The Rational – Episode 05 – Cosmological Argument For Existence Of God

Transcript of The Rational, Episode 05

Yassir Fazaga: Last time we were talking about the Quranic Argument for the existence of God and I believe you mentioned the verse in surah toor  ام خلقوا من غير شي ام هم الخالقون

Dr Jaafar Sheikh Idris:  Were they created out of nothing or did they create themselves

Yassir Fazaga: And you said generally speaking in your study or observations most atheists have fallen into of these categories that Quran has actually given.

Dr Jaafar Sheikh Idris:  Yes and I am talking about contemporary ones and some of them are scientists.

Yassir Fazaga: It sounds a bit ludicrous to me that somebody can actually argue that we came out of nothing.

Dr Jaafar Sheikh Idris:  Yes I will show you some of their works

Yassir Fazaga: That they have actually promoted such an idea?

Dr Jaafar Sheikh Idris:  Yes!

Yassir Fazaga: Interestingly you also said that in Greek philosophy earlier they even said that there was an argument that world is eternal and needs not a creator.

Dr Jaafar Sheikh Idris: Yes they thought that the heavenly bodies, because they know that the trees are not eternal, water is not eternal but they thought that the heavenly bodies were eternal especially the sun and their argument was that we haven’t seen any change, the sun as always been like this so it must be eternal. Then I gave al Ghazallis objection to that he said that how do you know? Sun is a huge body and it is far away so if it diminishes by a small amount every day you would not be able to realize this. But we now know that what al Ghazali said is true.

Yassir Fazaga: I am wondering this why the people believe to worship the heavenly bodies.

Dr Jaafar Sheikh Idris:  Yes of course. Especially the people of Prophet Ibraheem AS used to worship the heavenly bodies.

Yassir Fazaga: Mainly because they felt they were eternal.

Dr Jaafar Sheikh Idris:  Could be

Yassir Fazaga: Interesting. Shaykh we would love to hear some of these arguments.

Dr Jaafar Sheikh Idris:  We enumerated some of these pieces of evidence that Ibn Taimiah mentioned, now we come to the most famous argument for existence of God, and I mean famous among the philosophers and it was also popular in Muslim, Christian and Jewish theologians.  The argument took many forms, took many ways and some of the formulations were wrong, so people thought because the formulation is wrong the argument is false. And I will try now to give what I think is correct form of the argument. The argument goes like this …

Yassir Fazaga: Shaykh just to remind our viewers, Ibn Taimiah argues that it is innate nature to believe, then he spoke about ayahs or the signs, and now the cosmological argument.

Dr Jaafar Sheikh Idris:  He says that there is a difference between the cosmological and the ayahs as I said last time. The ayah points to God directly cosmological argument comes to the conclusion that there must be a creator or an eternal cause. So he said that it is good as far as it goes but it does not go far enough. And I will comment on that inshaAllah.

The argument is like this: It says that there are temporal things. Temporal things are those that have beginnings. A temporal thing must have an external cause. It cannot create itself. The external cause cannot be itself temporal. Because we would ask the same question about it i.e. the cause itself. But some people said, why not? They say that we can say that for example if we say that temporal thing 1 (T1) is caused by temporal thing 2 (T2) which is caused by temporal thing 3 (T 3) and so on to infinity. They said what is wrong with this? The series need not end anywhere. So they said that cosmological argument does not prove that there must be an eternal creator.

Now ibn taimiah and many of the Muslim theologians said that this is wrong. Because if you say that T1 is caused by T2 then T1 would not exist until T1 has already existed. But T2 would not exist until T3 exists and so on. So they said that there is in fact no series, there is nothing. But the fact is that there is something. So this cannot be the case. Because if every temporal thing was caused by another temporal thing there would have been no temporal things at all.

Yassir Fazaga: Shaykh if I have understood you correctly, a temporal thing must be caused.

