A Sufi and Atheism

Interrogative Imperative Institute

I have no wish to denigrate atheists or try to impugn their character or intellect.

I do disagree with certain ideas which are central to their perspective, and I do disagree with the way in which some individuals go about advocating their atheist position. The following are a few thoughts concerning the nature of certain facets of that disagreement.

The reason something is being said here at all is because there are those individuals who tend to turn to atheism -- in one form or another -- as a way of coping with their sense of betrayal and grief in relation to their having gone through a process of being spiritually abused. Some of the ideas being presented here are offered as a few possibilities on which such individuals might wish to reflect as they deliberate about what to do with the rest of their lives.

Moreover, some individuals are as evangelically inclined with respect to their adherence to atheism as are others who are inclined toward various theological ideologies. I feel there are problems with either form of evangelism.

A Matter of Faith?

Some people believe that the debate between spiritual traditions and atheism is an exploration into the differences between faith and reason. I believe such an understanding is problematic.

At the heart of any species of atheism is an abiding faith in the capacity of reason, logic, and/or science to determine -- eventually -- that the issue of origins can be established without requiring any reference to God or supernatural causes. In fact, according to atheists, not only are such allusions unnecessary, but atheists have a deep abiding faith that the concepts of 'god' and 'supernatural' are empty categories -- except in the alleged delusional mind-set of spiritually inclined individuals.

I say 'faith' in the foregoing paragraph because atheists cannot -- any more than the spiritually inclined are able to -- produce the sort of demonstration or proof that would be acceptable to any 'reasonable' person and which would be capable of showing conclusively that the sort of faith being espoused by atheists -- or the spiritually inclined -- is warranted. Atheists do not know: where consciousness came from, or how logic came to be, or what makes creativity possible, or what the origins of language are, or how the universe came into being, and, yet, these very processes permeate their every statement and claim.

Atheists rely on assumptions about the origins of things. If one accepts their assumptions about how the universe works, then, one comes to understand something of their world view, and one can follow the structural character of their arguments. However, if one rejects the assumptions in which atheists have faith, then one is not required to accept the nature of their worldview and/or arguments even as one understands how such a belief system is constructed.

The debate between atheists and people who are spiritually inclined is a discussion between two different kinds of faith systems. For the atheist, the soul of a human being gives expression to rational, intellectual, creative and moral capabilities that have evolved over time according to random events that have advantageous ramifications. For people of spirituality, the soul of a human being gives expression to modalities of knowing that transcend -- but complement -- the rational, intellectual, creative and moral capabilities that have been bequeathed by God to humanity according to individual capacities.

However, given the foregoing, one cannot proceed to maintain that atheism is rooted in rationality, whereas spirituality is not so rooted. Atheists, like their spiritual cousins, generate a set of assumptions, in which they have faith, and proceed to think about the logic of those assumptions in certain, organized ways.

In both systems, faith takes precedence and priority over reason. In both systems, reason is used in the service of the respective processes of faith.

Science has made incredible contributions to human understanding about many things. However, science is not even remotely close to solving any of the issues surrounding origins -- whether one is talking about: logic, intellect, language, consciousness, the universe, creativity, morality, or life ... in fact, at this point in time, science doesn't even know how to reconcile the alleged four basic forces of the material universe ... gravity being the problem child -- although, who knows, perhaps the giant hadron collider which has just come on line will point the way to the Higgs boson. This would only leave one with the problem(s) of determining how the four forces generate: consciousness, thought, logic, reason, creativity, morality, language, life and the universe.

Anyone who supposes that atheists have the inside track on any of the foregoing issues may be interested in some derivatives which I have to sell. Keep the faith, baby.

Sam Harris and the End of Faith: A Muslim's Critical Response - An Excerpt

The End of Faith by Sam Harris, The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins, and god is not Great by Christopher Hitchens are a trio of books written over a four year period (2004-2007) that seek to argue against, among other things, the existence of God, as well as to raise questions concerning the viability or even constructive relevancy of spiritual faith in today's world - or, in the collective opinion of the three authors, any world at all. Although each of the aforementioned books goes about addressing such challenges in their own inimitable style , there also is a great deal of overlap among the three books with respect to the kinds of philosophical orientation, arguments, and criticisms that are given expression in the three books.

