The Rationality of Believing in God Without Evidence — Part 1

God’s existence, or lack thereof, has been debated throughout human history. Theists and atheists alike have offered their best arguments to justify their positions on the matter, with most philosophers concluding that the discussion thus far has only resulted in a stalemate. Although the majority of the world concurs with the proposition that God does indeed exists, overwhelming support should not be considered a determinant in any debate; even if the majority of the world were atheists, this would not settle the question as to who is right or wrong.

In fact, despite still being the minority view, atheism is on the rise globally, having become the fastest growing position on faith and religion in almost every society on the planet. This has especially been the case within Muslim-majority societies; with an overall 3% declaring themselves atheists, another 3% declaring that they are undecided, and 20% declaring that they are non-religious in general.[1] These facts have startled religious scholars and politicians alike from Saudi Arabia to Egypt, with the former reacting rashly by defining atheism as a form of “terrorism”,[2] and the latter being so completely unprepared to tackle the subject intellectually, that it has arrested and jailed many individuals for simply being atheists.[3]

These statistics – and the reactions to them – raise some very important questions, chief among them being, “Why?” For those who have doubts and for those of us who have studied why such doubts occur, it is easy to point out some of the major factors, from the lack of religious practice and oppressive rule in Muslim-majority societies to the dependency on and infatuation over Western ideals and political constructs. However, no doubt the most important influence behind the phenomenon of atheism today – especially among Muslims –  are the considerable lack of valid reasons for believing in God or religion. This is not to say that Islam doesn’t provide any good reasons for belief, but that scholars and academics alike are simply not providing them; either due to ignorance or intellectual apathy.

Allah expresses through the Qur’an that He will prove the validity of the Revelation through two main proofs:

We will show them Our signs in the horizons and within themselves until it becomes clear to them that it is the truth. But is it not sufficient concerning your Lord that He is, over all things, a Witness? (41:53)

Here, Allah states that the signs which point to Truth can be found “in the horizons” (external) “and within us” (internal). As such, the principle arguments for God’s existence may also be divided under these two categories. This dichotomy results in various methods by which such arguments may be validated. For instance, Shaykh Abu ‘Abd Allah Muhammad ibn Saalih ibn Muhammad ibn al-Uthaymeen at-Tamimi categorizes these methods into four in his Commentary on the Three Fundamental Principles of Islam:

His existence, Exalted is He, may be proven by the Fiṭrah (one’s natural inclination), the intellect [Aql], the legislation [Shari’ah], and the senses [Hawass].[4]

Of the four mentioned methods of argumentation for the existence of God, the most utilized have been the latter three, all of which may be assigned under the ‘external’ category of proof. The first of these deals exclusively with logical arguments – otherwise known as “philosophy”.[5] Some of the more well-known arguments from this perspective include the Argument from First Cause[6] and The Argument from Design.[7] Although we might consider these arguments purely rational and abstract, they are still external in the sense that their focus resides outside the workings of the human mind.

The second regards the Revelations given to Prophets and Messengers and may be classified under ethical and political spheres which appeal to the normative moral conscience of humanity. Even so, arguments stemming from this category are still considered external in that they require reflection of things outside the human mind.

Finally, the third focusses on directly experienced miracles of the Prophets and Messengers. In other words, those empirically verifiable acts that can be witnessed first-hand by the observer. For instance, Musa’s (as) ability to conjure up “magic” better than the magicians, Isa’s (as) miracles of healing the sick and raising the dead, and of course the Prophet Muhammad’s (sallAllahu alayhi wasallam) linguistic miracle of the Qur’an.

However, the understanding of these arguments and their effectiveness seem to be lost on the majority of Muslims today, including many of our scholars. While it cannot be denied that there have been many attempts by those propagating the faith to advance these arguments in the popular sphere, they seem to have had little effect at stemming the tide of growing disbelief within the Muslim world at large. Perhaps it is because these arguments are not the ones that are needed in the contemporary period.

Figure 1.

Figure 1.

Over the past century or so, atheists have been advocating arguments founded purely on scientific-based reasoning. Given this, many of the arguments used to prove the existence of God are considered invalid on the basis that they do not fit into a rigid scientific criteria of justification. As such, Muslims should be more focused on challenging this narrow method of validation by attempting to undermine atheistic epistemology, or theory of knowledge, rather than meet them head to head in their unrealistic and irrational demands. We should instead focus more on an oft neglected approach which actually serves to legitimize all the aforementioned; what might be called the ‘internal’ arguments for God’s existence, otherwise known as the fitrah. Given the above, I hope that the following article will become the standard for promoting this approach in the future, insh’Allah.

