Part One : Introduction
God Prior to Religion
Many of us at some point or another in our lives start to question: where did we come from? Why are we here? What happens to us after we die? Is death the grim end, or is it but a gate that leads into a different kind of existence? We often wonder how did it all come to be? Is there some kind of power responsible for the creation of the vast universe and all that's in it, or did everything around us coincidentally just happen to be?
Is there a God? To some people, the affirmative answer is the only one there can be, while to others belief is no more than a calculated bet. The French Philosopher Pascal concluded that belief was the wisest bet because the believer will either have bliss if he is right or oblivion if he is wrong, whereas the atheist has the less attractive alternatives of oblivion or damnation. (The case against God, Gerald Priestland, Page 14)
To some people the word 'nature' is some kind of force responsible for shaping life, but can there be justification in referring to 'nature' as a concrete intelligent force responsible for creating as well as shaping life? Or, is 'nature' merely an abstract man-made label that acts as a convenient coat -hanger to the more urgent questions in our attempt to explain the cause of things?
If we were to trace the age of the earth we would have to go back in time 4.5 billion years. The age of our Galaxy, the Milky Way, would take us even further back 12 billion years, while as the estimated age of the entire universe is somewhere between 15 to 20 billion years.
If the terrestrial 'nature' represents the earth and everything on it, there would still remain a very long period of time prior to the formation of the earth when there would have been no meaning to the word 'nature'. Still, some force had to account for what occurred before.
If we were to chart the age of mankind against the age of the universe we would find it very insignificant in universal terms. The first Homo Sapiens, who are our direct ancestors, walked on earth a mere 15,000 years ago! Clearly then the school of thought that claims that God is not an external being but is to be found inside each of us is both naive and presumptuous. It is naive because if we were to claim that God exists only inside us then we would have to believe that before 15,000 years there was no God. Even if one employs Darwin's theory of evolution to suggest some kind of link between man and ape, and as a result associate an older age for mankind, one would still have to say that God did not exist before 30 million years ago, that is when the first apes walked on earth. It is also presumptuous because no matter how clever we think we are, we are only one species of creatures on one planet that revolves around one star. The star, being the sun, is merely one star among 100 billion other similar stars that belong to our galaxy the 'Milky Way'. In the universe there are billions of other galaxies!.
The failure of science to provide adequate answers to these questions, and in the quest for the truth, many people seek the answers in religion.
Through their adopted faith, whether it is researched or most commonly inherited, they seek to find God. However, it may make better sense to reverse the procedure. It may be wiser to seek God first and then search for His true word. After all, God has always existed while as the establishment of any faith or religion is a time related event.
Compare this logic to the case of the patient and the doctor, how can one believe in a medical treatment and as a result have faith in the doctor? It would naturally make better sense to have faith in a doctor and because of that faith to follow his medication. Finding God and accepting His existence is not necessarily a matter related to any particular religious belief. The subject of the first part of this book is to argue the case why God exists in a purely intellectual and rational manner without referring to any religious beliefs. The subject of the rest of the book will then be : If God exists, where lies the 'Truth'? That search too can be conducted in a purely intellectual manner that is far from prejudice or dogmatic statements. Never will the phrase "because it is written in such a book" be an answer to the question. Never will the very consumed phrase "just have faith" be an answer to some other question. It is not the purpose of this book to inject the mind of the reader with an overdose of quotations from any Holy book or another and then ask you to "just have faith". On the contrary, no conclusion will be adopted unless it is in agreement with current scientific knowledge, and supported by rational analysis.
In order to be able to present the argument it is essential to refer to various fields of scientific knowledge. A fact must be stressed here, whilst reference is made to some established scientific theories in as far as they serve the argument, it is not the intention of this book to question the validity of these theories.
Generally speaking there are two types of scientific knowledge:
1- Scientific knowledge that is unlikely to change and is thus taken for granted (e.g. Water is composed of Hydrogen and Oxygen, or that gravity exists between any two bodies....etc.).
2- Scientific knowledge that is not yet confirmed and is open to change (e.g. What triggered off the "Big Bang"? What is gravity made of? How many universes are there? Or how did such gigantic energy come to be trapped within the minute space inside the atom?
