Question 1: The Meaning of Life

WHAT I BELIEVE

Question 1: What is the meaning of life? What is the purpose of human existence?

The beginning point is Sartre’s maxim: Human existence precedes essence; one is not born with a predetermined purpose. One finds oneself existing in this brute, meaningless and absurd world without any guidance or without any direction, and then later defines himself. You are thrown in this life without consent, and whether you like it to not, you have to stay here till death dissipates your consciousness and degrades your body. The world is contingent; it just happens to exist without containing within itself any reason of its existence. Even if any reason of life exists which is beyond the comprehending abilities of human, and we can’t prove the case that it is not so, still it remains meaningless for us. If we can’t understand it, its existence is irrelevant. Humans need a purpose of life describable in human terms; and no such purpose exists in this world around us. The world is absurd. You are born, you live, miserable or happy, whatever the case may be, you eat, drink, reproduce and then die. The atoms of your body split up and return to nature, where they are recycled. How is this any different from the life cycle of a fungus? It is not. There is no fundamental difference. There is, however, a difference: the fungi can’t think; the absurdity of their existence doesn’t shock them. But humans can think, and the absurdity of their existence does shock them. So most of them choose to believe in a fabricated purpose; they opt for religion. [Strictly speaking, they don’t opt for religion. Religion is enforced on the fragile minds of children. They are not given any choice of believing or not believing… the absurdity sounds shocking only if you have been accustomed to the idea of a meaningful life since birth.] To explain the absurdity of this world, they assume the existence of a higher being who created this world and humans so that He might be worshipped; those failing to comply would burn forever to hell, those who submit will spend an eternity in pleasures of heaven. First of all, this account doesn’t satisfy my need of a purpose of life. Worshiping a being whose existence is a matter of pure faith… what kind of purpose is this? And secondly, what then is the purpose of God? Is not God’s existence equally absurd? How wise is it to explain the absurdity of this world with a phenomenon that is itself massively absurd? Thirdly, the existence of a creator does not necessarily impose a meaning on this universe or on human life. The God of Enlightenment can be cited as an example. A creator of this universe might well be absolutely indifferent to human beings, a species of apes living on an insignificant planet among countless star systems.

The absurd does not dictate death. Just because life is purposeless doesn’t mean it is not worth living. We don’t live because life has a meaning; we live because life is a habit. And furthermore, who is there to stop us from creating ideals for ourselves in our lives… to believe in living a life of beauty, love and happiness? If we are here in this world, why not spend this life happily? The lack of an intrinsic meaning of life should not prevent us from inventing a meaning for ourselves. Human life is drama without any director, without any pre-determined script. You have to write the script of your own life. But you should guard yourself against considering your invented purpose as the intrinsic purpose of life.

My life is absurd, yet I am mentally at peace and satisfied because I have chosen to believe in an ethics that inspires and uplifts me. Following Russell, I believe that a good life is one that is inspired by love and guided by knowledge. I recognize that the choice of this ethics is somewhat arbitrary, but I follow it because it satisfies me. This is how one can reconcile the resulting paradox: I have a meaning in my life, even though I have no purpose of my existence.

Comments

SP said…
Awais .. I enjoyed reading this entry .. i enjoyed reading your perspective ..but being a typical libran i have to balance the scales ...

[they don’t opt for religion. Religion is enforced on the fragile minds of children. They are not given any choice of believing or not believing]

I am probably much older than you so you might not agree with me ..but still this is the fun part.. being able to communicate your ideas even though two people might not agree..

I was born in a family where religion was never enforced .. Ethics and humanity was the religion ..although that did not mean defying the existence of God ....I took pride in my 'secular vision'.I probably still do ..

I wont go into the process of how my thinking started changing.. but would just like to state that a persons thinking process changes over time ..Nothing big happened .. not a specific moment that changed my life ... but just over time .. I started feeling differently ... a person starts feeling a connection.. At least I did..You get less individualistic .. you start deriving pleasure from giving rather than receiving ..you are more accepting to the situations rather than trying to fight with the circumstances all the time ....and believe me it feels good ..

In fact I will say that 'Religion' is different from 'Sprituality'/'Faith'. All Religions teach 'humanity' too plus much more .. although our interpretations could be flawed ..
"Spirituality is like banana and religion is like banana skin. Everyone is so engrossed with banana skins that they are leaving the banana out."..
Although I do feel that Religion gives a person a structure to pursue sprituality ..