What is the Fitrah?

Before addressing arguments from the fitrah, it would probably be best to give a brief overview of what it is and how it functions. Thankfully, the Qur’an, hadith collections, and scholars have provided us with a wealth of information regarding what constitutes as the ‘fitrah’. Perhaps the most famous mention of the concept comes from the hadith reported on the authority of Abu Huraira (ra):

The Messenger of Allah (sallAllahu alayhi wasallam) said: “There is none born but is created to his true nature (fitrah). It is his parents who make him a Jew or a Christian or a Magian [or Zorastrian], quite the same as how animals produce young with their limbs perfect. Do you see anything deficient in them?” Then he [Abu Huraira] quoted the Qur’an: “So [Prophet] as a man of pure faith, stand firm and true in your devotion to the religion. This is the natural disposition God instilled in mankind– there is no altering God’s creation– and this is the right religion, though most people do not realize it.” (30:33)[8]

The word fitrah is derived from the Arabic root fatara, which means ‘to create’, thus the former might be translated as “a way of being created”.[9] Therefore, this hadith – and the Qur’anic passage in support of it – may clearly be interpreted as suggesting that all human beings are born in a natural state of being, or disposition. While it can be argued that a minority of people are born with what might be considered ‘deficiencies’ (mental retardation and the like), it can be safely assumed that the fitrah is what is normative to mankind. However, what does this natural disposition entail?

Many Islamic scholars have attempted to interpret this ‘natural state’ as having some inherent qualities – or even none at all. As such, throughout the centuries, three particular perspectives on the fitrah have been championed. Mohamed Yasien has categorized them in the following manner:

The Neutral Perspective

The neutral perspective is best represented by Ibn ‘Abd al-Barr of the 8th century C.E., who proposed that the fitrah is “neither a state of intrinsic iman [belief], nor a state of intrinsic kufr [disbelief]. The child is born in a wholesome state…with no cognition of iman or kufr; belief or unbelief become manifest only when the child attains maturity (taklif).”[10] In other words, much like the famous political philosopher John Locke, Ibn ‘Abd al-Barr believed that the mind begins its existence as a tabula rasa (blank slate). He supported his position based on the following verse of the Qur’an:

It is God who brought you out of your mothers’ wombs knowing nothing, and gave you hearing and sight and minds, so that you might be thankful. (16:78)

This perspective takes into account the lack of knowledge that people have when they are born, but doesn’t take into consideration the implications of the hadith mentioned above, which states that people are born with a ‘true nature’ like animals who are born with their limbs fully intact. Logically speaking, to have something like a ‘nature’ is opposed to lacking something; you cannot both have and not have at the same time. Likewise, to be fully formed when born – as in the case of animals – is not the same as lacking knowledge. We can agree that humans are born without knowledge and require external influences to obtain knowledge, however, a ‘nature’ denotes an intrinsic quality which guides a person to a way of thinking and behavior.

Ibn ‘Abd al-Barr therefore confusingly conflates lacking knowledge with the fitrah. What is more damaging to his interpretation is that if “there are no innate forces within man to guide him, external guidance then becomes absolutely decisive,” [11] thus rendering the concept of fitrah completely irrelevant within Islam. This is probably why the Neutralist’s view has always been the minority position within the Islamic intellectual tradition, despite it having an early debut.

The Dual Perspective

The dual perspective of the fitrah is a more recent development – otherwise known as the ‘modern view’ – advocated by non-scholarly Islamic intellectuals. The best known example of this class of thinkers is the controversial Syed Qutb, considered the spiritual guide and influence for the political group the Muslim Brotherhood as well as extremists such as al-Qaeda. These facts are mentioned not to invalidate his opinions, but to show that his thinking is not exactly in line with mainstream Islamic thought.

