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False Arguments About the Origin of Existence

by Fethullah Gülen on . Posted in Essentials of the Islamic Faith

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Mediaeval European conceptions about the universe's nature and existence were underpinned by the Catholic Church's authority. The Church, relying upon a Divine Revelation (the Bible) that had been altered over time, considered modern science a threat to its authority and so viewed it with great hostility. The resulting science-religion rift deepened steadily until the two became irreconcilable. Eventually, religion was relegated to a domain of blind belief and consolatory rituals considered alien to science. Thus, science no longer had to defer to the Divine Revelation's authority. The Darwinian account of evolution sealed and popularized the idea that existence was self-originated and self-sustained, a process that had unfolded by itself according to laws that one day would be understood fully (and therefore to some degree could be manipulated) by humanity.

Not all scientists maintain that natural causes or so-called laws of nature can explain all phenomena. Before discussing this issue, we should point out that all Prophets, regardless of place or time, agree on how existence originated and is sustained, and on all other essential issues pertaining to life and existence. While a considerable number of scientists agree with the Prophets, scientists and philosophers who favor naturalism and materialism differ greatly in their explanations. Some attribute creativity and eternity, as well as life and consciousness, to matter. Others argue that nature is eternally self-existent and that everything can be explained by natural causes and laws. Still others, unable to explain the origin of life, fall back on such notions as chance and necessity.

The following points section points out the impossibility of explaining existence without affirming God's existence and Unity.

Nature, Natural Laws and Causes

  • Natural laws have nominal, not real, existence. They are propositions tendered as explanations of particular events or phenomenon, and allude to imaginary forces inferred from the motions or relationships of events or phenomena. The laws of gravity, reproduction and growth in living organisms, magnetic attraction and repulsion, and others are not entities whose existence can be verified by our external senses or scientific instruments. For example, whatever truth the law of gravity may have, can we claim that the real universe (the one in which this law operates) has (or must) come about because of it? Is it reasonable to ascribe anything's existence, let alone intelligent and conscious living beings, to propositions?
  • Natural laws and causes are inferred from the motions or relationships of events or phenomena observed in the universe. Therefore, as they depend upon external factors, they are either self-dependent nor self-existent.
  • The existence of the universe, as well of all its events or phenomena, is contingent. So nothing in it must exist, for it is equally possible for each thing to exist or not to exist. There is an almost limitless number of cells in an embryo that a food particle can visit. Anything whose existence is contingent cannot be eternal, for someone has to prefer its existence over its non-existence or merely potential existence.
  • As all contingent entities are contained in time and space, theyhave a beginning. Anything that begins must certainly end, and so cannot be eternal.
  • Natural causes need each other to bring about an effect. For example, an apple needs an apple blossom to exist, a blossom needs a branch, a branch needs a tree, and so on, just as a seed needs soil, air, and moisture to germinate and grow. Each cause is also an effect and, unless we accept as many deities as the number of causes, we must look to a single cause outside the chain of cause and effect.
  • For a single effect to come into existence, an infinite number of causes must collaborate in such a coordinated and reliable way that they become "natural laws." Consider this: In order to exist, an apple requires the cooperation of air and soil, sunlight and water, the 23º inclination of the Earth's axis, and the complex rules of germination and growth for seeds and plants. Could so many deaf and blind, ignorant and unconscious causes and laws come together by themselves to form a living organism? Do you really think that they could they form human beings, all of whom are alive and conscious, intelligent and responsible, and able to answer questions about their intentions and actions?
  • A tiny seed contains a huge tree. A human being, the most complex creature, grows from an ovum fertilized by a microscopic sperm. Is there an appropriate relation or acceptable proportionality between cause and effect here? Can extremely weak and simple, ignorant and lifeless causes result in very powerful and complex, intelligent and vigorously living effects?
  • All natural phenomena and processes have opposites: north and south, positive and negative, hot and cold, beautiful and ugly, day and night, attraction and repulsion, freezing and melting, vaporization and condensation, and so on. Something that has an opposite, that needs its opposite to exist and to be known, cannot be a creator or originator.
  • Although all causes necessary for an effect are present, that effect does not always come into existence. Conversely, something happens or comes into existence without any causes that we can recognize or understand as such. Also, the same causes do not always engender the same effects. This is why some scientists reject causality as a way of explaining things and events.
  • Among causes, humanity is the most capable and eminent, for we are distinguished with intellect, consciousness, willpower, and many other faculties and inner and outer senses and feelings. Yet we are so weak and helpless that even a microbe can cause us great pain. If even we have no part in our own coming into existence, and no control over our body's working, how can other causes have creativity?
  • Materialists take the conjunction of events for causality. If two events coexist, they imagine that one causes the other. Seeking to deny the Creator they make claims like: "Water causes plants to grow." They never ask how water knows what to do, how it does it, and what qualities it has that enable plants to grow?

