Atheism is not an intellectual position that exists in a bubble. If its claims are true, then one would have to make some inevitable existential and logical conclusions that are very bleak. Under atheism, life is ludicrous. The following discussion may not provide a rational case for God, nor does it follow that God exists simply because life without God seems absurd. However, it does provide the fertile ground in which the rational arguments in this book take root.
Most atheists are philosophical naturalists who hold that there is no supernatural and everything in the universe can be explained in reference to physical processes. Atheism combined with philosophical naturalism is a recipe for existential disaster. The formula is simple: no God, which includes the associated concepts of Divine accountability, equals no ultimate hope, value and purpose. It also leads to no eternal and meaningful happiness. This conclusion is not an outdated religious cliché; it is a result of thinking rationally about the logical and existential implications of atheism.
Hope is defined as the feeling or expectation and desire for something to happen. We all hope for good lives, good health and a good job. Ultimately, we all hope for an immortal blissful existence. Life is such an amazing gift that no one really wants his or her conscious existence to end. Similarly, everyone desires that there will be some form of ultimate justice where wrongs are made right, and the relevant people will be held accountable. Significantly, if our lives are miserable, or experience pain and suffering, we hope for some peace, pleasure and ease. This is a reflection of the human spirit; we hope for light at the end of the dark tunnel, and if we have tranquillity and joy, we want to keep it that way.
Since atheism denies the Divine and the supernatural, it also rejects the concept of an afterlife. Without that, there can be no hope of pleasure following a life of pain. Therefore, the expectation for something positive to happen after our lives is lost. Under atheism we cannot expect any light at the end of the dark tunnel of our existence. Imagine you were born in the third world and spent your whole life in starvation and poverty. According to the atheist worldview, you are merely destined for death. Contrast this with the Islamic perspective: all instances of suffering that happen in our lives are for some greater good. Therefore, in the larger scheme of things, no pain or suffering we undergo is meaningless. God is aware of all our sufferings, and He will provide recompense. According to atheism, however, our pains are as meaningless as our pleasure. The immense sacrifices of the virtuous and the distress of the victim are falling dominoes in an indifferent world. They occur for no greater good and no higher purpose. There is no ultimate hope of an afterlife or any form of happiness. Even if we lived a life of pleasure and immense luxuries, most of us would inevitably be doomed to some form of evil fate or an incessant desire for more pleasure. The pessimist philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer aptly described the hopelessness and ill fate that awaits us:
"We are like lambs in a field, disporting themselves under the eye of the butcher, who chooses out first one and then another for his prey. So it is that in our good days we are all unconscious of the evil fate may have presently in store for us—sickness, poverty, mutilation, loss of sight or reason… No little part of the torment of existence lies in this, that Time is continually pressing upon us, never letting us take breath, but always coming after us, like a taskmaster with a whip. If at any moment Time stays his hand, it is only when we are delivered over to the misery of boredom… In fact, the conviction that the world and man is something that had better not have been, is of a kind to fill us with indulgence towards one another. Nay, from this point of view, we might well consider the proper form of address to be, not Monsieur, Sir, mein Herr, but my fellow-sufferer, Socî malorum, compagnon de miseres!"