Qutb’s heterodox views even influenced his understanding of the fitrah. Unlike the more traditional scholarly class, Qutb relied primarily on modern philosophical concepts derived from individuals such as Rene Descartes; the “father of modern philosophy” and responsible for having created the “mind-body problem”[12] wdefining much of contemporary philosophy today. This problem has been categorized under the philosophical position known as ‘Dualism’ and is an apt label for the perspective advocated by Qutb:

The two essential constituents of the total human constitution, viz. the spirit of God and the clay of the earth give rise to good and evil as two equal tendencies in man – the tendencies to follow Divine guidance or to go astray. In addition to this innate potential…man has a conscious faulty which enables him to distinguish good from evil. This faculty also determines is actions and makes him responsible for them. The one who uses his faculty to follow his innate inclination to good, to purify himself and to control the evil drive within him will be successful whereas the one who uses it to follow his evil self will be at a loss. The conscious faculty is also designed to apprehend the external sources of guidance and misguidance which complement the good and evil tendencies. The good within man is complemented by external influences such as Prophethood and Divine Revelation while the evil in man is complemented by all forms of temptation and misguidance. Nevertheless, the function of the innate tendencies is decisive; external influences help only to complement the innate tendencies while the conscious faculty enables him to choose a certain path.[13]

Qutb bases his view on the following verses of the Qur’an:

Those whose lives the angels take while they are wronging themselves will show submission: ‘We were doing no evil.’ ‘Yes you were: God knows fully everything that you have done, so enter the gates of Hell. There you will remain– the home of the arrogant is evil indeed.’ (15:28-29)

Does he think no one observes him? Did We not give him eyes, a tongue, lips, and point out to him the two clear ways [of good and evil]? (90:7-10)

By the soul and how He formed it and inspired it [to know] its own rebellion and piety! The one who purifies his soul succeeds and the one who corrupts it fails. (91:7-10)

Qutb’s interpretation that these verses promote a dual-nature is suspect as it is not directly mentioned, but implied. However, implications are not enough to confirm a position, and Qutb’s attempt to draw out an interpretation that isn’t apparent actually contrasts him from the aforementioned hadith and several other verses in the Qur’an.

Regarding the hadith, it is logically impossible to affirm two opposing natures as man’s fitrah, given the fact that the Prophet (sallAllahu alayhi wasallam) compares it to fully formed new-borns, asking rhetorically, “Do you see anything deficient in them?” Thus, Qutb the only way he might have supported his view is if he claimed that an innate tendency to do evil – which is opposed to doing good – is not a deficiency. This is logically problematic given that since two opposing, non-complementary tendencies cannot both be good at the same time. Although there is a possibility that both tendencies can lead to good – through balance – we need to distinguish between things themselves and their effects; it is clear that the hadith and the Qur’an are talking about the former, whereas Qutb is speaking about the latter.

Another problem, akin to that of the neutral perspective discussed earlier, is that by claiming a dual perspective Qutb must rely completely on external influences outside the control of man to determine one’s choices between good and evil. According to Qutb, the ‘good tendency’ and the ‘evil tendency’ are considered equally influential, so both must struggle to overcome the other, actually negating their influence all-together. Not only does this make the concept of a ‘natural state’ completely irrelevant, but it also makes free-will not actually free at all; there can be no freedom in having to choose between a struggle that is already fixed by external factors. Also, If these factors were balanced – which is in fact possible – then the will would need a power beyond the two tendencies to be able to choose between them. But this is not the case with the dual-nature perspective. Therefore, free-will is at the mercy of one nature or the other and Qutb’s inclusion of free will is a superficial solution.

Finally, Qutb’s dual-nature view contradicts many other verses in the Qur’an, which explicitly state that those who rebel against Allah actually believe that what they’re doing is good and not evil. For instance:

When it is said to them, ‘Do not cause corruption in the land,’ they say, ‘We are only putting things right,’ but really they are causing corruption, though they do not realize it. (2:11-12)

The life of this world is made to seem glamorous to the disbelievers, and they laugh at those who believe. (2:212)

But the deeds of those who disbelieve are like a mirage in a desert: the thirsty person thinks there will be water, but when he gets there, he finds only God, who pays him his account in full– God is swift in reckoning. (24:39)

