On this page we present the views of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community on how to determine God’s existence. What is the interplay between reason and revelation towards this end? What are the different degrees of certainty one can have regarding this issue? Find out below.
Mirza Ghulam Ahmad
PEACE BE UPON HIM
How useful is human reason in determining God’s existence?
“It is very useful, very necessary and is a great bounty. Yet, despite all this it suffers from the shortcoming that it alone cannot lead to full certainty in the matter of the understanding of the reality of things. The stage of perfect certainty is that man should believe that the reality of things exists as it in fact does exist. Reason alone cannot lead to this high degree of certainty. At the outside, it proves the need of the existence of something, but does not prove that in fact it exists. This degree of certainty that a person’s knowledge should proceed from the stage of ‘should be’ to the stage of ‘is’, is acquired only when reason is joined by a companion which, confirming its conjecture, converts it into fact, that is to say, regarding a matter concerning which reason says it ‘should be’ that companion informs that in fact it ‘is’. Reason only establishes the need of a thing; it cannot establish its existence, and these are two distinct and separate matters. Thus, reason needs a companion which should supplement the defective ‘should be’ of reason with the affirmative ‘is’ and which should give information of facts as they truly exist.” – Essence of Islam Vol. 2, page 96
Can philosophy alone conclusively prove the existence of God?
“No argument can prove it conclusively, inasmuch as reason can travel only so far that contemplating the universe it feels the need of a Creator. But the feeling of a need is one thing and it is quite another to arrive at the certainty that the God, Whose need has been felt, does in fact exist. As the operation of reason is defective, incomplete and doubtful, a philosopher cannot recognize God purely through reason. Most people who try to determine the existence of God Almighty purely through the exercise of reason, in the end become atheists. Reflecting over the creation of the heavens and the earth does not avail them much and they begin to deride and laugh at the men of God. One of their arguments is that there are thousands of things in the world which have no use and the fashioning of which does not indicate the existence of a fashioner. They exist merely as vain and useless things. These people do not seem to realize that lack of knowledge of something does not necessarily negate its existence.” – Essence of Islam, Vol. 1, page 40
What are the different stages of certainty in belief?
“The Holy Quran has drawn attention to three types of knowledge: knowledge by way of certainty of inference, knowledge by way of certainty of sight, and knowledge by way of certainty of experience. As we have already explained knowledge by certainty of inference is that a thing should be known not directly but through something through which it can be inferred, as by observing smoke we infer the existence of fire. We do not see the fire, but see the smoke and because of it we believe in the existence of the fire. Then if we see the fire, this, according to the Holy Quran, would be certainty by sight. If we were to enter into the fire, our knowledge would have the quality of certainty by experience. We have set out all this already and we refer our listeners and readers to that exposition. It should be known that the source of the first type of knowledge, that is to say knowledge by the certainty of inference, is reason and information. God Almighty sets out in the Holy Quran that the dwellers of hell will affirm:
And they will say, ‘If we had but listened or possessed sense, we should not have been among the inmates of the blazing Fire.’
(The Holy Qur’an, 67:11)
That is, those who go to hell will say if they had exercised their reason and had approached the consideration of religion and doctrine sensibly, or had listened to and read with attention the speeches and writings of the wise and the scholars, they would not have been condemned to hell. ..
These verses also indicate that one can obtain the certainty of knowledge by inference through one’s ears also. For instance, we have not visited London and have only heard of it from those who have visited it, but then can we imagine that all of them might have told a lie? Or, we did not live in the time of Emperor Alamgir, nor did we see him, but can we have any doubt that Alamgir was one of the Moghul emperors? How did we arrive at that certainty? The answer is, through the continuity of hearing about him. Thus, there is no doubt that hearing also carries one’s knowledge to the stage of certainty by inference. The books of the Prophets are also a source of knowledge through hearing, provided there should be no contradiction in the account that is heard…
The Holy Quran is not confined merely to knowledge gained through continuity of hearing, it contains well reasoned arguments which carry conviction. Not one of the doctrines and principles and commandments that it sets forth is sought to be imposed merely by authority; as it has explained, they are all inscribed in man’s nature… Thus, intellectual arguments which have a sound basis undoubtedly lead a person to the certainty of knowledge by inference.
