Between me and my atheist friend

د. محمد جمال

Dr Mohammad Gamal Abd Elnor.
Senior Teaching Fellow‎‏, SOAS University of London.


I met him at the University of London, where I was studying philosophy while James was reading science. James once asked me about my belief in the existence of God. The conversation went in this way:

James: are you open to have a conversation about your faith in God?

Me: yes, absolutely. You are most welcome, James.

James: first of all, let me tell you that I have no problem with the fact that you believe in God; everyone has the right to believe in whatever he wants indeed, yet my only problem is that you, believers, want to sell it as ‘knowledge’, i.e. you claim that your faith is based on ‘knowledge’.

Me: could you clarify that a bit further please?

James: okay, simply put: how do you claim that your faith is based on ‘rational knowledge’ while we cannot prove God’s existence by ‘scientific knowledge’?

Me: before I answer your question, let me first ask you what you mean by science?

James: science, basically, is about searching into things with scientific methods.

Me: it seems that you’re restricting ‘science’ to a very limited area, which is the natural/physical sciences and their likes. Yet knowledge is a very broad term that goes way beyond science. Although if we trace the word ‘science’ to its origin, we will find that in its Latin origin it used to equate ‘knowledge’, i.e. traditionally science’ is translation of the term ‘episteme’ as Aristotle uses it. Anyway, I understand that science today largely applies to physics, but we have to keep this subtle nuance in mind, i.e. science in its modern form is only one single branch of knowledge. A branch of knowledge that barely matters when it comes to our metaphysical discussion.

James: what do you mean?

Me: okay, although I respect “science”, I know its limits. I know that there are other ways of coming at realities apart from science. I studied philosophy and logic, therefore I can tell you that these two branches ‘logic and philosophy’ provided me with some rational premises that led me to the conclusion I have in terms of my faith in God. So, it does not matter to me whether science proves or disproves God, as metaphysics is not the subject of physical science.

James: great! I will take that. Tell me then, what makes you rationally believe in the existence of God?

Me: putting it in the simplest way, when I looked at this universe, no more than two assumptions my mind could take: 1. This universe is created by God; or 2. This universe is created by accident and is a result of coincidence.

James: I am absolutely delighted that you have considered coincidence as an option. Many believers ridicule that very assumption.

Me: ridiculing it is different from taking it as a rational assumption. What I mean is that I ridicule it too (ha ha), but I cannot deny that it is not intellectually impossible.

James: great! Here we have a meeting point. Could you clarify how do you see coincidence in this context?

Me: we know from mathematics that the rule of probability states that the probability of a certain accident increases and decreases in an inversely proportional way with the number of the other equal possibilities. In short, the less the possibilities, the more probable a certain accident becomes, the more possibilities there are, the less probable. If there are two possibilities which are equally probable, probability of either of them is one in two, if there are ten equal possibilities then the probability is one in ten.

James: that’s great to hear! You believe then that coincidence is an assumption that is literary equal to believing in God, right?

Me: yes but let me give an example that made me disregard the coincidence assumption straightaway. Imagine that you have a printing house which has, let’s say, half a million letters scattered in various boxes, and then a huge earthquake came and turned the boxes on each other and mixed them, then the letter typist came and told you that through this coincidental mixture of the letters, ten different words whose meanings are disconnected were formed, would you believe him?

James: yes, I would. This is quite probable.

Me: now, imagine that the ten words form a full and meaningful sentence, would you still believe it?

James: I would find it highly unlikely to believe, yet it is not logically impossible. Namely, it will not drive me to think about a superstitious being that formed them.

Me: okay. Imagine if I told you that all the letters of the printing house formed, through their accidental mingling, an entire book formed of 1000 pages, containing one poem whose entirety forms a whole connected, homogenous and harmonious unit with rhyming words at the end of each line, and correct meters in these lines, would you believe this?

James: no, I would not. I cannot find a room for probability here.

Me: wonderful! Now let me tell you that the book formed above is the book of the universe and the author is of that book is the one you’re denying his existence.

James: hang on! Are you telling me that the world we live in today is harmonious and rhyming? Don’t you see the amount of evil happening in this world? Are kidding me?

Me: Of course, I am not kidding you, but this is a separate discussion that we can have another day. I have a lecture to catch, but this discussion will go forward my friend. Bye.

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