Chance: Not Anti-God, but Road to God
T. O. Shanavas, M. D.
Muslims believe that assigning a role for chance in the creation of the universe and its subunits--animate and inanimate--is anti-Islamic and a denial of God’s absolute control of the universe. Many Muslims, particularly Adnan Oktar, known as Harun Yahya, with the help of Christian creationists lavishly promote this belief through Muslim newspapers and magazines and create skepticism, especially among young Muslims living in the West. These young men and women studying in Western universities get little guidance from Imams at their mosques. Many Imams (in the West and the East) have little knowledge of science and its workings. When asked about the human evolution, they say it is a theory but they cannot render a scientific definition of the word. Imams, in general, are incapable of giving believable answers to our budding anatomists, embryologists, paleontologists, molecular biologists, physicists or chemists in our prestigious universities.
Many Muslim parents living in the West have scientific training, which they use in their daily lives. Unfortunately, they too are poor guides for inquisitive young Muslim minds. They tell their children that scientific theories could be proved wrong at a later time. They ask these intelligent young men and women to listen to their Imams and believe what they say. On the other hand they, not only encourage but also sometimes pressure their children to major in scientific fields. What an amazing contradiction! Encouraging the study of science but rejecting its discoveries!! People like Harun Yahya, using out-of-context quotes from scientific journals mislead Muslims, who are scientifically unschooled, into believing the fundamentalist Christian doctrine of the so-called “scientific” creationism. Furthermore, these Muslim cohorts of fundamentalist Christians lead young Muslims, studying science in American universities, into disbelief because they discover the flaws and half-truths in an imported “scientific” creationism.
Yahya and other anti-evolutionist Muslims reject chance events happening in nature. For them, the universe, with its animate and inanimate matter, is a clock and God is the clockmaker. The clockmaker set the clock in motion and it continues to tick away towards the Day of Judgment. This miraculous clock never slows down, never run fast and never stops. A perfect clock!! If the universe does run like a clock, then future events should be precisely predictable. Our whole lives and futures are predetermined and we have no freedom to actualize any possibility or affect any change in the universe. The universe is a mechanical clock whose function is predetermined in the past and all God does is watch it tick away. What we have is an unemployed god!!
What do we mean by chance? Simple meaning of the word is something that happens unpredictably with out discernible human intention or direction and in dissociation from any observable pattern, causal relation, or natural necessity. The events become unpredictable in two ways. They become unpredictable because we are limited by the lack of detailed and accurate knowledge at the micro-level. In such cases chance means that we are unable to determine all the micro-factors of the initial conditions that determine the macro-events. In another scenario, the observed event is the result of the crossing of two or more independent causal chains and we have no accurate information about the chains themselves or the beginning small events or about their point of intersection. Chance also means possibilities that are not visibly actualized. A universe without chance or possibilities exists only if creatures do not have the potential and freedom to steal or not to steal, believe or not believe in God, etc. In a deterministic chance-absent universe, humans cannot choose freely what they want but are forced to submit to destiny. In a deterministic universe, we can say Wahshi had no choice in killing Hamzah (ra) in the Uhud war because it was meant to be. Hind d. Utba, who paid Washsi to kill Hamzah (ra) and, who then cannibalized him, also had no choice in the matter because it was destined to happen. Muslim world is predestined to be ruled by oppressive regimes and their government sanctioned form of Islam. Chance, for the ordinary Americans including to see or not to see the true face of Islam, is irrelevant to their perception of Muslims at large as terrorists!!! Their perception about Muslims as terrorists is destiny too! In the first case, God becomes the ultimate puppeteer who pulls the strings on puppets such as Wahshi, Hind d. Utba to kill and mutilate one of the great companions of Prophet (pbuh)! In the second case, God is responsible for hiding the true face of Islam from ordinary Americans so that they see us as terrorists!!! [May Allah forgive me for depicting Him as what He is not] In a deterministic chance-absent universe, human choices and actions are useless because, not chance but destiny, transforms them into believers or non-believers! Therefore, those who reject the role of chance also reject free will. Humans, like robots, accept or reject God, not through their free will but, because they are pre-programmed to do so! No! Allah is not a puppeteer. He is the All Compassionate, Merciful and Just God, who presents to us with possibilities that allow us the freedom to choose right from wrong. We choose either kill or not to kill, to know or not to know the true face of Islam etc.
