Rafi Ahmed is an IT professional with a PhD in Computer Science. He has published over thirty research papers and owns several US patents. He regularly speaks and writes on religion in the USA. This essay was read by the author at the West Coast Convention 2007 in Milpitas, California.
There is a raging yet lively debate(1,2,3,4,5,6) going on between atheists and theists over the existence of God – a sign of an invigorating intellectual spirit.
Hadhrat Mirza Bashir-ud-Din Mahmud Ahmad(ra), Khalifatul Masih II (the second caliph of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community), wrote in his book Hasti-Bari-Ta’ala:
‘If people believe in God on hearsay or declare a belief in God to avoid a debate, then this will not guarantee their salvation. … Therefore, it is of utmost importance that considerable thought be given to the question of the existence of God.’(7)
This essay therefore addresses the fundamental question: is there a God?
A discussion about God’s existence should start with the acknowledgement that the burden of proof lies with the theists, that is, with those who believe in God.
There are some questions that puzzle most reflective people: How did the laws of nature come to be? How did the universe come into existence? And how did life as a phenomenon originate from non-life?
The Kalam cosmological argu-ment(8) for the existence of God is a method of argument developed by medieval Muslim logicians and it was popularised in the West by philosopher William Craig. This philosophy entails the following; given that an observable universe exists, there are three possibilities: First, the universe always existed. Second, the universe created itself. Third, an all-powerful and all-knowing transcendent being, which we call God, created it. Let us examine each of these possibilities separately.
Consider the possibility of an eternal universe, a universe that existed forever. But the Second of the Law of Thermodynamics and the theory of entropy preclude this possibility. If the universe really had existed for an infinitely long period of time, its entropy and the measure of its molecular disorder, would have reached its maximal value; that is, the universe would have suffered a ‘heat death’(9,10). The fact that the universe has not yet died in this fashion implies that it cannot have endured for all eternity.
Origin of the Universe
As long as the universe could be conveniently thought of without an end and without a beginning, it remained easy to see its existence as a self-explanatory brute fact and perhaps there was not much need to postulate something else that produced it. But the Big Bang theory radically changed the situation.
The Big Bang(5,11) is a widely-accepted theory of the origin of the universe. According to this theory, more than fourteen billions years ago, the universe emerged from a highly compressed and extremely hot state and then it rapidly cooled down and expanded. The Big Bang theory is considered a cornerstone of modern cos-mology. It provides a moment at the origin of the universe when creation could have occurred. At the origin, we encounter a point that physicists call a singularity, at which neither space nor time exists – and at that point the laws of physics breakdown.
If the universe had a beginning, it became entirely sensible, almost inevitable, to ask what produced this beginning. Therefore the idea of the origin of the universe with a singularity implying a role of God in its creation did not sit well with many atheistic scientists(14).
Bondi and Hoyle came up with a steady state theory in an attempt to explain the expansion of the universe in a way that would not require the universe to have had a beginning. But this theory was readily discarded, as it did not correspond to the observational data.
Stephen Hawking, professor of mathematics at Cambridge University, and James Hartle, proposed a theory(12) where the universe has no boundary either in space or in time, that is, it has neither a beginning nor an end. In his book A Brief History of Time(12), Hawking then asked if there was any place for a creator in this scheme.
There are several problems with Hawking’s theory. Hawking’s solution uses imaginary time, invoked to stipulate imaginary universes. It remains an extre-mely speculative theory with little chance of experimental verification.
Fine Tuning of the Universe
The universe with all its laws appears to be delicately balanced and fine-tuned(9,17) to produce human life. Physicists call this finding the anthropic principle. Many of the basic features of the universe are, in essence, determined by the values that are assigned to the fundamental constants and the initial conditions at the beginning of the universe.
Hawking(12) wrote that if the rate of expansion one second after the Big Bang had been smaller by even one part in a hundred thousand trillion, the universe would have re-collapsed before it reached its present size. If the rate of expansion had been slightly higher, then the galaxies would have never formed. Astronomer Martin Rees, in Just Six Numbers, argues that six numbers underlie the fundamental physical properties of the universe, and that each is an exact value required for life to exist. If any one of the six (say the gravitational constant, or the strong nuclear force) were different even to the tiniest degree, there would be no stars, no complex elements and no life. Although Rees disavows the religious implications, he does not hesitate to call the values attached to the six numbers ‘providential’(22).
