Link to Debate:

By Hamza Andreas Tzortzis

(Partly transcribed unfinished)

HT: I’m going to start as Muslims do, with the name of God. Innal hamda lillah, wassholatu wassalaamu ‘ala rasulillah, amma ba’ad. I greet you all with the Islamic greeting of peace, assalamu ‘alaykum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh. One of the prophets of neo-atheism, Christopher Hitchens, in his best-seller God Is Not Great wrote the following words. He said, “As I write these words, and as you read them, people of faith are in different ways planning your and my destruction, and the destruction of all the hardwon human attainments that I have touched upon. Religion poisons everything.” Is he right? Or is he a byproduct of our secular society, conditioned to point the finger at religion? And this is what today’s debate is about. [6:00 – 7:05]

Before I get into my main arguments, I would like to start with some definitions. Now, upon surveying the various definitions for religion, looking at literature, philosophical dictionaries, I have personally come to the conclusion, that the definition for mainstream religion is the belief in a God, and that God commands you to do things. Peter Cave, in his book Humanism, he writes about religion and conforms to my description. He says “It involves the belief in God, or Gods, with the belief generates doctrines of morality and how life should be lived.” [7:06 – 8:05]

Hence from now on, I’m going to be using the word religion and Islam interchangeably. Now my argument is that religion does make your life better. And the way I’m going to show this, is by saying that the things in religion that are beneficial to your life, are actually unique to religion, and can never be replaced by non-religious and irreligious life. I give you an example, say you have two bottles. One is full of water, and the other is also full of water, but it has some special herbs in it that are beneficial to your health for example. They both quench your thirst, but the best bottle is the one with the herbs. Because it has additional benefits as unique to that bottle. I would argue that religion, and specifically Islam, is exactly that. [8:06 – 9:00]

To support this, I would use four main arguments. One, sociological. Two, philosophical. Three, moral. And four, political. However before I get into the thick of the argument, I’d like to highlight that all the negative things, all the evils attributed to religion, are actually not unique to religion. In this light, the former Professor of Divinity at Oxford University Keith Ward, he writes “It is very difficult to think of any organized human activity that could not be corrupted. The lesson is that anti-religious corruptions and religious corruptions are both possible. There is no magic system of belief, not even the belief in liberal democracy, which can be guaranteed to prevent it.” [9:04 – 10:07]

Let me give you an example. Let’s talk about the outdated cliché of religion causes war and conflict. Is that unique to religion? I argue that the common conceptual denominator is humanity itself. Let me give you some examples. 70 million people died under Chairman Mao. 20 million people died under Stalin. 700 000 innocent Iraqis no longer exist because of the contemporary war. What about World War 1 and World War 2? The Vietnam War? The mass murder of newborn baby girls in China? Or Hiroshima and Nagasaki? What about the ethnic cleansing of Tibetans? So my point is, that these conflicts and these vices of war, wasn’t done under the name of religion. But under the name of secular non-religious ideology. So in the question and answers, I ask you all to have a more nuanced approach to this discussion and transcend the outdated clichés. [10:08 – 11:11]

Let me go into my arguments. My first argument is the sociological argument and it can be summarized as follows: Religion makes your life better in contrast to a lack of religion, because it has been shown to facilitate better mental health, better physical health, lower levels of crime, higher levels of happiness, and higher levels of altruism and philanthropic activity. [11:13 – 11:37]

Let me give you some examples from key academic works in the study of sociology. Example no.1, in the Handbook of Religion and Health, edited by Harold Koenig, Michael McCullough and David Larson, they reviewed 2000 published experiments designed to test the relationship between religion and various medical conditions. The overall results were that people of religion live longer, they have physically healthier lives; young people have significantly lower levels of drug and alcohol abuse, lower levels criminal delinquency and attempted suicide. A positive correlation.

Example no. 2, the Gallup survey on Religion in America concluded that people who agree that God is very important to their lives are twice as likely to report being very happy, in contrast to those who said that God is not important to their lives. And the National Opinion Research Center reported exactly the same conclusions. Example no. 3, in 2000 political scientist and Professor Robert Putnam surveyed 200 volunteer organizations, and it showed a positive correlation between religiosity and membership of those charitable organizations. Similarly, the Index of Global Philanthropy in 2007, it states: religious people are more charitable than non-religious, regardless of income, region, social class and other demographic variables; and significantly more charitable in the secular donations and informal giving. [11:38 – 13:30]

Now, Peter Cave also writes in his book Humanism, “What though is the conceptual or logical link between morality and the belief in God?” Humanists claim there is none. Well in my take of the above, I would later on kindly ask him to reconsider his assumptions. Argument no.2 is a philosophical argument: Religion makes your life better than a lack of religion because of the logic of submission. Listen to this carefully. 1) God is All-Knowing and All-Wise. 2) Human beings are obviously not. 3) Therefore it is rational and beneficial to follow what God has said. [13:31 – 14:18]

