The Atheist Delusion – Part One – Can Science Answer all Questions?
“Farhath walks into the house to find two lovely cups on the table. The steam is indicative of a hot drink. “Is it coffee? Or is tea perhaps?” wonders Farhath. Her grandmother walks in and asks, “Farhath, will you join me for a cuppa tea?” After agreeing, Farhath, being a young lady, has an inquisitively wandering scientific mind that asks “How is tea made?” She then contemplates and realizes that it is the culmination of boiling water which causes the flavor of the teabag to infuse with the water, altering its colour, aroma, and taste. She understands the “how”, but not the “why’ of its existence. She then turns to her grandmother and asks, “Why did you make tea gran?” Rehana then answers, “I just felt like having a cup with you”.
From the above scenario, we deduce that even though we may be able to scientifically explain “how” a cup of tea is made, the mechanics of the question cannot explain the dynamic, i.e. the “why” of the presence of that cup. Hence, whilst science is placed to explain the process of its existence and transformation from mere water into tea, it cannot explain ‘why’ that process was initiated. Thus, science cannot explain everything.
Can Science Really answer ‘Ultimate’ Questions on the Basis of Sure Knowledge?
No sane person can deny that science has, and can potentially explain a great many things. The problem, however, arises when certain atheists whose conviction and belief in Science causes them to claim that science can, and will be to be able to answer everything in the future. Sounds like “blind faith” to me. Whilst Atheists of the past had gone about their views in a very intellectually mature manner, the methodology of the “New Atheists” -in their pursuit to “destroy” the foundations of religious beliefs, can be likened to the extremist approach of those very radical religious persons they deem to be “extremists”.
Let’s be clear! Adopting the extremist methodology does not necessarily indicate that all who adhere to that specific belief are therefore automatically equated to the dismal ranks of “radicals” holding a fundamentalist philosophy. The New Atheists, on the other hand, associate religious radical rhetoric and behaviour of individual theists to be the representation of all religious peoples. Such a fallacious train of thought demands a response in hope of dispelling the mist from the periphery of these “New Atheists”, the likes of Richard Dawkins who blatantly stated in a live interview his desire to “Kill all religions” -by promoting their own “radical” views “religiously”-, which states that the idea of the existence of God is but a delusion. Hence, this series of essays will analyze some of the basic beliefs and ideas of the New Atheists; to exhibit; that many of their famous premises and argument are in fact the real “delusion”.
Science, the Scientific Method & Unanswered Questions
The scientific method has led to many great discoveries and espouses that knowledge can only be acquired through empirical evidence. Whilst that may be true to a certain degree in solving immediate problems, one cannot place conviction in science as the sole source of knowledge for the following reasons,
a) Science cannot solve ultimate problems faced by human
b) Science is constantly changing
c) Observation and experiment have
Science Cannot Solve Ultimate Problems Faced By Human Beings
Human problems may be summed up into 1) Immediate and 2) Ultimate problems. The day-to-day problems experienced by humankind are regarded as practical problems concerning personal needs etc. Ultimate problems are encountered as the human being matures, and these experiences necessitate certain questions such as;
a) Where did human beings come from?
b) What is the nature and purpose of human life?
c) Why did the cosmos begin to exist?
d) And if it began, when, how, or why will it end?
e) If the cosmos came into being, what ‘caused’ it to begin?
f) If there was a cause, then what caused it and what is the nature of that force?
g) Would that force be personal or impersonal?
h) If it is impersonal then it is a blind force, therefore how could intelligence, plan, and purpose come out of it?
i) If it is personal, what is its nature?
j) Was it also created? Or is it an eternal force?
k) Is it finite or infinite?
These are merely some of the ultimate questions that science has been unable to provide requisite answers to.
Now, some may argue that contemplation or exploration of these ultimate questions of life is a waste of time, whilst others may retort that there are billions of people who believe in the existence of God, and who find comfort in the answers they have received regarding these ultimate questions.
Contrarily, if we do adopt the atheistic view that the universe came into existence without any preconceived cause, what we are actually saying is, “The universe just happened”, it is a “chance” event. The logical consequences of such a fallacious notion has been elucidated by the erudite scholar of Islām, Professor Fazl-ur- Rahmān Ansārī (May Allāh bestow His Mercy upon him) in his magnum opus “The Qur’anic Foundations and Structure of Muslim Society” where he asks the objective mind,
“If there is no God and the world came into being by itself, it means that it came into being by chance. In other words, it is a world of chance in which everything and every event emerges and dies out by chance. If we consider the nature of “chance” itself, we find that it always indicates an event which has no pre-conceived cause. In any case, it cannot be said to be a planned event. Again, if there is no plan in an event, there can be no purpose, because all purposive activity is planned, whether the planning is conscious (namely, based on intellectual appreciation) or merely instinctive. Resuming the argument, if the world came into being by chance, it is a blind and lawless world. Indeed, the very word “chance” means the absence of law. Now, if the world is lawless in its inherent constitution and if everything which is born out of it is also in its nature without law, it means that the formulation of any laws by human beings, whether those laws are scientific or ethical or political or economic, would be a violation of human nature and the nature of the world itself. But human beings cannot exist without law. Therefore, they are bound to give up the atheistic hypothesis of the existence of the world in order to live. If they don’t and if they carry the atheistic hypothesis to its logical consequences, the only law which they can establish for themselves would be the law of the jungle in political administration and the rule of expediency in moral life. Speaking from the other side, namely, affirmation of faith in God’s existence, if webelieve that God exists and that Hehas created the world, it means that the world came into being through planned creation, is functioning under a system of law and is moving towards a purpose. In other words, plan, purpose and law are inherent in the very constitution of the world. This, in turn, provides the ground for every branch of human law-ethical, political, economic, and so on.”
