The argument from Being in demonstrating God’s existence is powerful for it does not depend on any scientific discovery or knowledge of how the universe works. It is purely based on the concept of existence which is logically prior to physical reality. Awareness of existence, especially one’s own, is the starting point in concluding that God exists.
Bismillāhir Rahmānir Rahīm, As-salāmu ʿAlaykum wa rahmatullāhi wa barakātuh. Peace be upon you brothers and sisters.
Welcome back to the Muslim Converts Channel!
The following discussion will deal with our first argument concerning God’s existence. In our last session, we discussed how God is not an object or being that exists alongside other objects or beings. He is, instead, the source of all of existence and the grounds which makes the existence of any contingent being possible. This is according to the correct theistic worldview espoused by the school of Ahl al-Bayt (as).
We then discussed how knowledge of God’s existence is not dependent on scientific evidence as some atheists try to argue but on logical evidence coupled as well as our consciousness of being. This is because the question of existence is different from the question of physical reality. Science deals with physical reality, not existence. In the following session, we will pick up on where we left off last time and expand on the argument for God’s existence from the concept of being or existence. In Arabic, existence is called wujūd.
There are about eleven or twelve major arguments for God’s existence. In our following series, we will deal with the three most popular ones, which include the Kalam Cosmological Argument, the Argument from Design and the Argument from Being which is sometimes called Burhān al-Wujūd in Islamic philosophy. Today’s lesson will cover the Argument from Being.
BODY OF TEXT
That is Allah, your Sustainer! There is no deity but He, the Creator of everything, therefore worship Him for He is the guardian of everything (Chapter 6 of the Holy Qur’an, verse 6)
The Argument from Being, as understood by Muslim scholars, particularly those who follow the school of the Ahl al-Bayt (as), can be summarized as follows:
We experience reality in two ways, one is through “quiddity” or “whatness” which is called māhīya in Islamic philosophy and theology. Māhīya refers to the makeup or whatness of existing objects. This includes, among other things, their physical processes and forms, how they come into physical existence, how they change, evolve, stagnate or what form, color, mass they take. In other words, māhīya is an account of contingent reality. Contingent reality is inclusive of physical reality.
Among Muslim philosophers, the 17th century Shia Muslim philosopher and theologian Mulla Sadra (d. 1640), believed that our knowledge of māhīya is fundamentally subjective. This is because we interpret reality by means of a context, which includes all of our senses and how we were socially and culturally brought up to know and understand things.
Our knowledge of the world, therefore, is limited by our biology, senses and cultural upbringing. Certainty is very difficult to attain when it comes to knowledge of māhīya. Perhaps a good example is the following: how do you know the chicken you are eating “tastes like chicken”? Maybe it really tastes like beef but our minds are tricking us into thinking they taste differently! How do we know what we see in our telescopes are really real? How do we know the world around us is not an illusion? Or how did physical reality come about?
In every generation, there are new theories concerning how the world began and works, but in the end, we know that we will never have all of our answers in terms of how physical reality began to exist because we are contextually limited. So what does science have to do with any of this? Science is the attempt to know māhīya.
Our other experience of reality is through being or existence or wujūd as it is known in Arabic. When we experience an object like our own bodies, our knowledge about the object may be subjective. We’ll ask questions like how was I made? What am I made of? How do I look in the mirror? … but our knowledge of its existence (whatever form it maybe) is objective.
This means that our knowledge of wujūd is objective and one of the few things we can know objectively. As such, our contextualized and limited status as knowing beings is irrelevant when making this truth claim, just like how some mathematical truths, like 2+2 = 4 are objective facts.
To give you a quick example from the 17th century French philosopher and mathematician Renee Descartes, when he stated cogito ergo sum (I think, therefore I exist), he meant that I, as a being, without a doubt exist because I have to first exist before I can doubt my own existence. Therefore, even doubting my existence is an objective and incontrovertible proof that I exist since I could not doubt it if I did not exist in the first place! It is a pure and unmistakable truth!
We may experience something else and it may be an illusion and not concrete, but that thing still exists as an illusion whose existence depends on our minds.
