Divine Singularity: The Oneness of God
Imagine you are an explorer who took a spaceship to another planet to visit human-like creatures. Once you land on the planet, you meet your guide. He tells you that your spaceship landed on Sphinga, the planet’s borderless country. You are confused and ask your guide if there are any other countries on the planet. He laughs and replies, “Yes, there are two.” You retort, “Well, how do you know when you’re in another country if there’s nothing to differentiate them?” Your guide sighs and says, “Yeah, we have the same problem. There are no borders and the features of one country are the same as the other.” You finally end the discussion by saying, “You should have just made them into one country then, because that is what it looks like to me.”
You both continue your journey to meet a group of officials for lunch. During the meal one of the officials praises the kings of the country. Upon hearing this, you politely ask, “You mean, there is more than one king?” The official replies, “Yes, we have two kings.” You seem perplexed and ask how the country can function with two kings. “How do you have harmony in your laws, and order in your society?” The official replies, “Well, they always agree. Their wills are one.” You cannot hold yourself back and you respond, “Well, you do not really have two kings, then. Because they are acting in accordance with one will.”
This story contains three of the five arguments I will present for the fact that there can only be one God . The first part of the story summarises an argument that I call ‘conceptual differentiation’. It postulates that in order for multiplicity to exist, there must be some concepts that differentiate one thing from another. For example, if I said that there are two bananas on the table, you would be able to verify that statement by observing them. The reason you can see two bananas is because there exist concepts that differentiate them; for example, their size, shape, and location on the table. However, if there was nothing to differentiate them you could not distinguish between them. Similarly, since this book so far has argued that there is a necessary uncreated creator who is powerful, knowing, All-Aware and transcendent, then to claim that there are two would require a concept that differentiates them. But in order for the Creator to be a creator, He must have these attributes, so saying there are two without one being different from another is basically saying that there is only one creator. If whatever is true of one creator is true of another, then we have just defined one creator and not two.
The second part of the story summarises both the argument from exclusion and the argument from definition. The argument from exclusion maintains that there can only be one Divine will. If there were two creators and one wanted to create a tree, only three options would be possible. The first is that they both cancel each other out; this is not a rational possibility since creation exists, and if they cancelled each other out, there would be no creation at all. The second is that one creator overpowers the other by ensuring his tree is created. The third option is that they both agree to create the same tree in the same way. Both of these options imply that there is only one will, and one will in the context of our discussions means one creator.
The argument from definition asserts that there cannot be more than one creator. If there were more than one creator the cosmos would not display the harmony that it does. As well presenting arguments for a creator, this book has also warranted the traditional conception ofhas having an imposing will that cannot be limited by anything external to Him, then it logically follows there cannot be two unlimited Divine wills.
This essay will elaborate on these arguments and present another two to show that this creator must be one:
- The argument from exclusion;
- Conceptual differentiation;
- Occam’s razor;
- The argument from definition;
- The argument from revelation.
Argument from exclusion
This argument maintains that the existence of multiple creators is impossible because there can only be one will. Since the Creator is eternal and brought into existence the universe which began at a point in time, it means that the Creator chose the universe to come into existence; choice implies a will. Questioning how many wills can exist leads us nicely to discuss this argument in detail.
For the sake of argument, let’s say there were two creators. Creator A wanted to move a rock, and creator B also wanted to move the same rock. There are three possible scenarios that can arise:
- One of the creators overpowers the other by moving the rock in a different direction from the other.
- They both cancel each other out, and the rock does not move.
- They both move the rock in the same direction.
The first scenario implies only one will manifests itself. The second scenario means that there is no will in action. This is not possible because there must be a will acted upon, as we have creation in existence. The third scenario ultimately describes only one will. Therefore, it is more rational to conclude that there is only one creator because there is only one will.
If someone argues that you can have more than one entity and still have one will, I would respond by asking: how do you know there is more than one entity? It sounds like an argument from ignorance, because there is no evidence whatsoever for such a claim. This leads us to the next argument.
For two creators to exist, they must be different in some way. For example, if you have two trees, they will differ in size, shape, colour and age. Even if they had identical physical attributes, there would be at least one thing that allows us to distinguish that they are in fact two trees. This can include their placement or position. You can also apply this to twins; we know there are two people because something makes them different. This could even be the mere fact that they cannot occupy the same place at the same time.
If there were more than one creator, then there must be something to differentiate between them. However, if they are the same in every possible aspect, then how can we say there are two? If something is identical to another, then what is true of one is also true for the other. Say we had two things, A and B. If they are the same in every way, and nothing allows us to differentiate between them, then they are the same thing. We can turn this into a hypothetical proposition: If whatever is true of A is true of B, then A is identical to B.
Now let us apply this to the Creator. Imagine that two creators exist, called creator X and creator Y, and that whatever is true of creator X is also true of creator Y. For instance, creator X is All-Powerful and All-Wise; so, creator Y is All-Powerful and All-Wise. How many creators are there in reality? Only one, due to the fact that there is nothing to differentiate between them. If someone were to argue that they are different, then they would not be describing another creator but something that is created, as it would not have the same attributes befitting the Creator.
