Posted by Zia H. Shah MD - Twitter: @ZiahShah1
Written and collected by Zia H Shah MD
The characters in Shakespeare drama Macbeth are based on real life historical figures. Macbeth thought that if he could be the king he would be really happy. But, when he had killed the king who had been kind and generous to him, he was filled with horror. It was not the horror of one who fears discovery. When he heard one of the men awaken from sleep and say, “God bless us,” he could not say “Amen;” for his vivid imagination presented to him the dryness and choking of his throat as an immediate judgment from heaven. He heard a voice that first cried “Macbeth has murdered sleep,” then, a minute later, denounced him in his three names, as if the three names gave him three personalities to suffer in the doom of sleeplessness:
Glamis had murdered sleep, and therefore Cawdor
Shall sleep no more, Macbeth shall sleep no more.
The severity of his crime, jolted Macbeth in a dramatic fashion. However, more often than not, when we cheat someone or lie for some reason, we are invariably able to rationalize it, so the short coming generally gets unnoticed by our conscience and consciousness. However, when someone else double crosses or cheats us we get upset, angry and even mad at times. We think that it was wrong for anyone to cheat or deceive us. Why should we get mad if everyone is working to advance oneself one way or the other? When on the receiving end we clearly feel that humans are supposed to be moral. We are not supposed to cheat, lie or say things which we do not mean! What is the basis of our intuition about morality and human ethics?
To argue against the slippery slope of relativism, apologists for theism, have lately precisely defined objective moral values. What are the objective moral values? Neil Shenvi has encapsulated it for us, borrowing from different philosophers, especially Prof. William Lane Craig:
Objective moral values are moral values that are true independent of the belief of human beings. For this reason, philosophers who affirm the existence of objective moral values sometimes speak about them as moral facts. A purported fact can either be true or false, but it is qualitatively different than an opinion, which is a matter of personal preference. So when we say that objective moral values exist, we mean that a statement like, “Murder is evil,” is making a claim about some objective moral reality in precisely the same way that the statement, “There is a chair in my kitchen,” is making a claim about objective physical reality. In contrast, a moral relativist claims that a statement like, “murder is evil,” is a subjective claim about our (or our society’s) preference. The statement, “murder is evil,” expresses a subjective preference similar to the statements, “curry is tasty,” or, “bluegrass is the best musical genre.” If objective moral values exist, then statements like, “the Holocaust was evil,” can be objectively true. If objective moral values exist, then this statement would be true even if the Nazis had won World War II and had convinced every human being in the entire world that the Holocaust was good. In contrast, the position of moral relativism commits one to the proposition that moral statements like, “the Holocaust was evil,” are subjective. If some person or some society, like Nazi Germany, believes that the Holocaust was good, then the Holocaust would indeed be good “for them”. There would be no objective moral standard to which their assessment could be compared.
Because we all feel a strong abhorrence against rape, incest, holocaust and even against smaller crimes when we personally are the victims, there are objective moral values and therefore there is a Law-Giver, a God. If there is no God and we accidentally arose out of animals similar to chimpanzees, then there is no clear cut reason to believe that the jungle law is not the ultimate reality. As a believer in both evolution as well as revelation, I think that our conscience has roots both in our evolution as well as revelations over the millennia to the prophets of God by All-Knowing Allah. Our conscience cannot be explained if we take revelation out of the picture and try to explain it purely on the basis of naturalism or scientific materialism.
If we learn our morality from nature and evolution alone, as atheists will insist, then among mammals we will find examples of promiscuity and incest in apes and infanticide in bears, to name a few. If we look at the broader animal and plant kingdom then we can find countless examples of trickery, big fish eating small fish and even suicide. A self-destructing palm tree that flowers once every 100 years and then dies has been discovered on the Indian Ocean island of Madagascar, botanists said. The name of the giant palm and its remarkable life cycle were detailed in a study by Kew Gardens scientists in the Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society published in 2008 / 2009. “It’s spectacular. It does not flower for maybe 100 years and when it’s like this it can be mistaken for other types of palm,” said Mijoro Rakotoarinivo, who works for the London botanical gardens in Madagascar. “But then a large shoot, a bit like an asparagus, grows out of the top of the tree and starts to spread. You get something that looks a bit like a Christmas tree growing out of the top of the palm,” he said. The branches of this shoot then become covered in hundreds of tiny white flowers that ooze with nectar, attracting insects and birds. But the effort of flowering and fruiting depletes the tree so much that within a few months it collapses and dies, said botanist Dr. John Dransfield, author of the study. Dransfield noted that “even for Madagascar this is a stupendous palm and an astonishing discovery.” The world’s fourth largest island, Madagascar is renowned for its unusual flora and fauna, including 12,000 species of plant found nowhere else in the world. Indeed 90 percent of its plant species are endemic. The palm tree, which grows to 66 feet in height and has about 16-foot leaves, is only found in an extremely remote region in the northwest of the country, some four days by road from the capital. Local villagers have known about it for years although none had seen it in flower until last year. The bizarre flowering ritual was first spotted by Frenchman Xavier Metz, who runs a cashew plantation nearby. After seeing it he notified Kew Gardens. According to Dransfield it is the largest palm species in the country and there appear to be only about 100 in existence.