The Qur’an alludes to this hopelessness. It argues that a believer cannot despair; there will always be hope, and hope is connected to God’s mercy, and God’s mercy will manifest itself in this life and the hereafter:
"Certainly no one despairs of God’s Mercy, except the people who disbelieve." (Quran 12:87)
Under atheism, ultimate justice is an unachievable goal—a mirage in the desert of life. Since there is no afterlife, any expectation of people being held to account is futile. Consider Nazi Germany in the 1940s. An innocent Jewish lady who just saw her husband and children murdered in front of her has no hope for justice when she is waiting for her turn to be cast into the gas chamber. Although the Nazis were eventually defeated, this justice occurred after her death. Under atheism she is now nothing, just another rearrangement of matter, and you cannot give reprieve to something that is lifeless. Islam, however, gives everyone hope for pure Divine, ultimate justice. No one will be treated unfairly and everyone shall be taken to account:
"On that Day, people will come forward in separate groups to be shown their deeds: whoever has done an atom’s weight of good will see it, but whoever has done an atom’s weight of evil will see that." (Quran 99:6-8)
"God created the heavens and the Earth for a true purpose: to reward each soul according to its deeds. They will not be wronged." (Quran 45:22)
Life, from the perspective of philosophical naturalism, is like a mother giving her child a toy and then taking it back for no reason. Life, without a doubt, is a wonderful gift. Yet any pleasure, joy and love we have experienced will be taken away from us and lost forever. Since the atheist denies the Divine and the hereafter, it means that the pleasures we have experienced in life will disappear. There is no hope of a continuation of happiness, pleasure, love and joy. However, under Islam, these positive experiences are enhanced and continued after our worldly life:
"They will have therein whatever they desire and We have more than that for them." (Quran 50:35)
"The people who lived a pious life will have a good reward and more…." (Quran 10:26)
"Verily, the dwellers of Paradise that Day, will be busy in joyful things… (It will be said to them): ‘Salamun’ (Peace be on you), a Word from the Lord, Most Merciful." (Quran 36:55-58)
 Some of ideas in this chapter have been inspired by and adapted from Craig, W.L. The absurdity of life without god. Available at: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/the-absurdity-of-life-without-god [Accessed 23rd November 2016].
 Schopenhauer, A. (2014). Studies in Pessimism: On the Sufferings of the World. [ebook] The University of Adelaide Library. Chapter 1. Available at: https://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/s/schopenhauer/arthur/pessimism/chapter1.html [Accessed 2nd October 2016].
What is the difference between a human and a chocolate bunny? This is a serious question. According to many atheists who adopt a naturalistic worldview, everything that exists is essentially a rearrangement of matter, or at least based on blind, non-conscious physical processes and causes.
If this is true, then does it really matter?
If I were to pick up a hammer and smash a chocolate bunny and then I did the same to myself, according to naturalism there would be no real difference. The pieces of chocolate and the pieces of my skull would just be rearrangements of the same stuff: cold, lifeless matter.
The typical response to this argument includes the following statements: "we have feelings", "we are alive", "we feel pain", "we have an identity" and "we’re human!" According to naturalism these responses are still just reduced to rearrangements of matter, or to be more precise, neuro-chemical happenings in one’s brain. In reality everything we feel, say or do can be reduced to the basic constituents of matter, or at least some type of physical process. Therefore, this sentimentalism is unjustified if one is an atheist, because everything, including feelings, emotions or even the sense of value, is just based on matter and cold physical processes and causes.
Returning to our original question: What is the difference between a human being and a chocolate bunny? The answer, according to the atheist perspective, is that there is no real difference. Any difference is just an illusion—there is no ultimate value. If everything is based on matter and prior physical causes and processes, then nothing has real value. Unless, of course, one argues that what matters is matter itself. Even if that were true, how could we appreciate the difference between one arrangement of matter and another? Could one argue that the more complex something is, the more value it has? But why would that be of any value? Remember, according to atheism nothing has been purposefully designed or created. It is all based on cold, random and non-conscious physical processes and causes.
The good news is that the atheists who adopt this perspective do not follow through with the rational implications of their beliefs. If they did, it would be depressing. The reason that they attribute ultimate value to our existence is because their innate dispositions, which have been created by God, have an affinity to recognise God and the truth of our existence.
From an Islamic point of view God has placed an innate disposition within us to acknowledge our worth, and to recognise fundamental moral and ethical truths. This disposition is called the fitrah in Islamic thought. Our claim of ultimate value is justified because God created us with a profound purpose, and preferred us to most of His creation. We have value because the One who created us has given us value.
"Now, indeed, We have conferred dignity on the children of Adam… and favoured them far above most of Our creation." (Quran 17:70)
"Our Lord! You have not created all this without purpose." (Quran 3:191)
Islam values the good and those who accept the truth. It contrasts those who obey God and thereby do good, and those who are defiantly disobedient, and thereby do evil:
"Then is one who was a believer like one who was defiantly disobedient? They are not equal." (Quran 32:18)
Since naturalism rejects the hereafter and any form of Divine justice, it rewards the criminal and the peacemaker with the same end: death. We all meet the same fate. So what ultimate value do the lives of Hitler or Martin Luther King Jr. really have? If their ends are the same, then what real value does atheism give us? Not much at all.