If someone is adamant in claiming that there can be two creators and they are different from each other, then I simply ask, “How are they different?” If they attempt to answer the question, they enter the realm of arguing from ignorance, because they will have to make up evidence to justify their false conclusion.
In light of the above, we might find a few irrational and stubborn people who still posit a plurality of creators or causes. In light of Occam’s razor, this is not a sound argument. Occam’s razor is a philosophical principle attributed to the 14th century logician and Franciscan friar William of Occam. This principle enjoins: ‘Pluralitas non est ponenda sine necessitate’; in English ‘Plurality should not be posited without necessity.’ In other words, the simplest and most comprehensive explanation is the best one.
In this case, we have no evidence that the Creator of the universe is actually a combination of two, three or even one thousand creators, so the simplest explanation is that the Creator is one. Postulating a plurality of creators does not add to the comprehensiveness of the argument either. In other words, to add more creators would not enhance the argument’s explanatory power or scope. To claim that an All-Powerful creator created the universe is just as comprehensive as claiming that two All-Powerful creators created it. One creator is all that is required, simply because it is All-Powerful. I would argue that postulating multiple creators actually has reduced explanatory power and scope; this is because it raises far more problems than it solves. For example, the following questions expose the irrationality of this form of polytheism; how do many external beings co-exist? What about the potential of any conflicting wills? How do they interact?
A popular objection to this argument is that if we were to apply this principle to the pyramids in Egypt, we would absurdly adopt the view that they were made by one person, because it seems to be the simplest explanation. This is a misapplication of the principle, because it ignores the point about comprehensiveness. Taking the view that the pyramids were built by one person is not the simplest and most comprehensive explanation, as it raises far more questions than it answers. For instance, how could one man have built the pyramids? It is far more comprehensive to postulate that it was built by many men. In light of this, someone can say that the universe is so complex that it would be absurd to postulate that only one creator created it. This contention, although valid, is misplaced. A powerful Being creating the whole universe is a far more coherent and simple explanation than a plurality of creators, because a plurality of creators raises the unanswerable questions stated in the previous paragraph. Nevertheless, the critic may continue to argue that it wasn’t one person that created the Pyramids, but an All-Powerful creator. The problem with this is that nothing within the universe is an All-Powerful Being, and since the Pyramids are buildings, and buildings are built by an efficient cause (a person or persons that act), then the Pyramids must have been created by the same type of cause. This leads us back to the original point, that more than one of these causes was required to build the Pyramids.
The argument from definition
The Qur’an has a similar argument
Had there been within the heavens and Earth gods besides God, they both would have been ruined
The Qur’an, Chapter 21, Verse 22
The classical commentary known as Tafsir al-Jalalayn states: “Heaven and the Earth would have lost their normal orderedness since there would have inevitably been internal discord, as is normal when there are several rulers: they oppose one another in things and do not agree with one another.”
However, one might point out that since more than one person made your car—one person fitted the wheels, and someone else installed the engine and another person installed the computer system—maybe the universe was created in the same way. This example indicates that a complex object can be created by more than one creator.
In order to respond to this contention, what has to be understood is that the most rational explanation for the origins of the universe is the concept of God and not just a ‘creator’. There may be an abstract conceptual possibility of multiple creators, as highlighted by the car example, but there cannot be more than one God. This is because God by definition is the Being that has an imposing will that cannot be limited by anything external to Him. If there were two or more Gods, they would have a competition of wills, which would result in chaos and disorder. The universe we observe is governed by mathematical laws and order; therefore it makes sense that it is the result of one imposing will. Interestingly, the objection above actually supports Divine oneness. In order for the car to work, the different people who were responsible for making it had to conform to the overall ‘will’ of the designer. The design limited the wills of those responsible for making the car. Since God, by definition, cannot have His will limited by anything outside of Himself, it follows that there cannot be more than one Divine will.
However, one may argue that multiple Gods can agree to have the same will or they can each have their own domain. This would mean that their wills are now limited and passive, which would mean they are not Gods any more by definition.
The 12th century Muslim thinker and philosopher Ibn Rushd, also known as Averroes in the western tradition, summarises this argument:
“The meaning of the… verse is implanted in the instincts [of man] by nature. It is self-evident that if there are two kings, the actions of each one being the same as those of the other, it would not be possible [for them] to manage the same city, for there cannot result from two agents of the same kind one and the same action. It follows necessarily that if they acted together, the city would be ruined, unless one of them acted while the other remained inactive; and this is incompatible with the attribute of Divinity. When two actions of the same kind converge on one substratum, that substratum is corrupted necessarily.”
The argument from revelation
A simpler way of providing evidence for God’s oneness is to refer to revelation. This argument postulates that if God has announced himself to humanity, and this revelation can be proven to be from Him, then what He says about Himself is true. However, a sceptic may question some of the assumptions behind this argument. These assumptions include that God has announced Himself to humankind and that the revelation is in the form of a book.
