How not to make a right haggis of the “No True Scotsman” fallacy

Photo credit: Chris Waits https://www.flickr.com/photos/chriswaits/4874035507   Copyright Disclaimer Under Section 107 of the Copyright Act 1976, allowance is made for “fair use” for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. Fair use is a use permitted by copyright statute that might otherwise be infringing. Non-profit, educational or personal use tips the balance in favor of fair use.

Every society, collectivity or group of people will count some excellent individuals, many nice ones, a few not-so-nice ones, and a handful of bad ones. This applies across the board, and theists are no exception. Most, whether theists or atheists, will agree that it would not be reasonable or fair to judge a people on the strength of their corrupt individuals.

However, when the bad apples associated in one way or another with a group of believers in God behave in condemnable ways, anti-theists are quick to blame the religion they claim to adhere to for their shameful behaviour.

The believers – let’s say they are Christian – will usually respond with something like : “True Christians would never do what those individuals did!”…only to have the anti-theists scream: “Aha! The No True Scotsman fallacy!” At this point, it appears the discussion has entered a deadlock.

So what is the No True Scotsman fallacy? The phrase was introduced by Antony Flew, who gave the following example:

A Scotsman sees a newspaper article on a series of crimes having taken place in Brighton; in response, his comment is:”No Scotsman would do such a thing!” upon which he is confronted with evidence of another Scotsman committing even worse crimes. His response is:”No true Scotsman would do such a thing!” Thus, the criminal is denied membership in the Scottish people, his crime cited as evidence of his not being a Scotsman.

This, of course, is a fallacy, as there is no premise in the definition of “Scotsman” which makes such crimes impossible or even improbable. In fact, to be a Scotsman, you have to be a male native or inhabitant of Scotland, or a man of Scottish descent, and that is all. You don’t even need to know how to play the bagpipes, wear a kilt, or make haggis.

But when it comes to religion and the No True Scotsman fallacy, anti-theists make a right haggis of it all.

This is because, although the NTS fallacy is true as it stands, it is widely used in the wrong context. The basic premise of the fallacy is overlooked: the fact that the notion of what makes a Scotsman is entirely arbitrary, and not something defined by universally accepted written rules or law. Let’s examine it again, using a different example:

Person A: “No Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge.” (Says who? Where has it been written that Scotsmen are not supposed to do this?)

Person B: “But my uncle Angus likes sugar with his porridge.”

Person A: “Ah yes, but no true Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge.”

It can be observed that both the first and third statements are entirely arbitrary, and have no written rules or laws as points of reference.

When the No True Scotsman reasoning is introduced into areas where rules are defined by written law, it will no longer apply. In this case “true” in the third statement will refer to a person following written law.

Example:

Person A: “No Muslim worships anything apart from Allah.”

Person B: “But I saw three Muslims worshipping at a dead saint’s grave last week.”

Person A: “Ah yes, but no true Muslim worships anything apart from Allah.” (as it is defined in Islamic scripture; Qur’an, 17:23 : “Your Lord has decreed: Do not worship any but Him; and be good to your parents; and should both or any one of them attain old age with you, do not say to them even “fie” neither chide them, but speak to them with respect.“*)

Anyone whose actions are not based on this teaching cannot be a true Muslim. (Qur’an, 5:44 “Those who do not judge by what Allah has revealed are indeed unbelievers.“**)

Thus, the No True Scotsman fallacy can only apply where definitions or rules are made up arbitrarily by individuals, and not in situations where they are specified in written law.

 

 


 

*Will appear as 17:24 in translations counting the Basmalah “In the Name of God, Most Gracious, Ever-Merciful” as verse 1.
**Or 5:45; see above.

Do children naturally believe in God?

Photo credit: http://www.thisfabtrek.com/journey/europe/latvia/20100605-riga/daniel-david-hats-looking-bug-4.jpg

A thought-provoking piece by Eric Hatfield

Published on his blog http://www.is-there-a-god.info/ under the title “Is it natural for children to believe in God or do they have to be taught it?” Read the original piece here: http://www.is-there-a-god.info/blog/clues/is-it-natural-for-children-to-believe-in-god-or-do-they-have-to-be-taught-it/
Copyright Disclaimer Under Section 107 of the Copyright Act 1976, allowance is made for “fair use” for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. Fair use is a use permitted by copyright statute that might otherwise be infringing. Non-profit, educational or personal use tips the balance in favor of fair use.

This comment was made on a blog I was visiting recently: “None of us are born with any smattering of whether or not there is a god, or for that matter, even what a god is (or is not) – we have to be taught that”

I was interested, for I knew of some scientific research that suggested the opposite. I asked the author of the comment whether they had any scientific evidence for the statement, but none was forthcoming. Instead, I was asked what evidence I had seen.

A blog comment isn’t the place for an extended review of evidence, so I decided to post it here. This post repeats some of what I wrote a year ago in Do children naturally believe in God?, but adds additional information I have found since then.

Science and opinion

In the following discussion, as always, I distinguished between the science (which I outline first) and opinion (mine and others’) based on the science. The science is by qualified professionals at recognised universities (I have found a number of different studies), and should be accepted by anyone who recognises the value of scientific study. Each person is entitled to their own opinion based on the scientific findings.

Scientific studies on the cognitive science of religion

Kelemen & Rottman (Boston University)

Deborah Keleman studies cognitive development in children and Josh Rottman is a PhD student working with her. In a chapter in Science and the World’s Religions they write (p206, 7):

…. religion primarily stems from within the person rather than from external, socially organised sources …. evolved components of the human mind tend to lead people towards religiosity early in life.

