I think that monotheistic religions, having a common reference to a single God, should and must dialogue. The three religions which Abraham inspired have many more common facets than those which divide them. Religion must be the means by which to affirm the ethical significance of existence, regardless of one’s profession of faith.
– Imām Shāh Karīm al-Ḥusaynī Āgā Khān IV, (Interview with Correre della Sera, Massimo Nava, October 22, 2001)
The concept of one God who transcends space, time, multiplicity, and contingency, and gives existence to all things is the foundation of the shared worldview of the monotheistic traditions including Hinduism, Judaism, Zoroastrianism, Christianity, and Islam. It is also the pivot around which people of all faiths should rally in order to oppose the atheistic, materialist, relativist and naturalist ideologies appealing to many people today. This article offers a strong deductive and philosophical argument for the existence of God. [If you think philosophy is unimportant or incapable of providing sound knowledge, then please read here first.]
Contrary to what many modern people believe, the existence of God can be rationally and logically demonstrated: faith in God is not a matter of ‘blind faith’ or taqlid. According to Imām Shāh Karīm al-Ḥusaynī Āgā Khān IV, logic underlines the very foundation of Islamic belief:
You must have in every walk of your life a logical concept. This does not mean to wipe away faith, but the real principle of Islam is that faith is logical. Islam would not be what it is if it were not logical and this is something you must keep in mind. Because the very heart of Islam is logical. There is no hocus-pocus. There is no nonsense. It is clear and it is lucid and it is understandable.
– Imām Shāh Karīm al-Ḥusaynī Āgā Khān IV, (Speech to Students, Karachi, September 27, 1960; quoted in Mohib Ebrahim, Truth, Reality and Religion)
Two major reasons for the growing popularity of atheism and agnosticism among people today are that a) most people are not exposed to the classical concept of God within their own religious tradition and instead are made to believe in an anthropomorphic image of God and b) the positive arguments for God’s existence are poorly understood and misrepresented by both atheists and people of faith.
On the Meaning of “God”:
Somehow, even in the minds of some Christians, God has come to be understood not as the truly transcendent source and end of all contingent reality, who creates through “donating” being to a natural order that is complete in itself, but only as a kind of supreme mechanical cause located somewhere within the continuum of nature. Which is only to say that, here at the far end of modernity, the concept of God is often just as obscure to those who want to believe as to those who want not to.
– David Bentley Hart, (The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss, 28)
Many theists and atheists of the modern age have utterly misunderstood the classical and traditional concept of God found in the intellectual and philosophical traditions of the world’s monotheistic religions. They instead tend to think of “God” as a “supreme being”, an “immaterial person”, an “intelligent designer”, “all-powerful agent”, or a “disembodied self” who exists either wholly outside of the Universe as an observer or within the Universe as its most exalted component, and does what He pleases at any given time. This sort of God is but an intellectual idol who resembles a human person except without human limitations. Belief in this sort of god is merely a form of “mono-polytheism”, “creationism” or “theistic personalism.” Both classical theists and atheists have rightly argued and rejected this sort of God:
The most pervasive error one encounters in contemporary arguments about belief in God–especially, but not exclusively, on the atheist side – is the habit of conceiving of God simply as some very large object or agency within the universe, or perhaps alongside the universe, a being among other beings, who differs from all other beings in magnitude, power, and duration, but not ontologically, and who is related to the world more or less as a craftsman is related to an artifact.
– David Bentley Hart, (The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss, 32)
In classical theism, God is not a member or instance of the general category of “existence” – such that He is the “supreme being among beings.” But rather, God is the “Ground of Being” and the “Unconditioned Reality” that continuously creates, sustains and grounds the existence of everything that exists. The below diagram illustrates the difference between the concept of God in Classical Theism and the ideas found in more modern notions of creationism, deism, poly-monotheism, and the like:
It is said that we live, move and have our being in God. We find this concept expressed often in the Qur’an, not in those words of course, but just as beautifully and more tersely…Thus Islam’s basic principle can only be defined as monorealism and not as monotheism. Consider, for example, the opening declaration of every Islamic prayer: “Allāhu-Akbar”. What does that mean? There can be no doubt that the second word of the declaration likens the character of Allah to a matrix which contains all and gives existence to the infinite, to space, to time, to the Universe, to all active and passive forces imaginable, to life and to the soul… God supports and sustains all existence at every moment by His will and His thought. Outside His will, outside His thought, all is nothing, even the things which seem to us absolutely self-evident such as space and time.
– Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah, (Memoirs of the Aga Khan: World Enough and Time)
This is the concept of God common to the classical tradition of Plato, Aristotle and, Plotinus, the medieval Islamic philosophical traditions of the Peripatetics and the Ismā‘īlīs, the Islamic mystical tradition of Ibn al-‘Arabī and the Akbarī school, the school of Mulla Sadra, the medieval Christian scholastic and mystical traditions of St. Augustine, Pseudo-Dionysius, Thomas Aquinas and Meister Eckhart, the modern Christian theological tradition of Paul Tillich, Karl Rahner, and Elizabeth Johnson, and the contemporary Sufi, Twelver, and Ismā‘īlī Tariqahs of Islam.
This argument will demonstrate that there is one, single Absolute Reality upon which all existing things depend in all moments in which they exist; this Reality does not depend on anything else for its existence. It is therefore called “Unconditioned Reality” or “God”. The argument will further demonstrate that God or Unconditional Reality is absolutely simple, absolutely one or single, unrestricted and unbounded, and transcending time, space, and matter. Readers can find this argument presented in the works of Robert Spitzer and David Bentley Hart – whose books are referenced and quoted in the body of this post. The argument is a logical deductive argument – consisting of premises and conclusions that logically follow and not merely a series of rhetorical pronouncements or sound bites meant to affect and convince an audience.
