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The Big Questions (Part I of III) – On Atheism, God & More…

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Next: The Big Questions, Part II—The Purpose of Life

Our guest-writer of this series, Dr. Laurence Brown, a former atheist, received his B.A. from Cornell University, his MD from Brown University Medical School, and his ophthalmology residency training at George Washington University Hospital in Washington, DC.

autumnl.gifThe Big Questions by Dr. Laurence Brown (reproduced with permission)

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At some point in our lives, everybody asks the big questions: “Who made us,” and “Why are we here?” So who did make us? Atheists speak of the Big Bang and evolution, whereas all others speak of God. Those who answer “I don’t know” are atheist for all intents and purposes, not because they deny God’s existence, but because they fail to affirm it.

Now, the Big Bang may explain the origin of the universe, but it doesn’t explain the origin of the primordial dust cloud. This dust cloud (which, according to the theory, drew together, compacted and then exploded) had to come from somewhere. After all, it contained enough matter to form not just our galaxy, but the billion other galaxies in the known universe. So where did that come form? Who, or what, created the primordial dust cloud?

Similarly, evolution may explain the fossil record, but it falls far short of explaining the quintessential essence of human life—the soul. We all have one. We feel its presence, we speak of its existence and at times pray for its salvation. But only the religious can explain where it came from. The theory of natural selection can explain many of the material aspects of living things, but it fails to explain the human soul.

Furthermore, anyone who studies the complexities of life and the universe cannot help but witness the signature of the Creator*. Whether or not people recognize these signs is another matter—as the old saying goes, denial isn’t just a river in Egypt. (Get it? Denial, spelled “de Nile” … the river Ni … oh, never mind.) The point is that if we see a painting, we know there is a painter. If we see a sculpture, we know there’s a sculptor; a pot, a potter. So when we view creation, shouldn’t we know there’s a Creator?

The concept that the universe exploded and then developed in balanced perfection through random events and natural selection is little different from the proposal that, by dropping bombs into a junkyard, sooner or later one of them will blow everything together into a perfect Mercedes. In the color and trim of our hearts’ desire, no less.

If there is one thing we know for certain, it is that without a controlling influence, all systems degenerate into chaos. The theories of the Big Bang and evolution propose the exact opposite, however—that chaos fostered perfection. Would it not be more reasonable to conclude that the Big Bang and evolution were controlled events? Controlled, that is, by the Creator?

The Arabs tell the tale of a nomad finding an exquisite palace at an oasis in the middle of an otherwise barren desert. When he asks how it was built, the owner tells him it was formed by the forces of nature. The wind shaped the rocks and blew them to the edge of this oasis, and then tumbled them together into the shape of the palace. Then it blew strands of sheep’s wool together into rugs and tapestries, stray wood together into furniture, doors, windowsills and trim, and positioned them in the palace at just the right locations. Lightning strikes melted sand into sheets of glass and blasted them into the window-frames, and smelted black sand into steel and shaped it into the fence and gate with perfect alignment and symmetry. The process took billions of years and only happened at this one place on earth—purely through coincidence.

When we finish rolling our eyes, we get the point. Obviously, the palace was built by design, not by happenstance. To what (or more to the point, to Whom), then, should we attribute the origin of items of infinitely greater complexity, such as our universe and our lives?

Another classic argument for atheism focuses upon what people perceive to be the imperfections of creation. These are the “How can there be a God if such-and-such happened?” arguments. The issue under discussion could be anything from a natural disaster to birth defects, from genocide to grandmother’s cancer. That’s not the point. The point is that denying God based upon what we perceive to be injustices of life presumes that a divine being would not have designed our lives to be anything other than perfect, and would have established justice on Earth.

Hmm … is there no other option?

We can just as easily propose that God did not design life on Earth to be paradise, but rather a test, the punishment or rewards of which are to be had in the next life, which is where God establishes his ultimate justice. In support of this concept we can well ask who suffered more injustices in their worldly lives than God’s favorites, which is to say the prophets? And who do we expect to occupy the highest stations in paradise, if not those who maintain true faith in the face of worldly adversity?

I would hope that, by this line of reasoning, we can agree upon the answer to the first “big question.” Who made us? Can we agree that if we are creation, God is the Creator?

If we can’t agree on this point, there probably isn’t much point in continuing. However, for those who do agree, let’s move on to “big question” number two—why are we here? What, in other words, is the purpose of life?

*To this end, and leaving all of the author’s religious inclinations aside, I heartily recommend reading A Short History of Nearly Everything, by Bill Bryson.


Copyright © 2007 Laurence B. Brown—used by permission.
The author’s website is www.leveltruth.com. He is the author of The First and Final Commandment (Amana Publications) and Bearing True Witness (Dar-us-Salam), and can be contacted at BrownL38@yahoo.com. Forthcoming books are a historical thriller, The Eighth Scroll, and a second edition of The First and Final Commandment available on Amazon, rewritten in two volumes and renamed MisGod’ed and God’ed.