They discuss theories on the development of religious concepts in young children. They conclude that religion “cannot be understood as resulting primarily from education or passive acquisition from parents or society”. For them the question is whether children come into the world as “born believers” (a view held by others in the field but not by them) or that children develop religious views as they try to understand the world around them (the view they accept).

They say the research suggests that various factors inherent in children’s thinking lead to religious conclusions: understanding other minds, agency detection, beliefs about creation and purpose, and belief in mind-body dualism.

Paul Bloom (Yale University)

Paul Bloom runs the Mind and Development Lab at Yale University. He says that humans have a tendency to believe in God:

…. the universal themes of religion are not learned. They emerge as accidental by-products of our mental systems. They are part of human nature.”

Like Kelemen & Rottman, Bloom sees several evolutionary causes that lead to religious belief in young children: distinguishing bodies and souls (“we are natural-born dualists”) and “we’ve evolved to be creationists”. He nominates Scott Atran, Pascal Boyer, Justin Barrett, and Deborah Kelemen as other cognitive scientists who share these conclusions.

Bloom is convinced that all humans, even his own children, will inevitably see design and divinity in the world: “Creationism—and belief in God is bred in the bone.”

Bloom says of course much of the content of religious belief is learned but “the universal themes of religion are not learned. They emerge as accidental by-products of our mental systems. They are part of human nature.”

Bruce Hood (Bristol University)

Bruce Hood is professor of developmental psychology at Bristol University whose work suggeststhat magical and supernatural beliefs are hardwired into our brains from birth.

Our research shows children have a natural, intuitive way of reasoning that leads them to all kinds of supernatural beliefs about how the world works

Like Bloom and Keleman, Hood believes this propensity to religious belief is a result of how our brains evolved: our brains have a mind design that leads us naturally to infer structures and patterns in the world, and to make sense of it by generating intuitive theories.

Hood believes it is futile to try to get people to abandon their beliefs because these come from such a “fundamental level”.

Olivera Petrovich (Oxford University)

Olivera Petrovich is a psychologist studying religion and human development at Oxford University. Her studies have led her to conclude that basic religious belief, primarily “the concept of God as creator” is hard-wired into the human psyche.

It isn’t religion that has to be learned, she says, but atheism. “Atheism is definitely an acquired position”.

The Cognition, Religion and Theology Project (Oxford University)

This study, led by Dr Justin Barrett from the Centre for Anthropology and Mind at Oxford University, drew on research by an international body of 57 researchers from a range of disciplines, including anthropology, psychology, philosophy, and theology. They conducted over 40 separate studies in 20 different countries that represented both traditionally religious and atheist societies.

According to the Oxford university website, “the project was not setting out to prove the existence of god or otherwise, but sought to find out whether concepts such as gods and an afterlife appear to be entirely taught or basic expressions of human nature.”

Barrett says “young people have a predisposition to believe in a supreme being because they assume that everything in the world was created with a purpose”. He concludes “cultural inputs help fill in the details but children’s minds are not a level playing field. They are tilted in the direction of belief.”

The conclusions Barrett cites come from the studies that made up the project, including:

  • Studies by Emily Reed Burdett and Justin Barrett, from the University of Oxford, suggest that “in early childhood we have a natural tendency to attribute super properties to other humans and gods, including super knowledge, super perception, and immortality.”
  • Experiments involving adults, conducted by Jing Zhu from Tsinghua University (China), and Natalie Emmons and Jesse Bering from The Queen’s University, Belfast, suggest that people across many different cultures instinctively believe that some part of their mind, soul or spirit lives on after death.
  • Children expect that someone, not something, is behind natural order. Margaret Evansfound that children younger than 10 favoured creationist accounts of the origins of animals over evolutionary accounts even when their parents and teachers endorsed evolution.
  • Based on inputs from a range of researchers in UK and US it seems that the idea that some part of us — our mind, soul, or spirit — does not need a physical body and can persist after death may be largely intuitive and that we have to be talked out of beliefs in the afterlife rather than talked into them.

Summary of the science

It seems there is a broad consensus among cognitive scientists that the basics of religious belief – God as a creator, an afterlife and mind-body dualism – are innate. Some believe they are hard-wired at birth because of our evolutionary origins while others believe that early experience of life and the external world leads children to the religious predisposition.

But it is clear that, at the present at least, those who say religious belief wouldn’t occur without teaching are not basing their views on the best science, though of course much of the specific content of belief is taught. It appears in fact that it is unbelief that must be taught if it is to be acquired.

Draw your own conclusions

That is the science, on which there is broad agreement. And all seem to agree that these findings say little about whether God actually exists and the natural beliefs are in fact true. But the scientists have their opinions.

As a christian, Justin Barrett believes the innate disposition towards religious belief is part of God’s plan – perhaps what philosophers and theologians call a sensus divinitatis. On the other hand, atheists Paul Bloom and Bruce Hood believe the propensity to believe is a result of evolution and has nothing to do with any God.

We are each free to interpret the information as we choose. What appears not to be open to anyone who believes in science is to say that religion only exists because it is taught.

Religious indoctrination?

It has been claimed that teaching children religion is indoctrination that amounts to child abuse. These studies show that children don’t have to be taught to be religious, but will tend to be religious naturally.

Other studies (summarised at Faith and Wellbeing) show that giving content to children’s religious impulses improves their life in many ways. As Justin Barrett says, based on“considerable research on the relationship between religious commitment and psychological and physical well-being”, that religious beliefs “tend to better physical and mental health” and that believers are “psychologically healthier and better equipped to cope with emotional and health problems than non-believers”.

Doubtless the arguments will go on, but these studies suggest that atheists who continue to promote this view care more for polemics than for science.

