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Philosophy Notes and Topics on Philosophy

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Old Wednesday, July 27, 2005
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Default God, Universe And Man

GOD, UNIVERSE AND MAN
MUHAMMAD HANIF NADVI



Let us start with a negative statement. In order to understand God, logical arguments are not at all adequate. We shall have to inculcate in ourselves faith in Him and so develop a personal, 'I' to 'I', encounter. This kind of approach to God is immediately responded by Him by showing us ways that lead to Him. The Qur'an says:

As for those who strive in us, We surely guide them to our paths. (29: 69) One may immediately react to this point of view and say that this amounts to the fallacy of petitio principii, that is, we presuppose the reality which we have yet to prove. The second objection will be that man's approach to God, by virtue of being only a matter of experience, would have nothing to do with the exercise of human reason.

We accept both these points of criticism. Our answer is that if there is something which is directly relevant to our experience it cannot possibly be subjected to a system of definitions and captured by the net of premises and conclusions. For example, if you want to know about the fragrance of a flower you have to smell it; dry and lifeless logic cannot be applied to attain that knowledge. Similarly, if you want to have knowledge of the good taste and the refreshing quality of milk, butter or honey you will have actually to taste these things. Exactly in the same way the nature of God is not a conclusion of any set of major and minor premises, but is rather a matter of acceptance by faith and personal experience. If you have to understand the God of Abraham, Moses, Jesus and the last prophet Muhammad (peace be upon them) and have to attain an awareness of His power, wisdom and omniscience, it is necessary to develop in yourself Abraham's faith, Moses' conviction, Jesus's gnosis, and the last prophet, Muhammad's, (peace be upon them) personal experience of God.

Faith is a sort of phenomenon less directly relevant to the existence of God than to the harmony available in the universe, the phenomenon of evolution going on in it, the resolution of the complications in the realm of life, and consciousness and the creation of order and unity in the field of knowledge in general. God existed when no man had yet been created and even when the universe was still going through a period of formation and arrangement, that is to say, God existed before men started thinking about nature. This fact will become more and more evident as man progresses in the elaboration of the dimensions of knowledge and consciousness. The existence of God is not a dogma, but rather a fact which becomes ever clearer with the advancement of knowledge and experience. Divine knowledge is the beginning of experience as well as its final goal.

How is faith related to reason and understanding? In order to know the answer to this question we should realise that faith is due to the grace of those selected few who tried to know God directly through their own experience. The civilisation and culture they produced is a source of inspiration for us even today. If man today adopts the method of faith and gets satisfaction through it, he will not find this universe scattered and disorderly but rather orderly scheme with meaning and purpose. The sciences and their discoveries will appear to him to be well-connected and well-organised in a single whole.

Faith is a meeting point where the intuitions of Rumi and the arguments of Razi meet each other: it is the consummation of man's 'will to believe'. Man is a complex reality; along with his desire to discover and investigate realities his nature demands that he should unreservedly submit to certain realities. Together these have had an impact on civilisation and culture. The present stage of evolution in the universe is not entirely due to logic and reason, but also and to a very great extent to faith and unreasoned commitment. That is why almost all religions have emphasised the importance of reasoning and speculation about the problems of existence, but alongwith faith in God.

The exception of Buddhism and Jainism to the above principle is understandable. If Buddha had believed in God he would never have succeeded in bringing about the social revolution he described in Hindu society. In that age, faith in God amounted to the acceptance of the supremacy of the Brahman, which, in turn, amounted to the division of men into the higher and the lower, castes sacred and profane, select and outcast, and so on. Thus if Buddha, in order to realise the objective of human dignity and the unity of humankind, did not erect his conception of civilisation and spirituality on faith in the existence of God, he was to a very great extent justified. If one hundred untruths must necessarily come along with one single truth, it is immensely desirable to do away with that one truth. Jainism can also be declared as the outcome of a similar situation. Man of today no doubt finds in himself an aversion to religion and faith because along with its one truth he is made to accept various superstitions regarding the Brahman, and all kinds of irresponsible talk by priests and irrational declarations by the mullah.

