Design must be proven before a designer can be inferred. The matter in controversy is the existence of design in the Universe, and it is not permitted to assume the contested premises and thence infer the matter in dispute. Insidiously to employ the words contrivance, design, and adaptation before these circumstances are made apparent in the Universe, thence justly inferring a contriver, is a popular sophism against which it behoves us to be watchful.
Percy Bysshe Shelley, 1814
From the perspective of pure logic, some might argue that Shelley won a decisive blow against deism. Even the most sophisticated argument invoked to ‘prove’ the necessity of a Creator (i.e., the cosmological argument and its variations) fails to demonstrate why one must leap from contingent beings to the God of Abraham. Logic cannot prove it, empiricism cannot suggest it. Only in the minds of those who have already assumed “the contested premises” that the Designer exists, can the “existence of design in the Universe” be inferred.
Yet, for me, a problem remains unaddressed. Using logic, or other rational modes of deduction, to resolve this controversy itself seems to rely on assumptions; namely,
- That man is capable of knowing the reality of God and the nature of God’s Will; and,
- That logic and rational arguments are the means by which these truths can be known.
If we peruse the verses of Revelation, we find that these assumptions are never permitted. On the contrary, Revelation calls on us to bear witness to the testimony of the Revealer and to believe on Faith alone. Is this not the whole point of the controversy? That is, whether we can take the truth of a claim on its own authority? Yet this is exactly what Revelation asks of us. Consider these passages:
As ye know how we exhorted and comforted and charged every one of you, as a father doth his children, That ye would walk worthy of God, who hath called you unto his kingdom and glory. For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe.
The Bible, 1 Thessalonians (2:10-13)
That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. […] So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. […] I was found of them that sought me not; I was made manifest unto them that asked not after me.
The Bible, Romans 10
For, Believers are those who, when Allah is mentioned, feel a tremor in their hearts, and when they hear His signs rehearsed, find their faith strengthened, and put (all) their trust in their Lord […]
O ye who believe! Obey Allah and His Messenger, and turn not away from him when ye hear (him speak).
The Holy Qur’an, Surah Al-Anfal (8:2, 20; Trans. Yusuf Ali)
Perhaps there’s no clearer elucidation of this concept than in the Writings of the Báb, where He clearly states that God’s self-description – as revealed by the Manifestation – is sufficient proof of God’s existence:
Know thou, O Seeker, that, in the books they have penned, the philosophers have brought forth arguments for the existence of a Fashioner even as the mystics have adduced proofs for His unity. But these books are all refuted by the testimony of the very proofs they contain, inasmuch as the latter are all contingent, and it is impossible for the proof of the Divine Essence to be contingent. Nay, rather, should anyone fix his gaze upon the Point of Truth, pierce the veils, and unravel the allusions, he would know of a certainty that to provide any argument for the existence of the Incomparable One or any proof of his unity, other than God’s own description, is a cardinal sin and a most grievous transgression. Verily, I find no proof for His existence and His unity save His own self.
The Bab, Tablet to Mirza Sa’id
One need only peruse the first section of the Kitab-i-Iqan to find repeated references to this theme. For the sake of brevity, this one should suffice:
Immeasurably high are the Prophets of God exalted above the comprehension of men, who can never know them except by their own Selves. Far be it from His glory that His chosen Ones should be magnified by any other than their own persons. Glorified are they above the praise of men; exalted are they above human understanding!
The mere suggestion that God can be known through rational inquiry is preposterous. The implication of knowledge is an eventual mastery, and mastery suggests a reversal of power. We became aware of force, motion, and lift and then we took to the skies. Natural phenomenon have a certain comprehensibility to them in that they appear to us as mechanical components, concepts with logical or causal relations and such, and by thinking on them continually we can devise sophisticated maps of reality which, although incomplete and imperfect, allow us to navigate the realm of appearances with great precision. If the Divine Essence, God, could be comprehended in such a way then, little-by-little, we would reverse the power dynamic, so that the created would have mastery over the Creator. A transcendent Creator could not be, if you will, “in this world.” It should be the case that a transcendent Creator is far-removed from its creation, and that the “Truth” of this relationship should remain a mystery.
But why should It be a mystery? Why should the Divine Essence conceal Itself in such a way as to befuddle the very hearts It seeks to subdue? Why not make Itself fully known to us in all Its glory, so that we can arise with certainty, one and all, in devotion to It? The idea that an All-Powerful God should be restrained by some metaphysical proviso from direct access to Its creation, seems to be a paradox of sorts – reductio ad absurdum.
Perhaps there are mysteries of the sort that cannot be comprehended or even pondered by our limited minds. However, there is a potential resolution to this mystery that is mentioned repeatedly in scripture: Revelation asserts that God’s self-concealment, both of its Being and of the Word, seeks to separate believers from unbelievers. It is, if you will, a touchstone to prove the faith of Man.
Consider these words of Baha’u’llah from the Kitab-i-Aqdas:
‘Verily Our Word is abstruse, bewilderingly abstruse.’ In another instance, it is said: ‘Our Cause is sorely trying, highly perplexing; none can bear it except a favorite of heaven, or an inspired Prophet, or he whose faith God hath tested.’ […] when the divine Touchstone appeared, they have shown themselves to be naught but dross.
Baha’u’llah explains that “Were the prophecies recorded in the Gospel to be literally fulfilled; were Jesus, Son of Mary, accompanied by angels, to descend from the visible heaven upon the clouds; who would dare to disbelieve, who would dare to reject the truth, and wax disdainful?” Certainly, there would be no need for faith if the full glory of God were to be made manifest before the eyes of mankind. If God had indeed created souls to recognize Him and submit to His Will, then there must be a test of Faith to challenge the worthiness of those who encounter His Word.
Were you to ponder, but for a while, these utterances in your heart, you would surely find the portals of understanding unlocked before your face, and would behold knowledge and the mysteries thereof unveiled before your eyes. Such things take place only that the souls of men may develop and be delivered from the prison-cage of self and desire. Otherwise, that ideal King hath, throughout eternity, been in His Essence independent of the comprehension of beings, and will continue, forever, in His own Being to be exalted above the adoration of every soul. A single breeze of His affluence doth suffice to adorn mankind with the robe of wealth; and one drop out of the ocean of His bountiful grace is enough to confer upon beings the glory of everlasting life. But inasmuch as the divine Purpose hath decreed that the true should be known from the false, and the sun from the shadow, He hath, therefore, in every season sent down upon mankind the showers of tests from His realm of glory.
To be continued…