Throughout this book, all reference made will be made to the first type only.
There are those who will completely do without an intellectual approach to belief insisting that for them belief is in the heart and not the mind. Whilst one must understand and respect this point of view so far as the first part of the search goes, and that is the initial belief in God, it is of prime importance that the process of selecting a faith to believe in should not be left to the heart alone, but is a matter that should be researched thoroughly by taking time to consider and debate all points of view. This is necessary because of the unfortunate yet intentional misguidance and misrepresentation conducted by various religious organisations. Sadly, all major religions in the world today can be accused of corruption in one way or another.
Furthermore, one tends to be more inclined to the view that even though a spiritual or emotional belief may appear to be of great strength, yet if it is not supported intellectually, it may often be vulnerable to crack. One has often come across people who have suddenly acquired a very intense faith only to completely lose it after a period of time. For as the saying goes "easy come easy go". On the other hand, a slow contemplated intellectual approach has a better chance of endurance because it is built on reason.
Today we live in an age of reason and not of blind faith. It is thus necessary for any intelligent person to debate all matters freely and without bias rather than be trapped by the influence of one's environment and culture. One should not rely on the religious background passed on through parents or the society alone. One often hears the saying "this is the religion of my father and my fore-fathers, they cannot all be wrong!" But if a Jew, a Christian, a Buddhist, a Hindu and a Muslim who can differ on basic issues all said so, each thinking that they have inherited the truth, chances are that most if not all of them, will be wrong.
We have no choice as to which faith we were born into but we all have the free will to seek the "Truth". One should adopt a faith only when one is totally convinced that it is the "Truth". There are other people who follow a certain faith because they say it suits them! It is very ironic that they could adopt a faith that affects their entire life in the same way they would go shopping in a super-market! Look and see what is on display and then opt for the faith that would not place too many sacrifices on their normal way of life!
In stead, and if one is convinced beyond any doubt that a certain faith is the true word of God, one should accept it in its entire form. One should follow its teachings even if it means altering one's way of life, and not as is sadly happening today within some well established religions, regarding the constant bending and reshaping of the faith in an attempt to conform to modern values.
There may be those who will complain that a certain faith or another is too rigid and does not conform to modern standards, but they must, if they are honest with themselves, stop and question how well do modern standards conform to virtue and morality.
Part Two : Why God is One?
The purpose of this section is to argue how modern science testifies to the existence of a sole creator, a supreme force far superior to anything we know, a power responsible for the creation of the universe and of sustaining it. Moreover, at that moment of creation, it can be demonstrated how all the various laws that govern the behaviour of everything in the universe were initiated. In order to arrive at these conclusions three sets of debates are considered:
First Debate : Did the universe have a beginning or has it always been there?
Here we refer to the laws of Thermal dynamics which govern the movement of heat between different bodies. The second law of Thermodynamics states that heat travels from hot bodies to cooler bodies and not the opposite. If for example a hot oven is placed in a cold room the oven will warm the room, this is because heat will be transferred from the hot oven to the cold room. Never will the amount of heat originally in the room cause the oven to get hotter. This transfer of heat between the oven and the room will continue until the oven has used up all its fuel source (e.g. a gas cylinder) . When that point is reached the oven will start to cool until such a point when the temperatures of both the oven and the room become equal.
To calculate the amount of time during which the oven will continue to warm the room we need to know two things:
1- The amount of gas left in the cylinder.
2- The rate at which gas is consumed.
If for example there is 5000 c.c. (cubic centimetres) of gas left in the cylinder and the oven uses up 100 c.c. every hour, with a simple division we find that the oven will continue to warm the room for 50 hours (we will call this stage A). After 50 hours the oven will start to cool till a point is reached where the temperatures of the oven and the room are equal (we will call this stage B).
