Proof for the Existence of God
بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
I recently reviewed this great discussion between WLC and CosmicSkeptic. Below, I have posted the original video, my review, and then the notes I used when making the video.
بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
If the premise includes the conclusion already then the question becomes how do we know that the premise is true? This requires unfolding the deductive proof and making the premise of the last argument the conclusion of an earlier one and thus finding new premises for the old later premise (now conclusion). This requires you to go back to the first premise, the one upon which everything else rests. The question becomes, what is that premise? What is the proof that it is true?
Yes, exactly. That’s what I said in the article this is an old problem in philosophy. The first principles are those that are known not by demonstration but by presence (i.e. Ilm hudhoori )
When logicians talk about the first premise being true they require it to fulfill couple conditions:
1. Mirrors the external reality in an exact form
2. It is true and will forever be so.
What proof do you have that our first principles match any of these? Yeah ilm hudhoori and presence are nonsense answers for the most part. Every time they get stuck they resort to that answer. And when you ask them about the evidence for the truth of the presence, they reply is always “it is obvious,” ilm badihi (first principles), or the common experience of the people. It is quite ironic because they take you on a long ride through their deduction to finally tell you that the whole thing rests on the consensus of the majority i.e ijmaa’ (which ironically is probabilistic). That’s when philosophers become fiqh scholars … when stuck resort to ijmaa’. That’s the reason why I brought up the electron argument. Prior to quantum mechanics, people’s common sense or obvious understanding of the physical reality was that an object exists only in one place certainly. QM thus has corrected our understanding of nature by evolving our “obvious” and “common sense”. One can thus say that our common sense is ever changing and is refined by induction (through new experiments and observations).
One more thing. The last paragraph regarding “physicists” not being able to ever refute any of the laws of metaphysics. The argument really boils down to what is the evidence for the truth of knowledge (the first principles of metaphysics). What is classically done (repeated here as well), is that first principles are assumed to be certainly true otherwise everything else falls down (math, science etc ). Or they will resort to the Ilm Hudori argument. But what if I don’t have that presence or Ilm hudhoori of the first principles? The reply will obviously be that I am insane. But ironically the side that doesn’t have that ilm hudhori will think that you are insane and now how do we resolve who is actually correct. If we say that the rest of the knowledge rests on it and thus must be correct, I would say that this is not good evidence since the rest of human knowledge is admittedly probabilistic. Thus despite human knowledge like science and math using the same “first principles” as metaphysical knowledge, it is only presumed to be correct until proven otherwise – we do not assert that they are certainly true or always will be. Once again human beings lack this kind of evidence. Lastly, if we rely on the common experience or what all people understand to tabulate the truth of first principles then 1. You are really using induction here to prove the first principles of deduction 2. Examining ALL the population in the closed set would be impossible here since they set has elements that no one has access to (the newborns and the deceased) so we are left with studying a sample of the population which is once again a probabilistic conclusion, not a certain one (logical certainty). As for the constant reference to mathematics, I will comment on that too. Metaphysics and Math are very different from each other and to equate these two to each other is way too simplistic of an approach and inaccurate.
I think my dear brother, you are misunderstanding the thesis of the article. The thesis of the article is that science has certain foundations let’s call it the set of x. Metaphysics also has certain foundations, which are a subset of x, let’s call it y. One cannot therefore affirm science and metaphysics in principle by attacking y, because y is a subset of x. If one accepts science, one must accept metaphysics; alternatively, one could accept metaphysics and reject science (on the basis that within set x, things that are not y are unreliable), or one could reject the whole of x, essentially claiming that neither science nor metaphysics will get you knowledge.
I am not saying knowledge is exclusively deductive, only that the deductive element is more primary, which is evident when you consider that the probability calculus itself relies on deduction, non-contradiction and the other laws of logic. I don’t have to give an account for what the foundations of all knowledge are in order to show that science and metaphysics have shared foundations. You seem to be thinking I was offering a complete defense of an Aristotelian epistemology (which I suspect you think characterizes the whole of philosophy), when all I am doing is attacking what one might call naive scientism, which you appear to sympathize with. If you want to offer a defense, you should focus on the arguments made showing the shared foundations of metaphysics and science, rather than attacking what you have supposed I am proposing as an alternative. Even if you were right, all you would be doing is showing that in fact neither science nor metaphysics give knowledge, because as I said science relies on shared foundations that you are attacking.
To make this more concrete: I gave like 7 reasons why quantum mechanics does not only not show the law of excluded middle to be false, but could not even in principle, only for you to repeat that quantum mechanics shows our “common sense notions” are wrong, without addressing anything I said.
