In attempting to reconcile faith and reason, philosophers have produced what is traditionally called “proofs of the existence of God”. These proofs usually present themselves as sophisticated arguments. As such, they are open to disputation and, one must admit, hardly convincing. It is by reference to them that Pascal wrote: “The metaphysical proofs of God are so remote from the reasoning of men, and so complicated, that they make little impression; and if they should be of service to some, it would be only during the moment that they see such demonstration; but an hour afterwards they fear they have been mistaken.” (Pensées, 543)
What Pascal thus criticized was not the cogency of the proofs but their failure to win over genuine atheists. Experience had taught him that if the metaphysical proofs of God would probably confirm the faith of the believer, they could hardly ever convince an atheist. Even if they did—a possibility he could not totally dismiss—they would lead the person to acknowledge the existence of a prime Mover, or an intelligent and all-powerful Designer at the origin of all creation: a belief hardly likely to hold sway in face of the challenges of life. It takes more than the mere belief in the existence of a first Cause to make radical changes in one’s life; what is required is a compelling attraction towards such a Cause of causes, one that is likely to arouse a change of heart, as well as a change of behaviour directed at His satisfaction.
Malak Jan Ne’mati used to say: “When we love Him, our attention is directed towards Him.” Similar feelings are experienced by a lot of believers. The love of God and of those who represent Him is an essential requisite if one wishes to actively engage in spiritual practice. By spiritual practice, we mean one that is based on a deeply felt conviction acting as a veritable driving force towards self-perfection, one that does not reduce to a purely nominal faith or philosophical standpoint. By turning our attention towards Him, we develop a control over reckless impulses, we learn to suspend hasty actions. We manage to find the time to evaluate what was going to be said or done, and redirect our behaviour according to His expectation. If something turns out to be damaging to the soul, our will finds the strength that enables us to discard harmful impulses and restore inner balance. Therein lies the essential difference between the philosophers’ God, which is no more than a rational principle, and the living God of the spiritual traveller, acting as an effective support on the perilous path of spiritual perfection, imparting the energy needed to move on.
Besides, the very idea of a proof capable of convincing the non-believer is open to question. What is actually meant by a “proof”? In a police investigation, there are no logical proofs but pieces of evidence, which are realities of a material kind. For example, if one finds a cigarette butt in some place, this points to another reality: the cigarette butt is evidence of the fact that a smoker has been in that place some time before. But here the proof, materialized as it is by the cigarette butt, is not important in itself: it is important to the extent that it provides evidence of another reality which happens to be meaningful to us and the existence of which we are ready to believe in. This is the key point: if we didn’t believe in the existence of smokers, the cigarette butt would not prove anything; it would refer to nothing but itself. Similarly, if one did not already acknowledge that there is a God, or a Designer presiding over His ordered creation, how could any piece of reality taken from this world contribute to establishing such a thing? There could indeed be no proof unless one was already disposed to grant what was to be proven.
At this point, one may start wondering whether we should expect genuine evidence of the existence God, in the tangible, material sense we have just mentioned. But here is the problem: for God to show himself in person, He would have to appear in a visible form, that of a human being or some natural phenomenon. However, such a manifestation would not count as evidence of God per se; it would be considered as a manifestation of God only by those who already believe in a divine reality capable of manifesting itself in the material realm. Imagine now a man presenting himself as the Son of God, or a burning bush saying “I am the One who is.” In the former case, the atheist will most likely conclude that the man is raving mad. As for the latter, he will have reasons to wonder if he is not mad himself. This is to say that even if God showed up in person, it wouldn’t be enough to inspire faith in those who have none of it; for if He shows up—which in fact he does—his manifestations would be detected only by those who have learned to detect the signs of his presence.
Now, we may start to wonder if those proofs are not merely verbal or superfluous. In keeping with a well-established philosophical tradition, Ostad Elahi, in Knowing the spirit, assigns a whole chapter to “Establishing the Existence of the Divine Artisan”. In a concise and at times exacting language, he presents five arguments in favour of the existence of God. Now, have these arguments ever generated faith in anyone? Do they actually prove anything? In view of what has just been discussed, we have good reasons to be sceptical here. Should we then conclude that they are useless?
The best way to answer this question is to try and detect the effects these proofs have on ourselves once we have taken the time necessary to understand them and meditate on them. The issue will be discussed in a forthcoming article.
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