Does water possess the knowledge and power to grow plants? Does it know the laws or properties of plant formation? If we attribute a plant's growth to the laws or nature, do they know how to form plants? Some sort or amount of knowledge, will, and power are absolutely necessary to make the least thing. Therefore, should not an all-encompassing knowledge, and an absolute will and power, be necessary to make this complex, amazing, and miraculous universe about which we still know so little?

Consider a flower. Where does its beauty come from, and who designed the relationship between it and our senses of smell and seeing and faculty of appreciation? Can a seed, soil or sunlight, all of which are unconscious, ignorant, and deaf, do such things? Do they have the knowledge, power, or will to make even a flower, let alone to make it beautiful? Can we, this planet's only conscious and knowledgeable beings, make a single flower? A flower can exist only if the whole universe exists first. To produce a flower, therefore, one must be able to produce the universe. In other words, its creator must have absolute power, knowledge, and will. All of thse are attributes of God alone.

Matter and Chance

Our argument against natural laws and causes being somehow selfexistent, selfsustaining, and even in some sense eternal, holds true for those views attributing creativity to chance and matter.

Whether defined according to the principles of classical physics or new physics, matter is obviously changeable and susceptible to external interventions. Thus it cannot be eternal or capable of origination. Also, as matter is deaf and blind, lifeless and ignorant, powerless and unconscious, how can it be the origin of life and knowledge, power and consciousness? Something cannot impart to others what it does not possess itself.

There is such abundant evidence of purposive arrangement, organization, and harmony in the universe that it is irrational to speak of chance or coincidence as its cause. For example, a human body contains 60 million million cells, and a single cell contains about 1 million proteins. The possibility of a protein occurring by chance is infinitesimally small. Without One to prefer its existence and to create it; who has an absolute and allcomprehensive knowledge to prearrange its relations with other proteins, the cell, and all bodily parts; and then to place it just where it must be, a single protein could not exist. Science will find its true path only when its practitioners admit that this One-God-is the Creator of all things.

The following simple scientific experiment helps us understand this significant argument:

Overbeck and his coworkers at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston were trying to practice some gene therapy techniques by seeing if they could convert albino mice into colored ones. The researcher injected a gene essential to the production of the pigment melanin into the singlecell embryo of an albino mouse. Later they bread that mouse's offspring, half of which carried the gene on one chromosome of a chromosome pair. Classic Mendelian genetics told them that roughly a quarter of the grandchildren should carry the gene on both chromosomes-should be "homozygous," in the language of genetics-and should therefore be colored.

But the mice never got a chance to acquire color. "The first thing we noticed," says Overbeck, "was that we were losing about 25% of the grandchildren within a week after they were born." The explanation:

The melaninrelated gene that his group injected into the albino mouse embryo had inserted itself into a completely unrelated gene. An unfamiliar stretch of DNA in the middle of a gene wrecks that gene's ability to get its message read. So in the mice, it seems whatever protein the gene coded for went unproduced, whatever function the protein had went undone, and the stomach, heart, liver, and spleen all wound up in the wrong place. Somehow, too, the kidneys and pancreas were damaged, and that damage is apparently what killed the mice.

