The Method for the Discovery of God
The philosophical pursuit of God dates back to ancient Greece. It is believed that the first Greek philosopher was Thales of Miletus, who lived during 546 to 624 BC. Philosophy, in essence, is the search for the Creator, but philosophers could never be successful in discovering the Creator. Philosophy is commonly defined as the study of general and fundamental questions about existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind and language. This, however, is a superficial statement about the true subject of philosophy. In reality, philosophy is the scholarly search for God or the supreme truth.
All philosophers were in search of the truth, giving different names to their search. But no philosopher was successful in his quest. It is said about the British philosopher Bertrand Russell that he was a philosopher of no philosophy. This is not true of only one philosopher, rather this statement is applicable to all philosophers. The supreme reality has been the center of search of every philosopher, but no philosopher could find a clear answer to his quest.
Why is it that the philosophers remained engaged in the pursuit of God, but could not discover God with certainty? The reason was that the method they followed was unscientific. All scholars and thinkers who tried to reach God by following the philosophical method could not find God. These people wanted to see God directly, but the truth is that God can only be discovered indirectly. They tried to directly find God, just as they would observe and study other entities of the material world. However, this methodology was not appropriate in the matter of God. This is why those who followed it could not be successful
What is the right methodology for the intellectual search for God? The Quran has given an indication of the right methodology for the discovery of God. Historically speaking, the quest for the truth began about 3,500 years ago in the age of the Israeli Prophet Moses. We receive guidance for the first time in an incident that occurred in the life of the Prophet Moses. The Prophet Moses was born 3,500 years ago in ancient Egypt. His story has been narrated with detail in the Quran. The relevant incident occurred on Mount Sinai, which has an elevation of 2,285 meters. The event has been described in the Quran in these words:
“And when Moses came at Our appointed time and his Lord spoke to him, he said, ‘My Lord, show Yourself to me so that I may look at You.’ He replied, ‘You cannot see Me, but look at the mountain; if it remains firmly in its place, then only will you see Me.’ And when his Lord manifested Himself on the mountain, He broke it into pieces and Moses fell down unconscious. And when he recovered, he said, ‘Glory be to You, I turn towards You, and I am the first to believe.’” (7:143)
So, what is the right approach in the matter of discovery of God? When we reflect on this Quranic verse, we arrive at the conclusion that a human being cannot directly see God. A person can gain knowledge about God only indirectly. That is, by pondering over the creation of God one can have knowledge of the Creator. This guidance on the method to be adopted with respect to discovering God was available in the history of the Prophet Moses since past 3,500 years. But philosophers and thinkers did not follow this methodology. They continued to seek a direct observation of God.
However, this methodology could be understood by people only after the Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei (1564- 1642) used the telescope to observe celestial objects. Galileo is considered the father of modern science. The beginning of modern science was in 1608 when humans invented the basic form of the telescope. In 1609 Galileo further developed this elementary telescope and from 1610 to 1612 observed the motion of various planets of the solar system: Jupiter, Venus, Saturn and Neptune.
A tradition has been recorded in Sahih al-Bukhari according to which the Prophet once said that God would surely support this religion with the help of a secular (fajir) person. (Sahih al-Bukhari, Hadith No. 3062) This tradition of the Prophet gives a clue that in the matter of discovery of God, there will be a secular person who will provide initial direction.
I have been thinking on this subject since a very long time. I have arrived at the conclusion that the “secular person” mentioned in the above tradition of the Prophet is perhaps the Italian astronomer Galileo who was born four hundred years ago. In this matter, Galileo’s role was not a direct one, but an indirect one. That is, his discoveries indirectly helped in finding an answer to the question of what method one should adopt to discover God.
In 1610, for several nights Galileo observed Jupiter and three objects near this large planet. By closely monitoring their motion over the course of a number of days he concluded that these objects near Jupiter were Jupiter’s satellites which were in orbit around it. Galileo’s findings of Jupiter’s satellites caused a revolution in astronomy: a planet with smaller planets orbiting it did not conform to the principles of Aristotelian cosmology, which held that all heavenly bodies should circle the Earth. Aristotle’s conception of the universe is also called Ptolemy’s geocentric model, according to which the earth is at the centre of the universe with the sun, planets and stars orbiting it. But Galileo’s discovery in 1610 and his subsequent observations of the planet Venus later that year further made the Ptolemaic geocentric model untenable. The new theory of the sun at the centre in the solar system with other planets including the earth revolving around it is called the heliocentric theory.
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