On ‘blind faith’, certainty, science and Islam

Hazeem Ahmad Arif, Student Jamia Ahmadiyya UK

“Blind faith” versus “empiricism” and “evidence” are the terms engaged in a back-and-forth debate by atheists like Christopher Hitchens as they strive to dismantle the foundations of religion and belief in God. However, upon examination, we find that Hitchens’ comprehension of the concept of faith within religion and his assertion of the absence of evidence have caused his arguments to falter due to a lack of foundational support. In his book, God is Not Great, Hitchens writes:

“If one must have faith in order to believe something or believe in something, then the likelihood of that something having any truth or value is considerably diminished. The harder work of inquiry, proof, and demonstration is infinitely more rewarding, and has confronted us with findings far more ‘ulous’ and ‘transcendent’ than any theology.” (God is Not Great, p. 71)

His argument here is filled with flaws. Speaking from an Islamic theological standpoint, God does not require anyone to begin their spiritual journey of recognition and cognition of His existence without the prior use of evidence. We are told many times in the Quran to focus, ponder and learn about the deep metaphysical and cosmological questions in relation to the perfection we see in the creation around us. When we delve into the complexity of the human eye, for instance, one becomes astounded at how intricate and minute each detail must be for the eye to function properly. And how each tiny functional property is in itself a thing depended on for other functions of the eye to fulfil their purpose; a fact that has long confused me with the Darwinian theory of chance mutation and natural selection. The number of chance mutations that need to happen for an effective and useful addition to the physiology of an animal is unimaginably high. The case intelligent design posits is that of irreducible complexity, a term coined by Michael Behe in 1992 that essentially states, in Behe’s own words:

“Irreducible complexity is just a fancy phrase I use to mean a single system that is composed of several interacting parts, and where the removal of any one of the parts causes the system to cease functioning.” (‘Evidence for Intelligent Design from Biochemistry, from a speech delivered at Discovery Institute’s God & Culture Conference: Behe, Michael’ [Arn.org, 2023] www.arn.org/docs/behe/mb_idfrombiochemistry.htm, accessed 15 March 2023)

This perfection and the improbability of success in the world around us serve as evidence that can be utilised to build faith in God.

Does Islam require blind faith from its followers?

If we define belief as accepting a thing without proof, i.e., blind belief, then that is something that has no place in my life as a theist, and the Quran does not allow blind belief. If belief means accepting something as true without having the ability to directly observe it, then that is something that atheists and theists hold in common.

Thus, Islam does not require blind faith from its followers and, on many occasions, has urged us to think about matters such as the creation of the eye and brain function and the vastness and complexity of the universe. These created things with a clear purpose and an inscribed code of movements clearly give credence to a being that ought to have created them. The key word here is ‘ought to’. The utility provided to us by our physical senses and the physical apparatus we use to discern physical scientific proofs can only go so far as to ascertain the fact that God ‘ought’ to exist in light of the evidence before us. Thus, through our reasoning and logic, we can infer that there should be an intelligent God that has given birth to beings of reason and intelligence, seeing as intelligence can only beget intelligence.

However, to reach the stage where we can say that God certainly ‘does’ exist, it cannot come through staring down a telescope in a futile attempt to quantify a being who, by definition, is unquantifiable. If quantified and confined to the limited scope of the lenses of the James Webb or Hubble telescopes, then He ceases to be God. If I were able to drink soup with a fork, the soup would cease to remain a soup, because the defining attribute for which it has earned the mighty name of soup is its virtue of being a liquid. We observe the complexities as described above, but this only takes our certainty of His existence to a level that’s only achievable by the perception of the signs around us, i.e., knowledge. To truly gain certainty in His existence, one must be able to experience Him.

What is certainty?