Now let us apply this to the universe as a whole. We know that the total amount of energy in the universe is equal to the sum of energy in all the stars, galaxies, and all other bodies containing mass. This is a finite amount no matter how large it is. These stars will continue to radiate heat, light and other types of radiation into the vast space of the universe, in the same way in which the oven would warm the space inside the room. So if we think of all the stars and all other active bodies in the universe as the ovens, and the vast space of the universe as the empty room we can deduce the following:
From what is known about the life and death of stars in modern theories of cosmology, it is known that they would continue to radiate energy until they consume all their resources. To be precise, when all the hydrogen, that constitutes the vast majority of the mass of stars, has been converted into helium and other heavier elements in a process of continuous nuclear reactions. After that stage, some stars explode in what is known as super novae and give birth to second generation stars, but eventually when all energy is used up, the stars collapse and end up as cold dead bodies.
Since the amount of matter in the universe (in the form of stars, nebula, quasars.....etc.) is finite (First law of thermodynamics: conservation of matter), then these energy sources will radiate energy into the universe for a finite length of time. In our example of the oven and the room we calculated that time to be 50 hours. Theoretically, and if we can calculate the total amount of energy in the universe, and also the rate of consumption of energy, we can also calculate the length of time (although obviously not as accurately as in the case of the oven) in which the stars will continue to radiate energy. For argument's sake, let us assume that the universe will continue to radiate energy for another 50 billion years. Since there is still plenty of energy available in the universe we are still in stage A.
Now if we go back to our original debate, and try to decide whether the universe had a beginning or has it always been there, we can quickly reach the conclusion that if it had always been there, or in mathematical terms if the age of the universe goes back to infinity, it should have been a cold and dead place by now simply because infinity, is a larger number (if it can be called so) than 50 billion years.. If the age of the universe is infinity, we should have been at stage B a long time ago,. The accuracy of the figure 50 billion is of no importance to the end result, for whatever figure we chose to make it, it will always be less than infinity.
What that means is that the universe had a definite beginning. That beginning, for argument's sake, being less than 50 billion years ago. The birth of new stars in the universe does not affect our analysis, they are not born out of the void, they are merely a conversion of hot gases into hot new stars, or as shown above, second or third generation stars. Their birth is not an addition to the total amount of matter that already exists in the universe. The total amount of matter remains constant. After a time all the hot gases in the universe will be used up and no new stars will be born.. As for the newly born stars, they too will eventually consume all their energy and die.
This analysis confirms that the universe had a definite beginning.
But "thermodynamics" is not the only branch of science to provide evidence in support of a beginning to the universe, for recent discoveries in space and cosmology also confirm that the universe had a definite beginning called the Big Bang. This was first confirmed by the discovery of the background radiation in 1965 by two American astronomers, then later by COBE (Cosmic background explorer satellite) that proved beyond any doubt the theory of the Big Bang.
The Big Bang theory states that sometime between 14 and 20 billion years ago all the matter in the universe originated from an extremely dense concentration of matter and space that exploded outwards giving birth to all the galaxies and other heavenly bodies that comprise the universe as we know it today.
The theory of the Big Bang was given its final seal of approval through the discovery that the universe is expanding. This necessarily means that if we were to go back in time the universe would be contracting until it would reach a point from which it all started, and that takes us back to the Big Bang.
Now if we accept that the universe had a definite beginning, the next step would be to debate whether that beginning was caused by an intelligent power or by mere chance.
Second Debate : Was the universe created or is it merely an act of chance?
Once again, we refer to the first law of thermodynamics (conservation of matter) which states that "Matter cannot be created nor destroyed".
What that means is that all that we are able to do is convert one form of substance to another. We can never create matter from nothing, and similarly we cannot turn matter into nothing. Trees are brought down to make wood and paper, sand is used in the making of glass.........etc., but we can never create wood or glass out of vacuum.
Similarly we cannot completely destroy wood or glass, for even if we burn wood, we are only converting it to ashes and gases that are given off in the process.
We have also shown that all matter had a definite beginning or a moment in time when it came to exist, the moment when the universe was created. By joining these seemingly contradicting statements together:
1- Since the universe had a definite beginning, we can say that it was created.
2- Laws of physics state that matter cannot be created!
