Written by Muhammad Sa‘idi-Mihr Amir Divani
The Holy Qur’an has used the word fiṭrat (nature) in Sūrah Rūm where it has introduced religion as an innate [fiṭrī] affair. It seems that Islamic researchers have been inspired by this Qur’anic verse in usage of the term fiṭrat:
“So set thy face to the pure religion of Allah; this is the fiṭrat (nature) upon which Allah has created the humankind. The creation of Allah is immutable. This is the eternal religion, but most people do not know.”16
This verse states the fact that religion is an innate attribute and that God has created humanity’s essence based upon this attribute. Even though this verse does not explicitly speak of innate realization of God, we may consider it a confirmation of this fact because, if the intent of “religion” in this verse is the primary teachings and pillars of faith in Islam, then surely this includes belief in the existence of God. Another possibility is that the intent of “religion” is submission and humility towards God and worshiping Him. In this case, the verse indicates the innateness of worshiping God and since worship of an unknown being is not possible, innate theism necessitates innateness of the awareness of God’s existence.
Another verse that can be cited as a confirmation of innate realization of God is the verse of Mīthāq (covenant):
“And when your Lord took from the loins of the children of Adam their seed and made them their own witness, asking that: “Am I not your Lord?” They said: “Yes, we bear witness [to this fact]”—lest you should say on the Day of Resurrection: “Surely we were unaware of this [fact].”17
What can be briefly understood from the verse of Mīthāq is that in one stage of creation, God gathered all the humans who would live in the world from the Beginning until the Day of Resurrection and secured their acknowledgement of His Lordship. The purpose for requesting this confession was that unbelievers and polytheists later could not bring the excuse that they were unaware and ignorant.18
In addition, in several verses, the Holy Qur’an informs of the fact that the God-perceiving nature [fiṭrat] of humans sometimes becomes stagnant and only awakens at critical moments:
“And when they embark in a ship they call upon Allah with sincerity, but when they are delivered to land and are saved, then [again] they associate others with Him.” 19
These verses also show that the Qur’an confirms humankind’s innate knowledge of the existence of God.
In addition, among the traditions of the Immaculates, there is mention of the innate ability of humankind to perceive God. For example, in exegesis of verse 30 of Sūrah Rūm, Imam Bāqir (‘a) has declared:
“God has established in the nature of humans understanding of Himself.”20
2. The Way of Experience
Sometimes through accurate observation and meditation concerning the qualities and relations between empiric phenomena one may be guided towards cognizing the existence of God and understanding of His attributes, including Absolute Knowledge, Wisdom, and Power. This method is called the way of experience because it is based upon observation of the natural world and empirical analysis of natural phenomena.21 Because of the unique advantages of this method, the Holy Qur’an has special regard towards it and thus in many verses it calls upon humans to contemplate the phenomena of the world around them as genetic [takwīnī] proofs and signs of God. Some Islamic researchers have developed an argument of the existence of God based upon one aspect of the natural world—the order and discipline prevailing upon natural objects—which is called the argument of design or order [burhān al-naẓm].22 The argumentation of order is an obvious example of what we have termed the way of experience.
