Philosophical Arguments for God & Muslim Philosophers

The main issue which has remained in focus of philosophers is about the ‘Existence of God’ and the related issues i.e. the existence of ‘Evil’, ‘Predestination and Free Will’. In philosophy there are three major, purely rational, arguments for the existence of God that have had a significant influence on the history of philosophy of religion; the Cosmological,  Teleological and Ontological arguments. Other arguments put forth for the existence of God are the arguments from morality and probability.

The three major arguments presented in modern philosophy may be compared with the arguments for the existence of God presented by ancient and modern Islamic philosophers. The main argument against the existence of God has been the problem of evil. This has posed many problems to the theist, and Islamic philosophy is only beginning to tackle the problem in western terms.  Another stream of arguments for God’s existence, recently proposed in contemporary western philosophy are the proofs from religious experience.  This is a theme also present in Islamic philosophy.

Cosmological Arguments: 
The cosmological argument was first introduced by Aristotle (384-322. B.C) and later refined in Western Europe by the celebrated Christian theologian, Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274.CE). The cosmological argument uses as a technique for disclosure such questions as “Why is this thus?” or “Why is there anything at all?” In receiving replies to these questions in causal terms, the cosmological argument builds up an ever-increasing causal spread until a disclosure occurs, whereupon the phrase “first cause” specifies what is disclosed and advocates certain ways of talking.

The Basic First-Cause Argument: 
It states: “Every event must have a cause, and each cause must in turn have its own cause, and so forth.  Hence, there must either be an infinite regress of causes or there must be a starting point or first cause.” The conclusion thus follows that there must be an initial prime-mover, a mover that could cause motion without any other mover; the God.

Views of Muslim Philosophers: 
Among the Muslim Al-Kindi, and Averroës support it while Al-Ghazzali and Iqbal maybe seen as being in opposition to this sort of an argument. [Sir Muhammad Iqbal (1877-1938); the great modern Muslim philosopher & poet of Ido-Pak subcontinent].

A second argument of Thomas Aquinas draws its inspiration from Islamic and Aristotelian sciences.  He argues that only God is indivisible, and everything other than God is in some way composite or multiple. In Kindi’s theory only God’s oneness is necessary whereas that of all others is contingent upon God.  Hence all other beings single or multiple must emanate from the ultimate essential being. In addition this first being must be uncaused, since it is the cause of everything else. The world requires a creator, or rather a generator (mudhith) in Kindi’s scheme, who could generate the world ex nihilo.
Ghazzali and Dr. Muhammad Iqbal rejects the argument, as per Iqbal; “Logically speaking, then, the movement from the finite to the infinite as embodied in the cosmological (the astrophysical study of the history, structure, and constituent dynamics of the universe.) argument is quite illegitimate; and the argument fails in toto.” For Iqbal the concept of the first uncaused cause is absurd, it is, however, obvious that a finite effect can give only a finite cause, or at most an infinite series of such causes.
To finish the series at a certain point, and to elevate one member of the series to the dignity of an ‘Un-Caused First Cause’, is to set at naught the very law of causation on which the whole argument proceeds. It is for these reasons that modern philosophers almost unanimously reject the cosmological argument as a legitimate proof for the existence of God.  Kant for example also rejects any cosmological proof on the grounds that it is nothing more than an ontological proof in disguise. He argued that any necessary object’s essence must involve existence, hence reason alone can define such a being, and the argument becomes quite similar to the ontological one in form, devoid of any empirical premises.

Teleological Arguments: 
Teleology is the use of ultimate ‘Purpose’ or ‘Design’ as a means of explaining natural phenomena. St. Paul, with many others in the Greco-Roman world, believed that the existence of God is evident from the appearances of nature: “Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made”(Romans;1:20). The most popular, because the most accessible, of the theistic arguments is that which identifies evidences of design in nature, inferring from them a ‘Divine Designer’. The argument from design takes a story with acknowledged disclosure possibilities–e.g., the interrelated parts of a clock –and uses this as a catalyst to evoke a disclosure around some ever-broadening purpose patterns of the universe, in relation to which one can speak of God in terms, for example, of eternal purpose.  William Paley (1805 C.E) in his ‘Natural Theology’ presented it with an analogy of a ‘clock’ found in a remote desert which existed not be by pure chance, being complex machine it has to be a product of an intelligent designer. i.e. there must be a clockmaker. In the same way Paley argues that the universe is much more complex and manifestly designed. The extraordinary design is evident from planets and galaxies at the cosmic level to human cells and atoms at the quantum level.   Therefore this world must have an intelligent creator. This form of the argument can be seen as an inference to the best explanation. That is given the remarkable phenomena of the universe, the best possible explanation for this, must be the existence of God. Paley next argues that if one accepts the above reasoning one is then obliged to accept the reasoning he gives for the universe as a whole. The world is intricate and well-designed for the purpose of supporting life it is the product of an ‘Intelligent Designer’. Else the world is the product of random physical processes. Sober later rejects the notion presented by Paley, and argues that the likelihood of an evolutionary hypothesis supersedes the likelihood of a creationist hypothesis (The position that the account of the creation of the universe given at the beginning of the Bible is literally true).