However, in Islam, the ultimate end of those who worship God and are compassionate, honest, just, kind and forgiving is contrasted with the end of those who persist with their evil. The abode of the good is eternal bliss and the abode of the evil is Divine alienation. This alienation is a consequence of consciously denying God’s mercy and guidance, which inevitably results in spiritual anguish and torment. Clearly, Islam gives us ultimate value. However, under atheism, value cannot be rationally justified except as an illusion in our heads.
Despite the force of this argument, some atheists still object. One of their objections involves the following question: Why does God give us ultimate value? The answer is simple. God created and transcends the universe, and He has unlimited knowledge and wisdom. His names include The-Knowing and The-Wise. Therefore, what He values is universal and objective. Another way of looking at it is by understanding that God is the maximally perfect Being, which means He is free from any deficiency and flaw. Therefore, it follows that what He values will be objective and ultimate, because this objectivity is a feature of His perfection.
Another objection argues that even if we were to accept that God gives us ultimate value, it would still be subjective, as it would be subject to His perspective. This contention is premised on a misunderstanding of what subjectivity means. It applies to an individual’s limited mind and/or feelings. However, God’s perspective is based on unlimited knowledge and wisdom. He knows everything; we do not. The classical scholar Ibn Kathir states that God has the totality of wisdom and knowledge; we have its particulars. In other words: God has the picture, we merely have a pixel.
Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Professor of Islamic studies at George Washington University, provides an apt summary of the concept of human rights and dignity—which ultimately refer to value—in the absence of God:
"Before speaking of human responsibilities or rights, one must answer the basic religious and philosophical question, ‘What does it mean to be human?’ In today’s world everyone speaks of human rights and the sacred character of human life, and many secularists even claim that they are true champions of human rights as against those who accept various religious worldviews. But strangely enough, often those same champions of humanity believe that human beings are nothing more than evolved apes, who in turn evolved from lower life forms and ultimately from various compounds of molecules. If the human being is nothing but the result of ‘blind forces’ acting upon the original cosmic soup of molecules, then is not the very statement of the sacredness of human life intellectually meaningless and nothing but a hollow sentimental expression? Is not human dignity nothing more than a conveniently contrived notion without basis in reality? And if we are nothing but highly organized inanimate particles, what is the basis for claims to ‘human rights’? These basic questions know no geographic boundaries and are asked by thinking people everywhere."
We have value, but what value does the world have?
If I were to put you in a room with all your favourite games, gadgets, friends, loved ones, food and drink, but you knew that in five minutes you, the world and everything in it would be destroyed, what value would your possessions have? They wouldn’t have any at all. However, what is five minutes or 657,000 hours (equivalent to 75 years)? It is mere time. Just because we may live for 75 years does not make a difference. In the atheist worldview it will all be destroyed and forgotten. This is also true for Islam. Everything will be annihilated. So in reality the world intrinsically has no value; it is ephemeral, transient and short-lived. Nonetheless, from an Islamic perspective the world has value because it is an abode for getting close to God, good deeds and worship, which lead to eternal paradise. So it is not all doom and gloom. We are not on a sinking ship. If we do the right thing, we can gain God’s forgiveness and approval.
"There is terrible punishment in the next life as well as forgiveness and approval from God; so race for your Lord’s forgiveness…." (Quran 57:2-21)
 Nasr, S. H. (2004). The Heart of Islam: Enduring Values for Humanity. New York: HarperSanFrancisco, p. 275.
"I do not know why we are here, but I’m pretty sure that it is not in order to enjoy ourselves."
These are the words of influential philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein. Like many philosophers, he did not have an answer to the question: What is the purpose of life? But he did indicate that life is not just a game. Other people, however, have argued that the question is false. There may be nothing we should be bothered about. We should carry on living and not worry about why we are here. The Nobel Prize winner Albert Camus explained this attitude in the following way: "You will never live if you are looking for the meaning of life". Camus was basically saying that the important thing is to live a life that works for you, regardless of any truth behind your existence.
