The Rational – Episode 04 – ibn Taymiyyah On Existence Of The Creator

Yassir Fazaga: Last time we were talking about the possibility that arguing for the existence of God rationally is easy even though it is ironic that it’s the believers who have to argue for this and you mentioned that that should not be the case and I believe we’d be addressing this later on and then you also spoke of some of the ideas of Ibn Taimiyah, a great Islamic thinker and philosopher in this regard and you were talking about various kinds of people who would potentially deny the existence of God.

And I believe we were given three options by Ibn Taimiyah. His first very honest and blunt opinion about them that they were  liars, second kind were suffering from sophistry, and then the third  kind of people who are very interesting;  People who are just not aware.

Dr Jaafar Sheikh Idris: Yes and we were enumerating the questions that he raised regarding the fact that this knowledge of the creator is innate.

The first question was about what kind of knowledge was there?

The second question was if that’s the case why do people deny it?

The third question is that if this is something innate in human nature what is the use of argument?

You don’t try to convince someone of something he already believes in. His reply is that this strengthens the faith. We can elaborate on this and remind ourselves of the fact that faith is not something that you have once and for all. It is something that a person can lose, it is something that can be strengthened or weakened and he says it’s a fact that if you know something, the more you have evidence for it, the stronger your faith in it will be.

So he says that the argument and evidence strengthen the faith of those who are already believers and I would add something else. It shows also the irrationality of the opinions of the atheist. I would not only condemn an atheist but I will tell him you are being irrational as there is evidence for existence of the creator and you are denying it. All your arguments for non existence of Creator are invalid arguments.

Ibn Taimiyah says somewhere else that this is something that is a duty on Muslims to do. You must make the nonbeliever feel he is defeated. If you don’t do this you will not be giving your religion its due. Of course not everyone can do that!

Yassir Fazaga: Sheikh, I think he’s talking about intellectually defeated?

Dr Jaafar Sheikh Idris: Yes, of course.

Yassir Fazaga: Sheikh, it’s interesting that someone from back then in Ibn Taiymiah’s time is promoting and encouraging such a thing and it seems like all believers, and I say that to all different faiths and groups today that approach is very apologetic nowadays.

Dr Jaafar Sheikh Idris: That’s because their knowledge of religion is weak and so is their faith. So like we said last time the stronger your faith is, the more knowledge you have, the more rational you become.

He says he benefitted greatly and I can testify to this from my own experience, by knowing the position of the nonbelievers and the deviants. He made a general rule that the more you know about the falsehood of anything that contradicts your religion, the stronger your faith will be and I can also say this from my experience. Sometimes I purposely read a book on atheism. Of course I don’t encourage everyone to do that specially if they are young but I benefit greatly from it. InshaAllah we will give some examples of these.

Now he says that the fundamental thing is what we have said and this is the reason in fact why we believe. They don’t believe because of the arguments we are going to mention now because some people are not even aware of them. They don’t even understand them sometimes and sometimes the argument can be put in a wrong form.

Some atheists in the west like Marx criticized argument for the existence of God. They thought that they proved them to be false, therefore there is no God. Now a very famous British philosopher said no to their line of reasoning. He said that this cannot be followed. He is not a believer himself but was speaking logically. He said the arguments can be false but still God exists.

Because you can give a false argument for the existence of something that exists but not for the argument or evidence that you mentioned. So we want to emphasize this fact: We are not claiming that any person who does not understand this kind of argument in the elaborate way which we might resort to is not a believer. Belief is based primarily on that innate nature.

Yassir Fazaga: Sheikh, that’s a good point you are making there; the defeat of an argument does not mean it’s the defeat of the conclusion that this argument stands for!

Dr Jaafar Sheikh Idris: Yes, because a person can make wrong arguments and arrive at true conclusions. So the fact that his argument is false does not mean that the conclusion is false. He says that some people and I know this also from my study of western philosophy, people confine evidence for existence of Creator and they teach them to students and he says this is wrong, there are innumerable kinds of evidence for existence of Creator and he says because this is something very important for people so the God who created them helps them by giving them so many pieces of evidence and he mentioned them.

First of all, human nature, and then the evidence of ayah, which I will elaborate upon inshaAllah. You know this is mentioned in the Quran several times. An ayah is a sign and an evidence.

Then there are cosmological arguments that are very well known to people in the west.

Then there is what is called the argument from design, that the world is made in such a way that it must be have been designed. It’s not just made of isolated created things. There is a proper design.

Then there are arguments from the words of the Creator. You read the Quran, the original torah, the original gospel revealed to Jesus and by reading the words of the Creator you come to believe in the Creator even if you were not a believer before. He also says if you read the lives of the Prophets, you see that someone might be an atheist but then he meets a prophet, he becomes impressed by his life and becomes a Muslim.

Yassir Fazaga: Sheikh, people who limited these arguments, I am thinking that they did not say these are all the arguments that are out there. I think they would be in reaction to the arguments that were raised by people who denied the existence of God.

Dr Jaafar Sheikh Idris: They don’t say or express it but the implicit assumption is that these are the arguments. And if we prove them to be false then we’re done.

Yassir Fazaga: As you said, we at times tend to be a bit meagre and maybe at times a bit shallow and trivial when we are counter arguing these points.