Views of Muslim Philosophers: 
Al-Kindi also attempts to make reference to the ‘Teleological Proof’ (dalil al-‘indyah) for the existence of God.

As he argues that “the orderly and wonderful phenomena of nature could not be purposeless and accidental”. It is also supported by Iqbal.  The two cases, the ‘clock’ and the ‘universe’, are however, different. Unlike the case of the clock, where its builder put the complex machine together given pre-existing material, the universe and its material itself created by God also. That is, there is no point in finding it extra-ordinary that God would be able to organize pre-existing “intractable” (difficult to mold or manipulate) material in such an elegant fashion. The only reason we would have of thinking so, would be if it was a difficult task to design the universe. But then why would God, first create a difficult task for Himself and then go on resolve the difficulty by arranging into a sophisticated pattern? In addition, God would be limited in what He could create by this pre-existing material. This, to Iqbal, does not seem consistent with the Islamic concept of an omnipotent God. Iqbal writes, perhaps in response to Paley, “There is really no analogy between the work of the human artificer and the phenomena of Nature.” Both Iqbal and Russell point out that it is inappropriate for a person who believes in God to put forth an argument for His existence on teleological grounds. The British philosopher David Hume rejected the teleological argument, for different reasons. For him the argument from the best explanation is an inductive argument (Marked by or involving inference), and Hume had argued that inductive knowledge and causation is not possible.

Most Muslim philosophers have attempted to get around this vexatious (persistently disturbing or worrisome) problem by simply recognizing the Qur’anic emphasis on the uniformity of nature, accepting it as such and thus avoiding this problem. The Qur’an says: “Not for (idle) sport did We create the heavens and the earth and all that is between!”  (Qur’an;21:16). The Qur’an says: “Verily in the heavens and the earth are Signs for those who believe. (Qur’an;45:3). “And in the creation of yourselves and the fact that animals are scattered (through the earth) are Signs for those of assured Faith. And in the alternation of Night and Day and the fact that Allah sends down Sustenance from the sky and revives therewith the earth after its death and the change of the winds are Signs for those that are wise. (Qur’an;45:4-5).  The above problem of induction gave rise to modern skepticism (feeling of uncertainty about a situation : misgivings, doubtfulness,) and remains a fascinating unsolved puzzle.

Immanuel Kant: (1724-1804 C.E):

He was the German idealist (an imaginative or idealistic but impractical person), philosopher. He was, one of the foremost thinkers of the Enlightenment. He argued that reason is the means by which the phenomena of experience are translated into understanding raises a powerful objection to any theory that claims to grasp knowledge of God. He claims that in terms of knowledge there can be no jump from the physical to the metaphysical. Kant distinguishes between ‘noumenal’ and ‘phenomenal’ objects. An object that can be intuited only by the intellect and not perceived by the senses. The noumenonal are objects that lie beyond all possible experience, and the phenomena are the ones we directly experience. Hence, for him the metaphysical is the noumenonal realm. He argues that there can be no possible relation between two realms that have no connection between them. He questions that how can we prove that a certain noumenonal object exists from phenomenal premises?.


Iqbal responds to Kant’s criticism of metaphysical existence from empirical (experimental, pragmatic) experience: “Kant’s verdict can be accepted only if we start with the assumption that all experience other than the normal level of experience is impossible.
The only question, therefore, is whether the normal level is the only level of knowledge-yielding experience?” He argues that there are other levels of experience that can bear knowledge as well.   It is pertinent to note that according to Qur’an the ‘reason’ properly used must lead man to cognition of God’s existence and, thus of the fact that a definite plan underlines all His creation; reward for pious believers and punishment for rebellious non believers and sinners: “And they (disbelievers) will add: “Had we but listened (to those warnings). Or (at least) used our own reason, we would not (now) be among those who are destined for the blazing flame!”(Qur’an; 67:10).