The founder of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmadas, wrote extensively on this philosophy of gaining certainty in the existence of God. He wrote, in his book, The Philosophy of the Teachings of Islam, that there are three stages to certainty. First, one enters the preliminary stage of certainty in a particular matter through inference that has been derived from certain signs. Hazrat Ahmadas uses the brilliant example of a fire to describe the three stages. The first stage is reached when one sees smoke rising in the distance, so through his reasoning, one can comfortably infer that the smoke is coming from a fire. Though his knowledge is incomplete, there is an element of faith in that original inferred hypothesis derived from the rising smoke in the distance. And it is through that element of faith that the individual begins to discern further the cause of the smoke. They walk closer to the place where the smoke was rising, and they indeed come across a fire. This brings one to the second stage of certainty, which is certainty through sight. The person can see the fire with his own eyes, but his sight is still limited, and this level of knowledge is not enough to declare categorical certainty about the fire. For that, one must be able to feel the heat of the fire and gain certainty through experience; the third stage of certainty. (The Philosophy of the Teachings of Islam, pp. 182-187)

The point I want to draw from this is that there is an element of faith in everything, whether it is in an experiment to show the rate of gas production after the reaction between two elements or travelling on a plane. Both things require faith, either in the original hypothesis, which was based on expected or observed knowledge, or faith in the experience the pilot has accumulated throughout his career. Faith cannot be escaped in any realm, physical or spiritual, and is a key element for progress. Thus, when it comes to reaching certainty in God, it baffles me as to how, at this moment, Hitchens and his troops of neo-atheists, having no understanding of what faith is, blow the trumpet of academic superiority at the theists who have utilised the very same academic avenues as stipulated by proper scientific methodology. His misunderstanding shines through loud and clear when he writes, in the same book:

“If one must have faith in order to believe something or believe in something, then the likelihood of that something having any truth or value is considerably diminished. The harder work of inquiry, proof, and demonstration is infinitely more rewarding, and has confronted us with findings far more ‘ulous’ and ‘transcendent’ than any theology.” (God is Not Great, p. 71)

Here, he dismisses the very fact that there exists a repeatable experiment that has been testified to by droves of followers of all faiths since the revelation of the first religion. That pathway or experiment is a hard, strenuous spiritual struggle of self-sacrifice, doing good, and worshipping the Being in which you have placed your faith, after accepting the compelling evidence observed in nature. And the outcome of that experiment has also been testified to be the same, that after the completion of this experiment under the correct conditions, one does indeed attain a categorical certainty of God’s existence by way of experience. Anyone can tell you how God accepts prayers in circumstances that are against all odds. And the flag bearers of the overused coincidence argument can rest assured that these prayers are answered in such an abundant way that, for some very holy people, the discourse between man and God becomes an everyday occurrence. But, of course, this is all subjective, and the average atheist would not be convinced from the testimony of his friend that he got the car he was praying for despite the lack of funds, or that his son was cured completely of cancer when the ‘evidence’, ‘science’ and doctors gave him only a few months to live.

This not only accentuates for us the point I made earlier that even science has uncertainty and thus an element of faith in the readings given by tools and telescopes owing to the margin of uncertainty that is given, but also that prayer is an important aspect that has been proven time and time again, but even still, atheists bare the banner of ignorance to observed facts. Though theists who understand that God is alive and still speaks to His creation as He has since the beginning still have a trick up their sleeve, God is a living God; His signs cannot only be seen through the testimony of each individual who has had their prayers accepted but also through the abundance of scriptural prophecies and miracles shown at the hands of prophets and saints. Hitchens bleats for empirical and hard evidence for God’s existence but can’t even provide us with a solid scientific methodology for mapping the Darwinian theory of evolution.

How religion also offers empirical evidence

In my opinion, religion offers the empirical evidence that atheists so often crave to satisfy their minds. More specifically, the Holy Prophetsa of Islam prophesied a lunar and solar eclipse from the desert of Arabia some 1400 years ago. He set a remarkable condition that these two successive eclipses would only take place after the person who claimed to be the Mahdi had made his claim. Further testification of the divine source of this prophecy is that the exact dates were recorded on which the lunar and then solar eclipses would occur within the month of Ramadan. I will reproduce the English translation of the wording of this prophecy, recorded in the book of ahadith called Sunan al-Daraqutni:

“For our Mahdi, there are two signs that have never appeared before since the creation of the heavens and the earth, namely that the moon will be eclipsed on the first night in Ramadan [i.e., on the first of the nights on which a lunar eclipse can occur] and the sun will be eclipsed on the middle day [i.e., on the middle one of the days on which a solar eclipse can occur]. And these signs have not appeared since God created the heavens and the earth.” (Sunan al-Daraqutni, Kitab al-Eidain)

The month of Ramadan in 1894, which was between 9 March and 7 April 1894, saw the lunar and solar eclipses, as prophesied over a thousand years earlier, take place on the exact same dates stipulated and according to the exact conditions. Just a few years after the claim of Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad to be the Mahdi, the moon was fully eclipsed on the 21st March 1894, at exactly 14:20:27. (‘Catalog of Lunar Eclipses: 1801 to 1900’ (Nasa.gov, 2019), https://eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov/LEcat5/LE1801-1900.html, accessed 16 March 2023) in the Eastern Hemisphere and again on the 11th March 1895 at exactly 03:39:10 (‘Catalog of Lunar Eclipses: 1801 to 1900’ (Nasa.gov, 2019), https://eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov/LEcat5/LE1801-1900.html, accessed 16 March 2023). The Solar eclipses happened also according to the dates given in the Hadith, the times can be easily accessed in the records of NASA (‘Catalog of Solar Eclipses: 1801 to 1900’, (Nasa.gov, 2018), https://eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov/SEcat5/SE1801-1900.html, accessed 16 March 2023) and even be viewed in the local newspapers of both the Eastern Hemisphere and the West on those dates.

When atheists like Hitchens insist on empirical evidence, nothing gets more empirical than this. The condition was stated, the dates were given, and now it has been fulfilled for everyone to witness and comprehend. There is no longer any room for speculation. If this does not serve as proof that the prophecy originated from an Intelligent Being revealed to the Holy Prophetsa, then I believe I would direct all sceptics to verse 6:110 of the Holy Quran.

وَاَقۡسَمُوۡا بِاللّٰہِ جَہۡدَ اَيۡمَانِہِمۡ لَئِنۡ جَآءَتۡہُمۡ اٰيَةٌ لَّيُؤۡمِنُنَّ بِہَا ؕ قُلۡ اِنَّمَا الۡاٰيٰتُ عِنۡدَ اللّٰہِ وَمَا يُشۡعِرُکُمۡ ۙ اَنَّہَاۤ اِذَا جَآءَتۡ لَا يُؤۡمِنُوۡنَ

“And they swear their strongest oaths by Allah that if there came to them a Sign, they would surely believe therein. Say, ‘Surely, Signs are with Allah. But what should make you understand that when the Signs come, they will not believe?’” (Surah al-An‘am, Ch.6: V.110)


Science also requires ‘faith’

Today’s atheists persistently demand physical evidence, disregarding the repeated experimentation that has consistently led to the same conclusion of discovering God since the inception of religion. Furthermore, when solid and empirical evidence is presented, it seems to be perceived as an insult to their self-proclaimed academic prowess. This attitude speaks more to their ignorance of the facts and the scientific approach embraced by theists than to the strength of their arguments.

These signs and prophecies serve as substantial evidence for the existence of God. Even from a subjective perspective, the discourse of blind faith becomes irrelevant when one’s belief is rooted in evidence. However, belief in God does entail an element of faith. It necessitates placing trust in the Being of God despite the limited knowledge available in the world. This is a basic philosophy that can be applied even to real-world situations.

Science is an ever-evolving field where truths are continuously questioned, and new evidence is constantly scrutinised. Therefore, the scientific conclusions taught in schools heavily rely on the trust that we have arrived at accurate conclusions based on the available evidence. Tania Lombrozo, an American psychologist and professor at Princeton University, argues in an opinion piece published on National Public Radio’s website:

“[S]cience involves drawing inferences from premises to conclusion, where the premises can affect the probability of the conclusions but don’t establish them with certainty.