Overbeck and his colleagues have already located the gene on a particular mouse chromosome and are now trying to pin down its structure. That will tell them something about the structure of the protein the gene encodes, how the protein works, and when and where it is produced as the gene gets "expressed" or turned on, "Is the gene expressed everywhere, or just on the left side of the embryo or just on the right side?" Overbeck wonders, "And when does it get expressed?"

These questions will take Overbeck far from the genetransfer experiment. "We think there are at least 100,000 genes," he points out, "so the chances of this happening were literally one in 100,000." [3]

It will take thousands of tests, and therefore thousands of mice, for such an experiment to succeed. However, there is no trial and error in nature. Any tree seed placed in the soil germinates and becomes a tree, unless something prevents it from doing so. Likewise, an embryo in the womb grows into a living, conscious being equipped with intellectual and spiritual faculties.

The human body is a miracle of symmetry and asymmetry. Scientists know how it develops in the womb. What they cannot figure out is how the buildingblock particles reaching the embryo distinguish between right and left, determine the specific organ's location, insert themselves in their proper places, and understand the extremely complicated relations and requirements among cells and organs. This process is so complicated that if a single particle required by the right eye's pupil ended up in the ear instead, the embryo could be damaged or even die.

In addition, all animate beings are made from the same elements coming from soil, air, and water. They also are similar to each other with respect to their bodily members and organs. And yet they are almost completely unique with respect to bodily features and visage, character, desire, and ambition. This uniqueness is so reliable that you can be identified positively just by your fingerprints.

How can we explain this? There are the two alternatives: Either each particle possesses almost infinite knowledge, will, and power; or One who has such knowledge, will, and power creates and administers each particle. However far back we go in an attempt to ascribe this to cause and effect and heredity, these two alternatives remain valid.

Even if the universe's existence is attributed to that which is not God (e.g., evolution, causality, nature, matter, or coincidences and necessity), we cannot deny one fact: Everything displays, though its coming into existence and subsistence and death, both an allcomprehensive knowledge as well as an absolute power and determination. As we saw in Overbeck's experiment, one misplaced or misdirected gene may ruin or terminate life. The interconnectedness of everything, from galaxies to atoms, is a reality into which every new entity enters and wherein it must know its unique place and function.

Is there a better demonstration of the existence and free operation of an all-comprehensive knowledge, an absolute power and will, that particles of the same biochemical constituents should produce, through the subtlest adjustments in their mutual relationships, unique entities and organ-isms? Is it satisfactory to explain this as heredity or coincidence, seeing that all such explanations rest on the same all-encompassing knowledge, absolute power, and will?

We must not be misled by the apparent fact that everything happens according to a certain program, plan, or process of causes. Such things are veils spread over the flux of the universe, the evermoving stream of events. Laws of nature may be inferred from this process of causes, but they have no real existence. Unless we attribute to nature (or to matter or coincidence and necessity) what we normally would attribute to its Creator, we must accept that it is, in essence and reality, a printing mechanism and not a printer, a design and not a designer, a passive recipient and not an agent, an order and not an orderer, a collection of nominal laws and not a power. [4]

To understand better why these cannot have any part in existence, let's analyze the purpose, harmony, and interrelatedness in creation by observing some plain facts. Again, Morrison draws our attentions to some of these:

The bulk of the Earth is now reduced to very permanent dimensions and its mass has been determined. Its speed in its orbit around the sun is extremely constant. Its rotation on its axis is determined so accurately that a variation of a second in a century would upset astronomical calculations. Had the bulk of the Earth been greater or less, or had its speed been different, it would have been farther from or nearer to the sun, and this different condition would have profoundly affected life of all kinds, including man.

