Rabbish Rahli Sadri, Wa Yassirli Amri, wa uhlun uqdatam mil lisani yafqahu qauli.
Salaam everyone. This write-up is in response to a question posted by one of my students at my football club, and it aims at addressing the problem of evil, both in a religious and scientific perspective. Feel free to comment and ask questions, will respond as best as I can.
What is the Problem of Evil (for readers that are not familiar with the concept)
The question posted is as follows (by a 20+ M student born in a Muslim family):
If everything is written in destiny how come we have free will? And if Allah ( ta’ala) knows what choice we are going to make, how can we justify judgement?For e.g if a person destined to be in the hell he will do bad deeds which is ultimately written in his destiny how come he could change his destiny if everything is written already ?
What the question is referring to is called (in religion, philosophy and logic) the ‘Problem of Evil’. A lot of humans spend their entire lives questioning this very same thing, without ever having complete clarity on the answer. In most schools of thought, religious or otherwise, it is considered a ‘negative thought’ which we should not focus on and keep away from our conscious minds.
It is in fact, the very same questions that some of the historic apostles of God (Abraham, Moses, Muhammad) asked of God themselves, and is a completely natural query. For those who might not know, apostles of God are people who claim to have conversed with a supernatural/divine being or their delegates (often termed in religion as angels or jinn), and given a directive for mankind.
Now, generalizing the question – If God created the universe, and knows all its possible outcomes, and his written them himself, how is it justified to reward or punish creation based on their acts.
Another generalization of the problem of evil is as follows – if God is incharge, why is it that when some innocent is in distress or facing a calamity, they are not saved etc. Is it part of Gods plan to hurt innocent people, or was suffering ordained for them in the first place.
To bring method to these mind boggling questions and put them to the grave permanently, one must convince themselves from both a religious and a scientific perspective, will close this from both ends. For people who want complete details on creating a mental thought process to ensure future clarity, you would have to read through the whole thing (one long read for life is better than 50 years of doubt and self loathing).
All major monotheistic religions agree that God created man in his own image, as his arbitrator for the universe. This concept in itself entails the appointment of a certain jurisdiction over the well being and day to day of the universe, wherein you are in-charge of the world around you.
However, religions also state the following, which is often thought of as contradictory:
- That all human beings will be taken to account for their actions on the day of reckoning (hereafter) before their Creator.
- That destiny is written and completed, right at the start of creation, and we cannot add or subtract a single grain to it (or from it).
Now, coming to the question (which iblees – or satan also struggles with).
- As the end creation (or recipient of reward or punishment) How can i be taken into account for something that’s been pre-decided in the first place, or rewarded or punished for it, isn’t that unjust? like a fixed cricket match or a movie script.
- IF destiny is locked, can i change it, or should i even try?
Caught between these two stools, an average human being spends their whole life, trying to be their best, without actually knowing if it really has any benefit or purpose to it. The whole world seems like an irrelevant, cyclic existence that does not lead to any sense of meaning, whatever you do. Most people tend to lose their will to progress in the process, and lose themselves in sin and short term enjoyment.
The answer (religious)
Actually, both statements are true, and completely non-contradictory.
Let me explain with an example.
Say you train a kid to say yes, no and maybe. You teach them their meaning, and then you ask them questions. In this situation, the kid (or his recently newfound independent decision making on vocabulary) is the creation. And you (or your ability to teach) is the creator.
Here are some questions you need to ask yourself:
- Does the creator know all the possible outcomes of this conversation? – Yes they do. Kid will give one of three responses, yes, no or maybe.
- Does the kid have complete autonomy over which answer it chooses to give to a question? – Yes, they can. They can even choose not to answer at all (which humans do, in most circumstances, lol).
- Can the creator/parent choose to reward the kid based on their responses, e.g. yes to healthy food, no to extra candy, maybe to a good dress etc. – yes they can, it would be completely justified as the child is making independent choices BETWEEN THE SET OF OPTIONS ASSIGNED TO THEM.
- (slightly advanced understanding of philosophy required) Does the Creator (parent) know the possible response of an answer? Yes, its called emotional intelligence, love and understanding. its basically a projection of your feelings, thoughts, past, present and future choices, all put together into an educated guess, and a ‘psychic bond’ with the creation. As we all know, God breathed his spirit into man, so He knows us as well as he knows himself, and that goes both ways btw, if we try hard enough. BUT, the response is in no way rigged, strong-armed or pushed onto the person via DESTINY. Destiny is just set as ‘any of Yes, no, and maybe’. And Gods work stopped there (parent), rest is all you (the kid in this example).
So, summarizing, our concept of destiny is flawed, which leads us to this contradiction. Destiny is nothing but a SUM OF ALL POSSIBLE OUTCOMES OF THE UNIVERSE. all created the day the universe was made. Our traversal through that universe of destiny, is our call, 24/7. and that’s what we are rewarded/punished for, in this world and the next. Your rewards or punishments are not based on your DESTINY, they are based on your traversal through it.
To close the religious perspective, religion stands on the principal of merit and justice. There is one thing that the Creator is (or has chosen to be) incapable of – and thats injustice. Which is why the universe still exists, or it would have long collapsed.
Any and all interpretations of concepts like destiny, good, evil, reward and punishment, need to be made, keeping this base principal in mind. The problem of evil becomes a question in the mind only when we allow doubt into our head and heart, regarding the existence, or the just nature of the creator of the universe.