“Evidential Understanding” in the Qur’an and Traditions
In many parts of the Qur’an, there are verses that describe various natural phenomena, regarding such phenomena as evidence and signs of the existence of God and calling upon humans to contemplate and meditate upon them. Understanding God through the genetic [takwīnī] signs in Creation, which is a prime example of the experiential method of cognition of God, is sometimes called evidential or extroversive understanding.23
A number of verses call upon humans to contemplate the genetic [takwīnī] signs of God. These verses consider the existing order and organization in the world and in humankind a justification and beacon that may guide the wise towards the Divine Origin of the world:
“Surely in the creation of the heavens and earth and in the alternation of night and day there are [convincing] signs for people possessed of minds.”24
“And upon the earth there are [persuasive] signs for those having sure faith; and in yourselves; so do you not see?”25
Furthermore, large selections of Qur’anic verses indicate a specific phenomenon and represent it as a sign of the existence of God and His Divine Knowledge and Power. These verses are so extensive that even enumerating a small number of them necessitates much time.26
In compliance with the Holy Qur’an, the leaders of Islam have strenuously emphasized “evidential understanding” of God. For example, in a comprehensive narration addressed to one of his disciples, Imam Sādīq (‘a) stated:
“O Mufaḍal! The first edification and rationale of the existence of God—the Almighty, the Glorious—is the formation, assembly of elements, and systematization of this world. Thus if you deeply and properly contemplate the workings of the world using your intellect and wisdom, you will surely see it as a home in which all of the needs of God’s servants are ready and gathered. The sky has been raised like a ceiling; the earth has been spread like a carpet; the stars have been arranged like lamps; gems have been hidden inside the earth as stockpiles; and everything has been set in its proper place. And humankind is the one who has been bestowed this home and everything within it. All kinds of plants and animals have been prepared to provide their needs and further their interests. All this shows that the world has been created through precise and intelligent quantification, order, proportion, and coordination. It has but one Creator and He is the One who has formed, ordered, and coordinated its elements.”27
3. The Way of Intellect
In this method, the existence of God is proven through premises, principles, and purely logical techniques.28 Philosophical arguments and proofs of the existence of God are clear examples of intellectual analyses proving the existence of God. In comparison with the previous two methods, this method has several unique characteristics that are as follows:
Because of their deep and intricate philosophical nature, many argumentations and logical explanations of the existence of God are not very useful for people who are not acquainted with philosophical discussions.29
One of the advantages of this method is that it can be used in the scientific battle against paradoxes put forth by heretics; in debates, it can reveal the weakness and frailty of the rationales of atheists; and it can answer the challenges of rationalists who accept nothing but logical reasoning.
This method can be effective in strengthening religious faith because if an individual’s intellect bows before a truth, his heart also acquires a stronger inclination toward this truth. Additionally, eliminating doubt and uncertainty through secure logical reasoning has a great role in preventing loss of faith.30
In virtue of the unique uses of the intellectual method and the innate inclination of the inquisitive minds of humanity towards profound logical and philosophical discussions, Moslem intellectuals have performed in depth studies regarding intellectual realization of God. Some of these studies have resulted in the establishment of new argumentations regarding the existence of God or refinement of previous argumentations. The most logical argument proving the existence of God is the popular Cosmological Argument.31 This argument has been presented in various forms, one of which we will introduce here:
The Kalam Cosmological Argument
The kalām cosmological argument is based upon several premises. Complete understanding of this argument is not possible without first understanding these premises. Therefore, it is appropriate that we summarily introduce these main premises before we discuss the argument.
a) Definition of “Necessary Being” and “Contingent Being”
Understanding the kalām cosmological argument is only viable through comprehension of the definitions of “necessary being” and “contingent being” and the differences between them. In explanation of these two terms, it can be said that the relationship of an extant object with existence—possessing the quality of being—can only be one of the following:
The existence of the object is necessary such that disunion of the object with existence (in other words its lack of existence) cannot be conceived.32
The existence of the object is not necessary such that it can be conceived that its relationship with existence be discontinued and it becomes non-existent.33
The first being whose existence is necessary and cannot possibly be non-existent is called “necessary being”. The second, which can possibly become non-existent, is called “contingent being”.
The following analogy is useful in bringing the issue closer to mind: the relationship of a necessary being and a contingent being with existence is similar to the relationship of sugar and water with sweetness; the sweetness of sugar can never be detached therefore the term “sweet sugar” is meaningless, but water can either be sweet or not. In order for water to become sweet, sweetness must be externally added to it. In addition, the sweetness of water can be taken from it.34
According to mutakallimūn35 and philosophers, this necessary being is God and all other beings are contingent beings. Therefore proving the existence of a necessary being is the same as proving the existence of God. Sometimes for brevity, instead of “necessary being” and “contingent being” the shorter terms “necessary” and “contingent” are used.
b) The Causality Principle
Another of the premises of the kalām cosmological argument is the Causality Principle. Taking the definitions of necessary being and contingent being into consideration, the description of the Causality Principle is as follows: “All contingent beings require a cause”.
