By professor Abolghasem Fanaei1
This paper2 aims to comparatively study mystical theology and philosophical theology in Islamic culture. The main claim of the author is that the disagreements between Muslim mystics and philosophers regarding theology stem from a deeper difference in their definition and perception of God. Particularly, the rationality of belief in the existence of God and our need or lack thereof for evidence of His existence, which is a central topic in philosophical and mystical theology, is based on the definition and perception that mystics and philosophers have of God. The need or lack of need for reasoning about God’s existence, the attributes of God, the possibility of knowing God and how to know Him, His similarity and distinction from creation, the relationship between God and creation, and the rationality of religious beliefs or the relationship between reason and faith, are among the fundamental issues of theology. As we will see, resolving all these issues is, in a way, based on the presupposition one has about the definition of God.
Before entering into the real discussion, it is appropriate to revisit some opinions on the relationship between the intellect and faith in philosophy of religion. Though these opinions have an epistemic nature to them, in reality, they are based on different definitions and understandings of rationality. Three of the most important opinions are Classical Foundationalism or Evidentialism, Fideism, Reformed Epistemology or Experientialism.
1. Classical Foundationalism or Evidentialism: It is an opinion in epistemology that divides our beliefs into self-evident axioms and reflective. It considers self-evident axioms to be needless of any justification and are not in need of other beliefs for their reliability. Reflective beliefs can only be justified through premises that are self-evident.
Besides the three aforementioned shared principles, classical foundationalists differ on the definition of criterion of what constitutes self-evidence, instances of self-evident beliefs, and the ways in which reflective beliefs are built and justified through self-evident axioms. Proponents claim that foundationalism is a result of the theoretical intellect and is rooted in norms and requirements as dictated by the said intellect.
Foundationalism with respects to religious knowledge can be summarized in the following propositions:
- No religious belief is to be accepted unless it is rational
- No religious belief is rational unless it can be proven through a demonstrative argument
As such, foundationalists who believe in the existence of God, exert all their efforts in proving and justifying the existence of God through demonstrative arguments. On the other hand, foundationalists who deny the existence of God or are agnostic towards it, exert all their efforts to show that the demonstrative argument is deficient and invalid, or bring a demonstrative argument to prove the non-existence of God. However, both camps agree that the belief in the existence of God is a reflective belief that requires a demonstrative argument for its justification. Among the famous religious foundationalists were Aquinas, a Christian, and Clifford, an atheist.
Fiedeism and reformed epistemology in reality are a reaction to classical foundationalism. Fideists deny proposition (1) held true by foundationalists and argue that religious beliefs are irrational and at the same time acceptable. Experientialists and proponents of reformed epistemology deny proposition (2) held true by foundationalists and argue that religious beliefs are rational but are self-evident and needless of demonstrative arguments.
Fiedeists claim that religious beliefs acquire their reliability and probativity from faith, whereas experientialists claim that religious beliefs acquire their reliability and probativity from religious experiences. The difference between these two groups is that fideists accept classical foundationalism as an explanation of the structure of rationality, while at the same time believing that religious beliefs do not have a rational foundation. On the other hand, experientialists claim that religious beliefs do have a rational premise, but classical foundationalism does not have a valid conception of the structure of rationality nor provide a valid criterion to identify instances of self-evident axioms – hence presuming that the belief in the existence of God is a reflective belief which requires demonstrative evidence.
Both views defend religious beliefs in light of the challenges faced by classical foundationalism, even though their approach in defending these beliefs are different.
2. Fiedism: It is the view that religious beliefs cannot be rationally evaluated. One of the arguments that is generally brought for this claim is that human’s devotion to God should be his only ultimate concern, and to condition faith to rational arguments, in reality, indicates that it is the intellect – and not God – which is the ultimate concern for humans. Based on this, leaving faith to the hands of reason and accepting the judgement of the intellect within religion is incompatible with the very nature of religion. Fideism has various interpretations, Barth, Kierkegaard and some of Wittgenstein’s followers are from some of the famous proponents of it.
One of the arguments worthy of attention and benefits fideists is based on the difference between faith and belief. Faith is a lot more general than belief in the validity of a proposition. Faith is a type of devotion, commitment, trust and positive valuation, while belief is not like this. It also does not matter whether the subject matter of faith and belief happens to be God or something else. Faith in God means faith in the reality and truth of God which necessitates devotion, humility and trust. Whereas belief in the proposition “God exists” means belief in the truth of this proposition and that is it.
3. Reformed Epistemology or Experientialism: Reformed epistemologists or experientialists, who were inspired by the ideas of the famous Christian reformist John Calvin’s, actually do three things. They show that:
a) Classical foundationalism is deficient and inadequate.
b) Religious beliefs, such as belief in the existence of God, are an instance of self-evident and foundational premises, and rely on religious experience. Therefore, the rational justification of these beliefs is not to be done through demonstrative arguments nor based on accepting non-religious beliefs. In conclusion:
c) Doubt and incertitude in religious beliefs or rejecting their reasonability, based on the presumptions of classical foundationalism are baseless.
William P. Alston and Alvin Plantinga were prominent proponents of this view in the contemporary philosophy of religion.3 Alston while emphasizing that sensory knowledge is part of self-evident beliefs which are reasoned by us and attain their reliability not through demonstrative arguments, but through religious experience, attempts to show that the belief in the existence of God is also self-evident and a part of religious experience. According to Alston, religious experience is no different to sensory experience from the perspective of conditions and its nature. In both cases, we establish an immediate relationship with the objective reality.
The only difference is that the subject matter and what it is related to are the two different types of experiences which do not impact the reliability of the experience nor the belief attached to it. In sensory experience, we experience natural and material entities whereas in religious experience we encounter exalted and absolute entities. Alston’s critique of classical foundationalism is largely based on the fact that foundationalists have no rational justification for accepting the reliability of sensory experience or rejecting the reliability of religious experience.
According to Alston, there is no evidence at our disposal that necessitates that sensory beliefs are self-evident and reasonable while belief in the existence of God is not self-evident and irreasonable. Belief in the existence of God is equally justified within the domain of religious experience as sensory beliefs are in the domain of sensory experience. As such, Alston is attempting to reform the views of the classical foundationalists on the nature and reliability of religious experience. In other words, Alston is a reliabilist in his epistemology, meaning he believes that our beliefs are only justified when they are considered knowledge which in turn are obtained from reliable means. Based on this, he claims that sensory experience and belief in the existence of God that is acquired through experience are both true and justified because sensory and religious experience are both reliable sources of knowledge.4
Alvin Plantinga offers another perspective on religious experience and reformed epistemology. His criticism of classical foundationalism is based on the claim that foundational beliefs are not summarized in sensory or indubitable beliefs. There are beliefs based on memory, our beliefs about other minds, and many other beliefs in our minds that cannot be inferred from our other beliefs. We have no evidence in their favor, yet accepting these beliefs is reasonable. We do not commit any epistemological errors in accepting them and do not overlook any epistemological principles. Plantinga claims that belief in the existence of God is also like this; it is a basic belief, it cannot be inferred from other beliefs, it does not owe its justification to other beliefs, and yet it is reasonable. Plantinga is a functionalist in terms of epistemological justification and believes that we are in a desirable epistemological position. This is because our cognitive tools have been created for a specific function, which is the discovery of truth and the acquisition of knowledge, and they perform their function correctly.5
The author believes that the dispute between Muslim mystics and philosophers regarding the rationality of religious beliefs, especially about the necessity or non-necessity of belief in the existence of God based on argument, can be clearly understood and explained within the frameworks of classical foundationalism and experientialism or reformed epistemology. The majority of Muslim philosophers are proponents of classical foundationalism. However, they do not consider any religious propositions, including the statement “God exists,” as self-evident or independent of argument. Based on this, they strive to argue for the existence of God and justify the belief in the existence of God with the help of non-religious beliefs. As we will see, this approach is based on the definition that Muslim philosophers provide for God.