Anyways .. I guess I am writing too much ..This comment will probably not even fit ..I am new to blogging so probably got a little carried away ....
Awais said…
Glad to hear some thoughts from an older person. :) [Though, your writings on your blog have the romantic touch of a young person. ;)]
Awais said…
All Religions teach 'humanity'

To some extent, yes, but the greatest opponent of the rise of humanistic values has also been Religion. The tyrannies of Church are well-known, and the dangers of the present day religious extremism is very obvious.
SP said…
[Though, your writings on your blog have the romantic touch of a young person. ;)]

smiles.. I'll take that as a complement ..

[To some extent, yes, but the greatest opponent of the rise of humanistic values has also been Religion. The tyrannies of Church are well-known, and the dangers of the present day religious extremism is very obvious ]

Agreed .. but i feel that the negative actions are because of misinterpretations that people have .. or if it is not misinterpretation then it is for their selfish motives .... but religious teachings mostly teach ethics , human and moral values ..World would probably see more chaos in its absense .. Religion and faith probably set a guideline for humans .. Instruction Manual on how to live life ...
Awais said…
but i feel that the negative actions are because of misinterpretations that people have .. or if it is not misinterpretation then it is for their selfish motives.

There is no proper way of distinguishing a misinterpretation from a 'true' interpretation of religion, since it is all basically a matter of faith. The Taliban believed that they were doing a religious duty by enforcing their version of shariat, and whether you call it misinterpretation or whatever you want, it remains under the domain of religion. When you extend your support to religion, you extend your support to all its forms. To claim a barbarity commited in the name of religion as "misinterpretation" is easy enough for you, but ask all those who committed these crimes and all those who suffered, and you'll see the gruesome face of religion.

The Nobel Laureate Steven Weinberg said,"Religion is an insult to human dignity. With or without it, you'd have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, it takes religion."
Awais said…
Religion and faith probably set a guideline for humans ..

The role of religion as a source of morality has been highly exaggerated. This is the issue of the Question 2 on my list.

I accept that religion teaches a lot of good things as well, but it would be a fatal miscalculation to ignore the evils which religion brings as well, and which perhaps far out-weigh its benefits.

Keep in mind that your own version of religion might be enlightened, moderate and humanistic, but a significant number of people believe in a religion which is neither moderate nor humanistic.
SP said…
Awais .. you write wonderfully ..magar mein isey counteract karne ke liye koii daleel nahi dena chaahtii ... bas mukhtasar sii baat ye hai ke Allah Ya God.. Ya jis bhi naam se aap usey pukaarna chaahien ... uski existence sirf 'faith' aur 'aetbaar' par kaayam hai ... mera maanana hai ke aap isey mohabbat se compare kar sakte hain .. iska astitva tabhi hai jab insaan ke ander uski existence ka ehsaas ho ...
Ghalib ne mohabbat ke baare mein kaha tha ke "ye woh aatish hai Ghalib jo lagaaye na lage aur bujhaaye na bane .." aise hii ye faith bhi ander se hii sar uthaata hai ..baahar kii koii entity iskey pros/cons define karke iski existence ko validate ya invalidate nahi kar saktii ...
mein to sirf aapne baare mein keh sakti hoon ke having that faith gives me comfort .. gives me happiness...makes me more accepting and gives me strength in case of problems...

[whether you call it misinterpretation or whatever you want, it remains under the domain of religion. When you extend your support to religion, you extend your support to all its forms. ]

Ek khayaal zehen mein aaya ke kya mein 'Science' ko bhi boycott kar doon kyunkii TNT Dynamite Explosives ,atomic bombs they all come under the domain of science too? har entity mein kuchh achchha hota hai .. aur kuchh bura .. aapka nafs aapko nichaaiyoN kii tarf le jaata hai..aur rooh aapko unchaaiyoN kii taraf ...magar khuda mein aetbaar aapko oopar uthane ka sahaara deta hai ..