THE IMPORTANCE OF DISTINGUISHING BETWEEN THE LAWS OF NATURE AND RELIGIOUS LAW

 

An argument advanced by atheists is that the law of nature cannot be the creation of a Highly Conscious or Wise Being, because it sometimes acts blindly and with great cruelty. They say that all of it seems to be running under an inherent system of cause and effect. For example, accidents which result in innocent people being killed or injured, the spread of epidemics and diseases, or the downfall of a person after a long successful career, etc., prove that there is no God, otherwise such blind and cruel destruction would never take place.

The above objection is raised because people think that the whole world is functioning under the same laws. The truth is that God has ordained two laws for the running of the world. One of these being the law of nature, which is responsible for the working of the universe and follows the system of cause and effect and the properties of different objects, whose effects we observe all around us. The second law is religious law, which pertains to the moral and spiritual condition of man and is brought to the world by Prophets and Messengers of  God. The consequences of this law, in the form of reward and punishment, shall be experienced in the next world. Those who raise the above objection, erroneously mix up these two laws.

What is the law of nature? The law of nature is that everything, every action, each simple or compound object in this world has a specific natural characteristic which manifests itself as a result of natural causes. For example, arsenic has the characteristic that it kills living things. Whenever a sufficient amount of it is introduced into the body of a living organism, it produces its natural effect, unless some other law of nature comes into play and negates it. Likewise, it is but natural that if the roof of a house becomes weak to a certain degree, it collapses. If someone is standing under that roof, he will be killed or injured, unless some other law comes into operation and supersedes it. It is also in keeping with the law of nature, that if someone goes into deep water without knowing how to swim, he will drown, unless some other law of nature intervenes to counteract this law. It is under such laws of nature that the great wheels of the world are perpetually set in motion. These laws know no friends or foes. Anything which comes within their sphere of action will be affected one way or the other.

As opposed to this what is religious law? Religious law is a code of life claimed by different  religions as having been sent by God for people to follow, so that they can improve their morals, get closer to God and receive the blessings and rewards which are reserved for the righteous. This law leaves everyone free as to whether they wish to follow it or not. Under this law, the reward or punishment of the deeds performed in this world is reserved for the hereafter.

Religious law urges people to pray to God in a prescribed way in order to gain His nearness and pleasure, but it does not force them to do so. If someone chooses to go against this law, there is nothing to stop him. Apart from some minor effects that appear in this very world, the real and final consequence is deferred till the hereafter. The sages have said that this world is the place of deeds, and the next world is the place for reward and punishment. In this sense, the law of nature differs from religious law, for under the law of nature this world is both the place of deeds and the place of reward and punishment. These two laws never interfere with each other—save in exceptional circumstances. Anyone who violates the law of nature is usually not spared punishment on the grounds that he did not violate religious law. Consider, for example, two people sitting under a ramshackle roof which is about to collapse. One of them happens to be pious while the other is wicked. In normal circumstances, were the roof to collapse, both would die. If the law of nature has some provision for saving them, they would both be saved. Similarly, if some pious and God-fearing person, who does not know how to swim, jumps into water, his piety will not save him from drowning. His piety belongs to  religious law, but now he is under the law of nature, which does not normally yield religious law. The general rule is that any good deed done under religious law contributes towards the reward of religious law, but has no bearing on the laws of nature, and vice-versa.

Atheists sometimes base their arguments on certain incidents: for instance, that a pious person went to the river and got drowned, while an evil person, who was bathing in the same river at the same time, did not drown and returned home safely. They also tell us of some chaste and dutiful girl who died on the second day of her marriage, while another girl of bad character got married on the same day and lived happily ever after. From many other such instances these atheists try to prove that there is no God.

But when we carefully consider the above objections, we find them weak and baseless, because even though the person who drowned or died was obedient to religious law, he or she somehow violated the law of nature and was duly punished. Nature takes its own course and is the same for everyone. The laws of this world are not cruel and we are not living in a blind world. It would be blind if no laws of nature had been broken yet someone was punished by nature; or if the laws of nature were broken, but the punishment came from religious law.

I wonder how people who boast of wisdom and intelligence can raise such objections. The abovementioned instances do not break any religious laws. The two laws, as I have explained, do not usually interfere with each other; and this is exactly what justice demands. Unfortunately, when something transpires under the law of nature, people look for its cause in religious law. When they fail to find it, they declare the world a blind game of chance. Explanation for an act of nature must be sought in the laws of nature. The effects of religious law should be referred to religious law. It is not a blind world. But it is Man who is blind because when someone drowns or is burnt to death for going against the laws of nature, Man alleges that he or she was unjustly treated as he or she did not violate any religious law. It is Man who is unjust in conferring the rights of the law of nature on religious law, and vice-versa, and then putting the blame on God.

Remember, nature and religious law are like two separate States. Like all civilised and sovereign States, they do not interfere in the affairs of one another. In everyday life, the law of nature and religious law act independently of one another, and are bound to their respective spheres. The only exception is when God, by special decree, chooses to save people from the effects of the laws of nature, despite the odds being stacked against them, often in answer to their prayers. However, the general rule is that the laws of nature will run their course whether a person obeys religious law or not.

This particular argument of atheists against God therefore stems from their failure to distinguish between the two laws.

Adapted from “Our God”, by Mirza Bashir Ahmad.

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Are Islamophobes Right – Does Islam Motivate Muslims to Carry out Acts of Terror?

Today’s world is home to horrific attacks of violence, extremism and terror of all kinds. Many people directly blame religion, in particular Islam, for much of the violence carried out in its name. But as a Muslim, I have something to tell you: There is no link between Islam and terrorism.