On the other hand, Muslim mystics claim that the belief in the existence of God is self-evident, clear, and independent of argument. As we will see, this approach is also based on the definition that mystics provide for the concept of God and His reality. Thus, it can be concluded that Muslim philosophers have accepted both claims of classical foundationalism regarding religious knowledge, namely propositions (1) and (2). Meanwhile, Muslim mystics primarily deny the second claim, proposition (2), and sometimes the first claim of classical foundationalism, proposition (1). Which of these two perspectives is closer to our religious texts and provides a better interpretation and explanation of these texts is a subject for another article. Here, after presenting the definition of God in mysticism and philosophy, we will provide evidence supporting the mystics’ view, indicating that belief in the existence of God is a foundational belief and, in fact, the basis and assumption for all other beliefs that might exist in our mind. Without accepting this belief, no other belief is reasonable or justifiable. The belief in the existence of God is non-inferable and, at the same time, reasonable. Based on the mystical definition of God, religious skepticism is the same as absolute skepticism, and doubt in the existence of God is essentially doubt in the principle of existence. Therefore, anyone who denies absolute skepticism believes in the existence of God. From the mystics’ perspective, doubt in the existence of God or denial of His existence stems from a misconceived notion of God, not from the inadequacy of arguments for His existence.
The author’s claim, in brief, is that:
- The existence of God cannot be argued for, as His existence is the presupposition of any argument; therefore,
- Belief in the existence of God is a foundational belief and, indeed, the most fundamental of them;
- Belief in the existence of God is rooted and based on religious experience; and
- Religious experience is multi-layered and gradational: some religious experiences are intellectual intuitions (Thought Experiment or Intellectual Intuition), while others are heartfelt or knowledge by presence. The evidence presented here in favor of the mystical concept of God is entirely based on the nature of intellectual experience or intuition. These evidences are presented solely to prepare the reader’s mind for the intellectual intuition of the proposition “God exists.”
In this regard, I agree with the fideists that arguing for the existence of God is incorrect; although I have a different reason for this claim. In my view, first, arguing for the existence of God is incompatible with a true understanding of God; that is, it’s based on a misconceived notion of God. Secondly, a God whose existence is proven through argument cannot be the foundation of religious faith; that is, the knowledge that underpins and supports faith is experiential knowledge with psychological and practical implications. My disagreement with the fideists is that, in my opinion, the most basic knowledge of God precedes faith and is independent of it, and belief in the existence of God is reasonable; meaning it can be justified in the light of religious experience, although such justification is neither in the sense of arguing for the existence of God nor incompatible with the ultimate concern of God’s humanity. Belief in the existence of God is reasonable for the same reason that other beliefs based on experience are reasonable. Belief in the existence of God is reasonable because this belief is the foundation and presupposition of all other religious and non-religious beliefs. Since doubt in the existence of God is essentially doubt in absolute existence, accepting absolute existence is tantamount to accepting the existence of God. Therefore, accepting the truth of any proposition is contingent upon accepting the existence of God as a prior condition.
On the other hand, I agree with reformed epistemology in the claim that belief in the existence of God is among the foundational and reasonable beliefs and can be justified based on religious experience. My disagreement with the experientialists lies in the nature of religious experience. While experientialists consider religious experience to be of the same kind as knowledge by presence, I believe that religious experience has various types; that is, it forms a spectrum where one end is rational intuition or thought experiment, and the other end is heartfelt intuition, mystical experience, or knowledge by presence. Moreover, experientialists do not claim that the existence of God is non-inferable. They claim that the existence of God does not require argumentation, and belief in His existence is reasonable even without argument. Whereas my claim is that the existence of God is not subject to argumentation, and arguing for His existence is based on a misconceived notion of Him. Even if the philosophers’ reasons for the existence of God were exhaustive, the entity whose existence is proven through these arguments is not God.
One can argue that the difference between philosophy and mysticism in theology, ontology, epistemology, and many other fields stems from a disagreement on a key and fundamental presupposition. This presupposition is that “the absolute unconditional existence (wujud-i mutlaq la bi-shart) exists outside the mind.” Mystics claim that absolute existence unconditionally exists externally and is not merely a mental concept. On the other hand, philosophers argue that absolute unconditional existence (wujud-i mutlaq la bi-shart) is a universal and abstract concept that exists only in the mind, and what exists outside the mind is an instance of absolute existence, not absolute existence itself. Mystics strive to demonstrate the truth of this presupposition, while philosophers debate and doubt its validity. From the philosophers’ perspective, concrete entities that are manifestations of the concept of existence are always bound by some limitations, and even God, being one of these manifestations, has His existence bound by a certain condition; the God of philosophy has a conditional existence (bi shart-e la), not an unconditional one (la bi-shart). In philosophy, God is merely one of the determinations of absolute existence, while in mysticism, God is the absolute existence itself. This fundamental presupposition is what separates the paths of philosophy and mysticism, not only in theology but also in many significant issues of ontology and epistemology. The disagreement between philosophers and mystics in defining God also stems from the difference in the unconditional absolute existence. It’s evident that if the unconditional absolute exists, it is God. However, if it doesn’t exist, then God must be one of its determinations.
2. The God of Philosophy
2.1 According to the definition of philosophy, God is an entity bound by the condition of universality. Islamic philosophy defines the concept of God as a conditional existence or a distinct existence that differentiates Him from other entities. From a philosophical perspective, the concept of God is composed of existence and a negative condition (bi shart-e la) or absoluteness (itlaq). Through this, God is distinguished and separated from other entities, occupying a unique level of existence, which is the highest tier. The possibility of doubt in the existence of the philosophical God and His need for argumentation arises because of this condition. For when an existence is bound by a condition, the existence of that condition becomes questionable, and doubt in the existence of the condition will also affect the bound existence. Such doubt is reasonable, as it doesn’t entail any contradiction or inconsistency and can only be resolved with evidence and proof. Thus, based on the philosophical definition of God, His existence becomes questionable and requires argumentation.