jihad ka sabse pehala matlab hai ke insaan khud apne ander kii buraaiyon se jung kare ..jisne khud apne mann ko nahi jeeta,mujhe nahi lagta ke that person has a right to judge others .. aur jisne apne imaan ko itna sanwaar liya ho woh insaan preach kar sakta hai magar enforce nahi karega ..
punjabi kii ek kahawat hai ke 'man jeete jagjeet'

agar insaan lafzoN ko misinterpret kare to uska dosh mazhab ko to nahi diyaa ja sakta na...
(just a FYI ke mere ID se misinterpret na keejiyega .. i am a non muslim ..and was born a non muslim... magar uska ye matlab nahi ke Allah kii existence par aetbaar nahi.....) jab mein Religion kii baat karti hoon to mein faith kii baat karti hoon.. Shariah alag hai ..faith alag hai .. agar insaan paak dil se chalna chaahe to shariah bhi aapko ek guideline provide karti hai ..raasta dikhaati hai .. ye juda baat hai agar mann hii saaf na ho to nikaalne waale to har 'law system' mein loopholes dhoond lete hain..

All forms of worship, require the participation of both the body and the soul.However, the regrettable thing that people are being overly concerned with outward appearances at the expense of substance. There is more concern about bodily actions than there is about the soul. Concern for the outward aspects of worship is something good (though at times it can get out of hand), but such concern should not result in the inner meaning of our worship being forgotten.

Khaana bhi agar zarurat se zyaada khaaya jaaye ya galat khaaya jaaye to wo dawa ke bajaaye rog ban jaata hai .. uska ye matlab to nahi ke insaan khaana khaana hii band kar de .. khaana badan kii zarurat hai .. faith rooh kii zarurat hai .. soul nourishment ...

magar jaisey khaana ham soch samajh kar khaatey hain .. similarily we need to evaluate ourselves ... When will our worship change from being merely an outward act into a reality that is rich in meaning and that carries with it a deep and noble purpose? When will our worship start to affect our personalities, building us into people of integrity who fulfill their duties, recognize their own shortcomings, and work to improve themselves before rushing to judge others?

Only then will our worship take on its full meaning.

Alama Iqbal sahab ne kaha tha ke

Masjid to bana li dam bhar mein imaan kii hararat waalon ne
Mann apna puraana paapi hai barsoN mein namaazi ban na saka ...

bas yehi koshish honi chaaihiye ke apne mann ko cleanse kar sakien ..kisi ne kaha tha ke imaan banaane kii mehnat..its a uphill task .. agar aap musalsal mehanat na karien is raah mein uthane kii to gravity will pull you down ....


(hopefully you wont mind my writing so much .. i really enjoy reading your blogs .. just felt that probably you will also like hearing the other 'perspective' too ...)
Awais said…
Ya jis bhi naam se aap usey pukaarna chaahien.

I wish things were that simple. It is not just a difference of name. Different religions and philosophers have different notions of God. Yahweh, Allah, God of Aristotle, God of Voltaire, God of Kierkegaard are all very different from each other, with different attributes and relationship with humanity. It would be an over-simplification to treat them all as the same.
Awais said…
It seems that the 'religion' i am criticizing is not the 'religion' you are defending. It is not just an issue of the existence of God. I personally have little qualms about believing in a God. If believing in a God makes people happy and comfortable, fine, i have no desire to pester them. But i do feel that i have to speak out when people begin to commit horrible crimes of murder and persecution in the name of this very God.
If a child wants to believe that Santa Clause exists, fine, it is not of much importance to me, but if that child begins to bully other children saying that Santa Clause tells him to do so, that is the moment when remaining silent would become an error.

The God you believe in is a gentle, humanistic God... i have little objections of your believing in Him. But the God of fundamentalists is a God who orders them to kill all the unbelievers. Maybe your God tells you that apostates should not be killed, but there are millions of people whose God tells them that apostates should be killed. Can you convince them that it is wrong? No, because after all, it is a matter of "faith"... aap ka jo jee chahta hay, us tarah kay khuda per imaan lae aain.

When i criticize religion, it is not primarily a criticism of the existence of God. It is a criticism against organized religions like Christianity and Islam. I have little ethical objections against belief in mere belief in God as in Natural Religion of Enlightenment.
Awais said…
hopefully you wont mind my writing so much .. i really enjoy reading your blogs .. just felt that probably you will also like hearing the other 'perspective' too ...