With regard to the hereafter our knowledge arrives at the degree of certainty by sight when we receive direct revelation and hear the voice of God through our ears, and behold the true and clear visions of God with our eyes. Without a doubt we are in need of direct revelation for the purpose of achieving such perfect understanding for which our hearts hunger and thirst in our beings. If God Almighty has not provided the means of such comprehension for us in advance then why has He created this hunger and thirst in our hearts?
Is it not true that an affirmation by the Living God: I am present; bestows such a degree of understanding compared with which the self conceived books of all the philosophers amount to nothing at all? What can those so-called philosophers who are themselves blind teach us? In short, if God Almighty designs to bestow perfect understanding upon His seekers then He has certainly kept open the way of converse with them.
The third source of knowledge is certainty through experience, that is to say, all the hardships and calamities and sufferings that are experienced by the Prophets and the righteous at the hands of their opponents, or that are imposed upon them by Divine decree. Through these hardships and sufferings all the commandments of the law and its directions that were comprehended by the human mind intellectually, appear in practical shape and become experience, and by being developed by practical exercise arrive at their climax, and the person concerned himself becomes a perfect code of Divine guidance. All the moral qualities like forbearance, retribution, endurance, mercy etc. which hitherto pervaded the mind and heart theoretically, become part of the personality through practical experience and make their impress upon the total personality of the sufferer…”
Mirza Bashir-ud-din Mahmood Ahmad
MAY ALLAH BE PLEASED WITH HIM
If God exists, then why can we not see Him?
“The first demand which an atheist makes is that if you show God to us, we will believe in Him. I have heard this demand many times and I have always heard it with astonishment. Man knows different things by means of different senses. Some things we know by means of seeing, some by touching, some by smelling, some by hearing and some by tasting. A colour is known by seeing, not by smelling, touching or tasting. If anybody says that he will acknowledge a colour only if he is made to hear the sound of it, will not such a man be regarded as a fool? Similarly, fragrance, is known by means of smelling. Now, if anybody says that he will take a rose to be fragrant only if he is made to taste its fragrance, will such a person be regarded as wise? On the other hand, if anybody seeks to know by smelling things which can be known by tasting such as sourness, sweetness, bitterness and saltiness, he will never be able to do so. So it is not right that we should accept those things only which we can behold with our eyes and disbelieve those things which are not cognizable by the eye. If it be right to do so, then we shall have to deny the fragrance of the rose, the sourness of the lemon, the sweetness of honey, the bitterness of gall, the hardness of iron and the melodiousness of sound, for these are things which we cannot perceive with the aid of the eye. How absurd is then the demand that God must be shown to us before we believe in Him? Do those who make such a demand believe in the fragrance of the rose or sweetness of honey because they have seen it? Why do they then, in the case of the Supreme Being, propose the seeing of God as a necessary condition of their accepting Him?..
Even the simplest man can see that we have not known these things by means of five senses, but that there are other evidences that have led us to a knowledge of their existence. For instance, we see that when man is confronted with a difficulty he thinks for a while and then devises a plan by which he is able to solve his difficulty. When saw difficulties being removed in this way, we concluded that there was something in man which was of service to him on such occasions and we called it reason. Thus we did not become aware of the existence of reason directly through the five senses, but we obtained a knowledge of it by means of its wonderful manifestations… Thus we find that the more subtle a thing is, the more hidden it is from the human eye and it is by their actions and not by the senses of seeing, smelling, tasting, hearing, or touching that we perceive the existence of such things.
But God is subtlest of all things. How unjust is it then to say that we cannot believe in the existence of God unless He is shown to us. Has anybody ever seen electricity? But can we then deny the transmission of messages and signals to long distances, lighting and the working of machinery by means of electricity? The discovery of either has brought about a revolution in the domain of physical science, but has any scientist been able to find it by means of seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling or touching? But if we deny its existence, we find ourselves unable to explain how the rays of the sun reach the Earth. How unjust is then the demand that in order to believe in God must be visible to the eye, while there are so many things which are believed in but they are not visible to the eye or perceptible by any other of the five senses. God is visible but only to the eyes that are capable of seeing Him. But if anybody is desirous of seeing Him, He is before the whole world through His powers and in spite of His being hidden, He is the most apparent of all. This fact has been briefly but very exquisitely mentioned in the Holy Quran in the following words;
“Eyes cannot reach Him but He reaches the eyes. And He is the Incomprehensible, the All-Aware.”