The earth rotates on its axis in twenty-four hours or at the rate of about one thousand miles an hour. Suppose it turned at the rate of a hundred miles an hour. Why not? Our days and nights would then be ten times as long as now. The hot sun of summer would then burn up our vegetation each long day and every sprout would freeze in such a night. The sun, the source of all life, has a surface temperature of 12,000 degrees Fahrenheit, and our Earth is just far enough away so that this "eternal fire" warms us just enough and not too much. If the temperature on Earth had changed so much as fifty degrees on the average for a single year, all vegetation would be dead and man with it, roasted or frozen. The Earth travels around the sun at the rate of eighteen miles each second. If the rate of revolution had been, say, six miles or forty miles each second, we would be too far from or too close to the sun for our form of life to exist.

The Earth is tilted at an angle of twenty-three degrees. This gives us our seasons. If it had not been tilted, the poles would be in eternal twilight. The water vapor from the ocean would move north and south, piling up continents of ice and leaving possibly a desert between the equator and the ice.

The moon is 240,000 miles away, and the tides twice a day are usually a gentle reminder of its presence. Tides of the ocean run as high as fifty feet in some places, and even the crust of the Earth is twice a day bent outward several inches by the moon's attraction. If our moon was, say, fifty thousand miles away instead of its present respectable distance, our tides would be so enormous that twice a day all the lowland of all the continents would be submerged by a rush of water so enormous that even the mountains would soon be eroded away, and probably no continent could have risen from the depths fast enough to exist today. The Earth would crack with the turmoil and the tides in the air would create daily hurricanes.

Had the crust of the Earth been ten feet thicker, there would be no oxygen, without which animal life is impossible; and had the ocean been a few feet deeper, carbon dioxide and oxygen would have been absorbed and vegetable life on the surface of the land could not exist. If the atmosphere had been much thinner, some of the meteors which are now burned in the outer atmosphere by the millions every day would strike all parts of the Earth.

Oxygen is commonly placed at 21 per cent [in the atmosphere]. The atmosphere as a whole presses upon the Earth at approximately fifteen pounds on each square inch of surface at sea level. The oxygen which exists in the atmosphere is a part of this pressure, being about three pounds per square inch. All the rest of the oxygen is locked up in the form of compounds in the crust of the Earth and makes up 8/10 of all the waters in the world. Oxygen is the breath of life for all land animals and is for this purpose utterly unobtainable except from the atmosphere.

The question arises how this extremely active chemical element escaped combination and was left in the atmosphere in the almost exact proportion necessary for practically all living things. If, for instance, instead of 21 per cent oxygen were 50 per cent or more of the atmosphere, all combustible substances in the world would become inflammable to such an extent that the first stroke of lightning to hit a tree would ignite the forest, which would almost explode... If free oxygen, this one part in many millions of the Earth's substance, should be absorbed, all animal life would cease.

When a man breathes, he draws in oxygen, which is taken up by the blood and distributed through his body. This oxygen burns his food in every cell very slowly at a comparatively low temperature, but the result is carbon dioxide and water vapor, so when a man is said to sigh like a furnace, there is a touch of reality about it. The carbon dioxide escapes into his lungs and is not breathable except in small quantities. It sets his lungs in action and he takes his next breath throwing into the atmosphere carbon dioxide. All animal life is thus absorbing oxygen and throwing off carbon dioxide. Oxygen is further essential to life because of its action upon other elements in the blood as well as elsewhere in the body, without which life processes would cease.