Thank you so much. You are always welcome to speak your mind and say what you want to say. Even though i might disagree with what you say, i wouldn't mind hearing your perspective. And sorry if my replies have any harsh tone. It was certainly not intended.
Awais said…
I guess we are moving away from the topic of discussion. :) The original post wasn't really about the role of religion or the existence of God. I have yet to tackle that issue. What i had said was that:

1) If God exists, what is the purpose of God? Since there is none, it means God is absurd. So how can an absurdity be used to explain another absurdity?

2) Worshipping? Why does a God need humans to worship Him? Does this really sound like the great purpose of human Life? It doesn't to me.

3) A God might well be totally indifferent to humans. A Deist believes in a God who created the universe and then left it to its own laws. Such a God has not imposed any purpose on humans. So, human absurdity can still persist even if a creator exists.
Awais said…
My friend commented that if this world exists, there has to be a reason for it.
Ok, let's assume that it is true. So, what then is the purpose of human life? And he said he didn't know.
And precisely that is my point! We don't know. Even if human life has a purpose, we don't know about it. And if we don't know about it, then it's existence has no consequence for our lives. We would still be haunted by the question, "What am i supposed to do in my life?" To say in reply, "There is an answer, i just don't know about it," is merely rephrasing the absurdity of life in different words. It is just a diluted version of absurdism. It makes no practical difference. An unknown purpose of life is practically equivalent to a purposeless life.
Awais said…
And why do we necessarily have to assume that human life has a meaning? Do we ever ask whether a monkey's life has a purpose? Does the lizard have any purpose? The mosses and ferns? The euglena? The virus? For all we know, their lives lack a purpose. Why should humans be a special case? We are after all part of the same evolutionary chain.
SP said…
[I wish things were that simple. It is not just a difference of name. Different religions and philosophers have different notions of God. Yahweh, Allah, God of Aristotle, God of Voltaire, God of Kierkegaard are all very different from each other, with different attributes and relationship with humanity. It would be an over-simplification to treat them all as the same.
]

Kitna ironic hai na ...har mazhab kehta hai ke God ek hai ..Ye differences to insaani soch kii wajah se hain. agar ham uski vastness aur greatness nahi comprehend kar paate aur usey daayroN mein band karien to woh hamaari kamzori hai..

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[It seems that the 'religion' i am criticizing is not the 'religion' you are defending. It is not just an issue of the existence of God. ]

I kind of felt that too .. but i guess we both are enjoying sharing our thoughts on the subject..

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[I personally have little qualms about believing in a God]

I am glad .. smiles ..

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[But i do feel that i have to speak out when people begin to commit horrible crimes of murder and persecution in the name of this very God.]

Agreed...
Dr Iqbal has said "Mazhab nahi sikhaata aapas mein bair karna..." Ye to insaan hii hai .. chaahe isey misinterpretation kahein ya khudgarzi ..

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[When i criticize religion, it is not primarily a criticism of the existence of God. It is a criticism against organized religions like Christianity and Islam. ]

.... "Organized religion" generally refers to an organization of people supporting the exercise of some religion with a prescribed set of beliefs, often taking the form of a legal entity ..insaan jis bhi level par ..jis bhi tareeqy se maanana chaahe .. Khuda mein faith rakh saktaa hai ...agar kisi entity kii implementation buri ho to 'implementation' ko bura kahenge .. woh entity buri nahi ho jaati ..to ham basic faith ko Religion ko to nahi criticize kar sakte na

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[I have little ethical objections against belief in mere belief in God as in Natural Religion of Enlightenment.
]

You have worded it so very nicely...

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[Thank you so much. You are always welcome to speak your mind and say what you want to say. Even though i might disagree with what you say, i wouldn't mind hearing your perspective. And sorry if my replies have any harsh tone. It was certainly not intended.
]

dont worry.. you have been a perfect gentleman ..:-) I just wanted to make sure I am not stepping on any toes.. I am enjoying these discussions ..but it mars the whole purpose if my comments offend in anyway .. so glad to hear .. I understand that you disagree and the intent is not to convince you but just share my thoughts ..

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There are three more comments from you in this blog entry that I would like to read again and chat on those .. but running short on time .. hopefully soon ..
SP said…
[[2) Worshipping? Why does a God need humans to worship Him?]

why remembering God brings happiness in lives ?.. He does not need any endorsements ..then does our remembering him makes him happy ? and in turn he bestows happiness on us ??