Don’t get me wrong – there is obviously a strong link between certain Muslims and terrorism, but Islam is a teaching, and therefore has to be judged on what it actually says. So what does the Holy Qur’an say?

Chapter 2 states that you can never force people in matters of religion. Chapter 5 likens the murder of one innocent life to the murder of the whole of mankind. Chapter 60 tells Muslims that they must live in peace with people of other faiths and backgrounds, in ‘kindness and equity. Chapter 109 says that people are free to follow whatever religious beliefs they want.

These verses, and many more, were carried into action by the Prophet Muhammad of Islam. He lived in peace and harmony with people of many different faiths. He hated fighting, and the early Muslims only ever fought in self-defence. As Historian Reverend De Lacy O’Leary wrote:

“The legend of fanatical Muslims sweeping through the world and forcing Islam at the point of the sword upon conquered races, is one of the most fantastically absurd myths that historians have ever repeated.” Islam at the Crossroads

Islam is not to blame. A tiny, tiny fraction of the 1.6bn Muslims may well be. But why blame Islam for extremism, when extremism and terrorism exist in every ideology? Do we blame the Gospels for the IRA? Do we blame Buddhism for Buddhist extremists in Burma? Do we blame atheism for organisations like the League of Militant Atheism that murdered religious people in Soviet Russia? And what about eco-terrorism, or terrorism done by extreme right-wing, left-wing, or separatist groups?

The reality is that even in very recent history, a huge part of global terrorism is not motivated by religious ideologies, but by political and social causes. What this tells us is that extremism isn’t the exclusive domain of any ideology – be it religious or secular. There have always been, and perhaps always will be, people who are willing to trample on the rights of others so as to satisfy their own desires. To justify their horrific actions, they have to appeal to the highest authority in their society. In more religious settings, it will be God who is appealed to. In less religious settings, it will be noble ideals like freedom, democracy and justice. But whatever virtuous ideal is used to justify the murder of innocent lives, we can always discern political, financial, racial, or territorial ambitions at their heart.

So don’t fall for it. Religion doesn’t create terrorism. People create terrorism. In fact, the true teachings of religion are the solution, not the problem. If those who murder in the name of religions ever truly studied their own teachings, they would drop their guns. And if those who promote terrorism indirectly through their own injustices cared about the disorder they would create, then the world would be a very a different place indeed.

“Verily Allah requires you to abide by justice, benevolence, and unconditional grace; and He forbids indecency, manifest evil, and transgression. He admonishes you that you may take heed.” 16:90

The present article has been reproduced from the End of Atheism website. End of Atheism is a direct response to the New Atheist movement that began with Sam Harris’ book ‘End of Faith.’ You can find more material here:  www.endofatheism.com

The “End of Atheism” team explain who they are!

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Are you a theist, and have you benefited from EndofAtheism’s videos and blog posts? Would you like to suggest topics for future ones?

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Do we all disbelieve in some gods? A countryside story…

Copy of Should Religious Parents leave their kids alone- (2)

I live in a small village in the British countryside. Not much happens. Anything vaguely interesting would be the talk of the town. So I want to give you an example. Imagine that I’m walking down the street, and one of my local friends comes up to me and says that he saw this horse earlier that day, just a few roads away, running wildly up and down, frightening children and pensioners alike. I become concerned, but hey, I’ve got a life to live. I walk on.

An hour later I decide to end my walk by getting some lunch in the village. I run into another group of friends, (I’m a popular guy in my imagination it seems), who tell me they’ve heard there were two or three horses running around the village earlier, wild and free. I shrug, but keep my ears attentive for the sound of hooves just in case.

I finally get to the sandwich shop towards which I’ve been slowly meandering, and settle down to a tuna panini. The cheese and fish medley melts deliciously into my hungry mouth. I eat contentedly for a while and settle down to reading this popular new book my university lecturer recommended. A couple of hours later, just as I’m leaving,  I hear a group to the left of me saying that apparently there was a whole herd of horses surging through the village earlier. My forehead wrinkles. One guy said there was one horse. Then I met a group which said there were a few horses, and now I’m hearing that there was a whole herd of horses?

What should I do with this information? The reports clearly conflict and it’s difficult to tell which one is correct. I could try and investigate further, assuming that there’s some essence of truth, which has maybe become distorted through people mishearing or exaggerating the number of horses as the hours went on.

But after reading that great atheism book at lunch, I decide that there was no horse, everyone in my village is crazy, and that I really need to move out of this town.

Makes sense right?

 

This analogy was adapted from Hadhrat Mirza Basheer-ud-Din Mahmud Ahmad, 2nd Caliph of the Ahmadiyya Community. Header image originally from Carlo Scherer.

The present article has been reproduced from the End of Atheism website. End of Atheism is a direct response to the New Atheist movement that began with Sam Harris’ book ‘End of Faith.’ You can find more material here:  www.endofatheism.com

Richard Dawkins & Natural Selection: a Love Affair

Richard Dawkins & Natural Selection (1)

He is the Originator of the heavens and the earth. When He decrees a thing, He only says to it, ‘Be!’ and it is. (Qur’an 2:118)

Why is there something rather than nothing? That is the question that has plagued philosophers, scientists, and billions of people, throughout time and space. It is a question that is not only related to the Universe but is related to us on an individual basis, personally. Observing the Universe around us, it lies within our intuition that the Universe too has not existed forever. This observation has recently (as far as Human History goes) been confirmed by scientific, empirical research. The Universe as it is today, has not always existed. It has continuously expanded from a singularity, before which in both space and time, it did not – to our current observation – exist. To surmise that it did would be to assume something for which there is scant evidence currently. In short, the Universe came from a state of nothingness, into a state of existence.