According to this definition, the Causality Principle is a logical and axiomatic clause whose conception is sufficient for conformation and acceptance. A contingent being is a being whose existence is not necessary, in other words, its relationship with existence and non-existence is identical, meaning that it can either be or not be. Therefore, in order to exist, such an object needs a “preferrer” (meaning a detached object that causes the preference of the existence of the first object over its non-existence). This “preferrer” is the cause of the contingent being. Using the analogy of sugar and water it can be said that just as water needs an exterior object to make it sweet. In order for a contingent object to become existent, it also needs an exterior object to bring it into existence; this exterior object is its cause.36
Considering the above discussion there can be derived another characteristic for a necessary being and a contingent being: a contingent being is a being whose existence is dependant upon another being (i.e. the cause), but a necessary being has an independent existence.
c) The Impossibility of an Infinite Regress or Sequence (Tasalsul)
An additional premise of the kalām cosmological argument is the principle of the “Impossibility of an Infinite Sequence”. Sequence means series or a set of objects coming one after the other, but in [Islamic] philosophy, it has a more specific meaning.37 In the current discussion, by sequence we mean a sequence of causes and effects that continue infinitely, never reaching a first cause. To state the matter more clearly, an impossible sequence is a sequence in which object “A” is caused by object “B”, and object “B” is caused by object “C”, and object “C” is caused by object “D”, and so on, without the sequence ever ending. According to the principle of “Impossibility of an Infinite Sequence”, the existence of an infinite temporal causal sequence is impossible.
Some consider the principle of “Impossibility of an Infinite Sequence” axiomatic and needless of reasoning and others apply various logical arguments to prove it. For example, as an argument to prove this principle it is said:
If we imagine an infinite chain of causes and effects that do not end with a first cause—a cause that is not the effect of another cause—then each of the links in this sequence would depend upon the previous link (which is the cause of the next link) for its existence. Because this characteristic embraces all of these envisioned links, the whole set of links (the whole sequence) would also possess this characteristic. Therefore, the whole sequence in itself would need a separate object external to the sequence that was not caused by something else. An object that originated the links in said chain. This object is the first cause; by considering it, our imagined infinite sequence is converted into a finite sequence.38
In order to understand this principle in a tangible manner various examples are commonly presented. For instance, imagine a rank of soldiers who plan to attack the enemy. Each soldier will only attack on the condition that the soldier beside him attacks first. Therefore, soldier “A” will only attack when soldier “B” attacks and soldier “B” conditions his attack on the attack of soldier “C” and so on. Now, if this is not a finite sequence, which does not end with a soldier whose attack is not conditional, will any attack actually commence? Clearly, the answer to this question is negative. In causal sequences, the situation is exactly similar because the existence of each element depends of the existence of its cause whose existence is also dependant upon the existence of another cause and so forth. Undoubtedly, if this sequence is infinite, basically, it cannot come into existence. Therefore, if we consider a causal sequence of extant objects, it will surely be finite. Such that in the example of the soldiers, if an attack has commenced, we would surely realize that the sequence was finite.
d) The Impossibility of a Circular Cause (Dawr)
A circular cause happens when an object is its own cause through one or several intermediate causes.39 The first form, meaning when an object is its own cause, is called a clear loop [daūr al-sarīh] and the second form, meaning when an object is its own cause with several intermediate causes, is called a hidden loop [daūr al-muḍmar]. Therefore, the conjecture that “A” is the cause of “B” and that “B” is the cause of “A” is a clear loop; and the supposition that “A” caused “B”, “B” caused “C”, and “C” caused “A” is a hidden loop. The impossibility of a circular cause is obvious and self-evident in both forms; because considering the fact that every cause is antecedent to its effect40, the causality of “A” regarding “B” necessitates the antecedence of “A” over “B”, and if “B” is the cause of “A” then “B” would be antecedent over “A”. Therefore, “A” would be antecedent over itself.41 This is a contradiction, because it requires that “A” simultaneously be and not be antecedent to itself.
