Response to Objection: There is no Beginning for anything

By MuslimAnswers.net Team, Checked and concurred by, Mufti Faisal bin Abdul Hameed al Mahmudi ( http://www.fatwa.ca, http://www.ilmhub.com)

بِسْمِ اللَّـهِ الرَّحْمَـٰنِ الرَّحِيم

We found the following piece from a Buddhist site concerning their answer to the question of whether there is any “beginning”[1]:

Question: If life involves the transference of consciousness, is there any beginning?

Answer: Buddhism teaches that there is no beginning. A beginning is illogical. The continuity of matter, energy, and individual minds are beginningless. If they had a beginning, where did this beginning come from? What was before the beginning?

Some people say, “We need a beginning. Therefore, God created everything.” They assert a creator God, who is given various names in different religions. The question that a Buddhist would ask is, “Where does God come from? Does God have a beginning?” Either they would have to answer that God is beginningless, at which point the Buddhist debater would say, “Ah ha, there is beginninglessness,” or they would have to point to something or someone that created God, which contradicts their own philosophy.

An atheist says. “There is no God. Everything came from nothing. The universe evolved out of nothing. Our mental continuums came from nothing.” Then, we ask, “Where does that nothing come from?” They say, “That nothing is always around. There was always nothing. This nothing had no beginning.” So again, we come back to beginninglessness. Regardless of what answer is given we come back to beginninglessness.

If beginninglessness is the only logical conclusion we can come to, then we examine: “Is it possible for something that functions to come from nothing? How can nothing produce something?” That does not make any sense; things need to have causes. Does the other explanation, that of there being a creator, make sense? We would need to examine that assertion more closely. For example, if an omnipotent being or even if a purely physical Big Bang created everything, then did creation happen at a certain point because of the influence of a motivation, aim, or circumstance? If it did, then what influenced the creation of everything existed before the creation of everything, and that makes no sense. If a creator is both compassionate and beginningless, how could that creator have created compassion? Compassion already existed.

The third alternative to consider is do things continue with no beginning? This is a more scientific approach that accords with the idea that matter is neither created nor destroyed, only transformed. It is the same with individual mental continuums. There is no beginning, and everything transforms dependently, because of causes and circumstances.

There are a number of major mistakes from the Islamic viewpoint with the above answers. We can begin elucidating our objections by referring to the first sentence:  “Buddhism teaches that there is no beginning.”

The readers have to note that when it is said “there is no beginning”, this Buddhist author is saying that all of the bodies and acts we witness in the Universe have no single Creator (but that they are interdependently related). Later on we will address the impossibility of this view, but for now it is important to note that the lack of a beginning is extended to include anything and everything that is seen and exists in the Universe, along with all the states and actions associated with such bodies.

The Buddhist author then says: “If they had a beginning, where did this beginning come from? What was before the beginning?” before presenting the two alternatives.

As for the first case, it is written:

Some people say, “We need a beginning. Therefore, God created everything.” They assert a creator God, who is given various names in different religions. The question that a Buddhist would ask is, “Where does God come from? Does God have a beginning?” Either they would have to answer that God is beginningless, at which point the Buddhist debater would say, “Ah ha, there is beginninglessness,” or they would have to point to something or someone that created God, which contradicts their own philosophy.

In response to this, the Muslim says that the phrase “Ah ha, there is beginninglessness,” in response to our assertion that Allah[2] has no beginning treats “Beginninglessness” as if it were an attribute or quality that could potentially subsist independently of Allah. However, this is not the case, as “Beginninglessness” is an attribute of Allah and it conveys the fact that He is not influenced by His Creation in any way, the specific case in here being that Allah is not influenced by Time, which is one of His Creations… after all, a ‘Creator’ who is influenced by His creation is not the True Creator. Thus, “Begginninlessness” does not apply to any of the created beings nor to any of the actions of the beings, and is only applicable to Allah the Exalted (as His Attribute). Thus, we Muslims say bringing up “Beginninglessness” as a ‘stand-alone’ concept in this discussion is incorrect.

We do acknowledge that the Buddhist is correct in saying that if a person thinks about “someone that created God” he has thought of a thoroughly incorrect statement, as the one who is created is not the Supreme Divine Being, since it contradicts the basic meaning of “Creator”.