Dr Jaafar Sheikh Idris:   It must be caused by something external to it. If that something external is it temporal then…

Yassir Fazaga: it would require that something has caused it

Dr Jaafar Sheikh Idris:  In a book that wrote in Arabic, I likened this to a poor person who is found to be in possession of a million dollars. We say that you are a poor person. Where did you get this money from? He says that I got this from person 2 and but that person2 is also poor. And person 2 got it from person 3 who is also poor and so on. So that would not solve the problem where the million dollars came from. Unless someone says that I robbed a bank (laughs). So same is the case with temporal things. Now some of them did not get the argument correctly, they said that as if the conclusion that ultimate cause must be eternal as if we are arbitrarily saying that there must be a creator.

Yassir Fazaga: Simply because the circle does not make sense.

Dr Jaafar Sheikh Idris:  No! They don’t say this. It they said it does not make sense that would be a good argument. Now ibn taimiah said we are saying that existence of temporal things is itself a proof that there is an eternal thing. Because these temporal things would not have existed at all if there was no eternal thing. So I am not just saying that there is a God and he is eternal. We are proving his eternity by the existence of temporal things. So our evidence for existence of eternal cause is existence of temporal things.

This by the way is called infinity regress. He says that series like this can go to infinity if everyone was caused by the eternal. He is outside this chain. He created this, before it he created this, and before it he created this and so on. There is no logical problem.

A very famous physicist said I have an alternative. It does not need to go this way in a chain to infinity why not make it like a loop and say that E1 caused E 2, E 2 caused E 3, E 3 caused E 4, E4 caused E 1 which caused E 2, which caused E 3 so it becomes circle and there is no problem. Now in my book I said this cannot be the case because let us go backwards now, E 1 would not have existed had it not been for E 4, E4 would not have existed had it not been for E 3, E 3 would not have existed had it not been for E 2, E2 would not have existed had it not been for E1 so nothing exists!

Yassir Fazaga: Sure

Dr Jaafar Sheikh Idris:  Now if you say E 1 caused E2, E2 caused E3, E3 caused E 4, E4 caused E1 and that was already caused! So E4 caused E1 when E4 itself it result of E1, E2, E3. And this is a very famous physicist and he wrote a book called ‘God and the new physics’ and in fact it was his book that made me think writing a book on physics and the existence of creator in Arabic, because I realize there is very little physics in it, and I am not a physicist I realized that he relies heavily on the ideas and the arguments of western philosophers and I am in fact familiar with them.

So I said to myself why not write a book and give the ideas of the Muslim philosophers and theologians and that’s what I did. Many people in the west are not aware this, they don’t know, and it is our mistake in fact.

Yassir Fazaga: Our mistake, meaning the…

Dr Jaafar Sheikh Idris:  They don’t think there are Muslim intellectuals like Ibn taimiah because they don’t know about him, they know about their own philosophers and they think these are the greatest minds and so on, so I think it is our mistake that people in the West don’t know much about them.

Yassir Fazaga: Dr Jaafar you were talking earlier about Muslims, and our fault in that we have not exposed great thinkers like Ibn taimiah and Imam al Ghazali to western philosophy either in refuting our countering these arguments. I wonder what could be done.

Dr Jaafar Sheikh Idris:  What could be done? People like you should write about it, you are living in the west, you study the works of their works, some of the Orientalists did this but they did not write popular books and some of them were not themselves philosophers so they did not popularize the ideas of Muslim philosophers, because there are many ideas that people would wonder some of the ideas that they attribute to some of the western philosophers were expressed by Muslim philosophers long time before them.

And of the things that I realized, something I found very strange, that the ideas of contemporary philosophers on some of the Greek philosophers say that criticism of Greek philosophy is very much like criticism of Sunni theologians. The non sunni theologians follow the Greeks and defended some of their views, contemporary western philosophers discovered that some of these ideas were foolish, they criticized them, so the nearest Islamic ideas about philosophy to western philosophy are the ideas of sunnis not the mutazilites or the other groups.

Some of them wonder, when I studied in London School of Economic and Social Sciences, there was a very famous philosopher, Pauper, he had an idea of which he was very proud, he used to say, it is wrong to say – some the Greeks said – knowledge starts with definitions, before you talk you must define your words, and he used to say this cannot be so because if I define my words I have to define them in other words and then if you ask me to define each of the – say I used 5 words- there would be 25 words, and then I would have to explain each of the 25 words and so on.