Finally, an anecdote from Prophet abrahams life, which has always helped me be stronger in faith against all negative emotion.
Prophet Abraham was known as Khalil ullah (which means Friend of God), as he was known to make a lot of humor and wit based conversations with his Creator. Believe it or not, he once actually asked God ‘tell me how you will give life to the dead, i need to see’. God answered, “abraham, do u not believe in me’, abraham replied, ‘I do, but i wish to be stronger in faith’. And that, in itself, contains the answer to all present, past and future questions of faith. The approach defines the end result.
On a side note, God told abraham to fetch four birds, make a bond with them (tame them), then place them on different mounts, leave them there, go to a fifth. Then call onto them with as much distance between them that there is no possible way of hearing each other. And guess what, the birds came flying back to him. Life and death – are stages, our bond with our creator is eternal. We are an inseparable part of Him, His arbitrators, his reward and punishment for ourselves, and all Creation.
This one is for all the logic monkeys (I always do this one first, and the religion one gets stronger later, I have yet to agree to a religious belief that I’m not 100% logically sold over first).
This will be easier for Computer science students or programmers, but still enjoyable for all of us. Hoping that this will put all doubts to rest.
So, repeating the questions in the light of science
- Are all human beings truly capable of self determination, or are the following a scripted behavior induced by the environment or their genome (creationist, Darwinist or otherwise).
- Secondly, if it is all behavioral, is it justified to reward and punish them, in this world or the next.
Answer – Ask yourself the very same question the next time someone lies to you, steals your wallet, or harms you in a certain way. Turn the other cheek bro, its ok. Do that for a while and someone will prolly strangle you to death because you let the ‘natural order of things run their course’. 😛
On a serious note, each and every entity that survives the test of time, is self aware. else it wouldn’t be around anymore. Self interest (and protection of it) is the basic need for survival. Even inanimate objects, i kid you not. Everything is aware, even at the subatomic level. Even atoms do what they want, let alone you. Its just that each has been assigned a distinct set of possibilities, between which they oscillate. same applies to humans. Now that assignment can be divine (creationist) or evolutionary (darwinist), but it still doesnt take away the fact that every speck acts of its own accord.
From a scientific perspective, think of DESTINY as a binary (or multibranch) search tree. several nodes, all defined, every possibility catered, put in one place, the blueprint of the universe and its functioning. One grand, perfectly balanced equation.
Now, your decisions help you traverse it, which means your path through destiny, isn’t locked. Just the superset and its possibilities are. Take the example of a video game. No matter how good you are in GTA, you cant make tommy vercetti step out ot the ingame screen and onto your couch, his destiny is defined by rockstar games. But what he does in the game, is completely upto him (or you, the player, for that matter). So the interpretation given by attributing the term destiny as ‘what you will do in life’ is wrong. That which has been set is all possibilities, destiny. Your path through it is you, defines you. And even in the real, scientific world, you get rewarded, or punished for your actions. Action and reaction, every system works on it, bad attribution on action and reaction implies system collapse over time.
The atheist response
Since I’m sure there will be about 10% audience to this that has this question, but doesn’t want to believe in either science or religion 😛 (some people just want to believe in hormone insinuations as the absolute truth, no offense, some of my best friends are atheists, there are always exceptions to jokes even).
here is why you SHOULD believe in destiny and accountability, boys.
- If there is no God (and ultimately no destiny), what is preventing things from going south, at any given point in time?
- In case there actually isn’t, and there is no afterlife either, what is the purpose of living this one-time, really short life as a socially responsible, morally accurate person? As there’s no light at the end of the tunnel (as per this mindset).
After having contemplated this angle in all honesty for almost 20 years of my life (as a student of logic, and as someone who loves God more than anything else), I believe that even if, in a hypothetical situation, God, afterlife and destiny dont exist – there is no way to navigate a socially responsible community without believing in something similar to these concepts.
Any human accountability system in the present day world will have loopholes and exploitation. Any select human beings given absolute authority over others will misuse it over time. Any confirmation of ‘just this life, nothing before, nothing after’ will turn the whole world into a brothel/hellhole. Where looting, pillaging, respect for human life, protection of women and children, saving the environment, everything will get flushed down a shithole in a few years time, in the interest of everyone trying to hog the worlds limited resources in their own name. No accountability in the afterlife implies chaos in the present.
So unless we want a world where our women are raped, our children molested, our properties looted, a world where there is no difference between man and animal, we have no choice but to believe in a system of higher accountability that transcends human domain. If it actually doesn’t exist, we are left with no choice but to make one, to ensure the survival of our generations in the spirit of equality and justice for all. Religion, was, is and always will be, a way of life, and science is nothing but its logical interpretation. We should all strive towards developing and improving their practicality through logic and practical application, so our next generation can also carry our values into the future.
I hope this discussion puts the problem of evil at rest, both scientifically and religiously. Most importantly, the key message here is that we shape our own future. No one, not even God, has defined it. God’s role ends where our begins, and His role begins where ours ends (hereafter, punishment and rewards). Anything and everything happening around is within the ambit of possibilities created by God (destiny), but is ENTIRELY 100% mans own doing (one way or the other, the path we take). Even natural calamities for that matter, but that’s a discussion for another blog.
Feel free to ask more, in relation to this or otherwise. Special thanks to Zohaib Raja for having the strength to pose this brain boggling question, no harm in asking as long as intent is positive.
Hasbi Allah, all the best.