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Pingback: muslimmatters.org » The Big Questions, Part II—The Purpose of Life

  2. Parvez

    December 13, 2013 at 10:00 PM

    Response to the problem of evil
    Allah (swt) has created human beings with innate disposition (fitra) that Allah is one supreme God and that Allah bestowed humanity with objective moral values.
    “And by the soul and He who proportioned it. Then He showed him what is wrong for him and what is right for him. Indeed he succeeds who purifies his own self and indeed he fails who corrupts his own self.” [Quran Surah Ash-Shams 91: 7-10]
    Regarding the increased emphasis placed on the role of human reason, the Islamic teachings imply that the unaided human mind is able to find out that the more major sins such as alcohol or murder are immoral and evil without the aid of revelation. Also Quran states that the existence of God is so evident and rationally discernible, that every human being who has intellect and the ability to think (thus excluding children and the mentally ill and disabled) and was unreached by the message of Islam and does not believe in God will end up in hell, and divine amnesty is only available to those non-Muslims who believed in God, avoided the major sins regarding human sanctity and were unreached by the message.
    Narrated Abu-Huraira: Allah’s Apostle (saw) said, “No child is born except on the fitra and then Satan come to misguide him.” [Bukhari]
    Prophet Muhammad (saw) said; “Seek the guidance of thy soul! Seek the guidance of thy soul! Seek the guidance of thy soul! The virtuous deed is one whereby thy soul feels restful and thy heart contented and sinful act is one which irritates thy soul and which contracts thy heart even though the other people endorse it as lawful.” (Musnad Ahmad).
    The proponent of the problem of evil is faces a problem because God is required a rational basis for objective good and evil. Without God these terms are relative as there is no conceptual anchor, apart from God himself, which transcends human subjectivity. So the terms evil and good are just ephemeral without God. In absence of the Law Giver, relativism takes hold and no absolute standards exist and hence objective moral values do not exist.
    Therefore in order for the atheist’s premise to make objective sense, God’s existence is necessary. In this light the Muslim or theist may argue:
    1. If God did not exist, then objective moral values would not exist
    2. Evil exists
    3. Therefore objective moral values exists (from premise 2)
    4. Therefore, God exists

    We all feel a strong abhorrence against rape, incest, murder and even against smaller crimes when we personally are the victims, there are objective moral values and therefore there is a Law-Giver, a God. If there is no God and we base our morals on social pressure then this not the ultimate reality of truth. This is because moral values will be subjected to social pressures which are relative and flawed because of human’s lack of knowledge. Our conscience cannot be explained if we take revelation out of the picture and try to explain it purely on the basis of naturalism or scientific materialism.

    Muslims believe that part of God’s names and attributes include ‘the Just’, ‘the Severe in Punishment’, ‘the Wise’, ‘the Avenger’, and ‘the Compassionate’, amongst many others. So if God was just good and omnipotent, then there may be problem in reconciling suffering and evil in the world. However if you include attributes such as ‘the Severe in Punishment’ and ‘the Wise’, these problems would not exist. Because perceived evil and suffering in the world can be due to,
    • God’s punishment as a result of our sins and bad actions.
    • God’s wisdom, as there may be divine wisdom in permitting evil and suffering. Even if we can’t evaluate what the wisdom is, it doesn’t mean it is not there. To argue such a thing would be a logical fallacy, known as the argument from ignorance. The story of Khidr which can be found in the 18th chapter of Qur’an from verses 60 to 82 is an eloquent account of how God’s wisdom, whether understood or not, has positive results and benefits for humanity.
    In addition to this the Muslim can argue that the problem of evil is logically posterior to the existence of God. You need to establish that God exists first before attempting to reconcile who God is with our perception of reality, in this case, evil and suffering.

    The intellectual richness of Islamic Theology provides us with many reasons for having trials, some of which include:
    1. The primary purpose of the human being is not happiness rather it is to know and worship God. This fulfilment of the divine purpose will result in everlasting bliss and happiness. So if this is our primary purpose other aspects of human experience our secondary. The Qur’an, the book of the Muslims states: “I did not create either jinn or man except to worship Me.” [Qur’an 51:56-57]

    2. God also created us for a test, and part of this test is to be tested with suffering and evil. The Qur’an mentions “The One Who created death and life, so that He may put you to test, to find out which of you is best in deeds: He is the all-Almighty, the all-Forgiving” [Qur’an 67: 2]

