS receivers to work.

GPS finds position using (four) reference satellites in the sky. This method use a variation of distance = velocity (e.g. speed of light) x time (e.g. time of signal transit) to “triangulate” position. The key part is the time change – it needs to be adjusted to account for time dilation due to relative speed, and time distortion due to mass, ac-cording to Einstein’s theories of special and general relativity. (Note: Einstein’s theory of general relativity also reframed gravity as “curved space-time.”)

Here is another example of new data challenging existing ideas and assumptions and requiring enhanced how answers e.g. models. Models of atomic structure: J.J. Thomson’s plum pudding model to Niels Bohr’s “planetary model” to the quantum cloud model (e.g. probabilities).

(Uninterested in physics? How about a chemistry example instead: Consider the ideal gas laws initially suggested by Mendeleev, but later refined by the Van Der Waals equation to better handler low temp and high pressure as an example of an enhanced how answer.)

6 Those who are more mathematically inclined might find Godel’s incompleteness theorem interesting. It explores the limits of things like mathematics. Other related ideas: Alan Turing (uncomputable functions), work by Gregory Chaitin (e.g. Omega). Less interesting, but still intriguing, is the Church-Turing thesis both in its strong and weak form. (Less interesting because it is a conjecture.)

7 Interested in astronomy? Did you know that the “observable universe” is shrinking? (Reasons include: the accelerating expansion of universe – look up dark energy - and the speed of light). There may come a time where all “one can see” in the sky would be the Milky Way. If all previous data was somehow erased at that future date, many truths might escape observation (but still be true).

8 It appears that the question of “chance” may be far more complicated than typically thought. For example, Princeton University’s PEAR (Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research) lab has produced some intriguing results dealing with interaction between REGs (random event generators) and human “consciousness.” Apparently, a desire or intention to “skew” chance occurrences may “shift” probabilities is a small but statistically significant way. (www.princeton.edu/~pear/).

9 It should be noted that even if there were “items of interest or conversation” for contemporary scientists recorded in the Quran over 1400 years ago, these point were only very recently noticed by Muslims – they were not acted on (or understood) 1400 years ago by Muslims.

10 While European history was racked by the tumultuous relationship between science and the Church, Islam never had a similar history. Instead, Islam and science flourished hand-in-hand, as Islam strongly encouraged the pursuit of learning and knowledge. This contrasted sharply with the clashes between science and the Church which included the famous trial of Galileo.

11 There does seem to be tinges of some laziness and lack of humility in the approach of some agnostics that is disturbing. Two qualities that are subtly subversive, yet ultimately corrosively destructive, in the wonderfully magnificent enterprise of open exploration.

12 Interestingly, PEAR (Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research) has studied the interaction between REGs (random event generators) and human “consciousness,” as well as on “remote viewing,” that suggest there may be small but statistically significant interactions beyond our current level of understanding. The results are interesting but controversial, and so more study may be needed.

13 It would be interesting to see how some of the intriguing complexities of quantum mechanics (the physics of the small) are unraveled in the future. Today, quantum mechanics and physics suggest mind-bending concepts – that the act of observing may change the observation, that effect may appear to precede cause (for example, empirically, there are intriguing double slit experiments on this topic) among others, that could have some interesting answers.