On the basis of wujūd and not māhīya, Muslim philosophers attempt to lay the grounds for God’s existence. The argument’s foundation on wujūd rather than māhīya means that God’s existence can be proven independent of what we know or may not know about our universe or even multiverse because being or wujūd is logically prior to physical reality. This means that before we can even think about physical reality, there must first be existence! The “is” factor of an object is logically prior to its “whatness”
It doesn’t matter what scientists may discover or not discover in the future, we are not concerned with physical reality per se. Science does not prove or even demonstrate wujūd, it presupposes it without which there can be no science. This means that knowledge of existence gives us more certainty compared to scientific knowledge because the former is objectively and incontrovertibly certain.
So where does God fit in to all of this? God becomes relevant when we ask the question: why is there something rather than nothing. In other words, why is there such a thing as existence? Note that this is different than asking about the how of something.
Existence can only be of two kinds, either something exists contingently or necessarily. A contingent existent is that which does not exist in and of itself. Put differently, it depends on other than itself to exist. Remember, its existence depends on something outside and other than itself.
So any being that is spatially limited and changes from one state to another is therefore time-bound, finite and composite. It exists contingently as it depends on other than itself to exist. So by definition, physical and material reality – that is, the universe or multiverse - exists contingently and not by virtue of itself.
Some atheists like Richard Dawkins try to argue that perhaps the universe in its entirety exists necessarily. This, however, just goes to show that he does not understand what it means to exist contingently.
Why? Because logically, if all the parts of the universe are contingent, then the whole world will also be contingent! It would be the equivalent of making the absurd statement if every human on earth is mortal, then the world’s population is immortal.
Existing contingently implies that there is a chain of being or chain of existence where one thing depends upon another to exist. I am conscious that I exist and I know that I exist contingently. Therefore, I am part of a chain of being in which my existence depends on something other than me where that thing depends on something else other than itself and so on and so forth.
However long, short, small or big this chain is does not matter. Remember, we are not talking about māhīya here, so the physical/procedural how of things is irrelevant. The chain may have existed eternally or started a finite time ago, but I know that the chain of being cannot go back infinitely because it is logically impossible and my own existence is incontrovertible proof that the chain of being is finite.
Here is a good analogy to help us think about this: Imagine someone, let’s call him A, wants to race. But A says he won’t start running until B runs. B in turn says he won’t start running until C starts running. Now imagine this chain of “I won’t start running until X starts running” goes on infinitely, will A ever start running? Will there be any running?
The answer is obviously no. If there is no first runner, the running will never start. But say we see X running, this means that there is a first point in the chain where the running starts. Now substitute running for existence. If there is no beginning point in the chain of existence in which all existence today depends on – that is, when we regress in the chain of being - then there can be no existence at all because the chain of regression in existential dependence would never end no matter how far back we go. In this case, existence will never start.
The fact that I exist is proof that the chain of being is finite just like X running is proof that the chain of runners is finite.
It does not matter if this chain of being has existed eternally or not. For example, the early Christian theologian, St Augustine of Hippo, gives the example of a footprint on sand. It does not matter if the footprint has been there since eternity; the footprint still depends on the foot for its existence.
So now we know that the chain of being or existence must have a beginning to it. This means that the first point of this chain of being cannot exist contingently as it would depend on something logically prior to it in order to exist and thus cannot be the first point anymore. Before we continue, however, we must make sure we understand what “logical priority” means.
When we say something is logically prior, we are distinguishing it from temporal priority which means priority in time. X for example, may exist simultaneously with Y (no temporal priority) but X may be logically prior to Y in that it is the simultaneous cause of Y’s existence.
A good analogy is the footprint example we gave earlier on where the footprint depends on the foot for its existence, even if the foot has been on the print from eternity.
In terms of the chain of being (chain of existence), this first “starting” point must therefore exist necessarily. In other words, the Necessary Existent must exist in and of itself. In terms of its existence, it is not dependent on anything outside of itself which means that its existence is not contingent but is part and parcel of its own essence. Just like in day to day terms, it can be said that 180 degrees is part of the essence of a triangle, existence is part of the essence of the Necessary Existent and it cannot not exist.