Second, you are confusing Aristotle’s theory of ilm badihi with ilm hudhoori, though there is some overlap. Ilm badihi pertains to the foundations upon which ilm husooli (acquired knowledge) is built – Aristotle actually thought that perception was ilm badihi (this is why it appears that science can rewrite philosophical conclusions, because some of our perceptions turn out to be wrong or more complicated than Aristotle thought. Though, most of Aristotle’s metaphysics are based on abstractions from perception which actually remain unaffected and in principle cannot even be affected by what science discovers because they are so general/abstract that they cover all possible worlds which science could discover). Ilm hudhoori is a different kind of knowledge; it is knowledge by presence – those things that are directly experienced in consciousness and cannot be doubted even in principle. For example, you cannot doubt your own consciousness, or experiences as they appear in your consciousness – though it is possible to doubt whether some of your experiences correlate to an external reality. If I experience pain and it feels like my hand has been chopped off, I cannot doubt the “I” that is experiencing, nor the experience of pain itself; I can doubt whether or not my hand has actually been chopped off, but not the pain I’m feeling. If you were insane, as you posited my dear brother, then you would still have some ilm hudhoori – as long as you are a conscious being you are aware of your own consciousness and your immediate experiences; what you would lack is the ability to understand when your experiences correlate with an external reality and when they do not and that is precisely what would make you insane. No philosopher has ever used “ijmaa'” as a justification for his epistemology, despite the facetious comments alluding to that. The justification for knowledge must begin with consciousness itself because that is what the knowing subject has access to. If one cannot perceive the necessity of the law of non-contradiction and why a syllogism must be true, as you were suggesting, then no husooli knowledge is possible for that person. Again – we have people like this, we call them insane. If someone who is not insane claims they don’t have this knowledge then really they are just making a claim (and lying) which anyone can do. I can also claim that I have no experience of consciousness right now, or that I can’t understand English. It doesn’t mean anything. If someone is speaking a coherent sentence in any language, even to say “I do not perceive the necessity of the law of non-contradiction”, then their very formulation of the sentence belies their claim, because non-contradiction is necessary to even form a sentence for reasons I mentioned in the last reply (see the example of the chair.)
In this regard, here’s what I said to a commenter [shout out Atheist Messiah!] who brought up a similar concern about foundations being determined by induction:
This is a confusion between two different meanings of “foundations.” The absolute foundation of deduction is consciousness itself; knowledge by presence. “A” cannot be and not be at the same time and in the same regard; consciousness perceives this truth directly. Everything that we experience directly within our own consciousness is not open to doubt precisely because we cannot doubt that we are experiencing, nor the “I” that experiences. That there is existence, even it is limited to ourselves, or even bundles of thoughts or whatever it may be, cannot be doubted. Most of metaphysics is built off abstracting these foundational experiences and then applying deductive logic (the laws of which are also known by presence) to them, and thus metaphysics constitute the most secure form of knowledge after the experiences themselves. Metaphysics usually gives an account of what must be the case for all possible worlds; thus it does not matter what the details of the science turn out to be because the broad lines of what must be true about any conception of reality has already been drawn out. This will start to make sense after the next post where, God Willing, I offer a deductive proof for the existence of God (I look forward to your take on that.)
That being said, sometimes we have what we might call relative foundations – which means things that may be established by induction and observation which everyone takes for granted or that no one seriously doubts, and then we may proceed to deduce on that basis. A small subset of these relative foundations are not open for revision by science because science presumes them (for example, the idea that there is an external reality outside the mind), but the vast majority of these “foundations” are open to revision by science, and have been frequently overturned. These are things like earth being at the centre of the universe, or Newton’s laws of motion applying universally. I believe every example of “common sense” being challenged is essentially one of these latter cases of relative foundations. However, if someone makes a sound deductive (metaphysical) argument on the basis of something science necessarily presumes itself, something that science could not possible revise (e.g. causation), then the metaphysical argument is going to be at least as strong as the most certain inferences science has ever made. Thus we can have a metaphysical argument in which you might ask “well how do we know the foundational assumptions are correct”, but if those foundational assumptions are shared by science, then one must either doubt everything or accept both. One cannot both deny the metaphysics and accept the science if they share foundational assumptions. That last line is really the purpose of this post.
بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
A friend of mine sent my third post in the proof for the existence of God series to a mutual friend who is a PhD student in physics. Let’s call him Muhammad. He made a comment in response:
An electron is here and not here at the same time
The cat is dead and alive simultaneously in Schrodinger’s thought experiment
Funny how the new knowledge is embedded already in the first premise. Have you really deduced anything new that you haven’t already known in this process?
بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
Despite the repeated use of the phrase “there is no proof or evidence for the existence of God,” I would imagine most atheists, and indeed most people, are unaware that there is in fact a technical difference between evidence and proof. Fittingly, the distinction between proof and evidence was initially taught to me in an introductory evolutionary biology course by an ardent atheist professor during my first year of university. My professor used this distinction to justify why she would not be receiving objections to evolution in her class. (Literally, she said that we were not allowed to question evolution or present counter evidence during the lecture, and that she would not entertain it during her office hours.) It was the most bizarre and dogmatic moment I had in my entire education, and I say this as someone who was blessed to study theology in a seminary environment for a year. Contrary to popular opinion, the seminaries are far less dogmatic when it comes to foundational beliefs, as they permit questioning the existence of God and raising objections to the proofs offered.
She argued that evolution was based upon good evidence, but could never attain the status of complete certainty. It was a probabilistic argument, like virtually all of science, rather than a demonstration, as in the case of mathematical proofs (and, as we shall see, metaphysical arguments.) I still vividly remember the slide used to showcase an example of rational certainty – it was that of a triangle with some lines and an accompanying trigonometric proof.
Because evolution (along with all empirical science) could never attain 100% rational certainty, she argued that it was always possible to be a skeptic, to raise objections about inductive inferences which are probabilistic at best, or to posit alternative explanations that could explain the data, no matter how improbable. Oh the irony. If scientific atheists only applied their standards consistently, they would either deny science or accept God. We will see why more clearly later on when we explore the evidence for the existence of God. But that is neither here nor there. For now, what I want to do is just go over some basic concepts in reason in order to set the table for the coming arguments.
Reasoning is divided into two parts; inductive and deductive. As we shall see, inductive reasoning depends on deductive reasoning, which is higher in the hierarchy we are in the process of building. Inductive reasoning works by evaluating the probability that one thing is true, given another set of truths. Deductive reasoning works by understanding that some things are necessarily true, given another set of truths. “Evidence” pertains to inductive reasoning. “The evidence” is the set of premises or supposed truths on the basis of which we make a probabilistic judgement. “Proof” pertains to deductive reasoning – it refers to the premises which if true, show a conclusion to be necessarily true as well (or proven). This is the process upon which all of mathematics are built.
بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
Before we can answer the question “how can I know that God exists?” we must first ask the question “how do I know anything at all.” Or perhaps more appropriately, since God is not a “thing,” we should ask “how do I come to know?” As we shall see, all knowledge is ultimately grounded in what is unfortunately called “intuition” in English, but which is more appropriately called “immediate knowledge” or “knowledge by presence” in Islamic philosophy.
I will nevertheless sometimes use the word intuition, but it should not be mistaken for the ordinary usage of simply having a “hunch” about something or other, or the vain, amorphous imaginings of artists and poets. From intuition, in its proper sense, descends pure reason, with its capacity to give complete certainty based on deductive proofs. After that descends inductive reason, which allows us to make probabilistic arguments that reach a different kind of certainty. Lastly, we have sense perception, which contrary to popular belief is actually the lowest and least reliable form of knowledge. Ordinary sense perception, quite obviously, cannot on its own lead one to belief in God, since God is not restricted to matter. It must be combined with either reasoning or intuition in order to yield fruit, at least as it pertains to the question of God and meaning. This latter combination of vision and intuition we might call “enlightened sense perception” or “mystical vision”, by which we might see God’s Sacred Names in ordinary sensory objects. But that’s for another time.
Now the question for you, my dear reader, is what are you looking for? Are you looking to know God directly, unmitigated by any long-winded, tedious discourse involving minute reasoning? Are you looking for absolute proof of the existence of God, one that considers all objections and involves very precise reasoning? Would you be satisfied with a very compelling probabilistic argument, based on solid evidence, for the existence of God? Or perhaps, more darkly, you are here simply to “refute” any attempts to show that God is, in fact, Reality. Perhaps you have already made up your mind and are here simply to edify your ego, without the slightest intention to actually listen to what is being said and to make a genuine attempt at understanding. Perhaps if you were to hear something that might otherwise change your perspective, you would miss it simply because you are subconsciously committed to an uncharitable reading and fault finding rather than sincerity. Of course, I would not presume any of this, but the fact remains that we are all susceptible to such tendencies. If we find this darkness within our own souls, we must realize there is nothing to be gained in this world by proving that “I” am right, other than the momentary satisfaction of having domination over another soul, but everything to be gained through sincerity.