In the debate linked below, ‘Morality: Is the Foundation of Morality Natural or Supernatural?’ between William Lane Craig and Sam Harris, the latter who has been applauded as one of the four horsemen of neo-atheism, is unable to effectively articulate his case and is often beating around the bush:
Sam Harris fails to provide any foundation for our morality in naturalism or scientific materialism. However, one thing we can learn from his presentation is that any religion claiming to provide moral values should demonstrate their utilitarian value, otherwise, hell can break lose in this very world, as some fundamentalists will begin to kill and torture others in the name of God and religion.
In his first 12 minute rebuttal as Sam Harris was running out of materials on the topic, he ran off the topic and raised the question of suffering, which was not relevant to the topic and is examined in two separate articles: A Cordial invitation to Sir David Attenborough to be a Theist and A Christian and an agnostic debate the question of suffering.
Scientific materialism is at odds with this basic religious bias in human nature. It preaches that the whole universe is by itself and is in no need of a Creator or an Intelligent Being, who attends to its constant needs. Let us trace a few historical facts leading to development of scientific materialism.
Adam Smith (1723-1790) remains a towering figure in the history of economic thought two centuries after his death. He is primarily known for a single work, An Inquiry into the nature and causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776), the first comprehensive system of political economy. He proposed that individuals in trying to improve and promote their personal situation work hard and find out the most advantageous methods to employ their capital and labor. They work with the intention of their personal gain and not for the advantage of the society. But if the mechanisms of personal struggle are allowed to run freely, good performers eliminate the less efficient and in so doing cause an unintended public advantage. He suggested that law makers should minimize their intrusions and let personal struggle or free market help nations become rich and powerful. He wrote, “I have never known much good done by those who affected trade for the public good.” It has been proposed that it is in Adam Smith’s economics transferred to nature that Charles Darwin found his principle of natural selection.
Sir Charles Lyell (1797-1875) a Scottish geologist was largely responsible for the general acceptance of the view that all features of the earth’s surface are produced by physical, chemical, and biological processes through long periods of geological time. His achievements laid another foundation for Darwin’s theory of evolution in biology.
Charles Darwin (1809-1882) proposed his evolutionary theory, drawing part of his inspiration from Adam Smith and Charles Lyell. He propounded his theory chiefly in two works—On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection (1859) and The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex (1871). His theory has indeed had a profound influence on subsequent scientific thought and development of western society. One of his staunch disciples Richard Dawkins confesses that it was not possible before Darwin to be an intellectually satisfied atheist.
After these philosophers came the open advocates of atheism. Among them was Ludwig Büchner’s (1824-1899). He became a popular spokes person for scientific materialism in his time. His materialistic interpretation of the universe in Kraft und Stoff created uproar for its rejection of God, creation, religion, and free will and for its explanation of mind and consciousness as physical states of the brain produced by matter in motion. His continued defense of atheism and atomism and his denial of any distinction between mind and matter (Natur und Geist, 1857; “Nature and Spirit”) appealed strongly to freethinkers. All these works of scientific materialism were resisted by religious people of their time. However, as Darwin’s theory and other aspects of scientific materialism gathered momentum and more general acceptance, opposition from the Church to the intellectual and scientific community subsided in order to maintain credibility and influence with the populace. The end result is that all these different theories of scientific materialism have really established a strong hold in present day western leaders of thought. Islam formed no part of these debates in the last two centuries. As the Muslims become more exposed to the history of Western thought, we have to relate Western thoughts of scientific materialism to our religious paradigm. Is it possible that with Islamic insight we may contribute something that the Church failed to do in the last two centuries. This article is an endeavor to do that in one small sphere.