Professor Richard Dawkins does not believe that the question “why is there something, rather than nothing” is worth acknowledging. In his book “The God Delusion”, instead of first solving the riddle of how the Universe came from nothing, he raises the same question against God. What follows is the intriguing construction of a house of cards.

“Then I’ll huff, and I’ll puff, and I’ll blow your house down.”

“The God Delusion” is several hundred pages in length and yet remarkably, it only gives one actual argument against the existence of God, and that too, borrowed from his favourite atheist philosopher, David Hume. There are many pages of his book that talks about why he doesn’t like religion, why he believes you can live without religion, why believers in God are self-deluded fools, etc., etc., but it is only after some one hundred pages on page 138 that the Professor actually shoots the only bullet in the barrel of his gun:

The creationist misappropriation of the argument from improbability always takes the same general form, and it doesn’t make any difference if the creationist chooses to masquerade in the politically expedient fancy dress of ‘intelligent design’ (ID). [i] Some observed phenomenon — often a living creature or one of its more complex organs, but it could be anything from a molecule up to the universe itself — is correctly extolled as statistically improbable. Sometimes the language of information theory is used: the Darwinian is challenged to explain the source of all the information in living matter, in the technical sense of information content as a measure of improbability or ‘surprise value’. Or the argument may invoke the economist’s hackneyed motto: there’s no such thing as a free lunch — and Darwinism is accused of trying to get something for nothing. In fact, as I shall show in this chapter, Darwinian natural selection is the only known solution to the otherwise unanswerable riddle of where the information comes from. It turns out to be the God Hypothesis that tries to get something for nothing. God tries to have his free lunch and be it too. However statistically improbable the entity you seek to explain by invoking a designer, the designer himself has got to be at least as improbable. God is the Ultimate Boeing 747. (The God Delusion, p. 138)

In short, Professor Dawkins’ argument is that if you believe the Universe’s complexity requires a designer, then surely God, who must be as complex or if not, more complex than the Universe, must require a Designer too. Who then, created God? The argument is however, riddled with false assumptions.

The first of these is that believers in God believe that the Universe requires a Designer because it is complex. This is an error. The reason the Universe requires a Designer is because prior to the Big Bang, there was no Universe. As far as current science can tell us, prior to the Universe, this Universe did not exist. It then came into existence. For this process of something coming from nothing, one requires a Designer. Why is this?

To answer this we will have to examine another aspect of Professor Dawkins’ claims, and that is, that besides “design” and “chance” there is a third alternative possibility of the motive force driving the Universe:

A deep understanding of Darwinism teaches us to be wary of the easy assumption that design is the only alternative to chance, and teaches us to seek out graded ramps of slowly increasing complexity. Before Darwin, philosophers such as Hume understood that the improbability of life did not mean it had to be designed, but they couldn’t imagine the alternative. After Darwin, we all should feel, deep in our bones, suspicious of the very idea of design. The illusion of design is a trap that has caught us before, and Darwin should have immunized us by raising our consciousness. Would that he had succeeded with all of us. (The God Delusion, p.138)

Thus Professor Dawkins claims a third type of process: Natural Selection, but on a cosmic scale. He claims that there may be a process whereby different universes of increasing complexity are created, and which are selected for. Those that are unable to survive, due to their physical constants being incompatible with continuation of that universe, automatically die off, while universes which can continue, do, and of them, those that produce life may be a tiny fraction. We just happen to be in a Universe that has produced life. This theory is also called The Multiverse Hypothesis.

The Multiverse (NB: not actually the multiverse).

The Multiverse
(NB: not actually the multiverse – just an artist’s representation)

The gaping hole in this argument, is that how did the laws that govern the creation and selection of the universes, come about? Did they also come about through a process of cosmic selection? Are these laws eternal in and of themselves? If there is a process of producing Universes and selecting for them through a process of graded ramps of slowly increasing complexity then what is the process by which this all occurs? Ultimately therefore, the laws that govern the generation of Universes, or the selection of them, must themselves either be designed, or have come about by chance. Or were the laws and processes which governed the creation and selection of the laws, themselves the product of a similar process of selection? Once again, an infinite regress of absurdity sets in, in which one continues to ask, by which process did the laws themselves that govern correct “selection” come about.

Unfortunately, all Professor Dawkins seems to have is Natural Selection as his hammer, and when all you have is a hammer, every problem has to look like a nail.

In short therefore, the notion that there is a third option besides “design” and “chance” is false. All ordered processes must themselves be explained; the very method of Universe production and selection must itself be explained, if it is an ordered process. If it is not an ordered process, then what differentiates it from random chance? If it is a gradual process of possible but improbable steps in a linear fashion – graded ramps of slowly increasing complexity – then this too is illogical, for how did those steps come about in the first place? Did this Universe-producing machine create the laws of cosmic selection which were required to create itself in the first instance?  Did the child give birth to it’s own mother? Did the omelette scramble itself into an egg, and thence into a squawking chicken?

When we look at it this way, and realise that there is only “design” or “chance”, one realises that the very origin of anything can only be “design”. This is because “chance” is defined as the random selection of an outcome from a set of possibilities. If those possibilities do not yet exist, then chance cannot act. Dice which have no sides cannot be rolled and a racehorse without any horses doesn’t offer much of a gamble. Even if one was to apply the theory of cosmic selection, selection is not a creative process, but rather, a culling process. Without an initial creation, there is nothing to cull, nothing to “select” and nothing for “chance” or any other selective process to act upon. When the issue is looked at from this point, the creation or existence of anything which had a beginning and an origin will always be by “design”, not “chance”, “selection” or any other non-creative process. Unsurprisingly, you need a creative process to create something. Neither chance nor any process reminiscent of natural or cosmic selection are adequate.

