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Questions for Today
Jan 1, 1996

How can we answer those who attribute the origin of existence to nature or the laws of nature or to matter or to chance or necessity?

False arguments about the origin of existence

Mediaeval European conceptions about the nature and existence of the universe were strongly underpinned by the authority of the Church which in turn relied upon arguments from scriptures that had long since deviated from their true originals. As modern scientific thinking developed, it met a great deal of hostility from the Church whose authority it challenged. The rift in European culture between science and religion deepened steadily until the two became irreconcilable. Eventually, religion came to be seen as a domain of blind beliefs and consolatory rituals about which science could have nothing to say. To think or work scientifically entailed refusing to even allude to God, let alone deferring to the authority of Divine Revelation. The Darwinian account of evolution sealed and popularized a tendency to regard existence as self-originated and self-sustained, a process which unfolded by itself according to laws which would, sooner or later, be understood fully (and therefore to some degree manipulable) by human beings. Many scientists (by no means all) have in principle and practice maintained that natural causes or so-called laws of nature are sufficient to explain all phenomena.

Before passing on to discuss this viewpoint, we should point out that unlike the Prophets who, despite living in different places and at different times, were unanimous on how existence originated and is sustained-as indeed they were on all other essential issues pertaining to life and existence-and again unlike a considerable number of scientists who agree with the Prophets on this matter, scientists and philosophers who favour naturalistic and materialistic views of existence differ greatly in their explanations. Some of them attribute creativity and eternity to matter and attribute life and consciousness to it. Others argue that nature is eternally self-existent and claim to explain everything by natural causes and laws. Still others, unable to explain the origin of life, ascribe existence, living and non-living, to what they call chance and necessity. Without going further in detailing assertions such as those mentioned, we shall deal with the naturalistic or materialist viewpoint.

Nature and natural laws and causes

  1. Natural laws have a nominal not a real existence. They are propositions tendered as explanations of particular kinds of event or phenomenon, they allude to imaginary forces inferred from the motions or relationships of events or phenomena. The law of gravity or the law of reproduction and growth in living organisms or other laws such as magnetic attraction and repulsion are not entities whose existence is verified through our own external senses or through instruments that enhance those senses. Whatever truth the law of gravity, for example, may be said to have, can we claim that the real universe (one in which that law operates) has (or must) come about because of it? Is it at all reasonable then to ascribe the existence of anything, let alone intelligent and conscious living beings, to entities that exist only as propositions?
  2. Natural laws and causes are inferred from the motions or relationships of events or phenomena in the universe. Therefore they are, in principle, dependent upon events or phenomena rather than their origin or originators. Certainly, they are not self-dependent or self-existent.
  3. The existence of the universe as a whole and of all events or phenomena within it is contingent. That is, their existence is not absolutely necessary-it is equally possible for them to exist or not. Evidently, there are almost limitless alternatives for any particle of sustenance which could form the building block of an embryo, to go to any one of its billions of cells. Anything whose existence is contingent cannot be eternal and needs one with the power of choice to prefer its existence over its non-existence or merely potential existence.
  4. All contingent entities are contained in time and space and therefore have a beginning. Anything that has a beginning must certainly have an end also, and cannot therefore be eternal.
  5. Natural causes are in need of each other to bring about an effect. For example, an apple needs an apple blossom for its existence, and the blossom needs a branch, and the branch a tree, and so on, to the seed of the tree which needs earth, 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 causes and effects.
  6. For a single effect to come into existence an infinite number of causes must come together and collaborate in a way so co-ordinated and reliable we call their collective operation ‘natural laws’. For example, a single apple requires for its existence the co-operation of air, earth, sunlight, water, the 23 degree inclination of the earth’s axis, and the complex rules of germination and growth of seeds and plants. So many deaf, blind, ignorant, unconscious causes and laws cannot come together by themselves into the subtle and complex arrangement we recognize as a living organism, still less into a living organism such as man who is not only living and conscious but also intelligent and responsible-able to answer questions about his intentions and actions.
  7. A tiny seed contains in itself a huge tree. A human being, the most complex of creatures, grows from a female ovum fertilized by a microscopic male sperm. In short, there is not an appropriate relation or acceptable proportionateness between causes and effects. Extremely weak, simple, ignorant and lifeless causes result in very powerful, complex, intelligent and vigorously living effects.
  8. All natural phenomena and processes have their opposites: north and south poles; positive and negative poles; hot and cold; beautiful and ugly; day and night; attraction and repulsion; freezing and melting; vaporization and condensation; etc. Something which has an opposite and needs its opposite to exist and be known cannot be a creator or originator.
  9. We often witness that although all the causes necessary to the existence of an effect are ready, that effect does not come into existence, and, 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 bring about the same effects. It is because of this that some scientists reject the idea of causality as a way of explaining things and events in the universe.
  10. Among causes, man is the most capable and eminent, distinguished with intellect, consciousness, will-power and many other faculties and inner and outer senses and feelings. Yet he is so weak and helpless as not to be able to resist even a microbe and he is caught up in endless needs and pains. If man, being the most capable, intelligent, powerful and conscious of causes, has no part in his own coming into existence and no control over the working of even his own body, how can other causes have creativity?