2.2 Such a definition of the concept of God has cast a shadow over the philosophers’ views on the existence of possible beings, the relationship between God and creation, the definition of causality, the emergence of multiplicity from unity, and many other topics. Some of the most significant outcomes and implications of this definition are as follows:
2.2.1 Such a definition allows philosophers to accept the existence of other entities, albeit in a dependent manner; that is, they commit to the real multiplicity of existence. Philosophers categorize the entities of the existential world into necessary and possible. For the possible entities, they assert a real existence, albeit a constrained and dependent one. In proving the existence of God, philosophers, with the help of philosophical arguments, establish a God whose existence is compatible with the existence of possible beings. The real multiplicity of existence is a presupposition for the argumentation of the existence of the philosophical God.
2.2.2 By accepting this definition, philosophers absolutely purify God from the attributes of possible entities. This is because the condition of universality, in its negative sense, is incompatible and cannot be combined with any other condition, and an existence bound by this condition is distinct from an existence bound by any other condition.
2.3.3 According to the philosophical conception of God, the union of God and creation on the same level is impossible. This means that not only do the possible entities not exist at the level of God, but God also does not and cannot exist at the level of possible entities. This is because the conditions of necessity and possibility negate each other, and an entity bound by one of these conditions cannot be combined with an entity bound by the other. These conditions prevent each from existing at the other’s level. The descent of the philosophical God from His level is irrational, as it necessitates abandoning the condition of universality and necessity, and the ascent of possible entities towards Him is impossible, as it requires abandoning the condition of possibility. Philosophers, however, claim that God has knowledge by presence in relation to possible entities, but as we will see, this claim is not justifiable based on that foundation.
2.3.4 The relationship of the philosophical God to creation is one of causality in the philosophical sense of the term, and one of the ambiguous philosophical discussions is explaining how the emergence of multiplicity from unity is possible.
2.3.5. Accepting the philosophers’ definition of God, the justification of God’s knowledge of creation and creation’s knowledge of God is complicated. Regarding the former, the problem arises because God’s knowledge of possible entities cannot be acquired knowledge; since God does not possess a mind, it cannot be assumed that His knowledge of possible entities is mediated by concepts and judgments present in His mind. On the other hand, the philosophical God cannot have knowledge by presence in relation to possible entities; because firstly, as explicitly stated by philosophers, knowledge by presence is specific to immaterial entities, meaning in knowledge by presence, both the knower and the known are immaterial, and the condition for such knowledge is the existential unity or union of the knower and the known. Therefore, the philosophical God cannot have knowledge by presence concerning the natural world, its entities, and the material events of this world. Knowledge by presence refers to the presence of an immaterial entity with another immaterial entity. This knowledge depends on the presence of the knower at the level of the known or the presence of the known at the level of the knower. As we’ve seen, the condition of universality prevents the philosophical God from being present in the lower realms of existence or entities bound by other conditions from being present at His level.
The knowledge of possible entities about the philosophical God also faces challenges. This is because the philosophical God is entirely distinct, and due to the condition of universality, which necessitates His absolute transcendence from the attributes of possible entities, He bears no resemblance to possible entities. Therefore, the philosophical God is not subject to acquired knowledge. Direct presence with this God is also impossible for the same reasons mentioned earlier.
3. The God of Mysticism
3.1 According to the definition provided by mysticism, “God is the Absolute Unconditional Existence.” Unlike the philosophical God, the God of mysticism is not bound by the condition of universality. The adoption of this condition in defining God is solely to demonstrate His freedom from all conditions, including the condition of universality.
3.2 If God is the Absolute Unconditional Existence, the following conclusions will be derived based on the definition:
3.2.1 Neither the concept of God nor His existence will have any conditions; therefore, proving the existence of the God of mysticism is not dependent on proving the existence of any condition. Doubting the existence of the God of mysticism is an impossible and irrational doubt; because the God of mysticism is the Absolute Existence without conditions, and this Absolute Existence has no condition in which doubt about the existence of that condition could spread to the Absolute Existence. According to the mystical definition, doubt in the existence of God arises from an incorrect perception of God. Because if God is the Absolute Existence without conditions, as mystics claim, doubting His existence is essentially doubting the very principle of existence, and such doubt is irrational and impossible, as its assumption contains a contradiction. However, doubting the existence of God due to an incorrect perception of Him, although possible, can only be resolved by correcting the perception of God, not by arguing for His existence.
3.2.2. The God of mysticism is present with all conditioned beings and exists in all levels of existence; although no conditioned being is with Him. The Absolute Existence, in one sense, is the very essence of conditioned beings. His descent from the highest level of the unseen and His manifestation, appearance, and determination in the lower levels are possible. This is because the Absolute without condition truly has no conditions, it merges with any conditioned being and does not reject any condition or any conditioned being. Of course, no conditioned being is present at His level, but He is with all. The Absolute is with all conditioned beings, and if it isn’t, it’s not Absolute. However, no conditioned being is with the Absolute or with other conditioned beings; because if it is, it is no longer conditioned.
3.2.3. The God of mysticism has knowledge of the possible beings; because the possible beings, in the true sense of the word, are nothing but Him. God’s knowledge of possible beings is essentially His knowledge of Himself. The God of mysticism has both knowledge by presence and acquired knowledge. Knowledge by presence, as we have seen, depends on the existential unity or union of the knower and the known, and this ontological and metaphysical premise is only assumable under the mystical definition of God. Knowledge by presence means nothing but the presence of the known “with” the knower, and this “with” is the very existence at the level of the knower or at the level of the known. However, as we have seen, God’s existence in the realm of possibilities is only possible and rational if we recognize Him as the Absolute Existence without condition. The Absolute Existence without condition, while maintaining its universality, can exist and be present in the level of conditioned beings, which are nothing but His manifestations and appearances.
As for God’s acquired knowledge of possible beings; because acquired knowledge returns to knowledge by presence, in the sense that knowledge by presence is due to acquired knowledge of the effect. Acquired knowledge is a kind of construct and assumption. In acquired knowledge, the knowing subject confronts the cause, which is the reality of the effect, and assumes the knowledge of that cause as the knowledge of the effect, which is the essence of the cause. In other words, acquired knowledge is the construct of the cause, which is inherently known (ma’lum bil-dhaat), in place of the effect, which is accidentally known (ma’lum bil-aradh). Therefore, God’s knowledge by presence of His essence and attributes is, in one respect, His acquired knowledge of the external world, which are the manifestations of His essence and attributes. However, this claim is only rational and acceptable if causality means manifestation and the cause is the reality of the effect, and the effect is the essence of the cause. In other words, the premise of this claim is the mystical definition of unity of existence, according to which the cause and effect are one, not two.