The argument provided here is not new – different versions of it have been advanced by classical religious thinkers cited above. Its most famous proponent in the Islamic tradition was Ibn Sīnā; Ḥamīd al-Dīn al-Kirmānī in the Ismā‘īlī tradition; Thomas Aquinas in the Christian scholastic tradition; Moses Maimonides in Judaism. Nevertheless, it is necessary to re-examine one’s religious beliefs in the light of intellect, logic, reason and experience. This has been emphasized in the guidance of recent Ismā‘īlī Imāms – Imām Sulṭān Muḥammad Shāh Āgā Khān III and Imām Shāh Karīm al-Ḥusaynī Āgā Khān IV:
These religious principles of Ismailism are well known to you for you have heard them from me and through your fathers and grandfathers and from my father and grandfather until I fear that by long familiarity with these teachings some of you forget the necessity of re-examination of your heart and religious experience.
– Imām Sulṭān Muḥammad Shāh Āgā Khān III, (Material Intelligence and Spiritual Enlightenment, Platinum Jubilee Message, 1955)
For readers who refuse to accept the validity of logical and philosophical deduction, and only recognize empirical evidence and inductive methods as a valid method of attaining knowledge, we ask you to skip to Section 8 and read our comments on empirical verification.
A medieval version of this argument based on Nasīr al-Dīn al-Ṭūṣī is presented by al-Mabahathat here: From the Contingency of Essences to the Existence of the Necessary.
The Argument for the Existence of God:
Summary of Argument:
1. Recognizing the Function of Science and the Importance of Philosophy:
a. Science is the study of the natural world for the purpose of modelling the behavior or movement of natural objects for the purposes of manipulation and prediction. However, science does not deal with the questions about the source of existence of natural objects, issues of morality, mathematical truths, the rules of logic, aesthetics (the study of beauty), or the source and experience of consciousness.
b. The enterprise of modern science is interested in discovering the rules or laws of nature by which the natural world behaves but it does not reveal anything about the origins or ultimate causes of the existence of the natural world and the causes of the laws of nature. To use an analogy, science is about observing the moving pieces of a checkers board and documenting the rules of the movement of pieces, but science cannot tell you where the checkers board, the pieces, and the rules of the game come from or why they exist in the first place. This second question can only be determined by philosophy and metaphysics.
2. There Can Only Be Two Types of Existing Realities:
a. Conditioned Reality: Any reality (human, plant, animal, wood, etc.) that depends on something else for its existence. For example, a cat depends on its organs, the organs depend on cells, the cells depend on molecules, which depend on atoms, etc. This dependence is simultaneous at any moment the conditioned reality exists.
b. Unconditioned Reality: Any reality that is self-sufficient, i.e. does not depend on anything else for its existence. This is what is called “God”.
3. Logical Proof that at least one Unconditioned Reality exists:
a. Some conditioned reality exists (i.e. cats, animals, trees, humans, wind, water, etc. as shown by science)
b. Any conditioned reality (R1) always depends upon another reality (R2) in order to exist (per definition of conditioned reality)
c. Any conditioned reality, by definition, must either depend upon:
- a finite number of conditioned realities only
- or an infinite number of conditioned realities only
- or a finite number of conditioned realities + at least one unconditioned reality
d1. A conditioned reality cannot be caused by a finite series of conditioned realities. If there is a linear series of conditioned realities, what would the first one depend on? Since it must depend on something, and there is nothing prior to it, the whole linear chain ceases to exist. Therefore a linear series of conditioned realities cannot exist. Additionally, a circular finite series of conditioned realities could not exist either. This would simply result in each conditioned reality fulfilling their own conditions, which violates the definition of a conditioned reality.
d2. Conditioned realities cannot exist in an infinite chain either. A very large series of one million conditioned realities cannot exist, neither can a series of one billion, and so on and so forth. As the number of conditioned realities in a series increases, the result continues to be non-existence. Continuously adding one (million, billion, trillion, etc.) to the end of the chain would never allow for the conditions of existence to be satisfied, therefore the entire infinite chain of conditioned realities would never have its conditions fulfilled.
To argue in another way, if an infinite series of conditioned realities could exist on its own, then the complete set of infinite conditioned realities would be an unconditioned reality. However, this is impossible because an unconditioned reality cannot depend upon an aggregate of conditioned realities — if this were the case, it would still be conditioned. Therefore, a set of infinite conditioned realities is itself a conditioned reality, and fails to exist on its own.
d3. Since any model made up entirely of conditioned realities can never have their conditions fulfilled, it therefore follows that all conditioned realities must be caused by a series of realities that ends (or begins its ontological chain) with an unconditioned reality.
e. Therefore, an unconditioned reality exists.
4. Proof that any Unconditioned Reality is Absolutely Simple:
a. Anything that is composed of parts is caused and conditioned by those parts.
b. Therefore, any unconditioned reality is absolutely simple by definition because it cannot be composed of any parts.
5. Proof there is only one Unconditioned Reality:
a. If there were two unconditioned realities (UR1 and UR2), then there must be a differential property that makes UR1 different from UR2 and vice versa and there must also be a common property that is common to both UR1 and UR2.
b. If there is no differential property between UR1 and UR2, then both UR1 and UR2 are actually the same UR.
c. If UR1 and UR2 exist, then UR1 and UR2 each contain a differential property and a common property, and both UR1 and UR2 are composed of two parts – the differential property and the common property. However, it is impossible for any unconditioned reality to be composed of any parts like this. Therefore, UR1 and UR2 are not really unconditioned reality.
d. Therefore, there is only one Unconditioned Reality.
