Richard Dawkins is arguably the most celebrated atheist of our times. His book “The God Delusion” has turned out to be a best seller. It is a very forceful presentation of the case of his ideology. I am reading it these days with great interest because my ideology based on the Qur’an encourages me to read everything that claims to be the truth with an open mind. I must say that I am really impressed by the book. I have also to say, however, that, contrary to the wish of the author that the reader gets converted to his faith at the end of the reading, it has done little to take me away from my faith in God. I would like to mention my brief comments on four points the author has raised in the book. I am sure that he has addressed many other significant issues as well which believers in God must seriously think about. But for the time being four of them should suffice for a starter. Two of them are the ones on which I agree with him and on the two others I disagree.
He states in his book that religious personalities and ideologies shouldn’t be immune from criticism in a way that if a negative mention about them is made, the critics are accused of blasphemy. I quite agree with him. Hearing negative things about one’s revered personalities is a painful experience. But if those personalities are presented as truths to be embraced by all, they should be exposed for the scrutiny of those who haven’t accepted them as yet. My understanding, contrary to the popular view, is that there isn’t any punishment of blasphemy in Islam. The Qur’an desires from the believer that he should simply ignore the statements of blasphemy and be patient. In case if criticism on one’s faith deserves to be responded to, the response should be made in a polite and intelligent manner. One should also see with an open mind in the light of the criticism if the reverence attached to one’s faith was justified or not. Faith deserves the support of emotions only after it has passed the test of the intellect.
He raises another relevant point: Most religious people lay too much emphasis on the ultimate conclusion of faith rather than the process that leads to it. He asks: Why should a believer get the credit for believing in God when he has not done anything significant to get to it or has in fact, at times, acted immorally in preserving it by not even considering the other alternatives? And why should a non-believer get discredited for not believing in Him when his disbelief is the result of an honest effort which led him to wrong conclusions? One can scarcely disagree with his criticism of the conventional religious understanding on this issue. My understanding of the Qur’anic stance on this question is that accountability is going to be based on these principles: God is absolutely fair; He is fully aware of everything; and He will make people accountable to the extent of their potential only. The Qur’an says: “Indeed those who believe and do good deeds – We shall not hold any soul accountable for anything beyond its potential – such will be the people of paradise …” (Qur’an; 7: 42)
Dawkins claims that there could be three explanations for the existence of our world: chance happening, intelligent design, and natural selection. He strongly contends that while the first two theories are highly improbable, the only theory which appears highly probable is that of natural selection, which almost rules out the possibility of God as an explanation of how this world came about. What puzzles me is not quite as much the claim of the superiority of one possibility over the other two but the fact that the third possibility is being employed to prove the case for atheism. What if God Himself mentions in His book that the process He adopted for creating this world was that of natural selection? I find no conflict between the theory of natural selection and the faith that God created this world not all of a sudden and haphazardly but gradually through a very long process of evolution which was based on the phenomenon of natural selection. When I read the Qur’an I find the book saying just that. The questions that have been raised to prove the lack of involvement of God in the process are absurd and based on the naïve presentation of creationists’ views on how God created this world. Once one realizes that God is much more intelligent and capable than the imagination of both creationists and atheists put together, it wouldn’t be a problem to accept the proposition of a God-created world that came about gradually through the process of natural selection.
Another important remark of the author in the book is that if God was interested in being recognized, He should have made His existence clear enough for intelligent humans to know Him. How can He blame us for not accepting Him when He himself did not leave enough evidence for belief? Had the author understood God’s scheme for this life he wouldn’t have raised this question. God has left a natural urge in humans to know the truth. He has left it at their discretion to struggle earnestly to know what the correct answers are. If humans do enough, they get it, otherwise they don’t. The principle is true for all issues of morality. Accepting God is also a moral issue more than it is an intellectual one. Had it been simply an intellectual matter, it wouldn’t have been a trial for the idiots. The question of God is a test of morality for both intelligent and the less intelligent. Had God appeared as clearly as the sun does, it wouldn’t have been a trial of morality. At best, it would have been a test for the eyes. Now that He hasn’t made Himself physically or scientifically quite as manifest as some other realities, he has wanted it to be more testing for the morality of the individual to acknowledge Him or not. Many moral (or immoral) obstacles prevent people from looking for God. Sometimes very intelligent people form such strong opinions against Him at some stage in their lives that they wouldn’t like to probe enough to know Him even when evidence begins to promise that He exists in the later stages. Dawkins mentions some tests that were conducted to see if prayers were actually heard for the patients and concludes that the tests showed negative correlation between prayers and the betterment of the patients who were prayed for. The mention of such a test is evidence in itself of the fact that he doesn’t realize that God’s existence cannot be proved or disproved through the ordinary ways of proving realities. Trying to find the existence of God through such tests is as silly an idea as to prove whether a patient was suffering from from typhoid through a test that was meant for diagnosing malaria.
We have been created; someone must have created us; the question “who created the creator” comes to our mind, but there were quite reasonable answers to this question as well. We are being provided with many things on which our existence depends; we must look for the source that is being so unfailingly kind to us; clearly one of the answers could be that it was all happening on its own, like a fluke event; and the fluke happening continues regularly. But we must look for better answers. We do have a sense of morality which is surprisingly shared by the entire humanity. It could also be coincidental. But another answer seems to make more sense: It is there in all of us because we have all emerged from one source, and therefore it is not surprising that that source injected it into all of us. We pray to God for ourselves and we are dead sure that the prayers get responded in ways which couldn’t have been coincidental. It doesn’t happen once or twice; it happens many times to us.
On knowing all the above-stated realities do our atheist brothers look for the correct answers in the right earnestness? If they do and yet find themselves not believing in God, I can assure them that He – the author of the Qur’an – will spare them from being punished. But He will take the decision on their fate only after He has gone through the record of their entire lives, their intentions, their attitudes, and the manner they investigated to get the right answers to the morally significant questions that bugged them. The believers in God will go through a similar scrutiny.