What, however, if the Universe existed prior to the Big Bang, and then merely came into a new form of existence? Thus the Universe did not come from nothing, but merely was developed from one state into another. One Universe collapsed upon itself, produced another black hole and developed into our current universe.

This too does not satisfy reason. Suppose for a moment that the Big Bang occurred due to something called The Big Cause, and The Big Cause was caused by The Bigger Cause. What then caused the Bigger Cause? This chain of cause and effect cannot extend infinitely, as otherwise, there would be no beginning to the chain of cause and effect, and without a beginning, how would we have reached the present moment? If there wasn’t a beginning to this blog post, how do you find yourself reading in the middle of it (it’s coming to an end soon, don’t fret)? If there isn’t a beginning to a race, how to do you find yourself running in it? In short, an infinite chain of cause and effect can never reach any point anywhere along it’s chain, because it will always be infinitely behind the present position on that chain. You will have an infinite regression of causes.

This indicates that everything that has a beginning is dependent on having originated with an Uncaused Cause. This is because, something that has a beginning cannot have created itself. To create itself, while it didn’t yet exist, would require it to both exist and not exist, simultaneously. Without an Uncaused Cause therefore, anything that has a beginning, cannot exist. Moreover, such an Uncaused Cause does not suffer from the deficiency of requiring a designer, because such an Uncaused Cause did not itself originate from anything, rather, it has always existed. Atheists such as Richard Dawkins, David Hume, Julian Baginni, etc., all misrepresent this argument by citing it as stating that everything that exists must have a cause. This is erroneous; the argument states that everything that begins to exist must have a cause. Thus, an Uncaused Cause that does not have a beginning, such as God, does not require a “designer”. An Uncaused Cause is therefore a logical necessity and an imperative.

It is interesting to note that atheists, by assuming the Multiverse argument, have also accepted the belief in an Uncaused Cause. Many atheists accept that the Uncaused Cause is a logical necessity, only they claim that a Universe-generating machine, is the Uncaused Cause. This is logically inconsistent; because if they are willing to accept the existence of an Uncaused Cause, then what is the big leap in saying that such an existence could also be conscious of itself – thus making it a Divine, or Personal Entity. Thus, by assuming the Multiverse hypothesis, they jump out of the frying pan and into the fire. They run into precisely what they wished to avoid.

To Allah belong the East and the West; so withersoever you turn, there will be the face of Allah. Surely, Allah is Bountiful, All-Knowing. (Qur’an 2:116)

To summarise then, something did not come from nothing. Something (the universe) came from something else (an Uncaused Cause). The universe must have had a beginning – an origin, as an infinite chain of cause and effect is an illogicality.

Furthermore, all things that have a beginning, must take their origin in “design”, not “chance”. There is no third alternative such as “cosmic selection” because any process or laws that govern such selection must themselves be either the product of “design” or “chance”, lest a further infinite regression of absurdities be created.

Thus, the only logical outcome for this Universe, which must have began either with the Big Bang or at an event prior to it, is that it came into existence from nothingness, by the Design of an Uncaused Cause.

Gosh. That sounds a lot like God, doesn’t it? Who would’ve thought…

 

The present article has been reproduced from the End of Atheism website. End of Atheism is a direct response to the New Atheist movement that began with Sam Harris’ book ‘End of Faith.’ You can find more material here:  www.endofatheism.com

Is Secularism Sacred? A Response to Matt Ridley

Should Religious Parents leave their kids alone- (1)

By Ayesha Malik

In his recent piece in The Times, Matt Ridley speaks of how Muslims are “turning away from Islam.” In a scathing and passionate article, he chastises jihadism and militant Islam and suggests humanism and secularism as antidotes to the same. I stand with Mr. Ridley in rebuking all forms of extremism and violent jihad and share his views that these must be seriously tackled. However, I take issue with the manner in which Mr. Ridley seems to paint 1.6 billion Muslims worldwide with the same brush. His powerful narrative places militant Islamism concomitant with Islam, effectively disenfranchising the more than a billion moderate Muslim voices worldwide – that not only condemn terrorism but are in fact victims of it.

Let’s put Mr. Ridley’s claims in perspective. He argues that, “The fastest growing belief system in the world is non-belief,” adding that the, “humanists are winning, even against Islam.” The gist of his arguments runs something like this: that atheism is on the rise globally, with an increasing number of people turning away from religion, in particular Islam; that this phenomenon is panning out in spite of the fact that atheists do not proselytise; that estimates forecast a decline in fertility rates amongst Muslim populations that have until now determined their increased market share; that atheists are persecuted in Muslim-majority lands; that jihadists are inspired by a desire, “to prevent the Muslim diaspora [from] sliding into western secularism” and that secularism can ultimately win against jihadism.

Mr. Ridley either intentionally or unintentionally indulges in classic othering discourse – the them againstus approach – Islam against the West. His account is a quintessential example of partisan scholarship – one that entrenches misplaced stereotypes within society and paves the way towards a civilisational divide. There is no informed or reasoned analysis on the causes of terrorism, the geopolitical factors that have shaped its trajectory and importantly how Muslims, too, are victims of extremism. Is terrorism really a religious cult? Why do people like Mr. Ridley forget that the Taliban were really a creation of the Americans, known as freedom fighters at the time, and engaged to fight the Soviets during the Soviet War in Afghanistan – something Hilary Clinton has admitted on national television. Clinton sums it up quite well – you harvest what you sow. Moreover, it is also an open secret that the so-called Islamic State, who took responsibility for the recent attacks in Paris, was a creation of the Iraq War. As such, the motivations of terrorists are not quite religious as Mr. Ridley contends; they are more political than anything else. The Paris assassins shouted how France should not have gone into Syria, as they carried out their cold-blooded acts of murder. Karen Armstrong, in her recent talk at Saint Anthony’s College Oxford, outlined how each of the two British men who went to fight in Syria recently,ordered ‘Islam for Dummies’ on Amazon. This alone, makes a travesty of the claim that extremists hold intensely religious passions.

