A Christian and an agnostic debate the question of suffering.

A Christian and an agnostic debate the question of suffering.

On November 11, 2010, Dinesh D’Souza, former White House domestic policy analyst and recently appointed president of Kings College, debated Bart Ehrman, James A. Gray Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The debate—which was sponsored by the Center for Christian Studies—took place in the A. J. Gordon Memorial Chapel.

Named by the New York Times Magazine as one of America’s most influential conservative thinkers, D’Souza is a former policy analyst in the Reagan White House and served as John M. Olin Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. Newsweek listed him as one of the country’s most prominent Asian Americans.

A graduate of Wheaton College (Illinois), Ehrman received his Ph.D. from Princeton Theological Seminary and has published extensively in the fields of New Testament and Early Christianity. Among his fields of scholarship are the historical Jesus, the early Christian apocrypha, and the manuscript tradition of the New Testament. He is the recipient of the 2009 J. W. Pope “Spirit of Inquiry” Teaching Award.

Commentary on the debate and taking up issues from the Muslim perspective

By Zia H Shah MD

I believe that Islam can satisfy the logical gulfs or gaps created by the Christian or Agnostic / Atheistic paradigms.

Personal God and prayers

I agree with many of the positions the Christian debator Dinesh D’Souza takes.  I am glad to note that he believes in Personal God and prayers.  However, he very quickly shoots himself in the foot, during the debate, without realizing, by suggesting that for general purposes God cannot or does not influence our physical world.  He believes only in Christian style miracles, which are alleged to be supernatural, suspend the laws of nature and are very rare.  In other words he is acknowledging that fulfillment of prayers are very rare events and involve breaking of the laws of nature.  So, for those of us who have a firm belief that our natural laws are constant and unchanging it does not offer any hope of God granting us any prayers.

Muslims do not suggest that laws of nature are violated in miracles or granting of prayers.  We believe that God hears prayers of the pious and the devoted on a daily basis.  The Founder of Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad wrote in his book the Blessings of Prayers:

“If an Omniscient God has created the universe, then one can be certain that in keeping with His infinite entity, He would have left innumerable ways to influence the universe, so that His divinity is not suspended in any way at any time.”

To read the whole of the book, the Blessings of Prayers go to:

http://www.alislam.org/books/

Science is possible only because the Law Giver honors the Law, otherwise there will be total chaos and anarchy.

From a scientific perspective, how can we believe in a Personal God, who listens to our prayers and yet does not violate the laws of nature? To resolve this dilemma, let me suggest one of my articles, the Indispensible God Hypothesis.

These details alone should be a clear invitation for everyone to Islam as understood by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community.

Suffering or Pain: a Tool for Natural Selection or Evolution

The question of suffering is very well answered in a chapter of a book, Revelation, Rationality, Knowledge and Truth, by Hadhrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad.  The chapter is titled, the question of suffering.

To elaborate how suffering or pain is a tool for Natural Selection or Evolution, let me quote here, the concluding paragraph, in the later editions of the legendary book of Sir Charles Darwin, on the Origin of Species that can make one quickly conceptualize the role of suffering in the grand scheme of things:

“From the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been breathed, by the Creator, into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.”

Once the question about suffering is understood as a tool for evolution, then one is ready to fully appreciate the beauty of God’s creation as suggested by many of the verses of the Holy Quran.

One of the chapters in the book the Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution by Richard Dawkins  explains the role of suffering or pain as a tool for natural selection or evolution. This should not be taken as a morality question to start judging our beneficent Creator but as a scientific tool to create or flourish 30 million different species of plants and animals on our planet earth.

