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Ibn Taymiyyah on the Reasoning of the Atheist
Posted by Abu.Iyaad, Editor in Articles

Introduction and Background

It is often claimed that since the Atheist does not believe in a Creator, the onus of proof is upon the one who believes in a Creator to provide the evidence and the Atheist need not provide any proof, since one cannot prove a negative. There is much sleight of hand going in the course of such debates and many people get tricked by it unfortunately (including plenty of Muslim apologists). Submitting to what the Atheists claim, they proceed, on the back-foot, to bring weak, abstract, flawed arguments. A classic example is the argument just alluded to, that the Atheist is not bound to bring proof, since he does not make the claim of the existence of a creator.

However, the reality of the situation is not actually like that, and this is where the origin of the mistake lies when people do not read the situation for what it is. This in turn affects the course of argument. This is how it is: We are dealing with "self-evident truth (bayyinah)" verses "conjecture (dhann)." Never, forget this. In a debate with an Atheist, this is what is taking place.

So let's elaborate upon this: It is a self-evident truth (bayyinah) that anything showing all the features and hallmarks of handiwork, craftsmanship, contrivance and design is designed and is made intentionally (for whatever purpose or wisdom it exhibits). This is actually a self-evident truth that does not need evidence. This is what we call a bayyinah. You should note the desperate attempts of Atheists like Richard Dawkins attempting to combat this self-evident truth (see here). This most simple and basic reasoning is rooted in the innate disposition (fitrah) as an axiomatic truth, refer to this article on humans being primed to believe in creation and the impossibility of avoiding teleological language (which assumes design in the universe). This matter is evidenced by the sum whole of human industrial, scientific and technological activity. Hence, it is perfectly natural, reasonable, rational and totally warranted to assert a creator for this universe, it is the axiomatic default, and its proof is innate, self-evident and validated by the sum of human activity and their investigative sciences that study life and the universe and which must take for granted that the universe is designed (otherwise there is no scientific, industrial, or technological study, analysis or progress). This is why individuals like Richard Dawkins play gymnastics and acrobatics with words to try and escape this rationality - (see an illustration here) - because they are cowered by its imposing power. Take a look at an example statement of Dawkins in The God Delusion (p. 212):

You get 'short-cuts' to (scientific) understanding by assuming things are 'designed.' Yes, Dawkins, the sum of all scientific, technological, industrial activity has to assume design because there actually is design! And Michael Shermer writes in Why darwin Matters (p. 65):

Replacing knowledge, will, power, purpose and wisdom (as being required for design) with blind, random undirected forces is a necessity demanded by prior commitment to materialism.

And Jerry Coyne writes in Why evolution is True (p. 1)

The article on humans being primed to believe in creation and a creator (see here) is useful at this point and it indicates that belief in a creator is rational, legitimate and warranted.

As for the Atheist, when he denies there is a creator, he moves away from what is self-evident (clear signs of design indicate attributes of knowledge, will, power and an agent possessing them), and thus he must explain the origin of the universe and life, by the only alternative (complex, purposeful systems of cause and effect come to be in complete absence of knowledge, will, power and through random undirected processes and that 'design' and 'purpose' are not real but only apparent and illusory). So the real issue here is not that one person is making a claim and the other (the atheist) being a skeptic , is not making his own claim but only questioning the one being made. Rather the real situation is that both parties are making a claim by necessity, and this claim is with respect to the origin of the universe, and of life, and of the regularity and law-like nature of both life and the universe. So the Muslim Monotheist holds the default, self-evident truth, there is a knowing, powerful, skilled, wilful creator, this is known through innate intuition (see article), sensory perception, reason and also revelation - as well as the sum whole of all human activity in the fields of industrial and technological enterprise. The universe and life are rationally intelligible and investigable, indicating they are designed and this is an implict assumption that all scientific activity rests upon. No person can avoid teleological language in the study and description of the universe. Its pure arrogance to deny this. As for the Atheist, his claim is that the universe and life arose by nothing (as in no agent, no creator, having knowledge, power, will). This is a claim too which needs evidence, that matter self-creates and organizes itself intelligently without an external agent. This is the claim that the Atheist resigns to in denying a creator, that intelligent, intricate, complex purposeful systems of cause and effect, working in harmony, come about through the complete absence of knowledge, intent, will and wisdom and the agent possessing such qualities - this is a claim and an assertion. The Atheist therefore, should not be allowed to hide behind the claim of "Since I don't believe in a God, I don't need to prove a negative" because that is not the issue and is not the entire truth. Rather, the atheist needs to prove through empirical science, through the scientific method, that something intelligent, rational, complex, goal-oriented comes from and by nothing. You cannot just assume this to be true (which is what is assumed in naturalism, materialism). This is the default claim of the Atheist. The Atheist should not be allowed to use the red-herring, "Since I am not making the claim, I am not required to bring evidence" as this is plainly false.