The fact that these theories got such strong foot hold is not purely due to the beauty or truth of these theories but also because of the fact that the Western society in general was moving in an atheistic direction and as such showed a craving for such theories. It is not to deny that these theories have many enlightening truths in them. Nevertheless, they are wrong in the presumption that by highlighting certain mechanisms they can exclude other mechanisms and a conductor who is conducting a melodious and harmonious orchestra in the universe. Scientific materialists by accounting for a few aspects of a few musical organs assume that the whole orchestra is by itself and does not need a conductor at any level. Such assumptions have driven a practical role of God out of human societies. Scientific materialism has resulted in a situation wherein even the so called religious people are in essence agnostic or in a practical denial of God. Under the influence of Scientific Materialism, many atheist scientists deny free will, human soul and present a morality without any good foundation and show righteous indignation, when the basis of their thoughts is challenged in debates, by the theists, by changing the subject to the immoral actions of many a theists. They want to ground human morality in human evolution from apes alone, disregarding any revelation from All-Knowing God.
There is no denying that Darwinism has promoted atheism. According to Richard Dawkins one of the most articulate disciples of Darwinism, “Although atheism might have been logically tenable before Darwin, Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.” In the words of Kenneth R Miller, “In Copernican Universe where Newtonian Laws, not the chariots of Gods, moved the heavens around, evolution disposed off the last remaining mystery – the source of life itself. With that taken care of, surely there was no longer any room left for religion in the life of the mind. The world had at last been made safe for ‘intellectually fulfilled’ atheists. That is what was dangerous about The Origin.”
All good ideas in Hadith are present, at least, in the form of a seed in the Holy Quran. The following Hadith could be considered to be a commentary of the above verses:
Narrated by Hazrat Vabisa Bin Ma’abad, Allah be pleased with him: Said the Holy Prophet Muhammad may peace be upon him. “Seek the guidance of thy soul! Seek the guidance of thy soul! Seek the guidance of thy soul! The virtuous deed is one whereby thy soul feels restful and thy heart contented and sinful act is one which irritates thy soul and which contracts thy heart even though the other people endorse it as lawful.” (Musnad Ahmad).
This Hadith has been mentioned by Hadhrat Bashir Ahmad, may Allah be pleased with him, in his collection named the Forty Gems. This Hadith is numbered 28th in his collection, he writes in its explanation:
This observation of the Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be on him) is based on the eternal truth that God the Excellent, who is the Creator of nature, has endowed every man with a pure nature. It is the later developments that mislead it in the wrong direction and cover up this pure nature with impure super-impositions. Still the basic goodness of nature and the light of conscience do not die out totally and serve man throughout his life as a torch of guidance. Even when persons deeply involved in worldly filth reflect calmly, in moments of solitary retirement, on their own condition, their nature tearing through the meshes of worldliness, starts reproaching them. This blessed observation of the Ho!y Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be on him) is based on the foundational guidance of this natural light. He says’ that in general matters of principle a sensible man need not consult no outside judge, for, his own heart is for him a jurist; he ‘should consult his own heart in, respect of evil and good and seek. the light of his own conscience. For, virtue produces a feeling of expansiveness and restfulness and contentment in the heart, while vice contracts the bosom and weighs down on the. soul. In such a predicament, it is useless to seek the false support of guidance from others; instead one should listen to the voice of one’s conscience and if in respect of a certain matter, the conscience hesitates and the heart feels contracted, then one should desist from it, notwithstanding the favorable views of doctors of law, and should accept the verdict of the light of conscience which is in fact, the guidance given by the Creator of nature Himself.
But as in the words (Consult thy mind) the Holy Prophet (blessings and peace of Allah be on him) has hinted, it is necessary that in order to consult the mind, one should reflect in retirement, away from others and should consult it in a spirit of righteousness, as, otherwise, the opinions of others would over-power the conscience and shut out the light of nature. But if a person consults his mind, in retirement, free from external influence the natural light of the heart will serve him as the torch of guidance which has been eternally gifted with the power to discriminate between virtue and vice. On reflection one would discover that this natural sense of discriminating between virtue and vice is a weighty argument in support of the existence of God. For, if there is no God, (God forbid that we entertain such a view) then whence comes the innate sense of discrimination between virtue and vice, which resides in the depths of the souls and provides means of guidance to man? Reflect and ponder well!