For example, all three of the aforementioned individuals do not believe in the existence of God. Indeed, their respective books are all variations on one, underlying theme - namely, attempting to demonstrate, at least to their own satisfaction and to the satisfaction of those who agree with them on such matters, that anyone who believes in the idea of a Divine Being is guilty of having abandoned reason.

The End of Faith was the first of the foregoing three books to be published. Moreover, both Professor Dawkins and Mr. Hitchens cite Sam Harris as being something of a kindred spirit -- if one may be permitted to use such a term in the current context … in relation to the, broadly speaking, religious issues with which each of these authors are concerned. Although I have read all three books and, although there are specific themes within the books written by both Professor Dawkins and Mr. Hitchens which I may address at some later point in time, presently, I have decided to narrow my focus on the aforementioned book by Sam Harris. Despite limiting my critical attention in this manner, I believe that much of the discussion which follows carries many problematic implications for the works of both Mr. Hitchens and Professor Dawkins. Before proceeding with my commentary concerning the book by Sam Harris, there are a couple of points which might be made in passing with respect to the other two works mentioned earlier. First, the title for Christopher Hitchens' book -- that is, god is not Great -- is, in my opinion, something of a misnomer.

After having read his work I am quite willing to concede there are a number of points which he makes in his book with which I find myself in agreement. Nevertheless, despite my willingness to make such an admission, Mr. Hitchens' real disagreement is not with God, per se, since, after all, Mr. Hitchens does not believe in God's existence, but, rather, Mr. Hitchens' beef is with people who have corrupted their souls through their self-serving and mistaken ideas about Divinity and, in the process, have become very destructive forces in the world. Consequently, a more appropriate title for Mr. Hitchens' book might have been: People are not Great - something which, in all too many cases, many of us might sadly acknowledge to be a true statement.

Secondly, the title for Professor Dawkins' book -- that is, The God Delusion -- is a very catchy one whose possible meanings run in a number of directions. Of course, Professor Dawkins' primary meaning in relation to the book's title is that people who believe in God are delusional.

As is the case with the book by Christopher Hitchens, I find that Professor Dawkins has a great many valid points to make during the course of the latter's book. Once again, however, as is true with respect to the book by Mr. Hitchens, Professor Dawkins wants to claim that anyone who believes in the existence of God is delusional, when, at most, all that his book shows is that, yes, unfortunately, it is true that some individuals do have delusional ideas when it comes to the issue of God. In fact, I strongly suspect that there are quite a few people who believe in God's existence who would tacitly agree with Professor Dawkins on this issue even if they might never admit as much openly.

The foregoing considerations notwithstanding, there is at least one central flaw in the structural character of the argument being put forth by Professor Dawkins, and this problem is also present in the other two books as well. More specifically, the structural form of one of the main arguments being advanced in Professor Dawkins' book is akin to the structural character of the following sort of scenario.

One visits a mental hospital, takes notes on the delusional character exhibited by various inmates who reside in the asylum in relation to the idea of Divinity -- including, perhaps, some of the attending physicians and psychologists -- and, then, one proceeds to write a book claiming that not only do the people residing in the mental hospital harbor many delusions concerning the existence of God, but, as well, all human beings who live beyond the walls of the asylum are, therefore, also delusional with respect to their beliefs concerning God. The latter conclusion does not necessarily follow from the data which actually was gathered at the mental hospital.

However, even if such a conclusion contained some element of truth, one may have to treat this sort of conclusion with a degree of caution. After all, such a conclusion may carry some rather troubling implications with respect to the possible delusional status of the person conducting the research given that the individual in question is seeking to claim that the data collected in the mental hospital is applicable to everyone both within as well as outside of the asylum.

Similarly, when Professor Dawkins seeks to make the transition from, on the one hand: issuing a claim with which many people (both believers and non-believers) might agree -- namely, that some individuals who believe in the existence of God, are quite delusional with respect to nature of such beliefs -- to, on the other hand: concluding that 'consequently, everyone who believes in the existence of God is necessarily delusional', he is making an unwarranted inferential jump. Furthermore, Professor Dawkins seems to fail to appreciate the ironic potential inherent in his book's title with respect to the possible delusional character of his own ideas about God's existence which are given expression through his book.

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