My thinking is that we need to remember God not because he wants us to remember him but because of our own happiness. Remembering God means believing in his existence .. having faith .. when you believe in that supreme power you know that things in the universe are not chaotic ..your life and its events are not just a big sequence of mere coincidences . That there is a master plan behind the events .. we might not have the long term vision or the wisdom to comprehend it ..but having faith in God gives us power to accept the events in our life .. Good or bad ...

And 'Acceptance' is the key to 'happiness' in life . Granted, that it is probably easier to accept the Good things than bad episodes... In the begining a person has to practice this 'acceptance' by remembering God and bowing down to supreme will .. with constant reminders it becomes part of your nature .

In Gurmukhi this state is called 'sehaj bhaav' .. In Islaam its called 'Taqwaa' .. Or you can just call it 'Consiousness of God'
.It is to be constantly aware of God's omnipresence and a reminder of our relationship and responsibility to God as his creation.
Awais said…
he wants us to remember him but because of our own happiness.

Oh sure, and if you don't 'remember' Him, He is going to throw you in burning hell for an eternity as a punishment, just because he wanted us to be happy. Forgive my lack of enthusiasm at remembering such a God.

I was a good believer once, used to eagerly pray five times a day, used to say the kind of things you say... but well, now i am not. And guess what? I am much more happy! I don't need God to be happy.

And since believing in God is a matter of "faith", and not "reason", then you can't expect every person to believe in God. This argument of faith is very subjective. It applies only to you. If your heart tells you to believe in a God, it is not necessarily that other persons' hearts will tell the same thing.
Just because you believe in God because of faith, you expect everyone else to share that faith as well? Faith is irrational. My heart doesn't accept a God of Judeo-Christio-Islamic tradition.

but having faith in God gives us power to accept the events in our life .. Good or bad ...

Maybe believing in a God has its advantages (as well disadvantages).But that still doesn't prove that God exists.
Awais said…
Since we are discussing the "Purpose of Life" here, let me reveal an implication of your statement:

he wants us to remember him but because of our own happiness.

It implies that the fundamental purpose of life is not to worship God, but to be happy, because the purpose of worship is only to make us happy.
But why this indirect route? It is certainly not the case that worshipping God is necessary for happiness. Atheists are as happy as sad as normal people are. Why not directly pursue happiness, instead of pursuing happiness through worship?
And besides, an over-whelming majority of believers derive no happiness at all from worshipping. Trust me. They do it just because they fear going to hell.
SP said…
No..Purpose of life is not just to be happy ... Happiness is the byproduct of worship ...
Awais said…
Purpose of life is not just to be happy ... Happiness is the byproduct of worship ...

If the purpose of life is to worship God, and the purpose of worship is to make us happy, then doesn't this make happiness the purpose of life?

And if not, then what is the purpose of life in your view?
SP said…
[And if not, then what is the purpose of life in your view?]

smiles .. wow ... a question that philosphy and Religion is trying to nail down for ages ... I find myself completely inadequate and unsuitable to answer this question ... the only this I know is that nobody can answer this question for anybody .. It has to come from inside of a person ..a self evaluation ....a discovery within ...

I would like to quote Rumi here..
"There is one thing in this world, which you must never forget to do. Human beings come into this world to do particular work. That work is their purpose, and each is specific to the person. If you forget everything else and not this, there's nothing to worry about. If you remember everything else and forget your true work, then you will have done nothing in your life. "

My belief is that you have to seek and if you seek with a pure heart and if there is longing for an answer in the heart .. you will get the answer one day .. I know it sounds like 'fuzzy logic' but either way there is no 'concrete' answer .. one has to take a leap of faith ....

like is said before you can compare your faith to love ..'sirf ehsaas hai ye rooh se mehsoos karo..'

PS: By no means I am trying to enforce my ideas .. just stating how I feel ... hope its ok ..
Awais said…
Exactly. You don't know the purpose of life yourself. The only difference between you and me is that i have accepted this ignorance, and come to regard it as a concrete aspect of my life. I am ignorant of the intrinsic purpose of my life, and therefore i have to invent a purpose for my ownself.