In light of these differing views, we must ask: is it reasonable to believe we have a purpose? To help answer this question, let us take the following illustration into consideration:
You are probably reading this book sitting on a chair, and you are wearing some clothes. So I would like to ask you a question: For what purpose? Why are you wearing the clothes, and what purpose does the chair have? The answers to these questions are obvious. The chair’s purpose is to allow us to sit down by supporting our weight, and our clothes fulfil the purpose of keeping us warm, hiding our nakedness and of course making us look aesthetically pleasing. Our clothes and the chair are lifeless objects with no emotional or mental abilities, and we attribute purpose to these. Yet some of us do not believe we have a purpose for our own existence. Naturally, this seems absurd and counter-intuitive.
Having an ultimate purpose for our lives implies that there is a reason for our existence—in other words, some kind of intention and objective. Without an ultimate purpose we have no reason to exist, and we lack a profound meaning for our lives. This is the perspective of naturalism. It dictates that we merely spring from prior physical processes. These are blind, random and non-rational. The logical conclusion of this indifferent view on our existence is that we are riding on a sinking ship. This metaphorical ship is our universe because, according to scientists, this universe is heading towards its inevitable demise and will suffer what they call a ‘heat death’. Human life will be destroyed prior to this heat death as the Sun will eventually obliterate the Earth. Therefore, if this ship is going to sink, I ask you, what is the point of reshuffling the deck chairs or giving a glass of milk to the old lady? The Qur’an represents humanity’s intuitive stance on this issue:
"Our Lord! You have not created all this without purpose." (Quran 3:90)
Nevertheless, various disputes emerge from this discussion. First, an atheist can argue that the absence of any reason for our existence gives us more freedom to create purpose for ourselves. To further explain, some of the existentialists have argued that our lives are based on nothing, and from this nothingness we can create a new realm of possibilities for our lives. This rests on the idea that everything is intrinsically meaningless, and therefore we have the freedom to create meaning for ourselves in order to live fulfilling lives. The flaw with this approach is that we cannot really escape meaning. Denying purpose for the basis of our existence while attributing some made-up purpose to our lives is, by definition, self-delusion. It is no different in saying, "Let’s pretend to have purpose." This is no different from children who pretend to be doctors and nurses, cowboys and Indians, or mothers and fathers. However, we must all grow up and face the truth that life is not just a game.
Another disagreement consists of the Darwinian claim that our purpose is to propagate our DNA; as the famous atheist Richard Dawkins proposes in his book, The Selfish Gene, our bodies have developed to do just that. The problem with this view is it relegates our existence to a random accident via a lengthy biological process. This renders the human nothing more than a by-product, an incidental being that emerged via the random collision of particles and the random rearrangement of molecules.
Islam’s view on the purpose of our lives is intuitive and empowering. It elevates our existence from products of matter and time to conscious beings who choose to have a relationship with the One who created us. Atheism and naturalism provide no ultimate purpose for our existence.
 Cited in BBC (no date) Radio 4 – in our time – greatest philosopher – Ludwig Wittgenstein. Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/history/inourtime/greatest_philosopher_ludwig_wittgenstein.shtml [Accessed 1st October 2016]
 Cited in Pollan, S. M. and Levine, M, (2006) It’s All in Your Head: Thinking Your Way to Happiness. New York: HarperCollins, p. 4.
 Williams, M. (2015) The Life Cycle of the Sun. Available at: http://www.universetoday.com/18847/life-of-the-sun/ [Accessed 2nd October 2016].
 Dawkins, R. (2006) The Selfish Gene. 30th Anniversary edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
"And a happy future belongs to those who are mindful of Him." (Quran 7:128)
The pursuit of happiness is an essential part of our human nature. All of us want to be happy—even when sometimes we cannot pinpoint exactly what ‘happiness’ is. This is why if you were to ask the average person why they want to get a good job, they would probably reply, "To earn enough to live comfortably". However, if you questioned them further and asked why they want to live comfortably they would more than likely say, "Because I want to be happy". If you then asked them, "Why do you want to be happy?" They would be stuck for an answer, because happiness is ultimately an end, not a means. It is the final destination, not necessarily the journey. We all want to be happy, and there is no reason why we want to be happy other than happiness itself. This is why we endlessly seek ways to help us achieve that final happy state.
