This series addresses, from an Islamic perspective, questions raised by people with doubts or people with an atheistic or agnostic inclination. It begins by addressing the concerns of those who believe that faith must be blind because it contradicts the methods and developments of science.
People of faith in God face the very same questions as those who consider themselves agnostic or atheist. Without a solid foundation and convincing responses to these questions, their faith becomes threatened.
QUESTIONS FOR THE ATHEIST
Q #1: WHO HAS BLIND FAITH?
For many, faith in God is an instinctive feeling which does not require empirical evidence or philosophical argument. Others are ‘sunshine’ believers: When things are going well, God is there, but when misfortune befalls, they question the wisdom of God or His existence. Others believe that advances in scientific discoveries and technology leave no room for God.
There are several possibilities for explaining the existence of this universe and its inhabitants. Why is there something rather than nothing? How did that something come to be?
One possiblity is that the universe and its contents are ‘eternal.’ This was the prevailing theory until the scientific discoveries of the past decades, which invalidated this possibility:
- In 1929 Edwin Hubble (1889-1953), the Amercian astronomer and cosmologist, who is credited with starting exploration to galaxies beyond our own Milky Way galaxy, discovered the phenomena of the Red Shift‘ [i] which indicates that galaxies are moving farther apart and that the universe is expanding. Since the expansion is still ongoing, the formation of the present universe must have had a beginning.
And it is We who have built the universe with [Our creative] power; and, verily, it is We who are steadily expanding it. [Sûrah Al-Dhâriyât, 51:47]
- The Second Law of Thermodynamics involves ‘entropy,’ [ii] which is more or less a measure of chaos. It states that the natural trend of all systems is to go into disorder. If the universe were infinitely old, it would now be in a state of total chaos. But it is not. This indicates a finite age, and therefore a beginning.
The universe is also moving to a condition where all heavenly bodies will be at extremely low temperatures. Since this condition has not been reached yet, the the universe cannot be eternal.
- The Big Bang Theory has become widely accepted science. In 1970, Cambridge professor Stephen Hawking —the English theoretical physicist, cosmologist, and author— published a joint paper with Oxford professor Sir Roger Penrose—an English physicist, mathematician, and philosopher of science, with contributions to the mathematical physics of general relativity and cosmology. Their paper, entitled The Singularities of gravitational collapse and cosmology, demonstrated that the universe began from a ‘big bang’ singularity. They won the 1988 Wolf Prize for physics for this work on the Penrose–Hawking singularity theorems.
In his 2005 book, A Briefer History of Time, Hawking writes:
“The old idea of an essentially unchanging universe that could have existed, and could continue to exist, forever was replaced by the notion of a dynamic, expanding universe that seemed to have begun a finite time ago, and that might end at a finite time in the future.” [iii]
Paul Davies —an English physicist who won the 1995 Templeton Prize, the 2001 Kelvin Medal, and the 2002 Faraday Prize awarded by The Royal Society— writes:
“There’s the origin of the universe, the origin of life and the origin of consciousness…Of the three, the origin of the universe has been the simplest to crack. We have really made a lot of progress in that. I think we’ve solved it. The Big Bang theory, according to which the universe has been expanding out of an extremely hot and dense state for the past 13.8 bn years, is now widely supported among scientists.” [iv]
“Throughout most of the history of modem physics and astronomy, there simply has not existed an adequate observational and theoretical foundation on which to build a history of the early universe. Now, in just the past decade, all this has changed. A theory of the early universe has become so widely accepted that astronomers often call it ‘the standard model.’ It is more or less the same as what is sometimes called the ‘big bang’ theory…” [vi]
Fred Hoyle (1915-2001) —the English astronomer, mathematician and writer, who formulated the theory of Stellar Nucleosynthesis— sums up very nicely in his 1983 book, The Intellligent Universe,[vii] the implications of a universe with a beginning:
“The big bang theory requires a recent origin of the Universe that openly invites the concept of creation.” (p. 237)
So the universe has a beginning. In what follows, we discuss the various possibilities for explaining the origin of the universe and its inhabitants. In this regard, the Quran poses several rational questions:
Were they created from nothing, or did they create themselves?