Atheist psychologists come up with their make belief theories about conscience and human morality, which completely lack any profundity and basis, on the other hand human conscience has been beautifully described by the Holy Prophet Muhammad, in the light of the teachings of the Holy Quran.
We have pursued two issues in this article. Firstly, if God does not exist, do objective moral values exist? The answer to this question is that in absence of the Law Giver, relativism takes hold and no absolute standards exist and hence objective moral values do not exist.
The second issue that we have pursued is, where does human conscience come from. God of Islam is the Hidden or the Al-Batin God, who works through laws of nature, which He has created and through revelation to his chosen Prophets. Human evolution, from the primates and the apes may have played some role in development of human conscience, as the earliest human borrowed some useful information and genetic make up from their primate ancestors, like chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans. The second contribution comes from revelation. Allah has revealed to the human consciousness, what is right and what is wrong and in so doing created human conscience. This is the message of the verses quoted in the beginning of this article:
And He (Allah) revealed to it (conscience) the ways of evil and the ways of righteousness – He, indeed, prospers who purifies it (conscience), And he is ruined who corrupts it. (Al Quran 91:9-11)
Allah has, for example, reinforced human abhorrence against murder and incest, through continued revelation, over the ages, to more than 100,000 prophets of God. The Holy Quran, the last revealed scripture, equates the murder of one person to committing a genocide or a holocaust and in the same verse also alludes to, possibly, the ten commandments, by saying that similar teaching was given to the Israelite:
We (Allah) prescribed for the children of Israel that whosoever killed a person — unless it be for killing a person or for creating disorder in the land — it shall be as if he had killed all mankind; and whoso gave life to one, it shall be as if he had given life to all mankind. And Our Messengers came to them with clear Signs, yet even after that, many of them commit excesses in the land. (Al Quran 5:33)
And again, in the following verses, the Holy Quran describes compensation for killing by mistake and unconditionally condemns willful murder:
It does not become a believer to kill a believer unless it be by mistake. And he who kills a believer by mistake shall free a believing slave, and pay blood money to be handed over to his heirs, unless they remit it as charity. But if the person slain be of a people hostile to you, and be a believer, then the offender shall free a believing slave; and if he be of a people between whom and you is a pact, then the offender shall pay blood money to be handed over to his heirs, and free a believing slave. But whoso finds not one, then he shall fast for two consecutive months — a mercy from Allah. And Allah is All-Knowing, Wise. And whoso kills a believer intentionally, his reward shall be Hell wherein he shall abide. And Allah will be wroth with him and will curse him and will prepare for him a great punishment. (Al Quran 4:93-94)
Even though the last part of these verses mentions believers, but, that is meant to exclude the condition of war only, if we read with the full context, especially the words, ‘and if he be of a people between whom and you is a pact,’ and the above mentioned verse of the Holy Quran, then it becomes clear that in peace time condemnation of killing applies to all humans, be they believers or non-believers.
Incest was not uncommon among the Roman Emperors, but, since the revelation of the following verses of the Holy Quran, the whole of humanity has developed an abhorrence against incest. The Holy Quran details the blood relationships that believers are forbidden to marry. It says:
Forbidden to you are your mothers, and your daughters, and your sisters, and your fathers’ sisters, and your mothers’ sisters, and brother’s daughters, and sister’s daughters, and your foster-mothers that have given you suck, and your foster-sisters, and the mothers of your wives, and your stepdaughters, who are your wards by your wives unto whom you have gone in — but if you have not gone in unto them, there shall be no sin upon you — and the wives of your sons that are from your loins; and it is forbidden to you to have two sisters together in marriage, except what has already passed; surely, Allah is Most Forgiving, Merciful. (Al Quran 4:24)
 Adam Smith. Wealth of Nations. Book 4, chapter 2.
 Stephen Jay Gould. The structural of evolutionary theory. The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. Page 122, 2002.
 Richard Dawkins. The Blind watchmaker: why the evidence of evolution reveals a universe without design. W. W. Norton and company Inc. Page 5 and 6.
 Richard Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker, London: W. W. Norton 1986, p. 6.
 Kenneth R Miller. Finding Darwin’s God. Cliff Street Books (Harper Collins), 1999, p. 15.