The journey that people seek varies from one person to the next. Some dedicate years to adding qualifications and career credentials to their names. Others work tirelessly in gyms to achieve a perfect figure. Those who desire the love of family often end up sacrificing their lives to the care of their spouse and children, while some party their weekends away with friends, seeking a release from the relentless cycle of work. The list is endless. It begs the question: What is true, meaningful happiness?
To help answer this question, imagine the following scenario: While reading this, you are sedated against your will. Suddenly you wake up and find yourself on a plane. You’re in first class. The food is heavenly. The seat is a flatbed, designed for a luxurious, comfortable experience. The entertainment is limitless. The service is out of this world. You start to use all of the excellent facilities. Time starts to pass. Now think for a moment, and ask yourself the question: Would I be happy?
How could you be? You would need some questions answered first. Who sedated you? How did you get on the plane? What is the purpose of the journey? Where are you heading? If these questions remained unanswered, how could you be happy? Even if you started to enjoy all of the luxuries at your disposal, you would never achieve true, meaningful happiness. Would a frothy Belgian chocolate mousse on your dessert tray be enough to drown out the questions? It would be a delusion, a temporary, fake type of happiness, only achieved by deliberately ignoring these critical questions.
Now apply this to your life and ask yourself, am I happy? Our coming into existence is no different from being sedated and thrown on a plane. We never chose our birth, our parents or where we come from. Yet some of us do not ask the questions or search for the answers that will help us achieve our ultimate goal of happiness.
Where does true, meaningful happiness lie? Inevitably, if we reflect on the previous example, happiness really lies in answering key questions about our existence. These include: What is the purpose of life? Where am I heading after my death? In this light, our happiness lies in our inwardness, in knowing who we are, and finding the answers to these critical questions. If we claim to be happy but have not asked these questions or found any answers, then our happy state is not very meaningful. It would be like a drunk person who seems to be happy when he temporarily forgets life’s worries.
Unlike animals, we cannot be content by reacting to our instincts. Obeying our hormones and mere physical needs will not answer these questions and bring happiness. To understand why, reflect on another example: Imagine you were one of 50 human beings locked in a small room with no exit. There are only 10 loaves of bread, and there is no more food for another 100 days. What do you all do? If you follow your animalistic instincts, there will be blood. But if you try to answer the question, how can we all survive? it is likely that you will, because you will devise ways to do so.
Extend this example to your life. Your life has many more variables, which can result in almost an infinite number of outcomes. Yet some of us just follow our carnal needs. Our jobs may require Ph.Ds. or other qualifications, and we may wine and dine with our partners, but all of that is still reduced to the mere instincts of survival and procreation. Meaningful happiness cannot be achieved unless we find out who we really are and search for answers to life’s critical questions.
However, under naturalism these questions do not have any real answers., this is why naturalism can never lead to a meaningful happy state. Why are we here? No reason at all. Where are we going? Nowhere. We will just face death. We all need to answer the fundamental question of why we are here. In Islam, the answer is simple yet profound. We are here to worship God.
But worship in Islam is quite different from the common understanding of the word. Worship can be shown in every act that we do. The way we talk to each other and the small acts of kindness we do each day. If we focus on pleasing God by our actions, then our actions become acts of worship.