With that reminder at hand, I shall assume going forwards that you are entirely sincere in seeking to know the truth, whatever it might be, and that you are entirely prepared to hear this humble author’s perspective. As to the previous concern, what will ultimately satisfy all human beings is the direct knowledge of God, which is acquired by intellectual intuition. When a person experiences God, by definition certainty is attained – light fills the heart and one’s phenomenological experience of Being radically alters. It might be wise then, to simply prescribe steps for how one might achieve this meeting with the Divine, so that one might see the Truth for themselves rather than merely hear of it second hand. Indeed within each religion, there is a mystical path that is aimed at precisely that, and if one wishes they are entirely free to embark upon such a path.
However, a problem arises in that a person who is not already on this path wants to know with certainty that the object of the journey, namely God, does in fact exist and so such efforts would not be in vain. It seems to be asking a little much to tell a person they must completely change their lifestyle, values, and temporarily suspend their established beliefs about the nature of reality simply to experiment and see, perhaps, if God is indeed Real and as Glorious as He is made out to be – a highly dubious supposition to begin with if one is already entrenched in the atheist camp.
I contend that it is much easier to experience God than people of such persuasion might think. You see, the experience of God is a continuum. To experience God as a devoted mystic might experience Him would require a very high level of commitment, sincerity, and devotion. But to experience God at a very basic level – enough to know that there is something Sacred and mystical about reality that contemporary science entirely ignores is actually not that difficult to achieve. It is, in fact, this initial taste of the Sacred that inspires most religious people to religion. If one becomes more sincere and devoted, the experiences become more intense and sweeter than honey. Consequently, some people become ensnared upon the mystical path until they attain the Divine.
Intrigued? You might at this point be wondering what one might do in order to induce such an experience. Simple. Do something good with the hopes of seeing God in the depths of your heart. Sincerity is the key here – you must desire to see God and act out this desire through goodness. Do as much good as you can with this deep sincerity, and you will experience the Sacred sooner rather than later.
Alternatively, you can exhibit self-restraint in the face of temptation to do something you know to be evil, once again with the hopes of seeing God in the depths of your heart. You might have a particular deed that you are in the habit of doing, which violates your conscience. You might be rude to your parents, or a jerk at work, or hard-hearted in your relationships. You might do something that you know is wrong, and you might do it regularly. Simply stop doing it for the sincere desire to see God, and the Sacred will embrace you. Seeking forgiveness from God, with a deep desire for that forgiveness and to see God will also give you a direct experience of the Divine, though I suspect this would be more difficult for people who do not yet accept the existence of God to try.
In fact, there are more purely intellectual ways to induce such realization, but I find that it is pointless to try to run before you can walk. If someone sincerely wants to see God, the above are the simplest prescriptions he or she can follow to attain the desired result. Ironically, this same prescription can be applied for those who accept a religion but wish to strengthen their connection to God, and to taste the sweet honey they have yet to experience. The obstacles to knowing God in this direct and intimate manner are not about labels, what one calls oneself, but about the state of one’s heart. Of course, it is easier for the nominal believer to take the steps necessary to humble himself such that God manifests Himself into his heart because the belief system of a believer is conducive to this. It tells him God exists and that to see Him one must be humble, shun evil and do good works with complete sincerity. The nominal disbeliever, on the other hand, must at least be convinced to at least try the proposed experiment.
Once one directly experiences God, even at a relatively low level compared to the great mystics, the question of a reasoned proof becomes less important (although not entirely). If you were to taste the food at a particular restaurant, would you be interested to read a review in order to know if the restaurant is good? Perhaps in order to compare experiences, but your mind will be made up as to whether you liked the food you just ate, rather than what some other person’s opinion on the matter is. Nothing that other person could say could convince you to either like or dislike the food more than what your own taste buds have told you. Likewise, for he who has tasted the Divine, what difference does it make whether he can prove it to someone else by means of ratiocination?
It is for this reason that religious people are often accused of dogmatism regarding their religious beliefs. We have tasted the Divine, what does it matter if we can prove our perspective through some rational argument? And, at any rate, understanding a rational argument for the existence of God is not the same as experiencing God; it cannot replace the experience of God because it belongs to a different, lesser order of being. Try describing love or real hatred to someone who has never experienced such emotions; the person may understand it conceptually, but they will not know what the experience truly is. They are different altogether – to know what love is one must experience love; to know what hatred is, one must experience hatred. No amount of conceptual gymnastics in the discursive mind will be equivalent to the experience; thus it is with the Sacred.
