Reason, Empiricism, & God Of The Gaps

What is the function of science? Throughout the various debates about religion and science and whether God exists or not, the conversation hardly ever begins with this simple question. We are all on a quest for the Truth, and depending on our background we might have differing modes of inquiry. However, given this day and age, and the communication and transportation revolutions that have transformed our world from isolated cultures into a small village, different people across the globe are now adopting similar ideologies and worldviews. With all the materialism that has taken over, and overstimulation of the human senses, what is increasingly becoming the only acceptable source of knowledge is that which can be touched, smelled, tasted, heard, or seen. Anything else would be relegated to the realm of speculation that will most likely render it a delusion if asserted as real.

The problem with negating any other modes of investigation outside of pure empiricism is that it negates the human mind. A defining quality that distinguishes humans from the animal world is the capacity to reason. Of course there is some rudimentary reasoning capacities that can be seen in the animal world. But the height of this faculty is not observed outside of our kind. This refers to our ability to take what we observe, derive meanings and indications from these observations, and link them in a fashion that establishes a valid relationship between them, which allows us to make conclusions that result in newly found knowledge. This newly found knowledge is then applied to improve and advance our lives, which in turn can lead to future newly found knowledge as the cycle goes on.

Where the quest for the Truth goes astray is at the point of creating false dichotomies and unjustifiable divisions that force one into making a decision to fallaciously reject a methodology that is required to arrive at this Truth. Case in point is the modern rejection of reason for empiricism, which happens when reason is subjected to empiricism in the mind of the staunch empiricist. What is ironic is how the empiricist does not realize the fact that it was a reasoning ability that goes beyond empiricism that allowed for the erroneous conclusion to reject reason, and this is where the science-worshipping atheist is entrapped.

Science is a human-led investigation to determine the physical mechanisms behind the workings in this universe from the micro to the macro scales. It deals with observations of phenomena that take place on a daily basis and makes an attempt at explaining the various relationships that exist between them through either direct or indirect means. The observations are empirical, i.e. they rely on the human capacity to use the senses to perceive them. Once the observations are made, human reason establishes possible relationships between these phenomena and then tests proposed explanations using empirical means to confirm or reject them. However, before moving to the empirical tests, certain explanations are either immediately rejected or done so after contemplation. Furthermore, proposed explanations that result in confirming expected hypotheses can also be challenged and later rejected. All this is done using the human mind through an application of logic, which seeks to establish the proper relevance between premises and their conclusions with regards to what is being observed.

After careful thought, human reason, or rationalism, can be considered as both co-dependent upon and independent from empiricism. The codependency comes about in the need for initial stimuli from the empirical world in order to begin its work at making sense of it all. Rationalism’s independence comes from the human mind’s capacity to derive meanings and indications from the observations, and through sound logic arriving at correct conclusions to generate new knowledge that may or may not necessarily require empirical confirmation. The difficulty lies in the fact that the mind can conceive without being able to conceptualize. Given the overwhelming nature of sensory stimulation, to remain in the realm of conceived knowledge that is not conceptualized proves difficult, and therefore many will automatically seek to either create false concepts of conceived realities, or outright reject that which they have no concept of.

All this comes to the forefront in regards to the false proposition to ask whether God exists or not. The common occurrence with the naysayers is their immediate linking of this question with an attempt to bring up a frame of reference to compare God to. It is as silly as the concocted images people have made of aliens, angles, or the devil, all of which are based on linking certain components of images they have been exposed to previously. This thought process must be very tightly controlled, and before addressing the attributes of any being, we must first establish whether it exists or not. Some may have a contention with calling it a “being”, but that can be easily addressed by pointing to the fact that a being is simply “that which exists”. If it does not exist, then it is nothing and the investigation stops.

Since science is restricted to explaining what can be empirically verifiable, its capacity is limited to that which is empirically observable. We have advanced in very remarkable ways over the past couple of hundred years, and we have been able to explain matters about the essence of this universe that stretch the human mind and imagination to unchartered territories. However, modern cosmology tells us that when we go back far enough in time we reach a point in history where everything began. It was the point where existence came into being from a point of non-existence. This is not a matter of before and after, because these terms are related to time, which began with existence coming into being. Rather, this is a matter of why is there something rather than nothing. Here is where science cannot go any further.