6. Proof that Unconditioned Reality is the Sustainer and Continuous Creator of all Conditioned Realities:
a. Because there is only one Unconditioned Reality, it is therefore the only self-sufficient reality.
b. Therefore, every ontological chain of conditioned realities, if the chain actually exists, must ultimately depend upon the one Unconditioned Reality in order to exist at all.
c. Therefore, all conditioned realities (each and every conditioned reality) ultimately depends on the one Unconditioned Reality for the fulfillment of their conditions.
d. Therefore, Unconditioned Reality continuously creates and sustains the existence of every conditioned reality.
7. Proof that Unconditioned Reality Transcends Space, Time, and Material Existence:
a. All spatio-temporal realities are composite – made of parts like atoms, molecules, spatial coordinates, and temporal coordinates.
b. Therefore, by definition, Unconditioned Reality is beyond matter, space, and time.
c. Sub: Therefore, Unconditioned Reality is transcendent, immaterial, eternal, changeless and immutable.
For a thorough and comprehensive version of this argument in all of its steps with accompanying diagrams, we encourage readers to continue scrolling down:
We first lay out the following two definitions:
A. Conditioned Reality (Contingent Being) is any reality (i.e. animal, plant, particle, wave, etc.) that depends on at least one other reality in order to exist at any given moment of its existence. An everyday example of a conditioned reality is a cat whose existence depends on the existence of cells and the structure of cells. The cells depend on the existence of molecules and the structure of molecules. The molecules depend on the existence and structure of atoms. The atoms depend on the existence and structure of sub-atomic particles, etc. Conditions means any reality upon which a conditioned reality depends upon for its existence.
Some conditioned realities are known to exist – trees, plants, animals, tables, chairs, buildings, people, molecules – all of these are examples of Conditioned Realities because their own continual existence depends on the existence of other things.
Every Conditioned Reality is an effect of its cause(s) – the reality(s) it depends upon in order to exist. However, there are two types of causation – essential causation and accidental causation.
An accidental series of causes is like a series of fathers and sons – where the father begets the son. But the father, after begetting a son, may die the next day and the son can still continue to exist. The important thing to note is that in accidental causation, the continuous existence of a son at any time does not depend upon the existence of the father. The second type of causation is essential causation. In essential causation, the existence of the effect depends on the existence of the cause at all times, the effect is simultaneous with its cause, and the cause continues to produce the effect from moment to moment. Thus, every cause in an essential series derives its causal power from its own cause. Essential causation refers to the existence of any object in the here and now.
The cat example – where the cat’s existence always depends on the existence of its cells and the form or structure of the cells, etc. – is one of essential causation. If one alters the structure of the cat’s cells or molecules or atoms – or the larger web of conditions such the air, the earth, gravity, etc – all of which ground the existence of the cat in the here and now – the cat will no longer exist as a cat, nor will it have the power to produce effects of its own.
If one considers the terms of one’s own existence, for instance, one sees that there is no sense in which one is ever self-existent; one is dependent on an incalculable number of ever greater and ever smaller finite conditions, some of which are temporal, and some of which definitely are not, and all of which are themselves dependent on yet further conditions. One is composed of parts, and those parts of smaller parts, and so on down to the subatomic level, which itself is a realm of contingently subsistent realities that flicker in and out of actuality, that have no ontological ground in themselves, and that are all embraced within a quantum field that contains no more of an essential rationale for its own existence than does any other physical reality. One also belongs to a wider world, upon all of whose physical systems one is also dependent in every moment, while that world is itself dependent upon an immense range of greater physical realities, and upon abstract mathematical and logical laws, and upon the whole contingent history of our quite unnecessary universe… In short, all finite things are always, in the present, being sustained in existence by conditions that they cannot have supplied for themselves , and that together compose a universe that, as a physical reality, lacks the obviously supernatural power necessary to exist on its own.
– David Bentley Hart, (The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss, 105)
Both types of causation exist in the physical world, but this argument for the existence of Unconditioned Reality is based on essential causation of Conditioned Realities, not accidental causation that is related to the temporal origin of the physical Universe. For example, focusing on accidental causes will lead back in time to the Big Bang. But essential causation pertains to the causes of all things in the here and now at any given moment – regardless of whether the universe exists infinitely into the past or not. The networks of causes that ground the existence of the cat – such as its cells and cellular structure, molecules and molecular structures, atoms/atomic structures, sub-atomic articles, quantum particles, etc. – cause the cat to exist in the present moment and ground its existence; they are not temporal causes of the cat’s temporal origin. This is the grave error made by the New Atheist movement – where Richard Dawkins and his minions have utterly misunderstood the classical arguments for God’s existence because they failed to appreciate the concept of essential causation – which grounds the existence of something in the present and not in some distant past like the Big Bang. There are, of course, other logical reasons why the physical Universe cannot exist infinitely into the past and has a temporal beginning. But this argument is not concerned with that point and is independent of it. Even if the Universe was temporally infinite into the past – a chain of essential causes is still required to keep it in existence in every temporal instant.
B. Unconditioned Reality (Necessary Being or Uncaused First Cause) is any reality that does not depend on another reality to exist; Unconditioned Reality is independently self-existent and it has no cause. At this point in the argument, Unconditioned Reality is not yet demonstrated is being offered as a preliminary definition. The purpose of the first part of this argument is to demonstrate that at least one Unconditioned Reality exists by logical necessity.
1. Proof of at least one Unconditioned in all of existence:
Case #1: There are only Conditioned Realities in all reality (The Atheist Position: there is no god). There are two ways for this to occur – if there is a finite number of Conditioned Realities in all of existence OR if there is an infinite number of Conditioned Realities in existence.
Case #2: There is at least one Unconditioned Reality in reality (The Theist Position).
Please note that this is a disjunctive syllogism: either Case #1 is true or Case #2 is true, but they cannot both be true or both be false. And if one Claim is shown to be contradictory, then it is false and the other Claim is necessarily true.
