What’s Wrong with Atheism: Leap of Faith

by / Wednesday, 19 February 2014 / Published in Philosophy

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Welcome to our new series on faith and atheism. As a believer in an increasingly unbelieving world, few questions can be more daunting than, “How do you know God exists?” A person might as well ask you, “Can you convince me that your entire sense of identity and worldview are not based on a big, fat lie?”  The worst is when a young person innocently inquires about “Proving God,” and you can see in their eyes that your answer may very well play a deciding role in their faith. So, no pressure!

How can Muslims (and theists, more generally) navigate this high-stakes question? How can we address the challenge made ever more brazenly by atheists, naturalists, materialists, etc.?

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“Take a leap of faith.” We have heard this cliche a few too many times in discussions about faith. The idea is that the mind can never ascertain the existence of God purely through thought. At some point, a person has to forego rational or scientific evidence and “just believe.”

Without delving into the history of this idea (which originated from Christian philosophers), it is safe to say that it needs to be put to rest as far as Muslims are concerned. Frankly, no one is impressed by a person’s ability to blindly jump into faith. That’s not to say that there are not certain parts of faith and theology that are beyond our mental capabilities. Certainly, the human mind has its limits. But, what kind of religion would have its central tenet, namely the existence of God, be a mystery beyond rational judgment? Who could take such a religion seriously?

As Muslims, it is also important to note that making a “Leap of Faith” is contrary to Islamic theology. There is no such thing as a “Leap of Iman.” Part of sound faith in Islam is to know that Allah is our Creator and Master, not to mention that He has no partners, is All-Merciful, and has a whole host of other names and attributes (sifat). As Allah commands: “So know that there is no god except Allah.” [Quran 47:19]

The question then is, how do we know that God exists? This is a longer discussion that we can have inshaAllah, but, for now, here are a few preliminary points:

Artificial Constraints

First of all, let’s move away from the idea that God is a theorem that needs to be proved or a material entity that needs to be discovered like physicists try to discover sub-atomic particles. We do not need to accept the heavy-handed claim made by naturalists and “new atheists” that the only means to knowledge is through deductive proof or empirical evidence. This does NOT mean that certain signs of God (ayat) are not empirical in nature or that God is beyond rational inquiry. It only means that atheists/naturalists have artificially and inappropriately disqualified many legitimate forms of knowing.

Human Knowing

Along the same lines as the first point, we should note that human knowing is a much more vast, complex, and intricate aspect of reality than naturalists/atheists generally acknowledge. Even secular analytic philosophy (specifically in the sub-discipline of epistemology) recognizes that a purely empirical model of knowledge, such as that of naturalists, is inadequate in accounting for and explaining the actual process/state of knowing.

An Analogy

One analogy that I find to be a good starting off point is to think about the notion of time. Does time exist? It is an interesting question because we all experience the passage of time. We have memories of the past; we anticipate the future. But, how do you prove that it exists? What if someone genuinely did not believe in time and also, say, due to some mental disorder, did not experience time, had no memories, etc. How would you explain time to such a person? That kind of difficulty in explaining or even describing time to someone that has no concept of time is similar to trying to explain God to an atheist. I do not mean that it is not possible. Just difficult in a certain kind of way that we will inshaAllah discuss in future posts in this series.

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