The chapter I am referring to is titled, Arms Races and ‘Evolutionary Theodicy.’ Dawkins describes the limitations that lack of pain creates in humans:

“As a matter of interest, there are aberrant individuals who cannot feel pain, and they usually come to a bad end. ‘Congenital insensitivity to pain with anhidrosis’ (CIPA) is a rare genetic abnormality in which the patient lacks pain receptor cells in the skin (and also – that’s the ‘anhidrosis’ – doesn’t sweat). Admittedly, CIPA patients don’t have a built-in ‘red flag’ system to compensate for the breakdown of the pain system, but you’d think they could be taught to be cognitively aware of the need to avoid bodily damage – a learned red flag system. At all events, CIPA patients succumb to a variety of unpleasant consequences of their inability to feel pain, including burns, breakages, multiple scars, infections, untreated appendicitis and scratches to the eyeballs. More unexpectedly, they also suffer serious damage to their joints because, unlike the rest of us, they don’t shift their posture when they have been sitting or lying in one position for a long time. Some patients set timers to remind themselves to change position frequently during the day.”[1]

Here is a paragraph where Dawkins is quoting another of his books that gives us some picture of the role of survival of the fittest or suffering in natural selection in evolution:

“[N]ature is neither kind nor unkind. She is neither against suffering, nor for it. Nature is not interested in suffering one way or the other unless it affects the survival of DNA. It is easy to imagine a gene that, say, tranquillizes gazelles when they are about to suffer a killing bite. Would such a gene be favored by natural selection? Not unless the act of tranquillizing a gazelle improved that gene’s chances of being propagated into future generations. It is hard to see why this should be so and we may therefore guess that gazelles suffer horrible pain and fear when they are pursued to the death – as most of them eventually are. The total amount of suffering per year in the natural world is beyond all decent contemplation. During the minute that it takes me to compose this sentence, thousands of animals are being eaten alive, others are running for their lives, whimpering with fear, others are being slowly devoured from within by rasping parasites, thousands of all kinds are dying of starvation, thirst and disease. It must be so. If there is ever a time of plenty, this very fact will automatically lead to an increase in population until the natural state of starvation and misery is restored.”[2]

References
1.Richard Dawkins. The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution. Free Press, 2009. Page 394.
2.Richard Dawkins. The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution. Free Press, 2009. Page 390-391.

Photosynthesis: deserving of our awe or ridicule?

In the deebate Prof. Ehrman insists to be called an agnostic rather than an atheist, because he rightfully points out that wonder and awe created by observing our universe demands humility.  I applaud him for dissociating himself from the militant atheists and here I provide further reading on this theme.

After centuries of research, technology has created solar panels. The plant kingdom has been converting solar energy into chemical energy in a much more aesthetic manner. The plants are not only solar panels but are also self generating solar panel factories and much more! They are a source of timber, fuel, food and shelter for animals and human. At the end of their useful life the plant kingdom unlike our solar panels does not pose any environmental risk. As you study the technical details and the miracle of photosynthesis in this knol, would you rather support Sir David Attenborough, Hadhrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad, or Prof. Richard Dawkins. I extensively quote from these three teachers on this ubiquitous phenomenon of nature. Don’t be shy or timid to take any of these three positions, because, regardless of your pick you will be in good company, in this terrestrial life. For, Immanuel Kant wrote, “Two things fill the mind with ever-increasing wonder and awe, the more often and the more intensely the mind of thought is drawn to them: the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me.” If you would rather follow a more celebrated intellectual, “Try and penetrate with our limited means the secrets of nature and you will find that, behind all the discernible concatenations,” wrote Albert Einstein, “There remains something subtle, intangible and inexplicable. Veneration for this force beyond anything that we can comprehend is my religion. To that extent I am, in point of fact, religious.” However, if there is a hereafter that may have different implications! The metaphysics of the Holy Quran, explaining the fundamental nature of our being, the world around and the absolute, should not be imposed on human consciousness in some legalistic manner, rather should be appreciated in a poetic imagination. The Holy Quran states that everything in the earth and heaven glorifies the Creator in one form or the other: “He is Allah, the Creator, the Maker, the Fashioner. His are the most beautiful names. All that is in the heavens and the earth glorifies Him, and He is the Mighty, the Wise.”(Al Quran (59:25) The Quran also claimed in the 7th century when it was not known whether anything existed between the earth and the heavenly bodies: “He is the Gracious God, Who has settled Himself on the Throne. To Him belongs whatsoever is in the heavens and whatsoever is in the earth, and whatsoever is between them, and whatsoever is beneath the moist subsoil.” (Al Quran (20:6-7)  Read further.