Before claiming that this is the “God of the gaps” argument, we first have to address what “God of the gaps” is all about. If we are dealing with existing phenomena, and are attempting to explain their presence and relationship to each other, and find ourselves puzzled by an observation within this universe, and then invoke God to explain it, that would be a valid contention because it hinders scientific progress and stops investigation for why this phenomenon occurs in the way that it does. However, if science is an investigation of existing physical entities that make up this universe from the micro to the macro scale, its limitation becomes the limitation of this universe. In other words, scientific investigation comes to a halt at the point of when existence came into being. Hence, the question of “why is there existence rather than non-existence, i.e., why is there something rather than nothing” cannot be a question that science can address given its dependence upon existence.

Science’s inability to answer the biggest question of all time does not limit our ability as human beings to answer it, because our methods of investigation are not limited to scientific, i.e., empirical inquiry. The faculty of reason that draws from empirical observations and derives conclusions from it is not restricted to the empirical world. Its ability to understand meanings and indications, and to conceive without needing to conceptualize gives it a greater freedom to quest for a Truth that is not necessarily confined to the empirical realm. In fact, this Truth that lies in answering the “why something rather than nothing” question, by definition must be beyond empiricism. This is simply because although the various workings of the universe can be explained through scientific inquiry, the universe itself cannot explain its presence rather than lack of it from within itself. Moreover, the necessity to resort to reason independently of empiricism to answer this question is due to the absence of the empirical world at the point of non-existence. This is the point where the existence of a “being” beyond the universe becomes a logical and rational necessity. This metaphysical’s (beyond empirical) existence is a logical necessity because only through it can the existence of the empirical realm be explained, and given that this question is outside of the realm of science, this invocation is not a “God of the gaps”, but rather a “God of the universe”. Once this is established, we can then have a discussion about what attributes must be necessary for God in order to explain “why something rather than nothing”.

The staunch empiricist will have contentions with this presentation of reality, but they will have to rely on rejecting reason as a faculty independent from empiricism. Ironically, this rejection is itself based on a reasoning process that is independent from empiricism, and therefore it is all self-defeating. Given how self-refuting the rejection of reasoning independent from empiricism is, it begs the question of why one would assert such a fallacious perspective and remain in an intellectually confused standstill. A deeper look into this matter will inevitably reveal that it is not about using reason, but about what the conclusion that is ultimately arrived at through the use of reason entails, which is a subject that has been addressed in previous writings and will be revisited again in the near future.

Mohamed Ghilan, PhD Candidate

UVic Neuroscience

11 thoughts on “Reason, Empiricism, & God Of The Gaps

  1. Masha’Allah amazing article.
    Really shows how arguments against/to refute God by science are flawed at the core.
    Keep them coming Br. Mohamed.
    This site of yours is a gem by the way, not often (nowhere else at all, I would say) will you find Muslims on the internet writing about such topics in a professional and uncolored manner such as this.

    • Barak Allah feek for the comment. Please include me in your prayers to have a pure intention for Allah’s sake behind my work, and share it for the benefit of others.

  2. We can thank Epicurus and his famous fan Lucretius for basing all Truth to what only can be sensed. But even those believed in God, and to be quite frank there philosophies was deeply flawed.

    A scientist who believes all truth must be based on something what can be either seen, touched, felt, heard, or smelled must also give up mathematics, physics, and I am sure many other sciences. Many sciences are based on nothing other than assumptions, although rational assumptions. You cannot accept that and proceed to reduce someone’s belief in God to irrationality.

    As you point out, science, which is amazingly beautiful, is concerned with how things are, came to be, how they will be etc… HOW. Religion, or anyone who believes in God, is concerned with WHY. If we started most debates with “are we seeking how or why,” then most of these would not last 30 seconds for we are discussing different subjects.

    To repeat what you said previously, you can reverse engineer nature and figure out “HOW,” and that is beautiful and deserves great rounds of applauses, but “WHY,” you are not able to tell us.

  3. Assalaam,
    There are good pointers in this article for further discussion.

    What modern cosmology teaches us is what the universe looked like fourteen billion years ago– an ultra dense and high temperature plasma. From the observations regarding the abundance of elements in stars, cosmic background radiation and that galaxies have been receding from each other in time, we *infer* the Big Bang and arguably the inflation. However, it should be kept in mind that, although these *theories* are widely accepted, the big bang as well as inflation are our inferences from observations by means of our physical theories –which means they may get replaced by completely different theories in the future. Moreover, modern cosmology does not teach us anything at all (at least for now) about the possible pre-bigbang scenarios.