The Necessary Existent, by virtue of existing necessarily and not contingently, is timeless, eternal, spaceless, changeless and immaterial. It is the transcendental source of all of existence. Since it is the source of all that exists and its relevant powers, it is also all-powerful.
In other words, since it is the condition of possibility for anything to exist, it is all-powerful in that it has power over all things. This is why the Qur’an says: Indeed, Allah has power over all things, Chapter 2, verse 148 of the Holy Qur’an.
So up to this point, there is a Necessary Existent that is the all-powerful, eternal, changeless, spaceless and immaterial source of all reality and existence. We can say with confidence that up to this point the argument cannot be dismissed without leading its critic into logical incoherencies, absurdities, fallacies and contradictions. Furthermore, remember that the argument up until this point is not dependent on whatever science may say or not say in the future.
The final question left is whether or not the Necessary Existent is conscious or not. That is, is it intelligent and self-aware? Let’s see. The Necessary Being is that which brought all of reality into being and sustains the whole chain of being.
The action of bringing reality into existence and sustaining the chain of being is the product of an impetus. If there was no impetus to create, there would be no creation. The impetus for bringing existence into being cannot be external to it as it is the Necessary Existent. Therefore, the impetus for bringing reality into being must be internal and thus part of its essence.
This, by definition, is what we call volition, or more precisely, pure will. If there is volition, then there is consciousness and self-awareness, if there is consciousness and self-awareness, then the Necessary Being is a conscious and intelligent being.
There is also another way of demonstrating the Necessary Existent as an intelligent and self-aware being. As we just saw, the Necessary Existent brought all of reality and its relevant powers into being, therefore, it has power over all things and is all-powerful. We human beings have intelligence and consciousness.
The Necessary Existent - having brought all of existence into being and having power over all things - must have something analogous to consciousness and intelligence as these are our relevant powers. In other words, if intelligence is to exist in this world in the first place, its potentiality in the source must exist beforehand or it could not have come about in us. The Necessary Existence is therefore self-aware and conscious.
Until Next Time, Thank you for watching. As-salāmu ʿAlaykum wa rahmatullāhi wa barakātuh
Whatness of things, makeup of things
exists dependently, does not exist in and of itself
exists independently, exists in and of itself
Priority in the chain of cause and effect, may be simultaneous or not
Priority in time
Going back in the chain of cause-effect ad infinitum
A pure fact, it does not depend on human opinion.
Depends on human senses, perceptions and opinion. Difficult to know for certain if it is 100% true.
Can’t there be a third form of existence, something that is between necessary and contingent?
The only other alternative is an impossible existence, that is, a logical absurdity, like the whole of a thing being greater than its part, or a “square-circle.” These kinds of absurdities are only mental creations and have no existence.
How do atheists reject this argument?
One can reject the argument, but the only way to do so is to accept its alternative, namely the logical absurdity of infinite regress, which cannot be justified in any way. This is why rejection of God, according to the Qur’an, can only be done with the lack of ‘aql, or proper intellect.
What is wujūd?
Wujūd is the simple fact of existence, it is the “something is there” part of our understanding of the world.
What is māhīya?
Māhiya is the makeup or “whatness” of the existent being, that is, its details, how it is understood, parts, origins, end, etc.. When you ask “what is this” concerning a particular object, you’re talking about māhiya.
Can science one day disprove God?
No, God’s existence depends on the fact that there is such as “existence” which we are consciously aware of, and not the discoveries of science.
why can’t I see God
evidence for God
Theology and Metaphysics in Nahjal Balaghah by Shaheed Murtaza Mutahhari.
Nahjul Balagha Arabic & English (Part 1 and Part 2): Sermons by Sharif al-Radi.
A Commentary on Theistic Arguments by Ayatullah ʿAbdullah Jawādī Āmulī.
God in Islamic Traditions: A Glance at al-Tawhid by Shaykh al-Saduq by Karim Aghili.
God in the Quran by Sayyed Mohammad Beheshti.
The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss by David Bentley Hart.