3.2.4 The Absolute Existence, in the mystical sense, leaves no room for any other, even in the form of dependent existence or relation. From a mystical perspective, whatever exists other than God is merely a reflection, shadow, and manifestation of God. Causality is not in the sense of creating possibilities, but in the sense of the evolution of the Absolute Existence through its states, its display in its affairs, and its appearance in its manifestations. Such an existence does not differ from its descents and is not separate from them. The result is that, based on the mystical definition of God, the actual multiplicity in existence becomes impossible, and the perceived sensory multiplicity is only explainable and acceptable as multiplicity in manifestations.
3.2.5 The God of mysticism cannot be characterized by any attribute at the level of His essence. This is because any attribute is considered a kind of limitation and constraint, implying a departure from the absolute and infinite nature. In other words, the abstraction of an attribute from Him depends on a relative and hypothetical consideration, which is not consistent with His absolute unseen nature and the impossibility of rationally pointing to the core of His reality. Therefore, all of God’s attributes are from the determinations and lower levels of His existence, which appear as a result of the manifestation and descent of that existence from the absolute unseen.
3.2.6 The existence of the God of mysticism is self-evident. The arguments put forth for His existence either arise from a mistaken conception of Him—in which case what is proven to exist will not be God but rather something else mistakenly thought to be God—or they serve as reminders of His existence, rather than being proofs or evidences in the strict philosophical sense of the word. Or they are arguments for the obviousness of His existence, rather than for the principle of His existence.
3.2.7 The mystics’ definition of God necessitates a new interpretation and explanation of all existential concepts. Based on this, “causality” is interpreted as “display” and “manifestation,” the “existence” of possibilities as “appearance and emergence,” gradation in existence as “gradation in manifestations,” unity of gradational existence as “actual and simple unity,” multiplicity in existence as “multiplicity in manifestations,” and the first emanation is interpreted as “expansive grace” (fayd-i munbasit).
3.2.8 The mystical definition of God allows mystics to reconcile between anthropomorphism (tashbih) and transcendence (tanzih). It enables them to avoid the absolute transcendence of God.
Mysticism, Religious Experience, and Reformed Epistemology
In this section, our aim is to demonstrate that the Absolute Existence, in the mystical sense of the term, i.e., the Absolute Unconditional Existence, exists. It is evident that if the existence of such an entity is accepted, it must necessarily be God; for God is an entity that is inconceivable in a more perfect form. However, it must be noted that this claim cannot be proven through logical argumentation; because accepting such an existence is the presupposition of any argument, and the belief in such an existence is deeply embedded in the psyche and conscience of every individual. The only feasible task here is to demonstrate the truth of this claim by providing an appropriate context for rational intuition. What we need here is “knowledge of knowledge,” and knowledge of knowledge is not attainable through argumentation in the conventional sense of the word. Argumentation is for dispelling ignorance and converting the unknown into the known, not for dispelling negligence and converting the neglected into the mentioned. Overcoming negligence is only possible by addressing its causes and reasons. Ignorance is the opposite of knowledge, but negligence is the opposite of knowledge of knowledge and is compatible with knowledge.
Regarding a truth, a person is either knowledgeable about it or ignorant; in the former case, they are either heedless of that truth and their knowledge of it or they are mindful of that truth and their knowledge of it. Reminding oneself of previous knowledge is different from learning a new fact; and the method of learning is different from the method of reminding. In the act of reminding, the mind must be placed in conditions that induce awakening and remembrance. What those conditions are largely depends on the subject under discussion. Seeing a picture of a friend revives memories we had with them. If the “imprint of the world,” as mystics say, is “nothing but the imagination of the beloved,” why don’t we remember the beloved when we see the world? To remind oneself of the Absolute Unconditional Existence, the only thing one can do is to consider the implications and consequences of belief or disbelief in such a reality and, by reflecting on them, realize that belief in the existence of such a reality has always been present in the mind. This is the task that this section of the article undertakes. Some of the evidences that awaken us to the truth of the statement “God exists” are as follows:
4.1 Doubt about the existence and reality of anything is only possible if we question whether that “x”, whose existence and reality we doubt, has partaken in the Absolute Unconditional Existence or not. Thus, the Absolute Unconditional Existence is the presupposition for doubting the existence of anything, and without accepting it, not only the acceptance of the existence of contingent beings is impossible, but even doubting or denying their existence would be impossible. Therefore, doubting the Absolute Unconditional Existence implies its acceptance at a prior level. And since God, as defined mystically, is that Absolute Unconditional Existence, doubting His existence is impossible; because such doubt relies on accepting His existence at a prior level. However, if God, as philosophers claim, is a contingent being in the sense of being conditionally absolute, then doubting His existence would be possible without any contradiction. This is because the essence of this doubt is whether this specific existence has partaken in the Absolute Existence that is other than it. In other words, doubting the existence of the philosophical God contains no contradiction. This doubt means, “Has the conditionally absolute existence partaken in the Absolute Unconditional Existence or not?” Posing such a question is logical, and this question is open-ended, requiring argumentation to resolve.
However, if we understand God, as mystics claim, to be the Absolute Unconditional Existence, then doubting or denying His existence would imply acknowledging His existence, and such a matter is self-evident and beyond argumentation. One of the signs of the self-evidence of a proposition is that doubting or denying it necessitates its affirmation. Therefore, without accepting the Absolute Unconditional Existence, neither the acceptance nor the doubt or denial of any reality is possible. We must understand that, based on the mystical perspective, perceiving God as a distinct, separate, and external entity from other beings is a false perception; because it implies a limitation and finitude to God. In other words, doubting God’s existence is essentially doubting the principle of existence, not an instance of it.
According to the philosophical definition, one can accept the truth of many propositions and the existence of many entities and still doubt the existence of God, and such doubt contains no contradiction. In fact, philosophical arguments for the existence of God are all based on the presupposition that while we doubt God’s existence and need argumentation to accept His existence, we do not doubt the existence of contingents or possible phenomena, like motion or order. Thus, we can prove God’s existence through these contingents or phenomena and dispel our doubts about Him.6 However, if God, as mystics claim, is the Absolute Unconditional Existence, then doubting His existence is essentially doubting the Absolute Unconditional Existence, and religious skepticism is essentially absolute skepticism; meaning that doubting God’s existence, while acknowledging the existence of contingents, contains an internal contradiction. And since accepting the Absolute Unconditional Existence is the presupposition for accepting anything, denying absolute skepticism and accepting the principle of existence is essentially denying religious skepticism and accepting God’s existence. In this case, God’s existence is beyond the need for proof; meaning that assuming such a need is an illogical and meaningless assumption. In other words, when philosophers assume the existence of contingents as evident to argue for God’s existence, they have already presupposed the Absolute Unconditional Existence at a prior level. Because assuming the existence of anything necessarily presupposes the Absolute Unconditional Existence at a prior level. From this perspective, philosophers’ arguments for God’s existence contain an internal contradiction; because they argue to prove the existence of something whose existence has already been presupposed in the premises of the argument.