These verses prove conclusively that man is always striving towards what he thinks is good, but chooses between his own mastery and Allah’s; this world or the next. It is not so much that man has a ‘dual nature’, but one nature – submission –choosing what or who to submit to. In a way then, all external factors are seen as equally tempting in the eyes of man, but he must struggle to choose the better of them through his acknowledgement of what is true and which is ultimately fulfilling.[14] What he fights within himself (jihad of the self) are not equally opposing tendencies, but the multiple paths towards fulfilling that tendency. The nafs (desires) are not initially bad and must be turned good – lest we follow the Christian doctrine of ‘original sin’[15] – nor are they divided between ‘good desires’ and ‘bad desires’; rather they can be controlled for good or evil. For instance, it is never wrong in Islam to desire sexual relations, but it is wrong to follow through with that desire in the wrong way (fornication and rape). Allah does not put evil in the hearts of men, but calls them to Himself. It is man’s choice to fulfill his desires through his Creator or the creation. One is obviously better than the other, but only if humility is chosen over arrogance.

Supplementing the above understanding, the linguistic notion of man (insan) in Islam is intimately related to the concept of ‘forgetfulness’. So, man’s rebellion is tied to the fact that he is a forgetful creature; forgetful of his submission to Allah. Further, according to the Qur’an, all of mankind was already aware of their Creator prior to being brought into the world:

[Prophet], when your Lord took out the offspring from the loins of the Children of Adam and made them bear witness about themselves, He said, “Am I not your Lord?” and they replied, “Yes, we bear witness.” So you cannot say on the Day of Resurrection, “We were not aware of this…” (7:172)


The Positive Perspective

The positive view of the fitrah is not only the majority position in Islamic thought, but also considered the orthodox one (Ahlu Sunnah wal Jama’ah).[16] Scholars who have upheld this view include Ibn Taymiyyah, Ibn Qayyim, Al-Ghazali, Imam Qurtubi, Imam Nawawi, Isma’il al-Faruqi, Syed Naquib Al-Attas, and Shah Wali Allah.[17] Even the controversial scholar of Islamic jurisprudence, Ibn Hazm, has supported this position from a mostly legal standpoint.[18] As such, the positive view of the fitrah can be summed up as so:

[E]very child is born in a state of fiṭrah and evil is an external agent of misguidance. As such, the ‘normal’ state is one of innate goodness while the social environment may cause the individual to deviate from this state. He sees a natural correspondence between human nature and Islam as a value system and way of life. Ontologically, man is naturally adapted to Dīn al-Islām; he responds spontaneously to its teachings and follows its injunctions as if they were self-taught. Dīn al-Islām is the corollary…of the human fiṭrah; it provides the ideal or optimum conditions for sustaining and developing man’s innate qualities…[the fiṭrah] is not merely a dormant potential which should be awakened from without, but rather the source of awakening itself, within the individual.[19]

This view sees the ‘natural state’ as being the “source of awakening” towards truth and goodness, which can only be corrupted by external systems of misguidance (other religions).  Thus, normatively, human beings are born in a wholesome state, like new born animals born with their limbs fully intact.

Some confusion may arise as to whether this innate disposition of goodness is an actual system of belief itself and if it can be corrupted to such an extent that guidance is no longer possible. As to the first issue, Ibn Taymiyyah reflects on the thoughts of the founder of the Hanbali School of Islamic jurisprudence, Ahmad Ibn Hanbal, as exemplary of the orthodox view:

There are two reports attributed to Aḥmad [ibn Ḥanbal]. The first one states that [fiṭra is] recognizing [the existence] of God….The second states that fiṭra is the creation of the foetus in its mother’s womb, since he (i.e. the foetus) is led to the pact which He obliged them to make, that is the recognition of His [existence], as fiṭra leads to Islam…Aḥmad [ibn Ḥanbal] did not mention the first pact (i.e., the pact between humankind and God, taken at the time of the creation of humankind). He only said: “The first fiṭra according to which he created humankind is religion.” He said in several places: “when the parents or one parent of an apostate [child] are dead, it is decided that he should be a Muslim.” Then he mentioned this Hadith, and this proves that his interpretation of the Hadith[20] is as follows: he [the child] is born in the state of the fiṭra of Islam.[21]

What needs to be understood here is that the concept of ‘Muslim’ and ‘Islam’ are being used very vaguely to simply mean ‘submission to the correct understanding of God’, and not the specific requirements of the religion of Islam (Shari’ah). It would be absurd to believe that every child is born knowing the specific aspects of Islamic law and practice.