We first consider Case #1 – that all reality is comprised of only Conditioned Realities. In this Case, there are two options – there is either a finite number of Conditioned Realities in existence or there is an infinite number of Conditioned Realities.
1.1 The claim that reality only contains a finite number (let us call this finite number “X”) of Conditioned Realities (contingent beings) is false.
Rationale: This is because the last or Xth Conditioned Reality in the network or chain of conditioned realities will require another reality for its conditions to be fulfilled. However, since there are no other realities in existence after Xth Conditioned Reality (the last or fundamental condition), the Xth or final Conditioned Reality will not exist since it has no more Conditioned Realities to ground its existence – and therefore, all X Conditioned Realities (and thus everything) will not exist. But things obviously do exist and so this option leads to an outright contradiction and must be rejected.
1.2 The claim that reality only contains a finite number of Conditioned Realities in a circular series is false.
Rationale: This is because all Conditioned Realities (CR) in the circle depend upon another reality in the Circle for their existence. So any reality CR1 in a circle of Conditioned Realities depends upon CR2, CR3, and so on until CRx where Cx is dependent upon C1. Thus, any reality CX in a circle is actually dependent upon and caused by itself and have to be its own cause – which is absurd. Secondly, a circle of Conditioned Realities cannot cause itself to exist since it only consists of X Conditioned Realities and the set of X Conditioned Realities is still conditioned reality. Therefore, none of the Conditioned Realities in the circle have their conditions fulfilled and they will never exist. This means that nothing will exist at all. However, things obviously do exist and so this option leads to an outright contradiction and must be similarly rejected.
1.3 The claim that reality only contains an infinite number of Conditioned Realities in a linear series is false.
Rationale: This is because each conditioned reality in the infinite series depends upon another Conditioned Reality for its existence – which in turn depends upon another. Any Conditioned Reality in the infinite series can only cause or fulfill the conditions of the next Conditioned Reality that depends upon it if its has actual existence itself. But the Conditioned Reality does not have actual existence because the Conditioned Reality it depends upon is itself dependent upon another Conditioned Reality and so on. Since the series of Conditioned Realities continues ad infinitum, no Conditioned Reality in the infinite series of conditions ever has its conditions fulfilled in order to exist and therefore lacks the causal power to ground other Conditioned Realities. Furthermore, the total set of an infinite number of Conditioned Realities is still only equivalent to Conditioned Reality. This results in the existence of nothing at all – as Conditioned Realities cannot cause themselves to exist. An essential causal series cannot continue for infinity because this would result in the non-existence of all members in the causal series. (An infinite series of dark moons positioned to shine upon one another will always remain dark).
Please note, the impossibility of an infinite series of Conditioned Realities does not follow because infinite is impossible, but because an infinite number of Conditioned Realities still lacks the power to exist at all. For a more expanded discussion of why an infinite regress of Conditioned Realities cannot ground its own existence, see this post by al-Mubahathat: On the Infinite Regress Assumption
1.4 Therefore, Claim #1 – There are only Conditioned Realities (the Atheist Position) in existence is false. This has been clearly established as per the above arguments.
1.5 Conclusion: There is at least one Unconditioned Reality (Necessary Being) in all of reality. This is because Claim #1 in all of its forms is shown to be false due to inherent contradictions. This leaves only the conclusion of Claim #2 – there must be at least one Unconditioned Reality in all of existence.
In short, all finite things are always, in the present, being sustained in existence by conditions that they cannot have supplied for themselves, and that together compose a universe that, as a physical reality, lacks the obviously supernatural power necessary to exist on its own. Nowhere in any of that is a source of existence as such. It is this entire order of ubiquitous conditionality — this entire ensemble of dependent realities— that the classical arguments say cannot be reducible either to an infinite regress of contingent causes or to a first contingent cause. There must then be some truly unconditioned reality (which, by definition, cannot be temporal or spatial or in any sense finite) upon which all else depends; otherwise nothing could exist at all.
– David Bentley Hart, (The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss, 105)
Note: In the past, it was common for atheists to claim that the Universe as a whole is Unconditioned Reality. However, it should be noted that all of physical reality, i.e. the entire spatio-temporal Universe, is a Conditioned Reality and this can be demonstrated deductively (as below) due to the composite nature of the material Universe, i.e. anything which can be divided into parts or components is caused by those parts and therefore cannot truly be uncaused or unconditioned. In modern times, the conditioned nature of the Universe is obvious because contemporary cosmology has shown that the Universe has a beginning or is finite in in the past (see the work of Alexander Vilenkin, Alan Guth). Anything that has a finite past is conditioned or contingent in its existence and cannot be necessary or Unconditioned due to being finite. That being said, even if one does not admit the past finitude of the Universe, this argument remains valid.
At this point, the existence of one God has not been established; only the existence of at least one Unconditioned Reality is established. The argument now continues in order to demonstrate that there necessarily is only one Unconditioned Reality.
2. Proof that Unconditioned Reality is the Simplest Reality in all of existence
2.1 Unconditioned Reality cannot have any parts or components. This is because any reality which is composed of parts – whether they are material or non-material – would then be caused by those parts. But Unconditioned Reality, by definition, has no cause and cannot be composed of any parts whatsoever.
The First is not divisible in thought into things which would constitute its substance. For it is impossible that each part of the explanation of the meaning of the First should denote of the parts by which the First’s substance is constituted. If this were the case, the parts which constitute its substance would be causes of its existence.
– Abu Nasr al-Farabi, (On the Perfect State, 67)
Every composite thing is posterior to its components and dependent on them. But, as was shown above, God is the first being [and hence not dependent on anything].
– St. Thomas Aquinas, (Summa Theologica, 1.3.7)
2.2 Therefore, Unconditioned Reality is absolutely simple because it lacks parts, components, dimensions, etc. and therefore any kind of extrinsic boundaries (i.e. circles vs. squares; particles vs. waves; electrons vs. protons) or intrinsic boundaries (i.e. particular thoughts).