On the other hand, as is well known, all vegetable life is dependent upon the almost infinitesimal quantity of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere which, so to speak, it breathes. To express this complicated photo-synthetic chemical reaction in the simplest possible way, the leaves of the trees are lungs and they have the power when in the sunlight to separate this obstinate carbon dioxide into carbon and oxygen. In other words, the oxygen is given off and the carbon retained and combined with the hydrogen of the water brought up by the plant from its roots. By magical chemistry, out of these elements "nature" makes sugar, cellulose and numerous other chemicals, fruits and flowers [all in different smell, taste, color and shape according to the kind of plant or tree. Can this infinite difference or variation be attributed to tiny seeds, blind, ignorant and unconscious?]. The plant feeds itself and produces enough more to feed every animal on Earth. At the same time, the plant releases the oxygen we breathe and without which life would end in five minutes. So all the plants, the forests, the grasses, every bit of moss, and all else of vegetable life, build their structure principally out of carbon and water. Animals give off carbon dioxide and plants give off oxygen. If this interchange did not take place, either the animal or vegetable life would ultimately use up practically all of the oxygen or all of the carbon dioxide, and the balance being completely upset, one would wilt or die and the other would quickly follow.

Hydrogen must be included, although we do not breathe it. Without hydrogen water would not exist, and the water content of animal and vegetable matter is surprisingly great and absolutely essential. Oxygen, hydrogen, carbon dioxide, and carbon, singly and in their various relations to each other, are the principal biological elements. They are the very basis on which life rests.

We pour an infinite variety of substances into this chemical laboratory-the digestive system, which is the greatest laboratory of the world- with almost total disregard of what we take in, depending on what we consider the automatic process to keep us alive. When these foods have been broken down and are again prepared, they are delivered constantly to each of our billions of cells, a greater number than all the human beings on Earth. The delivery to each individual cell must be constant, and only those substances which the particular cell needs to transform them into bones, nails, flesh, hair, eyes, and teeth are taken up by the proper cell. Here is a chemical laboratory producing more substances than any laboratory which human ingenuity has devised. Here is a delivery system greater than any method of transportation or distribution the world has ever known, all being conducted in perfect order. From childhood until, say, a man is fifty years of age, this laboratory makes no serious mistakes, though the very substances with which it deals could literally form over a million different kinds of molecules-many of them deadly. When the channels of distribution become somewhat sluggish from long use we find weakened ability and ultimate old age.

When the proper food is absorbed by each cell, it is still only the proper food. The process in each cell now becomes a form of combustion, which accounts for the heat of the whole body. You cannot have combustion without ignition. Fire must be lighted, and so [you are provided with] a little chemical combination which ignites a controlled fire for the oxygen, hydrogen, and the carbon in the food in each cell, thus producing the necessary warmth and, as from any fire, the result is water vapor and carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide is carried away by the blood to the lungs, and there it is the one thing that makes you draw in your breath of life. A person produces about two pounds of carbon dioxide in a day, but by wonderful processes gets rid of it. Every animal digests food, and each must have the special chemicals it individually needs. Even in minute detail the chemical constituents of the blood, for instance, differ in each species. There is, therefore, a special formative process for each.

In case of infection by hostile germs, the system also continuously maintains a standing army to meet, and usually overcome, invaders and save the entire structure of the man from premature death. No such combination of marvels does or can take place under any circumstances in the absence of life. And all this is done in perfect order, and order is absolutely contrary to chance.

Does all this require and point to One Who knows us thoroughly-all our needs, environment, and bodily mechanisms-One Who is All-Knowing and does as He wishes? In Morrison's words: "Purpose seems fundamental in all things, from the laws that govern the universe to the combinations of atoms which sustain our lives. Atoms and molecules in living creatures do marvelous things and build wonderful mechanisms, but such machines are useless unless intelligence sets them in objective motion. There is the directive Intelligence which science does not explain, nor does science dare say it is material."

Why God Created Natural Laws and Causes

In the next world, the realm of Power, God will execute His Will directly. As there will be no "causes" everything will happen instantaneously. But here, in the realm of Wisdom, the Divine Name the All-Wise requires the Divine Power to operate behind the veil of causes and laws for several reasons, among them the following.