The Main Argument
Now that we have elucidated these premises, we shall explain the kalām cosmological argument:
There is no doubt that at least one being exists in the whole world about which we can possibly talk or think. That is to say, the set of all existents is not a void set and we are not dealing with absolute nihility, on the contrary, this set indisputably has at least one element. This being is either a necessary being or a contingent being (while no other assumption is possible). In other words, this being is either inherently independent and is not dependent upon any other being for its existence (i.e. necessary being) or it is dependent upon another being for its existence (i.e. contingent being).
If the first assumption is correct, then the existence of a necessary being has been proven and as we have previously stated, this necessary being is God.
However, if the second assumption is correct and the presumed being is a contingent being, according to the causal principle it needs a cause, that is to say its existence indicates the existence of its cause. If its cause is a contingent being—which needs a separate cause—and this sequence of causes goes on unto infinity, we will have an infinite regress, while as we have previously shown an infinite causal regress is impossible. Another possibility is that the presumed contingent being, with or without intermediate causes, is the effect of a cause which itself has been caused by the presumed contingent being. This possibility is also invalid because it necessitates a circular cause and as we have indicated, a circular cause, like an infinite regress is intellectually impossible.
Therefore, the only remaining possibility is that this contingent being, with or without intermediate causes, has been brought about by a cause, which has not been precipitated by another object. The fact that this cause is not also an effect means that it is inherently independent and needless of others; this being is a necessary being. Thus, the existence of a necessary being has been proven once again.
According to what we have stated, the kalām cosmological argument can be thusly summarized: Undeniably, there is at least one being in the exterior world. If this being is a necessary being, our objective (which is the existence of God or a necessary being) has been proven. If it is a contingent being, considering its need of a cause and the impossibility of an infinite regress and a circular cause, it needs a being whose existence is not the effect of another being. This being is a necessary being (or God).
The Qur’an and the Need of Contingents towards God
As far as we know, the kalām cosmology argument has not been stated in the Holy Qur’an in its philosophic form. Several Qur’anic verses speak of a sort of need and dependency within all beings for God. These verses may be considered an indication of intellectual arguments that are founded upon the dependency of the world of contingents towards a God who is not dependent upon any being. For example, it has been stated in Sūrah Fāṭir:
“O people! You are the ones that have need of Allah; and Allah is the All-sufficient, the All-laudable.”42
Apparently, in this verse “neediness” has a very comprehensive meaning and includes a variety of needs that all beings have towards God, the most important of which is their existential dependency.
Also in various verses, the Qur’an emphasizes the fact that all beings, including humans, have been created and it has reasoned the existence of God—as the creator of the cosmos—in a manner that can be stated in the form of a logical argument. The Qur’an declares in argumentation against unbelievers:
“Have they been created from nothing or are they [their own] creators?”43
This is what may be extracted from this verse: Unquestionably, all humans have been created and initiated, meaning that they did not exist at one time and then they came into existence. Here we are confronted by several possibilities:
Humans have come into existence without a cause.
Humans are their own creators and originators.
These two possibilities, in all common sense, are obviously invalid and with little thought, their irrationality becomes evident. Therefore, the only logical possibility is that they are creations of a divine entity, transcendent to themselves who is God.
16. - Sūrah Rūm 30:30. (The Qur’anic translations in this book are derived from the Arbery translation of the Holy Qur’an.)
17. - Sūrah A‘rāf 7:172.
18. - The verse of Mīthāq has an immensely profound content and thus exegetes have interpreted it differently: Some believe it means that before creation of the natural world, God gathered all humans in another world—the world of Dharr—where He exposed His Lordship unto them. According to another interpretation, this verse speaks symbolically and states the fact that all humans, in the essences of their beings, possess a sort of personal—not general—and inherent—not acquired—awareness of God.
19. - Sūrah ‘Ankabūt 29:65; also see: Sūrah Luqmān 31:32, and Sūrah Naḥl 16:53-54.
20. - Kulaīnī, Uṣūl-e Kāfī, vol 1, p. 13.
21. - By calling this method experiential, we do not mean that it is free of all rational reasoning; rather, we mean that one of the basic rudiments of this method is observation of natural phenomena.