God, the Knower of all being (Al-Alim), knows that free will exists only where authentic choices exist. So, he offers us an open future with chance events and a multitude of possibilities that allow us to exercise our free will; otherwise, why should mankind and other creatures be held accountable for their actions, if they have no control over them?
Those who reject the existence of elements of chance in real life are transforming Allah, the Merciful and the Compassionate, into the tyrant that He is not. In Islamic history we observe Imam al-Hasan al-Basri (b.624) rejecting a deterministic universe. In response to a letter from Caliph Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan regarding the doctrine of a predestined universe, he replied: “Commander of the faithful; do not alter it or interpret it falsely. God would not openly prohibit people from something and destine them to do it secretly [emphasis added] as the ignorant and the heedless say. If that were so, He would not have said in the Qur’an, 41:40: Do what you wish. He would have said: Do what I have destined you to do. Nor would He have said in Qur’an, 18:28: Whomever wills shall believe and whoever wills shall disbelieve. He would have said: Whoever I will shall believe and whoever I will shall disbelieve.”
According to Qur’an, the current universe is our testing ground where our choices and actions generate data for presentation on the Day of Judgment. . Allah determines reward or retribution based on the data created by our choices during our life on our current universe. The Qur’an states: [Allah] Who created death and life in order to try you to see who of you are best in deed (Qur’an 67:2)” and “ Or do ye think that you shall enter the Garden (of Bliss) without such (trials) as came to those who passed away before you?…(Qur’an 2:214)”. It also reads: “On no soul does God place a burden greater than it can bear. It will receive every good it earned and suffer every ill it earned… (Qur’an 2:286).” Therefore, in the Islamic universe, human beings are free agents, given equal chances and the free will to do moral or immoral acts--equal chances to get to heaven or hell. What humans do matters on the Day of Judgment when God’s absolute justice wills prevails.
The fundamental purpose of the Qur’an and the Prophet’s (pbuh) authentic tradition is to make us aware of heaven and hell and of the moral or immoral decisions that we could take by the use of our free will in an unpredictable world. These sources are also decision- making guides to what actions God allows, prohibits, or considers neutral. He does not, however, determine or preordain individual choices and actions. We are free to choose from contrasting possibilities that are packed as information in each moment of the arriving future. We are free to actualize our choices into visible physical monuments of God’s creation. God holds us accountable if our choices violate the guidance that he revealed to us in the Qur’an. We are not responsible for conditions such as pain and suffering, fairness or unfairness, etc., that are inherent specific properties of each possibilities in the coming future. An analogy will better explain the point: A decides to throw acid on B, an innocent person. A is not accountable for the corrosive properties of the acid but for his decision to throw it to hurt human being. The creation of those characteristic properties of all possibilities including that of acid is in Allah’s domain.
In the predestined universe of anti-evolutionists, our thoughts and resulting deeds are preordained. If so, genuine tests or trials (on earth or Judgment Day) are impossible. An individual whose life is predestined will be arbitrarily rewarded or punished for his choices in the Hereafter Universe (al-Akhirah)! The Day of Judgment becomes a tyrant’s phony court hearing where pre-programmed machines, called humans, who have no control over their actions or decisions, are capriciously judged.
A predetermined universe conflicts with the truth in the Qur’an, the authentic traditions, and Islam in totality. A sound interpretation of Qur’anic truth will show that the acceptance of chance and unpredictability is a first step on the road to God because true believers accept responsibility for their choices in actualizing chances and possibilities that God sends their way. Without such freedom, humans cannot, through their effort and free will, find the Generous (Al-Karim), Merciful (Ar-Rahman) God. Instead, like robots, they are faced with a tyrannical force, which prompts their every move and punish them for what the tyrant programmed them to do.
Anti-evolutionist Muslims acknowledge the truth that Allah used the elements of chance and unpredictability in the historical processes that produced our contemporary nations and ways of life in which happy or horrifying unpredictable events are daily occurrences. If chance exits in the daily affairs of human beings and shapes their histories, how can we reject the role of chance in shaping our biological evolution? The theory of evolution is the history of life. Allah wants us to understand the physical and chemical laws of the universe so we can make rational choices and decisions. However, when He intervenes in our lives, He does not change existing physical laws as that may cause confusion among humans.
How did God design this miraculous universe? What are its mechanics? How does God interfere and answers prayers without violating natural laws? How does He maintain the continuity and directionality in evolution of the universe and life in the presence chance? Inshah, Allah, I hope to explore these questions in my book that is yet to be published.
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