Dr Jaafar Sheikh Idris:  Yes some times. But remember some of these atheists were great thinkers so you don’t expect an ordinary Muslim to have an argument against them; however that doesn’t mean their argument will shake his belief. But he doesn’t have the knowledge or so to counter the argument. This is a kind of jihad, it has becomes a dangerous word these days! But anyways this is a peaceful jihaad so there should be no problem.

Yassir Fazaga: Has lack of response from community of believers promoted atheism?

Dr Jaafar Sheikh Idris: To be fair to religious theologians in the west, let me say that in fact they do write books against atheists too. Whether the atheists are convinced or not.

In fact one of the staunchest of atheists declared that he now has become a believer – Professor Antony Flew. He used to criticize the arguments of existence of God. There will always be people like these. If they are suffering from sophistry or others who are liars what can you do! We should make them feel that they are wrong whether they admit it or not.

The second evidence is a very important one, which Quran and Sunnah called ‘ayah’ – a sign. Ibn Taimyah says something very interesting he says sign is not an argument! It’s something that points to something else.

For instance I know you and I know your voice so if I hear your voice. I say Yasir is around so your voice is an ayah, a sign for your existence. It’s not an argument.

He points that the advantage of ayah over the argument is that the ayah points to God directly while the argument gives you a general conclusion that there must be a Creator but the ayah makes a link between you and your Creator.

But then he raises a question: someone might say but this is not an evidence! This means I already know God and I know this is His creation and to see something as a sign of something else, you must know both and you must see the link between the two.

Yassir Fazaga: I am not sure what’s more impressive, the fact that he makes the argument or the questions that he makes for his arguments!

Dr Jaafar Sheikh Idris: That’s because he’s a great intellectual and is not afraid about raising questions about his own argument so he said there’s good reason for this. It strengthens your faith i.e. the more you see of God’s signs and the more you know about him because there are many verses in the Quran that invite us to think at the heavens and earth and so on and he says this tells you about the attributes of the Creator so there is a reason for this .

Yassir Fazaga: It sounds as if he says the ayah serves more of a purpose to someone who already believes rather than the one who does not.

Dr Jaafar Sheikh Idris: Yes what about someone who doesn’t believe. He says you help him to see the link between the two, if he thinks deeply about the nature of the creation. Even if he doesn’t believe in God he must have an idea of God.

As some people say you can’t deny something of which you have no idea. You must have an idea of what’s being denied. So even an atheist must have an idea of what he is denying. Now if he has this idea and you tell him about the nature of the creation to help him see the connection between the creation and what he is denying, then he will accept because many atheists say we don’t see them as ayahs! We see them as crude facts like this is a tree, this is the sea; these are clouds and so on. He says arguments help the person see the link between the two and the best argument is the one in the Quran which says:

ام خلقوا من غير شي ام هم الخالقون

‘Were they created out of nothing or were they creators of themselves?’

This means the Quran is not assuming the non existence of the Creator like some of the arguments do. It is assuming that there is a Creator and it tells the person who denies this, then what’s the alternate.

If there is no Creator how did you come to being? Whenever the Quran asks a rhetorical question, this means that the answer is well known to a rational person. Any rational person in response to the first part of the ayah would say ‘nothing comes from nothing!’

In response to the second part of the ayah :’are you the creators of yourselves’ – Again with a little bit of rationality one can say that a thing doesn’t create itself as  to create one must be there, but then if it’s there its already created. So to say that something created itself is a contradiction. You are assuming a thing to exist and not exist at the same time! And any rational person whether a layman or someone with a good bit of intellect can see that this cannot be true.

This is the Quranic argument against atheists. This is one of the arguments and a very famous one, many of our thinkers have elaborated on it.

Yassir Fazaga: Sheikh, there is no third alternative mentioned in the verse?

Dr Jaafar Sheikh Idris: The third alternative is that you are created by a creator! And that is left unsaid!

Yassir Fazaga: So that’s the only option left!

Dr Jaafar Sheikh Idris: You said earlier that the Quran should not be on the defensive. Now here the Quran is not on the defensive! It says there is a Creator. If you deny the Creator, then show me; you either created yourself which is impossible or were created from nothing which is again impossible! And this leaves us with the third alternative which is not mentioned as it is well known!

For some time, I thought this was like the cosmological argument that starts by assuming that there no Creator and then goes on to prove the existence of the Creator but then I discovered I was mistaken. In fact the assumption is that there is a Creator unless proven otherwise. So the proof of burden is on the one who denies the existence of a Creator.

I’ll tell you something interesting and I will give you evidence for it inshaAllah. I looked into the arguments of atheists, contemporary ones and I saw that most of them actually had to resort to one of these two alternatives or both of them sometimes.

Even some great scientists had to say, since they insisted on atheism, that things come from nothing or they create themselves. There was a third alternative for the atheists that’s no longer there. They used to say that the world is eternal, so it doesn’t need to be created. The big bang theory closed that alternative. Because according to big bang theory everything had a beginning: time, space, matter etc.

So no one can say that the word is eternal and even before the big bang theory it was wrong to say this because you cannot point to anything in this world and say it is eternal. Greeks use to think that the heavenly bodies are eternal as they never saw any change in the sun or moon so they must be eternal and AlGhazali replied to it saying these are huge bodies and very far away from us so if they diminish you will not see the amount of diminishing but now we know that the sun is continuously diminishing, same applies to the moon.

So no one can now point to something and say this is eternal since everything that you point to, can be changed and if it can be changed, it cannot be eternal.

Yassir Fazaga:  And with this we come to the end of this episode hoping that you join in next time.

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