Coherence is essential to any speech. Incoherent speech is worthless. It is gibberish and not worth listening to.
We should ask: Is atheism coherent?
The answer is no.
This is what a large group of contemporary epistemologists are trying to demonstrate. This movement, called Reformed Epistemology, argues that having confidence in one’s cognitive faculties and believing in naturalism are two irreconcilable propositions. That is to say that if you really hold to naturalism, you can’t really trust that your own mind is trustworthy.
In this article we will demonstrate in a simple way that indeed the atheist has no basis for believing in the reliability of his cognitive abilities and therefore cannot produce coherent discourse in defense of his atheism.
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As Allah says in the Quran:
Or do you think that most of them hear or reason? They are not except like livestock. Rather, they are [even] more astray in [their] way. [Quran 25:44]
Is Human Cognition Reliable?
Let us first assume that behind all knowledge there is an intuition that informs us that our cognitive abilities are reliable. Thus when we read 1 + 1 = 2, we know that it must be true, because it is inscribed in our intuition, i.e., our most primary cognitive faculty.
The great scholar Ibn Taymiyya says in his Majmu’ Al Fatawa:
“The basic foundation of the knowledge of a Maker is innate and necessary. This is more rooted in the soul than elementary knowledge of math like our saying: one is half of two.”
Now we have to ask ourselves whether our cognition is trustworthy or not. How can we be sure our reason is reliable? How can we be sure our intuitions are reliable? How can we be sure our eyes and other sensory organs are reliable?
In order to be deemed reliable, our primary cognitive faculties must meet three conditions:
- They must come from a perfect and omnipotent source.
- They must come from a source with infinite knowledge.
- They must come from a creator who is perfectly benevolent.
Indeed, if the source of our cognition is not perfect, there will be a high possibility of our cognition being flawed. Furthermore, if our cognitive faculties come from a source that is limited in knowledge, then our cognition will be at least as limited, if not more. Finally, if the source of our cognitive faculties is not perfectly benevolent, then it is possible that he wanted to harm us when he created us, not giving us a reliable capacity of understanding reality.
All of these possibilities would indicate the possibility of systematic flaws in our cognition. And if our cognition is flawed, we cannot rely on our own minds. We cannot trust our own supposed rationality, which means we cannot trust math, science, logic, or any other discourse.
These conditions cannot be met according to the atheistic account of the origins of human cognition. Whatever source they invoke to explain our cognition, whether it is chance evolution or something else, these three conditions cannot be met. Only the theistic definition of Allah satisfies these criteria.
Atheists try to explain the development of our cognition by evolution, i.e., a blind process, devoid of intention, fallible, and purposeless. How could such a blind, haphazard process develop a reliable human mind? It couldn’t.
Without justifying the reliability of his cognition, the atheist cannot presume that his discourse is justified. He cannot appeal to reason. He cannot appeal to science. He cannot even appeal to basic logic. None of these intellectual avenues can be considered reliable because they are the products of the human mind and, according to atheist logic, the human mind is a product of blind chance.
This deep problem of reliability was raised by Charles Darwin himself:
“But then with me the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man’s mind, which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy. Would any one trust in the convictions of a monkey’s mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind?” — Charles Darwin, to William Graham 3 July 1881
Darwin noticed that evolution opened the door for a flawed mind, one that would not be able to distinguish falsehood and truth. Could you rely on the mind of a monkey? Would you be confident in the “rational” conclusions of an ape? Well, according to atheism, humans are just slightly smarter than the average ape. This casts major doubts on the reliability of our beliefs.
Many philosophers like Alvin Plantinga, Thomas Nagel, C.S. Lewis and others argue that this dilemma for the atheist cannot be solved by naturalism or materialism. This doubt of Darwin recently been haunting the atheist community, which is why all the most prominent atheist philosophers of our time such as Elliott Sober, Michael Ruse, and others have tried to answer the doubt, but without success.
Islam, however, does have a coherent basis for grounding human cognition. Allah as Creator fulfills all of the criteria listed, thus making Him the foundation of our cognition. We can trust our cognition which is based on our created human nature. We can trust it because its source is the perfectly capable and omniscient Creator, who is also benevolent and wants good for His creation. Starting from this basis, all the rest of our discourse is justified and thus perfectly coherent.
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Similar arguments can also be found in the Islamic tradition:
“Denying the universe-Maker in the minds and innate natures, is like dismissing and denying knowledge; there’s no difference. Actually for pure and bright minds and pristine innate natures, the Creator as evidence of His creation is more obvious than the opposite. And I heard the high ranked scholar Taqiy al Din Ibn Taymiyya (may Allah’s mercy be upon him), say: “How do you ask evidence of Him, who is the evidence of everything?”
— Ibn Al Qayyim Al Jawziyya in Madarij As Salikin (1/60)
In history, a lot of disputes have occurred between theists and atheists. But the debate was lost for atheists from the start. They have not been able to respond to basic challenges asking them to justify their own minds. And even their prophet, Charles Darwin, was left without an answer. If they cannot answer such simple questions about their epistemology, why should anyone take atheists seriously? Enough of these senseless arguments from senseless people!