“When you put these pieces together, the alternative to an evolving body of scientific knowledge is a non-starter. To embrace a static body of scientific knowledge is to reject the potential relevance of new information. It’s a commitment to the idea that a conclusion based on all the evidence available is no better than a conclusion based on the subset of evidence we happened to obtain first. If a changing body of scientific knowledge is unsettling, this alternative is untenable.” (Lombrozo T, ‘What Makes Science Science?’ (NPR30 January 2017), https://www.npr.org/sections/13.7/2017/01/30/512402110/what-makes-science-science, accessed 16 March 2023)

She further says:

“A second feature of science is that scientific methods are continually evolving. Many of us learned ‘the’ scientific method in grade school, a step-by-step procedure for doing science. But this recipe-book approach to science is oversimplified and misleading.” (Ibid.)

This proves nothing except that the level of uncertainty one experiences when reaching conclusions based on uncertain knowledge in a world where our perceptions are constantly changing with the discovery of new evidence is comparable to the faith one has in God after evaluating the evidence at hand.

It is the nature of man, who is inherently weak and limited in specific functions, to never attain certain knowledge through one’s own physical senses. Therefore, it is logical to conclude that certainty can only be derived from the Being, who is the source of all creation and possesses comprehensive knowledge of all things. Man lacks the ability to achieve perfection in any field, whether it be economics, politics, business, or trade. There is almost always a shortcoming, a failure, or room for improvement.

Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmadas, the Promised Messiah and Mahdi, states:

“An intelligent person can appreciate this problem in this way also, that the purpose of everything is to be determined by its highest performance beyond which its faculties cannot operate. For instance, the highest function of a bullock is ploughing, irrigation, or transportation. Its faculties are not adapted to anything else. Therefore, the purpose of a bullock’s life are just these three things. It has no power to do anything else. But when we look into the faculties of man and try to discover what is their highest reach, we find that he seeks after God, the Exalted. He desires to become so devoted to God that he should keep nothing as his own and all that is his should become God’s. He shares with the other animals his natural urge towards eating, sleeping etc. In industry, some animals are far ahead of him. Indeed, the bees extracting the essence of different types of flowers produce such excellent honey that man has not yet been able to match them. It is obvious, therefore, that the highest reach of man’s faculties is to meet God, the Exalted. Thus the true purpose of his life is that the window of his heart should open towards God.” (The Philosophy of the Teachings of Islam, pp.160-161)

This clearly indicates that the only realm in which man can potentially achieve true perfection is in seeking or encountering the Being Who has created him. Placing unwavering trust in the infallibility of science itself is an unscientific approach, as our understanding of the world is constantly evolving, demonstrating that, as a species, we are unable to attain perfect knowledge through our physical senses. Thus, faith becomes an essential component in reaching conclusions.

Placing faith and trust in the inherent limitations of our bound knowledge is a product of inquiry and substantiation, based on the evidence we observe. The confirmation of this conviction arises from the undeniable certainty we acquire through answered prayers, the fulfilment of prophecies, and the occurrence of miracles that we continue to witness even in the present era. So when Hitchens says that it is “infinitely more rewarding” to follow inquiry, proof, and demonstration and that this has provided findings more transcendent than any theology, it is rather ironic.

Science has provided us with explanations of how the world works, but it falls short of explaining the origin of life itself. How can these explanations, which scientists have only scratched the surface of, be considered more profound than the Infinite and All-Knowing Being who created these natural laws? Scientists are limited by their human faculties and the risk of their life’s work being overturned, while the Creator’s knowledge surpasses all. Faith in God is the natural response after carefully and diligently considering the observed evidence. However, endlessly questioning and delving into minute details won’t yield positive outcomes since facts are always subject to change.

But faith is such a thing that can reward one with the most “ulous” and “transcendent”, simply because it is a path that leads one to the ultimate Fountainhead of knowledge. It is an acceptance of the fact that man should remain humble on account of his physically limited and mortal nature, which will one day, like all things, come to an end. This is a type of humility that no atheist can ever bring himself to, as they have such faith and trust in their physical ability, which leads them to believe that they can, through this ability, procure categorical knowledge of all things.

No posts to display


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here