Original sin: an exercise in circular reasoning

The Christian apologists try to paint a very loving and merciful God, yet insist that He could not forgive the human sins without the human or divine sacrifice of Jesus Christ.  Prof. Bart Ehrman in a very witty way calls this usual bluff of the Christian apologists.  Denish D’Souza in a remark in the first half of the debate said that we merely have to say, ‘Yes,’ to the choice of going to paradise, to get there.  So, Ehrman very poignantly points out, that if God only needed a ‘Yes,’ why did He demand a blood sacrifice, around 1.22 hour mark of the video?  A question that will go unanswered forever, until Trinitarians adopt a genuinely Unitarian theology of Judaism, Unitarian Christianity or Islam.

I have examined the issue of Original Sin in two of my Google knols in some detail with materials from both Eastern and Western scholars:

Original sin: an exercise in circular reasoning.

Evaluating Original Sin against scientific discoveries.

In his closing statement, Dinesh D’Souza remarks that the Bible does not provide proofs for anything, it only asserts its teachings.  It seems to me that where the Bible fails, Dinesh D’Souza tries to provide reasons and explanations for the Christian dogma in his current and other debates.  Unlike this description of the Bible the Holy Quran not only makes claims but provides rationale and reasons for its claims as well.  So, let me conclude my analysis of the debate with an article about the Holy Quran, the Holy Quran as the Miracle of the Holy Prophet.

September 20, 2011 8:16 am 0 comments

Debate – Tony Blair vs. Christopher Hitchens: Is Religion a Force for Good in the World?

Debate – Tony Blair vs. Christopher Hitchens: Is Religion a Force for Good in the World?

Prime Minister Tony Blair makes several good points for religion and I thank him for doing so.  What I liked the best about his opening statement was his appeal not to stereotype and not to lump all religious people in one pile for the wrongs committed by a minority.  This should be applied to religion as a whole and also to all individual religions, be it Judaism, Christianity, Islam or Hinduism.  This is indeed a Quranic approach, as the Holy Quran acknowledges the good among the people of the book, even when it is critical of them due to their certain short comings.

Some of the valid criticism against religion about violence that Mr. Hitchens offers may genuinely apply to the Taliban, the Catholic Church and Tony Blair himself, who was one of the authors of the Iraq war.  Blair takes pride in his participation in the Ireland peace process and we applaud him for that.  However, he also claims that his decision to go to war against Iraq was a political one and not motivated by religion.  But, he does not tell us that he would have invaded Iraq even if it were a Christian European country and does not offer us count of the innocent lives lost as a result of his support of the war?  Criticism of Hitchens cannot apply to groups like Quakers and the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, who have in their total history of 125 years, starting in India, promoted non-violence and service to the whole humanity.  And of course, the criticism would certainly not apply on the Holy Prophet Muhammad, may peace be on him, as he only indulged in defensive warfare as a last resort.

I would urge all commentors to bring out how an Ahmadi Muslim debator could have made better arguments than Tony Blair did and what can we offer to refute some of the criticism that Hitchens offered.  I would certainly try to do that in the introduction section of this debate and as separate comments over time.

Of course, others, non-Muslims and atheists will have the freedom of speech to put forth their ideas, as long as they do it with civility.

Prime Minister Tony Blair, became a Catholic after he left office.  History of Catholic Church, as is acknowledged by many Christians, drips with blood and I have reviewed this in one of my Google-knols:

Hitchens makes a very good point and repeats it several times that often religion is a surrender of one’s reason.  This may be true for many but should not be the case for a genuine believer in a true religion.  If one has tried to search the truth and not blindly followed the faith of one’s birth then in my opinion there is every possibility of rising  above this crticism leveled by Christopher Hitchens.

 

September 4, 2011 8:23 pm 1 comment

Ahmadiyya vs Sunni Debate: Death of Jesus (Urdu)

Ahmadiyya vs Sunni Debate: Death of Jesus (Urdu)

The featured picture is of tomb of Jesus in Kashmir.  Let me recommend a book here for a novice, who wants to start studying this issue, Jesus in India:

http://www.alislam.org/library/books/jesus-in-india/index.html

To review one of my Google-knols cataloging a lot of information about the fact that Jesus did not die on the cross, click here.