In the anthropic principle, the theist sees a purposeful design, the handiwork of God. The atheist looks upon it as a very lucky coincidence where humans exist in a universe with the right parameters to ponder over the mystery of their existence. But the odds of life appearing in the universe are so infinitesimal, so incredibly small that we need a rational explanation of how something this unlikely could take place.
Consequently, many atheists, in desperation, have fled to the second explanation, multiple universes(9,15) – in fact, an infinity of universes. The uniqueness and fine-tuning of our universe is dismissed by claiming that it is but one among countless universes.
In one version of this phantasmagorical theory, uni-verses are springing up everywhere. But please do not ask where and how, as these universes are inaccessible from our own universe! So what is the empirical evidence for oscillating and parallel and multiple universes? There is none.
Steven Weinberg shared the Nobel Prize with Dr. Abdus Salam in 1979 for independently proposing the unification of two fundamental forces of nature. Weinberg is one of the greatest physicists of our time and a prominent atheist. Even he admitted that the theories of multiple universes ‘are very speculative ideas … without any experimental support’(15).
The atheists have invented a complicated set of circumstances to circumvent a much more obvious solution. They seem to abolish one seemingly unob-servable God by making up an infinite number of unobservable substitutes, which rightfully belong to the Hollywood genre of science fiction movies.
Laws of Nature
All these models of multi-universes, or Hawking’s boundary-less universe origi-nating out of a collapsing black hole, require pre-existing laws of physics. And no one has an explanation(14) for how these grand laws of physics came into existence. Who devised the code? Who wrote the majestic multi-variable differential equations? And who provided the solutions to the equations?
Indeed the question can be posed in a deeper way. How can inanimate fundamental particles obey instructions or abide by grand mathematical rules? How can the universe operate without a sustainer?
The atheist viewpoint cannot explain the profound lawfulness of nature itself. Paul Davies, a mathematical physicist and arguably the most influential contemporary expositor of modern science, writes:
‘If the divine underpinning of the laws is removed, their existence becomes a deep mystery.’(9)
Creation of the Creator
Richard Dawkins, an evolu-tionary biologist and professor of public understanding of science at Oxford, in his recent book, The God Delusion(1), makes a concerted attack against theism and asks if the universe needed a creator, then ‘Who created God?’
Dawkins presents this question as if it was the greatest of all arguments against the theistic position. Hadhrat Mirza Bashir-ud-Din Mahmud Ahmad(ru), second caliph of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community, in Hasti Bari Ta’ala(7), refers to a Hadith (saying of the Holy Prophet(saw)) that predicts a time to come when atheistic people will use this question as an argument against the existence of God.
When we examine this question in greater detail, we find that it points to the limitation of inductive reasoning. The question simply does not apply to the Prime Cause, which is, by definition, uncreated. The atheists are reduced to denying the first proposition – that is, everything that has a beginning does not necessarily have a cause and thus the universe simply is.
Now, either an immeasurably intelligent mind, an all-powerful being, an agent that exists beyond time and space created the universe; or the universe, with neither mind nor consciousness, with neither will nor intelligence, first devised the grand laws of nature and then created itself out of absolute nothingness. It is a simple choice: God, or universe. Which is the better candidate to be the Prime Cause? Which is the more rational and intellectually satisfying alternative?
The Unity of Source
Another argument in favour of God’s existence is the establishment of the unity of source – that is, the fact that the authors of the Holy Qur’an and the universe are the same. Hadhrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad(ru), fourth caliph of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community, in Revelation, Rationality, Knowledge and Truth observes:
‘The divine scriptures are not textbooks of science, hence any reference therein to scientific subjects could not be merely incidental. The main purpose is to establish the unity of source.’(10)
The Holy Qur’an states:
Do not the disbelievers see that the heavens and the earth were a closed-up mass, then We opened them out? And we made from water every living thing. Will they not then believe? (Ch.21:V.31)
This verse alludes to the origin of the universe as envisioned by the Big Bang theory. Creation of life from water is also a well-established scientific fact. What is quite striking about this verse is that it challenges the disbelievers or atheists and raises the funda-mental questions of the origins of the universe and of life – which happen to be two of the most hotly debated topics today(1,2,4,5,6).