4.2 The need for a proposition to have a reason depends specifically on the perception of its subject and predicate. If the subject and predicate are conceived in a way that their relationship is contingent and they can be separated from each other, then proving the truth of that proposition, i.e., proving the union of its subject and predicate, requires a reason. Doubting the truth of such a proposition is a plausible and possible doubt. This is because assuming the separation of the subject and predicate in one of the possible worlds contains no contradiction. However, if the relationship between the subject and predicate is, by definition, necessary and assuming their separation implies a contradiction or other impossibilities, then the predicate’s proof for the subject will be independent of a cause, and our knowledge of that proposition will also be independent of reasoning and evidence. Such propositions are considered self-evident, and knowledge of their truth solely depends on the precise perception of the subject and predicate; unlike theoretical propositions that, in addition to the perception of the subject and predicate, also require a reason. The proposition “God exists” is self-evident; because God is the essence of existence, and His separation from existence is impossible. God’s existence, by definition, is necessary, not contingent; therefore, the relationship between the subject and predicate of the proposition “God exists” is also logically a necessary relationship.
4.3 The probability of the existence of an object depends on the number of conditions and constraints of its existence. The more conditions an object’s existence has, the weaker its probability of existence becomes, the more reasonable doubt about its existence becomes, and the harder it will be to prove its existence. This is because the existence of that object depends on the realization of that set of conditions, and knowledge of its existence will also depend on knowledge of the realization of all those conditions. However, the fewer conditions and presuppositions an entity has, the higher the probability of its existence becomes. In a situation where an entity’s existence, due to its absoluteness, does not depend on any condition, its existence becomes certain. God’s existence, by definition, does not depend on any condition; because, even by philosophers’ own admission, the concept of existence is abstracted from the essence of God, and attributing it to God does not depend on considering any analytical or restrictive aspect; God’s essence is the very existence.
4.4 The demand for evidence of the existence of something depends on conceiving it as limited, distinct, and distinguished from other entities. However, conceiving God in a specific, distinct, and distinguished manner from other beings implies imperfection, limitation, and anthropomorphism. Therefore, if, like philosophers, we conceive of God in this way and place such a conception as the subject of the proposition “God exists,” we are mistaken. In reality, we have not conceived or affirmed God; instead, we have indicated something else in place of God and provided evidence for it. In this judgment, there’s no difference whether the qualifier that distinguishes God from other beings is a qualifier of attribution or not. That is, there’s no difference between an essential qualifier and a non-essential one; because the problem of imperfection and limitation arises from the essence of the qualifier, not from its essential nature. The qualifier of attribution deprives God of encompassment, inclusivity, and the presence of striving, which is one of the perfections. The only difference between this qualifier and other qualifiers is that other qualifiers, in addition to depriving this perfection, also imply the limitation or loss of other perfections. However, this difference doesn’t change the judgment on qualifiers. The reason for denying a qualifier from God is that a qualifier implies imperfection and limitation and is incompatible with the divine nature of God. Philosophers’ mistake lies in not considering the qualifier of attribution as implying imperfection, even though encompassment and the breadth of existence, which requires the real presence of its owner in all levels of existence, is in itself one of the perfections, if not the most important one. In other words, dividing the realm of existence into two regions, necessary and contingent, or independent and relative, implies limiting God to the realm of necessity and denying His existence and presence in the realm of contingents. We have previously seen that without God’s existence and presence in the world, neither His immediate knowledge will have a conclusive meaning, nor His influence and intervention in the world will be conceivable.
4.5 God is the essence of existence, and existence is His very essence; therefore, conceiving the separation of God’s essence from existence leads to a contradiction. Whenever the negation of a proposition results in a contradiction, its truth becomes self-evident. The reason God is the essence of existence is that if we assume that God’s essence is other than existence, this assumption implies both imperfection and limitation and also implies dependence on another. Because something whose existence is not its very essence owes its existence to another, and the assumption of its separation from existence is a possible and reasonable assumption. Therefore, to escape this predicament, we must accept that God, by definition, exists and cannot not exist. In other words, demanding evidence for God’s existence is based on conceiving Him as an essence among essences or a concept among concepts that are inherently separate from existence; whereas regarding God, it should be said that the concept abstracted from His very essence without considering any analytical or restrictive aspect is the concept of existence, not any other concept, and not even the concept of existence restricted by attribution. Although philosophers also consider God as the essence of existence and deny essence from Him, by accepting the qualifier of attribution in defining God, they define Him as a logical compound composed of absolute existence and the qualifier of attribution. This definition implies that the concept of existence cannot be abstracted from God’s very essence and that proving His existence requires evidence. The qualifier of attribution itself is one of the restrictive aspects that prevent the abstraction and attribution of existence to God’s very essence. In this way, philosophers’ definition of God is inconsistent and contradictory with their claim of His independence from analytical and restrictive aspects.
4.6. Logically, one of the conditions for a correct definition is that the definiendum should be clearer and more evident than the definiens. However, such a condition is not exclusive to conceptual matters, and it is also applicable and necessary in affirmations; that is, in affirmations, the premises should be clearer than the conclusion. Yet, this condition is overlooked in the argument for the existence of God. Because, by definition, God is the most manifest of all beings, and not perceiving Him or denying His existence is due to the intensity of His manifestation. However, the argument for the existence of God is based on the assumption that God is more hidden than other beings and that His existence is more concealed than the existence of the premises of the argument. The great mystic, Sheikh Mahmoud Shabestari, in his poetic work Gulshan-e Raz (The Rose Garden of Secrets), says:
For the true seeker, the unity is in direct vision,
A heart that has seen the light and purity of knowledge.
For those whom God has not shown the way,
The philosopher, in confusion,
From contingency, tries to prove the necessary.
Sometimes, from a distance, he takes a reverse journey.
When his intellect delves into existence,
The manifestation of all things is through their opposites.
Since the essence of God has no likeness or equal,
The contingent has no example from the necessary.
Oh, the ignorant one! He is the shining sun.
If the sun were constant,
No one would know that this is its radiance.
Consider the whole world as the glow of God’s light,
Any thought of God’s essence is void.
As His signs are clear from His essence,
The whole world is evident from His light.
The first glance is at the light of existence,
In everything he first sees, he sees God.
He does not open anything from the use of logic,
He sees nothing in things but possibility.
And from this, he is bewildered in the necessary essence,
Sometimes trapped in a chain of causality.
His feet get entangled in this chain,
But God has neither likeness nor opposition.
I don’t know how he knows Him,
How does he know Him after all?
In the desert, he seeks with the light of a candle,
If its rays were uniform,
There would be no difference from core to shell.
God is hidden in it from visibility,
Consider the pure impossibility of achieving the result,
His essence does not become clear from His signs,
Where would He become visible from the world?
4.7. Logically, there is a direct correlation between the need for a cause and the need for a reason. For something that has no cause, its existence is not doubtful to require a reason. Doubt in the realization of an entity arises from doubt in the realization of its cause. This is nullified in the case of an entity that has no cause, or rather, it is impossible for it to have a cause; hence, its need for a reason is also nullified. God has no reason because God has no cause.