Therefore, it is only rational to say that the universe was created by a power that is above and independent of the laws of physics as we know them. That power is clearly not restricted or confined to the basic laws of physics but far superior. And since this power is independent of the physical universe and all its laws, we can say that this power cannot be of a physical essence. It is also justifiable to expect this power not to have had a beginning because the concept of a beginning, and for that matter time in general, has been shown to be a dimension of the physical universe only. In his "Theory of relativity", Einstein stated that time, space and matter were all created when the universe was born, and that before that moment time did not exist. It is not easy for the human mind to envisage the concept of "no time", but if one accepts that time is only a dimension of the physical world the idea becomes more acceptable. Further still, and since the universe had a definite beginning before which nothing existed, then such an awesome event (the creation of the universe) cannot be attributed to chance, since before that initial moment of creation nothing existed, not even chance.
The only rational explanation for this argument is that there exists a superior non-physical power responsible for creating and maintaining this universe.
a- The Mechanical argument
The mechanical argument is also in support of the concept of a creator. The 'Third law of Motion' by Isaac Newton states:
"For every action there is a reaction, equal to it and opposite in direction."
Everything that has moved was moved by something else. If we go back in time, tracing everything to its original mover, we would ultimately arrive at that which was not moved by anything else. That analysis will also lead us to the unavoidable conclusion of an initial Creator.
b- Entropy and Disorder
Everything of order left unattended gradually moves to disorder. If one builds a house and leaves it unattended, in a few weeks it will become full of dust. In thirty years or so the paint will start falling off the walls. After two hundred years or so some of the walls will start to weaken and crack. If we leave the house unattended for a thousand years or so, the whole house will be flat to the ground. In other words, and if left unattended, any organised structure or system will eventually move to disorder.
Never will chaos suddenly spring into a system. A house will never spring into being of its own doing.
So if you say that entropy is a measure of disorder, and that nature tends toward maximum entropy for any isolated system, then you do have some insight into the ideas of the second law of thermodynamics.
If we try to analyse what has actually happened on earth we realise that it was quite remarkable. When the earth was first formed it was a very hostile hot planet with no form of life whatsoever. Gradually simple forms of life evolved leading all the time to more complex forms of living creatures and culminating in the appearance of mankind. The trend has been reversed, instead of things crumbling they have in fact developed all the time to higher forms of existence. Chaos has developed into a system. Has the earth been attended all the time?
In the following diagram, the concept of entropy (2nd law of thermal dynamics) tells us that the right hand box of molecules happened before the left.
It is amusing, to put it mildly, to observe man so full of vanity thinking he is the master of everything merely because he is given some intelligence to discover some of the laws of the universe. In reality, man has no authority in setting or altering such laws. With the aid of the physical senses, man is given a view over a divine masterpiece, but considering the human being is a mere spectator within the huge universe, he can indeed be very pompous!
c- The laws of probabilities
The laws of probability offer another interesting argument:
If we throw two dice, the chance of obtaining double 6 is (1 in 36). What this means is that on average if we throw the dice 360 times, the chances are that we should get double 6 around 10 times (and 100 double six's in 3600 throws ... etc). Now if we throw the dice 3600 times and we obtain double 6 every single throw then there is a design, a system or a controlling force behind the throws. We cannot call this a coincidental occurrence.
The science of Genetics offers vivid evidence that chance could not be a factor in the process of creation due to the very precise combinations necessary in the building of cells. These requisite combinations defy all laws of probabilities.
On a larger scale, We only need to look at the universe to be able to marvel at the endless examples of precision and beautiful design. Every field of scientific knowledge seems to testify to the existence of a master creator. It does not seem difficult to dismiss the possibility of chance.
There is so much symmetry in the universe to be able to go through all of it, but one particular design has special appeal,. And that is the Macro/Micro pattern.
d- The Macro/Micro patterns
If we look at the universe at large we find that it is composed of vast areas of empty space and also other areas containing shapeless matter in the form of hot gases plus dark matter and already formed stars and other bodies. These stars group together to form galaxies. Our galaxy, "The Milky Way" has within it no less than 100 billion individual stars. Our star, the sun, has nine planets in orbit around it. Many of these planets have a number of moons again in orbit. The basic force that governs the movement of all these bodies is gravity. The moons rotate around their planets, which all rotate around the mother star, which in our case is the sun. Similarly, all these stars rotate round the centre of gravity of the galaxy.