It is also important to note here that were a person to hypothetically say that “god (zero)” was created by “god (minus 1)” he would have to either say that this “god (minus 1)” has no beginning and is the true Supreme Divine Being and thus “god (zero)” is not the true “God”, or he would have to say that “god (minus 1)” was created by “god (minus 2)”, forcing us to ask the same questions at a lower level. If at any point “god (minus k)” (where k is any integer value) has no beginning, then this “god” is the true Supreme Divine Being and the previous “gods” are irrelevant to our discussion, since they are all created and are not the Supreme Divine Being. Now, if the person were to say that each “god” was created by a previous “god”, we have the problem of infinite regress -where the going back is extended to infinity past- and it is known that an infinite regress is impossible (this will be important in our discussion later on). Thus, we have shown that whoever thinks about “someone that created God” is not thinking properly and does not know what he is talking about; in this specific case we and the Buddhists are on the same page.

After mentioning the case with the theists, the Buddhist author turns his attention to the atheists by writing:

An atheist says. “There is no God. Everything came from nothing. The universe evolved out of nothing. Our mental continuums came from nothing.” Then, we ask, “Where does that nothing come from?” They say, “That nothing is always around. There was always nothing. This nothing had no beginning.” So again, we come back to beginninglessness. Regardless of what answer is given we come back to beginninglessness.

Here there is another flaw from the Buddhist’s side. The atheist says that there is “nothing”, and the Buddhist asks “Where does that nothing come from?”, and he gets the answer that it was always there and had no beginning. From this, the Buddhist has apparently shown that “beginninglessness” is a common starting point for both theists and atheists.

The flaw in here is that, like the previous case with “beginninglessness”, the Buddhist is treating “nothing” as if it were something, contradicting the very nature of nothingness. In fact, the truth is that if someone says that “nothing has existed from eternity past and will continue forever”, they are basically saying that the occurrence of this “thing” they are referring to is intrinsically impossible, very much like the impossibility of a triangle having four sides[3]. Such “things” have no possibility of occurring, precisely the reason why they are termed as “nothing”. A “nothing” has no specification for its spatial dimensions or for its time dimension, since it does not exist. It does not have a beginning in time, nor does it have no beginning in time, since the question of time or timelessness applies to only those things that exist. If the Buddhist truly took nothing as something, this would bring up all sorts of problems for his arguments, as the very nature of true things could be discarded and taken as being false, those things that are false could be taken as true, and every “true” argument they make could be turned on its head while claiming that its “truthfulness” remains.[4]

Then with respect to the atheists’ point of view he says:

If beginninglessness is the only logical conclusion we can come to, then we examine: “Is it possible for something that functions to come from nothing? How can nothing produce something?” That does not make any sense; things need to have causes.

This is a correct conclusion from the Buddhist[5]: The fact that objects and incidents we observe around us need to have a cause. Islam would also say that any incident which we witness has a beginning in time, and that which has a beginning in time needs something other than itself to bring it into existence. However, our objection with the Buddhist is that he considers the true cause of any incident to be brought about by another incident (something of the same genus as the first incident), while the Muslim says that the true cause of any incident is brought about by Allah the Exalted.

Let us look further into his objections. With respect to the possibility of a Supreme Divine Being as the One who created objects and incidents, the author says:

For example, if an omnipotent being or even if a purely physical Big Bang created everything, then did creation happen at a certain point because of the influence of a motivation, aim, or circumstance? If it did, then what influenced the creation of everything existed before the creation of everything, and that makes no sense.

The Muslim says that a “physical Big Bang” could be at most the “apparent” cause of the Universe, since this would also be an incident that needs specification, and cannot come to pass without another being setting up all of its particular qualities and characteristics.

So everything comes down to the existence of the Divine Creator: If our opponent is asking whether the creation happened at a certain point in time relative to the Divine Being, we say that this is an improper question to ask, considering what he has already agreed with us up to this point. Thus, our opponent has agreed that the Divine Being is Beginningless. This means that “change” does not apply to the Divine Being, and that His act of Creating is not tied to a certain “point” of time (nor are any of the Divine Being’s acts specified by time constraints), due to Allah being independent of time, as our opponent has already accepted. So the problem with the Buddhist in here is that in one sentence he is ignoring the Beginningless attributes of the Divine Being, while in the next sentence this attribute pops up. Had the author applied a consistent frame where Beginniglessness is applied throughout without any exceptions, then his objections would have been cleared without any need to ask further questions[6].

In any case, the Buddhist author gives as an example of how this makes “no sense” to him by stating:

If a creator is both compassionate and beginningless, how could that creator have created compassion? Compassion already existed.