The second issue regards whether the fitrah can be partially or fully corruptible. To be logically consistent with the aforementioned terms, it can be said that this corruption is more or less a suppression of the proper understanding of tawhid (Oneness/Essence of Allah), rather than an alteration of the fitrah itself – unless destroyed by illness or disability. However, the way in which this natural disposition is cultivated depends on the external belief systems that are applied to it. Islam, as an understanding of Allah and the Shari’ah, contains the optimal conditions for the fitrah to manifest, whereas other religious systems are only partially able to provide fertile ground and may confuse the believer through deviant doctrines, practices, and semantics. Therefore, the ultimate consequence of this perspective is that practitioners of religions other than Islam must always be in a state of existential conflict – both intellectually and spiritually – with their own beliefs.

A good representation of the fitrah may be found in the example of computers. For a computer to operate it must already have an inbuilt Operating System (OS) which functions as a platform by which software can run. The programming language built into the OS has a certain structure or “grammar”, represented by symbols which can communicate messages – much like human language. The “software” are the beliefs we form about ourselves and the world around us, which can only operate if the OS is functioning properly. And the entire corpus of software that allows the computer to do what it’s intended to do – what may be called a ‘paradigm’ or meta-belief – makes coherent all the specific data within.

Figure 2

Figure 2.

While computers do not constitute a perfect analogy – since they are not self-aware and require the human intellect to install “beliefs” (software)– they serve as a sufficient example.

Of the three mentioned views then, the positive perspective is the most consistent with the hadith and the Qur’an, and also has the least logical inconsistencies. It also happens to have the strongest support among scholars throughout the whole of Islamic history.

How the Fitrah Works

Upon establishing the appropriate understanding of the fitrah we can move on to elucidating how it functions. This is perhaps the most important part of this article in that it sets the stage for establishing the foundational arguments for God’s existence from the Islamic perspective.

The traditional Muslim philosopher Syed Muhammad Naquib bin Ali al-Attas states the orthodox view of cognition from the Islamic perspective:

The metaphysical vision of the world and of the ultimate reality envisaged in Islam is quite different from that projected by the statements and the general conclusions of modern philosophy and science. We maintain that all knowledge of reality and truth, and the projection of a true vision of the ultimate nature of things is originally derived through the medium of intuition. The intuition that we mean cannot simply be reduced to that which operates solely at the physical level of discursive reason based upon sense experience, for since we affirm in man the possession of physical as well as intelligential or spiritual powers and faculties which refer back to the spiritual entity, sometimes called intellect, or heart, or soul, or self, it follows that man’s rational, imaginal and empirical existence must involve both the physical and spiritual levels.[22]

Here, Al-Attas mentions ‘intuition’ as being the primary medium through which knowledge is acquired. What he means to say effectively is “the fitrah”, but is shrouding it in contemporary philosophical language. Given this, the word ‘intuition’ will be used simultaneously with ‘fitrah’ throughout the rest of this article.

Al-Attas goes on to state that the Islamic understanding of intuition is unlike that of non-Islamic conceptions, which consider it only one aspect of cognition and restrict it to initial impressions of experience only.[23] Rather, the Islamic view promotes that intuition is cognition. This follows the positive perspective of the fitrah mentioned earlier.

One a side note, Al-Attas believes that this level of intuition – called “Normal Intuition” – only “synthesizes what reason and experience each sees separately without being able to combine into a coherent whole.”[24] Normal Intuition then is limited to the data at hand and cannot grasp reality as a whole. In other words, our minds can only process so much and thus produce beliefs based on a gradual reception of information.[25] On the contrary, in regards to absolute certain knowledge of what is True, Al-Attas calls this the ‘Higher Intuition’. True knowledge therefore is a “real and direct experience [that] consists in a ‘union’ of the knower and the known”.[26] Not to be misunderstood as an actual union between our perception and the objects and events, Al-Attas is arguing for a direct experience of reality that includes all the necessary information related to the experience. In order for such a ‘union’ to be possible, a transformation of the self must take place pertaining “to the subject’s ego-consciousness” in which “the subjective consciousness, has ‘passed away’”[27] – mmeaning, we abandon our limited constructs and submit entirely to Allah in such a way that we only desire what He desires. Only after this does Allah allows us to see Al-Haqq. This is expressed in the famous hadith:

Allah’s Messenger (sallAllahu alayhi wasallam) said, “Allah said, ‘I will declare war against him who shows hostility to a pious worshiper of Mine. And the most beloved things with which My slave comes nearer to Me, is what I have enjoined upon him; and My slave keeps on coming closer to Me through performing Nawafil [praying or doing extra deeds besides what is obligatory] till I love him, so I become his sense of hearing with which he hears, and his sense of sight with which he sees, and his hand with which he grips, and his leg with which he walks; and if he asks Me, I will give him, and if he asks My protection, I will protect him; and I do not hesitate to do anything as I hesitate to take the soul of the believer, for he hates death, and I hate to disappoint him.”[28]

However, in the context of this article, the ‘Higher Intuition’ will not be discussed any further, as what is necessary to prove that belief in God is rational does not require that one have absolute knowledge of His Existence.

So how does the intuition (fitrah) work at the most basic level? If there is a grounded, foundational way of thinking, then there should be some way of explaining how it interprets information. As such, I believe that the fitrah works in such a way that it can never invalidate itself and essentially acts as a commentary (tafsir) on the experiences of the mind and the external world. This being the case, I believe that this process of interpretation goes through four stages: Reception, Impression, Configuration, and Projection.

Figure 3.

Figure 3.

In the first stage – Reception – the mind comes into contact with a particular thing or event. This can either occur through the act of introspection (internal observation) or extrospection (external observation). A good example of the former is attempting to remember something or analyzing one’s own thought processes. The second can be exemplified by everyday observations of the world around us.

The data then enters the second stage, known as Impression, which is the immediate grasping of what that thing or event is. At this stage, the data received appears in such a way that it is automatically believed to be the case; meaning, it seems as it is. So when you walk outside and you observe a tree, your mind automatically concludes that such an object is a tree.

In the next stage, known as Configuration, the intuition then takes these impressions and organizes them in such a way that they cannot possibly contradict. In other words, it makes all the data coherent and systematic.

The final stage is that of Projection, where the mind actively creates larger beliefs – paradigms – to explain the coherency of this data, which then act as tools to explain the reception of new data later on. The projection of these paradigms on to future data may be considered the mind’s way of  ‘Cognitive Translation’.

Each stage works in conjunction as the ‘intuition’ disallowing the possibility of experiences and thoughts to contradict the overall process. That being said, mankind holds mutually exclusive beliefs, and many people are delusional and deceived. These being the case, how can it then be possible that such an intuition exists?

____________________________________________________________________________

END NOTES

[1] http://www.wingia.com/web/files/news/14/file/14.pdf

[2] http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/saudi-arabia-declares-all-atheists-are-terrorists-in-new-law-to-crack-down-on-political-dissidents-9228389.html

[3] http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2015/02/01/egypt-atheists/22038645/

[4] Al-Uthaimin, M. (2009). Commentary on the Three Fundamental Principles of Islam of Muhammad bin ‘Abdul-Wahhab, Riyad: Darussalam, p. 129.

[5] Philosophy in this sense as being speculative reasoning in general and not specific fields or abstract theories that may contradict Aqidah. Unlike liberal Islamic thinkers, I do not believe that philosophy can be used comprehensively to understand the faith, and unlike hard-line anti-rationalists, I do not believe that philosophy is entirely bad. For instance, I don’t think there is anything wrong in philosophizing about the nature of knowledge, how the mind works, or the nature of beauty and art.

[6] Also known as the “Argument from Contingency” – not to be mistaken with the controversial Kalaam Cosmological Argument. A good example of this argument can be found in several books of Aqidah, all endorsed by the three major schools of Islamic theology: Athari, Ash’ari, and Maturidi.

The argument isn’t very complex and simply states that something that came into existence must have had a creator and therefore cannot create itself. Whereas, the Kalaam Cosmological Argument relies on philosophical notions of cause and effect stemming from the Aristotelian tradition.

[7] The Argument from Design, also known as the Teleological Argument, is typically the one promoted in the Qur’an, urging people to ‘reflect’ on creation, which points to the Creator and His Guidance. It is simple in that it suggests that the world has been designed on the basis of its complexity, beauty, and orderliness. Although very effective in convincing already-believers, there appears to be some hidden premises: “What makes it appear designed?” and “Is the appearance of design a justification for believing it’s designed?”

[8] Sahih Muslim, Book 33, #6423

[9] Adang, C. (2000) “Islam as the Inborn Religion of Mankind: The Concept of Fiṭrah in the Words of Ibn Hazm”, AQ 31, p. 393.