So I went to him, I did not want to embarrass him in front of people, so I told him that we had a very famous Muslim theologian who said the same thing a long time ago. And ibn taimiah said, knowledge does not start with definitions because to define you have to know, that was his argument – to define you have to know so knowledge is before definitions.

And I did not want to embarrass him, but he embarrassed me, he said I don’t know anything about ibn taimiah thisyour fault! Why don’t you write about your people?

Yassir Fazaga: Shaykh have the ideas of Ibn taimiah and Ghazali and their likes been lost?

Dr Jaafar Sheikh Idris:  They are not lost, they are their ideas are in books, in fact, many Muslims don’t know about them because we are not very much concerned about them, in the Muslim world we are concerned about practical things, we have been colonized, we want to free ourselves from communism, dictatorships etc so there has not been much time for pure intellectual matters, but if a western philosopher reads Ibn taimiah or so, he would find himself at home.

And I have again, an experience like this, one professor of philosophy visited us in University of Khartoum, I gave one of my students something near distinction but slightly less, he said why don’t you invite him and discuss this matter with him and give him these two or three marks, and please make it in English, the course was in Arabic. And I invited him, this man is now Minister of Interior in Sudan, Dr Zubair Basheer.

Yassir Fazaga: Did you give him the marks?

Dr Jaafar Sheikh Idris:  Yes we started talking about Al Ghazali, Pauper, Ibn taimiah, Kant, and so. And the student was very impressive, and when we finished and he went outside, he (professor from abroad) said: Of course! You should give him an A!

Another colleague in department of philosophy was British and he said the most valuable thing that he learnt by being in Sudan and that department is that the human mind is the same. As we in the west sometimes think, as some of those in the west used to think that even logic is something western. A famous orientalist like Montgomery Watt said something about Arabs that for them contradictions don’t mean anything. In fact if there are contradictions this is taken as a sign of richness and so on. Of course this is totally wrong. So to some extent it is our mistake.

We are talking about cosmological arguments and I said that I presented what I thought was the correct formulation of the argument. But there are wrong formulations and some of them are very famous. For example someone says everything has a cause, and then the atheist says: ok everything has a cause then God has a cause because God is substance. And he is right if you say ‘everything’ has a cause, God is ‘something’ then He must have a cause so that destroys your argument.

The correct thing to say is ‘every event has a cause’ or ‘every temporal thing has a cause’ not ‘everything has a cause’. Because an eternal thing does not have a cause. If something is eternal then this means that it depends for existence on itself. And that is what is called in Quranic terminology: Qayoom. Qayoom they say is the one who is self sufficient. He does not need something from outside to depend on.

Yassir Fazaga: And this is one of the attributes of God that mentioned in the Quran.

Dr Jaafar Sheikh Idris:  Yes. Now ibn taimiah said about the cosmological arguments that it does not go far enough. The only thing it proves is that there must be an eternal cause.

Yassir Fazaga: It points out generally speaking but it does not specify.

Dr Jaafar Sheikh Idris:  Yes and in fact what he said was the same thing what was said by some of the western philosophers who criticized the cosmological argument. Some of them said: Yes ok the conclusion that there should be an eternal cause why should that have to be God?

Now in my book I said that we can go from that conclusion of cosmological argument to the other attributes of creator. So a cosmological argument would be a first step.

So this means that I am not in total agreement with ibn taimiah because ibn taimiah said it does not go far enough perhaps he meant what I have just said that it proves that there is an eternal thing and then we make that the first step to talk about other attributes of God and If we prove that those attributes cannot be acquired except by what they call ‘God of religion’ then we have proved the existence of the creator.

Yassir Fazaga: Shaykh this is getting better and better but time keeps us faster and faster by as this argument is getting there, so InshaAllah with this we come to the end of this episode of our program hoping that you would join us again next time as we would be talking about attributes of God as presented in the Quran and with this we say Assalamu’alaikum wa rahmatullah wa barakatuhu

Credit: Transcribed by Defiance Team.


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