    Pre-bigbang is *the* place where most of the gods live. Some believers like to keep their god in this safe zone which is protected from the lightning flashes from atheistic scientific arrogant arguments.

    Islamic wisdom teaches us that God (Allah) did not created the universe once and for all and then retired. The Islamic wisdom tell us that not only He did created the universe, he has been/is still creating it every “moment”. This is because the universe as a “contingent being” (possible, “mumkin”, not absolute, not certain) needs to be sustained by a “necessary being” (This discussion echoes back to Asharis and Ibn Arabi as well as St. Augustine.) Once this point is established, then this very moment, in which you are reading these lines, becomes as interesting as the big bang supposedly happened fourteen billion years ago. And then, no need remains to keep our God in the dark gaps or behind the closed doors of ambiguity. Even in the saying “God was before the creation and He will be the only One after everything”, the words “before” and “after” do not refer to chronological order, but they point out the important difference between the dependent and the Sustainer. If the Big Bang *theory* turns out to be wrong in hundred years, my God will be still with me, in every moment, yet not God of the Gaps. This line of reasoning can be applied to any other physical process. Big Bang is not harder for God than creating an apple which is falling. What makes an apple fall after all? The ultimate truth is that God makes it fall. Very interestingly, He looks like to *choose* to make all apples fall in a certain way (technically called sunnatullah) so we can infer some order in his creation up to our limits. So, for the reality as perceived from science, the answer becomes gravity. These are different levels of truth and they cohabit in the sphere of our perception towards the existence.

    The question “What was there before the big bang?” is an ABSOLUTELY legitimate question from the point of evolutionary cosmology. (As we are now speaking in the *context* of science, whoever makes the off-topic comment “Of course, it was only God before the Big Bang” should be lashed.) Had other big bangs happened before the last one? What physical processes resulted in the Big Bang? It should be noted that these questions do not infiltrate into the house of faith except into the ones of those whose faith is supported by scientific findings or contemporary knowledge.

    The bottom line is, there is no need to panic i) if the Big bang turns out to be wrong, ii) if the biological evolution gets proven undeniably, iii) if the brain is deciphered and free will of man can be manipulated completely. From the point of religion, it is always God who sets the stage and sustain constantly whatever the phenomenology is. From point of curiosity, however, the believers should be at the forefronts to explore the beauty and elegance in the ways He creates.

  4. Excellent article, I have not seen anything like this you should do more in the future Inshallah as we are in an Age of Deception and fellow Muslims are in heaps of confusion concerning subjects like this.

    Salamalaikum I just wanted to know brother if there are any Books on this subject I haven’t read much books on this subject but obviously have seen debates, Science and Religion etc. can you give me any advice on what books I should read etc.

    • Also people such as Hamza Tzortis are making us Muslims look irrational because he tries to present “So called” scientific miracles in the Qur’an, Look at this video for example its not by a Hamza but a well present video, please check it out soon Inshallah I just wanted your opinion on it because it dosen’t seem believable http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dx6uei6_lfc&feature=plcp
      Jazakhallah Ul Khair :)

    • Wa’alykoum As’salam Halim,
      Jazak Allah khair for comment. Regarding book recommendations, unfortunately I’m not aware of any English ones that deal with these topics from an Islamic perspective. There are plenty in the classical Arabic, some of which I’m actually in the planning stage of translating and writing commentaries on.
      If I come across anything interesting in English I’ll make sure to plug it here insha’Allah.
      Please keep me in your prayers
      Was’Salam

  5. Just came across this blog and from the get go I got Blown away..I googled “Quran and Neuroscience” and this was the firs hit, MashaAllah, I am a layman in both topics, but as a devout Muslim I just needed to know. Thank you for the blog May Allah reward hasana for every letter you type in it. Keep it going, it is the baraka of our days to have Mulsims like you and give them a platform to share the knowledge they are blessed with.

    • Do we only have 150 milliseconds to react to thoughts (nafs) in our brain to make a decision according to neuro science, that is 0.2 seconds

  6. Pingback: Asymmetrical Non-Science « Mohamed Ghilan

  7. Good article. As you put it at the end of your article “A deeper look into this matter will inevitably reveal that it is not about using reason, but about what the conclusion that is ultimately arrived at through the use of reason entails”. Atheists assume that any reasoning methodology that takes them to conclude the existence of God is/has to be false. God is the problem to them. I often wondered why God in the Qur’an accuses disbelievers for disbelieving first, and therefore as a punishment their hearts are sealed. I couldn’t fathom it. But now i’m beginning to get it.

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