4.8. As can be inferred from the profound contents of Du’a ‘Arafah, the need for a reason is itself a kind of deficiency, from which the realm of the Divine is exalted. An entity that is dependent on another for its manifestation, or an entity whose manifestation is contingent upon the indication of another, is less perfect than an entity that has no such need. In other words, when philosophers say that the existence of God requires a reason, the underlying assumption is that God is inherently absent and distant and is dependent on another for His manifestation; another entity that, according to the philosophers, is more evident and present than God. From the philosophers’ perspective, God is inherently absent and in His manifestation, He is dependent on another. In other words, “absence” and “distance” are two primary conditions for the need for a reason for the existence of an entity, and by definition, these conditions are negated concerning God. When we seek evidence of fire through smoke, it’s because the fire is distant and hidden from us. But when the fire is close and we feel its warmth, seeking evidence of its existence through the presence of smoke is illogical. As Rumi says:
If smoke is the evidence of fire,
Especially this fire that is so near.
We are pleased with this fire without smoke,
It has come closer to us than the smoke.
However, the difference between fire and God is that the distance and proximity, presence and absence of fire are possible, while the absence and distance of God are incompatible with His divinity. If someone conceives of God in a way that implies His absence or distance, they have not truly understood God and should correct their perception of Him, rather than accepting God’s absence and distance and seeking evidence for His existence. God’s inherent nature is to be present and evident, and an absent or distant God is not truly God.
4.9. Some philosophers, inspired by mystical sources, believe that philosophical and existential propositions are a case of an equivalent conversion (‘aks al-haml); that is, the subject and predicate in them have been swapped. When it is said, “Man exists,” in reality, the true form of the proposition is that “Absolute existence has been determined in a human manner” and “has manifested in a human form.” As Jami says:
Existence, for those those bound by limitations,
Appears as nothing but the accidents of entities and realities.
But in the visions of the masters of insight,
Entities are all accidents, and existence is what is manifested.
Based on this foundation, absolute existence is not an empty concept that specific existences exemplify. Because the subject of a proposition is unconditional in relation to its predicate. Absolute existence is that unconditional existence that, at different levels of existence, acquires incidental determinations and boundaries and manifests in various forms. Therefore, without assuming the existence of an absolute entity at a prior level, one cannot have any philosophical existential proposition. The ultimate rational goal of philosophy is to prove the determinations and manifestations of such existence, not to prove real multiplicity in existence. In other words, absolute unconditional existence is a presupposition with which philosophy begins. This presupposition distinguishes the path of philosophy from sophistry and skepticism, and since absolute existence is God, the existence of God is a presupposition of philosophy, not one of its theoretical issues.
4.10. One can also understand the existence of God through the mind’s inability to separate the predicate from the subject in the proposition “God exists,” which itself is a kind of rational intuition. That is, one can argue that when correctly conceiving God, no matter how hard our mind tries, it cannot separate God from existence, just as it cannot separate a triangle from having three angles. Assuming God’s separation from existence implies that His existence is not inherent and requires some external attribute or limitation when attributed to existence. The concept of a non-existent God is paradoxical and self-contradictory, making it impossible for the mind to conceive of God without existence. Therefore, those who deny or doubt the existence of God have not truly conceived of God as He deserves; just as those who demand evidence for His existence also suffer from an incorrect conception of God.
4.11 One of the profound perspectives of Transcendental Philosophy in explaining the relationship between cause and effect is that the cause and effect, in one respect, are identical to each other. The cause is the essence of the effect, and the effect is the diluted form of the cause. Based on this foundation, one can predicate the cause onto the effect. This predication is known as the “predication of essence and dilution.” Our claim is that accepting such a viewpoint is only reasonable if the cause is unconditional in relation to the effect. Because the superimposition of two conditional and contingent entities onto each other is impossible. Therefore, God, who, according to philosophers, is the primary cause and the cause of all causes, must be an absolute unconditional existence so that He can be predicated onto other entities. The assumption of the existence of anything necessitates the assumption of God’s existence at a prior level to it. Because God is the essence of everything, and everything is a diluted form of God, and the essence of anything is prior to its diluted form.
4.12 The proposition “God exists” is an analytical proposition. Because God is transcendent of essence, and His nature is the very existence. Analytical propositions are necessarily true; because their predicate is either identical to the subject or a part of it. In other words, the proposition “God exists” is true by definition. Because God, by definition, is that unconditional absolute existence which is the predicate of all existential propositions.
Response to Some Objections
5.1 First Objection: Analytical propositions are not related to the external world, and their content pertains to the realm of the mind. Therefore, one cannot prove an external reality through analytical propositions. In other words, propositions concerning the external world are all synthetic and non-self-evident, and they require reasoning.
Response: The claim that all analytical propositions are solely related to the realm of the mind is an unsubstantiated assertion. This misconception might arise from the belief that the truth of these propositions is determined through mental analysis without reference to the external world. However, there’s no evidence to suggest that intrinsic propositions cannot be proven through mental analysis. If the subject of a proposition pertains to external matters, undoubtedly its predicate will also be external. This fact doesn’t necessarily make the proposition synthetic. Because external concepts refer to the external world, and through them, a judgment about the external is established, even if that judgment is determined through the analysis of the subject. There are many examples of analytical propositions related to the external world. For instance, the proposition “Every effect has a cause” is analytical, as the notion of having a cause is embedded in the definition of an effect. Yet, this proposition pertains to the external world, meaning if an effect exists externally, it will have an external cause. Similarly, propositions like “Every child has a father” or “Every husband has a wife” are analytical and yet relate to the external world. Many logical propositions also share this characteristic. For example, when we say the combination of opposites or contradictions is impossible, we mean that the combination of opposites or contradictions in the external world is impossible. Imagining the combination of opposites or contradictions in the mind is not impossible; because imagining the impossible is not impossible. Therefore, the proposition “God exists” can be both analytical and related to the external world.
5.2 Second Objection: The truth of analytical propositions is based on accepting the definition of their subjects; however, whether the definition of the subject is correct or not cannot be proven through these propositions themselves. In other words, the truth of analytical propositions always relies on accepting the claimed definition about the subject, and one can deny the subject of the disputed proposition by denying its definition.
Response: This objection can be interpreted in two different ways. Based on one interpretation, this objection is rooted in the explanation that logical positivists provide about the nature of analytical propositions. They claim that the truth of analytical propositions is based on linguistic conventions, and therefore, with a change in convention, these propositions might lose their truth. However, this premise is incorrect; because in analytical propositions, the dispute isn’t about the relationship between words and their meanings, but rather about meanings and concepts, and the relationship between concepts isn’t subject to linguistic conventions. The proposition “God exists” is no exception to this rule. The debate among philosophers and mystics isn’t about what the word “God” is conventionally meant to signify or what people intend by this term. The debate about the meaning of the word “God” is a linguistic one that can be resolved by referring to a dictionary. If one day people use the term “God” in a sense other than the Absolute Unconditioned Existence, the proposition “God exists” will not be analytical. But the real debate is whether such an entity, God, exists or not. Even if everyone agrees to name Him “God” and if the existence of this entity can be proven through various philosophical arguments, the question remains: Does such an entity, God, exist?