Did they create Heavens and Earth?…
Or do they have a deity other than God? [Sûrah Al-Ṭûr, 52:35-36, 43]
How did the universe begin?
- First Possibility: We created ourselves and the universe.
Since we are created, we must have been non-existent before our creation. However, a creator must exist at the time of creation in order for him to create. For us to create ourselves we must have been in a state of non-existence and existence at the same time, which makes no sense, so I believe that all of us can agree to reject this possibility.
- Second Possibility: We and the entire universe are created, or came into ‘being,’ by no agency (i.e. without a creator). This finely-tuned universe and its inhabitants came by random chance and without ‘intelligent’ direction.
Modern science, as well as common sense, stand against this hypothesis because:
a- Our collective human experience in the natural world around us, and in the history of scientific research, tells us that something previously non-existing cannot emerge from nothing. Every previously non-existent effect has a cause.
If I said that the Eiffel Tower emerged from a random explosion or several explosions, would anyone believe me?
Accepting such an explanation for the emergence of any previously non-existent structure requires a considerable stretch of the imagination because it goes against common sense, innate knowledge, science, and the collective human experience. The more scientific and rational explanation is that any previously non-existent structure such as the Eiffel Tower was intelligently designed and built by someone.
b- Order and design do not come from random trials or accidental natural processes.
A probabilistic calculation was made by Sir Roger Penrose. He calculated the probability for our universe to come into being randomly from all possible outcomes of the Big Bang event as 1 out of 1/1010123. [viii] Penrose writes:
“This number tells us how precise the Creator’s aim must have been.” [ix]
If we sit on the beach and watch waves for 100 years, will any one of the millions and millions of the waves we observe ever create a sandcastle? Never! However, a small child with intelligence can create a sandcastle. So intelligence is needed for bringing about order, even for a simple rearrangement of existing materials to form a structure like a sandcastle. What about the amazing design and complex systems in our bodies? How about this universe, which runs according to precise order, orbits, and fixed laws?
3- Third Possibility: A First Cause brought this universe and its inhabitants into being according to a definite blueprint. This First Cause is referred to in revealed religion as ‘God.’
Who else claims to have created the universe, earth, and man? No one except God. Nobody is in a position —logically— to dispute His claim. No one else can rationally claim His title of Creator. God’s claim remains unique and unchallenged. Why not seriously consider His claim?
If we have a roomful of one thousand men and one child, and only one man claims to be the father, nobody disputes it.
Knowest thou one that can be named as [if he were] Him? [Sûrah Maryam, 19:65]
Do we have any other plausible explanation for our existence? Wouldn’t it make perfect sense to investigate the concept of a Creator and His claim before rejecting it out of hand? Should we follow unproven hypotheses by men like us or should we consider seriously the unchallenged claim from the One who affirms that He is our Creator?
“It takes more faith to believe that there’s no God than it does to believe that there is a God… Because it makes more sense that something created the universe than that the universe created itself ” William Maillis, an eleven year old. [x]
Faith (belief in a Creator) is not the enemy of reason. With developments in science pointing to a beginning of our universe —and thus an ‘origin,’ a ‘creation’— we can leave behind the accusation that belief in a Creator is a ‘leap of blind faith.’ Rather, it is the basis of reason, as we shall see.
In the following installments we review some of the stumbling blocks along the road to faith.
To be continued in Part 2…
[iii] https://alta3b.files.wordpress.com/2015/11/a-briefer-history-of-time-stephen-hawking.pdf 6 Curved Space, Paragraph 2
[iv] https://www.ft.com/content/f2479d9a-4cc5-11e3-958f-00144feabdc0, Paragraphs 1-2
[v] Steven Weinberg (1993, 2nd updated ed) The First Three Minutes: A Modern View of the Origin of the Universe, Basic Books, p. 14, paragraphs 1-2.
[vi] http://www.slobodni-univerzitet-srbije.org/files/weinberg-steven-the-first-three-minutes.pdf, p. 14, Paragraphs 1-2
[vii] Fred Hoyle (1983) The Intellligent Universe: A New View of Creation and Evolution, p. 237