But on scratching the intellectual surface, there are some hidden premises here. And what are the hidden premises? The hidden premises are that God exists, and that He has revealed something to humanity. I believe this can be substantiated by showing that the uniqueness of the Quran can only be best explained supernaturally. And in doing so, I will prove the existence of the supernatural cognitive power i.e. God, and at the same time showing that the Quran is what He revealed. In other words, explaining that the Quran is a miracle. [14:19 – 14:58]

Firstly though, what are miracles? According to the older philosophers such as David Hume and others, they said miracles are violations of natural law. But does this make sense? Surely this is an irony-clad description of what miracles are. Because what are the reality of natural laws? Because natural laws are just inductive generalizations of patters we perceive in the universe. Now if something breaks that pattern, does it mean it’s a miracle? No I think that is incoherent. I would argue that well maybe it is part of that pattern. So we have to miraculously re-discover coherent meaning for the word miracle. And I would argue that the best description for miracle are acts of impossibility. So we have to search for supernatural explanation. In the words of the philosopher William Lane Craig, he says “Miracles are events that lie outside the productive capacity of nature.” So in this way, we have to look for non-natural explanations. [15:00 – 16:06]

Now with regards to the Quran, the Quran is a unique piece of literature. Its literary form, the structural features of the Arabic language in the Quran, de-scope the Arabic language. It lies outside any expression of the Arabic language. For example the famous arabist A.J. Arbery, he says “For the Quran is neither prose nor poetry, but a unique fusion of both.” Similarly, the professor and arabist Hamilton Gibb, he says “As a result of humanity not being able to challenge or emulate this unique literary form and structure,” concludes the following, “the Meccans (the people at the time of revelation 1400 years ago) still demanded of him a miracle, and with remarkable boldness and self-confidence, Muhammad appeared as a supreme confirmation of his mission to the Quran itself. Well then, if the Quran were his own composition, other men could rival it. Let them produce 10 verses like it. If they could not, and it is obvious that they could not, let them accept the Quran as an outstanding evidential miracle. So since all the finite letters, and the finite words, and the finite grammatical rules in the Arabic language had been exhausted, and we cannot produce the form and literary structure of the Quran, then surely we need to be looking for supernatural explanations. [16:06 – 17:45]

So let’s go back to our definition. Since the Quran cannot be emulated, and since we have exhausted all possibilities of the nature of the Quran which is the Arabic language, then it must be a miracle. Let me give you the summary. 1) A miracle is an event which lies outside the productive capacity of nature 2) The Quran’s unique literary form lies outside the productive capacity of the nature of the Arabic language 3) Therefore the Quran is a miracle; which proves the existence of a supernatural cognitive power, in other words God, but also shows that the Quran is His words. So we have justified the logic of submission: 1) God is All-Knowing and All-Wise. 2) Human beings are not. 3) Therefore it is rational and beneficial to follow what God has said. [17:46 – 18:41]

My third argument is a moral argument, and it can be summarized as follows: Religion makes your life better, because it is the only basis for objective morality. Morality that has meaning. The word better in our discussion today is a moral or value judgment. Something is better, something is worse, something is bad, something is good. Now I would argue that without God, we cannot meaningfully discuss today’s topic! Peter should go home! This is because without God, there is no objective value and objective morality. Now this doesn’t mean that humanists or atheists or people of no religion do not display moral behavior. Of course they do! Peter is a great guy. As he says in his book, “The overall humanist stance is that moral behavior needs neither belief in a God nor the motivation to please in a God.” I agree, but the argument here is not about behavior, it’s about moral ontology. The basis of morality. Can we say the holocaust was objectively morally wrong, a 100% wrong, regardless if the Nazis had occupied the whole world and brainwashed us, it’s still objectively wrong. But you can’t say this, without the existence of God. Because I said, God is the only objective anchor that transcends human subjectivity. In this light the famous J.L Makki, a professor of Oxford University and one of the influential atheists of our time, he says “If there are objective values that make the existence of God more probable than would have been without them. Thus we have a defensible from morality for the existence of God.” [18:41 – 21:02]

So, can we say that killing a young child is 100% morally wrong? Well, you can only say this if you have a religious or a Godly worldview. Because as I said, God is the only conceptual anchor that transcends human subjectivity. In the absence of God, there’s only two other possible foundations. And those come from evolution and social pressure. But can evolution provide an objective basis for morality? What does evolution say? That we are just accidental byproducts of a very long, lengthy evolutionary process. That our morality has evolved like how ears and teeth who are toenails. And it’s illusory. Because biology says that we are going to change. And if your morality is pegged on your biology, then your morals are going to change. So it’s not objective anymore. This is why Michael Rouze, a philosopher of Science, points this out. He explains “Morality is a biological adaptation, no less than our hands, feet and teeth. Considered as a rational justifiable set of claims about our objective something, ethics is illusory. I appreciate when someone says ‘love thy neighbor as thyself’, they think they’re referring above and beyond themselves.” Nevertheless, such reference is truly without foundation.” [21:05 – 22:44]