Let’s first tackle the last assumption. If God has announced Himself to humankind, there are only two possible ways to find out: internally and externally. What I mean by ‘internally’ is that you can find out who God is solely by introspection and internalisation, and what I mean by ‘externally’ is that you can find out who God is via communication from outside of yourself; in other words, it is instantiated in the real world. Finding out about God internally is implausible for the following reasons:
- Human beings are different; they have what psychologists call ‘individual differences’. These include DNA, experiences, social contexts, intellectual and emotional capacities, gender differences, and many more. These differences play a role in our ability to internalise via introspection or intuition. Therefore, the results of thinking will differ. If these processes were solely used to find out about God, inevitably differences in our conception of Him would arise. This is true from a historical point of view. From the ancient world of 6000 BCE to the present, there are records of approximately 3,700 different names and concepts for God.
- Since the method used to conclude that God does exist is a ‘commonsense’ method, or what philosophers call rational thought and what Muslim theologians call innate thinking, then trying to find out about who God is, rather than just affirm His existence, would be fallacious. There are limits to our reasoning. Abstract thinking and reflections on the physical world can only lead us to the conclusion that a creator exists, and He is powerful, knowing, etc. To go beyond those conclusions would be speculative.Trying to find out who God is via introspection would be like a mouse trying to conceptualise a galaxy. The human being is not eternal, unique and powerful. Therefore the human being cannot conceptualise who God is. God would have to tell you via external revelation.
The Qur’an aptly asks
Do you say about God that which you do not know
The Qur’an, Chapter 7, Verse 28.
Take the following example into consideration. Your knowledge that God exists is like the knocking of the door; you safely assume that something is there, but do you know who it is? You weren’t expecting anyone, so the only way to find who is behind the door is if the person tells you. Therefore you can conclude that if God has said or announced anything, it must be external to the human being. Anything else would be mere speculation.
From an Islamic perspective this external communication is the Qur’an, as it is the only text to claim to have come from God that fits the criteria for a Divine text. These criteria include:
- It must be consistent with the rational and intuitive conclusion of God existence. For example, if a book says God is an elephant with 40 legs, you could safely assume that this book is not from God, as God must be external to the universe and independent. An elephant, regardless of form, is a dependent being. This is because it has limited physical qualities, such size, shape and colour. All things with limited physical qualities are dependent because there are external factors that gave rise to their limitations. God is not ‘physical’ and is independent. Therefore, nothing with limited physical qualities can be God.
- It must be internally and externally consistent. In other words, if it says on page 20 that God is one and then on page 340 its says God is three, that would be an internal, irreconcilable inconsistency. Additionally, if the book says that the universe is only 6,000 years old, then that would be an external inconsistency as reality as we know it affirms that the universe is older than that.
- It must have signposts to the transcendent. The revelation must contain material that indicates it is from the Divine and that it cannot be adequately explained naturalistically. In simple terms, it must have evidence to show that it is from God.
The Qur’an has signposts that indicate it is a Divine text. The book cannot be explained naturalistically; therefore, supernatural explanations are the best explanation. Some of these signposts include:
- The Qur’an’s linguistic and literary inimitability;
- Some of the historical accounts in the
- Its unique arrangement and structure.
To conclude, since the only way to know what God has announced to humankind is via external revelation, and this revelation can be proven to be the Qur’an—then what is says about God is true. The Qur’an is explicitly clear concerning His oneness: “And do not argue with the people of the Scripture except in a way that is best, except for those who commit injustice among them, and say,
We believe in that which has been revealed to us and revealed to you. And our God and your God is one; and we are Muslims [in submission] to Him
The Qur’an, Chapter 29, Verse 46
These are some of the arguments that can be used to show that God is one; however this topic—once truly understood—will have some profound effects on the human conscience. If one God has created us, it follows that we must see everything via His oneness and not our abstracted perspectives of disunity and division. We are a human family, and if we see ourselves this way, it can have profound effects on our society. If we love and believe in God, then we should show compassion and mercy to what He has created. Just like what
the Prophet Muhammad said
Those who are merciful will be shown mercy by the Most Merciful. Be merciful to those on the Earth and the One in the heavens will have mercy upon you
Narrated by Tirmidhi
Last updated 16 January 2017. Taken and adapted from my book “The Divine Reality: God, Islam & The Mirage of Atheism”. You can purchase the book here.
- Al-Mahalli, J. and As-Suyuti, J. (2007) Tafsir Al-Jalalayn. Translated by Aisha Bewley. London: Dar Al Taqwa, p. 690; Mahali, J. and As-Suyuti J. (2001) Tafsir al-Jalalayn. 3rd Edition. Cairo: Dar al-Hadith, p. 422. You can access a copy online at: https://ia800205.us.archive.or... [Accessed 1st October 2016].
- Avveroes. (2001) Faith and Reason in Islam. Translated with footnotes, index and bibliography by Ibrahim Y. Najjar. Oxford: One World, p. 40.
- For more on the Divine nature of the Qur’an please read: Khan, N. A. and Randhawa, S. (2016) Divine Speech: Exploring the Qur’an as Literature. Texas: Bayyinah Institute and Zakariya, A. (2015) The Eternal Challenge: A Journey Through The Miraculous Qur’an. London: One Reason.
Link to the source