Written and collected by Zia H Shah MD, Chief Editor of the Muslim Times
I recently had dinner with a friend of mine, who is an agnostic and is a professor of philosophy in Binghamton university, Eric Dietrich.
I told him what it would take to make me from a practicing Muslim into an atheist and that is for another day.
In turn he told me that if the question of suffering was answered he is likely to become a theist. So, here is my humble attempt to try to answer that question.
Sura Rehman is the 55th chapter of the Holy Quran and has 79 verses. It recounts numerous blessings that we have in our lives and a line below is repeated thirty one times, as if to build a rhythm, as the Sura counts one blessing after another:
Which, then, of the favors of your Lord will you twain deny, O men and Jinn?
Else where in the Quran we read:
And Allah gave you all that you wanted of Him; and if you try to count the favors of Allah, you will not be able to number them. Indeed, man is very unjust, very ungrateful. (Al Quran 14:35)
And if you try to count the favors of Allah, you will not be able to number them. Surely, Allah is Most Forgiving, Merciful. (Al Quran 16:19)
But, many an atheist find our lives full of despair and suffering and this turns out to be the primary reason for their denial of a Gracious and Merciful God. Some among them claim that a visit to any pediatric hospital should convince any caring person that there is no God, at least not a merciful one. They claim that a good God could not subject young children to terminal and painful diseases.
They suggest a perfect world in which there is no suffering.
I have good news for them. God did create one fulfilling their wish and it is called heaven in the Muslim and the Christian tradition.
But, God also created a prelude to heaven and called it the planet earth. Do the atheists find this mundane creation rotating around the sun worth while?
Yes they do!
Richard Dawkins, who is claimed to be the best know atheist, has written a book named The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution. The title reveals the contents and Dawkins’ admiration of life forms on earth. It is easy to Google and find a short review or read the whole book.
To state it another way, the most committed atheists not only want a perfect world, devoid of suffering, what the believers call the heaven, but also care for the beauty and order of our present world.
All the thirty million or so life forms have come about through the process of evolution and the struggle and suffering that it entails with the ultimate survival for the fittest.
Another well known agnostic / atheist, Stephen Hawking wrote with Leonard Mlodinow, a book titled the Great Design and my friend Eric Dietrich’s most recent book title is Excellent Beauty: The Naturalness of Religion and the Unnaturalness of the World.
The very titles of these books prove my claim that atheists genuinely admire our universe and are not hesitant to describe that in glowing colors.
I offer these three books by agnostic / atheist writers as my three Exhibits to show that atheists do appreciate this universe and our planet earth in very profound ways, despite all the suffering of different species and humans in so many diverse ways.
Now, I want to introduce a producer of countless documentaries about life on earth.
His career as the face and voice of natural history programs has endured for more than 50 years. He is best known for writing and presenting the nine Life series, in conjunction with the BBC Natural History Unit, which collectively form a comprehensive survey of all life on the planet. He is also a former senior manager at the BBC, having served as controller of BBC Two and director of programming for BBC Television in the 1960s and 1970s.
First of all I want to thank Sir David Attenborough for all the great documentaries he has produced about nature, animal and plant kingdom. I have watched most if not all of them.
Let us hear his description of the question of suffering, before we take the issue further.
Sir Attenborough certainly stands in awe of the majesty of nature but raises the question of suffering to deny God. I will try to answer the question of suffering in the words of his hero, Charles Darwin. Let me quote here the concluding paragraph, in the later editions of the legendary book of Charles Darwin, on the Origin of Species that can make one quickly conceptualize the role of suffering in the grand scheme of things:
From the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been breathed, by the Creator, into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.
Once the question about suffering is understood as a tool for evolution, as Charles Darwin suggested, then one is ready to fully appreciate the beauty of God’s creation as suggested by many of the verses of the Holy Quran. Albert Einstein and the Founding Fathers of USA, including President Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine were Deists and I invite David Attenborough and my friend Eric Dietrich to start there. Once they have read about them and their Deism, I will invite them to our site, Islam for the West.
When any honest scientist studies nature, he feels, like Albert Einstein, the presence of superior reasoning power, revealed in the incomprehensible universe. However, as the novelty of any new discovery in nature wears off, we begin to take the beauty, complexity, organization and co-ordination that we see every day around us for granted and many among us become vulnerable to think that it may have come into existence purely by chance. However, when we come across the newly discovered organization in nature our prior inferences are challenged. We are flabbergasted and astounded for a brief period of time and truly applause the beauty of the creation of God for a little while, until we are duped by the secular propaganda of neo-Darwinism again and begin to take things for granted. Anesthesia of familiarity takes over! The article, The anesthesia of familiarity: There should be a Creator for this universe, examines the splendid interior decorations arranged by the bower birds and a lot more.
For additional details about the question of suffering, read a chapter of a book Revelation, Rationality, Knowledge and Truth: The Question of Suffering.