You, on the other hand, continue to feel that "There has to be a purpose in my life, i just don't know about it." Maybe there is a purpose, who knows, but the solid fact is that you don't know what that purpose is, and since you don't know, you can't live your life according to it as well. Your feeling is just a means of consolation for you... it makes little practical difference in how you act.

It is just a way of coping with the absurdity of life. You experience so many choatic and random things in life, but you console yourself by saying "There has to be a meaning, even if i don't know it." I, to the contrary, do not console myself by saying such things, because i value philosophical honesty more than my consolation.

There is little difference between our positions. We both don't know what the purpose of life is. The only difference is that i have consciously accepted this ignorance as a part of my life and i live it; you haven't... you still live as if you had an instrinsic meaning in life, even though u don't know what it is.
SP said…
The supreme aim of human life is to know the God. Rabindranath Tagore has quoted, “The ultimate end of man is to find the One (God) which is in him, which is his truth, which is his soul, the key with which he opens the gate of the spiritual life, the heavenly kingdom.”
Ali Ibn Abu Talib (AS) also said, “Whoever knew his soul, knew his Lord.” The man has acquired knowledge in various sciences, but the profound philosophy of truth regarding God, soul, universe, life, death etc. has not yet ended with any concrete conclusions unanimously.
Knowing of God is rather difficult due to the limitations of the human mind. Somebody has said, “In knowing Thee, O Wonder of the Cosmos, the mind is weakened all the while; Whenever my reason comes a span closer to Thee, it surely flees a mile.”
A poet has also said, “Man has overcome steam and electricity; but he could not overcome his mind. He reached the planets, but could not reach his inner soul.”
Khalil Gibran’s quotation in this regard is also significant: “Say not, ‘I have found the truth’; but rather, ‘I have found a truth’.”
Ali K. said…
We have the exact same view on the meaning of life. Been going through your blog, you write well.

@Sp
/misinterpretations that people have .. or if it is not misinterpretation then it is for their selfish motives .... but religious teachings mostly teach ethics , human and moral values /

On what basis can you distinguish a 'true' interpretation from a 'false' one?

There is no denying the role of reason in morality. Isn't there a reason which makes something right or wrong? Hence, Morality exists independant of God or religion.
Awais said…
@ Ali

Thanks for the appreciation, dear. Good to know that someone agrees. :)
Nadia said…
The following excerpt has been taken from chapter one of the book "Even Angels Ask" by Jeffrey Lang. Elaborating the confrontation of an atheist with a layman Muslim, the author makes the following observations.



"Enter the Muslim. The last three decades have witnessed a sudden growth in the American Muslim community, spurred mostly by immigration and African American conversion since the civil rights era. The Muslim also finds himself being drawn into the same conflict. With full confidence he critiques, "I don't think the two major religions in America make much sense.”
He receives the reply, “I don’t think that any religion makes much sense. For example, from your religion’s viewpoint, what is the purpose of life? Why did God create us to suffer here on earth?”
The Muslim thinks back on what he was taught as a child. “ I believe He created us to test us.”
Of course he is then asked, “So your religion then rejects the omniscience of God, for otherwise, what could He possibly learn from testing us that He doesn’t already know?”
The Muslim feels cornered and searches his past for the universally accepted answers he was forced to memorize, “No, that is not quite it. Ah! Yes!! We are created to worship him!”
With a sly smile his opponent inquires, “ Then you must believe that God has needs and weaknesses for why else would He demand our worship? When a human demands our devotion, we label him a tyrant or psychopath. Do you hold that God has character flaws?”
The Muslim’s head is now spinning in ill-defined questions and doubts. He gropes for a clue from his childhood. It comes to him! “Adam sinned and his punishment was this earthly life!”
His adversary has the cool, calculated look of one about to say “Checkmate! Putting aside scientific difficulties, it appears that you believe that God is unjust; for why punish all of Adam’s descendants for Adam’s sin? Why not give each his own chance? Do you Muslims also believe in the original sin?”
“No! No! Of course not!”
The game is over.”
Nadia said…
In chapter two of the same book, the author takes up these and other questions and attempts to answer them in the light of the Quran. And I think he did a great job with it, because a lot of my confusions and doubts were solved.

I recommend you read it Awais.