Galaxies group together to form clusters of galaxies, and once again individual galaxies rotate round the centre of gravity of the cluster. Clusters group together to form super clusters, and these obey the same laws. Super clusters are the largest units in the universe as we know it today.
When we proceed in the opposite direction, we notice that the similarity is truly remarkable. If we look at the other end of the scale and examine the atom, which is the smallest form of substance able to exist in a chemical reaction, we find that it is also composed of a central region, the nucleus, with various sub-atomic particles in continuous movement around it. The design of a central region with movement around it once again denotes a common designer.
If one searches one can surely find God. God's signs in His creation are all around us. It was very naive when the first man in space, the Soviet astronaut Yuri Gagarin, said when he was high in orbit around the earth:
"Where is God? I do not see him!"
It seems ironic though that he met his death in a helicopter accident, still in the air, where he could not find his maker! No doubt he found Him now !
If we accept that the creation of the universe must have been the work of a supreme intelligent power, we are faced with another puzzle and that is: How many gods are there? Is God one, or could there be more than one god?
Third Debate : If a "god" exists, how many "gods" are there?
Here the reference is made to some basic word definitions. The words absolute and relative are quite straight forward in what they mean. Anything relative is that which can be compared to or related to other things. Whenever we describe that object we are always describing it in relation to other things. On the other hand an absolute is that which is self-existent and conceivable without relation to other things.
If we return to our example of the room and the oven we can say that the oven is hotter than the room but that does not mean that the oven is hot in an absolute sense, for if we were to place this oven inside an active volcano it would seem very cool in comparison. An athlete is a very fast runner compared to road pedestrians but is indeed very slow compared to a motor car, and so on until it becomes clear that anything we see in life is relative because there will always be something that is cooler, bigger, older ....etc.
If we go back to our Big Bang theory we realise that what brought it about must have been a power that is above all the laws of physics that govern the universe. When scientists study the evolution of the universe they trace it back to the moment of creation or the Big Bang, but when they reach that point they find that all the laws of physics cease to be. Had they considered the same situation in a forward direction they would have realised that the Big Bang was the moment when all the laws of physics have actually began to be!
We have also noted that the force that brought about the Big Bang, and in effect the creation of the universe, could not have been related to this universe in any physical sense, for it is clearly the cause and not the effect of the universe. Since this supreme power is the cause then it must have been existent prior to and independent of the universe. Thus we can say that nothing in this universe can be related to that supreme power , and if nothing can be compared or related to that power, then by definition that power is absolute.
The absolute God then means that nothing is like or akin to Him, but if we were to consider the possibility of the existence of more than one god, immediately the question will arise as to: which god came first, which god is more powerful and so on, and that would ultimately reduce these gods to being relative because comparisons will arise.
If God is absolute, by definition, He must be One
Part Three : Truth and Revelation
Thomas Aquinas (1225-74), one of the greatest Catholic theologians of the middle ages, made a clear distinction between truth which could be deducted by reason (for example, the existence of God and the moral law) and truth which must be given by revelation (for example, the way to salvation). (Historical Selections in the Philosophy of Religion, ed. Ninian Smart, page 62).
Essentially, if God is one, then any revelation received from the One God must contain the same "One truth". Do we conclude that there must be one revelation? The answer to this is that "truth" and "revelation" are not absolutely equivalent terms. Because "truth" is an absolute term it is situated independent of form, whereas revelations are related to time, people and a place, and thus require a form. But to speak of form is to speak of diversity and thus plurality.
Mankind has gone through enormous changes through the ages physically, mentally and spiritually, thus there was always the need for various revelations at different times and for different peoples. Because of these diversities God never addresses identical revelations to two different people. This being so, it can be said that the diverse revelations do not, and should not contradict one another, for although they differ in form, the "truth" in all of them is one. In fact, they supplement one another, one revelation preparing for what is to follow, each revelation being one further chapter in the same book. The book as a whole advocates one message, and one "truth".