But all this is not entirely true. There are four reasons why a religion must offer rational defenses for its viewpoint. The first and most important reason is that the Glory of God and His Omnipotence demands that He manifest Himself on all the levels of being. Each level of being is limited in its capacity, and so it can only accommodate His Sacred Presence to a limited degree and in a certain modality (or way). Pure intellection, what we have called “intuition”, is the highest modality available to man, but this does not mean that God, and by extension God’s religion, must not appeal to the other faculties of man: rationality, sentimentality, even the body, in as far as lower orders of being can be connected to higher principles.
If all of this sounded rather convoluted, I hope in time to convey the full meaning of what I have written here. To summarize the point perhaps more succinctly: the fitra, or innate human nature, tends to reject a God who is too weak to prove Himself with foolproof rational arguments. It demands that God, if He indeed exists, establishes compelling proof such that the naysayers have no leg left to stand on, and should they continue to insist in their denial, the reality of their lies, slander, commitment to reject Truth out of hatred, envy and resentment of Being should come to light for those who wish to see. The truth cannot be ambiguous; the hujjah must be established so that none have an excuse to remain ignorant. That is a God that can be worshipped.
The fitra also demands a God that can appeal to our sentiments, moral and otherwise, but since the rise of Protestantism in the West, religion has become nothing but sentimentality, so I will not delve into this aspect of religion. In fact, I suspect a few of my dear atheist readers have read nothing but “muh feelings” into everything I have said thus far about intellectual intuition and the sense of the Sacred. This conflation between intellectual intuition and sentimentality is unfortunate, but not altogether unexpected. How could we expect those who’ve yet to open their eyes to understand sight, let alone the difference between colours and shapes?
In as far as we are human beings, each one of us as an intellectual faculty, a rational faculty, a sentimental faculty, a body, and so forth. But among mankind, some tend towards one or another aspect of their being. Thus we have a second reason why the existence of God must appeal to reason: there are some who cannot overcome the tendency for rational understanding prior to action. These people cannot put aside their mind and simply act experimentally, as I have suggested, until they have satisfied the demands of their mind, at least minimally. Once they are satisfied that God either most certainly or at least probably exists, and that a particular religious path will get them the desired experience of the Sacred, only then will they act. To some extent, as I have pointed out, all human beings are like this, but few tend to this way of being so strongly that they require the kind of rigour that philosophy offers.
There is a third reason we must have proof. The experience of God, as attained through intellectual intuition, can vanish and be replaced by darkness because of the commission of serious sins. In other words, sometimes we turn away from God, and the memory of the Sacred fades along with it, given a lengthy enough period of time. This, of course, is not zero or one hundred, but a matter of degree. Upon the commission of relatively minor sins, we may still retain a faint sense of the Sacred, but upon the commission of a series of persistent major sins over a long enough period of time, we may all but lose the experience of God. When this happens, there is an opening for doubt to creep in, and I suspect this is how many formerly religious people fall prey to atheism and scepticism.
Fourthly, different religions all claim truth and there is a need to appeal to rationality in order to sort through them since many of them presumably do in fact offer an experience of the Sacred. Are all religions ultimately the same? Is one religion true to the exclusion of all others? Does it really matter? How do we resolve theological differences? The ultimate question here, which reason must answer, is which religion if any, should I follow? Which school of thought, within any one religion, should I follow?
With that, I leave you – at least for now. It is now up to you to decide whether you want to try to connect to the Sacred through suprarational means, to taste that sweet nectar that will transform your entire experience of being, to find relief from suffering, and to show the glorious potential of life. At any rate, our next installment in the series will explore rational proofs for the existence of God, which will benefit you regardless of whether you choose to take steps from now to connect to the One who yearns for you. What have you got to lose?
قَالَتِ الْأَعْرَابُ آمَنَّا ۖ قُل لَّمْ تُؤْمِنُوا وَلَٰكِن قُولُوا أَسْلَمْنَا وَلَمَّا يَدْخُلِ الْإِيمَانُ فِي قُلُوبِكُمْ ۖ وَإِن تُطِيعُوا اللَّهَ وَرَسُولَهُ لَا يَلِتْكُم مِّنْ أَعْمَالِكُمْ شَيْئًا ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ غَفُورٌ رَّحِيمٌ – 49:14