 

ridley

Furthermore, Mr. Ridley’s predictions that atheism will ultimately overtake Islam must be taken with a pinch of salt. His assertions sit in contradiction with a report published earlier this year by the Pew Research Center that reveals how by 2050 Islam is forecasted to be the fastest growing religion – the Muslim population estimated to increase by 73% in the next 35 years. It states how Muslims will grow from 1.6 billion in 2010 to 2.76 billion in 2050, with Islam being the only religion to surpass the global rate of population expansion. It would also place Islam for the first time at par with Christianity in numbers. By contrast, the study suggests that while the number of non-believers including atheists and agnostics will rise in countries such as the United States and France, the total rise in non-believers is estimated at a 100 million – rising merely from 1.1 billion in 2010 to 1.2 billion in 2050 – and by those numbers, this would actually mean a drop in the total population of atheists – from 16% of the total population in 2010 to 13% of the total population globally in 2050.

While I celebrate the secular values of democracy and the rule of law, these ideals do not suffice on their own if their overriding premise is not justice. Secular jurisprudence testifies to this, John Rawls arguing for example that, “legitimacy is only the minimal standard of political acceptability; a political order can be legitimate without being just,” adding that it is justice that provides, “the maximum moral standard: the full description of how a society’s main institutions should be ordered.”

If secular ideals were sufficient on their own, we would not have lost 60 million people in the mass destruction of the Second World War – a war that was clearly not fought for any religious reasons.

If secular ideals were sufficient on their own, we would not have lost 60 million people in the mass destruction of the Second World War – a war that was clearly not fought for any religious reasons. Hence, I am not convinced that secularism is as sacred as Mr. Ridley makes it out to be. Such overly simplistic, lop sided rhetoric reduce his scholarship to the ranting of an angry man, which does not behove a person of Mr. Ridley’s intellect and educational background.

When extremists kill, humanity suffers – not a particular cultural or religious demographic. Since 2003, in Pakistan alone, more than 20,000 civilians have perished in terrorism related violence. Similarly, thousands have lost their lives in Nigeria in terrorist attacks carried out by Boko Haram, a group claimed to be deadlier than ISIS. Even still, people like Mr. Ridley continue to assert that extremists are somehow more of a threat to the West than they are to the rest of the world. If anything, Muslims themselves are the biggest victims of extremism, and unless we unite against terrorism by considering it a global problem, it will only fuel more extremists on both sides of the religious and political spectra. And if secularism – the long championed beacon of liberty cannot unite us in this cause, then it is as dogmatic as radical ideology.

Ayesha Malik is a lawyer and writer, currently serving as Deputy Editor of the Law & Human Rights Section of the Review of Religions.

The present article has been reproduced from the End of Atheism website. End of Atheism is a direct response to the New Atheist movement that began with Sam Harris’ book ‘End of Faith.’ You can find more material here:  www.endofatheism.com

 

Who Designed the Designer? Atheists’ Arguments Refuted.

Professor Richard Dawkins in his book, “The God Delusion” provides one serious argument as to why God probably doesn’t exist. This argument is examined, dismantled, and demonstrated as deeply flawed.

 

The present article has been reproduced from the End of Atheism website. End of Atheism is a direct response to the New Atheist movement that began with Sam Harris’ book ‘End of Faith.’ You can find more material here:  www.endofatheism.com

Can You Be Good Without God?

Can You Be Good Without God-

Say, ‘O Allah! Originator of the heavens and the earth; Knower of the unseen and the seen; Thou alone wilt judge between Thy servants concerning that in which they differed.’ (Qur’an 39:47)

“A system of morality which is based on relative emotional values is a mere illusion, a thoroughly vulgar conception which has nothing sound in it and nothing true” – Socrates

Why is hurting people termed “wrong”? Ask yourself this question and you will find that it is not easy to answer. The answers you may come up with may be along the lines of “you wouldn’t want to be hurt, so why do it to others?” or “doing good to others promotes social cohesion”. However, neither of these two statements answer the question. Why then should you not hurt others, just because you wouldn’t want to be hurt? Why is social cohesion desirable?

These may seem like absurd questions, and on some level, they are. The reason for this is because everyone, universally it seems, knows that hurting people is wrong. Even the hardened thief who has convinced himself that his thievery is justified, would feel aggrieved and wronged if someone stole from him – thus demonstrating that though he has made excuses for his own thievery, he still knows it to be wrong. Yet, if everyone knows that doing wrong is bad, and undesirable, then why do people do it at all? The answer is found in the above example – the thief who justifies his own actions to himself:

Can he, who was dead and We gave him life and made for him a light whereby he walks among men, be like him whose condition is that he is in utter darkness whence he cannot come forth? Thus have the doings of the disbelievers been made to seem fair to them. (Qur’an 6:123)

Thus, a system of morality such as Humanism, which tells people simply to “be good” and “promote the wellbeing of others” not to “hurt others” without defining what “good”, “hurt” and “wellbeing” mean, is a totally meaningless system of morality. The reason for this is that everyone who does wrong, does it, believing it to be good. What is needed in a system of morality is not the end goal, but actually clear directives on which actions are right and which are wrong, covering all conceivable contexts. This is what the Qur’an in particular, claims to achieve.