If there appears any apparent contradictions between different revelations, they are in human receptacles and not in the divine message. This is manifested in the human inability to interpret such revelations and more importantly the failure to preserve the "truth" contained in the revelation, which always tends to be altered and corrupted with the passing of time.
God, when He speaks, expresses Himself in an absolute mode, but this absoluteness relates to the universal content rather than to the form. Revelation speaks in an absolute language because God is absolute, not because the form is. In other words, the absoluteness of the revelation is absolute in itself, but relative regarding its form.
The language of the sacred scripture is divine but at the same time it is necessarily the language of men. It is made for men and could be divine only in an indirect manner. Is our language or indeed our understanding adequate to attain the divine purpose? Because the answer tends to be more negative than positive, the need for various revelations in parallel with human progress across the ages was always necessary.
It is one thing to believe in the one God, but to be certain that any one revelation is genuine and not merely the product of human fabrication is a totally different issue. A close look at the three divine Revelations, Judaism, Christianity and Islam which are the subject study of this book, suggests that their founders were genuine prophets and that they were inspired by a divine power for the following reasons:
1- According to historical records, the founders of these religions were men of slender means. They had no notable claim to social status or power and had no material aspirations. Yet in due course they were successful in bringing about everlasting changes to the history and civilization of the world. Their followers rose from a mere handful to millions among millions. This can only suggest that they were sustained and supported by a great power.
2- The founders of these religions have all been men highly honoured and regarded for their integrity and the purity of their lives even by those who later, on the announcement of their claims, became their enemies. It is not conceivable that those who did not lie about men should suddenly lie about God.
3- The founders of these religions were not known to be learned men or scholars in the arts and culture of their times, yet, what each of them taught turned out to be something in advance of its time. By adopting this teaching, a people attained greater heights in civilization and culture and retained the glory for many centuries. Only a genuine religious teacher makes this possible. It is inconceivable that a person who is void of ordinary accomplishments, and as soon as he begins to lie about God, should come to have such tremendous powers that his teaching dominates all other teachings current to his time.
4- What each of these founders taught was contrary to all contemporary trends. If their teachings had been in line with the tendencies of their times, it could would have been said that these teachers only gave expression to those tendencies. This suggests that these teachers were not a product of their times but were genuine reformers and prophets as they rightly claimed to be.
At the time of Moses, how novel must have seemed his teachings about a single God? When Jesus in his time confronted a materialism born of the worldliness of the Jews and of the influence of Rome, how peculiar would his stress on spiritual purity must have seemed? How out of place must have been his message of forgiveness to a people who trembled under the tyranny of Roman soldiers, groaning all the time for legitimate vengeance? And when the oneness of God was also preached by Muhammad, how inappropriate that must have sounded to the Meccan leaders for whom the many gods of the kaaba were both their life and their revenue? How unsettling to the structure of the tribal life were his call which proclaimed the slave to be equal to his master? That, in society which regarded slavery as a social privilege.
5- The fifth common attribute between these prophets was the element of miracles. These miracles common to all three revelations, and which will be analysed later, stands as further evidence in support of the authenticity of each of them.
Revelation and practice
If we accept the validity of these revelations and try to compare them from the outside, as might a scholar, contradictions might appear, but we do find that God keeps Himself, so to speak, at the centre of each revelation.
The three divine revelations, Judaism, Christianity and Islam are all monotheistic: the original scripture received by the three prophets of these three religions all advocated the One God.
If the "truth" contained in these three religions is one why does there seem to be so many disputes between the followers of these faiths? If we were to hold a debate between a Jew, a Christian and a Muslim and discuss basic issues we would find a great deal of similarities, yet we would also find many sharp disputes in areas of vital importance. However, and when we examine the scriptures, we realise that many of these disputes are unfounded. It becomes clear that although some of these scriptures have been altered, with whole parts removed and whole new parts added, still and even in their present form, there is substantial evidence to indicate the singularity of their source. The "truth" contained in each of them is one and the same. In reality, revelation and practice are two different terms. The "truth" embodied in the revelation is an absolute but the practice of that faith depends on the human interpretation of that revelation. For that, it is not surprising to find the practice of the same faith changing with time.