In Revelation, Rationality, Knowledge and Truth(10) Hadhrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad(ru) presents several examples of scientific facts mentioned in the Qur’an over 1400 years ago, that have only been recently discovered by scientists.
The Darwinian theory of evolution is generally seen by many as evidence against the existence of God. Dawkins, in his book The Blind Watchmaker(3) noted that ‘although atheism might have been logically tenable before Darwin, Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist’, as the underpinning of the Darwinian Theory is that the role played by a supernatural agency in the evolution of life can be completely eliminated.
It should be emphasised that the Darwinian Theory(6,16,17) pre-supposes the existence of the molecular machinery of cell and the genetic material of RNA and DNA for it to work upon. The theory of evolution cannot provide any explanation for the origin of life or for the genetic material.
We recognise(10) the fact that fossils show emergence of life forms over a period of millions of years in a progressive manner from relatively simple to the increasingly complex. But linked to these observations is a hypothesis of common descent with modification and of the Darwinian process of random mutation and natural selection, which is seen as the only creative force behind life in all its myriad variety. That is where we tend to be sceptical since definite evolutionary pathways of any organism are still missing(16).
Darwinism can often become quite dogmatic with almost a fundamentalist fervour. Richard Dawkins and Steven Pinker (a professor of cognitive science at Harvard) have stated to the effect that natural selection would have to be accepted as the explanation of life even in the absence of any evidence for it, since there is no alternative to natural selec-tion(3,21). So much for evidence-based science!
The scientists who question Darwinism are still in a minority, but there is a growing scientific dissent. Recently, one hundred eminent religious and non-religious scientists from diverse fields made a public declaration that they:
‘are sceptical of the claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selec-tion to account for the complexity of life…careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory should be encouraged.’(19)
Hadhrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad(ru) expressed similar scepticism about the Darwinian Theory in Revelation, Rationality, Knowledge and Truth. He writes:
‘…at every step of creation, choices that had to be made were made not by the blind hand of natural selection but by the will of God.’(10)
God of the Gaps
The atheists say that theists often use “God of the gap” strategy(1,2,3) and invoke God to explain the remaining gaps in the scientific knowledge. If a gap in the current knowledge is found, it is assumed that a God, by default, must fill in. But gaps shrink as science advances and the God of the gaps is threatened eventually having nowhere to hide.
But is that really true? Consider one example from the recent past. Ernst Haeckel was a renowned 19th century evolutionary biologist. He, like many of his contemporaries, believed that a cell was a ‘simple little lump of protoplasm’(16) and advocated the theory of spontaneous generation of life. In the last fifty years, the science of molecular biology has made tremendous progress. Now we understand that the cell is a molecular machine far more complex in its structure and functionality than anything yet devised by the human mind(6). Spontaneous generation of cellular life is now considered quite inconceivable.
These advancements have not deposed God from anywhere. Quite the contrary, many of the greatest discoveries of the twentieth century have established God more firmly in the intellectual discourse(5,6).
Reason for the Rejection of God
Many atheists are intelligent, thoughtful and sincere people. This poses the nagging question as to why there is such disbelief and such persistent rejection on the part of those who should apparently know better. In my view, their rejection of the existence of God has very little to do with scientific enterprise, although scientific enterprise remains essentially agnostic.
The things that make people reject God arise from the human condition; free will under Divine Omniscience, creation of evil by a God of virtue, belief in eternal damnation and human suffering inflicted by a God of Mercy(1,2,15). Perhaps the primary reason for rejecting God and religion is religion itself. The atheistic scientist is justified in despising religious dogmas and scriptures that imply a God whose grandeur does not match up to the grandeur of the universe he knows.
When superstitious folktales, arcane theology, inane ritualism, doctrines of seclusion and marginalisation of women and dogmas of intolerance and irrationality are attributed to the Author of this grand and lofty universe, atheism is a natural consequence.