This then leads us and brings us to their sciences regarding the origin of the universe (cosmology) and the origin of life which are conjectures, built upon hidden and often undisclosed assumptions - all of which stand as no match against self-evident truth and the most simple basic, human reasoning as has preceded. Very pertinent is the saying of Allaah, the Exalted (فَلَمَّا جَاءتْهُمْ رُسُلُهُم بِالْبَيِّنَاتِ فَرِحُوا بِمَا عِندَهُم مِّنَ الْعِلْمِ), "And when their messengers brought self-evident proofs, they exulted in the knowledge they possessed" (40:83).

Now the aim of this article is not to discuss the conjecture and aimless wandering in their sciences as it relates to origins of the universe and origins of life, this can be discussed in other articles in more detail. But just so that we can make the point and not leave it hanging, we can say briefly that the most widely proposed "model" (it is not classified as a "scientific theory" - pay attention to that) for the origin of the universe is the "Lambda-Cold Dark Matter" model of the Big Bang and it is one of many proposed (competing) models. All of these are controversial models and are based upon ideas of gravity and expansion (there are other competing models that do not rely upon gravity and expansion) and they comprise what is called the "Standard Model." These models are based upon assumptions and conjectures and there are hundreds of credible scientists who actually reject the "standard model". James Peebles (Albert Einstein Professor of Science, Emeritus. Professor of Physics, Emeritus - see here) states, "It is sensible and prudent that people should continue to think about alternatives to the standard model [Big Bang], because the evidence is not all that abundant." Principles of Physical Cosmology, Peebles, P.J.E., Princeton University Press, 1993 (see here). These models bring together a number of different ideas, with the aim of patching them together, and in the mix are numerous conjectures, without which the model cannot be sustained. However, the way this is presented to the public, through the press, popular science magazines and digital media gives the public the impression that these people are upon certainty in knowledge - when it actually amounts to pure conjecture! Their reality has been aptly described, (إِن يَتَّبِعُونَ إِلاَّ الظَّنَّ وَإِنْ هُمْ إِلاَّ يَخْرُصُونَ), "They do but conjecture (give opinions) and they do but guess" (6:116) and He said (ذَلِكَ مَبْلَغُهُم مِّنَ الْعِلْمِ), "That is their sum of knowledge" (53:30). It is then very unfortunate that Muslim apologists buy into these conjectures and start incorporating them into apologetic activity in da'wah. From them, Hamza Tzortzis [kalaam argument] and Zakir Naik [exaggeration in the 'scientific' miracle requiring distortion of the meanings of the Qur'anic verses] and others.

So, in reality, we are dealing with conjecture (dhann) [prior assertion of materialism in the form of "matter self-creates and organizes without any external knowledge, will and power involved"] attempting to combat self-evident truth (bayyinah) [simple, axiomatic reasoning, "evident signs of knowledge, will and power involved in the design in the universe and living organisms"]. However, the conjectural nature of the sciences of the non-Muslims in certain fields is not readily apparent because the conjectural aspects are not revealed or readily disclosed, nor many of the hidden assumptions needed to make the models or theories appear scientific and proven. In fact, many of those who are Atheists, are themselves fooled and deceived and wrongly thing that there is certainty in these sciences, and this is what leads them down the path of atheism. Though many of them are deceived, many others choose this path not due to pure reason but due to following of desires or due to arrogance.

The Reasoning of an Atheist

The above introduction now brings us to the main quote in this article and it is from Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah who said:

And if the speech is considered to be with the one who rejects that the universe has an originator, such as the Naturalists (Materialists), then answering him is more apparent. For it is said to him:

O idiot! If you have deemed it permissible that the sum whole of the universe came to be without an originator and without (prior) matter, how then can it be impossible for just some of it to come to be without (prior) matter alongside it coming (to be) through a maker.