So can social pressure provide an objective basis for morality? The quick answer is no. Any superficial reading on the study of social psychology, sociology, social constructionism; anyone who read a book from Vivian Berg called the Introduction to Social Constructionism, would quickly conclude that the influential structures of a particular society moves the values and morals to certain goals. Thats why we have the term modernity which basically means, from a laymen’s perspective, don’t really believe in anything because your values are going to change over time. So we could summarize the argument as follows: 1) God is the only conceptual anchor that transcends human subjectivity. 2) The religious worldview is the belief in a God. 3) Therefore religious perspectives, morality and values are objective, and non-religious perspectives are illusory. Now to close this section, I believe Peter Cave does believe that killing 6 million Jews is objectively morally wrong. But he can only believe that if God exist. And that he carries a religious perspective. As Richard Taylor, one of the most famous atheists, he writes “The modern age more or less repudiating the idea of a divine law-giver, has nevertheless try to retain the ideas of moral right and moral wrong. Without noticing that in casting God aside, they have also abolished the meaningfulness of right and wrong as well.” [22:45 – 24:25]

Argument no. 4 and my final argument, is a political argument: Islam makes your life better than a lack of religion because its economic model deals with poverty and creates financial stability better than any other model past or present. Let’s look at the situation about global poverty. It is one of abject poverty and misery. Three billion in the world live on fewer than two dollars in a day. 1.3 billion have no access to clean water. 3 billion have no access to sanitation, and 2 billion have no access to electricity. What does Islam have to say? I’m going to deliver the six major features of the Islamic economic model.

The first feature: Individual needs are defined. Islam carries a truthful, honest perspective on geopolitics. Individual needs are defined, and there is enough resources to deal with these individual needs. In a statement from the Prophet Muhammad peace and blessings be upon him said, “The son of Adam, in other words Humanity, has no better right than he would have a house, a piece of cloth, and a piece of bread.” Food, shelter and clothing. And what this creates is a macro-economy of dealing with the number one economic problem of distribution. Rather than the liberal, non-religious economic perspective of competition, hence the reason we could buy the nice cameras and look very nice as you all do today, is because there has to be poor. Competition! What does it mean? Someone’s gonna lose out. Your fellow brother. And this is why the geopolitical myth of liberal economics is damaging. “There’s too many needs! And not enough resources.” [24:26 – 26:22]

Point no.2: Islam removes interest. The Quranic injunction says, “God has permitted trade and forbidden interest.” Because interest restricts that distribution of wealth. And when you remove interest, there’s more money in the hands of society and individuals. And this leads nicely to my 3rd point, which is about Islamic taxation aiding the distribution of wealth. Because income tax is only 2.5%. And this creates an economic stimulus, because someone may argue if you take interest out, people have too much money. And if you don’t tax people, there’s too much money. And therefore keeping it at home and hoard it. But under Islamic economic model, it decreases 2.5% every year. So that’s an economic stimulus to take your money and inject it back into society. To promote entrepreneurship and elevate the economic standards of your particular society. And this is in stark contrast to the US. According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, it concluded that the combined federal, state and local government average tax rates for most workers is 40%. And this does not even include indirect taxation. Even from a utilitarian perspective, we should want an Islamic economic model. We will have more money. [26:23 – 27:55]

Point no.4: It prevents monopolies. Everyone heard about the credit crunch? The credit crunch happened because you just let freedom be too free. If that ever makes sense. The global market of free economy, with no mechanisms to prevent hoarding of wealth, monopolies and all the issues that were deliberately, in some cases by some bankers, done to create this financial crisis. But Islam doesn’t say that. It says there must be mechanisms in the free market economy in order to balance things out. And thats why the Quranic injunction that says “Wealth does not become a commodity between the rich among you.” It’s a basis to deal with the free economic boom and bust cycles.

Point no. 5: Natural resources are actually people’s wealth. More money in the hands of society again. Because of a statement from the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, he said “The people are partners in three things: Water, pastures and fire.” The intellectual heritage of Islam, that classical scholarship derived that this had to do with natural resources. And I would argue that if Saudi Arabia, really follow their prophet – my prophet – then it’s estimated that from the oil revenues, people will be getting 20 000 dollars a year without working. [27:56 – 29:37]

Last point, point no. 6 is about stability. Issuing money is actually a duty of the state, and it must be pegged on something substantial like the gold or silver. [29:39 -] *