A Book, the verses of which have been expounded in detail — the Qur’an in clear, eloquent language — for a people who have knowledge… (Qur’an 41:4)

This is what Socrates is talking about when he refers to “relative morality” as an “illusion” and a “thoroughly vulgar conception”. Very strong words – but are they warranted? They are, because what Humanism achieves is that it makes the concept of “right” and “wrong” malleable; with each person free to define “good” and “evil” however they wish, thus giving license for every evil to be conducted under the guise of “goodness”. As pointed out above, this is precisely what happens when a person does evil or harms others; they justify it to themselves and call it “good”. Humanism is therefore no more than a formalised system of convincing yourself that what you are doing is for the betterment and wellbeing of others. People try to claim that it is religion which is utilised as a pious front for the doing of evil, and that more people do evil in the name of God than for any other reason. This may be the case but there is a difference here – people do evil in the name of God, in spite of the clear teachings of various religions on which actions are right and which are wrong. Humanism on the other hand has no teachings which could act as a buffer against the evil done in its name.

It is also worth asking the question that “what makes a good, moral person?” Hitler is famously known to have been a vegetarian, because he believed that eating animals was cruel. Ridiculous as it may sound, it demonstrates that Hitler strived – in his own mind at least – to be, what he thought of, as a good person. We find it difficult to imagine that a person who has committed and authorised such atrocities as he did, loved animals, and, no doubt, loved people also – friends and family etc. Does this make him a good, moral person? Of course it doesn’t, and the reason is obvious: loving one’s friends and families, is a natural condition that is even found among animals. Among animals too, there are many example of creatures that have shown extraordinary love and sacrifice for other animals, both of their own species, and otherwise. A simple search on YouTube would show many filmed examples. This does not make animals moral. This is because a moral quality is defined when reason and reflection are brought into play, and a person acts after deliberated thought. A mother who jumps in front of a car to save her baby has not behaved morally – she has behaved instinctively, on the basis of a natural impulse. Thus, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad explains in the following excerpt:

When (natural qualities) are regulated and are used on their proper occasions, under the direction of reason, they acquire a moral character. Before they are controlled by reason and understanding they have not the character of moral qualities, but are natural impulses, however much they might resemble moral qualities. For instance, if a dog or lamb displays affection or docility towards its master it would not be described as moral or good-mannered. In the same way a wolf or a tiger would not be described as ill-mannered on account of its wildness. A moral state emerges after reflection and regard for time and occasion come into play.(1)

Humanism however, conflates natural impulses with moral actions. As Humanism gives no directives and no instruction on what action is right in which context and which action is wrong in which context, it totally falls short of defining morality. It therefore does not seek to give direction to our natural impulses, thereby converting them into moral qualities, but rather seeks to term our natural impulses of love for our friends and families, and the expression of that love, as moral actions. This is totally erroneous and betrays a fundamental misunderstanding on what morality is.

Thus, a basic moral system requires two things, to make it a valid system that both makes sense and also works effectively:

1) A perspective of absolute morality – a belief that “right” and “wrong” exist outside of our own minds. In religion, “right” and “wrong” are defined by God – and it is God’s perspective that is the only perspective that matters. His perspective can be accessed both through scripture, or on a more basic level, by looking into our own conscience, to the inbuilt signposts God has given us. Humanists can also look to the human conscience, but in doing so, they are admitting that morality is a universal and absolute concept.

2) Teachings that define which actions are right in which context, and which are wrong. This is important, because, giving the end goal of “to promote happiness” is a meaningless statement, without teaching people which actions will lead to that end goal. In this regard, many religions also fall short of this ideal. Christianity, for example, which has done away with the “law” of saying which actions are right in which context and which are wrong, by accepting St. Paul’s notion that all you need is “faith” to enter heaven, and actions are not necessary, has undermined this second principle which would uphold a system of morality.

Humanism falls short on both these two principles. Humanism does not advocate that the notion of “right” or “wrong” exist outside of our own minds, nor does it give any specific teachings on which actions are right and which are wrong. Ironically however, the very existence of Humanism is a wonderful proof of the existence of God. How so? Humanism is an example of a group of people (atheists) who believe that there is no God – and therefore no absolute concept of morality, and yet feel an urging within their own hearts to unite on some common values of what is right and what is wrong, and thereby create an artificial concept of absolute morality based on the consensus of a community. They demonstrate by their actions that morality must have some degree of absoluteness, and that relative morality is – as Socrates points out – no morality at all. Thus they prove the need for an absolute perspective on morality and thus prove the need for the existence of God, for a code of morality to exist. This is all the more so because, despite their attempt at creating an artificial basis for absolute morality through common consensus as a community, they know well that just because a community endorses a particular moral action or view, does not make it right or wrong. Many communities there have been in history who collectively, with consensus, perpetrated genocide on other peoples. Does their consensus as to the rightness of their actions, change the fact that their actions were evil?

In short, humanists hear the call of their hearts of what is right and what is wrong, yet, having renounced God, they do not understand where this call is coming from, despite being unable to resist its pull. Indeed, Man admits the existence of God – Who is the basis of morality – despite professing disbelief in Him.

So set thy face to the service of religion as one devoted to God. And follow the nature made by Allah — the nature in which He has created mankind. There is no altering the creation of Allah. That is the right religion. But most men know not. (Qur’an 30:31)

The present article has been reproduced from the End of Atheism website. End of Atheism is a direct response to the New Atheist movement that began with Sam Harris’ book ‘End of Faith.’ You can find more material here:  www.endofatheism.com