If God is to be understood as the unconditioned source of all things, rather than merely some very powerful but still ontologically dependent being, then any denial of divine simplicity is equivalent to a denial of God’s reality. This is obvious if one remembers what the argument from creaturely contingency to divine necessity implies. To be the first cause of the whole universal chain of per se causality, God must be wholly unconditioned in every sense. He cannot be composed of and so dependent upon severable constituents, physical or metaphysical, as then He would himself be conditional.
– David Bentley Hart, (The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss, 134)
2.3 Expanded Explanation of Simplicity: Simplicity means to be lacking composition, components, parts or multiplicity of any kind. Simplicity utterly devoid of multiplicity entails the total absence of extrinsic (external) and intrinsic (internal) boundaries or limitations. All material objects have extrinsic boundaries or form – without which they would not be what they are. An example of extrinsic boundaries is the fact that a square is a square and therefore cannot be a circle – because a square and a circle each have external boundaries which define their existence. Another example in the material world is that of electrons vs. protons. Electrons (which repel other electrons) are mutually exclusive with protons (which attract electrons) – something cannot be an electron and a proton at the same time and place. A simpler reality is one that has less extrinsic/intrinsic boundaries than a given reality. For example, particles and waves are mutually exclusive – waves exclude particles and vice versa. However, a photon can behave as a particle or as a wave in different situations. This means that a photon is simpler reality than both particles and waves – because it does not have the formal boundaries of particles or waves and can take on the boundaries of either one. The photon can take on the properties of a particle or a wave and revert between the two without ceasing to be what it essentially is – a photon. In further examples, an electromagnetic field is simpler than electrons and protons (whose boundaries are mutually exclusive) because it allows for the interaction of protons and electrons.
The above example shows how a simpler reality can ground/condition the existence of less simple realities and also interact with less simple realities. In other words, a simpler reality is compatible with (i.e. does not exclude the existence of) less simple realities. Another example is the act of thinking vs. the content of thoughts. A thought possesses particular boundaries due to its content. But a single act of thinking can hold and ground the existence of several different thoughts – without being limited or reduced to any particular thought. This shows that the act of thinking is a simpler reality than a particular thought. An example of the absence of intrinsic boundaries would be self-transparency – such as the human act of self-consciousness where such consciousness is aware of itself as being conscious.
3. Proof that there is only one, single, unique Unconditioned Reality:
3.1 If there are multiple Unconditioned Realities, they would each have to be absolutely simple (the simplest realities in all of existence) – as per the previous proof.
3.2 If there are multiple Unconditioned Realities, then there must be some difference or differentiating factor between each Unconditioned Reality. The existence of multiple Unconditioned Realities implies at least one factor that differentiates each Unconditioned Reality from the other. If one denies the presence of the said differentiating factor, then all of these Unconditioned Realities are one and the same.
3.3 Any Unconditioned Reality that includes a differentiating factor cannot be a pure Unconditioned Reality. This is because an Unconditioned Reality that includes a differentiating factor is less simple than pure Unconditioned Reality because it would be composed of parts: Unconditioned Reality + differentiating factor.
3.4 There cannot be multiple Unconditioned Realities. If this were the case, each of these Unconditioned Realities would be composed of parts (Unconditioned Reality + differentiating factor). But anything composed of parts is caused by those parts and therefore cannot be Unconditional Reality since Unconditioned Reality is uncaused. For example, if we suppose that there are two Unconditioned Realities – then each of them would possess a common property shared between them and a unique property specific to each one. But this entails that each Unconditioned Reality is composed of two parts – unique property and shared property – and they would each be caused by those parts and therefore cannot be Unconditioned Reality.
Each one of them (i.e. the two gods) would have two parts – one of them common and the other specific – by which their essences would exist. So this would necessitate One who precedes both of them and who would be the One who gives to each of them what is specific to it.
– Sayyidnā Ḥamīd al-Dīn al-Kirmānī, (Rāḥat al-‘Aql, 142)
3.6 Conclusion: There is only one unique Unconditioned Reality in all of existence – since the existence of multiple Unconditioned Realities is impossible or contradictory – to the notion (in the previous proof) that Unconditioned Reality is the simplest reality in all of existence and has no parts.
4. Proof that the Unconditioned Reality is the continuous “Creator” and “Sustainer” of all realities in existence:
4.1 There is only one, single, and unique Unconditioned Reality in all of reality – as per the previous proof. This entails that:
4.2 All other realities in reality besides Unconditioned Reality are Conditioned Realities. Therefore:
4.3 Any Conditioned Reality in existence depends on Unconditioned Reality for the fulfillment of the conditions of its existence. The fulfillment of the conditions of an existent by the Unconditioned Reality can be variously called “creation”, “sustenance” or “actualization” – these being names of the same thing.
4.4 Conclusion: Unconditioned Reality is the continuous Creator and Sustainer of all realities in existence at any given moment – or nothing would exist at all. This Unconditioned Reality is what we call “God”.
The Creator (the unique, absolutely simple, unrestricted, unconditioned Reality itself) must be a continuous Creator (source of the ultimate fulfillment of conditions) of all else that is real at every moment it could cease to be real (i.e. at every moment of reality). Analogously speaking, if the Creator stopped “thinking” about us, we would literally lapse into nothingness.
– Robert Spitzer, (New Proofs for the Existence of God, 143)
The creation according to Islam is not a unique act in a given time but a perpetual and constant event; and God supports and sustains all existence at every moment by His will and His thought. Outside His will, outside His thought, all is nothing, even the things which seem to us absolutely self-evident such as space and time. Allah alone wishes: the Universe exists; and all manifestations are as a witness of the Divine will.
– Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah, (Memoirs of the Aga Khan: World Enough and Time)
5. The Transcendence of Unconditioned Reality:
5.1 Unconditioned Reality is beyond matter, space, and time and is therefore changeless and immutable – this follows from the fact that it is absolutely simple and non-composite. All spatio-temporal realities are composite in their structure.
The principle of divine simplicity, moreover, carries with it certain inevitable metaphysical implications. One is that God is eternal, not in the sense of possessing limitless duration but in the sense of transcending time altogether. Time is the measure of finitude, of change, of the passage from potentiality to actuality. God, however, being infinite actual being, is necessarily what Sikhism calls the Akhal Purukh , the One beyond time, comprehending all times within His eternal “now”; all things are present to Him eternally in a simple act of perfect and immediate knowledge. Another implication is that God is in some sense impassible: that is, being beyond change, He also cannot be affected— or, to be more precise, modified— by anything outside Himself. For one thing, as He is the infinite sustaining source of all things, nothing could be “outside” of Him in that sense to begin with.
– David Bentley Hart, (The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss, 136)
5.2 Unconditioned Reality is unrestricted and without limit– since it is not subject to any external or internal boundaries due to its absolute simplicity.
God cannot change over time, moreover, as He would then be dependent upon the relation between some unrealized potentiality within Himself and some fuller actuality somehow “beyond” Himself into which He may yet evolve; again, He would then be a conditional being. He also must possess no limitations of any kind, intrinsic or extrinsic, that would exclude anything real from Him. Nothing that exists can be incompatible with the power of being that He is, as all comes from Him, and this means that He must transcend all those limits that alienate and exclude finite realities from one another, but in such a manner that He can embrace those finite realities in a more eminent way without contradiction… The infinite power of being— the power to be, without any reliance upon some other cause of being, as well as the power to impart being to creatures— must be of infinite capacity, which means infinite simplicity.
– David Bentley Hart, (The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss, 135)
5.3 Unconditioned Reality is beyond all ontological duality such as body-soul, substance-attribute, essence-existence, form-matter, subject-object, etc. – since it is absolutely simple and beyond any kind of composition – both material and formal. In this respect, the Imām of the Time refers to Unconditional Reality as “He Who is above all else” – the meaning of which Dr. Aziz Esmail explains:
This Ultimate Reality is often conceived as ‘transcendent’, or described as ‘He who is above all else’ — not because it is a reality spatially above the human habitat, but because it is above, i.e. goes beyond or transcends, all human categories. Being free from and prior to the dichotomy between subject and object, it is therefore also outside the frame of human discourse.
– Aziz Esmail, (‘Reason and Religion: The Old Argument Revisited’, Ilm, Vol. 7, No. 3, Dec. 1981-Feb. 1982, pp. 32-40)
5.4 Unconditioned Reality is the ground or source of all universal qualities – life, knowledge, power, will, intelligence, beauty, justice, compassion etc. found in existence – since every creative principle contains and encompasses its effects (formally, eminently, or virtually). The meaning of saying that “God is compassionate”, “God is knowing” or “God is just” is that compassion, knowledge, justice, power, etc. exist in the conditioned realities only through God and their existence comes from Him and dependa on Him. It does not mean that God literally possesses knowledge or justice as distinct attributes. The Thomist philosopher Edward Feser explains this as follows:
Recall the Aristotelian principle that a cause cannot give what it does not have, so that the cause of a feature must have that feature either “formally” or “eminently”; that is, if it does not have the feature itself (as a cigarette lighter, which causes fire, is not itself on fire), it must have the feature that is higher up in the hierarchy of attributes (as the cigarette lighter has the power to generate fire). But the Unmoved Mover, as the source of all change, is the source of things coming to have the attributes they have. Hence, He has these attributes eminently if not formally. That includes every power, so that He is all-powerful. It also includes the intellect and will that human beings possess, so that He must be said to have intellect and will, and thus personality, in an analogical sense.
– Edward Feser (The Last Superstition: A Refutation of the New Atheism, 98)
6. Answers to Common Atheist Objections:
“If everything has a cause, then God must have a cause.”
Response: The above argument never took “everything has a cause” as its first premise. Instead, it distinguished between Conditioned Reality and Unconditioned Reality and proceeded to show, by disjunctive syllogism, that there must be at least one Unconditioned Reality in existence. It further used the very definition of Unconditioned Reality to deduce that there is but one unique Unconditioned Reality in all of existence. Even then, God as Unconditioned Reality is not a discrete “thing”, and so logically falls outside the domain of “everything has a cause.”
If the concept of God were the concept simply of some demiurge— some conditioned being among other conditioned beings—then it would indeed be a concept requiring the supplement of some further causal explanation. But none of the enduring theistic faiths conceives of God in that way. The God they proclaim is not just some especially resplendent object among all the objects illuminated by the light of being, or any kind of object at all, but is himself the light of being. It makes perfect sense to ask what illuminates an object, but none to ask what illuminates light. It makes perfect sense to wonder why a contingent being exists, but none to wonder why Absolute Being “exists.” In any event, the “Who made God?” riposte to theism has never been favored by the more reflective kind of skeptic. It is the resort of the intellectually lazy. For one thing, it is an approach that already concedes the power of the argument against an infinite explanatory regress, which is definitely not a good first move for the committed unbeliever
– David Bentley Hart, (The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss, 143)
“God is not empirically observable and therefore does not exist.”
