Religion and Reason
(Maulana Wahiduddin Khan)
Advanced study has shown that there is more to life than meets the eye; all the great realities of life lie beyond our comprehension.
In ancient times, water was just water. Then with the 19th century came the invention of the microscope. When water was placed under it, the startling discovery was made that it contained countless live bacteria. Similarly, the stars that could be seen with the naked eye were supposed to be all the heavenly bodies that existed. Now the skies have been scanned with powerful telescopes and information has been sent back from space probes, with the result that the true immensity of the universe is at last being understood.
These two examples show the difference in thinking in ancient and modern times which has been brought about by modern technology. Other types of research in different fields have shown with certainty that there are many more realities than had ever been imagined by man when he was limited to the sphere of simple, unaided observation. But these new discoveries so excited the discoverers that they felt justified in claiming that reality was definable as that which could be directly observed, and that what we could not experience or observe was mere hypothesis and did not, therefore, exist.
In the nineteenth century, this claim, made with great enthusiasm, was most damaging to religion. The fact that religious creeds are based on a belief in the unseen, that their truths are neither observable nor demonstrable led many people to the conclusion that religious dogma was hypothetical and, therefore, untrue.
Twentieth century research, however, has completely reversed this position, advanced study having shown that there is certainly more to life than meets the eye: in fact, all the great realities of life lie beyond our comprehension.
According to Bertrand Russell there are two forms of knowledge: knowledge of things and knowledge of truths. Only things can be directly observed: truths can only be understood by indirect observation. Or in other words, inference. The existence of light, gravity, magnetism and nuclear energy in the universe is an undisputed fact, but man cannot directly observe these things. He knows them only by their effects. Man discovers certain things, from which he infers the existence of truths.
This change in the concept of knowledge which occurred in the twentieth century changed the whole situation so radically, that man was forced to accept the existence of things which he could not directly see, but only indirectly experience. With this intellectual revolution the difference between seen and unseen reality disappeared. Invisible objects became as important as visible objects. Man was compelled to accept that indirect, or inferential argument, was academically as sound as direct argument.
In our own times, divine reasoning has become truly scientific. For instance, the greatest argument for religion is what philosophers call the argument from design. Nineteenth century scholars, in their zeal, did not accept this reasoning. To them it was an inferential argument and not therefore, academically tenable. But in the present age, this objection has been invalidated. Nowadays man is compelled to infer the existence of a designer of the universe from the existence of a design in the universe, just as he accepts the theory of the flow of electrons from the movement of a wheel.
A statement made by Bertrand Russell throws some light on this matter. In the preface to his book, Why I am not a Christian, he writes:I think all the great religions of the world – Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, Islam and Communism – both untrue and harmful. It is evident as a matter of logic that, since they disagree, not more than one of them can be true. With very few exceptions, the religion, which a man accepts, is that of the community in which he lives, which makes it obvious that the influence of environment is what has led him to accept the religion in question. It is true that Scholastics invented what professed to be logical arguments proving the existence of God, and that these arguments, or others of a similar tenor, have been accepted by many eminent philosophers, but the logic to which these traditional arguments appealed is of an antiquated Aristotelian sort which is now rejected by practically all logicians except such as are Catholics. There is one argument that is not purely logical. I mean the argument from design.
This argument, however, was destroyed by Darwin; and, in any case, could only be made logically acceptable at the cost of abandoning God’s omnipotence.
Arguing the existence of a designer from design is, as Russell admits, a scientific argument in itself. It is the very argument which science itself uses to prove anything. Russell then proceeds to reject this argument by citing Darwin’s theory of evolution. This rejection would be acceptable only if Darwin’s theory had itself been scientifically established. But scientific research has proved Darwinism to be mere hypothesis, rather than established scientific fact. It is Russell’s first statement, therefore, concerning the validity of the argument from design, that must prevail. His rejection of that argument on the basis of Darwinism is groundless.