In a debate called Islam VS Atheism, there is a great discussion that takes place on a number of subjects concerning the dichotomy alluded to in the title. In a certain part of this debate, which I wish to focus on in this article, brother Abdullah al Andalusi puts forward a particular argument. I will now paraphrase the general flow of it as provided in the video:
- God is the only explanation to avoid self contradictions in trying to explain the existence and origin of the universe.
- For example if we take 2 + 2, we know this equals 4; as it is necessary from the premises that this conclusion must follow.
- Just as this is so, if we begin with the premise “the existence of finite things is so“, the conclusion would be “there must a beginning point, and a fundamental substratum that is supporting all things.“; ergo, God.
Alex O’Connor (Cosmic Skeptic) then asks him to clarify this in deductive form. Now this is already in a somewhat deductive form, although not clearly laid out as premise 1, 2, 3…. etc and then conclusion. However, this request to formalise the argument seems to throw Brother Abdullah off slightly and catch him off guard. This is not necessarily a bad thing in and of itself. It is likely that he’s thought of this argument in general terms and not spent too much time trying to figure out how to express it deductively/analytically, or memorise the entire argument if he has; which is fair enough. This process can be long and tedious, requiring time; which Andalusi may not have had in this particular regard. This request can throw someone of guard even when they are familiar with an argument.
In response to this, brother Mohammed Hijab interjects and offers a statement which summarises a possible justification for the aforementioned claim.
Anything susceptible to addition or subtraction cannot be infinite.
If you have an infinite thing, and you add to it, then there’s the absurdity of adding to an infinite physical quantitive thing. So you’d have to disprove that statement. Now we’ve made that statement: “Anything susceptible to addition or subtraction cannot be infinite”
So in order for you to prove your infinite regress, you have to show how it is possible for something to have infinity as a quality, as well as addition and subtraction as well.
They then get caught up in an argument about who the burden of proof is on and the conversation derails away from its initial trajectory.
I wish to add to this discussion by stating firstly, that I agree with Andalusi and Hijab in their conclusions. However, I do agree with O’Connor that they could have done a better job at presenting this argument in better form.
I think the issue is that there are a number of presupposition that are tied to these claims which have not been explicitly stated, and as they are presumed to be obvious by a theist, maybe this motivates one to assume they need not be stated. However, this discussion is one aimed at both theist’s and atheists, and so it should not be assumed that such presuppositions are obvious.
As muslims, we believe Allah (swt) to be an infinite being, and take our motivation for this claim from the Quran, which says the following:
Say, “He is Allah, [who is] One, 
Allah, the Eternal Refuge. 
He neither begets nor is born, 
Nor is there to Him any equivalent.” The Quran: Surah Al-Ikhlas 
We also believe the infinite to be something which is not susceptible to addition or subtraction for the following reasons. If you can add to it, this presupposes a lack, as you can only add to something if the thing which is being added was not included in that which it is being added to. Addition presupposes a distinction between the two things. So in the instance that you say ∞ + 1, you have entered an absurdity because in order to add this 1, it must not have already been contained within the infinite (∞), and so therefor you are dealing with two limited quantities and would be better notified by any old algebraic symbol such as X, or Y. It is an unspecified quantity, but it is certainly not the infinite.
This same issue applies for subtraction. If you assume that ∞ – 1 is possible, this presupposes somewhere the 1 can go that is distinct and independent from the infinite. It also assumes that the infinite is itself compartmental, like a machine, rather than being the source of all the possible parts itself. Such ideas vision the infinite. If we take the infinite as that which has no limitations, then it is silly to assume you can take this 1 that has been subtracted anywhere that is not included within the reach of the infinite. If you propose that there is something beyond the reach of the infinite and that the subtraction is possible, then you have submitted to the fact you were never talking about the infinite in the first place.
You can extend these criticism’s to the idea of multiplications and divisions also, as the same principles apply. What this all boils down to is the fact that there is a conceptual distinction between the Metaphysical & Transcendental substratum idea of the infinite, and the mathematical conception which just utilises algebraic symbolisations with indefinite quantities, but is limited to the realm of number and mathematics.
Now, to point one last thing out. This argument has still not been displayed herein analytically. This itself may take some time, but I do intend to try put together the argument more formally. I am welcome to hearing any attempts at this in the comments section (by those who either agree or disagree with my conclusions), and would be happy to engage with any sincere discussion that may begin there.
I look forward to engaging in a discussion on this, insha’Allah. And please, if you haven’t already, subscribe to my blog (which you can do on my home page), follow me on twitter 🙂 and subscribe to my youtube channel where I confront similar issues!