The answer to this is very simple, namely that the Compassion of the Divine Being is uncreated (without a beginning and without a modality) while in the case of the creation, it is merely the interaction of their (created) acts which we call “compassion”, such as when someone does a good act towards someone else. In this later case, the beings involved are created by Allah; the action of the benefactor is created, as is the realization of the beneficiary that he has received kindness from the benefactor. Additionally, the larger world’s calling this “compassion” is also created.

The same is the case if someone asks this question with respect to “Knowledge”. The Muslim asserts that Allah’s Knowledge is absolute, without a beginning, without increase or decrease, without the need for a repository to maintain facts and information, and without a “how”. That of the created beings exists solely due to Allah having created the being, in His having created the location in them where they will store this information within themselces, in His having created the information they should “know”, and also creating the sensation of them having comprehended and understood the existence, qualities, and characteristics of the information they have come to “know” and “stored” in their minds. So when all these factors come together, we say that “such-and-such person knows about this matter, and he is not ignorant about it.” But as we have seen, this is totally unlike the Knowledge of the Divine Being, who cannot be attributed with the limitations of the created beings.

In essence, all the attributes of Allah cannot be fully comprehended by the human being, since the human is intrinsically tied to limitations. For example, we cannot speak of things other than expressing them in terms of past, present, or future events, because our brains cannot comprehend anything until and unless there is a change from one state to the next. But we know that Allah exists without a beginning. The best way many people have of expressing this is by saying that “Allah has always existed”. Even though some may say that this is an imperfect manner in which to convey this idea, it is the best way in which people can understand the fact that beginning and ending, and time itself, does not apply to Allah the Exalted.

Having explained our position, we have to consider our opponents’ view as well. He says:

The third alternative to consider is do things continue with no beginning? This is a more scientific approach that accords with the idea that matter is neither created nor destroyed, only transformed. It is the same with individual mental continuums. There is no beginning, and everything transforms dependently, because of causes and circumstances.

We have to mention in here that the view of the Buddhist is actually identical to that of the atheist, with the possible twist that the atheist’s viewpoint may have been misrepresented by the Buddhist. Thus, the atheist does not believe in the existence of Allah, nor does the Buddhist. However, it is probable that the atheist takes on a view similar to that of the Buddhist above, in trying to assign emergent incidents as the real causes for all objects and incidents that we see in the Universe.  Denying the existence of Allah is all that is needed to be an atheist, and the question of whether “nothing” or “something other than Allah” is the true cause behind the existence of all that we see in the Universe is irrelevant to a person’s atheism.

Having affirmed the similarity between the atheist and Buddhist viewpoints, in order to counter the explanation presented above we are forced to bring up the “infinite regress” impossibility we had mentioned earlier. The reason is that what is being forwarded by the Buddhist here is a variation of the “god creating the next god” impossibility which was mentioned above and which the Buddhist himself acknowledged to be without basis. In here, a thing continues or is brought into existence due to a “cause (zero)”, which is itself a thing brought into existence by “cause (minus 1)”, which is yet another thing brought into existence by “cause (minus 2)” and so forth into infinity past.[7]  If it is said that one act or thing is not brought into existence due to a singular cause but rather a set of causes working together, this would not change the impossibility of his assertion. In this case, we would term the first series of causes as “cause-series (zero)”, the second one “cause-series (minus 1)” and so forth while the general impossibility of their assertion would remain.

Some people may say that it is possible for something to appear out of infinity past. To this assertion, we ask them to visualize a simple matter: If the criterion for reaching a place is that we should have travelled an infinite number of kilometers before we get to our destination, will we ever reach this place? It is clear that we will never be able to reach this place with this condition attached to it, as this condition has no real expression attached to it in the observable Universe.

As another example, if someone tells us that he has reached the number 6 on the real number line after starting from “negative infinity”, does this statement hold any weight?… Obviously not, as we would immediately know that “starting from negative infinity” has no real manifestation in the Universe.[8]

The Qur’an itself briefly deals with this impossibility when it says:

أَمْ خُلِقُوا مِنْ غَيْرِ شَيْءٍ أَمْ هُمُ الْخَالِقُونَ

Is it that they are created by none, or are they themselves the creators? (Quran 52:35)

In here Allah is asking humanity whether they were created from nothing, or whether they created themselves. Even though it seems like a simple statement, it is loaded with huge meaning, and it should be enough to bring the entire world to Islam, if they think and ponder upon this Verse properly. From this Verse, we know the statement that something came out of nothing is incorrect and should be discarded. When Allah asks us whether we “created ourselves”, this is not only a reference to human beings creating themselves (an impossibility due to the false notion of self-causation), but it could also refer to the impossibility of any contingent/emergent matter which has a beginning in time being the true cause of any other contingent/emergent matter (i.e. of any incident)[9].

