By Mir Uzair Farooq
In the 8th century CE a debate happened in the city of Baghdad between Imam Abu Hanifah, one of the four major scholars of Islamic jurisprudence, and an atheist. Imam Abu Hanifah arrived late and as is obvious he was questioned about it. Abu Hanifah explained, “I was standing for a long time on the bank of the river Tigris looking for a navigator or a boat when something caught my attention in the middle of the river. I looked forward, and to my amazement I saw planks of wood rising to the surface from the bed, they got clubbed together and sealed. Then I saw a sail in the boat, and eventually, the boat started approaching me. As I was getting late for the debate, without thinking much, I jumped into the boat. When I reached the Royal Palace, and looked back the boat had disappeared.”
At this moment, the atheist burst out laughing and remarked, “Oh, Abu Hanifah, I heard that you were the best debater from amongst the Muslims, I heard that you were the wisest, the most knowledgeable from amongst your people. But after seeing you today, I can say that you show none of these qualities. You speak of a boat appearing from nowhere, without someone having built it”. Abu Hanifah turned to the atheist and replied, “You don’t believe a word of it? You don’t believe that nails can appear by themselves? You don’t believe sealant can be poured by itself? You don’t believe that a boat can move without a navigator, hence you don’t believe that a boat can appear without a boat maker?” The atheist remarked defiantly, “Yes, I don’t believe a word of it!” Abu Hanifah replied, “If you cannot believe that a boat came into being without a boat maker, how can you believe that the whole world, the universe, the stars, the oceans, and the planets came into being without a creator?”
Scholars have been using this example ever since, sometimes even modifying it to match the reasoning of today’s sceptical man, but it is quite certain that such an example in spite of being persuasive cannot bury the questions of doubt altogether. But can we translate the idea of God – seeking a sweeping proof – properly when we really are at the helm of such a process. I guess there is much at stake in such a translation, and what is easily disregarded is the fact that faith is less often driven by reason. As is said, the scientific truth to the scientist is tentative, while to the believer the theological truth is absolute.
Proof of God’s existence can never be complete, as its premises are very broad and its conclusion brutally single and without reservations for any of its premises. So, if there is an inherent incompleteness in proving that God exists, then disproving the inexistence of God can only be done by constructing rhetorical questions to invalidate the claims of His inexistence. In the method of deductive reasoning, we conclude that God doesn’t exist, but we should not overlook that even if the premises are false, a conclusion can be true.
A believer’s idea of God shouldn’t be a notion that is hungry for a sign – not that a scientifically driven humanoid can accept that – but quite apparently so, the burden is on those who tend to distort the limits of their motivation. Questions of ‘what’ and ‘how’ should be accompanied by those of ‘why’. We know how we are born: when a sperm fuses with an egg, and how we die, which in a simple case could be because ‘lungs got filled with water’ or ‘neurons atrophied’. As electroencephalography could prove, a surge occurs in brain activity before a person dies, and turning to the ‘how’ of it, it could be because of several reasons. Neglected, as we can see, is the ‘why’ part.
Why do we come into this world, and why this ‘tradition of biology’ continues smoothly, but mysteriously. Using science as a tool, we shy away from the reaches of these questions. But shouldn’t we accept that science can’t separate what is heuristic (the experienced) and what is transcendent? That there is a point where reason is superseded? What about magic: I see a person cut me into two, and then seal me back into one, in the blink of an eye, and I never get to feel anything happened at all?
I quote from a lecture that I once happened to attend: “As epitomes of reason we know what an explosion results in (we haven’t forgotten Nagasaki, Hiroshima, Chernobyl and many others), but why turn a blind eye to how the big bang, a colossal explosion, resulted in this mind-boggling, fascinating, endless yet little world of beings.” Should we not hear what the inadequacy, temporality, internal disjuncture, and brutal limitedness of our made-up normative theories say to us? They appear like vogue trends, appeal to our minds, and get lost in the dust of history.
It should be clear that science will never be able to prove or disprove things that are beyond its reach, so we should stop seeking refuge in it and not be blinded by it. While we keep commenting and deducting, the facts remain as they are.
—The writer is an undergraduate student at St. Stephen’s College, Delhi