[10] Mohamed, Y. (1995) “The Interpretations of Fiṭrah”, Islamic Studies, 34(2), p. 134.

[11] Ibid, p. 135.

[12] The mind-body problem is in reference to the dual nature of man as supposedly being both an immaterial self and a material self, and how the former interacts with and transcends the latter. Many philosophers have struggled to determine what exactly the mind is compared to the body, whether they share the same substance, whether one outlives the other, and how they can interact despite their differences.

[13] Mohamed, Y. (1995) “The Interpretations of Fiṭrah”, Islamic Studies, 34(2), p. 132.

[14] ‘Ultimate fulfillment’ here means that which gratifies the desires in the fullest sense. Thus, man must choose between that which is immediately gratifying and temporal with that which is eventually gratifying and eternal. Although the latter is the best of the two options, the fact that it cannot be experienced immediately makes it the more difficult to choose.

[15] The Catholic and Protestant Christian doctrine of ‘original sin’ states that man is born a sinful creature and is thus judged and condemned because of their natural tendencies. Accordingly, the supposed sacrifice of Jesus (as) and the acceptance of that sacrifice are necessary to escape eternal punishment.

[16] Mohamed, Y. (1995) “The Interpretations of Fiṭrah”, Islamic Studies, 34(2), p. 135.

[17] Ibid, pp. 137-138.

[18] For a detailed study on the subject of Ibn Hazm’s perspective on the fitrah, please refer to Adang, C. (2000). Islam as the Inborn Religion of Mankind: The Concept of Fiṭrah in the Words of Ibn Hazm, AQ 31, pp. 391-406.

[19] Mohamed, Y. (1995) “The Interpretations of Fiṭrah”, Islamic Studies, 34(2), p. 136.

[20] See N. 8.

[21] Quoted in, Holtzman, L. (2010) “Human Choice, Divine Guidance and the Fitra Tradition: The Use of Hadith in Theological Treatises, by Ibn Taymiyya and Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya”, in Y. Rapoport and S. Ahmed (eds.), Ibn Taymiyya and His Times, Karachi: Oxford University Press,  p. 168.

[22] Al-Attas, M. (1995). Prolegomena to the Metaphysics of Islam: An Exposition of the Fundamental Elements of the Worldview of Islam, Kuala Lumpur: International Institute of Islamic Thought and Civilization, p. 177.

[23] Ibid, pp. 115-116.

[24] Ibid., p. 120.

[25] Ibid., p. 120.

[26] Ibid., p. 183.

[27] Ibid, p. 184.

[28] Sahih Bukhari, Book 76, #509

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7 thoughts on “The Rationality of Believing in God Without Evidence — Part 1