Thusfar I have talked of the importance of faith for life. Now let us move to the arguments for the existence of God as formulated by traditional philosophy. Kant has referred to three kinds of arguments, under one or another of these all possible arguments for the existence of God can be subsumed. They are:

a. the ontological argument,
b. the cosmological argument, and
c. the teleological argument.

Before we discuss these arguments simply I would like to emphasise one thing. Arguments in general should be regarded as relevant to persons for whom they are offered, to their temperaments and attitudes and people differ in their intellectual capacities and emotional constitutions. In the face of this situation no arguments are equally acceptable to all. The real question is not the degree of certainty an argument has, but rather to who the argument is offered and, what is the standard of acceptance for that person.

Secondly, strictly logical argumentsignore not only the experience and emotive subjectivity of man, but also disregard the fact that God Whom we try to prove and discover and before Whom we lie prostrate, also of His own tries to reveal Himself and to have contact with us. He desires that we pray to Him and adore His creativity and wisdom, and that we dialogue with Him. While we are in search of Him, He too is ready to disclose Himself. If, due to our limitations in understanding and logic, we are not capable of discovering Him, nevertheless we shall be justified because He is beyond all limitations and infirmities. There may be a hundred and one ways in which He can introduce Himself. This exercise of self-revelation on the part of God has been realised again and again. He has revealed Himself through the prophets and other holy men, through art and literature, and in general through various events and occurrences in the universe. He is so benevolent and kind that to whomsoever comes out in search of Him He Himself goes forward and shows Himself. These three arguments have left out many ways to God-awareness, thousands of other ways also lead men to God.

As to the value of these arguments themselves, at the very outset we must recognise the fact that these are the attempts of finite human minds to reach the Infinite, Unlimited, Eternal Being and that the limited cannot at all fully comprehend the Unlimited. In this regard we agree with Kant that the thing-in-itself is unknowable by strictly limited human resources. Despite this, we also realize that reason is the best mode of awareness available to the common man; so it does have a value. Even the moral argument for the existence of God formulated by Kant is the result of deep thought and speculation. Thus, in the last analysis, we have to fall back upon reason and make the best possible use of it.

The first argument generally offered for the existence of God is the ontological argument. This argument has a historical perspective. In strict philosophical terms it was first framed by St. Anselm, though informally it had already been formulated in the Psalms of David. After St. Anselm it was presented, with certain modifications, by Descartes and Leibniz. According to this argument God is a reality greater than Whom no reality is possible. He exists because if He were non-existent, He would not be the greatest and the most perfect. In other words the concept of a perfect being itself necessitates the existence of this being. The Qur'an itself always pictures God as a being Who exists of necessity.

The ontological argument is less a logical argument than an assertion of the fact that man, due to his instinctive need to pray to, and prostrate himself before, a Superior Being, necessarily believes in a God Who is perfect in all respects and Who does not need any external attributes to His perfection, a God by Whom we are inspired to be more and more perfect. In other words, the essence of this argument comprises our desire to scale ever higher levels of perfection in life. Todays sophisticated stage of civilisation and culture is due to this perpetual desire of man.

In this connection, Kant objects that the idea of an object is different from its actual existence, e.g., that the idea of 200 dollars in my pocket is not the equivalent of 200 dollars actually being there in my pocket. Hence, the idea of a Perfect Being does not necessitate the existence of this Being. We have already said that the philosophy that underlies the ontological argument cannot be reduced to the terminology of logic. However, if we do insist on the application of logic, we must ask if one eliminates existence from the concept of a Perfect Being, how that Being can continue to be perfect? Were Kant to say that a being can be perfect despite being non-existent it would be a blatant contradiction.

