A Christian and an agnostic debate the question of suffering.

· Agnosticism, Atheism

“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.” Sir Charles Darwin

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:


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]

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.

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