22. - Because the “argumentation of order” has been extensively discussed in previous textbooks we will refrain from discussing this argument.
23. - It must be said that there are several opinions regarding the interpretation of evidential understanding [shenākht-e Āyeh’ī] which have been derived from the Holy Qur’an. Some regard it as a preliminary to forming a rational argument—similar to what was said in explanation of the argumentation of order—concerning the existence of God and His Knowledge and Wisdom. According to another interpretation, the Qur’anic verses that call upon humans to contemplate natural phenomena, merely remind us of our innate understanding of God and have no significance other than notification and expunging neglect. The third opinion asserts that these verses are stated as a better disputation against polytheists; those who wrongly believe that their false idols and gods have a role in various worldly affairs and do not have a correct understanding of the Divine Unity of God. (For more information see: ‘Allāmih Ṭabāṭabā’ī, Al-Mīzān, vol 18, p. 154; Miṣbāḥ Yazdī, Education in Beliefs [Āmūzish-e ‘Aqāyid], vol. 2-1, p. 68; and Javādī Āmulī, Explanation of the Arguments of God’s Existence [Tabyīn-e Barāhīn-e Ithbāt-e Khudā], p. 43.)
24. - Sūrah Āli ‘Imrān 3:190.
25. - Sūrah Dhāriyāt 51:20-21. Also see: Sūrah Baqarah 2:164; Sūrah Jāthiyah 45:3-6; Sūrah Yūnus 10:100-101; and Sūrah Ibrāhīm 14:10.
26. - Verses that emphasize specific phenomena as signs can be categorized into several groups. Verses regarding the domain of human life are as follows:
1. The general order in the human genesis: Sūrah Jāthīyah 45:4; and Sūrah Rūm 30:20.
2. The order of development of the sperm and egg in the uterus: Sūrah Āli ‘Imrān 3:6; Sūrah Infiṭār 82:6-7; Sūrah Taghābun 64:3; Sūrah Ghāfir 40:64; Sūrah Ḥashr 59:24; and Sūrah Nūḥ 71:13-14.
3. The human cognitive system: Sūrah Naḥl 16:78.
4. Linguistic and racial differences: Sūrah Rūm 30:22; Sūrah Fāṭir 35:27-28.
5. Human livelihood: Sūrah Ghāfir 40:64; Sūrah Isrā’ 17:70; Sūrah Jāthīyah 45:5; Sūrah Fāṭir 35:3; Sūrah Rūm 30:4-5; Sūrah Saba’ 34:24; Sūrah Yūnus 10:31; Sūrah Naml 27:64; Sūrah Mulk 67:21; Sūrah Anfāl 8:26; Sūrah Baqarah 2:22, 2:172; and Sūrah Dhāriyāt 51:58.
6. The system of sleep: Sūrah Rūm 30:23; Sūrah Naml 27:86; Sūrah Furqān 25:47; Sūrah Naba’ 78:9; and Sūrah Zumar 39:42.
7. Clothing and beautification: Sūrah A‘rāf 7:26; Sūrah Naḥl 16:14, 16:81.
8. Residence: Sūrah Naḥl 16:80.
9. Marriage: Sūrah Rūm 30:21; Sūrah Shaūrā 42:11; Sūrah Fāṭir 35:11; Sūrah Najm 53:45; Sūrah Qīyāmah 75:39; Sūrah Naḥl 16:72; Sūrah Laīl 92:3; Sūrah Naba’ 78:8; and Sūrah A‘rāf 7:189.
27. - For more information, see: Nahj ul-Balāghah, sermon 186; Shaīkh Ṣadūq, At-Tawḥīd, vol. 2, chap. 2; and ‘Allāmah Majlisī, Biḥār al-Anwār, vol. 3, pp. 61, 82, 130, 152.
28. - By naming this method intellectual, we do not mean that it is based only on the intellect; rather, we mean that logical premises and methods are implemented.
29. - This is not contradictory to the “generality” of the intellectual method; because by generality we mean relative generality as opposed to idiosyncrasy. In other words, this method is not specific to any single person; rather, numerous people can take advantage of it.