Response: This object is assumes the truth of the principle of empirical verification: “A fact is only true if verified by empirical observation.” The new atheists make this the sole criterion for assessing all knowledge and all truth claims. However, there are four major problems with this line of thinking. Firstly, the principle of verification itself cannot be verified empirically. That is to say, the statement that “A fact is only true if verified by empirical observation” cannot be verified by empirical observation. There is no empirical observation that tells us that something is only true is verified empirically. So the entire principle of empiricism is based on faulty circular logic and must be dismissed. Secondly, empirical observation – even with the most sophisticated instrumentation – can only observe material things that undergo change. The only reason that physicists can observe anything at all is because change is taking place at all levels of the material world. For this reason, the scope of empirical observation is limited and will eventually reach a boundary. God is changeless and immutable. Therefore, He cannot be empirically observed by definition. This does not entail the non-existence of God, it entails the limited scope of empiricism as a method of knowing. Thirdly, the actual practice of science is not strictly empirical. Science includes an interplay of theory, mathematical modeling, empirical observation and trust. Certain branches of physics such as cosmology, quantum physics, astronomy rely heavily on mathematical modelling in order to produce theorems. Many scientific theories such as relativity, the Big Bang theory, etc., are the result of mathematical modelling and not pure empirical observation. Einstein himself never needed to set foot in a laboratory. Fourthly, many truths are deducted using axiomatic logic and not empirical testing. The Pythagorean theorem can only be proven mathematically and not empirically. No amount of empirical observations of triangles would ever constitute a proof of the theorem. Compared to logical and deductive proofs, empirical based proofs are at best probabilistic since the sample size can never include the entire set of testable samples.
“God cannot be proven by the scientific method”
Science is the study of the natural world for the purpose of modelling the behavior or movement of natural objects for the purposes of manipulation and prediction. However, science does not deal with the questions about the source of existence of natural objects, issues of morality, mathematical truths, the rules of logic, aesthetics (the study of beauty), or the source and experience of consciousness. The enterprise of modern science is interested in discovering the rules or laws of nature by which the natural world behaves but it does not reveal anything about the origins or ultimate causes of the existence of the natural world and the causes of the laws of nature. To use an analogy, science is about observing the moving pieces of a checkers board and documenting the rules of the movement of pieces, but science cannot tell you where the checkers board, the pieces, and the rules of the game come from or why they exist in the first place. This second question can only be determined by philosophy and metaphysics.
Think of it this way: you can’t find out why checkers boards exist by looking at the rules of checkers themselves, which concern only what goes on within the game. The rules tell you how each piece moves, how the game is won, and so forth. But why are the pieces governed by these rules, specifically, rather than others? Why do any checkers boards exist at all in the first place? No scrutiny of the rules can answer those questions. It is impossible to answer them, or indeed even to understand the questions, unless you take a vantage point from outside the game and its rules. Similarly, what science uncovers are, in effect, the “rules” that govern the “game” that is the natural world. Its domain of study is what is internal to the natural order of things. It presupposes that there is such an order just as the rules of checkers presuppose that there are such things as checkers boards and game piece… Thus, science cannot answer the question why there is any world at all, or any laws at all. To answer those questions, or even to understand them properly, you must take an intellectual vantage point from outside the world and its laws, and thus outside of science. You need to look to philosophical argument, which goes deeper than anything mere physics can uncover.
– Edward Feser, (Scientists Should Tell Lawrence Krauss to Shut Up Already)
“Causation is not universally true – it is invalidated by quantum physics”
Response: There are no exceptions to the rule of causality. Modern science has not detected or observed any cases where material things have no cause. Certain physicists such as Lawrence Krauss and Stephen Hawking have inappropriately and deceptively referred to empty space or the quantum vacuum energy as “nothing”; but this is simply no the case since the vacuum is not nothing, even empirically speaking. The quantum vacuum contains unstable energy subject to the laws of physics.
Even the most fervent materialist must at least grant that quantum particles and functions are not causally independent in an ultimate sense; they do not literally emerge from nonexistence. Radioactive decay, for instance, still has to occur within radioactive material, and within a physical realm governed by mathematically describable laws. And whatever occurs within a quantum field or vacuum is dependent upon that field or vacuum (and that vacuum is not, as it happens, nothing). And all physical reality is contingent upon some cause of being as such, since existence is not an intrinsic physical property, and since no physical reality is logically necessary. Today’s more ingenious skeptics, however, do not attempt to search out some sort of specific exception to the universal rule of causality, because they understand that what might count as an exception will always be determined in advance by certain metaphysical prejudices.
– David Bentley Hart, (The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss, 145)
“But causes are not simultaneous with their effects; causes must always precede the effect in time”
Response: A number of classical thinkers (Aristotle, Ibn Sina, Aquinas) and contemporary western philosophers have argued and demonstrated that causes are in fact simultaneous with their effects. While common people tend to see cause and effect as two temporal events, this is not actually the case when causation is examined in depth. Even Immanuel Kant admitted that causes are simultaneous with their effects – such as the case where a stove is causing an area to be heated or when a ball impresses a groove when it sits on a cushion. In fact, all types of causation – even those that appear to be temporal – are in reducible to simultaneous causation. This is established by Mumford and Anjum in Getting Causes from Powers (see pp. 106-129). These authors look at several examples from everyday experience, biology, physics and agent causation and conclude that they are all cases of simultaneous causation. This is because an object is not truly a cause until the very instant that it is producing its effect. Before or after that time, the object is not a cause in any meaningful sense.
We argued against Hume’s temporal priority condition in which the cause occurs before the effect. Causation, we insisted, involved simultaneity. The effect occurs at the same time as its cause.
(Mumford, Anjum, Getting Causes from Powers, 230)
Man has every reason to believe in the reality of causation: indeed, to take it as one of the most fundamental realities in the whole of existence… Causation is as real as anything we know. It is fundamental: an actual feature of this one true world.