 

 

September 3, 2011 7:29 pm 2 comments

Finality of Prophethood in Islam: Ahmadiyya and Sunni Debate in Canada

Finality of Prophethood in Islam: Ahmadiyya and Sunni Debate in Canada
September 3, 2011 7:21 pm 0 comments

Did Jesus Rise From The Dead: Prof. Bart Ehrman Vs Prof. William Lane Craig

Did Jesus Rise From The Dead: Prof. Bart Ehrman Vs Prof. William Lane Craig

William Lane Craig makes a big deal out of the so called ‘fact’ of the empty tomb and its relevance to resurrection. His fact is easily negated by a little quote from the chief apologist, Pope Benedict XVI:

Jesus traveled the path of death right to the bitter and seemingly hopeless end in the tomb. Jesus’ tomb was evidently known. And here the question naturally arises: Did he remain in the tomb? Or was it empty after he had risen?

In modern theology this question has been extensively debated. Most commentators come to the conclusion that an empty tomb would not be enough to prove the Resurrection. If the tomb were indeed empty, there could be some other explanation for it. On this basis, the com-mentators conclude that the question of the empty tomb is immaterial and can therefore be ignored, which tends also to mean that it probably was not empty anyway, so at least a dispute with modern science over the possibility of bodily resurrection can be avoided. But at the basis of all this lies a distorted way of posing the question.

Naturally, the empty tomb as such does not prove the Resurrection. Mary Magdalene, in John’s account, found it empty and assumed that someone must have taken Jesus’ body away. The empty tomb is no proof of the Resurrec¬tion, that much is undeniable. Conversely, though, one might ask: Is the Resurrection compatible with the body remaining in the tomb? Can Jesus be risen if he is still lying in the tomb? What kind of resurrection would that be? Today, notions of resurrection have been developed for which the fate of the corpse is inconsequential. Yet the content of the Resurrection becomes so vague in the process that one must ask with what kind of reality we are dealing in this form of Christianity.

Be that as it may: Thomas Soding, Ulrich Wilckens, and others rightly point out that in Jerusalem at the time, the proclamation of the Resurrection would have been completely impossible if anyone had been able to point to a body lying in the tomb. To this extent, for the sake of posing the question correctly, we have to say that the empty tomb as such, while it cannot prove the Resurrection, is nevertheless a necessary condition for Resurrection faith, which was specifically concerned with the body and, consequently, with the whole of the person.

So, the punch-line is that the empty tomb does not prove resurrection hypothesis but may be necessary for considering such a hypothesis.

By comparing arguments of different Christian apologists, as they build case for resurrection by historical testimony, describing what happened on the fateful day of crucifixion of Jesus in Jerusalem, 2000 years ago, one can expose their contradictions and the futility of their arguments. In this information age it is just not tenable to formulate a religion on oral traditions of 2000 years old stories, transmitted to us through different means, collected in what came to be known as the New Testament! QED

Ref: Pope Benedict XVI. Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week: From the Entrance Into Jerusalem To The Resurrection. Ignatius Press, 2011. Pages 253-254.

September 3, 2011 6:04 pm 0 comments

Ehrman and Licona debate: The so called ‘facts’ about resurrection are merely contradictory hearsay

Ehrman and Licona debate: The so called ‘facts’ about resurrection are merely contradictory hearsay

Christian apologists try to use the label of ‘facts,’ to create credibility for the hearsay evidence that they present for resurrection. But, the ‘facts’ of one apologist differ in some ways from the ‘facts’ of another apologist and in this comparison we can see that all the evidence mounts to no more than hearsay.