Ontological Arguments: 

Anselm’s Argument: 

The modern form of the ontological argument in modern western philosophy was made famous by St.Anselm (1033-1109 C.E) and Descartes (1596-1650). The argument rests on the premise that existence is a predicate that a being could have or lack. Anselm’s argument can be summarized as: “God is a being than which nothing greater can be conceived, a being than which nothing greater can be conceived to exist in our thought. Either a being than which nothing greater can be conceived exists in thought alone and not in reality or a being than which nothing greater can be conceived exists both in thought and in reality. If the greatest conceivable being existed in thought alone we could think of another being existing in both thought and reality. Existing in thought and reality is greater than existing in thought alone. Therefore: A being than which nothing greater can be conceived (God) exists in thought and in reality.”
Simply by pure reason, without any reference to the world, Anselm argues for God. A key feature of these kinds of arguments is that they try to show not only that God exists, but that he necessarily exists. That is, He cannot, not exist. The existence of God is an essential feature of its being just like the angles of a triangle always add up to 180 degrees. It would be impossible to think of God without it existing. Descartes [French mathematician, scientist, and philosopher, considered as the father of modern philosophy] writes: “From the fact that I cannot think of a mountain without a valley, it does not follow that a mountain and a valley exist anywhere, but simply that a mountain and a valley, whether they exist or not are mutually inseparable. But from the fact that I cannot think of God except as existing, it follows that existence is inseparable from God. Hence, the very essence of God, to even make the concept of God intelligible it must exist”.Criticism: 
This argument has been widely criticized. Kant criticized the argument from two perspectives.   First he points out that, although, the concept that all three sides of the triangle add up to 180 is an analytical concept, there is still nothing that shows that it must exist. Similarly the idea that existence analytically belongs to the concept of God is an illegitimate inference. He writes: “To posit a triangle, and yet to reject its three angles, is self-contradictory; but there is no self-contradiction in rejecting the triangle together with its three angles. The same holds true of the concept of an absolutely necessary being”. Secondly, he rejects Descartes argument on the grounds that existence is not a predicate that can be added or taken away from a concept. That is; existence is not like any of the other properties that are associated with ‘things.’ To say that something exists, is simply to say that the concept is instantiated in the world. He claims this on the basis of his distinction between analytic and synthetic statements. An analytic statement is one of the kinds, “all bachelors are unmarried males,” or “the sum of the angles of a triangle is 180.” In these statements the predicates, “unmarried males” or “sum of angles is 180” does not add any new information to the concept of “bachelors” or “triangle.” Analytic statements are true by virtue of their meaning alone.Synthetic Statement:
A synthetic statement is something that adds more information about the object in question. For example, “all ravens are black,” is synthetic.  The predicate “are black” tells us more information about the subject “ravens.” Kant’s claim is that statements of the sort, “X exists” are analytic. It does not add anything additional to the concept. Hence the inference that existing in reality is greater than existence in thought alone is false. The reduction of absurdum from pure thought to God, of Anselm (1033-1109 C.E) and Descartes (1596-1650 C.E) thus fails according to Kant. The closest form of parallel thought to this can be found in the thought of Avicenna [Ibn Sīnā ;980-1037 C.E, philosopher and scientist] who proposed a somewhat similar ontological argument for the existence of God.
Avicenna also propounded that God is a necessary being; however, his argument unlike Descartes is not a purely rational one. Avicenna believed that we possess a direct intuitive apprehension of the reality and existence of this necessary being. He believed that it would be impossible to think concretely without the existence of such a being. Averroës [Ibn Rushd-1126-1198 C.E; trained in law, medicine, and philosophy, rose to be chief judge of Córdoba. His series of commentaries on most of the works of Aristotle, written between 1169 and 1195, exerted considerable influence on both Jewish and Christian scholars in later centuries], however, insists that there can be no rational proof for God’s existence and it can only be grasped via the medium of intuition.