The second interpretation of this objection is that the analytical nature of the proposition “God exists” is based on accepting the mystical definition of God. Therefore, one cannot prove the truth of that mystical definition by assuming the proposition “God exists” is analytical. In other words, philosophers can justify their doubt in the truth of the proposition “God exists” by disputing its subject’s definition. It’s true that based on the philosophical definition of God, the proposition “God exists” wouldn’t be analytical. However, it’s important to note that we aren’t trying to derive the truth of the mystical definition of God from the analytical nature of the proposition “God exists”. Our claim is that the set of claims made by philosophers about theology is contradictory; on one hand, they define God as the Absolute Existence with certain conditions, and on the other, they claim that the concept of existence, abstracted from God’s essence, without considering any restrictive or analytical condition, is attributed to Him. These two claims are incompatible. The former implies that the proposition “God exists” is synthetic, while the latter implies it’s analytical. Since assuming that the abstraction of the concept of existence from God’s essence depends on the addition of any kind of condition, even a condition of generality, is incompatible with the divinity of God, it must be concluded that God’s existence necessitates the analytical nature of the proposition “God exists”. Assuming this proposition is synthetic is incompatible with the divinity of God and contains a contradiction.
5.3 Third Objection: The existence that is taken in the definition of God is the concept of existence, not its instance. However, the debate about God’s existence is about His external and actual existence. Therefore, in this argument, there’s confusion between existence as an essential primary predication (haml-e awwali) and existence in its common predication (haml-e shayi’), or between the concept of existence and its instance. Because what is taken in the definition of God is existence in its primary sense, i.e., the concept of existence, while the existence in the proposition “God exists” is existence in its common sense, i.e., actual existence.
Response: Firstly, the existence that is taken in the definition of God is external existence, i.e., existence in its common sense, not the concept of existence. If God were merely the concept of existence, all previous objections would return. Because in this case, God’s essence would be different from actual existence, and something whose essence is different from actual existence cannot be God. Therefore, the existence derived in the definition of God is external existence; that is, God is an entity whose essence is the actual external existence, which is the same as existence in its common sense. The actuality of an entity with the concept of existence or with existence in its primary sense is not considered a perfection for that entity to be taken as the concept of existence in the definition of God. In other words, if God is the actuality of existence in its primary sense, His realization outside the mind becomes impossible. The concept of existence in the proposition “God is the actuality of existence” is a reference term, and through it, the external existence is indicated. The content of this proposition is that God is the actual external existence, because such an entity can be God, not an entity that is conceptually equivalent to existence.
Secondly, accepting the claim that the existence derived in the definition of God is existence in its primary sense will not harm our argument. Because one can only take the concept of existence in the definition of an object when that object, outside the mind, is inseparable from external existence. Only in such a case is the concept of existence abstracted from its essence without considering any analytical or restrictive condition. As a result, the proposition “God is existence in its primary predication”, which is the same as the definition of God, and the proposition “God exists in its common predication”, which is the debated proposition, are interdependent in truth and falsehood. Accepting the truth of one with the falsehood or doubt of the other results in a contradiction. Thus, philosophers either should not take the concept of existence in the definition of God or should accept His external existence according to the definition; otherwise, they fall into contradiction. One can only take the concept of existence in the definition of an object and say that the object is conceptually equivalent to existence when that object, outside the mind, is actually the instance of existence. Therefore, the conceptual unity of the concept of God and the concept of existence in the mind necessarily implies the actual unity of the two outside the mind, and in this way, one cannot claim that the concept of existence is taken in the definition of God while His external existence is doubtful and needs proof.
5.4 Fourth Objection: Analytical propositions are true with respect to the external world, assuming the existence of their subjects externally. For instance, when we say, “Every effect has a cause,” the meaning of this proposition is that if an effect exists externally, it will have a cause. Or when we say, “Every husband has a spouse,” our intention is that if a husband exists externally, he will have a spouse. Therefore, the proof of the predicate for the subject in these propositions is hypothetical and conditional and does not necessitate the external existence of the subject. Hence, in the proposition “God exists,” one cannot deduce the external existence of God through analyzing the concept of this proposition.
Response: This claim is not universally true and is only valid in cases where the predicate of the proposition is not existence. However, in a proposition where the predicate is existence or being, the proof of the predicate for the subject is the very proof of the subject’s existence, and there’s no need to prove the subject’s existence at a prior level.
5.5 Fifth Objection: One can also incorporate existence into the definition of a partner of the Creator (sharīk al-bārī) and, based on the claim of this article, analytically derive the existence of the partner of the Creator from this definition.
Response: If the existence incorporated into the definition of God is the absolute and unconditional existence, then assuming the existence of another entity alongside it, even as a partner of the Creator, entails a contradiction. This is because a God defined in this manner leaves no room for anything else.
5.6 Sixth Objection: When we say “x exists,” one can always deny the existence of x without harming its x-ness. In other words, one can say “x is x” even if it doesn’t exist.
Response: This claim is not universally true and is only valid when x is one of the essences or a combination of existence and a qualifier other than existence. However, in a situation where x is the very absolute and unconditional existence, denying or doubting its existence equates to denying or doubting its x-ness. That is, by accepting the definition of God, one cannot deny or doubt His existence.
5.7 Seventh Objection: One of the criticisms used against the analytical reasoning for the absolute and unconditional existence is that the distinction and limitation of beings into necessary (wājib) and possible (mumkin) is a rational limitation. Assuming the existence of an entity that is neither necessary nor possible, but beyond necessary and possible, is a fanciful assumption that cannot be realized externally.
Response: The fallacy hidden in this argument is that the qualifier of necessity can be considered in two ways. If we consider it as a denoting title, the mentioned limitation is acceptable. However, in this case, necessity doesn’t truly act as a qualifier for the necessary being, separating its existence from the absolute and unconditional existence and also from possible beings. In fact, it is the same absolute and unconditional existence that mystics claim. But if necessity is considered as a qualifier on the subject’s side, then this limitation is not merely rational. Rationally, one can assume an entity that is beyond both necessity and possibility and is the divisor of them. The whole debate is whether this dividing existence exists externally. Without assuming its existence, such a division is meaningless. The essence of this division returns to the idea that the absolute and unconditional existence, in an unconditional manner, descends from its status. In this descent, it sometimes attains a determination of necessity and sometimes of possibility, with the determined preceding the undetermined. This objection is also based on the fundamental philosophical assumption that the absolute and unconditional existence, free from all qualifiers, even the qualifier of attribution, is merely a mental concept that exists only among qualified entities. Whereas this division of existence into necessary and possible, and the statement that “existence is either necessary or possible,” based on the rule of inverse attribution, necessarily implies the acceptance of the absolute and unconditional existence at a prior level. Contrary to the objector’s belief, the meaning of this division is not that the concept of absolute and unconditional existence externally exists solely either within the necessary or within the possible. If this limitation is understood in this way, it’s an illusory limitation, not a rational one.