Matter and chance

The argument we have so far brought forward against the view that natural laws and causes are self-existent, self-sustaining, even, in some sense, eternal, holds true for related views which attribute 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: it cannot be eternal or capable of origination. Also, matter is deaf, blind, lifeless, ignorant, powerless, and unconscious; how can it be the origin of sensible life, knowledge, power and consciousness? It is evident that something cannot impart to others what it does not possess.

When there is in the universe such abundant evidence of purposive arrangement, organization and harmony, it is irrational to speak of chance or coincidence as its cause. There are trillions of cells in a human body and a single cell contains about one million proteins. The possibility of a protein occurring by chance are infinitesimally small. Without One who has the power of choice to prefer its existence and the absolute power to create it, who has an absolute, all-comprehensive knowledge to pre-arrange its relations with other proteins, with the cell and all parts of the body and place it just where it must be, the existence of a single protein is not possible. It is when they admit this One-God, the Creator of all thing-that the sciences will find their true course. (One day they will have to do so.)

The reasons why God has created natural laws and causes

Whereas, in the next world, which is the realm of Power, God will execute His Will directly without the ‘medium’ of causes so that everything will happen instantaneously, the Divine Name, the All-Wise requires that in this world, which is the realm of Wisdom, Divine Power should operate from behind the veil of causes and laws. Because:

1. Opposites are mingled in this world: truth with falsehood, light with darkness, good with evil, white with black, and so on. Since man, in whose nature are ingrained inclinations towards both good and evil, is tested in this world whether he will use his free will and other faculties in the way of truth and good or otherwise. Divine Wisdom has required that the veil of causes and laws should he drawn before the operations of Divine Power. If God had willed He could be training the planets with His ‘hands’ in a way observable by us, or He could have them administered by angels whom we could see openly, and we would then not be speaking of the laws or causes involved such as gravitation. Or, in order to communicate His Commandments, He could, without sending any Prophets, speak to each individual directly. Or, in order to compel us to believe in His existence and Oneness, He could write His Name with stars on the face of skies. But in this case man’s earthly existence could not he, as it is, an arena of trial. As a result of this trial, good and evil have, since the beginning of man’s worldly existence, been flowing through this world into the next one to fill its two mighty pools of Paradise and Hell.

2. Like the two sides of a mirror, existence has two aspects or dimensions, one visible and material, the realm of opposites and (in most cases) imperfections, and the spiritual realm which is transparent, pure and perfect. There can be, and actually are, in the material dimension, events and phenomena which appear disagreeable to man. Those who are unable to perceive the Divine Wisdom behind all things may go so far as to criticize the Almighty for those disagreeable events and phenomena. In order to prevent that, God has made natural laws and causes a veil before His acts. For example, so that man should criticize neither God nor His angel of death, for the loss of his beloved ones or for his own death, God has placed between Himself and the phenomenon of death (among other ‘agents’ or ‘causes’) diseases and natural disasters.

Again, on account of the essential imperfection of this world of testing and trial, man encounters, and suffers from, many deficiencies and shortcomings. In absolute terms, every event and phenomenon is good and beautiful in itself or in its consequences. Whatever God does or decrees is good, beautiful and just. Injustices, ugliness and evils are only apparent or superficial and arise from the errors and abuses of humankind. For example, a court may pass an unjust sentence on you; but you should know that Destiny permitted that judgement because of a crime of yours which has remained hidden. Whatever befalls a man is usually because of self-wronging, an evil he himself has done. However, those who lack the sound reasoning and judgement necessary to understand the Divine Wisdom behind events and phenomena, may impute directly to God the apparent ugliness or evils, the imperfections and shortcomings, experienced in worldly life. Whereas God is absolutely free from any kind of defect or imperfection.

Therefore, to prevent people from ascribing to God the ugliness and evils they encounter in life, His Glory and Grandeur have required that natural causes and laws should be a veil before His acts, while belief in His Unity demands that those causes and laws should not he ascribed to any kind of creative power.

3. If God Almighty acted in the world directly, without the ‘medium’ of causes and laws, man would have been unable to develop scientific knowledge, nor live even an instant of happy life, free of fears and anxieties. It is thanks to God’s acting from behind natural causes and laws, that man is able to observe and study patterns in phenomena. Otherwise, each event would be a miracle. The regularity within the flux and mutability of events and phenomena makes them comprehensible to us, therefore awakens the desire in us to wonder and reflect which is a principal factor in the establishment of sciences. For the same reason we are able, to some degree, to plan and arrange our affairs in advance: consider how life would be if we were completely uncertain whether the sun would rise tomorrow!

4. Whoever owns such attributes as beauty and perfection desires to know them and make them known. God owns absolute beauty and perfection and is independent of all things, needing nothing. He owns also a holy, transcendent love and therefore a sacred desire to manifest His Beauty and Perfection. If He manifested His Names and attributes directly without the ‘medium’ of causes and laws, human beings could not endure them. He manifests them from behind causes and laws and by degrees within the confines of time and space so that we can build a connection with them, reflect on them, and perceive them. The gradual manifestation of Divine Names and attributes is also a reason for our curiosity and wonder about them.

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