    We are bound to be tested and pushed to our limits, each of us to our own level. When Maryam was delivering her son all alone, she said, “Would that I had died before this, and had been forgotten and out of sight!” (19:23) The tafseer mentions that Maryam (alayha salaam) was not only in physical pain and solitude, but also experiencing the pain of ostracism and isolation that occurs when you are telling the truth but no one believes you. She spoke these words at a time when she had already been given the good news of being chosen above all women and that her son would be a Prophet of Allāh. This reminds us that even the best people, whom Allāh has clearly chosen, are still human. Everyone’s patience and steadfastness is pushed to the limit at one time or another. Everyone reaches a point where they contemplate just giving up, but that doesn’t mean that it’s all over. You must always put your trust in Allāh and keep going. Remember, these are words said by Maryam, the best woman to walk on the earth! This shows us that being patient doesn’t necessarily mean that you won’t ever become overwhelmed, or won’t ever complain, but patience is when you do get overwhelmed and still keep going, and only complain to Allāh. (12:85) Sabr does not mean that you are happy with the decree of Allāh, sabr means that you accept the decree of Allāh even if you don’t understand it.

    3. Having hardship and suffering enables us to realise and know God’s attributes such as ‘the Victorious’ and ‘the Healer’. For example without the pain and suffering of illness we would not appreciate the attribute of God being ‘the Healer’. Knowing God and revering Him is a greater good, and worth the experience of suffering or pain as it will mean the fulfilment of our primary purpose.

    Trials help us to acknowledge, appreciate and firmly believe in some of the Divine attributes of Allah.
    When we suffer and we supplicate to Allah and He removes our suffering then the attributes of Allah are manifested to us, such as; God is the Answerer, Helper, Patron, Healer, Acceptor of repentance, Forgiver and the Curer.

    “And who despairs of the Mercy of his Lord except those who are astray?” (15:56) Never, ever, dear believer, lose hope in the Mercy of Allāh. After Ya’qub (alayhi salaam) tells his sons that he only complains to Allāh, he says in the next āyah, “And never give up hope of Allāh’s Mercy. Certainly no one despairs of Allah’s Mercy except the people who disbelieve.” (12:87) Only the disbelievers despair in the Mercy of Allāh because they are not aware of His Wisdom, His Knowledge, His Most Beautiful Names and Attributes, and that His Mercy extends to all things.

    4. God has given us free will, and limited free will includes choosing between good and evil acts. Thus generally human sufferings are the divine legislated consequences of their own actions.
    Repent from your sins if you are faced with a calamity because you never know if this calamity you’re facing is a result of your own sins. One of the salaf said, “I disobey Allāh to find its effect in the way my animal behaves and my wife [treats me].” Ibn Zayd said, “Sins overcome the hearts until no good can get through to them.”

    5. People can also suffer from past, present or future sins. God has knowledge of everything which is not contingent on time. Please refer to the story of Khidr in the Qur’an where it mentions Khidr’s reply to Prophet Moses “All this was done as a mercy from your Lord. What I did was not done by my own will. That is the interpretation of those actions which you could not bear to watch with patience.”[Qur’an 18:82]

    6. Suffering allows 2nd order good. 1st order good is physical pleasure and happiness and 1st order evil is physical pain and sadness. 2nd order goodness is elevated goodness such as courage, perseverance & tolerance and can only happen if suffering or evil exist.

    “And when I am ill, it is He who cures me.” [26:80]
    Aishah reported: I asked the Messenger of Allah about pestilence and he said, “It is a punishment which Allah sends upon whomsoever He wills, but Allah has made it as a mercy to the believers. Anyone who remains in a town which is plagued with pestilence maintaining patience expecting the reward from Allah, and knowing that nothing will befall him other than what Allah has foreordained for him, he would receive a reward of martyrdom.” [Bukhāri]
    So in the hadith of Aisha there is proof for the virtue of being patient and expecting (reward from Allāh), and that if a human being makes himself patient and remains in the land in which the plague has befallen and then he dies from it, Allāh will write for him the equivalent of the reward of a shaheed. And that is from the blessing of Allāh, Glorified and Exalted.
    Suffering can also be a test and trial for some people. Allah allows some people to suffer in order to test their patience and steadfastness. Even Allah’s Prophets and Messengers were made to suffer. Prophet Ayyub (as) is mentioned in the Qur’an as a Prophet who was very patient. Good people sometimes suffer but their sufferings heal others and bring goodness to their communities. People learn lessons from their good examples.
    “And [mention] Ayyub, when he called to his Lord, “Indeed, adversity has touched me, and you are the Most Merciful of the merciful.” [21:83]

    O Allāh, I take refuge in You from anxiety and sorrow, weakness and laziness, miserliness and cowardice, the burden of debts and from being overpowered by men.
    O Allāh, it is Your mercy that I hope for, so do not leave me in charge of my affairs even for a blink of an eye, and rectify for me all of my affairs. None has the right to be worshiped except You.

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