On the rationalization of God

More specifically, the cosmological argument

Philosophers, since the very beginning, have been attempting to rationalize God using what can broadly be divided into theoretical and practical arguments. The three major theoretical arguments are the cosmological, the ontological and the teleological arguments. Most of these arguments leave much to be desired– at any rate when it pertains to a concept of God that is acceptable to the more intelligent folks. This is so because the project of proving the existence of God runs into difficulties from the very outset. For there are cognitive stumbling blocks even if the parties involved are interested in an honest debate and are as free from conscious biases as is humanly possible.

What usually makes these discussions so frustratingly profitless is the fact that there are innumerable definitions of God. Concepts of God run the gamut from pagan deities on the one hand all the way to the One Transcendental God on the other with everything conceivable in between. So it is that some of the arguments for God may be adequate enough to prove one particular God, but they are quite obviously lacking when it comes to substantiating another idea of God. Conversely, an argument may rule out one particular definition of God or another but in no way can it be said to rule out the idea of God altogether. That is why intelligent men have always responded to the question ‘Do you believe in God?’ by demanding to be told what the questioner means by the word ‘God’. They point out that the discussion that starts with the question ‘Does God exist?’ has already skipped one vital question. That vital question is, ‘What is God?’ If one is interested in a meaningful conversation about God (as opposed to endlessly going round and round in circles) this question must be answered upfront.

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What complicates matters further is that the word ‘existence’ itself is problematic when it is applied to God. Anything that exists, by definition exists in time and space. Existence is so inexorably linked to spatial and temporal constructs that anything that is independent of time and space can hardly be said to exist as per the usual meanings of the word. The Absolute God– that is, the God that is independent of time and space– therefore cannot be thought to ‘exist’ according to the usual understanding of the word. One could put it in precise language as this: ‘God does not exist; but He is the reason why everything else does.’

Most of the other arguments for the existence of God suffer from the same (or similar) limitations. A detailed discussion of each of those arguments is beyond the scope of this piece. Suffice it to conclude that the whole project of rationalization of God (exemplified so typically by the cosmological argument) needs to be re-examined. Though unfortunately it has not been popular among theist philosophers for a very long time, the alternative tradition has also been there from the start. That tradition can be revived by consulting the Quran on the subject. For that, the mindset of looking up the Quran for clues regarding the answers to all vital questions must be brought back to life by the Muslims.

Of course, conversation and literature would lose much of their charm and beauty if we were obliged to always use precise language. So it is that we use words such as ‘sunrise’ and ‘sunset’ all the time, knowing full well that the sun does not actually rise or set and that it is the relative position of the earth and the sun that gives these impressions to observers at a particular location of the earth. We seldom lose sight of the real state of affairs when we talk of sunsets and sunrises. When it comes to discussions of the ‘existence’ of God however, it is notoriously easy to forget that God is not an object. In fact, celebrated and otherwise accomplished thinkers have demonstrated themselves to be susceptible to this sort of error as much as simpletons have.

The common error of the cosmological argument (like most of the other arguments) in favour of the existence of God is that in all its various forms (the first-cause argument, argument from contingency, the prime-mover argument) it puts God inside the scheme of things. Whatever one’s views on the cause-effect correlation (or lack thereof), it is absurd to consider the Transcendental God as being subject to cause-effect or any other law for that matter. It is difficult to blame ordinary mortals for being prone to this kind of absurdity when philosophers over the centuries have proved themselves to be so disposed to it. This is the error (on the theist as well as on the atheist side) that invites questions such as ‘If God caused the universe to exist, what caused God to exist?’ Such questions stump the theist because a Transcendental Law Giver who is shackled by His own laws is a classic contradiction in terms. For the same reason, this is not a ‘victory’ that is worthy of any intelligent and self-respecting atheist.

Enthusiastic theists, blissfully unaware of the fatal flaw of the reasoning, never tire of repeating the cosmological argument. This tragedy (or comedy, depending upon one’s point of view) turns into an outright farce when atheists try and demoralize these theists by pulling the rug from under them (so to speak) by pointing out how the argument is no good. The theists would spare themselves much of this demoralization if only they realized that their argument ‘proved’ a very poor version of God anyway.

Most of the other arguments for the existence of God suffer from the same (or similar) limitations. A detailed discussion of each of those arguments is beyond the scope of this piece. Suffice it to conclude that the whole project of rationalization of God (exemplified so typically by the cosmological argument) needs to be re-examined. Though unfortunately it has not been popular among theist philosophers for a very long time, the alternative tradition has also been there from the start. That tradition can be revived by consulting the Quran on the subject. For that, the mindset of looking up the Quran for clues regarding the answers to all vital questions must be brought back to life by the Muslims.

Hasan Aftab Saeed
The author is a connoisseur of music, literature, and food (but not drinks). He can be reached at www.facebook.com/hasanaftabsaeed

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