(Holy Qur’an; 6:104)
In this verse, God draws the attention of man to the fact that this eye is not capable of seeing Him, for He is subtle and subtle things cannot be perceived by the eyes. What then is the way of knowing God? He answers this question by saying; “but He reaches the eyes”, i.e., though the eye of man is not capable of seeing Him, yet He reveals Himself to man by a display of His powers and by a manifestation of His attributes. Manifold are the ways in which He reveals Himself to man. He displays His unlimited power sometimes by terror-striking signs, sometimes through prophets, sometimes by signs of mercy and sometimes by accepting prayer. Having shown that if God is to be believed in only if He be perceptible by the eye, the we shall have to deny the existence of all things if we accept as true the view of certain philosophers that nobody can see the substance of anything in the world and that it is only the form that we see.”
Mirza Tahir Ahmad
MAY ALLAH BE PLEASED WITH HIM
“The term ‘unseen’ in its wider application is employed to cover everything which is not directly visible or audible. Likewise it also covers all that is not directly accessible through other human sensory faculties. In this respect we may also define the unseen as a domain which covers all forms of existence which lie beyond the direct access of the five senses. The things which belong to this category do not remain permanently inaccessible. They are inaccessible only with reference to a given period in time.
All hidden knowledge of perceivable things, whether it pertains to the past, the present or the future, lies within the scope of this category. In other words, we are required to believe in the existence of things which are not known at a given point in time, but do exist and may become known at another point in time. This belief cannot be dubbed as blind faith.
The Quran does not require the believers to have faith in anything which is not supported by irrefutable arguments. Hence the unseen covers only such things as may become accessible through the instruments of reason, rationality and deductive logic.
The point to be noted here is that the unseen as defined, though not directly perceivable by the senses, is yet verifiable. The rationale of this Quranic injunction is fully supported by human experience.
Of the material forms of existence, there are many categories which defy direct examination. The knowledge of their existence and that of their physical properties can only be gained through logical deduction, or with the help of sophisticated electronic devices, which make them accessible to the senses, indirectly. What are neutrinos and anti-neutrinos? What is matter and antimatter? What are bosons and anti-bosons? The answer to these questions cannot be obtained through any direct means of examination, yet their unseen world has become a universally accepted reality.” -Ch: Belief in the Unseen; Revelation, Rationality, Knowledge and Truth, Part IV
Mirza Bashir Ahmad
MAY ALLAH BE PLEASED WITH HIM
Should we seek God as true seekers or are as philosophers?
“Let us also consider the case of a philosopher and a seeker after truth, both of whom set out for the same goal—i.e., to find out about God’s existence—but with completely different intentions. The philosopher tries to use his knowledge and wisdom to ascertain whether or not the universe has a creator. Even if he comes to the conclusion that God does exist, he will not bother to find out His attributes or His relationship with His creatures, for this is not his aim. His aim is only to satisfy his intellectual thirst. He is not desirous of communion with God, nor anxious for His nearness, nor craving for His friendship. He does not have the desire to reach Him, nor does he care to know of His Will. A seeker, on the other hand, aims at reaching God. He wants to have communion with Him and desires His friendship and nearness. He is anxious to know of His Will, so that he can follow it. Can we put the philosopher and the seeker on the same plane? Of course not.
The first step, therefore, is that one should set one’s intentions straight and seek God like a seeker, not like a philosopher. He should first evoke yearning and passion in his heart for these qualities are essential when seeking the truth. Consider this: If a child pulls a certain face and asks its mother if she could produce any milk for him so that he may feed upon it, would this bring the milk into the mother’s breast? On the other hand, the child to cry and scream with hunger, would this not spontaneously bring the milk surging into her breasts? In the same way, God does not reveal His face to a philosopher, rather He runs far from him because He does not want to become a toy of the philosopher’s whims. But when a seeker seeks Him, He comes close to him, for He is more Compassionate and Loving than a mother and does not want His true seeker to remain in darkness and be ruined. This may seem strange indeed. A philosopher and a devotee both seek God, yet God stays aloof from the philosopher and draws nearer to the devotee.
…Therefore, evoke the true zeal and passion in your heart so that your efforts are successful and your hard work yields fruit. The Promised Messiahpbuh says:
‘There is no path nearer than the path of love; Following which the seekers cross countless thorny deserts.
Love is the secret to reach Him; It is the alchemy that will make you wealthy beyond imagination.
The arrow of love never flies in vain; O my archers, slacken not for a moment.
This is the fire that shall protect you from all fire; This is the water from which flow countless springs.'”