Thoughts of Muslim Philosophers on ‘GOD’:

The God that Avicenna argues for is a Necessary Being. A being that necessarily exists, and everything else besides it is contingent and depends upon it for its existence. God has no other essence besides his existence.  His essence (Mahiyah: Quidditas), just is His existence.  Since, God is the only being in which the essence and existence are to be found together, the essence of all other beings precedes their existence. Thus He is absolutely simple, and no has no further attributes. In his book ‘al-Shifa’ Avicenna explains that since the ‘Necessary Being’ has no genus or differentia it is both indefinable and indemonstrable. As such “neither its being or its actions can be an object of ‘Discursive Thought’ (proceeding to a conclusion through reason rather than intuition.), since it is without cause, quality, position or time.” All other entities do not exist necessarily or essentially, rather they are merely contingent beings (per accidents).
The characteristics of God offered by Avicenna drew major criticisms from the contemporary Muslim orthodoxy, who found his definition incompatible with Islamic doctrine. “..If there be (but) the weight of a mustard-seed and it were (hidden) in a rock or (anywhere) in the heavens or on earth Allah will bring it forth: for Allah understands the finest mysteries (and) is well-acquainted (with them).”(Qur’an;31:16).How can God be omniscient if He has no attributes? He does try to explain, however, how his description would be compatible with God having knowledge of the world. In knowing Himself, God is capable of knowing everything that emanated from Him.  Since God does not have sense-perceptual knowledge He cannot know the particulars, but rather only the essences or universal principles. But according to Avicenna this does not exclude him knowing the specifics of any given event. Knowing all the antecedents and consequences in the causal chain, allows God to place the event temporally and differentiate it from all other events. Hence, his theory does not preclude God’s knowledge of the specifics. Al-Ghazzali (1058-1111C.E) was not satisfied with this account and criticized Avicenna stating that the theory being presented would not allow for change in divine knowledge with the introduction of the time factor.Criticism of ‘Perpetual Universe’: 
Another important characteristic of Avicenna’s ontology was the fact that he believed that the universe is eternal. This was another belief, which was not acceptable to the Islamic orthodoxy. He thought the creative ability of God was linked to His intellectual nature and thus flowed eternally of rational necessity from Him. Although the universe exists as an independent body, its existence is still contingent upon God. God and the world are different, but the existence of the world depends upon God. This can be seen as refinement, or rather ‘Islamisation’ of the Aristotelian views that God and the universe were two distinct beings which did not interact with each other. What is, in different ways, implied by these arguments is that the word God is unique in its logic, that it works in discourse as no other word exactly works. Thus, one cannot say “God exists” but rather “God necessarily exists.” This is sometimes expressed by remarking that the existence of God is not the existence of a physical object or even the existence of a person, though what can be said about persons is less misleading in speaking about God than in speaking about the logic of things. This point is sometimes made, albeit misleadingly by saying that God does not exist, but this is only a picturesque way of saying that he does not exist in the way that a table exists.Verifiable Evidence: 

The Verifiable Evidence is the blend of all the three i.e. Cosmological, Teleological and Ontological Arguments.

Proof of Existence of God through Scientific Facts in Qur’an: 

Islam encourages reasoning, discussions and dialogues. The Qur’an contains more than 6000 verses (ayaats-‘Signs’) out of which more than thousand refer to various subjects of science, such as Astronomy, Physics, Geography, Geology, Oceanology, Biology, Botany, Zoology, Medicine, Physiology, Embryology as well as General Science, mostly unknown to humanity fourteen centuries ago. It may be kept in view that Qur’an is not a book of ‘science’, but a book of ‘signs’ i.e. a book of Ayaats. It is found that the Qur’anic information on science does not conflict with the established scientific facts. It may go against certain scientific hypothesis or theories, which are not grounded in facts as many a times, the science retract its position.

Many facts mentioned in the Qur’an have been discovered in the last few centuries. But science has not advanced to a level where it can confirm every statement of the Qur’an concerning science. According to Dr.Zakir Naik; suppose 80% of all that is mentioned in the Qur’an has been proved 100% correct, while for the remaining 20%, science makes no categorical statement, since it has not advanced to a level, where it can either prove or disprove these statements. With the limited knowledge through science available today one cannot say for sure whether even a single percentage or a single verse of the Qur’an from this 20% portion is wrong. Thus when 80% of the Qur’an is 100% correct and the remaining 20% is not disproved, logic says that even the 20% portion is correct.  The details of scientific facts mentioned in Qur’an are available in the book ‘Qur’an and Science’ by Dr.Zakir Naik & “The Bible, The Qur’an and Science” by Dr. Maurice Bucaille, details follows. [Read more: Scientific Facts in Qur’an on Universe & Conclusion ]