(Defense Against Disaster – A Response to the Systematic Vilification of Islām & Its Prophet in the Modern Age, Page 427-428 with reference to, The Qur’ānic Foundations and Structure of Muslim Society, Volume 1, Importance of Ultimate Questions in Practical Life, Page 52-53, Published by Elite Publishers LTD.D-118, S.I.T.E., Karachi Pakistan)
The questions raised by the great scholar cannot be ignored as it exhibits the contradictions arising from such a one-dimensional thought process, thus, raising further ultimate questions rather than answering them. Now that we have clarified this point, we shall endeavour to exhibit that even the scientific method is not to be considered as a full-proof method. Yet, atheists swear by it!
The Limitations of the Scientific Method
The scientific method of the acquisition of knowledge is predicated upon observation and experiment. With simple examples, the reader will deduce that the method is fallible, thus, not open to inaccuracies.
The Observer – varies in his / her observation because human beings differ in many ways, such as by the deterioration of sight, sound, smell, taste and touch. A person with poor vision observes with lesser accuracy than someone with 20/20 vision. An example can be made of each of the senses through which we ‘depend’ upon to observe and arrive at meaningful truths. Hence, observations vary and are not universal, and as such, cannot be applied to a single conclusion.
The Object of Observation – this depends upon the comprehensibility of the object. The greater the detail, the more concrete the observation and so it follows, that the lesser the detail, the more inaccurate the observation will be. The moon is observed by every human being who possesses the requisite vision to view it in the night sky or even during the day. Scientists once believed –based on their observation at the time- the distance between the earth and the moon, and were satisfied with their conclusion. Later on, based on more data, they admitted that it was a miscalculation. Hence, the more data one has, the more plausible the conclusion and vice versa.
Conditions for Observation – even here, there are variables to consider. For example, an observer views a straight iron rod and concludes that the rod is indeed straight. However, when half of the rod submerged in water, another observer views that the half of the rod that is in the water appears tilted where air and water meet. This “change” in observation of the rod is not because of any change in the nature of the rod. Instead, it only appears so as a corollary of the conditions under which the rod was observed.
Similarly, a mirage in the desert lands is another example from which we can easily deduce that the conditions upon which something is observed vary at times. A prime example of how the observer, the object of observation and the conditions upon which observations vary, can be deduced from the opening example of this essay regarding the cup of tea.
Thus, the three dimensions upon which the scientific method relies on to ascertain meaningful truths can be recognized as being fallible in each of its interrelated components. Since the method is not infallible, then one must ask if can it be trusted as the ‘only’ or ‘ultimate’ source of knowledge through which we can deduce meaningful truths?
Islām and Ultimate Questions
Science can explain the ‘how’, but cannot explain the ‘why’. This is where monotheistic religion steps in. According to the Qur’ān, Muslims are to ‘reflect’ upon the perfection of creation as a means to deduce that there is a designer, because purpose cannot be borne from chance events. The Qur’ān further explains that God Almighty created everything (39:62), and humankind was created for the purpose of worship (51:56). This life is temporary and the ultimate destination is the Hereafter (40:39). Muslims must therefore strive towards achieving good (2:148) to be rewarded with Paradise, and during their sojourn on this earth, they are implored to be thinkers, who remember God via deep contemplation of His creation (3:191).
Thus, since the ‘purpose’ of life and the choices we make in this life are ‘meaningful’, it follows that the universe cannot exist merely as a series of random choices for self-gain. Belief in religion drives the thought processes of the believer to achieve greater goods for the purpose of fulfilling God’s commands, in order to reap rewards in the Hereafter.
Science cannot disprove the existence of the Hereafter. It can, however, question the premise based on their materialistic method, but as we have exhibited, that method is not without fault and relies on many variables. Additionally, science may insist upon a certain theory based on ‘current’ evidence and later on, insist upon another theory based on new evidence. If human beings are to rely only on the scientific method, then we will be at war with our minds like intellectual gypsies from position to position, from one conviction to a newer conviction.
Instead, belief in the existence of an uncreated Creator, who perfectly created the world and the laws upon which it is governed, is a far greater logical theory than to restrict belief to a fallible system, and causes one to adopt a set of principles which remain till we die.
In the forthcoming editions, I shall discuss the fallibility of the philosophical method as well as other sources of knowledge which have been ignored in favour of the scientific method alone.
We must be vigilant of the propagation of deceptive deductions arising from defective methodologies. Until and unless we can approach the concept of the existence of God, free from the manacles of subjectivity, we will never be able to objectively approach religious thought.