The first apologist that I want to bring here as a witness is Michael Licona. He debated Prof. Bart Ehrman and was trying to prove the historic validity of resurrection, he had the first opening statement. He suggested three (so called) facts to make the sum total of his thesis:

1. Jesus’ death by crucifixion.
2. Sighting of Jesus by the Apostles after Crucifixion.
3. Sighting by Paul.

It turned out that the first fact was a red herring and had no relevance to the debate, as Ehrman simply refuted it by saying that Jesus did not have to be crucified but could have been drowned or died of cholera and could have been raised from the dead. So the first fact goes away fairly quickly and the other two ‘facts’ are in fact only one fact as these imply witnessing by certain people including Paul. The only surviving ‘fact’ of our Christian apologist in this debate is also full of contradictions, which I have examined in a Google knol titled: Did Jesus rise in a physical body or a spiritual one? The first debate in this post also touches on this issue of spiritual versus physical body.  What disciples witnessed was a physical body but what St.  Paul proposed as he came on the scene twenty years later was a resurrection in a spiritual body! So much for the three ‘facts’ of Licona.

Let us now move to the so called ‘facts’ of William Lane Craig on the same topic in a different debate.

September 3, 2011 6:00 pm 0 comments

Was Jesus Crucified? Ahmed Deedat vs Dr. Floyd E. Clark

Was Jesus Crucified? Ahmed Deedat vs Dr. Floyd E. Clark

Whereas, Dr. Floyd E. Clark stays mostly off the subject and indulges in emotional rhetoric to preach to the converted, Ahmed Deedat despite being a Sunni Muslim realizes that Sunni position about Jesus’ crucifixion is not defensible, so he nicely orchestrates all the arguments, which the Founder of Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, had written from the Bible to establish that Jesus did not die on the cross.  The Prophet Muhammad, may peace be on him, had given the title to the Promised Messiah, ‘the one who will break the cross!’ So, Deedat’s use of his arguments is a compliment in disguise.

September 3, 2011 5:55 pm 0 comments

William Lane Craig makes false claims about swoon hypothesis!

William Lane Craig makes false claims about swoon hypothesis!

Prof. William Lane Craig is an American Evangelical Christian apologist, theologian, and analytic philosopher known for his work in the philosophy of religion, historical Jesus studies, and the philosophy of time. I applaud and honor much of his work for the cause of theism, but, when he makes tall and false claims about Jesus, I need to expose him. Swoon hypothesis , which I will be arguing for in this paper, means that Jesus did not die on the cross; he only went into a coma or a swoon. In his much publicized debates with Dr. Peter Slezak and Christopher Hitchens, about existence of God, Prof. Craig cites the so called resurrection of Jesus, as proof for existence of God and claims that other explanations for an empty tomb and sighting of Jesus after crucifixion have been universally rejected. He has perhaps not read the early history of Christianity thoroughly or he would not have made such an exaggerated claim. He calls the assumed resurrection a divine miracle and a great proof for the existence of God. He suggests that belief in resurrection is based on three historical facts but completely overlooks alternative and more plausible explanations for these facts. Given his theological and doctrinal biases, he has an axe to grind. Prof. Craig highlights in his presentations exorcisms performed by Jesus, may peace be on him, as miracles and feels that in doing so he is buttressing his claims about resurrection of Jesus, but as every student of allopathic medicine knows that exorcisms, demons and witches were a creation of the medieval mind, and so is the claim of resurrection!

Read more:

September 1, 2011 7:12 am 0 comments

Debate: Does the Universe have a purpose?

Debate: Does the Universe have a purpose?

And We (Allah) have not created the heaven and the earth and all that is between them without purpose. That is the view of those who disbelieve. (Al Quran 38:28)

Three well known atheists, Prof. Richard Dawkins, Michael Shermer and Matt Ridley debated two Christian and a Jewish apologist, including William Lane Craig, recently in Mexico, regarding the purpose of human life.

The purpose of life was well summarized by William Lane Craig in a line, which resonates with the Quranic description, “The purpose of life is to be found in personal relationship with a Holy and Loving God! to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.” Allah says in the Holy Quran, “I have not created the Jinn and the men but that they may worship Me.” (Al Quran 51:57)

Now let me present a collection of excerpts from the writings of Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, the Founder of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community about the purpose of human life, click here.

If Muslim speakers from Ahmadiyya Muslim Community had been included then the atheists would have at least gotten rid of theology with resurrection of dead and miracles that are in violation of the natural order and harmony and would have been left with a much more sublime theology!  To read further click here:

August 30, 2011 5:04 pm 0 comments