Belief in the Unseen is a Religious and Scientific Principle
Originally published in Patheos
Atheists often mock those who believe in the existence of God, saying that such an absurdity is contrary to common sense. They say that though the existence of God cannot be conclusively disproven, neither can the existence of Santa Claus, the tooth fairy, or unicorns. Those who are critical of theism often object on principle, presenting their ideas as diametrically opposed to the idea of belief in the unseen. However, on closer analysis, we find that they themselves, in fundamentals, are actually in agreement with the religious principles to which they object.
Belief in the unseen is a necessary prerequisite in all fields of material progress. Every scientific discovery has taken place on the basis of this principle. Consider the earth: there was a time when the concept of the world being round was an idea that was beyond comprehension. It was then, in view of a hypothesis, that Galileo made an inferential leap, and he believed that such this idea was possible. The belief in that possibility, though not based on conclusive proof, was founded on inferences from observations. At that time, this idea was condemned by those who failed to comprehend the true philosophy of belief in the unseen and took an approach of excessive skepticism. It was belief in the unseen, in the unknown potential that lies beyond man’s present comprehension, which has been the seed of scientific revolution since the beginning of humanity. The religious zealots of that time and the atheists of today having fallen prey to the same mistake.
This principle of belief in the unseen is not restricted to the scientific realm alone, but encompasses all aspects of life in which progress occurs. Each time we, as individuals or as a society, take a step forward, it is based on belief in the unseen. Whether it was political revolutions or the pursuit of nuclear power, whether it is an entrepreneur pursuing an opportunity or a child taking his first step, every action in the pursuit of progress is based on some inferences and observations which, though incomplete in-and-of-themselves, collectively indicate towards a hidden possibility.
Those who succumb to fears and doubts and fall prey to excessive skepticism fall into mediocrity, unable to take the inherent risk necessary in every step of progress. On the other hand, those who make the inferential leap into the possibilities of the unknown are those who achieve greatness in every field of progress. If, at that time of uncertainty, the objection were made that such ideas are absurd until they can conclusively be proven, man would never have progressed past the Stone Age. It is an absurdity to follow the skepticisms of cynics who reject an idea on such premises.
Similar is the case with belief in the existence of God. The evidence which theists present are not proofs that unequivocally prove the existence of God, nor are they meant to be. Rather, they are sufficient evidence to necessitate pursuing the possibility of God. The purposeful organization of the universe, the improbability of random progress, the logical necessity of a cause of all causes, the testimonies of individuals throughout history, etc. these observations are not meant to prove the existence of God as a fact, but that the existence of God is a valid hypothesis, a hypothesis that is our scientific responsibility to investigate. Newton’s observation of a falling apple did not prove the existence of gravity, but it did necessitate the pursuit of the idea. The evidence in support of the existence of God does not establish His existence, but establishes our scientific responsibility to seek Him. The rejection of belief in the unseen and the acceptance of excessive skepticism is the rejection of growth and the acceptance of stagnancy. To reject the possibility of His existence at the outset is to deprive ourselves of the discoveries that lie just beyond our present awareness.
Concerning this principle, Allah the Almighty states in the Holy Qur’an: “it (the Holy Qur’an) is a guidance for the righteous, Who believe in the unseen” (2:3-4) The serious pursuit of the possibility of the existence of God is a basic responsibility of every rational individual. Those who believe in the unseen are consistent in their beliefs; they apply this principle in both the material and spiritual world.
In subsequent articles we’ll explore Islam’s guidance on how to discover the unknown and the unseen.