Examples of diabolic acts committed in the name of religion abound. But in a lighter vein, Steven Weinberg captured the problem succinctly; he writes:
‘Good people will do good things and bad people will do bad things, but for good people to do bad things – that takes religion.’(13)
Perhaps the final and ultimate evidence for the existence of God comes from the personal experience of Divine Signs. Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad(as), the Promised Messiah and Mahdi, says:
‘Search for God is a difficult matter. Observation of the heavens and the earth and reflection of the perfect orderliness of the universe only leads to the conclusion that the universe should have a Creator, yet it is not a proof that such a Creator exists. There is a difference between ought to be and is.’(20)
He further goes on to say:
‘The first duty of a person, therefore, is to acquire certainty with regard to the existence of God, and adopt a religion through which this certainty can be acquired. … How can this certainty be acquired? It cannot be acquired through mere stories. It cannot be acquired through mere arguments. The only way to acquiring certainty is to experience God repeatedly by having conversation with Him or by witnessing His extraordinary signs…’
The preceding discussion attempted to provide evidence for the existence of God by making a rational enquiry into the ultimate question. Nonetheless, doctrine, dogma, interpretation, discovery, argument, reasoning, ratiocination or any process by which religious knowledge is externalised, are significant primarily as a means to the end of establishing a relationship between God and human beings. And thus, the final and the most profound confirmation of the existence of God comes from the experiential evidence taking religion to an empirical height.
The Promised Messiah(as) says:
‘The only way to acquiring certainty is to experience God repeatedly by having conversation with him or by witnessing His extraordinary signs …’ (20)
Advancement of science reveals the intricacy of the universe and the grandeur of the Divine Design and reinforces the fact that in the workings of the universe there are Signs for those who reflect. This is a simple truth that is part of our deepest conviction.
The Holy Qur’an says:
He is Allah, the Creator, the Maker, the Fashioner. His are the most beautiful names. All that is in the heavens and the earth glorifies Him, and He is the Mighty, the Wise. (Ch.59:V.25)
1. The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins, Houghton Mifflin Company, New York, 2006.
2. God: The Failed Hypothesis, Victor Stenger, Prometheus Books, 2007.
3. The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe Without Design, Richard Dawkins, W.W. Norton, New York, 1996.
4. There is a God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind, Antony Flew, Harper Collins, 2007.
5. God’s Universe, Owen Gingerich, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 2006.
6. The Language of Gods, Francis Collins, Free Press, New York, 2006.
7. Hasti Bari Ta’ala, Hadhrat Mirza Bashir-ud-Din Mahmud Ahmad(ru), Ahmadiyya Movement in Islam, Qadian, India, 1941.
8. The Kalam Cosmological Argument, William Lane Craig, Barnes and Noble, New York, 1979.
9. The Mind of God: The Scientific Basis for a Rational World, Paul Davies, Touchstone Books, New York, 1993.
10. Revelation, Rationality, Knowledge and Truth, Hadhrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad(ru), Islam International Publications, Ltd. U.K., 1998.
11. The First Three Minutes: A Modern View of the Origin of the Universe, Steven Weinberg, Basic Books, New York, 1993.
12. A Brief History of Time, Stephen Hawking, Bantam, New York, 1996.
13. Facing Up: Science and Its Cultural Adversaries, Steven Weinberg, Harvard University Press, 2001.
14. The Fire in the Equations: Science Religion and the Search for God, K. Ferguson, Templeton Foundation Press, Philadelphia, 1994.
15. Dreams of a Final Theory: the Scientist’s Search for the Ultimate Laws of Nature, Steven Weinberg, Vintage, New York, 1993.
16. Darwin’s Black Box, Michael Behe, The Free Press, 1996.
17. Asking About Life, Allan J. Tobin and Jennie Dusheck, Thomson Brooks/Cole, 2004.
18. The Constants, John D. Barrow, Pantheon Books, New York, 2002.
19. http://www.reviewevolution.com/press/pressRelease_100Sci entists.php
20. The Essence of Islam, Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad(as), Vol. 1, Islam International Publications, Ltd. U.K., 2004.
21. How the Mind Works, Steven Pinker, W.W. Norton, New York, 1997.
22. Just Six Numbers: The Deep Forces that Shape the Universe, Martin Rees, Basic Books, New York, 2000.
23. Mathematical Challenges to the Neo-Darwinian Interpretation of Evolution, Moorhead and Kaplan, WISTAR Symposium, Ed., Alan R. Liss, Inc., New York, NY, 1985.
24. Information Theory, Evolution, and the Origin of Life, H. Yockey, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, MA, 2005.
25. Not by Chance, L. Spetner, The Judaica Press, Inc., 1998.
26. Darwin on Trial, P.E. Johnson, InterVarsity Press, IL, 1993.
27. Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History, S.J. Gould, W. W. Norton & Co., New York, 1989.