(Mumford, Anjum, Getting Causes from Powers, 237)
“Atheism is for more rational persons while theism is blind faith”
Response: The only logical alternative to theism is naturalism or physicalism – the belief that physical reality is all there is. However, there is much stronger support for theism than naturalism – for three reasons. Firstly, there are no deductive or empirical arguments for naturalism. Naturalism, as already mentioned, relies on empiricism which is unprovable and circular in its own logic. Furthermore, there is no way to actually prove or argue, from observations within the natural world, that the natural world is all that exists. Indeed, it is the atheist – not the theist – who holds his naturalist position out of ‘blind faith’ in the absence of good reasons or evidence. Naturalism, far from being a reasoned position, is merely a prejudice or assumption that one arbitrarily adopts. Secondly, naturalism is self-refuting because under the assumption of naturalism, the human mind is reducible to the brain which has evolved through natural selection for the sole purpose of survival and not to discover objective truth. This means that all thoughts, ideas, and intellectual worldviews are the result of brain neurobiological events that occur as the brain’s responses to stimuli and genes. As such, all ideas held by a person – under naturalism – are not held because of their truth or rationality but simply because of brain chemistry. This casts great doubt as to the accuracy of human scientific conclusions and knowledge in general – since it could only correspond to objective reality by some improbable miraculous coincidence. Under naturalism, it is the atheist who has “blind faith” that his own mental and intellectual convictions should be trusted in the first place.
Finally, naturalism ultimately amounts to saying that ‘things are just there’ as a brute fact without any final explanation because of its refusal to admit of anything beyond the natural world. Atheism at the end of the day is simply not provable and this should cast doubt on the very rationality of atheist belief which truly amounts to blind faith. Dr. James Cutsinger summarizes this point when he says:
On the contrary, atheism is self-contradictory. Think about it. The atheist says, “There is no God.” Now anyone who says, “There is no _____,” is giving voice to what a logician would call a universal negative proposition, whatever might be placed in that blank. It’s negative because it says “no” and denies something, and it’s universal because the field it encompasses is unlimited. If I said, “There is no platypus in this chapel,” I would also be uttering a negative statement, but it wouldn’t be universal because the context would be restricted to this building, and we could verify, or disconfirm, the truth of my statement by arming everyone in the room with a flashlight, fanning out throughout the building, and engaging in a systematic platypus-hunting exercise. Notice, however, that when atheists say, “There is no God,” they’re not saying, “There’s no God in this chapel,” or “There’s no God in Greenville,” or “There’s no God in our galaxy.” They’re saying, “There is no God anywhere in the entire universe, no God at all wherever one might look throughout the full extent of reality.” But in doing so they’re implying that they’ve done the looking. They’ve carefully inspected all the nooks and crannies of existence, even as we’d need to inspect all the nooks and crannies of this building to know there’s no platypus in it. If however they’ve truly looked everywhere there is to look—if they can honestly say they’re personally acquainted with the full extent of reality—it follows that they must be omniscient. But omniscience is an attribute of God. Therefore, in saying “There is no God,” atheists are implicitly claiming to be God, and thus inevitably contradicting themselves.
– James Cutsinger, (The Sound of a Lecture Undelivered, Furman University, April 30, 2007)
7. The worldview of the First Cause/Unconditional Reality Argument is rationally superior to any naturalist worldview:
While there are no positive arguments for naturalism or atheism, there are good arguments for theism. The argument presented in this article is based on the concept of causality – which no one really disputes.
All physical reality is logically contingent, and the existence of the contingent requires the Absolute as its source. Why the Absolute produces the contingent may be inconceivable for us; but that the contingent can exist only derivatively, receiving its existence from the Absolute, is a simple deduction of reason. Alternatively, reality is essentially absurd: absolute contingency, unconditional conditionality, an uncaused effect. And the antithesis between the two positions can never be made any less stark than that… The general argument from the contingent to the absolute, or from the conditioned to the unconditioned, is a powerful and cogent one. No attempt, philosophical or otherwise, to show that it is a confused argument, or logically insufficient, or susceptible of some purely physical answer has ever been impressively successful. Even if one does not accept its conclusions one still has absolutely no rational warrant for believing that materialism has any sort of logical superiority over theism; the classical argument is strong enough to show that naturalism is far and away a weaker, more incomplete, and more wilfully doctrinaire position than classical theism is. Naturalism, as I have said repeatedly, is a philosophy of the absurd, of the just-there-ness of what is certainly by its nature a contingent reality; it is, simply enough, an absurd philosophy.
– David Bentley Hart, (The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss, 147-150)
8. Conclusion: Be in Harmony with God
The arguments presented in this article lead to the conclusion that there is one, single, unique, infinite Unconditioned Reality that continuously creates and sustains the existence of all things – space, time, matter, the Universe, consciousness, etc. As such, every reality in existence is a Conditioned Reality whose existence is ultimately dependent upon the absolute, and infinite Unconditioned Reality – what people of faith call “God”. Having accepted this metaphysical truth, one must realize that one’s own existence is contingent and ultimately dependent upon God. The next logical step is to live one’s life in total conformity with the realization of one’s utter dependence before the Divine. That is to say, one’s entire being – physical, mental, and spiritual – must be oriented towards God as the source of all existence by realizing one’s contingency or conditioned state before Him: for this is the essence of faith. Such an orientation brings one in harmony with God. And he who is in harmony with God, who is absolutely poor and humble before the unceasing existence that flows forth from the Unconditioned Reality – is “at one” with God and will be truly and deeply happy.
A man must be at one with God. This may sound old-fashioned to some people. A few may think that they do not believe in God, and some others that it matters little to the individual in his daily life how he stand with regard to Him. Ruling out the atheist, with whom a believer can no more argue than he can discuss color with a blind man, it is surely strange that a believer in an omnipotent and ever-present Deity should fail to realise that how we stand this instant and every instant toward Him matters to us more than anything else in the Universe. This is the fundamental question: Are you in harmony with God? If you are – you are happy.
– Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah, (“My Personal Life”, Aga Khan III: Selected Speeches and Writings, ed. K.K. Aziz, 866)