Worship is not merely limited to directing our acts of worship to God alone, like the spiritual acts of prayer and fasting. Worshipping God also means loving, obeying and knowing Him the most. Worshipping God is the ultimate purpose of our existence; it frees us from the ‘slavery’ to others and society. God, in the Qur’an, presents us with a powerful example:
"God puts forward this illustration: can a man who has for his masters several partners at odds with each other be considered equal to a man devoted wholly to one master? All praise belongs to God, though most of them do not know." (Quran 39:29)
Inevitably, if we do not worship God, we end up worshipping other ‘gods’. Think about it. Our partners, our bosses, our teachers, our friends, the societies we live in, and even our own desires ‘enslave’ us in some way. Take, for example, social norms. Many of us define beauty based on social pressures. We may have a range of likes and dislikes, but these are shaped by others. Ask yourself, why are you wearing these trousers or this skirt? Saying you like it is a shallow response; the point is, why do you like it? If we keep on probing in this way, many will end up admitting "because other people think it looks nice". Unfortunately, we’ve all been influenced by the endless adverts and peer pressure that bombard us.
In this respect we have many ‘masters’ and they all want something from us. They are all ‘at odds with each other’, and we end up living confused, unfulfilled lives. God, who knows us better than we know ourselves, who loves us more than our mothers love us, is telling us that He is our true master, and only by worshipping Him alone will we truly free ourselves.
The Muslim writer Yasmin Mogahed explains in her book, Reclaim Your Heart, that anything other than God is weak and feeble, and that our freedom lies in worshipping Him:
"Every time you run after, seek, or petition something weak or feeble… you too become weak or feeble. Even if you do reach that which you seek, it will never be enough. You will soon need to seek something else. You will never reach true contentment or satisfaction. That is why we live in a world of trade-ins and upgrades. Your phone, your car, your computer, your woman, your man, can always be traded in for a newer, better model. However, there is a freedom from that slavery. When the object upon which you place all your weight is unshaking, unbreakable, and unending, you cannot fall."
The next question is: Where are we going? We have a choice: to embrace God’s eternal, unbounded mercy, or to run away from it. Accepting His mercy, by responding to His message, and obeying, worshipping and loving Him will facilitate our eternal happiness in paradise. Rejecting and running away from God’s mercy necessitates that we end up in a place devoid of His love, a place of unhappiness—hell. So we have a choice. Either we decide to embrace His mercy or try to escape from it. We have the free will to choose. Even though God wants good for us, He does not force us to make the right choices. The choices we make in this life will shape our lives after we die:
"…and when that Day comes, no soul will speak except by His permission, and some of them will be wretched and some happy." (Quran 11:105)
"There they will stay—a happy home and resting place!" (Quran 25:75)
Since our ultimate purpose is to worship God, we must establish our natural balance to find out who we really are. When we worship God, we free ourselves, and find ourselves. If we do not, we are forgetting what makes us human (see Chapter 15):
"And be not like those who forgot God, so He made them forget themselves." (Quran 59:19)
In summary, atheism cannot provide profound answers for our existence, and therefore real, meaningful happiness can never be achieved. If someone argues that they are happy under atheism, I would argue it is a drunken type of happiness. They only sober up when they start thinking deeply about their own existence. Even if they have attempted to find the answers and have settled with not knowing—or being sceptical about the available responses—they will still not achieve ultimate happiness. Compare the person who knows why they exist and where they are going with the one who does not. Their conditions are not the same, even if they both claim to be happy.
This chapter has clearly shown the logical implications of denying God. While atheists are emotionally justified in believing their lives have a sense of ultimate value, hope, happiness and purpose, the point is clear: intellectually they are groundless. Even Richard Dawkins appreciates the logical implications of naturalism. He argues that under naturalism, everything is meaningless and based on pitiless indifference:
"On the contrary, if the universe were just electrons and selfish genes, meaningless tragedies like the crashing of this bus are exactly what we should expect, along with equally meaningless good fortune. Such a universe would be neither evil nor good in intention. It would manifest no intentions of any kind. In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference."
A universe made up of non-rational, blind, cold physical stuff is not concerned with our emotions. Only God can provide the intellectual justification for the things that define our humanity.
Last updated 21 May 2019. Taken and adapted from my book "The Divine Reality: God, Islam & The Mirage of Atheism". You can purchase the book here.
 Mogahed, Y. (2015) Reclaim Your Heart. 2nd Edition. San Clemente, CA: FB Publishing, p. 55.
 Dawkins, R. (2001) River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life. London: Phoenix, p. 155.
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