The criticisms of this article are entirely directed at the definition philosophy provides for God; and the logical conclusion of these criticisms is that the arguments presented to prove such an entity as God are incorrect. However, some philosophers, accepting the mystical definition of the Lord, have established indicative proofs for the existence of God. An example of such proofs in Western culture is the existential argument, especially Descartes’ version of it, and in Islamic culture, some versions of the Proof of the Righteous (Burhan al-Siddiqin), like the one that says:
The reality of existence, which is an external entity, is a reality whose non-existence is impossible, and a reality whose non-existence is impossible is necessarily existent.
‘Allamah Tabatabai (r) explains this argument by saying:
This is the same reality with which we deny sophistry and compel every sentient being to affirm it. This reality is inherently irrefutable and undeniable, to the extent that the assumption of its denial and refutation necessitates its affirmation and establishment. If we assume that all realities at all times or at a specific time are false, it means that all realities are truly false (i.e., reality is established). Similarly, if a sophist perceives objects as illusory or doubts their reality, in his view, objects are truly illusory, and reality is truly doubtful (which means reality is established by the very fact that it is negated). And since the essence of reality inherently cannot accept non-existence and denial, it is therefore necessarily existent by its nature. Therefore, there is a reality that is necessary by its essence, and the entities that have reality are dependent on that reality for their existence and are established by it. And if we reflect on this point, we will find clarity that the principle of necessary existence by its essence is essential for every human being, and the proofs affirming it are, in fact, admonitions (tanbihat).7
The clear conclusion that can be drawn from this discussion is that the difference between philosophical theology and mystical theology is a fundamental and irreconcilable one. The difference between the God of mysticism and the God of philosophy is so vast that one must inevitably choose between the two. The analyses presented in this article clearly show that the disagreement between mystics and philosophers regarding theology is not merely a matter of taste, method, or even perspective. It’s not that mystics and philosophers provide a single definition and concept of God and merely suggest different ways to understand and reach this singular God. The God of mysticism is different from the God of philosophy, and this difference is the root of the methodological disagreement between philosophical theology and mystical theology. Philosophical arguments are not only incapable of proving the God of mysticism, but they are fundamentally based on the denial and rejection of the existence of such a God.8
Arguing for the existence of God requires accepting assumptions that are incompatible with a truly divine God. Among the most important of these assumptions are the existence of possible beings, the absence and remoteness of God, and the unknowability of God, implying His need for evidence and the indication of possible beings. Proving the existence of God through the existence of possible beings is based on the assumption of the existence of possible beings, and this assumption is incompatible with the correct definition of God. This assumption is not only non-obvious but also false. The correct definition of God is only incompatible with external manifestations, and possible beings are manifestations and signs of God, not evidence of His existence. In other words, the real multiplicity of existence, which necessarily denies the absolute existence without conditions, is a philosophical assumption. Philosophy begins by denying the God of mysticism, and mysticism begins by denying the philosophical assumption, which also means denying philosophy itself. We must inevitably choose between these two conceptions of God. The difference between these two images is irreconcilable, and one cannot claim that one is precise and the other is more precise. These two images are distinct and contradictory, and their only commonality is in the word. The difference between my moon and the celestial moon is as vast as the earth and the sky.
It’s worth noting that the rationality of belief in the existence of God and the possibility of rationality in theology is not contingent upon the possibility of arguing for the existence of God, unless based on a false assumption about rationality and the function of the rational faculty. According to this, the function of the rational faculty in argumentation, in the philosophical sense of the word, is summarized, and the rational justification of beliefs is only possible under the shelter of other beliefs that play the role of evidence. Both of these assumptions are fundamentally false and baseless. One might ask, if the rationality of any belief is dependent on its verification and approval by the argumentative mind, how is this belief itself justified? And if the justification of any belief is only possible through the provision of evidence in the technical sense of the word, what is the evidence for this claim itself? These assumptions themselves are without evidence and unjustified, so the claims based on them are also unjustified. One of the most important functions of reason is intuition and rational experience, and many of our beliefs can only be justified through rational intuition and mental experience. Therefore, neither is the function of reason summarized in argumentation, nor is rationality merely argumentation, nor is the epistemological justification of beliefs merely the provision of evidence in favor of them. Beyond all this, the philosophical argument for the existence of God is incompatible with the nature of religious faith and the expected implications and consequences of it, and in a word, it distances man from the God of religion, which is different from the God of philosophy.
Kill your philosophical self with thought,
Turn to Him as much as you can.
Water is in the jug, and we, the thirsty, wander around.
Turn to Him, for behind the wall is a treasure,
The further away from the heart’s desire, the more distant it becomes.
The beloved is at home, and we roam the world.
In another article, we will delve into a comparative examination of the God of philosophy and the God of religion.
Sayyid Ali studied in the seminary of Qom from 2012 to 2021, while also concurrently obtaining a M.A in Islamic Studies from the Islamic College of London in 2018. In the seminary he engaged in the study of legal theory, jurisprudence and philosophy, eventually attending the advanced kharij of Usul and Fiqh in 2018. He is currently completing his Masters of Education at the University of Toronto and is the head of a private faith-based school in Toronto, as well as an instructor at the Mizan Institute and Mufid Seminary.
- Professor Fanaei is a moral philosopher and prominent Iranian public intellectual. He studied in the seminary Qom for near two decades, including seven years of advanced studies under leading scholars. He went on to complete an MA in Islamic Theology at the University of Qom before undertaking an MPhil and PhD at the University of Sheffield. He is the author of numerous books and articles on ethics, jurisprudence, and philosophy.
- Journal Source: Naqd va Nazar, 1378-1379, issue 21 & 29, pgs. 84-113
- For more information, see: William P. Alston (1991) Perceiving God (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press). Alvin Plantinga (2000) Warranted Christian Belief (New York: Oxford University Press).
- For more information, see: William P. Alston (1989) Epistemic Justification (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press).
- For more information, see: Plantinga (1993) Warrant: The Current Debate (New YourkL Oxford University Press).
- Anselm’s ontological argument and the Burhan-e Siddiqin as narrated by the late ‘Allamah Tabatabai are exceptions to this rule. Because, as we will soon see, these two arguments are essentially based on accepting the mystical definition of God as the Absolute Unconditional Being. The conclusion of these two arguments is not to prove the philosophical God, but to emphasize the existence of the Absolute Unconditional God.
- Source: Al-Asfar, vol. 6, pg. 14-15 [https://lib.eshia.ir/71465/6/14]
- Previously, we made an exception for the ontological argument and the Burhan-e-Siddiqin as narrated by ‘Allamah Tabatabai. These two are not arguments in the true sense of the word, and their purpose is to emphasize and remind of the existence of the mystical God, not to prove the philosophical God. And as we saw, this point is also accepted by ‘Allamah Tabatabai.