  1. I found this discussion interesting. I hope that as an atheist you are still interested in dialogue. I think the idea of “internal truths” is interesting one, certainly the fact that we can internally feel there is a God is not to be disregarded. And personally I am all for someone accepting this truth internally if they feel there is a reason too, but I don’t feel this justifies trying to convince others of what you feel is an internal truth that you see evidence for, but others do not. While there is a large proportion of the world that does believe in God, and you excellently point out the fact that this does not make God’s existence true, the belief in God is not as unanimous as you make it sound in that different people believe in a different nature of God and have different ideas about what God wants them to do and think. Look at the number of factions in Islam, Christianity, Hinduism and while God might be a commonality, the nature of that concept of God will be different. So while I can appreciate your philosophical arguments for God’s existence, it doesn’t necessarily show that any one faith is correct about the nature of God.
    I also had a question for you regarding the innateness of a belief in God. Perhaps I misinterpreted your argument, but it seems that this internal truth is not necessarily discovered by inductive reasoning. It would be one thing if children looked at the world and based on observations concluded that there must be a God, but such an experiment has not happened, nor could happen easily given that the concept of God is already planted by parents, other family members, friends, TV, books, culture etc at very young ages. Very few children have no knowledge of God by the time they are a few years old. But children aren’t learning this knowledge through their own innocent observations they are picking it up from those around them. It’s no different than children knowing about dragons, or unicorns except that they are told that these beings are mythological. No child would ever look up at the world and reason that there must be unicorns or dragons because they will never have seen one. But put that idea in a book, or have parents tell them about it, and sure the idea manifests itself. So can you imagine a scenarios in which a child, being born without beliefs and living in a society which had no concept of God, would ever arrive at the conclusion that there was one?
    Finally, it seems that a large part of your argument relies on the Fitrah which seems to have no actual evidence for its existence either. Much like the concept of the mind, the spirit, or the chi it seems like a word which encompasses something that is a conglomeration of parts rather than an entity in of itself. But even if such a thing should exist and work as you say you believe it does there is no reason why it would not work to support an atheistic view of the world either. While we are natural believers, we are also natural scientists. Watch any child playing and you will see how they are constantly experimenting to understand how things work. Their intuition however can often be wrong, they arrive at the wrong conclusions and so the intuition we know is not perfect. Why should an intuition about God necessarily be right. My intuition also made me feel like something was wrong with the idea of hell. Our intuition seems to play a role in investigation always, but it’s the retesting of the conclusions we reach that leads us to the truth is it not? Isn’t this what science demands? That we constantly test our conclusions and that people of different backgrounds, and cultures test them as well? The first law of thermodynamics is thus different than God in that we can all test and determine the validity of first law of thermodynamics, but we cannot do that for God, especially if belief largely depends on internal proofs alone. It doesn’t mean that it’s not a useful tool for an individual but that does not mean it has value to the society at large.
    Finally I just want to say that I can’t argue with your knowledge of Islamic society, but I do not think your assumptions about why people arrive at atheism is correct. At least not most atheists. You seem to imply that atheism comes from a lack of knowledge or a lack of proof that there is a God. I would argue that it is only through knowledge that I came to my atheism, and ignorance that I remained a theist.
    Thank you for an interesting post.

  2. In my humble opinion, I have to disagree that atheism is on the rise because of “considerable lack of valid reasons for believing in God or religion”. For instance, despite atheism having become not an insignificant part of the intellectual ruling elite of ancient Greece, China and India, who even provided good arguments for it, the vast majority of people remained religious and theistic.

    Neither did atheism become dominant because of philosophical argumentation. Rather, the rise of atheism in these ancient societies is always tied to political crises of some sort, like a state of constant war or tyrannical rulers, which lead to a spiritual vacuum due to a lack of religious institutions (as they are destroyed or closed down) and dissatisfaction with the ruling religion.

    A similar thing occurs in the Islamic world. European colonialism coupled with indigenous dictatorships imposed by Western countries and the cultural destruction that has accompanied all of this has left a spiritual vacuum that results in people leaving Islam, the same vacuum that led to the rise of atheism in the aforementioned ancient societies.

    It’s true, though, that valid reasons may help Muslims reassure and thus keep their faith. One has to remember how the Chinese Confucians managed to keep Christian missionaries at bay partly through philosophical discussion, and the same with Muslims. It’s not the main reason why people keep their religion, but it certainly helps a bit.

    • Salaam,

      Thank you for your comment 🙂

      I agree that there are other reasons behind the rise of atheism in the Muslim world and the world in general. I make mention of those factors in the sentence above the one you quoted: “For those who have doubts and for those of us who have studied why such doubts occur, it is easy to point out some of the major factors, from the lack of religious practice and oppressive rule in Muslim-majority societies to the dependency on and infatuation over Western ideals and political constructs.”

      So I agree that the intellectual arena is not the only factor 🙂

      • What I believe makes academic and professional modern apologetics even more important than making less ex muslims is that it gives Muslims who, though would remain Muslim if their questions remain unanswered, strong confidence in their faith.

        It is easier for some Muslim individual seeking to create a change in the world, be it secular or related to Islam, to do so if their foundations of religion are rock solid. It can be harder to strive for strong iman when there are niggling doubts at the back of your mind stopping you from giving 100% to your service to God.

        As such, you are absolutely correct in stating the importance of scholars and academics branching out to tackle modern criticisms of Islam. That may include adding more fields (such as biblical studies, historical criticism, and the like) to the already existing religious sciences, and also expanding the traditional sphere such as with philosophy as you’re doing.

        Good blog! I will be reading it often 🙂

  3. Oh Allah have mercy upon the great martyr Qutb & accept from the Muslims their good & forgive their mistakes Amin.

  4. Pingback: The Rationality of Believing in God Without Evidence — Part 2 | The Andalusian Project

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