Another objection to the ontological argument is that it is basically negative in approach; it is based on an awareness of the limitations and infirmities of man. When a person finds himself mortal, evanescent and limited, his awareness automatically is diverted to the concept of an Infinite, Permanent and Unlimited Being, although he is not directly aware of any such being. This objection is not valid. If a sick person, on the basis of the awareness of his sickness recognizes the value of health, there is absolutely no harm in this approach: after all we have moved in the right direction. Further, if we closely analyse this phenomenon it is not that the awareness of our limitations occasions the concept of Unlimited Being, but rather it is the awareness of the Unlimited Being which has given us an awareness of our limitations and failings. This produces a firm faith in us that if we propose to transcend the limits of our being we shall have to establish a personal encounter with the Unlimited, the Perfect Being.

The greatest difficulty with this argument is how we can determine the meaning of perfection as we apply this characteristic to God, the Ultimate Being, because, beyond every perfection that we conceive there is a still higher perfection in an unending series of more and more perfect beings. Our answer to this objection is that the God that we seek to prove on the basis of this argument is not finite, so His perfection must be infinite also. Further, as perfection is not an independent characteristic by itself the perfection of God simply means that all his attributes and qualities are so perfect and supreme that beyond them there is nothing higher.
The cosmological argument is relevant to the relationship between the universe and God. Among the propounders of this argument are Plato, Aristotle,
, Descartes, Leibniz and some other religious thinkers. Those who opposed it include Hume, Kant, Mill and Russell. Of the celebrated Five Ways of Aquinas three relate to this argument. The first one proves God as the Unmoved Mover, the second one as the Self-sufficient Cause and the third one as the Eternal Being which is opposed to the transient or contingent universe. These ways are various versions of the fact that God is the Supreme Cause of the universe. This notion of causality has undergone a metamorphosis at the hands of Einstein's Theory of Relativity and the Darwinian concept of evolution. In the process of evolution, specially, it is emphasised that every stage of existence is the outcome of an immediately earlier stage. The question arises whether we can delineate a being who supervises and determines the direction of this process of evolution and looks after its moral and spiritual implications. Just as the various stages of evolution are not totally alien to one another, so this Being cannot be alien to the grand phenomenon of evolution which is the Universe. The latter is a kind of mirror in which the Supreme Being is thoroughly reflected and an arena in which His objective has been realised. This is how we move out of the closed circuit of physics and into the realm of metaphysics and develop a kind of oneness with the Supreme Being. This experience is the source of solace and comfort for one's own being. Once this level is attained it is irrelevant and redundant to ask who caused this Supreme Being. The evolution that characterises the universe, the macrocosm, is also the hallmark of the human person, the microcosm. So the significant pointers to God that are available from without are also traceable within the human self.

The teleological argument relates to the purposiveness in the universe. As we look at the universe we do not find it as simply a jumble of disjointed objects and events; rather, it is characterised by harmony, order, arrangement and purposiveness. This phenomenon discredits all attempts to explain the world as an outcome of blind, ruthless, mechanical forces or simply of certain chance variations and accidental manoeuvres. The immanent charms and inherent beauties of the universe are so spectacular that one is thoroughly enchanted and irresistibly declares:
Our Lord: Thou createdst this not in vain. (Qur'an 3: 191)

The various faculties of the human organism are fitted to the aims and objectives it has to realise; in fact, the entire universe has been made congenial to his purposes. One objection that has been raised against this argument is that along with harmonies in the universe we also find spectacles of disharmony and disorder; along with uniformities we come across a number of discordances in the universe. This objection is, however, superficial and is the result of a partial view of the universe. As our point of view grows higher and higher and we look at the universe from a universal, synoptic and total point of view, all the disharmonies are removed and everywhere we find perfect order. Now if, for example, in a library the books are placed in a thorough arrangement for ready availability, we are immediately led to the conclusion that there is a person behind this, a librarian who has done this. So order and arrangement in the universe leads irresistibly to the conclusion that there must exist a Supreme Being Who is responsible for the creation and continued maintenance of this order.

The rational arguments which have been briefly dealt with in the above pages, it must be reiterated, are not conclusive proofs because no such proofs can be given for the existence of God. They simply provide us moments of speculation. In order to know Him we shall have to establish contact with Him through personal experience.
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