And it is known that the first (proposition) is further removed from reason, rather it is impossible in (one's) reason as opposed to the second (proposition). For (with respect to) all of these observed events (of things coming to be around us), if he says, "The (various) elements of matter brought them into existence" then he has affirmed an agent, originator, causer without (prior) matter [in other words matter creates and organizes itself]. And if he says, "They have a causer, agent besides matter (itself)" then he has affirmed an agent, causer (creating them from matter) and this is affirmation of a maker. Hence, it is binding for him to affirm this and he becomes from the second type. Thus, what he fled to is worse than what he fled from in any consideration. And this is the state of the people of falsehood, never do they reject the truth due to a doubt (they harbour) except that it makes binding upon them that which is even more severe. Mas'alah Huduth al-Aalam, Dar al-Bashaa'ir, 1432H, (p.62)


01. The Atheist flees from what is innate, intuitive, self-evident and proven by the sum whole of human activity (academic, scientific, industrial, technological) that that which is designed and is purposeful, has a designer and creator by necessity (through simple axiomatic reasoning) and in fleeing from what is self-evident (rejecting it due to a doubt) he flees to something that is even more severe (than what he believed about the thing he fled from). Then he makes a pretence of certainty through his so-called science, which is not empirical science but conjectural science (built upon assumptions and conjectures) and the sum of this activity is founded upon a rigged definition of science (see here) which is needed because of the prior assertion (belief) of naturalism being the only acceptable truth! Ibn Taymiyyah is making the simple observation that if the Atheist can accept, by whatever stretch of the imagination, that the entire universe can come to be without an originator and without any prior matter, than how can he deem it impossible or impermissible for the universe to come to be (with or without prior matter) through an originator? How can you entertain what is improbable and deny that which is reasonable in the experience and innate knowledge of all mankind? And thus, you see (and laugh at) arrogant atheists like Lawrence Krauss and Peter Atkins who try to argue that the universe can come from nothing (because the sum of positive and negative charges equals zero and that the universe just split into existence from nothing into positive and negative charges). This is desperation and abuse of the intellect, it is dishonesty and arrogance.

02. The reader should also be aware that the highest level of reasoning is through self-evident truths (bayyinaat) and this is what the Qur'aan came with. Muslims should be wary of a) ignoramuses, b) pseudo-intellectuals who use the weaker type of abstract arguments (e.g. kalaam arguments etc. which are flawed in any case), having been affected by the conceptual baggage of non-Muslims and those Muslims poisoned with it or c) the confused babblers who start believing the models the non-Muslims present whether that is the Big Bang Model or the modern synthesis (in the case of Evolution). We are referring here to people like Zakir Naik (see here), Hamza Tzortzis (see here) and also Yasir Qadhi (more on him and his position on evolution later inshaa'Allaah).

03. We repeat what was mentioned elsewhere: Consider the following interesting remarks by Del Ratzsch (Philosopher of Science) in a 2006 interview which describe a reality that in Islamic texts is characterized through the word "fitrah" (innate disposition): "Furthermore, given the role of theology in the rise of science itself, and given that the cosmos which science presupposes has a creation-esque flavor (orderly, law-governed, elegant, intelligible, coherent, unified - as one might reasonably expect of a deliberately designed creation), it may be that science itself is a design payoff... In any case, design theories might conceptually lock into those design-shaped foundations more elegantly than do non-design or anti-design theories. On the Reidian view, we have innate faculties which simply generate such beliefs (both general principles and specifics) within us, and if these faculties are operating properly and under appropriate circumstances, the produced beliefs are rationally legitimate for us. Reid catalogued a variety of belief areas in which such belief-producing dispositions operated - again, the past, other minds, the external world, as well as basic moral principles, principles and processes of reason, acceptance of the testimony of others, aesthetics, and of present interest design in nature which, by a very short inference, led to conclusions about a designing mind. Reid's basic idea was that we perceptually (and immediately albeit often implicitly) recognize marks of design and that it is a short (inferential) step from that recognition to the thing in question being designed and the existence of a designing agent. Among the marks Reid cites were contrivance, order, organization, intent, purpose, regularity, beauty and adaptation.... Science requires a battery of presuppositions and those presuppositions are not direct results of science - they are conceptual structural materials science itself depends upon and without which there would be no science. Thus if we are rationally justified in accepting science then we must be rationally justified in accepting those foundational presuppositions. But not being results of science, their rational justification cannot rest upon science, but must lie beyond science. Thus, if we take science and its results to be rationally justified, science is not the only source of rational justification. There must then evidently be some deeper source of rational justification. Historically religion played a significant role here. But the present point is that even if the usual empirical gap-closing induction worked flawlessly, the story - even of science's own rational legitimacy - is not complete, and may require design ideas at some deeper level... any simple, sharp separation of science and religion does not reflect our cognitive and neurological architectures, that there are deep interconnections between what we take to be scientific and religious beliefs, and that cases for the two being in deadly conflict - which already fail historically and philosophically - fail at the even deeper level of neural structures giving rise to our very cognition as well. Some of the deep interconnections between science and religion I think ultimately track back philosophically to the created structure of the cosmos itself, but also back to the fact that inputs from neurological structures and systems routinely associated with science - e.g., reason - and those routinely associated with religion - e.g., emotion - are not completely separate or separable systems. There is increasing and no longer even controversial evidence that reason itself does not function properly in the absence of properly functioning emotion neural systems, and in some cases the structures themselves and their inputs and outputs are integrated - fused - prior to our having conscious access to them." End quote from Ratzsch. You should read this quote again and very carefully! And note the following points:

a) Scientific enquiry (observation and inference) has to presuppose design, order and purpose, otherwise it simply cannot take place and cannot investigate causes, b) The scientific enterprise therefore is in reality a consequence of design, order and purpose, c) Innate faculties generate these beliefs (of design, order and purpose) and these beliefs are rationally legitimate, d) Marks of design are recognized perceptually and implicitly (innately) and the inferential step to a designer is minimal, innate and natural, e) Such marks include contrivance, order, organization, intent, purpose, regularity, beauty and adaptation, f) This rational justification is actually the source of the rational justification of science and the scientific method, g) It is therefore not possible to separate innate (relgious) beliefs about the universe from scientific enquiry. This is precisely why you see atheists like Dawkins unable to flee from teleological language and subsequently suffer from such illusions and delusions that we shall elaborate in a separate article.

04. Ibn Taymiyyah said, "The basic foundation of the knowledge of a maker is innate and necessary. It is more deeply rooted in the souls than elementary knowledge of math such as our saying 'one is half of two' and elementary knowledge of natural reality such as our saying 'a body cannot be in two places at the same time'." (Majmu' al-Fatawa 2/15-16), and also "He (Allaah) made the innate dispositions of his servants prepared (with the capacity) to know and perceive realities, and had there not been such preparedness in the hearts to know realities, then there would be no observation and inference and nor (any) speech and discourse (with respect to that)." (Dar al-Ta'arud 5/62). This second statement indicates that rational sciences and the scientific method (observation and inference) and reporting of that through speech and discourse would not be possible had the faculties not been predisposed to perceiving realities upon a deeply-rooted foundational conviction of their being law, order, regularity and uniformity in the universe through design and purpose. It is precisely that conviction, that life and the universe are designed and rationally investigatable, that gives rise to science, in other words, "it may be that science itself is a design payoff" to borrow the words of Ratzsch earlier.

05. Summary: Belief in a creator is innate (fitriyy), necessary (dhurooriyy) and the revealed Books and sent Messengers appealed primarily to this innate recognition. The Atheist is trying to combat innate disposition, sensory perception, and sound reasoning by way of conjectures disguised and veiled as certainties. They don't have certainties and they know for sure that they are operating upon conjectures. What is really taking place then in arguments about creation, a creator and so on are attempts to undermine a self-evident truth through pure conjectures. Unless a person is wise to the conjectural nature of the scientific claims being made, they may be drawn into fruitless arguments, and can be easily hoodwinked by Atheists, who assert a level of certainty that they don't actually have, rather, its a pretence of certainty. Deep down, many of them know it (like Richard Dawkins) and they actually admit it is very hard to refute the argument by design and that the only way to tackle it is to offer an alternative. This is pretty much admitted by Richard Dawkins in "The God Delusion." So the alternative is Darwinian evolution, and argument is that as we have provided an alternative, the argument by design is not needed. The discussion of this is outside the scope of this article and will be covered elsewhere.

Written by Abu Iyaad (25/10/2013CE).

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