Coming to the “scientific” aspects of our opponent’s arguments, if “no beginning” is tied with the conservation of mass and energy, we say that this is based on the supposition that the Universe as a whole, including all of its incidents, is a totally closed system without any input from anything outside of it. As we have previously shown, the only true cause of everything in this Universe is Allah the Exalted, and he does not subsist in the Universe, and He is neither tied nor specified with any of the parameters regulating the existence of the objects and incidents in the Universe.

There is yet another objection which may be raised, from those who say that the view of “infinite regression” is a scientific possibility, with some saying that it is a scientific reality. To this the Muslim answers that we have already proven through simple mathematics (the basis of all scientific results) that such a proposition is impossible. If anyone asks for more proof, we can quote the following statement from a very recent science article:

Any claims of actual existence of physical infinities in the real universe should be treated with great caution (c.f. [3], section 9.3.2), as emphasized by David Hilbert long ago ([8], p. 151):

“Our principal result is that the infinite is nowhere to be found in reality. It neither exists in nature nor provides a legitimate basis for rational thought . . . The role that remains for the infinite to play is solely that of an idea . . . which transcends all experience and which completes the concrete as a totality . . .” [10]

From the discussion above we can see that the notion of things being caused by a series of cause and effect relationships extending to the infinite past is impossible. The only true alternative for us to take is that every object and emergent action we see in the Universe is directly caused by Allah.

For those seeking a more detailed proof of the Islamic position in this respect –since we only dealt with the few objections about Allah arising from the Buddhist author’s ideas- they may refer to the article “Clearest proof for the existence of a Creator”. For those wishing to know more about the nature and attributes of Allah in Islam, they may refer to the article “Aqidah of Tuan Guru”.

 

 

 

[1]http://www.berzinarchives.com/web/en/archives/approaching_buddhism/introduction/basic_question_karma_rebirth.html. We are aware that there are different streams of thought within Buddhism concerning metaphysical issues, but in here we are answering one of the common views within Buddhism.

[2] The name of the Supreme Divine Being is “Allah”.

[3]Here we are referring to the case where “three”, “four”, “side” and “triangle” have the conventional meanings assigned to them in Euclidean geometry, and we are ruling out the transformation of the triangle into another shape. So we are saying that a three-sided shape (a triangle) cannot remain a triangle and have four sides simultaneously.

[4] Even though this flaw is not so severe for us at its first appearance- since the Muslim agrees to the Beginninglessness of Allah and does not need to consider the arguments brought forth with respect to atheists – it shows how this author is unfortunately taking nothing as “nothing” in some cases, and nothing as “something” in other instances according to the stream of his argument.

[5] Except perhaps for the fact that he may be misrepresenting what the atheist believes in, as we will mention in more detail a little later on.

[6] Basically, this is occurring because in the minds of many people (Buddhist and otherwise), they can absolutely not conceive of any existent which acts in anything other than a linear sequence of time, a ‘before, now, after’- and consequently they apply such thoughts to all discussions concerning the Supreme Divine Being, thus skewing the discussion in a totally inappropriate manner.

[7] If someone says that time does not exist and things cannot go into infinity past, we say that their identifying an incident, as well as identifying its needing a cause is indicative that time is an essential component for all the incidents and causes they are referring to.

[8] Yes, we can draw the number line graph with ‘negative infinity’ on the left hand side as many times as we like, but it is clear that we never literally ‘started from negative infinity’ in any of the graphs.

[9] One can refer to Imam Fakhr-ud-Deen ar-Razi’s (RA) commentary on this Verse (http://www.altafsir.com/Tafasir.asp?tMadhNo=1&tTafsirNo=4&tSoraNo=52&tAyahNo=35&tDisplay=yes&Page=2&Size=1&LanguageId=1), where he discusses several possibilities with respect to what the Arab idolaters were saying, and why their sayings are wrong from a variety of angles and possibilities. What we can say in here is that even though the first revelation was directed towards such idolaters, such Verses have universal validity, which we will hopefully pursue in an upcoming work.

[10] http://arxiv.org/PS_cache/arxiv/pdf/1001/1001.4590v1.pdf (A Note on Infinities in Eternal Inflation)

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