  • Opposites are mingled in this world: truth with falsehood, light with darkness, good with evil, and so on. Since our human nature inclines toward both good and evil, we are tested to see whether or not we will use our free will and other faculties in the way of truth and good. Divine Wisdom requires that causes and laws should conceal the operations of Divine Power. If God had willed, He could train the planets with His "hands" in a way that we could see, or He could have them administered by visible angels. If this were the case, we would not need to speak of the laws or causes involved. To communicate His Commandments, He could speak to each individual directly, without sending Prophets. To make us believe in His existence and Oneness, He could write His Name with stars in the sky. But then our earthly existence would not be an arena of trial. As a result of this trial, since the time of Adam and Eve good and evil flow through this world into the next to fill its two mighty pools of Paradise and Hell.
  • Like a mirror's two sides, existence has two aspects or dimensions: one visible and material, the realm of opposites and (in most cases) imperfections; and a spiritual realm that is transparent, pure, and perfect. There can be-and actually are-events and phenomena in the material dimension that we do not like. Those who cannot perceive the Divine Wisdom behind all things may criticize the Almighty for such events and phenomena. To prevent that, God made natural laws and causes veil His acts. For example, so that we should not criticize either God or His Angel of Death for our own or others' deaths, God placed disease and natural disasters (among other agents or causes) between Himself and death.

Due to this world's essential imperfection, we experience many deficiencies and shortcomings. In absolute terms, every event and phenomenon is good and beautiful in itself and in its consequences. Whatever God does or decrees is good, beautiful, and just. Injustice, ugliness, and evil are only apparent or superficial, and arise from human error and abuse. For example, a court may rule against us unjustly, but we should know that Destiny permitted it because of a concealed crime belonging to us. Whatever befalls us usually is due to self-wronging or an evil we have done. However, those who cannot understand the Divine Wisdom behind events and phenomena may impute the resulting apparent ugliness or evil, imperfection and shortcoming, directly to God, although He has no defect or imperfection.

To prevent such a mistake, His Glory and Grandeur require that natural causes and laws conceal His acts, while belief in His Unity demands that those causes and laws not be ascribed to any creative power.

  • If God Almighty acted here directly, we could not have developed science, known happiness, or be free of fear and anxiety. Thanks to God's acting behind natural causes and laws, we can observe and study patterns in phenomena. Otherwise, each event would be a miracle. The regular flux and mutability of events and phenomena makes them comprehensible to us, and so awakens our desire to wonder and reflect, which is a principal factor in science. For the same reason, to some degree we can plan and arrange our affairs. What would our lives be like if we were not sure that the sun would rise tomorrow?
  • Whoever has such attributes as beauty and perfection desires to know them and make them known. God owns absolute beauty and perfection and, being independent of all things, needs nothing. He also owns a holy and transcendent love, and has a sacred desire to manifest His Beauty and Perfection. If He manifested His Names and Attributes directly, we could not endure them. He therefore manifests them behind causes and laws, and by degrees within the confines of time and space, so that we can build a connection with them, and reflect on and perceive them. The gradual manifestation of Divine Names and Attributes is also a reason for our curiosity and wonder about them.

These four points constitute only some of the reasons why God acts through natural laws and causes.

[3] Reported in Discover, 20 August 1993.

[4] Suppose you take ten pennies and mark them from 1 to 10. Put them in your pocket and give them a good shake. Now try to draw them out in sequence from 1 to 10, putting each coin back in your pocket after each draw. Your chance of drawing No. 1 is 1 in 10. Your chance of drawing 1 and 2 in succession would be 1 in 100. Your chance of drawing 1, 2, and 3 in succession would be 1 in a thousand. Your chance of drawing 1, 2, 3 and 4 in succession would be 1 in 10,000 and so on, until your chance of drawing from No. 1 to No. 10 in succession would reach the unbelievable figure of one chance in 10 billion.