Page last edited on 12 March, 2003
So far we have only dealt with the sin of disbelief in God and
with the general framework of the basis of knowledge in terms of good and bad
thinking. The sin of disbelief in God is essentially the product of rejecting
the effort to do what is morally right. This applies to general actions and in
particular to exercising good thinking as it would inevitably lead to belief in
God as the ultimate explanation of reality in both the senses of the question
"Why?" i.e. "So What?" and "How?".
What makes good thinking is at the core a question of
sincerity and when one rejects good thinking one is essentially undergoing
self-deception of one form or another. It is not necessary to be intelligent to
have good thinking - though good thinking may well lead to greater intelligence.
What matters is sincerity; wanting to do what is morally right. Someone who
practices good thinking is essentially someone with a clear conscience.
Insincerity and self-deception are core to the concept in Islam of the
disbeliever. The word used for disbeliever in Islam is "kafir" and has
the literal meaning of someone who covers up. I could go into many quotes from
the Qur'an of the nature of kafir but I'll leave that to the reader to discover
for themselves. What I will quote here is the essentials of belief which apply
to all people:
...any who believe in Allah and the Last Day, and work
righteousness, shall have their reward with their Lord; on them shall be no
fear, nor shall they grieve.
Surah 2 Verse 62
This brings in the subject of the last day or judgement day.
The need for judgement day can easily be understood once moral teachings are
recognised as having real meaning. Moral laws are like physical laws. If I am in
a state of self-deception as to the laws of physics I might decide to punch my
hand into a concrete wall. It would hurt me a lot but that is the natural law.
It is the same way with morals. If I refuse to acknowledge that which is evident
to me and I do something to spite it, I am only going to cause harm to myself in
the long run. If I deliberately do wrong it is no different from me punching my
fist into the concrete I should expect it to hurt and I have no excuse. The
difference with morals is that the consequences are sometimes well into the
future whereas punching concrete has an immediate consequence.
However, all this only gets us so far. Morals relate to how we
should act over such issues as the use of drugs, sexual morals, use of violence
etc and this concerns much more that the general principles we have been
discussing so far. Morals can be learned to some degree through life's
experiences, cultural traditions can get passed on through the generations and
sciences can come to some sort of conclusions. However, morals are often
considered to be different from descriptions of the physical reality around us
and indeed they are. This is the ‘Is / Ought’ problem again. In the earlier
pages I have in a way partially bridged this divide by tackling the very
categorisation: we only have 'Is statements' because we keep to a foundation of
good thinking which results in our knowledge. That said, we still don't have a
firm basis for deriving morals; we have really only asserted the integral and
essential nature of moral intent in the way we observe and think about reality
in general. How can we approach, for example, the question of the morality of
drinking alcohol? To judge an act to be morally right or wrong, we need to know
the ultimate consequences of its effects. This we are in principle not able to
do, because such knowledge is beyond our ability to know. We can only know a few
of the effects. Morals also are not subject to experimentation as are purely
non-living phenomena. We cannot morally justify forcing people to behave in
certain ways to see the effects. Indeed any forced behaviour cannot be moral
because it is not freely chosen. The only real source of legitimate knowledge on
this subject is history. History tells us that no culture has ever maintained
morality over time without having a strong religious underpinning. This is
because the only source of suitably qualified moral teachings is the ultimate
cause and explanation of reality, who is therefore all-knowing and the one who
knows the ultimate outcomes - Allah.
From this we see that revelation has been the source of moral
guidance throughout history. The question that is critical though is to
distinguish between genuine revelation and fake. How are we to know what is true
revelation from Allah? To answer this I shall return to the concepts described
before in the sin of disbelief. To really resolve the ‘Is / Ought’ problem
we use the principles of good thinking to analyse the evidence that some
scripture claiming to be revelation actually is revelation. First we must
consider what kind of evidence would demonstrate the truth of a revelation.
Continue to ...
[ 01- The Basis of Knowledge ] [ 02 - The Sin of Disbelief ] [ 03 - The Amazing Quran ] [ 04 - The Teachings of Islam ] [ Table of Contents ]