30. - This method is especially useful for those who are deprived of inner intuition and spiritual observation of Almighty God. According to Maūlānā:
چشم اگر داري كورانه ميا ور نداري چشم، دست آور عصا
آن عصاي حزم و استدلال را چون نداري ديد، مي كن پيشوا
If you have [spiritual] eyes, come not blind;
And if you have no eyes, lay hold to a cane.
The cane of wisdom and reasoning;
Whilst you have no sight, make your guide.
(Book III, pp. 275, 276)
31. - There are two main forms of this argument: the modal form and the temporal form. The form described in this text is the temporal kalām cosmological argument, which is based upon the fact that the universe has a beginning in time. [trans.]
32. - In more simple terms, a necessary being is a being that cannot possibly fail to exist. In contrast, a contingent being is a being that can fail to exist. In other words, we can imagine its inexistence. [trans.]
33. - Notice that there is no other possible case, because the only other assumption is that the existence of the object is impossible. This assumption is exempt from our discussion because an object whose existence is impossible can never become existent, while this discussion concerns existent objects. In other words, our categorization only covers extant objects.
34. - Of course, as it has been discussed in technical Islamic philosophy regarding necessity, the necessity of the existence of a necessary being is an “eternal necessity”, while the necessity of sweetness for sugar is an “inherent necessity”. According to this, there is a discrete difference between the example of sugar and sweetness and our discussion.
35. - Those who practice kalām are known as mutakallimūn.
36. - Here by cause, we mean a being that causes the existence of another being (i.e. the effect). In philosophical discussions, this cause is called “Efficient cause”.
37. - According to philosophers, in order for a sequence (regress) to be impossible it must meet these three conditions.
There must be an infinite number of elements in the sequence
The elements of the sequence must all exist simultaneously (temporal)
The existence of each element must be based upon the previous element. That is, each element must be caused by the previous element (causal).
Therefore, a finite sequence of causes and effects (for not meeting the first condition), an infinite sequence of numbers or an infinite sequence of events taken place from Creation until now (for not meeting the second condition), and an infinite set of objects that do not have a causal relationship such as an infinite line of people (for not meeting the third condition) are not [philosophically] impossible.
38. - This argument has been presented by Fārābī. By reflecting upon its content, it is clear that with minor alterations, it can be used as an argument proving the existence of a necessary being. Among Moslem philosophers, other arguments have also been presented proving the impossibility of an infinite regress, such as the argument of “Extremity and Centre” (Ṭaraf wa Wasaṭ) and the argument of “Conformation” (Taṭbīq). Complete accounts of these argumentations can be found in most books on Islamic Philosophy.
39. - It must be said that circularity is not limited to circular causes; rather, it is conceivable in other areas such as definition or reasoning. If definition “A” is defined using definition “B” and definition “B” is defined using definition “A”, we would have a “circular definition”. Similarly, if we use statement “A” to prove statement “B”, while statement “B” is proved using statement “A”, we would have a “circular argument”. Obviously, a circular definition of a term or a circular argument attempting to prove a statement would not be successful in attaining the purpose of the definition or reasoning.
40. - Of course it should be noted that the antecedence of a cause in respect to its effect is not “temporal” rather, it is “essential”. If we assume that the impact of a rock was the cause for shattering a window, there is no time interval between impact of the rock (cause) and the window shattering (effect); even so, we can say that impact of the rock antecedes the window breaking. Meaning that until the rock impacts upon the window, the window will not break. (However, the opposite is not true; in other words, it cannot be said that until the window breaks, the rock will not impact upon it.) This example somewhat elucidates the meaning of essential antecedence of a cause over its effect.
41. - This is because the relationship of “antecedence” possesses the attribute of “transitivity”. In explanation, a relationship is transitive if “A” and “B”, and “B” and “C” are related, then “A” and “C” are also similarly related. For example, if “A” is greater than “B” and “B” is greater than “C”, then “A” is greater than “C”. However, the relationship of “doubleness” is not transitive, because if “A” is double “B” and “B” is double “C”, “A” is not double “C”.
42. - Sūrah Fāṭir 35:15.
43. - Sūrah Ṭūr 52:35.